Surprise! Not dead!
Not that anyone thought I was dead, but hey, I've not been active for some time, for which I profusely apologize. I am, literally at this moment, in the middle of multiple enormous projects. It's intense.
I meant, exhausting.
Phillipa tugged on her black skirt and shifted restlessly in the seat while the man’s voice droned on, kicking her feet together to amuse herself. Somber people filled the pews, dabbing at their eyes and sniffling. Her uncle sat near the front, his face utterly passive, but his hands were shaking. Phillipa leaned her head back all the way, inspecting the large woman behind her. Upside-down, the woman resembled a potato with the skin peeled off, sort of bumpy and slick and pasty. It made the girl giggle.
“Phillipa,” her mother reprimanded quietly. “Sit still.”
Phillipa swung her head forward again and slumped low in the chair, her feet nearly touching the ground. She pointed her toes, straining for another inch or two, and then slithered right off the pew onto the floor. She paused, flicking just her eyes toward her parents to see if they’d noticed, but they were focused on the speaker again. Her mother sucked in a breath and covered her mouth, leaning against Phillipa’s father. He squeezed her hand.
Keeping one eye on them, Phillipa flattened herself to the ground and scuffled backward under the pew. No fuss was raised and Phillipa grinned. Keeping her belly to the ground, she crawled toward the back of the sanctuary, weaving around feet and hiding under pews whenever someone thought to look down. It was all rather brave and daring in Phillipa’s opinion.
She made it to the side door and out into the hallway without being spotted even once. She inhaled deeply and thrust her chest proudly in the air, smacking the dust from her dress, more with an air of accomplishment than with any intent to wipe it black again. Then she surveyed her new surroundings. It wasn’t the same hallway she’d come in by, nor did it looked like it was very well used.
Phillipa set off at a swift march, swiping at invisible enemies as she battled her way down the hall. Her jerking movements tore her hairpins loose, releasing the two unruly braids to flop down her back. She took the opportunity to free her bangs, or what her mother lovingly called her mop. Hair free to do as it would, she continued onward. Reaching the corner, she quickly went into stealth-mode, hugging the wall and peeking her head around it.
This hall was deserted too, well, mostly, except for an odd green light sweeping out of the opening of an ajar door. Phillipa brushed her hair from her face with both hands to get a better look. The light really was green. Her eyes lit up with curiosity and she crept forward, leaning around the edge of the door.
A man in a black, satin robe stood by the narrow window, holding a baby in his arms. The man had onyx black hair swept back sharply and the glimpse of his face she could see was angular, the chin adorned with a pointed, black beard. He looked sickly, slightly green, but perhaps that was just the lighting.
Phillipa jerked her attention from the man and scanned the room, searching for the source of the light. It wasn’t until the man turned to face her that she saw the little green ball hovering by his face. She gasped when he smiled at her.
“I thought I heard a little mouse,” the man said. He had a dark purple suit on under the robe. “Don’t be frightened, child. Come in.”
“I’m not frightened!” Phillipa declared, standing up straight and jutting out her chin.
He chuckled. “Of course not. Why is a little one like you running around alone in a big place like this. Shouldn’t you be at the funeral?”
Phillipa shrugged. “It was boring.”
“Do you not know the deceased?”
“The one who passed away.”
“Oh. She’s my aunt. She left, I guess. But I think they’re lying because first they said she fell asleep and then they said she left but you can’t leave if you’re sleeping. Who’s the baby?”
The man smiled. “Why, he’s your new cousin.”
“I haven’t met him. He was just born.”
“Well here he is. Come see, come meet him.”
Phillipa hesitated a moment, then darted forward, rising up on her toes to see better as the man half-knelt, bringing the baby down close. Her cousin didn’t look like much in her opinion. His head was covered in blond wisps and he stared unblinkingly with blue eyes.
“His ears are big,” Phillipa said, lightly tugging on one.
The man laughed and straightened, lifting the baby out of her reach. “Yes. He’ll grow into them of course. Blessed with grace and handsome features, this one is. And an understanding nature. Oh yes, if left alone, he might grow into a very good man. A good leader, don’t you think?”
She shrugged. “Whatcha mean, blessed? How’d he get it? Can I?”
“You are a delightful child. It’s Phillipa, isn’t it?”
She sighed and crossed her arms. Adults always knew who she was and she never knew them. It was annoying. “Yes.”
“I’m Mallin. And I believe your cousin is called Rory. He was blessed by my relatives. They took it upon themselves to make sure he had a good start in life coming from such an unlucky beginning. He is the reason your aunt is gone you know.”
“How’d he do that? He’s just a baby.”
“It’s one of those you will understand when you’re older.”
Phillipa huffed. Then the man leaned over the baby, murmuring in what sounded to Phillipa as nonsense. The green light hovered over her cousin’s head and the baby stared at it. Unease climbed down her spine.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m giving him a gift. For when he takes his father’s place. But, shh, little girl. Don’t tell anyone. Our secret.” He reached out a narrow hand and brushed her hair back. “Why don’t you sleep for awhile?”
She frowned, pushing his hand away and stepping back. “Give me my cousin. Give me Rory. I don’t like you.”
Phillipa held her hands out for the infant, then suddenly her eyes lolled back and she slumped to the floor, fast asleep. The man watched her a moment and then hmph-ed. He tucked the infant in her arms and then disappeared.When their frantic parents found the children hours later, both were still asleep on the floor, Phillipa cradling her cousin securely. When Phillipa was questioned, she didn’t remember a thing.
Okay, okay, back to work everyone!
I said work.