“What are you talking about?” Abby asked.
“I heard them,” Fleur said, “when I was in the van. They were talking about how they had been summoned from Hell, and…and if there’s really a Hell, and what happened to my parents and brother, I…” She met Abby’s eyes, and Abby had never seen such despair in her life.
Meanwhile, Claude and Gerard were still having at it. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you pause when they were offering us ‘respect,'” Gerard shouted. “You’d really sell us out just so people wouldn’t make fun of you?”
“You don’t understand,” Claude yelled back. “There’s no way you can understand!”
“And you don’t have a clue how much the world has changed,” Gerard countered. “You stripped naked on TV? People aren’t making fun of you — the way the Internet is, you’re probably a hero to them!”
“Come on,” Abby said. She took Fleur by the hand and led her into the kitchen, pulling closed a sliding door. Fleur leaned against the counter, wiping her eyes.
“I don’t mean to cry,” she said. “I’m sorry. I feel like I cry all the time, now, ever since…”
“It’s okay,” Abby said, and tore off a paper towel from its wall dispenser, handing it to Fleur. The girl daubed her eyes then blew her nose.
“Now…explain to me why you think you’re going to Hell,” Abby said.
Fleur sniffed and, in a small voice, said. “Thou shalt not kill.” Then, as an afterthought: “Thou shalt honor thy mother and father. That’s two. Two I broke.” She wringed the paper towel in her hands. “I didn’t mean to, but…it doesn’t matter if you mean to, does it? It only matters if you do it, period.”
“Fleur,” Abby said, “you’re not a bad person, okay? You’re just sick. And you’re getting help. That’s what matters.”
Voice shrunken even smaller, Fleur whispered. “I don’t want to be a pumpkin. I don’t want to come back, and take over someone’s body, and…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what I did. Why doesn’t anyone understand that?”
Abby stood in front of her and took her hands, feeling the wet paper towel clutched between them. “If God knows everything — y’know, by definition of what God is — then He knows you didn’t do it out of evil or anything like that. If anyone understands, it’s the guy whose understanding is the only one that matters. You hear me?”
“And you’re not going to Hell,” Abby said. “Not if I have anything to say about it.”
Fleur nodded again, and she pulled her hands away from Abby’s to wipe away fresh tears.
“Always crying,” Fleur said. “I cried at Brightest Lantern, I’m crying now, and when Dr. Godfrey was crying on the phone, I did it then, too…”
Abby’s head snapped up. “…Wait, what? When did you talk to –?”
Fleur lifted a hand to her mouth. “Oh! I didn’t say! When I was in the van, I went through the whole list of people on speed dial, then I started over. And I got Dr. Godfrey a second time, not his voicemail. And he was crying and saying how he was sorry, and something about how it wasn’t supposed to be like this, and…”
Abby stood very still and very quiet. Pieces clicked together inside her mind.
“…but then I heard the people talking about Hell, and it distracted me and he hung up. But I wanted to tell you that I’d gotten someone on the phone, even if it wasn’t for very long. And I wanted you to think I’d been, y’know, kicking butt, so…”
Abby turned on her heel and walked out of the kitchen, Fleur trailing off.
“…Abby? Did I do something wrong?”
Gerard and Claude continued to argue. “Well, fine,” Gerard said. “If there’s no such thing as aliens, and no such thing as Hell, then how do you explain them?”
Abby shoved her way between them without a word, killing the momentum of their feud as they shared mutual indignation over her rudeness.
Abby went to the window, pulled aside the curtain, and looked for a long minute at the jack-o-lantern-infested people encircling the house.
“…Abby?” someone said, their voice so timid she couldn’t tell which one spoke.
Then Abby started to speak, hardly aware she was doing it. She strode to the fireplace, grabbed some random ceramic knickknack from the mantelpiece, and smashed it on the hearth. Her voice started soft, but built in volume as she found more things to crush and break and fling at the walls: little family pictures in their store-bought frames; Precious Moments figurines; souvenir crystals and geodes from vacations across the South. All of them shattered and destroyed while Abby cursed, spewing out every bad word known to man in every order and configuration possible, volume increasing to an unending scream of fury. The world went red: there was only Abby and her oldest lover, anger.
You want to be a bartender? Mom had asked, with that same old disappointment in her voice. You want to be a cab driver? You want to be a courier? You want to be a telemarketer?
So when the chance to be a teacher came up…
She abandoned the living room and went to the kitchen, flinging plates and cups and ‘Bless This Mess’ cross-stitches, still keeping up her litany of shouted abuse. No one followed her; they looked for safe haven instead.
All you need is a Bachelor’s. You’ve got one, right?
Yeah, but it’s in Archaeology.
Doesn’t matter. The district is gagging for teachers. You’ve got a degree, so all you need is a couple months worth of classes, and to pass some exams.
Anger was her only friend. Anger was her only comfort, her security blanket, her shield, her brick wall against the world. And now, her sword.
It was hard. No one had told her how hard teaching would be. All those kids, depending on her. All that pressure from the parents and the higher-ups and the more experienced faulty.
She was going to fail, no matter what she did. She just wasn’t good enough. And the knowledge of that made her so furious.
Upstairs now, ripping up sheets, throwing the lid from the toilet tank like a discus, stomping every toy in every kids’ room into plastic shrapnel.
If you’re going to let everyone down, might as well let them down so hard they cut ties so you can never disappoint them again.
Going to school drunk? Oh, just watch. That’ll be the tip of the iceberg.
Breaking windows. Ripping up carpet.
Abigail Fogarty, said the judge, I’ve dismissed the charges against you, as I believe they are spurious and born of an over-emotional reaction. I also believe in second chances, and I believe you might just have something to offer this world. You are intelligent, but oftentimes it’s the intelligent people who talk themselves into doing the dumbest things. Therefore, you are to be remanded to the custody of the Brightest Lantern Recovery Center for a period of one year, during which you will be placed on a course of alcohol treatment, drug treatment, and anger management. Do you understand?
Yes, your honor, she said through gritted teeth.
Obscenities pouring from her mouth, locking together like vile Lego bricks in an endless chain of verbal abuse.
Hello, Abby. I’m Dr. Godfrey. Welcome to Brightest Lantern.
Everything’s going to be all right now.
They found her upstairs in the shredded-Dacron ruins of a comforter, her breathing steady and calm, her eyes unfocused. In the quiet aftermath of her rampage, only Claude was willing to step into the room with her and speak her name.
Abby looked up at him. “Dr. Godfrey,” she croaked, her voice predictably hoarse. “It’s that rat-bastard Dr. Godfrey.
He’s the Summoner.”
Today’s Words: 1312
Total Words: 25465
Notes: Might actually catch up today…!