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Operation Hide and Seek pt. 5

The alarms went off at six thirty, the way they had every day for the past three years – and probably since the day Facility had opened its doors. Ryan groaned and rolled over, already regretting his decision to stay up late the night before. Maybe he could catch just a few seconds more…

“I would like to inform you that you are doing this to yourself Gigabyte,” Jeremy Tyler’s voice made its way to Ryan’s sleep-fogged brain a half-second before the blanket was unceremoniously yanked away. Ryan’s feet hit the floor almost before his brain registered what he was doing.

“I suppose I should thank you,” Ryan said as he shoved his legs into uniform pants.

“You should, but you won’t,” Jeremy answered. The dorm room was full of the muffled sounds of a dozen adolescent males waking up and rushing to the hallways. Ryan pulled his mask over his face – he was one of only half a dozen or so who ranked high enough to wear one – and joined the throng. Jeremy stayed close beside him, the breaker’s biceps and reputation providing protection for the much smaller and scrawnier Ryan. Jeremy was the strength to Ryan’s brains, and one of his few friends in this place.

“Anything of interest on the interwebs?” Jeremy asked quietly.

“Same old same old. Your parents bought a new car – 1968 Honda.” Ryan walked almost blindly, relying on Jeremy to guide him as he mentally flipped through zillions of bits of information coming at him through the wifi.

“I bet Dad was happy about that. Here, food.” Jeremy handed Ryan a tray of breakfast – waffles and fresh fruit – then guided his friend to a corner table in the gargantuan cafeteria.

“Don’t forget the assembly in an hour,” Jeremy said.

Ryan nodded. “Have fun punching things.” He waited till Jeremy had moved away before pulling out his datapad. He had an hour to cause chaos in the outside world. Ryan smiled as he logged into the message board for Operation Hide and Seek.

There once was a boss-man named Byte

who thought he was all goodness and light

but though he pled and cajoled,

I will not be told

that I should ignore my own plight

Byte had to laugh at the limerick that greeted him in his urgent mailbox. Sparrow was a good codename for the impetuous operative – she was constantly moving and could never suffer in silence. But somehow she still made a perfect undercover agent; her natural innocence perhaps.

Byte set up his spider to scan incoming traffic while he opened the rest of Sparrow’s message. She was lengthy, as usual:

“Day 329. My cover is holding, although next time can I please not try to play somebody so brainy? It feels like my grey matter has been stretched and folded and stretched again like taffy in my effort to sound like I know anything at all about latent inferiority complexes, narcissism, or sociopathology. I languish inside these sepulchuric walls like Antigone, buried alive amongst whitewashed corpses. Give but the word and I shall open fire on these bastions of manners and culture so a to make the corpses blush with color before returning to the earth from whence they came and from whence they refuse to acknowledge they have come.

“Seriously, everything is white here, and I’d almost welcome a bit of bloodshed. Can I sneak off for a weekend and run a breaker across the border? I want to feel the dirt again, instead of this concrete tomb. This is where dreams come to die – you can almost see the shattered remains glittering in the stone. And the Dreamers. Shuffling corpses, gazing blankly ahead, lost from the world, trapped inside an imagination not their own. They do mechanical labor, anything that requires mostly muscle memory. How can someone choose to live like that? With a pasted on smile because the dream is so wonderfully shallow.

“The tigress will die in here if you don’t get her out soon. The sparrow will suffocate in here if you don’t get me out soon. Inferno est!

“Sparrow.”

Byte wrote back a three word answer: “He’s coming soon.” That dealt with, he spent the next 45 minutes putting out fires in half a dozen other locations around the country – fudging a transmission here, warning a sleeper there – in other words, a day in the life.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 4

Drey pulled into the back lot of Kitty’s Coffee and powered down the Pursuer. Friday night, the place was packed. Not the public place, of course. That would be foolish – nothing broke up a party like the authorities. The basement though, where things were a little more hidden and a lot more relaxed, was where the action happened. Drey palmed in her biometrics and entered the Breaker underground.

A blast of smell, sound, and light greeted Drey as she entered. Drey maneuvered through the converted storeroom and the crowd, toward a table in the back where a lively card game was going on. She hooked an empty chair with her foot and swung it around to join the table.

“Deal me in Jack, double or nothing,” she said. The dealer gathered his cards quickly out of her reach.

“No deal Drey, You cheat too easy,” Jack said. Drey smirked, grabbed four cards from the top of the deck, and flipped them over to reveal four aces.

“You just make a rotten dealer.” She tossed the cards back at him and they landed as a king, two fours, and a seven.

“I didn’t think you were still in town,” Tommy, sitting across the table, said.

“I got a steady job now, bring in what I can for the cause,” Drey replied.

“Yeah, and we spend it all on booze,” Kirsten said as she drained a bottle of Coors Light. Drey shook her head, smirking.

“And to think – an outstanding citizen such as myself supporting a bunch of lowlife money grabbers.”

“Speaking of which, you owe me two hundred Tommy,” Jack said. Tommy grimaced as he dug a handful of cash from his pocket.  The card game started back up, people making bids and bluffing money nobody really had. Kirsten tossed her losing hand down on the table with finality.

“I still suck at cards. By the way Drey, Danny’s sick, and we could use a gunner on mission tomorrow if you’re missing action,” Kirsten said.

“You know me, I’m not much of a team player,” Drey answered.

“Me and the boys aren’t much of a team.” Kirsten popped the top off of another beer. Drey laughed as she reached for the neon blue electric guitar which was leaning against the wall.

“If this is another attempt to get me laid, no. Out of curiosity though, where are you headed?”

“Out towards Boulder. Byte has us running a mark down to San Antonio,” Kirsten answered.

Drey nodded absently, busy tuning her guitar. It was always a little sour on the e. She strummed a couple of cords, adjusting the volume and distortion on her amp.

“Play Freebird!” A random voice from the other side of the road called. She probably knew him, but didn’t feel like coming up with a name.

“Kirsten, are you going to play or not? I was beating you,” Tommy said.

Kirsten turned back to the game. “Deal us Jack, I need to teach the pup a lesson.”

“I’ll run interference if you need it Kirs, but I’m not leaving the state,” Drey said. She started strumming, playing with the distortion because she could. She played a couple of scales, then launched into a full-blown rendition of her own take on the cover of an old eighties song.

In a different time she might have sung, making up words to fit the notes that flowed from her fingers, but not tonight. Instead Drey played, taking requests when she knew the song, playing to someone’s voice when she had a singer. It was fun, especially when people started to feel generous and left money in her jar.

Eventually the night grew stale. People wandered off, left singly or in groups through the secret ways, people with something to hide and everything to lose if the wrong people saw them at the wrong time. Drey eventually hung up her guitar. When she turned around Blaze Hopkins was waiting.

“I thought you swore never to come back,” Drey told him.

“Byte sent me. It’s about Meg,” Blaze said. His hands were in his coat pockets as usual, his stance was keyed up, the way it always was, his voice caught when he said “Meg,” the way it had ever since everything had fallen apart.

“Meet me outside.” Drey turned back to the guitar to hide how much her hands were shaking.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 3

Ryan fired one last shot and the mother ship exploded into pixelated wreckage. He smiled. Somehow that was still ridiculously satisfying. Meg used to get so annoyed by the old eight-bit style, but there was something about the blatant unreality of it. In a world where the lines blurred, eight-bit seemed like one of the few honest programs left. Still, they’d had some violent arguments about it – each twin dedicated to their own views. Meg, always dedicated to making things better. Himself, wondering if they’d already reached the best at some point in the past and foolishly lost it. The world was spinning out of control, a repeat of history – of a history where the only end had ever been blood. Right and wrong… maybe Meg was right, maybe it would be better just to let Management have final control. Maybe utopia was worth everything Management and Facility had done. Were doing.

Ryan sat back and attempted to rub the thought out of his head. He knew better. Maybe. Utopia always ended badly in the books, but maybe Hobbes was right and peace was better than liberty. Maybe real life was different from the books, maybe people really didn’t care about freedom, not really. Management did provide safety – freedom from war, crime, hunger, illness… did he have a right to destroy all that like some toddler knocking down a block tower?

“Dear God.” Ryan powered off the computer. The room was thrust into pitch black. Light wouldn’t come on till six thirty am. The start of another day in hell. “Dear God, why can’t things be simple?” Like the thousand times he’d prayed that line before, there was no answer.

 

It was late when Megan finally left the lab – probably close to 1 AM. And in the end she only left because she ran out of coffee and was having trouble keeping her mind focused. She half ran the two blocks to the staff apartment complex, her coat wrapped tight around her against the cold. The apartment wasn’t much better – her roommate must be half polar bear. The psych expert was sprawled across the couch, a blanket mostly sliding on the floor. Megan dumped her coat, kicked off her shoes, flipped on the light in the kitchen and searched the fridge in the vain hope that there was something edible inside. Only two half-empty bottles of beer and a week-old takeout carton filled with something unidentifiable. Megan chugged one of the beer bottles simply to keep Dr. Becky Summers PHD from it and headed for the bathroom.

“You’re late again,” Becky said. Meg glanced in the mirror to see Becky sitting up on the couch, blanket wrapped around her, staring bleary-eyed. “You keep doing this I’ll have to send in a report.”

“I’ll be useless on drugs and Management knows it.” Megan leaned toward the mirror to ensure that each tooth was brushed with the greatest care.

“Well if you’d talk to me maybe we could work out your latent inferiority complex.”

“I’m tired. I am going to bed. Good night.” Megan shoved her way out of the bathroom. Becky attempted to follow her into the bedroom, but Megan slammed the door and locked it.

“Latent inferiority complex my foot,” Megan mumbled under her breath as she dug through her hamper for something vaguely clean. She knew exactly what was wrong with her, and there was no way she’d ever tell some stuck-up half-drunk so-called expert. No, the problem was Ryan – nobody else could get under her skin like her twin brother could. Why did he have to be the special one? The one with a power she’d practically kill for? He could do this crazy cyber-space manipulation thing, and all she had was a brain that wouldn’t shut up. She couldn’t keep up with people like him. She had tried the whole “I’m practically Batman, I don’t need superpowers” thing, and it had nearly gotten her friends killed. Friends who were infinitely more powerful than she was. No, this chance to do science at a real lab, where her ideas could actually be recognized, was much better.

Megan flopped into bed and stared at the pills that lay on her bedside table. They’d put her out for at least eight hours, which put her at… 10am wake up time.

“Its the weekend.” Meg downed the sleeping pills and flopped back under her covers.

Operation Hide and Seek pt. 2

Drey ran her finger across the edge of the last crease and flipped over the tiny origami crane. Yes, the drive through was that slow today – reduced to folding up unwanted receipts to keep from losing what little sanity she had left. The kid’s meal bags were already folded, stuffed with cheap plastic toys and stacked floor to ceiling. The dishes were all washed, the floor had been mopped twice, the walls were even scrubbed. Drey blew her hair out of her face and watched the electric blue highlight hit the brim of her visor in the dark order screen. Only ten more minutes left of shift. Then… freedom. For another night.

Bing. Drey turned on her mike.

“Welcome to Burger Bell, what can I get for you tonight?” she asked, working hard to keep her voice cheerful.

“Yeah, thanks, I’ll have, uh…” Drey waited while the nameless, faceless customer placed their order, waited while they drove up to her window, took their money, and sent them on their merry way. The customer was gone when Steve, her manager, came to clean out Drey’s cash drawer.

“Got any plans for the weekend?” Steve asked. He punched in his code and the drawer slid open.

“Nah. Maybe watch a movie, nothing exciting,” Drey answered. She took off her headset and reached around Steve to punch out. “See you Monday.”

“Night Drey,” Steve answered. He gave a wave as Drey headed to the crew room. She spun in her locker combination and pulled out a padded blue motorcycle helmet. She paused a moment to wipe a squished bug off of the painted blue morpho butterfly.

They’d been three – Sparrow, Tigress, and Butterfly. Now she was the only one left – Sparrow with another team, Tigress gone. The last one, with a price on her head too big to ignore, a magnet for any bounty hunter’s bullet. What on earth was she still doing out here? She smiled. The adrenaline was still too much of a pull. She’d always been a fool.

Drey tucked the helmet under her arm and headed outside. The pursuer was in the back lot, behind the building and half hidden in the shadows. Drey swiped her hand over the console and the machine purred to life. A magnificent machine, Meg’s baby, abandoned when she’d bailed. Drey had inherited it, and it was the one thing she still kept kept from their time together. Drey straddled the thousand horsepower engine and took off into the night, whooping with the joy of being young and alive and free.

Operation Hide and Seek

Megan Cooper slid down the wall till her forehead could rest against her knees. This was one of the few unwatched corners of the lab, and thus her only privacy. Three years – God, had it only been three years? – and she had a sense for where cameras would be, she knew where to look for the tell-tale gleams, and she could map out in her mind’s eye every single blind spot. It was a skill she didn’t need anymore, except to fulfill the longing for privacy. Most of her life she’d shared everything with someone – Ryan first, later Sonia and Drey – but now that she was alone, she wanted desperately to BE alone.

Megan hugged her knees to her chest, adjusting the white lab coat to get it out of her way. Hair escaped from her ponytail, her bangs flopped forward over her face. She couldn’t remember what color her hair was now, she didn’t want to look. It didn’t matter anymore, her face didn’t show up on watch lists anymore. She knew, she’d checked. Management had been as good as their word. She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes, images of steel at the molecular level dancing behind her lids. There had to be an answer, there always was. Something that could stand up to the stress of flight and still be light enough to efficiently scale up bird wings. The answer was there, floating deep in her subconscious, she could feel it.

Megan’s pocket buzzed gently. She barely moved. She knew who it was – only one person could have tracked down the number and disabled her firewalls. Maybe if she ignored him he’d give up. Yeah right. She’d been ignoring him for a week now, changed the number twice, and rebooted her firewall three times. She really should just get rid of the phone – all her files would transfer easy enough – but she couldn’t seem to let go of that part of her life yet. Megan fished the bulky customized iphone out of her pocket and slid her finger across the screen.

“It’s about time you answered your phone,” Megan’s twin brother Ryan said. A blue holographic computer materialized above the iphone’s screen. Megan smiled. It had been too long.

“It’s hard to stay in touch once you’ve gone dark,” Megan answered. She checked the hallway to make sure she was still alone.

“I already have control of the security systems, we’re safe,” Ryan said.

“It’s supposed to be a closed system, how’d you get in?” Megan shifted to sit on her heels and brushed her hair out of her face again.

“Closed systems don’t exist when you’re using wifi. Least not for me.” The holographic computer flexed spaghetti noodle arms that suddenly popped into existence.

“Forgive me oh mighty internet god, some of us are stuck doing things the long way round.”

“We miss you out here Tigress. Please come back.” The hologram folded its hands and made cartoon puppy-dog eyes.

“I don’t want to talk about it Byte,” Megan brushed her hair back and sighed. “Besides, I went dark for a reason. I fit here.”

“Fine Tigress, be Management’s lapdog. I thought it would take more than six months for my sister to be eating out of their hands though,” Ryan said.

“Not going to work Ryan. Anything you can say I’ve already thought of. Just leave it.”

“Fine. Can I at least send you some problems to work through from time to time? I’m swamped.”

“You realize where I am, don’t you? Too much illegal activity and I’ll be forced to run again. And I’m not sure I want to. It’s a decent life Ryan,” Megan said.

“You’re bored. You miss the adrenaline Meg Ryder,” Ryan said.

“Meg Ryder is dead. Listen Ryan, I gotta go before they start looking. Talk to you later.” Megan hung up before her twin could convince her otherwise. Much as she hated to admit it, Ryan was stronger than she was. Deep in enemy territory, his life hanging in the balance with every move he made, seeing people die daily – having to dispose of the bodies even. Herself? Megan had spent three years running circles around incompetent fools. When the game had changed, when it had started to get dangerous, she’d bailed. Meg Ryder had turned back into Megan Cooper. Management had offered her protection, on the condition that she work for them. That they be able to use and abuse her genius. That she remain dead to her family. She couldn’t go back – she’d burned that bridge the day she’d forged her own death certificate three years ago. No, there was nothing left for her out there, not when her lack of power only made her a liability to any team she was on. Meg stuffed her phone back in her pocket and started back down the hall to work.

Sky By Storm

So until I actually finish something – which might be soon – character concepts and random scenes are most of what I’ll be putting up. 

C.Angelina

Meg raced after the retreating jeep, claws digging into the soft red stone, dodging gunfire. She could see Drey hanging out the back, shouting. Meg pinned her ears back and dug deeper into the ground. A rock column toppled to the ground mere inches from Meg’s tail. She was really starting to hate Telekinesis. With a vengeance.

The jeep bounced around a stone pillar. Meg bounded up the same pillar, leaping for the back of the jeep. The pillar shifted at the last second, Meg twisted around, barely managing to dig her claws into the spare tire on the back. Drey grabbed her paws. Meg shed close to two hundred pounds of dirt as Drey changed her from tiger to girl. She scrambled inside the jeep just as a Tyler shot clipped the back fender.

“Get this show on the road Ty. Drey, change it as soon as we get to the interstate.” Meg ducked behind the spare tire to avoid another hail of gunfire. Tyler slammed on the gas. Within moments, they were finally out of range. After that, it was only a few minutes to the interstate, where Drey morphed the jeep into a Cadillac.

Meg put her head back against the headrest. “That was way too close.”

“Slider’s getting smarter. This calls for a total makeover,” Drey said.

“Sorry morpher, but you’re not coming anywhere near me,” Tyler said.

“If you had actually been watching our backs, instead of trading insults with bendy back there, this wouldn’t be necessary speed,” Drey snapped.

“You need hair dye anyway Drey. Ty, you’re sure you took out their truck?” Meg asked.

“I’m not totally useless. Just tell me this makeover involves a new name,” Tyler said,

“I told you, either tell us your true name, or come up with something yourself.” Meg closed her eyes. Maybe they’d be able to sleep in real beds tonight, if Slider was as stuck as Tyler seemed to think.

“Ryan. Ryan’s a good name,” Tyler said.

“You really want a Drey and a Ray?” Meg asked.

“Spoilsport,” Tyler mumbled.

Meg glanced over at Drey. “Hair only. Slider will be expecting a full body change.”

“Tonight. You’re lighter than last time we did the tiger, took too much out of me,” Drey answered. Meg nodded.

Meg drifted in and out of sleep through the rest of the day.  Drey and Tyler switched off driving. It was around midnight when Drey pulled into the parking lot of a dingy motel just off the highway. Meg dragged herself out of the car.

“I’ll get the room if you guys do a sweep,” Meg said.

“Already did. The place isn’t great, but there’s no goons and real beds,” Tyler said.

“Great.” Meg stumbled inside and up to the check-in counter. Ten minutes and fifty dollars later, she collapsed on a bed, kicking off her worn sneakers. Drey disappeared into the bathroom with a bottle of hair dye she must have stopped for while Meg had been sleeping, and Tyler plopped on the couch in front of the TV.

Flight of the Valkyries started emanating from Meg’s pocket. Byte. Wonderful. Meg pulled her cell phone out and flipped it open.

“I am not moving till ten tomorrow,” she answered.

“I’ve got an escaped bender in the capitol. I need an immediate extraction,” Byte said.

Meg sat up. “Two things. What’s a bender, and why on earth did you orchestrate an escape when we aren’t supposed to be down that way for another two months?”

“A bender is what you’d call ‘exceptionally gifted.’ In between normal and the breakers. Excuse me, supers. And I didn’t have a choice about the timing; I couldn’t only keep her drugged for six weeks without damaging her brain function. Look on the bright side, she’s listed as dead.”

“Byte, you never interfere in a death.” Meg twisted a strand of hair around her finger, weighing their options.

“She deserves a chance, Ok? So, am I moving your concert date up or not?” Byte asked.

“One week. The last thing we need right now is to be caught between Slider and Facility. The usual rules apply, twenty four hours plus concert time. If we don’t find her then, she’s on her own, I don’t care how attached you are.”

“Fine. When you get to the capitol, contact Officer David. He’s like you, a sympathizer.”

“You mean normal, I get it. Warn us if Slider makes a move, kay?”

“I can’t guarantee my intel on him will be accurate.”

“Make it accurate.” Meg hung up. Wonderful. Just wonderful. She pushed herself up and went to go lean against the open bathroom door. Drey had her head over the sink and was rubbing dye into her hair.

“Bleached blond? Don’t you think that’s overdoing it a bit?” Meg asked.

“It was on sale. So what did the geek want?” Drey asked.

“You think the police force in the capitol still remembers us?”

Drey straightened up, her half-colored hair hanging over her face. “No. No way. I would rather live, thank you.”

“Byte’s already kept this girl asleep for six weeks. If we don’t do it, he’s going to get amateurs in.”

“And they’ll get caught, and tortured, and give up all our secrets. Why on earth did we decide to put ourselves on the network?” Drey bent back over the sink.

“Because it sounded like a good idea at the time. So it’s a go?”

“Not like we have a choice. Get some sleep, you’re driving first shift.”

“Fine. Don’t stay up too late.”

“Alright mother.”

“You’re lucky I don’t make you eat your salad. Good night.” Meg pushed off the wall and stumbled to the bed. Tyler was still enraptured by the TV. He said all his TV watching was to catch up on his cultural literacy, but Meg suspected that it was mostly one of the few things that catered to his short attention span.

Meg slipped under the covers. She could feel just about every spring in the bed, but it was a hell of a lot better than the back seat of the car and a ton safer than an alley. She closed her eyes.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Chapter 1

It was a bright sunshiny day, and Mary Ann could not be happier. Today she was getting married. Oh, not just married, but united in the sacrament with the man she most adored and loved. James Bartle was tall, elegant, suave, and so deeply romantic. Whenever she looked into his blue eyes- blue like the ocean during a storm- she felt her heart flutter. Then he usually kissed her.

Mary Ann was a sweet, delicate young maid of a not so well-to-do family with no harshness in her, while her new-wedded husband came from a very wealthy and respectable family- but had been disowned for his little bride. This made Mary Ann adore him ever so much more. So they were married.   And so they lived happily until their small store of funds was depleted- which was quite soon. James was a heavy drinker and a gambler. Before the marriage, he had hidden these from Mary Ann, and when she learned of them, she was quite distressed. They were forced to leave the elegant city house, and settle in a small country cottage. MaryAnn was charmed- more romantic, she thought. But James was furious at losing his easy access to his diabolic habits. That first night in the country, he beat Mary Ann. Just to teach her, he said. But he never said what he was trying to teach her.

Soon a child was to be born. Mary Ann was overjoyed, but James seemed indifferent. She had the child with only the midwife for company on a dark stormy day. The thunder was violently loud, drowning out the screams of the poor woman in labor. When the lightning flashed, the room erupted with sights of pain; but within an instance, darkness flowed in. A short time later, the candle’s minute flame danced into sight, spreading its soft glow until all was visible again. It was near three in the afternoon that the child entered the world. Mary Ann held the darling infant in her arms- her first pure joy since her marriage day.

Then James came home. He was drunk. Very afraid, Mary Ann told him about his newborn little girl. He grunted, and sat down near the vacant fireplace. Mary Ann wondered how she was going to ask him what she wanted to ask. Her heart was fluttering. “James, my darling,” she quavered, “Is there any particular name you prefer? I rather like Anastasia. But-”

“Nastasia! Woman, you out a mind?! Giv’n such rid-clus names… hmm… Stasia… Mightn’t be so bad aft-all… Alright. Stasia, Stansia, Stalata… what you said.”

So Anastasia it was. Not long after her, Jemima came along, followed by Thomas. The two latter both had black hair like their mother and blue eyes like their father. But Anastasia was different. Her hair was brown like strong coffee or tea and her eyes… how to describe such intense peepholes into the soul? Near the pupil there was a golden brown which slowly mutated into a pale green, so that to look directly into her eyes one was given a haunting glimpse. And whereas her two siblings had impeccable complexions, Anastasia had not. One side of her face seemed to have been attached wrong, for her left eye was slightly too large and her lower jaw on the same side was more pronounced. But she was pretty still, although with a beauty not pristine like her younger sister, and for this she was neglected and considered less dear by her father.

Growing up was difficult too. Thomas and Jemima would not let her play with them; and if they did, it was only to make fun of or humiliate her. In schooling, she was slower than her younger siblings- at least so she was told. Really, Anastasia was adept at understanding literature, and with a little more help she would have excelled in the sciences too, for she was a deep thinker and natural philosopher. But her little brother and sister soon passed her, due to their more pampered education by their mother. It is not that Mary Ann favored the other two over her eldest, it is just that James did so much enjoy them that too neglect them in any way might mean her own punishment.

Needless to say, James was a horrible father. If he brought any bonbon or trinket home, there was never one for Anastasia, or if there was, it was the poorest and smallest. Each night when he returned from the tavern after work, he would ask the three children if their mother had done anything out of line. Jemima and Thomas were always ready to give information, hoping for a bonbon as reward. Thus, they were wild children, and James knew there was nothing Mary Ann could do to stop them or the beating that night. Once Anastasia had tried to say something only thinking of the sweet, but instead she had been spanked and told to mind her place. In dazed confusion, although without tears, she had looked at Mary Ann, who had tears in her eyes. It was obvious her maternal heart was breaking.

Once, late at night, when Anastasia was about eight, she had wakened thirsty. As she had been going down the stairs, father had come home with a strange lady. They were both drunk. She didn’t understand what it meant, but she knew mother was very upset. Mary Ann just sat down and cried. Then James had hit her and told her to, “Stop bawlin’ over nutin.” Neither parent had seen her, so she crept back up the stairs to bed. But she did not sleep. She had kept thinking what it must have meant, wondering why mother had cried, and why father had hit her; she decided that mother was sad because father didn’t love her any more, and father had hit her because she was crying. Well, Anastasia would never cry, not if it meant a beating. And she would never love if it meant that someday she would not be loved.

                Then, one dreary day, near Anastasia’s twelfth birthday, a little after noon, father had come home very drunk and irate, more so than usual. Jemima and Thomas slipped upstairs; Anastasia had dashed behind the settee. All she could see was his mudded boots framed in the grey sky and verdure of outside through the open door.

“Mary Ann! Come here, gaddam you!” Although she couldn’t see, Anastasia was certain his face turned purple. “Woman, get in here!”

Luckily, Mary Ann was out buying groceries, and thus avoided his deathly wrath. But this did not cease the inappropriate names and angered bellowing of James. He stood in the middle of the living room howling as loud as he could. Then suddenly, he stopped. He coughed a little. Moaning, he sank to his knees; then, fell on his face. With glassed over eyes he stared into Anastasia’s eyes. The poor child gave a terrified shriek and bolted towards the door. She ran as far and as fast as she could, unaware of where she was going. The light drizzle of rain dampened her hair and dress, adding weight to her frantic flight. Then, she tripped and fell, tearing her skirt and bruising her hands. Looking up, exhausted and breathless, she recognized the little country church were each Sunday her mother took her to pray. Beginning to sob, Anastasia clambered up the three stone steps on her knees. She tugged on the handle, but it was locked. So she curled up on the stoop, wet and terrified.

Yet somehow she felt safe. She was not certain how to address God, but she knew He was there and somehow looking over her. Thoughts of her last visit to this simple building came to mind: how Rev. Doubleday had taught of God’s mercy and grace, how the sweet melodies had seemed to her to dance with the stone walls as in a ballroom, how she had not wanted to leave. It was her haven of peace then as it was now. Or was God really her protection? Oh, it didn’t matter. She was safe, and so sleepy…

That was all she remembered until a hand shook her awake. She awoke in an awful fright, thinking it was father coming after her. She scrambled to her feet and began to flee down the lane, when a voice called after her, “Child! Child, there’s nothing to fear!” Uncertain, she stopped. She could see the man who had called, but did not recognize him because of the strange light of dusk. However, his voice was kind and gentle. Then he knelt in the muddy road, saying, “Please, my dear little one, please don’t go away. I’m Rev. Doubleday.”

Sobbing once again, the poor distraught girl ran to him and hugged him. He let her cry as long as she had tears to shed- which was a good deal. Every now and again, he would gently tap her shoulder and whisper, “It’s alright. Give it to God your Father.” Eventually, Anastasia’s wail became a stifled sniffling. “Alright then, let’s go inside and dry you off. How does a spot of tea and a bite of crumpet sound to you? Good, eh?” And he smiled down at her. Then taking her hand, they walked toward the rectory.

Inside, the young and newly wedded Mrs. Doubleday had Anastasia change into one of her dresses saved from her own childhood and hopefully destined someday for one of her daughters. Then, in front of the roaring fire with the lightning and thunder safely shut outside, the Doubledays entertained little Anastasia with funny stories from their childhood and young adult years. Anastasia laughed and laughed. She felt safe and secure like never before. The couple was opening a door she never knew existed: the door of hope and joy and peace.

Suddenly, the little maid burst into tears. Worried and afraid, the man and wife tried to comfort her and learn what had upset her. What had they said? What had they done? Finally, Anastasia sobbed, “You’re too good! You’re happy and love each other. My parents are miserable. I’m miserable. No one will ever love me like you love each other.”

“My dear child!” Mrs. Doubleday exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around her little guest. “You don’t have to be miserable.   No one does. God makes us happy. He loves you more than you realize. Love Him back. Give Him your tears and sorrows and He will turn them into joy. He did for me.”

Anastasia wept less loudly. A glimmer of hope had glistened down the dark vista of the future. Maybe things could be better, maybe she would be loved, maybe… But no. Love was dangerous. Mrs. Doubleday was young and inexperienced. It was too simple to be really true. She snuffed out the glimmer so all was black within.