Beep, beep,beep, beep. The persistent alarm woke me from a dreamless sleep. I forgot where I was for a moment. As I shook away the sand of sleep, I slowly came to realize that it was indeed Monday, and I did have to get up and get Rosa ready for her first day at the new sitter's. I tromped down to her room, rather ungracefully, even for pre-coffee me, and turned on the light. Or rather, tried to turn on the light. It didn't actually turn on. I knew that switch had been acting weird lately. Cursing under my breath, I turned around and went back to my room to get my cell phone.
Turning on the flashlight with one final curse word, I marched back into the room and shined my light on Rosa's twin bed. My four year old wasn't there. Not one speck of her dark, wispy hair could be seen on her princess and the frog pillow case. I shone the light across to the bean bag chair, where she had been known to fall asleep in the past. Not there either. I started to panic for a moment,the beam of light shook as I ran it across the room one more time. "Rosa?" I called out, a bit afraid of my own voice. Finally, I saw her. She was in a deep stage of sleep, her head and arms were lying on top of her blanket on the floor, and the lower half of her torso and legs were hidden under the bed.
"Oh, baby," I smiled as I knelt down next to her and nudged her gently. He eyes opened and she stretched a bit, a cute baby stretch accompanied by a yawn. Together we got up and got dressed for another day.
"Why were you sleeping under the bed?" I ask her once we were loaded in the car. She responded with a grin and said she didn't know.
"You better be careful, there might be monsters under there," I said, then I immediately kicked myself for possibly screwing up the fragile psyche of a four year old. I mean that I kicked myself mentally of course. I don't think I could have gotten very much force behind a real kick. Plus Rosa probably would have thought I was even more deranged that I actually am. I mean, who does that?
"I like monsters," her little voice piped up. "Daddy's a monster."
"Rosa that's not very nice to say." I- mentally- kicked myself again. She must have overheard me talking about her dad again. Yeah, he was a monster. The kind that bails when you get pregnant then doesn't call for months at a time. At least he would bring money when he did come by, which was more than could be said for some baby daddies. Anyway, never mind that, Rosa and I were doing just fine on our own. I pushed that thought to the back of my head and went on with my day, forgetting the conversation completely until the next morning when Rosa was not in her bed again. I knew I had tucked her in and checked in on her an hour later- she had been out like a light.
The first thing I did was check under the bed, which was surprisingly clean for a little girl's room. There was no doll nor toy nor lego nor baby under the bed. No monster either, in case you were wondering. I looked all over that room for Rosa, and I swear she was not there. I started freaking out a little. I ran back to my room and grabbed my cell phone and when I reached Rosa's doorway I heard her little voice saying something I could not understand. It was like she was speaking a foreign language or something.
"Rosa! Where were you?" I controlled my voice, but I am certain I looked rather crazed with worry. Rosa set down her teddy bear, not one I had seen before, and reached her arms out to me for a hug. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her in the most comforting hug I could.
"I was right here, mommy." She said. I started to argue with her, but I knew it would be useless. I started to carry her out of the room, but she pushed away from me and slid down to her bed. She grabbed the bear, which was quite possibly the ugliest thing I had ever seen. She squeezed it to her chest and said his name was Arrow. I muttered that maybe it got that name when it lost its eye in the war. Rosa giggled and skipped happily through her morning routine.
When we got home that night, I was determined to find out how she disappeared, so after she was sleeping peacefully in her bed I snuck back in with my own blanket and settled into her beanbag chair. I tried my hardest to stay awake, but the long day got the best of me. It was through the haze just between sleep and awake that Rosa's voice permeated. She was talking to Arrow, or seemed to be, but there was someone else in the room responding to her. I knew I must be dreaming though, because it seemed like the voice was familiar. Recognition pulled at the edge of my consciousness. I was able to open my eyes to see two shadows, one about three feet tall, the other at least double that. I knew I was dreaming at that point because the two shadows literally slid under the bed and were gone. I could see from my viewpoint on the floor that there was nothing under the bed.
That's when I woke up. Rosa was not in her bed or in the room. Maternal strength overtook me and I moved the heavy, oak bed aside to see that the floor was solid underneath it. I stomped the floor in circles, trying to find a weak spot. Before too much of this passed, I found it. I jumped and hard as I could on the floor near the center of where the bed used to sit, and I landed. But I kept sliding. I don't know how long I slid but I do know that at the bottom of the slide Arrow stood, watching me, black eye patch covering his missing button eye.
As I landed in an unflattering seated position, I tried to pretend that the teddy bear standing and moving on his own was not shocking at all. I think I failed at this because the bear chuckled, a low, growling sound. I appeared to be in a cellar of sorts. The floor and wall were made of dirt caked wood that appeared to be untreated. I impulsively ducked lower, thinking of the potential spider webs hanging above my head. For good measure, I also glanced upward. I was surprised at how clean the ceiling actually was, I mean, for being made of dirt. There were no cobwebs.
While the room was a tiny 4 by 6 area, the ceiling was also higher than I imagined it would be. It vaulted up like an elevator shaft and an indeterminate light came from somewhere above, though I could not make sense of where it came from. It actually just seemed that the dirt itself held an incandescent glow. It was by this glow that I could make out the silhouettes of the four matching, dirt-covered doors. Two were on the wall to my left, and one each on the wall to my right and directly in front of me. Arrow was standing in front of this last door, his hand perched on the wrought iron handle.
“I can see that you will not be easy to deter.” He stated. His rough voice held an ironically smooth timbre, and his accent was slight, but reminded me of some fairy tale land where wizards existed and unicorns gave little girls like Rosa a ride through the clouds while pooping rainbows.
“No. Where’s Rosa?” I said, setting my most Mommy Tone possible. I hoped that the displayed confidence would appear real enough that he would just take me to my little girl without delay.
“This way then. Mind your head.” Arrow turned the ornate, black handle with his furry little paw and pushed the wooden door open with considerable effort. I took one final glance back at the slide behind me and hoped I would be able to climb back up it with a four year old in tow once I found her, then I descended into the dark opening before me.
I say descended because the door opened into a small landing which quickly converted into a steep spiral staircase that seemed to lower forever. Rather than the dusty brown of the room prior, this… area… because it certainly couldn’t be defined as a room, was black and gold. The staircase was an elegant affair of cascading black swirls for handrails. Every three feet or so, a new curling tendril of iron arched backwards to meet Arrow’s paw and my own hand. Each tendril was surprisingly warm to the touch, though the air around us was slightly chilled. There was no visible wall space here, just dark shadow with the occasional glittering gold light in the distance that did no good to us on the stairs. The steps themselves appears to be black and gold as well, with the same incandescent glow that I had just seen in the ceiling.
“Where are we going?” I asked, hoping that it was somewhere I could come back from.
“To the king of the monsters, of course, just as you requested.”
“ I did not request to meet any monster king!” My voice was high and gave way to fear more than I had hoped to show.
“You wanted to go to Rosa, therefore you want to go to the monster king.” Arrow was very matter of fact about this and he kept trudging down the steps. I wondered briefly how I managed to get myself into these situations, but I too kept walking downwards- down the seemingly endless staircase. I promised myself something delicious and fattening after this work out when or if I ever got back home.
It’s the house that drew her in. From the very first moment that she stepped inside, she felt it pulling at her. She thought it was because she loved it so much. It was beautiful, open, light, old. The place had more character in the staircase railing than her previous house had all together. It was also twice as big. It was a two story farmhouse. It fit her family like a glove.
Then they moved in, and it started the first night. At midnight, the dog started barking. Stephanie woke up, thinking he needed to go out. There was a feeling of heaviness, of pressure surrounding her. The dog was not barking at the front door, or even at the steps. He was barking at her daughters’ room. It was his deep bark that he used only when a person came to the door. His, “I am a big dog, fear me,” bark. He stared into space as though there were a person standing there. Stephanie shushed him, but the dog would not be deterred. So, ignoring the feeling that she was being pushed away by a field of unseen energy, she forced her way into her girls’ room, only to see them sleeping peacefully, as though not a sound had been made. She couldn’t escape the feeling of being watched. She called her dog to go outside, in the hopes that fresh air would calm both of them.
Another thing she loved about the house was the clear sky at night. The stars gleamed in the black velvet sky. Only a soft brush of cloud swept over the stars, not able to cover their sparkle. As she walked further into the yard, the breeze blew her hair and she felt a sort of freedom, like the house had been oppressing her in some way. She could breath- for a moment.
It hit her all at once, the darkness, the silence, the cold air. Her ears deceived her at first, but the silence was too dense. The stars were too immovable. The trucks passing, mostly semis taking advantage of the low traffic hours, made no sound, though normally their breaks should hiss and their tires should vibrate the road. The crickets she could hear, their song enveloping her almost completely. With a sharp intake of breath, she realized she also couldn’t hear or see her dog anymore. She swept her flashlight back and forth, more and more frantic. She was afraid to speak, but managed to force out a small, “Luke,” before her breath was choked off. Suddenly, the fresh air was repressive. The looming trees and the darkened sky were pulsating with life, pushing her backward, back into the house. When the small, black furball finally came rushing back to her, she gasped, then turned to walk quickly back into the house, trying to ignore the feeling of being watched from all sides.
The door had not been locked behind her for a second when she was overtaken by the house; its white walls grabbed her, pulling at her fingers, turning into her fingers. The light fixture above her gently tugged at her hair- became her hair. She pushed through the house, her one thought to maintain her hold on herself. She knew, because the house knew, that it only wanted her. Her girls and her husband were safe. Just as it had called to her from the beginning, it was calling to her now begging her to stay.
As the distressed wooden floor reached up to pull her down by her ankles and wrists, the shadows in the corners descended. The cherry color of the wood took over her body, and she was stuck, without having made a single sound.
When morning came, bringing the girls downstairs in search of their mom, they found her at the stove, smile pasted to her face as she finished preparing their breakfast. They were momentarily frightened by the look of satisfied evil on her face, but the eggs were good, so they ate happily, and then ran, their bare feet pattering over the stained, cherry colored floor. The youngest stopped for a moment to notice that the floors pattern looked just like a face in one spot, but her toys were waiting. She skipped on.
DIngaling, DIngaling. They started to get worried.
DIngaling, Dingaling. They ran for cover, knowing that one of them would soon meet a fate worse than death.
DIngaling, DIngaling. They saw the shapes above. huge shadows with ragged edges swept across their land.
These were the flyers. They had beautiful, serene faces, long, flowing hair, and shimmering, transparent wings that carried them along on their venture. They may look innocent, but they were on a mission. A hunting mission.
Elevedora, a villager, threw her blankets woven from grass and dandelion petals over her children, Licuna, Tray, and Kelina. She quickly ran to the other side of Kelina to ensure that her wings were covered, hidden from the hunters. Then they ran for shelter, the sound of wind pulsing under beating wings grew stronger as the hunters grew nearer. Elevedora's only option was to get to the nearest pile of rocks.
When they got there, there were already two families in the crevice. The large male waved them off. "No room here, you must go before they see us!" Elevedora bit her lower lip and tried to shove her way in to no avail.
"Can you not fit one of my children?" She whimpered, when she realized force would not help her.
"Yes, The small one. Hurry now!" The man waved towards Tray. He was not the youngest, but was still the smallest. He had yet to hit a growth spurt. Tray looked to his mother with a quivering pout and a tear in his eye. His chubby hands reached for her, but the male patriarch grabbed him from within the crevice, covering him in shadow with the rest of his children.
"I'll be back for you Tray, promise," Elevedora whispered, then she ushered her two girls away, keeping close to the rock for shadow. She spotted a low hanging dandelion next, and thought that surely she could hide her children there. They were almost to the shade of the flower, when a great woosh was heard just overhead. The hunters had spotted some easy prey, for one had swooped down. With a loud scream and the sound of tearing flesh, Elevedora couldn't help but watch, hoping it wasn't her Tray who was being hoisted into the air to have his wings stolen.
It was not Tray, but an older female. One of her glistening purple wings was torn half off by the hunter, whose sharpened teeth made short work of the job. WIth one more sickening tear, the female was dropped to the ground, and the hunter flew off with her wings secured at her belt.
Elevedora had sheltered her daughters from the sight, but the screams of the female still echoed. The girls were quaking with fear. She could tell that the dandelion was, too, inhabited. Knowing there would be no room for all of them, she again asked if one of her daughters could hide there, to which the hidden family agreed. Licuna, the youngest, was then shuffled under a leaf, to hide with the rest of the family.
Kelina was left. As the oldest, she was still very young, and Elevedora hoped that she could find shelter for her firstborn before the hunters came back. The beating wings could still be heard above them, but they were far enough away at the moment that Elevedora braved a run with Kelina across a small ribbon of water and to the mushroom cap across the stream. When she got there, She saw that the mother was a fairy she knew, Rosamond.
"Please, is there room for us," Elevedora whispered, hoping not to attract attention.
"No room here, get away!" Rosamond snarled glancing upward to the sky.
"Rosamond, please. I know you only have one child, please, there must be room for just Kelina."
" I said NO. Now go before you get me caught." Rosamond spat.
Kelina whimpered from beneath the green and yellow blanket her mother had made. The wind was coming closer, and with it, the hunters.
"Rosamond," Elevedora whispered once more, "sister, please."
Rosamond shook her head, lips pursed, and took a step back as the hunter appeared with it's yellow hair and sky blue eyes, sniffing for them in search of more wings to take home as a trophy. Elevedora covered Kelina with the blanket, pushing her to lie down on the ground. She then watched as the hunter moved closer. Surely, it had seen her there. Surely it would come for her. WIth sudden purpose, then, the hunter moved closer, ready to strike, and as it did, the mushroom cap was torn off, and Rosamond, her husband, and her child were exposed. Rosamond herself hid close to the stem of the mushroom, having pushed the other two in front of her in a vain attempt to spare her own wings.
The hunter snarled as it lashed out, grabbing Rosamond and lifting her towards the sky. The sound of tearing wings filled the air under the bass tempo of the hunter's own flight. Rosamond was dropped to the ground then, wingless and worthless, as the hunter took off into the distance.
Dingaling, Dingaling.... the chiming bells halted in the sky, and the terror was over. With a glance at her now wingless sister, Elevedora frowned, wondering why it had not been her own fate to be taken. She had no time to worry over that, though. With a twitch of her own crystal wings, she and Kelina were off into the sky to collect her other children.
Every time a bell rings, an angel gets her wings.