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I just can’t be going insane. Jackson thought, looking at his face in the mirror. I just can’t! Not again. Droplets fell from his wet face as he looked closer at the mirror. It just didn’t seem to be his face. Ever since entering puberty, his face had always been smiles, a teen idol, or maybe even a teen sex god, if you wanted to exaggerate. It had been that face that had for the past five years attracted a small contingent of girls in his school to him.
So why was the face before him dripping with water? Why was it contorted with fear? Why was he, Jackson Redmond, standing in his bathroom at five-thirty in the morning, wondering if he was going insane and splashing water onto his face as if that could answer all the questions and send his fear away?
And what was this fear of? Of having to repeat what had happened when he was seven. Ah yes, that was what had scared him so badly. That what had been going on for the past week-and-a-half was insanity. Because he had been seeing them again. They were back again to torment him, and they may all look different now, but they were still the same. They had not changed at all. Not one bit.
Closing his eyes, Jackson allowed himself to reminisce. As far back as he could remember and up till he was seven, he could see them. The…well, he guessed they were spirits. And they lived in all the stuff that man didn’t make. Anything that men made, they didn’t live in, but whatever man didn’t create they were living in.
Jackson first thought that they only lived outside. The spirits were in the grass in his front yard, in the trees that lined his avenue, and in his neighbor’s flower garden, each spirit looking different than the other. But never inside. He never saw any of them inside his house. If he looked out the window he could see them, but inside they just seemed absent. Nor were they inside his school, or in the church that his parents attended, or any other building Jackson had ever been in.
But then his mom had brought a potted plant home. She had placed it on its own little stand in the corner of the living room, a large, leafy fern in a big brown pot, and then had left to go upstairs to use the bathroom that she and Jackson’s father shared. And then the spirit living inside the fern had come out. It had had a bulbous head with even more bulbous black eyes, a small body that extended deep into the dirt in the pot, and short arms with extremely long fingers. Its skin was pure white, and its voice had a squeaky quality to it.
“Hello there.” it said, seeing Jackson staring at it. “Can you see me?” Jackson nodded, feeling only one emotion: awe. Jackson had never spoken with a spirit before. He had assumed they were unable to talk. Whenever he had gone out, he had only stared at the spirits and they had only stared back. And since he had seen them ever since he could remember, he had assumed that everybody else could see them too. But since nobody at school had talked to them, Jackson had just assumed with the logic of a young child that nobody talked about them and had left it at that.
But if this spirit could talk, seven-year-old Jackson wondered, could the other ones talk? And if this one had asked if Jackson could see him, did that mean that no one else could see the spirits? And if this one was able to come indoors, did this mean that it wasn’t indoors and outdoors that limited where the spirits could be? A million questions were forming in his head as the spirit nodded its head back and made a strange hissing noise that Jackson took to mean that it was happy.
“What are you?” asked Jackson, unaware that his voice was hoarse and barely above a whisper.
“I’m what people call spirits.” said the spirit. “Not all humans can see us. In fact, you are probably the only human in this city that can see us. I’ve never met a human who could see me before.” Jackson was surprised by this new piece of information, and as one of his questions was answered, a thousand more popped into his head like fireworks.
“Do you have a name?” asked Jackson. “Mine’s Jackson.”
“I have a name.” said the spirit. “But you can’t pronounce it. It sounds a little something like this.” And the spirit hissed out something that Jackson couldn’t understand, let alone pronounce it like the spirit had said he would be unable to do.
“But why can I see you and nobody else can?” asked Jackson.
“I don’t know.” said the spirit, but Jackson sensed it was keeping something from him, just like the spirit had probably sensed that Jackson didn’t know a thing about genetics, and so it would be impossible to explain to a second grader such a complex idea. “But only a few people in the world can see us spirits. If only more could; it is so hard for spirits these days.”
“Why?” asked Jackson.
“Because we live in nature.” said the spirit. “Plants, many animals, some rocks, if they’re considered holy enough by humans, the sky, the planets. We kind of are the essence of nature, if that makes any sense.” To Jackson it didn’t but he nodded his head anyway. The spirit made a strange wheezing sound, which Jackson registered as laughter. “You’re a bright kid. You know that?”
“Thank you.” said Jackson. “But why is it hard for spirits if you live in nature?”
“Because,” the spirit had explained, “when humans cut down a tree, or puts cement in a lake so as to make paper or a building, the spirit living there dies. And we can’t live in man-made things, so it doesn’t do any good when our homes are destroyed. Man likes to try and tame nature, but all he really does is killing it.”
“That’s horrible!” said Jackson, putting a hand to his mouth. The spirit nodded its head. “Yes it is.” it said. “Some spirits, myself included, are trying to put a stop to the killing, and we need humans who can see us to help.”
“What can I do?” asked Jackson; even to a seven-year-old, full of happiness and carefree innocence and naiveté, death was something to be feared, as little understood as it was by that age group, and Jackson didn’t want his new friend to die because of other people.
But the spirit just shook its head and said, “I’ll tell you when the time is right. When that time comes I’ll let you know, okay.” Once again Jackson nodded his head. The spirit eyes crinkled, which might’ve been a smile, and it sunk back into the dirt of the pot as Jackson’s mother came down the stairs. Still twenty-seven and quite pretty, Mrs. Redmond looked at Jackson and said, “Do you like the new plant, honey?” Jackson nodded his head vigorously and his mother smiled.
As the days passed Jackson enjoyed talking to his newfound friend the spirit when no one else was around, asking him a fountain of questions that seemed to have an endless supply. And as the spirit patiently answered Jackson’s questions, Jackson learned about the mysterious world around him that only he could see: One thing Jackson learned early on was that there was a type of spirit for everything in nature, depending on the home of the spirit: dog spirits, cat spirits, boulder spirits, lightning spirits, grass spirits, elm spirits, oak spirits, rose spirits, dandelion spirits, and so many more that even the spirit did not know all of them. Jackson’s friend was in fact a fern spirit, because it lived in the roots of the fern. Jackson also learned that no two spirits looked the same, even if they were the same type of spirit; for example, another fern spirit might look something like a cat with eight tails and twenty feet, while another might look like some sort of multi-headed centipede. It varied.
Also, animal spirits were much fewer than other spirits and could have many different forms at once, the one type of spirits that had that sort of feature. And there were even high spirits, spirits that had power over humans, and could even control certain aspects and events in the human world. “The sun spirit is like that.” the fern spirit told Jackson about three days later. “She has a ton of power since humans and many other things in nature rely on her so much.”
“You mean there are boy and girl spirits?” asked Jackson.
“Only of the high spirits.” said the spirit, nodding its head anyway. “But sometimes it is difficult to tell which high spirit is a boy or which is a girl. After all, death spirits like to hide those facts, and no one is sure if the Almighty Spirit is a male or a female, but almost all spirits and humans call the Almighty a male.”
“Is that like God?” asked Jackson.
“Something like that.” said the spirit. “But it is hard to explain to humans. No spirit can say that they know even more than general information about the Almighty, not even the high spirits, and even what is known can be questioned as to what it actually means. Do you get that?” Jackson nodded; his father liked to have the priest at their church, a family friend actually, come over at least once a week and they liked to have theological debates about certain aspects of the rituals in the Lutheran church, or the meanings of different verses in the Bible.
And as time passed, Jackson not only asked his new friend questions, he became more daring with the spirits he saw outside. He often waved at spirits he passed walking on the street with his mother, and sometimes they waved back, albeit hesitantly. After all, few humans could see them, so it must’ve been a shock when a human could see them. Often Mr. and Mrs. Redmond would ask Jackson who he was waving at, and Jackson would always reply, knowing that his parents couldn’t see the spirits, “Oh…no one.”
So it passed like this for a few weeks. Then one day the fern spirit did something it had never done before: it asked Jackson to help it save the other spirits. “I think it is time you helped us spirits.” it explained to Jackson, who had been waiting patiently for the spirit to ask him to help, and was now ecstatic to find out that the time had finally come. “You’ve learned a lot about us and can be of use.”
“What can I do to help?!” asked Jackson, hardly able to contain his excitement. And then the spirit did another thing that it had never done before. It shot out its arms, suddenly longer than they had ever been, and wrapped its long fingers around Jackson’s neck. Feeling the spirit squeezing on his windpipe, Jackson looked in shock and hurt at the spirit, whose eyes suggested anger, an emotion that Jackson hadn’t thought the spirit had.
“W-W-Why?” Jackson gasped.
“This is how you can help us.” said the spirit, sounding triumphant. “If I kill you, one of the humans that can see us spirits, then humans will stop killing us.” Jackson didn’t understand the spirit’s logic, but he did understand one thing: that the fern spirit wanted to kill Jackson, and Jackson was going to die if he didn’t do something. He didn’t want to die, he was only seven, it wasn’t fair.
He did the only thing he could do: Jackson kicked the stand on which the pot sat and held the fern and its resident spirit. As if in slow motion, the stand toppled over, the pot fell and smashed into pieces on the ground, and the spirit’s grip lost power. It lay sprawled on the ground beside the fern, its legs entwined in the now visible roots lying in the dirt. “You stupid human.” it gasped. “You’re gonna kill me.”
Jackson wasn’t listening to the spirit who had betrayed his trust and tried to kill him. Instead, Jackson threw himself at the fern and started tearing up its leaves and its roots and scattering the dirt. The spirit screamed, and then seemed to shrivel, and then disappeared.
Before Jackson could savor his triumph however, he heard banging on the living room windows and turned to see thousands of hands, belonging to countless grass spirits, were slapping the windowpanes with a crazy vehemence. And Jackson thought, I’ve killed a spirit. And now they want revenge. They’re going to kill me. I don’t want to die! Screaming, Jackson ran from the living room, up the stairs, and into his room, hiding in the corner away from the windows, where more hands were hitting the panes, and Jackson scrunched himself up and shielded his head with his hands and began to cry, scared that they were going to break through the glass and kill him.
Jackson had barely gotten himself in his new hiding place when his parents had ran into his room, fear etched all over their faces. “Jackson, what happened?” asked Mr. Redmond. “The fern’s been destroyed, did you do that?”
“It’s not my fault!” Jackson sobbed, pointing to the window. “It’s them. The spirits. They want to kill me!” And soon Jackson found himself telling his parents everything, about how he could always see the spirits, how the fern spirit had become his friend and then had tried to kill him, and how Jackson had turned the tables and had killed the spirit, and now the spirits wanted revenge.
At once Jackson’s parents did not believe him. How could he expect them too, even given the circumstances? The Redmonds couldn’t see the spirits, they couldn’t hear the spirits banging against the glass. And because of this, the Redmonds assumed what any parent would assume: that their child was insane. And perhaps Jackson was insane, it sure seemed crazy, even to Jackson, every aspect of it, but at that moment he was convinced that all this was happening, and somehow he needed to convince his parents that it was happening too.
But he was unable to. And years later Jackson doubted that anyone could have convinced his parents that the spirits were really there. It was natural of humans, even ones that believed wholeheartedly in some form of higher power and every miracle that higher power ever performed in the past, to not believe anything was real unless they could see it and touch it and therefore confirm its existence.
So Mr. and Mrs. Redmond did the only thing they could do, given what was happening: they had their son committed to a psychiatric hospital on the opposite side of the town. It happened like this: Mrs. Redmond left the room, saying she was going to get a glass of water. Instead she grabbed the phone when she entered the kitchen, then grabbed the phone book, and called St. Anthony’s Hospital for the Mentally Deranged. An operator picked up and asked what she could do for Mrs. Redmond. Jackson’s mother explained what had happened and asked if her son could get treated at the hospital. The operator said that would be fine, reserved a room for Jackson., and then asked Mrs. Redmond if she would like a vehicle sent over to her home. Mrs. Redmond refused. “We’ll bring him ourselves.” she said, and then hung up.
Mrs. Redmond went back up to Jackson’s room and said to her husband and son, “I’ve found a place where the spirits won’t hurt you Jackson. We’ve got to go to the car now, okay?” As she said this she winked at her husband, who immediately comprehended what his wife was implying and at once realized it was the best they could do for their son.
But Jackson shook his head furiously and had screamed, “No, not outside, they’ll take me away, they’ll hurt me, they’ll kill me!” and he wailed loudly and hid his face from them, turning his head into the corner as if it could save him. Mr. and Mrs. Redmond tried to coax their son out of the house, then carry him out by his arms and legs, and finally drag him out of the house. But every time they got near the door, Jackson broke away from his parents, ran back up to his room, and began wailing again. In the end Jackson’s mother had to call the hospital back and request a vehicle to be sent over after all.
Half an hour later, a white hospital van with the words ST. ANTHONY’S HOSPITAL FOR THE MENTALLY DERANGED emblazoned on the side pulled up alongside the curb in front of Jackson’s house. Two muscular men came out of the back of the van, were let into the Redmond’s home by Mrs. Redmond, and went upstairs to fetch a still wailing Jackson. The two men gave Jackson a sedative, and then they carried him downstairs and out the house.
When Jackson woke up, he found himself in a small boxlike room with a tiny window close to the ceiling and a singular lightbulb in the ceiling’s middle. He was lying on a small, uncomfortable bed, and wearing what looked like a paper dress. A metal door faced him on the opposite wall, and it had no doorknob. With a jolt, Jackson realized he was in a loonybin, the place you sent people when they were bonkers, and you didn’t see them again ever. That’s what all the kids at school said, anyway.
Well, at least the spirits can’t get me here. Jackson thought with some sense of relief; although his parents may have thought that Jackson was crazy, it never occurred to Jackson that he might actually be crazy. To him, all it would require was a little explaining, and this whole thing would sort itself out, and Jackson would find a way to make the spirits go away. That was the plan that was going through Jackson’s head as the metal door opened and a pretty woman in a doctor’s coat walked into the tiny room.
“How are we feeling Jackson?” asked the woman.
“Who are you?” Jackson replied.
“I’m Dr. Avon.” said the woman. “From what your parents tell us, you’ve been seeing spirits.”
“They want to kill me.” said Jackson, thinking he had just found himself an ally. “I killed the fern spirit and now they want revenge.”
“Tell me what happened.” said Dr. Avon, and Jackson happily told the doctor about the spirits, and all that had been happening to him. At the end Jackson thought Dr. Avon would tell him that he could go now. Instead Dr. Avon smiled and nodded and said, “Alright Jackson, we will discuss this again soon.” And then she left Jackson to stare at the door open-mouthed and realize that she also thought he was insane. Over the next week-and-a-half, Dr. Avon came in regularly to talk with Jackson, and try to treat Jackson’s “sight-kosis”. And after each day Jackson would be given a sedative along with some other drug whose name Jackson could not pronounce. Although Jackson had started out believing that he was perfectly sane, Dr. Avon kept trying to tell Jackson that the spirits were not really there, and try to make Jackson believe that too. And because Dr. Avon was an adult and Jackson was a child and because the drugs were having a weird effect on him, he began to also believe that he was just imagining the spirits.
Eleven days after Jackson had been committed, Dr. Avon drove Jackson out to a nearby nature park, where according to Jackson, the spirits would be rampant. Instead as Jackson looked around, he saw no spirits. He looked at a tree and saw a tree. He looked at the grass and saw grass. He looked at a squirrel climbing across a branch and saw only a squirrel. No spirits. Without any fear, Jackson ran to a swing set and began pumping his legs. Dr. Avon looked on triumphantly.
So Jackson went home from the hospital, perfectly fine and normal. His mother had not replaced the fern, fearing that it might cause Jackson’s spirits back, but that was fine by Jackson, because he didn’t want another fern; he still remembered what the spirit had done to him and now with only a child’s logic believed that all ferns were bad because of this. Despite this though, the Redmond household seemed happy that all this had passed.
But at school, things were much different. The other children avoided him, and he heard whispers of “weird” and “nuts” and “spirits” and kids pointing at him. And the school bullies, who had left Jackson alone up till now, maybe because he didn’t draw too much attention to himself, went after Jackson, asking if he had been attacked by spirits lately. When Jackson came home with a black eye and a bloody nose and told his mom what had happened, Mrs. Redmond know that if her son was going to have a normal life again, then they had to move away.
Two months later, Jackson and his family loaded their stuff into a moving van and drove to a new town across the state. On Jackson’s first day of school, he met his new teacher and his new classmates. They liked him very much. There weren’t any bullies at this school to go after him. And he did not mention the spirits at all.
So in this way Jackson resumed a normal life. Nobody ever mentioned his brief insanity, whenever the other kids in his class mentioned ghosts and spirits and stuff he said that kind of stuff was stupid, and no one ever found out that for nearly eight years, Jackson Redmond had seen spirits all around him.
Life changed for Jackson, however: when he was eleven, his mother announced that she was pregnant, and that she was due around the same month as Jackson’s birthday. Jackson greeted this news with excitement; he had wished for a sibling for years, and now he was getting one. At five o’clock in the morning on Jackson’s twelfth birthday, when he was starting to acquire the good looks that would accompany him up till the present time and attract a small amount of girls in the school to him, Mrs. Redmond went into labor two weeks earlier than expected, and was driven out to Alan Ferris Memorial Hospital by Mr. Redmond with a sleepy-eyed Jackson in tow.
Twelve-and-a-half hours later, Alice Stephanie Redmond was born perfectly healthy and weighing seven pounds, eleven ounces. Jackson was taken in soon after to see his new baby sister. Swaddled in a pink blanket and sucking her thumb, Alice Redmond was being held by a flushed and extremely happy Mrs. Redmond. From the bedside Jackson looked down upon the new baby, who had blue eyes and a small amount of blonde hair on her head. He held out a small finger and the baby grabbed it with a tiny, pudgy hand. Jackson looked up at his mother, who had a warm smile on her face. With a mischievous smile, Jackson said, “Gee mom, it’s a great gift, but there’s no ribbon on it.” And they all laughed hard at that.
So for the next five years life was good. Jackson got good grades and enjoyed hanging out with friends and when he wasn’t doing that, was doting on his little sister Alice, whom he thought was the most precious thing. At some point it occurred to Jackson that his sister was more like a daughter, but that did not change how much he loved her. He still took care of her and babysat her when his parents needed him too, and passed her sweets from under the table even though he wasn’t supposed to.
If Jackson had to summarize his life since he had moved, he probably might’ve said this: better without the spirits. But things were changing, and Jackson, now seventeen and a senior in high school, stood in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to make sense of them. It had all started three weeks ago, when Jackson was supposed to be doing his homework but was really thinking about Carole Fischer, the prettiest girl in school, and how he’d like to go out on a date or two with her—and maybe do some other things with her—when he had glanced out the window and thought he saw a face staring out of the tree outside his window. But when he had looked again, all he saw was the tree, same as usual.
But it didn’t stop there: three days later Jackson had walked into the dining room they used for when the regular table couldn’t accommodate everyone and they needed more room, and had opened the cabinet where the Redmonds kept their tablecloths, when something on the table caught Jackson’s attention. He paused from picking out a red tablecloth to look at the table. In the center of the table was a small decorative ceramic pot filled with bluebells. And staring out malevolently from the bluebells was a red, cone-like face with large, pointed ears. But when Jackson blinked it was gone.
After that he started seeing them more and more often. They would pop out anywhere, at school, at home, while he was driving his car somewhere, anywhere they were able to live, he would see them. And the more he saw them, the more anxious Jackson became. Because what if he was seeing them again? What if he was entering a psychosis again, and this time he couldn’t leave just with some counseling and a few drugs? Or what if it had never been a psychosis, and for some reason Jackson’s ability to see them had been blocked for ten years?
Jackson hid his anxieties from his parents and everyone around him very well. He continued to get good grades, though he did think that Chemistry was really confusing at some points; he made jokes with his friends about the ten or twenty girls that had crushes on him and how he would like to “get down” with Carole Fischer, who was prettier than all the other girls put together; and he continued to dote on Alice, who absolutely adored her older brother. But deep down, he was worried sick for himself: after all, what if a repeat of ten years ago happened? His father would not be able to look at his own son, his mother would be absolutely broken by this lapse back into insanity, and Alice—oh God, he didn’t want to contemplate what would happen to Alice if her brother went insane.
But tonight had been the worst part of all. Because Jackson had had a dream. The most frightening dream he had ever had in his life! In it he had been sitting in class, taking a test when all of a sudden the center of the test sheet started to smoke. As Jackson looked at it, perplexed by the smoke, the test burst into flame, which proceeded to curl up the paper as it consumed what had been a history test. When the flame had eaten the test and had no more flammable things like paper to burn, the fire went out on the desk. Jackson turned around to see if anyone else had saw and instead found himself in the living room of his old house. Alice was sitting in front of the television, wearing a blue dress with a white apron and a black bow in her long blonde hair, playing a video game that Jackson had given away a long time ago.
Somewhere in his dream mind Jackson knew he was dreaming but right now the dream seemed too real to be a dream and so he acted like it was reality. “Alice.” he said. When Alice didn’t look up or say anything, Jackson tried again. “Alice!” he repeated, raising his voice a little. Still no reaction. It was as if Jackson didn’t exist to her.
Because you don’t exist to her. said a mysterious female voice from behind him. Jackson turned around with a start to see a woman, but it was quite unlike any woman he had ever seen before. She was wearing a hot red dress, the type a Hispanic woman might tango in, and her skin was a bright copper-orange color. Her eyes were yellow and looked like glass, and her head was completely bald. In her arms she had a purple boa wrapped sexily around her back. Neither of us exist to her. the woman continued, speaking without moving her lips. And that is by my will.
“Who are you?” Jackson asked, taking a step backwards; something about this woman gave Jackson the creeps, kind of like a chill up his back. She looked way too much like a spirit. Maybe she was.
You are correct. said the woman. I am a spirit. I am the sun spirit, in fact. You may call me Shemesheesha; it is the closest a human can pronounce my name.
“A-Are you reading my thoughts?” asked Jackson, taking another step backwards. Shemesheesha nodded her head. It is necessary for me to know what you are thinking, so that you may not keep things from me.
“No.” said Jackson. “You’re not real. Y-You’re just a figment of my imagination. You and all the other spirits are just a stupid psychosis!” Shemesheesha laughed, a frightening sound that might’ve made even Jackson wet his pants. We are not a psychosis. she said, as if speaking to a silly young child. The ability to see spirits is caused by a mutation of a certain gene controlling eyesight. The gene is meant to block the ability to see spirits, but the mutation causes that gene to become defective even before fertilization. It can run in families, often skipping generations but occasionally appearing every couple hundred years or so.
“So,” said Jackson, realizing what this meant, “I can only see you guys…because of genetics?!” Shemesheesha nodded. You…and the girl. She pointed to Alice, who was still playing the video game. Jackson stared at the sun spirit, then at Alice, and then back at Shemesheesha. “She-She can see spirits too?” Jackson repeated, horrified; the idea of his sister having the same condition as he did gave way to all sorts of possibilities, all of which Jackson did not want to contemplate.
She has assumed like you did that everybody sees spirits and nobody talked about them. said Shemesheesha. It is rare for one human in a single generation to have the ability to see us. The chances of a brother and sister being able to see spirits is unbelievable.
“B-B-But,” Jackson stammered, “if I can see you because of a genetic thing, th-th-then why was I unable to see you guys for the past ten years?!” He was becoming very scared now; after all, what did this spirit want with him and Alice? To kill them?
The drugs from the psychiatric hospital suppressed your ability to see us for an unknown amount of time. Shemesheesha explained. We left you alone because you are no good to us if you cannot see us. But now that your eyesight is returning, we will be able to use both you and your sister.
“Use us for what?” Jackson shouted.
If we kill you both, said Shemesheesha, then the humans will stop killing us and we will be able to live. Jackson still didn’t understand the logic behind this plan, just as he didn’t understand it when he was seven. But he knew that he couldn’t let any spirits hurt his sister. Jackson ran at the sun spirit, his fist pulled back for a punch, yelling an incoherent war cry—
Shemesheesha waved a hand lazily at Jackson, and Jackson was thrown against the wall by an invisible psychic barrier, looking at the whole room now from the same perspective a moviegoer might see. In front of him was Alice, still playing a video game that Jackson had given away years ago, and wearing a dress that looked like it had come out of the book that Alice looked like she really belonged in. To his left, Shemesheesha was looking at him with an expressionless face.
This is how it must be. said the sun spirit. This is how it must go in order to save all the spirits of the material world. And before Jackson’s eyes the sun spirit morphed into a Jackson-clone: same wavy dark-brown hair, same cleft-chin, same muscular build, and even the same tie-dye shirt, white sneakers, and khaki-colored cargo pants. There was only one difference, on which Jackson immediately latched: the Jackson-clone did not have the same deep-set, brown eyes as the real Jackson, but they were red and full of hungry malice and bloodlust.
The Jackson-clone sneered at Jackson, and then said, “Hey Alice!” Alice looked up from the video game and smiled. “Hey Jackie.” she said; Alice was the only person who Jackson allowed to call him Jackie, and so it had become a sort of pet name for him. To hear Alice calling the Jackson-clone “Jackie” infuriated him. “What’s up?”
The Jackson-clone walked over to Alice and bent down so that they were eye to eye. “What’re you up to, Alice?” it asked.
“Just playing a video game.” Alice replied.
“Oh yeah?” said the Jackson-clone. “Well I’ve got a game that’s even more fun.”
“What’s that?” asked Alice.
And to Jackson’s horror the Jackson-clone grabbed Alice’s arms and started kissing her lips. Jackson was sure that the clone was doing it to scare Alice and to do even worse to Jackson himself; to terrify him, to make him know what kind of forces he was dealing with, forces that would flout all morals and ethics known to mankind in order to advance their goals. And it looked like right now the goal was to make Jackson afraid and helpless to save his sister.
Alice looked at what she thought was her brother in horror for a second, and then broke away from the clone, breathing hard. “What are you doing?” she cried.
And then the Jackson-clone laughed malevolently, scaring Alice into tears. “You don’t wanna play with me Alice?” it asked, a huge smirk on its face. “Fine then, I’ve got another game. It’s called…Off With Your Head!” The Jackson-clone grabbed Alice’s throat, just as the fern spirit had done to Jackson nearly a decade ago, and began to squeeze hard, laughing its malevolent laugh the whole time. And Jackson could only watch and feel horror. And then he woke up, drenched in sweat and shaking hard. Then he had gone to the bathroom and slapped water on his face and try to get rid of the dream. But still it persisted.
And Jackson knew that the dream meant something, that Jackson had never been crazy, that the spirits were actually real, and the drug had dulled his senses so that he couldn’t see them, and Alice had the same ability too, and that the spirits wanted them dead in order to further their own twisted plot that made absolutely no sense to Jackson. But Jackson didn’t care about whether the plot made sense or not. He also didn’t care about his life, he would gladly sacrifice himself in order to save his sister’s.
“Jackie?” said a small, quiet voice. Jackson jumped and spun around to see Alice in her nightdress, holding a stuffed rabbit to her chest and crying. At first Jackson wasn’t sure how to respond; he had forgotten everything about speaking and human behavior. And then in a rush it came back to him. “Alice.” he said. “What’s wrong?”
“I had a nightmare.” she sniffed. “I dreamed a scary woman was trying to kill you and a bunch of monsters were trying to eat me.”
“Oh Alice.” said Jackson, bending down and hugging his sister, the one who, according to the dream, could also see spirits like him. Jackson thought to himself that he would have to ask her about that in the morning. She laid her head on his shoulder and cried, hot tears staining the T-shirt Jackson was wearing. “Shush, it’s alright. It was just a dream.” Alice sniffed again, and unlatched a hand from her stuffed bunny to try and wrap it around Jackson’s middle. “It was so scary and real.” she said. “And I couldn’t find Mommy or Daddy, and I saw the bathroom light on.” With a jolt, Jackson remembered that his parents had left for New York for a week ona business trip, and had left Jackson in charge while they were gone.
“Well, I’m here.” said Jackson, stroking Alice’s hair and kissing her on the cheek. “And don’t worry, no one’s going to hurt you or me, that’s a promise.” Jackson moved an arm under her, and picked Alice up into his arms. “Come on, why don’t you climb into bed with me?” he said. “I’ll make sure no more bad dreams come to you.” Alice nodded her head sleepily. Jackson carried Alice out of the bathroom, switching the light off as he did and into his bedroom across the hall.
Snuggling deep into the bed, Jackson and Alice held each other close, the stuffed bunny rabbit between each other. Once again, Jackson became aware of how Alice was more like a daughter than a sister, and a surge of protectiveness swelled in him. We’ve both had our nightmares tonight. he thought, kissing Alice on the forehead. “Good night Alice.” he whispered. “See you in the morning.”
“It was horrible.” Alice whispered back, referring to the dream she had had. “The woman trying to get you was bald and had orange skin.”
Jackson stared at his sister. Had she just said that the woman in her dream had been bald and had orange skin? Did that mean that Shemesheesha had been her dreams too? Jackson was just about to ask her all these questions when he realized that Alice had already fallen asleep in his arms Resigned to have to wait till morning to ask her these questions, Jackson closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep.
At seven o’clock the alarm clock next to Jackson’s bed burst into a loud, frenzied beeping, waking Jackson from his sleep. With a reflex he slapped the snooze button and disabled the alarm. Lying back in bed and allowing himself to fully wake up, Jackson looked down at his sister, snuggled up against him with her stuffed rabbit in her arms. Sleeping like that, she looked like a little angel in Jackson’s opinion.
Jackson shook her shoulder softly, and whispered, “Hey Alice. Alice! Wake up. It’s time to get up.” Alice moaned in her sleep and opened her eyes. Seeing her older brother, she broke out into a sleepy smile. “’Ood mmorning.” she mumbled, rubbing a sleep-filled eye.
“Good morning, Alice.” Jackson replied. “Come on, time to get out of bed and get ready for school.”
“But Jackie,” said Alice, giving him a cute, pouting face, “I don’t want to.”
“Oh really?” said Jackson. “Well, you’re gonna…HAVE TO!” With a bear-like roar, Jackson began tickling his sister, going for all her ticklish spots. Alice giggled and screamed with delight until Jackson finally gave in to her cries for mercy. Alice left with her stuffed rabbit to get changed in her room while Jackson dressed in his own room and made his bed. As he remembered last night’s events, he shivered and reminded himself to ask Alice about the sun spirit Shemesheesha and the spirits she supposedly could see, if Shemesheesha was real and could be trusted to tell the truth.
As he was downstairs eating some toast with butter, Alice came down wearing a white shirt under a pair of green corduroy overalls and a big red bow in her hair. Grabbing herself a bowl of cereal, Alice hummed a tune under her breath. Jackson breathed a deep sigh. If he was going to talk about the spirits to her, he might as well do it now.
“Say Alice,” said Jackson slowly, “have you seen anything that looked like the bald, orange woman from your dream?” Alice looked up from her Rice Krispies with a surprised expression. “Waddya mean?” Alice asked.
“Like, creatures living in trees, or strange little men coming out of plants.” said Jackson, trying to get the point across to his sister. “Have you ever seen anything like that?” Alice didn’t say anything for a second. Then she nodded her head. “The monsters.” she said, her voice quiet and meek. “They’re everywhere. I’ve seen one in the big dining room, hiding in the bluebells.” She pointed to the door to the larger dining room, a white door on swinging hinges. “If I’m alone in there it makes faces at me and says it wants to eat me. And I think…whenever I go outside they all look at me funny. I think they want to eat me too.”
“They probably do.” said Jackson, and in answer to Alice’s questioning look, Jackson continued, “I can see them too. They’re called spirits and they think that by killing people who can see them they can save their homes.”
“Where are their homes?” Alice asked.
“In trees and flowers and some animals and that kind of stuff.” Jackson explained. “But since people like to cut down and destroy their homes to make people’s homes and stuff they’re dying, because they can’t live without their homes. So they think killing people who can see them will save them. I don’t understand why they think that but they do. When I was seven there was a spirit living in a plant that mom had brought home and it pretended to be my friend, telling me all about spirits, and then it tried to kill me. I killed it instead, but now I think the spirits want revenge.” Jackson decided not to mention that he had been committed and then had lost his ability to see spirits until recently; in his opinion, Alice was much too young to know about that. When she was older he would tell her. Instead, he decided to ask about Shemesheesha.
“Alice, in your dream last night, did the orange lady with no hair have a red dress and a purple boa?” Jackson asked.
“You know, she was wearing a red dress.” said Alice, thinking hard. “And she didn’t have a purple snake, but she did have one of those long fluffy things that rich and pretty ladies wear when they go to fancy parties and that was purple.”
Jackson shook his head, sighing and uttering a swear under his breath. “That was Shemesheesha, the sun spirit.” said Jackson. “She was in my dreams last night too, and she tried to kill you. I think she wants to kill us because I killed that fern spirit.”
“But I don’t want her to kill us.” Alice cried suddenly, tears welling up in her eyes. “I-I don’t want to die! Make her leave us alone!” And in a full-blown fit, she ran to Jackson, hugging his knees and sobbing hard. Jackson was shocked that Alice was this upset but then chided himself; Alice was only five years old and still prone to fits. If she was this scared then it wasn’t surprising that she was crying her eyes out.
Bending down Jackson picked up Alice and held her in his arms. “Don’t worry, Alice, it’s gonna be alright.” he said. “I’m not letting any stupid spirit hurt you. Okay? I’m promising you, no one’s going to get you or me. Alright?”
Alice nodded her head, her sobs abating to sniffles and whimpers. “You promise no one’s going to hurt us?” she said softly, tears rolling down her cheek. Jackson nodded. “I promise.” he repeated and hugged Alice, letting her release the last of the tears on his shoulder. Silently, he prayed to whatever god out there that would listen that he could keep his promise.
Jackson turned onto the street where Alice’s school was, trying to ignore the many spirits he saw outside his car. To him, each one seemed to be glaring at the red Saturn as it cruised past the many houses filled with multitudes of spirits in the front yards. In the back row, Alice sat buckled in the seat behind Jackson. At her feet was her Hello Kitty backpack and a bag from Macy’s filled with her outfit for her ballet class after school. She was sitting mutely, looking at her swinging legs solemnly.
As Jackson pulled up to the school and parked for Alice to get out, he looked back and saw her still looking at her feet and looking like a mourner at a funeral. She had been this way since Jackson had made his promise and then let her down to eat her breakfast. She had been like that throughout her meal, picking glumly at her cereal as Jackson ate through an energy bar. Jackson didn’t like to see his little sister so glum and quiet. “Alright Alice.” he said. “Where are you going to be after school?”
She looked up from her feet and opened her mouth to speak. “I’m going to be in front of the school, waiting with Tessie Bordeaux for her mom to pick us up and take us to ballet class.” She spoke as if reciting something she had memorized from a textbook.
“And after ballet class?” Jackson quizzed further.
“Mrs. Bordeaux will pick us up and take me home.” Alice replied.
“Good.” said Jackson, saying it like it was a discharge to leave. As Alice turned to open the door and let herself out, Jackson said, “Hey Alice.” Alice looked back at him with a look of mild surprise, not expecting to be called back after she had been quizzed on what she was going to be doing this afternoon. “Don’t be so glum.” Jackson continued, taking Alice’s tiny hand in his own larger one. “I already told you, I’m not gonna let any spirits hurt you. So enjoy life. Show me your lovely smile. Please? With sprinkles on top?” Jackson made a comedic pout face for emphasis. Alice smiled and then laughed. Jackson smiled too, glad to see his sister’s dark mood broken. “There’s that smile I wanted to see.” he said. “Now go and learn something.”
“Okey dokey.” said Alice, and moved to get out of the car. However, she stopped and turning back to Jackson, kissed Jackson on the cheek before leaving the car. With her backpack and her Macy’s bag trailing behind her, Alice closed the car door behind her, disappeared into the multitude of kids and into the school building.
Jackson watched from the car. He couldn’t deny that he thought of Alice more as a daughter than a sister. Ever since her tiny hand had grabbed onto his pinkie in the hospital, he had felt a certain warmth and protectiveness around her that had exceeded the brotherly levels and extended into another realm. Sometimes it seemed that to Jackson that Alice really was his daughter, all his and nobody else’s child. It had even occurred to him a couple of times when he was introducing his friends (and in one case, the diva Carole Fischer) to Alice to say that she was his child, although every time reality had set in before he could. Sitting in his car, watching Alice head to her kindergarten class, that kiss on the cheek sent a feeling of happiness and pride coursing through him.
“Having fun watching your sister, pretty boy?” asked a high-pitched voice. Jackson jumped and looked around his car. Where did that voice come from?
“Up here, genius.” Jackson looked up. At first he thought what he saw was a fly. But then he saw that its torso was human, and it had four legs, not six. Plus it had a shock of purple hair coming from the place where its head joined with its shoulder. “Wassup?” it said, fluttering its wings and moving around a little. It was just as jittery as a real fly. “I’m a fly spirit. I came in when your sister left. Pretty cute. I’ll be sad to have to lay eggs in her bloodstained body.”
“You stay away from her, you bastard!” said Jackson, pointing at the fly spirit. The fly spirit buzzed angrily and flew in wide circles to the dashboard. “Hey, I’m sorry.” said the fly spirit. “It’s really none of my business. All I care about is laying my eggs somewhere. But those other spirits…I mean, come on, most of the spirits in the state of Arizona who think like Shemesheesha can be found in this town! Oh buddy, I’m sorry you had to be born with the sight to see us. But man, those spirits are gonna go wild! They’re gonna get you guys, and drink your blood and turn your muscles into spaghetti and smash your eyes into jelly—”
“Shut up!” Jackson shouted. “JUST SHUT UP!” Jackson raised his hand and swatted the fly spirit. Hitting it directly against its side, the little fly spirit soared through the air and crashed against the passenger window. It hung against the window, looking just like a squashed fly, with guts all over the window. Steam rose from the smashed insides of the spirit, and it disintegrated against the window, leaving behind a noxious odor. Jackson gagged on the awful scent and rolled down his window to let in some fresh air. Driving away from the school, he glanced occasionally at the remaining guts still plastered to the window.
Now I’ve killed two spirits. Jackson thought. The other spirits are gonna be super-pissed. I wonder what they’re gonna do to Alice and me now. And as Jackson looked out the window, it seemed to him that there was a greater tension in the air than before, and several spirits seemed to be leaning over into the street to look at him as he drove past.
When Jackson got home, he dumped his bag in the front hallway and went to the kitchen to get himself a drink. Pouring himself a glass of Dr. Pepper, Jackson reviewed how his day went. Besides the incident with the fly spirit, things had gone pretty well. He had gotten an eighty-six on a science quiz. The cafeteria had served pizza at lunch. They had watched a movie in English class, and would be finishing up the film tomorrow. And Carole Fischer had talked with him during study hall. The only cloud had been the fly spirit.
That and it had seemed that out of the corner of his eye, some of the spirits had been paying extra close attention to him through the windows as he had studied in his classes.
As he thought this, he thought he heard a noise. Taking the tip of his glass out of his mouth, Jackson listened. Nothing. Downing the rest of the soda, Jackson laid the glass on the counter. And then he heard it again. A dry, low chuckling noise. And it was coming from the larger dining room. What had Alice said this morning? There’s one in the big dining room, hiding in the bluebells. Hadn’t she said that it made faces at her and said it wanted to eat her? Jackson was sure he had seen it too, peeking out from its home and watching him.
Slowly, not sure what he was going to do, Jackson walked over to the swinging white door and pushed it open. He stepped into the dining room and looked at the bluebell. Sitting on the edge of the decorative ceramic pot was a tiny little man with angry red skin. It was wearing nothing but a mud-colored loincloth and an orange pointed cap on its head. It had six arms and an ovular face. It leered at him.
“So, what’s up?” it said. “I’ve been waiting to have a conversation with someone other than the munchkin. She doesn’t come in anymore and when she does all she does is cry when I talk to her. I mean, if she’d just stick around I might change my mind. Make her smaller and turn her into my pet or something, I can do that if I talk with a person for a certain amount of time. I’m so lonely over here, anyway. You wanna talk big guy?”
“You’re a flower spirit.” said Jackson, looking down at the tiny man.
“Oh, look at the smart human.” said the tiny man mockingly. “Yeah, I live in the bluebells, but the only flowery part about me is that I smell like bluebells. Man, how crazy is it that a pair of siblings can see spirits?! One in a million chance! And the chances that we spirits are gonna get you guys? One in one chance!” And it fell backward, clutching its belly and laughing maniacally.
“I’m not going to let you spirits hurt Alice.” said Jackson angrily, his fists clenching and unclenching. “You got that, you pint-sized piece of sweet-smelling shit?” The flower spirit stopped laughing and straightened, giving Jackson an angry look. “Hey, don’t make fun of me, human!” it said, putting its hands on its hips. “Just because I’m small doesn’t mean I’m weak! After all, haven’t you ever heard of flower power?” And it raised its top right hand and made a clawing motion like a cat.
All of a sudden Jackson clutched his cheek as sharp hot pain ripped across his cheek. Jackson felt something wet pass between his fingers. Feeling his face, he felt four long scratches across his cheek. One of them was bleeding slightly. He looked a the flower spirit, who was sneering at him with triumph. “Want another four scratches on your other cheek?” it asked and burst out laughing, pointing at Jackson’s torn cheek. Jackson only ran, fear coursing through him. He had thought that just because the spirit was small it couldn’t do much. He had been wrong and it had seriously hurt him. What else could that stupid spirit do?
Jackson crashed into the kitchen, and seeing the door to the basement, opened it and slammed down the stairs. The basement, when lit, was a large playroom with a ping-pong and a pool table, a large stereo, a refrigerator and a surround-sound home theater with a leather couch to sit on. But in the darkness, as Jackson stumbled down the stairs, his hands barely holding onto the railing, the basement was only an obstacle course. Jackson knocked into several things until he fell onto the leather couch. Lying on his back, breathing hard in the darkness, he passed out, trying to get away.
Someone shook him awake. Jackson’s eyes flew open and he looked at the digital clock on the stereo. Barely five minutes had passed and it had felt to Jackson like barely a second had gone by. He felt his cheek. No wounds. What had happened? Had he been dreaming? He felt like he was dreaming now.
Someone from behind him laid a hand on his shoulder. Jackson spun around on the couch to face the person. He didn’t know what to expect—Shemesheesha maybe, or some other horror of a spirit. Instead, he beheld Carole Fischer sitting on the couch, only she was glowing and seemed unbelievably more beautiful than she had at school. All of a sudden the dreamlike quality that Jackson had been feeling took on a greater quality, like it was an actual dream, and Jackson decided just to go along with the dream.
“You’ve been knocked out for a long time.” said Carole, her voice sounding ten thousand times more lovely than when Jackson had heard it today. “And you were so handsome asleep. I could’ve just kissed you.” Carole leaned closer, her eyes like a pair of blue beacons in the dark and oh-so enticing. “I want to kiss you now.” she added.
Jackson shot forward and kissed Carole’s lips, and they embraced each other. Some part of Jackson’s brain was warning him to stop and leave, something was really off here, but the warning wasn’t reaching the rest of the brain and Jackson leaned Carole back, allowing what happened to happen.
Just as Jackson was being woken by the lovely Carole Fischer in the basement, Alice walked into the house with her backpack and the Macy’s bag, still wearing her outfit from ballet class. Waving goodbye from the front door to Tessie and Mrs. Bordeaux as their blue minivan backed out of the driveway, Alice dropped her stuff next to her brother’s. Where was Jackie anyway? Alice had seen his car in the driveway, so he had to be home, but where was he?
A noise from below—a muffled “Oh yes!” that sounded like Jackie—told Alice that her brother was in the basement. Probably playing pool. she thought, and ran upstairs to her room. Alice’s ballet instructor Miss Eva had told them today that the ballet performance they’d be doing in December would be The Nutcracker and Alice had a feeling she’d get the lead part. After all, she was one of the best dancer in the class, better than even some of the older girls in her dance class, and Mss Eva had been looking directly at Alice when she had talked about some lucky girl getting the lead role.
Opening up her closet, Alice looked through until she found what she had come up to get: her fairy princess outfit from Halloween. Taking off her outfit from class, she put on the costume and sat down in front of her Every Princess Bureau which she had gotten last Christmas. First Alice did her hair, putting up some of her hair in a knotted ponytail and using a special child-safe hair curler to turn the rest into lovely little tresses. Next she took care of her face, putting on bright pink lipstick and glitter on her cheeks. Finally she added a special necklace Jackie had given her just last week, as a special gift while she and Jackson went shopping to get groceries for their parentss. They had stopped on the way home at a small shop for girls called Delilah’s and Jackie had bought her the pretty diamond-bead necklace.
It was just cheap plastic, but Alice loved it anyway. She always loved gifts from her brother, who had doted on her since as far back as Alice could remember. Mommy and Daddy worried that Jackie was spoiling the sister he loved so much, but Alice knew very well that gifts like the necklace were only given sporadically, and Jackie made sure that his sister wasn’t spoiled. And Alice knew that he was trying not to spoil her too.
Standing up, she studied herself in the mirror. To Alice, she looked and felt like a fairy-tale princess. Her ballet slippers went well with the blue tights and the dress, with its glittering blue fabric and gold fringe. Candy pink gloves with sleeves extended up to her elbows and white glittery fairy wings were attached to the back of her dress. With the hair, make-up, diamond necklace and plastic tiara all setting each other off, Alice could easily imagine herself as a princess. She even closed her eyes and imagined herself in a field filled with flowers and a flowing river with stepping stones and woodlands animals looking in awe and admiration at the princess in their midst.
With ballet notes memorized by heart in her head playing their soft melody, Alice began to dance in her imaginary world, dancing with the flowers swaying in the wind, twirling onto each stepping stone across the river, flying through the air with grace that came second-nature to fairy-tale princesses.
She paused in her dancing as a new noise entered her fairy-tale world. The notes paused as, looking behind her, she saw a white pony clip-clopping into view. And riding it was a prince. And the prince was Max Jensen, the only boy in her ballet class, and the definite choice for the nutcracker that turns into the handsome prince. Alice really liked Max. He was kind, funny, smart, an incredible ballet dancer, he was there of his own choice, which was unusual for a six-year-old boy, and Alice thought that he had been looking right at her when Miss Eva had talked about the lucky girl becoming the lead role. Not only that, but he was cee—uuute!
Prince Max dismounted from his steed and walked across the field to Alice. He extended his arm palm up, asking to dance. Alice stared at him for a second, and then curtsied slowly and gracefully as if the curtsy was a dance move in itself, laying her hand in his in acceptance of the invitation. The melody of the dance resumed as Alice and Prince Max began to dance, Prince Max twirling Alice and then lifting her above him. Alice spread her arms, her mouth wide with happiness and amazement. Prince Max let her down and Alice leaned back against her lover’s chest, their arms extended, their hands interlinked. Alice crossed her feet, then lifted one leg and kicked it forward high into the air before letting it slowly drop back into place.
Alice spun around to look deep into Prince Max’s eyes. Her hands were on his chest, his arms were around her waist. Closing her eyes in this lovely fairy-tale world, she leaned forward to kiss Prince Max’s mouth—
“Having fun, munchkin?” Alice’s eyes shot open to find that she was no longer with Prince Max in the fairy-tale field of flowers or in her bedroom, but in the large dining room, standing in front of the wall opposite the swinging door. In front of her was the table with the decorative ceramic flowerpot with the bluebells. And sitting cross-legged on top of one of the bluebells was the little red man, the bluebell monster as Alice thought of him. At the sight of him Alice immediately felt a jolt of ice-cold fear course through her blood. The bluebell monster always had that effect on her. There was something so rotten, so disgusting, so utterly wrong about him living in the bluebells—because Alice knew that was where he lived, she hadn’t needed Jackie’s explanation to tell her that—that the little red man repulsed her.
“Surprised to see me?” it asked, grinning maliciously at her. “I’m the one should be surprised to see you; I was just sitting here when you came in dancing and all with your eyes closed. You just stood over there near the end with your lips puckered. Looked like you were gonna kiss someone.”
Alice backed herself against the wall, terror crawling up and down her back as she stared at the diminutive man. “W-What do you want?” she stammered, not liking the way the bluebell monster was looking at her: it was a greedy look, a look that only wanted and then wanted some more of whatever was around.
“Oh come on, munchkin.” said the bluebell monster. “Why can’t you be nice to me? Nobody’s nice to me. Your brother wasn’t nice to me, and I had to punish him for it.”
“What did you do to Jackie, you little creep?!” Alice shouted; at the mention of this thing doing something to her brother, Alice’s blood boiled. Nobody touched her kind, sweet brother, the one she loved and cared for so much, the one who wanted Alice to be cheerful and had promised to protect her from the mean spirits that wanted to kill both him and Alice.
“Oh, don’t get so hot, little lady.” said the bluebell monster. “He’s fine, a friend of mine is…taking care of him downstairs, I guess, I really don’t want to go into too many details.” The bluebell monster gave an unsettling giggle. “Especially the bloody ones.”
Fear roared back into Alice at the bluebell monsters words. Jackie’s in trouble. she thought. I have to save him! Alice moved to run out of the room—
“You’re not going anywhere, munchkin!” shouted the bluebell monster, in almost a commanding tone. Alice’s body jerked and she found herself unable to move. The bluebell monster offered her its malicious smile. “Humans are such silly things.” it said. “They are not aware that spirits contain more power than all humans put together. In fact, my father was a high spirit, and I gained some great powers too. One is that I can make humans do my bidding if I speak with them long enough. And I spoke with you just long enough to control you!” It laughed again, holding its belling as it guffawed loudly. “It’s like you humans and your airplanes! Fly enough and you get a ton of frequent flyer miles.” This comparison seemed to set off the bluebell monster even more, for the flower he was on began to sway as the little red man went into another spasm of laughter.
“Are you going to kill me?” asked Alice, the fear controlling her mind now; it was making her look at the evil little thing, it was making her breathe, it was making her think. It was fear that was making her speak as she tried to move her body but couldn’t.
“Kill you? Ha!” said the bluebell monster. “I’m not gonna kill you, at least not too quickly. I’m gonna humiliate you first, then I’m gonna shrink you down to my size, then I’m gonna beat you and humiliate you some more, and then I’m gonna kill you and then eat you!”
“No! I won’t let you, you little turd!” Alice shouted, her body feeling like a statue. How was she going to get away from the bluebell monster and help Jackie? She didn’t know what to do. And as a kid, she didn’t yet have the ingenuity to try to see if she didn’t talk to the little red man then maybe his control would weaken and she could move. Kids didn’t come up with plots like that. Teenagers and adults did, but not kids, and especially not little girls in kindergarten. No, like a typical child, she went on talking.
“You don’t have any choice, munchkin,” said the bluebell monster. “And by the way, you should be more polite to me. Now bow down to me!” Before Alice knew what she was doing, she had flopped down on all fours, her butt high in the air, her nose less than an inch from the ground. From above her, the bluebell monster was bellowing with laughter. Hot angry tears welled up in Alice’s eyes at the sound. No one had ever done this to her, forced her to bow down to someone. It was horrible.
Do bullied kids feel this way? Alice wondered. There are no bullies at school, but is this what bullied kids at other schools feel like? So angry and upset and humiliated? It’s horrible! I don’t want to feel like this. If I ever get away from this monster and me and Jackie survive I’ll make sure to stop bullying when I see it.
From above her the bluebell monster was speaking to her again. “Ha! You’re bowing down to me. Just like a stupid human should!” it shouted. “My father was a high spirit, that’s where I’m getting all these powers, you know. And it’s so fun to see you doing what I tell you. It’s like I’m your master. In fact, I am your master! Say I am your master, and you are my slave! Ha!”
“Y-You are my master and I am your slave.” Alice repeated, her voice quaking as hot tears spilled over.
“Now say you are a stupid b**** who will do whatever I tell you to do with no complaints and with a smile on your face.”
“I am a stupid b**** who will do whatever you tell me to do with no complaints and with a smile on my face.” Alice didn’t know what a “bich” was but she knew the intention and it hurt her to say so.
“Now stand up and punch yourself in the stomach!” commanded the bluebell monster. Obediently Alice stood up, the tears streaming down her face. Raising her fist, Alice brought it down hard into her tummy; she fell onto her back, smarting where her fist had struck. A fresh wave of tears came on as the aching pain spread to all her lower abdomen. On the table the bluebell monster was laughing again.
“This is too much fun!” it roared. “Now all I have to do is solidify my power over you and I can do whatever I want to you. Tell me your name, munchkin!”
“Alice.” And as Alice gave her name, she felt a strange, misty feeling engulf her brain. Everything but the bluebell monster’s voice was erased from her mind, every thought, every memory, every worry and concern that had occupied space in her head. And something else came into her consciousness: she had always been a slave, she would be a slave till the day she died, and her master was the little red man who was now staring at her from the edge of the table. All she had to do wa