“Are you sure, this is what you do?” Natalia said.
“We’re almost late in doing this. She’s escaped her room twice already without us knowing,” Uri said.
Natalia stared at the device Uri was installing.
“I’m glad I already installed the sensors on the windows after Mag and Zena finished remodeling the nursery,” he said.
The nursery no longer had a crib, but a twin sized bed. It was pushed against the wall in a corner. The one long side not against the wall had a railing. The short end not against the other wall was the only side not blocked.
“I don’t even think we need the railing any more. She doesn’t roll off of things. She can sleep on the sofa without falling off,” she said.
He nodded while he worked.
“Where is she at?” she said.
He cocked an ear.
“Last I saw she was hiding behind the sofa. Yeah, I can hear her giggling.”
“So what does this do again?”
“Since she can open the door, these sensors let us know when she has left her room. It gives us an alarm in our bedroom. She’s old enough where she’s not going to want the door closed. Viperians don’t like being alone.”
“We sleep with the door closed.”
“We’re sleeping together. We’re not alone.”
“So, what’s the big deal. We can track her by her earrings.”
“This is when we’re sleeping,” he said. “And she decides to go off to do mischief.”
“What sort of mischief can a one year old get into?”
Uri adjust one screw, then stood.
“Done. We have a remote in our room that turns this on and off.”
“Your mother used one of these?”
She noted he hadn’t answered her other question.
“Yeah. Took me until I was three to figure it out,” he said.
“How to get around it?”
“No, that it was there. You can’t get around it. Every five inches there is a beam. It goes all the way up to the top of the door. And they are invisible. She won’t be able to tell when it’s on or off.”
“This seems excessive.”
“Let’s go get dressed.”
“Every time I question Viperian parenting, you try and distract me.”
“Mag is instructing you on what you need to know and do.”
“A lot of it seems...counter intuitive and cruel.”
“It builds discipline which is essential for fitting into our culture and the Undent world.”
She eyed him.
“You don’t want a Gussy. There’s a new meaning to that name.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard. It means someone uncouth and undisciplined. But still… she’s only one.”
“The early impressionable years are the most important.”
Natalia remembered how Victoria had learned to handle being away from her when she was an infant. Mirren, her grandfather, had told her that her mother was away and she had to be good.
“Now that she is ambulatory, she is going to test all of the teachings we’ve already given her,” he said. “We do have to get dressed. The Festival starts at dusk.”
“From what I’ve seen, dressing seems rather simple or lacking.”
“You don’t want to be overdressed for the Festival of Sex.”
“I’m almost leery of going.”
“I missed last year. I want to go this year.”
“What were you doing last year?”
“We were having a baby.”
“Oh. Will everyone be there?”
“Most everyone. Sixteen on up as long as your mark has appeared.”
Natalia turned when she heard Mag’s voice downstairs.
Her voice was almost singsongy.
Natalia could hear giggling.
’I hear her. Where is that little girl?’
Natalia eyed Uri.
“And what does this little game do?” she said, referring to Mag pretending not to find Victoria.
’I can’t find her anywhere.’
There was the sound of Mag retreating to the kitchen.
“Let’s get dressed,” he said, taking her arm and dragging her into the bedroom.
“I can hardly call these clothes,” she said, holding the small piece of fabric.
“Everyone wears the same thing.”
“The men wear a front cloth, and the women wear a skirt and a strip across the breasts.”
“This doesn’t even cover the breasts. And why are they all blue?” she said.
“This is the Festival of Sex, sweetheart.”
He started undressing her. She again noted he didn’t answer her last question.
“If you keep undressing me like this, slow with kisses, we’re going to be late.”
“Just getting us in the mood,” he said.
“We are not having sex at the Festival.”
“Why do you think it’s called the Festival of Sex?”
“I prefer sex in the privacy of our bedroom.”
He smiled in her hair.
“Get dressed. You can wear one of your loose dresses until we get there in case we get pulled over or have an accident. I’ll wear shorts. Bonnie is going, too, even though she is driving us.”
“Who else is going?”
“Last year everyone missed the Festival. I’m talking about our staff because of Victoria. And because of Victoria, one of them has to miss it again. They drew straws. Mag lost.”
“But just for tonight. Everyone is taking turns. Tomorrow is Kate. The next night is Zena. Then the last night is Bonnie which means we have to drive ourselves. We have to pay everyone a premium to babysit. This is when babysitters strike it rich.”
“We already pay them.”
“To babysit during the Festival requires extra pay.”
“What did you do last year?”
“I had to give everyone extra pay. It is a Viperian law that if you have workers who cannot go to the Festival of Sex because of work, you must pay them a premium.”
“I guess I better see what this is all about.”
“Sex,” he said with a smile.
Victoria cocked an ear. Her parents were using the voice and words that she didn’t know. However, she knew her name when they spoke it. They were talking about her. She wished she knew what the other words meant.
She decided to move behind a chair for a new hiding spot. That was where Mag last looked, so she knew Mag wouldn’t look there again. With care, she tiptoed behind the chair and sat. She giggled that they couldn’t find her. As long as she stayed squatted down, they wouldn’t see. They never looked down.
She peered around the chair. Her nose caught the scent of fresh cookies. She wished cookie time would hurry up. Being alone in the living room wasn’t any fun.
Beside the chair was a table with a lamp. She looked at it. The cord snaked down to a plug in the wall. She grabbed the cord and pulled hard. The lamp crashed to the ground. She knew that would get Mag out here.
Mag came out of the kitchen. The door banged.
’What are you doing?’
’Hide and seek.’
Victoria made herself as small as she could while making her eyes as big as she could.
’Did you push that over?’
Victoria shook her head, then glanced up warily. Her mother and father were coming down the stairs. They were talking using those strange words again.
“Mag, that’s the third time she’s knocked that over,” Natalia said.
“That’s why there isn’t a light bulb in it. It’s plugged into the outlet that’s controlled by the switch. It’s off.”
“She’s probably pulling the cord,” Uri said.
“She just wants attention,” Mag said.
’Only one cookie,’ Natalia said to Victoria using a stern voice.
“I don’t know why you tell me to tell her that. We don’t really mind her stuffy herself with cookies. They’re grubbie cookies. They’re good for her.”
’Two,’ Victoria said, using sad, pleading eyes.
“That which is forbidden becomes desirable,” Uri said. “Just like when you tried to give her sanguine tea and she refused it. Just tell her she can’t have any and she’ll drink it.”
“We have to get you to understand these things,” Mag said. “Especially before she learns English.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand this,” Natalia said.
“Just think of Uri,” Mag said in a quiet voice. “When you tell him he can’t do something, what does he do?”
“Hey,” Uri said.
“We have to go. Is Bonnie ready?” he said. “Bonnie.”
He grabbed Natalia’s arm to pull her toward the garage door.
’Victoria. Be good. One cookie,’ he said.
Natalia saw Victoria pout at him.
’No tea,’ Natalia said. ‘Be a good girl.’
“See that wasn’t hard to do,” Uri said, dragging her out to the garage.
“What is the big hurry. We’ll get there.”
Bonnie was already standing by the limo with the back door open.
“Hurry up,” Bonnie said.
“Nice coat, Bonnie,” Natalia said.
Bonnie was wearing knee-high black boots and a black coat. She waved them into the limo.
“Will there be any Undents there?”
“No,” he said.
The limo pulled out into the street. They hit heavy traffic after only a few blocks.
“Saturday night. Everyone is out,” she said.
“All Moralis’s fault.”
“Why is this Moralis’s fault?”
“All the things he’s done as mayor have made the city safer. And to make sure we don’t have any issues at the Festival of Sex, he started the Summer Fest for the Undents. It will run the same weekend nights as the Festival of Sex.”
“And he made sure to put it on the other side of town.”
“Smartest thing he did,” he said.
“I can tell this traffic is going with us. All Viperian cars.”
She could see the red V on the vehicles marking them as Viperian.
“I still think it’s weird to have a four-day festival that starts on Saturday night and only runs from dusk to dawn.”
“You’ll see why,” he said.
“I was only able to take Monday off. I have to work half a day on Tuesday.”
“Not all Viperians can take time off at the same time.”
“So why not start Friday night…”
“Shush. It’s a Viperian tradition.”
He smiled and rubbed his cheek against hers.
“Where is everyone going to park?”
“Questions, questions. All the warehouses will be open for cars. There are quite a few lots there. They’ve all been cleaned up. And then there’s the parking garage.”
“Parking garage? In Hell? I don’t remember seeing that.”
“It’s actually on the backside of the warehouse where Moralis used to store tea. Boy, was that a pain to clean up.”
“Where are we parking?”
“Warehouse. Moralis owns that warehouse, so that’s where friends and family are parking.”
“I can’t image driving cars around those racks in the warehouse.”
“Each section on the ground level is perfect for one car. Then you just fill up the aisles.”
Natalia focused outside the windows when Bonnie pulled on the street to Hell. All the streetlights on this section of road had been changed out to blue lights. There were blue lights outlining the new gates to Hell. There was an arched sign over the gates.
“A Hell Of A Place,” she said, reading the sign. “Catchy.”
She gave him a look.
“I didn’t name it,” he said. “A group of businessmen meet regarding the rules and regulations of Hell and dictate what goes on. They voted on the name.”
“And you are part of that group, therefore, you named it.”
“It wasn’t my suggestion,” he said. “I suggested A Hell Of A Place To Shop, but they said it was too long and there would be more than just shops here.”
The limo passed the gates. One gate was partially open, and people were streaming through.
“I don’t see any of them in that skimpy outfit.”
“They are still wearing coats and dresses,” he said. “There will be hooks and hangers at all entrances for people to disrobe. You’ll see.”
The limo seemed to be heading toward another entrance.
“I see the wall has been fixed.”
“We’ve added to it as well. This side now extends down for almost a mile.”
“Wow. They’ve added landscaping and decorative tiles to the wall.”
“Not totally finished, but it’s looking better than a plain block wall.”
The limo slowed and turned. The first lot they passed was already full of cars.
“I see the tent city is gone.”
The second lot was also full of cars.
“That took a lot of work. We asked the Sisters of Fayth to help us.”
“The group that took over the Church?”
“Yeah, and they used Church funds to help rehome, rehabilitate, and find work for the people. Some of them just needed a little help.”
“When are they going to run out of Church funds?”
“I’m not sure. Recently, they auctioned off one of the Abbott’s yachts. Ravi actually bought it. I think he paid half a mill for it.”
“A man of God with a yacht. I’m sure there was a lot of gold plating. Makes me wonder how those things can float with all that weight.”
The limo passed the last lot.
“This one is also full.”
“People were encouraged to share rides. There’s another parking garage a few miles away and there is a shuttle running people over.”
“We have this whole limo. Why didn’t we share?”
“I offered. No one took me up on it, except, Zena is up front riding with Bonnie.”
“Oh, I didn’t see.”
“Kate drove to her mother’s. She’s carpooling over with a group. The north gate is only being used for taxis and bus traffic. To park in these lots, you had to put your name in for a lottery. We didn’t have to do that because of Moralis.”
The limo continued along. There were fewer vehicles.
“Oh, my word. He’s naked.”
Moralis stood by a large door. Cars were driving through it. The limo made the turn.
’Sharp right,’ Moralis said to Bonnie. ‘There are cones where you can park.’
The warehouse had no lights on. There were headlamps from the cars lighting up the area. Natalia saw the cones and the limo parked between them.
As soon as the limo stopped, Uri took off his shorts.
’Undress. We can leave our stuff here.’
She eyed him warily, but slid off the dress over her head.
The limo door opened. Uri slid out, giving her a hand out.
’Thanks, Bonnie,’ he said.
Natalia knew the rest of the night they would be using Viperian to communicate. And everyone she saw was practically naked. Bonnie was no longer wearing her boots and coat, but the tiny skirt and strip across her breasts. Zena, dressed the same, nodded a greeting while she passed and was gone.
’Evening,’ Moralis said, greeting them.
’Evening,’ Uri said.
Natalia at first thought Moralis was naked, but he was wearing the front piece. She couldn’t even call it a loin cloth because a loin cloth covered more.
Everywhere there were blue lights. Now that she wasn’t looking through the limo window, she could see what the blue light was doing. The outfit they wore seemed to become invisible in the lights, making everyone look naked. And everyone glowed.
’Why...why is everyone colored?’
She glanced at her own arm and saw glittering red, green, and orange.
’Biofluorescence,’ Uri said.
’Your first festival,’ Moralis said with a laugh.
’She’s never seen it,’ Uri said.
’We fluoresce. Under blue light, we will reflect light back. Another grubbie benefit,’ he said.
’And Undents can’t see a thing,’ Moralis said. ‘If one was here, they’d be in total darkness.’
’They can’t see the blue light?’
’No,’ Moralis said with a big smile.
A Viperian man came trotting up to take Bonnie’s hand.
’Evening, Trevor,’ Uri said.
He merely nodded and dragged Bonnie off. Natalia knew that was Bonnie’s man.
Two more cars pulled into the warehouse.
’Tia, Grazie, and Tracy. I didn’t catch who else was with them,’ Uri said.
’I thought I saw Rayna, your mom,’ Natalia said. ‘Tracy? Isn’t she a little young?’
’She’s sixteen, no seventeen now, and her mark is visible.’
’The other car was Francie, her mother, and two of her sisters,’ Moralis said.
He waved more cars in.
’Plus I’m allowing all the Viperian government officials, some police officers, lawyers, and such.’
’Are you going to have a full house?’
’We’re off then. Catch you later,’ Uri said.
He grabbed her arm and led her away.
Natalia was speechless with the colors around her.
’Blue light and we provide the rest,’ she said, meaning the colors.
’Those are special bulbs that can be switched to do the blue light or normal lighting. More cost effective then changing bulbs every year just for the Festival.’
’Always the accountant.’
He led her around one lot. They passed racks where people where hanging coats or dresses.
’This is called Art Way. Sort of a pun on artery. This is the main thoroughfare through Hell now.’
The street was packed with people.
Someone brushed a hand across her ass. She jumped.
’You’ll get a lot of that,’ Uri said to her. ‘My job is to keep them from going any farther.’
’Lovely,’ she said, being sarcastic.
’Once we have all the buildings filled with businesses and tenants, there will be no traffic allowed. Pedestrian only. Only during off hours will delivery trucks be allowed.’
’That’s nice. I love the benches and planters.’
She noticed the street names as well.
’He owns that block,’ Uri said.
’But the other way is Hewie Ave.’
’He owns that block. The street names indicate a block. They don’t have the map up yet, but at the beginning of Art Way will be a map of the area. There will be one at every entrance.’
’Don’t you own some buildings here?’
’I’ll show you.’
She noticed vendors lining the street.
’Scented body art?’
There were also musicians.
’Do they get paid a premium for working?’
’No,’ Uri said. ‘They get tips. I have my cash card. You scan.’
There were poles set up with scanners by every vendor and musician.
’The amounts are preset to tip performers. Anyone with a skill will be here to show off.’
He paused a moment.
There was an area with dart boards.
’Do they have a competition?’ she said.
’People throw and at the end of the evening, winners are announced.’
Uri stepped up.
The attendant shook his head.
’I’m eligible,’ Uri said.
He scanned his card to get three darts. As soon as he had them in his hand, he threw them.
’You’ll have to beat me,’ Grazie said, stepping up.
Natalia noted a henna tattoo that filled most of his back and down his left side. Tia had a matching tattoo on her body. The artist seemed to have known where they would fluoresce and the tattoo swirled around these areas.
’Then you’ll have to beat me,’ said a voice behind them.