Episode Nine: Don’t Do Anything Stupid
Sofia’s new home had three flights of stairs to accommodate all the bedrooms for the foster children, and a big TV in the basement for all her new brothers and sisters. They spent most of their time down there, watching movies, playing video games and generally forget about the lousy hand life had dealt them as their parents thrashed around in their own decaying lives.
Besides her, there were three other girls and two boys, all between five and ten years old. The two twin boys Robert and Sam were nine years old had lost their entire family in a fire, save for one old family black sheep who was currently in rehab and being judged in ninety days as to his fitness to raise a child. The five-year-old girl Eve had bruises on her eyes and throat which were just beginning to fade from a brutal beating she had taken last weekend from her mother’s latest boyfriend. Lisa was eight and had been found wandering the streets last month after her mother had OD’d in their apartment and Lisa had taken to wandering the street for food. Ten year old Beth’s stepfather had raped her and was on trial for that as well as the disappearance of Beth’s mother.
They were all ruled by Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Olivia Sutton, and Joe’s sister Jenny. Joe Sutton had grown up in the church’s shadow and had tried hard to live his life according to the good book. He went to church every Sunday he could, but was not averse to a little hard work on the Sabbath should prudence dictate. His wife Olivia was likewise inclined, and as a means of giving back to the world, with the help of Joe’s sister, they fostered as many unfortunate little souls as they could comfortably take in. Little Sofia, left with nothing but her two dolls for company after she had been abandoned in the backyard by her crazy father upon the murder of her mother, would fill their house to capacity and they could all begin the healing together.
When Sofia arrived, all the children were playing in the basement. Olivia saw the car driven by Child Protective Services pull into their driveway and called to Joe. “They’re here!”
Joe hurried to the front door and out to the porch to greet the car. It crunched through the gravel to the foot of the stairs, skidding to a halt faster than usual. The front doors popped open and two women got out. One went to the back and retrieved a small case out of the trunk, while the passenger went to the back door and opened it. Joe could hear her speaking something into the depths of the car as the driver carried the little girl’s suitcase up the stairs.
“Hey Joe,” she said, handing the bag over to him. “Just between you and me, this little girl gives me the creeps. She doesn’t say anything unless you talk right to her and she won’t go anywhere without those two dolls.” She looked back at the car where Sofia was just stepping down from the seat, clutching two dolls as though they were life preservers.
“Jan,” Joe said with a note of reproach, “You know perfectly well a child who has experienced a traumatic–”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Jan the driver, waving a hand at him. “I know perfectly well. But she still gives me the creeps.”
Joe turned his attention to the little girl who came up his stairs. She was hollow-eyed, and looked at the ground. The dolls she clutched to her chest in a monstrous bear hug, her arms wrapped around herself. Joe noted the bandage around one hand and recalled her injury from her file. One finger severed and unable to be reattached. Paramedic’s note states she said the doll took it. Pasting his number-one smile on his face, he went to one knee.
“Hi there Sofia, my name is Joe and it’s great to have you here today!”
Her eyes flickered up once, then back down to the ground. “Hi.”
Joe threw a triumphant glance in Jan’s direction, then gestured behind him to where Olivia was standing with Jenny, wearing identical expressions of greeting. “This is my wife Olivia and my sister Jenny, they’re going to take you inside and get you settled before you meet everyone, okay?”
This time, her eyes came up and met his, and the voice that came out of her was smoother and somehow fuller than should come from a little girl. It seemed far older than the body it inhabited.
“Are there any other children here?”
Joe’s smile broadened and became more genuine. Maybe there was hope for this little girl, he thought, and replied “There sure are! There are two brothers and three other girls for you to play with. Once you get settled, maybe Olivia or Jenny will take you downstairs to play with them.”
Olivia stepped forward to take Sofia inside. “Hi there Sofia, I’d be happy to take you down to play once we get you settled in. Can you come with me for right now though?”
Sofia looked at the ground again. Her arms loosened her grip on the dolls, and she looked at one of them. It was just a glance but Joe’s flesh crawled at it.
“We want to go play now,” the little girl said, and her voice carried an unmistakable note of menace. Her eyes shifted to Jenny, and she repeated herself. “Now.”
Now it was Jan’s turn to shoot Joe a triumphant glance which he missed entirely, gaping at Sofia. “We’ll be on our way now, Mr Sutton,” Jan said, already moving down the steps with the driver. “Have a good day.” They were in the car and driving away before Jenny spoke up, her voice dreamy.
“Why don’t I take her downstairs to meet her new brothers and sisters. It shouldn’t take long.” She smiled at Sofia, who smiled back. Olivia saw the smile was the same on both faces. Vacant and slack, insincere, as though its bearer was not used to the action.
“That would be very nice,” Sofia said and moved toward Jenny before Joe could object, passing Olivia as though she weren’t even there and not giving Joe a glance. “It’s been so lonely with just the three of us, Janie and Junie are getting bored.”
Smiling at Joe and Olivia, Jenny followed Sofia into the house and down the stairs. Joe and Olivia looked at each other, releasing breaths they had not been aware they were holding.
“What in the name of God was that?” Joe whispered.
“Jenny just wants her to feel more comfortable,” Olivia said, her voice unsteady and unbelievable.
Joe opened his mouth for a rebuttal but was cut off by a terrible scream from inside. Olivia had already darted inside as he followed. She shrieked, “Jenny!” and Joe saw her go bounding down the stairs to the basement. He reached the head of the stairs and looked down.
His sister lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs, her legs twisted beneath her, white shards of bone sticking out at all angles. One arm was underneath her and blood ran from her unmoving eyes and ears, her head resting against the wall which had stopped her fall. Her jaw was slack, a loosened tooth hanging from a thread as blood dripped from her mouth. At the bottom of the stairs, Sofia stood smiling at Jenny’s broken body as she stroked the doll’s hair.
Olivia knelt beside Jenny’s still form, crying and digging in her pocket for her cell phone. Setting the dolls carefully beside Jenny’s broken body, Sofia turned to the children who had moments before been engaged in a rousing game of UNO. They had leaped up at the sound of Jenny crashing down the stairs, and the younger ones were crying. As Olivia raised the phone to her ear after dialing 911, Sofia snatched the phone and darted behind the children who were clustered around Jenny. Olivia’s snatch at Sofia was too late.
“Give me the phone back!” she screamed, causing the children to cry harder. “I have to call the ambulance!”
“No you don’t,” said Sofia, her face a mask of cruel malice. “She’s dead.”
“No!” howled Joe, taking the stairs two at a time and landing beside Jenny. “She’s just knocked out, I can see her breathing. Give us the phone!” Forgetting he carried his own, he made for Sofia.
The children as one stopped crying. The twins Robert and Sam latched on to Joe’s legs, one wrapping around each shin and halting his progress toward Sofia. The tallest girl, Beth, slipped up beside Joe and relieved him of his own cell phone, dropping it to the cement floor and stepping on it with a crunch. The other two girls grabbed Joe’s arms and pulled him over backwards with all their might, his head meeting the floor with an audible crack. Joe Sutton died without ever knowing it was coming.
Olivia was not so lucky. As she watched the children come to life and end Joe’s as though it were some horrible sequel to Children of the Corn, her eyes were drawn to Sofia. She stood in the middle of the basement, eyes fixed on Olivia.
“You’re not going to try anything stupid, are you?” Sofia asked, and Olivia trembled. There was no little girl in that voice. There was nothing human in that voice. Sofia’s eyes burned with terrible power and intelligence and Olivia shook her head, afraid to speak in the presence of one so clearly her superior.
“Go sit in the corner while they clean up these two,” Sofia said, gesturing to the corner at the far end of the room. Olivia did as she was bidden, putting her nose in the corner as she had when she was a child.
“No!” barked Sofia, and Olivia jumped. “Face out. I want you to watch this.”
Turning around, Olivia stood with her back to the corner as Sofia turned her attention back to the children who had brought down Joe. After he had hit the ground, Robert and Sam had let go of his legs and all the children stood assembled in a group, watching Sofia. Waiting. Sofia pointed at the bodies at the base of the stairs. The five children grabbed Joe’s body and drug it to the corner of the basement opposite Olivia’s corner.
Sofia was supervising the work with her back to Olivia, and it occurred to Olivia that the little girl’s head was unguarded. If she could tackle Sofia to the ground and knock her out, whatever power she had over the children would cease. Olivia’s pulse beat faster at the thought, but she knew it could be her only chance. At the thought, she moved forward, being as silent as possible, but Sofia was already turning. Throwing caution to the winds, Olivia leapt at Sofia, hoping to catch the girl in a flying tackle. Sofia merely stepped to the side and let Olivia’s leap carry her onto the floor, where the five children left off their grisly work to pin Olivia to the ground in a trice.
Sofia’s face was contorted in a furious sneer as she stalked up Olivia’s body to stand on her chest, compressing her lungs. “You said you wouldn’t be trying anything stupid,” she snarled, bouncing a little on the woman’s chest. Olivia heard a rib crack a microsecond before a thunderous pain roared through her torso. Her scream was a labored wheeze. “Now I have to show you what happens when you’re stupid.” Looking at Beth as she knelt beside Olivia, Sofia snapped, “Hold out her hand.”
Beth grabbed Olivia’s left hand and with a strength which did not belong to her ten year old body, bent Olivia’s hand and arm into position before Sofia. “This is just the first one,” Sofia breathed in Olivia’s ear, taking hold of the finger adorned with Joe’s wedding ring. “There are nine more.” Gripping the finger like a vice and holding Olivia’s hand steady, Sofia began to twist. The agony was beyond anything she had ever experienced. Olivia screamed and thrashed as the bones cracked and tissue tore. The five children she had taken in pinned her like iron the floor and not until Sofia was holding Olivia’s severed finger and grinning did they let her up.
“Are you going to be good now?” Sofia asked, wagging Olivia’s finger at her and giggling.
Olivia nodded through her grimace of agony, tears coursing down her face as she clamped her traumatized hand in her armpit, hoping by squeezing it there she could stem the awful pain roaring through her entire arm. Her broken rib stabbed with each breath.
Sofia tossed the finger into the corner with Joe’s body, then picked up her two dolls. She smoothed their hair and kissed each one in turn.
“Junie, Janie, I think we’re going to like it here,” she said to them and smiled.