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One Tantrum Too Many
Natalie Turner dances through the halls that are lined with forgotten memories hidden behind a paint job and the lies the realtor told. She places one foot down delicately in front of the other being careful not to step on the cracks in between each mahogany board. A light, sweet hum flows from her poised lips without a care in the world. Natalie’s pink dress has been freshly pressed and cascades around her legs as she raises her foot in time to the rhythm of her hum. Glancing up she locates the harsh noise of crisp vegetable chopping.
Her mother is in the kitchen preparing a decadent feast for the housewarming party tonight, though Natalie would much rather have macaroni and cheese to the Duck à l'orange her mother was currently cooking. Natalie stops her ballet performance and walks into the living room in hopes of finding a cartoon to watch. She is very disgruntled that the channels are different here than at her old home. Every place in the world should have the same channels on the same stations.
She prances along, and as she puts her foot down on a floorboard by the front window it lets out a long eerie creak that echoes through the room. For a second all is quiet; the chopping ceases, Natalie quiets her hum, and both mother and daughter momentarily hold their breath. No one makes a noise until there is a near inaudible giggle next to Natalie. It lasts only a second, maybe even two and then there is only silence left.
Natalie looks up at her mother with her hands covering her mouth. Her mother, having heard nothing, rolls her eyes lovingly, making a mental note to put a card table over that board. Wouldn’t want a neighbor to step there and interrupt the party. Knowing her mother isn’t disturbed by the giggle, Natalie continues with her quest. The television turns on and she plops down on the couch, surfing channels to find something with cartoons. The giggle incident is already a forgotten memory as she finds an episode of Scooby Doo.
Much too quickly the party is upon them and Natalie’s mother, Deann, must finish setting all the hor dourves onto the coffee table and kitchen island. She spent the day in preparation for the party, though she can still see a few specks of dust behind a picture frame and in the crevice of a recently unpacked wooden chair. Deann mentally scolds herself for her negligence.
Suddenly, she is summoned by the sound of the doorbell ringing for the first time tonight. She inhales deeply, shaking off any lingering nerves. Her hand is resting on the doorknob, and as she turns she yanks the door back she puts on a extravagant smile. “Hello,” she pleasantly expresses to an empty front porch. There is no one conspiring on the doorstep, simply the last rays of sunlight streaming through behind ebony clouds. Thunder rumbles far off and the vacient porch grumbles a reply. “Uh,” Deann lets out in a confused huph, and closes the door to keep the chilled night air out.
Surely Deann heard the doorbell ring, and it was not a figment of her imagination. Natalie comes skipping into the room with a rehearsed smile on her face, reserved for strangers. When she sees the barren threshold she cocks her head to the right quizatively. “Natalie, did you hear the doorbell ring?” Her mother asks.
“I thought so,” Natalie says, genuinely bewildered. Deann nods her head, relieved she wasn’t hearing things. She couldn’t be that old yet she chided to herself. Deann chalks it up to a childish game that the neighborhood kids played. Maybe it was a type of ritual they had; ding dong ditch the new neighbors.
The doorbell rings again, and this time Deann is met with smiling faces. The usual greetings are exchanged and strangers become acquaintances within a few minutes. A dozen times more that doorbell rings, and soon the Turner family forgets about the empty doorway they faced the first time. Deann is too busy being hostess and Natalie too naive to realize that no one is fast enough to have rung the doorbell and then run out of sight.
“This is simply wonderful Deann.” A friendly neighbor with red hair and a face splattered with freckles says pointing to her plate with her silver fork. Her name is Melissa. Deann can’t remember when Melissa arrived, one minute she wasn’t here, and the next she was drinking a glass of sparkling cider next to the other guests.
“Thank you, do you taste the hint of nutmeg I added?” Deann inquires, glad there is at least one friendly neighbor at this party. Most of the others keep whispering and glancing around as if this was a haunted house on Halloween day. They are aloof to Deann and her daughter, though thoroughly interested in the house.
“Ah, I can. It was on the tip of my tongue,” Melissa says, chuckling at her joke. Deann quickly joins in, fearful of not being accepted by Melissa. They continue to banter on until the ringing crash of a plate shattering echos across the room, stopping all conversation within moments. All heads snap to attention towards the kitchen. On the marble floor resides the destroyed remains of a hand painted plate.
Deann, trying to retain her composure, nervously smiles, and lets out a strained chuckle. Melissa clears her throat, and restlessly rubs her hands on the front of her slacks. She then nods her head in the direction of the kitchen, as if giving Deann permission to check it out. Their talk of spices and herbs dash away with the latest drama. Deann strides into the kitchen to find Natalie standing by the shattered remains of the plate.
The expression painted on her daughter’s face is pure shock; her mouth gaping and eyes bulging. Natalie slowly raises her face towards her mother. Deann is towering above Natalie with her usually eloquent face riddled with aggravation and puzzlement. “What happened here?” Deann interrogates completely exasperated.
Natalie’s eyes widen with dismay at being the scapegoat. “I didn’t,” she stammers.
“Then who did?” Deann remarks not missing a beat. She just lost a beautiful plate and has been embarrassed in front of her new neighbors, who are gawking at the spectacle in front of them. They have already been distant and unwelcoming to her, and now they must think she can’t control her own daughter. This was not the start she wanted for their new life here.
Unheard to Deann, across the room someone whispers, “It’s happening again.” Captivated audience members nod their heads in agreement, not bold enough to speak up incase it is really true. Unknown to them, it isn’t happening again, though something much worse is taking place.
“The little boy did it!” Natalie shrieks amazed her mother didn’t see him. He was right in front of the counter when he threw the plate onto the floor. He was right in front of her!
“What little boy?” Deann asks not remembering any other children entering her house. Natalie looks around the room for help from the mesmerized neighbors, but finds nothing except pity and dismay. No one will come to her rescue, though a red haired lady smiles as if to say “go on.”
“The little boy with blonde hair,” Natalie cries, now, having given up on any assistance from the neighbors, frantically searching through the room looking for the boy. She can’t find him.
“And why did he break the plate?” Deann asks quickly losing her patience. Her hands find the usual grooves in her hips and she leans to the right; the position she uses to signal she had had enough.
“He didn’t like it.” Natalie says remembering what he murmured right before he broke the plate. An unearthly giggle sounds throughout the kitchen. It sits in the air making the hair on Natalie’s arms stand on end. She gasps in fear and clutches her mother’s leg for comfort.
“What are you doing?” Deann implores, shocked at her daughter's strange behavior. Deann glances over her shoulder at Melissa who shrugs in mutual confusion. Deann looks down at her skittish little girl who is startlingly terrified.
“You didn’t hear that?” Natalie gawks. She is met with deafening silence as no one comes to her defense. They hadn’t heard it either. She was the only one that heard the giggle. A bitter sigh escapes Natalie’s lips as she lets go of her mother realizing no one believes her, not even her mother.
“Natalie, how about you get a glass of water, and I’ll clean this up.” Deann says seeing the distress her daugher is in over this scene. Something is obviously bothering Natalie, and making a bigger deal of this incident with the broken plate and little boy will not help her current condition.
Natalie nods her head absentmindedly as she tip toes to the sink, and Deann is immediately put at ease with her cooperation. Quite the opposite of her mother, Natalie is fully alert and quite disturbed at what she heard. She knows she didn’t imagine that ghostly giggle even if no one else witnessed it.
Water gushes out of the faucet into the plastic cup until it brims at the top, and Natalie slowly turns the knob to the left to end the steady flow. She brings the edge of the cup to her lips and drains the glass without taking a breath. After a minute of composure and a now safe amount of conversation between the guests Deann goes to talk to her daughter.
“For breaking the plate, there will be no dessert tonight.” She says quietly, stroking her daughters golden hair. Natalie, knowing arguing will not help her situation simply agrees and stares at the front window. Storm clouds have invaded the daytime sky, casting out any lingering rays of sunshine. Rolling crashes of thunder break through conversations and kill any chances of an airy evening.
Suddenly, the little boy appears in front of the window. He stands there, statue still, staring straight into Natalie. His eyes are the dark grey of a tombstone and skin like cracked porcelain. Shivers retreat up Natalie’s spine as she is shocked into silence and immobility. The little boy gradually turns his head inquisitively, and Natalie can see the dullness and eerie glaze in his eyes as his hair falls, and unveils the true ghastly appearance of his features.
Shadows live under his eyes and cheekbones making a drastic contrast to his alabaster skin, which is pulled tight against his skull. His cracked lips creep up in the corners, and his teeth come into sight as a sinister smile paints his face. He stands there, his eyes boring into Natalie.
Gradually, his hand rises up from his side and moves along his body towards his face. Eventually, the little boy places one dirt crusted finger over his smiling lips. Shhhhhhh. He whispers to her, and then disappears with the next flash of lightning.
“Natalie, did you hear me?” Deann asks, wondering why her daughter hasn’t answered. Natalie has been fixated with the front window and unusually silent. Her normal bubbly nature has deserted her and been replaced with an anxious trance. “Natalie!” Her mother cries with an uneasy feeling gnawing at her stomach.
Natalie snaps out of her transfixion and looks up at her mom with tears pooling in her eyes. Nervously, she blinks them away, not wanting to cause any more harm. She inhales and nods her head. “I heard you. No dessert tonight,” Natalie mumbles and breaks away towards the crowd of people thinking of comfort in numbers.
Deann watches her walk away and goes back to join Melissa who is impatiently waiting for Deann’s return. “Well, that was quite an ordeal.” Melissa says letting out a huff of air.
“It was, I don’t know what got into her. This isn’t like her usual manner.” Deann says looking across the room at Natalie who is talking to an elderly man. She isn’t smiling, but she isn’t as gloomy as before.
“Probably just nervous about meeting all these new people and the move. You know, it’s a big change, and she probably isn’t used to it yet.” Melissa replies grabbing another hor d'oeuvre from the table. Deann agrees, though she feels slightly insulted at the audacity of the advice. Deann knows this was a big change for Natalie, it was a big change for the both of them. She isn’t oblivious.
“It would be a big change for anyone.” Deann says biting her tongue. She is hoping to live next to these neighbors for years to come. It wouldn’t be wise to make enemies on the second day.
“Especially in this God forsaken house,” Melissa replies nonchalantly, glancing at the kitchen where the remains of the plate have already been disposed.
Deann looks at her shocked. “What did you say?” Melissa turns toward her, confusion etched on her face as if that was a completely normal remark.
“You don’t know about the house?” Melissa asks shocked.
An earsplitting crash fills the room drowning out all other noise. The aftershock of the crash is a ringing silence. Deann looks to see her late mother’s vase broken into a dozen minuscule pieces on the mahogany boards by the front window. “No,” she whispers and feels her rage boil over when she sees Natalie is the only person near the front window. “Natalie Margaret Turner,” Deann says slowly, putting emphasis on every syllable.
“I didn’t do it mom!” Natalie yells outraged at being blamed again. She didn’t break the vase. She loves her grandmother’s vase and would always put poppies in it. Natalie has no reason to break the vase or the plate.
“Then who did it? No one else is around.” Deann explodes storming over to Natalie. The azure vase is splintered into so many pieces it would be impossible to repair it. The vase is truly destroyed.
“The little boy broke the vase,” Natalie says pointing to the remains of the pottery as if that explained it all. The little boy had thrown it on the ground just a few moments ago, and surely Natalie wasn’t the only one who had seen him.
“And why did the boy break the vase Natalie? Why would he break it? Can you tell me?” Deann interrogates so enraged she can hardly function. She grabs Natalie by the shoulders and forces her daughter to look straight up at her. Deann’s eyes boring into Natalie.
“He didn’t like it.” She explains frustrated with having to explain this again.
“And so he just threw it on the ground. He didn’t like the vase so he just decided to destroy it?” Deann asks feeling tears well up in her eyes. That was the vase her mother used to put on the kitchen table every night. It was a link to her past and a way to remember her mother. Now the vase is ruined.
“I guess so, I didn’t ask him why he did it. He just did!” Natalie pouts.
“Go to your room now. We will deal with this fiasco tomorrow, but until then you go up to your bedroom and stay there.” Deann says having run out of patience. Natalie puts her hands on her hips and stomps off towards her room. She doesn’t want to socialize with the adults anyway.
Deann sighs realizing the mess she has made. She just needs to keep it together until the end of the night. She bends down to pick up a few broken pieces of pottery trying not to cry at her loss. Melissa brings over a plastic bag and assists Deann, trying to be a helpful neighbor. They pick up fragments of broken and splintered poetry in silence. Others continue to talk and gossip, and Deann blocks them out as she stands up finally finished.
Defeated, Deann retreats to the kitchen for a forkful of chocolate cake and some much needed wine. Melissa follows behind and puts her hand on Deann’s shoulder comfortingly. “You did the right thing,” Melissa says smiling.
“What did you mean earlier about my house?” Deann asks skipping the pleasantries. Melissa looks taken aback by the abruptness, but nods her head.
“Can I have a drink?” She asks gesturing towards the wine. Deann pours her a tall glass and quickly hands it over. After a satisfied swig Melissa starts. “The last owners of this house died here.” She takes a deep breath, obviously upset. “It wasn’t a pleasant death either.”
Melissa sighs and grabs a tissue to blot the corner of her eyes. She clears her throat and continues. “She was a single mom raising a beautiful little boy. Her husband had run off years back when times got rough, and though she had moved on, her son hadn’t. It was difficult for him. He had always blamed himself for his dad leaving. He would constantly think that if he had been better, maybe his dad would have stayed and they would have been a family. He lived in the past and could never move on after his dad deserted them. The mom knew about the boy’s obsession with his father, and was much too easy on him. She let him get away with anything. He would constantly argue and fight with her about everything. The mother loved her son and knew that he was getting out of control. He started to break things when he got upset or throw things on the ground if he didn’t like them. He constantly giggled just to annoy her. He stomped on the ground weakening the mahogany. The little boy caused a lot of grief. One day, the mother snapped and decided to punish him when he broke a china tea set upstairs. She grabbed him by the ear and dragged him to the stairs. He fought her going down the stairs and,” Melissa stops, shaking uncontrollably.
She drains the rest of her wine and cringes as it goes down. “He lost his footing and fell. He rolled down and finally stopped in front of the window. Horrified, the mother rushed to his side to find that he was dead. She then went into the kitchen and slit her wrists. The police found them an hour later after neighbors complained of hearing banging and a crash come from the house. That was about three months ago.” Melissa ends, tears streaking down her face.
She grabs her wine glass and holds it up for a refill. Looking down to pour the wine Deann sees blood flowing from lines on Melissa’s wrists. “Oh my God,” Deann exclaims. Neighbors turn to look at Deann, alone, in the kitchen with two glasses of wine. They do nothing except avert their eyes. Deann had been talking to herself all night, there is no need to worry now, and no need to be rude and leave.
“Melissa, what did you do?” Deann asks quickly grabbing a paper towel to try and stop the bleeding. Melissa starts to cry and does nothing to stop the blood gushing from her wrists. There is so much blood. It spills onto the table and marble floor.
“My little boy, my little boy, oh I’m so sorry baby. I didn’t mean it. Mommy didn’t mean it. Please forgive me, please baby.” Melissa weeps, bending down. She lets out a howl of remorse and pushes Deann away.
Deann shakes her head. “No, no this isn’t happening. I’m calling the police.” She says and walks away from the kitchen towards the home phone on the coffee table. She reaches for the phone to call for an ambulance, but some invisible hand grabs it first and throws it on ground. Deann screams and footsteps echo through the room. Someone starts to violently giggle. All eyes are on her.
“Everyone out! Everyone out!” Deann yells gesturing towards the door nervously. The neighbors, utterly bewildered just stare at her at first. Then, they begin to usher out through the door, thoroughly confused, but not wanting to cause any trouble. Deann runs back to the kitchen where Melissa is bleeding out on the floor. Then, Deann looks up and puts her shaking hand over her mouth in terrified shock. This can’t be happening.
The little boy! He is standing by the front window! His eyes are fixated on Deann and he draws back his face with malice. A loud, ghostly giggle escapes through his closed mouth, and the noise echoes in Deann’s mind before the little boy looks upstairs where Natalie’s room is and disappears.
“Oh my God,” Deann mumbles. Suddenly, Natalie screams and starts crying madly. “Natalie!” Deann yells and sprints in horror up the stairs towards her daughter who is wailing loudly. She bursts into the room to find Natalie on her bed sobbing. “Natalie, Natalie what is wrong?” She yells running to her side.
Deann gathers Natalie into her arms and kisses her forehead lovingly. She rocks her daughter back and forth with tears spilling down her face. “Oh, baby, what’s wrong, why are you crying Natalie?” She asks feeling both relief and dread in her stomach.
“Oh Mommy, Mommy,” Natalie cries, trying to get control of her breath. She gasps and snot rolls down her face mixed with salty tears. “Mommy, the little boy, he told me, he said,” Natalie starts breathing heavily.
Deann looks around them, trying to see if the little boy is there. The room is empty. “What did the little boy tell you Natalie?” She asks wiping Natalie’s face with the corner of the blanket. Natalie gasps for breath and finally struggles to get it out.
“Mommy, he said that he didn’t like you.”
The door slams shut so hard the room shakes, and then is filled with the sound of a little boy giggling.