On October 7, 2020, P.T. Wyant posted a Wednesday Words prompt involving a best friend, a budget, and a messy closet.
This made me think of a fanfic which has been rolling around in my head for too long, one I’ve mentioned during Flights of Fanciful Fandom at rhodrymavelyne.dreamwidth.org. I’ve been encouraged by readers to write it. I can’t resist using this prompt to start that story. It’s too perfect. Only I usually save the Cauldron for my original stories, but I’ve been all my responses to Paula’s Prompts/Wednesday Words have been here or at Formerly Forbidden Cauldron. Therefore I’ve decided to change the names for this story, but I may change them back and rewrite this for Archive of Our Own later. You may be able to guess whom these two characters really are, however…:)
Caroline’s closet was not a nice place. No one smart ever wanted to go in there. This was why she was surprised to find a girl her own age, shivering among the toys, gazing at her wide eyes as blue as Caroline’s own.
No, there was nothing but toys in her closet right now. No open mouths ready to swallow children, no forked tongue gliding out like a snake.
“There was one,” the girl said as if Caroline had spoken out loud. She pressed her lips together, huddled in a denim jacket too big for her. “It slid back into the other space, the space it came from, leaving just a closet.”
She knew about the other space. This wasn’t just any girl. Not even people who’d been to the other space could talk about it. Caroline had been trapped, lost there, and she found it to find the words to describe it.
Outside the door Caroline could hear her parents arguing about the budget and other grown-up things. They wanted to move but they couldn’t afford to. From the open window came the slow scream of a siren.
“Don’t tell anyone I’m here!” The girl hunched in on herself as if she could make herself smaller. How shaggy her fair hair, hanging around her face unlike Caroline’s own long, straight, almost white hair.
Why are you here? Caroline cocked her head, wondered if the strange child could hear her question. Where are your parents?
The girl flinched as if Caroline had hurt her. Like flashes, Caroline got an image of a beautiful woman with blue eyes like the girl, a tall man lying bleeding in a stable.
Stop seeing that. Stop making me remember. The girl shut her eyes tight as if something hurt inside her head and chest which she couldn’t get rid of.
Caroline was sorry, very sorry she’d thought anything about parents. Bad as her closet might be, she was lucky to have parents, fussing over the budget, unable to afford a kitten, no matter how much Caroline might want one.
“Yeah.” The girl smiled a tiny smile which was so sad it made Caroline want to cry too.
Instead she asked, “What’s your name?”
“Roberta.” The girl hugged her knees, hiding her mouth.
That wasn’t her name. Not really. Caroline knew it. “Roberta” knew she knew it, but why would she say her actual name? It wasn’t like they were friends or anything.
Caroline wanted to be friends with this girl. Looking at “Roberta”’s face, the images she’d given away, it was clear she’d seen things, bad things. Caroline understood that. She would never laugh at them the way grown-ups sometimes did. Caroline saw bad things in her closet. Those things seemed happy to leave Caroline alone now that “Roberta” was here. It made Caroline feel safer. She wanted to make “Roberta” feel safer, too.
“I saw the bad things in your closet.” Once again the strange girl seemed to hear what Caroline was thinking. “I told them to back off.”
“They’ve never done that before.” Caroline crouched down beside “Roberta”. “How did you get them to listen?”
“I’ve had practice.” The girl hesitated, took a deep breath and said in rush, “I’ve got a Bad Thing inside me.”
Bad Thing. Caroline could almost see the capital letters, burning, laced with fire, hot and eager, willing to leap out and eat everything it could.
The girl shut her eyes again. “I’m always telling it to back off. I can force it down. Maybe your Bad Things are afraid I’ll do the same thing to them. Or maybe they’re just scared of the Bad Thing inside me.”
“Aren’t you scared?” Caroline reached out and took the other girl’s hand. It was as round and chubby as her own. Not that different.
“All the time.” “Roberta” shivered. “I feel safer here. I don’t know why.”
“I feel safe with you here, too.” The house felt quieter, more peaceful with the other girl close. Whatever bad things followed Caroline and her family seemed to have backed off. “Why don’t you stay for a while?”
“I couldn’t!” The girl stared at her with huge, frightened eyes full of memories as bad, if not worse than Caroline’s own. For a moment she could see them, flashing in her mind. A huge mansion which was also a prison. That tall man, whom Caroline had seen before, falling, crying out a name. Harlie.
Harlie. That was Roberta’s real name and that man, he had been her father. Another man, a man with a ruined face and a tender smile pointed a gun at Harlie, telling her that he loved her.
It put Caroline in mind of the man in black who smiled at her, followed her, always trying to take her away from her family. She tightened her grip upon Harlie’s hand, offering up an image of that man, the man in old-fashioned black clothes with a smile like a skull.
Harlie squeezed her hand back. “He won’t get you, Caroline. I won’t let him…or them.”
“They won’t get you either,” Caroline whispered. “I’ll hide you in my closet. The bad things will leave you alone. I’ll bring you food. You can decide what to do next. OK?”
For the first time, Harlie smiled a genuine smile.