Wednesday, April 16, 2003 2:45 P.M.
Jillian was the first one home. Coming through the front door, she was immediately grabbed by her mother and dragged into the living room. She dropped the book she was carrying and her backpack on the floor. Her expression was disbelief.
"Ow!" she protested, loudly. "What's going on?"
Her mother, face hard as polished marble, remained grimly silent. She pulled Jill across the room to her husband's leather recliner, stopping her with a jerk.
"What is going on?" Jill again demanded.
"Where were you last night?"
Jill was instantly belligerent. "At the mall!" she cried. "Just like I said!"
"You were not!"
Jill tried to extricate herself. "I was! You can ask my friends!"
Mrs. Cooney laughed. "Your friends! You were with your friends. I am so tired of your lying, young lady!"
"Donna Britt saw the four of you in the mall parking lot, talking to a bunch of boys."
Jill exclaimed: "So!"
"So!" Mrs. Cooney accused. "You drove away with them!"
"We did not!" Jill shot back. But her eyes shifted lyingly, and Jill knew she was caught. Her face turned hot pink.
"There were so many of you in the car," her mother continued, "that you had to sit on the boys' laps!"
Jill, her belligerence tempered with fear, struggled for words. The best she could manage was: "What? She was spying on us?"
Mrs. Cooney ignored the comment.
"She followed you around College Park until you made up your minds where to go. She said you got out and went into someone's apartment. She said you were carrying on like a bunch of hooligans."
Despite herself, Jill laughed. "Hooligans! Mom--"
"Don't you dare laugh!" Mrs. Cooney exploded. "I told you not to leave the mall! Where did you go?"
"Where did you go?"
"We didn't go anywhere!"
Mrs. Cooney smacked her daughter's hip, clumsily, but hard. Even muffled by clothing, the sound was an exclamation point of shock.
Jill stared at her mother in disbelief. Fourteen years old--and theoretically beyond spanking--she had not been struck by either parent in years. She tried to pull away.
"You hit me! I can't believe you hit me! What are you doing?"
Mrs. Cooney remained hard set; her eyes and lips were pinched. Taller than her daughter by four inches, and fifteen pounds heavier, Denise was an attractive woman of thirty-four. Flaxen haired and lightly freckled across the nose and cheeks, with small breasts, she looked more like an aged teenager than a harried mother. But, looks could deceive--as Jill and her sisters could attest.
"I'm tired of you lying," Denise said.
Jill wanted to rub her hip. She did not. "I'm not lying!" she lied, again.
Denise said, simply, "You, Jenna, Krystal and Nicole."
Jill blinked. "So?"
Denise let go of her arm. She rubbed her forehead. Her eyes were strangely bloodshot, and she shook, ever so slightly. Jill had never seen her this way.
"You lie to me with such arrogance," Denise sighed. "My best friend tells me what you did, and you expect me to believe you over her?"
Jill summoned her best teenage conceit. "Well, yeah! I am your daughter!"
Denise said: "And that's exactly why I don't believe you!"
Stung, perplexed and angry, Jill looked away. "I don't believe this," she muttered. Her mother pushed her into a chair.
"Sit right there."
"Because, I said so," Denise said. She left the room.
Befuddled, Jill straightened her clothing and tried to calm down. Five feet two inches tall, and one hundred and ten pounds (if she held her breath and tiptoed onto the scale), Jill had enormous brown eyes, a wide mouth, and chestnut hair cut just above the jaw. She suffered from a mild case of acne, breasts that refused to grow, and needed eyeglasses which she refused to wear. All of which made her slightly insecure.
Hearing her mother's voice from the kitchen, Jill leaned forward. "What is she doing now?" she wondered. She stole from the chair to listen.
"She's lying through her teeth, Dawn. All of them are." Denise's voice was taut with anger. "I swear, I could just break her neck."
There was a long pause, during which Jill heard an angry buzzing--Jenna's mom on the other end. Jill wondered how much trouble they were really in.
"I'm serious," Denise continued. "They deserve a good beating. Every one of them. I only wish I had the nerve." She was silent through another length of buzzing and Jill peeked around the corner to see. Her mother rubbed her forehead, and then stood erect.
"I'm...I'm not sure," she said. "Sylvia's threatened to, before." She snapped a look back, but Jill had retreated. "The girl's are at my mom's," she said, speaking of Jill's younger sisters. She laughed, softly. "I almost want them here, just for that reason. Serve the brat right. Serve them all right."
Like an onlooker sighting what she hitherto thought impossible, Jill had a powerful feeling of dread. "Jesus," she muttered. "This is really bad."
There was another extended silence, during which Jill considered fleeing the house. She slipped back to the chair and sat down. She looked straight ahead, hands in her lap.
Surely her mother wouldn't--couldn't be thinking...
What the hell was going on?
Denise appeared at the doorway and her face suddenly twisted. Had her eyes reddened more? She motioned for Jill to follow.
"Where are we going?" Jill asked.
Her mother snapped her fingers. "Just get yourself here!"
Jill hurriedly arose, collected her textbook and backpack from the floor, and asked, plaintively, "What is going on? I can't believe you're this mad."
Denise shook her ahead. Returning to the kitchen with Jill in tow, she went to the garage and opened the closet door. She removed her winter coat and shrugged it on.
"Just do as I say," she said. "Don't talk back..." she looked at her daughter, hard "--or you'll regret it. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Jill said.
It was the first time in years Jill had addressed her mother this way--unmockingly.
Zipping her coat, Denise opened the garage door and stepped outside. Standing for an irresolute moment, Jill dropped her backpack and textbook inside the closet, and then followed. The dog-eared volume, sheathed in a worn dayglo yellow cover, was a tome on criminal justice. The title--prophetically for Jill and her friends--was: Disobedience and Discipline: Case Studies in Punishment.
"I don't like this," Jenna McTierney said. "I don't like this at all."
The friends stood in a loose circle, a mirror of each other's dread. They were in Krystal Hart's living room.
"What are they doing?" Nicole Pratt wanted to know. She hugged herself tight. "This is so weird. So totally weird."
Jill shook her head. "My mom is really pissed. More pissed than I've ever seen her."
"Mine too," Jenna said. "She wouldn't even let me change."
Jenna's outfit was identical to that of Jill's, as were all the girl's.
"What did you say?" Krystal asked.
Jenna looked around. A thin, European-featured girl with wavy brown hair and small eyes, she said: "Nothing. I told her we never left the mall."
Jill recited her mother's accusation.
"Bitch!" Jenna exclaimed, softly. "I hate that woman."
Jill completely agreed. "She followed us around, can you believe?"
Jenna, Krystal and Nicole shook their heads.
"Talk about nosy."
"Talk about rude!"
Nicole said, "What are they doing out there?"
Krystal went to the dining room arch. Tall and blond like her mother, with razor sharp features and expressive eyes, she was the group's oldest member, its most experienced, and the defacto leader. Wearing the crisp white blouse, pleated blue skirt, and blue and red- checked blazer of the Montessori Academy, Krystal appeared the perfect young student. Her friends and her mother knew better. Krystal strained to hear. She cocked her head. "They're moving furniture?" she said.
The others moved forward.
"What's with that?" Jenna asked.
The dining room chairs were gone. Where each had sat, rectangular depressions marked the carpet. Only Jill thought she knew why.
Krystal said, "I didn't even get through the door before I got grabbed. Yanked my arm almost out of my socket." She rubbed her obviously tender shoulder.
"Me, too," Jill said. She looked thoughtfully at Krystal, remembering her mother's anger, her bloodshot eyes. "You think they know?" she whispered.
Jill bumped her friend's arm.
Krystal looked around. Her eyes said, "Oh." Then she whispered, "Why bring Jenna and Nicole into it, though? That makes no sense."
It made no sense to Jill either. She shrugged. "She got on the phone with Jen's mom right away."
"Great," Jenna muttered. "Blame it on me."
"Nobody's blaming you," Krystal said. "Stop pouting."
"I'm not pouting, " Jenna said.
"You are too."
Nicole stepped away from the door. Dark-haired and tiny, the smallest of the group, Nicole was cute, but visibly insecure. Looking for affirmation, her eyes continually darted between her friends. "You don't think..." she said.
The others looked at Nicole.
"No way," she whispered. "They wouldn't dare."
"Wouldn't dare what?"
Nicole, seeing her fear mirrored in Jill's eyes, took another step backwards. "No way!" she protested, shaking her head. "That's...that's..."
Jenna and Krystal stepped forward, in unison. "What?" they both said. "Tell me!" Just then, like a cadre of jailers, Denise Cooney, Dana Pratt, Dawn McTierney, and Sylvia Hart entered the room.
Krystal demanded: "Mom! What is going on?"
"You're about to find out," Mrs. Hart said. "Into the family room. Now."
Krystal looked from friend to friend. "Why?"
"Because!" Mrs. Hart said. Her voice was a dangerous whisper. She indicated the door.
Krystal backed away--they all backed away.
"Mom, come on."
"Now, Krystal Lynne!"
Krystal shook her head. Mrs. Hart pointed at the door. "You have three seconds! After that, I do it outside."
Single file, arms folded defensively across their chests, the girls marched out of the room. At the door to the family room, they stopped. The coffee table was shoved aside, and the armchair moved against the wall. The dining room chairs were arranged in a circle around the center of the room.
Sylvia Hart said: "You know what this is." It was not a question.
Krystal only blinked.
Sylvia said: "You're being taught a lesson."
"You can't be serious," Jill whispered.
Sylvia said, "I am."
A strikingly beautiful woman in her mid-forties, the gray-suited woman stood rigidly before the four. She looked every bit the Assistant School Superintendent.
"For years now," she declared, "your mothers and I have tolerated--no, endured--deceit on your parts." Her eyes-- as bloodshot as those of Denise Cooney--shifted relentlessly back and forth. "You lie as though every word of truth were cause for shame. As though honesty were an affront to dignity. Every week it gets worse." She pointed at the television, currently staring from the corner.
The girls, were they not so distraught, would surely have rolled their eyes.
"MTV, The Simpson's, Married with Children..." She paused, her expression saying the thought of making allowance was abhorrent. "We realize it's not all your fault. Corrupt values lead to corrupt children. But we also know that the buck stops somewhere. If not with the perpetrators, then with you." She rubbed her forehead. "We'll give you this choice. Tell us what you did last night, the whole truth, and you'll at least stay clothed."
Jill and her friends recoiled.
Mrs. Hart singled out her daughter. "Well?"
Krystal, brilliantly red, stammered. "I--I--"
That's all her mother allowed.
With a suddenness that stilled Jill's heart, Krystal was yanked out of line and dragged to the closest chair. Sylvia sat down and Krystal went over her knee. A moment later her skirt was raised and a hand came down on her rear. Ka-whack!
Krystal yelped loudly--more in shock then in pain--and her right foot kicked skyward.
She was spanked again.
Jill, dazed and frightened, disjointedly thought: Pink. She's wearing pink.
Years before, in a pique of solidarity, the four had promised to wear the same color panties and bra's each day. Friday's color was blue, Thursday's was white, Wednesday's pink. Tuesday's color was green and Monday's yellow. They had not compared colors in years, but Jill wore her's religiously. As she did today. By coincidence, or by design, Krystal had also.
Krystal yelled: "Mom! Ow! Stop it!" She reached back with her right hand--the other hand clutched the chair--but Mrs. Hart grabbed it and pulled it aside. She spanked Krystal even harder.
"Mom! What are you doing!" The mortification in her voice made Jill stare, open-mouthed.
Mrs. Hart asked: "Where were last night?" "Mom! Please!"
Mrs. Hart hit her again." Where?" Before she knew the words were being formed, Jill cried out: "Missy Pupchak's!"
Mrs. Hart speared her with a glare. Jill shrank away.
"I asked Krystal," Mrs. Hart said. "Is your name Krystal?"
"N-no ma'am," Jill stuttered. This isn't happening, she thought. This isn't happening at all!
"Open your mouth again," Mrs. Hart warned, "and I'll fill it with soap. Understood?"
Face blazing red, Jill nodded.
Mrs. Hart retuned to her daughter. Krystal's panties were bordered in red.
"Where did you go last night, Krystal?"
"Missy's house," Krystal said. She had begun to cry.
Miserably, Krystal said: "Because her parents were out."
Mrs. Hart spanked Krystal twice, very hard. "You were not supposed to leave the mall." she said.
"I know, but--"
Sylvia spanked her, again. She repeated: "You were not supposed to leave the mall."
Krystal, sobbing loudly, conceded.
"What did you do there?" Mrs. Hart asked.
Mrs. Hart repeated: "What did you do at Missy' Pupchak's?"
Krystal said: "We smoked dope and fooled around."
Mrs. Hart's face went from stone to polished steel. "You smoked marijuana?"
Krystal sniffled loudly and nodded. "Yes," she sobbed.
Carefully, as though unwilling to damage the fabric, Mrs. Hart lowered Krystal's panties to her thighs. Outlines of her hand, red with white edges, were printed across the skin.
Krystal sobbed, "Mom, please!" squeezing herself closed. "Don't do this!"
A hairbrush appeared in Mrs. Hart's hand. With a grim determination, she laid into her daughter's rear end. The strikes rang throughout the house. Krystal's bottom grew crimson.
"Mom! Mommy, please!"
"You will not smoke marijuana!" Mrs. Hart yelled.
Krystal pleaded and begged and sobbed and kicked--all to no avail. "It hurts, mommy! It hurts! You're hurting me! Ow!"
"You will stay at the mall when you're told to!" Mrs. Hart yelled.
Krystal's head flew up and down. "Yes, mommy! Yes!"
Frightened to the point of panic, Jill and her friends drew together; Jenna started to cry. Nicole did also. Jill squeezed closed her eyes, then forced them open again. She would not let her friend suffer in darkness.
"You will not lie to me any more!" Mrs. Hart railed. "You will obey my every command!"
Past indignity or embarrassment, Krystal wanted only mercy. "Yes, Mommy, please!" she wailed. "I'm sorry! I am! I won't do it again!"
Scarlet in the face and gasping for breath, Mrs. Hart turned to Jill's mother: "Get a spatula from the kitchen. Would you please?"
Jill cried, "Mom! No!" and grabbed her mother's arm.
Denise threw her daughter off. Jill backed away. "Mom, please," she begged, falling into tears. "Why are you doing this?"
"Touch me again..." Denise warned. She shuddered from head to foot. Then she left the room, rubbing her forehead; she ran into the doorjamb.
What is going on here? Jill's mind demanded. Is everybody insane?
Denise returned, carrying not one, but three spatulas. One was plastic and very long, with quarter-inch slots running the length. The second was burnished wood and, though only half the length, was much heavier. The third spatula made Jill's heart freeze. It was made of stainless steel. It would hurt atrociously. Mrs. Hart held out her hand. "The plastic one is fine," she said. Denise handed it over. With the grin of a sadistic tyrant, she began to pummel Krystal's behind.
Krystal, screaming hysterically, kicked hard enough to lose both shoes. Welts raised wherever the spatula struck.
"Let me go! Let me go! I promise not to do it anymore! Let me go!"
Jill, close to hysteria, wanted to run away. "Please, Mrs. Hart!" she wailed. "No more! Can't you see--"
She was grabbed roughly from behind. The steel spatula was waved in her face. "Worry about yourself!" Denise said, fiercely. "Not Krystal!"
Jill screamed: "Why are you doing this? Have you all lost your minds?"
Mrs. Hart screamed, "You're next!" brandishing her spatula. "Compared to you, Krystal's beating is a kiss!" Her face twisted in fury. "Ten times worse! Twenty times worse!"
Jill screamed back: "Fine! Beat me! Only stop hitting her!"
Leaping forward, she grabbed the spatula and wrested it from Mrs. Hart's hand. Throwing her arm back, she screamed, "You are not hitting her again!" and swung the spatula against Mrs. Hart's face. It hit with a resounding smack.
Jill backed away. "I'll hurt you. I swear I will! Now let her go!"
Mrs. Hart rubbed her face. "You fucking little cunt!" she said.
She didn't! Jill thought, wildly. She didn't just call me a cunt!
"I'll do it again!" Jill threatened. "Let her go!"
Mrs. Hart smiled. Placing a hand in the small of her daughter's back, she said: "Come and make me, cunt."
Jill simply stared. This was something out of a Steven King novel. Worse, a story off the Internet.
"You people are crazy," she whispered. She shooed her mother and Dawn McTierney away. She thought how crazy it was, brandishing a spatula. "Let Krystal go," she repeated.
Krystal finally looked up. Mucus encircled her lips and her cheeks were twin fields of black. She looked like Alice Cooper.
Jill shivered. Why is it so cold in here? she thought. And why is the floor shaking? She looked around and saw things jittering across furniture. Like an army of lemmings, the dozen or so framed pictures atop the walnut credenza made slowly toward edge, then went over. Only Jill seemed to notice.
Circling to her left, she moved toward Mrs. Hart's chair. Mrs. Hart observed her, smiling pleasantly.
"I'm going to so enjoy this," Sylvia said. "So much."
"Oh, no, you're not," Jill countered. She had no intention of going over anyone's knee, let alone crazy Mrs. Hart's. The bitch intended more than a beating.
Continuing to grin, Mrs. Hart held out her hand. Denise handed her the stainless steel spatula.
Denise Cooney laughed. In a sing-song voice, she taunted: "Jilly's next, liar's next, now you're gonna get it!"
Without warning, and emitting high-pitched shrieks, Denise and Dawn McTierney leapt forward. They grabbed Jill's arms and wrestled her to her knees. Then Dana Pratt jumped on her back.
"Get off me!" Jill screamed. She threw herself back and forth. She shrieked as Dana tore at her hair. "Bitch!"
Like a psychotic inmate, Dana Pratt shrieked back: "How you like it! How you like it, whore!"
Jill stabbed madly with the spatula, catching Dana between the teeth. She shoved the spatula into her mouth and Dana gagged. Shoving backwards, she slammed Dana against the wall. A huge oil painting--which Jill had hated since the day Mrs. Hart hung it--banged to the floor. Then they rebounded and Dana came loose and stumbled to her knees. The spatula remained in her mouth. She vomited trying to get it free.
Then everyone was on Jill at once.
"Mom! Mom, what are you doing!"
Jill struggled to remain in her panties, which her mother struggled to rip away. "Mom!" she screamed again.
"On the floor!" Mrs. Hart shouted. "Onto the goddamned floor!" Her face was a rictus of hate; hands transformed into claws. She looked like an attacking vulture.
Jesus, Mother of God! Jill's mind shrieked. What is going on!
Then Dawn rammed her from behind and Jill went down. She struggled fruitlessly as her arms were pinioned behind her and her face pressed roughly into the nap. The floor beneath her vibrated so strongly that, if not preoccupied with her attackers, Jill would have been terrified.
"This!" Sylvia Hart yelled. "You will not enjoy!"
Dawn McTierney bent down and tore away Jill's panties. Jill screamed, "Noooooooo! Don't you dare!" and kicked with her feet.
"Hold the bitch still! Hold the bitch still!" Mrs. Hart yelled.
Jill screamed: "Mrs. Hart, no!"
Three feet away, where her mother had dumped her of the floor, Krystal sat and wept.
"Krystal! Krystal, please!"
Krystal continued to bawl.
There was an unendurably long moment, and then the first blow hit. Jill shrieked at the top of her lungs.
Mrs. Hart cackled and hit her again.
"Get offa me!" Jill screamed. "Get offa me, you bitch!" She sensed, rather than saw Mrs. Hart's arm raise again. "Don't you dare!"
With a strength not even she could believe, Jill rose from the floor. Wresting her arms free, she lashed out with them both, catching her mother flush across the mouth, and Dawn McTierney on the nose. Both women fell away. Mrs. Hart, riding Jill's back like a bull-rider, continued to flail her behind.
"Get offa me!" Jill screamed, again. She swung back and forth with both elbows, catching Mrs. Hart in the ribs. She heard something crack. Mrs. Hart shrieked and began to slide off.
Suddenly, the house violently shook and items throughout it fell. A crack opened in the wall before her, growing rapidly wider, and Jill's mind reeled.
What the fuck is going on? What the mother fuck is going on?
On her hands and knees, bleeding from the nose and mumbling incoherently, Dawn circled around to Jill's mother. Mrs. Cooney got to her knees as well, her eyes bright with hate. She looked entirely mad. Then she lunged forward and Jill barely managed to turn away before fingernails dug into her scalp.
"Yeowwww!" she wailed, at this new pain.
Denise screamed. "Bitch! I'll teach you to hit your mother!"
Wild with confusion and rage, Jill reared back and threw Mrs. Hart off. She hit the floor with a resounding thud. Grabbing her mother's wrists, Jill screamed, "Leave me alone!" and threw her mother back. Denise tripped over her own feet and crashed to the floor. Finally, Jill was free.
"Has everybody in this house gone mad?"
Horribly, she knew it was true.
Holding her badly torn skirt, Jill staggered to where Krystal sat and tried to drag her up.
"No!" Krystal sobbed. "Lemme alone!"
Krystal threw off her hand.
"Fine then!" Jill exploded. "Stay there!"
Jenna and Nicole, cowering against the wall, recoiled as Jill approached. Jill yelled. "Are you coming?"
Both hid their faces and turned away.
Jill screamed in frustration and fled the room.
Outside, she discovered the madness had spread. Children, in varying degrees of undress and terror, ran screaming about. Most were chased by screaming adults. All were female. There was not a man in sight.
"Please!" somebody wailed. "Help me!"
Jill turned to find a girl her own age, clad in nothing but a white brassiere, on her knees between two women. She was being beaten by a third. The woman swung a long- handled wooden paddle, the kind Jill had seen a thousand times in situation comedies. Only this paddle was not for comic relief. It had the teenager's bottom a horrible, brilliant red. The girl howled in pain.
This cannot be happening! Jill's mind screamed, again.
Then a commotion sounded behind her and Jill turned to find Mrs. Hart, Dawn McTierney, and Dana Pratt on the porch. Dawn and Dana looked at the surrounding tableau, and began to laugh. Mrs. Hart had eyes only for Jill. She moved purposefully down the steps, the steel spatula in her hand.
In a reasonable tone of voice, Mrs. Hart said: "I'm going to kill you." Jill understood it was true. "Stay the fuck away from me," she said, backpedaling.
Mrs. Hart laughed.
"I'm warning you," Jill said. She bunched her fists and raised them high. Mrs. Hart laughed again. "See that cunt over there?" She indicated the girl in the white brassiere. Only the girl no longer wore the brassiere, but had it stuffed in her mouth as a gag. The condition of her bottom was indescribable.
"When I'm done with you," Mrs. Hart said, "I'll hand you over to them. What do you think of that, my little cunt?"
Jill turned around and fled.
"Come back here, you bitch!"
Jill dodged as two, thirty-something women moved to cut her off. She rammed one with her right shoulder, knocking her to the ground. The other caught her across the back with a bamboo cane, and Jill shrieked. She was tackled from behind. "Gotcha!" Mrs. Hart bellowed. She scrambled onto Jill's back and flailed at her with the metal spatula.
Enraged, Jill screamed and threw Mrs. Hart off. Gaining her knees, she punched with all her might and heard a gratifying crack!, as Mrs. Hart grabbed her side. Jill punched her again and this time the ribs broke. "Yes!" she screamed. "How do you like that!"
Mrs. Hart tried to crawl away and Jill kicked her in the side. Then she kicked her again and again and yowled in triumph and hardly noticed--or cared--that her skirt ripped completely apart and fell to the ground.
"Bitch!" Jill screamed. "I'll fucking kill you!"
She was about to deliver a fifth, and possibly fatal last kick, when the shadow arrived.
She felt, rather than saw, the object.
Turning around, Jill watched as a huge band of smoke, wide as the entire sky, advanced. Flame--or something equally hot--shone through the pall.
The ground shook. Trees shimmied. Car alarms went off. Everywhere, women and children pointed skyward, suddenly nothing again but mothers and daughters.
"What in the fuck is that?" Dana Pratt cried.
Standing side by side on the porch, she and Dawn McTierney pointed skyward and gawked. Jill watched them a cautious moment, then turned back to the object.
Exhibiting a distinctly circular edge, the spacecraft approached and passed over. Darkness descended like deep twilight. Streetlights winked on.
Noticing the coolness on her buttocks and thighs, Jill looked down. Her genitals were exposed. She barely cared. Looking skyward again, she heard--or thought she heard--a low, throaty rumble.
My God! she thought. This can't really be!
Despite her protestations, the object did resemble the spacecraft from Independence Day. Right down to the immense size, the shroud of smoke, and the deeply felt rumble. Only the score was missing.
"This can't be," she said again, aloud.
Dawn McTierney and Dana Pratt ran away. Then everyone started running. Only Jill held her ground. And Mrs. Hart.
"It was a movie," Jill objected. "A fucking movie."
Fucking movie or not, the spacecraft was right there. Right there above her. Heat engulfed her like an oven and she said: "Jesus, what do we do now?"
She looked down to find the Mrs. Hart's hand, pleadingly raised. Going to one knee, Jill cautioned her to remain still. "We have to get you inside," she said. There was blood inside Mrs. Hart's mouth. Jill felt suddenly, terribly ashamed. "Come on," she said, helping the woman sit up. She flinched as Mrs. Hart gasped. "Can you stand?" she asked.
Mrs. Hart shook her head. "911?"
Somehow, Jill didn't think they'd respond.
Looking up again, Jill discovered Jenna and Nicole on the porch. They looked fearfully at the object, now directly overhead. It had started to slow, and would soon overhang the city. Jill wondered what the president thought about that.
This brought on a riotous laugh.
Tearing her eyes from the spacecraft long enough to concentrate on her friend, Jenna stripped off her blazer and came down the steps. "Here," she said, handing the blazer to Jill. She looked terribly embarrassed.
Jill placed the blazer around Mrs. Hart's shoulders.
"No!" Jenna exclaimed. She indicated Jill's lower half.
"Christ, Jenna! Like it matters! Help me get her up."
Jenna stepped away.
Jenna said, "Why?"
"Look at what she did!" Jenna exclaimed, indicating the marks on Jill's bottom.
Jill jabbed her finger skyward. "It was that! Everyone's back to normal now, haven't you seen? Now give a hand!"
"I don't know..." Jenna said.
"Well, I do. Now help."
Jenna came forward and together they pulled Mrs. Hart to her feet.
"Come on," Jill said. "Let's get inside."
Guiding Mrs. Hart across the lawn, Jill fought the urge to look up...and lost. The smoke had cleared enough to discern the incongruously, petal-shaped topography of the hull. The eight petals bloomed from the jutting central core, extending to the spacecraft's edge. Making up their length were huge slabs and outcropping of hull, almost recognizable in form. They seemed a city of stone. The ship's edge, towering monstrously high, was almost directly overhead.
"Hurry," Jill pleaded.
"This is so crazy," Jenna said.
"Just get inside."
They never made it. From atop the front steps, Nicole emitted a terrified shriek and everyone turned around. Jill knew what they'd find. A translucent dagger of green lanced down from the spacecraft's center, pulsating and strengthening with each second. Just as Jill started to scream, "Get inside!" a great burst of energy exploded downward. There was a tremendous explosion.
"Inside!" Jill screamed. "Get inside now!"
Pushing Jenna with her right hand, she looped her other beneath Mrs. Hart's arms and dragged her forward. "Inside the house!" she screamed, again. "Now!"
Jenna suddenly stopped, then screamed hysterically. Whipping around, Jill found not a devastating wall of fire, but a shimmering curtain of--what? Jill couldn't tell. It looked like a wave of heat, running from the ground to the underside of the ship. Already it was a quarter way out to the edge.
"Into the house!" Jill screamed, knowing it was useless. The closer the wave got, the more discernible its effects. Houses imploded, seeming to fall right in. Cars and trucks, shiny one moment, disintegrated into billowy, powdery dust. Sidewalks crumbled and tarmac buckled and boiled. Lawns erupted into mountainous growth, overwhelming all in their path. Trees, once six feet tall, suddenly grew to sixty feet. Sixty-foot trees withered and died.
And where the wave engulfed human beings--or dogs, or cats, or flying birds--they instantly withered and died. Older people disappeared right before her eyes. Children grew to adulthood in an instant, only to fade to old age. They fell in their tracks. Most crumbled to dust and were blown away. No one survived.
"Run!" Jill screamed again.
Jenna ran, but not toward the house. She headed across the lawn. Jumping from the porch, Nicole and Krystal gave chase, and so did Dawn, Dana and Jill's mother.
"Mom!" Jill screamed. "Help me!"
Denise momentarily stopped, looking from her daughter to the approaching wave, then ran on in panic. She ignored Jill's screams for help. Jill turned around to watch her approaching doom.
It didn't wait, she thought, crazily. It didn't wait for the signal!
Suddenly, again in an agitated state, Mrs. Hart bellowed: "Get offa me!"
Though weakened to the point of collapse, she wanted to run. Jill refused to let her go. Mrs. Hart bit her.
What difference does it make, Jill? Can she outrun the wave?
Jill released her grip. Staggering forward, Mrs. Hart went down on one knee, then struggled erect; she staggered after the others. Jill watched her a moment, then turned away.
"Close your eyes, Jillian," she whispered.
Dutifully, she closed her eyes. Then she opened them again.
High in the air, possibly right at the ship's surface, there had been a flash. Almost academically, Jill looked for its location. She held no real hope. A moment later the flash reappeared, and this time was much brighter. A visible portion of hull blew away.
My God, Jill thought. That was an explosion.
She watched debris rain down.
As the wave approached, then overtook the wreckage, something occurred. A ripple formed in the curtain's face, becoming a tear. The tear became a fracture, the fracture a gap. Where the gap hit the ground, changes dramatically slowed. Houses aged on one side, but not on the other. Lawns went to riot where the wave held strength, grew in slow motion where it did not. Vehicles remained intact. Jill began to run. The wave was less than a hundred yards away, and loosing speed. She had a chance.
"Please, God!" she wailed. "Please let me make it!"
The break began to close.
"No!" Jill screamed. "Don't you dare!" She waved as though the wave could see. "Please! Let me through!"
If she missed the break, she would die.
Then Jill became aware of someone else.
Running full out down the street, Dana Pratt bore down on Jill's position. Not on the break, but on Jill herself.
What is she doing!
Then Jill saw her eyes, saw the madness within, and knew Dana cared nothing about the break. She wanted Jill dead.
Jill ran faster.
Approaching with her teeth bared and her claws extended, Dana let out a shrill, high-pitched screech: "Bitch! I'm gonna kill you!"
"No!" Jill screamed, trying to bat her away. She landed a blow on Dana's shoulder, hard enough to make her falter. It put Jill one fateful, precious step ahead.
"You're going to die!" Dana screamed. "You hear me you fucking whore? Die like the rest!"
Jill ran with every fiber in her body. The break was less than twenty yards away, and if it didn't close, she might make it through.
"Please!" she beseeched, willing the break to remain. "Not yet!"
Right on her heels, Dana Pratt continued to scream.
"Cunt! Cock sucker! Ass-fucking whore!"
That's right! Jill's mind shrieked. Waste your breath screaming!
As they neared the break--which had narrowed to less than ten feet--Dana made one final lunge. She caught Jill by the feet. They both went down.
"No!" Jill screamed.
But her momentum was enough to free her from Dana's grasp, and she rolled head over heels into the break. It engulfed her in agony. The last thing she saw as the world changed forever was the shocked face of Dana Pratt.
Engulfed in the full violence of the wave, Dana aged a lifetime. Her scream ended abruptly as skin crinkled like parchment and her teeth rotted away. Her hair shriveled to gray wisps and cataracts filled her eyes, turning them lifelessly white. Then the wave was past and Jill, already unconscious, was saved the final moments of Dana Pratt's life.