Suffer Little Children.

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Milky blue eyes cracked open, then squinted shut in annoyance when they were met with sunlight. There was a grumble and the peach monster rolled over, trying to go back to sleep until night came.

Sounds of running water and the muffled jazz notes from the radio in the other room bounced back and forth along the yellow-tiled bathroom; providing a kind of white noise Goldie found oddly soothing. She closed her eyes and splashed water across her face, rinsing away the soap.

She dressed quickly in dark jeans, a green button up shirt and jacket, took her backpack and stepped out of her room.

The living room was still and dirty. A mostly empty wine bottle sat in the middle of the coffee table, surrounded by empty glasses and a set of house keys, the bloated remains of a cigarette floated inside. Goldie took the house keys before making her way into the noisy kitchen.

She found Sophie and David sitting at the table eating sugary cereal from blue bowls. Sophie regarded Goldie with identical eyes, her long curly hair was tucked sloppily under a knit hat; this was their usual morning greeting. David was still oblivious to the scene, instead he opted to chew his cereal and tap his fingers in time with the morning jazz hour. David liked going to public places with other people and yelling, he had also taught her how to scowl. Goldie saw no reason why she should hide her disdain for David.

"Where's mom?"Goldie pulled a cereal box out of the pantry and tipped it over her bowl, empty. She tossed the box into the recycling bin and reached for another.

"She went to the store," her sister mumbled before finishing her cereal. Sophie pushed her chair away from the table and took her bowl to the sink. She stopped when she spied her house key sticking out of Goldie's pocket. "What's up?"

"I gotta stay late after school," Goldie pulled out the last box and found it empty. She grit her teeth and snatched a slice of bread from the bread box. "Stop smoking in the living room, it stinks," Goldie stuck the bread between her teeth and headed for the door, pausing when David laughed between crunches of his cereal. "No can do, kiddo. Not until Obama makes it legal."

"Sorry, Goldie," Sophie chimed in, feeling slightly guilty. "Mom and I had some visitors over, it turned into a long night."

Goldie rolled her eyes and walked to front door, Sophie's brow furrowed in annoyance at the childish gesture. "If you're not going to stop losing your key like a kid, then at least make sure to be home in to let me in when my shift's over," she called to her sister's back.

Goldie took a fierce bite from her bread before answering, "and you tell your stupid boyfriend to stop eating all of my cereal!" She punctuated her frustration by slamming the door.

* *

The bicycle's tires screeched in protest as it was turned round a corner to quickly. Goldie broke off from the busy morning traffic, taking a side street through a neighborhood by the river. Goldie passed rows of old houses, the gardens were littered with squash and mums, the trees were beginning to show hints of red and orange.

The girl followed the river out of the neighborhood, and onto the main street again. Children her age trudged along, following the sidewalk to Sellwood Middle School. Sellwood's main building was an art deco affair that had been around since the late twenties*. It rested between the Willamette River and the homes and businesses in the central part of the city. A gym and athletics field dominated much of the block it was on.

Stopping between the main building and the basketball court, Goldie stopped, laid her bicycle and backpack on the ground and waited.

The girl hummed and fidgeted where she stood, an excited smile blooming on her face.

*Quoted directly from art class. Goldie didn't even know what art deco meant.
"Why is everyone up so early?" Shannon jumped off the last step, a book bag hung over her shoulder. She was already dressed, wearing a cute sequined top and her favorite pair of jeans. Staring curious at her Mom and younger brother, she only took a brief stop next to the bathroom to check her hair.

"We're taking your brother up to the doctor again. If we're not back by tonight, there's TV dinners in the freezer. Come straight home from school and keep the door locked." Answered her Mom, who was busy trying to get her brother to hold still long enough for her to tie his shoes.

Shannon shrugged. While her mother was distracted, she dug a few bucks out of the woman's purse. Lunch money mostly, and maybe a bucks extra for something after school. Not bothering to say goodbye, she hightailed it out of the apartment to catch the bus before it left.

The bus ride always felt like it took forever. She sat way in the back in a seat by herself, staring out the window and daydreaming.

The sun was brilliant. Warm and glowing a dark orange as it descended low in the sky. The blue slowly giving way to hues of red and purple. White sparkles of stars peeping out here and there. Hands on her hips, she was waiting patiently. Only occasionally glancing over her shoulder for her companions to be ready for the day's quest.

When the bus arrived at school, Shannon waited until most of the people had shuffled off before she finally got out of her seat and exited the bus too. Once her feet hit the sidewalk, she took off running. Dodging the chit-chatting students that hadn't made their way inside yet and avoiding the curious stares of teachers.

Shannon practically bounced in to the small space between the school and basketball court. Her backpack being slung off as she immediately started digging around in it.

"Hey! Guess what. I finished some of my drawings! I even got some new colored pencils so I can color them too. Have you decided what colors you liked better? Oh, are we gonna skip school today? My Mom isn't even going to be home. Here, look at the pictures!" Shannon handed over a folder that was covered in scribbles and stickers. It was her collection of art for all of their stories and probably her greatest treasure ever.
Goldie's eyes widened with excitement, as she took the folder from the other girl's hand. She flipped through each page, taking a moment to study each drawing before she found a drawing of a spindly girl.

"These are so good, I wish I could draw like you," Goldie mumbled, before quietly regarding the drawing for a moment. "This is really good. for the hair, you should make it all kinds of red, and the eyes should be like" milky moony blue eyes blinked awake, blind dog eyes glowing in the darkness. The peach monster yawned and shifted, dozens of popping noises erupting from her spine, before she crawled from her den.

Mao crouched low, waiting for the last of the sun to disappear before she stood next to her companion. When she spoke, the scent of peach blossoms and cool earth permeated the air.

"What shall we do tonight?" Her voice was quiet, like flesh rubbing against bark. Just then, the wind picked up, causing hair and clothes to billow about. Extra long, claw-tipped fingers tucked a stray tangle of hair behind her ear.

"Perhaps we should let the wind take us to the sky."

The folder was between them now, the two girls sat in the grass idly passing the time before school started.

"We can't miss school today, they're announcing what booth we'll get to work at the Halloween carnival," Goldie lazily played with a blade of grass between her fingers. "I hope we get to do the Haunted House, you can draw us monster costumes, and then we can make them," the girl grinned, flashing the small gap between her front teeth.

"We can scare all the seventh graders!"
"Howdy, Miss." The drawl was long and smooth, the clear voice of a knight. Someone stable and safe and calm. A person to trust. "I reckon…it's been a while."

The lady didn't turn around, her back facing him. A gentle wind blew through the cool azure stone atrium, her gauzy dress and the silk curtains gently billowing like clouds, or smoke. A knot of dread began to build in his stomach as the material threatened to block her from his view. He took a step forward, one hand hesitantly jerking forward, but freezing just before he could raise it.

His head tilted downward, his lightly stubbled jaw clenching as he fought to keep his voice even. "It's been a while…and I…I want you to come with me…I want to…"

I want to save you.

His eyes fluttered open heavily. Or rather, practically peeled open. Dried tears and sticky sleep catching on his thick eyelashes, making it sting to even open them. Heavy steams of light filtered in through the gauzy curtains above him, the lush leaves casting mottled shadows on the floor. He blinked harshly and rolled onto his side, sleepy gaze catching a few of the dust motes that lazily danced about in the sunlight.

He kept his eyes shut for a few more moments before glancing up at his alarm clock on the dresser. The sassy little yellow duck with his chubby arms on his hips smiled happily at him, greeting him brightly with his sunshine-colored plastic body. The boy reached over and pressed the button on the duck's foot before the alarm could go off. He didn't like to wake up to the loud artificial sound…He preferred the old way of waking up…with someone gently blowing in his ear, softly calling his name until the tickles woke him.

Sliding out of bed he padded over to his dresser, pulling out the clothes he needed, tucking them under his arm and taking them into his bathroom with him. After a few moments he emerged, clean and ready for the day. He went back into his room and padded over to a small cardboard box next to his bed, crouching down next to it and prying the cover off. He glanced over the contents, flipping through it with practiced ease. Which one would he take with him today?

Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!

"—a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and antelope play. Where seldom is heard…a discouraging word…and the skies are not cloudy all day…"

Slinging his small backpack over his shoulder he padded downstairs to the kitchen, standing on his tippy-toes to press the button on the shiny black coffeemaker, not waiting for the pre-set alarm to go off. He wanted to get to school a little early today and he knew they wouldn't notice the actual time until it was too late. Everything was set by the coffeemaker and the other pre-arranged alarms and timers. Everything…

Eventually he found himself sitting quietly in the backseat, buckled in and gazing out the windows. He kept his head tilted upward, eyes glued to the trees as he tried to spot the colorful streaks zipping back and forth between the branches. He wished he could roll the window down, to catch the lilting little tweets and chirps…but they said he might catch cold…

He turned his head, catching a school of more dust motes drift by as a streak of sunlight illuminated the backseat.

"Have a good day, dear. And please, be careful. Do you have your inhaler? That's a good boy. Have fun! See you. Mwah~!"

He barely had any time to answer before he had to quickly unbuckle and jump out of the car. His shoes crunched against the gravel as he made his way from the drop-off zone to the sidewalk.

". . ."