“Watch out for Pierre,” I said.
“Why?” asked Bonny.
I picked up a stick and threw it at the rotten rooster. He “BAKAWED!” and strutted off in the other direction.
“Because,” I explained, “he’s part fighting cock. You see those big, pointy things on the backs of his heels?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“He uses those to kill people.”
“He does not,” she said. “You’re just lying again.” She’s seven now and getting harder to scare or trick. I can still do it, though. I’m the big sister, five years older. She’s no match for me.
“I am not,” I said, keeping my cool. “If you made Pierre mad enough he would use those spurs to slash you open, right down your belly. Like a cassowary guts a kangaroo, intestines everywhere.”
“Dad wouldn’t have him around if he could do that,” she said, with confidence.
“Oh, yeah?” I asked. I scattered chicken feed down for the hens. “What do you think you know about Dad?”
“More’n you,” she said. “You said he used to be a spy, but I asked him and he said that’s not true.”
“Well, of course he denied it,” I said. “If anyone found out where we were, they’d track us down to this old farm and kill us all.” I looked around our nap-inducing surroundings. I hate this old place. Little snot-nose loves it, but then she doesn’t know any better. I sighed.
“We used to live in the city,” I said. “In a big apartment building. The coolest kids lived right next door.” I looked over yonder to the nearest neighbors, the farm where the dumb-bum Cannon kids lived. Bleah. I kicked at the nearest hen and pretended it was Bessie Cannon. Cow. “There was a zoo and museums and parks with rides and delivery pizza. It was awesome.”
“I don’t remember that,” she said.
“You weren’t born yet,” I said. It’s always good to remind her there was a time when she didn’t exist. “We had to here after you came along.”
“Why did we had to?” she asked. “Daddy said he wanted a farm.”
I sensed a chance to get creative. “Dad didn’t want this stupid farm. He just didn’t want you to get taken back to the factory.”
“Factory?” She narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “You said,” she challenged, “that we had to move here because we were in the wetness protection program, and that was a lie. Dad said!”
“That’s witness protection program, Dumbelina!” I snapped. She made my eyes roll so hard I thought they might stick that way. “I just told you that story to make you feel better, anyway. I didn’t want you to know the truth. That it was your fault.”
“What was my fault?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “I’d better not say. Dad would be upset if you knew.”
“Melina!” she whined, and I knew from her tone I had her on the hook. “You have to tell me now! You can’t say stuff like that and then not tell me!”
“Okay,” I said, giving her my best ‘if you insist’ attitude. “I’ll tell you. But you’re going to wish I hadn’t.”
I grabbed her arm and pulled her to the brush at the edge of our property. I plopped her down on the ground under the scraggly leaves and sat next to her, looking around theatrically for eavesdroppers.
“The day you were born” I began, “a fairy came to visit us.”
“A fairy?” she exclaimed, looking pleased.
“Oh, it wasn’t a good fairy,” I said. “It was a bad one, the worst kind. Like the bad fairy in Sleeping Beauty.”
Bonny’s eyes were huge. “Did she curse me?”
“No,” I said. “She told Mom and Dad that you came out all wrong. That you had to go back to the factory.”
“What factory?” Her brow furrowed, a pout sprouting from her bottom lip.
“I thought everyone knew that,” I said breezily. “The factory is where kids come from. Sometimes there are rejects, you know, bad ones. They get thrown out, usually. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they slip through, into the world. And when they do, they have to go back. Kids like you. Bad kids. Broken kids. The Incurably Rotten. ”
“That’s not true!” she said.
“Yes, it is,” I said. “You remember putting that cold oatmeal in my slippers last month? That was pretty bad.”
“I only did it,” she said, “’cause you put thumbtacks all over my bedroom floor, with the pointy things up!”
I smiled, thinking what a good one that had been. Her attempts at revenge, like the cold oatmeal, were always pretty lame.
“I told you,” I said, “that was the Office Supply Goblin, not me.” I shook my head at her stupidity. “The point is, you weren’t meant to be born. You were a reject. They told mom and dad you had to be taken back to the factory, immediately.”
“What for?” she asked.
“Sometimes they keep you around for slave labor,” I said, “but for the really hopeless cases the fairies strap you down, take out there sharp little tools, and cut you into pieces. Like chicken parts.” Her pout was beginning to quiver. “Then, once they have you all unassembled, they use your parts to make new kids. Better kids. Just think, you could have been part of a dozen good kids instead of one bad kid!”
Suddenly, I was inspired by a killer closer. Something that would get her out of my hair for the rest of the day, maybe the whole week. “Dad didn’t want to send you back, but Mom did, y’see. She believed the fairy. She’d already sensed how bad you were, having mother instincts and all. That’s why she didn’t come out here with us, to the middle of nowhere. That’s why we never see her anymore. All because we had to hide you from the fairies.” I sat back in triumph.
“I’m not bad!” she screamed, surprising me a little. Usually, she just cries and runs off.
“Oh, yeah, you are,” I said. She was making me mad now. “You know what I think? I think dad’s starting to believe the fairy, too. I think he’s ready to hand you over, little sister.”
She stood up, face going from red to purple. I thought the weeping and fleeing was about to commence, but she howled angrily instead. “I HATE YOU!” she yelled. “You’re so MEAN and I HATE you so MUCH!” She lurched toward the ground and I thought she was going to throw a tantrum. Instead, she scooped up two big old handfuls of leaves, sticks, and rocks and hurled them into my face as hard as she could.
Then she ran.
The shock wore off after a second. Then I saw red, actual red, like someone dumped food coloring into my eyes. I jumped up and didn’t even brush the sticks and crap off of me before I took off after her, the little brat.
She was running over the hill and toward the cornfield, away from the house. “Come back here!” I yelled. She could totally ditch me in there, plus if she got lost I’d be in serious trouble. She looked back once and dove into the corn.
The stalks waved and bobbed in her wake. I followed the movement. The sand-papery leaves scratched at my face and arms. I gritted my teeth and put on some more speed, even though I couldn’t see a darn thing. She’s gonna suffer for this, I thought.
The corn came to an end and I wasn’t ready for it. I fell through open air and landed face-down in the dirt. Spitting out rocks and wiping my face, I looked all around to see if I could spot the bane of my existence anywhere.
She was standing fifty feet away with her back to me. I was wondering why she’d stopped running for her life when I saw what she was looking at.
Two gigantic, super-fancy iron gates were sticking up out of the ground in the middle of the empty field, sitting there all lonely without a fence or anything. Nothing else for miles but brown dirt.
Bonny was staring at them, stock-still and motionless. I figured this was my chance. I jumped to my feet and charged at her like an angry bull.
She turned and saw me coming. She must’ve realized how mad I was because she went ghost white and her mouth opened in a little pink ‘O’ of terror. She turned and ran for the iron gates like a panicked squirrel.
There’s no way she can outrun me. I put all of my efforts into pumping my legs, sneakers pounding on the dirt. I almost had her just as we reached the towering gates. She ran between them and I followed, grabbing for the back of her tee shirt.
My fingers brushed her back when I felt a twisty, revolted feeling in my stomach. My ears buzzed and too-bright violet light flashed all around me. Next thing I knew I was throwing up on the ground, which wasn’t dirt field anymore. The dirt had turned into smooth concrete.
I wiped my mouth and looked up. My stomach gave another violent lurch. Right in front of me was a ginormous building. Pointed towers spiraled into the sky, green smoke curling out of their tops. Red mushrooms popped out all over its black brick walls.
I turned back and saw the gates were attached to a solid wall on this side, a tall wall that surrounded the building, the courtyard, and me. Through the gates I could still see the fields. The sun was still shining down out there, but in here a cold and greasy light settled on my skin. I shuddered. I wanted to go home. Now.
I spied Bonny standing over by the wall, looking dirty and scared, but still a little mad. She wiped snot away with her whole arm. Gross.
“Let’s get out of here,” I whisper-screamed. “I don’t think we should be in here.”
Her eyes widened and she pointed to something behind me. I spun around and felt my scalp freak out, hair jumping up like I’d stuck a pair of scissors into an electrical socket.
Little dark things with scaly wings were hovering in the air all around me. I saw myself reflected infinitely in their black doll’s eyes. Horrible smiled stretched across their weird little faces. One of them darted forward and snatched a clump of hair from my head. “Hey!” I yelled. I punched at it but missed.
The nasty thing flicked out a long, purple tongue and tasted the hair she had in her fist. It nodded in a satisfied way. Out from under her stiff little dress she pulled a handful of wickedness that looked like the knives that doctors use for surgery. She grinned.
In a voice like razor blades, she rasped, “Bad little girl. So, so bad.”
As if its words were a signal, I heard the sound of ten thousand tiny swords rushing from their scabbards as the rest of them whipped out their sharp little knives, too. My heart stuck in my throat and beat under my tongue. I tried not to puke again as I backed toward the gates.
“I’m not the bad one,” I said in my defense. I pointed to Bonny. “Over there, that’s the one you want! She’s horrible!”
One of the creatures swooped over to Bonny and repeated the hair trick, making the little brat squeak. It tasted her hair and then sputtered and spat, wiping its tongue. Pointing between the gates it said to Bonny, “GO.”
Bonny looked at me, then at the field of sunshine, then back at me. “I hate you,” she said quietly. “You’re so mean.” Then she took off through the gates, back into the real world, without one glance behind her.
I looked after her in disbelief. She left me, the hideous creep!
I bolted for the gates. Black ropes like licorice whips wrapped around me and pulled me to the ground, pinning my arms and legs. I struggled but I couldn’t move anything but my head and one pinky finger.
“Let me go!” I hollered. “Let me go, you ugly midget freaks!” I tried to bite the nearest one.
They all chuckled, a thick and burbling sound. They shook their heads at each other and smiled like bemused old aunties. “So bad,” they said. “So, so bad.”
They crawled around on me like spiders, tugging at the ropes and poking me with cold fingers. Once they were sure I was secure, they grabbed on to me and began to heave me toward the front of the building.
They ignored my threats and curses as they dragged me in through the factory doors. A hot, steaming, coppery smell filled my nose and I started to bawl like a baby.
“This is so unfair,” I choked as the doors slammed shut behind me, and the fairies began their work.