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October 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 10 submit to us!

by Deborah Reed -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

"I've decided to call them sand mutants."

Trista glanced up in alarm. The words, distressing in and of themselves, were made even more chilling by the fact that they were said apropos of nothing. She and her mother had been folding clothes, a mundane chore they shared every Saturday morning, when her mother had suddenly popped up with this sentence.

Trista lowered her eyes to the dishcloth she was holding, struggling to maintain a casual tone of voice. "Call what sand mutants, Mom?"

"The things in the box."

"Okay . . . " Trista said slowly, unsure of how to proceed at this point. Should she humor her mother, draw her out with more questions, or simply let the subject drop? A year ago, the question would have been moot--she would have confronted her mother with the fact her words sounded absolutely insane, the older woman would have laughed and come up with a perfectly rational explanation for them.

But that was last year and this was now. There was, Trista knew, no sane explanation for her mother's statement, just as there was no sane explanation for many of the things her mother had done in the last six months. The ugly truth was that, for some reason, her mother was slowly sliding into madness.

"Don't you want to know why I decided to call them sand mutants?" Linda's question broke into Trista's thoughts.

Trista averted her gaze as she reached for a towel, still slightly warm from the dryer. "Why, Mom?"

"Because they look like those sand worms from Beetlejuice, you know which ones I'm talking about? When they step outside the door?"

"Okay . . . " Trista said again.

"Only uglier," her mother continued. "Smaller, but much uglier. So I decided they were a mutant form of the original sand worm, and the best thing to call them was sand mutants."

Trista placed the towel on the neat stack of folded clothes between them. Her mother, she knew, was waiting for some kind of response.

"That's nice, Mom."

"No it's not!" her mother flared. "There's nothing nice about them! They're ugly and smelly and they get in my head. I finally gathered them last night when they were all sleeping and put them in the box. And that wasn't easy, young lady. Not easy at all. Very seldom do they all fall asleep at the same time. You're very lucky I was able to do that. You should be grateful instead of looking at me like that."

Trista drew a shaky breath. This latest outburst was by far the most alarming thing her mother had done to date. She's losing it completely, she thought, and I have absolutely no idea what to do about it.

"I'm not looking at you any way, Mom," she said soothingly.

Her mother blinked slowly for a few seconds, then reached over to pat Trista's arm. "Of course you're not, dear. And, besides, it doesn't matter now. Those hideous sand mutants are trapped in a box under my bed."

The smell was the first thing that bothered her. Or rather the ghost of a smell, because she didn't smell anything, not really. Her mother's room smelled like any other room in the house, with the exception of the kitchen, which smelled like fried fish at the moment.

Of course, Trista thought to herself as she crossed the room to retrieve her mother's reading glasses from the top of the dresser, that's what I'm smelling, the fish from the kitchen. I just think it's an odd smell because of what Mom said yesterday, about the alleged sand mutants smelling funny. I really don't smell anything at all . . . and if I do, it's just a perfectly normal, earthly smell. The odor of fish that come from an ocean on the planet Earth, not some smell from some other, alien place far away in a distant galaxy . . . 

Trista came to with a start. She was standing by the bedroom door, glasses in hand, with no memory of picking them up. The reason, she told herself sternly, that you don't remember is because you allowed yourself to think those weird thoughts, about funny smells and distant galaxies, thoughts triggered by her mother's odd conversation yesterday.

"Thank you, dear," her mother said as she reached for the glasses Trista was offering, "I appreciate you doing that for me. I've decided not to go in there anymore."

"In where, Mom?"

"My bedroom, of course. I'll sleep on the couch. You can get my clothes for me, if you don't mind. You're young, your mind is fresh, and it only takes a couple of seconds to get clothes out of the closet. I'm sure you'll be all right."

Trista sat heavily in the armchair across from her mother. "Mom," she said calmly. "You're not making any sense. Why would you want to sleep on the couch?"

Her mother didn't seem to hear the question. She bit her lip nervously. "If I didn't think you'd be all right, I wouldn't let you go in there every morning, I'd buy all new clothes or something. But we can't really afford that, can we? So I decided that you could just run in real quick, grab my clothes, and come right out."

"Oh, Mom," Trista moaned.

"You don't mind doing that for me, do you, Trista?"

"No, Mom, I don't mind doing it, but that's not the point. There's no reason for you to sleep on the couch. There's nothing wrong with your bedroom."

Linda cocked her head; a puzzled expression flitted across her face.

"Of course there is, dear," she said simply. "It smells like sand mutants."

Funny how even bizarre events can turn into a mundane routine, Trista was thinking as she entered her mother's bedroom several mornings later. Wake up, dress, put on makeup, grab some clothes for Mom, lay them beside her on the couch, kiss the still-sleeping woman goodbye and walk to the bus stop on the corner. All perfectly natural things to do lately. And when she returned from school she would cope with a parent who would or would not be acting rationally. Like a terminally ill patient, her mother had her good days and her bad days.

Maybe today will be one of the good days, Trista was thinking as she approached the closet door. There was a small squeak as she opened it, but Trista ignored the squeak just as she was learning to ignore the smell she didn't really smell. It's getting worse because they're in a confined space, a little evil voice from her subconscious told her.

She pushed the thought to the back of her mind as she reached for a blouse and slacks from the rod lining the wall of the closet. She ignored another squeak she didn't really hear because she wasn't touching the door, so how could it squeak? The third squeak, of course, was just a figment of her imagination; it was like that joke where you told someone not to think about an elephant, so of course they do. She was trying not to think about squeaks, so of course she heard them. That made sense, didn't it?

Trista obsessed about the squeaks most of her school day, to the point that she was beginning to question her own sanity. This stupid sand mutant problem, she realized, had to come to some kind of an end. It occurred to her that since there were no sand mutants, there was no box under the bed, either. She would confront her mother with that fact, drag her if necessary into the bedroom, and show her there was no box. Her mother could then sleep in her own bed, retrieve her own clothes from the closet. There would be no more mention of sand mutants and life would return to some semblance of normalcy.

Linda was dozing in the armchair near the front door when Trista arrived home. Now is the time, she thought, to explore under the bed. The bedroom door squeaked as she opened it, then squeaked again as she tiptoed across the room. Her heart caught in her throat when it squeaked a third time as she lay flat on the carpet to look under the bed.

She cautiously extended an arm and swept it over the floor under the bed. She closed her eyes in relief. She felt nothing, nothing at all. Of course, her evil little voice told her, you haven't touched the entire area, it's a big bed, your arm doesn't reach far enough. With a small sigh, Trista stood and pushed the bed closer to the wall, then lay down and swept the floor again. This time she felt the box.

Trista remained flat on the floor, her hand still touching the box as she pondered what to do next. The presence of a box, of course, did not mean there were sand mutants in it. Many people have boxes under their beds, boxes that contained off-season clothes, quilts, things like that. Not sand mutants.

She lay on the floor for several moments before she allowed herself to accept the fact that she was going to have to pull the box out, there would be no closure to this situation until she did.

Her first thought was that it contained rocks. She could think of nothing else that would make the box that heavy. There must be a lot of rocks, she thought to herself, because of the swaying motion she felt when she picked up the box. There was nothing alive in the box, of course, the movement she felt was just heavy rocks sliding over each other. Perfectly natural phenomenon.

She stood up with the box in her hand, then dropped it in alarm as the door squeaked again. The door, not the box, she told herself.

The box lay on the floor now, looking for all the world like the ordinary cardboard carton that it was. It contained, Trista told herself, nothing but heavy rocks. Heavy, moving rocks. Her mother, getting crazier by the day, had decided to store rocks under her bed. For reasons known only to herself, she had put rocks in a box, secured it with duct tape, and then slid the box under the bed. Not exactly the actions of a sane woman, but her mother had done so many irrational things in the last six or seven months, that this one almost made sense.

Trista stared at the box for several moments before she finally accepted the fact that she was going to have to look inside it. See, Mom, she would say, it's just those rocks you put in it. Not sand mutants. Remember, Mom, remember when you decided to gather heavy rocks and then store them under your bed?

Trista sat heavily on the floor beside the box, legs crossed beneath her. This whole situation was getting totally out of hand. Just open the blasted thing, she told herself, tear the duct tape off, remove the lid and look inside. It's just a box, for cripes sake.

She slowly extended her hand and ripped a small portion of the tape off. It made a squeaking noise, not a tearing one, but she decided to ignore that fact. She drew a shaky breath and ripped the tape a few more inches. She pulled her hand away in alarm. The box was writhing.

Trista chewed on her upper lip as she pondered the question of what to do next. Opening it, she finally decided, was out of the question. They could get out. No, no they couldn't. Rocks are inanimate objects, incapable of removing themselves from a box. She recalled her mother's first words about the sand mutants--they get inside my head.

She stared at the box for a moment, watching it slowly undulate with a sensuous, almost evil, movement. Whatever was inside it, she realized, was the explanation for her mother's decline into madness. It wasn't too much of a stretch to imagine the same thing happening to her. With a shudder of revulsion, she picked up the box.

Just throwing your rocks away, Mom, she thought as she passed the sleeping woman. Be back in a minute. She stood on the front porch for a moment as she pondered where she should throw the box. The squeaks were coming closer together now, but she was past the point of worrying about them. Or the way the rocks were causing the box to shake in her hand.

The large trash can in the back yard, she decided, would not do. Tuesday morning she would have to pull it to the curb and the wheels would squeak when she did so. No, the best thing would be to walk the two blocks to Wildwood Apartments and deposit the box in one of their large Dumpsters. She'd find one that was relatively empty, so that others would place things on top of it. It wouldn't do for a child to find the box and open it, although it occurred to her that perhaps the younger you were, the less susceptible you were to the sand mutants.

She shook her head, as if to clear it of the ridiculous thought. There's no such thing as sand mutants of course. But in a situation like this, it was best to err on the side of caution. That's why I'm lugging a heavy box of rocks two blocks, she thought, to err on the side of caution.

And it was heavy, smelly, too. Trista got as far as the corner before she was forced to set it down and rest a moment. (Purple people eaters is not just the name of a song they really exist and it's a good thing I'm not purple.) Trista's breath was coming in soft gasps as she glanced down the block. She massaged her eyelids and tried to convince herself she was not feeling a little strange. Only a block and a half to go. She reached down and picked up the box.

(You could just slit your wrists you know it wouldn't even hurt and your worries about Mom would be over.) Although she had only walked a few steps, Trista dropped the box again. The short walk to the Dumpsters seemed like miles. She could see the large WILDWOOD APARTMENTS sign from where she stood, but it looked minute, as if she were seeing it from the wrong end of binoculars. Regardless of how impossible the task seemed, Trista knew she would have to continue walking with the heavy rocks, find the closest Dumpster, and throw the box in it. She gave a helpless little moan and picked up the box once again.

The moon is falling the moon is falling hi oh the derry oh, the moon is falling a little voice inside her was singing merrily as she trudged another half block. Yessiree, the moon is falling down.

Although the late afternoon was relatively cool, Trista was forced to set the box down again to wipe the sweat from her face. She picked it up again quickly. Just get this over with. A dogwalker glanced at her strangely as she passed him, but she ignored him. Half a block to go.

The Dumpster suddenly appeared in front of her. She'd been listening to a little ditty about how cats could fly if they only had wings and had completely lost track of time. But she was here now and it was only a matter of lifting the heavy, writhing, stinky, squeaking box over the lip and this whole ugly situation would be a thing of the past. (don't do it don't do it don't do it.)

The box was suddenly too heavy to hold another moment so she set it down beside the Dumpster, her heart pounding painfully in her throat.

Time had passed somehow, without her even being aware of it, because the sun was now a large yellow orb on the horizon, when she realized that she was still standing by the Dumpster, the box of rocks shaking violently at her feet. She gritted her teeth and picked it up. One quick motion and it was in the Dumpster.

She could hear the squeaks as she walked away.

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