Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Twenty-six : Pink sparkly pen

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“What are you going to do when you get there?” Heather asked.

“What do you mean?” Sandy asked.

“I can’t go there, but I know where it is,” Heather said. “You can go there, but you can’t do anything about what goes on there.”

“If I try?” Sandy asked. “I mean, we have to try!”

“You’ll get caught in the amber,” Heather said.

“So humans can go to the sea of amber, but they can’t do anything there,” Tanesha said.

“Who can?” Jill asked.

“No one knows,” Heather said.

The women fell silent while they were thinking.

“Who created the sea of amber?” Tanesha asked through Sandy’s cell phone.

“We all create it,” Heather said. “All the time.”

“And that means?” Jill asked.

Heather sighed. She shook her head and scowled.

“How come this sea of amber isn’t in the books?” Tanesha asked.

“What books?” Heather asked.

“Greek mythology,” Jill reached into her purse and pulled out a thick, hardback book of Greek Literature. “We’ve been reading.”

Sandy pointed a thick, tattered library book in the cubbyhole with her telephone and appointment book.

“You’re reading those?” Heather blushed.

“Of course,” Sandy said.

“We want to know our girl,” Tanesha said.

Heather’s eyes welled with tears.

“They don’t talk about the sea of amber in any of our books,” Jill said.

“They don’t talk about a lot of stuff in those books,” Heather said. She looked down at her hands for a moment and then sighed. “The sea of amber is made by our unconscious, stuck thoughts.”

“Gods and goddesses or …” Sandy asked.

“Everyone,” Heather said. “Animals too. They are the warm stuck thoughts that everyone thinks. You know — ‘You can’t do it’ or ‘Don’t bother’ or whatever. They’re so familiar that they’re like a warm bath.”

“So Jake’s not in any pain?” Jill asked.

“No,” Heather said. “They are comfortable, warm, even cozy.”

“But?” Tanesha asked.

“But what?” Heather asked.

“There’s always a but!” Tanesha said. “They’re cozy and warm but …”

“Oh, I see what you mean,” Heather said.

“And?” Sandy asked.

“But they’re dying,” Heather said. “Slowly suffocated on the toxicity of the stuck thoughts. The brain repeats the thoughts until there’s nothing else to think. They wither and die.”

Heather gave her horrified friends a sad nod.

“We have to do something,” Jill said.

“What?” Heather asked.

“What can we do?” Sandy asked.

“I don’t know,” Heather said.

“Who does?” Jill asked.

“I would have said your father or maybe Delphie, but they seem to be stuck in the sea of amber too,” Heather said.

“What about Paddie’s sword?” Jill asked.

“The Sword of Truth?” Heather asked. “Nah, it’s been tried.”

“What if I heal it?” Jill asked. “That’s worked with these kind of things before.”

“How are you going to do that?” Heather asked. “Once you’re there, you’ll get sucked up.”

Heather looked from face to face.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said. “This is one of those situations where the logic goes around and around and around. If you’re human, you can go there. If you do anything, you’re absorbed by the amber. If you’re anything else, the amber sucks you up.”

“And what are you going to do about it?” Heather raised her hands in frustration. “I mean really, it’s not like people are going to stop thinking their stuck thoughts!”

“Who created it?” Tanesha asked.

“It was just there,” Heather said. “Zeus doesn’t even know where it came from.”

“Zeus is a real guy?” Sandy asked in a low tone.

Heather nodded.

“Is he as rapey as he is in the stories?” Sandy asked in the same low tone.

“Worse.” Heather nodded.

“And Hera?” Jill asked.

“She has him under lock and key,” Heather said. “Can’t get out.”

“What if someone like him set this up?” Tanesha asked.

“No way,” Heather said.

“But it’s a good question,” Sandy said.

“What is?” Jill asked.

“What if someone set this whole thing up?” Sandy asked. “How did we hear about it?”

“Fin came into our bedroom,” Jill said. “He wanted a Titan, asked for Katy or me. He asked for Jacob’s help. Keenan was right there and volunteered. Fin also asked for Delphie.”

“Ok,” Sandy said. “What would that give someone?”

“Lose Delphie and you lose the chance to know what’s coming,” Jill said.

“No Fin or Keenan, that’s Queen Fand’s only sons,” Sandy said.

“Manannán’s too,” Jill nodded.

“And Jake?” Sandy asked.

“He’d do anything for Fin,” Jill said.

“And if he’s gone?” Tanesha asked.

“He’s not here to fix this,” Jill said.

“That means someone thinks he can,” Tanesha said.

“Someone thinks Jake could fix this,” Heather said and nodded.

“Why a Titan?” Jill asked.

“Maybe it’s the combination of a Titan and Jake that could fix it,” Sandy said.

“Fix what?” Jill asked.

“What did Fin say?” Heather asked.

“He said that the Queendom was rotten from the inside,” Jill said.

“We need information about what’s going on in Fairydom,” Heather said.

“And Abi,” Tanesha said.

“Edie doesn’t know anything,” Jill said. “I’ve asked her.”

“What about Crazy Aunt Phy?” Sandy asked.

“We need Ne Ne,” Tanesha said.

“James Kelly,” Heather said. “He’s human.”

“Val’s in the Crucible. She can’t come,” Jill said. “But I’d bet Mike would.”

“Mike’s a Titan,” Heather said.

“But first we have to figure out what’s going on,” Sandy said. “Without Delphie …”

The women fell silent for a few minutes.

“I know what to do,” Jill said.

“What?” Heather asked.

Jill just nodded. Heather looked at Sandy and she shrugged.

“You’ll let us know?” Tanesha said over the phone.

“I will!” Jill said.

With that she got up from the table and walked out of the salon. Her stunned friends looked at each other.

“I guess I should …” Heather said.

“I’m off to class,” Tanesha hung up her phone.

In a matter of minutes, Sandy was alone.

“What the hell?” she muttered to herself and went to start her afternoon.


Tuesday afternoon — 1:35 p.m.

“Ok, I’m back,” said Erik Le Monde.

Lying in her hospital bed, Wanda opened her eyes to look at him. Wanda had her final knee surgery early this morning. Because she was so frail, the doctor had insisted on keeping her overnight. The Denver Police had installed an officer on her door to keep an eye on her.

“You’re supposed to wake up,” Erik said.

Wanda just looked at him. He helped her scoot to sitting and moved her bed. For a tall girl, she looked tiny in the bed.

“Plus, I brought a hamburger and fries like you asked for,” Erik said.

“Thanks Dad,” Wanda said.

“You have to eat,” Erik said. “You promised me — no relapsing in the hospital.”

“I’m okay, Dad,” Wanda said. “Just a little groggy.”

Through the window in the door, she watched the police officer outside her room walk away. She took a bite of her hamburger. When she looked up, the police officer hadn’t come back.

“I wonder where he went,” Wanda said.

“Who?” Erik wiped hamburger juice from his mouth.

“The fuzz,” Wanda said.

Erik grinned at her use of his 1970s slang. She gestured to the door and he turned to look.

“That’s not good,” Erik said. “He’s supposed to be here because you’re a witness in the case.”

“You are too,” Wanda said.

Erik turned at the waist to look at the door.

“Shit,” Erik said. He turned back to look at Wanda. “I don’t know what to do.”

“He probably just went to pee,” Wanda said with a shrug.

“I should check,” Erik said.

“Finish your burger,” Wanda said.

Erik nodded. They ate their burgers in grim silence. The policeman hadn’t returned. After a few minutes, Erik stuffed the rest of his burger down his throat.

“Listen to me,” Erik said. “I want you to know that you are perfect in every way. There’s no greater honor that I have had in my whole life than to be father to Wade, and now father to Wanda.”

He hopped to his feet and gave Wanda a nod. Just before he left the room, he said, “Love you kiddo,” and left the room.

Wanda stared at the door and picked up a french fry. She dabbed it in the packet ketchup her father had brought and then took a small bite. She did that five more times before starting on a new fry. Dab of ketchup, small bite, dab of ketchup, small bite. After those six french fries, she took a sip of her orange soda.

She looked down at her leg. It was a mess of tubes and bandages. They hadn’t closed it up because they wanted to drain some of the swelling. They would close it up tomorrow before she went home. She slipped the cap off the pink sparkly ballpoint pen that matched Sissy and Tink’s pens and tucked it under the covers.

The door opened and a male nurse came in.

“Are you going to kill me?” Wanda asked.

“I am,” the man said. He went to look at Wanda’s IV’s.

“Why?” Wanda asked, and watched him mess with her IV’s. Wanda slipped her hands under the covers.

“There is no reason to life little girl,” the man said. He leaned back and looked at Wanda. “Or should I say boy.”

“Fuck you,” Wanda said.

A corner of the man’s lips raised in a kind of smile. He took a syringe out of his pocket.

“Must make you feel like a big man to kill a little girl,” Wanda said.

“Well, your father too,” the man said.

As she had more than a hundred times in eating disorder treatment, Wanda pulled the IV out of her vein. She set her hands on top of the covers in a classic fake-out-the-nurse move.

“Your father is a big beefy man,” the killer said. “He’s not so small.”

“So I’m just the plus one?” Wanda asked.

“Sure.” The man injected the syringe into her IV. “Thanks for not making a fuss.”

“You’re kinda doing me a favor anyway,” Wanda said.

“Nice that you see it that way,” the man said.

“But my dad …” Wanda said. “You don’t really have to …”

Wanda dropped down to the bed. Her extensive experience on the eating disorder unit had taught her how to fake passing out from meds that didn’t get into her system because she’d pulled out her IV.

The man leaned over her.

She jammed her pink sparkly pen into his left eye. The man screamed and grabbed at his eye.

“Bulls eye!” Wanda cheered.

Furious, the man put his big, strong hands around Wanda’s neck and pressed down. Wanda fought like hell. She scratched and hit at him, but he was too strong. She used all the tricks Colin Hargreaves had taught her. She yanked at the man’s ear, scratched at his remaining eye, and hit his head with her fists.

Nothing worked. The world’s colors faded grey.

The last thing Wanda saw was her pink sparkly pen in this angry guy’s eye.

And her father coming up behind him.

Everything went black.

“Wanda! Wanda!” Her father’s voice reached inside the darkness. “Oh God, he’s killed my daughter. Oh God, Wanda.”

She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Bulls eye,” she said.

Or at least she thought she said. The next thing she knew, an oxygen mask went over her face and a lot of nurses fussed around her. The whole time, her eyes were on her father. His face was battered and swelling. He was bleeding from what looked like a stab wound. A doctor was looking at his wound. The police broke her view when they dragged the killer, and her pink sparkly pen, out of the room.

After a few minutes, Erik waved away the doctor to return to her side. He took her hand and gave it a squeeze.

“Good to see you, Wanda,” he said.

“You too, dad,” Wanda said.

“I think you need a new pen,” Erik said.

Wanda grinned.


Tuesday afternoon — 4:25 p.m.

New York City, New York

Sissy stood in the practice room alone. While she loved every single thing about the American Ballet Theater, she had always practiced alone. She was learning so much that she liked to take the breaks to practice by herself. At least that’s what she told herself.

It was apparent right away that Sissy was a lot better than the other kids. No one was really mad at her, and certainly they hadn’t said anything to her. She just felt their eyes on her. She was thirsty for the knowledge and practice but the more she did, the more she felt left out. Plus, the other kids went to the dorm on their break.

Noticing the time, she grabbed her towel and started across the large practice room. Their next session started at 4:35 precisely. She just had time to use the bathroom before the other kids got back.

She was about a foot from the door when a young man wearing street clothing came in the room. He didn’t look too big or too small. He was just suddenly there. She jumped back with surprise.

“You Sissy?” the young man asked.

She nodded, and he pulled a handgun out of his pocket.

Sissy attacked.

Colin had taught them exactly what to do in this situation. She kicked at the young man’s knees, but she was wearing her ballet slippers. Her kicks didn’t seem to affect him at all. He raised the gun to fire at her and she hit his face with her elbow.

The handgun fired into the floor. The noise was deafeningly. Sissy heard footsteps in the hallway.

He swung the gun up and she grabbed his wrists. The handgun went off again into the ceiling. She kneed him in the crotch.

And then, the young man disappeared from in front of her. Ivan grabbed the young man by the shoulders. He lifted the young man off the ground and threw him across the room. The gun skittered across the room. Dazed, the young man lay on the floor.

“Get the gun!” Ivan yelled to her.

Before she could respond, her friend Ramona picked it up. At that moment, Sissy realized the other ballet students had come into the room. Ivan picked up the young man again and threw him into another wall.

“You never touch a ballerina,” Ivan yelled.

He picked up the young man again and threw him against another wall.

“Ballerinas are sacred and special, you little piece of shit,” Ivan yelled.

Before Ivan could get to the young man again, the security guards rushed into the room. In one wave, they picked the young man off the floor, got the handgun from Ramona, and left the room. Ivan stood near the back wall breathing hard.

“Ivan!” Sissy yelled.

Sissy ran to him to hug him but he gave her a slight shake of his head. She stopped midway and nodded that she understood. She hugged herself instead. He turned to the stunned young ballet students.

“You listen to me,” Ivan said. His accent seemed thicker and more pronounced. “If you stay in ballet, you will meet your share of these thugs. You must learn to fight because someday, no one will be there to protect you. Our friend Sissy knows to fight, but she did one thing wrong. Anyone know what that was?”

The young ballet students were too intimidated to respond.

“I didn’t ask for help,” Sissy said. “Scream, yell, or call out.”

“Your best protection is your voice,” Ivan said. “Voice first, attack second.”

The ballet administrator came in the room.

“Excuse me,” Ivan said.

Sissy picked up her towel and started out of the room.

“Do you know that guy?” Ramona asked.

“Our teacher?” asked the girl standing next to her.

The other students gaped at her. Mortified by their attention, Sissy looked down at the ground.

“He was my tutor, my mentor,” Sissy said. She swallowed hard.

“He’s not very nice to you,” an older boy said.

“He expects a lot from me,” Sissy said with a nod.

“I think he’s incredible,” a young woman said.

The other young ballet students nodded.

“I have to …” Sissy pointed out the door.

“I’ll go with you,” Ramona said. “Safety in numbers.”

Sissy nodded and Ramona followed her out of the room.

“Are you okay?” Ramona whispered.

Sissy nodded. They walked past the administrator and Ivan on their way to the restroom. Sissy felt Ivan’s eyes on her when she went into the restroom. She knew he would wait to talk to her until the ride back to Bestat’s apartment. In the bathroom, Sissy cut into a stall.

Sitting down on the toilet, she began to shake.

That man had come to kill her.

She was so terrified and upset that she just wanted to go home. She wanted Sandy. She wanted the ugly dog Buster. She wanted Charlie and Nash and Teddy and Noelle, and even Aden. She started quietly sobbing into her hands.

The lights flashed indicating that it was time for class.

“Time for class,” Ramona yelled. “Can you make it?”

Sissy wiped her eyes. She was a ballerina — a professional ballerina. She needed put this away and get to work. Nodding to herself, she flushed the toilet and went to class.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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