Friday, July 6, 2018

McKenna Speaks (Part 1)

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week 11 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts.

My subject is: Their eyes were watching God but also something else.

It was submitted by: 

As noted in the title, this will be part 1. Part 2 (which should be the end) will post next week for Use Your Words, so stay tuned. 

content warning: ableist attitudes and language from 2 characters; potentially abusive language from 1

A piercing giggle shattered the silence of the Carpenter home while Tiffani was folding a load of towels and washcloths in their too-tiny, hot laundry room. She dropped the sky-colored towel in her hands, heart thumping in her chest. She wasn't used to those sounds even on summer break and immediately ran for McKenna's room upstairs.

The closer she got the more clearly she could hear two voices--a young girl giggly and happy and a deeper, gravelly one that must have belonged to a man but certainly not her husband. It had far too much bass to be his and was It didn't sound like anyone she knew and certainly not anyone that should be around her child. She was in a state of hyperventilation by the time she reached the pastel pink door covered in lavender flower decals with her daughter's initials stenciled in the center--MLC. She closed her eyes for a moment grasping the small gold cross around her neck and whispering a prayer from her lips for everything to be okay, for nothing to happen to her baby before she turned the doorknob and looked inside the room.

There was McKenna sitting at her Hello Kitty picnic table having a tea party and seated across from her, tea cup in hand and pinky up, was a beast of a man smelling of sulfur and ash. He had dark hair covering his body, twisted horns growing from his head, oxblood eyes, a long tail flipping back and forth lazily like a cat's, and large, black leathery wings folded around him a bit like a blanket.

3 things went through Tiffani's mind. Is he cold? Should I offer him a cup of coffee? Wait is he a demon?

The room began to darken as McKenna shrieked, "I LOVE YOU BEST FREN." The next thing she remembered was that...thing..standing over her shaking one of her shoulders. Tiffani screamed a prayer, and he jumped backwards cowering from her words in the corner while McKenna pleaded, "no, mommy, no, stop scaring my fren."

Tiffani's brain scrambled. She had never heard her child do more than babble as a baby. McKenna was 6 now and had never once said "I love you" to anyone. She had never prayed before bedtime, asked for a cookie, pleaded for a toy. Oh there had been plenty of tantrums and meltdowns. Tiffani rarely understood why and could never predict them with any reliability, but McKenna most often lived in her own little world and had been diagnosed as autistic years ago. It was a part of life, their life, and despite how difficult it was, Tiffani and her husband, Chet, had finally accepted the reality of it. Well, she had. That didn't mean they hadn't prayed for answers at first, prayed to hear their little girl talk and laugh and interact. They'd both worn callouses on their knees from kneeling in prayer and had made a sizable debt from going to specialist after specialist, therapists, pediatricians, miracle healers, priests, preachers, holy trips to healing waters...if she thought it might help, they tried it. But silent days with occasional outbursts and praying for it to all work out in the end was life now. 

They had always been a religious family. Tiffani's folks had been Episcopalian while Chet's were Methodist, but they'd never really been heavy church goers until McKenna's diagnosis. It had felt like a punishment for not being more devout though Tiffani never would have said so out loud. She shouted from every rooftop what a blessing McKenna had been in teaching them how to appreciate the small things and pushing them to find a stronger faith, but deep down it was never as easy as she liked to have people believe. Now they both attended the small Catholic church in town at least once a week. They'd found a second family there who were more understanding and supportive than anywhere else. One of McKenna's fits was all it took to get ugly, pitying looks or all but thrown out the door even at her family's long time church. It had been a long road to finding some sort of acceptance, and their church family had been a big part of learning how.

And, after all that, here was her child talking, TALKING OUT LOUD, to a smelly stranger with man-sized bat wings.

She snapped out of her chaotic mess of thoughts as McKenna moved closer to the thing and talked to him in soft, reassuring tones. "It's okay, fren. This my mommy. She can bring snacks. You like goldfish crackers? We have da pizza ones!" The demon seemed to settle down when McKenna pat his shoulder and stood to his full size grazing the 10 foot ceiling with the tips of his horns. She got a better look at him then in an old band tshirt (maybe Nirvana? but she didn't listen to that trash so she wasn't sure), ripped jeans, a red and black flannel tied around his waist, and Converse sneakers. He looked like he had stepped out of the 90s. Or maybe there was a grunge circle in Hell these days where everyone was unwashed and angry.

McKenna was standing next to him with her tiny, pale arm wrapped around his knee looking up at him full of joy. When he bent forward and ruffled her hair, a jealous rage fired into every nerve in Tiffani's body so forcefully she visibly trembled and yelled at him to get the fuck out of her house, language she never, ever used much less in front of her daughter.

He looked at her, confused and angry, and lunged forward just as she screamed, "I BANISH YOU IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY FATHER." As his clawed hands clamped down on her arms, he was gone in a cloud of smoke. Poof...they were alone. A moment of silence settled around them. Tiffani tried to catch her breath and get rid of the heightened emotions that were still making her heart race, but before she could get herself under control, McKenna went into complete meltdown mode swinging her arms to punch herself in the face and screaming wordlessly before she ran herself into the wall. Her tiny daughter with a halo of brown curls surrounding her chubby, cherubic face backed herself up slowly preparing to rush the wall again when Tiffani caught up with her and lifted her off the ground taking an onslaught of kicks and punches while her baby wailed louder and louder.

All this had been too much for her, and they would have to step into the walk-in closet in the master bedroom where Tiffani had set up their calm cave. In the closet she had a weighted blanket, soft plushies McKenna loved, a velvet sleep mask, and wax ear plugs. When McKenna was like this, she would need near sensory deprivation to calm down or would just have to exhaust herself into sleep.

Once they were seated in the large beanbag Chet had bought a few months back, Tiffani went through the meltdown rituals--McKenna on her lap, the blanket over them both, dodging frail fists, mask, earplugs, plush unicorn to cuddle. There was some kind of calming solace in taking those steps and knowing eventually they would work. It was a therapy all its own working to calm them both in an otherwise emotionally charged few moments.

The next thing Tiffani knew she was waking up to Chet calling her name from downstairs. How long had she been asleep? Had it all been a nightmare?

She moved McKenna off her lap and into the beanbag alone. She looked so tiny to be such a force. Outside the closet, the light coming from the windows was faint barely providing enough to see how to navigate the room without stubbing a toe. They must have slept for hours.

Chet was coming up the stairs as she stepped out of their room, finger to her lips to signal McKenna was asleep. He closed the distance between them and wrapped her in his arms. He still smelled like the soap he used, and the familiarity of his scent and touch released tension in places she didn't even realize it had been hiding. She sighed a little and squeezed him tightly praying for the tears in her eyes not to fall. If she got started now, she wouldn't be able to quit. She pulled back quickly trying to get herself together and shook out of his embrace feeling her walls lock down and close all those emotions inside. For now.

"Another one?" he asked, eyebrows raised and a frown furrowing his face.

She nodded knowing what his reaction would be.

"What the hell about this time, Tiff? We can't keep living like this. You're going to have to stop catering to these damn tantrums she has. You're coddling her! She's got to learn life is tough."

Tiffani just turned and walked away from him. It was an old argument she was tired of fighting and had been for quite awhile. She had cried, begged, took him to the same doctors, sent him links to articles and bought him parenting books for people with kids on the spectrum. He wouldn't hear of it. Nothing was wrong with his child except she was spoiled.

"Spare the rod," he preached every time he attempted to spank McKenna for an outburst (which always, always made it worse). Any time Tiffani tried to reason with him on the topic, she was basically pissing in the wind. She did her best by their daughter, did her part around the house, and buried all the resentment and anger deep in a black, fiery pit in her chest. They barely spoke anymore outside of his bloviating about his job, his bloated importance or why she wouldn't sleep with him anymore. She loved him. He had been her whole world so long she didn't know how to walk away. He was her comfort. He still felt safe. But she also hated the sight of him sometimes...and if she was being perfectly honest he had been running around on her long before she stopped putting out.

"Don't say I never tried to help, Ice Princess," he called as she opened McKenna's door and stepped inside curious to see if she would find the demon waiting there or not. She heard his boots stomping downstairs as she glanced around the room. She was alone, neither monster invading her space.

She got a whiff of ash still riding the air in the room and knew it had been real. She pored over the drawings on McKenna's little table noticing all the old familiar symbols over and over again every page...then the last one. It was something new drawn in red crayon. It was simple--just a few lines, a circle, and arrows--but it was repeated over and over again on the page and each one was marred by a black smudge like it had almost caught aflame...

How many times had that thing been with her daughter? How could I not know? she wondered as she traced a finger over the design.

The paper shook and grew hot in her hands as she traced the last arrow point. It stretched and moved twisting into shape. She screamed barely recognizing the sounds coming out of her mouth. She dropped the paper as the demon from earlier rose into shape in front of her eyes and laughed.

She heard Chet's boots thundering upstairs and his voice calling her name. This. Was. Not. Going. To. End. Well. be continued

Baking In A Tornado 

The Lieber Family Blog

The Bergham Chronicles

The Blogging 911

Cognitive Script

Never Ever Give Up Hope

My Brand of Crazy

Part-Time Working Hockey Mom

Southern Belle Charm

Paradoxical Suds


  1. Can't wait for part two and love that you'll take on the added challenge of finishing this story using your Use Your Words post.

  2. What a great story! Can't wait to read the next part. You're an awesome writer.

  3. I love this and can't wait for you to share part 2!!!!