Chapter 44

Pepe waddle down the hall and turned the corner.  He sniffed diligently along the baseboard of the hallway until he came to an outlet.  Beatrice thought it was odd to have an outlet in the hallway and even more odd that she hadn’t noticed the outlet as they circled the home.  To be fair, the outlet was covered in a vertical striped wallpaper, which covered every inch of the hall – except the floor, which was creaky, worn wood – and looked more like a Christmas wrapping paper than wall paper.  Pepe paused, lifting his snot and loudly sniffing the air.  Whimpering and swatting Beatrice’s leg he sat down.

“Pepe?” Beatrice’s mother whispered, as she knelt down.

“This must be something…” contemplated Arthur, “but then again I am following a fat, little dog.”

Beatrice’s mother glanced around, taking a deep breath.

“What are you looking for, mother?” questioned Beatrice.

“There are no vents that I can see, and we have not seen a window since we left our room, but I swear I smell fresh air, salty air in fact.”

While Arthur, Beatrice, and her mother squatted down, crawling around to find the source, Pepe walked straight to the camouflaged outlet and let out  a shrill yip.

Startled and concerned her cousins would hear, Beatrice swatted at Pepe’s rump without turning.  The sound of gently rolling waves, sprinkled with shells rolling and chiming together, and a soft tickle on her neck by loose strands of hair and cool breeze, surprised her.

“What?” she turned.

The three of them gaped as the wall adjacent to the outlet gradually disappeared above them, while Pepe sat wagging his tail with glee and his nose touching the outlet.  He sprinted out, immediately lifting his leg onto the nearest patch of grass.

Beatrice’s mother was the first to exit.  Her broad smile lit her face and the setting sun improved her fading dye job.  Arthur and Beatrice followed.  Moments after leaving, the wall behind them returned to its place.  Despite the setting sun, they all squinted in its brightness and the harsh wind blowing salty air on their faces.  Moving forward and away from the house, Beatrice could not help but feel relief.  

“Watch where you step!” called her mother, “This must be where they let Pepe out.   I should have set him down ages ago!  He would have led us here straight away.”

Amused, but not distracted.  Beatrice began assessing the situation.

“It is almost dark,” she said plainly, “but if I remember correctly there was a small town not too far from here. Right, mother?”  

“It has been years since I’ve been up here, but I believe so.  We will probably have to pay someone to take us to the mainland.”

“The mainland?” stumbled Arthur.

Beatrice looked surprised, “It makes sense doesn’t it?  This is an extremely private island, where everyone has and keeps their own secrets.  Where better for them to go when they aren’t terrorizing the planet?”

-M.R. Gavin

Chapter 43

Baffled as he was, Arthur was well trained and his survival instincts kicked in quickly. He estimated that it was about 4 o’clock in the evening, an estimation based on the light coming through the window. There were a lot of clocks in the house, but they were all set to different times and some moved obviously faster than others. He’d also determined a few weeks prior that the house slanted, indicating the exit was on the downward slanting side.

Arthur moved quietly and fluidly, as if there was no doubt he was going in the right direction. Beatrice’s mother followed behind him, clutching Pepe to her chest, and Beatrice took up the rear. They followed silently, trusting Arthur would get them out of that god-forsaken house.

It was the best look that Beatrice had gotten of the house since she’d arrived there what felt like months ago. It was bigger than she’d remembered, funny considered what she remembered of it was from when she was a child. The hallways seemed longer, and the doors seemed farther away. They made turn after turn into empty hallway after empty hallway. Beatrice tried to keep track of their path, just in case they had to turn back. Every turn they made, she expected to see a cousin or a cousin’s child, but she saw no one. In fact, the entire house looked, sounded, and felt empty. There were no nasty kids running around making a mess, or nastier adults making an even bigger mess. There was no screaming, yelling, or maniacal laughter.

After what felt like ages, Beatrice’s mother said she needed to pause for a moment.

“Carrying Pepe around is like running a marathon cradling a bowling ball!” her mother stated, breathing heavily.

“That’s ok, we can take a break for a second,” Arthur said, still on high alert. His eyes darted from side to side, checking for anyone or anything that may try to stop them.

Arthur casually pulled Beatrice to the side, stepping momentarily away from her mother and Pepe. Beatrice saw in his eyes that something was wrong.

“Birdy, I don’t want to scare you or your mother, but something is…off,” Arthur said, trying to sound calm. “We’ve been going in circles. Every clue indicates that the exit should be right there,” he continued, pointing down the hall. “But its not. We just end up right back where we started. Beatrice, I don’t know what to do.”

Beatrice tried but failed to hide her surprise and disappointment. She knew it was too good to be true. Why would the cousins just let them go? It was counter-intuitive. It was another one of their tricks, and she’d fallen for it. Face first.

“There has to be another way. We can’t just be trapped in here forever,” Beatrice whispered, beginning to panic. The walls that had seemed so tall and the hallways that had felt so long suddenly began closing in. She felt trapped, and struggled to catch her breath.

Just then, a chubby Pepe waddled over to Beatrice. He nipped at the old pair of pants Beatrice was wearing, pulling her forward. Beatrice looked at her mother, who in turn looked at Arthur. He shrugged, “I guess we’re following the dog.”

-M.A. Gavin

 

Chapter 42

Beatrice moved hurriedly down the hall reaching a stairwell and sprinting up two steps at a time. She reached the top, violently crashing into someone.  Flailing her arms and on the brink of flying back down the stairs, she thought, I guess he lied, they’ll never let me leave.  As she thought of her foiled escape, a firm but familiar hand grasped her shoulder and grabbed her wildly moving arm, pulling her back to the landing.

“Beatrice!” the being said in a hushed surprise.  “Arthur?” she questioned. They looked at each other in disbelief.

“My dad-”

“They said we could go”

“- He said I could go”

“Can you believe it?”

“Where is my mother?”

“Your dad?”

Tired of the unmoving banter, Beatrice gripped Arthur’s hand, dragging him forward.  Arthur continued to blurt a series of questions, the same questions they had been contemplating since Janelle moved in down the street.

Half-way down the hall Beatrice slowed.  She had a vague memory of walking up here as a kid.  Uncle Gerald had the room two doors from the stairs on the right Grandma and Grandpa had the big room at the end of the hall.  Her mother and father had the room on the eastern corner of the house with many windows, so her mother could see the sunrise.  Of course they would keep her mother and Arthur there.  When she reached the room Arthur had stopped babbling and looked at Beatrice with astonishment.  

“How did you know which room?  Did he tell you?”

“I remember this room as a kid.”

Inside her mother turned to them with her eyes wide; Pepe waddled – he really had put on weight – with excitement toward them.  

“I need something to wear and then we need to leave.  Now,” Beatrice demanded.

Arthur nodded in agreement, but said nothing. His face was blank, though Beatrice knew he was contemplating.  

“They are letting us go for a reason,” he said solemnly.  

“I agree, but I am not letting them know and I am leaving,” Beatrice declared, “We can figure out what their plan is once we are out of here and in contact with your colleagues.  

“What did you dad say to you, Beatrice?”

“Your father is here,” gasped her mother.  

“Yep,” replied Beatrice changing into a pair of purple tie-dye jeans, probably from Janelle’s teen years, which she found crumpled in the closet.  “Good thing I lost weight,” she mumbled to herself.

“Anyway, he has been there the whole time, watching us.  He said he ‘needs me’ for them to be successful again.”  Fully clothed, she tosses her mom a coat, scoops Pepe off the floor, and walks to the door.  Striding right up to Arthur, Beatrice says, “For three years, we had a marvelously stable life.  The past several months have been insane, but I know who you are and what you can do.  Get us out of here.  Please.”

He stared, astonished by how much she had changed, knowing he would do whatever she asked.

“Let’s go.”

-M.R. Gavin

Chapter 41

“We can finally be successful again.” Beatrice  had no interest in her father’s definition of success and refused to play any role in him achieving it. Beatrice was suddenly aware that she needed to get out of that room. She needed to escape, to find her mother and Arthur. Before, she’d been safer in the room by herself, separated from the cousins. But now, she wanted out.

Her father was standing on the side of the bed closest to the door. She was standing opposite him, contemplating her options. Beatrice examined her father, wondering if he would try to stop her if she left. He was tall, but slim. His shoulders hunched over him, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Still, Beatrice had learned long ago not to underestimate a person based on his appearance. After all, Gerald Jr. used to wear tape on the arch of his glasses and had an assortment of pocket protectors- one for each day of the week.

She refocused her attention. Her father was saying something, “…can you believe it, Birdy?” He looked at her expectantly, but she said nothing. He continued to ramble and reminisce, and Beatrice continued to ignore him. She moved a step to her left, testing to see how he would react. He angled his body to face her, but didn’t move from his spot. She moved another step. Again, he didn’t move. One more step. Her father stopped talking, but again, he didn’t move.

Were the cousins waiting outside the door? Is that why he wasn’t trying to stop her? Did he think she wouldn’t actually try to escape? Was he testing her?

“You know, you’re about as subtle as your mother with a bullhorn.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“Beatrice, I know I wasn’t around. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t keeping up. I know more about you than you could ever imagine.”

Beatrice stood silently, resolved not to give her father the satisfaction of getting to her. For a split second, she turned her attention to the door, and wondered if she’d ever escape.

“I won’t stop you,” her father said, as if reading her mind. “If you want to walk out that door, I won’t get in your way.”

Was he tricking her? What was on the other side of the door?

“It’s not a trick, I promise,” he added, placing his hand over his heart. “Turn right. Go up the stairs. Your mother and Arthur will be there.”

Again, Beatrice had the nagging suspicion that something was very, very wrong. Why would her father just let her go after going through all that trouble to get her there?

“I’ll even sit down, if that makes you more comfortable,” he said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Beatrice walked cautiously out the bedroom door. To her surprise, no one was there. She looked to her left and then to her right, debating whether or not to trust her father. She flipped a mental coin, and turned right.

-M.A. Gavin

Chapter 40

“You look beautiful,” said a low, gravely voice.

Sure, thought Beatrice, in this disgusting room, in a nightgown I wash in the sink, with my extremely unkempt hair.  I look like a fucking queen.

“The last time I saw you was in this very room.  I tucked you in.  It feels like just yesterday.”

The memory you cling to, I threw away years ago, Beatrice taunted in her head, counting paint chips all the while.

She heard the floorboards creak.  More precisely, she heard the sixth board into the room creaking, most likely being stepped on by his right foot.  The constant comings and goings of her cousins had given away that much.  She listened to the hesitant steps continue toward her, but never turned.

“I wanted to see you so many times since then.  It’s not like I wasn’t near.  Every time your cousins visited you, I was nearby. In fact, I coordinated most of their trips, hoping to see you.”

Knowing the room’s precise size, Beatrice side-stepped his hand at the exact moment he reached for her shoulder.  His signature move of comfort.

“When your mother took you away from me, she destroyed me.”

Beatrice finally turned, tilting her head, “Destroyed you?  Like you and my cousins have destroyed so many others?  Destroyed you?  When you tried to turn us into the monsters of mayhem you all are?  Seeing as it didn’t stop you from ruining lives, I am sure it didn’t destroy you.”

She turned resolutely, scolding herself for saying anything, and resolving not to say another word.

If there had been another person in the room, they would have seen how alike Beatrice and her guest were.  Similar defensive posture, the same mousy brown hair, round faces, each with a slightly too small nose, and too big ears.  Their resemblance was unmistakable; the primary difference was Beatrice’s hazel eyes, and petite mouth (in those regards she favored her mother).    

He had left his hand floating in the air while she spoke; slowly dropping it, he asked, “Would you mind if I sit on the bed?”  Receiving no answer, he quietly sat down – every spring in the bed squeaking.

“I know that what happened that day was horrible for you, but that is just what we do.  We aren’t just destroyers of the lives of people we don’t know… we are equally as mean to each other.  It is what we do, who we are.  We have to,” he sighed.

“I don’t know how much you know, but the reason the rest of your cousins brought you and your mother with them is because your grandfather passed away, leaving me as head of the family.  I needed to see you again.  To talk to you.  I ordered them not to leave without you this time.”  His voice had a sudden youthful joy as he finished, “And now we can finally be successful again.”

-M.R. Gavin

Chapter 39

It was fascinating, really. Sitting within the same four walls, day after day, week after week. Beatrice wasn’t exactly sure how long she’d been holed up in the small, dingy bedroom. It’d been long enough to have counted the 456 flowers on the wallpapered wall to the left of the bed, to have learned that there was was a pipe dripping in the ceiling that left a watermark above the door, and to have noticed not to get out of bed on the left side because the floorboards creaked. She considered taking up a tally, but she was so disoriented she had a difficult time knowing when the day started and ended. She only ever left the bedroom when her cousins let her use the bathroom next door, an equally nondescript room with no windows. The showers she took were cold and the bathroom looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since 1989, but she figured it was better than nothing.

The cousins came and went at random intervals, which frustrated Beatrice to no end. In her perfect world, everyone would work on a predictable schedule. She’d go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Everyone would eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at expected intervals. Beatrice would see Arthur on Wednesdays at five and on Saturday at noon. She would see her mother twice a year for two major holidays. She’d never see her cousins. Everything would be better if everyone was predictable.

Perhaps that was it, that was what her cousins had over her. Not the blips. Not the malice. The unpredictability. Beatrice knew her cousins would do something awful that would hurt her. She knew that they already had. Since she was a kid, her cousins had almost always been horrible, and she always knew that they’d continue to be horrible. But Beatrice never knew what her cousins would do next or when they would strike. That was their advantage.

So Beatrice waited. She walked in circles around the cramped bedroom. She napped. She counted flowers on the wall and cracks on the ceiling. She folded the sheets on the bed, unfolded them, and then folded them again. Her cousins would come in unexpectedly. Sometimes just one, sometimes many. They’d taunt her, or have a menacing conversation with her. Then they’d leave, and Beatrice would continue to walk, sleep, count, and clean. Day in. Day out.

But one day, the door creaked open. Beatrice paused her recount of the paint chips, and looked towards the door. To her surprise, it wasn’t one of the cousins. It wasn’t her mother or Arthur. It wasn’t even Pepe. She stared, momentarily baffled, at the person standing in her doorway. She knew who it was, but she didn’t want to. Beatrice wanted nothing to do with the person standing in the doorway.

She resumed counting paint chips.

-M.A. Gavin

Chapter 38

Beatrice was torn.  Now she could remember her life, blips and memories she forced herself to suppress, but those memories brought new questions, and opened old scars.  She thought perhaps those had been better forgotten.  

Despite lacking the lengthy training of Arthur and his coworkers, and despite her current pallor and frailty, her mind jumped into hyper-drive.  

“Mom, they won’t let you stay in here long,” she whispered, “especially if they realize what just happened to me.”

“What did just happen to you, Birdie?  Did you really not know?  You seemed stunned -”

“It doesn’t matter now.  My cousins’ technical advantage no longer exists, though I expect they have another surprise coming our way.”

Her mother stared at her bewildered, but unable to break her gaze.  Birdie transformed in front of her.  She walked into a sickly looking woman with deadened eyes and a fatigued spirit, but suddenly Birdie had not just a glow in her eyes, but a flame lighting her face and an urgency pulsing from every atom of her being.   It reminded her of Beatrice’s father and why she was captivated by him.  He was the adventure she could never get enough of, and the most painful adventure she ever had.  Beatrice’s change was contagious.  Tess felt her heart rate increasing, and her senses heightening.

“What are you going to do?” her mother stammered.

“I need you to tell Arthur that I remember – everything.  You seem to have the most freedom here, see if you can convince them to let me, too.  Finally, I know about everyone who was at my apartment and Arthur’s, but I can’t help but feel we are missing something.  I think more than my generation are here.  We need to know as much about that as possible.”

Her mother took a deep breath and closed her eyes – practicing a memory mantra.  “I carry my tasks with me and commit them to memory,” she mumbled three times.

“Now,” she started straightening up, “if you say it is so important they don’t know, it is our turn to act.”  She immediately resumed fiddling with Pepe’s collar, but kept up the chatter.  

“Your gruesome second cousins have also discussed dyeing poor Pepe – with Kool-Aid!  They said Great-Aunt Millie told them about doing it to a cat, naturally they want to test it out.  Janelle was holding Roderick yesterday and I could not help notice his resemblance to your grandfather, Gerald the First.  Especially with his fat, bald head,” she continued, droning on about family members Beatrice had not heard of in years.

She quickly realized her mother was already fulfilling one of her requests – information about everyone at the house.  Her mother flawlessly pieced together a monologue sounding like complaints to any of the cousins, but giving Beatrice a wealth of information.

Soon, her mother was ushered out, leaving Beatrice to consider her mother’s information, her new-found memories and the wounds they reopened.  She fell asleep staring at the cross-stitched, violet flower she and her grandmother made years ago.
-M.R. Gavin