When I get out of school (finally), I’m loaded.
Thank God it’s Friday. I don’t think I would get any sleep otherwise.
As soon as I’m home, the phone starts ringing. I hold back a groan, knowing who is on the other end. Only one person would know to call me as soon as I get home, before I even have time to put my backpack down.
I pick the phone off the hook, and press the answer button.
“Hey, Mom,” I say trying to keep the resentment out of my voice.
“Jess? Oh, thank goodness, at least someone is picking up the phone!”
She sounds exasperated. Not a good sign. This better not change my plans for tonight.
“Don’t tell me,” I guess, with a sigh. “Another rough client?”
“Very rough, but very important,” she replies, same answer as always. “So could you do me a huge favor…”
Here it comes.
“Pick up Abby, make her dinner, get her homework done, and put her to bed by nine,” I finish.
Just as I have all week. And the week before that. And the week before that.
“Would you? Oh, thank you, sweetheart.”
I know I shouldn’t protest. She probably has it worse than me. She’s relying on me. She already has to deal with the clients, the last thing she needs is a whining daughter. But this is the third Friday night that she’s working late.
“Mom, I was planning on going out with the-” I start, but she cuts me off, as if anticipating my complaints.
“Jess, please,” she says, and she suddenly sounds very tired. “I’m working late tonight, I’ve had four cups of coffee, my secretary is out sick, and my client wants this over with by the end of the month. I know you had plans, but I really, really need help. Can I rely on you to be a big girl, and put your plans on hold for one weekend?”
There it is. The “can you be a big girl and help me out” line. She’s been favoring that one for the past couple weeks.
I want to keep fighting, but decide against it. She’ll just lay another guilt trip on me, and remind me that she is having it harder than me until she has to go back to help her client.
“No problem,” I reply, holding back another sigh. “See you tonight.”
If she is even back by then.
I hang up, and get back into my car. I wasn’t even home for five minutes before I had to run out and do her errands. I have to try very hard not to scream in frustration.
It shouldn’t have to be this way. Yeah, Dad left. That took a toll on all of us. But if anything, Mom should be there for me and Abby now. We lost Dad, and we need her more than ever. Instead, she’s thrown herself into her work, and left Abby and I on her own.
It’s not that I don’t love Abby. Hell, I love her more than anything. But I shouldn’t have to play the parent, raising her while Mom works. That’s Mom’s job. And when she gets a new client, my plans become unimportant. I’m seventeen, for crying out loud! I have a life. But if I want to spend the night at my friend’s house, or catch a movie with my best friend, Roxanne? Forget it, Mom is too busy with a new client, and she’s relying on me to be a big girl that she can count on. She doesn’t even realize how much Abby and I need her, and at times, I don’t think she cares.
I force myself to focus on the road, and push the angry thoughts aside. Abby doesn’t need to see how frustrated I am. She’s already having a hard time from Dad leaving and Mom working. She doesn’t need to see me frustrated too. As I’m driving to Abby’s grade school, I get a prickly feeling, like someone watching me. But as I look around the road, none but the other drivers are giving me so much as a glance.
I shrug the feeling aside, and pull into the parking lot of Abby’s school. She’s waiting on a bench, with her Hello Kitty backpack beside her. She sees me get out of the car, and immediately stands up and grins.
She has my chestnut hair and blue eyes that we got from Mom, but she likes to wear her hair in pigtails, while I just wear mine up.
She waits until I walk out of the parking lot and onto the school’s front steps before she gets up and hugs me. She’s only seven, but she is already concerned about driving safety. It’s her goal to be valedictorian of her driver’s ed class.
“Hey, Jess,” she says happily.
I hug her back. I don’t care what stares I get. This is my baby sister, it’s not like I’m forbidden to love her.
“How was school?” I ask as we make our way to the car.
“Fun,” she replies. “We learned about camouflage in science, and Thomas Jefferson in history. We also painted pictures in art.”
She climbs in the backseat as we drive away.
“What pictures?” I ask, genuinely curious.
“Penguins on ice,” she replies. “But mine came out horrible.”
She says it so casually, I know there’s no point in arguing. Abby is convinced she is the worst artist, but best reader in her class. That may have something to do with me.
After we get home, we spend a few minutes eating our favorite after school snack, apple slices and peanut butter, and she begs me to read her more of The Silver Chair.
I pull the book out of my bookcase while she fixes me some water with ice, so I can read without my throat hurting. When I was reading her The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe my voice gave out during the battle, and she had to wait a full twenty-four hours to see if Aslan killed the White Witch.
I sit down across the table from her, and begin reading.
“The instant the prisoner was free, he crossed the room in a single bound, seized his own sword (which had been taken from him and laid on the table) and drew it. ‘You first!’ he cried and fell upon the silver chair...”
Abby’s eyes widen with delight as she listens to the next chapter of Jill, Eustace, Puddleglum, and Rilian. And, before I know it, I’m totally absorbed in the book as well. I finally have to call a stop so I can make dinner. After dinner, I start on dishes while Abby goes to take a bath.
When I’m done, I spend some time with my book. It’s already dark out, and I’m itching to write some more. I’ve been writing this story for a while, but I haven’t been able to tell where I got the idea, or where it came from. Just a play on the Snow White fairytale, I guess.
The thief cried out as a net suddenly caught her, pulling her above the ground.
Had Regina finally caught her? Had all her work been for nothing? She didn’t want to die, not now!
There was a small triumphant laugh as someone emerged from the trees. Not Regina, but the prince she had robbed a few days ago.
“I told you I would find you,” he said, looking pleased with himself. “No matter where you go, I will always find you.”
The thief gritted her teeth staring angrily at her captor.
“Is this the only way you can get a woman?” she asked, keeping her voice calm. “By entrapping her?”
“It is the only way to catch thieving scum,” the prince replied.
Snow White scoffed at his banter.
“Aren’t you a real Prince-”
Suddenly, I’m cut off by a shriek.
I stop, and turn to look upstairs, where Abby is supposed to be getting ready for bed. Alarms are going off in my head, and I know something is wrong.
I get up and run up the stairs, to my sister’s room.
“Abby!” I shout, finding the door closed.
I turn the handle, but its locked. That’s not possible. Abby’s door doesn’t have a lock!
“Abby, open the door!” I order.
Instead, all I hear is her whimpering.
Anger and fear course through me with adrenaline. Something is threatening my sister. Something bad.
Without thinking, I lift my foot, and kick the door open.
I run in, and see Abby whimpering in the corner.
I stop dead in my tracks, and gasp.
Hovering over her is a shadow. A disembodied shadow, with glowing eyes.
That’s...that’s impossible. Something like that...it can’t be real.
I want to scream, but at the same time, I’m frozen. I’m staring at something that shouldn’t exist...something out of a fairy tale...how...how is that real? How could it possibly be real?
The shadow’s arm is extended towards Abby, as if offering her it’s hand. As if it wants her to take it. Abby, however is practically sitting on her hands, and backs further into the corner, trying to put as much distance as possible between her and this...thing…
Part of me wants to run, but I force myself to stand my ground. Getting scared, running away...that won’t help Abby. I don’t know what this thing is, or what it wants, but my gut tells me it isn’t good. I’m not leaving Abby to fight this thing on her own. And I won’t let her get hurt, no matter how scared I am.
“Okay, Abby,” I say, keeping my eyes fixed on the thing. At the sound of my voice, it looks up at me. I can feel its eyes looking into me, piercing my mind and soul and analyzing them like a science experiment. It’s hand is still stretched out to Abby, gesturing for her to take it.
Oh God...what is this thing...No, I have to remain calm!
“Abby, I want you to keep your eyes on that, but walk towards me very slowly,” I say.
But what if that’s the wrong thing to do? What if it’s like a dog, that sees looking it in the eyes as a challenge?
Abby slowly stands and the shadow turns back to her, and looks at her. It follows her as she slowly edges along her bedroom wall, and moves closer to me.
God, what is this thing? What does it want? What does it want with Abby?
She’s whimpering, and I feel just as scared.
But as she backs away slowly, towards me, the shadow doesn’t react at all. It’s eyes just follow her.
She is only ten steps from me...eight...five...three…
The shadow suddenly launches itself at my sister, and grabs her wrist.
She screams and tries to pull away, but the shadow floats to the window, and it opens it’s own.
I leap forward, and grab Abby’s other arm, pulling her back. The shadow, whatever it is, is strong. It drags us to the window, and flies out, taking Abby with it. She somehow hovers beside it, but I don’t care to look into the mechanics of it.
Whatever this thing is, it’s not taking her.
“Jess!” cries Abby, as I pull her to me, back into her room.
“Let go of her!” I yell at the thing, yanking at my sister’s arm.
I don’t care how long I have to pull, how much I may hurt. The sound of Abby’s cries are enough to keep me going.
“YOU’RE NOT TAKING HER!” I shout, pulling my struggling sister into the room.
The shadow looks down at me, and I feel the piercing gaze again. But I grit my teeth, and refuse to let go.
Not Abby. Not my sister. Not while I can hold onto her. Not when I can stop it.
“Don’t let go,” pleads Abby.
I won’t. I refuse to let go of her hand, if it’s the last thing I can do.
Suddenly, the shadow’s other hand reaches out, and slams into my chest, with enough force to stop a race car.
I’m thrown back across the room, and into the wall of the room.
My breath is knocked out of my lungs, and everything is spinning.
I slide down the floor, and everything goes black.The last thing I’m aware of is my baby sister screaming my name.