It was not an uncommon occurrence for Abby to stand sit under the playground tree for ten or more minutes after school, nose propped just over her book. The book changed every week, she was a voracious reader, but the subject of her attention did not. Rain or shine, Calvin would sit on the curb with his friends, James and Stewart and wait for Stewart’s mom to come pick them up. They would talk and laugh and roughhouse just a little, though Calvin was always on the losing end of any prolonged physicality; a small gut and second chin were not signs of distinguished athletic prowess. They would carry on thusly until the silver sedan pulled up that marked freedom for all three. Invariably following this, Abby would avert her gaze from the chain link fence and down to her book long enough to avoid suspicion. Having a crush in the fourth grade was little more than unfulfilled longing (though this was a name Abby had yet to connect with her emotion), unrelenting ridicule, and unending awkwardness. Abby was smart enough, and shy enough, to avoid such torments. She had time. Both she and Calvin would continue their enrollment at Mount Calvary up to and through the eighth grade. She would have a chance to talk to him under more ideal circumstances sooner or later. Until then her collection of battered second-hand books, her library card, and her confidants Jennifer and Maeve would pull her through the harsh winter.
As per usual, her scouting trips were performed alone. Jennifer and Maeve’s parents picked them up with a haste such as Abby had never known. And, as per usual, Abby stood up, packed up her book and started her short trek home alone. For all intents and purposes, she was an only child. Nora loved Abby to death, but was nearly twenty years her elder and grew up completely separate from her younger sister. She never had constant advice from a sibling who had been through it all before and thus she was left on her own to ponder events she had no true understanding of. And so, with thoughts of chubby chins and bright blue eyes putting her legs into autopilot, Abby stepped in front of a speeding motorcyclist. The front wheel pulverized her preadolescent hip bone and coccyx into an unrecognizable mass of bone shards. Shattered bone acted as shrapnel and tore into blood vessel, arteries, and vital organs.
Even if the biker had not panicked and accelerated off at more than twice the legal speed after righting himself, Abby would have been lucky to live long enough to be declared Dead On Arrival. As the scene played out, no call was made to emergency rescue, no ambulance arrived to rush her to a hospital, and no doctor said “we did all we could”. A passing jogger found her broken body some six hours later, after dozens of panicked calls from Abby’s parents, and reported it to the police. The police arrived and identified her by the magic markered name in her backpack and called the family for official identification of the body.
Abby’s funeral service was very private and with not but the most necessary formalities. All parties involved wished to mourn silently and hope for closure. They had lost a daughter, a sister, a best friend long before her life could be fully lived. The chance to know the woman she would become was taken from all of them. But theirs was not the only chance taken before it could grow.
Abby had died clinging to the hope that her world would mature enough to bring Calvin into it. Her world would never mature. She would never better know the sweet, boy-ish kindness hidden plainly on his face. Abby had lost more than her life.
Calvin heard about the death of his classmate a day afterward from his edgy and slightly pushier than normal mother. Word spread quickly in Lindenwood and the death of a polite, intelligent, and terribly young girl in what police assumed to be a hit and run was nearly the word alive. Every mother with a child yet to reach college had heard about it and all had, to varying degrees warned them of such dangers. Maeve’s parents had forbidden her to walk near a major road without adult supervision until the person responsible for Abby’s death was apprehended and jailed. James’ mom had whispered careful tips on how to avoid such terrible incidents while his father lorded over a full glass with a bruised hand.
Mary found herself horrendously unsure of how to both break the news to Calvin and to handle the conversation that would follow. This was Calvin’s only first-hand experience with death and it could very well affect the way children his age were allowed to play, or even how he himself was allowed to simply leave the house. After a restless night of deliberation, she rolled herself out of her misused bed and prepared all of Calvin’s school supplies, his lunch, and his after school snack. From there she sat herself down on the sofa, hands folded neatly in her lap, and waited for six o’clock to roll around and Calvin to come hopping down the stairs. (The child woke like clockwork, it never failed.) Four forty-five ticked to life and Mary unfurled her hands and, after a moment of searching, found the television remote and thumbed over to the news station. She had no interest in the news at that moment, but found the fuzzy, out of focus background noise to be comforting.
She sat, wound up with more motherly concern than could possibly be healthy, and tried not to watch the clock tick.
Calvin rolled out of bed. His entire room was cast in the early morning fuzz that came from too much sleep in one’s eyes and waking during one’s REM cycle (though Calvin was years away from even being offered the chance to study such things in classes). He balled his fists and buried them into his eye sockets until all the offending gunk was out of his eyes and the world before him was filled with the usual spots that came with pushing one’s eyes and the unfamiliar blurriness of a poor night’s sleep. Calvin looked over at his clock, it read 6:03. Not an unusual time for him to awake, but he had never been one for nightmares, nighttime antsiness, or any other impediment to a healthy night’s sleep. He had woken twice during the night for no apparent reason, but thankfully had been able to roll over and fall back to sleep straight away. He had not dreamt that night either, which was quite peculiar. Calvin was not known for having brilliant and vividly artistic dreamscapes, but dreams of some sort were a staple of his nightlife. This concerned Calvin slightly, his Mom had read in one of her magazines that dreaming while you sleep was a very good sign and often meant you were sleeping well and were off to a good start to the day.
However Calvin’s resilient optimism worked at a second grade level and by the time he had zipped up his khaki slacks and pulled his polo shirt over his spastic mop of blonde hair, he was ready for another day with his friends and football during recess. Calvin was not terribly athletic, as his figure would lead you to believe, but he loved James and Stewart and they loved football and Calvin loved that he was friends with two of the coolest kids in class. They were good to him. They would throw him passes even knowing that he would probably drop them, and even if he did catch them he would be tagged down with great rapidity. And on the frequent occasions that he did drop the pass, they were always the ones to tell the other kids to shut up if they start snickering. They were great friends. They whispered and joked with him through boring classes and let him concentrate on his notes when he found a class interesting.
Calvin trotted down the stairs, mulling over his breakfast choices: cereal or oatmeal. Cinnamon Apple oatmeal from the packet was an absolute delicacy in Calvin’s mind and thus cereal rarely won the day. His entrance into the kitchen on this day was different from most other days. Mary was pacing rapidly around the kitchen, performing her morning chores with a speed Calvin found alarming. What little he could see of her facial expression was pinched and cloudy. Calvin briefly thought on the date and, realizing that was not the source of his Mother’s agitation, wondered if there was another possible connection to dad he was not thinking of. Hesitant to make his breakfast while his mother was so distraught and guilty for not knowing why, Calvin went to his ace in the hole: he took two quick steps towards his Mother and wrapped his arms around her stomach as tightly as was appropriate and nuzzled his face against her rib cage.
Mary nearly jumped out of her skin when Calvin clamped his arms around her. She had been so distracted by the coming conversation they would have that she had not even noticed his entering the room. She stood rooted in place for a moment before realizing that Calvin was trying to comfort her. She knew it did not matter how long he had been standing there watching her, she was nervous enough and he had seen her in distress often enough that he knew something was wrong.
Mary returned her warmest and most motherly hug and decided that being up front with him would be best in the long run. She had to parent enough for two and it was hard enough without trying to candy coat and euphemize the world.
Calvin was noticeably more withdrawn during the drive to school the next day. Thankfully he had drawn front seat rights and was at a slight distance from the horse play in the back. His mind was far from the coming day’s events. His thoughts were firmly entrenched in a hazy nostalgia he was years too young for. He was not quite sure why his mind was sifting through what limited memories of Abby he had, but it was. Answering questions in class, looking over at them during recess and lunch, always a little bit shy, she seemed like a nice enough kid—for a girl. What few memories he had, floated in and out of his mind for the entire drive to school, much to the chagrin of his friends, who kicked his seat and jabbed the back of his neck with their fingers hoping to grab his attention.
And so it was for the entirety of the school day. Calvin went through his daily paces moderately distracted but never fully knowing why. It was odd to look to the back of the room and find her seat empty. It gave him goosebumps and more than once he felt himself shiver.
Her friends, Jennifer and some girl with an “M-” name Calvin could never remember, seemed quite sad and lost that day. Each time he passed them in the halls or in the classrooms he felt the maddeningly awkward but alarmingly irresistible urge to hug them and tell them that “it would be ok”, a strangely solemn and final phrase that Calvin took a sudden disliking to. It was a phrase not meant for casual or friendly conversation.
The ride back home with Stewart’s mom was as uneventful as the ride with his own mother to school. (James’ mom never drove, it was an unspoken ruling.) James and Stewart squawked and squirmed behind Calvin’s seat, never allowing him to drift too fully from reality, but never completely breaking his nearly subconscious reverie.
When the sedan slowed to drop off at Calvin’s home, Mrs. Cameron waved him goodbye as he exited the car and flashed a smile that made Calvin blush deeply. Something about Mrs. Cameron had always made Calvin blush; she was very nice, very tall, and very red-headed. Calvin had long since harbored this crush as a closely guarded secret. She was a married woman and a friend’s mom.
Calvin waved back, smiled timidly, and, turning quickly on his heel, headed for his front door.
Night had fallen on Lindenwood’s semi-suburban community, Tall Trees, not that such things mattered. Hers was a world of utter grayscale and uncertain solidity. Objects flickered in and out of existence, some faded ever so slightly and surreally, and others still grew too bright to view even through periphery. The laws of sound were equally malleable for her. Some noises distorted and muffled as if underwater, some drew out into unbearable whines, and whispers abound in every corner. Whispers, however, was the wrong word and she knew it. Some of them did not whisper. A better word would be Voices, but even that described only her comprehension of them. They felt worse than normal voices, somehow ugly and oily. Some of these Voices did whisper, enticing little sentiments just out of earshot. Others were guttural and animalistic. She did not like to think what types of people were making these sounds. The worse were the Voices that were very clearly human. They gibbered and howled madly, lusting so savagely for something they could not express. Their cries were devoid of all substance and form, but she knew to stay away from them. She had always been a smart girl.
Smart or not, she was still very young and this new world was not a kind place. Already it was winding tendrils of unease and turmoil in through her every pore. She herself felt grayer, as if she were part of this dark, unstable world.
Her only solace was his room. His room was the furthest point from the Voices, the place where objects stayed more solid and sounds rung more truly. She stood in doorway every second she could. It was as close to his room as she could get. She was not allowed in, despite all attempts to step through the door, it would not let her. She had begun to wonder if the door was keeping her out so as to keep the Voices out or if she was not letting herself in the room in case the Voices did follow her in. After all, one had to be careful when entering someone’s home uninvited, it was quite rude.
She looked in on him, his sleep peaceful and still. He was what kept the Voices out of the room. Her wistful gaze never left him as she recited her nightly rite. Again and again, she murmured her name to the sleeping form, her whisper mournfully enticing. She felt the pull of this place on her and knew that she was allowing them root in her, but her ritual was a near compulsion. It was fervent necessity. It was validation.
Calvin woke slowly, his dreams fading to simple shapes and shades and then reforming to the dark contours of his moonlit bedroom. His mouth tasted like a cotton wad and his legs were cramped. He was in the process of waking himself up further when he realized it was still hours away from his six o’clock starting gun. A sound sleeper, unaccustomed to waking at such premier hours, Calvin rolled over the side of his bed and gazed out the window. The silent, calm of his neighborhood glazed by a waxing moon’s glow was an eerie sight to Calvin. It was a view no young, curious child could pass up, especially not once beset with such a sudden wakefulness.
He opened his mouth wide and ran his tongue over the far corners of his mouth, trying to wash the cotton out of his mouth. Having achieved this goal, he found himself unable to focus on the glowing portrait painted outside his window. Calvin found his brain completely locked in what James would no doubt colorfully dub a “brain fart”.
She had watched him wake and her murmuring was beginning to spiral out of her control. She could no sooner stop her whispering than she could stop a speeding train. And then he spoke.
Crystal clear in a world of distortion and unreality, his voice slammed shut the floodgates of her whispering. The dark, oily Voices quieted and Abby stepped through the door into the room’s warm glow.