Penny gazed out the window, down the river past the boats and seagulls to the East China Sea. Keelung’s Harbour View Hotel wasn’t that bad a place to find yourself stranded in for a couple of months she mused. Stan’s employer was paying for it and, as far as getting out of Detroit in winter, well nearly anywhere was better. In fact she had looked forward to exploring a different country, except for. Yes, well, except for.
She looked back across the breakfast table to the exception. Small, auburn haired, six years old and, as she kept telling everyone, very bored. With both sets of grandparents otherwise occupied they had no choice but to bring Marie with them. Two days into the trip Stan was already working too hard and Marie was making her feelings plain. She’d changed from her “everyone’s stoopid” song to her “bored bored” song, consisting of swinging her feet back and forth, wobbling her head from side to side, rocking in her chair singing “boring, boring, boorrinnnng”. Thankfully the other guests either didn’t speak English, didn’t care about a six year old’s tantrums, or were too polite to say anything. Penny suspected that the latter was the case. She also glumly suspected that in another seven or so weeks that would change.
Marie’s song changed to “bored, bored, gurgle, gurgle” breaking Penny out of her reverie. Marie now held the carafe of orange juice above her head and was pouring it into her mouth. Unfortunately she wasn’t a great shot and the orange juice was bouncing off her forehead, onto the table and floor. Penny was about to jump up when a hand reached out lifting the carafe away, another appearing with a towel which was gently draped across Marie’s head.
‘Miss still has problems with breakfast.’ Mr Leung, the maître d’hôtel, commented between wipes. ‘Perhaps juice is not to your taste?’
Penny blushed, embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry, she’s usually so well behaved,’ lying barefaced, ‘I think the excitement is too much for her.’
‘Indeed,’ looking over his glasses at Penny, ‘perhaps so. Maybe a less stimulating environment may help.’ He looked down at the child who, in a feat of some skill, was managing to poke tongues at him from under the sodden towel while still singing. So simple, push gently for one minute and no more trouble. He made the herculean effort not to smother the life out of the child. A dead girl after all would be worse for business than a few day’s breakfast disruption.
‘Yes, less stimulating. I don’t suppose you know of a good adoption agency?’ Penny sighed, half joking.
‘Unfortunately not, however unnghh!’ he grunted as Marie’s swinging foot caught his kneecap, ‘however I do know a very reliable day care centre nearby.’
Penny’s eyes lit up. ‘Oh that sounds so nice! Marie, did you hear what the nice man said? A place with girls and boys your own age to play with!’
‘Boring, boring, BORING!’ throwing the towel on the floor and folding her arms petulantly, ‘BOOORRRRINNNNGGG!’
Mr Leung leant down. ‘Miss does not like?’
‘Boring!’ she retorted.
‘Ah, maybe you are right. Boring it may be. After all it is full of our local children,’ turning his back but raising his voice so Marie could still hear, ‘so full that they have to play cartoons on the television all day.’
Marie halted in mid rant and burst into tears. ‘Wanna go! Wanna go NOW!’
Penny stood up, grabbed Marie in one hand and hooked Mr Leung in the other. ‘Thank god’ she whispered to him, ‘just get us there now.’
Luckily Mrs Teh’s day-care centre was nearby, had a vacancy, and was not too expensive. Inside half an hour Marie was enrolled for two months. Penny gave Marie a kiss on the cheek which went unnoticed, Marie being transfixed by the huge plasma screen in front of her, and hurried out to enjoy the day.
The smouldering dark grey sky threw thunder and lightning down to the waterfront. Marie stood alone in the driving rain, steady and expectant. Everyone else was fleeing in panic from the sea to the new city, the national park, any place but here. Marie shook her head to clear away her dripping hair, hitched up her skirt and tightened her grip on her wand. The sea in front of her boiled, bubbled then broke as two huge figures emerged dripping seaweed, mud and fish. Ugly, stinking fire-breathing visions with yellow sunken eyes they towered above Marie, above the boats, above the docks, above the tall buildings.
‘Gowrrr!’ the one on the left roared, shooting flames above Marie’s head.
‘Yowrrr!’ the one on the right belched, slapping the sea with its tail and sending waves crashing down the river.
Marie pouted, scared, and pointed her wand to the one on the right. ‘I don’t like you stinky breath’ waving her wand at it, ‘go ‘way!’
‘Owwrrr?’ it whined disappearing in a puff of foul green smoke.
‘An you’re naughty, naughty, naughty!’ yelling through her first tears at the other one, jabbing her wand at it like a knife.
‘Euurrr?’ it just had time to exclaim as it simply winked out of existence.
Stan felt his daughter dive into bed and wriggle under the sheets. He cracked open one eye. 2:30 am. A night’s sleep cut in half. Again. He felt Penny move.
‘’Nother bad dream sweetie?’
‘Mmhmm’ came the muffled response.
‘You’re safe now honey, nothing can get you.’ which was answered by soft burbling as Marie fell back to sleep.
‘Poor thing’ Stan grunted.
‘Yeah, scary world to a kid hun.’
‘And a damned tiring one for parents.’
‘Rahhrr, rahhrr, grrrr, gowrrr’ bellowed Stinky and Naughty – as Marie was calling them – as they pounded onto the waterfront. Although Marie was getting used to seeing them at night they still scared her, made her shake and shiver, made her wake up crying. Each time she’d make them go away but they’d always come back. And now Naughty was learning to talk.
‘Bhlaagrrrg!’ roared Stinky sending a lightning bolt crashing down, narrowly missing an apartment block.
‘Kowerbungaaar! Tundaberdzagooo!’ spattered Naughty, hitting a warehouse with a sheet of flame, liquid fire dribbling down its chins.
‘No, no, NO!’ Marie stomped her feet, just missing Mr Bunny who had hopped quickly aside. She’d wanted someone to help but all she got was this rabbit who had been no use. At least now he was helpful, giving her the bow and arrows he was carrying.
‘Go’ losing off the first arrow at Stinky, ‘away’ sending the second one towards Naughty, ‘NOW!’. The first one hit Stinky in the knee, popping it like a balloon. Naughty saw the arrow coming and just managed to duck.
‘Nyahnyah,’ poking out three tongues from three mouths, ‘llewwserr!’ and started down the river.
‘Takes one to know one’ she yelled, grabbing Mr Bunny by the ears and hurling him at the monster’s back. Thankfully Mr Bunny had learned his lesson, sending two hollow points from his .44 Magnum into Naughty’s head, dropping it like a sack of potatoes.
‘Home, wanna go home now!’ Marie bawled as the world around her darkened, lit only by the smouldering warehouse fire.
Marie’s morning routine of breakfast and drop off to Mrs Teh’s was becoming a little less eventful Penny thought. Not like the nights that were now regularly interrupted. They had decided to cut out the middle man and let Marie sleep in their bed. She’d end up there anyway, so why not?
A young girl greeted them at the door. ‘Where’s Mrs Teh?’ Penny asked as Marie brushed past, heading for the TV room.
‘She is with brother,’ pointing to a twisting thread of smoke on the horizon, ‘his business had fire last night, she is helping with clean-up.’
‘Oh, that’s unfortunate’ Penny mumbled absent-mindedly, ‘the day care is still open?’
‘Oh yes, most assuredly.’
Marie giggled, eyes closed as she rose through the clouds. She could feel Mr Bunny against her back, hear his bandanna snapping in the slipstream. He’d really learned his lesson and was now carrying a very nasty looking gun with spiky bits and a wide, wide barrel. ‘Let’s see what an RPG does to those numnuts’ he’d growled through clenched teeth and cigar. A wet forked tongue licked her cheek, making her open her eyes and giggle more.
‘I cans sees thems Mariess.’ The dragon she was riding pointed with a wingtip. Marie called her Twinkles, what else could you call a twenty-meter pink and purple scaled dragon that glitters in the night?
Marie patted Twinkle’s head, looking forward. Now she was annoyed. ‘How many times I hafta DO this?’ she whined, making sure she had her pixie dust ready.
‘Catss iss they iss’ Twinkles snickered, ‘Sos they hass nines lifess.’ Marie scrunched her face up hard, trying to count. She could only get to five, one hand clenching the pixie dust and her toes covered by dragon riding boots.
‘Six, six. Six it is, six it is’ Mr Bunny yammered from the back, flipping the safety off his RPG launcher, ‘three left then all gone, all go away.’
Stinky and Naughty seemed to get bigger, tougher and meaner each time Marie saw them. Waist deep in the sea, they were spinning madly in opposite directions. Huge waves went out from them landwards, the sky behind them pure black.
‘Luckypunk luckypunk dooya dooya luckypunk!’ thundered Naughty who had managed to grab a whale and throw it at a passing jet.
‘Goober goober, uber alles goober’ howled Stinky as it sent its tentacles crashing into the deck of a passing ship.
‘I don’t LIKE you!’ Marie shouted as Twinkles plummeted down, sending a half bag of pixie dust onto the creature.
Stinky smiled as the dust hit. ‘Tickles tickles tickle tickle POP!’ it went as it exploded like a giant pink skyrocket. Naughty dived below the waves missing the dust, but not before lifting one middle finger up and waving it at Marie.
Marie clenched both fists against her sides as Twinkles climbed back up from the sea. ‘Too naughty, too too naughty! Mr Bunny fire!’ with which Mr Bunny sent a dozen RPGs in a perfect anti-sub spread into the sea below.
Naughty bobbed up to the surface, face up. ‘Only hafta win once chicky punk, only once only once.’
Marie sent Twinkles down in a vertical dive, dropping the rest of the pixie dust straight down Naughty’s throat. ‘I’m the winner winner chicken dinner’ she giggled as Naughty melted into a green, oily slick. She lay down on Twinkle’s neck and closed her eyes.
Penny regarded the sky outside the hotel sadly. A nice trip to Yangmanshan cancelled by freak storm activity had started her day on a sour note, but thankfully Marie was still a little better behaved. There’d be no call to Marie’s therapist today, but also no trip. Anyway she mused, it was nothing a little retail therapy wouldn’t fix.
Mr Leung stood next to Marie with a tall glass of hot soy milk in his hand. Ever since the orange juice incident he had determined that this little girl would, at least here, taste some proper Taiwanese cuisine. He set the glass in front of her.
‘To finish breakfast Miss’ he intoned.
‘Go on Marie, drink the nice milk’ Penny encouraged.
Marie lifted the glass, took one sniff, then set it down as far away from her as possible. ‘Nope, smells icky’ she commented dryly.
‘Now darling, be a good girl and drink it. Don’t make Mr Leung have to make you.’
Marie turned slowly, looking Mr Leung in the eyes. ‘Well’ she drawled, ‘do ya feel lucky punk?’
Curious, thought Penny, where on earth did she pick that up from?
Marie stood on the beach spinning and laughing, her bright red cape billowing as Mr Bunny and Twinkles sat back and applauded. She loved how slinky her jump suit felt, red white and blue looked real nice next to Twinkle’s pink and purple. But underpants on the outside? Only silly little girls made that mistake. She jumped into the air and started flying south, Twinkles struggling to keep up as she carried Mr Bunny, the RPG launcher, .44 Magnum, spare ammo, pixie dust, bow, arrows, katana, shuriken and wand on her back.
‘Scoobie doobie scoobie doobie’ giggled Marie, rolling to the right.
‘Yowsserss, wowsserss, trousserss’ laughed Twinkles, rolling to the left.
‘Arg erk org urrrkgh!’ screamed Mr Bunny trying to hang on with one foot, having forgotten to buckle in.
‘I seess themss, I seess themss’ Twinkles pointed, ‘theyss iss on landss, the landss.’
‘Yukky yuk yuk!!’ Marie could see them near some buildings. Stinky was crouching down, going to the toilet and picking up clawfulls of its stinking hot pooh and flinging it on the buildings, the trees, the beach.
‘Shitty shitty bang bang! Paskaa minusta paska sinulle!’ it bellowed showing off its new-found language skills. It flung another handful out, wiped its hand across its face and repeated the dose.
‘You Stinky potty mouth, it’s not nice! Only little babies play with their poopies.’ Marie sent a blast from her gamma-ray vision into it, splitting it in half before it flashed away in violet flame. ‘Summones gonna hafta clean that up!’
Naughty was weeing a flaming purple stream across the whole area, anything it touched bursting into flame. It looked at the approaching trio. ‘Yo bitches! The fuck YOU want?’ it roared, too quick for Twinkles who tried to cover Marie’s ears. ‘Like just once I gotta whoop your ass or you no show an’ I’m in wid my posse!’ it howled, sending a fresh stream skywards.
‘Gonna do it, gonna do it,’ resuming spraying operations, ‘then it’s yippee kayay mother fuckers you bet!!!’ it bellowed just as a shower of pixie dust, arrows, RPGs and gamma-rays hit. Naughty glowed blue-white, shimmered, shrunk to a tiny black dot and with a “pfftttt” disappeared.
Stan lowered the mobile phone with a sigh. Ok he thought, first day free with the family up the spout. He looked across the table.
‘Looks like I’ll have to go in today after all.’
‘Oh, you’re kidding?’ Penny protested, trying to sound heartbroken. She’d actually been enjoying a bit of together time apart. ‘What’s up?’
‘Algal bloom’ Stan murmured, ‘everywhere through the tanks, ponds, reservoir, everywhere.’
‘That’s a shame.’ Penny mumbled, updating her fakebook status.
‘Ummhumm.’ Stan mumbled back, trying to finish off a scalding hot mug of coffee as fast as he could.
‘Daddy’ piped Marie quietly, ‘what’s a muvva fukka?’
Shocked, Stan sent a mouthful of hot coffee across the table.
Shocked, Mr Leung doubled over in pain as the boiling stream impacted his crotch.
Penny misspelt shopping, using only one “p”.
An hour later Penny and Stan sat waiting while Dr Mah chatted with Marie in her office. Overseas or not they had called Marie’s regular therapist in Detroit again who had referred them to Dr Mah. Although Penny thought Marie’s behaviour a continuation of what had been going on at home, Stan wasn’t so sure.
Dr Mah sent Marie out and called them in. She was all business, no idle chit chat; and at $350 an hour she needed to be. ‘As Marie’s treating therapist in Detroit has correctly said, your daughter has a very active imagination. In particular she has an ability to combine elements of the real world and ideate them into cognitively coherent self-actualising self-directed narratives.’
‘Huh?’ queried Penny.
Dr Mah took off her glasses with a slight shake of her head. ‘Simply put, she gets disconnected bits from the real world and turns them into dreams she controls.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘And I notice you have kept her at’ and she sounded distasteful, ‘Mrs Teh’s day-care?’
‘Yes, she seems nice …’
‘She has a reputation for using the television instead of trained staff. I think that would be where your daughter is picking up her colourful language.’ Dr Mah bent down and picked a luridly coloured comic from her lower drawer, placing it cover up on her desk. On the front, emblazoned with bold Japanese print, were two huge monsters laying waste to a city.
‘As to the prime protagonists in her nightmares, well, these are they. Their names are Yuch Ragman and Centai Gunyah. Marie calls them “Stinky” and “Naughty”. A very popular series here, on the mainland and in Japan. I’ve no doubt she has seen it on television. Interestingly,’ with which she gave both parents a withering stare, ‘these characters may resonate particularly well with Marie. Both were neglected children of self-obsessed parents before nuclear accidents in a foreign country transformed them.’
‘In any case’ Dr Mah continued, breaking the pregnant pause, ‘Marie says that these … monsters … will soon go away, but how soon she doesn’t know. So this leaves open three possible courses of action.’
‘Yes, which are?’
‘Well first, we do nothing and let it simply run its course. Being a result of her overactive imagination, it will come to an end when she is no longer exposed to unfamiliar external stimuli, probably by the time …’
‘… we get back to Detroit?’ Stan queried. ‘No thanks, that could be months away and I need my rest, now.’
‘So that opens up the second possibility. I could take Marie as a patient here, under her usual therapist’s guidance of course. If I see her twice a week I could help her cope, maybe even alleviate …’
Penny’s head shot up. ‘Ah no, I’m not sure we can afford that’ giving Stan the icy shut your mouth now stare before he could object, ‘money’s a bit tight until we get back home’ she lied.
Dr Mah sighed and reached for her prescription pad. ‘The final option is the pharmaceutical route, strictly short term, but it will stop the dreams.’ She hastily scrawled out the prescription. ‘It’s also cheap and works immediately. One in a glass of juice before bed. Just don’t tell her, she will only try not to take it.
As the door closed behind them Dr Mah gave another shake of her head and leant back. Useless parents.
For the fourth morning in a row Stan and Penny roused themselves from deep, uninterrupted sleep. They were still wondering if the quiet, slightly shy child who appeared between dinner and breakfast really was the hellion that was with them during daylight hours. Regardless, they had already secured a supply or Dr Mah’s “wonder pills” back home, FDA ruling or not.
They made their way downstairs to the breakfast bar which to Stan was unusually quiet. The only sound was the seemingly usual street noise of heavy traffic, human and automotive. Stan looked around as he sat. Everything seemed normal, buffet laid out, tables set, everything in place except that only the three of them were there. He, Penny opposite him, and Marie standing quietly at the windows looking out.
‘Does it seem a little quiet to you?’ Stan asked no one in particular. Penny lifted her head from her mobile’s screen.
‘Maybe everyone’s at work or we’re just early.’ she commented absent-mindedly.
‘Hmm, I don’t know. I mean, usually Mr Leung’s hovering about but …’
The object of the discussion chose that moment to burst out of the kitchen doors. Instead of his usual immaculate attire he looked a rumpled mess, as if he’d forgotten to put clean clothes on after a hard night out. Seeing the three of them stopped him dead in his tracks.
‘What you still DO here?!?’ he cried, letting his clipped British accent drop. ‘Why you here?!’
‘Breakfast of course.’ Penny retorted.
‘No, no, must go, leave now’ he chattered pulling Stan’s chair out from under him, ‘must leave immediate, NOW!’
‘What do you mean?’ Stan stood and grabbed Marie by the hand, wrenching her away from the window. Mr Leung’s look of desperation and fear had animated him. ‘What is it?’
‘No time, must go now, must go’ as he hauled Penny up, protesting, propelling her towards the stairs, ‘go, go, disaster, run!’
Stan grabbed Penny’s other arm in his free hand and helped drag her down the stairs. He’d glanced out the window to the street below, seeing the throng of people fleeing in panic along the streets, away from the waterfront. Across the city the wailing rise and fall of sirens started. Damn he thought, damn damn damn.
‘Tsunami!’ he yelled, ‘it’s a tsunami! Hurry!’
They emerged from the hotel, Mr Leung clutching Penny and Stan around the waist. They fought their way down the steps and through a seething mass of people and vehicles towards a small van in the middle of the road. Bloodied and bruised they barged in on top of the other occupants, slamming the door behind them. The van skidded away, knocking people out of its way as they fled.
‘Pen, you ok? Penny! Penny! OK?!?’ Stan cried, shaking her.
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine’ she replied, ‘just bruises. How’s Marie?’
‘Marie?’ Stan blanched. ‘Marie! Marie!!’ he yelled frantically looking around, not seeing her in the crowded van. ‘Marie!!!’, face plastered against the back window as the van ploughed on. The sea of people had closed in, his daughter was gone, and there was no way back. ‘Fuck!’ Stan punched the back door, ‘Fuck! Marie!’ he wailed.
Even if Stan didn’t know what was going on Marie did. When they got out of the hotel his hand had slipped nearly straight away, just like she’d hoped. It’s easy not to notice a six year old girl, easier when a city is in full panic. Marie had turned away towards the river and, ducking and dodging between legs and doorways made her way to the foreshore alone.
The smouldering dark grey sky started to thunder and lightning. Marie stood alone, steady and expectant as the driving rain hit the waterfront. She knew that everyone else was fleeing in panic from the sea to the new city, the national park, anywhere but here. Marie shook her head to clear away her dripping hair, hitched up her skirt and bunched her hands into fists. Far away the sea boiled and bubbled. Two enormous figures waded towards her, ugly stinking fire-breathing visions with yellow sunken eyes, towering into the sky higher than the highest buildings. Behind them from horizon to horizon a line of smaller, ugly forms marched forwards. Looks like they’ve brought their friends Marie thought.
A furry nudge on her left hip and Mr Bunny was there, loaded for bear. He gave her a quick wink. ‘Hey chickee, all yours’ he crooned, handing her the katana, ‘just like old times.’
A blast of hot air hit her from the right. She looked up straight into the eyes of Twinkles, bright and bouncy. ‘Ridingss or flyingss girlsfriendss?’ she chortled.
They shot into the air as one. ‘Okie dokey’ Marie sung, ‘let’s go play with the numnuts!’
Thanks for reading my story.
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