He yanked me back over the fence, tugging hard on my arm. I yelped like a kicked puppy. It hurt so bad I thought he was going to dislocate it. He lifted me up and over the fence, only using one arm. Then he lowered me enough so that my feet touched the ground, and dragged me back through the yard, every so often jerking the hand that held onto my arm to yank me forward.
“This. Is what. You get,” he said, emphasizing each inflection with another well-timed tug. “You don’t. Run. From your family.”
I was barely keeping up with him, and my feet were lifted up for a couple of steps every time I slowed down. Mostly, they dragged across the dirt, kicking up grass. My uncle walked me up to the back door, opened it, and shoved me inside.
My mother was there in the kitchen, looking worried and concerned. Her eyes were wide with fear when she looked at me, and I could tell that, underneath, she was still there inside her own mind, watching this all happen and being horrified by it.
The door slammed shut behind my uncle. He was standing with one hand resting on the table, glaring down at me with a face of pure hate, mixed, surprisingly, with doubt and worry. His double chin quaked and rippled. He looked like a disappointed parent, fraught with fury and concern.
“Listen,” he said, in a voice that was steady, and calm. “I know you may not be in love with some of the new changes that have been going on. I know I can’t replace your father. But he was my brother. It’s not like I don’t miss him too.” His voice shook slightly, as if he was a mere moment away from tears himself. “but I’m trying to put this family back together, so that we can all be happy again, and move on. Can you at least give me a little help with that?”
“No,” I said. “There’s nothing you can say or do to make me believe a word you say to me.” I didn’t know why he was acting like this. If he wanted to, he could throw me in my room again, and starve me a whole day, until I came crawling out to apologize. It wasn’t for my mother’s benefit either, I was sure. He could make her do whatever he wanted with the snap of his fingers. Why would he be putting on an act like this?
The hand on the table clenched slowly into a fist. “You need to learn your manners. Proper respect and discipline. Until that day comes, you are grounded. You will not leave this house. You will not have any friends over. First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to the hardware store and buying locks for all of the doors. You will stay here with your mother, and do anything and everything that she asks of you. Are we understood?”
I looked down at the floor, and didn’t answer.
“I said,” my uncle stepped forward, and grabbed ahold of my arm again, twisting it slightly. A miniature indian burn. “Are we understood?”
I winced, and nodded my head.
My uncle’s hand twitched. “Tell me. Yes, I understand.”
“Yes. I understand.”
He let me go. “Go to your room for the rest of the night, and think about what you did today.”
I turned, and walked out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into my room. What was going on? I had been sure that as soon as my doppleganger uncle came into our home, he would destroy me and my mother both, sucking up our souls, or feasting on our flesh, or whatever it was that boggarts were supposed to do. I wasn’t entirely sure. I hadn’t expected this; this infiltration of our lives, or of him trying to become a part of our family. It had to be some kind of trick, so that I would lower my guard.
But, what was it that he had said to me, just the other day? I am going to stay here now. This is my new home. What if he really meant that, all of it, in every way? What if the only thing that he wanted was to stay in my uncle’s body, and marry my mother, and try to be my new dad? I nearly gagged at the idea of that. I knew that he was still the crafty raven, attempting to lure me again into some trap, and I was sure that the next one would be far worse than a bite on the hand.
I sat on my bed, and looked at the digital clock on my nightstand. It was nine o’clock. I wasn’t tired at all. Running through the yard had pumped my body full of adrenaline, and my heart was pounding away. I still hadn’t caught my breath from the chase.
There was no way I could fall asleep just then. But still, I changed into my pajamas, and went through my nightly routine. I kept my bedside light on and opened The Hobbit back up. Bilbo and the dwarves were making their way through Mirkwood forest. They had just crossed the enchanted river, which Bombur, the fat dwarf, had fallen into, and then slipped into a deep sleep. The forest was dark, and full of mystery and magic. I was jealous of the dangers that Thorin and Company had faced so far. Their monsters were all shaped like monsters, and none of them played any tricks, or lied, it seemed.
I heard raised voices, and footsteps in the hall. I quickly pulled the cord on my lamp, and shut it off. I wasn’t supposed to still be up. It was a quarter to ten now. I set my bookmark in place, and my book on the ground. Then, I laid on my back and stared at the ceiling.
I wondered if this is what my life would be like, from now on. I couldn’t do anything about my uncle forcing his way into my life. Ms. Cleary couldn’t help me. She had tried, but there was nothing that she could do. Clara couldn’t help either. And how could she? She was just a little girl, younger than me. How could she possibly help in a world that was run by adults? My mother was brainwashed and my father was dead. I wished that I was not an only child, that I had an older brother, or sister, who could help me, and be there for me. Someone who would let me know that everything would in fact be alright, and then take care of all my problems for me, because I didn’t know what to do.
Moonlight was streaming in through my open window. I had cracked it open to feel the breeze in the hot summer night. I started thinking about the other night, and the dream that I had had, when Clara came and took me out from my body and into the sky. Something so impossible and wonderful had to be a dream. Those things happened only in books and stories so that kids like me could dream about them, and wish them real. But they weren’t. They were lies. Wonderful, amazing, imaginative lies, but lies just the same. The only thing that was real, was that tomorrow, my uncle would be putting locks on all of the doors, and I would be trapped here for good.
Trapped. The very walls in my room seemed to shrink then, close all around me. I was stuck here, locked in a dungeon with no key or compass. The thought of small spaces frightened me, and my room felt very small just then. The sheets seemed restricting, and tight, and I kicked the covers loose, from where they were tucked in at the ends.
I wanted to escape from the confines of my home, to fly and soar once again through the night sky. I closed my eyes tight, and tried to remember the feeling of leaving my body. I knew that it had been a dream, but there was some small, childish part of me still, that hoped and held out for otherwise. Maybe I could trick myself into having the same dream, if only I thought long and hard about it.
It had all started with Clara, coming to my window in a haze of blurry light, so I thought of her. I pictured her in my mind: blue overalls, and brown hair tied up in a ponytail, sitting on the branch of the tree next door and popping a bubble of pink gum over her lips. Clara, I thought. Come and take me away from here again. Please. They’re going to lock me away forever.
I opened my eyes, and looked up expectantly at the window. There was nothing there. No soft hazy light. No Clara. I couldn’t help but be disappointed, but I had done it to myself. Gotten my hopes up only to let them down again.
I closed my eyes again, and this time planned on not opening them until I woke the next morning. There was nothing to do except face the next, awful day, and keep a faint hope that somehow, it would get better.
My breathing slowed, and I was so close to sleep, could feel myself drifting in and out of consciousness, when I heard a whisper in my ear.
I opened my eyes again, and this time, Clara was there.