Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Six Part One

Kayla slammed a bottle of vodka down onto the kitchen table. The table was a round thing, wooden and solid. The kitchen was small, but bright and cozy with some dangling plants here and there.

Shaking, Kayla put together a drink for herself. For once she didn’t try and smile at me. She just squeezed out that lemon – then tipped the whole drink back.

Straight aways, making a face, she poured herself another one. Then she sat down, adjacent to me. She put her head in her hands, fingers running through her blonde streaked curls. Then she looked up at me. She was empty, haggard.

“I-” she started, but then was lost for words. She drew the vodka drink to herself.

“They’re here, that’s what it means,” I said flatly, unicorn in my lap. Wretchedly, it still comforted me. It felt like a survivor now, like me.

“Hon,” she said, voice trembling. “The police had that, the fact it’s here,” she took a deep inhale. “They gave it away.”

“To them,” I said stoically.

Kayla nodded, eyes shimmering with tears. “They’re here,” she croaked. “I thought – that if we left the city,” she picked up the vodka drink and tipped some back.

“It’s okay,” I said sternly, knowing that was the right thing to say.

It wasn’t. She burst into tears, sobbing. “It’s not!” she sobbed. She covered her mouth with a hand, tears trickling down her cheeks. Shaking, she drew a large breath. “I’ll get a security system,” she babbled. “I- we’ll figure something out. We can move.”

“Again?” I asked. “They’ll follow us.”

She tossed back her vodka with a gulp. “Nunavut or something,” she mumbled. Then she rose, still trembling. “Let’s go to bed. Sleep always helps. We will feel better tomorrow morning.”

I didn’t want to tell her that they almost always struck by night. I just nodded, stomach tight. I didn’t tell her that I still needed supper. What point was there?

Slowly, lights were switched on for us to walk upstairs to a small bedroom where she drew out blankets from the closet. Then, quite suddenly and haphazardly, Kayla put all the blankets away and announced that I would sleep in the bed next to her. I didn’t argue. I just put my pajamas on in the bathroom and brushed my teeth.

That night, I lay on my back with eyes wide open. The moonlight drifted in through the thin curtains. Kayla shifted and shifted. Finally, an hour later, she fell asleep.

I lay there and listened for the crick of the door. I listened, body tense with every bird chirp and cuckoo from outside. I listened, heart pounding in my throat and mouth turning dry. I checked the glowing clock by the bed, watching the time seemingly freeze – only to tick off a number every so often. It was agonizing. Then, three am struck.

I heard a footstep almost in time with the flickering change on the clock. I froze, every muscle tense. I gripped my hand in my pocket, clenching my keys that I had snuck into bed. I was going for the eyes this time. No hesitation. They wanted to send a message? So would I.

Soft, quiet, thumps were barely audible. The stairs creaked a warning. I hoped Kayla wouldn’t wake. She’d just get hurt and get in the way. No, this was my battle.

The footsteps stopped before the closed bedroom door. For three heartbeats, nothing. Then, the doorknob turned with a click. The door swung open – and squeaked oh so loudly.

Kayla gasped, sitting up in bed. With a grappling scramble, she flicked the light on from her bedside. Light glowed gently out from the lampstand near her side of the bed.

I Had sat up despite myself, and Kayla was gulping for air, looking from me to the opened door. “Stay there,” she whispered before picking up a beer bottle from beside her bed.

Then, as bravely as she could, she walked to the darkness of the corridor. The beer bottle was lifted as she switched on the lights in the hallway.

She yelped, then stepped back. She was frozen stiff, but then she shook herself. “There’s nothing!” she announced. Turning her back on the hallway in a stupid move, she announced to me with wild eyes “There’s nothing!”

Then she looked again into the hallway, as if to make sure.

“What did you see?” I asked, stepping out of the bed. I walked to her side. She glanced from me to the hallway.

“A man. He was wearing green. It- but he just vanished. Must have been a shadow,” she said, looking around once more.

I walked out into the hallway. I wished I could sense leftover energies, like some psychics could. What did that man want? I even walked to the spare room. The door was locked.

“They couldn’t have gone in there so quickly,” said Kayla tensely. “Come back to bed.”

I did. Again, we lay down. Kayla set the beer bottle back on the floor beside her – and there was the sound of tires crunching on the road. It stopped before our house.

“They’re here,” a male voice announced from the hallway.

Kayla leaped up. Bottle in hand, she stood by the bed, shaking all over. A shadow stepped out of the shadows and into our bedroom.

“They’re here,” the man repeated, and I saw an outline of a cloak on his form. “What are you going to do?”

I stepped out of the bed, the floor cold to my bare feet. Ice prickled over my skin. The moment had come. The final showdown – or so I hoped.

“Who are you?” asked Kayla. “What do you want?”

“I’m not with them, if that answers anything,” he said. “But you will need to decide fast.”

“I’m killing them,” I announced breathlessly, keys in hand and ready to scratch and maim.

“I won’t let you do that,” he said somberly. Downstairs, the front door softly clicked open. He whispered now. “What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to kill them,” I repeated.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Five Part Two

I couldn’t maim the men. I couldn’t exact vengeance.

For some reason, that knowledge burned at me. The security didn’t know what to do when they arrived. The unconscious men had supposedly been taken into custody by the police but I doubted anything would happen. Supposedly – supposedly there was no proof.

No proof.

I was just standing there when the police arrived. They said my story didn’t make sense. Now, I was going to watch my kidnappers walk free.

I was furious with the green man for rescuing me. I’d rather be dead than alive right now. I wanted this to be over, to have exacted vengeance, even if it was in some small way.

“Please, sweetie, eat something,” said Kayla as she pushed the take out towards me. I glared at her. She offered me a miserable smile. She was on the phone with the school board and was convincing them that I didn’t need to show up for the final days of school.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” she announced for the umpteenth time to the phone, as if to make it real. It would be real, I was sure. But then what?

I stared down at the thai noodles. I poked at a piece of tofu. Hunger evaded me. I wanted – I wanted to throw this food at the wall.

Instead I sat quietly. I pushed the food away. I crossed my arms, hugging myself. I missed my unicorn. No one had found it in the hallways, even if I asked several times for it.

“We’ll get you another one,” Kayla had promised as she had wiped her own tears away before hugging me to her chest.

Now I just wanted Kayla to be gone. I wanted her somewhere safe, away from me. I wanted everyone away from me. I was a walking danger magnet it seemed.

Rising from the kitchen table, I went to the living room. Mid-way there, I crossed the entrance hall, and there I froze. A figure was standing on the other side of the entrance door’s frosted glass. It was just a shape, but it was a tall, thick, man-shape.

My mind whirled. Uncle was at the office for the rest of the day. Wanda was upstairs.

The door knocked. The figure shrunk as the person stepped away from the door.

“What is it?” Kayla was beside me, walking to the door. To me, she asked “Is someone there?”

I nodded, mouth dry and eyes wide. Kayla drew the curtain aside from the window beside the door and peered out. “There’s no one,” she murmured. Frowning, she pulled the door open. Then her eyes looked down. “Oh!” she cried out. She fumbled the phone. “I’ll have to call you back!”

I was walking forward, trying to get a look but she shut the door. “Stay there!” she said, spinning to face me. “Don’t go out!”

But I saw it. There, perched on the door’s step, looking inwards expectantly, was my unicorn.

Kayla called the police. “The unicorn is here!” she said insistently. “The kidnappers must have brought it!” She peered again out the window. “They left it at the front door!” Then, exasperated, she exclaimed “Well, do something!

I went and sat upstairs in Wanda and Uncle’s bedroom. The police came by. I was sure they photographed the unicorn, and did all those police-y things that they showed on TV. I heard vioces speaking to Kayla, and then the door was shut.

Silence. Footsteps padded softly up the stairs. I sat up from the bed, and Kayla was in the doorway. “I’m sorry,” she said, eyes red even as she faked a smile. “They’re keeping it as evidence.”

Even my unicorn was gone. Great.

Somehow, that felt like a gaping cavern inside me – but I was numb all at the same time. Did gaping chasms have feelings, or where they just – there? I lay back down face-first on the bed.

The bed shifted. I looked up as Kayla sat beside me. She stroked my head, eyes shimmering with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she croaked, voice breaking. “I’m so sorry about everything-” and she sobbed.

Our hands gripped at each other. We held on tight.

That night, Kayla slept on the floor beside my couch. Wanda and the cousins were quiet as we slept early.

“We’re leaving first thing tomorrow morning,” Kayla announced to no one in particular as she spread out her blankets on the floor. She ruffled up her pillow, and lay down as if demanding the world comply with her.

That next morning, Kayla was looking starched and ready. Her makeup was a bit fuzzy, but otherwise she looked a bit better than usual- which was a sign that she was on edge. She wasn’t relaxed. She was stiff like a starched collar.

I woke up to her shaking me out of nightmares of police and large men. Breakfast was a shoddy affair, as Wanda and Uncle were still asleep. Kayla was determined that they would sleep, but just before we carried our bags out the door, Wanda appeared in the living room.

“Hey,” and she held out her arms to Kayla. “Take care, hon.”

Then, the hug was turned to me. I hugged Wanda back, thinking this might be the last time I ever saw her. Then, Kayla opened the door and we were off.

As per her ritual, as she announced to me, Kayla bought herself an extra large coffee and we hit the highway.

The drive was long, and I slept most of the morning away. We stopped for a hasty lunch and when we were back in the car on our way Kayla seemed more relaxed.

Hours later, I dozed off again. I slept right through suppertime, and was woken by the sound of the car crunching over gravel. That, and the sheer happiness radiating off Kayla

“Here we are!” she announced as we drew to a stop.

We were outside a small house. It looked like a cabin, a sort of suburban cutesy thing. It was difficult to see much, as the night was pitch dark. Mosquitoes flew here and there. There was a small flower patch out front, a bird bath, and solar lamps that were aglow lining the driveway.

Kayla let out a happy sigh as she swung out of the car. I stepped out of the car, but didn’t do a happy sound. Rather, I felt completely cramped. Instantly mosquitoes swarmed around me.

Kayla began chattering as we got our baggages from the trunk. “Welcome to my home!” she was saying as she closed the trunk of the car. “It’s small but it’s cozy. There’s an extra room you can have, and,”

I didn’t hear the rest. Something was sitting on the front steps, just before the front door. It was pale, small, and the shape was all too familiar.

Kayla stopped talking too as she saw it. “Is that a package?” she asked as she marched towards it ahead of me.

Of course it wasn’t. It was my unicorn.

Kayla picked it up. Her back was to me, her face shrouded in curls as she held it in her trembling hands.

“I don’t think the police kept it,” I said softly.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Four, Part Two

I woke up in the hospital. There was white all around me, the curtain was drawn around my bed, and there were voices in the distance. Uncle’s voice.

I looked myself over. A tube in my arm, bruises all over my arms and ugly hospital gown on me, but I was okay. I felt all my limbs.

“You’re alright,” a voice said from beside me.

I startled, and stared at the man who had seemingly appeared. Or had I not noticed him?

It was him. The white man in the green cloak and medieval clothing. He smiled thinly at me. “You’re going to be fine,” he said with a slight nod of the head.

I wanted to scream, but I was frozen. The man sighed like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Hands clasped before himself, he leaned forward.

“You ate the card,” he said calmly.

I stared, trembles beginning to run all over my body.

“You’ve brought the worlds into a collision,” he said in that same calm tone.

I took in a breath to scream- but wasn’t able to put it out. I just choked on the air and stared, wide-eyed.

He rose to his feet. “Going home is going to be hard. But,” he drew my unicorn from under his arm and held it out to me. “I think we can work through that.”

I screamed. He winced, taking the unicorn back as he covered one ear with a hand.

The curtain was swept back. Nurses appeared, uncle and Kayla in tow. But as I gasped and they asked whatever the matter was, the green man had disappeared. He was gone – unicorn with him.

///

I wanted to go to my home. Kayla said I could, but Uncle didn’t think it would be wise. “I need to go get the school papers,” Kayla fibbed, as if she couldn’t get them any other way. “Is there anything you want from the house?”

I shook my head, crossing my arms over my chest. I wanted my unicorn. I wanted- too much. I shouldn’t be greedy.

Now I was in Uncle’s living room. The cousins were at football and uncle had taken a break from me to go with them, leaving Wanda and Kayla with me. Kayla seemed to think getting out would do me good, Wanda wanted me to eat supper in my pajamas and just sleep.

Kayla was saying something, but I turned on the TV, turning the volume up. Kayla pressed her lips together and heaved a sigh. It reminded me of the one the man in green had done. Where was he? How come no one saw him?

“Where’s my unicorn?” I asked, hoping there was some logical answer.

“I don’t know,” said Kayla softly as she rose to her feet. “Listen -”

I looked pointedly at the TV. No listen.

Kayla turned to Wanda. “Need anything? Want anything?” she asked.

“No,” Wanda said with a thankful smile, shaking her head.

So Kayla left. After a few moments of TV drama, Wanda rose and took the remote control from me. She dialed the volume down. “Hun,” she said. “We’re all just trying to help.”

I took up a pillow and hugged it to my chest. My eyes stayed glued to the screen. On it, housewives were debating over something. They were about to fight.

Wanda cleared her throat. “We’ve spoken to the police.”

“We told them you were attacked and they think -” she paused. I stared at the TV. “If there’s anything you can tell them,” she said “It might help.”

I sniffled, but the housewives were throwing hands up and having tantrums.

“The case is – it seems,” she paused and looked at me with that focused adult look. “Your father may have gotten into gang troubles.”

The words crashed over my world. Gang troubles? No. Not father. It was the board game. How come no one would believe it? Because I hadn’t told me. But-

I looked at her. She came into sharp focus- and I saw something shift behind her.

The man was there. Green, brown, and a blonde mass on top.

I froze. My skin turned to a fine sheen of ice.

“Listen,” Wanda was leaning towards me. “If there’s anything you remember that you thought was strange, anything identifying about the men who attacked you-”

Behind her, the man drew out my unicorn and set it on a bookshelf. With a nod at me, he turned and walked away into the kitchen.

Wanda came sharply into focus again. She was saying something, but I couldn’t understand what.

I sat back, curling into myself. The world was shaking around me.

I wrapped my arms around myself, and the world sunk into black.

I came to with the smell of coffee and donuts. Kayla was mopping my forehead with a cold cloth that was too wet, droplets running over my head. Wanda was sitting on a couch, coffee in hand and looking dejected.

“Hey!” Kayla said in a too-cheerful tone as I sat up. There was an open box of donuts on the coffee table.

I looked around. Where was the man? And there he was, sitting in the stairwell, arms crossed and watching me. Again, he just nodded.

It sunk into me like a crashing wave, what had earlier shaken my world. He wasn’t real. He didn’t exist. I had been wrong.

I stared at him, determined to will him away. If he was a figment of my imagination, I could destroy him.

Kayla was saying something about my school exams and having exemptions. I would have to see a doctor. I stared at the man. He watched me back with a frown.

“Did you hear me?” Kayla put a hand on my shoulder.

“No,” I said harshly. I was distracted by the man. By the unicorn that was now on the shelf. By everything in this horrid world.

“Okay, well, you rest,” Kayla said with a teary smile. “You just -”

I got up and marched out of the house. Barefoot I went out the front of the house and marched into the grassy center. I sat down on the bench, head hanging down. Then I told myself not to slouch and straightened. The man in green was walking out of the house towards me.

“Go away,” I hissed between my teeth. “Go, away.”

He arrived to just before me. Much like my cousins had, he crouched down before me. Unlike them, he didn’t just crouch, instead sinking down onto one knee like a knight in mythology.

“I’ll follow you,” he said, in that way that said he meant every of those three words.

I stared at him. “Go, away.” Because he didn’t exist. He was my mind reacting to trauma. He was just me freaking out. “Get- gone.”

Frowning, he rose to his feet.

From way back at the house, Wanda came out in her shoes. I shifted my focus back to the man – but he was gone.

“You can’t stay out here,” said Wanda as she reached me, arms crossed against the cold.

I hung my head and stared at our feet.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter Four, Part One

I was suspicious of the man now. Who was he? A figment of my imagination, come to hallucinate and prey on my fears? He couldn’t be real, could he? How did someone appear, only to vanish with an object?

I had searched my bag for my unicorn, even the living room, just in case I hadn’t brought it out with me. But no. My unicorn was missing.

I slept poorly, wondering and thinking and crying the whole night. When I woke, things were no simpler.

Aunt Kayla was there, offering to drive me to school. She looked exhausted, like she’d spent the night at the hospital, but she tried on a smile for me. I didn’t bother returning one.

Over breakfast, Kayla broached the topic of the school. That she had called the school and would be filling out the papers as my new guardian.

“I’ll do everything to make sure you get there,” she said to me, handing out her heart on a platter.

I nodded, wondering where the hell my unicorn was. Going to this school didn’t matter much when strange things were appearing around me, or when They were going to be coming back for me.

On the drive to school, I was quiet. I leaned my head against the cool window of the car, and wondered. I wondered so hard. Kayla tried to start a conversation once or twice, but I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to say. How would I explain to anyone who hadn’t seen the board game about everything that was happening? My cousins had seen it, true. But would they understand? They hadn’t seen it come from the wall. They hadn’t seen Them demand it from mother or take it from me.

No one knew anything, I realized, dumbfounded.

At school, the day ground along. I paid attention through first and second periods. Lunch arrived. Third and fourth periods ground by. The final bell rang, and I was free.

I was standing by a picnic table, waiting for Kayla to arrive. The traffic ground by not far away, and cars turned into the parking lot to pick up students. I stood and waited.

I saw him out of the corner of my eye, walking down the street. A tall shape, green and blond. In his hand, presented before himself like a pass-card, my unicorn.

I froze, but was jostled by a group of students running past. I nearly fell over – and now he was only a few strides away from me. I looked up, and froze again.

He looked like something from a medieval reenactment scene. He was wearing a cloak, tunic, pants and boots complete with belt and sword. His jaw was square, his eyes a startling clear blue. His blond hair hung in waves down to his shoulders.

With a smile, he bent over as if bowing and held out the unicorn with both hands.

I held out a trembling hand. My unicorn was precious to me.

My hand didn’t quite reach, but he placed the unicorn in my grasp like it was a precious object. I drew it back to me, mind whirling. Was it now that I drew the card out before him to destroy it? Would he attack me here, with all these witnesses? Or were they just collateral damage to him?

“Hey! Sweetie!” Kayla’s voice rang out.

I turned. Kayla was coming out of her car in the parking lot, anxious as could be. She waved at me, trying on a smile again.

I looked to the man – but he was gone like he’d never been there.

Lesser people might have begun doubting themselves right then. I felt a wave of tears, but crushed them down savagely. Refusing to be gotten the better of – even by my own imagination – I looked down. There, in the grass, were two boot prints.

Hah, I thought.

The ride home was silent on my part. Kayla said how she’d been talking with the doctors, been talking with the school, and – “You can come and stay with me for the summer. Give Wanda a chance to make a nice room for you in the house. Or do you want to go to boarding school?”

Boarding school was expensive, I knew that. But if it was an option, I’d rather that than be with Wanda and her happy family all the time. The thought of being near so much familial happiness made me feel sick. “Boarding school,” I said, deciding that it would not matter much anyways. They would be coming for me before the new school year had begun.

“Okay,” Kayla said, nodding. “I’ll call the school.”

Then, she got us donuts.

It was only two more days before they arrived. I had taken to sitting outside in the evenings, taking my homework with me to sit. That night, a black van arrived into the roundabout. I looked up, and my heart jumped into my throat.

Three large, imposing, and very beefed-up men came towards me, all in badly fitting black suits.

Finally, I thought, finding that I was not afraid. I set my algebra aside with determination. I rose, setting my unicorn down to supervise.

Then, I felt a presence behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the reenactment man walk to me. I was locked in, tall men on either side.

I turned to face the reenactment one, reaching into my pocket for the card. So be it. He must be the new chief. Only someone who was a little silly in the head would walk around wearing that, and one must be silly in the head to want a card this badly.

Hand in pocket, I faced him. He came to a stop a few feet from me, just the same distance as he had been with the unicorn. Again, there was that smile that was disarming. It seemed kind.

“Little lady,” he said, his voice deep but gentle. “What’s your name?”

I held my breath. He should already know my name.

“Hey, kid!” came from directly behind me. I spun, and was now faced with the three large me in black. Behind them, hunched and scowling, was the man mother had attacked. So he lived.

“Your mother’s a-” he was saying as I drew the card from my pocket. His words died away. A light went on in his eyes, in all their eyes. “Good kid,” he crooned, stepping forward between his henchmen. “Give that here.”

I placed my second hand on the card, ready to tear it in two. My hand trembled. I hesitated one second too long.

All four of those men lunged towards me. In a flash I knew I wasn’t fast enough. I resorted to my second plan, what I’d planned to do once the paper was ripped anyways. I ate it.

I crammed the card into my mouth, chewing as fast as I could.

I was slammed back, my hands were jerked away from my face, and I swallowed just as the man started screaming “Stop her! Stop her!”

The world turned black. For a flash I saw the men around me, felt them tearing at me. Their boss was screaming incoherently. I was satisfied.

Then, I hit the ground. Uncle’s voice was shouting.

Oh no, I thought. Another fight. More police. More dead.

Lage’s Game ~Chapter Three, Part One

Mom was shot. She was in surgery now, locked away behind doors I was not allowed past. I sat in a plastic chair, my unicorn on my lap. I was splattered with blood, mom’s blood.

The police said this was unusual. They claimed I could not be right. There could be no correlation between the three break-ins.

“There was no board game listed as stolen in either of the previous break-ins,” the officer, a white redhead, had told me. “It’s not on record. Maybe it wasn’t valuable enough to be mentioned.”

But he seemed doubtful. More than likely, I knew he was thinking, was that I had imagined the whole thing. I had been a child, then.

But I was an adult now. And I knew that what they had been after was that card. Card which, if all things stayed true, had probably been thrown away with my room’s possessions a year ago.

“Hey,” said my uncle, appearing beside me in the starched white hallway. He was wearing a blue button up shirt and pants, his suit jacket missing. His head was shaved, his beard neatly trimmed. “How are you?”

I stared resolutely ahead.

“Okay,” he said gently. “Listen, we’re going to go home to my place, okay?”

I shook my head. Mom was here. I had to keep an eye on her.

Uncle looked around, as if searching for direction. He looked back at me, direction obviously not found. “She’s going to be okay.”

I glared at him.

“Come on,” he said. “Come to my place. We’ll sleep by the phone. The minute she’s out and okay, they’ll let us know. Then we can come back and visit. Okay?”

I shook my head. But he took me by the arm and hauled me to my feet. “Come on,” he said sternly.

I wanted to scream. Tears began running down my face and I braced myself, not wanting to go. I had to stay with mom!

But he dragged me, and after a hallway, I gave in. He was stronger than me. But I would sleep by the phone. I scrubbed my tears from my face and marched with my head held high. I would make sure mom was okay.

///

Mom was in a coma. The news came in at one in the morning that she wasn’t waking up, and might never. Uncle did his best to explain it to me gently, but it was what it was. She, too, was gone, off in an unreachable place. She might never come back, and now, I didn’t expect her to. Father had gone, why wouldn’t she?

Anger burned in me. It was like hot coals in my stomach, under my skin. My blood felt hot. I wanted a gun. I wanted to shoot them in the heads. But no one in my family owned a hunting gun, and there was no way to find ‘them’. According to the police, they were an antiques and collectible theft ring, and usually did not commit murder.

“It’s exceptional, really,” the cop had said as if in awe. Awe at what, I wanted to ask him. Did he think it amazing and commendable to murder people, like some statistic in a video game? Or were these deaths already like Stalin had said, just a statistic?

“You can stay with us for a while,” Uncle had said as he sat on the bed beside me in his dishevelled clothes. “We’ll take you home to get some things.”

I did not want to. I wanted to go home and be with mom. It felt like if only I went home and waited like usual, mom would come home, claiming she had been late from the grocery or something like that.

But I knew that was foolish, so I just sat still and held my stuffie.

“Come on, let’s have some breakfast,” uncle’s wife said from my other side. “How about pancakes?” She was trying to sound cheerful. I hated cheer.

The pancakes were like sandpaper in my mouth. I sat at one side of the table, squished beside my two cousins. They kept looking at me like I was some bomb set to explode. Their mother kept trying to talk to me. I ignored them all. Mother was gone.

After the farce of a breakfast, uncle drove me home. “I can go in and get you your things if you’d rather,” he said as we parked.

I yanked open the door and marched out as an answer. There was a caution tape all around the doorway, and an officer posted there. The scene was too familiar. I knew too well what to do, showing my ID to be let in as uncle explained that we were here to take some things from my room.

A cop escorted us through the crime scene, our living room, and to my room. There, I stopped in the middle of my room and froze. All thoughts flew from my mind.

For an instant, I heard mom screaming. I heard the footsteps. I spun- and was faced with my uncle. “Here,” he was saying. “Let’s take some clothes, okay? How about that?”

I looked around my room. My very still and quiet room.

Okay, I told myself. I scrubbed the tears from my cheeks with a trembling hand. Set my unicorn on the bed to supervise. Then I took out my duffel bag from beneath my bed and shook it out.

A card fluttered out of the bag and landed down before me, between my feet and my uncle’s. He had his back to me, was digging through my dresser drawer, and saw nothing. I looked down at the black card with a diamond at its center.

No shit.

I stooped down, snatched it up, and put it in my pocket. Then, I held out my duffel bag for my uncle to fill with clothes.

When they came for me, I was going to burn it before them. There.

Lage’s Game ~Chapter Two Part Two

TRIGGER WARNING: Violence. Guns. Shooting. I don’t know what else, but please don’t read if you’re feeling fragile.

It was a whole year before I saw that card again. During that year, we took a vacation to my aunt’s place out in BC. There, I saw the whitest people I’d ever seen. When time came to return home for school, it was to find myself presented with a new house, in a new neighborhood. There, my room had been transplanted into another room. It was like a time capsule, preserved in almost its entirety. Everything was reorganized, everything was clean. I remember the smell like it was yesterday. The smell of cleaner and detergent everywhere, mixed with fresh paint.

Upon seeing it, I turned to mom and said I didn’t want any of it anymore.

I pointed into my room and said “Get rid of it. All.”

Mom grinned. I didn’t realize it then, but it was the first time I’d spoken since our second burglary. “Okay,” mom said with tears in her eyes, happy tears. “We’ll get rid of it all.”

Pointedly, I walked away from the room, clutching my stuffie to my chest.

I spent that first night back in our house in mom’s room, sleeping with her. The next day, mom had some friends over who helped her sort through my room. My cousins were there, but I barely remember them talking to me, or me to them. They went through my old stuff, and I pretended to watch the Lion King. Then, it was all gone.

I walked into a fresh, empty room. Mom stood beside me, arms crossed. They’d even put a base coat over the walls so it was no longer the color of my previous room. “How’d you like it?” she asked with an unsure smile, as if afraid I would break down.

But I grinned at her. I nodded. Then, I forced myself to speak. “It’s perfect.”

Mom burst into tears and bent over to hug me.

We went shopping after that. I redecorated my once children’s room into crisp blues and whites, but with no cartoon characters anything. I was an adult now.

“I’m thirteen,” I announced when she offered me a ‘Frozen’ themed bedspread.

Mom beamed. All this talking was making her smile, I was finding out. She let me pick out everything. New clothes that were mature and severe looking. New posters of nature and wildlife. No cartoons. I even asked her for a guitar, because I knew that one of my teachers had said music would help me. And I wanted to ‘get better’, whatever that meant. I was an adult now. I had to take care of mom. Dad was fully gone now. All that had been left of his pieces and collectibles had been sold during the move, I was told. We needed the money, I was told.

But what I thought was that we didn’t need any more burglaries. We now had nothing they could want. Even our TV was small and cheap. But most importantly, anything Dad had owned was gone. There was nothing left for ‘them’ to come back for.

We never spoke of the second burglary. Of how ‘they’ had come back for the game. Mom never asked what I had been doing with the game in my room. I never asked her why the game had been hidden in a wall, or how ‘they’ had known to come back for it.

I just figured that whole chapter of life was over with. Father was gone, and with him were all his things. That was it.

I threw myself into my schoolwork, into talking, into performing as a person. I had to take care of mom. I had to be ‘good enough’ to fulfill Father’s place in the world. I saw myself collecting precious things like he had, all while destroying crime. I wanted to become a lawyer some days, a cop on other days, and when I was tired, a vigilante.

Over the last year, my marks had improved dramatically. So much so that I was moved from the special education section into the ‘normal kids’ section. I made no friends. But I studied so hard that I won a letter of congratulations from the principal and a spot on the honor roll. That year, at the end of the year, mom took me to visit some people at another school.

“Cross your fingers sweetie,” she’d said before we went in.

In there, all the other students were wearing uniforms. They looked serious. The adults were serious too, dressed primly. I was set in a room and given an exam. Like all my other exams, I set my unicorn on my desk to watch over my back, and I picked up the pen.

Once the exam was done, I sat in a room with a white woman who was blonder than mother and who had a strict bob. She smiled at me. “Your mother says you enjoy school,” she said tartly.

“I’m going to be a lawyer,” I said fiercely, daring her to contradict me.

She smiled sweetly. I hated her.

“You do know,” she said to me “that we do not accept special needs children.”

I glared at her.

“If we were to accept you, you would have to function as well as the other students, and will receive no extra help or special treatment.”

I glared at her angrily. Mom wanted me to come here. So the lady should give way. Mom must have what she wants. I would do it to keep my mom happy.

She looked pointedly down at my lap, where the stuffie sat in my hands. “You wouldn’t be able to bring your unicorn.”

My world shook. How could I? To enter the world alone- I stared at my only friend, my only solace in the whole wide world. I heard the woman saying something about rules and regulations as if through a tunnel.

Then, quietly, I pushed the unicorn off my lap.

It hit the floor with a soft thud. Mom gasped. The woman stared. I glared at her.

“Try me,” I said.

When we left that building, mom had stacks of papers to bring home and sign. She was carrying the unicorn now, not me. The world felt huge and overwhelming, the very air pounding and pressing in on me. But I would not need my unicorn any more. I was an adult, and I was going to a very expensive school.

“This is really going to help you get into law,” mom said as we sat around the kitchen table with the paperwork and lasagna.

I nodded, eating diligently.

“You will have to keep studying very hard, though,” she said between mouthfuls.

I nodded some more.

“But I hope you can find some time to make friends. You know, get to know people?” And she cocked a smile at me.

I smiled back and added that to my checklist of things to do: Make friends. I must make mom happy and proud. She’d been asking me to make friends for some time now. My therapist kept mentioning it. But friends just didn’t interest me. You couldn’t focus with them. You couldn’t just be.

So maybe that would have to wait a little. Maybe once I was a big lawyer and I brought all kinds of criminals to justice mom wouldn’t mind that I didn’t have friends.

I was so busy thinking of that, I almost didn’t hear what she said. It jolted my head up, eyes wide. She smiled tearily at me and repeated. “Your dad would be proud, sweetie.”

It was like a small ray of sunshine piercing through the sky upon me. I found myself smiling, but felt a sharp pain at the same time. Father was something of the past, something I refused to think about anymore.

“Here,” mom handed me a tissue. I wiped my cheeks and sniffled. “You’re going to do great, sweetie.”

I nodded, balling up the tissue and rising to put it into the garbage. When I came back, mom was truly happy. Well, if this school made her that happy, I was going to make sure I succeeded. I would be the best. I would have to do it all without my stuffie, but I would. I was an adult, I was going to be a lawyer, and I was going to take care of my mom.

The next day, I went to school as usual. Mom picked me up from school, and we drove home. When we walked in, the door swung out of my hand and shut with a slam. Mom turned, I turned, and ‘they’ were there.

There was a large man behind the door. Another in the kitchen. Another sitting behind our kitchen table. All had handguns.

Briefly, I wished for my own gun. I wanted to be big and powerful and to defend mom.

“Come, sit down,” said the big man from behind the table. He was not wearing a black ski mask. Instead, he was wearing a hat. With a gesture, he added “Put the kid in her room.”

I was seized by the arm and dragged to my room. In there, the door shut, I just stood there for a minute. My mind had crashed. I was staring into the void, not seeing anything.

I came to when I caught sight of my unicorn on my desk. Snatching it up, I clutched at it and ran to the door. Pressing my ear against it, I could hear what was happening in the kitchen.

“We don’t have anything!” mom was saying.

“Oh I believe you, but I think you cheated me. I think you sold it.”

“What?” Mom sounded desperate in a way I never wanted to hear again.

“Just give us the list of whomever you sold things to. I want your bank account statements from the last year. That’s all. We’ll leave you be after that.”

“You promise?” Mom’s voice was trembling. “Because we really don’t have anything. We really don’t!”

“Oh I know. Living off your husband’s insurance. How else would you get your precious daughter to that school? No, just give us the list. We’ll find it for ourselves.”

“What are you even talking about?” mom asked, voice trembling.

There was a smack. I saw red and black at the same time. Mom started sobbing.

“There we go,” the evil man said. “Thank you for that.”

There was a moment of sniffles and sobs. “Here,” mom was saying. “Here they are.”

The man murmured. There was the sound of phone snaps, the sound some phones make when they take pictures. Then there was a sound of a chair being scraped back. “This is your warning. If we don’t find it- watch your kid.”

“What?” mom shrieked. “But we don’t have anything! We don’t!”

Another thud. Mom started sobbing again. But she was screaming now. “Don’t you dare touch my daughter! Don’t you dare!”

Something smashed.

There was the sound of footsteps running away from my door. I yanked the door open just as I heard the gunshot.

I ran out into the hallway, screaming. Mom was laying on the floor, a puddle of blood already around her head. The man with the hat was on the floor as well, a broken chair over him. I crashed to the floor next to mom, screaming but not hearing myself. They picked the man up, limp as they lugged him to the door.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter One; Part Two

We find ourselves sitting in the living room. It feels empty, hollow, despite my cousins having arrived. They’re in their teens, big almost-men that are on the football team. Their hair is braided back in braids like mine. They looked up to father. Were often borrowing his books and listening to him tell them what university was like. Now they sat there with forced smiles and eyed me nervously.

From at the end of a tunnel, I hear mother come in with drinks. As usual, she chides not to get it on the board, her words strained. The board?

I look at the coffee table between us all. On it sits the thin board game box, green and luscious looking. The lettering was golden and glittering, the letters triangular shaped and strange.

“This a new game?” asked Fred, the beefier of the two, but also the kindest. He’s wearing a button-up shirt and looks ready to go to church. I dimly wondered if this counts towards community hours for them.

Mom sits down on the couch beside me. Fred and Ali are on the two chairs across from us. So often, Father would sit here and counsel them…

I hug my softie to my chest, bowing my head. I felt empty, torn, and hollow. Mother is saying something about how this is an old game, just something we “dug up in the basement,” she said with a grin towards me.

I look up from my softie with a smile. Or at least I thought it was a smile. It makes mother cringe. She passes a hand over my hair and sighs.

“So! Let’s play!” says Fred, looking at me with supposed excitement and happiness in his eyes. It hurts me. How can he be happy? How dare he?

I looked down to stop my quivering lip. I watch dimly as the lid of the box is shimmied up carefully, revealing its interior.

“Ohhh,” coos Fred, Ali leaning forward. Mother leans forward too, a frown on her face.

There was several stacks of cards, a folded up board, and one dice. A d20.

“There’s cards,” says Fred, looking at me. “You like cards, don’t you?”

I nod, pressing my lips together as Fred takes out each of the card stacks and places them carefully on the coffee table. Next comes the board, still folded and gray in its backing. Then the dice. Then – “Where’s the instruction booklet?” Fred asks, and mother frowns. She leans forward, peering at the stacks of cards and the board.

“Maybe?” she unfolds the board, shaking it in case the instructions are trapped in there.

“No, not there,” and she sets the board down, turning to the cards. My eyes widen as I take in the sight of the board. It is an old folk-style image of a forest, viking-styled weaving of knots all around the edges. There is images of a castle, of a village, and – no path?

Fred and Ali are each sifting through a stack of cards along with mom, who is talking. “It came with a stack of VHS,” she was saying. “At worst if we can’t find the instructions, we can watch those, can’t we?”

I nod, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. But I wished for us to have the instructions. The board looked beautiful, intriguing. And the cards – I leaned over and watched as mother flicked through them. They were brightly colored and featured pictures that filled the card. They were styled like ancient carvings, some featuring items, others featuring persons.

“Oops!” Ali said as a card jumped out from his shuffling. It fluttered across the coffee table and landed face down before me. The backing was black, with a diamond image in the center. Leaning forward from the couch, I flipped the card over.

The image was that of a carving in wood, sort of like a totem pole but in an entirely nordic (or was it celtic?) style of carving. Beneath it, there was written “Lage, Type: Player’s Companion Stats: 900/100”

900/100? That seems stupidly high, I thought. Deciding that this was a stupid game, I handed the card wordlessly back to Ali.

“Thanks,” he said as he took it. I didn’t answer, squeezing my stuffie to my chest. My eyes dropped back down to the board. It was so pretty. Why would it have an overblown statistic like that? Maybe I just didn’t understand. Maybe … I leaned over the coffee table, peering at the board, my chin resting on my unicorn.

This must be a rare collector’s piece, I thought to myself. That’s why father would have stored it away so preciously. Probably so that I wouldn’t touch it, or so someone wouldn’t steal it.

Still, I thought, bricking it away seemed a little excessive.

I tried to focus on the mystery of the bricking and not think of Father. But tears began to stream down my face.

“Hey,” mom handed me a tissue, voice soft. “Hey, it’s okay.”

It wasn’t! But the last thing mom needed was a temper tantrum. So I took the tissue and wiped my face quietly.

As I balled up the tissues in my fist, mom set her pack of cards down. “Well,” she said. “There’s no rules. How about them, huh?” She looked playfully at me, so sad and desperate at the same time. “Want some retro anime?”

“Sure!” Fred rose as he set the cards down. “Need help setting it up?”

“Yeah sure,” mom said, rising to her feet. “I haven’t used the vhs player in ages.”

While they began fussing over the cords of the TV and Ali was instructed to bring in the box in the kitchen, I looked at the stacks of cards.

Carefully, I flipped over the top card from Ali’s stack. It pictured a scythe. The next was a book. The next a shoe. So these were items.

I moved on to mother’s stack of cards. The top card featured an image of heiroglyphs. The next, arabic script. Languages? Hm.

Then Fred’s stack. People, all of them. A pharoah’s sculpture, a celtic rock carving named Morrigan – probably inspired by the goddess.

I flip more cards over. I was wondering if there were any from Africa. There usually wasn’t in board games, especially not old ones. But maybe in this one, it would be different.

The card stack toppled over, but I’d have sworn I hadn’t knocked it. The cards slide out across the board, fanning out so their backs are revealed. There are red ones, blue ones, and I spot a black one. It alone has a diamond on its back.

I pluck it out, and the picture of Lage is there. And that ridiculously high number. Setting the cards back in a stack, I begin comparing their numbers. These seemed all to be under a hundred for their first number, such as 80/100 or 60/100. Which would make sense, if it was a percentile. But 900/100? I frowned at Lage’s card again.

Placing a hand on the board to steady myself, I held up Lage’s card to the light. Sometimes cards had finicky light tricks going on – but this one was probably too old for that.

I lowered the card- then froze. Out of the corner of my eye, there was a new shape stepping out of the kitchen. But mother and my cousins were both to my left, fussing over the TV.

Frozen in horror, I tried to lower the card but couldn’t. I was stuck, body turned to ice. The shape stepped closer. I wanted to scream, to alert mom and the cousins, but couldn’t. It was all going to happen again, I thought. This time, it would be my cousins killed.

Leather brown boots stepped near me. A tall shape, green, loomed over me. Then it crouched down at my side. A brown hunting gloved hand rested on my knee. A face framed with a green hood peered at me, but I couldn’t tear my eyes from the card. They were just a blurr.

“Greetings,” a man’s voice said, gentle and musical.

I screamed. The card fell from my fingers. I spun, jumping up and away from the man.

“What is it?” mother yelped. My cousins rushed over, crouching next to me. I stared around, at the empty space where the man had just been.

I- I saw- I stared around wildly.

“There’s nothing, what is it?” Mother asked again, crouching next to me. To my cousins she said “Maybe go check the doors and windows please? She gets anxious about them.”

“Of course,” Fred said, and with a nod at Ali, they left to check the house.

But he was here. In here. Again. An attacker. Would he kill the cousins? What was he here for? Father’s collectibles had all been stolen that day –

Except this one. My eyes dropped to the game. He must have come for the game! The last piece of father, the last thing he owned here.

Mother was rubbing my shoulders. “It’s okay sweetie, there’s no one,” she was saying. “There’s nothing, it’s okay.”

But she was wrong. Someone was here. Right here.

“Here,” mom hands my unicorn to me. I wrap my arms around it and press it to my chest. Stepping over the card on the floor, I walk slowly to the kitchen. Every step brings me closer to the thief, where they must be.

I scream again when Fred steps out of the kitchen and almost into me.

“Hey!” he bends over with a big grin on. “There’s no one. Nothing at all.” Then, catching a look from mom, he crouches down. Everyone looks less threatening when they crouch down below your eye height.

Ali arrives behind him, beaming as well. “Nothing!” he says.

So he left. Ran out the door. A nonviolent burglar. Not one hell bent on violence. Chased away by the fright of two black men. I look down at the floor.

Mother takes my shoulders and turns me back to the living room. “How about the Lion King?” she asks. “You like that movie!”

I did. Before.

But I sit on the couch because mother doesn’t need a tantrum. I will watch the movie because she needs me to be quiet.

“Oh, a card dropped,” Fred says too cheerfully, picking up the card I’d been looking at when the man came to me. He sets it on one of the piles of cards, the wrong pile.

I pick it up. Lage, a character card. It belongs with the other character cards. Mustn’t get them mixed up. Father always said it was good to keep games all orderly and organized.

“That way it’s easier to pick them up again,” he’d say with a smile as we sorted cards into piles.

Mechanically, I sift through the other cards. A pharoah’s statue, a celtic sculpture. I stick the Lage card, overblown with its numbers, straight into the middle and set the other cards atop it. There. Organized.

Then, I sit back and watch the beginning of the Lion King.

Lage’s Game ~ Chapter One; Part One

“Mom?” I ask, walking towards her. The social worker has left. Mom sits there, bruised and stitched up in the kitchen. The swelling has gone across her face and the black stitches seem to stand out more.

She tries to smile at me. But there are tears in her eyes and I hesitate. Maybe I shouldn’t have left my room.

“Hey,” she sniffles and wipes at her face gingerly. She puts on a brave smile. “Hey how are you?”

I look down at my softie and nod. It was a unicorn, crocheted by my grandmother when she was still alive and I was young.

“Your cousins will be here soon,” Mother tries to sound cheerful. “Would you like to play a game with them?”

I don’t look up. I don’t speak. I think I will go back to my room. Even if they say I should leave it, I don’t want to. I haven’t left the house since … then. Last week, five days ago now, marked a whole different world. A world with father in it.

Tears well in my eyes and I run, flying to my room. I slam the door to my room shut, but even that doesn’t feel safe anymore. I throw myself into bed, burrowing under the blankets with my softie. I hug it to my chest, but can’t stop the tears.

A moment later, I hear the door creaking open. The stifling hot blankets are lifted from my head. I drag them back down in a snatch, enclosing myself in darkness.

I told myself I was safe. But I knew I wasn’t. This house was where it had happened. The burglary, mom’s bruises, and… father’s death. Just last week.

“Hey,” mom sits down on the bed beside me, creaking the mattress. Her hand rests on my shoulder. “I’m so sorry hun.”

I sniffle, but don’t say anything. I don’t feel like saying anything.

“You – want to play a game?” she offers again.

It used to be a thing. Family game night. Mom and dad would take out all these cards, miniatures, boards, and we would play. Friends of Fathers’ would come over. My cousins used to never come. Now they came for me, because they were the only family ‘near my age’. I wouldn’t see my friends. I didn’t want them, anyone, in the house. But I couldn’t say no to family.

“Come on,” Mom pulled at my shoulder a little. “Let’s pick out a game.”

I sat up for her. Because I knew she didn’t need me to make things any harder on her. I was twelve, almost thirteen. I shouldn’t be acting like a child.

So I got out of bed, mom smiling bravely at me.

She was dressed in jeans and a clean shirt. Her blonde hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. I, however, had hair like dad. It was in cornrows, just like he’d had too. He’d been darker than her, and that’s why the cops had shot him. They’d mistaken him for the burglars who had brutalized mom.

“Hey, hey, honey,” mom was shaking me by the shoulders, crouched before me. “Hey,” she smiled in a wobbly sort of way. “Let’s go pick out a game, okay?”

I nodded, holding my stuffie to my chest. We left my room, me tailing along behind her like a toddler. We held hands like it too, and I tried to straighten out my face. To stop it from wobbling.

The basement was an unfinished thing, dark and dismal but dry. At least it was dry, which father had once told me was important. That way, we could store stuff here. And he had gestured to the games.

There were shelves of tools, shelves of junk, and a shelf of board games. We stopped before them.

“Which one would you like?” mother asks. But she doesn’t move for any. Neither do I.

I don’t want to tell her, but I don’t want any of them. None. Nothing. I wanted nothing.

I must have blacked out again, for suddenly mom is on my other side and saying something. We’re not holding hands anymore.

“Mom?” my voice is feeble. She turns, a horrified and desperate look on her face. “Can we just go back upstairs?” I ask.

I shouldn’t have. Mom is crushed, tears brimming in her eyes. She presses her lips together in that way she has – and she turns away. She’s facing the corner now, where there is nothing.

“Would you like to try something new?” she asks, her shoulders tensing. I hesitate. She steps into the corner. With a lurch, her hands dig at the dirt and rocks there at face level.

“Mom?” I ask, heart rising in my throat. What was she doing? Was she losing it?

But the rocks move. The dust comes down in a cloud, but she is pulling away chunks of rock like her life depends on it. Like we’re trapped in here.

And then, where she was clawing, a hole appears. A mini-cave. In the back of my mind, I think it would be the perfect hiding place.

With a grunt and maybe a sob, mom yanks out a chest. She backs up with it, then turns to me with a smile and tears. “Ta-da!” she says, voice breaking.

I just stare. The chest is deep blue, covered in dust and smudged with dirt. It has metal hinges and clasps and a lock on its front.

Mom sets it down at my feet. “Dad loves collecting things, you know!” shes half laughs, looking down at the box. “He thought – he wanted you to have this. It’s why he was so happy you were a girl. Now- we’ve just got to get this open and-”

I stare as mom scrabbles at the lock, fishing around her neck for a tiny key. In fact, when she draws up her necklace, there are three keys. “This should be it,” she croaks with a sniffle.

She unlocks the very modern looking padlock. In fact, the padlock was so pristine that when I took it I could easily read the brand name on it. It looked brand new, just old model.

With a “A hah!” that was supposed to be cheerful but just sounded desperate, mom popped the chest. It swung open without a creak, and just in that instant before I saw what was in it, I wondered if we really should be doing this.

Dad loved collecting things, yes. They were his ‘preciouses’, he would joke, and they were usually worth a lot. Whatever was in this chest, it probably belonged in a museum and shouldn’t be played with. But then I saw what was in the chest and I forgot about all that.

There was a green cardboard box, the color luscious and deep. There were strange inscriptions across it in gold paint. Mom lifted it up with a desperate laugh. “See? It’s a game!” she said, holding it out to me.

My eyes stayed in the box however, where there were several other boxes with printed anime images on them. Old school anime.

“Those are the VHS that go with it,” mom says happily. “Do you want them too?”

I nod.

The next chapter can be read Here