Friday, May 11, 2007

Chapter Eighteen: Monsters at the Door

Several years ago, when the first of Compass’ rescue cats was a kitten, the kitten had had worms. Compass had to give her medicine, then check the cat’s stools for dead worms, to ensure that the meds had worked. The expression on Mina’s face as Compass yanked open the door, must, Compass thought, have been very similiar to her own as she squooshed through cat crap in search of dead flatworms.

“Your hair’s a disaster,” Mina snapped, and she shoved her way in.

“Welcome home,” Compass mumbled, cursing the autonomic response that had her smoothing down her hair with one hand before she could stop herself. “Why did you knock?”

“I lost my key somewhere along the way. Give me yours. You won’t be needing it now, anyway. Why are you here?” Mina stopped dead, her gaze frozen to the floor. “What. Are. Those. Dents. In. My. Floor.”

Compass was about to issue a disclaimer when Mina’s gaze fell on the guilty bicycle shoes. Compass opened her mouth to say something – she wasn’t sure what yet – but her mother was already half-way down her throat.

“Just moved in, did you? Made yourself at home? Dents in the floor, dirty bike clothes littering the hallway? Been peeing in the corners to mark your territory, perhaps?” She started moving around the entranceway, pointedly sniffing in the corners.

“I wanted to be here in case you came home. Can’t remember why just now, though.”

“How very sweet of you,” said Mina, “to move into my house in order to protect my washing machine and my satellite television, my jacuzzi. . . . well, protect them from boredom, anyway.” Just then Mina noticed the cats, both of them balled up at the back of their crates. They hated snakes.

“Ahhhh,” said Mina. “I see that your cats, at least, are ready to go. A fine idea. Go home. Give me your key and go. Take my taxi, your four-legged furballs, your floor-destroying shoes and git.” She whirled around and started up the stairs. Half-way up, she stumbled and nearly fell.

OK, thought Compass. Of course.

Mina caught the knowing look on her daughter’s face.

“Little girl,” she hissed, “don’t imagine you understand anything at all.”

Compass took her cats and her bike shoes and left. Mina had apparently opted to fly into the Portland airport, or possibly into Anchorage, and left it to Compass to pay the fare. By the time Compass and her girls had traveled the few miles from Greenlake to Capitol Hill, the meter read $207.79. She was looking for her wallet and praying he’d take plastic when the cabbie spoke – audibly – for the first time.

“That your mom?”


“Ride’s on me.”

Compass thanked him profusely, pulled her cats and her shoes out of the car and waved good-bye. He drove off, mumbling again and shaking his head.

Back at her tiny apartment, Compass called Mark to let him know Mina was back in town.

“I thought I felt my sphincter tighten,” said Mark, who’d tangled with Mina on a couple of occasions.

“Didn’t you once say she was ‘fun’?” asked Compass.

“Well, yeah, when she’s a few thousand fat, cushion-y miles away.”

Compass nodded. “I'm nodding,” she said. “Emphatically.”

“Poor girl. What will you do without Henry and Sophie to keep you company?”

“Wow. That’s so strange! I was just noticing how quiet it is in here.”

“No music?” asked Mark.

“No music. Does it play all the time?”

“Nearly every time I’ve been there.”

“You hear it?” Compass was astonished. “You never told me that.”

“I thought you’d think I was sucking up or something.”

Compass felt a momentary twinge of disappointment. She had thought that Henry and Sophie made their music for her alone. But then she realized how appropriate it was that Mark could hear it too.

“I don’t think you’re sucking up.”

“You tap your foot.”

“Huh?” Now re-acclimated, Compass’ cats were twining hungrily around her legs.

“That’s how I know the music’s playing even when I don’t hear it: you tap your foot.”

“Do I? How funny.”

“So, are they your grandparents?”

For a confused moment, Compass thought he was referring to Henry and Sophie. “Oh. Huh. Actually, I don’t know. I didn’t ask.”

“Oh, well, what about Oliver? Yay or nay on the paternity of the jewel thief?”

“Ah. Excellent question. Still unanswered.”

“Oooookkaaaaay. Any idea where Mina’s been the last couple-three weeks?”

“Dunno.” Compass was starting to feel sullen and cranky. She took her cordless phone into the kitchen and dumped some food in the cats’ bowls, then sat on the floor next to them so she could hear them crunching. That rarely failed to make her feel better.

“Good grief, Compass, did she tell you anything?”

“I have bad hair. We managed to resolve the whole hair-quality issue, and the consensus is that it’s bad. Oh, and bike shoes are the work of Satan himself. Hair and bike shoes – not bad for a night’s work, I thought.”


“She’s a monster, Mark. I am the Daughter of the Beast. There’s probably a number tattooed on my head. $207.79.”

“Sorry? You’ve lost me.”

“Nothing. She had me out of there so fast, she’s probably still enjoying the breeze. She made me give her my key- Oh crap!”


“She’s going to find the dragonflies. And the trunk, or what’s left of it. God, she’ll probably take out her wrath on the stuff I’ve left over there: my bike, my clothes, my books! It’ll be a bonfire, just her and her coven, all dancing and cackling from underneath their perfect hair. She’s just drunk enough to do it.”

“Drunk enough to pass out? Maybe we could sneak over there and get everything back. Except you don’t have a key. Any chance you left the door open?”

“The key I gave her was hers. She left without taking it. I still have mine.”

“Then let’s go. I’ll pick you up in ten minutes.”

“My car. I left my car there and took her unpaid taxi because she told me to. Jesus. How does she do that?”

“Ten minutes. Dress dark.”

Compass spent ten minutes finding dark things to wear (fortunately she’d been through a slam-poetry phase a couple of years back) and locating her key to Mina’s house. She was incredibly nervous, as if they were planning a real break-in, as opposed to a sneak-in. Given the option between finally coming face-to-face with her allegedly nefarious, gem-lifting, presumably dangerous father and confronting her drunken, ego-destroying, vitriolic mother, Compass would hang on to her earrings and take her chances with dad, no contest.

Poison in a woman-shaped vial, thought Compass. Monster in a mom-suit. As soon as her mother was gone, Compass was planning to write her biography. Coming up with possible titles was one way she passed many an idle moment.

When the knock sounded this time, Compass peered through the peephole before opening. Mark was on the other side, looking thin and ridiculous and oddly French in his all-black sneak-garb. He even had what looked like a black stocking cap in one hand. She opened the door. “What’s with the hat, Boris McBadGuy?”

Mark tapped his shaven head. “Shiny.”

Compass fought the urge to smile, then decided she’d had a shitty day and she should just go ahead and smile. She did. He smiled back.

“You ready?”

Compass took a deep breath. “Guess so.”

Back at Mina’s house, all was quiet. Too quiet, in fact: the music had stopped. Compass light-footed around the house, gathering clothes, books, papers, bags of catfood. There was no sound from Mina, apart from the slight snoring Compass could hear when she pressed an ear to Mina’s bedroom door. They got Compass’ bike up on the rack on her car and were just heading in for a final look round when they caught a glimpse of someone else in black sliding out of Mina’s front door. Before they could react, the other sneak was across Mina’s yard and gone. Compass rushed back inside to make sure her mother was still alive. She was. Alive, but completely unconscious, and the snoring that had sounded soft and feminine through the heavy door was in fact ponderous and oddly . . . bulky up close. Compass pulled the garbage can near the side of the bed and quietly let herself out. She did a quick lap through the house to see what the burglar had stolen, but since he’d had nothing in his hands, she didn’t expect to find anything missing. And nothing was. Mark was standing outside, his cell phone in his hand.

“Did you call the police?” Compass asked him.

“Well, I was wondering. Is that such a great idea when we’re dressed like this?”

“Point taken. She’s fine, all the doors and windows are locked; maybe we should leave it and check she’s OK in the morning.” Compass just wanted to get away. The house was far creepier without the ghost music playing. The strange garbage man was gone, the sneak (the other sneak, Compass couldn’t help thinking) was also gone, the house was secure. Plus, Compass’ glove compartment was full of dragonflies. Even though they were jewelless, Compass couldn’t stand the thought of leaving them there.

“Let’s roll, then.”

In the morning, Compass called her mother at an unforgiveably early hour. She got a grunt, a hiss, two cursewords and a dial tone. Mina was fine.

Compass marvelled over her calm the night before. A burglar, a real one, had scuttled out of her mother’s door, and Compass had calmly gone back inside, checked out the house, locked the doors and left. No panic, no cops, not even a great deal of emotion that she could remember. She lined the dragonflies up on her fireplace mantel, then went out and bought a bunch of CDs. By humming, red-faced, at the clerk, she managed to get several of Sophie’s favorites, and she played them now, very faintly, in the background. As she typed up notes for her next class, she occasionally looked down and realized that she was, indeed, tapping her foot.

Once her lesson planning was finished, Compass pulled up a blank document on Microsoft Word (the modern-day equivalent of rolling a blank sheet of paper into ye olde Smith-Corona, thought Compass) and started typing some notes about recent days. She tried to be relieved that her mother was home and safe, but she couldn’t help feeling sad that she wasn’t in Henry and Sophie’s house any more. She wrote and wrote and wrote, ignoring the phone when it rang, as it did, periodically. Finally, several hours later, Compass turned off her computer and went to listen to her messages.

There were three messages from Mark, just “checking in,” one from Arthur and Ginny, wondering if she’d heard from Willy yet, and one that came from far away. There was that hissing sound of a long-distance call, then a tremulous British voice:

“Is this Compass Jones? Hello? Oh, sorry, must be an answer-phone, didn’t hear the beep. My name’s Ethan Robson. I’d like to speak with you, if you have a moment. I know your parents, you see. Please don’t let them know I’ve called, just call me back, if you would.” There followed a long stream of numbers which Compass just let flow past her.

Why did she know that voice?


NuclearToast said...

Wow. Never ceases to amaze and entertain. What will happen next? We want to know, and soon!

Ash said...

How does she know the voice?!?!? I can't wait to find out!!!

Fav parts this chapter:
Been peeing in the corners to mark your territory, perhaps?
"I thought I felt my sphincter tighten,"
a real break-in, as opposed to a sneak-in - LOL!!!