Krrrk. Krrrrrk. ....Krkrkrkrkrkrkr --
I'm trying to do my homework!"
Five minutes of blessed silence followed before the inevitable grinding started again. With a scream of rage, she threw herself across her bed and released her frustrations into her pillow.
It had been three weeks since Christmas, and the holiday cheer had long since faded. Some godfather or godmother or other oblivious soul who hadn't the slightest idea what to do with small children had thought it would be fun to send her little sister a 'cute present'. And that was the end of Christmas being her favorite holiday.
It was a cabasa. Or at least, that was what the label said. One of those hand-held percussion instruments she had seen the band use on occasion; rubbing your hand back and forth against the beads created an incredibly obnoxious grinding noise that reverberated throughout the house. Grace, of course, loved it. She had taken to playing with it every time she was bored, which, by virtue of being a seven year old, constituted about every other waking second. The gift giver probably considered this a success; she had a less optimistic outlook, being fairly certain that the world had become an infinitely worse place. She reminded herself three or four times a day that first-degree murder of a family member would definitely
disqualify her for valedictorian. ...Sometimes, it still wasn't enough.
"Grace, if you don't stop it right now
A pause. ...What could she reasonably threaten? Their father was never at home, leaving her to look after her little sister. And it wasn't as if Grace had much she could take away. They didn't even have a working TV; their father refused to move on from the 1960s, begrudgingly allowing only a single ancient mobile phone by way of technology. This was, of course, the only reason the cabasa hadn't been dismantled and thrown into the stream in the woods yet. It was the only thing Grace had ever gotten for Christmas that wasn't socks or pants or some other boring vital necessity.
"I will make you dinner
for the next week instead of buying it!"
...The grinding stopped.
The next day, she woke up with what she assumed was a tension headache. She wasn't sure, having never experienced one, but in the absence of the existence of cabasa headaches, this seemed like a fair second guess. It wasn't enough that the sound tormented her constantly during the day, either; she had dreamed about cabasa noises all night. Krk krk krk...
on and on and on. She couldn't even say what the dreams had been about. Grace hadn't seemed to be in them, but it had seemed like a straightforward nightmare scenario - endless woods behind the house, lots and lots of running... and the sounds of the cabasa echoing from every direction.
They really needed to get Grace more toys.
The headache refused to go away, and she spent the rest of the day feeling unwell. She'd finished her homework, at least, no thanks to Grace, but passing it in was about all she could manage without her temples threatening to cave in. Miss Thorton, her calculus teacher, seemed to delight in the fact that she couldn't even manage to solve a simple example problem and snottily corrected her with a great air of condescension.
Miss Thorton was exactly the sort of person who deserved to be sentenced to endless cabasa nightmares.
Halfway through chemistry, her phone vibrated and jolted her to attention. She realized with chagrin that her notes consisted of nothing but a doodle of O2
holding hands in marital bliss; Mr. Reiner's attempted metaphor about covalent bonds had gone a bit awry. Silently, she slid her hand into her purse and eased out the phone.Coming home early today. I'll meet Grace at the bus. Love you.
She allowed a smile. Nights when he finished work before midnight were rare, something to cherish when they had the opportunity. ...In a practical sense, of course, what this actually meant was that she didn't have to face the cabasa for a few hours. She suspected this was exactly what he was trying to say.
Maybe she'd head to the library instead. The nice, quiet library.
The remainder of the school day passed uneventfully, and on a whim, she deliberately hopped onto an entirely different bus than the one bound for the city library. She felt a slight thrill. Nobody was there to care, but she had very recently been accused of being the most boring eighteen year old girl on the planet, which she had strenuously denied. She did
do spontaneous things. It wasn't her fault her schedule was always so restricted.
But she knew what she wanted to do: she would go now to the city aquarium and perform preliminary research for her upcoming biology project. Scope out the field a bit. She knew the topic she wanted, too: penguins.
she was a little
boring. But she defied anyone to say that an afternoon spent with penguins was a poor use of time.
About thirty minutes later, she reluctantly concluded that what was
a poor use of time was arriving at an aquarium with a penguin exhibit undergoing remodeling. The sign was irritatingly clear on the point, boasting an enormous graphic of an apologetic penguin and small sad children. There wasn't much else she wanted to see, if she was perfectly honest with herself. Worse still, the headache was beginning to intensify, and she felt a sharp flash of pain as she turned to the ticket office. ...Was it even worth paying admission now?
She felt a strong urge to simply go home and see her dad.
She checked her phone for the time - and was unsurprised to see that it had died for no apparent reason. It had a habit of turning itself off at the most inopportune times. She was also unsurprised to see that she had a notification when it finally rebooted.
Three missed calls. A voicemail. Five texts.Jenn are you there?
Pick up please.
I need you to go home I'm sorry.
Something came up.
Jenn please go home.
She could feel the blood in her temples attempting to pound its way through bone.
The city bus didn't actually go any faster despite her pleading with the driver. Grace was a smart girl, she told herself. She knew the right thing to do. She would let herself inside with the key hidden in the planter, get herself a snack, and play with the stupid cabasa. Nothing would go wrong.
A sudden flash of fear jolted through her as she wondered why she didn't have any missed calls from Grace. Surely, that would have been the first thing she would do when she got home...
The front door was still locked. There was no key in the planter.
Of course - Grace had just locked it again when she went in.
But no one was answering... Her heart was in her throat as she finally fit a key in the lock and threw it open.
The house was empty, her sister's room bare.
Where could she possibly have gone? Their closest neighbor was through the woods a half mile away. There was no chance... No chance whatsoever that she would think to go there. ...Right?
She frantically dialed the neighbor's number even as she raced out the back door into the woods.
"Grace! Can you hear me?! Grace!
Panicking. She was panicking. She wouldn't accomplish anything like this - she had to stay calm. What would Grace do? There was no trail. But they had taken the path to the neighbor's before, and no doubt, she would attempt to reproduce it. The easiest way was by following the stream through the woods and then making a turn at a particular oak.
Grace was smart. She would remember.
She crashed through the branches and brush, running as quickly as she could. It had already been an hour since Grace would have gotten home...
There were no footprints or signs of recent passage that she could find near the stream. But that just meant Grace had joined the stream at a later point. ...That was all it meant.
Twenty minutes and twenty hundred screams later, there were still no footprints.
She was exhausted - the cold air was like daggers in her lungs, her feet ached, and her head was, inexplicably, still pounding. She felt something rising within her - she needed to cry or hit something or curl up into a ball and scream and scream and scream.Where was her sister?
She leaned against a tree with one hand, panting, and allowed herself to do one of those things. The hot tears streaming down her face, at least, warmed her a little.
It sounded so faintly that she was sure she was imagining it. But as she held her breath, forcing herself to keep completely silent, she could hear it clearly. Faint and far off... a familiar noise.
Her sister was so smart.Krk. Krk. Krk.
Before her, the disembodied sound of grinding beckoned her on, and she pounded through the woods again with renewed vigor. Off in the distance, the sun was beginning to reach the horizon. But she already knew there was nothing more to fear. Each time she lost the way, the grinding would point the way, and she would redirect herself towards the source of the sound.Krk. Krk. Krrrrrrrrrrk.
The most beautiful thing she'd ever heard.
She was openly sobbing when she spotted her - red jacket against a tree, knees pulled to her chest for warmth. She lifted her sister up in her arms and was amazed at how light and frail she suddenly seemed.
Somehow, she had never recognized before how small she was.
Grace would need a medical check-up, she was sure. But for now, she was safe. And that was all that mattered. A few murmured words fell from the girl's lips."My cababa..."
"Yeah. Your cababa... Thank goodness for that, huh?"
Grace nodded slowly in her arms as she closed her eyes in exhaustion, breathing out a few more words."Mm-hm. I followed it... right to you...
Her smile froze on her face.Krk. Krk. Krrrrrrrk.