Continued from Part III
Behind Closed Doors
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Alex woke, covered in sweat. The room was dark, except for the thin beam of moonlight that snuck in past the curtain, leaving a silvery trail across the floor. Beside her Emma was crying, her sobs muffled by the pillow she was burying her face in. Alex reached over to comfort her sister, running her hands through the younger girl’s hair. Alex froze, her fingers grasping the blond locks, which felt sticky and matted. Beneath her hand Emma’s skull felt soft, mushy…wrong.
“Emma,” Alex asked, her voice quivering with fear. Emma looked up at her, the tears red in the moonlight, leaving trails of blood across her skull, the eyes hollow and filled with bugs that slithered out of her sister’s face and onto the bed. Alex screamed, falling backwards and landing on Ally. Beneath her, Ally squirmed, trying to free herself from her sister’s weight. Alex rolled off of the girl, and then screamed, seeing Ally’s face in much the same condition as Emma’s.
“You didn’t protect us,” Ally accused, her chin falling off and hitting the floor. “You said we were safe, but we weren’t.”
“THEY. GAVE. US. BACK!” Emma’s voice screamed accusingly at her from across the room, they four year olds face screwed up, what was left of her skin red with anger.
“He promised me we’d be safe,” Alex pleaded, “our angel, he promised!”
The door to the room burst open and John came in, laughing. His arms reached for her but his hands were gone, replaced by scissors that were snipping at Alex, making loud, metallic sounds as the clicked together.
“I told you what I would do to you if you ever told,” John sneered. “Which should I do, bury you alive and let the bugs eat your face? Maybe I’ll cut off your fingers and make you eat them? Oh, I know,” he said, snatching Emma off the ground, “I’ll do to Emma what I did to you. Make you watch.”
Emma’s face was now normal and she looked at Alex, screaming and begging her sister to help her.
“NO!” Alex threw herself at John, beating at his arms, begging him to let her sister go. Then she heard Sydney’s voice, taunting her from the darkness, her voice haunting and sad, “Sometimes they give you back.”
“NOOOO!” Alex sat up in her bed, her breath ragged as she tried to make sense of where she was. In the bed next to hers, Ally sat there watching her. Beside her Emma, who still refused to sleep in a bed without her sister, started crying. Across the room Sydney whispered, “you could get a job screaming in the movies.”
The door to the room burst open and Alex jumped, for a brief moment afraid her dream was coming true, then relaxed, realizing it was just Rose.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” Rose said, pulling the child into her arms. “You must have had a bad dream.”
“They gave us back to John,” Alex whispered, burying her head into the plump woman’s chest and letting the tears flow. Rose squeezed the girl tight and whispered to her, “That’s not going to happen. I promise you that. That’s not going to happen.”
“But they’re giving Sydney back,” Alex sobbed. Rose didn’t have an answer to that. She sat there rocking Alex the rest of the night, holding onto her, even after she’d fallen asleep. Emma curled up next to the woman, sticking her thumb in her mouth and touching Rose’s arm with the other. Ally had sat there a moment, then crawled out of her bed and into Alex’s. Sydney watched from across the room, waiting for the bed to collapse with so many bodies in it. When it didn’t she quietly joined them.
From his position in the corner, Gabe watched the five of them and made his own vow, he would do everything within him to protect those children from more harm.
Rose bustled around the kitchen, getting plates for the girls, heaping them high with pancakes and sausage. “Eat, up, eat up,” she said, putting a plate in front of Emma, the pancakes nearly as tall as the slight child.
“Where do you expect her to store those at,” George joked, “are her legs hollow or something?”
Sydney giggled, and then swallowed hard as a plate, equally as high, was placed in front of her.
“They’re growing girls,” Rose quipped, “they need the energy.”
“What are they going to be doing,” George asked, “running a marathon?”
“No, shopping. We’re going to the mall. All the girls need new clothes, especially these three.” Rose pointed at the three sisters as she said this, then grabbed another plate and set it down in front of George.
“That bad,” George asked, shaking his head.
“What are you talking about?” Rose stood over her husband, waiting for his answer.
“The nightmare the little one had last night,” George answered, “it must have been pretty bad. Whenever something is bad and you don’t know what to do about it, you force food down everyone and go shopping.”
“I do not,” Rose protested, but her voice was a bit weak. She knew he was right. Food and money fixed everything, at least in the here and now. Maybe not in the long run. She couldn’t do anything about that, but she could take care of these girls now and she was going to do just that, starting with a good breakfast and then clean, well-made clothing.
“Alex, Ally and Emma barely have any clothes and what they did have at their home is nearly coming apart,” Rose said, defending her decision. “And Sydney is growing like a weed.”
“I totally agree,” George said, “shopping is a good idea.”
“It is?” Rose looked confused, having expected an ensuing battle.
“It is,” George said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a wallet. “What the county gives you for clothing isn’t enough, so take some with you. We can afford it.”
“We can?” Rose was really confused now. George was always supportive of the kids they took in, treated them as if they were his own, but he was always a bit tight with the purse strings.
“I heard her scream,” George said. “Shopping is a good distraction…for all of you.”
“Okay, stick close,” Rose said, buckling the belt around Emma, who sat in the front seat of a double stroller. Despite her protests that she wasn’t a baby, Ally sat in the second seat, her arms folded and a scowl on her face. “I’m not about to try and keep track of all four of you at once if you are all mobile. The two youngest can ride, the two oldest will walk,” and that as they say, was that. “Alex, you walk on this side and hold onto my arm, Sydney, you do the same on the other side.” Then they began to make their way through the mall, heading for the nearest clothing store.
Alex had never had so much fun in her life. Even Ally began to enjoy herself. They had tried on so many clothes and the bottom of the stroller was filled with bags. They were taking a break, sitting outside pretzel stand, drinking sodas, eating hot, salty pretzels, while watching other shoppers as they passed by. A few feet away was a merry-go-round and Rose had promised them a ride when they were done eating.
“I know I have some change in here,” Rose said, searching the bottom of her purse.
“I want the purple horse,” Ally said, tugging at Alex’s sleeve. Emma giggled and said, “Pink,” but Alex wasn’t paying attention. Her eyes were transfixed on one of the pedestrians. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out but a squeak and she pushed herself backwards in her seat, searching for Rose and security.
“Darling, what is the matter,” Rose asked, looking up from her search, realizing something seemed wrong. Alex squeaked again.
“MY BABIES!” The voice came from the left of Rose, who followed Alex’s terrified stare to a woman who was rushing towards them with her arms stretched out. Her hair was tangled and her makeup was heavily plastered onto her face. A man was with her, big with tattoos all over his arm. He looked mean and Rose could understand her terror.
“Mama,” Emma said uncertainly, not sure if she should be happy or scared. Then she saw John and knew. Scared. Emma began to cry, afraid of what the scary man would do.
Standing, Rose put herself between the woman and the children. “You aren’t supposed to come near the girls,” Rose said. “There is a restraining order. I’ll call for security if you don’t leave now.”
“They’re my babies,” Misty said, sneering at Rose, “ain’t no paper going to keep me away.”
“I warned you,” Rose said, reaching for her phone, while looking around, hoping someone was noticing what was going on. This was a crowded mall after all, what could happen? She flipped open her phone, ready to dial 911 when John ripped it out of her hand and grabbing her arm, twisted it behind her back.
To be continued
To be continued
copyright © 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar