"Don't you believe a word they say," Sarah warned as she dropped her sister off at kindergarten. "They all lie, so just smile and pretend that you believe them or they'll send you away." Mallory looked up at Sarah with wide eyes. She did not want to go into the classroom. She wanted to go back home and climb under the covers and stay there all day. Tears started to well up in her eyes and her chin began to tremble.
"None of that!" hissed Sarah. "Don't show them you're weak or they'll eat you alive." She pushed Mallory into the classroom and blocked her entrance back out. Mallory took a deep breath and walked in. All the children turned to stare at her with solemn eyes. One little girl smiled and motioned her over. "Come sit by me," she said and patted the seat next to her. Mallory walked over on wooden legs and sat down.
"My name's Katie. What's yours?" the girl said.
"M-m-mallory," she stuttered out, her face turning a bright red.
"Mallory," Katie repeated. "What a nice name. You're going to like it here."
The lies had already begun.
Mallory sat in her chair swinging her legs back and forth nervously. The children around her would turn and stare, the corners of their lips rising to small smiles. But the smiles stopped there, never reaching their eyes. As the bell rang, the teacher entered the room. She made a bee-line for Mallory and stooped down next to her. "You're new," she said. "What is your name?"
"Her name is Mallory," piped Katie and patted Mallory's shoulder. "She's shy."
"Is that true? Are you shy?" asked the teacher. Mallory simply stared up, unable to speak.
"Well, no worries. We'll quickly beat that out of you." She murmured and stood up and went to the front of the class.
Mallory's jaw dropped. Did she hear her right? She looked at Katie who smiled and patted her again.
Mallory's day continued without any further incidents. Everyone seemed nice, especially Katie. When the bell rang to let them go home, Mallory let out a huge sigh of relief. She had made it through her first day.
Sarah was waiting for her by the flagpole as their mother had instructed. "How did it go?" she whispered looking furtively around.
"Okay," said Mallory. She didn't mention the threat of the beating. She wasn't sure if she heard the teacher right and didn't want to alarm Sarah.
That night as the girls drifted off to sleep in the big double bed they shared, Mallory felt a sharp pinch on the back of her right knee. "Ow!" she exclaimed before Sarah could cover her mouth.
"Shh!" warned Sarah. "I'm just preparing you for tomorrow. You can't cry out when they pinch you or you'll get in so much trouble." She pinched her again, much harder this time. Tears welled up in Mallory's eyes, but she didn't cry out. "Good girl," Sarah whispered.
The next morning, Mallory limped slightly as she came down the stairs for breakfast. She had a quarter sized bruise developing on the soft flesh behind her right knee where Sarah had pinched her. Her skirt was not long enough to cover it, but she hoped it was not that noticeable.
As she sat down to eat, she noticed Sarah looking at her intently. She knew better than to tell her mother. The only one she could trust was Sarah. Sarah had her best interests in mind. Sarah kept the monsters that lived in the basement from coming up at night and snaking their cold hands around her ankle and dragging her under the bed. That was much worse than pinching, much worse.
When she went to class that morning, she noticed that Katie was not there. Mallory was too afraid to ask where she was. The bell rang and the teacher came in, but did not call Katie's name during roll call.
At recess, Mallory walked up to another child and asked, "Do you know where Katie is?" The child looked at Mallory and said, "I think she had an accident and broke her head."
Mallory's eyes widened and she backed away. She went back to the classroom and sat down in the coat closet, pulling her knees up to her chest, trying to make herself as small as possible.
"Mallory... Mallory," the teacher called. She peered into the coat closet and took Mallory by the hand. "Honey, you need to come out now. It's time to start class." She gently pulled Mallory out of closet and led her back to her seat.
There was a strange girl sitting in Katie's seat. "Who are you?" Mallory asked. The girl turned to her and smiled.
"I'm Katie, silly. Don't you remember me?" she giggled and looked straight ahead at the teacher. Mallory looked at this girl incredulously. She was NOT Katie. Katie had curly brown hair and freckles. This girl was blonde with long straight hair. She looked around the room, but no one else seemed to notice any difference. She remembered Sarah's advice and kept quiet.
After school, Sarah was waiting for her by the flag pole. "Katie disappeared and there is another girl who is pretending to be her," she told her sister.
"Did you tell anyone?" Sarah asked. Mallory shook her head no. "Good." Sarah said. She looked around furtively and put her arm protectively around Mallory's shoulders. "Let's go."
As they walked home from school that day a car began to follow them. When they slowed down, it slowed down, when they began to run it sped up. Sarah grabbed Mallory forcefully by the upper arm and dragged her between the Jacobson's house and the Miller's house. They hid there for half an hour crouching behind the trash cans. Mallory's legs began to cramp up and she started to fidget. Sarah pinched her hard on the inside of her arm just above the elbow. "Shhh," she warned Mallory.
After a few more minutes, Sarah decided that it was okay to go. She and Mallory proceeded cautiously down the sidewalk. As they neared their house, the car appeared again. The passenger door swung open and a man dressed in a dark blue wool suit peered out. "Are you Mallory and Sarah?" he asked, pushing up his black horn rimmed glasses with his forefinger. Mallory stood frozen, her eyes wide with fear. She grabbed the edge of Sarah's skirt and held on, rubbing the fabric frantically between her thumb and forefinger.
Sarah looked at the man with a steely glare. "No," she said. "We're not. Now leave us alone!" The man smiled kindly and said, "Your mother sent me to pick you up. She needs you to come right away."
Sarah picked up her metal lunch pail and threw it with perfect aim through the open door. It hit the man squarely in the face, bouncing off the bridge of his nose and knocking off his glasses. The latch of the lunchbox broke open and the thermos, still half full of Campbell's Pea Soup, bounced off of the steering wheel.
"Run!" Sarah hissed at Mallory, whose legs were wobbling beneath her. Sarah grabbed Mallory by the arm and dragged her down the street, away from their haven, their house. She ran up to Mrs. Waverly's house, opened the door and ran in.
Mrs. Waverly's house was still, with the afternoon sun casting a soft light in the living room. The grandfather clock marked the minutes off in soft taps. "Hello," Sarah called out. "Mrs. Waverly? Is anyone home?" The girls heard a faint melody coming from one of the back bedrooms. They followed it, Sarah in the lead pulling Mallory along on shuffling feet.
They reached the end of the hallway where Sarah pushed open the door. Mrs. Waverly sat at a vanity brushing her long red hair. Each brush pulled her hair a little more askew. After a moment, Mallory realized that it was a wig. "Mrs. Waverly. It's Sarah and Mallory." Sarah called out quietly. Mrs. Waverly turned suddenly, sending the wig sailing out across the floor. A few wisps of gray hair framed her beaming face. Her makeup was in disarray, her crimson lipstick smeared, her false eyelashes half falling off.
"Well, hello, dearies!" she exclaimed. She reached around the vanity and pulled her dentures out of a cup and popped them in. She reached down and found her wig and struggled to get it on straight. Sarah walked over and gently straightened the wig for Mrs. Waverly. "How do I look?" asked the woman.
"Just beautiful," said Sarah. Mrs. Waverly smiled and patted her on the hand.
"Mrs. Waverly," Sarah began. "He's after us."
With those three simple words, Mrs. Waverly seemed to come into focus. She straightened up, her eyes narrowing on the two girls. She stood up on shaky legs and walked towards the closet. Sarah helped her move aside some boxes covered in rose patterned paper. Mallory looked on helplessly wondering what was going on. She was frightened yet small butterflies of excitement filled her stomach with the thought of adventure. Where would this closet lead them? Once the boxes were removed, Sarah pulled at a latch on the floor opening a small door. She turned to Mallory, "Come on," she commanded. Mallory stood frozen looking at the dark square on the floor not wanting to go. She turned as she heard a knock at Mrs. Waverly's front door.
"Now!" Sarah hissed. Mallory scurried forward tripping on the faded rug. She fell forward hitting her chin on the wooden floor. Tears welled in her eyes as her chin began to swell. Sarah grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her into the crawl space in the floor. What little available light disappeared as the door closed upon them with a whoosh. Mallory could hear the boxes being replaced and the continued knocking on the door. The sounds grew fainter as Mrs. Waverly closed the closet door.
Sarah put her arm around Mallory and whispered, "It'll be okay. Your eyes will adjust in a few minutes. Be quiet like a little mouse." It seemed like an eternity as the two girls waited. Mallory's eyes did adjust to the darkness after a few minutes. The space they were in was small and cramped. The could barely sit up straight.
Something in the corner of the space caught Mallory's attention. It looked familiar but she couldn't quite make it out. Sarah's attention was occupied with trying to listen to what was going on above. Mallory quietly moved her arm and reached out for the shape. Her fingers closed around something soft. She drew it closer so she could see it. It was a rag doll whose mouth had been sewn shut with thick black thread.
Startled, Mallory dropped it and the dust that rose up made her sneeze. Sarah turned and placed her hand over Mallory's nose and mouth blocking her air supply and stifling the sneeze. "Shhh," she hissed in Mallory's ear. Mallory's heart was beating so loudly she was sure it could be heard above. Sarah let her go and returned to her vigil.
After what seemed an eternity, they heard the closet door open and the boxes being moved. The afternoon light was blinding as Mrs. Waverly opened the door. "He's gone for now," she said. She noticed the doll at Mallory's feet and asked, "Would you like to take that home, dear?" Mallory didn't know what to say. The doll scared her, but she didn't want to be rude to the woman who had just saved them.
Sarah picked the doll up and gave it to Mallory. "What do you say?" she demanded.
"Thank you," Mallory whispered.
They climbed over Mrs. Waverly's back fence, walked through the Miller's back yard careful not to step in Mitzy's droppings and then climbed over the fence to their own back yard. They could see their mother on the yellow phone in the kitchen as they approached the back door. She turned as they came in, her brow furrowed with worry. "There they are. I'll have to call you back," she said to the person on the line. "Where have you been?" she demanded. "You should have been home 45 minutes ago. I was very worried."
Mallory hid behind Sarah and began chewing on the inside of her cheek. "We were visiting with Mrs. Waverly," Sarah began but stopped when she saw the man from the car come into the kitchen from the living room.
"Girls, this is Dr. Hughes. He'd like to talk to Sarah for a moment. Sarah please follow Dr. Hughes to the living room. I'll be right there." She took Mallory by the hand as Sarah was led away, eyes wide with fear but steely with resolve.
"What happened to your chin?" their mother asked as she noticed the swelling and the beginning of a small bruise. "I fell," Mallory said absently her mind on Sarah.
"Did Sarah do this to you, Mally?" her mother asked gently. "Honey, you have to be honest with me." She stooped down so she was at Mallory's height. She noticed the bruising on Mallory's arm and the large bruise behind her knee.
"She didn't mean it, she w-w-was trying to help me." Mallory stammered. "That man is going to hurt her, he's after us, he's going to make us disappear like K-k-atie." She ran into the other room as Sarah was fighting two nurses trying to restrain her. She was screaming and biting, doubling over and back again. Dr. Hughes was preparing a syringe to inject Sarah.
"No!" Mallory screamed and tried to stop them. Her mother pulled her off as Sarah went limp. Mallory cried uncontrollably as they carried Sarah away to a station wagon. "Where are you taking her?" she begged her mother.
"Sarah needs help," her mother explained as she held Mallory close. "She needs some time away to get that help where she can't hurt you anymore."
Dinner was strained that evening with the forced cheerfulness of her parents. Her mother made her favorite dish, macaroni and cheese. Mallory wasn't hungry and she picked at the yellow-orange glob listlessly. There were no reprimands this evening, no admonishments to finish her food or mention of the starving children in India.
Her father tucked her in that night and kissed her gently on the forehead. He seemed tense and sad, his jaw set, his lips all but disappearing in a tight line. His breath was warm and heavy with alcohol. He left a nightlight on and closed the door behind him.
Mallory lay awake in the big bed she shared with Sarah, her small legs tucked up underneath her away from the sides of the bed. She could hear her parents talking in the other room, their voices muffled by the closed door. Their voices rose as the discussion turned into an argument. She could hear her mother trying to explain why Sarah was sent away, why she didn't wait until her father got home from work. Mallory held her breath, tensing as the argument escalated.
She held the rag doll Mrs. Waverly gave her under the covers, fingering the stitched mouth. She had hidden it from her parents, knowing they would take it away from her. It once frightened her, but now it reminded her of Sarah. Maybe it could protect her in Sarah's place. She was so focused on her parents voices that she didn't notice the blanket being tugged from underneath. It was only when she felt a cool draft that she looked down.
A cold, hard hand snaked up and grabbed her ankle. Before she could scream she was pulled underneath the bed. She felt a hand on her mouth and soft breath on her cheek. "Shhh," she heard Sarah say. "It's me."
Mallory grabbed Sarah tightly and began to cry. "Where have you been?" she sobbed. Sarah held Mallory close and told her to be quiet. Mallory quieted down her sobs on command, a tiny sniffle escaping before she was still.
Sarah explained that she had escaped and was underground now. She would always be near to protect Mallory, but that she must keep it a secret. She was planning to rescue Mallory and they would run away to a sanctuary. Mallory didn't know what a sanctuary was, but she trusted Sarah completely. She knew she would have to be brave alone until Sarah came for her. From under the bed she could see a shadow approaching her door. She tensed and began to tremble.
"Up you go," Sarah instructed. "Close your eyes and pretend to be asleep. I'll be here all night." Mallory climbed back up under the covers and closed her eyes as the door opened. She could hear her mother approach the bed, sitting down on the edge. Her breathing was uneven as if she'd been crying. She smoothed Mallory's forehead and kissed her cheek.
"I did it for you, baby girl." she murmured and then walked out of the room.
(to be continued..)
updated: November 11, 2003