A Lioness

Sucking in a breath, she noted the way the air felt cooler across her left ribs where Aleksandr’s blade had sunk in. The copper taste of blood filled her mouth as she looked at him through her one good eye. She barely noticed the swollen throb of the other as she looked at him.

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.

Sighing in relief, she braced herself. Blood trickled down the middle finger of her right hand. She could feel the heat of the crimson river as it flowed from the gaping gash on her upper arm.

Knowing she had to bide her time, she had allowed herself to be sloppy. Aleksandr craved the triumph, and if she put up too much of a fight early on she was afraid he would step back, allow the other orphans to step in and they would disperse, others going to search the rest of the grounds.

Running her tongue along her upper gums, she resisted the urge to wince as blood seeped into her tongue.

Aleksandr thought he was a cheetah, fast and efficient. His moved were quick and calculated, He had hunted her for a long time and his mouth was salivating now that she was within reach.

She was a lioness. Her muscular build made her more capable of taking him down, her paws were massive, the size of his head and her heart was determined.

It was time she show Aleksandr just how capable she was.

In the back of her mind, she could hear the car starting, feel Hunter shifting in the driver’s seat and hesitating. No matter what she had told him, he would wait for her. He would wait until she was dead and in the ground and they came for him.

All the more reason she had to get to that car and fast.

Closing the space, she quickly swung her foot up and through the air. It connected hard with Aleksandr’s jaw, sending him back as he lost his footing and his consciousness for a moment. She used the moment to grab the knife from his sheath. Throwing it through the air, she heard it sink into Twee’s shoulder. He stumbled, dropping to his knees in shock.

Running out of the room, she hopped up on a desk and scurried through the window.

If she were competing here, Aleksandr would tell her retreating was a loss. She had never cared much for his opinion, or for winning. She had merely tried to survive, anything else was trivial.

Biting the inside of her cheek, she tried not to call out in pain when she fell to the floor she her chest hit the ground. Her ribs vibrated with pain, her body shaking as it threatened to give up on her. Pushing herself up, she forced her legs to steady as she zipped quickly through the trees.

She kept her pace even, trying to keep her visibility to a minimum as she weaved through the trees and around buildings.

They didn’t know where the car was, there was still a chance to get there and leave unnoticed.

A shot sounded. It seemed so loud it was deafening and then it quieted everything around it. Her breath fogged before her as she sucked in air, the animals panicking to get away before they stilled, hiding.

Quickly moving to hide behind a tree, she waited.

A bunch of orphans ran out to stand beside the main building, a twenty or so yards from the tree she hid behind.

Aleksandr came out of the building, shoving a few of them aside as he looked around. “A gun?” His voice was heavy with disbelief. “Which one of you pathetic excuses for a human being dare bring a gun into Refuge?”

Everyone stepped back, their eyes intent on the one who had been so foolish as to think Aleksandr would ever accept such a cowardly weapon be used here of all places.

Clearing her throat, a pale girl with dirty blonde hair stepped forward, the gun still in her hand. “Sir,” She practically whimpered, realizing her punishment would be harsh. “You said to stop her by any means.”

His hand whipped across her face. “Have I taught you nothing?”

“I just thought-”

“No, I don’t think you thought at all.” Pulling a knife from his belt, it was already sunk in the flesh between her eyes before she could gasp in shock. Her knees buckled, her mouth gaping open before she crumpled to the floor. “Are there any others with such ridiculous thoughts?”

Silence fell across the group.

“Wonderful. Bring her to me. Now!”

Waiting until they dispersed to look, she made her way to the car.

Pulling open the door, she was in the passenger’s seat before Hunter could react. “Jesus,” He looked at her. “Are you alright? I didn’t think you were coming.”

“Go!” She demanded.

She didn’t have to tell him twice. Turning the key, he quickly pulled away, following her directions as she barked them at her.

“No lights,” She told him as he tried to make his way through the early dawn. “Left here, quickly. They will have noticed us by now.”

Lifting her hands from her abdomen, she looked down at the thick redness that slicked her hand. Letting out a breath, she kept her eyes ahead and hoped they made it to the small airport before she completely bled out.

 

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Too Important To Love

In three days, she was going to be seventeen.

Birthdays had never really meant much to her. When she was younger, it had seemed sad. Her mother and father were masquerade as perfect parents with these happy faces painted on as they took her out to dinner to celebrate what she knew now for sure was one of their biggest mistakes.

Her.

It wasn’t a depressing thought she used to keep herself down, she was fine with it. Her parents had been full of lust and too young to know that was all it was. He was oblivious to just how sick she was and how mentally unfit she was to belong to anyone. Her mother just wanted to belong to someone, regardless of the consequence.

Since she had moved in with Vincent and Harrison, she had learned they made a huge deal out of birthdays. There were surprises, and a ridiculous amount of gifts and money being spent and they would block whole weeks out of their calendar to celebrate one another.

It was sweet, in a way. She would enjoy it more if she got to participate in their celebrations without them doing the same for her.

Harrison hopped onto the couch, putting his head in her lap as they watched TV. “So, have you been thinking about what you want for your birthday?” He asked her, trying his best to seem nonchalant.

Vincent had been away on a business trip. Whenever he had to go away, he usually hired someone to watch over them, but since Vincent had turned sixteen, he had trusted them to be alone in the apartment and had the doorman and security check in periodically.

He was expected to return the evening of the day before her birthday.

“Nothing.” She said absent-mindedly, watching the romance movie that was on TV.

Groaning, he rolled over on his side to watch. “Why do you watch this nonsense?”

“They are pretty predictable.” She nodded. “But who doesn’t want to believe you can find love no matter the situation?”

Harrison looked up at her. “You don’t even go on dates. How are you supposed to find love?”

Sparrow lifted her shoulders. “What’s the point of dating? According to your mother we are already betrothed.” She joked.

“If our lives were a romance movie, we would already be in love with on another. We just haven’t realized it yet.” He smiled up at her. “Do you love me, Sparrow?”

Running her hand slowly down his cheek, she looked into his eyes. “I do. Forever and always I do, but I didn’t realize it until this very moment. Kiss me!” She pursed her lips and made smoothing noises at him.

He pushed her face away. “Stop!” He laughed, rolling off the couch.

Sparrow laughed hysterically when he rolled into the coffee table, shaking all the contents on top of it and spilling her soda.

“Ouch!” He moaned, pushing himself up to his knees. Looking up at her, he frowned, rubbing at the side of his head. “Do you see what you did?”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything but confess my love and affection for you. I didn’t think you were going to be such a baby about it.” She playfully rustled his hair.

Moving his head out of reach, he got to his feet and sat beside her. “I am not a baby.”

She snorted at him. “Whatever you say, Harry.”

“So there is no one you are crushing on right now?” He asked her once he settled back on the couch.

Sparrow shook her head. “No one that interests me. You know, you are one to make fun, but you don’t really date anyone either.”

Thinking about it, Harrison frowned. “Yeah, no one really interests me either.” He was quiet for a while, sitting with her as they watched the movie.

Reaching out, he took her hand and held onto it in his lap as they watched.

It was comfortable, and Sparrow slid down to enjoy the movie and the company.

“You should only have relationships with people you don’t really care about.” Harrison said finally. “People you aren’t afraid to lose.”

Her brow creased.

“When you fall in love with someone you are actually afraid to lose, when it all doesn’t work out, you end up losing the most important person in your life. That is why we would never work, I love you more than I’ve ever loved anything, and if anything ever happened between us and we broke up, I would want to shut you out so completely. I’d end up losing the only person I had ever truly let into my heart.”

He didn’t look at her then, and she was glad for it because her eyes started to fog over. Harrison was the most important person in her life besides Vincent. He was the person who showed her she could be loved.

There was so much truth to his words. She was the same way. She shut down when she was hurt, closing herself off from the rest of the world.

Falling in love with Harrison would be losing him.

Squeezing his hand, she cleared her throat. “So I guess it’s a good thing we don’t plan to fall in love.”

 

Judging Character

“Jesus, that was awkward.” Sparrow let out the breath she had been holding in. She felt as though she had dived into the depths without an oxygen tank, only to have to struggle to the surface, unsure of whether or not she would get there in time.

A waitress with wide hips walked up with a smile on her lips. She placed the stack of pancakes between them and filled their two mugs with coffee before winking at them and walking away.

Vincent sat back, cupping his black coffee between his hands. He watched as Sparrow shovelled four pancakes onto her plate and then smeared butter over the steaming pile. The aroma was intoxicating, but he was more interested in the company and conversation than the food.  “I was hoping to spare you. I hadn’t seen him in a number of months and was sure he would still be in Paris with Meredith. She is opening a new gallery and I couldn’t imagine her letting him out of her talons while she is so stressed.”

The thought of a stressed Meredith strutting around barking orders at people caused a chill to run down her spine. “Jesus.” She repeated.

There was something in the way Vincent’s eyes watched. If he were looking at a client, his eyes were powerful. They exuded confidence and demanded respect. When he looked at his son, there was question. His eyes shone with the curiosity of someone seeing something for the first time. When he looked at Meredith they were practically seething. She often wondered what his eyes looked like when he first saw her, when he used to love her.

When Vincent looked at her, they seemed to glimmer with millions of unspoken words. His eyes became the clearest night sky lit with billions of stars reflecting off clear waters.

She often thought about his eyes when she missed him. On a low day, she would wonder if those eyes would make a difference to her day.

His eyes stole a glance at her from across the table as he added a little cream to his coffee. As he stirred it slowly, he began the conversation that was trying to claw it’s way out of his mouth. “Rachel,”

Rolling her eyes Sparrow moaned and threw her hands up dramatically. “Vincent… no.”

“Come now, humor me.” He stared at her, letting few moments pass before trying again. “When you first came to live with us, and I was going through old cases I would often ask your opinion. You were such a wonderful judge of character.” Placing his mug on the table, he rested his open palms on each side of it. “So?”

“Are you just going to keep asking me until I answer you?” She chewed on her pancakes before shifting her weight on the vinyl bench of her booth.

The corner of his lips curved up. “Time doesn’t always change things.”

Raising her brow, she couldn’t help but smile back at him. If there was one thing she was sure nothing would ever change, it was how stubborn Vincent was. “Maybe it’s changed my judge of character.” She teased him.

The corner of his eyes wrinkled as he sipped at his coffee. He was doing that thing where he only smiled with his eyes. That was one of her favourite things about him.

Sighing, Sparrow put down her fork and knife and leaned back. She rolled her head around on her neck to ease some of the tension before waving her hands out before her. “Jesus, alright, alright. I don’t know what you expect from me, I only met this woman for a few minutes and I have no idea about their history together.”

“But you have already formed an opinion of her, haven’t you?” He urged.

This whole situation was odd to her. Vincent and Harrison always had the perfect relationship. If Vincent didn’t like the relationship between Harrison and a girl he had chosen, he would tell him and usually Harrison would be swayed by his father’s opinion. It seemed like the world they had together was a house of cards, and it had all come tumbling down when she had walked away from it all.

The friendship she had thought would be everlasting between Harry and her had all but disappeared, like waking from a dream. Her father figure, Vincent, had been pushed away to make everything easier for her, and the dynamic between Harrison and Vincent seemed as broken as the one between her and Harrison.

She couldn’t help but crease her brow as she looked at Vincent. Folding her hands on the table in front of her as she looked at him, she decided to weigh in on the overall situation before zoning in on Rachel specifically. “Well, it would seem that she is someone more suited to what Meredith wants, then for what Harrison or even you would want. She had a very expensive purse on her arm, her nails were freshly done, as was her hair, all her clothes seemed to be bought from high end boutiques. I would guess she is someone Meredith hooked Harrison up with from some type of snooty club.”

Vincent nodded.

“Now you said you and Harrison don’t keep in touch anymore. That wouldn’t be your choice so I am guessing he never left Paris when he fled…” She stopped, not wanting to touch base on their relationship and how it all fell apart. Clearing her throat, she continued, “But you seemed to know her well enough when you saw her there. He called you.” Her eyes narrowed. “With doubts.”

“This is exactly why I asked you for your opinion of her.” He stated. “He called me about three months ago and told me about how serious their relationship seemed to be growing, with Meredith’s urgings of course. The two of you are no longer teenagers, and she wants Harrison married and with children sooner rather than later. He called me to discuss… reservations.”

“Because he feels she is interested more in the King status than in the relationship itself.” It wasn’t a question.

“Precisely.” His eyes searched her face. “If you were to guess why she would be so interested in marrying Harrison after merely six or so months, what would be your reason for it?”

Normally she would say money, but it was clear by looking at the woman that Rachel already had that. However there was something so desperate about her when she had marched in, something so broken about the way she had looked at Sparrow, assuming they were having an affair. The King name was something a lot of women sought, and there was only one.

Harrison.

She didn’t have very long to figure the woman out, but she would be lying to Vincent if she told him she didn’t have an opinion. Throwing her head back, she wished they weren’t talking about all of this, but she knew she owed him her opinion if that was what he wanted from her.

“I don’t know much about her to judge on her motives, but I know enough about Harrison to know he isn’t happy. He doesn’t love her.”

Frowning, Vincent nodded. “That was my thoughts too. As I’ve said, I’ve had little chance to discuss his relationship with him. Meredith keeps him too close.”

That too was disconcerting. She would have to touch base on that later.

Reaching over, Vincent covered Sparrow’s hand with his own. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“Being such a great judge of character.”

Neville 9. Consequences

The blades of grass came up along her legs, tickling her as she sat in the open field behind their house. Picking a dandelion, she twirled the stem between her fingers, watching the vibrant flower spin.

Lying back, she tucked her hands behind her head and looked up at the clear blue sky. Fluffy white clouds slowly made their way across like ships on the sea.

Viola had been out here since breakfast. Her mother had given her very direct orders. She was to stay outside and not bother her or her father today. The doctor would be around after lunch to see her dad and she had enough to deal with. Her mother thought whatever had been ailing Viola’s father was also what seemed to be making baby Edward seem ‘not himself’. She didn’t want Viola in the house where she could catch whatever it was.

So she was here, lying in the grass wishing she had been aboard one of those fluffy white ships in the sky. Anywhere would be better than here, she told herself.

Anywhere Neville wasn’t,

Her head was still sore from yesterday. After passing out, she had awoken this morning in her bed. Her clothes had been changed and she had been carefully tucked in. She wondered what her mother must have thought, finding her there on the floor.

Unconscious.

Sleeping to an unsuspecting mother.

Relief had poured over her when she had awoken this morning. She had missed the night. She hadn’t had to lay awake, wondering what Neville was doing in the shadows, or if he was even there at all. Instead, she had greeted the morning.

Letting out a sigh, she rolled onto her stomach and parted the grass. Peering into the dirt below, she watched as the ants scurried quickly past the strip of sunlight she was allowing them.

Boredom was beginning to set in, she realized. Pushing herself up, she decided to go for a walk. Stretch out her legs before she went in for lunch.

Walking into the woods behind her house, she instantly felt the cool breeze that lived in the shade. Kicking at small rocks, she bent down and scooped up a stick and swung it carelessly through the air.

Outside, her troubles seemed to ebb away. Away from her room and in the light of the day, Neville seemed like a bad thought and nothing more. She was free of him here.

Doubling over, she kept her face level with the ground as she walked. She wasn’t sure yet what she was looking for, only that she was looking. Skinny branches brushed against her as she walked, no one tended to the paths out here, not really. Her father had had attempted it years ago, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Viola was the only one who played out here, and she preferred it grown out. She felt like an explorer walking through the Amazon… or somewhere else she would decide that day.

Pushing a branch absentmindedly from her face, she continued with her nose practically to the ground.

Something heavy pressed against her forehead and she shoved it. It swung back and hit her with force in the same spot it had pressed before.

Groaning, she straightened to look at what was blocking her path.

Eyes wide, she stumbled, falling back to the ground. Scurrying away she screamed.

Her scream was like a siren.

The screen door could be heard swinging open on the porch, feet hurrying towards her as she sat there, screaming. She was unable  to stop.

Her mom was beside her, looking down at her. Her hands ran frantically over Viola, trying to feel any breaks or wounds. “Viola!” She shook her, trying to stop the screaming. “What? What is it?”

When she didn’t answer, her mother followed her terrified eyes.

Clasping her hand over Viola’s eyes, she scooped her up and hurried her back to the house.

Lifting the phone, her mom foaled a number before covered Viola’s ears with her hands and talking, frantically to whomever she had called. Despite her soft smile as she looked at Viola, her eyes were filling with tears.

They sat together waiting when her mother hung up. Huddled together on the couch, her mother spoke softly to her but she couldn’t hear anything.

All she could hear was a slow creaking.

The slow creaking of a taunt rope swinging slightly as it held the weight of her father, dangling lifelessly from the tree above. His eyes were wide and bloodshot as they stared down at her.

On his face, the most bloodcurdling smile.

Meredith’s Proposition

Sparrow held out a hanger and looked at the confusing thing hanging from it. As far as she could tell it was either some kind of dress or some large scarf. Glimpsing at the price tag, her brows shot up. Whatever it was, it was made from baby panthers or something, because that was the only way the price made any sense.

Carefully, she placed the hanger back in the rack as though she were diffusing a bomb.

“Can I help you find anything?” A slim and angular looking woman walked up to her. She had a pitch black bob haircut with bangs and every single strand of hair was in place. She looked like a piece of art in her black turtleneck dress and the nose like a raven’s beak.

Never had she felt more out-of-place. Clearing her throat, Sparrow shook her head. “Um, no thank you. I am just waiting for someone.” She gestured to the dressing room.

The woman’s eyes widened slightly. “Mrs. King?” She asked.

If someone had told her this morning while she was eating her cereal that she would be talked into going shopping, she would have laughed in disbelief. If that same person had told her they would end up splitting up and she would be stuck spending the day with Meredith while the boys shopped elsewhere, she would have died.

Forcing a smile, she nodded. “Yes.”

As the woman grinned at her, she slowly made her way closer to the dressing room feeling it was safer to pretend not to hear Meredith talking to her as she changed than to chat with the woman who was now looking at her as though she were a meal.

“How is everything going in there, Meredith?” She asked, hoping she would be told she was almost done.

“This place used to have so much more to offer.” She sighed, shoving another article of clothing out from behind the curtain. The saleswoman quickly scurried over to take it and disappeared. “Did you see anything you like?”

The question completely appalled Sparrow. “Oh no. I would never buy anything here.”

Poking her head out, she looked at Sparrow. “And why is that?”

“It’s very expensive here.” Sparrow figured to go with that, not wanting to offend Meredith’s tastes.

Throwing back her head, Meredith laughed and went back to trying things on. “Vincent can afford the prices.” She told her.

Sparrows brow creased. “I’m sure he could, but I am not Vincent.”

“Yes, but Vincent has legally adopted you… after your mother…” she paused. “Therefore you can afford it.”

Her heart beat hard in her chest for a moment at the mention of her mother. The time after her passing had been so confusing. Everything was changing and changing quickly. She could only vaguely recall the conversation she had with Vincent a week later. How he had explained her mother had written a letter when she had first gone into the hospital to let people know what she wanted to happen to Sparrow should anything happen during treatment. Her father had come forward and met with Vincent. She had been expected to make a decision.

Her father, or Vincent.

At the time, she had felt like a burden either way and told Vincent to do whatever he wanted. She had expected him to wipe his hands of her then, finally free of the obligation.

Instead he had fought her father for custody… and won. Later, he legally adopted her.

She knew her adoption meant her father hadn’t fought that hard. He had probably accepted some amount of money to leave her be, sign away his rights. She didn’t realize it was exactly what she had wanted until it was already done.

Her father had left her at a time when her life was hardest, to go back to him now would mean she forgave him. And she couldn’t. Not when she had struggled so hard to keep her mom from sinking, not when she had failed at that and lost her mother in the end.

Vincent had been her Saving Grace.

“I couldn’t shop with Vincent money. He has already done so much for me, I would never take advantage like that.”

Poking her head out again, Meredith raised her eyebrow. “You know, if you came to me with Paris, you wouldn’t want for anything. I have always wanted a daughter to spoil, and there are so many luxuries that go to waste having a son.” Sighing, she pulled her head back in the curtains. “You should come back with me, at least try it for a couple of weeks and see how you like it.”

Sparrow frowned. “You want me to come to Paris with you?” She was confused. Her relationship with Meredith had always been rocky. At first she had thought Sparrow was a toy, a plaything Vincent had gotten to trick Harrison into staying in Toronto. Then she had accepted her but resented her, making sure to put her in her place whenever she thought possible. Then she had silently wished her the worst, her eyes would burn into her but she never said anything, knowing full well Harrison wouldn’t speak to her if she didn’t behave herself.

Now she was offering to bring her to Paris so she could spoil her? Buy her things with equally ridiculous price tags hanging off them.

Something was going on.

“You don’t have to worry about being alone. I’m sure if you ever did decide to come along to Paris with me, Harrison would come along. He has made you that promise to take care of you, and it seems he refuses to sway.”

And there it was. Meredith’s new plan to get Harrison back. Suddenly the suggestion to break off, gals and guys, so we could find things we needed. Girls could get bras and guys could get… rid of the girls or something.

“I never asked Harrison to take care of me. I never asked either of them to do anything for me.” She dropped her face in her hands and tried to rub the feeling of being annoyed from her forehead.

Meredith stepped out of the dressing room and pulled Sparrow to her feet. “I know the two of you are still young, but we could definitely begin getting the two of you ready. We all know you’ll be married one day.” She wrapped my arm around her own. “If you asked him, or if I hinted you were interested, it would definitely be something he would do.”

Marry Harrison?

Nudging me slightly as we left the store, she waved at Vincent and Harrison when we saw them on the other side of the street. “Think about it dear. Honestly, could you ask for a better husband than my Harrison?”

Neville 8. Sinister

A thousand whispers filled every space of the house as Viola made her way up the stairs close behind her mother. It was deafening, she kept her eyes on her mother waiting for her to react to it all, waiting for her to ask her if she heard them too.

Instead she walked across the hall at the top of the stairs and into her parents room. She looked around for Viola’s father.

Brow raised, she turned and went into Edward’s room. Placing him in his crib, she left the room and walked back towards her own, all the while Viola was glued to the back of her heels.

“Viola,” her mother turned back to her, pausing before stepping into her bedroom. “Go on to your room while I check on your father.”

“But-”

“Viola!” Her mother’s patience was wearing thin. “Go on.”

Turning, Viola slowly walked to her room hoping she would be called back before she reached it. She wasn’t, and as she look back over her shoulder, she was given a stern look from her mother that forced her through the door.

Letting out a long breath, she wondered if Neville was upset with her. Her mother may not believe her, but she knew it wasn’t her father banging around up here. She had heard where the steps came from, felt where they went.

Standing with her back to the door, she looked around her bedroom. “Neville?” Her voice was hoarse as she said his name, suddenly afraid. “What are you doing up here?”

The silence made all the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and her stomach flip.

She didn’t move from her place by the door, her open palms pressing up against the wood.

“The more intriguing question, dear Viola, is what were you doing down there? It seems suddenly your truest friend has become someone you’d rather get rid of.” His voice was smooth like silk, but she felt like he whipped her with his words, each one maker her more and more afraid.

Swallowing hard, she wondered what she should tell him. From the moment she met him he had seemed able to pull her words right out of her head before she even had a chance to speak them. Her heart beat hard at the thought that Neville may already know she was afraid, know she no longer wanted to hear his stories or play pretend.

“What had been your plan? I wonder. Telling your mother I was the one behind your father’s curious behaviour. Had she believed you, what then? Tell me, Viola. Dear friend. What then?”

His voice made her brow furrow and her throats close up. He spoke slowly to her, yet with this urgency. His voice boomed even though it was merely a whisper and all his sentences seemed to fall away, echoing.

Never before had his words so thoroughly chilled her, never had his presence felt so ominous.

Fear weighed on her, blurring her thoughts. “I… I just want things to go back to normal.”

“Normal.” He hissed the words. “Perhaps they will. After we finish our game.”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to play anymore.” She told him.

“You promised.” The whispers surrounded her and she covered her ears, sinking down to the floor.

“Neville, stop it.”

“Viola… you are going to break your word.” There was a pounding on the ground. It was constant, getting louder and louder with every passing second.

Her eyes fogged over as she felt completely helpless. “Stop it Neville, please!”

Her words echoed back to her, all the whispers mocking her.

Play pretend, they sang to her. Play pretend. Over and over.

“No.”

Pain erupted in her ankles as she was dragged under her bed and into the darkness. Pulled away from the door, her head smacked off the floor and for a moment darkness danced before her eyes. Her ears rang, no longer able to hear the whispers as she blinked past the stars and looked up at the shadowy figure above her. His Darin hands clasped over her mouth as his shining eyes looked down at her. “So you don’t want to play? Fine. Do not think your insolence comes without consequence. You gave me your word. Your greedy promise. You got what you wanted. Stories, stories, stories and now… nothing for Neville. It doesn’t seem fair. No. I should show you the weight of your consequences.”

Viola slid across the floor out from under the bed. Neville had shoved her with such force, she slammed up against the wall and lost her breath.

His words danced around her throbbing head, filling her with new fear. Gasping, she pushed herself to her hands and knees. “Neville,” she coughed. “What consequences?”

His laughter was like someone trying to start a chainsaw, halting and alarming. “You’ll see.”

Silence surrounded her so suddenly she felt like she would collapse into tears of relief. The whispers were gone, the constant banging, all she was left with was the throbbing in her head which kept time with the heavy, panicked beating of her heart.

Neville had scared her, and not like he usually startled her for good fun. This was different.

Sinister, she thought of the word he so often used to describe the entity in his story.

How often had he called her foolish? Maybe she was. He had called her foolish just so often as he had suggested he was the sinister being from the story.

Why hadn’t she listened?

Collapsing on the floor, she curled into herself.

Neville had been her only friend. Could she have done anything that would have her anywhere else but where she was now? Was there something she could have done earlier, that would have kept their friendship as it was? Instead of this daunting thing that she felt trapped in?

Her mother didn’t even believe Neville existed, she would never believe her now.

Her head was throbbing, the floor around her swaying.

Closing her eyes, Viola fell into darkness.

Neville 7. In the Story

Her house was no longer a home.

Sitting at the breakfast table, she looked around at the people who had once been her family but now seemed like strangers. Her father stared down into his bowl of oatmeal with this look of blank focus, baby Edward sat with empty eyes opening his mouth when coaxed by the cream of wheat filled spoon her mother held. Her mother looked at the baby, eyebrow raised.

She must know something isn’t right, Viola thought.

“Mom,” She wondered if she should say something, if she should tell her mother about Neville and their game of pretend. Other times when she had told her mom about her friend, she had been chastised, told she had to make more friends, go outside more. Her mother didn’t believe Neville was real.

Even now, with all the odd happenings going on, there was no guarantee her mother would believe her.

Her father dropped his spoon. The stainless steel spoon clanging off the top of the table made Viola and her mother jump, their eyes whipping over to look at him.

“Honey,” Her mother reached out a hand and covered his with it. “Maybe you should go on back to bed. You don’t look well.” She told him.

He said nothing, just sat there staring blankly into his bowl.

Forcing a smile at Viola, who watched on with anxious eyes, her mother pushed back her chair and began gathering up her father. “Viola dear, you watch baby Edward while I get your father back to bed.”

Nodding, she watched them. Her father’s steps were unnaturally halted, like his joints were all frozen and each step broke off splintered pieces of ice. Her mother whispered to him as she led him out of the room.

Shifting her chair closer to her brother, she reached out and touched a hand to his head. He felt normal, but looking at him she knew he wasn’t. There was no giggling, no string of drool hanging out of the corner of his mouth, no banging of his plate on his tray, no throwing of his cup.

This was a ghost of who her brother once was.

And her father…

Viola pulled her hand away when her mother came back into the kitchen and sat down. Despite everything, her face was void of concern.

“Mother,”

“Yes dear.” She answered absently as she shovelled more food into Edward’s mouth.

“What do you suppose is wrong with father?” She asked her, more paving the way for the conversation she hoped to have about Neville than really searching for an answer.

Her mother let out a breath. “You know your father, Viola dear. He just works too hard.”

“I don’t think that’s it.”

Eyes wide, her mother waited for her to elaborate.

“You see,” She began. “I have a friend who is always telling me stories. The stories are always about the same thing. A little girl who likes stories. That is what makes them so intriguing… because I am a little girl who likes stories and she…” She stopped, realizing she was getting off track. “In the story, something happens to her family because she does a bad thing.” Viola was ashamed to look at her mother.

Letting out a sigh, her mother put down the spoon she was using to feed baby Edward and looked at her. “And what bad thing does this little girl do?”

Brows creased, she went through the story again in her mind. “She gives him something… something she shouldn’t have given him.”

“Gave who what?” She asked.

“Neville, I think. I think the thing in the story is Neville. The sinister thing. And she gives them her family’s souls.”

Her mother shook her head. “Again with this Neville character. You know Viola, if you spent a little less time in your room you wouldn’t get so caught up in your imagination the way you do. Honestly,” Pulling baby Edward out of his high chair, she carried him out of the kitchen. Pausing in the doorway, she looked back at Viola, sitting alone at the table. “I have enough to deal with around him without adding your imagination to it all.”

“It’s not my imagination.”

“Stop it Viola.”

“It’s not!”

“Viola,” She warned.

“Neville is real!

A bang upstairs had them both jumping. Their eyes were locked onto the ceiling as head thuds made their way across the floors upstairs.

Viola’s bedroom door slammed shut and all the butterflies were set loose in her belly.

“What was that?” Her mother shifted Edward’s weight on her hip.

Eyes wide, she wondered if she had broken a rule. “It’s Neville.”