One thing that a dysfunctional family can never be is normal - at least not without any intervention of some sort. No matter how much effort is placed into being a cohesive unit, some member of the family is bound to falter, giving preeminence once more to infighting and dissension. At the center of trying to keep the peace and serving as mediator in her deeply troubled family for as long as she could remember was Sondra. Now age 13, she had long ago given up hope of ever having a normal family life. The structure of her family was a complete and utter mess, and each member of the trio was at odds with the other. Ever since Sondra’s father had given her the choice to enter society at her own discretion some six years ago, for the past several years, she preferred spending most of her time outside of the cottage. No, her father hadn’t let his guard down; he was simply balked by age and the debilitating effects of Crohn’s disease. Though Mr. Sillow’s voice was still powerful and intimidating, physically he was withering away. Sondra knew that there was absolutely nothing he could have done to stop her from doing whatever she so pleased. Looking at him, he probably couldn’t even hurt a fly. And since he wasn’t on any kind of medications for his illness, he was living out the rest of his days in helpless misery. But what Sondra couldn’t wrap her mind around was why her mother wasn’t taking full advantage of such an opportune situation. Mrs. Sillow had been so programmed and brainwashed over the years by her husband that she was sure to be his thrall until the day that he died. Although she now had the free will to roam about just as freely as her daughter, the only time Mrs. Sillow would dare to step foot beyond the cottage’s front doorstep was when her husband wasn’t feeling well enough to go out and hunt down dinner. Apart from taking on the responsibility of being a huntress when she had to, Mrs. Sillow remained a cowardice homebody. To see her mother continue to live her life in fear of a physically incompetent man made Sondra feel sick to her very core. If she was to stay inside of the cottage while most of the drama between her parents was unfolding, she was absolutely certain that she would have snapped on her mother even worse than her father was prone to doing.
Being the social creatures that we humans are, Sondra had grown quite close with several families within the woods’ abutting community in spite of the traumatic experience she had suffered her very first time amongst them when she was seven years of age. Just months following the incident - which was around the same time that the symptoms of Mr. Sillow’s Crohn’s disease began to manifest themselves - her father had for no good reason resorted to being a scrooge once more, forcing her mother to readopt a sullied demeanor. From that point, the atmosphere inside the Sillow household reverted right back to its former, more familiar state: chaotic and infested with hatred and dark, evil spirits. The harsh remarks that were once exchanged exclusively between Mr. Sillow and his wife were now also being shot in the direction of their handicapped little girl. And when their verbal and emotional abuse towards her inevitably became exacerbated by physical abuse, Sondra had had enough. So that she could clear her head and gather her thoughts, she began to take full advantage of the fact that her father had begun leaving the cottage’s doors unlocked. Whenever she had endured all the mistreatment that she was capable of withstanding in a single day, she would stealthily slip out of the nearest available exit to take a relaxing stroll through the forest. During these solo walks, she would tell herself over and repeatedly that she would never mistreat her child whenever she had one and would do her best to convince herself that she wasn’t going to lose her young mind and wind up like her kooky parents. But after a while of serving as her own counselor, loony was exactly how she was beginning to feel. Having to resort to talking to herself made her feel unwanted, stupid, and worthless. What she was craving and needed more than anything in her life at the time was some reassurance. She wanted to feel loved. She wanted to be a part of a normal family. But the only way that she would be able to attain any of the aforementioned desires was by heading back out amongst the same rowdy populace that had shown her no form of pity, kindness, or compassion only a few months earlier. She knew that she would have to take a different approach to entering the community on her next visit there.
One afternoon, Sondra had found herself walking further into the woods than she normally would. It was the day that the resolute young girl was going to take her life into her own hands and shape her own future, since it seemed as though neither of her parents had her best interests at heart any longer. On the day that her father had served as her tour guide through the woods, Sondra had incredibly memorized the exact route that they had taken to arrive at their destination. Though it may have seemed that she was only interested in the things that were moving around on four legs or soaring high above her head in the sky that day, she had somehow managed to absorb the minutest accounts of the entire experience. That same cluster of perennial golden button flowers that her father had used to help him locate the Toffers’ cottage many years ago was the same distinct landmark Sondra was now using to get as far away from the cottage as possible. And once the determined young girl had made her way back to the homes within the community, she quickly devised a plan that would ensure she wouldn’t end up becoming the public’s spectacle yet again. Instead of stepping out from behind the protective barrier of homes this time, Sondra determined that it would be in her best interest to just randomly knock on one of the multitude of back doors that were facing her.
“Hello, young lady.” A beautiful, middle-aged white woman wearing a welcoming smile on her face had greeted Sondra at the door of the first home she had selected. “How can I help you?”
Sondra had to think fast if her outlandish plan was to have any chance of working out the way that she was hoping for it to. “Well, ma’am, I … I … I ….” Less than 10 words into her pitch, Sondra went completely blank. That was the first time that she was speaking one-on-one with somebody other than one of her parents, and the situation got the best of her. But to her surprise, she suddenly found herself securely wrapped up in the arms of the compassionate homemaker, who had gotten down on bended knees to try and console the crying and trembling mysterious young girl who had popped up at her back door out of the blue. When the kindly lady had first laid eyes on Sondra, her primary concern was Sondra’s appearance. Apart from readily noticing the girl’s apparent physical disability, she was also troubled by how frail and dirty she was. As the homemaker was doing her best to pacify Sondra, she couldn’t help but catch a whiff of the child’s noxious body odor. The immense stress brought on by the constant quarreling that took place inside of the Sillows’ disputatious household had dramatically suppressed Sondra’s appetite and deprived her of her sparkling childish gaiety. She had almost altogether quit eating and was neglecting her personal hygiene. Subsequently, her skeleton began to protrude through her thinned out flesh and clusters of ringworm patches had broken out across her contaminated skin. Being a mother of five, the housewife’s heart automatically went out to the in-need child. She felt compelled to do something. Once she had gotten Sondra calmed down and was finally able to get her name out of her, the caring lady brought her into her home and formally introduced herself to her before feeding her, cleaning her up, and applying a thick paste of mashed garlic cloves to her lesions.
She was Olivia Peck. She, her husband, and their five children were like most other Yarmouth residents who had recently set up new lives there to take advantage of the town’s beneficial soil. Her husband toiled long hours as a farmhand and she took care of everything else. Having been a resident of Yarmouth for more than a year now, Mrs. Peck was curious as to why she had never seen Sondra around such a small area of the town before. But apart from divulging her name to Mrs. Peck, Sondra remained otherwise taciturn. Even though Mrs. Peck fit the criteria for the kind of person Sondra was hoping to have run in to, the bashful little girl wasn’t quite ready to just open herself up to a complete and total stranger so soon - at least not to a strange adult.
When Mrs. Peck introduced Sondra to her children, she was surprised to see how quickly the muted child’s countenance completely changed. All of a sudden Sondra felt the inclination to play and chatter. But what was most surprising about the whole situation was the fact that Sondra had the most resounding voice out of all of the children in the bunch. Mrs. Peck never would have guessed that the timorous girl would have been such a live wire. Wherever Sondra had come from, Mrs. Peck’s extrasensory perception told her that the environment there wasn’t a stable one. So to see how happy the child was in the moment compared to her hapless demeanor earlier on in the day unwittingly brought a smile of satisfaction to Mrs. Peck’s face. Sondra’s joviality was cut short, however, when Mr. Peck arrived home from a hard day’s work in the field. His arrival was an indicator that darkness would soon be setting in; and in those days, being that it wasn’t good custom for a visitor to be in the home of a host after a certain hour, Sondra was informed that she would have to return home to her dwelling. The news instantly evoked tears from the saddened girl’s eyes. She was nowhere near ready to part ways with the Peck children, whom she had so quickly gotten attached to. But Mrs. Peck did, however, give her an invitation to return the following day. She wanted to continue tending to the child’s ringworms until they were completely eradicated. And sure enough, Sondra returned the next day… and the following day… and then the day following that. She even continued coming around once her skin had cleared up. After a period of time, she became just like a blood-relative to the Peck family.
Her new brothers and sisters - Carl, 15; Timothy, 13; Alicia, 12; Brenda-Lee, 10; and Miles, seven - were the ones who showed her the ropes of life early on in their budding relationship. They were the ones who had showed her how to counteract the roughneck street merchants’ sales tactics; they were the ones who introduced her to money and taught her how to make purchases with it and count change; they were the ones who christened her taste buds with its first ever sugar treat: a jumbo rainbow-swirl lollipop; they were the ones who taught her how to be confident and accept herself for who she was. For the most part, Sondra’s brothers and sisters were her everything. As their newest sibling’s keeper, the Peck children also felt that the onus was on them to show Sondra not only the good things that life had to offer, but also the negative things that fell under the umbrella of reality. As peaceful a place as Yarmouth was, it did contain its elements of danger (some being real and tangible threats, while other, more entrancing dangers abounded in folklore).