When my eyes are closed You are there to love me But awake I've found that I just can not believe Do you really love me? I can only hope it I'm lonely on my own and I hope that I can cope it Boys, I really love you And girls I hate to say It's hard to fall in love When no one knows you're gay
I was ready to take my place as the world’s last fertile woman. Scientists had worked for 4 years genetically altering my body, while simultaneously extracting and freezing about 500 of my eggs. I could now grow to superhuman feats, my uterus could hold thousands of pounds, my skin would never rip open from inhuman stretching, and my legs would be able to stretch far out without pain, and able to support my body weight for most of my pregnancy. My body was manipulated, now my brains main function is to keep my organs working, and my uterus working to develop a full term pregnancy with extremely big and healthy babies in roughly a month’s time, though the scientists weren’t certain on the exact amount of gestation time. I was now ready to grow a belly filled with at least five hundred large babies. I was transported to a facility with plenty of space, thousands of square feet wide and twenty feet tall. I was placed on a large bed, with an iron foundation, and a very comfortable yet firm mattress. The facility was built specially for me, as I would be spending the next thirty years breeding for Earth. I laid down comfortably, my womb injected with my 500 babies. Over the next two days my belly swelled into the size of an average full term pregnancy, with a popped out belly button, extremely firm to the touch. I enjoyed rubbing my belly, massaging it with lotion, trying to get every inch. I would just watch it all day, I could see the growth. Three days later I looked to be carrying big quadruplets. One of my favorite activities would be to simply walk around with a bra and pants on, but no shirt, cradling my huge belly constantly with my back arched. I loved how firm it was, I knew every inch of my womb was occupied with life. The growth is a slow and gradual process that happens over the day. I wear very tight spandex which becomes almost translucent over my tummy, and have a grand old time when it rips open by the end of the day. I sleep with my belly exposed, usually on my side, and it takes quite a bit more of the bed by the morning. Two days later and I’m done with the first week of my pregnancy, my belly is a massive ball of flesh, super firm, no kicking yet. My belly button also grows with the added pressure, somewhat comical, a tennis ball protruding in front of this huge womb. When I lay on my back all I see is this beautiful belly, when I sit up I get to rub a lot of it as it sits far over my legs. Over the next three days I went from octuplets to what looked like twenty healthy babies, healthy fluttering babies. Imagine the feeling of fluttering wings, and multiply it by 500, I imagined this was my “fourth” month of pregnancy. One of the scientists did an ultrasound. Twenty bottles of ultrasound goo later and my belly was shiny and covered up, it took a few ultrasound technicians to cover most of my belly. I just sat back and enjoyed the sensation of wands dancing over my super taut skin. All of the embryos seemed perfectly healthy, plenty big, if not larger than average. I got up, which for now wasn’t an issue thanks to my extraordinary body, and headed for my indoor swimming pool. I sat on the steps of the shallow end and slowly submerged my belly into the shallow water. My belly hit the ground of the shallow end and was still decently high above the water’s surface. I laid back, eyes closed, stroking what I could of my belly, and dozed off. Waking from my sleep I noticed my belly was a good five inches higher above the water than it was before. I eased myself out and checked the time, it had only been about eight hours. Over the next three days my babies movement got a lot stronger, and my belly shot forward a lot. It was so far in front of me that I had to walk extremely carefully, but of course it ended up knocking everything over. I had a team of professional massage therapists work the far end and sides of my belly with a warm lotion. I requested a lot of belly button work, as it was so distended and swollen from the babies in the front kicking it all day. My belly hasn’t obstructed my view yet, it’s just very long and wide, but I know it will start to grow much higher rather than longer. It grew a wider and longer over the next day, I estimated by babies to be about five and a half months developed based on the strength of the kicks. Three days later I knew I was six months gone, my belly was now almost over the edge of my enormous bed. I simply lay on my side, belly way out in front of me, stroking what I can and enjoying warm massages. The amniotic fluid can be heard constantly sloshing about, and subtle movements seen over every inch of my gorgeous tummy. I just wish I could cradle every inch of my belly, but I always hug as much as possible, I can tell these babies love me a lot. The euphoria is truly indescribable, every movement feels amazing, I feel so gorgeous knowing that every single inch of this incredible belly is life. Over the next week my belly really started getting high, it grew about three feet above me, before it wasn’t obstructing my view at all but now all I can see is tummy. It grew much wider too, if I sat up in the middle of my bed, the sides of my belly would be covering over half of it, and it was all I could see directly in front of my face, eye level with me. I was told my belly button was enormous too, really red from the babies stretching it out with their legs constantly, it didn’t hurt but I could feel the soreness of it. I had an ultrasound done, with twenty ultrasound technicians using a specially built machine that had twenty different wands attached, and fifty gallons of ultrasound jelly being generously lathered all over my dome, feeling absolutely amazing thanks to my now very sensitive skin, the scientists estimated I had a week and a half to go, although it was going to be up to my uterus to contract on itself, and that I may go overdue, even a week or two. Breaking my water forcefully was not safe given the size of this pregnancy, and a c section was completely out of the question, there was no way to medicate my huge body enough to not be fatal to the babies. Luckily the genetic modifications made me very resistant to pain, my legs and hips stretching way out to accommodate the belly and the sheer size of it weighing down on me didn’t cause me any pain, I knew I would be fine. A week and a half later, it’s my due date, and no contractions. My belly is way over the edges of the bed now, far and wide, and a good three more feet above my eye level. It constantly quivers with babies who are desperate to get out, but they’re going to have to be patient, and as for me, I wish they could stay in forever. Not to fret though, 500 offspring isn’t enough to keep Earth populated, and I know I’m going to be doing this for a LONG time. I’ve taken my big belly to the pool, which is filled up completely with it. The chlorine free water feels incredible on my skin and my babies really enjoy it. Two days passed, nothing, my belly growing a little bit bigger each day, my high nutrient diet and super human uterus making them quite chubby. Day after day, it grows bigger, a week more and it’s another foot wide tall and long. And finally, after two more days, my water breaks, nearly flooding the room. I’m taken to the birthing chamber, and my belly is hoisted up so that I’m free to birth. The contractions aren’t very painful, they’re not pleasant, mostly just pressure, and I can feel these babies going through my birth canal in a single file line, one by one, they slide out easily with my stretchy skin. Push after push, over the next four hours, I’ve given birth to five hundred big, beautiful, healthy babies. Of course I love them all, I’ve bonded with them, and they will know who I am, but they’re going to extensively interviewed families all over the world. After birth my belly is still as big as it was when it was occupied, I’d have to wait for it to contract to normal before I could begin my next pregnancy, but I was ready to start again. I’m definitely going to enjoy the first week more this time, simply because I get to cradle my whole belly, of course being barely able to by the end of that week. This first five hundred were a beta test of sorts, a lot more than five hundred, and multiply that by nine, 4500 babies are born each year, so I’ll be expecting a bigger and better belly in the near future.
Just a generic belly expansion short story. I'm not a great writer, but this is a good way for me to get to visualize my fantasies better, and if you like it, it's a win win. As I always will be, sorry for any grammar/spelling mistakes, and if the switching from past and present tense is confusing. My stories aren't meant to follow any style of writing, I don't spend an hour proof reading, it's just for my enjoyment, and hopefully yours.
Charlie huffed blowing a strand of hair from her face and slouched with an elbow on the counter. The stool pinched her butt randomly where it was cracked when she shifted in a certain as yet undefined way. The kiosk was smelled heavily of pretzels which she initially found pleasant but now haunted her dreams. It was cramped with the appliances to produce and bake them, giving her barely enough room to squeeze around them under ideal conditions.
It was the end of week two of her summer internment at the ‘Pretzelmaniacal’ booth at the local mall. Week one consisted of her brief training and was the longest period of time she had seen her boss. On the second week she was turned loose to run the little food kiosk on her own, only seeing Elise at the end of the afternoon when the owner/manager took over. Charlie at first was pleased at trust she assumed she had been entrusted with but then quickly realized that the booth could be run by a trained monkey. Not even a particularly well trained or bright one.
The headband of the blue visor that was part of her uniform bit into her forehead uncomfortably. The polo shirt that was the other part of her uniform was also ill-fitting, either being too big or too small dependant upon the circumstances of the day. That was her own fault. Currently, it was the latter.
She rubbed coarse knit of the blue uniform shirt over her enlarged middle where it uncomfortably itched. In anticipation of the relative privacy and strategic positioning of her lone outpost in the middle of the downstairs east wing of the mall she had requested a larger polo to be able to accommodate the judicious use of her magic cap. It seemed like a good plan at the time but the shirt produced was not quite big enough to fit a belly pregnant with a single baby much less the two which she had temporarily borrowed. A request for a larger shirt was denied as even the current one was a hard won concession. Elise didn’t care if ‘baggy was in’ as Charlie had offered as an excuse. ‘It’s unprofessional’ Elise had countered.
Charlie’s bemoaning train of thought was interrupted as she pulled up the side of her shirt up from where it was tucked into her pants and slipped her hand underneath. She scratched furiously for a moment, feeling blissful satisfaction as she chased the itch across the expanse of her middle until the sadistic stool once again bit her rear causing her to yelp and fall off. She landed on her feet but stumbled against the prep station trays, knocking a container of sesame seeds to the ground where the top popped off and sprayed the seeds across the floor in a splash.
“Mother of f-” she bit her tongue and didn’t finish her outburst. She looked around to see if any of the passing crowd had noticed the spill and conspiratorially ducked down, quickly scooping the seeds back into the container. She picked out a couple pieces of hair and the remains of some insect and quickly replaced the container back on the counter, looking around innocently. The maneuver seemed to be performed swiftly and smoothly enough to not be noticed. Given her heavily pregnant condition, it was quite the feat of agility. Then she then again, she has had lots of practice in the last almost year since she had acquired her cap. Lots and lots of practice.
That was the only real benefit of the job her father had ‘helpfully’ found for her. She was at the mall, which is where she would have been anyway when looking for bellies to borrow and was in a way the perfect blind to remain hidden in the open while she hunted. People didn’t want to make eye contact with any of the other kiosks that were hawking their various useless items. Her booth tended to be lumped into the same category and so she felt as she had a cloaking field wrapped around it. The booth barely had more than half a dozen customer in her whole shift on any given day, she’d assumed that the traffic when Elise took over must pick up. Elise had mumbled something about the mall’s policies required her to be open during this time as way of explanation when Charlie wondered why they were even open. Besides, the upstairs pretzel shop was much better as Charlie had found out for herself. The customers she did get were usually the same bunch every day. In fact, as she was looking up for a moment to scan the crowd as she habitually did for any pregnancies, she saw one of them and frowned.
“Dieter? Dennis? Darryl?” Charlie tried to remember his name. She was sure it was with a D. Just about positive. It was her brother Jon’s latest friend of the year, mercifully without Jon who was at his own job. As usual he seemed to hover a bit away just within line of sight and fidgeted, craning his neck in her direction. He looked nervous as usual and pulled out a slip of paper out of his pocket which he consulted then wrote something with a pen he fished out the other. She puzzled at this behaviour, not for the first time. He straightened his hair and seemed to check himself over and came walking in her direction with something not quite approaching confidence. This was the fourth time he done this out of the six times she’d seen him since she started working the kiosk. The other two times he walked away after scribbling something. She discreetly watched him come towards her out of the corner of her eye as she returned her attention down to the magazine she kept behind the counter.
“H-hi Charlie,” he stammered with a shaky smile.
“Yeah, hey...D...d...dude. What’s up?” Charlie slid off the stool, forced a smile that didn’t show in her eyes and looked up at him.
“Good, yeah, good,” his eyes flicked up to hers and he cleared his throat looking around. His eyes dipped down every time they passed back over her only to bounce back up and away when he noticed she was looking at him directly. What was his problem? It was like he was scared of her or something. She looked down to herself. Her belly? Was this causing him some sort of discomfort? If it was, she wished he’d just say something or go away. Preferably go away.
She couldn’t take the awkward silence anymore, “So...you want a pretzel?” She prompted helpfully.
“Oh yeah, yeah. Just seeing what you have,” he made a big show of looking up at the sparse menu and scanning the components of the prep station before her. He bobbed his head and made exaggerated noises of contemplation. His eyes would stray back over to her periodically where he would give her his weird little smile and go back to reviewing the menu for the upteemth time.
Charlie rolled her eyes, familiar with this bizarre routine of neuroticness and leaned back against the cutting table behind her, taking the opportunity to crack her lower back against the table edge. She pushed back hard, eliciting a couple pops from her spine which helped alleviate the mounting tension that her unwanted customer was inducing. She sighed in both relief and frustration as she arched her back and twisted slightly. “Donald, it’s all the same stuff that’s been there since the dawn of time,” she blurted out.
His eyes were locked onto her middle. He jumped as he realized he was being addressed and his face flushed. He had a panic stricken expression on his face. He was tense and looked like was about to run. “Huh, what?”
He had definitely been looking at her middle that time, she was sure. Did he have some sort of issue with it? Everyone else she had regular contact with when she was using the hat seemed to treat it like it was nothing out of the ordinary. He didn’t seem to follow that pattern. “The menu, it’s the same things as every other time you’ve been here. Plain, butter and salt, sesame seed, poppy seed or any combination of the above. Choice several of drinks in three different sizes,” she glanced down at the sesame seed container and remembered the earlier spill, “I recommend the sesame seeds.”
He gave a nervous laugh that sounded a bit forced. “Yeah, sorry. Just don’t know what I’m in the mood for today.”
The entrepreneurial side of Charlie decided she might as well try a bit of salesmanship, “Well,” she offered with an easy smile, folding her arms over her middle as she leaned back and gestured with one arm, elbow held in the other, “you could always just buy one of each? Then you’ve got all your bases covered.”
Her confidence seemed to have rubbed off on him as he smiled more brightly. “Yeah, good point. Um, how many is that?” He started to look up again at the menu only to have his eyes slide down to her middle again.
She rolled her eyes and counted off on her fingers. “Plain, butter and salt, butter salt poppies, sesame…” she muttered to herself and counted quickly. “Nine?” she turned to the side to look up at the menu herself. She silently rechecked her figures pointing out the choices to herself while she scratched the small of her back with the other. Damn shirt. She’d wear a t-shirt under it if it was just a touch too warm for comfort in the cramped little booth with the pretzel baker. The metaphorical buns in the oven didn’t help either.
“Yeah,” she heard him agree in a distracted voice. She looked back over to him to catch him, once again, looking at her middle before darting his eyes back up. What was his skeeze anyway?
“Alright, one of everything then,” she sweeped the crud off her prep area and started fishing pretzels out the warmer beneath the counter. “Want a drink?” she asked as she started spread the butter-like substance to adhere the ingredients to the baked goods.
“Yeah, Dr. Pepper.”
She stuck out her tongue and made a face, not looking up from what she was doing. “Gross.”
For the first time, he laughed naturally, which was the most pleasant noise he’d made in the time she’d had the misfortune of knowing him. “You got something against Dr. Pepper?”
“Yeah, it’s gross,” she smiled slightly, still concentrating on what she was doing.
“No it’s not! It’s awesome!” He seemed more relaxed now, folding his arm, “What’s so wrong with DP?”
She looked up and smiled coyly, “Other than it’s utterly disgusting? Nothing at all,” she went back to spreading toppings deftly and bagging the pretzels into a pair of bags. She smirked as he chuckled at her.
“Whatever, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Charlie folded the bags up, placing them on the counter and wiping her hands off with a towel. “Large?” She looked up and asked him as she ran her hands down her belly, smoothing the shirt over it and tucking the fringe back into the beltline where it started to ride out.
He stared at her middle for a moment with his mouth slightly opened. “Yeah...no! What was the question?” He snapped his mouth shut and looked back up at her, his face blanching.
Charlie raised and eyebrow and pointed at the sign above her head. She looked at him dubiously, “Small, medium, or large, what size do you want?”
“Oh, yeah, large. Large is good,” he coughed nervously and looked away suddenly, scanning the crowd as if he was looking for something.
“Oookay,” Charlie shrugged. Whatever. The sale was more than she’d made in the rest of the day so she wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, no matter how weird the horse. She gave him the total and he rammed a fist into his pocket, his strangeness returning in full force as he muttered to himself and desperately did anything but look back at her. He placed a double handful of coins along with some bills he pulled from his wallet on the counter besides the register. There was also a lot of pocket debris. Amongst the lint, keys, a bottle cap and a battery there was a wadded piece of paper that was partially open. Charlie curiously leaned over to see it, tiptoeing to rest the bottom of her very large belly on the counter to see. “What’s that?” she asked curiously.
It was the same piece of paper she’d seen him scribbling before every encounter, she imagined. She couldn’t tell what it said since it was folded away from her but she could tell that it seemed like a pair of column with check marks next to them. Something was scribbled at the top of each and there seemed to be some numbers along one side. His eyes bulged in his head and swiped the paper away as she reached for it, fast as a mongoose. “NOTHING!”
Charlie flinched, hopping back. She rubbed her middle where the sudden movement had made one of her guests kick. “Alright, sheesh!”
“It’s homework,” he stammered suddenly. He looked like he’d been caught in the middle of something.
“It’s summer,” she countered suspiciously.
“I mean it’s home work,” he purposely paused between words, “some stuff I got to pick up to do stuff around the house.”
“Uh huh,” her eyes narrowed then she just shook her head, “whatever, keep your mysteries.” She took the money for the purchase from the pile herself as he had backed away from the counter defensively. She flicked away a bit of link clinging to a coin. “The rest of that is yours,” she nodded to the change. He swept the money off the counter and crammed into his pocket, opposite the one that he had shoved his precious secret note she noted, and hesitantly took his bags of pretzels and drink which he only took after some prompting with a shake of the bags. “Thanks for visiting Pretzelmaniacal, enjoy your pretzels and please come again,” she droned as she was required to. Under her breath she added, “I’m sure you will,” with a strained smile.
“Yeah, thanks. See ya Charlie.”
“Yeah, lates Dillan,” Charlie said disinterested, fishing her magazine back from beneath the counter.
“It’s Derrick actually,” Derrick said as he backed away.
Charlie flipped the page and pretended to be totally engrossed with the contents, “Yeah, that’s what I said.”
She watched him walk away from the edge of her vision until he was gone. He was heading in one direction then suddenly swerved in a different direction as if he had a change of mind. Charlie grunted, annoyed. So he was heading for the escalator to watch from the upstairs balcony. She knew all the good viewpoints in the mall from her own ‘hobby.’ What the hell was up with that boy?
Her shift ended a few hours mercifully enough. The unwanted attention of her ‘favorite’ customer from earlier had hovered in the periphery of her vision most of the rest of the afternoon until just before her boss’s arrival. As was typical, she dismissed her guests just when she saw her coming to her booth, sending the babies back to their respective mothers to be wherever they were. Elise seemed to have a rather large moral chip on her shoulder and had given Charlie a hard time the one time she had decided to hold on to the pregnancy for the trip home. The lecture on responsibility and how she was personally responsible for the collapse of western civilization was enough for her to end the temporary pregnancy in mid rant causing Elise to suddenly lapse in her train of thought and end the rant. As nice as it would be to be able to relax at home and enjoy the purloined belly, it just wasn’t worth the trouble. She’d look for any new ones on the way out of the mall but none crossed her path. Not being in the mood to hang around the mall any further she just headed out to the parking lot.
The one purely upside to accepting the purgatory of a summer job was that as part of the deal her parents had given her a car. Well, a van anyways. It was hers, with the condition that she maintained a good school grade average (easy enough) and worked to pay the insurance and gas herself. It wasn’t the most impressive of vehicles, a simple white van that was used for a delivery service before being retired, but it ran okay and got her where she needed to go with little fuss. The freedom of her own wheels had been intoxicating but blunted by the fact that she was tied to a job. ‘Part of growing up’ her parents had chimed. Bah. Humbug. Still, she was proud of her ride, inherent responsibilities or no.
She was just fishing the keys from her pockets when she heard the slap of running feet on the asphalt, faint at first then rapidly growing. Realizing that there was someone (rapidly) coming towards her. “Danny!” she muttered as she recognized who it was. She scowled, balling her fists suspiciously.
Stumbling to a halt about twenty feet away was that boy again. He was clearly winded, face red and gulping for air. He held a hand up as if to ward away her clear annoyance and then a finger to signal that he need a moment to recover. Hands on his knees he took deep breathes and fought to will his breathing to normal. In one hand he held the mysterious slip of paper from before. He tried to say her name and only managed a croak then went back to gulping for air again waving for her to wait again. Charlie crossed her arms and waited with what little patience she had left. She was somewhat curious about why this boy seemed to have taken a new leap in his stalking. She felt disturbed but felt she might as well hear him out, if for no other reason than to feel fully justified in the anger that was mounting.
“Charlie,” he finally managed between inhalations.
“Yeah?” she prompted when he paused taking breathes again.
He swallowed and straightened himself up. His mouth moved to speak again and he gave her a quick look over then paused. He seemed to have become mentally lost again, swaying where he was for a moment.
“Okay, whatever, bye,” Charlie finally had enough. She turned and unlocked the van door, opening it to get in.
“No no, wait!”
Charlie turned back to him, giving him a very serious look. “Stop following me, okay? I see you again and there’s going to be trouble, got it?” She stabbed a finger at him for emphasis.
She had gotten in and was just reaching to slam the door shut when he glanced down at the paper he had a death grip of in his hand then suddenly blurted something out that made her pause with a chill.
Charlie paused and had to actually give a quick look to confirm she wasn’t then turned to him slowly, eyes wide. “What?”
The boy shuffled from foot to foot and rubbed his head with one hand, “I mean, you were, earlier,” he gulped and looked her in the eye, “you’re not now, but you were. When I bought the pretzels.”
Now it was Charlie’s turn to stare dumbly. She blinked, swallowed out and forced out a soft laugh. “D-don’t be stupid, of course I’m not. I wasn’t,” she leaned back in her seat to offer the irrefutable evidence of her currently unpregnant state, “See?”
The boy shook his head. He seemed to be having an internal battle that was making it difficult to form coherent sentence. “No. No, you were, and, and,” he stammered and prodded a finger at the paper in his hand, “this isn’t the first time. Sometimes you’re pregnant and sometimes you’re not,” he was clearly in distress, turning in circles and muttering to himself as he gathered the courage to go on, “I don’t remember it well, but I have been more lately.”
He took a few steps towards the astonished Charlie, offering his carefully guarded note then backed away. Charlie numbly took it and after a moment looked down to exam it. Her breath caught as she realized what it was.
“See, I wrote it down,” Derrick smiled hysterically as a look of dawning realization came across Charlie’s face, “I watched you, and I wrote down if you were or weren’t pregnant every time I saw you.”
There were two columns on the page of loose leaf paper with a series of checks, either in a column labeled ‘is pregnant’ or ‘isn’t pregnant’. Along the left margin there were a series of dates and times, some dates repeated but with different times. Thinking for a moment she realized that they were accurate. The most recent were coincided with her work schedule but the older ones she realized were from times when he must have been to her house with her brother Jon. They started about two months ago. He gave her a moment to digest the information then started rambling again when she looked back up to him.
“See, see?” he looked a little crazed, as if he expected for her to refute him but grew more confident when she didn’t. “I started noticing it and wrote it down cause I couldn’t remember if I didn’t,” he spun around again and then took a few more steps towards her, lowering his voice, “I don’t know how you do it, but I know it’s happening, right?”
Charlie was dumbstruck. No one had noticed anything before. No one. Not her parents which had seen her pregnant and not so on too many occasions to count. They never reacted as if there was anything unusual going on. Elise reacted with disdain but even then she didn’t seem to act like it was unusual, just distasteful. Not the innumerable people that had witnessed her doing it in public with no attempt to hide it. Not Mrs. Robbin from next door who had been her first go to person when it came to borrowing pregnancies before she had her baby. And Charlie had come to her dozens of times when she felt the urge and had used the hat directly in front of her dozens of times, at point blank range usually while in the middle of a conversation without so much as a hint of anything being amiss. But somehow, he had. Not only noticed but clearly had gone out of his way to document it, record it and confront her with his evidence. A cold chill went up her spine. She couldn’t deny it. She could, but she knew he’d never believe her. The look on her face was clearly all the confirmation he needed.
“What do you want?” she quietly asked after a minute of silence.
“Want?” he seemed confused by the question and took a step back looking less confident than he had just been a moment ago.
She held the paper up to him. “What do you want Derrick?” his name finally clicked her head, given the circumstance. “You’ve been following me around, you’ve been writing this stuff down, what do you want from me?” she felt a deep fear she hadn’t known before creeping up and the gravity of her situation was quickly overcoming her. Where was he going with this? The thought occurred to her, would he demand the hat to keep quiet? She considered retreating out of there as quickly as she could but realized that with her nerves as they were now she was certain she wouldn’t make it out the parking lot without crashing.
He stared for a moment then shook his head suddenly, “No, I don’t want anything!” he blurted out. “I just want…” he paused and seemed to rethink what he was saying, “I just would like to know, how do you do it?”
Charlie looked him over critically. He seemed frightened, curious and...something else. She didn’t feel like he meant any harm, just that he was overwhelmed with the discovery of something impossible that had made him question his sanity. It was a rather rare of moment of empathy on Charlie’s part. She had initially been shocked at the discovery of the hat’s ability but had overcome it quickly with the thrill of actually using it. He was clearly distressed with the knowledge that something that shouldn’t be able to happen was. He looked on the verge of tumbling over the edge and running through the streets screaming. She wondered why he was having such a much harder time coming to grips with this. She figured she must be simply more mentally robust than him. “Yes, that must be it,” she thought to herself, “after all, I am pretty awesome.” She decided it was safe enough, but she still needed to know something.
“Okay, tell you what,” she started, “you tell me how you figured this all out and I’ll think about it.”
He seemed to relax and smiled a little, “alright, fair enough.” He looked around the parking lot, “You want to go somewhere to talk?”
Charlie nodded. She wanted to get to the bottom of this sooner rather than later, “Yeah, I kinda want to get something to eat.”
Derrick lit up suddenly. He reached around to his back pocket and pulled out a rolled up bag, “Want some pretzels?” he unfolded the bag started to reach inside, “I still got some left.”
“No!” Charlie laughed, leaning away.
“They’re not too mangled?” Derrick offered again with a smirk.
Charlie wrinkled her nose and tried to contain a grin, “No, thanks, really.”
“They’re warm?” he held the bag out to her face.
“Seriously, don’t make me punch you,” Charlie swatted the bag away and cocked a fist back. Derrick feigned fear, cringing away from her and they shared a laugh. “C’mon, get in,” Charlie reached across and unlocked the passenger door.
Derrick ran around to the other side enthusiastically and hopped up to the seat, “Thanks, seriously.”
“Yeah, well, get started. Start from the beginning,” Charlie ordered more seriously as she backed out of the parking space.
“Okay, so it was a few weeks ago, right after school let out…” Derrick began with a deep breath.
This is the first part of a new story involving Charlie. It was too big (hurk hurk) to fit into one deviation so I split it into two parts. If you read them out of order, it probably won't make sense. Well, less sense anyways. This story is preceded almost directly by 'Charlie: Interim' located elsewhere on my page. Enjoy.
Melody, or "Mel" for short, was an avid traveler. Name a country or a city and she's been there! Mel is an archaeologist, a damn good one at that. Hut, being a women in a "boy's-club" has its draw backs: No one thinks she can take care of herself, very few men taker seriously and of course, she was hot; by default not smart. Mel had proven them wrong with this preconceived notions many times over, but it never stuck. Mel was leggy, with blonde hair down to her butt, with an ample bosom and piercing green eyes. Some speculate that she was the inspiration for ZZ Top's "Legs", but Mel knew that was bull!
One night, after returning from an excavation from deep within the amazon, Mel felt very ill. She ran to her bathroom many times that night, each time feeling worse and worse. The next morning, Mel drove herself to the doctors. She wasn't sexually active, or at least hadn't been for several months, her boyfriend didn't like her traveling, yet Mel was worried because she traveled so much; she had many, many vaccinations and physicals, what if they forgot something?
The doctor ran through the usual routine of blood tests and medical record snooping before diagnosing Melody: She had been infected with a parasite! This diagnosis was bitter-sweet, they knew why she was ill, but still needed to figure out how to treat her. More tests and hours later, the doctor informed Melody that she had been infected by a rare, endangered parasite that could not be trated with any medications to kill it, that would break the law. They could remove it surgically and place it in a "safe habitat", but the paperwork was tedious and took months to finish. Annoyed, Mel knew that she'd be forced to act as host toher parasite for a while before anything could be done.
Before leaving, the doctor gave Mel a prescription of assorted B-vitamins to keep her strength up while the paperwork was being processed. He also informed her that she was forbidden to travel outside her state, the law would see her as "smuggling an endangered species". Melody cussed out the superfluous laws as she drove home.
Sighing, Melody sat on her couch, without work her life was DULL. As days passed, Melody was finally able to get over the vomiting part of her affliction and relax. But a new problem emerged. The parasite had decided to make its "home" int he absolute center of her belly, and since the parasite was constantly feeding off of Melody, it would grow before it could be removed.
One week passed since her diagnosis, her "friend" had grown enough to cause her belly to swell, now her jeans were too tight to fit comfortably. The button would squeeze her gut and the zipper was constantly slipping down. Mel had no choice but to resort to her stretchy pajama bottoms.
The second week had come and now Melody had trouble getting her shirts down over her swelling belly. Her size was ridiculous, it looked like she was pregnant with the parasite now.
By the third week Melody was fed up! Not only did her shirts fail to cover her entire swelling belly, she was now getting heavier. Melody called her doctor and explained the siutation, but he reminded her that until the paperwork was finalized, it was illegal for anyone to do anything to the parasite.
Week four and Melody was getting bigger. No shirt covered her middle at all! At best, Mel looked like she was wearing a tube-top and sporting a 5 month pregnant belly. Annoyed and tired, Melody drove to the clinic, with a heavy coat covering her and showed her doctor. The look on his face worried Melody. Her doctor took her into the examination room and ran more tests. Her vitals were still stable, but her size was alarming. Out of curiosity, the doctor ultrasounded her belly and saw that the parasite had actually managed to move its way out of her intestines and into her uterus. Indeed, Melody was pregnant with her parasite. Now Melody was freaked, the doctor reassured her that whether the parasite was in her intestines or uterus, that when the paperwork was done that the surgery could still be performed. Scared, yet confident, Melody returned home, disgusted at the creature that had taken up residence inside of her.
Weeks five, six and seven rolled by. Within those three weeks, the parasite grew an incredible amount! Melody looked full-term pregnant! She felt like it too, her belly was round and firm, her back ached and she felt tired all day long. Night time was a hastle now. Melody tried sleeping on her back, but the parasite weighed heavily on her, and when she laid on her side, she could actually see the parasite squirming under her flesh. The sight sickened her, she ended up sleeping upright on her couch.
When the eighth week creeped up, Melody felt like she was going to explode, now it looked like she was carrying twins. Mel also had a new disturbance. No matter how she sat or laid down, she could see the parasite moving under her flesh and now she could FEEL it. The parasite was, without a doubt, HUGE. As it her belly constantly squirmed and bulged, a low gurgling noise could also be heard...
The ninth week came and by this time, Melody was ready to give up. Her belly looked full term with triplets and looked ready to burst! Mel was also too big to move, she sat on her couch all day and placed her hands on her actively moving belly. The gurgling noise had gotten louder and more frequent as well. Melody fell asleep earlier than usual that night, but was awakened rather early: While she slept, her parasite seemed to have a massive growth spurt. Melody was aroused by a sharp pain from her entire gut, she put her hands on her belly's sides and flet how tight her skin already was and felt it becoming tighter and tighter. To her horror, she saw the parasite begin to grow before her very eyes.
Bigger and bigger, the parasite swelled, it's body shaking her entire belly in a ripple like manner as it doubled its size within minutes. Melody moaned in pain as her belly grew in every direction, acting as a fleshy weight against her whole body. Her belly rumbled with gurgles and sloshes, her hands clenched on her tight, shiny flesh, her belly began to heave itself outward more and more from her navel, slwoly lowering itself down toward her thighs. Each passing second her belly would shake and pulse with the parasite inside of it. Melody passed out from the pain, but the parasite kept on growing. When the spurt had finally ended, Melody looked full-term with sextuplets and ready to pop!
Luckily for Melody, her doctor was concerned for her health and sent the paramedics to bring her to the hospital for observations. When they arrived, the found Melody a gint balloon of her former-self and quickly brought her to the hospital. She was still unconscious. That night, the paperwork had finally been approved and the surgery was scheduled right away.
The doctors gently cut into Melody's tightened globe of a belly and began to remove the incredicly large parasite, inch by inch. But to their suprise, what they pulled from Meldoy's body was not a parasite, but an alien infant!
Apparently while exploring the ruins of ancient civilizations, Melody had come in contact with substantial amounts of radiation that had been emitted from alien space crafts, the radiation had altered her genetic structure to mimic the aliens', which to everyone's suprise, are asexual beings. The genetic anomaly in also permanent. Poor Melody, doomed to random and extreme pregnancy for the rest of her life...
Any physical ailments/illnesses/disabilities: She took a bullet to the shoulder, and it sometimes gets cranky.
Any medication regularly taken: None.
Personality: Generally, she's nice to people who she feels are deserving, and belligerent to those who aren't(unless they're some sort of authority person, and could make her life hell if she got on their bad side). However, she has a quick temper and isn't afraid of starting fist fights with certain individuals. She is somewhat quiet and doesn't share her feelings easily. She enjoys comic books, re-reading beloved stories and silently fangirling over Gambit.
Disliked food: Mole Rat meat, Dog meat(refuses to try it).
Disliked drinks: Moonshine (it kicks her ass), Wine.
HOUSE AND HOME
Describe the character's house/home: Megaton house is decorated with the Pre-war theme. Special additions include a Grognak poster, and others recovered from the Hubris place. Some guns recovered along the way are hung on the walls, and books and pre-war toys are stuck where ever there is space atop things. The Jukebox is rarely turned off. In New Vegas, she doesn't have a permanent home, yet (the Lucky 38 isn't hers.. yet XD)
Significant/special belongings: Her Comic books, though some are bittersweet reminders of lost friendships and her Dad. Her Photograph collection is the same. Her baseball, glove and bat are reminders of one of her favorite Vault activities. The Abe action figure, because it's damn cool.
Level of education: Vault equivalent of High School.
Qualifications: Repairing certain types of machinery, Pip-boys, and guns.
Current job title and description: Mercenary/Scavenger. Courier(Yeah, that went well XD).
Name of employer: Whoever offers a suitable job, though she does end up working with Reilly's Rangers for a few years, after the events of the main quest.
Peaceful or aggressive attitude? Aggressive. However, she won't kill a foe unless they're carrying a gun, and can potentially kill her before she can get to them.
Fighting skills/techniques: Good with punches and kicks. Her aim with a gun is pretty good, too. In situations that call for either life or death, she will snipe as many as she can.
Special skills/magical powers/etc: N/A
Weapon of choice (if any): Scoped rifle or 10mm, Grenades, Baseball Bat.
Weaknesses in combat: She is clumsy with most melee-type weapons and blocking hits, and can become overconfident. Certain now-healed injuries still give her trouble, and can cripple her if they receive a good hit.
Strengths in combat: She's quick and can hold her own against most male foes. She also knows where to punch to best disable a foe, but will rarely resort to crotch kicks.
FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FOES
Parents names: James and Catharine.
Are parents alive or dead? Both are deceased.
Is the character still in contact with their parents? If they weren't dead, she would be.
Siblings? Relationship with siblings? No official ones.
Other Important Relatives: Lucy Palmer and Herman Gomez. They may not have been officially related, but Lucy was like a grandmother figure, and Herman was something of an uncle.
Best Friend: Baraka, Amata, until she banned Kayla from the Vault. Butch is her new BFF.
Other Important Friends: Charon, Julian, Baraka, Veronica, Cass, Andrés, Reilly and the Rangers, Sarah Lyons, Freddie, Beetle, Knives
Pets: Sparky, the Radroach. Dogmeat & Rex.
Enemies? Why are they enemies? Colonel Autumn - for his interference in Project Purity, and being the cause for James to sacrifice himself. Benny - he shot her in the head >:I.
Backstory: This is the part I suck at, so I'll add it later, maybe XD.
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. Dorothy Nevill
Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. G.K. Chesterton
It happens in life that some things really must be considered more than others. It must be considered that Alice felt strange in a new place, and that she felt mixed twinges of doubt and excitement over travel. She did not know what was coming, but the darkening leaves in the cloistered front lawn gave her pause to recognize an air of duality about the place, of dreadful seclusion and delicious closeness. It must be considered that the March Hare was not well in his compact head and believed that the people at the other edge of his table were in league to make Rabbit Coq au Vin for the evening, when truly they only desired to play Baccarat but were unable to find a sixth deck of cards. It must be also considered that what the Mad Hatter kept in his hat was an inscrutable paradox; even now he was pulling a small cake made with Gouda from its interior and handing it to Alice, who was conveniently very hungry. At this point the group of heads clustered in conference began to break apart and Alice could see distinct figures in their midst. Where there had first seemed to be nine ladies and seven gentlemen, she could now plainly see that there were five ladies and four gentlemen, which seemed more reasonable despite the remaining imbalance. The March Hare had taken to definitively ignoring them, although his attempts at putting his nose higher and higher into the air as time went on became increasingly ridiculous. The Hatter, meanwhile, began to draw brightly frosted biscuits from beneath his cuffs and was tossing them about in his palm, apparently reading them like runes. The men from the table took as one their leave of the ladies and milled over to watch. As they ambled past her, Alice saw that the gentlemen were perfectly precise, striking their dark hair and handsomely vague features against the white-hot insanity of the two best friends beyond. Seeing that her guide and his compatriot would not perform their civil duties in introducing her to the ladies, she hovered nearby to watch and listen to their conversation. The only apparent distinguishing feature amongst the women, besides their hair, seemed to be the color of their dresses Although they seemed individuals enough, their high and thinly curved eyebrows lent them an air of staged similarityas if they had been crafted from a single perfect idea of what a lady should be. Alice looked down at her own muddied blue skirts, plain and unsightly in contrast to the fine silk pin tucks and ruffles arranged so daintily about them. One of the ladies was admiring her reflection in a spoon while the others talked quietly, apparently undisturbed by this strange display. Alice thought this was odd, until a movement towards the far end alerted her to the fact that a sixth woman had been asleep with her head on the table. She sat up to yawn very in a graceful and ladylike fashion, and the four who were in conversation turned to her. Do stop yawning so, said a very pale girl with black hair, I imagine I should-- and then she too put a pure white hand up to her mouth to politely yawn as well. A blonde girl in gray shook her head at both of them. There you go again. It's your fault if you can't get enough sleep, you know, she said with gentle reproach. The recently awakened lady at the far end of the table, who was the tallest and blonde as well, measured her and spoke with quiet dignity. You speak highly considering how late you stay out sometimes. I have my limitations, you know, replied the shorter girl. Which you flaunt shamelessly, was the answer with a bit of a smirk. The blonde in gray was looking slightly haughty until the the black haired girl spoke again with genteel authority. I insist we not fight, I find disagreement so distasteful.Alice was about to turn away to rejoin the Hatter when the girl with the spoon lifted a thick red lock of hair out of her eyes and saw her standing there. Who're you? she said curiously. Five other perfect heads swiveled simultaneously to gaze placidly upon the newcomer, who blushed deeply at the attention. How do you do-- began Alice, dipping into a curtsy, but a second girl with black hair in a plait cut her off. Is that the girl the Hatter said he was bringing back? She's so small, I hardly would have thought she'd have come back after what happened-- Don't stare at her, she could be shy, admonished the taller blonde, who was now making a strange motion by pulling her arm up above her head and snapping it down suddenly, apparently trying to exorcise something from it. It shimmered a vague blue in the dappled sunlight. Who cares? She's new and exciting, said the redhead, plopping her elbows onto the table and giving Alice a good long look. The first black-haired girl, who wore a red ribbon, smiled kindly. Another to join our ranks! Surely the Duchess will title you excellently, for she has confided to me that she has great faith in you. We are all princesses here, and the Duchess named us each. Alice wondered vaguely if this was the hostess of the assembly or if she had designated herself so; her giving away details to a total stranger like Alice made her seem both amiable and naively forward at once. Title? But my name-- Do tell us a story, interrupted the only brunette, who had apparently not heard Alice speak. I'm sure you know so many, and they will be absolutely enthralling. We have already told each other all the stories we know. She leaned forward and looked at Alice with unconcealed enthusiasm. Yes, do tell us a tale, said the blonde in gray, who had perked up considerably since the near-altercation. What a thoughtful idea, my dear, said the taller blonde, who was frowning and adjusting her pink sleeve. Of course, said the brunette in reply. It's only polite to entertain one's guests. After all, I like nothing better than an excellent storypreferably of grand love and heroic rescue. There was general consensus at this. But we haven't even introduced ourselves yet, began Alice, feeling flustered. She did not care to argue the fact that she was more of a guest than they were at this point, and more importantly she felt it was uncommonly rude to demand stories of someone who was new at the table. Her efforts at beginning a pleasant and civil conversation were rapidly turning to memories of interruptions and abrupt scope shifts, and Alice did not feel she had the patience to deal with women who were probably very much like her sisters in their conversational subject matter. That is no concern, said the girl with the black plait airily. She was dressed in green and had a kind, though lofty, air. The Duchess will give you a proper title when you meet her anyway, and it certainly isn't as if you don't belong here, you know. You cannot be unimportant if the Duchess has summoned you herself. But your story... They were expectant, and there seemed to be no immediate reprieve from Alice's guide, who was now juggling the biscuits and shouting at the Hare, who was catching them in his mouth with unconcealed delight. The gentlemen who had left the table had begun to talk amongst themselves and a few were ambling toward the white gate at the end of the lawn. Perhaps these women would make better companions for the present than that, she told herself. Please, you must tell us a story, we do love stories, insisted the redhead with a charmingly innocent smile. The black-haired hostess pulled out a seat for Alice and settled her into it with ease. Seeing that there was no true alternative, Alice gazed at the faces around her and thought for a moment. Well, this story begins-- No, you must start it properly, interrupted one of the ladies. How shall I start, then? Once upon a time, said the brunette as if this had been perfectly obvious from the outset. Very well, said Alice.
Once upon a time, in a mysterious land very far away, there lived a very beautiful and very cold Princess. She was not cold because she lived in wintry climes: her chilly nature stemmed from a law of the land, which required that if a Prince wished to marry her, he must correctly answer three riddles she would offer or be risk a beheading at first moonlight. The poor Prince of Persia had been the most recent man to vie for her heart, but he had failed, and the crowds outside of the imperial palace were clamoring to see the spectacle sure to unfold. Surging forward, the peasants there did not take notice of a blind old man who was pushed to the ground in the excitement. His slave girl cried out for help and gained the notice of a young man nearby, who recognized the old man as his own father, the deposed king of a nearby land. The young prince and his royal father were overjoyed to have met once more, but the prince urged his father and companion not to speak of their aristocracy, for the very people who had seized and burned their homeland were none other than the royals living in the palace before them, and the young man feared his own capture as well. Soon the crowd began to scream and shake the palace gates as the moon rose. The young Prince of Persia was brought out, and there was suddenly silence. He was handsome, very handsome indeed, and the crowd and the unknown prince among them were amazed at his beauty. Voices began to rise calling out to the Princess for clemency, begging her to spare the life of one so pure and perfect. The Princess herself stepped forward, and the prince in the crowd soon found himself calling out to her, for she was so pale and beautiful in the moonlight that he had fallen madly in love with her. But the Princess ignored their cries and let the execution continue, standing so very still that the prince could not take his eyes from her. He did not notice when the crowd wailed in unison: the Prince of Persia was dead. The Princess was about to return to her palace when the unknown prince ran forward and smashed the gong at the palace gates, signaling that he would challenge the Princess for her hand in marriage. The palace advisors shook their heads cynically in the knowledge that another man would lose his head over the beautiful young woman, and the exiled king and his slave girl wept at the thought of losing their prince. However, the prince was much too in love with the Princess in the window high above, who only stared down at him in reply to the gong. The next day the grand high emperor of the land warned the prince of the price he would pay for losing to his daughter and urged him to leave the palace with his head still attached, an offer which the prince refused. Soon the Princess entered, and spoke. Many years ago, my ancestress was ravished and murdered by a foreigner, and as my revenge, I have sworn never to let any man possess me. You must correctly answer my three riddles or I shall have your head removed. I do not wish you good luck, for I know you will die as the others have before you. The prince did not reply to this, as he was enraptured by her beauty, which was even greater up close than it had been from the window outside. My first riddle is this: What is born each night and dies at dawn? Hope. The Princess did not blink. What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire? Blood. Now she was shaken, for no man had been able to answer this before. She steeled herself in anger, and spoke again. What is like ice, but burns like fire? The prince paused to think, and the Princess smiled and began to taunt him, saying that she would enjoy the look of his head cleaved on one of the pikes outside her palace. His eyes wide, the prince suddenly cried out her very own name! The Princess screamed her anger in defeat and threw herself at her father's mercy, begging him not to let the stranger take her away. But the emperor admonished her, for she was bound to marry the man who had bested her riddles. The prince turned to the Princess and gave her a proposal. He knew her name, but she did not know his. Bring me my name before sunrise, and at sunrise, I will die. The Princess agreed. All night, the heralds proclaimed the will of the Princess: that none should sleep, and death would be the penalty for all the citizens of the royal city if they could not bring her the name of her betrothed before sunrise. The prince awaited the dawn and his victory, knowing that the Princess herself would not sleep either. Having seen the exiled king and his slave girl with the prince, the royal advisors dragged them forward to be threatened and tortured for his name. The slave girl proclaimed her knowledge of the name, and struggled against the cruelty of the advisors. But at last, she died nobly with her secret, stabbing herself before the Princess could defeat her master's son. The prince reproached the Princess for her cruelty, and kissed her despite her resistance. You will love me, and I shall win, he told her. At first, the Princess felt disgust at his kiss, but soon found herself turning toward passion and affection for the young stranger who was so persistent. Soon the darkened sky began to lighten into gray. The night was ending, and still the Princess did not know her betrothed's true name. Finding herself in love, she asked him to take his secret and leave her city before he broke her heart, but the prince instead softly whispered his name into her ear. She could do what she would with his name noworder him killed as she had so many before, or spare his life and live in happiness with the first man she loved. At dawn, the Princess led the prince toward her father's throne, declaring that she knew his name before all others. At the emperor's command to hear it spoken, the Princess cried, It is love! sending the crowds outside the palace into cheers of rapture for the two lovers.
Alice looked around her once more and saw that her audience was still looking at her, waiting. That is the end of the story, she explained. Oh! cried the brunette, sitting back in her chair, looking contemplative. That was quite good, said the girl in green. Bit of an abrupt ending, though, said someone. How romantic, sighed the shorter blonde, I wish my prince would have told me his true name like that. That was an excellent story, said the redhead to Alice, But don't you feel badly about all those other princes who were killed? Yes, said the taller blonde, I wouldn't have expected them to die so harshly, you do seem like such a sweet girl. I beg your pardon? said Alice. The princesses were growing slightly pedantic in their analysis of her yarn, and Alice felt that although she appreciated the finer points of literary criticism, she had not come to this world to have her stories picked apart. In your tale you had so many people killed so... so gruesomely! said the hostess with black hair. Surely you see the joys of true love now that you and your prince have found one another. Prince? It is a shame that so many other people had to die, but I'm sure it is no small comfort to her that true love conquers feelings of isolation and haughtiness, the girl in green was saying. True; it would have been sad had she herself died in the end, replied the redhead thoughtfully. I'm sorry; prince? said Alice again. Yes, your prince from the story, said the brunette. I have no prince. This had the effect of catching each of the royal ladies in various states of shocked pause around the table: the two blondes leaned together in suspended animation, one still fiddling with her blue sleeve; the redhead with her mouth popped open breathing foggily onto the spoon, and the brunette and girl in green goggling at her like fish. The hostess came to life first. You are planning your wedding to him, then. He will be your prince. Her solution seemed to mollify a few of the concerned lovely faces. No. I am afraid we do not understand; are you not the princess of your tale? No, it was only a story, it wasn't real. This had an even greater effect than before, producing something akin to graceful and polite outrage. Only a story! cried the brunette. Heaven forbid--! How could she say such a thing? Well, a story that is worth discussing and considering, to be sureone could write endlessly on the subject of the female enduring conflict between domesticity and potential disillusionment, said Alice soothingly, for she did not wish to make so many strangers angry and she enjoyed well-crafted stories too, but it is a story nonetheless. It is not about me, I am-- My dear, said the black-haired hostess gravely, placing a smooth white hand upon Alice's arm, Stories are very powerful things. They are not to be treated so lightly as mere artifacts for study. They have a very real purpose, do you not see that? They must entertain and amuse, and call us away from the constraints of daily life, pointed out the other black-plaited princess. Tales of romance and adventure to inspire us toward greater stations in life, said the brunette. The taller blonde nodded. Stories to remind us of our goals and help us in our persistence. They explain other people's lives and motivations, the redhead murmured. Sometimes they are the only things that support us in our hour of need, said the small blonde. There was a strange pause, and Alice felt as if she had cut to the very center of the princesses seated there. They too seemed to recognize that something had passed between all of them together, but it is impossible to retrieve the truth as it pours forth, and the hostess seemed to be futilely pushing back against a torrent of it now. So you see, she said, It is rather strange to us that you would speak of your own story in such a way. Perhaps you are a humble sort of girl, she said at Alice's protestations, But truly, a princess deserves to have her tale repeatedwhy else would she be honored with such rewards as princessdom provides? I suppose, yes. I'm sure the March Hare has whole drawerfuls of ribbon inside his snug little house; surely he would not mind if we borrowed some. The six of them rose to Alice's bemused protestations, but they frog-marched her into the house in such a delicate fashion that she was in no state to reply. Indeed, there was little she could do but feel a keen sense of awareness of her station in life and the desire to be among these clearly revered and pampered ladies. The interior of the March Hare's house, Alice realized as the brunette used a thin silver rod to button up a pair of small-turned boots onto her feet, was as one would expect. The doorways were low and narrow, and the interior, though somewhat dark and burrowy, did have a certain eccentric quality evident in the mixture of purple and yellow paint across the walls. The only room that did not seem to match what she had seen of the rest of the house upon her passing through was a serious looking library, which she could see a tiny sliver of through the end of the hallway. Its large and imposing features clashed dreadfully with the rest of the décor; somehow she preferred the Hare's garish style to the mysterious room there. The six women and their full, filling skirts took more pressing places in her mind, particularly the speed and fashion with which they moved. As if her function were a game, the redhead was untangling Alice's sausage curls with an enthusiasm bordering on ferocity, and, she suspected, a tool other than a proper brush. The lady in green, however, had taken a cheesecloth to Alice's face, muttering about the smudges of dirt on her nose. Gray, I think, said the taller blonde. No, that is far too plain. I think it is very mysteriousunexpected. What would you suggest? Black. This was said with a clear smile in the hostess's voice. Black? Why not white? Or is that too plain as well? You're only saying that to make me cross. Why must it be black? She would look equally handsome in white. Let her wear her own apparel if she wishes; perhaps she would feel more as herself that way, said the smaller blonde from where she sat stitching a new lace border onto Alice's blue warp. What do you think? said the distinguished blonde. Alice felt a brief flash of embarrassment over the scene: six obviously well cared for princesses actually working to bestow just enough veneer to make her passing. She suddenly wanted to return home very much to avoid answering. She is working very hard to... mend the gown. If that is acceptable, I-- I think the Duchess will be pleased to have you in her House, said the dark-haired hostess, and wove a black ribbon into Alice's freshly released curls. At the very least, she ought to be grateful, since you look as fine as one of her courtiers. Thank you, said Alice, feeling deceitful of the pale princess's approving gaze. You don't understand now, the taller blonde told her quietly as they stood outside once more, But you will. No matter what happens, keep moving forward. A princess does not give up. Her freshly-made companion weighed her advice before speaking. It was a lie to leave these well-intentioned women in the dark, especially given their kindness, but her importance to the Duchess perhaps hung on the older woman's fleeting impression of Alice, and she wanted to give as little idea of being useless as possible. She looked at the princess and took a breath before putting forth an answer. I feel very much obliged to you all, especially after you have treated me so well, Alice began, But you must know that I'm not a-- Not a what? A nascently pugilistic flamingo who had his heart set on barristerdom? I had a bridge partner inflicted with that once. Alice turned to see that white-haired and white hared insanity were standing close at hand. Certainly not an enviable issue, he would have a dreadful time committing himself to a right or left hook, said the Hatter, wrinkling his freckled nose. The biscuits were gone from his hands, and in their place were telling trails of crumbs up the Hare's collar and across his snout, while the Hatter's gloves remained frosty and busy with the lavender cup of tea he was holding. There you are, said Alice, wondering if this was an interruption or salvation. When does Mr. Hare begin passing out hot toddys and room keys? The Hare has no intention of ever letting any of us gothis is a perpetual party, you see, but it is conveniently mobile in that we simply pick up the conversation once more at someone else's house when their dishes happen to be clean and their supply of exotic jams reasonably stocked. Now watch this draught. He paused for a long pull of tea and the Hare nodded sagely. A few of the women had broken away from them and Alice watched with her arms folded as they stooped in the thin waist-high lilies that grew in the lawn, taking up white paper lanterns from the grass and lighting them with long, whippy punks. The skimming glow as the flames came into being made their faces indistinguishable from anothermolds among countless carnations that held the same expression and shadows. Well, I suppose we had better done, then. He tipped his hatwhich required more of a swing than a tipand quickly palmed the teacup. Good evening, princesses. Good evening, Mr. Hatter, said the dark-haired hostess in her sweetly even voice. Do take care of our lovely friend here, she is such a sweet girl and we would not see any harm come to her. Hang those lanterns high, said the Hatter by way of parting. He and the lady looked at one another momentarily. Her face, too, glowed in the distant lights, and though it was just before twilight, the stand of trees made the carved out hollows in her cheekbones smooth, but not quite free of worry, Alice could see. The Hatter seemed as though he was going to continue, but the lady before him smiled once more and murmured her farewell. I will see you past the lane, said the Hare, and trippingly bounced ahead. Goodbye, goodbye! they called out in their chorusing pretty voices to Alice as the Hatter took her arm once more and ambled them toward the gate. Alice waved politely and turned toward the road, the greenish twilight through the leaves marking their repeating angles onto her face. Do you think the Duchess will approve of me? she said after a few steps. Approve of you for what? Appointment to her agency for secret protection? That would never work, you are too obvious. You stick out like a purple bunionthough perhaps that is her secret motive. Put her where everyone can see her so they couldn't possibly suspect anything, said the Hatter thoughtfully to himself. No, she wants you to investigate some goings-on, said the Hare casually with his paws folded behind his back. Something about someone missing-- He cut off screechingly as the Hatter bore down on him with a bulbous stare indicating the significance of this mistake. The Hare bared his teeth in an apologetic grimace and hid behind Alice's ample skirts. Someone's missing? said Alice. He stared at the deeply violet sky and trees in a very obvious fashion to avoid looking at her. Her voice took on a higher pitch. Multiple people are missing? Dear me, you were right about this one, she heard the Hare murmur. The Hatter's expression was supplicant and condoling very suddenly as he held up his palms at her. It is nothing to be alarmed about, just a few souls here and there who've suddenly left their houses and worldly possessions in a perfect sort of frozen stasis while they've slattered away and haven't told anyone where they've gonemaybe, maybe! Maybe they've all gone off on a round-the-world tour and will be back with souvenirs soon enough. I bet I'll get a teapot, I always get a teapot, you know, never fails but I have a teapot from almost every country there is and I've got a whole room full of them and some of them are quite unique, one is shaped like an octopus and there's another that comes apart into quadrants even when the tea is inside which is supposed to be physically impossible so I think there might be cosmic interference-- I think I had better leave straightaway, said Alice firmly. The Hatter curled his outstretched hands into loose balls and cringed as the Hare took this brass opportunity to flash taupely away to his garden gate.