A Tall and Small Collection | Soren |

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Chapter Twenty-Five | What Happened?

Soren, for a moment, only saw red as he stared at Brady’s broken body. He looked like a corpse, still and lifeless if not for the wheezing in his lungs. There were deep bruises obviously made by grasping, careless fingers. Soren felt nauseous at the notion of such a thing happening to him. Human children were terrifying enough without the thought of them grabbing hold of a Borrower. Both of Brady’s legs seemed to splay to the side oddly. Not broken, but not right. There were cuts and scrapes all over his body and his face, some fresh and many more scabbed over.

Suddenly, Soren debated on retracting his aid and, instead, stiffly asked, “What happened?”

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“Thanks again for watching Austin, Ashlynn. It really means a lot,” said Austin’s mother, Katie, who knelt down to look her son in the eye, grabbing his shoulders to make sure he didn’t run or turn away. “Now Austin. You be on your best behavior for Ashlynn, okay?”

“’Kay mom,” he said while squirming in his mother’s grasp, obviously anxious to have her gone. Katie smiled and gave him a kiss on the forehead which he shied away from as far as he could.

With that, Katie whisked herself out of the door. Ashlynn sighed under her breath and turned to the nine-year-old who was already poking around in the kitchen drawers. Austin was a nosy kid with a proclivity to find trouble and ignore parental figure requests until the last possible moment. All the more reason for Ashlynn to be grateful for shutting and locking her bedroom door with Soren and his brothers inside.

“Well, if you’re ready, let’s go play,” said Ashlynn, knowing this distraction would be just enough to keep the kid from rummaging through the rest of her cabinets. It worked. Within two minutes, Austin had forgotten completely about nosing through the pots and pans and bags.

The distractable child went from one game to the next, not really investing time or effort into each activity; that is, until he wanted to play with his action figures.

Austin ran to his backpack and wrenched the zippers free as he walked back to the living room table where Ashlynn was seated. One by one, he started pulling out different action figures. Some of them Ashlynn recognized like the ones from DC and Marvel, but there were a few odd ones that looked like they were part of some cartoon that she didn’t recognize.

He rattled off which one was which and how they connected in all of the different stories. Mostly, he would talk about their epic fights and who got hurt the most. Ashlynn could care less about such things, suppressing a shudder of her own when listening to his descriptions.

It wasn’t until he pulled out the last figure that Ashlynn’s attention snapped back to the present. Something was odd about it. The others were stiff and had a plastic sheen to the surface, but not this one. It hung limp. It was fleshy and discolored with blues and reds and purples like deep bruises. It winced – he winced – at the child’s grasp.

“I found this one. It’s really cool! It’s like… a flexible robot, but it does stuff. Coolest part is it doesn’t need batteries,” said Austin. To Ashlynn’s horror, he set down the Borrower, pinching his leg between his fingers, and began walking him on the table, guiding one foot in front of the other. “Now, walk!” Austin relinquished his grasp on the Borrower while Ashlynn watched him attempt to stagger forward.

“Wh… erm… where did you find h… it?” asked Ashlynn, hoping that she wouldn’t give too much away – even if Austin was just nine years old.

“In my room,” replied the boy casually as he prodded the Borrower in the back, nearly making him lose his balance. “Walk faster.”

Ashlynn could see the Borrower shaking and his ragged breathing as he attempted to do so, but his legs only carried him marginally faster. He had blondish hair, from what Ashlynn could tell, and looked ready to give out at any moment. In fact, he did.

A few more faltering steps later and he collapsed to his knees; but, just before he did and before Austin could reach for him, Ashlynn reached forward to let the Borrower fall onto her open palm. Ashlynn could see the greedy gleam in Austin’s eyes that she had his possession and swept him away out of the child’s grasp.

“Hey! Give it back!” whined Austin as he began to stand to gain reach on his baby-sitter. Ashlynn could hear the Borrower whimper as he attempted to push himself off of Ashlynn’s palm. It was no use. He collapsed to his side shivering on his curling frame. Ashlynn could have sworn she heard him muttering, “please no,” and “don’t let him,” but she couldn’t be certain.

“I will. I will. I just want to see him,” replied Ashlynn, redirecting his attention to a different action figure. “Tell me again what this one does. Maybe these two can have a fight?” Austin wasn’t pleased based on the frown in his eyes which wrinkled his nose like he had smelled something bad, but seemed to let it go as he began to explain once again who each action figure was and what powers they possessed. He became so enraptured through explaining everything again that he didn’t notice Ashlynn stealthily lower her hand with the Borrower in it from the table into her lap.

When Ashlynn thought it was safe, she suggested they make a snack and come back for the action figure fight of the century. Austin agreed and scurried to the kitchen to rummage through the refrigerator. Ashlynn seized the opportunity. While Austin was preoccupied, she reached up into a cabinet and pulled out the first contained she could get her fingers on, a take-out container she hadn’t used but for some reason kept. She shoved a dishtowel into it and laid the Borrower on top of it.

“I’m so sorry. I’ll do what I can,” she muttered, but it was no use. The Borrower had passed out either from stress or pure exhaustion. It was probably better that way. Ashlynn couldn’t slip away just yet; not while Austin was attempting to pull our every jar she had in the refrigerator. She opened one of the cabinets that was too high for him to reach and set the container inside, apologizing profusely in her mind. Maybe Soren can help. I just have to have one quick opening.

They fixed a snack and Ashlynn suggested they watch something – to which Austin thoroughly agreed. His mom, Katie, let him watch far too much in Ashlynn’s opinion, but the kid absorbed television like a sponge and would stop fidgeting for once. Unfortunately, it was the only thing Ashlynn could come up with to keep him undeniably focused. She clicked on the television and let the cartoons roll as she excused herself to clean up the dishes and go to the bathroom.

Austin, thoroughly distracted and preoccupied at the moment, didn’t even notice as Ashlynn skidded right by the kid, container in hand. She slipped into the room, hands shaking, as she called out for the one person she knew could help; however, it had not even crossed her mind that the person she was bringing to save was the one who helped start it all with Soren and his brothers. She had no idea how Soren felt about the figure in the box, nor did she know how he would react.

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