The Strangest Discovery

December 13, 2013

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Pater Notorious immediately took it upon himself to educate his young charge.  Giselle did not object to this new arrangement.  One day at school had convinced both of them that it was no place for her.  From the outside, it might seem that Giselle was indulged as she seemed to spend more time playing make-believe than studying.  But Pater recognized the child had a vivid imagination and he encouraged it.  He knew it was going to be difficult for her virtually alone in the rambling house they shared.

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But the truth be told, Giselle reveled in her solitude and her games of pretend.  It was not all silliness and play.  As an astronaut, she discovered much about the universe.

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The hours she spent wrangling bandits and crossing the Western desert was excellent exercise.

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Her enthusiasm as a race car driver gave her the confidence she would need as a teenager when it came to driving an actual car.

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Her imaginary submarine adventures meant no fussing or dragging her heels at bathtime.

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All seasons led to outdoor activity that encouraged her to become one with nature and respect the environment.

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So what would have seemed to be a lonely childhood for others was an endless source of delight for Giselle.

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Pater always saw to it that she had whatever toys and goodies that would not only keep her occupied but also provide a sense of wonder.  It was an idyllic childhood and Giselle could not have asked for more for she was very happy.

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Until one night very late she witnessed something so strange and macabre, it changed her life forever.  Giselle had woken in the middle of the night feeling very hungry and started to leave her room to sneak downstairs to get a snack.  But she was stopped dead in her tracks by an entrancing vision.  Mr. Raff and Mrs. Danvers were standing on the second-story landing across from her room dressed in formal clothes and in Mrs. Danvers hand was what appeared to be a cross between a wand and a rattle.  It was the face of a skull and quite disturbing, as were the words Mrs. Danvers was chanting.

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Giselle stayed out of sight at the edge of the doorway to her bedroom, watching with anticipation and a little fear.  What could possibly be going on?  Then she heard a creaky rustling and what she saw next made her heart pound and her skin crawl and yet, at the same time, generated a sense of excitement she had never felt before.

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Through the slats of the railing surrounding the staircase, Giselle saw something she could have hardly put into words no matter how hard-pressed she might be.  It was the form of a skeleton wearing the outfit of a maid and it was ascending the stairs towards her.  And though she was frightened out of her wits, she felt an odd sense of familiarity about this bony figure, something she surely could not put her finger on.

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The creature reached the top of the stairs as Giselle shrank back farther into her room but still peeping at what was taking place.  Mrs. Danvers approached the bony figure with Mr. Raff at her back and in hissing whispers gave it some kind of instruction.  As Giselle watched in wonder, the skeleton went about doing mundane tasks.  When it passed in front of the door to her bedroom, Giselle ran to her bed and jumped beneath the covers, trembling and confused.

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Each night thereafter, Giselle would awake at precisely the same time and stand vigil in her bedroom doorway, hiding in the shadows.  Each night Mrs. Danvers and Mr. Raff would repeat the same ritual.  Giselle longed to know how to summon the skeletal being herself because it intrigued her and she thought it would be fun to have someone, or in this case something do her bidding.  Plus, she could not shake the nagging feeling that she was somehow deeply connected to the lonely, boney figure.  One evening, upon chance, she witnessed Mrs. Danvers opening a box in the kitchen, a box Giselle has looked at many times but never really noticed or thought about it.  Lo and behold, from the box, Mrs. Danvers produced the scepter-like object she used to summon her silent servant.

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One day after school, Giselle found herself alone in the huge house.  It was unusual and she decided to take advantage of the moment.  She stealthily approached the kitchen and there on the counter was the magical box.  Giselle knew what she was about to do was terribly wrong but she could not help herself.

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Giselle stood before the box, nearly paralyzed with fear.  What was she about to unleash?  Could she in fact control it as Mrs. Danvers and Mr. Raff did?  She thought for a few minutes and then without any further hesitation, she opened the box and snatched out the device by which she could have the skeleton creature all to herself.

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Each time Giselle had watched Pater’s domestic servants summon the creature, they had been in fancy dress.  She did not know if this was a requirement but she decided not to take a chance and put on her most elegant costume.  Then she carefully repeated the strange chanting she had heard Mrs. Danvers mumble time and again.  Giselle waited but she was unsure anything was happening.

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But much like the mythological Pandora, Giselle had opened a box that would issue forth temptations into her world that she could neither control nor resist.

Early Warning Signs

September 13, 2013

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Giselle sat besides Pater feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension.  Tonight would be the first time she was visiting her new home.  After traveling up a winding road some distance, the snazzy sports car zipped to a stop in front of an enormous house surrounded by a high fence.  Pater revved the engine a couple of times then pulled into the driveway.  He got out and briefly stretched then came around to the passenger’s side and let Giselle out.

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Inside the lights were dim but the cheery smell of pumpkin and spice filled the air.  A male voice called out, “Master Notorious?”  Giselle turned toward the sound and was startled by the pale, frowning visage of a man dressed in formal, somber clothing.

“Bags, please, Mr. Raff.”  Pater spoke in a commanding voice and tossed the car keys to the man who deftly caught them and proceeded outside.

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“At last you have arrived,” spoke another voice, this time female.  Giselle turned back towards the grand staircase and saw a woman wearing a heavily starched magenta dress, with buttons all the way to the neck.  Her skin was pale, as pale as the man’s, as if neither had even been in the sun.  “Supper is prepared for you, Sir and the young mistress,” she said, as she came to the bottom of the stairs.  “I hope you will enjoy the pumpkin pie.”  With that final word, she disappeared down a dark hallway.

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Pater suggested to Giselle she take a bath and change into her pajamas which she was glad to do after their long drive.  The little girl joined her benefactor in a large, wood-paneled dining room.  On the table were plates of warm food, including generous slices of pumpkin pie.  She ate quietly, hoping Pater would fill the silence with an explanation regarding the presence of the man and the woman.  But he was quiet as well.  When Pater finished, he said only, “Leave the dishes for Mrs. Danvers” and “Goodnight.”

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The next day, Giselle was awakened early when bright, hot sunlight fell across her closed eyes.  Grumbling to herself, she looked up at a row of semi-circular windows high up on the wall, none of which were covered.

“You’re awake, Miss?”  It was the woman, Mrs. Danvers.  She stood in the doorway, her chalky skin nearly transparent in the morning sun.  “You must hurry for it is almost time for school.”

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Giselle washed and dressed as quickly as she could and just as quick gulped down the delicious breakfast waiting for her in the dining room.  Then she heard the man, Mr. Raff, calling out “Schoolbus!”  She took that as her cue to run outside and board the rumbling, yellow behemoth.  She had her choice of seats for no other child was on board.  With a great churning of gears, the bus turned around and headed down the winding road.

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Apparently she was the only child who lived in her neighborhood for the bus never made another stop until it arrived at an old brick building with a playground on the side.  Giselle nimbly hopped down the steps of the bus and walked the expanse of a long courtyard with her head held high trying to appear confident.  Inside, she was nervous but she sensed it was important not to let her anxiety show.

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Much later into the schoolday, a phone call was made to Giselle’s new home.  Mr. Raff took the call and in the receiver heard a shrill and angry voice demanding to speak to the parents of Giselle Notorious.  He promptly handed the phone to Mrs. Danvers and then stood by, watching with interest.

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Mrs. Danvers cleared her throat and spoke with gentle authority.  “The child has no parents and her guardian is unavailable,” she said.  “I see…I see.  Truly this matter sounds like it is a private one, not necessarily something Master Pater would want you to discuss with anyone but him,” Mrs. Danvers continued, sounding a little indignant.  She named a time that evening and gave the address of the Notorious home, all the while rolling her eyes and shaking her head at Mr. Raff, and then she promptly hung up without any kind indication she was doing so, no ‘good day’ or otherwise.

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When Pater came home, Giselle had already eaten, bathed and changed into her bedclothes.  He found her in the conservatory, splattering vivid colors on a small, stretched canvas.  Sitting in front of the chess table with a sigh, he spoke to the girl in measured tones.

“How is school?” he asked.

“How is school supposed to be?” she answered.

Pater considered this question carefully before responding, not in the least bit concerned about her impertinence.  He only ever spoke to her on an adult level, the way he spoke with any child.

“It is supposed to be a safe place where children go to learn new things.”

Giselle wiped her brush on a cotton cloth and set it down in the tray connected to the easel.  She stepped off her stepstool and came over to Pater.  Her eyes were filled with pleading.  “School is none of those things.  Don’t ever make me go back there again.”

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Before he could answer the doorbell rang.  Giselle heard the sound of footsteps hurrying to the door, then Mr. Danvers greeting someone.  “Master Notorious, please come here,” she called out.  Pater looked at Giselle with a gravity that made the girl feel a little frightened.  “Go to your room and do not come out until I say so,” he directed.  She climbed the staircase with one quick backward glance and was even more frightened when she saw who was standing at the door.  Like a scared rabbit, she scampered the rest of the way up to her room.

“Mr. Notorious,” said the guest and held out her hand.  “I am Mrs. Osteen, the principal of Giselle’s school.”

Pater took her hand and gave it a brief shake then took her by the elbow and led her into the dining room.

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“What brings you to our humble abode this evening, Mrs Osteen?”  Pater asked in his gravely voice.

“Oh, my, it is hardly humble!” she answered brightly with a half-smile on her face.  “You have a beautiful house!  I don’t often get to go inside the homes of my young charges.”  She paused and said in a little less bright of a voice.  “I just wish I was here under more pleasant circumstances.”

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Pater’s expression was stony and unreadable.  He said nothing, simply pierced Mrs. Osteen’s eyes with his own, waiting for her to go on.  She was chilled by his stare and lost her train of thought for a moment.  She felt she was not going to have an understanding audience and wished she had arranged a meeting at her office, where she would have the home field advantage.

“Something extremely disturbing happened today and it centered on Giselle,” she began.  “I am afraid the child did something so terrible—why, in all my years in education, I have never known a seven-year old to perpetrate such actions.”

“Perpetrate?”  Pater sounded incredulous.  “Are you suggesting the child is some kind of criminal?”

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“Mr. Notorious, five children had to go to the hospital today because of Giselle.”  The woman held up one hand, fingers extended, to emphasize her announcement.  “She is not a criminal but in my opinion she exhibited a streak of sadism that could mean her behavior falls out of the range of normal.”

“You must be more explicit, Mrs. Osteen,” Pater said.  The principal was a bit taken aback by his reaction or lack thereof.  “What exactly did she do?”

“She created a strange concoction of paste, chalk dust and tiddly-winks and somehow, she convinced these children it was candy and they should eat it!”  Mrs. Osteen was losing ground quickly for Pater still seemed unmoved.

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He stared at her again with his unnerving stare.  Silence ensued.  At last he raised his eyebrows and asked, “What do you suppose these children did to warrant such treatment?”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Mrs. Osteen replied and then trying to sound casual, she continued, “Oh, well, the teacher did say there was some teasing going on.  Children can be—“

“Cruel?  Bullying?” Pater cut in. “Sadistic, even, if I may use your own words?  Maybe so much so that they gang up on ‘the new girl,’ making her feel rejected and hurt?  And maybe the teacher lets these things go on because he or she feels things have a way of sorting out in time.  Could it be Giselle was simply defending herself?”

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“Avenging is more like it, don’t you think?”  Mrs. Osteen hissed for she felt Pater was belittling her concern and that the whole situation was being turned around in a way she had not anticipated.  “Mr. Notorious, the behavior that you describe is something that children, for better or for worse, learn to deal with in school.  Maliciously being poisoned is not!  I’m afraid I must expel Giselle immediately.”  Hardly had such a harsh punishment been planned ahead of time but once the words had left the principal’s mouth, she saw no way of taking them back.

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Though Pater had asked her not to leave her room, Giselle’s curiosity had gained the best of her.  She had crept through her door and onto the landing of the staircase.  As quietly as she could, she sneaked down a few stairs, intently listening to the exchange below.  What happened next was not only a shock to her but to Mrs. Danvers and Mr. Raff as well, who were hiding and watching from the kitchen.

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Pater Notorious became a raging bull.  His fists were balled in rage.  His face was contorted into a mask of hatred.  He puffed out his chest and began bellowing at the woman in front of him.

“You dare to come into my home and accuse a child who is like a daughter to me of being abnormal and perverse?  Tell me, Mrs. Osteen, what are your qualifications besides some two-bit degree in teaching?  Are you schooled in pop psychology as well?  Principal, eh?  Everyone knows in a pathetic bureaucracy such as education, only mediocrity rises to the top!  I suggest you take your shabby coat and your cheap shoes elsewhere!”

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In all her years of dealing with the caretakers of the children she liked to believe she cared for and nurtured, no one had ever spoken to her with such fury.  Nor had anyone insulted her intelligence, her experience, her hard-won promotions, or her sterling education.  Or had it been so ideal, her mind raced, after all she had started out at a community college and finished with an online degree.  Had she truly earned the right to climb the ladder based on merit or had it simply been the case that the last woman standing got the job?  Mrs. Osteen was mortified, not only by his words but by her sudden self-doubt brought on by the barrage of insults hurled in her face.  Without further discussion, she ran from the Notorious house, trying to stave off tears until she got to her car.

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When he heard the door slam, Pater took a deep breath, then another, trying to calm down.  He did not want anyone in the household to see him, not realizing all had been witness to a terrifying display.  Slowly he climbed the stairs to Giselle’s room, only to discover her happily playing on the floor with a teddy bear (of sorts.)  Standing at the threshold of the door, he weighed his options.  He could discuss the day’s events with the girl.  He could mete our some discipline.  Or he could simply resign himself to what he knew was fact—this child was a Notorious through and through.

Bare Bones

September 6, 2013

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When at last Pater was certain Giselle was settled in for the night, he took some time to have an incredibly rare nap.

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It seemed he had only just closed his eyes when he heard the beleaguered howling of the small child.  He sat straight up and listened for a moment before climbing off the couch.  Did he also hear the footsteps of Giselle’s mother?  Not hardly but he was aware of her presence in the home.

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Sure enough as he climbed the stairs to the second floor he noted the clattering of the computer’s keyboard as Hansu scrolled through Simface.  ‘Like, like…like, like, like’ she clicked away, unaware or unconcerned about her daughter’s discomfort.  He cleared his throat loudly and with a gasp, she turned to face him.  Immediately, she leapt out of her seat and disappeared up the spiral staircase that led to the nursery.

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When he reached the top of the landing, he found mother and child reunited, the toddler still hiccupping with tiny tears soaking her full lashes and Hansu looking panicked.  But rather than telegraph his extreme anger at her disappearing act, Pater smiled in as disarming a manner as he could.  “Hansu,” he began, fingers tented.  “I have a new proposal for you.  How would you like to live forever?”

Hansu appeared bewildered.  “But, I will live forever if I stay young, won’t I?  Won’t I?”

“Not at all.  Your time will come eventually.  You will simply be a very well-preserved corpse,” Pater explained.  “All I ask is that you let me take her away from you—“

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In her confused and troubled state (for she was leery of another of Pater’s proposals, after all, wasn’t that how she had become saddled with Giselle after the mostly humiliating relationship with Bert Alto?) Hansu completely misheard her benefactor, thinking he said ‘take it away.’

“Oh, no, no, no!  Please don’t take it away from me, please!”  She entreated, her hands clasped in a prayerful position, her eyes filled with desperation.

“That is how you think of Giselle?  Not as her but as it?” Pater shook his head wearily, not even attempting to hide his disgust.

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“Not that brat!”  Hansu answered, angry now, hearing the severe disapproval in Pater’s voice.  “The Fountain of Youth!”

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Pater turned away from her snarling face.  He had created many monsters before the one in front of him now, it was not her attitude that troubled him.  It was the fact that she thought nothing of speaking so ill about her daughter in Giselle’s presence.  Granted the child was barely more than a baby and only had just started putting words together.  It was the principle and principles were clearly what Hansu lacked.  All the more reason to reinforce his suggestion, a trade-off:  she would give him Giselle and he would give her the gift of immortality.

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Pater put on his most charming and convincing voice.  “It is so clear that you are not cut out for the burden of mother hood.  Why don’t you let me ease that burden as well as ease your mind about the future?  Besides, imagine how it will be for your daughter to grow up and have a mother remarkably younger than all the other mothers?  To reach her middle years only to see her mother has not aged at all?”

Hansu had not considered her daughter’s future.  What, she wondered, would be the harm of turning over Giselle over to Pater?  He was wealthy and wise, after all and he had taken good care of her and the girl so far.  She took a deep breath, forced it out with a sigh.  “Yes.”

On Pater’s face slowly spread a smile.  His eyes twinkled.  “So be it.”

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That evening, as the full moon rose…

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…and the windchimes tinkled on the soft nighttime breezes…

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Hansu fell into a deep slumber.

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She found herself in a dream.  In it, she was wearing the special white gown she only wore when visiting the magical fountain.  She stood in front of its mysterious waters and then bent over with a cupped hand to drink.  The water smelled oddly foul and instead of swirling brightly was stagnant and murky.  She sipped and immediately was sick to her stomach, a reaction quite different from the enervating tingling she normally felt.  In terror, Hansu turned away and stumbled blindly through the dense woods.  Her precious youth-serum was no more!

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It was not long before Hansu realized she was terribly lost.  Instead of being back at her house, she discovered to her anger that she was near the edge of an unfamiliar road.

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Heart pounding and legs feeling heavy as lead, Hansu ran and ran, away from or towards she did not know what.  She simply wanted to get away, away, away.

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At last she found herself somewhere…a neglected, overgrown cemetery.  Scattered about were half-dead trees and withered weeds.  She wandered from one broken headstone to another, giving each one a cursory glance.  On all of the gravestones she was startled to discover the same surname…it was own, Notorious.  Suddenly, she felt a cold, almost bone-like finger on her shoulder.  Whirling, with a scream in her throat, she was facing a statue of her worst enemy:  the faceless, hooded Grim Reaper.  Just as the scream was about to escape her lips, she awoke, panting and drenched in sweat.

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Hansu threw back the antique patchwork quilt she slept under and jumped up from her brass bed.  The details of the dream faded fast but her sense of apprehension did not.  In a rush, she remembered her discussion with Pater and the agreement she had made.  Had they already left, he with Giselle under his arm?  She scrambled up the stairs to the nursery and was relieved to discover them both.  Oddly, Pater was dressed in formal clothing.

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So too was Giselle.  Her dress was the daintiest of lilacs and her hat was adorned with a matching daisy.  She burbled over a toy pony, her face filled with wonder and delight.

“Why is she so dressed up?  And you?”  Hansu addressed Pater, her voice husky with the fear that was so pressing.  For somewhere in her black heart, this mother of one knew what she had contracted was some terrible kind of evil—abandoning her baby girl for a life that would never end.

“Don’t you know what today is?”  Pater rumbled with no discernible emotion in his voice.  “It is Giselle’s birthday.  I expect you to put on your best clothes and meet us in the kitchen for the celebration.”

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Hansu changed quickly and descended the kitchen staircase to find Pater in an unusually tender pose, holding Giselle against his broad chest.  The little girl looked perfectly content, as if she had the prescience to know this man was now going to be her guardian.  The candles were already lit on the cake, the flames dancing about as if in anticipation of what was to come next.

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It all happened so fast.  One minute Pater and the toddler were leaning over the cake as he told her to ‘blow, blow!’  Next she was sitting on the ground, looking up at Pater and Hansu with expectation in her hazel eyes.  Finally, a grown child stood before them, her face in an unreadable expression behind wire-rimmed glasses, her hair pulled back in a stern bun.

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But before Hansu could consider her daughter further or even speak to the little girl, she began to feel the most bizarre sensation.  It was not pain, exactly, but rather a strange, stretching feeling.  Her skin felt prickly all over and then, if she was not mistaken, she could literally feel it wrinkling and sagging.  In horror, she turned away from the birthday celebration and ran up two flights of stairs, back to the nursery and her beloved mirror.

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With a mix of consternation and despair, she was shocked to see the woman staring back at her.  This woman’s face was not moist and dewy, the face Hansu was so used to, but rather puckered and creased.  The lines around her nose and mouth were sunken in and a bevy of tiny lines had gathered at the corners of her lips and eyes.  Hansu tried to smile, tried to make the best of it thinking, a little aging isn’t so bad, I suppose it was inevitable with my daughter getting older as well.  She was about to turn away from the mirror when she noticed gray hairs shot all through her updo.  Before her very eyes, the gray turned to white and spread at an alarming rate.  Hansu wanted to cry out, to look elsewhere but she was frozen in place.

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For it was only a few moments later that staring back at her was a hag of a person!  The hair was the color of dirty snow, the face wizened beyond recognition and in place of the  beautiful blue dress was a hideous blue housecoat.  Hansu was speechless.  She held her hands up to her cheeks, patting them carefully.  Yes, it was indeed her, not some random woman who had entered the house and taken over the mirror.  Well, if this is how I have to spend eternity, I had better get used to it.  A little hair dye, a change of clothes, daily trips to the spa…I won’t look so bad.  At last she tore herself away from the mirror, not wanting to see the reflection at all anymore.  But as she walked towards the stairs, she felt an even stranger feeling than before.  It was if her very flesh were melting away.  The room grew dimmer and dimmer and her gait slower and slower.  She backed up and turned creakily, nearly blind now, but determined to see what was going to be looking back at her now.

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Though she had no eyes, in fact no organs at all, Hansu was still a sentient being.  And in her mind’s eye she saw something hateful.  As hateful as the laugh that roared through her conscious as it echoed around the house, and echoing inside what was left of her mind were these fateful words from Pater’s own mouth and own mind, a telepathic shout:  “Immortality is yours, dear Hansu!  Yours forever and ever and ever!”

How Many More Times

August 30, 2013

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For the umpteenth time, Hansu searched through the daily paper, looking for any clue regarding the whereabouts of her one-time lover, Bert Alto.  For awhile, an ambitious reporter had made the story her own, relaying in breathless detail the abandoned ice cream truck, the flyers, the searches, the cadavers dogs and occasionally a reference to a “mysterious dark-haired woman” who was accompanying Bert when he was last seen.  Hansu waited for a knock on the door from a detective, a neighbor, even the reporter, standing on the porch, ready to pepper her with questions.  But that knock never came.  Nor did a story hailing the return of the lost man.

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No matter, she thought, I have better things to do.  So began her rituals, a series of activities she went through every day of each month, every month of each year.  After all, as much as her secret Fountain of Youth allowed her to stay frozen in age, she feared the day would come that it would fail her, in spite of the promise Pater Notorious had made. She started with a frenetic workout on her treadmill, running and running until sweat dripped off her face and soaked through her clothes.

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Next Hansu filled the tub with tepid water and a concoction of moisturizing bath salts.  She would undress slowly, running her hands up and down her firm body, marveling that her skin still retained its elasticity.  Climbing in the water was not always easy, especially on cold days.  Even with the furnace on full blast, lukewarm water was not the most comforting sensation.  But her fear of aging distorted her logic.  If the water was hot, she would prune and surely the wrinkles would slowly become permanent, or so she believed.

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Then came the best ritual of all:  a trip to the Hidden Springs spa!  Hansu was grateful they provided a variety of treatments all guaranteed to satisfy the clientele in pursuit of ageless beauty.  The aestheticians never failed to crowd around her, oohing and aahing over just how effective the mudbaths and seaweed wraps were for their number-one customer.  Hansu avoided the other ladies partaking of the spa’s services for she knew from growing up with a twin sister just how wrathful a jealous woman could be.  She would arrive in a virtual disguise, including oversized sunglasses and a headscarf, removing neither until she was whisked into a private room.  Hansu splurged on the most expensive packages day after day, leaving the spa workers wondering exactly where the money came from.

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Back at home, Hansu climbed two flights of stairs to the top floor and drifted to the full-length mirror.  How she loved that mirror!  It hung on the back wall of the nursery and she often went there several times throughout the day as the lighting was so flattering.  For an hour or maybe it was hours, she gazed lovingly at her flawless skin, her eyes unmarred by crow’s feet, her mouth undiminished by laugh lines.

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Hansu lost herself so deeply in her own reflection, she was oblivious to the sole resident of the nursery, her lovechild with Bert Alto.

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Little Giselle could flail and wail but all for nought.

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Until Pater Notorious appeared, seemingly out of thin air.  He scooped the tyke into his burly arms and tickled her, turning Giselle’s sobs into gales of laughter.  The arrival of her patron always snapped Hansu out of her vain reverie.  She would quickly scurry around, picking up toys, reshelving books and straightening the bedding in her daughter’s crib as if cleaning up the nursery was her reason for being in that room.

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After seeing to it that the toddler’s mother had fed, changed and put Giselle to sleep in her crib, Pater would noiselessly gesture to Hansu to follow him.  They would slowly descend to the second story.  He would double-check the baby monitor was on (more often than not he found it turned off) and then turn to the young mother with a twinkle in his eyes.  The gleaming within was a ruse, Hansu had learned, a trick to put her at ease.  But the trick had only worked the first few times for she knew what was coming.

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“Hansu, I made you a promise, did I not?”  Pater asked.  Hansu held her head high in spite of the tone he took with her, a tone that said ‘You displease me.’

“Yes,” she answered.

“The Fountain of Youth appears to be working.  Is it?” Pater went on.

“Yes,” she answered again.

“In return, you made me a promise?” He queried.

“Yes,’ Hansu replied, her voice starting to tremble.

“What was it you promised me?” Pater’s tone shifted to one that said ‘You lied to me.’

“An heir.”  Her voice was now barely above a whisper.  Finally, she lowered her head.

Crossing his arms and shaking his head, Pater continued.  “An heir,” he repeated.  “An heir.  Such a simple request.”

With those words, the grilling ended.  From out of nowhere, Pater would produce a book, sit down on the settee and start to read.

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Paralysis set in for Hansu.  She dared not return to the nursery for fear of waking Giselle  or worse, flitting to the mirror to get another look.  Heading downstairs seemed a viable option so she turned on her heel but, as she suspected, Pater was not finished with her.

“Hansu, my dear,” he began without looking up from his book.  “I could not help but notice a foul odor upstairs.  Could it possibly be emanating from the potty chair?  I assume it needs cleaning.”  So she climbed the stairs, and gingerly lifted the bowl out of the potty chair. First she dumped the contents down her own toilet, and then she carried the now-empty but still smelly bowl to the alcove that housed a washer, dryer and laundry sink.  Scrubbing away, she muttered to herself a string of blue words.  At last the bowl was clean so Hansu peeled off the rubber gloves she had donned to do the chore.  Immediately, her anger dissipated for the hands in front of her were plump and the knuckles delicate and the veins non-existent.

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For all his chastisement, Pater never seemed able to get through to Hansu that nurturing his precious heir was not his responsibility, it was hers.  He stepped up to the plate of parenthood whenever necessary but more and more, Giselle’s mother was nowhere to be found.  Pater could guess where she was, either at that infernal spa or deep in the woods, languishing besides the Fountain of Youth, stupefied by its drug-like effects.  One night he appeared at the house, assuming that, in his absence, the woman had the good sense to stick around.  But her home was tomb-like it was so silent.  He crept up the stairs to the nursery, his blood beginning to boil at the thought that Hansu had taken the child somewhere, something that he strictly forbade.  What he found angered him far greater.

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At his feet lay little Giselle fast asleep on the floor.  Meaning, she had been left on the floor for how long, he could not guess…long enough to cry herself out.

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With as gentle a voice as he could muster, Pater called the toddler’s name.  It took several times but at last she opened her eyes.  For a moment she looked bewildered, probably, Pater thought, remembering how dark and lonely a time she had experienced.

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With loving hands, Pater picked the child up and immediately discovered her diaper was so soiled, even her onesie was wet.  He changed the baby girl, offered her a bottle and then sat down on the floor with her, reading through a dog-eared volume of nursery rhymes.

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When little Giselle’s eyes began to flutter, Pater felt he could put her in her crib with little protest.

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She fought hard…

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But was no match against exhaustion.

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This man, so dignified and reserved, found himself tiptoeing around the room, putting dirty baby clothes in the hamper and collecting bottles of formula that had been lying around for so long they reeked of rot.  Finally the nursery was tidied to his satisfaction.  He picked up one last toy and placed it in the crib with Giselle.  She did not stir.

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How many more times? Pater thought.  How many more times do I allow her to mess up so badly?  He was unsure what to do.  He had made her a promise.  She had lived up to that promise somewhat.  Only one thing remained to do…he must up the ante to get what he truly wanted:  full and total control of little Giselle.

Seduction of a Fool

December 31, 2011

Hansu sighs loudly and surveys the half-empty dance floor one more time.  She is finding her search for a suitable father to a child to be dull and unrewarding.  She has considered giving up but then her mind drifts to the scene in her bathroom that very morning.

Had she not discovered multiple gray hairs sprouting from her scalp?  The finest hint of wrinkles around her eyes?  Aging is simply not a reality she is prepared to face.

Hansu abandons the discotech and heads back to her small home at the edge of nowhere in Hidden Springs.  Though she has lived here for awhile, she never took the time to get to know anyone very well.  Her secret life, visiting and revisiting the Fountain of Youth, has made her paranoid and suspicious.  But she decides to let her guard down and tentatively enters a dating site online, in hopes of finding someone, anyone as long as he is fertile and willing.

After leaving multiple requests on the profiles of potential mates, she is pleased to receive a phone call first thing the next morning.  A stuttering, nervous voice on the other end of the line asks for her by name and proceeds to fumble through a long explanation about who he is and why he wants to date her.  Hansu responds with what she considers to be appropriate answers, trying to sound flirtatious but not desperate–even though she is starting to feel a little frantic without her magical, restorative waters.

At last she is able to get her suitor off the phone.  He has closed the conversation revealing his name and Hansu mulls it over.  Bert Alto, could he be related to the Altos from Sunset Valley?  She wonders if her brother Sigismund had managed to alienate his neighbors in some fashion, as he was prone to doing.  If this character, Bert, was in fact related to Vita, would harsh words travel between them regarding the Notorious family?  Because a little simple math would result in the discovery of Hansu’s true age and she didn’t want to scare this guy away.  It is a good thing they made a date for that very afternoon.

Hansu proceeds to the Diner and finds a comfortable spot to wait for Bert’s arrival.  She carefully surveys each man that crosses her path wondering if it could be him.  Suddenly she hears an annoyingly familiar tune–‘Musicbox Simmer.’  She knows the ice cream truck cannot be far behind.  Sure enough, the sunshine yellow vehicle decorated with a mural of the treats for sale lumbers into view and parks right in front of her.  A man climbs out and Hansu is shocked to see he has the trademark Alto salt-and-pepper hair.  She considers bolting but time is ticking away for her–if this guy is the guy she is going to hook up with, so be it.  She doesn’t even hesitate but immediately walks towards him, her hand out and a seductive smile on her face.

They make formal introductions and a few stabs at small-talk but Hansu senses right away that Bert is painfully shy.  She isn’t sure what to say to loosen him up.

Hansu notices Bert is wearing a very expensive Simex timepiece on his arm.

“My goodness, what a beautiful wristwatch!  I’m surprised you can afford it, driving an ice cream truck,” Hansu says, her eyes twinkling.  She means it in a light-hearted manner and she hopes interjecting humor into their first meeting will ease the way towards quick romance.

But Bert does not seem amused.  In fact, he seems pretty shocked.

“I…I inherited it!  What are you implying, that I’m some kind of bum?”  He looks horrified.  Hansu realizes she has stumbled onto shaky ground with her lame attempt to be cute and hurries to make up for it.

“Did you inherit the ice cream route as well?” She asks, trying to sound sincerely fascinated by his career choice.  “I’ve always wanted to see the inside of the truck, could you show me?”

Bert eyes her with doubt but Hansu turns up the wattage of her smile.  “Pretty please?”  she says in a low tone that implies intimacy.  He falls for it and leads her around the back.

Before long, they are rumbling off in the truck, the repetitive tune chiming away and Bert blathering on about his life-long dream to make people happy with frozen delights at affordable prices.  They pull up in front of the Hidden Springs police department and within a few moments, uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives are lining up.  Bert reaches under the seat and produces a box of glazed donuts.  “I offer them special, just for our boys in blue,” he explains with pride in his voice.

Hansu nods and fakes enthusiasm, telling him how clever he is.  She is thrilled to see Bert eat up her compliments, which she bestows at every opportunity.  She asks in detail about every aspect of his job and the truck and his customers.  Engaging a man in a conversation that virtually centers on himself will surely make the impression Hansu longs to make–that she simply cannot get enough of him even though they have just met.

Bert’s voice rings out strong and confident when he talks about ice cream but after awhile, they lapse into silence, the only sound the cloyingly sweet notes of the truck’s tune on an endless loop.  Hansu is not sure how much more of ‘Musicbox Simmer’ she can take and makes a big show of pointing out they have climbed the hills to Hidden Falls.  “I love it here, it is sooooo romantic,” her voice gushing with enticement.  Bert pulls his vehicle into the parking lot of the viewing station.  “I can’t leave it turned off for too long,” he apologizes.  “But I’d love to take a quick peek.”

“Of what?” Hansu asks, her eyes locked onto his with a come-hither look.  Bert blushes furiously and with a twitching grin, takes her hand and leads her to the deck.  They look out over the verdant valley in silence and then Hansu grabs Bert into an embrace.  She can sense immediately that he is turned-on by her aggressiveness.  “When can I see you again?” she growls into his ear with desire.  He giggles nervously and stammers something about tomorrow.  “You’ll need to ditch the truck because I like to do the driving,” Hansu insists, her voice both forcible and provocative.

The next day, they meet again at the Diner, as early as Hansu can get herself together.  It is getting harder and harder for her to pull herself away from what seems to be excruciatingly harsh lighting in her bathroom and a mirror that mocks her rapidly aging face.  Just this morning, she could not help notice frown lines across her forehead and little etches in the skin around the corners of her mouth that were not there the day before.

So the minute she sees Bert, dressed in a chalk-striped suit with a loud pink shirt and garish coral tie, she virtually runs to grab his hands and tell him how devastatingly handsome he looks, how his taste in fashion has her swooning and his distinctive hair color makes him seem so distinguished.  Her date is so overwhelmed by her barrage of flattery, all he can do is shrug and thank her.

Hansu suggests they take a tour of a history exhibit at City Hall and Bert agrees.  “I just love old things, don’t you?” he asks and she cringes, hearing the word ‘old’ and her mind flashes to the soothing, sparkling waters of her secret fountain.  How much longer can she wait to revisit it and rejuvenate herself?  Not long.  Once inside the venerable building, she pretends to be engrossed in the antique photographs that line the walls, showing scenes of the town as it was built up.  The tiny former post office, an ancient gasoline station, broken-down shacks where mansions now stood.

Bert is especially intrigued by a picture of a snack shack with a long line of customers at Hidden Falls.  “I wonder what happened to it?” he says aloud.

“I wonder what’s behind that door?”  Hansu replies, pointing to what appears to be a storage closet.

“Maybe some kind of records or archives?”

She pulls Bert by the arm.  “I bet someone who works here could answer your question.”  She opens the door quickly, shoves Bert inside, crowds in behind him and pulls the door shut.

Inside, as Hansu suspected, is a jumble of things that are being stored or simply forgotten:  stacks of unopened crates, an abandoned trophy case, dusty signs of businesses that no longer exist and holiday decorations.  Fortuitously, she sees a tri-folded privacy screen; in spite of his feeble protesting, Hansu leads Bert behind it and embraces him with a hungry whine.  He responds with a helpless moan and falls against her, nuzzling her neck.  “We shouldn’t be back here,” he mutters, his voice thick with lust.

“What’s the matter, loverman?  Afraid we’ll get caught?”

Those seem to be the magic words because in just a few short moments, Hansu accomplishes her ultimate goal.  Over the sounds of Bert’s heavy panting she thinks she hears the faintest chimes and then her head is filled with a rush of swirling, magical liquid, calling her name, calling her back to take drink after drink of sweet cool water.

Life Everlasting

December 21, 2011

“Don’t give me that speech again about clean living and no stress.  I know, dear sister, that you have had a facelift.”  Lyssandra Notorious minces no words as she steps inside her twin’s modest bungalow.

“We’re fraternal twins, sweetest.  We don’t necessarily have the same genetics.  I just got lucky in the aging department.”  Hansu smirks.

“I’m not sure I’m buying that answer,”  Sigismund jokes as he settles into a dining room chair with a loud crack from his bones.  “I look like your grandfather, not your older brother.”

“You look very distinguished,” Hansu assures him.

“Well, I’m going to take a long look inside you medicine cabinet before I leave,” Ariane declares shamelessly.  “I imagine your secret weapon resides in there.”

Hansu gigggles.  “I’ll never tell!”

The quartet sits in weary silence for a moment.  It has been a long day of signing legal briefs and listening to attorneys bicker over the future of the Notorious Talent Agent.  The family is grateful to have sold away their shares, as none of them were interested any longer in the world of fame.

“How about some coffee?”  Hansu suggests and everyone heartily agrees.

“So, fill us in on our nieces and nephews and your adorable grandchildren,” Lyssandra demands and Ariane and Sigismund are only too happy to report on their children Mariposa and Vereen.  When she gets to Sebastian, Ariane smiles a wide grin and turns to her husband.  “Tell them about his promotion.”

“He’s a Colonel at the Air Force base!”  Sigismund gushes with pride.

“You should see him in his uniform, so handsome!”  Ariane adds.

“And their kids?”  Hansu asks, struggling to come up with the names of her nephew’s twin boys.

“Hewitt and Ferdinand aren’t living at home right now,” Sigismund begins.

“There were some problems,” Ariane explains.

“Their mother had to go back to work at her parents’ bar.  Mr. Hart was too old to continue to work and you remember Dorie Hart was a bit, well, off her rocker.  So that left Bebe to run the bar while they tried to sell it.  And that left Sigismund and I to mind the boys.”

“We had a lot of talks on discipline but nothing ever seemed to sink in,” Ariane continues.  “And I do believe those boys are a bit touched, maybe something they inherited from Dorie.  Because they were continuously talking to themselves in strange little whispers that quite frankly, I found unnerving.”

“Hewitt would grow so frightened when I confronted him about the whispering, like he had a secret he didn’t want me to find out.  He would try to talk to me…”

“…and then claim to be sick to his stomach.  And if Ferdinand heard us discussing it, he would go ballistic!”

“The backtalk was worse than the whispering.  I just couldn’t take it anymore and Sigismund really had the best solution when we had the same difficulties with Sebastian so long ago.  Boarding school.  But we didn’t send them to Military School.  We tried the Peace and Love Community School instead.  They really thrive there and they are completely different young men now, really mature and quite well-mannered.”

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the results,” Sigismund chimes in.  “So, speaking of children, am I ever going to be an uncle?”

Lyssandra rolls her eyes.  “Give me a break.  We’re too old, well at least I am…can’t speak for Plastic Face over there.”

“I find it ironic, darling sis, that you illustrate children’s books for a living but have no interest in the little tykes yourself.  But the maternal department must be where we do share genes because I have never had any desire to be a mother.  Now, as far as my anti-aging secrets go, take a quick look, Ariane.  I hate to run y’all off but I need my beauty nap.”

As soon as Hansu is sure her sister, brother and sister-in-law have driven far enough down the isolated dirt road she lives on, the woman changes out of her dress and into a loose linen tunic and then enters the hushed fir forest behind her home.

The farther Hansu walks into the quiet, dense woods, the darker her surroundings become.  A deer is startled out of its den and bounds fearfully across her path.

At last she arrives at her destination.  Nestled among the majestic evergreens is a strange pile of rocks housing a swirling pool of water.

Hansu kneels and dips a cupped hand into the sparkling blue liquid.

She brings the water to her lips and drinks.  Instantly, a tingling sensation begins to spread throughout her body.  At the same time, she feels all the tensions of the day melt away and her body relaxes and she releases a contented sigh.

“At it again?”

A deep voice resonates from the depths of the forest and Hansu clasps at her heart in absolute panic.  She whirls around to see the one and only person who knows her secret.

“Pater, why must you always sneak up on me and scare me out of my wits?”  Hansu asks though she knows it is beyond his diabolical nature to make any other kind of entrance.  He ignores her question and begins to grill her about the day’s events.  Pater is keenly interested in the children of Sebastian Notorious, seeing as they are potential heirs to his dream of a ten-generation reign of terror over Sunset Valley.  Hansu finds this most amusing considering what she has just discovered.

“Those boys have been shipped away to the Peace and Love Community School.  They are being raised by hippies!”  Hansu recounts with a twinge of glee.  She has always resented being passed over as an heir and it gives her a certain amount of pleasure to see Pater’s plan go awry.

The Godfather of the Notorious Clan is seething with anger.  His rage rolls off him in waves and Hansu almost regrets revealing the truth about Hewitt and Ferdinand.

But he quickly collects himself, as Pater is not a man who likes to emote.

“Hansu.  The time has come for a new heir.  Which means the time has come for you to repay me.  I have shared with you my greatest gift, the gift of eternal youth.  I knew someday the lineage I have chosen, so carefully guided might go sour–well, in the case of those boys, go good.  So now it is up to you to bring forth life from your womb, life that is riddled with evil DNA so that my legacy may live on and live up to the Notorious name!”

“I never agreed to that!”  Hansu insists, throwing her arms up in protest.

“You never agreed to anything.  I told you about this magical pool and you said ‘take me to it.’  Did it never occur to you that this situation was quid pro quo?  Listen to me.  The duality of those boys’ natures will leave them crippled between a world of good and evil.  But your spawn will know nothing but the deepest desire to wreak havoc on all it surveys.  I will personally see to it.  Now I’m giving you a choice, little Hansu.  Have a child or the fountain dries up.”

“Suppose I accept this deal.  Where am I supposed to find a willing mate?”  Hansu queries.

“Entirely up to you, my dear.  Just try to avoid a good-hearted soul, I don’t need that element of the gene pool involved.  You may return to this spot all you desire but until you produce an heir, the effects of the water will be nullified.”  Having made that declaration, Pater disappears into the woods as stealthily as he appeared and Hansu is left alone to make her choice.

But their truly was no choice to be made.  For once one began to drink from the Fountain of Youth, there was no turning back.  In fact, Hansu knew she must get to work on finding a man for she did not want too much time to pass before she could sip from the rejuvenating waters again.  She slyly considers all the eligible bachelors in her town…which one?  Which one would it be?

Sons of Prankenstein

November 12, 2011

The enormity of love I feel for Bebe is nearly impossible to put into words.  I waited so long to make her mine and now she is and I am over the moon.  Well, not yet…literally over the moon.  Which is where the difficulties took hold between us.

Trouble began one night at a party at my superior officer’s home.  Colonel Bunch did not often invite his men over to his home, but it was a very special occasion.  SASA, the Sims Aeronautic and Space Agency, had selected Fort Gnome as the new launching pad for a space station.  Only a select few pilots were in the running to fly to the new outerspace hub and I was one of them.  Colonel Bunch spent the evening talking to each of us about the impending mission.  Bebe listened without comment and I got a little nervous when the Colonel began to discuss the dangers of the endeavor.  I suspected my wife would not want to hear about it, much less acquiesce to her husband adventuring beyond the ozone.

Sure enough, when we got home, Bebe had a lot of questions.  She was proud of me for being an accomplished pilot but she did not know I had ambitions of becoming an astronaut.

“As a child, I spent a lot of time in my treehouse, imagining what it would be like to sail through the stars,” I began with enthusiasm, telling Bebe about the time I nearly fell out the window trying to follow the path of an overhead satellite.

“When I was fifteen, my parents brought me a proper telescope and astronomy became the only thing that kept my mind off of pranking.  I longed for a career as an astronaut but it wasn’t until I went to the military academy that I realized my dream was a possibility within my reach.  Now it is, Bebe.  But I need your support.”  She nodded but said nothing more on the subject that night.  I could not help but sense her disapproval.

Flying in and of itself is not the issue.  I know because I clearly remember the day I came home to tell Bebe I had been promoted to train on the supersonic jets at Fort Gnome.

Bebe was incredibly proud of me and kept telling me how sexy I looked in my gear.  I had finally managed to procure a reservation at Immaculate Consumption and we had a wonderful dinner out and some amazing lovemaking when we got home.

I’m not really sure why the thought of me going into space was all that different from flying planes but I chose not to broach the subject with my wife again for some time.  Meanwhile, life is wonderful.  I have the most beautiful, desirous woman at my side that I could ask for and an pretty impressive career to boot.

I am surprised to wake up and find Bebe out of bed.  I rise at 4:30 am and no one in the house is usually up.  The bathroom door is closed and I can hear water running.  Then I am startled to hear a terrible retching sound coming from behind the door, so loud and pitiful, I quickly jump up and run to Bebe’s rescue.

Inside I find my wife huddled on the tile floor, her head resting against the toilet seat.  Her face is pale and before I can ask her what is wrong, she begins vomiting again.  My heart is breaking for her and I stroke her braided head, then get a damp washcloth and carefully wipe her mouth.

“Are you going to live?”  I say in a hushed voice as I help her rise to her feet.

“I must have food poisoning,” she whispers, leaning against me as I help her back to bed.  I get a different washcloth, run cool water on it and place it on her forehead, then put one large bath towel next to her on the bed, and another on the floor.  “Don’t worry about getting up.  I’ll clean everything up if you get sick again,” I offer.  She faintly nods, her eyes squeezed shut.

Eventually, her breathing slows down and she drifts off to sleep.  I go ahead and take my morning run, trying to remember if Bebe ate something at dinner the night before that I didn’t.  When I return, I wake my mother and ask her to keep an eye on my wife.  I would like to stay home but everyday at Fort Gnome is a competitive one with each guy vying to be the top gun.  Though I have not discussed space travel with Bebe any further, I have not withdrawn my name from the potential list of candidates to man the space station.

It is a good thing I did go to work that day because the shuttle that would fly to the space station was finally completed and delivered to our base.  On this day, Colonel Bunch posts the final cuts for shuttle-flight training and my name is on the list of those lucky men who will move to the next stage.  I am standing among this elite group, admiring the gleaming hulk of metal we would be learning to manipulate when my phone rings.  I am pleased to see it was Bebe, she must be feeling better.  But my heart sinks when she asks me to meet her at the hospital.

The sight of Bebe standing at the front doors of Sunset Valley General Health is a relief.  I was expecting to find her ensconced in a bed, too weak to communicate but here she is, wearing unfamiliar, rather loose clothing and grinning like a Simshire cat.  “What is it, sweetest?”  I ask.  “I guess you are going to live after all?”

Bebe chuckles and then grabs me into a tight embrace.  “Yes, it seems I’ve only come down with a case of baby flu.”

I stand there completely confused for a moment and then it dawns on me what my wife is saying.  I pull her close and kiss her on the forehead.  “I though I’d already heard the best news I was going to get today.  But you just topped that.  I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.  What other good news did you get today?”

I debate what to do and decide now is not the time to tell Bebe I am spacebound.  “It can wait,”  I assure her and walk her to her car.

Bebe and I revel in the joys of becoming new parents.  She discovers some old pregnancy books that belonged to my great-grandmother and we read them voraciously.  The volumes are a little old fashioned but we find lots of good tips that help ease our minds.  Except nagging in the back of my mind is that I have something important to tell Bebe and something I sense she isn’t going to like.

One night after dinner, while Bebe is washing up the dishes, my mother comments on how large her belly is getting and they discuss the due date.  I realize my news can no longer wait.  When Bebe and I retire to our bedroom for the night, I begin the difficult explanation about space shuttle flight training.

Her reaction is worse than I anticipated.  She is shocked at first…

But then the fury kicks in and I have to say, I never knew my beloved wife was capable of being so angry.  Her language would put a sailor to shame.  I know yelling and screaming cannot be good for her blood pressure, which is already being monitored closely by her obstetrician.  But I think it is best to let her get her rant out.  Then maybe I can reason with her.

“Shuttles have been launched into space dozens of times, Bebe.  Flying a shuttle isn’t that different from flying a plane.  It just goes a lot farther,”  I say, which sounds lame and decidedly non-reassuring.

“I don’t want you that far away, Sebastian,” Bebe cries.  “We have a new baby coming and I want you right here with me.  But from what you told me, the first mission lift-off is right when the baby is due!”

“Can we compromise?”  I ask, though it pains me to consider what I am about to propose.  “Will you let me talk to Colonel Bunch?  Maybe I can continue to train but just not be the first guy to go up.  I can go on one of the later missions.”

“I just have a bad feeling about you traveling to space and I can’t shake it, ” Bebe whispers, her voice trembling with tears.

“But you know how important it is to me, sweetest,” I answer quietly.  “Its my dream.”

“I thought I was your dream?”  Bebe responds.  I can’t argue with that.

“Okay.  I’ll take my name off the list.  For now.”  I sigh and then pull her into an hug.  “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me and this baby is going to make our life even better.  I promise, I will be here for you.  But maybe when the baby gets older, I can try again?”

She pulls back and wipes away the last of her tears.  “Okay.  Maybe.”

When the day finally arrives that I become a father, I realize that Bebe’s ‘maybe’ was more likely to become a ‘never.’  For we welcome not one beautiful baby boy into the world…

We welcome two!  Ferdinand and Hewitt are our darling little twins.  What isn’t so darling is what I discover in their cribs when we bring the twins home from the hospital.  Two hideous-looking dolls have arrived in the mail exactly on this day and the return address is someone I don’t know but assume is a distant relative–Pater Notorious.  The note attached with the dolls reads ‘To Help the Notorious Get Back To Their Roots.’ What does that mean, I wonder, examining the creepy creatures.  What is even stranger is that when I remove the dolls from my sons’ cribs, the babies begin screaming.  But when I return the dolls to the crib, my children fall silent.  I am sure it is just a coincidence but to keep the peace, I keep the toys in the cribs.

I did not realize what a blessing it is to have grandparents living in the house until the little ones came along.  Mom and Dad are home a lot and are unbelievably helpful to Bebe.  Dad has come out of retirement as a talent agent to be a motivational speaker and he spends a lot of time rehearsing in front of the mirror while Mom polishes up his speeches on the computer.  But both are willing to drop whatever they are working on at anytime to assist with their grandsons.

Two boys meant no end to diaper changes, feedings, and burpings but someone is always there to make sure the kids are alright.  Mom told me in private she is especially surprised by Dad.  “Sigismund worked all the time when Mariposa and Vereen were growing up,” she says, referring to my older siblings.  “He was helpful with you but he is just head-over-heels in love with his grandsons.”

Those two little guys grew awful fast and before we know it, we have two toddlers in the house.  Bebe couldn’t be happier.  She tells me she used to miss bartending but since the boys have come into our lives, she hasn’t given it another thought.  Her parents aren’t getting any younger and one day her namesake bar will fall into Bebe’s hands but it is hard for me to imagine that she will do anything but sell it.  Motherhood seems to be her truest calling and I am pleased my beautiful wife has proven to be such a nurturing caregiver.

Aside from Ferdinand’s red hair, my sons most resemble Bebe.  Especially in temperament.  They are both as sweet and good as can be.

I know they didn’t get that sweet goodness from me.  When I interact with my children, I get an old familar feeling that I simply can’t ignore, no matter how hard I try.  Today, Ferdinand is the target.

He is so trusting as I take him out of the crib.

I set him on the floor and he looks up at me with those big brown eyes he inherited from his mother.  Clasping my hands in anticipation, I flash Ferdinand a disarming smile.

Then swoop down and snatch his prized lollipop, proving the old adage true…it is just that easy.  But why do I do it?  Why can’t I control this impulse?

Naturally my baby does not like being pranked.  He is too little to remember that I always give the lolly back so he screams and flails his chubby little arms and legs.  I realize I better return the candy quickly because Bebe, Mom or Pop are going to come running any second.

But before I can return the treat, I hear a long, low growling and hissing.  I whirl around in shock, expecting to see some wild animal behind me.  But it is only Ferdinand’s creepy toy looking back at me.

Just as I realize the frightening noises are coming from the doll, I am overwhelmed by a flood of nausea.  The candy slips from my grasp as I double over and cover my mouth to keep from getting sick.  Ferdinand stops crying and picks up the lolly, his face tear-streaked but delighted.  And the instant the candy is back in my son’s hands, the hissing and growling cease and my stomach returns to normal.

What I do next is hardly rational.  But I know what I saw and felt.  That doll made noises like a deranged tiger, I heard it.  The sickness I felt?  Well, maybe that was guilt from what I had just done to my son…but it was just a prank.  No, I believed that doll made me sick.  I walk over to the crib and snatch up the one that Ferdinand inexplicably named ‘Hesper.’

Then I find the one called ‘Pat’ that Hewitt is always singing to in his baby-voice.  Frankly, the attachments my sons have to these dolls are bothersome.  And who is this Pater Notorious, anyway?  What ‘roots’ is it that my family is supposed to get back to?  I don’t know and I don’t care, I don’t want the crazy things in my house one minute longer.

I make a quick, determined trip to the trash can.  Goodbye, Hesper, Goodbye Pat.

Imagine my shock when I pass the nursery window on the way back to the house and their are my boys and with them…the dolls!

Bride of Prankenstein

October 13, 2011

I couldn’t believe I was standing here waiting for a cab to take me to a destination I wholly dreaded.  I was miserable about my father’s decision to send me to Fort Starch Military School.

But my mother was inconsolable.  Our conversation that morning was not much more than tears and hugs.  The old man stayed out of our way.  He had barely spoken to me in anything more than grunts since he laid down the law.

The waiting taxicab had blown the horn relentlessly and finally, I embraced my mother for the final time.  I had no more words nor did she and as I walked away, I could hear her desperate, heart-wracking sobs.

On that day, a confused and, frankly, terrified young man left his home with only the murkiest expectations for what lay ahead.  All I knew is that my unquenchable desire to pull pranks had broken up my family and landed me in what might as well have been a prison, at least that is what I anticipated.

Six years later and at last I was returning but not with the stench of a sentence served nor with the guilt of destroying my family.  I am pleased to report that the terrified boy was gone and in his place was a confident, disciplined young man.  Even I never thought the day would come where I would admit it, but military training was the best thing that could have happened to me.  The first year was rough and I learned more about pranks than I could ever want to know, whether it be a short-sheeted bed or being on the receiving end of a swirlie.  But I also discovered I could take pride in accomplishments that did not involve taking apart and reassembling a full jeep on the roof of the barracks.  I am in the best physical shape I could be in and my mind is sharp and filled with ambition for what the future holds.

I enter a silent house though I notice right away it seems to be set up for a party.  Outside, the barbeque is fired up but Dad is snoozing in his grilling apron.  I just saw Mom and Dad at my graduation but it is still a shock to see the age on my father’s face.  I have become a man and he is fast becoming an old man.

I find Mother in her usual place in the garden, as always in her white bathrobe.  Her face also shows weary wrinkles but she still chooses to wear her hair long and free.  I have missed my parents so much and at the same time missed out on so much of their lives.  I wonder, do they feel the same way about me?  At that moment, Mom looks up and sees me and the light in her eyes answers my question.  I have been missed and it feels good to be home.  She embraces me.  “Sebastian, you are here just in time for your welcome home party!”  Mom announces.  “But you’d better get your father up so he can start on the hamburgers.”

Dad isn’t too happy about being woken at first but when he realizes it is me, he grins and stands up, offering me his hand to shake.  “Dad, the grill is smoking, I think Mom wants you to start cooking,” I suggest and he gets right to work.  “We’ve got a big party set up, son.  Can you grab some nectar from downstairs and stock the bar for me?”  I nod and head to the basement.  Thinking about the bar takes my mind in one direction only…I may have grown and changed but there was one constant that had remained in my mind all these years:  Bebe Hart.

I let my mind drift as I took care of the last-minute details of the party.  As soon as this welcome-home gig ended, I intended to light out to Bebe’s bar so I could finally apologize for not showing up for work so many years ago.   I imagine she knew I had been shipped out to Fort Starch; we lived in a small town and she surely would have heard from someone.  But I was looking forward to setting things right and then setting the stage to ask her out.

Imagine my shock when I answered the doorbell and there, standing on my doorstep, the woman herself, looking as beautiful as ever.  So beautiful, in fact, that I am left speechless.  How many times, laying in my bunk in the barrack, had I replayed this very scenario, our reunion at long last?  But in my fantasy, it was only the two of us not three.  Yet here she was with a date!  Geoffrey Landgraab, of all people.  Wasn’t he married?  Wasn’t he a little old?  What was he doing at my house with my girl?

I am not the only one surprised.  Geoffrey’s estranged wife, Nancy, is apparently not expecting to see him either.  After nearly choking to death on her hamburger, she flings down her food and storms out.

Bebe and Geoffrey don’t let Nancy’s departure affect them one bit.  After downing a drink or two, they hit the dance floor.  I try not to stare but it is making me crazy seeing the woman I have been dreaming about for six years with my neighbor having such a good time.  I don’t know what I expected to happen in the years I was gone–it wasn’t as if Bebe knew I was pining for her.  Geez, I was just a teenage kid when I left.

But the more I watch them dancing and laughing and drinking–clearly loving each other’s company–the more furious I become.  I find my mind drifting in a direction it had not gone in some time.  Suddenly, I am thinking of all the ways I can avenge myself on Geoffrey–how would he like to find his car dismantled on the roof of his house?  But that was a child’s game and I didn’t need to play those kinds of games anymore.  I decide to take a more manly and forthright approach.

“Hello, Bebe.”  Well, not the most exciting opening line ever.  But the generous smile she gives me makes my stomach do flip flops.  “Thank you for coming to my parents’ party.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  I can’t believe your all grown up, Sebastian, and so handsome, too!”  My cheeks feel like they are engulfed in flames when she says those words.  Me, handsome?  To her?  What would Geoffrey think?  I decide right then and there that I don’t care what he thinks.  My goal has not changed.  I am going to make Bebe Hart my woman no matter what.

I spend long, hard days at the Officer’s Training Center at Fort Gnome, the military base in Sunset Valley.

But my nights are spent at Bebe’s bar.  She is always happy to see me but then it seems like she is always happy to see all her customers.  I don’t know how to make it clear to her that I am only there to see her.  Sometimes, she lets me buy her a drink when it is slow and we talk.  But we are inevitably interrupted by a customer demanding her full attention.

Then Happy Hour comes to an end and I know what is next.  Bebe will receive a phone call and she will talk quietly into the phone with a goofy smile on her face and I just know it is him, my rival, Landgraab.  What a jerk!  Why can’t Bebe see he is a two-timer and that he will hurt her just like he hurt Nancy.  I wish I had the guts to say it to Bebe’s face.  But trash-talking her boyfriend won’t win me her affection.  I have to top him, somehow…someway.

Now my next choice might seem a little odd but it seems that one things women like is a man with a sense of humor.  I decide to test that theory when Bebe invites me to a pool party at the bar.

The delighted sound of giggling meets me at the front door.  Bebe thinks my attire is very funny and that is the exact reaction I am looking for.  I want to catch her off her guard so my next move will come as a complete surprise.

“Oh, Sebastian, they’re so lovely!  And so thoughtful, you shouldn’t have,” she exclaims with  joy.  I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself.

So good in fact that Geoffrey’s disparaging look and snarky remark have no effect on me.

“Bebe, is this clown bothering you?”  he asks, muscling his way between us.

“Not at all.  He brought me a wonderful gift, see?”  Bebe holds up the flowers for Geoffrey to see.

“Why is this punk bringing you flowers, might I ask?”  Geoffrey gives me the stinkeye but I hold my ground with a self-satisfied grin.

“He is just being nice, Geoffrey.  Sebastian’s a good guy, he’s not a punk.”  Bebe says with sincerity.

“When you’re done being played by this moron, I’ll be at home,”  he says, clearly blowing her off.

“I’ll be here…having fun, Geoffrey, something that is harder and harder to do with you!”  She calls after him.

As soon as he is gone, Bebe takes my hand.  “Come on, I’m going to fix us the wildest drinks I can dream up.  Who needs that stick in the mud when I have my good old friend, Sebastian?”  She leads me to the bar and then goes through some fantastic moves, spinning bottles and blowing fire.  I watch, fascinated by her technique and just how fantastic she looks in her bikini.

I’m not sure what is in the drink but I have one, then another and then another and the next thing I know, I am inviting Bebe into the hot tub.  I’m amazed when she waves to another bartender to take over and steps out from behind the bar and heads to the deck.

Strangely, her phone rings and rings but she never picks it up.  I know it must be Geoffrey wondering why she hasn’t come back to his house.  But we are having a wonderful time, laughing and talking.  Finally, the other bartender shouts “Last Call” and I turn to Bebe, thinking now might be the time to steal a kiss.  But she is climbing out of the hot tub and now she is talking on the phone.  “No, I don’t think I will be, Geoffrey,” she says and hangs up.  “Wow, its late!  I had such a great time with you, Sebastian.  It is wonderful to hang out with my old friend!”  I nod, smiling.  Friend, is that a good thing?  Maybe all she thinks of me is a friend…should I ask her out?  But before I can, she is out the door, waving good-night to her co-workers and the other patrons.  I lost my nerve and lost my chance.

The next day is a tough one at work, the training really wears me out.  But I don’t let my weariness stop me from going to Bebe’s in search of her.  The other bartender is there and before I can even ask, she gives me a sly grin and says, “I know you don’t come here for the cheap drinks, buddy.”

“What makes you say that?” I ask, trying to sound innocent.

“It’s her day off and you can find her at the gym!”  The bartender replies, smirking.  I sheepishly nod and wander out.  If my feelings for Bebe are so obvious to others, does she know how I desire her?  Maybe I’m the one getting played?

I arrive at the three-story gym and begin looking for her.  Will she be glad to see me?  Is she waiting for Geoffrey?

I spot her napping on a lounge chair.  I don’t see Geoffrey anywhere in sight and that gives me a little confidence but not enough to disturb her.  I feel foolish coming here to seek her out and decide I might as well get a workout in.  Maybe I can catch up to her at the bar, later.

I think about her every time I lift a barbell or do a leg lift.  I wish she would walk by and see how hard I am exerting myself.  I want to tell her that it is for her, that I want to look as hot to her as she does to me.  But that would make me sound like a meathead.  Its bad enough that I’m practically stalking her, I think as I head to the showers.  Then I pass the exercise room and see her doing aerobics.  My heart flips.  I’ve got to say something, I can’t let her get away again.

“Bebe!  What a surprise, I mean, haha, seeing you here…instead of, haha at the bar!”  I sound like a complete idiot.

“Sebastian!  If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were following me.”  Bebe is smiling in her generous way and I feel very encouraged.

“Would you be mad if I was?  Following you, I mean.  Because…I kind of am.”  I feel my face getting flushed and I have a hard time saying the words out loud, will they make me sound like some kind of weirdo?

“Kind of?”  She laughs.  “Are you kind of in love with me, Sebastian Notorious?”

My mouth is completely dry.  I open it to form words but all that comes out is “…kind of…”

She laughs again.  “Well, maybe you’ll kind of like–” and Bebe, my gorgeous dream girl, leans in close, so close I can feel her sweet breath ruffling my mustache and then her warm, sensuous mouth is next to mine and for the first time in my life I kiss a woman.  It was definitely worth waiting for Bebe, her kiss is the most wonderful thing I have ever experienced.

“Now are you going to ask me on a proper date?” she asks and we both laugh.  “Seriously, Sebastian.  A date?”

“Huh?”  I am lost in a reverie of her soft lips.  But I manage to pull it together and mumble something about the new restaurant across town.

It was the longest week of my life while I waited for Bebe to have another night off.  But at last she met me at Immaculate Consumption.  I did not realize I was supposed to get a reservation for this happening new spot.

“I think you look very handsome in your uniform, Sebastian but it is nice to see you looking a little more relaxed,”  Bebe comments while we wait for a table to open.  I am stunned by how lovely my date looks and I tell her so…many times.  I have a lot of time to mention it because the wait for our table goes on and on.

We chat for awhile but I can see Bebe is getting anxious and I am too.

“Say, why don’t we come back here another time, you know…when we can get a reservation,”  I say sheepishly.  “I’m sorry I didn’t think to make one.  If you want to come to my house, I can fix you something for dinner.  My parents aren’t home.”

“Your parents?”  Bebe sighs.  “Sometimes you really make me feel like I’m robbing the cradle, Sebastian.  But okay, let’s head over there.  I’m tired of waiting.”

I am so pleased to discover my parents are, in fact, still out.  Bebe is too and we forsake dinner for some alone time in my bedroom, which I am so grateful my mother has remodeled with a normal size bed, instead of the loft bed of my teenage years.  Before the night is over, we have proven to each other that our age difference won’t get in the way of romance.  It is my first experience as a lover and I am over the moon with joy that at last, all my fantasies with Bebe have become reality.

Bebe is a little more comfortable with this reality than I am.  She thinks nothing of leaving my bedroom, walking right into the living room where my father is watching television.  She is wearing nothing but her slip and I leap up and pull her back into the bathroom, a wild look of fear and embarrassment on my face.

“Bebe, my Dad is out there!  I–I–he doesn’t know that you are here, that you, uh, well…you know, stayed here.”  I fumble through my explanation for pulling her back and I am so ashamed that she might think I am embarrassed of her.  I know it is stupid, I’m a grown man and why shouldn’t my girlfriend stay over?  Surely my parents won’t think any less of her or of me?  We’re in love, after all.  But maybe I should have told them that first?

“Your parents don’t know we’re dating, do they?  Is it because I’m so much older than you?”  Bebe asks in a frank manner.

“My mom is older than my dad, it is not that big a deal.  I just haven’t mentioned you yet, I guess I wanted to see how things would go before I made some kind of big announcement.”

“We’re just dating, Sebastian.  You don’t have to make a big announcement, its not like we’re getting married.”

I stare down at the floor for a moment.  I have waited so long for Bebe to be my girl.  So what am I waiting for?  Why don’t I ask her to marry me?  Probably because she will think I am a complete lunatic for asking her to be my wife on our first date.

“Okay, I will tell them.  But Bebe, I need to talk to you about something urgent.  Can you meet me tonight at the private cove behind my house?  I’ll be there when you get off work.”

As I had hoped, the cove was completely deserted.  I waited patiently, rehearsing in my mind over and over what I would say to Bebe.  I had done this so many times before, had imagined conversations with her and I’m not sure why I got so bunged up.  Bebe was the sweetest, most good woman in the world, why was I so afraid of saying the wrong thing to her?  Finally she arrived and we sat in the cool sand, gazing heavenward at the stars.

“Okay, so what is so urgent, Sebastian?”  Bebe asks and I know the moment of truth has come.  But I am besieged by a fit of nervous laughter each time I try to speak up.  Bebe starts laughing too and I am thinking this is not going the way I want it to.  “What?  What is so funny?”  she asks, giggling like a loon now.

“Its not funny, it is very, very serious.”  Okay, I think, let’s do this right.  I stand up and pull her up with me.

I reach out and stroke the soft skin of her beautiful face.  “Bebe Hart.  I have loved you for so long–”

“What?”  she says, genuinely surprised.

“Truly.  I fell in love with you the first time I egged your house–”

“Hmmm, more romantic words were never spoken,”  she said, her eyes twinkling.

“Let me finish, please.  Because I might not have the courage to ask you again.  Bebe Hart.  Will you be my wife?”

It seemed like an eternity under the stars that night while I waited for Bebe’s answer.  She realized how serious I was and she took my hand and then kissed me.  “Sebastian Notorious, I would be honored to be your wife.”  We didn’t waste much time planning the wedding.  The Harts wanted to have the reception at the bar so Mom and Dad offered to host the ceremony at their home.

It was a very humble affair.  We didn’t have anyone officiate the ceremony but instead just exchanged simple vows we had written ourselves.

I am thrilled to have the blessing of Gus and Dorie Hart.  Her father watches us and he is both pleased and proud.

Likewise my parents could not be more excited.  They never once questioned the age difference between me and Bebe, instead they welcomed her into their home and made it clear that we could live there as long as we wanted.  Mom said as far as she was concerned, the house was ours now and maybe she and Dad would find something new.  But I didn’t want them to move out.  The house was large, it could easily accommodate us all.

When I finally slip the ring on my bride’s finger, I realize that I have truly become a man today.  I think about my past, all the pranks, and all the years at Fort Starch and it has all added up to this moment when I can present myself to the woman I love and say “Please take me for better or for worse.”  And she says yes and I know this is the single best day of my entire life.

Prankenstein’s Punishment

August 15, 2011

I never imagined the day would come when anything was more important than pranks.  But I have a new obsession.  Bebe Hart.  I spend every waking hour thinking of her…

Every sleeping hour, too.  Thoughts of kissing her invade my dreams.

My desire overwhelms me and I construct elaborate fantasies of the two of us together on a date, in my bed, in her bed, in the shower, in the backseat of the car, at the movies.  The possibilities are endless.  In reality, the opportunity to spend more time with her looms large, if only Dad will agree to one thing.

That day we met up at the laundromat, Bebe made a proposition that Dad was still pondering.  She explained to him that her brother left for college and she was looking for someone to take his position at her bar.  It was an easy job,  just cleaning the bar up on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Dad didn’t say yes right away but he didn’t say no, either.  He told Bebe he would speak to Mom and he wanted to check her place out.  Then he started speechifying about responsibility and maturity and totally embarrassed me.  Though I didn’t want to leave Bebe’s side, I had to drag Dad out of there before she changed her mind.

Dad tried to put up roadblocks to the idea at first.  He pointed out to me that the bar was too far from home for me to ride my bike so I begged him to teach me how to drive.

I went out of my way to show them how responsible I could be.  While Mom and Dad were out on one of their date nights, I vacuumed, washed all the dishes, did the laundry and even dusted the bookshelves.  When they get home, they are so surprised to see the house in a spotless condition.

Instead of lounging on the sofa, hogging up the TV, I tell them I am going to bed.  As I head downstairs, I overhear them making plans to visit Bebe’s bar the next night.  My heart floods with joy and excitement.  If they let me go along, it will be the first time I have seen Bebe in the flesh in nearly a week.  I can’t wait.

The discussion I wasn’t privy to took place that night before they went to bed.  It would have mortified me because while I was in my basement room, caught up in my dreams of Bebe, Dad was relaying his suspicions about my interest in the job.  Unbeknownst to me, my father was fully aware that I was crushing hard on a woman way out of my league.

Mom and Dad made a compromise.  If the bar proved a suitable environment and Bebe still wanted me for the job, I could work there.  Meanwhile,  they had a very distinct plan about getting me interested in girls my own age and if I agreed to go along with their plan, I was free to spend my weekend mornings with my dreamlover.  But they don’t reveal all this to me right away.  They just announce we are headed to Bebe’s to check things out and off we go.

Bebe meets us at the foyer with a dude about Dad’s age.  She introduces him as her father and I snap to, standing up straighter and adopting an expression I thought would make me look mature.  I even attempt to shake his hand but Gus Hart is gruff and abrupt, waving us towards the main bar and then disappearing upstairs.

Mom and Dad take seats at the bar and Bebe offers them a drink.  I start to sit as well, but Dad stops me.

“Son, here are some quarters, why don’t you play some Shuffleboard while your mother and I talk with Miss Hart.”

I reluctantly agree and wander over to the Shuffleboard, making some weak attempts at the game and wishing I had supersonic hearing so I know what my parents and Bebe are saying about me.  It is me they are talking about, I can tell because frankly, I can’t keep my eyes off my fantasy girl and it seems every time I look her way, she is looking back at me.

I am standing so far away but the air between us scintillates with passion–at least in my mind.  My parents place their respective drink orders and chatter away, a good sign they are comfortable in Bebe’s bar.  I think they were expecting a much rougher place but lulling Latin music and ambient lighting  make for a respectable atmosphere.

Bebe enchants us all with her slick moves.  Bottles sail through the air with ease and she never fails to catch them nor does she spill a drop of liquid.  She has the grace of a dancer, the hands of an athlete and apparently a lot of charm because Mom and Dad seem enraptured by her every word.

Drinks are served not once, not twice but three times and Dad helps himself to every round.  He is dominating the conversation and his voice grows louder and more exuberant but Bebe never loses her patient smile.  I abandon the Shuffleboard and head for the men’s room, though it kills me to take my eyes off Bebe, even for a few moments.

The sight I return to is unreal.  Flabbergasting, humiliating and hilarious all at one time.  So shocking, I consider running straight out of the bar and all the way home.  But like the proverbial train wreck, I can’t take my eyes off it.

My own father, on the bar, shaking his middle-aged butt with a very self-satisfied grin on his face.

Bebe is no longer behind the bar but is standing to the side with her father.  He looks furious and my heart sinks.  I’ll never get the job now.

Feeling desperate, I rush over to them and start sputtering.

“Mr. Hart, please…my dad, he doesn’t normally act this way–”

“We’re not hiring him, we’re hiring you,” Bebe gently interrupts.

Mr Hart shrugs.  “Just promise to never bring him here again and you’ve got the job, kid.”

We all crane our necks back towards the bar and with immense relief, I see Mom has managed to get Dad down.  I hate to leave the presence of my guardian angle, but I know I’ve got to get my parents out of there.  I cautiously approach them as Mom is begging Dad to go home.

While they are bickering, I pick up Dad’s keys where he has set them on the bar.  Standing behind him so he can’t see me, I dangle the keys in Mom’s line of vision but he hears the metallic clinking of the keys and whirls around, his face a distorted mask of drunken belligerance.  When we make eye contact, something breaks through his fogged brain and the fury is replaced with sheepishness.  Head down, and shoulders slumped, he follows Mom and I out to the car.

My father spends the next day in bed, intermittently groaning and often running to the bathroom to be sick.

I am still blissfully unaware of the compromise between my parents.  So it is up to my mother to suggest what is anathema to me:  spending time with kids my own age at the community center.  A place in my mind not far removed from day care but when she makes it clear I must go if I want the job at Bebe’s, I am off like a shot.

I arrive at dusk to find a group of strangers gathered together telling ghost stories.  I stand off to the side, pretending to be interested, but I’ve heard all these silly tales before.  Hooked hands and ghostly hitchhikers scared me when I was five but I’m practically a man now.

I am amazed when we enter the recreation room to find the walls decorated with posters of the latest Simerican Idol.  This place is goofier than I thought.

At first I make a real effort to participate.  I share in a tedious, never-ending game of fooseball, hooting and hollering with my teammate, all the while in the back of my mind, thinking about my future with Bebe, conjuring up a brand-new fantasy of us at the bar, alone in the stock room.

But my reverie is interrupted by the overly-enthusiastic counselor who wants to know everything about me.  I do my best to comply, answering each and every dumb question she lobs at me.  But I am growing frustrated and bored.  My mind wanders again yet oddly, not to Bebe this time.  Instead, I am feeling an uncontrollable urge.

Counselor Jenna peppers me with even more questions but I am answering on automatic pilot because that old familiar twinge is taking over.  I nod and smile and respond but my mind is making a mental inventory of the contents of my bookbag, which I stashed in the rear of Dad’s old surf wagon.  I haven’t cleaned that bag out in sometime so the things I need should still be inside.

Just when I thought this gathering couldn’t be any lamer, Jenna calls out that it’s ‘Study Time!’ and the kids seem genuinely excited to begin their homework!

“Jenna, I’ll need to get my books out of the car,”  I tell the counselor.  I notice a pretty girl headed to the study-circle and for a second, that whispering, nagging word echoes through my head…CONSEQUENCES…but I shove it back into the recesses of my brain.  The old itch needs to be scratched and I’m ready to make my move.  I exit the recreation room furtively.

Upon my return, I discover some kids have already finished with study time and started dancing.  Others are still struggling over their books and papers.  I am pleased to discover no one, not even the counselor, is paying any attention to me.  Now is the time to strike.

In a rapid succession of movements, I open my bookbag, shake up the beaker inside, remove it and set it on the floor.

But nothing happens to the beaker.  It just sits there, fizzing a bit but the great billowing cloud of choking stink doesn’t appear.  My failure at a prank is a surprise but nothing like the shock I’m about to receive.

“He’s trying to poison us!”  One of the boys sitting in front of the beaker shouts out an alarm–he is close enough to smell the contents.  Jenna waves the students out while grabbing me brusquely by the arm.  Moments later, an overweight, elderly security guard enters the rec room.  Jenna instructs him to guard me and then she leaves without another word.

The longest thirty minutes of my life pass.  The security guard is silent and so am I but inside my head, a hypnotic chant goes faster and faster…CONSEQUENCES…CONSEQUENCES…I’m expecting the police but far worse, in walks the old man.  He is angry and he does a lot of yelling but it isn’t until we are home that I get the full brunt.

For the first time in my life, I am subjected to the temper that had made my father infamous back in his talent agent days.  Here is someone I have never seen before, a man wild with rage and puffed-up with scorn.  His rampage went on for what seemed like hours.  Then he withdraws his phone from his pocket.

With his eyes locked on mine, he dials three numbers.  He holds the phone to his ear.  Then he speaks.

“Information?  I need the number for the General of Fort Starch Military School.”

Prankenstein’s Angst

July 26, 2011

“This isn’t happening.  This isn’t fair!  I don’t wanna be fifteen, I liked my life just the way it was!” I bellow, shaking my head in abject denial.

The rich, buttery taste of frosting seems to have Mom and Dad in some kind of trance.  They chew the Birthday cake in synch, occasionally making ‘mmmm’ and ‘ahhh’ sounds.  It was good but not that good.  They are trying to torture me.

Dad’s fork makes a high-pitch, obnoxious scraping against his plate.

“Should we have another piece, Ariane?  Or leave the rest for the Birthday boy?”  Dad chuckles and Mom joins in, sounding positively devious.

“Oh, I’ve had quite enough, Sigismund.  I think it is time for our little chat with our darling son.”

“I am ready for a little chat, Mom.  Let’s start with why you tricked me into blowing out these candles if you knew what was going to happen?”  I huffed.

“Sebastian, don’t be ridiculous.  You have had many birthdays yourself, you have been to many birthday parties…you know the drill.  I think you are just feeling prickly because you’re a teenager.  Welcome to the wonderful world of wild moodiness and continuous uncertainty, ” Mom said, a playful smirk on her face.

“What is certain is this new decree,” Dad continues, his tone of voice quiet and serious.  “No longer will you make anyone in this house the victim of your pranks.  If you do, I will make one swift phone call that will be painless for me but quite the opposite for you.”

“Uh…uh…what kind of phone call, Pop?”  I stutter, deathly afraid to hear the answer.

“That’s for me to know.  Let’s just say if you can’t quit these childish games and man up on your own, you will be given no choice.  But if you mind what I say and knock off these humiliating tricks around the house, you never will have to find out.”

A feeling I have never experienced, a crushing, helpless rage engulfs me.  I throw back the chair I am sitting in and rush down to my new basement bedroom, not even bothering to slide down the spiral banister as I had earlier planned.  I slam the door with all my might but before I do, I swear I hear my parents giggling upstairs.

The tone of their laughter is conspiratorial and suddenly, I am overwhelmed by hot, salty tears and a sensation in my gut like I’ve been punched.  The old man makes it sound so easy–stop pranking and everything will be fine.  But they don’t get it!  Pranks are my life, they give me a sense of purpose, they define me.  Pranks…are…who…I…AM!  I climb onto my new loft bed and sob myself into a fitful sleep.

But as restless as my sleep is, it is also refreshing and my subconscious provides me with a solution.  When I awake, I go to my dresser and rummage around for some dark clothes and a matching hat.  Dad was very clear about pulling tricks on him and in the house.  But what is to stop me from taking on the unsuspecting outside world?

I am on a mission of terror as far as my neighbors are concerned.  No one is safe.  I start closest to home at old Land-hag’s house.

Finding something fresh to stash in the paper bag is no problem.  Land-hag has a pack of lap dogs, all of which love to cross over into our yard and leave behind messes that infuriate Pop.  Well, he can thank me later for picking it up, ha!  Taking the long lighter I have pinched from our grill, I hold the yellow flame on the corner of the bag, just long enough to ignite.

When I’m certain the brown bag is aflame, I make my getaway, not even stopping to be sure I haven’t lit the whole porch on fire.  Oh, but first, of course, I lay on the door bell for a long enough time to get someone’s attention.

From a distant vantage point, sweat pouring down my brow, chest heaving with excitement, I see the door open and a face appear–it looks like Mr. Land-Hag and how sweet can it be, the dude is in a tuxedo!  Even from far away, I can see his nose wrinkle in reaction to the now acrid, billowing smoke.  Impulsively, Mr. Land-Hag stomps out the flames with his fancy slippers and then realizes, too late, what is in the bag.

The triumph of my dirty deed completed is a rush I could not have ever anticipated.  My pranks before were just childish games.  Now I’m in the majors.

I return to my trusty chemistry set to wreak havoc on a grander scale.  After searching the SimNet for hours, I have a formula to work with.  I spend another afternoon trying to perfect it and at last, I am satisfied with the results.

Stealth and a stink bomb combine beautifully to waylay those full-of-themselves Frio brothers down at the public library.  I hide between the stacks, doubled over with laughter, a cool, damp handkerchief over my nose.

Connor clutches at his stomach and as the other patrons rush for the door, he bends down awkwardly and loses his lunch all over the floor.

The look on Jared’s face is a little scary, to be honest.  I want to hang around to see what happens next but I don’t want to get my scrawny self in a brawl.

Connor’s face looks pretty scary too, but for a different reason.  He has turned chalk white.  “Help me, Jared,”  he cries out in a raspy voice and then passes out.  I wasn’t expecting the stink bomb to render someone unconscious.  As quickly as I can, I sneak through the shelves towards the children’s room and then out the back door, hoping against hope no one will see me, especially that bruiser, Jared.

I manage to get home without being pummeled.  Mom and Dad don’t catch me sneaking in the house in my black clothes and hat, which I keep in an old pillowcase.  They smell pretty powerful from the stink bomb but I can’t wash them here, I will have to pay a visit to the laundromat.  I’m feeling so pumped from my escapade and yet…

I’m feeling conflicted, too.  What if Connor has to go to the hospital?  What if he or anyone else that was at the library gets really sick?  What if Mr. Land-Hag hadn’t come out in time to put out the fire and I had burned their whole house down?  A single word whispers through my mind…CONSEQUENCES.  I don’t like the way it sounds, so sibilant and accusatory.

I shower quickly and sit down in front of the computer.  I visit my favorite forums.  Hmmm, covering a car in baloney to remove the paint, putting hundreds of forks in someone’s lawn.  Each caper fascinates me more than the next but my mind drifts back to the library.  Who had to clean up that stink bomb and Connor’s barf?  CONSEQUENCES.

A week or so goes by and I don’t hear anything more about my library antics.  I sneak out and pull some more pranks around the neighborhood and I am always overwhelmed by the heady exhiliration of my success.  But it is getting too easy and I need to step up my game.  I shed the dark clothes but rummage around in my old costume chest to find the perfect accessory for my next adventure.

I enter the bar, only glancing at the name:  Bebe’s.  It is not a dive but not exactly high-class either.  The smell of old beer and stale smoke permeates the joint.  I have been staking it out for awhile and I time my entrance perfectly while the bouncers are in the middle of shift-change.  So as far as the bartender is concerned, I’ve shown my ID at the door.  I sit in what I think is a manly, mature posture and clearing my voice, speak in a lower octave.  “Double Llama Head, please.”

“Llama Head, LLama Head.  What goes in that?  Oh, yeah, I remember,”  the bartender mutters.  I have not glanced up to make eye contact, I am afraid she will kick me out the minute she sees my face.  Even with my disguise, I know I look hopelessly young.  But by some miracle, she just gets right down to mixing the drink.

I cautiously take the drink off the bar.  It slightly resembles my stink potion in taste and sight.  But I have never had a Llama Head before, I have no idea what it is supposed to look or smell like.  I just want to taste it.  Pop said it was time for me to be a man, well here goes.

For the first time, the bartender looks up and at the same time, I take a sip.  “Maybe you shouldn’t drink that, you know, it looks kind of funky,” she warns.  I swallow and begin sputtering.  It tastes worse than I ever could have anticipated.

“It is absolutely delicious,”  I say in between coughing fits.  To prove it to her I start to take another sip.

“Hold on there a minute!”  She sounds annoyed.

“Didn’t you have a mustache when you came in here and sat down?”

We both peer down into the glass I am still holding and there on top of the ice and foam is my phony facial hair looking like a wet spider.

“Bebe?”  I hear a voice behind my shoulder.  Bebe?  She owns the place?  My heart is pounding.  Do I just get up and run out?  Tell her I’m sorry?  Wet my pants and start blubbering, that is what I really feel like doing.

She motions to the person behind me and a formidable bouncer comes into view.  “I was just about to show my little cousin out, I gave him the grand tour today, but you can do it for me,”  the bartender says and my relief is palpable.

“Oh, I can find my way out, thanks!”  I say, leap up and run to the nearest exit.

After the triumph of gaining entry into Bebe’s club, my old tricks just don’t give me the thrill they once did.  But for lack of anything better to do, I round up a carton of rotten eggs and head to a part of town I haven’t hit before.  With little relish, in almost a mechanical mode, I start flinging my missiles at a random house.

I grab the last two eggs and focus on my target, some formerly clean windows.  What I see sends my mind reeling out of control and I impulsively squeeze the shells in my state of shock, releasing the gooey insides.  They drip down my sleeve, adding an even more-powerful odor to my dark clothes which were already rank from the stink potion.  The smell should trigger a gag impulse but I am frozen, mouth agape.

In the window I can see Bebe from the bar.  She must have just entered the room because she seems oblivious to the nasty streaks of egg running down the glass.  The sheer, rose-colored fabric of her negligee skims over every curve of her perfect body and on her face is a mysterious, Mona Lisa-like smile.  I watch her for what seems like hours but in reality is only seconds because I realize how desperately I don’t want her to catch me defacing her home.  CONSEQUENCES…

Back in my room, I climb into my loft bed, not even bothering to change out of my odiferous gear.  My mind is swimming with discordant thoughts–I feel terrible that my target was the beautiful woman who gave me a pass when I broke the law sneaking into her adult establishment.  But the eyeful I got standing in front of her window!  Though she didn’t catch me, my mind conjures that very scenario:  Bebe storming out of the house in her revealing clothes, grabbing my by the arm, dragging me back into her house…

I drift off to sleep and my waking fantasy morphs into a dream like I’ve never had before.  I am back at Bebe’s bar and she is standing in front of me looking so gorgeous in a bright yellow, very revealing bikini, holding out a tray with glasses of some romantic elixir.  I reach out to take one and am startled awake by my mother’s angry voice.

“Sebastian Notorious, I don’t know what you are doing in there but the smell emanating from your room is atrocious!”

I strip off my reeking clothes and throw them in the old pillow case, then shower and change into regular duds.  The laundromat is on the other side of town, not too far from Bebe’s house, so maybe I shouldn’t be completely dumbfounded when I discover her reading a book, presumably waiting for the washing machine to finish a load.

She sees me and immediately approaches me.  I want to run back out the way I came in but I am frozen like a statue.  Except statues don’t have hearts pounding so hard they are about to burst, or sweat pouring from everywhere possible, or idiotic expressions like a deer caught in headlights.

“I see your mustache hasn’t grown back,”  Bebe says, eyeing me sternly.  Then she starts giggling and the tension breaks and I am so relieved, I let out some sharp barks like a crazed hyena.  Out of the corner of my eye, I am startled to spot my father entering the laundromat with an angry look on his face.  What is he doing here?

“Hand over the pillowcase, Sebastian!”  Mortified by his chastizing tone in front of Bebe, I do as my father says.  He looks inside.  “Your mother smelled a mysterious odor, you take off on your bike and head here to wash your clothes?  I wasn’t born last night, son.  I know you are up to no good!”  Then he takes a deep whiff.  “Ugh, it smells like sulfur.”

Bebe looks at me in amazement and I see a steely flicker in her eyes.  “Like rotten eggs?”

“Exactly, and who are you, Miss?”  Pop is confused but still angry.

Bebe gives me another dark stare but then her expressions brightens and she holds her hand out to the old man.

“Bebe Hart.  I posted a notice at the school that I needed someone to clean up my windows.  Someone egged my house while I was at work and your son was kind enough to help.”

“Egged your house, you say?”  Dad is very sympathetic.  But over Bebe’s head, he shoots me a murderous look.

But I return it with a cheesy smile.  Bebe Hart is my luscious guardian angel.  I’m not sure why she is so generously protective of me but I do know I’m madly in love.


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