The entrance hall to Evelyn Goldworthy's abode was bedecked with so many photos and portraits that Cherry marvelled how the walls did not collapse under the weight. They stretched from just above her head to almost the ceiling, and although she had noted their presence earlier, she hadn't paid much attention to the finer details. Now, she saw that every last one of them seemed to depict the same group of people: Evelyn herself, a young girl who couldn't have been older than four or five, and a tall, handsome man of an age with the giantess. They traversed across the entire world as Cherry moved along the wall, from professional studios to the wilds of foreign countries. In one, Evie was hugging the little girl from behind while they rode on elephantback; in the next, it was the man and the girl together, smiling and laughing on an icy tundra. Both individuals were wearing enough insulation to make an eskimo envious.
She had a game of hide and seek to lose, but Cherry couldn't help but pause to study the pictures. Who were these two? If she had to hazard a guess, she'd have said that these portraits depicted one happy family...but by all accounts, Evie didn't have a family, ignoring her 'children.' Why hadn't Dawn or Lucas said something if there were other people involved in their nightmare?
Who's to say these two are involved? Cherry stroked her metaphorical beard as she pondered the implications of the gallery. I wonder -
"What are you looking at, dear?"
Evelyn came up behind her very suddenly, fast enough to startle the unsuspecting little. She was holding Cherry's soiled dress and pull-up away from her body, and although Cherry cringed at the sight, the giantess seemed more interested in the memories on her wall. Her eyes flitted from picture to picture, seemingly without noticing her companion's physical presence.
"Who are they?" Cherry wasn't sure if it was smart to pry after what had just transpired in the living room, but it couldn't hurt to be polite. She gestured at the nearest photo, the one with the man and the girl in the snow. "Is this your family, Ms Goldsworthy?"
When Evie finally answered, it was as if she was speaking directly to the picture itself. "Oh, yes," she breathed. She wore a curious expression on her face that Cherry couldn't quite pick. "Once upon a time, yes. They were my family."
Oh. "I'm sorry." She'd evidently touched on something private. "I didn't mean to - "
"It's okay, dear. You were just curious." Evie's voice was airy and detached, but she hunched down to Cherry's height all the same. She threw one arm around the little's shoulders and used her free hand to point. Cherry’s pee-stained dress dangled listless in the faces of everyone on the wall. "See the girl?"
Doing her best to ignore her unfortunate legacy, Cherry followed Evie's lead. The girl was cute as a button in every photo her face appeared - all of them - and in every instance she was laughing. She was laughing when Evie ran with her on her shoulders, she was laughing when the man tugged on her pigtails, she was laughing when they were laughing. Her smile glimmered with braces and her face was freckled, but her pure, childish joy was enough to negate any blemishes. She was adorable in every last picture, wall to wall, floor to ceiling.
"She is," Evie agreed when Cherry voiced that particular thought. "That's Annabelle, my...my daughter. Bless her heart." She shook her head again. "She's gone now, but...that's Annie."
"Gone?" Cherry glanced at her companion. "What do you mean, gone?"
The giantess elected not to hear her. She instead gesticulated at the man. "And that, Tyra," she ploughed on without pausing to answer. "Is Harrison Goldsworthy. My ex-husband." She snorted. "We were together for twenty years, can you believe it? He's the smartest man I've ever known, but...well, even a smart man can be a damned fool. It took me twenty years to realise you can't trust a man, Tyra. Learn from little old me and remember that." She gritted her teeth, and her voice trembled with barely suppressed rage as she said, "Everything I did, I did for him and Annie, and for my efforts I got a nice, laminated piece of paper. It's funny how the world works sometimes."
A laminated piece of paper? "Did...did he cheat on you?" Cherry wasn't quite sure she was following. She admired the man in the photos, curious as to what this man could have possibly done to instil such a loathing in his wife. He didn't look like a cheater, although that wasn't exactly something you could judge from someone's face. Harrison Goldsworthy looked like an artist from the Renaissance - he had a sun-kissed head of hair and a matching beard, framing a crooked nose and a gentle smile. Cherry's first impression was that he seemed fatherly. "Or was he...you know, abusive?"
"Abusive? No, of course not." Evie finally tore her gaze from her family and unwrapped herself from around the little. "We didn't see eye to eye on a certain issue, and he packed his bags and left because of it." She paused for half a second, grappling with some internal quandary, and when she spoke again her voice had lost its edge. "He was my rock," she concluded simply. She returned to her feet. "Harry was the type of individual that knew his rights from his wrongs. If I was out of line, he'd be the first to let me know and the first to help me fix it, and he'd have the right of it, because he knew what was right. That's something that not everyone can boast, dear. He was the angel on my shoulder.”
"But one day, something...something happened, and he was wrong. He wouldn't believe he was wrong, but this time, he was. He didn't understand, it wasn't my fault, but...he thought he was right, and he...he left."
Evie's voice at last tapered off, and the silence that followed was marred only by the ramblings of Dora the Explorer from the living room. Not sure what to say, Cherry found herself nodding awkwardly. Did I really need to know all that? She snuck a glance at her host out of the corner of her eye. Evie looked near the point of tears, though she was doing a respectable job of hiding it. I met you an hour ago, lady.
The giantess apparently arrived at the same conclusion, because she abruptly forced a self-conscious chuckle from her lips. "I'm sorry, dear. The last thing you want to hear is an old lady’s woes." She made a point of holding up the little's soiled outfit. "Nevermind what happened between me and Harry, that was a long time ago. Just...just run along and play, okay? I'll go take care of your clothes."
She didn't wait for an answer. Evelyn Goldsworthy turned tail and left Cherry without a single word of explanation, just as she'd apparently been left by her husband of twenty years. The little watched her go, bemused. All she'd been doing was checking out the photos, but she'd clearly touched a nerve or three by doing so.
So they got divorced, and...he took the girl? Was that the way of it? She looked back to the photos where the Goldsworthy family frolicked happy as could be in years long gone. It was hard to imagine Evelyn as anything more than the witch that had kidnapped and mutilated her sister, but here she was, young and carefree and happy. Twenty years, huh? She must have fucked up something royally if he left her after that long. What did you do, Evie?
Evelyn, Annabelle and Harrison Goldsworthy all neglected to answer. Their eyes were bright and heavy with a laughter that no longer existed.
Who cares what she did to upset her husband. Get to work, the clock's ticking.
That was as true as it had ever been - she only had to six thirty, after all, and then she'd be heading back to the motel. Cherry shook her head and hurried off in a random direction. I hate to do this to you, Ms Goldsworthy, she thought to herself as she hurried through the doorway directly opposite the living room. But you can't trust a little, either.
Cherry's enthusiasm gradually dwindled as the hour progressed. The first room she entered proved to be a game's room, featuring a billiards table, a pinball machine, a bar and a lounge area. The little searched everywhere her height would permit her, making a show of looking for a boy on his hands and knees whilst actually rummaging beneath the bar in search of a keyring. Every last cabinet came up empty, though, and a quick hunt through the rest of the room bore no further success.
She moved on.
The games room connected to a home theatre, a sprawling cinema of crimson velvet and a monster drop-down screen. It could have easily seated a good twenty or thirty people, but despite the ground to cover, Cherry hurried in and out of that particular area with little more than a cursory glance. What were the odds of Evelyn hiding her keys beneath the cushions in the theatre, of all places? About as good as they'd been of her hiding them next to the television, she figured, and she quickly retraced her steps back to the entrance hall.
The opening beneath the stairway led directly to the kitchen, and it was there that she found Evie seated at the table with a book in hand and a steaming mug of coffee before her. The bouquet of flowers she'd left by the door had migrated to the table in her absence, and they commanded the place of honour in a painted vase in front of the giantess. Paying them and their owner no mind, Cherry did her best to search underneath the sink and inside the drawers, but she figured it wasn't a great idea to linger too long. She could feel the Amazon's gaze warming the back of her head, and she forced herself to move on before she raised any more suspicion than she already had. The laundry connected directly to the side of the kitchen, and that made a convenient next port of call. She hunted through there briefly, and even felt a brief surge of excitement when she found a row of pegs on the wall by the door to the backyard, undoubtedly meant to hold any number of spare keys...but the only thing on them was a remote of some sort, not unlike the one Evie had used to open the front gate. She was forced to swallow her pride once more and head back the way she’d came. The washing machine buzzed in her ears like a jackhammer as her host came back into sight.
Upon returning to the kitchen, Cherry realised that she'd completely missed a door on her first pass. It was directly beside the fridge and out of line of sight from the main doorway. At first she figured it was just the pantry, but when she tried the knob she found it locked. It rattled uselessly above her head, taunting her. Curious, she stepped back and appraised the barrier before her. Why would someone lock their pantry, of all places?
Evie conveniently piped up with all the right answers. "Stay out of the basement, dear." The giantess watched her over her coffee. "That's my...workspace. You're not to play down there. Go look for the boy somewhere else."
Why does a chemist need a home workplace?
She’d be lying if she said she cared. Cherry shrugged, left the kitchen and basement behind her, and went to look for the 'boy' somewhere else.
The rest of the house passed by in something of a blur. There was a study bolted on to the side of the living room, and although she experienced her second burst of excitement at having finally found somewhere that might actually prove fruitful, her enthusiasm was short-lived. She left the study with a frown and a bitter taste on her tongue, and she had no further luck on the upstairs landing, either. There were bedrooms for each of the house's respective inhabitants there, along with another locked door that refused her entry, but in the end the time she spent in each of them would have been equally well spent watching Dora. She rushed through Dawn and Lucas' own bedrooms without any real expectations - surely they were the last places Evie would hide her prize, after all - and although she spent more time in the giantess', she had just as much success. Closets, bedside tables and desks all came up with a distinct lack of keys.
In the end, Cherry was forced to admit defeat. It was with no small amount of disgust that she returned to the entry hall empty-handed. She'd searched every nook and cranny there was to search, and although she'd now have a rough idea of her way around the house when she returned after hours, she was none the wiser as to how to rid Dawn and Lucas of their tracking devices. She fumed quietly to herself as she pondered her next move. It was nearly five, if the clock by the door was anything to go by, and that meant she was running out of time. She had ninety minutes left. It wouldn't do to waste them.
I might as well see what I can do about finding another way in, she thought to herself wearily. She sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. She was an architect, for God's sake, not a burglar. Was this how Bilbo Baggins had felt in the bowels of the Smoky Mountain, searching through mountains of gold for one lonely gem? I can achieve that much. At least that way I'll leave here knowing something for certain.
It sounded as good a plan as any, and if she was fast, she might still have time to do a second sweep of the house after she scouted the premises.
"Lucas!" Cherry called as loud as she could. Her voice echoed grandly about the vastness of the hall, turning her two syllables into the summons of an army. "I give up!"
Her accomplice arrived in record time. Lucas hurried out of the games room on his hands and knees. "How'd you go?" His voice was hushed but wrought with excitement. He glanced around to see if Evie was within earshot, and once having confirmed she wasn't, gushed, "You were gone forever, surely you found...you..."
He looked so hopeful that Cherry felt a distinct pang of guilt as she shook her head, and his voice trailed off along with his smile. "I tried," she apologised. She donned a sad, sympathetic smile as he closed the rest of the distance between them. "No luck. Sorry."
Lucas put on a brave face. "It's alright. I didn't think you'd have any, to be honest." He pursed his lips, looking for the entire world like a pouty infant. "I mean, I've had a look before, but I miss a lot from the floor, and I was hoping..."
"I know. It's okay, we're not giving up just yet." She paused, collecting her thoughts before proposing her next line of attack. "I don't know where else to look, so I was thinking we could go outside and have a look around out there. Not for the keys, for another way over the wall. That's going to be a pain to get over, so - "
"Fat chance." Lucas' voice was as blunt as it was disheartened. He fell upon his diapered behind with a grimace. "There's one way in, and there's one way out, and that's the front gate. Either you jump the wall, break the gate, or learn to fly." He squinted up at her. "Can you fly, Cherry?"
I don't even think I can piss in the toilet. "I'd like to take a look, anyway. How long has it been since you were out there?"
He hesitated. "Since I did the gardening with my dad," he admitted. "I'm scared to go out there these days, you saw how it is. With my luck, something will eat me. Probably a plant."
Exactly. "Well, you never know. It's been a long time since you were up to date with the outside world." She glanced in Evie's direction to make sure she was still distracted with her novel. "All we need is a tree that overhangs the road, or one wall that's lower than the others, or...man, I don't know. Anything. A place this big has to have some weakness."
"I'm telling you that it doesn't."
Cherry put her hands on her hips. "So what, then? What do you want me to do? I've already looked, there's only - "
"I want you to keep looking. You could show up tonight and find the gate wide open, but if you can't get this thing off me, both me and your sister aren't going anywhere. "
"But I already - "
"Well try again." The boy at her feet was getting progressively more agitated. "Why would you even consider doing anything but looking for the keys?"
"Because they're a convenience." Cherry glowered at her companion. The constant negativity was starting to wear a little thin. "At the end of the day, we could just get some boltcutters, right?”
“No. Not right.” Lucas' face was hard. "Come with me."
He glanced towards the kitchen. "I said, come with me, and do it quickly before dear Mama decides to come check up on us."
And with that, he hurried back into the games room he'd just vacated.
He was fussing with the crotch snaps of his onesie when Cherry pulled up behind him. She watched impatiently as he popped them open to reveal the plastic expanse between his legs. His diaper was identical to her own, right down to the teddybears on the crotch, and suddenly she was blushing. She wasn't sure whether it was on his behalf or her own.
"What are you doing?" She looked away. "I don't need to see - "
"Evening the score. I saw everything you had to offer, right?" Lucas rolled his eyes and continued undressing himself. He rolled the material up to just below his breasts...and all thoughts of modesty dissipated from the little's mind. Cherry felt the air rush from her lungs as she realised why the keys were a lot more than just a convenience.
Lucas had previously described it as a padlock, and although that wasn’t untrue, it wasn’t the entire story, either. The tracking device was designed to look like a cartoonist’s impression of a padlock, and as far as Cherry could see, there was absolutely nothing holding it in place. Rather than impaling the flesh like a normal piercing, it instead seemed to grow out of the skin surrounding his bellybutton. It had been moulded to fit the exact dimensions of the hole in his tummy, and Cherry felt her heart sink as she realised that bolt-cutters really weren't going to be of any use. There was just nothing external to cut through.
"I thought you said it was a piercing," Cherry said dourly, falling to her knees to get a closer look. The plastic around the keyhole was glowing, she now saw, as if there was a backlight illuminating it. "What the fuck is that?"
"It is a piercing. The latch is on the inside, that's all." He ran the tip of his finger over the edge of the contraption, and he couldn't part it from the surrounding skin. "When you turn the key, it thrusts into whatever's pressed against it, loops back inside the lock, and holds the whole thing in place. It's only small, but the chunk of meat it's hugging is enough to keep it there." Lucas frowned. "It's no different to a normal piercing. The only difference is that you need a key to take it off."
They looked at each other for a long moment.
“That’s messed up,” Cherry said at last.
Lucas shrugged. “Compared to everything else, it’s not that bad. It stung when it went in, but I don’t even know it’s there anymore.”
That doesn’t make it okay. "I'll go do another sweep of the house." She climbed back to her feet, unable to tear her gaze from the barbaric device before her. "Man, and I thought I'd seen it all."
"In this house? Never." Lucas began to redress himself. "If you still can’t find them, you'll have to convince Evie to let you stay longer. I'm not sure if she'll go for it or not, but we'll have to make it happen." His face was deathly serious as he stretched his onesie back over his diaper. "We'll turn this into a sleepover if we have to, that'll give you more time. We need that key, Cherry. You have to find it."
"But what if we don't?" The words were spilling out of her mouth before she paused to consider them. It was Lucas in front of her, but it was Dawn she was seeing, her big sister with a matching padlock that couldn’t be removed. The thought that there might be nothing could do to save her sister was a frightening one. "What if we can't get it off, Lucas? What do we do?"
The poppers on his onesie snicked shut, and when he looked up his face was grim. "I don't know," Lucas admitted. "I don't know."