“How do I look?” I ask Rebel, holding out my hand—and her dangling web along with it—so that she can get a full view. I’d done nothing special, but I still trailed my claw ring down the black velvet dress.
Rebel’s fangs wiggle.
I narrow my eyes at her. “One of these days, I will find a way to give you human language,” I say, before setting her down on the cardboard beside the dumpster. Her black slender legs creep over the board to the place that has become her spot these past few days. “But I’ll trust that you were trying to say I look horrifically beautiful, as I always do.”
Hunched so that I don’t disturb the shelter that had taken me a solid day to reconstruct after Erebus’ explosion, I back out of the tent and into the crisp morning air. Judging by the placement of the rising sun in the sky, it looks as if I have just the right amount of time left to walk to Whole Latte Love in time for my first shift to begin. Nyx had said to be there at 7 a.m. sharp, and so I will be.
I am grateful it isn’t raining, as it often had been these past few weeks. But the season is changing, bringing with it cooler days. They remind me of the Underworld: so chilling, so frigid, so perfect. I did miss the place from time-to-time, I’ll admit. It had, after all, been my home for millenium. Truth be told, I was starting to think that I actually preferred it to the mortal realm…these past few days especially, I’ve been wondering if I shouldn’t return.
But that was before today. Today, I finally have a purpose. Today is the start of the end of the mortal realm.
With my head held high, I open the front door to the daycare. When I recognize the woman with rosy cheeks and a thick waist behind the door, I am only thrown for a second.
“Oh, you’re the woman who—” I was going to torment with nightmares— “interviewed me.”
She sucks a breathe in through her teeth and a pained smile split her expression. “Yep. That’s me, Kate. Welcome to Whole Latte Love. Are you ready for your first day?”
I nod enthusiastically. I’ve been waiting for this day ever since my escape!
Kate sighs. “Come on in then.”
She moves, motioning for me to come inside and I stumble over my own feet just to get inside before she has a chance to change her mind. Inside the spacious room though, my stumbling continues, first over a rug with the alphabet on it, then nearly over a teddy bear, which sends me crashing into a nearby pile of gymnastics blocks.
Kate winces, before grabbing my elbow and hoisting me up. “At least you’re not afraid to get down in it. But you might want to save some of your energy for the drop-off.”
My eyes bulge with excitement. A drop-off. I hadn’t realize something that sounded so deadly would be at a daycare. Perhaps she’s referring to a cliff overhanging rocks, people being shoved out of airplanes, dark abysses below the ocean’s surface.
“What’s the drop-off?” I ask eagerly.
One of Kate’s eyebrows shoot up, while the other one plummets. “When the parents drop-off their children. Most of them aren’t too bad, but the little ones, they can make it difficult.”
Right on cue, someone knocks at the door. Kate motions for me to open it, so I do. Standing outside, I find a young man with a child wrapped around his torso, and another one clutching his hand, kicking the door with her rainboot.
The man grins hysterically before looking me up and down. “Has Halloween come so soon this year?”
He and his children push past me in fits of laughter, and I’m left staring down at myself in the doorway. Kate helps them get settled inside, taking lead with the eldest, as the man distracts the younger child with some building blocks, but I can’t seem to shake the feeling that a mortal man has just insulted me.
There’s another knock behind me before I can confront him though. I turn around, open the door, and this time, I am greeted by a woman, some kind of cradle in her arm and a sleeping babe inside. Her skin pales at the sight of me. She steps through the doorway and keeps her back to the wall as she walks by me and up the stairs into the children’s sleeping quarters.
One after another, parents, guardians, and family members arrive to drop-off their young, and each and every one of them greets me with disgust, judgment, or ridicule. There’s fear in their eyes, yes, and that should make me feel better, but for some reason, it doesn’t. For some reason, it makes me feel small. Insignificant. A fraud.
“Is that your Halloween costume?” a girl with coarse hair tied back in a braid asks me. She tugs at the lace sleeve that dangles at my wrist.
I snatch my arm from her. “I wear no costume.”
Before I can say anything more to her, she skips away and joins a gaggle of children at a toy bin.
I spend the next few hours cycling between preparing food, wiping bottoms and toilet seats, and pulling out one activity bin after another. There’s a relentless piece of glitter, or perhaps a feather, that I can’t seem to blink from my eye, and my ears ring with the high-pitched shrieks of the children’s laughter. Before I knew it though, my work day was almost over.
“Before you go,” Kate says, plopping a wet wash rag on a pile of spit-up. Using her weight, she pressed into it, a small puddle of soapy water spread outward. “You need to get them down for a nap. Then you can leave.”
A hateful smile lingers behind her lips, and she continues cleaning up the mess like she thinks she has the better deal between the two of us.
Little does she know, she is talking to me, Melinoë. Putting these mortal children to sleep will be no challenge to me.
“My pleasure,” I say wickedly. “Follow me, children.”
I guids the kids up the stairs to their sleeping pads, cribs, and bunk beds. Each of them lays down with ease, but I can tell by their restless movements and wandering eyes that many of them aren’t quite tired. Yet.
“Get some rest, dear mortals,” I say, my hand resting on the light switch. With my other hand, I wave it through the air, sending the soothing, calming energy of sleep out to them all, until I am sure that everyone has succumbed to slumber.
I recognize my moment then. With Kate downstairs, and me alone with the children, they are at their most vulnerable.
I flick my hand again, dark smoke oozing from my fingertips and bleeding into the room. It circles like a cloud at the ceiling. By will alone, I command strands of the living nightmare to each of their heads. There are whimpers and tears, but everyone sleeps.
Then I turn back out the door. “May you dream only of chaos, wickedness, and destruction.”
I’ll have to wait until my next shift to learn how much damage my nightmares have caused. But I have no doubt that my plan is well on its way. Corrupt the children: bring nightmares to the world.
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