Scent Notes: Blood oranges and vanilla cream.
Mandy was stunned. Mr. Jones kept laughing maniacally, long after it was appropriate to stop. His face was bright red and he was wheezing, nearly on the verge of collapse. But that’s not what Mandy was concentrating on. Her own mother was crying, shaking her head, unable to look Mandy in the eye. What had Mr. Jones meant when he said her father was dead and it was her own mother’s fault? Did her mother kill her father? Was she an innocent bystander who watched him die? Did she send him into another dimension with aliens during her initial trials of traveling through the tesseract?
She realized that both Mr. Jones and her mother had paused mid-laughter and mid-crying, respectively. Everyone else in the room seemed frozen as well. She didn’t understand why time seemed to have stopped itself. Her anger was alive, and suddenly she realized that she was standing up and her mouth was wide open, emitting a scream so high-pitched and devastating that it paused time itself. “Whoa!” Mandy cried out, breaking the spell. Everyone else in the room resumed their activities as if nothing had stopped, like nobody noticed. “Your powers are here,” a tiny voice in her head said. It was either Amy or Allie’s voice, but was so faint she couldn’t be certain. But Mandy couldn’t focus. “What happened to dad?” she asked quietly. By this point, Mr. Jones had indeed collapsed from his laughing fit, and one of the guards went to make sure he was okay. Now Mandy felt frozen, recognizing this was their chance to possibly escape, but her body wouldn’t move. This whole time, she’d been searching for her father, wanting to reunite her family and hopefully get some answers. She’d traveled through time and space, to different planets, different parts of the universe, only to land here, in some evil dude’s evil corporation’s headquarters, to find out that her mother was imprisoned and her father was apparently dead at her mother’s hand. This time, she felt the scream rising in her throat, but before it could escape, a hand smashed itself over her mouth. “Not now; time to go,” her mother said, dragging Mandy out of the room.
Her mom had managed to subdue her guard while the other one was tending to Mr. Jones, who seemingly passed out from maniacal laughter. Her mom shut the door behind them, locking the external lock, shutting Mr. Jones and his guards inside. “What? Who installs external locks?” Mandy asked as they sprinted down the corridor. “Idiots, and writers who need a convenient way to stall for time,” her mom answered, grabbing Mandy’s hand and steering her through the labyrinthine hallways. “Where are we going?” she asked her mom, hoping desperately they wouldn’t run into anyone else. “We’re getting the heck out of this prison cell they call a corporation,” her mom replied. “But we can’t leave the twins!!” Mandy said, trying to extricate her hand from her mother’s iron grip. To her surprise, her mother started laughing. “Honey, your sisters are fine. They are older and wiser on the inside than six of you and six of me combined. I’d be shocked if they weren’t….”
Before she could finish that sentence, they came to the last corridor to find the twins standing there with none other than Jackson. “I’ll explain later,” he said. “Let’s get you all out of here, fast!” The twins just smiled and waved, completely serene, looking like they’d experienced no imprisonment nor trauma. Mandy’s head was swimming, but she knew better than to stop and make everyone explain what in the ass was going on, what happened to her father, where they’d go from here, or any of the other hundreds of questions running through her brain. The whole crew ran ahead to the door at the end of the hallway, marked with lights and “NO EXIT ALARM WILL SOUND” signs. “Won’t people come after us?” Mandy tried to protest, but Jackson led the way and barged right through. Typical man, Mandy thought to herself, expecting the immediate presence of sirens, flashing lights, and more security guards. To her great surprise, none of this happened. The five of them ran straight out into the crepuscular light of the setting sun. Behind them was the absolutely gigantic, nondescript-yet-ugly headquarters of Portmanteau Inc, LLC™, or so the sign proclaimed. “Where are we going?” Mandy asked, before seeing a wooded area off to the left. “The woods, at least for now,” Jackson answered, and the whole group ran into the relative safety of the trees.
Mr. Jones was barely conscious on the floor, wisps of laughter clinging to his throat and mouth. “Sir! Sir! Are you okay?” the guard was asking over and over. The guard had pulled out a little vial of smelling salts heavily scented with blood oranges, which Mr. Jones hated. It snapped him awake and upright almost instantly, knocking the guard down into nearly the exact same position Mr. Jones had just vacated. “What happened?” Mr. Jones was irate. He noticed the other guard near the door, still unconscious. The guard closest to him stood up. “Sir, you, uh … well you got high on your own laughter and passed out again, sir, and the woman and her daughter escaped. Probably got the little ones, too.” Mr. Jones let out a howl of rage and punched a hole through the particle board table. Not a particularly impressive feat, but the guard still had to act as if he’d punched a hole through a concrete wall. “Strong display of strength, sir,” the guard said as Mr. Jones stepped over the other guard’s body to get to the door, only to find it locked. “You installed the locks backwards on the doors again, didn’t you?” Mr. Jones asked in an eerily calm voice. The guard knew that voice, and knew he was in deep trouble. “W-well, sir, you had said you wanted the ability to lock someone inside so they couldn’t get out, so that’s what we did….” “I meant just on the CELL DOORS, you imbecile!” Mr. Jones said, tripping over the guard on the floor and falling as he reached to smack the guard who had installed the locks. “Why do I hire solely from the List of Greg for my personal employees and guards?” Mr. Jones asked rhetorically to the ground. “Because we’re the cheapest option, si-” “I KNOW WHY I DO IT THANK YOU,” Mr. Jones screamed in response, standing up and banging on the door. “Please tell me you at least paid for the security alarms to be up-to-date so we know if they’ve left the building.” The guard slowly backed away from him to the opposite side of the room. “Well, you said we needed to cut costs further so your monthly bonus could double, and I just thought….” Mr. Jones turned around. “How convenient. I think I know another way to cut costs,” he said, cracking his knuckles ominously.
Back outside, Mandy, her mom, her sisters, and Jackson suddenly found themselves in a much denser forest than they’d expected from the outside heading in. “Follow me,” Jackson said, and they obliged. It was extremely dark, and it was getting worse with every step as the sun continued to set. Before they went too far in, Mandy called out, “Wait!” in a voice that made everyone halt in their tracks. “I need to hug my girls!” “Mandyyyyyy!!!” they yelled, curly hair bouncing, and they ran straight into her arms. “I missed you, my favorite little ladies!” “We missed you too,” they said with tiny grins. “Were they mean to you? Did they treat you okay?” “Oh yeah, we just used our powers and controlled people to be nice to us,” Allie said. “Wait, you can do that?!” Mandy asked, pulling out of the embrace, feeling both scared and impressed. “Not for long periods of times, but in little spurts to get them to give us food and toys in our cell, and eventually to just let us out when we felt your powers emerge, yeah, we can,” Amy said. “Okay, noted, thank you. I’m releasing you now, let’s go find our way into this creepy forest.”
Thankfully, Jackson seemed to know his way around. “You’ve done this before,” one of the twins commented after a few minutes of dutifully marching right behind Jackson, leaving Mandy and her mom in the back. Mandy was pretty sure it was Amy who spoke, but honestly she was just so happy to have them back. They’d get to a safe place, she’d find out how her mom killed her father, but she couldn’t face asking her now. “Indeed, I have been in this forest many times,” Jackson said, prompting Mandy out of her head. “When Mr. Jones was being particularly mean to me, I’d come out here in secret and stay until I’d calmed down. Sometimes I was gone for days. Nobody seemed to miss me. I always contemplated just … walking away and leaving and seeing what was beyond the forest, but I was scared to be alone again.” He abruptly stopped and turned to face the group. “But now you’re all with me!” He took a sharp left turn, and after a few hundred yards, they came to a clearing with a tiny house and a fire pit complete with Adirondack chairs flanking the circle. This was more amenities than they’d anticipated finding in the middle of the dense wood. “This is quite the setup,” Mandy’s mom said appreciatively. “Not bad, not bad.” “Yeah, benefits of having a supposed dad who distributes literally everything in the world. Took a little time to put it together, but I did it, and it has been my little sanctuary while living here. It’s pretty well-stocked with food and blankets too. I had a sneaking suspicion a situation like this might happen one day, with how crazy Mr. Jones had become with trying to find you all.” Mandy let out a swoony sigh. “You’re very smart, and very brave for having this ready,” she said. “Thanks for getting us out of there.” “I’m sorry I’m part of why you were here in the first place, honestly,” Jackson said, walking over to the firewood pile to start a small fire. “Don’t worry, we’re deep enough in the woods that they won’t see the fire from far away. I’ve tested it,” Jackson said, cutting off Mandy’s mom who was clearly about to protest about the danger of the fire leading to their capture. “Can we make s’mores?,” the twins asked in unison. “Of course we can! That’s my favorite thing to do at a fire!” Jackson said. “I always have s’mores supplies.” The twins squealed with delight, and ran into the tiny house to explore its marvelous contents. Clearly, Jackson had thought of everything.
Mandy walked over to where Jackson was sitting by the fire pit, getting the kindling lit for the fire. “I know you didn’t have a choice in helping capture us or imprison us, and it’s because of you I didn’t starve to death in the first place, so, thank you,” she said, awkwardly giving him a side hug. “Oh lord, why am I doing this,” Mandy thought to herself. “He’s going to hate me, and-” Before she could finish her thought, she realized that Jackson had lit the kindling and was turning to give her a proper hug. She could feel her face flush, and looked over his shoulder towards her mom, who had clearly been watching anxiously and upon Mandy’s eye contact with her turned abruptly to go into the tiny house and grab the twins. “Girls! Don’t eat all the chocolate before we can make s’mores!” Mandy pulled back after a moment, noting that Jackson smelled like vanilla and it made her heart skip a tiny beat. Jackson turned and finished working on the fire, and Mandy stood up just in time to see the twins running out, fists full of snacks and s’mores supplies, chocolate smeared on their faces. “Hey Mandy, can you come in here for a minute? I want to talk to you,” her mom called out. Mandy looked toward the fire, which was roaring now, and Jackson was helping the twins pick out sticks for marshmallow roasting. She felt the calmest she had in a while, and she was sure it wasn’t going to last if she had to ask her mom the question she was both dying to ask and absolutely did not want to know the answer to. Mandy nodded and walked over to the tiny house, alternating between staring down her mother and staring at the ground. The time was finally here to learn the truth about her father and what was going on.
After several hours, someone finally heard the banging on the door of the conference room Mr. Jones was trapped in. When the door opened, Mr. Jones scrambled out like he was on fire. “Why did it take you so long to open the door?! You’re fired!” he yelled, running down the hallway to another hallway to another hallway to his office. It was the middle of the night; the entire office was empty. It was a custodial worker he’d shouted at, someone he didn’t even employ, and who just continued to go around emptying trash cans and cleaning rooms after Mr. Jones’s empty threat. “Okay, time to find these annoying children,” Mr. Jones said to no one. And then he realized it was the middle of the night, everybody else was gone, and his two main guards were indisposed, potentially permanently. Mr. Jones sat down in his chair and opened his laptop. “Right. Back to the List of Greg to find new guards who can start immediately. I’m sure they are all somewhere in the woods, as that’s really the only place they could have gotten to earlier when the sun was setting. So once it’s light out and my new henchmen, er, guards have arrived, we’ll get to work finding those pesky kids and their stupid genius mother. I need to know how to utilize the tesseract! Now!” He banged his fist on the desk, which only proceeded to bruise his hand and make him curse loudly. Nobody was around to compliment his strength, so he started to do so out loud to himself, then realized how stupid that sounded, and hit his hand again, bruising it further. He cursed even louder than the first time, then set to work finding new guards.
Mandy walked into the tiny house and sat on the bench seat around the tiny dining room table. It was actually quite quaint inside, though it would definitely be a stretch to fit them all in comfortably tonight. Thank goodness her sisters were so small. “Yeah, that is a good thing,” her mom said out loud, freaking Mandy out. “Have you always been able to read my mind? I know the twins can, so let’s see if you can read this,” she said out loud, while thinking of a rather rude message to her mom. “I can’t read minds, honey, but I could read your facial expression and appraisal of this tiny home, and guessed you were wondering how we’d all sleep in here, and you were grateful that your sisters could snuggle together like a tiny bundle, right?” her mom asked. “Yeah, that’s pretty close,” Mandy begrudgingly answered. Her mom smiled. “I was thinking the same thing myself,” she said, trying to grab Mandy’s hand. Mandy jerked her arm away and looked her mom square in the eye. “Did you kill my father?”
Mandy’s mom looked down, tears immediately in her eyes. “Maybe. I don’t really know. I’m actually not certain he’s dead.” “Explain. NOW.” Mandy’s voice was void of emotion, because she knew if she showed any in her voice, she would somehow explode. Mandy’s mom put her head in her hands and started rubbing her forehead, like she had a migraine.
“Well honey, relationships are complicated. Marriages even more so. With your father, it was that cliche love at first sight stuff. At least for him. I never fully believed in that, so it took me a little longer, but I’d felt some kind of instant connection to him. We didn’t date for too long before we got married, because you were a bit of a happy surprise. I know you know all this, just trying to explain the larger context to you, because I think you’re finally old enough to know. It wasn’t a perfect marriage.” Her mom stopped talking and let out a hearty sigh, pausing for a moment. Mandy had suspected things weren’t perfect, but she’d always worshiped her father and hadn’t really concerned herself with the dynamics of her parents’ marriage. Maybe that was stupid of her, but she’d been a kid, and then her dad left, and then she was a teenager trying to figure out her life, and then all this crazy science fiction stuff had been happening lately.
Mandy’s mom dropped her hands and sat back, looking defeated. “Your dad wanted to be a professional musician so badly, but he’d had to stop while you were little. I was fighting my way up the ladder of academia, and pregnancy had set me back. We were struggling financially and emotionally. You grew up, and things got rougher. Your dad would work a part-time job while trying to get music gigs at night, and it just wasn’t happening for him. I kept moving up in academia, becoming a tenured professor, and working so hard on my academic life that I neglected my family life. I did. I admit that. I’m not proud of it, but, I can’t change it now. Your dad would quit whatever day job he was working without warning me to focus on you and his music, putting the financial burden on me randomly. It wasn’t fair, and it made me work harder and focus less on you. We were about to split up, and then I found out I was pregnant with your sisters.”
Mandy had a strange sense of her mother’s words ringing as absolute truth. Somehow, deep down, she had known this was the story, but she’d either blocked it out or convinced herself it was her fault that her dad left. Kids do tend to blame themselves when their families fall apart.
“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” her mom continued, seemingly reading her mind again. “We were just really different people. You surely knew that. Opposites attract and all that. I know that’s true, I am a scientist, after all. But my extremely analytical, logical, plan-things-out sensibility was at odds with your dad’s more laidback, musician, artistic way of life. Our polarities changed. I tried to become more laidback, and he became more rigid, and then we didn’t recognize ourselves. We tried to reconcile, but we kept fighting, and one day in the middle of a bad fight, he left. I yelled something like, ‘Good, just go on and leave!’ because I really thought he would come back. My logical brain kept saying he wouldn’t leave us forever, if only because he loved his girls so much. He really did. He just needed a break for a few days. But he never came back. I convinced myself he’d just found another person that fit his lifestyle better, but some part of me always suspected something more sinister happened. Mr. Jones told me my husband was dead when he captured me, but I don’t know if that’s really true. I just know it’s my fault he left, and if he is dead, then it’s my fault, because he left because of me.”
Her mom broke down then, sobbing uncontrollably again. Mandy quickly scooted over and wrapped herself around her mom. “Mom, it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s not your fault. People fight,” Mandy whispered, rubbing her mom’s back, while she herself started to feel some strange feeling in the pit of her chest. Maybe she was too young to know all of this, but she was also probably too young to be traveling through space and time and discovering she had some kind of latent power and that she was descended from goddesses and that her little sisters were absolute super geniuses and to be chased through time and space by some kind of weird evil not-so-genius and….
Mandy’s mom had stopped crying and sat up with a look of wonder in her eyes. “Mandy, what do you feel in your body right now?” Mandy sat with her eyes closed and focused on that funny feeling in her chest. It was mostly anger, she realized: anger at Mr. Jones for putting them in this situation, anger at her father for walking out and possibly dying and leaving her, anger at her mother for also putting her into this incredibly weird situation she was now in. But the anger was mixed with sadness and guilt, too. “It’s mostly anger, but there’s some sadness and guilty feelings there too.” “Okay, great job honey, it’s important we can recognize the feelings we feel and where they live in our body. But I want you to focus on that anger. See if you can control it. See what that feels like.” But before Mandy could do that, her brain flashed back to that weird moment earlier when it felt like her scream had stopped time. She opened her eyes and turned toward her mom and told her what happened, a mix of anger, excitement, and terror running through her body. Her mom’s eyes widened, and a smile spread over her face. “Honey! Your anger is the source of your power. We’re going to have to teach you to control it. Anger is a secondary emotion, but an extremely powerful one. If you know how to use it correctly, it can help you in so many ways. And it makes sense; you’ve been angry since your father left, but something has moved in you. I think some part of you has finally realized how strong you really are. Your sisters told me about your adventures before getting here. It sounds like you’ve been through a hell of a journey, in so many ways. And honey, this is important,” she said, putting her hands on Mandy’s shoulders and forcing her daughter into long eye contact. “I am so proud of you.” She wrapped Mandy in a bear hug, and it took a minute to realize that Mandy was now the one crying. Sobbing, really, soaking through the shoulder of her mom’s shirt with her tears. “Shhh, it’s okay, baby. We’re all back together now. It’s okay.” Her mom stroked her hair, her back, gave her the comfort she’d needed for years but hadn’t known how to ask for. Mandy felt the frustration, anxiety, and sadness from the last few weeks being released. They held each other for a few minutes, and separated when they heard a knock on the door.
Jackson tentatively opened the door and stepped in. “The little ladies have fallen asleep. Finally crashed from their sugar high. If you ladies are hungry, we can whip up some food. Otherwise, it’s probably for the best if we all try to get some shut-eye. They’ll be looking for us bright and early tomorrow morning.” Indeed, it had gotten later than they’d realized. Both Mandy and her mom declined food, and they set up for bed. The inside of the tiny house was actually two floors, and the very top seemed to mostly just be one large mattress on the floor. Her mom and Jackson had gone outside and picked up the twins. They wiped their mouths and carried them up the ladder to the mattress, where they curled up around each other. “You ladies go on up there. I’ll sleep down here on a camping pad.” Mandy was going to protest when her mother spoke up. “That’s just fine, Jackson; thank you so much.” The two women bade him goodnight and went up to the loft. Mandy was surprised at how comfortable the bed was, and how quickly she fell asleep. Weeks of containment on an uncomfortable cot made her body forget what a real mattress felt like, and she nearly instantly melted into a relaxed dreamscape in between her sisters and her mother, feeling more relaxed than she had in … years, possibly.
All too soon, they were awoken by Jackson. “Ladies, I don’t mean to alarm you, but there’s something up there with you making some kind of high-pitched noise, and it seems as if that signals danger, and we need to get out of here, NOW.” All four popped up. The twins, miraculously, had their crystals and they were, indeed, emitting the loud noise that signaled that danger is rapidly approaching. All four of them scrambled down the ladder as Jackson looked out into the forest. “They’re coming from over there. Hurry! This way!” The whole group broke into a sprint from the clearing into the forest behind them, and not a moment too soon, as Mr. Jones and the henchmen he’d just hired came to the clearing. They paused for a moment, catching their breath, while Mr. Jones ran into the tiny home. “Dammit! They’ve left!” He heard rustling in the trees not too far away, and beckoned his henchmen onward. “I should’ve known he’d stolen all this from me. That boy is just as doomed as the rest of them when I get my hands on him!” he yelled, running towards the noise.
The party of five ran on ahead, trying to get as far away as possible. They made good progress, but they knew they didn’t have long. Mandy was at the head of the pack. “Where are we going?” Mandy asked, turning around to face the group, asking as loudly as she dared. Jackson made a gesture that seemed to mean, “I have absolutely no idea,” and Mandy’s stomach flipped. “I think the girls should teleport home, to our real home, our actual home, and at least they’ll be safe,” she announced. “Mom, do you have the sonic transduc-?” But before she finished asking, Jackson had grabbed her. If he hadn’t, she would’ve ran off the sudden cliff that came out of nowhere. They’d run out of the forest and were on the edge of a huge field. To their right, the field spread out immensely, with an extremely tall boulder/cliff face. “I know this place,” she said. “I’ve dreamt of it. I know what we have to do.” She spoke fast, seeing glimpses of the men in suits coming after them through the trees. She took the transducer from her mom and gave her a quick hug. “You all stay here, it’s going to be okay,” she said, just as the men burst through the trees. Summoning her courage, she gave Jackson a kiss on the cheek. The four of them held hands, the twins beginning their strange, scary, otherworldly chanting. The wind picked up. “Don’t let them get away!” Mr. Jones yelled. One henchman lost his footing and fell off the side of the small cliff they were all on, screaming terribly on the way down. She heard two of the henchmen say, “But they’re just kids and a mom! You don’t pay us enough for this!”
“You’ll never catch me!” Mandy yelled over at them, holding up the transducer as a taunt, and she began sprinting through the field. The long blades of grass brushed up to her thighs, encouraging her to run faster, go further. She saw a huge boulder-like formation in the distance; she knew she could climb up it to safety. Was it a butte? A monadnock? She knew her sisters would know what it was called. The formation jutted out into a cliff at the end, or so it appeared from a distance, but she knew what she had to do. She could feel them gaining on her. Faster, harder, her brain yelled at her as she scrambled up the rock face on all fours. “Get the girl!” Mr. Jones was yelling, closing in faster, shortening the chasm between them. She scrambled up the rockface, pulling herself up one hand at a time, willing herself to keep going up. After what felt like hours, she finally reached the top, and stopped for one second to catch her breath and collect her thoughts. She concentrated the angry energy in her body; heck, all the energy in her body, into one condensed area deep in her chest. She could hear them scrambling, tripping over each other in their frantic race to catch her. Mandy looked down, took a deep breath, and ran off the edge just as they reached the top of the cliff. She screamed as her body hurtled through the air; she was soaring, flying, untouchable, into the vast open expanse….
Mandy woke up in a bed, sweating, shaking, absolutely terrified. This was the realest dream she’d ever had, and that was saying something. And then she realized she was holding onto the sonic transducer from her dream. Which meant it wasn’t a dream at all. She sat up straight in bed. “I’m in my room! This is MY bedroom! My messy, crazy bedroom!” She reached under the bed and found her diary, flipped it open, and found her own writing. “I’m home! I’M HOME! Oh my god. Did they make it home, too?” She dropped the journal and jumped out of bed, opened the door, and barreled down the stairs. The twins were on the sofa, watching cartoons, looking totally normal. “My girls!!” she yelled, jumping onto the couch and snuggling both of them. “I was so scared! I’m so glad you’re here safe!” “Of course we’re safe!” they answered in unison, looking at her like she had three heads. “We’re just waiting for breakfast!” “Wait no more!” their mother’s voice answered from the kitchen. “Come get pancakes and freshly squeezed blood orange juice!” Then Mandy heard a man’s laughter. She wondered if it was Jackson’s as she walked into the kitchen, where she saw…. No, it couldn’t be. This wasn’t real. She’d obviously gone somewhere else again. “Dad? Is that you?” she asked to the back of the man standing at the stove. He turned around and revealed that he was, indeed, her dad. “Of course it is, darling! Who else would be here?” He flipped a batch of pancakes into the air with one hand and caught them all perfectly … or he would have, if Mandy hadn’t run over and physically knocked him down with the force of her hug. She was full-on sobbing. “I can’t believe it’s you! It’s been so long! I’ve missed you so much! Why did you ever leave?” The questions poured out of her, straight into her dad’s chest. “What kind of dream did you have last night, girl? I haven’t gone anywhere! I’d never leave my demesne!” Mandy’s mom stood next to them and started laughing so hard that soon she was also crying. “What does that word even mean?” Mandy asked, her tears turning to laughter. That was her dad. The twins had heard the commotion and ran in, jumping on top of their dad and Mandy. “It’s his property, Mandy!” They giggled at the same time. Their mom flopped down and joined them, one big giant cuddle puddle in the kitchen. Mandy was so happy: This was all she’d wanted, and finally, after all this time, she’d gotten exactly what she wanted. And then the doorbell rang.