Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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The Matron

My sister and me are in the walls at the farmhouse that used to be our home, but no one knows we’re here. No, we’re not dead or anything stupid like that.

Callie is only six and I’m nine, so that puts me in charge. That’s what Daddy said. He also told us to run, so we did.

I warn Callie to keep quiet as another family comes into the house to look at it. Callie doesn’t talk, not with words anyway, but she can grunt or cry when she’s excited or sad. The thought of more people in our home gets her upset.

The woman is pretty and the man talks really loudly. The other man we see all the time. We call him Itchy because he scratches his bum when he thinks no one is looking. Itchy leads them around, nods, laughs and points at the kitchen cupboards and the windows looking out to the barn. He calls them Mr. and Mrs. Harris, so I guess they must be married.

Callie says in my head she thinks the lady looks nice. That’s how we talk. I didn’t know I could do it until Callie came along, since Daddy never talked in my head. In the same way, I tell her the lady might look nice but Daddy told us never to trust anyone, no matter what.

I don’t think Itchy knows anything about Daddy or us, or why the house is empty, or at least, it’s supposed to be. He definitely doesn’t know about Daddy’s underground lab or the secret passages because he’s never found us. He doesn’t know where the secret door is into the living room or that most of the pictures and mirrors on the walls are made so we can see through them.

We’d have to wait until they were gone to go back into the house so they wouldn’t see us. The passageways aren’t the most comfortable, they’re kind of dirty, there’s wires everywhere and there’s not enough space to sit down. When we have the house to ourselves, it’s not so bad. We miss Daddy and the animals, but our furniture and our stuff is still all here so it looks nice when the new people come to look to see if they want to buy our house. I know we can’t live hidden forever. I’m not stupid. Daddy taught us all about the world outside our farm, but I brought Callie back here because I didn’t know where else to go. I keep thinking Daddy might come back and everything can go back to the way it was.

When those people came to the farm, Daddy gave us our camping backpacks and led us out the back door. He knelt down and kissed each of us, told me I was in charge and that we had to run.

Callie didn’t want to keep running. She’d stood and cried when we reached the barn and wouldn’t budge. But then I saw the lights of all those cars and I pulled really hard on her arm to get her to come with me. We haven’t seen Daddy since.

We stayed in the empty cottage way down the road for a long time, but I knew the people who owned it would be coming back in the summer time. So, after the snow melted, the flowers came out and the weather got warm, we came back.

After Itchy shows the couple the whole house, they sit down at our kitchen table and he shows them a bunch of paper work.

Daddy said the man who built the house a long time ago used the wall passageways to spy on his relatives, but he must have been a small man. There isn’t much room. Callie is getting anxious, she wants to hear more of what the lady is saying. She tries to put her ear to the back of the picture we’re looking through and her head bumps against the wall. I freeze. Itchy doesn’t seem to have heard anything, but Mrs. Harris turns her head in our direction. I duck, and then feel silly because I know she can’t see me. I look again and she’s looking at the wall where we are, but then turns back to the papers Itchy is holding.

We’re going below. Now.

I nudge Callie to move down to the underground. We can only fit one at a time in the passageways and I have to wait while she takes her little steps alongside the kitchen, then by the living room and finally to the big ladder going down.

We enter Daddy’s underground lab and I feel safe. The passages in the wall were here when Daddy moved in, but he’d made all this. I know the people that came didn’t find it because everything is still here. All his glass containers and tubes and the jars with the body parts in brown liquid are all untouched. His weird drawings and numbers are still up on the walls. The lights, the fridge and the little bathroom all still work.

The most obvious thing is that they didn’t touch what Daddy called the Matron. It’s still in the clear cylinder tank, like a giant water filled bed in the middle of the room. Callie goes up to it. She’s eye level to the stretched out floating body and she reaches out and taps on the glass. I know it’s not alive, it’s never been alive, but it still makes me nervous. I used to have nightmares about it coming to life. It would break through the glass, the blue water splashing to the floor as its thin, yellow body sits up. Then it would put its clawed feet on the ground and come for me, its four arms reaching, tentacles where its fingers should be slithering through the air trying to smother me.

I pull Callie’s hand away. There’s a cot that Daddy used to sleep on when he was working. I tell Callie to sit on it. She does, but she crosses her arms over her chest and glares at me.

I want to see the nice lady.

“Just lay down for a minute, I have to think.” I say it out loud because I’m afraid if I don’t use my voice sometimes I’ll end up like Callie and won’t ever talk again.

She’s screaming at me in my head. She wants to see the lady who looks like the princess in our storybooks. There’s nothing I can do to block it out. I don’t like it when Callie is upset, not just because she’s my little sister, but because when she’s angry she can really make a mess of things. Daddy said she’d outgrow it, that we’d both gain more control. He also said we’d change and discover lots more that’s different about us. I didn’t feel much different, but I knew Callie did, all the time.

“Didn’t you hear them say they’ll be back tomorrow to look at the house again? You can see her then.”

That calms her down and she stops yelling in my head. I can finally think.

Our supplies are getting low. We’ve eaten everything we could from the kitchen and Daddy’s emergency stores down here are almost gone. We don’t need to eat a lot, but we can’t survive on nothing, either.

What would Daddy want us to do? He said we could take care of ourselves, that we were different and if we stuck together we’d always be okay. But he hadn’t gotten around to teaching us where to go if he wasn’t with us.

They’re gone.

There’s no way Callie heard them leave, she just knows things sometimes. I nod and hold my hand out for her. She smiles, jumps off the cot and puts her little hand in mine. We’ll eat the last of the canned peaches tonight and then tomorrow I’ll think of a plan.

*

Callie wakes me up in time for us to clean up and get into the walls before Itchy comes back. He fusses with his suit, scratches his bum and looks out the window every few minutes. He seems extra itchy today.

Mr. and Mrs. Harris are back and Itchy tells them to come inside. Callie can hardly keep still she’s so happy to see the lady again.

I try to quiet her down by telling her to listen to what they’re saying because it might be important. They sit at the table, Itchy on the far side and Mr. and Mrs. Harris with their backs to us.

I think they’re going to buy the house, I say to her.

Maybe then she can be our mommy, Callie replies.

My sister’s face is so full of hope. I can’t bring myself to tell her that’s not going to happen. We never had a mom. Daddy says we’re more advanced than that. We came from parts of him and parts of the Matron. That’s why the men wanted Daddy.

I’m watching Mrs. Harris. She tucks a piece of her dark hair behind her ear and smiles at Mr. Harris. What would she do if she knew about us in the walls? Would she still want to buy our house?

I know Callie has run away before I turn and look because I can feel it. It’s like there’s a thread between us and when she’s farther away I can feel it tugging. I rush down the wall after her. I’m too late.

Callie bursts through the secret door in the living room. I don’t know whether to go after her or to stay hidden. If I leave Callie out there by herself, it won’t go well. It can’t. Then I don’t know what we’ll do.

I watch through one of the peepholes beside the doorway. I see Callie run up to Mrs. Harris, a big smile on her face. Mrs. Harris sees Callie and her face seems to freeze. Itchy jumps to his feet and his chair crashes to the floor behind him.

“What the hell?” He yells it so loud that Callie snaps an angry look at him.

I come out of hiding because I really don’t know what Callie will do. Itchy sees me and just about loses it. He’s flailing his arms around, pointing from Callie to me.

“Where did you come from? Who are you kids? What are you doing here?”

All I can think is that these people are going to upset Callie and then we’ll have a mess. Mr. Harris gets to his feet, pats Itchy on the shoulder and then moves toward us. Mrs. Harris doesn’t freak out like I thought she would. Instead, she turns in her chair and holds out both arms to Callie who rushes into them. My breath comes fast.

Callie, get away from her.

This time Callie turns her head and gives me an angry look.

“It’s okay,” Mr. Harris says to me. He kneels down and waves at me like he wants me to come closer. I don’t move.

Mrs. Harris stops hugging Callie but holds both her arms. “What’s your name?”

I hear Callie answer in her head but all the lady hears is a tiny grunt. She turns to me.

“Do you talk?” she asks me.

I don’t say a word. I’m watching Mr. Harris. I don’t like him. He’s moving closer to Mrs. Harris and Callie.

Callie, look out!

My warning doesn’t matter because Mr. Harris doesn’t go for Callie, he lunges at me. Before I can do anything, he grabs my wrist and pulls my arm around behind my back. It hurts.

Callie moves back from Mrs. Harris’s grip. She’s screaming with her mind for the man to let me go, but of course no one else hears it.

“Now, wait just a minute,” Itchy says from the other side of the table, but Mrs. Harris holds up her hand.

“Just relax. We don’t want to scare them, do we?” She looks at Callie and I listen to Callie’s thoughts. They’re not good.

Itchy’s face is pale. “What’s going on here?”

She keeps her eyes on Callie. “We’ve been really hoping to find these two.” She switches her gaze to Itchy. “You can relax,” she tells him. “We’re with the government.”

“Do you know what this is?” Mr. Harris asks. I try to turn and look but he holds me, hard. I realize he’s talking to Callie. She nods and tells me he has a gun.

“Good.” He tightens his grip on my wrist. “You’ll do as we say so nothing bad happens to your sister.”

Callie’s face goes red. Mrs. Harris reaches her hand out. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be all right. We can take you to your Daddy.”

No, Callie. She’s lying.

Callie’s eyes are full of fire when she looks at me. I know she is lying because Daddy is dead.

She says it with so much confidence I know it’s true, just like when she knows someone is coming to the house. My heart hurts more than my arm to know I’ll never see Daddy again but I try to block out the sadness so it won’t affect Callie.

I know Callie’s thoughts and it’s about to get messy. This time I encourage her. When she balls her fists and opens her mouth in an ear-piercing scream, I know to duck. I drop as low as I can with Mr. Harris still holding my wrist. It’s enough. My wrist yanks free as he’s thrown back over the table. It flips over and he lands on the other side of it with a loud crash. Itchy runs back as far as he can and stands against the counter.

Mrs. Harris gets to her feet and pulls a gun out from behind her back but she doesn’t stand a chance. Callie is angry and she’s on a roll. Mrs. Harris’s eyes get really big and then she grabs at her head. Her eyes squeeze shut and blood starts to ooze out of her ears and nose. She drops to her knees, the blood drips onto the kitchen floor.

Mr. Harris is on his feet and runs towards us. His gun is gone, but his hands are reaching out like he’s going to choke me. He doesn’t even get close. Pots hanging from a rack on the wall shoot across the room towards him. He puts his arms up to block them and some of them don’t hit his head. Some of them do. Before he can move again, the kitchen table, still upside down, slides across the floor and bangs into him. He stumbles forward, but doesn’t fall down. His arms whips around behind his back, the way he held mine and he grunts, then he is turning around toward the fallen table. I can tell he is trying to fight it, to not be forced to turn, but Callie is too strong. His body is over one of the table legs, both arms pinned behind his back.

“No, no.” He keeps saying it over and over and we both know what Callie has planned. He’s lifted off his feet and his body is thrown into the air over the table leg and then pushed down with so much force, the table leg goes right through his chest. His eyes are still open, but they can’t see anymore.

While Callie’s attention has been on Mr. Harris, Mrs. Harris has stopped holding her head and gets back to her feet again. She’s not holding out the gun anymore. She holds her free hand out to Callie. “Please,” she says. “Look.” She crouches down and puts the gun on the floor. Her hands stay out and she drops to one knee. “We aren’t here to hurt you. We just want to get to know you. Please.”

I know she’s lying again. These are the people who took Daddy and they killed him. They were going to take us too. Callie’s mind is too angry for me to connect to her, but I don’t want to stop her. I decide to stand back and watch.

Callie holds out both her arms and walks to the lady. Mrs. Harris embraces Callie. “It will be okay,” Mrs. Harris says, only I know it won’t. Not for her.

The lady gasps and she looks surprised, but she should’ve known it was coming. Callie backs away from her, out of reach. Mrs. Harris rips at her chest like she wants to get inside it. Her body does kind of a weird jerking motion and then she falls to the ground and doesn’t move again. Callie has exploded her heart.

A loud, scary booming sound goes off behind me. Callie is thrown backward and lands on her back on the ground. I run to her side. Blood is flowing out onto the carpet from underneath her and a red splotch is growing on her chest. I look up to see Itchy holding Mr. Harris’s gun.

Callie’s mind is so quiet. She’s trying to say something to me, but I can’t hear it.

Callie?

She gasps for breath, then her eyes close and her body goes limp. I feel the thread between us pull taut and then break. I can’t breathe, but I force myself to gulp air as the tears flow. I turn to look at my sister’s killer.

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Itchy’s voice shakes as much as his hand. “Just don’t move.”

I don’t have as much power as Callie, but I have enough.

I focus first on the gun and shove it from his hand. He watches it fly across the room and then stares back at me, his mouth gaping open. He falls to his knees, hands clutched like the pictures of people in church. I can feel his heart beating. I can’t make his heart explode like Callie could’ve, so I pinch his throat closed instead. He reaches for his neck, his eyes bulge and then I have an idea.

I have an important list of things to do and I’m going to need help. I hold Itchy’s throat until enough brain cells die so he’ll be easy to control. He’ll have to get these bodies away from here. I’ll find their keys and he can drive their cars into the river. I think I’m strong enough to even send him to town to get supplies so I can stay here. I need to take down that For Sale sign and have Itchy make it so no one comes back. When all that’s done, I think I’ll keep him around in case I need any big people stuff taken care of.

Most of all, I need to know how Daddy did it. If he could do it, so can I. I’ll have to learn his notes and numbers and go into his jars, but I know I will because I don’t have any other choice. I’ll work hard and I won’t be afraid of the Matron anymore, no matter what it takes. I will build another Callie and she won’t need a mommy because she’ll have me.

A bit about the author:

Sandra Wickham lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two cats. Her friends call her a needle crafting aficionado, health guru and ninja-in-training. Sandra’s short stories have appeared in EVOLVE, VAMPIRES OF THE NEW UNDEAD; EVOLVE, VAMPIRES OF THE FUTURE UNDEAD; CHRONICLES OF THE ORDER; CROSSED GENRES; LOCOTHOLOGY: TALES OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION; and THE URBAN GREEN MAN. She blogs about writing with the Inkpunks, is the Fitness Nerd columnist for the Functional Nerds and slush reads for LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE. Visit author page