Anywhere, USA: The Case of the Bloodsucking Beasts of the Night

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No Little Silver Linings

“Sooo let me get this straight, ’cause it’s a bit of a tangle: You were attacked by two bloodthirsty fairies who can teleport or something, who lured you into a false sense of security by pretending to be nice, but then they grew fangs and tried to bite you, and the best way you could think to defend yourselves was by smacking them away with a paper bag, but they came at you again, so you started taking glass bottles out of the bag and throwing them, but then you couldn’t find any more, so you dumped the bags out on the ground because you thought maybe you missed one, and it turned out you did, which you were in the process of finishing the last fairy off with when your mother and Officer Brown ran outside, but as soon as they did, the fairies disappeared and you’re now being framed for the whole thing.”

“Yes, exactly,” Jules said. “That’s exactly what happened.”

Mark tapped his fingers together, processing all the information. “Alright,” he said. “Then I just have one question: Why did you throw bottles at them while they were on the ground instead of, like, stepping on them or something?”

Elliot and Jules leaned together and quietly conversed, as if carefully strategizing their next words.

Once they agreed on an answer, Elliot replied, “You’d be afraid to step on a live snake, wouldn’t you? It’s kind of the same thing.”

Mark nodded slowly, watching them in the rearview mirror. “I guess that makes sense.”

“So you believe us?” Jules hopefully asked.

Mark twisted around and looked back at them from the front seat. “Are you joking?” he said, with an incredulous smile. “I mean as far as excuses go it’s a pretty good story, but no, obviously not. Have you seen your mother? Elliot, she’s still wearing your hat. She even took it into the store with her. You know the longer it’s on her head the more trouble you’re in. You guys are in for some hard, hard grounding. I’m just glad I’m not in your shoes, and for a minute back there I thought I was.”

“But it’s all true,” Elliot pleaded, though why he was trying to convince the man who all three of them knew had only minimal power and influence to lighten Mom’s sentence nobody knew. “They were fairies—I know what a fairy looks like. Or…maybe they were pixies—I don’t really know the difference—but they were definitely real, and they were definitely awful, and they definitely deserved to get smashed with an empty bottle of Sprite!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mark said, waving the boy off. “Well—look, if it’s any consolation, I don’t believe you…Wait, no—I said that wrong. I don’t believe you, but if it’s any consolation, you’ve got a good future of writing fantasy ahead of you. My suggestion? You take the free time you’ll have after your community service is over, take this tapestry of lies you’ve woven, and do something constructive with it.”

“But…”

“Use those strange games you play for inspiration; use the shows you watch and the books you read; use this town, use its people, use the park; you might find you actually start to like it all when you get a different perspective.”

“But…”

“And as for you, Jule-bug: I don’t get why you thought going along with this story was a good idea (you’ve never been one to go down in flames with your brother) but I suggest you spend this coming month learning to live without that phone of yours; then maybe it won’t be so much of a sucker punch when you get it back and find that we’ve kept true to our word that we want to end the service contract.”

“That’s not…”

“On top of all that, I would suggest to both of you that you start trying to improve your social interaction skills. Maybe working at the park will give you the perfect opportunity for just that. I know moving sucks, but if you refuse to roll with the changes, then the changes will just roll right over you, like the…like those big…rolly…things.”

“Dad, we’re not…”

“IN the meantime, I suggest you stay exclusively on your mother’s good side—which really isn’t that hard—and drop the fairytale act altogether. If you don’t tell her you spent this time trying to pull the wool over my eyes, I won’t. It won’t change her mind, BUT at least she won’t grow even angrier.” He took a deep breath in, and then out. “There.” And thus ended his lecture.

He sat back in his seat and turned on the radio. The kids crossed their arms and leaned against the car doors as they pouted. Without evidence, of which they had zero, what their dad had just laid out for them really was probably the best course of action: keep their mouths shut, do their time, and never bring it up again. If Anywhere was infested with murderous fairies, their parents would eventually have a run-in with them, or someone in town would let them know to watch out, and then their names would be cleared. If not, and that was the last time they’d ever have to deal with those creatures, then there was no hope their parents would ever believe them, and continuing on would only make things worse. It was unfair, but the kids knew when they were beat…Or they should have, at least. But if that was the best course of action, then their navigation systems were experiencing some serious malfunctions. You can probably guess what was going to happen when Kate returned with the shopping bags.

Fifteen minutes later, the rear hatch clicked and popped open; it wasn’t automatic, so Kate had to raise it herself. Technically she drove an SUV, not a car, but I’m going to keep calling it that anyways. The Paiges were an eco-friendly family, so the car was nothing of excess. It was small—only a five-seater—and could switch between four or six cylinders and front- or four-wheel drive. Its main purpose had been for vacations, or otherwise taking the entire family to the same place at the same time. Back in the city, the kids rode the bus to school, Mark and Kate took separate trains to work, they walked to the store for groceries, and a horse would have been a more time-efficient mode of transportation as compared to the car. This being the case, the Paiges had only ever had one vehicle, and Jules and Elliot were never in any rush to start driver’s training, as they were absolutely sure they would not be getting a car of their own unless they bought it themselves. Now that they were in Anywhere, not much of that would change for them. Come fall, the kids would again be taking the bus to school, which was in the next town over, and if they ever wanted to go into town, they were close enough to ride their bikes. Kate, on the other hand, was definitely going to start using the car more often getting to and from work, especially in the winter months when that whole region turned into a glacier. That left only Mark with a potential need for transportation, but until he once again found employment, there was nowhere he really needed to be.

With that aside…aside, Kate stowed the groceries in such a way that the kids could somehow still feel the anger emanating from her, and she returned the cart to its place. She then entered the car and turned over the engine, sat still a moment, and shut the car back off. “Do you know how hard I worked?” she said, brewing this up the entire time she was in the store. “How many hours I put in to…” but that was as far as she got.

“I already gave them the spiel, Honey,” Mark said, trying to help the kids out. “After the one you already gave. We both gave them the spiel, and I think we have an understanding, don’t we?”

He was hoping for something like ‘yes’ in return, but instead Elliot burst out with, “No! This is totally unfair—you guys aren’t even listening to us!”

“Stop digging,” Mark mumbled under his breath.

But he kept digging. “You just keep telling us to stop lying, but why would we try to convince you that we were attacked by fairies of all stupid things if that’s not what happened!? I mean, we could’ve just as easily said we were attacked by a freakin’ rat or something, and that would’ve been much easier to swallow!”

“Enough!” Kate shouted. “You’re keeping up this stupid fairy story because you’re treating the whole thing like it’s a joke! Well it’s not funny, and I’m not putting up with any more of it! Listen, both of you; I don’t know where this behavior’s coming from; I don’t care if it’s a phase, I don’t care if one of your friends put you up to it, I don’t care! But if I so much as hear the word fairy one more time from either of you, you will have no internet for the rest of the summer, you will have no cell phone for the rest of the summer, and you will have no summer for the rest of the summer, because you’ll be spending it going around town, helping every single person with every single little problem you can possibly find, until your pictures physically appear next to the definition of community service in the dictionary! Now do we have an understanding?!”

“Mm.”

“Humph.”

“Good.”

Kate turned the car back on and began the tense and awkwardly silent drive back home, which was only interrupted once, when out of nowhere Mark sat up and shouted, “Steamroller! That’s what those things are called,” and that was it.

The moving guys were waiting for them at the house when they arrived, and with the spare key they had been given, were already bringing in the living room furniture. The kids were sent straight up to their rooms—though they would be the only things in them—with Kate assuring them they’d get their stuff soon enough. Their TVs and Elliot’s game consoles, however, would be staying in the closet downstairs for the time being. The movers weren’t gone until about 8:30pm, and the first family dinner in the new house wasn’t done until after nine. The Paiges were never really a “sit down together at the table” type, but today there was an especially strong sense of self-distancing, as the kids raced up to their fully-furnished rooms with their meals in hand. Kate and Mark settled in on the couch, but instead of their usual over-the-TV dinner talk, tonight they just let the TV do the talking. Satellite wasn’t hooked up yet, so they set up the DVD player and popped in something that would lighten the mood. Seeing as how anything was more uplifting than thinking about their family troubles, though, they ultimately settled upon Saving Private Ryan.

At least the good guys sort of win in the end.

***

Later in the night—he didn’t bother checking when—Elliot awoke with a start in his bed. He sat up straight and looked frantically around his darkened room, illuminated by the waning gibbous moon outside. He was breathing heavily, and a little bit sweaty (a little more than usual, that is). He had just come to the end of a nightmare he was having—one of the worst of his life—and was checking to make sure he was fully out of it. Satisfied that there was nothing else in the room with him, his heart slowed down, he splayed back out on his bed, and let out a breath of relief. He laid there still for a moment, eyes still wide open, but quickly they began blinking slower and slower, and grew heavier and heavier, until they closed for good, whisking him away to blissful slumber…Or they would have, if they weren’t so rudely pried back apart by a noise coming from downstairs.

It was possible his mind was playing tricks on him, but he could have sworn it sounded like a muffled scream. It only came once, and he would’ve been happy to leave it at that and go back to sleep, but some strange, tugging feeling deep inside him urged him to get out of bed. It told him something wasn’t right, it told him he didn’t have any choice…it told him he had to go to the bathroom. Unhappily he hopped up, and trudged to the bedroom door. The bathroom was right across from his room, but before going in, he looked down the hall at Jules’ door; it was closed. Then he looked over at the staircase; it was not closed, because it couldn’t close, but rather there was an odd, blue light filtering up from downstairs.

Intrigued, he passed the bathroom and wandered over to check it out. From the top of the stairs, he could clearly see that the TV had been left on, and the blue light was coming from the DVD menu. What he could not see from that vantage point was the couch, so when he heard some distressed mumbling coming from that area, he wasn’t exactly sure who was making it. Instead of looking over the balcony, which would have given him a bird’s eye view, he started creeping down the first few steps, until two sets of feet came into view. He then ducked down to see who they were attached to, and found his parents sitting on the couch, heads leaned against each other, fast asleep. The first night in their new house and they didn’t even sleep in the bed.

With the mystery solved—at least enough for his level of consciousness—Elliot straightened up, and started to spin around to go back upstairs, when he heard the distressed mumbling again. He ducked down once more, to see that Kate was tossing a bit in her sleep. Her facial expression was troubled, and every now and then she’d quietly mumble something. Elliot took a few more steps down, maybe wanting to find out what she was saying, but she was talking so quietly that it was indiscernible. Still, he climbed the rest of the way down and stood at the base of the staircase, just sort of watching them for a moment. The way Kate tossed and turned, he figured she must have been having a bad dream, too, like the one he’d woken up from; there seemed to be a lot of those going around the house lately. He just hoped it wasn’t a dream about how mad she was at them.

Whatever was on her mind, though, it clearly wasn’t good, and worse yet, there was nothing Elliot could do to about it. To wake her would probably only make her cranky, something he did not need to add to his list of troubles right now, and to wish her sweet dreams just seemed like an empty gesture at this point. He did, however, decide that turning off the TV might at least help her sleep better, so he left the stairs and carefully approached the coffee table. Treading lightly so as not to disturb his parents’ slumber, he silently crept to within a few feet of them, and was about to reach out for the remote when something weird beyond his wildest imaginations made him stop.

He could hardly believe his eyes, as what can only be described as a miniature, swirling dust storm started pouring out of Kate’s head, making a trail of sand through the air that landed in a pile on the floor next to her. In less than a few seconds the pile grew to the size of a person, and then turned into a person—or something. Its back was turned to Elliot, so he couldn’t see its face, but what he could see were the long, gray, spindly fingers coming out of the tattered brown cloak that covered its entire body. It reached out towards Mark with its bony hand, and sprinkled some sand over him, the purpose of which was entirely lost on poor Elliot. What was not lost on him, was that whatever that thing was it was terrifying, and worse still it looked like it was about to put its sickly, gray fingers all over his father’s face. In response to this, the boy planned to let out a scream, which, while its main function would be to illustrate the feeling of unbridled fear now filling him (and to serve as an instinctual signal of helplessness, potentially calling the attention of someone more capable of dealing with the threat before him) it would also serve to wake up his mom and dad, and hopefully prevent that thing from…doing whatever it was doing. Where he faltered, however, was in drawing his breath before screaming, like drawing a punch before striking. This gave his opponent ample time to react.

In a flash the creature was standing directly in front of Elliot—having phased straight through the coffee table rather than go around it—and had its disgusting hand clasped firmly over his mouth. Underneath its cowl was pitch blackness, and even at this claustrophobic distance Elliot couldn’t see its face. He wasn’t sure he wanted to. The creature brought a lonely finger up to where its face would have been, as if to say “shh,” and then waved its hand over the boy’s head, releasing more of that strange sand upon him. In the next instant, the creature was gently guiding Elliot’s head to the floor, as he drifted peacefully off to the dreamworld, none the worse for wear. In fact, the dream he dreamt thereafter was actually quite pleasant, and he really would have rather it been allowed to continue. But when it’s time to wake up, it’s time to wake up, and he woke up the next morning well rested and happy…That is until he opened his eyes and saw his parents standing directly over him.

“Alright, is this some kind of protest now?” Kate said, poking him with her foot. “Not gonna sleep in your bed until you get your freedom, is that it?”

“As far as civil disobedience goes,” Mark noted, “this is definitely one for the ages: the sleep-in. No work whatsoever, yet still effective. I’ve gotta hand it to you there.”

“Don’t encourage him…” Kate replied, but then quickly changed her mind. “Actually, on second thought, do encourage him. Sleep there as much as you want,” she said to the boy. “A nice, solid lumbar support is good for your back. Just don’t complain if we accidentally step on you in the middle of the night.”

“Or—you know—maybe just don’t sleep in the middle of the hallway,” Mark lightly suggested. “Either way.”

He threw an arm around Kate’s neck and accompanied her to the kitchen, while Elliot sat up and tried to figure out what was going on. He discovered he was still on the living room floor, where he must have been all night, but when he looked down, he found there was also a blanket drawn over him and a pillow where his head had lain. Both articles originated from his very own bed, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t brought them with him when he came downstairs…Or did he? What exactly happened last night? He distinctly remembered something about a…something, and remembered that he was trying to stop something from doing something with sand or something, and remembered a brown cloak for some reason, but the more he tried to think of it, the more it all kind of started to seem like a dream. Did he bring his stuff downstairs and fall asleep on the floor? Was it motivated by some desire to protest the infringement upon his civil liberties? No, but the case for that answer wasn’t looking very strong at this point, and as far as he could tell, it didn’t really seem like it would matter anyways. So instead of dwelling on it, he set his mind to another, more important pair of questions. Namely: Was Jules taking up the bathroom like she always did, and when would breakfast be ready? The answers to both these questions and more would be very disappointing.

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