Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tender Are the Young

Diana hates living in the middle of nowhere. She's only 13 and, practically, is still quite adaptable, but 12 years of being a city girl is a hard habit to break no matter the circumstances. It wasn't her fault that her father was laid off, after all, so why should she be punished for it? She misses her friends, her old school - everyone here just seems like a backwards country blumpkin - and the reassuring noises of traffic and city life. Even the fresh air irritates her, though even she might admit it does so only because it's not city air. Her city's air.

Desert life does not suit her. According to those fashion magazines her older sister, Madison, reads, dry air is insufferably bad for the skin. Diana does not want bad skin, regardless of how many years of exposure it'll take to get. She can't spell melanoma, but she's afraid of it anyway. Sunscreen has replaced cheap makeup as her primary purchase. The fact that her allowance isn't enough to afford her both only adds to her irritation.

And what's up with a desert that has trees? This is not a desert; there are woods everywhere! Ever since the first time she was told Little Red Riding Hood, woods have freaked her out. And the abandoned mines everywhere - dark, mysterious recesses leading to the center of the Earth - don't help ease her anxiety any.

Shaking her thoughts, she checks on her newborn brother, Clark. Unlike her other brother, Oliver - he's 9 and currently engaged in some boring video game - she finds Clark extremely cute. The day her parents brought Clark home, she knew she was going to be much nicer to him than to Oliver. It was an arbitrary decision, to be sure, but one she felt rather mature making.

She sees that Clark's diaper is soiled and quickly retrieves another and some baby wipes to take care of him. Her parents and Madison are away at Madison's Sweet 16 birthday party, so Diana is, at the moment, the adult of the house. Diana's always loved having responsibility placed upon her shoulders, partially because she's a control freak, but mostly because she learned early on that it seemed like the only effective way at challenging the affection her parents laid on her sister.

As she fastens the new diaper, she hears a crash in the living room. After the moment of being startled subsides, she assumes that Oliver has reached another boss creature that he can't defeat. She's sure that he'll ask her to beat the level for him as soon as she's done with Clark. She really, really hates video games, but still likes being asked to do things that others cannot seem to. She grins widely and rubs the top of Clark's head, taking joy in his blissful expression. Then she hears the toilet flush and immediately realizes that something is wrong.

Oliver never flushes the toilet.

***

The television screen is cracked, the scene accentuated by the hissing buzz of static. Diana holds Clark tightly, consciously out of fear and subconsciously from a maternal desire to protect an infant that she should be too young to yet have. She debates calling out for her brother, but the smear of blood and tuft of hair stuck to the television convince her to keep her mouth shut. She's already noticed the draft flowing through the house and knows that whoever did this is still nearby.

Diana heads towards the kitchen, her hand already gently covering Clark's mouth - even at 13, she's seen too many movies in which a baby's cry or giggle gives away a victim's position. She just steps out of the living room when the power goes out. She pauses and listens, letting her underdeveloped survival instincts take over. As her eyes adjust to what little moonlight seeps into the house, she alters her destination to her parents' bedroom. Her father took great care to prepare his children for disasters and explaining that cordless phones do not work during power outages was one of the first things he made sure the children knew. The location of the corded phone - in the nightstand next to her father's side of the bed - was another.

She steps lightly, slowly, attempting to stay as quiet as possible. Though adrenaline is surging, she begins to feel the weight of Clark in her arms. She is nowhere near the point of needing to set him down, but the extra concern shakes her confidence. What if she needs to run? Madison is the runner, not Diana.

And then another sound. Sounds, really. From Oliver's room. How does the intruder know which room is her brother's? It takes her less than instant to realize that Oliver's is the only room decorated with toy guns, baseball cards, and model airplanes. It takes her less than a second instant to attribute the sounds to that of... eating. The thought freezes her and she starts repeating the phrase, "Monsters aren't real," in her head again and again in order to return motor control to her legs.

But something is eating in her brother's room. And she's no idea who is having the meal... or what the meal is.

***

There are wailing screams from a mother and helpless tears from a father as the parents wait outside. One deputy exits the house and immediately throws up. Another exits clearly already having done so. Both of their guns are drawn and neither looks to be in any mood to re-holster their weapons. A third exits, holding Clark in his arms. This deputy smiles reluctantly, but his eyes betray a mental scar that will never heal.

***

Diana saw its teeth blink. Its teeth. And it moved so fast. What was left of Oliver was placed under his bedsheets, reminding Diana of a small animal storing food for the winter. Winter was coming, and she knew that she was next. The beast still looked hungry.

It hadn't seen her to her knowledge, but she figured that it had smelled her. She was going to die and wanted nothing more than fall to her knees and cry, but she was still holding Clark. She had to do something.

***

"And the girl's body?"

Deputy Wayne coughs, clearing out some leftover puke. "Same as the boy's. Half-eaten, tucked back into bed."

Detective Allen doesn't know what to think. He's never even heard of something like this, except maybe in fairy tales. "The baby?"

Wayne grimaces and spasmodically shakes his body. "He's fine. Found him in the microwave, covered in baking soda. He had a piece of candy in his mouth."

***

Clark was safe, tucked away with his scent covered, and hopefully distracted long enough not to make a sound. It was Diana's penultimate protective act. For her final, she banged on the door to Oliver's room, yelled as loud as she could, ran to her bedroom and jumped under her sheets.

Moments later, she knew she had been right. Its teeth did, in fact, blink.

16 comments:

  1. I see that you have labeled that as "horror". You got it in one. I am not a great fan of horror as a genre, but I can I not like anything you write.

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  2. Reminds me of a rather nasty B movie calld "Teeth" I'll tell you about it one day. Great title and I'm impressed that you know baking powder absorbs smells HAHAHA!

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  3. nice. still wanting to see it but my imagination is doing a pretty good job of filling in beyond the blinkng teeth...which is brilliant.

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  4. Clever girl. Good thing I'm desensitised to all this...

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  5. I've never understood the popularity of horror. It always seemed like it was a way to imagine something worse than reality for people who otherwise either were bored by or hated reality.

    Some people have never walked on unpaved ground — to me that is horror.

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  6. Though not a horror fan, I was fascinated to the end here...She was indeed a clever girl...

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  7. I guess I'm getting to know you. From the moment I realized that the kids were home alone, I felt the hair on my arms begin to quiver.

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  8. Ok.... so, great foreshadowing title....
    when there is a baby involved, it's hard to look away. Wish I had reads this when I did not have the time to hold onto the images! -J
    On to the next post...I can't believe I've missed three!

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  9. good horror comes back to you on a dark night when you find yourself frightened to walk from the front door to the mailbox...if i see blinking teeth a 4 o'clock tommorrow morning then the adrenaline rush will be better than strong coffee...

    kind of clive barker-ish...ickyways.

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  10. Wow, great story. I'm just glad it was an animal story and not a creep-after-kids story.

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  11. I'm not desensitized to horror - maybe cuz I ahve three kids.

    This was well written and spooky
    Happy Mother's Day?

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  12. Love it totally, especially the ending =P

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  13. haha..i'd forgotten this one. damn, a kid should always be safe under the covers.

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  14. You cannot make a revolution with silk gloves.

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  15. Hoo boy! I clicked through from the TT site. Didn't know where you were taking me, but had to go along anyway. Blinking teeth. Holy crow. That rocked. It all rocked. Fabulous story!
    -C

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  16. Oliver never flushes the toilet.

    Good clue - that's so like a kid...

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