This story is by C J Bowes and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
3/19/2020 1001 CDT, Hotspur Security, B & B Hotspur, Proprietors, Chicago IL
The Hotspurs had been working since 7:15. Bettina was trying to figure out why their new window-frame sensor couldn’t tell the difference between a person and a dog. Annoying problem. Break time.
Bettina took up her usual morning-break post at the window to look out onto Magnolia Street. Nice to work right downstairs from home. Her twin brother,Byron, made coffee. Her eye was snagged by the Goth Teens and Tiny Goth, a trio she had noticed yesterday, too: a boy, a girl, “Twins! Like Byron and like me” she thought, and a very little boy. The trio was hustling down the sidewalk, staring at every house, carrying backpacks and a trash bag. The two boys looked worried. The girl looked mad. Bettina held her right hand near her right eye, fluttering her fingers at the outside of her field of vision, her eyes focused on the ground beside the Goths, but missing nothing.
Byron came into the room. He looked flushed, and seemed to be panting just a little. Bettina turned away from the window and focused on Byron. (“Dearest, you seem very ill!”) she told him silently. Byron didn’t need words to hear her. They were Hotspur twins, so their two heads together were all they needed. Byron needed to make aloud words, but he could hear Bettina just fine.
“Bettina, my dear, I do not feel well at all. It seems hard to breathe and my throat is too sore to eat anything,” he said. “Here, have my cookies.”
Bettina was very worried, but she took the cookies. She ate them, because she always ate cookies at break time. She drank her coffee as well, from her Rosalind Franklin mug with one tablespoon of cream. She returned to her office to ponder the window question. Then it was getting dark. How odd! They usually had lunch, but not today! She wandered back into the living room. Byron appeared to be asleep on the sofa, and he appeared to be having trouble breathing. Bettina stood in front of him and sent a loud message, (“GET UP”) into his head. He coughed and coughed but opened his eyes.
Bettina was terrified. She knew that the Hotspurs didn’t handle illness quite the same way others did; the time she’d developed glittering scales during a bout of flu was still pretty fresh in her mind. (“Call the 911. You need to go to the medicine, what, the hospital. Ambulance.”) Byron took out his phone and obeyed.
An ambulance arrived. Bettina, of course, could not answer their questions, and Byron told her to go back inside. This she had not done. Bettina watched the ambulance drive away. She stood there for quite a while. It was cold. She’d like to go inside, but the door had locked behind her. Bettina could not open doors. She thought the thoughts and Byron did the things. She sat on the stoop. She got wet.
She hoped that Byron was being cared for gently. He was better with Bettina nearby. He could speak from his mouth and make all the words, but Bettina was the one with the solid temperament. Well, no point in worrying about what she couldn’t fix.
Maybe she could find someone who could hear her in the shops or the restaurants over on Clark or Bryn Mawr. She had never gone to the shops by herself before, but she had to get inside.
She set off, a 5-foot, 170-pound silent dumpling of a woman, wild curling black hair full of misty raindrops. Her red and silver-glitter sweater and orange velour sweatpants provided very poor protection against the cold and the drizzle.
She decided to think about pleasant things as she slogged along. To her surprise, her mind kept circling back to the sight of the Three Goths. The twins had black-black hair and light-blue eyes, just like her and Byron. The little one had the palest skin she’d ever seen, with swampy-green eyes and hair so pale it looked clear. She thought his hair would look nice if it were a different color, lavender maybe, or, no! Turquoise! She paid attention to her feet. Step. Step.
Finally, the Red Ball Drugstore lights spilled onto the parking lot at the corner of Ridge and Clark. Bettina moved to the doors, which opened without hands. “This is just what I need at the workshop,” she thought, and felt a moment of chagrin that this was the first time she’d thought about it. She entered the warmth and the dryness, and stood there, dripping on the floor, eyes fixed on the middle distance, mouth open, not hearing the security guard telling her to “step inside, ma’am. Ma’am? Ma’am!”
The security guard approached Bettina in an authoritative way. Bettina, startled by his arrival into her field of vision, jumped and nearly fell over, but caught herself by half-draping herself over the rack of shopping carts. Bettina tried to right herself, reaching out her hands toward the security guard, who lurched back and said, “Don’t be touching me, lady, you step back now!” Bettina had a sudden moment of clear, cold thought: if the guard called the 911, they might Take Her Away. There was no way for her to tell them who she was, and no one to know how to help her. Byron was at the hospital. She’d be back where she’d been for much of her childhood, a Home with no family and no love and no help and no Byron NO BYRON NO BYRON NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
She raised her eyes to the guard’s. This was hard; looking people in the eyes was extremely unpleasant, as anyone who was Bettina knew. Bettina tried with all her might to vocalize, hoping against all previous history that words would come out of her mouth. Instead, a wild screaming sound came from her throat that sounded distressing even to her. At the same time, though, she sent out a message with her head, “HELP ME I CANNOT GET IN MY HOUSE HELP ME I NEED A VOICE I NEED HANDS HELP ME PLEASE PLEASE”
A tiny hand slipped into Bettina’s. Two black-haired Goths approached her from the candy aisle. “Auntie Lulu!” said the boy twin, just as the girl twin said, “Did you follow us?”
Inside Bettina’s head a little voice said, (“We hear you. I’m Huey Hotspur, those are my sibs. Wanna play?”)
Bettina looked directly at the little kid who didn’t (yet) have turquoise hair and thought, (“Oh yes oh yes, can you take me home?”)
“Oh yes oh yes,” said the little boy aloud, leading Bettina away from the security guard. Meanwhile the Goths were assuring the guard that their “Auntie Lulu” was supposed to be at home but had wandered off, you know how old people can be “I’m 32!” sent Bettina (side-long eye-roll/tooth-suck/wink combo from Boy Twin).
“Okay, okay. Ma’am, is this your family?”
Bettina nodded her head then couldn’t stop until the boy twin got in her head: (“Okay, we get it, you said yes already,”) and she stopped. Refreshing, she thought.
Out the door they went, three black-haired adults and one soon-to-be-turquoise-haired little kid.
“I hope you’re okay with us helping you out, we saw you this morning at your house,” said Girl Goth (Girl Goth Hotspur!, thought Bettina)
(“Starlight Hotspur,” replied the girl, “you’ve already met Huey, and the smartass is Golden.”)
Bettina told Starlight that she was Bettina Hotspur and she lived on the corner of Hollywood and Magnolia. Starlight’s eyes grew huge in their circles of black liner. She stopped in front of Bettina and asked, “Do you believe in fate?”
Bettina didn’t know.
“We came here from New York to find you, to find our family! We were looking for you all, why don’t you have an address on your website? Our dad was Tiger Hotspur, we’re related to Hotspur Security, yeah? We’ve been here three days and there’s all this epidemic and we got kicked out of our B&B because they’re closing it down. Listen, Bettina, is there any way we can come to your house? Just for a little, just til we figure out where we can go?”
If she’d been able, Bettina would have grabbed Starlight by the shoulders and hugged her. Instead, she stood there, in the rain, in the dark, in the wind, her affectless face turned slightly away from the faces of her (cousins? Niece and nephews? We’ll figure it out).
She thought, (“Oh my dearests! If you can open the doors, they will always be open to you!”)
And down the street they went together.