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Hello everybody!  Here's kicking off Kindathon with a prompt from Anon, who wanted an unusual friendship and sponsored by titianblue!  Enjoy!

As a note, this story concerns some pretty intense bullying.  Just so you know!

Sympathies


It was cold and drizzling outside—a miserable day in December.  The girls’ breaths steamed as they hauled Tanika’s bulk across the pebbled driveway.  They were giggling.

“They say the house is haunted.”

“Full of demons.”

“But maybe you’ll get lucky.  You’re so ugly, you might scare them.”

Tanika didn’t fight or scream.  Her legs, wrists, and mouth were duct-taped, and anyway, she had tried both before, and none of it did any good.  All she could do was wait for them to get bored.

It was too dark to see the house.  It was just a big hulking blackness, perched on the driveway.  She could just make out a wizened apple tree, the splintery porch the girls had reached—

Crunch!

“Ow!  Shit!”

“Are you all right?”

“Ow!  Ow!  Goddamn it!”

The girls dropped Tanika with a thud and went to coo over their friend.  The rotten wood of the porch step had broken under her weight, gouging her shin and rolling her ankle.  Not serious, but apparently the girls were superstitious enough to get nervous.  They hastily hauled Tanika up, practically threw her through the open front door, and ran.

Tanika landed hard with a squelchy thump on a damp, moldy carpet.  Somehow, the floor held under he weight.  She smelled mold and dust.  She struggled to roll over, tried to get her knees under her, but her tights just slid against the wet carpet.  The numb haze broke; she screamed against the tape, kicked the floor.  She started to cry.

The darkness in the house somehow intensified.  A concerned voice said, “Oh, you poor dear!  I’m so sorry!” Tanika saw nothing, but she felt hands against the tape on her mouth. “Let’s get this off you.  It’ll hurt, I’m sorry.”

It did hurt, but the voice kept her distracted with chatter. “Wretched, beastly girls.  Glad I sacrificed the porch step to them.  I hope the splinters work their way out the other side.  There, how’s that?”

Tanika just sat there, tears leaking from her eyes. “I want to go home,” she whimpered.

“Of course,” the voice soothed, patting her shoulders and then moving to the tape at her wrists. “Of course you do.  Give me a moment, and I’ll have you on your feet in a jiffy.  Once you’re up, you can go to the neighbors with the yappy dog; they’ll help you.”

“Thanks,” Tanika sniffed. “Thank you, mister… miss…?”

“Oh, we house spirits don’t really go in for that kind of thing.”

Tanika still couldn’t see anything.  She snuffled, used her newly free hands to wipe the tears from her eyes and the tape residue from her mouth. “This house is haunted?”

The voice sniffed and got to work on her ankles. “I prefer the term ‘occupied,’ thank you.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s all right.  Just don’t do it again.  Oh dear, I’m afraid they used more tape here… so who were those girls, anyway?  What’s their quarrel with you?”

While it untaped her ankles and she rubbed circulation back into her arms, Tanika found herself telling the voice the whole story.  The second mortgage, the move, the special school, the excitement and joy at the idea of Tanika’s future.  The harassment and bullying that had been steadily escalating for the past six months.  She wasn’t sure if it was because she was black, poor, or fat, but at this point, it no longer mattered, since she couldn’t change any of those things.

“My parents went through so much to get me here,” she said, trying to pick the duct-tape residue out of her long hair. “I wanted to stick it out for them, I really did.  But I can’t do this anymore.  I just can’t.  I just want to call the cops, go home, and never see this school again.”

“Well, I can’t blame you for that,” the voice said, rubbing her numb ankles. “Shameful.  Absolutely horrendous.  I’d be at my wits’ end myself.  Should’ve dropped the whole balcony on their heads.” It paused, released her ankles.  Her tights were shredded from the tape and the splintery wood. “I wish I could help you more.  But I can’t leave my house.  You understand.”

“Sure.” The voice had still helped more than the school staff. “I’ve never met a house spirit before.  Are you the only one?”

“Oh, heavens no!  There are tons of us.  Any house that’s been around long enough for someone to die in—goodness, your school probably has one.  It’s just that this house has been abandoned for years.  I’ve grown sloppy, and anyway, you looked like you needed help far more than I needed my isolation.”

“Well, thanks.” She doubted all house spirits were friendly, but still, they seemed better than people so far. “You said my school might have one.  Can you find out?  Can you talk to each other?”

“But of course!  It’ll just require I pass a message along.  You know those groaning sounds old houses make? ‘Settling,’ they call it?  That’s us talking.  We prefer to do it while everyone’s asleep or away, of course.  Don’t want people listening in, you know.  Odds are good, though; your school is quite old and venerable.  Surely some janitor or teacher has died there at some point.  Why do you ask?”

Tanika paused. “I really don’t want to let them win.  I want to make it in this school, but I can’t do it like this.  But everyone thinks this house is haunted, and they already associate it with me now.  So maybe… I mean, if it’s okay with you…”

The voice paused. “Oh.  Oh!  I like that.  You’re a very clever young woman.  Come back tomorrow night.  I’ll see what I can do.  Run along now, before you catch your death of cold.”

Tanika got to her feet.  She was wobbly, but could stand. “Thank you.  Thank you!” She said, jogging off into the night.

“Remember!  The neighbors with the yappy dog!” the voice said, and then she was gone.

But she’d be back.

March 2017

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