“No running in the house!” Jack’s mother shouted, for at least the fifth time since Jack had finished his work on Ellie’s wings.
Jack had used the scrap fiberglass panel, cutting out dragonfly-shaped wings, sanding down the corners, and applying a liberal coating of glitter. The hard part had been finding a way to affix them to the back of the costume. Charlotte came to the rescue, providing a gaudy purple-and pink vest. Jack’s mother stitched in some velcro panels, and Jack hot glued the opposite side to the backs of the wings, and Ellie’s costume was nearly done.
“I’m not running, I’m flying. I haveta practice!”
“No flying in the house, then,” Jack’s mother said. Then she turned to Jack. “I blame this on you.”
He shrugged. “It was something to do.”
“It couldn’t have waited another day?”
Ellie hopped from the second step.
“No higher than that, young lady!”
Jack’s mother had taken the contents of Beth’s letter in stride. Jack had to wonder if anything ever phased his mother. Aliens could land on the front lawn, and she’d either chew them out for not wiping their feet when they came in, or offer them some tea and cookies. Probably both, the longer Jack thought about it.
“Well, now some things start to make sense around here,” was all she’d said.
“Mom, you make it sound like neighbors disappear and nobody remembers them, like, all the time.”
“Not all the time, dear. Just this once. As far as we know. But then,” his mother said, tapping her finger on her chin as she thought, “if nobody remembered them, then we wouldn’t really know about them disappearing, now, would we?”
“Now you’re starting to sound like Beth. She would think about stuff like that. Out loud. To me.”
“Jack, maybe she was trying to prepare you in case something like that happened. Which, apparently, it has.”
“Well, she didn’t give me any answers!”
“I’m sure she’ll think of something. She seems like a very bright girl. And she seems to have quite a bit of time on her hands. No school, no homework. I might just ask her how she does this so I can try it.”
“Don’t even joke about that, Mom.”
* * * * *
Jack slept fitfully that night, pulled from sleep at every sharp gust of wind, or every time the house settled. He tried deep breathing, but every time he felt just on the brink of tumbling over to sleep, something would snatch it away, and he’d be wide awake, staring at the clock. 10:45 became 11:27, which flashed to 11:49. He closed his eyes tightly, telling himself to relax, to calm down, to be asleep during the Witching Hour.
Two minutes after twelve came and went. Jack wondered if perhaps his parents had something in the medicine cabinet that helped with sleep. He turned the idea over a couple times in his head, discarding it as he wondered if it would make him sleep too deeply. Beth said that his normal dreams were tiring to visit. What happened the night she came to see him outside of visiting hours? She’d broken the rules — were those rules in place for her own protection?
Jack pictured her, walking stubbornly on her injured ankle.
“I’m fine,” she had said, over and over again, when clearly, she wasn’t.
Jack wondered how many other rules she was breaking.