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 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 37

It had been barely a day since Janelle had stormed back into the bedroom, determinedly non-distract-able. Beatrice and Arthur hadn’t been able to say a single syllable before Janelle grabbed Arthur by the arm and dragged him out of the room with surprising force.

Shortly after Arthur’s abrupt departure, Beatrice’s mother slipped into the bedroom, carrying a bowl of cereal and a glass of lukewarm water. It seemed the cousins were feeling momentarily and uncharacteristically generous, and thought the reunion could be mutually beneficial. Beatrice was happy to see that her mother was, for the most part, okay. She looked exhausted and worried, but her spirit was miraculously unharmed. Just as exciting was a surprise appearance from Pepe. He followed Beatrice’s mother into the room, and unlike Beatrice and her mother, he had gained weight since the last time Beatrice saw him.

“Oh, Birdy, those nasty little brats of children have been picking on my baby to no end,” her mother explained, holding Pepe and cooing softly into his chubby little face. “They play this awful game where they see how much they can make him eat before he gets sick! They don’t even care about his dietary restrictions, poor thing, he’s been farting up a storm since we got here.”

Beatrice knew it was only a matter of time until the cousins came in and forced her mother out of the room. Hoping her mother had helpful information, she quickly shifted the focus of their conversation.

“Mom, does this place, this house, feel oddly familiar?”

“Familiar, sure. Oddly, not at all.”

Taken aback, Beatrice couldn’t hide her surprise and confusion at her mother’s answer. Her face must have reflected her thoughts because her mother continued.

“Birdy, sweets, did someone hit you over the head or something?” she said, putting her hand to Beatrice’s forehead as if checking for a fever. “Don’t you remember?”

“Remember what?” Beatrice snapped back, more angrily than she’d intended.

Her mother’s face became suddenly serious. “We came here every summer for years. This house belonged to your grandparents.”

Memories came rushing back to her. The time they’d built a fort because they’d all gotten chickenpox. Building sandcastles by the sea. That all happened here.

“Every summer, your grandparents would invite all of their kids and grandkids here for a big reunion.”

“All their kids, including-”

“Your father.”

Beatrice’s mother said those words very quietly, as if saying them would set off an alarm. She looked to the floor, absentmindedly fiddling with Pepe’s collar.

It was as if a dam had been broken. Every blipped memory came flooding back. Arthur had helped to fill in the blanks, but even he only knew so much. Her mother had been the final puzzle piece. This was the house they’d come to every summer. The secluded house just steps from the ocean. She remembered squashing bugs with her cousins and roasting marshmallows in the backyard.

She remembered the first summer she hadn’t come back.

She remembered why.

-M.A. Gavin

Chapter 35

With her lack of new knowledge, Beatrice was at a crossroads. She could keep Arthur in the room, questioning him endlessly until the blipped information magically soaked into her brain. Or she could bang on the door, and deal with the cruelty of her cousins. Neither option was ideal. She’d rather be confined to solitude for the remainder of her life than spend one more minute with Arthur or her cousins.

Recognizing solitary confinement was an unlikely privilege, though, Beatrice decided traitor was better than psychopath. She sat silently on the bed, weighing her options on what to say next.

“Blips suck,” she said. It was the best she could come up with.

“So do your cousins,” quipped Arthur.

“True,” Beatrice replied. “They’ve had their moments though.”

“Really?” said Arthur incredulously. “I always figured they came out of the womb laughing menacingly.”

“Oh, they did. But even evil people have off days,” Beatrice said matter-of-factly.

Before she could stop herself, Beatrice was listing off moments when her cousins had been almost friendly. She told Arthur about the time Lauren had loaned Beatrice a prom dress. Of course, this was after the cousins had ruined her original dress, nonetheless, it was a nice thing to do. Beatrice recalled the times she felt like her family was normal. Like the time she and Gerald Jr. made a sandcastle during a daytrip to the beach, or when she and her cousins spent two days lying in a blanket fort watching movies because Janelle had given them all the chickenpox.

“All of the good moments were sandwiched between awful pranks and cruel jokes,” Beatrice mused. “I can’t compare the good and the bad, and the good certainly didn’t outweigh the bad. But pockets of good make putting up with the mounds of bad a little easier.”

Arthur listened to Beatrice attentively, interrupting only when she said something that could solve all of there problems.

“…And then there was the time that Janelle and I made up our own secret code. We used it for ages. I’d forgotten about it until now.”

“Wait,” Arthur suddenly said, “A code?”

“Yeah, like shapes and stuff, “Beatrice replied. “I don’t remember the exact details of it.”

Arthur’s eyes lit up. He reached for the pen hanging on his shirt pocket and pulled a crumpled up receipt from his pants pocket.

After writing something on the receipt, he handed the paper to Beatrice.

“Read this,” he said excitedly.

“Arthur, we tried this before. I still blip when the information is written down. It just looks like gibberish-random numbers and figures,” snapped Beatrice, mildly annoyed.

“Yes, but your cousins manipulated the blips to work in their favor,” he rattled off quickly. “That means they wrote the code.”

Finally catching on to Arthur’s idea, Beatrice grabbed the receipt eagerly. She saw numbers, shapes, and figures with seemingly no meaning. But suddenly, it all looked very familiar.

-M.A. Gavin

Updates!

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-M.M. Gavin