They’d killed the red thing together, but it hadn’t stayed dead. No, it took some doing to finally make it lay down for more than a few seconds and eventually Arlene understood it wouldn’t stay down, so she got the idea—well, remembered she’d read something in a book—to lock the thing away. She asked little Toddy if there was a place where his mommy and daddy locked things away, a place where they put things they didn’t want others to steal. Toddy had nodded and led her into the house. It was a huge place, filled with wide rooms, all of the windows open with curtains billowing with a wind that hadn’t been there when they were outside. She felt the red thing close behind them, but didn’t see it when she looked behind her.
It was good that it was close, though. Arlene wanted it close. By this point, she knew this was some sort of hypno-dream state, that she was really in the Spoon, sitting across from Todd Adams with her hand on his forearm. She could withdraw from him anytime, but she knew this was a crucial point. Of the many times this scene had been reenacted in his mind, she knew the red thing had gotten him. It had crawled in his head and eaten his brain or mutilated some other part of him. Even if he’d managed to run away first, eventually it had caught up to him and gotten him just the same. No, if Arlene broke contact and abandoned him now she’d lose him forever; she’d be just another person who’d abandoned him in a deep moment of need.
The rooms were endless, one after the other and they all began looking just the same. Arlene knew the house was a construct that was his mind—well, a different one, the outside had been one too—and that if she could make anything here it would be just as imaginary as in the real world. But she could sharpen his mind, bring him to attention of a kind. Arlene yanked him to a halt and he turned to her, frustration in his eyes as he pointed, clearing wanting to continue running.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “We have to go to the room with the safe.”
Little Toddy nodded. He wanted to go there too.
“Then take me to the room.” She pointed to a lone door in a wall across from them. “Isn’t it through there?”
Toddy looked confused, but then he nodded furiously. He pulled on her arm for them to keep going and she followed him. Once they’d pushed through they were in a bedroom. It was as equally unfurnished as all the other rooms they’d passed through, but there was a closet door directly ahead and a narrow doorway where she spotted a toilet and a sink. This was an upstairs bedroom, but they’d never come to any steps. Did Toddy not like them?
He pushed open the doors, revealing a barren look-in closet. No, Arlene looked again: there was a miniature safe on the floor. It was off-white with a black face and cubicle-shaped.
“Open it,” Arlene said to him. Toddy turned to her, shrugging his shoulders and holding up his hands as if to say, ‘I dunno the combination’. “Yes, you do. It’s your safe. Don’t you remember?”
Toddy made a confused face, but a second later something lit behind his eyes. He knelt and began spinning the wheel left and right. The red thing had been a legless, armless creature, but Arlene suddenly heard it coming up the stairs they’d somehow been able to bypass. She looked to the room’s only door out, hurried over, and locked it. This was going to work, it was destiny, but they needed time. No sooner had she gone over to Toddy at the lock when a bump came at the door. It was light and Arlene was sure it would have to hit much harder to break through, but when she looked again she saw the tip of it wedging underneath the door.
“Hurry,” she said to Toddy. “You have to get it open.” He nodded and kept spinning the wheel left and right, left and right. If ever a smidgen of doubt entered her mind it was right then. But a moment later he grabbed the arm of the safe and pulled it open and then the red thing pulled the last segment of its body from underneath the door. Arlene saw it and stepped aside from Toddy.
“Hold it up,” she said, pointing at the safe, but looking at the red thing. She felt Toddy move rather than saw him. The red thing creepy-crawled, zigzagging left and right. But then it rocketed toward them—toward Toddy—and when it leapt from the floor for his head, Arlene was ready. She hadn’t known how she knew it would go for his head, but she’d expected it and caught the red thing mid-air. Toddy had the small safe door open and she redirected its forward momentum, gripping it only long enough to throw it inside. He slammed the little door shut and spun the wheel, locking it inside.
It thrashed around, the sides of the metal box bending and bulging like it was made of rubber. Arlene heard it screech inside and caught the safe when Toddy clapped his hands over his ears. It was heavy and she could feel it thrashing around inside. It went on for a moment longer, but eventually the subsided, even its screeching sounding defeated.
Arlene looked at Toddy until he made eye contact with her. He’d been staring unbelievingly at the safe and turned those wondering eyes on her.
“Is it… over?” he said.
Arlene nodded. “Yes.” She walked to the closet and put the safe on a shelf above her head. She turned to Toddy. “It’s over.”
He smiled. She walked back and took his hand. The house dissolved around them until there was nothing but white as far as they could see.
“What do we do now?” he asked her.
She smiled at him.
“Do you like wrestling, Toddy?”
He blushed. Toddy turned his head, but Arlene put a gentle hand on his cheek, sliding his eyes back to meet hers. He flashed a glance at her and she smiled even wider.
“It’s okay, I guess,” he said. She put her hands on his shoulders and bent so they were eye level.
“I like it too, Toddy. Know who my favorite wrestler is?” He shook his head. “Sinistar.” Toddy’s eyes crawled up to meet hers.
“Really?” he asked, hesitant.
“Really. He’s just so big and strong. I don’t know if he has a girlfriend, but if he doesn’t…”
Toddy gave a nervous laugh.
“I don’t think he has a girlfriend.”
“Do you think he would help me with something if he were my boyfriend?” she said.
“Oh, I bet he’d do anything for you,” Toddy said. Arlene took his hand and the walls melted. They were standing on the ground outside again. The sun was high in the blue, cloudless sky, but the air was cool. Toddy looked around, his mouth open. “Did I do that?”
“Yes,” Arlene said. This entire place was a construct of the boy’s mind, but just as she knew she wasn’t really holding the hand of an eleven year old boy, she knew she held the controls and had directed him—had been directing him since they ran in the house. “Do you really think he’d do anything for me?” she asked. “Like anything-anything?”
The boy looked confused a moment, his mouth a silent ‘O’, but then he locked eyes with her and puffed his chest out. “He’d do anything for you,” Toddy said proudly.
“Good.” She nodded, bent to his ear, and began whispering.
At the booth, a single word had yet to be shared between them since the only question she’d asked—half asked a mere few minutes earlier, but volumes of information was being exchanged between them. Not information like where she’d grown up or gone to school, but the schematics of her soul. Arlene left her imprint on him until the two of them were as close as siblings, or perhaps more accurately, a mother and son. As she whispered into the ear of his mind, she erased or overwrote the parts that would impede her goal. She dug deep into the core of him until every facet of him she could find had been thoroughly saturated with some aspect of her. She received from him the surety that even with the undeniable evidence that his actions on her behalf were against his best interests, he would given nothing but absolute fealty. He had hurt many people in his lifetime—first in the fights his father had forced him into as a teenager and then in the ring—but he’d never come close to killing anyone. But that self-made border had been crossed and the heat of complete certainty that he would kill without hesitation if and when she asked warmed him to his core.
Todd—Sinistar—looked over at the man who’d been doing most of the talking since the group of bad men had come in here. Arlene squeezed his hand to pull his attention back to her. It took a moment, but he affixed his eyes on her. Sometimes, the wrestling program would do close-ups on Sinistar and his eyes blazed like lamps in the dark. She’d always thought it was the contrast of the red-trimmed black mask, but looking at his naked face now it looked like he could illuminate the room if the lights went out.
“Wait,” Arlene said. “We have to do it when the time is right. We have to get them all.”