It was extraordinarily surreal, and I loved it.
I never thought I would be in a position to make this kind of thing happen.
It was extraordinarily surreal, and I loved it.
I never thought I would be in a position to make this kind of thing happen.
Osmond sat in the back of the classroom and doodled on his notebook. The page was full of similar circles, spirals and crosshatching, and his eyes zoomed around, looking for a blank spot. The teacher at the front of the class was speaking, but to Osmond her voice was like white noise. He didn’t take heed of it even when it called his name sharply. He didn’t notice the ominous looks his fellow students were flashing him as they all turned in their seats. He didn’t even notice the teacher standing over him until he realized that his notebook was in a shadow that hadn’t been there before.
“Miss?” he raised his eyes, innocent as a lamb’s.
“Show me your notebook,” she demanded. Osmond turned to the page behind the doodles and handed the notebook to the teacher. She scanned it from top to bottom, and her eyes widened. Her mouth hung open a little and Osmond had to bite his lip in order to keep from smiling. Finally, after an eternity of students holding their breaths, the teacher slammed the notebook down on the desk without a word and began to talk briskly again, as if she’d never interrupted her lecture to yell at Osmond.
Making sure her back was to him, Osmond allowed himself a smile. He went back to his doodles. Every few minutes, in a flurry, he’d turn to the previous page and scribble furiously everything important that teacher had said. He’d then turn back to continue drawing. Nobody ever understood how he took in anything the teacher said when he was so clearly not listening, but somehow his notebook was one of the neater, better arranged ones in the classroom. When his friends asked him about it, he always waved it away, claiming he simply had a gift.
Little did he know that his gift, his strange concentration skills, would lead him to be recruited, at the age of thirty-five, to the most top-secret of the world’s intelligence corps.
The faeries are back again. They say they’ve never been gone, but I’m sure that I haven’t seen them for more than five years. On my tenth birthday, I wished that they’d stop pestering me. I closed my eyes as hard as I could and blew out the candles in one go, thinking as hard as I could about my wish. It came true – the first and last of my birthday wishes to come true.
But I guess birthday wishes don’t hold forever. The faeries say I wasn’t specific enough. I didn’t say how long I wanted them to go away for. So they decided amongst themselves that five years is a good amount of time, and the went to bother someone else for a while. Well, like I said, they claim to have been here, but they just didn’t let me see them. They watched me while I slept, they say. How creepy is that?
Anyway, they’re back now, and they’re making my life even more complicated than it used to be. When I was really little, it was okay – everyone assumed that I was playing with my imaginary friends when I ran across the yard shrieking and batting my hands in the air. But when I grew up a little bit my mum started telling me to stop pretending. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t get dressed because there were faeries in my shoes. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t take a bath because the faeries were playing in it. She thought I was making it all up. My dad didn’t believe me either, I could tell, but he didn’t get mad at me. He just got this tired look on his face and sighed a lot when I talked about the faeries.
When I was nine, my mum sent me to a psychologist. He was a really tall man, and I can’t remember his face well. I can remember his office though – it was full of plushies and board-games. More like bored-games, if you ask me. We always played Shoots and Ladders or Monopoly or something, and he would ask me about the faeries. I remember that I got really impatient with him, because he talked in this sort of slow babyish voice. I don’t think he was a really good psychologist, because my friend, Natalie, goes to one now since she’s bi-polar, and she says that she likes hers. I guess it depends, just like with teachers.
So on my tenth birthday I wished the faeries away. But now they’re back.
They don’t call themselves “faeries.” That’s just what I call them. I don’t know what they call themselves, but I don’t think it’s a name I can pronounce. They don’t speak in English amongst themselves, and when they talk to me they have funny accents. They don’t look like storybook faeries at all, but I guess when I was little I just thought that anything that could fly and talk was a faerie. They’re very small, each one about the length of my finger now, but they don’t look like little humans at all. They’re really skinny, almost like twigs really, and their bodies are furry, like animals. They’re all different colors, browns and whites and grays with patterns and stuff on them. When I was in an art class for a while when I was seven, I made a sculpture of them out of pipe-cleaners. They roared with laughter when I showed it to them. I chucked it in the bin.
That’s the other thing about my faeries. They’re not very nice. They laughed at me all the time, and they got me into terrible trouble. Once, when my mum and dad were out, they started playing with a bowl that my gran made for my mum and they ended up breaking it. My gran was a potter, quite famous really. My mum says I get my artistic talents from her. That was before she died in a mental hospital, screaming about wicked things coming to get her. My mum never let me see her, I was too little I guess. My big sister, Diane, got to see her though, and so that’s how I know about gran being in the loony bin. Mum always lied to me and told me that gran died of a heart attack. I had nightmares for weeks after gran died about her having a heart attack while she was in the loony bin in a straight-jacket. It was awful.
So yeah, the faeries aren’t nice. When gran died, they didn’t even try to cheer me up. They just told me to… what was it they said? Oh, yes, they told me to “keep my chinny up-up and get better grades, ya ninny!” They’re full of weird advice like that. On the one hand, they yell at me to do better at school, and on the other hand they always bothered me during exams, so I got bottom marks.
After they went away, things got loads better. But, like I said, now they’re back.
The Evil, Most Feared and Loathsome Count William sat in his room and looked up how to make poisons on the Internet. He’d found several promising websites, but he wasn’t sure where he was supposed to get some of the ingredients. He had no idea what nettle-juice was, for instance. He also wasn’t sure that the forums he was looking at were particularly serious. Wasn’t Lithium just the name of a Nirvana song?
William got up from his computer in disgust. How was he going to become a proper member of the Evil Squad if he couldn’t even figure out how to poison anyone?! The ad he’d gotten in the mail had specified that he needed to have certain skills and be able to prove his aptitude at them before he’d be accepted as a member. He’d e-mailed them and asked what he needed to learn, and they’d answered with a terse reply, telling him that if he didn’t know what things he needed to know in order to be evil, then he probably wasn’t suitable.
He’d already got himself a name, though, and he was determined to manage to get into that group. He was evil, he knew it. Nobody liked him at school – they called him Will the Weird, not as good a title as The Evil, Most Feared and Loathsome Count. His parents didn’t particularly like him – they’d yelled at him for over an hour when he’d painted his room black and they’d almost disconnected the Internet as punishment. Then he’d told them that if they did that, he’d need to find where his dad hid his porn magazines and since nobody wanted that, they should probably keep the connection.
He also knew that he was capable of being cruel, which was part of being evil, of course. He’d been horribly mean to his little sister ever since she was born, and even now that she was thirteen and was coming into her own, he still managed to make her cry a couple times a week by taunting her. He saw this as being proper behavior for a Loathsome Count.
William strode up and down his room, looking at the posters he’d hung on his walls. Some were of heavy metal bands, but he didn’t actually like the music – he just liked the pictures of mouths dripping blood or skeletons on battlefields and the like. The other posters were hand-drawn, featuring violent vampires and women lying dead across tombstones. These had been made for him by Hannah, his next-door neighbor, and the girl he loved more than the entire world put together.
She didn’t think much of him anymore. When they were both freshmen in high-school, she’d gone in for his whole black, death, plague and misery sort of outlook on life. She had, in her own words, “grown out of it” and even though she still wore black, dyed her hair purple and had rings going all the way up both ears, she considered his “being evil thing” to be stupid, childish and beneath her. When he’d pointed at her necklace, which had featured a fang the day they had this argument, she’d said “it’s just a necklace, William. It’s just what I like to wear. It’s fashion, get over it.”
But William hadn’t gotten over it. He hadn’t gotten over her, either. But he had to, and in order to do that, he had to join this Evil Squad so he’d have somewhere to siphon his frustration to. He had a feeling that they gave assignments and stuff once you joined. That could keep him busy. Being busy would be good.
Finally, William sat back down at the computer, and instead of looking up poisons, he logged onto his instant messenger program. He had two screen-names that he used. One was EvilWilliam, which he’d been using for years, even before he decided to join the Evil Squad. The other, the one he used now, was GoodGothKid. He’d created this one only a few months ago.
He saw, with a leap of his heart, that Hannah was online. She messaged him almost at once.
GoodGothKid: Hey :).
BlackRoses: I’m so glad you’re online. I really need someone to talk to.
GoodGothKid: I’m here for you, you know I’m always here for you.
And as Hannah told him about her day, William pretended to be a guy called Tom who lived a couple states over, who was goth but not evil, and who Hannah actually liked.
Teddy-Book waited until her mistress was gone from the house. It had taken longer than usual this evening, since her mistress seemed ecstatic about something or other. She kept putting on clothes and then taking them off and putting on other ones, while staring at the mirror. She also kept talking at Teddy-Book, who wasn’t really listening to her.
“Does this look good? No, no, of course it doesn’t, it’s black and somber. He’ll think I’m dressing for a funeral or something. Okay, okay, so what about this? Is this better? Yellow is cheerful, flowers are good – but no! It’ll be too cold, what am I thinking? Or maybe that’s good. Then he’ll have to give me his coat. And you know what my friend Gil says, don’t you, Teddy? If a guy doesn’t give you his coat by the fifth date then he’s no gentleman and you’re better off without him.”
Teddy-Book sat on the bed, eyes glazed, limbs immobile, just like she always did. She was very bored with what her mistress that evening, and impatient for her to be gone. After all, Teddy-Book thought to herself glumly, she’s usually much more sensible than this, but if this Peter guy stays in her life, I think she’ll never be sensible again.
Finally, at about ten after eight in the evening, the mistress left. Teddy-Book got up gingerly, stretching her stiff, furry limbs. She climbed awkwardly off the bed, holding onto the blankets hard until she felt her soft feet hit the ground, and only then let go. Padding softly to the mirror, she looked at herself, turning this way and that. The mistress still hadn’t caught on to what Teddy-Book was doing, which was to the good.
When the mistress was little, her parents brought Teddy-Book back from a store one day. The mistress fell in love with her, and for a while, carried her around everywhere. She quickly discovered Teddy-Book’s special feature, the one that made her infinitely different from other teddies. She had a pocket inside her. Her round, furry stomach was velcroed shut, but could easily be opened. Inside, the mistress found a lot of fluffy white cotton, but it could all be pushed rather flat against Teddy-Book’s back, and then there was room inside of her to hide things in. The mistress loved to read when she was little, and she began hiding her books inside Teddy and taking her everywhere, and then taking the hidden books out and reading them. She couldn’t hide the big picture books there, of course, so she started to peruse her parents’ shelves and read things that she didn’t really understand but that were fun nonetheless, because she could hide them in Teddy-Book.
But now, Teddy-Book thought every day with a sigh, she didn’t read so much anymore. She spent her time putting on makeup and taking it off, calling her friends and shrieking, and lately, also going out with stupid boys. So Teddy-Book, who was left alone every evening, had developed a habit of her own. When it was night-time, and the whole family was asleep, she’d creep around the house and pick a book off a shelf. She’d hide it in that worn little empty place inside her belly, and then hop back into bed with mistress. The mistress never noticed Teddy-Book’s extra weight because she hardly ever picked her up anymore. Teddy-Book, standing at the mirror, thought sadly about how even now, with a fat book like David Copperfield inside her belly, her mistress didn’t notice it.
So she took the book out, leaned against the mirror with her tuft of a tail fitting exactly between the mirror and the floor comfortably, and continued reading where she’d left off last time. She hoped that one day she wouldn’t have to amuse herself every night like this. As she turned the pages, reading with some surprise David mention a daughter – but who’s daughter? Dora’s or Agnes’s? – she wondered of mistress would one day have a daughter. Maybe then Teddy-Book could be hugged again by arms not much larger than her own and carried about everywhere again.
The first thing that struck Claire as she entered the cool interior of Bill’s was the smell of bread. The bakery section was very near the door, and it made her realize just how ravenous she was. Her belly rumbled as she walked over the woman behind the counter of the bakery section. She stood and watched the woman for a moment; she was kneading dough. Claire was impressed. Can’t believe the neighborhood shop bakes its own bread, she thought. The smell was so good that she felt faint.
“Excuse me?” she spoke up, shyly.
“Yes, dear?” the woman behind the counter raised her head and smiled.
“How much is one of those rolls?”
“These? The whole-grain ones? They’re a buck each. Or a dozen for ten.”
“Okay, I’ll take a dozen please.”
The woman took her hands out of the dough and picked up a flat piece of cardboard which she deftly folded into a box. She then took the long metal tongs and took twelve of the warm rolls out of the glass display, put them into the box, closed it, and handed it to Claire.
“Thanks,” Claire smiled.
“Sure, sugar,” and she put her hands back into the dough in front of her and continued kneading fiercely.
Claire, having gotten a trolley, walked up and down the aisles of the store, getting the items her father had written down. She munched on one of the rolls as she walked, and found it delicious. It was so good that she promptly began another one upon finishing the first. It was hungry business, this grocery shopping. Still, she pondered, I like it. I like doing this alone. This is a good thing, Dad making us move here.
She brought her items to one of the unoccupied cashiers, marveling again at the possibility of there not being a line at a store – this would never happen in New York – and paid. The bag-packer was quick and efficient and looked like he was about eighteen years old. Claire eyed him as she thanked him, and thought that the lock of hair flopping into his eye was simply adorable. Her good mood was ruined, however, when she glanced at a big neighborhood noticeboard that was by the exit door. She saw various posters and fliers on it, but the one that seemed to bring a dark cloud over her was a big poster for a pep-rally that had taken place a few nights ago for the local high-school’s football team.
School, she scowled. I do NOT want to start a new school.
Marty looked around the box-filled apartment. He breathed in deeply and smelled fresh paint and dust. He never thought such an unpleasant smell could be so sweet to his senses, but as he choked a little on the swirling dust he smiled, feeling the new beginning that this apartment represented.
It was on the top floor of a building in Old Town in Hartscreek. Marty had chosen the neighborhood because it wasn’t too far from Downtown, but was still safe and fairly quiet. Claire’s school was walking distance away, just a few blocks over, and he knew that this meant that Claire’s new classmates would be kids in the neighborhood, and she wouldn’t need to travel far in order to meet friends. Well, if she’d make friends…
Marty banished the gloomy thoughts from his mind and began to move boxes with a vigor he hadn’t felt in three years. Sweat ran down his face and his back as he fit together two new bookcases he’d purchased, heaved furniture around and started to methodically unpack boxes and put away nick-knacks and clothing.
Around noon, Claire emerged from her bedroom with sleepy eyes and tangled hair. She and Marty had arrived in Hartscreek with the U-Haul they’d rented the night before, had unloaded the boxes and furniture in a feverish rush and had driven quickly down to the nearest drop-off point to leave the van in order not to need to pay for it for an extra night. Claire had stayed up until four in the morning on her mattress on the floor of her new and still empty room, listening to music and trying to sleep. Marty, who’d woken up bright and early, hadn’t had the heart to wake her up.
“G’morning,” Claire mumbled sleepily, yawning as she walked through the rooms trying to find her father.
Marty, whose head was stuck deep in a kitchen cabinet where he was attempting to assemble pans in some sort of order that wouldn’t cause them to topple over with a loud noise every time the door was opened, hollered back that the kettle and the toaster were both already set up.
“Thanks,” Claire said as she strode into the kitchen. “Want some coffee too?”
“Ah,” he pulled his head out of the cabinet. “That’s the problem. We have absolutely no groceries yet. Feel like walking down to the store and getting us some essentials?”
Claire had just turned fourteen in July, and she’d thought for the longest time that she should have the right to be on her own more often. In Manhattan, though, her father had been overprotective and they both knew it. He’d told her, in a fit of exasperated honesty about a year before they moved, that he knew he was being ridiculous but no, she couldn’t go alone to Union Square on the subway, that he’d go with her over the weekend, and that if she absolutely, positively had to buy the CD she wanted that day, then she could go with a friend. This had led to Claire bursting into tears and screaming that he was blind and didn’t notice that she didn’t have any friends, before running to her room and slamming the door.
And now here was Marty not only allowing but actually offering Claire to go out on her own, in a new place that she wasn’t familiar with. She thought she knew what this was about. Old Town was safe and almost suburban, despite it being made up mostly of classic old apartment buildings. What could possibly happen to her between their building and Bill’s Food Stuffs, the quaint neighborhood grocery store? Nothing interesting, that was for sure, Claire thought. Still, it was nice to know that her dad was finally trying to give her some space.
“Sure, Dad,” she said, after mulling it all over for a moment. “Let me get dressed quickly and-” she continued, raising her voice as she walked back to her bedroom- “write me a list of what to get, okay?”