Rel Rel hunched over the sheet of paper, chest pressed firmly against the table, head bent, watching every stroke of her pencil. Scribbling against the empty page of her sketch book, she curled a sharp edge for an ear, scribbling dots for eyes, and quick, wavy slashes for hair. It’s almost perfect, she thought, drawing in clothes that were too large for the rest of the body, and a rectangle tunic over formless stick legs. Now for the color!
Rel Rel was thirteen, an awkward youth with tan skin, short, boy-cut black hair and purple bangs. She wore a purple tank top, which turned yellow around her stomach, and a wrinkled pair of shorts. These were the same clothes she’d worn the day before, and she saw no reason to change. Why would she? Rel Rel adjusted her purple, star-pattern socks with one hand, still concentrating on her pad and paper.
She hopped off her stool, leaving the pencil rolling across the paper as she scuttled out of the kitchen, past the counter, and into the hallway. She ran past her mother, who was busily heading to the table with a cup of coffee cupped in her hands.
“Mija, hurry and finish! We’ll be leaving soon,” Rel heard her mother’s voice echo down the hallway.
“Right, yes, finish, I know!” Rel Rel replied, red sneakers tearing over the worn brown carpet. She kicked open the door to her room, spun to her left, and flung the cabinet open.
“Rel, over here, now!” called Father from the kitchen. “Breakfast is getting cold.”
She cleared away old drawings, pieces of paper, tossed paint brushes, bottles of ink, and tubes of paint, knocking them to the floor in a hurry. “Getting cold, yes, okay, on my way!” she called back, frantically clearing the area, hands moving quickly to a small, yellow lunch box. Stuffing a wad of paper into her mouth, she chomped down, clutched the lunchbox in one hand, and sprinted out of the room.
Bounding through the hall, she leaped into the kitchen and back into her chair. She spit the paper into her lap, plopped the lunchbox onto the table, and flipped it open. Dirty crayons, some broken, hardly any of them unused, were strewn about inside. Her eyes quickly fell on purple. “Ah, here we are!”
She began to color in the dress, then tossed the purple into the lunchbox. Rel continued with another red crayon as her mother sipped her coffee, her eyes narrowing at the little girl.
Mother was not very tall, slender, dark-eyed, with long curls of shimmering black hair. A finely pressed, pinstriped business suit was buttoned firmly to her petite form. She glanced over at Father and shook her head.
Father was a large man, round, with eyes that always looked angry, and a wild bush of black hair and matching eyebrows. Stuffed into a ruffled, button-up shirt and some worn blue jeans, Father glanced at the truck schedule to his left one last time. He chewed the rest of his eggs, eyes never turning as Rel added the finishing colors to her artwork. He looked back at Mother, then to Rel Rel and said, swallowing, “Put it away.”
“Okay,” said Rel without looking up, finishing the hair with a green crayon. “Ta-da! Isn’t it neato? Check it out.” She held it up for them to see, a triumphant smile on her lips. “With time to spare. You like it? I know, it’s good, right?”
Father sat up without even looking and moved to the sink to wash his plate, while Mother stared at her watch, sipping the last ounce of dark brew in her cup.
Rel Rel watched them for a moment, page still in hand, smiling. Maybe they didn’t hear her? I mean, how could they deny such artistic expertise! Hopping out of her chair, she waddled up to her Father’s side, holding the picture up, eyes hopeful, lips full of pride. “Did you see?”
A sigh left Father’s frown, and he said in a gruff voice, without turning to look at her, “I said put it away.”
Mother ran her fingers over the coffee cup.
“Yeah, I will, of course, Poppa! See, I gave her red and purple, cause this is how I’d look if I were a superhero…”
“Superhero?” Father’s voice lowered into a deep, arrogant chuckle.
Mother set her cup down.
“Yeah,” Rel Rel replied excitedly, “She has a hood and…”
Father’s hand came down, tore the paper from her fingers, and crushed it over and over in one hand. “Enough of this nonsense!” he shouted, his voice echoing through the whole house.
The burst knocked Rel Rel a few steps back. Her eyes watched the paper crinkle into a tight little ball. She dove at his hand, “Wait, wh-wha…? Poppa, you didn’t even…”
“Relene!” yelled Father, holding the paper away, eyes searing into his daughter.
She instantly fell at attention.
“What’d I say?” He flung the paper onto the floor. “Do something productive. Stop wasting your time on fantasy nonsense. This?” He gestured to the bouncing paper. “This is a stupid waste! Don’t be such an idiot. Do you hear me?”
Rel Rel stood at attention, eyes on the floor, avoiding the rage in her Father’s eyes. She knew full well not to challenge him when his voice reached this intensity. Her lip trembled and her eyes squished shut to hold back emotion. “Yes, Poppa.”
Father stomped out of the kitchen, shoving her aside with the bulk of his forearm. He didn’t say anything, vanishing out the kitchen door. “Stupid,” he grunted over his shoulder.
Rel Rel stood quietly, slowly moving her eyes to the crumpled wad on the floor. She took a step and listened. When she heard no movement, she cautiously moved to what remained of her drawing and unfolded the page. Rising slowly to her feet, she quietly moved to Mother’s side. Rel smoothed the papers as best as she could in her palms, and held it up to her mom, smiling, hoping for some kind of reaction. Any form of praise. Anything.
Mother didn’t look at it. She stood up, walked right past Rel Rel and put her cup into the sink. “We’ll be back later today. Clean up this mess.” Her high heels clicked out of the kitchen.
Rel was alone. She sat at the table, paper in hand, slowly lowering it into her lap. Her eyes remained on the doorway. She listened to the rustle of her parents and the slam of the door. Silence.
Head low, she clutched the drawing and headed back to her room. She moved to her desk, right in front of the window. It was quiet. It was always quiet in the mornings. She was alone; Mother and Father were at work. Brushing purple bangs from her gently waking green eyes, Rel sat down to a pad of lined paper and a ballpoint pen. Purple ink. She made sure her doll, Lily, was resting on her lap and a pair of old, worn-out aviator goggles were securely on her head before she began to doodle, then to write.
Lily was a ragged, stuffed doll stitched with blue string. She had button eyes that were already coming undone, pink yarn for hair, and a frilly blue dress that was fading on the edges. Rel had sewn Lily together two years ago, when her parents had left her home alone for the weekend.
She adjusted the goggles over her eyes and began to write.
The guardians are off addressing the King again. I’m locked in the Prison Tower of HumGlum, with only Lily to keep me company. The walls stink like sulfur and smoke, I think…
Through the eyes of her goggles, Rel noticed the world change. The walls of her room were just as she had imagined on paper: large, twisted brick walls, with a single, tiny barred window. She smelt the moist, mildew ridden floor, felt the cold, stiff breeze on her skin.
“Whoa,” she lifted her goggles. There was only her room with four white walls, a plain window, a bed to her left, a desk at her knees, and nothing but an overwhelming quiet. She drew her goggles back down, and was once again in the bricked prison cell. “Neato,” she said loudly. “These make my writing awesome!”
“Indeed, Mistress,” said a quiet, formal voice.
Rel jumped, tripping toward the gated doorway. “Oh my good gosh!”
Standing near her desk side was a young girl. She stood a bit taller than Rel. She had long, flowing pink locks and a brilliant cerulean dress with a skull pendant on her neck. Her sweet, innocent blue eyes stared back as she curtsied, bowed her head, and said, “Salutations, I live only to serve you, princess. Ask and I will obey.”
“L-Lily? You’re… big.” Rel’s eyes darted back and forth, “You’re talking to me?” Rel lifted her goggles and saw only the old stuffed doll; Lily did not speak until Rel placed the goggles down and revealed the sweet young lady.
“I am, Mistress,” said Lily. Butterfly wings in her hair, completely covering her ears, swayed as she spoke.
Rel Rel stumbled away, hands raised in a warding off gesture, “Back, foul wretch!”
Lily took a gentle step forward, never losing her posture. “Mistress?”
“Don’t Mistress me, buster brown!” Finger aimed at the doll, Rel rose to her feet, lower lip pulled forward. “I know what you’re here for… if the Doctor has taught me anything… I’m not going anywhere! No matter how wiggy your Police Box is!” She wrinkled her nose. “Do you have a Police Box?”
“Police Box?” Lily tilted her head.
“Yeah,” Rel eased her defense, slightly, “you know, time and space.”
“Time and what, Mistress?”
She smiled at that fondly, “Relative dimension in space, actually.”
“If you say so,” said Lily.
“Don’t change the subject!” Rel plucked a paint brush from the floor and brandished the bristles. “I will end you.”
Stepping forward, reaching out her hand, Lily said politely, “Mistress, if you please…”
“I said away, foul beast!” Rel Rel hurled the goggles from her eyes and dove onto the bed, rolling into her covers. Cocooned in the blankets, she peaked through a small opening near her pillow, glancing into the room. Glaring at the stuffed doll sitting on her notebook, Rel Rel crawled out of her sheets, scurried on all fours to the foot of her chair, and cautiously peaked her eyes above the top of the desk.
The doll didn’t move.
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