Lage’s Game: Chapter Nine, Part One

Rebella nearly threw me at her grandmother, she shoved me at her so harshly. I stumbled forward, and the elderly Queen touched my face briefly. I straightened, scowling, and her touch was gone. But she was smiling now.

“An ancient,” she whispered. “Too bad I am leaving as she arrives.”

But she did not sound sorry at all. Rather, she sounded mischeivous. Playful, even. The eye looked at Rebella, then her sister. “You two have your work cut out for you,” she said gleefully.

The two sisters did not seem amused.

“Perhaps if we do a spell of reversal, her death will save your life,” said Rebella swiftly, the way you blurt something out so no one can interrupt you with a ‘no’.

The grandmother hummed as she looked me over once more.

“No,” she said finally.

I let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding. Al-alright? I guessed I was safe then? Somehow I didn’t feel any safer. At least not with Rebella around.

“We must save you!” Rebella cried out, shoving me aside to step up to her grandmother. “Your life is worth more than hers!”

“Then it would not be a fair spell, would it?” chuckled the grandmother.

“Rebella,” warned the sister, stepping to my other side. I was trapped between them.

Rebella seized my shoulder. “It is her people who did this! She must pay-”

“Why?” I barked, glaring up at Rebella.

She seemed utterly shocked at that. At me speaking up? At me daring to question her? Either way, she was astonished. She almost let me go. I wrenched free with a twist, and almost punched her in the stomach. On a whim, I didn’t. I resisted that rage that was beginning to boil within me.

“’My people’, as you call us, could not have done this,” I snapped, gesturing to the elderly woman. “The gun you showed me couldn’t have done this-”

“It did!” barked Rebella, seizing me again to shake me. Now, I gave in to the anger.

I shrieked, kicking and clawing at her. I aimed for the eyes. With a yell she lunged back, shielding her face with her arms.

I didn’t chase her. Instead I stood my ground, seething and glaring at the astonished princess. “Brat,” she hissed between her teeth.

“It was them who must have done this,” I hissed back at her. “They have killed my parents! They attacked me! They murdered my aunt-,” and those words silenced me. Was Kayla truly gone? Had she – finished her fight? Was she happy?

“Well,” said the grandmother, but then she took a cough, and then another, and then a whole fit of them. She doubled over, the other princess and several attendants rushing to her side to pat her shoulders and fuss. Rebella stood where she was, looking guilty. Our eyes met. She looked away, then fiercely glared back at me as if she’d changed her mind. She would not look away now.

After a hacking spasm, the grandmother breathed again. Leanign back in her throne, she looked Rebella over. “Child,” she said softly. “Take care of this one,” and she nodded at me.

Rebella startled. “Of, course?” she said, pausing as if she was not entirely sure what had been said. Neither was I.

The Grandmother smiled, eyes closing. “Don’t let Lage get his claws into her.”

My stomach vanished. Was Lage somehow to blame for all this? After all, he had appeared with ‘them’.

But Rebella was quickly bowing and murmuring that yes, she would be sure to keep me away from Lage.

“That man is trouble,” sighed the Queen, eyes still closed. Then, she seemed to drift off into sleep, peace and relaxation coming over her good features.

The sister spun to Rebella, hissing under her breath. “Get her out of here! You’ve done enough!”

Rebella lifted her head angrily, but the sister gestured at her to leave. “Take her with you!” Then, shoving me towards Rebella, she added “How dare you bring her here! I will talk with you later!”

“No, you won’t!” snapped Rebella as she yanked me to her by the shoulder. Then, dragging me after her, she whirled and marched away.

We crossed the courtyard of greenery, then entered into the castle through another door than the one we entered into. Once that door was shut behind us, Rebella shoved me towards a guard. “Put her in the dungeon,” she said ruefully as she kept walking on, leaving me behind in the guards’ grasp.

I squirmed, wanting to throw myself after Rebella and give her a beating. But the guard held me fast. Muttering something under his breath to the other guard at the station, he began hauling me down the corridors.

We descended a meager flight of stairs, the walls growing darker and darker as there were fewer and fewer lamps to light the way. The air grew dank and humid and foul with the smell of decaying flesh. Then, at the end of these stairs, the dungeon appeared.

It was a small landing where a guard sat with his feet propped up on a desk. “Another one?” he asked, rising sloppily to his feet.

“This one’s special,” said the guard, shoving me forward. “She’s not from here, if ye ken what I mean.”

“Oh,” said the dungeon guard, sounding astonished behidn his helmet. I made a point of glaring at him.

“The princess brought them in,” said the first guard. “So put her alone, away from the others. The usual for their type of scoundrel.”

The dungeon guard nodded, taking me by the shoulder and hauling me off into the darkness beyond the light of the last lamp. There he seemed to know his way, walking straight on. As we walked my eyes grew adjusted tot he dark and I saw large cells on either side, full of ragged figures who clustered together. There were squeaks of what I supposed was rats.

We walked on and on, and I wondered why there were so many prisoners. There were dozens of them, of not a hundred in total.

Past those large cells were smaller ones. These seemed emtpy, put the darkness was growing so thick that it was difficult to tell.

I was shoved into one that was not the last, but before the last. “There!” the guard barked, locking the door behind me. “You stay there!”

I stumbled, caught myself, and turned around.

The cell was tiny, just long enough for an adult to lay down in either direction. There was spongey grime in one corner and scrapes of straw that were scattered across the rest. Tired and altogether frustrated and mad, I sat down in the corner against the stone wall and the bars to the other cell, as far away from the spongey stuff as possible. There, I wrapped my arms around my knees and hugged them to my chest.

Finally, I caught my breath. Finally, I had time to think. The world, having moved so fast, was now slamming to a stand-still. I let out a loud breath, just to hear myself.

The dungeon, for the amount of people it housed, was eerily silent. The footsteps of the guard faded away, and then there was utter silence.

My mind whirled. I was in some world. In a dungeon. I was being blamed for a Queen’s death- which was certainly not the result of a gunshot wound. These people were completely lost and out of their league against ‘them’, it would seem. They were –

I shrieked as something slipped through the bars and touched my shoulder. It was soft yet smooth and solid – rather like a hand.

I scrambled back, crawling backwards across the floor. Beyond, on the other side of the bars, I could just make out a set of tilted golden eyes that seemed to glow ever so slightly.

“Shee, sheee,” a voice whispered as the hand waved through the bars at me.

“Silence!” the guard roared, banging something against the bars far away. I knew it was a threat, and I’d better shut up.

I gulped down my fear, staring at the strange shape that was too close to me. I could only make out the eyes, and the ghastly shape of the hand.

“Shee, shee,” it shushed, or was that some word? It was a male voice, low and hoarse. It murmured some gibberish then, the hand reaching still for me.

A madman, I thought. Or a pedophile. Or – some creature?

“Little one,” the voice whispered.

I startled. A human then? Then again, could monsters speak english?

“Here, tsk tsk tsk,” the hand snapped its fingers.

“I said quiet!” bellowed the guard, banging again on the bars.

The hand grew limp and drew away through the bars. But the voice continued. “Little one, here, come.”

I crawled back some more, squishing my hands into the filth. The stench was terrible so I recoiled – but that drew me closer to the creature.

Huddling between the filth and the monster, I clutched my knees to my chest again.

Silence settled. I felt myself calm somewhat. The creature could not reach me –

“Little one,” it whispered. “Would you like to get out?”

A New World~ Lage’s Game: Chapter Eight Part One

By ‘home’, Lage had meant a hut, really. It was just a bulge of twigs and leaves among the snow and trees. I suppose he was trying to be nice, taking me to his home. There, he had said in the brisk walk over, he would make me a good hearty stew.

There was to be no stew.

Before the hut stood several figures. They were conspicuously not made of stone though they stood as still as it. They were alive, and that was to be trouble.

There was one woman, tall with onyx skin like pearls, bearing a white fur cloak and hood that draped to the ground. Beneath, I caught glimpses of a green dress and metal accents. She bore a staff that was sculpted and carved intricately. The way she held her head and stood gave off a sense of royalty.

To her left and right were guards in medieval tunics and cloaks, complete with shields and swords drawn.

Lage muttered something unintelligible under his breath as we stepped from the trees into the small clearing before the hut. Reaching out an arm, he drew me slightly behind himself.

“Lage,” said the woman with the white cloak. Her words were icy.

“Rebella,” said Lage cautiously, tilting his head downwards not so much respectfully as carefully. “What can I do for you?”

Rebella did not answer, her eyes flickering to me then back to Lage.

“There has been some trouble,” said Lage slowly.

Rebella’s lip curled. “As usual. The bonds ought to have been severed centuries ago.” With a nod to her guards she said “Kill the girl.”

“No!” exclaimed Lage, drawing his sword and punting me behind him with a swipe of the leg. I fell over, tumbling into the snow.

“You don’t want to do that!” Lage was saying as I scrambled back up to my feet behind him.

“Oh? I’m certain I do,”said Rebella with a sneer.

“I will tell the Queen, and you – you will suffer the consequences!” Lage barked.

Rebella sneered again, but seemed to reconsider. “Card collectors cause nothing but trouble,” she said to me “And they have no rights here.”

“Unless they are invited by a card bearer,” said Lage. “I invited her! She is a guest between worlds. You cannot deny that! Would you cause a war between worlds for your vanity?”

Rebella moved to the right, so gracefully I was entranced. Her eyes were fixed upon me in utter disdain. “There has been trouble that you know not of,” she said icily. “I think we ought to kill her.”

“Whatever trouble, I doubt it’s her fault! Don’t murder a child!”

There seemed to be a light behind Rebella’s eyes. “Her soul is hardly young.” But she gestured to her soldiers, who had drawn their swords. “Put your swords away.” To Lage she said “The Queen is ill.”

“The crown will not pass to you,” said Lage slowly, wary as he lifted his hand from his sword.

Rebella sneered. “I would not be here if I’d done the poisoning. No, rather,” she reached under her cloak and drew a pouch out from her belt. It was of soft brown leather, but held something clunky and pointed within. She waved it before herself. “Guess.”

Lage made a sort of shrug. “The Tael poisoned an arrow?”

Rebella laughed. “I would not want a card collector dead if so.” Ruefully, she drew the pouch open and drew out a black handgun. Lage gasped. A shudder went down my spine. ‘They’ were here. It had to be. Were they everywhere?

The gun was tossed to the ground between us. Lage jumped back and I flinched. “Be careful with that!” Lage muttered.

“The worlds have been crossed,” Rebella said angrily, glaring at Lage. “Murder has been attempted – on our Queen no less. War must be declared. A line is to be drawn between us, and them. Make your choice, Lage.”

I looked to Lage, then Rebella.

Lage heaved a breath that misted out between us. “They are after the child as well. They murdered her family. She,” he placed a hand on my shoulder. “Is one of us.”

“’Us’?” Rebella asked pointedly. “You think she can join? That I would permit that?”

Lage hesitated. “Her soul is old, like you said,” he started.

Rebella lifted her eyebrows in an angry question.

Lage looked down at me. More hesitation.

“Say it!” barked Rebella.

“She has an ancient soul, is all I’m saying,” said Lage in an obvious fib. A smile played on his face. “What more can I tell you? I think she would be an asset. To you. To this kingdom.”

Rebella’s gaze narrowed. “Who is she? The Fool? The Emperor? Tell me, and I might let her live.”

Lage rolled his eyes. “Not all old souls are known to you. Besides, I-” he hesitated again. Then, shaking his head, he continued. “She is but a child now.”

“I don’t care!” yelled Rebella. “If I want her dead she will be dead!”

Anger surged in me. A tingling came over me and I decided that Rebella, for all her grace and beauty, was my enemy. For all my admiration, I wanted to murder her.

Rebella’s eyes landed on me. “Do you sense that?” she asked. Lage nodded, looking down at me glumly.

“She is an ancient,” murmured Rebella in awe. Greedy awe. Stooping over, she peered even more at me. I wanted to punch her.

“Maybe an Annunaki,” suggested Lage playfully, and I felt he was gambling with something, or goading her on.

“Shut up!” Rebella snapped. “You wouldn’t know them if one punched you in the throat.”

Lage sighed and squeezed my shoulder. “As a matter of fact, I think I have been punched by one-”

“What part of shut up don’t you understand?” barked Rebella, straightening. With a nod, she ordered her guards. “Take the girl. I’ll keep her.” With a sneer to Lage she said “Mine now.”

Lage lifted his hands to his shoulder in a ‘not my problem’ gesture. Then, eyes widening, he stooped over me and, cupping a hand to hide his mouth, whispered in my ear “Don’t tell her you ate my card!”

The next instant, the guards were dragging me away from him. “What did you tell her?” Rebella was shouting, marching up to Lage.

Lage held up his hands to his shoulders. “Not to make you angry. That’s all.”

“You wish,” hissed Rebella before whirling around and marching away into the trees. The guards followed, hauling me along by the arms. I took one look back, and Lage waved miserably at me.

Photo by Ave Calvar Martinez on Pexels.com

Aggressive Self Care

Apparently it’s a term my psychiatrist had never heard before. Aggressive self care. But it’s what I’m trying to do, haha.

Lately, I’ve been trying so hard to take care of myself. If it was a technique, or a strategy, it would definitely be called aggressive. Proactive at the very least.

I’m trying to make myself actual food. No cake for lunch kind of deal. I’m trying to drink water. I’m trying to do the five daily prayers as a way to consciously take 5 minute breaks of zen. I’ve even been trying to limit my desserts and only take them when I self care.

So far, it’s been helping. I’m getting back on my feet. Im trying not to push myself too hard to write though, hence my not cranking out so many words lately. Im very sorry for anyone who’s looking for some of the Circlet story. I just cant seem to write it, and Lage’s story is just coming to me easier these days.

I have been working on my children’s activity book too, and am about halfway through it. It’s going to be huge (to me, haha)! Its going to be over 70 pages of activities and colorings to do! All pagan themed! I cant wait to see what you all think of it!

What else has been happening in my life? I’ve been coming to terms with some difficult things, family wise, as well as trying to spend time with my loved ones. Rough things are happening, but we will get through this. I’m really just trying to heal right now.

Also, I’m working on a special birdie project that means so much to me, but it’s a secret so far. At least I dont remember posting about it before, and dont plan to until its finished and I can finalize it. Knowing me itll take quite some time to get it done, but it’s in the works. Good things are coming, yall.

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone and anyone who has bought my books. I am very touched by all the sales I’ve made, and am considering celebrating them by offering signed books for a price. Would anyone be interested? Or some bookmarks?

I’ve been thinking of holding a contest for my birthday, where I could send out a book to one winner, bookmarks to the second, and something else to the last one. Would anyone be interested in it if it was a writing contest? Or just a “share the page and like” sort of contest? Give me your thoughts! I miss hearing from you all!

I hope you are all very well, and wish you all the best in these hard times ❤

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 One

Trigger Warning: Violence!!!

The next morning was the doctor. If I had listened to Kayla on the drive there, I would have realized we weren’t going to school.

Instead, we drew up to the hospital. It was squat, dirty cream colored, and essentially a glorified square. There was some attempts at grass and greenery, but it remained a cement cube in a city.

The doctor was somewhat like that. He was dusty, old, white, and seemed to just stare at me. I tried to tell him about the man in green. I tried to tell him about the board game. The words choked up in me and I didn’t know how to start. How to begin, how to let it out.

I found tears streaming down my face and I pulled a tissue from the box.

“I’m upset,” I managed to say.

I got excused from final exams. My marks would be tallied from those of my year. I left the office, threw my tissues into the garbage, and sat in the waiting room with my unicorn. Kayla had said to wait for her here. She was doing some phone calls and would be with me soon.

I looked up when the door opened. It was not Kayla.

“Hey,” said the big man that was recognizable even without the ski mask or suit. He was in plain clothes and had a chiseled face that spelled danger. “Let’s go.”

AS the door swung shut behind him, I saw several other men out there. They had come for me in force. All four of them, for one little girl? Cowards. What more did they want from me? I had probably already digested the card and rendered it useless.

I guessed then that they wanted my death. They wanted to punish me for destroying the card. To make an example of me of sorts.

Well. I rose to my feet without thinking. I glared this big man down. Coward.

To my right, across the waiting room, the secretary was busy with her official business, picking up the phone to dial someone. I took a deep breath.

“Come, on,” said the man in a dangerous intone.

I marched out the door, a cold sense of purpose coming over me. I wanted revenge. I wanted to slaughter, main, kill, so badly it felt like I would burst from it. It was like a rising tide, a super-sense coming over me and making me tingle all over, like a volcano about to blow.

Out of the door I walked into the other three men. One placed a hand on my shoulders and, as a group, they began walking me out of the building.

“Hey! Hey!” Kayla had not been far, was just down the hallway. I heard her cry from behind us. In a glance over my shoulder, I saw her begin to run towards us, phone in hand and eyes wide. I could hear her shoes clop-clopping, but the men were faster. The one who had me by the arm took off, darting forward. I was lifted up in his arms. My unicorn fell out of my grasp, tumbling away.

In a blurr I saw the ceiling, was pressed into the mans’ shirt- and saw the two other men stay behind.

Something snapped in me. They were going to hurt Kayla. Innocent, stupid Kayla. My rage boiled over.

I heard myself screaming, and began kicking. I kicked the man who was carrying me in the face. I bit his hand. He did not slow. The exit sign flashed above us, and we were darting down the stairs.

I thrashed, but was over his shoulder now. The second man was in tow, and now we were bursting out the stairs into fresh air.

In the sprint across the flimsy grass, I screamed for all I was worth. I thrashed, bit wildly and gouged my fingers into eyes. The man stumbled. I was thrown and landed in a tumble and scrape on the asphalt.

I was on my feet, the world reeling into sharp focus. There was the man before me clutching his bloody face, another marching towards me, and two more coming out of the building.

Then, to the left, observing, the man in the green cloak.

I drew my keys from my pocket and gripped them tight. I was going to take out eyes. I was burning with my success, was powerful in my rage.

“I’m going to make sure you can’t hurt anyone else!” I heard myself declare. In a rush my vigilante streak was coming out. I’d get them for what they had done to mother. I’d get them so bad.

The man in green was walking over, just slightly faster than the other men. “Get behind me,” I heard him say as he stepped between me and them.

I hissed between my teeth, jumping to the side just in time to see the men collide.

The first man threw a punch, and the green-cloaked intruder dodged, then punched the first in the gut.

I gaped as the henchman doubled over. I was unhurt. The figment of my imagination was… fighting? I stood there and watched as the medieval man threw punches and my kidnappers landed on the asphalt.

Then, he turned to the man who was clutching his face. Bloody and still covering his face with a hand, the wounded man tottered up.

I screamed. “Kill him!”

The green cloaked man did not. Instead he stood back as the wounded man tottered towards the car. He was going to get away!

With a yell, I lunged forward, keys in hand like a knife. The wounded man grabbed my wrist and threw me at the car. I slammed against the back door. Hands gripped at me, and I was yanked forward and back, jolted between the two men who wrestled for me.

“Let her go!” growled the medieval man, and the henchman gave up. With a shrug he threw me towards the other, and jumped into the car. With a rev of the motor, he backed up the car out of the parking spot. I was pulled back and away, turned into the folds of the green cloak. In the distance, I heard the car driving away.

I squirmed and was let go. Stepping back in a stumble, I looked up at my rescuer. He was frowning down at me.

“You’re real!” I declared.

He paused. My gaze jumped from him to the henchmen on the asphalt. Where were my keys? Right there, where the car had been. I grabbed them up and –

“What are you doing?” the man asked, grabbing my shoulder to stop me.

I wrestled myself free only to be grabbed again. “They’re unconscious!” he insisted. “Don’t attack them!”

I wrestled, but he held me back by the scruff of my collar. I was almost out of my jacket when I heard the wailing of a siren. Security!

Then, I fell forward so suddenly that I hit the ground on my hands and knees. I looked up – and the man in green had vanished.

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 Three, Part Two

That night, I slept in uncle’s living room, curled around my unicorn on the couch. They said it would just be for a few days, but I heard them saying to the cousins that they might have to bunk in the same room soon. But how long was ‘soon’? How long would it take before mom was officially ‘gone’?

I could not sleep. Thoughts of mother kept me awake, but not as much as they should have. I was selfish, worried not about her because she was already gone in my mind. She would be safe now, happily with father. No, I was waiting for when ‘they’ would come for me.

I would be ready. I had the card under my pillow now, and with it, my vengeance. I would destroy exactly what they wanted. What they were willing to commit murder for. I’d burn it before them.

It was only halfway through the night that it occurred to me that I didn’t have a lighter on hand. That bothered me. Would I rip the card then? Tear it into four pieces? Somehow that was less validating. Could the card be repaired? Could it still be sold, even in pieces? I wanted it to be utterly ruined. I wanted it burned, gone beyond repair.

The moonlight was drifting in through the living room’s curtains. It illuminated the coffee table, the TV on the wall ( a large one, way too expensive. They might take it with them when they came for me.).

It was my last sight before I drifted into sleep. An empty living room. It ought to have made me feel safe, but it didn’t.

When I dreamed, I dreamed of a presence so surely, so closely, that I knew it was there. I knew it was a man. I knew he was white. I caught sight of blond hair. An outstretched hand. A voice, whispering.

When I woke, the sunlight was streaming in and the air smelled of milk and cereal, the sound of bowls rattlign could be heard. The uncles and cousins were speaking in hushed tones in the kitchen.

I rose. Still in my pajamas, I walked into the kitchen with my unicorn. They all smiled at me, pitying. I sat down in the empty chair, set my unicorn on the table beside me, and ate.

I wanted to ask them who had been there during the night, but words escaped me. On one hand I ‘knew’ that no one should have been there, but on the other hand, I was certain I had felt someone. So I was not sure what to say, or how to say it. Then, it occurred to me that they might not know about the board game. That they too, like the police, might not know or believe that ‘they’ were coming for me.

The thought struck me cold. Here I was, bringing trouble to another family. Also, I had forgotten the card in the living room. How stupid of me. What if they came in now? They would find it and take it. And probably, uncle would try and defend me and get killed as well. Maybe the cousins too.

I stared at my half-finished bowl of cereal, feeling sick. I scrubbed at the tears rolling down my face, angry. I would have to leave. I would have to find them. Bring the card to them.

But no. That was my vigilante side speaking again. How would I realistically find them? I didn’t know where to search. I only knew that they struck at night, and that their maybe leader might be in the hospital right now. Or maybe dead? No. As much as I liked to think that mother had dealt a killing blow, it was highly unlikely.

So what now? I looked up from my bowl, and uncle was discreetly walking out of the kitchen. The cousins had vanished. Their mother was sitting beside me, rubbing my back. I wiped the tears from my face. I picked up my unicorn and hugged it, angry. So angry.

I did not go to school that day, instead lying on the couch, alone. Wanda, uncle’s wife, had insisted on staying home with me, but I’d glared at her and said “No. Go.”. And so she left, frowning, off to her job.

I waited for them to come for me. The card lay before me, face down on the coffee table. I was dressed in my almost-best, jeans and a button up shirt and a vest, waiting for them. I had searched for matches or a lighter, but hadn’t found any. The closest I could think of was turning on an oven element to burn it, but that wasn’t practical. They wouldn’t let me get that far.

So I sat and waited, my unicorn in my lap. It didn’t occur to me that they wouldn’t. It was only when Uncle came home from work that I realized the day had passed, and I had spent it staring at a card. It had only felt like an hour.

“Your aunt will be here this evening,” he said, trying to sound cheerful.

I didn’t like my aunt, but I supposed she was alright. She was just so – mayonnaise salad impersonated. Bland. Strange. A little fruity, if you were lucky.

The cousins arrived, loud at first then quiet when they saw me. I stared at them, realizing that somehow, their lives hadn’t changed. They were still happy, yet I was devastated. Their lives were intact, yet both my parents were gone.

I had nowhere to run to to hide and cry. No room with a door to slam. So I held my unicorn and decided not to cry.

My aunt arrived just after supper, looking wrung out and exhausted. She was wearing a tank top and jeans, her hair a curly blonde frizz. “Oh, dear!” she cried out as she saw me. She flung out her arms and crouched. I sat very still, not wanting a hug at all. I even put my unicorn on my lap.

She hesitated. Wanda cleared her throat and patted auntie on the shoulder. “It’s alright, she’s just, processing.”

Auntie looked doubly devastated. “Okay,” she said, straightening. To Wanda, she said “How is everything? I mean – I just, what happened? I can’t-”

“Here,” Wanda guided auntie (I think her name was Kayla) to the kitchen. As if on cue, probably on cue actually, Fred left his homework in the kitchen and came to turn on the TV for me.

So I sat there while the Lion King played, drowning out the sound of Kayla’s crying and Wanda’s telling her how it all happened.

I was starting to hate the Lion King too. In between dramatic music and character quips, I could hear Kayla saying “Another break-in? But why? What did they want?”

What they did want lay before me on the table, face down and inert. So stupid. So small.

Then, it occurred to me that if I hadn’t left the card out of the box, if I hadn’t taken the box to my room that night, none of this would have happened. They’d have come, taken the box, and maybe we wouldn’t have even known they were there. Maybe they’d have not even waken mom. Murder was against their usual tactics.

I had killed mom. My actions were the root of the chain of actions that had murdered her.

I sat there, very calm and cool as I thought this through. True, I could not have known. But as any lawyer knows, idiocy and ignorance is no excuse for a crime. I was at the root of it all. I had caused my mother’s death.

Had I caused Father’s too, I wondered. Had I left a door unlocked, said something about his collection to a friend too many, or done something small and seemingly insignificant that had tipped the robbers off?

No. I was not going to randomly punish myself. I was not going to wallow in self-flagellation in order to throw a pity party. I had murdered my mother, but I had not murdered Father. I had to be realistic, keep a grip on reality.

I propped my feet up beside the card, staring at that stupid printed diamond on its backing. Obviously, I was not legally to be held responsible. The law did not see the moral beginnings of things. A critical flaw, if you asked me. No, I was not afraid of people finding out, or of going to jail for this. I was morally responsible, but not legally. No one would think of blaming me, but I knew that I was to blame.

I came out of my thoughts when the TV was paused. Wanda and Kayla were standing there, eyeing me nervously.

I stared at them, waiting.

“Hey,” said Kayla. “I’m going to go see your mom. Would you like to come, sweetie?”

I shook my head.

“Are you sure?”

I nodded, wrapping my arms around my unicorn and staring back at the TV.

“Okay,” Kayla said quietly. Then she left. Wanda came to sit beside me. I wished she wouldn’t, but wishes aren’t fulfilled.

“Kayla was saying that you were going to a new school?” Wanda said gently.

I nodded, still staring at the TV screen. It was frozen, the characters mid-position. Just like I had been. Frozen.

“Do you?” Wanda was asking.

I startled, staring at her. She smiled feebly. “You’d still like to go to that new school?”

Oh. I nodded, knowing it was what mother had wanted. But I would not live that long. They were coming for me. But I might as well do the motions. It would make mom happy, wherever she was.

Wanda talked some more about how she and Kayla were going to be taking care of Mom’s affairs, but that it was mainly Kayla who was going to be doing it.

“If your mom doesn’t wake up, you could go live with her, until she does,” she offered.

My lip trembled. I gritted my jaw to stop it. I was not moving away. Mom had wanted me to go to that school, so I would. Shaking my head, I hugged my unicorn to my chest angrily. Besides, this was all until they arrived. Then, it was all over. They would kill me – probably. They murdered mom for not knowing where the card was. They would certainly kill me for destroying it before their eyes.

Wanda was asking me what I wanted to do when I noticed the darkness outside the window. It was time. They usually struck around now.

I rose to my feet, discreetly picking up the card and pocketing it. “I’m going for a walk,” I announced.

“Want some company?” Wanda asked with a smile.

“No,” I said sharply, taking my unicorn to the entry way where I put my shoes on. Then, with Wanda watching me with a frown from the couch, I left out the door.

Uncle and Wanda’s house was in a small roundabout of cozy looking houses with a green patch in the middle of it all where dogs probably peed to their hearts content. There was three benches. I took one, placing my unicorn beside me.

I knew Wanda was watching from her window, but my back was to her. Let her watch. Then there would be a witness to what they did, this time.

The moon was clear and bright, nearly round in its brightness. They would be here soon. I could feel it.

So I drew the card from my pocket, ready and waiting. I glared at the card, flipping it over so I saw the simili- ancient sculpture. Lage. Well Lage, it’s down to you and me.

I didn’t hear a car, but from the corner of my eye, I saw a man approach. Tall. Green in color.

I froze. They were here.

With a sigh, the man sat beside me. He was wrapped all in a green shape with long blond hair that swept his shoulders. And he just sat there.

I couldn’t move my eyes to see him. I was leaning forward on the bench, he was leanign back, just a fuzzy shape in the corner of my vision.

“Hey.”

I jumped, screaming.

“Whoah!” Uncle was standing before me, hands raised. “It’s just me!”

I spun to face the man, horrified that Uncle was here to get caught in it all – but there was no one on the bench beside me. Nothing.

Heart pounding in my throat, I turned to uncle. He was saying something about too late and time to go to bed. I looked again at the empty bench. Uncle took me and walked me back to the house. I kept staring back at the bench that was so empty.

It was when the door shut behind me and I was in their house that I realized my unicorn was missing. The man had taken it.

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 Two Part One

After the Lion King movie I retreat to my room, leaving the door slightly ajar. Like this, I am able to hear the reassuring tones of mother and the cousins talking around the kitchen island. I burrow under my blankets with my stuffie and stare at the walls. The light from my window played on the wall, the tree on the front lawn lending moving shapes to it.

I watch as the light slowly dims and dims some more. The shadows grow thicker and still the voices talk on. It’s a dangerous time now, the evening. That’s when it had happened, the evening.

I must have fallen asleep. When I wake, there are no more voices and everything is dark and still. My heart is pounding in my chest and I think that something is wrong. It didn’t even occur to me that it could not be happening again.

I hide in my bed, shaking. I hear no sounds. Was mother dead? I screw up my courage, and take my unicorn stuffie with me just to be sure.

I pad through the house. It is dark, but I know the way. I make my way across the kitchen, to the living room that is dimly lit by a single light. There, mother is sprawled on a couch, dead.

I freeze. No! Mother! But again, as with the man, I cannot move. It is only when mom snores that I realize that she is merely asleep. Oh.

Feeling a rush of relief, I look around. Nothing of our new setup is disturbed. The TV is still there. There has been no break-in this night.

I let out a sigh, dropping my stuffie to the end of my arm. Before mom, on the coffee table is a bottle of wine and one glass. But there is also the board game, spread around as if she’d been searching through it for something. I pad forward, wondering what she was searching for. The rule book? The reason behind the numbers on the cards?

I find myself beside the board game, just out of reach of my mother. She is somewhat alright. No wound on her that is fresh or bleeding. But even so, with the shadows her bruises look garish and her face distorted. I turn to focus on the board game, not wanting to think of mother’s bruises and how she got them.

The cards are spread across the board, fanned out carefully in three rows. There is the language cards, the people, and the items. At the top of it all sits the d20.

A thought strikes me. There was nothing left here of value except for this board game. Whoever came tonight, during the night, they would be coming for it. Maybe this game, maybe this was the real reason for the break-in. Maybe it was all about this game. After all, why was it hidden in a wall?

I scoop up the cards, piling them neatly back into their stacks. I place them back into the box with the dice. Then I fold up the board and place it all together in there snugly.

Determined, I take the board game back to my room with me and my stuffie. Burglars left children alone. They had left me alone, locked in my room. If they came back, they wouldn’t hurt me, that I knew. So I had to keep the board game with me, safe.

I tuck myself back into bed. I was hungry for supper, but it was too late and mother wasn’t about to wake up. I knew I could go into the fridge for a snack, but the sound of the door opening and its light might wake her. Besides, now that I was back in bed, the rest of the house was too large and vulnerable. I couldn’t leave the somewhat safety of my bed, not again. The burglars would be here soon.

I press the board game’s box against my chest, half tucked under my pillow. It would be safe with me.

For some time, I watch the shapes on the wall, the shadows of the tree from outside. I watch, and listen. Every breath shallow and too loud. I listen, and wait.

Then, a click of a door being unlocked.

I freeze. Did I hear what I thought I’d heard? Really? Were they back?

Another click, the door being softly shut. They were back.

My heart has stopped. Ice covers me. They’re here for the game, they’re here for it.

In a cold rush, I realized I’d made a mistake. They were never going to stop until they got what they wanted. They wanted the game, it was too precious to leave behind. They knew it was here.

I hear a muffled shriek. Mother. She’s whimpering.

“I don’t know where it is!” she cries out.

I had to think.

Whump. Thud. Mom is crying.

I sit up. Heart is pounding again, too loud. I had to give them the game. I had to save mother.

The box is in my lap. It’s the last thing from father.

Thud! The sound of mother hitting the floor.

The world turns black.

A muffled shriek bring me back to my senses. There are footsteps all over the house. Thuds all over of things being knocked over. The basement- they were in it. They would see the hole in the wall.

I step out of the bed, covered in ice. Determined, clutching the board game to me, I walk across my room. The floor is so cold against my feet. I push the door and it stops against something, someone.

“Stay in there, kid,” a man’s voice growls out.

I push on the door again. The door jerks open and a huge man is facing me. All in black, face covered in a ski mask. He laughs.

“The kids’ got it!” He reaches out. I clutch the game to my chest, taking a step back. “Give it here,” he says, chuckling. Another big man appears behind him.

Mother starts screaming.

I hand out the game. Just take it and go.

He takes it, his hands gloved in black too. He hands it to the other man, who nods. “Good kid,” the second man said while taking the game. Then they close the door to my room.

I come to with a light being flashed in my eyes. A blanket is on my shoulders. Police are everywhere. The lights are on, chasing away the dark. In the living room, I hear mother talking through sobs, her voice high-pitched. There are so many other voices, but I hear hers above them all.

The EMT is talking to me, patting my shoulders. I stare at him.

Then, blackness. They are shaking me gently when I come back to.

“We’re going to go to the hospital, okay?” the EMT is saying kindly. “We’re going to go.”

I turn to my bed. My unicorn. I couldn’t leave the house without it.

The Emt walks with me as I go to my bed and pick up my stuffie – and a card falls out from its grasp. It was probably lying on it, but in my head right then, it seems as if my unicorn had been holding the card, keeping it safe.

The card flutters down to my feet, but I recognize it. The only card with a black backing dotted with a diamond. The ridiculously overpowered card.

In the back of my head I think that the game is probably ruined without that card in it. I hope it is. No rule book, no trump card – I hoped it was now unplayable.

Leaving the card on the floor, I was turned away and taken to the hospital.