The Latchkey Kids: 2 The Shortcut – Kylie by Vivian Munnoch

Kylie is not even halfway home before she’s sure she will never make it.

“I hurt so bad everywhere from the cold and I can’t decide if I even feel any pain in the numbness that has replaced my feet.  I can’t even feel my feet touching the ground anymore!”

The walk is pure torture in this extreme cold without her coat and boots.  The road seems to stretch out longer and longer before her with every difficult step.

“Oh my gawd, is the road getting longer?” She gapes at the impossible distance ahead. “It feels like the house is getting further away instead of closer.”

“I could just lie down here,” Kylie thinks again, feeling the extreme exhaustion wearing her down, making her feel so weak. “If I stop, I’m done.  I’ll die here. Maybe that would be better.”

The thought both terrifies and relieves her.  “I can rest if I’m dead.  I won’t feel any more pain.  I won’t have to keep going.”

Desolate and wanting to just give up and lie down, Kylie pushes herself on, not knowing where she will find the determination to keep going, making her mind focus only on being warm and inside the house.  She focuses on each step, one step at a time.

Finally, she makes it home.

Kylie doesn’t even realise she is home at first.  She is forcing one foot before the other in blind determination, staring down at her feet as she stumbles along, unable to feel anything more than a distant sharp block of pain with each step, and looks up to get her bearings. She’s expecting to yet again see an impossibly long way to go.

She is shocked to find herself standing on the sidewalk in front of her own house.  She looks up the walkway to the front door and it looks a hundred times longer than it should.

“It’s so far,” she whimpers.

Kylie stumbles up the walkway, making it to the door.  But her torment isn’t over yet.

“I don’t have a key to get in because they stole my coat with the key in the pocket.”  She feels again like giving up.  She knows what to do, but isn’t sure she can do it right now.

“That isn’t such a big problem,” Kylie says through teeth that are clenched tight from the extreme cold.  Her words are a lie meant to push away her own doubts.  She feels absolutely lost.

She looks around as if afraid someone might see her, and limps around to the back of the house, huddling down near a basement window.

“It’s a good thing I figured this trick out before, or Mom would be coming home to find me frozen to death on the front steps.”

Kylie is picturing herself lying on the front steps, curled up in a little ball for warmth and frozen hard as a statue.  Her mother would come up the steps, wondering first why she is there, and then noticing that she has no coat or boots.  She imagines the horror on her mother’s face when she realizes her daughter is dead, frozen stiff as a Popsicle.  “A kidsicle on her front step,” she thinks.

Doubt almost stops her from even trying.  “What if it doesn’t work?  It worked before, but it was summer then.  This time it’s winter.  The window could be frozen shut.  My fingers are so numb I might not be able to do it.”

Kylie steels herself and pushes on the window in the middle where the two windowpanes slightly overlap, pushing on the inner pane overlapping to the inside of the house.  They are the kind of windows that have two sliding pieces of glass in a window frame.  She has to press hard enough to bend the one windowpane in enough so the latch does not catch while trying to slide it over with the pressure of her palms and fingers on the flat surface. There is nothing to grab and pull or push on to make sliding it easier.

She tries sliding the window, prying at it with frozen fingers that are so cold they are nubs of numbness and pain that feel nothing else.

“I can’t do it,” she thinks, panicked.  She is so cold that her fingers barely work.

“No, come on,” she groans.  “You have to work.”

Crying and biting her lip through the pain from the cold, Kylie frantically attacks the stubborn window, desperate to get into the house. For a moment, she is sure she’s not going to make it and won’t be able to get the window open.  Kylie is about to give up when it finally moves just a tiny bit.  It’s such a slight movement that she isn’t sure it really happened.

“It moved.  Did it move?  Of course it moved,” she mutters through clenched teeth.

Encouraged by that tiny success, Kylie attacks the window with renewed energy, pushing and trying to slide it.  It is so cold out that the window is frozen stuck in its frame, just as she was worried it would be.

Kylie manages to slide the window a little more.  It stops just at the edge of the latch by the width of a hair now, the latch not catching.  One wrong move and it could slip back and latch again.  She holds her breath and tries again.  The window moves the tiniest bit and then suddenly the icy grip of winter releases it and the glass jerks open just a little.

She almost cries out with the relief and the feel of that movement and the small opening it makes.  It’s just barely wide enough to get her fingers into.  She shoves her fingers into the narrow opening; the touch of the icy metal feeling like a sharp knife is slicing up her fingers, and slowly works the window open.

Her whole body both numb and burning with cold, Kylie fumbles as she turns and crawls backwards in through the window.  She tries to ease herself down, but her numb fingers can’t hold and she falls with all her weight.  Kylie cries out in pain, her feet exploding with agony as they hit the floor.  She falls to her knees, twisting and trying to roll, her hands going out instinctively to break her fall and only managing to half fall on her side and hurt herself even more.

Now that she is finally safely inside the house, Kylie has the problem of the open window. She looks up at it.  The freezing cold air coming in is turning to fog as it hits the warmer air inside.

“I can’t just leave it open, but I don’t think I have the strength to close it.  I am so exhausted and cold and I hurt everywhere.  I just want to lie down and quit.  No, Kylie, you have to close it. It will freeze open and even Mom won’t be able to close it then. She’ll be really mad.”

Digging deep inside herself for a reserve of strength she is sure will fail her; Kylie grabs a chair and drags it below the window.  Luckily, her mother keeps an old kitchen chair down there to use as a step stool to reach the higher shelves.

Climbing up awkwardly with her blocks of ice for feet to stand the chair, Kylie struggles with the window, but it’s stuck open, already freezing in place.  With the window stuck open and the cold air chilling her, her fingers and toes on fire with pain from the cold walk and her whole body still a numb pain without end, Kylie feels completely defeated. She lets out a sob.

“I can’t just leave the window open,” she groans, “and I can’t get it closed.”

Kylie thinks about hitting the edge with a hammer to knock it loose, but knows she will probably just break the glass.  Sobbing, she attacks the window, trying to force it closed, and finally manages to budge it with a protesting squeak from the window in its cold-shrunken frame.  Shrill squeak by squeak, she fights with the window, nudging it closed a tiny bit at a time.  She cringes each time, instinctively dreading her mother hearing the sound from somewhere in the house and finding out what happened, even though she knows her mother isn’t home.

With the window finally closed, Kylie can go upstairs.  Getting off the chair is just as awkward as getting up.

She moves cautiously through the dark basement towards the stairs.  It is lit only by the weak light coming in the few small basement windows.  The basement makes her feel nervous.  It always has.

Every step is a distant stabbing pain in the frozen blocks that are her feet.

Kylie hears a noise, just barely, and even though she knows it’s probably just her imagination, her heart races faster and her stomach knots.  She has always imagined there are things in the basement, bad things.  Her imagination is fueled by her ears playing tricks on her, hearing things from down here that no one else ever seems to hear.

Swallowing her fear, she forces herself to move forward.  She thinks she catches movement in the corner of her eye and turns quickly to look, but there is nothing there.

“It’s all in your imagination, dummy,” she scolds herself.  “Just get to the stairs.”

When she reaches the stairs, she stops and looks up at the murky blackness above.  The light switch is at the top of the stairs.

She swallows and races up them, half on her knees, the odd numbness with sharp slicing pain in her feet proving too much.  She almost gives up halfway up the stairs.  Her feet feel strange on the ends of her legs, dull numbness like they are asleep but with less feeling. The pain seems somehow to move through her feet to her legs above, like steel blades.  The numb and painful frozen blocks that they were are now getting hot and tingling but still numb.  The darkness of the stairwell swallows her.

She reaches the top and grabs at the doorknob of the closed door at the top, throwing herself against the door and almost crying out when her numb pain-filled fingers have trouble working the knob.  The knob turns, releasing the door to swing open, and she spills out onto the kitchen floor.

She slams the door closed against the invisible monsters in the basement.  She leans against the door, breathing heavily, imagining the unseen monsters somehow getting her through the door, and quickly scoots away with a nervous look at the door.

“You are being so stupid, scared of the dark.  Are you a baby now?”

Kylie is still shaken by the attack in the park and distraught over the panic of not being able to get into the house.  She is shivering and in pain from the cold walk home, and is heartsick over being stuck in this wretched position of being her.

Her whole body feels like it’s warming too fast, getting hot.  Every inch of her aches with the pain and numbness of being frozen.  But now she feels like she is burning up with a fever too.  Exhaustion takes over and she feels like soft rubber melting into the floor.

“I’m not just thawing out, I’m melting like ice.”

“Why?” she sobs.  “Why do I have to be me?  Why can’t I just be someone else; someone who doesn’t get bullied or locked out of the house in winter with no coat and shoes?  Why do I even have to be alive?”

The pain in her hands and feet is getting worse as they warm up.  They feel like they are on fire.  The pain is so bad now that Kylie is sure she is going to lose her hands and feet.

She tries again to pry the tight scarf around her neck loose, but it’s still frozen hard with ice and her fingers are burning nubs of numb pain that won’t cooperate.

“I’ll have to wait for the ice to melt.”

The scarf’s continued stranglehold on her neck only makes her feel worse.  She can breathe, but the air is restricted by the tight scarf.  She imagines herself slipping off, unconscious and dying, strangled on her own scarf in the safety of her own home, her mother coming home to find her cold dead body on the floor with the scarf still knotted tightly around her neck.

“It would probably be good that I’m dead,” she mumbles miserably.

Thinking again about her mother and sister finding her like that, Kylie struggles to her feet, wincing and whimpering, and limps to the bathroom.  She rummages in the cabinet under the sink.  She finds the hairdryer and plugs it in, turning it on and fumbling with it in her painful still-numb burning fingers.  She runs it back and forth, blowing the heat of the hairdryer on the scarf until the ice melts.

Turning it off, she leaves it on the counter and tries again to loosen the scarf.  The wet yarn doesn’t want to loosen.  Finally, it gives and she is able to loosen it enough to get her fingers under it and then to grip her hands around it.  She pulls it off with relief, dropping it on the floor.

Tears streaming and limping awkwardly, Kylie goes to her bedroom. She struggles to get out of her wet clothes.  She stops and looks down at herself.  She turns, looking at herself in the mirror over her dresser.  The bruises are already starting to show on her stomach, back, legs, and arms from the beating in the park.

She pulls on warm sweat pants and a sweatshirt and pulls the comforter off her bed and wraps herself in it.  The edge of the blanket dragging on the floor, she goes to the living room and sits curled up in the big chair, shivering.  She picks up the T.V. remote off the table beside the chair and turns the T.V. on.

“I wish I was dead,” she moans miserably.  “I wish I was never even born.  That I could just melt into the floor and disappear.  That I never even existed.  I hate me and I hate this life.”

Kylie starts flipping through the channels, finds a show she doesn’t like but isn’t as bad as the rest, and stops.

She turns her head towards the large living room windows.  The curtains are only half closed.  Outside at the curb in front of the house is a car.  Her father’s car.  She sinks lower into the chair, desperately hoping he hasn’t seen her.  She feels sick suddenly.

“No,” she whimpers fearfully, “not him, not now, not today.”

She can’t see anyone in the car and that makes it even worse.  She hates her father.

“Please mom,” she begs, “hurry home.”

 

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The Latchkey Kids: 2 The Shortcut – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

Madison arrives at the forbidden shortcut and stops, staring at it uncertainly.

The tall wooden fence looms above her like an impossible fortress wall stretching down the road in both directions across the yards of multiple homes edging this street.  The eight-foot fence has been here for as long as she can remember, blocking access from the sidewalk on this road to the alley on the other side.

She looks down its width in both directions, then up at its height.

Madison is having second thoughts about taking the shortcut.  She always feels nervous using this shortcut.  She has always been told not to go into other peoples’ yards uninvited, and the shortcut means cutting through the yard on the other side of the fence.

“I don’t get why I’m not allowed to go that way. Mom and Dad said it isn’t safe and only made vague comments about buildings there.  Maybe they are scared of Old Man Hooper and his dog.  Who isn’t scared of Old Man Hooper and Caesar?”

“Everyone knows about Old Man Hooper and Caesar,” she thinks. “Mr. Hooper is flat out weird.  He is as crazy as crazy comes and even meaner.  He hates everyone.  There are all kinds of rumors of Mr. Hooper locking people in his basement or killing them.  And Caesar is the biggest, loudest, and meanest dog around.  Caesar is kept chained up in the yard and it’s a good thing too.  He tries to attack anyone who walks past.  Everyone knows Caesar eats any squirrel, rabbit, or neighborhood cat dumb enough to enter his yard too.”

Madison leans closer to the fence.  She peeks through the cracks between the fence boards, spying on the alley on the other side.  There is no sign of life or movement. She looks up and down the sidewalk again.

The shortcut is blocked by the tall fence.  “That’s the trick part of the shortcut.  The shortcut is to go through the fence.  Only those who know its secret can use the shortcut and I know which one is the loose board.”

She finds the little notch mark in a board and counts three boards over, swinging the board on its rusty nail.  She squeezes through the hole in the fence.  It’s a tight squeeze with her bulky winter coat on and she gets stuck halfway through. She sucks in a breath, trying to suck everything in and make herself skinnier. She panics for just a moment.

“Come on, you can fit. You know you can.”

You have to be skinny enough to fit to be able to use this shortcut.  Not everyone in her class can do it. She feels the pressure of the fence against her, wishing she had a thinner coat, and squirms past it, popping out the other side. The board swings back into place behind her when she lets go of it.

Madison glances at the house nervously, hoping no one is home to see her, and quickly runs across the back yard to the alley bordering the other side of the yard.  Stopping there, she pretends she is just walking down the alley and only just stopped.  She looks up the alley towards her destination.

On the other side of the fence she squeezed through and just past this corner of an odd shaped backyard, the back alley runs behind the back yards of homes on two other streets running parallel to each other.  Down the length of the alley are short driveways, half of them with old garages.  Most of the garages look like they should be painted or replaced.  Garbage cans clutter the end of most of the driveways, the homeowners taking their trash out to the cans instead of bringing the cans in.  They are usually full whether or not the garbage trucks have come by recently.

Today there is a yellow-stained mattress leaning against one of the garages. It makes her stomach turn at the sight of its ripped and stained top side.  A few houses past this, Madison sees an old couch missing two of its three cushions.  It is an ugly plaid fabric that looks like it must have been from a hundred years ago.

“Maybe even a thousand,” she thinks wryly.  It is stained, holes worn in the back and arms, and the frazzled arms and sides look like a cat probably used it for a scratching post.

Four houses past the chair there is a short road branching off midway down the alley.  The road is the distance of a single house and yard and spits you out on the next street on that side.  The road has no name as far as she knows.

That road is her goal. Once she reaches it, she gets to the next street.  One of the two houses bordering that little road without a name is Old Man Hooper’s.

This is the other part of the shortcut that makes her nervous.  The thought of passing Mr. Hooper’s house makes her whole body cold with dread.

Madison stops a few houses away and studies Mr. Hooper’s yard, looking for any sign Caesar might be outside.  “Probably even the grass is too scared to be in that yard,” Madison thinks.

At the moment, all the junk cluttering the yard is mostly uneven bumps in the snow, the larger stuff like a rusting metal kitchen chair skeleton missing its back and seat, stick up from the snow.  Large paw prints have trampled the snow down in crazy criss-cross patterns around the yard, especially along trails that must be Caesar’s favorite path to take through the yard.

“I don’t know how that dog manages to get through the yard without getting his chain tangled up in the junk.”  Madison sees no sign of the dog.  She swallows and tries to push down her fear of the yard.

“It’s just an empty yard and if he’s out Caesar is chained.  It doesn’t even bother you,” she tries telling herself.

Madison heads down the alley, slowing as she approaches the short access road and Mr. Hooper’s house.  She pauses and listens for Caesar, searching the yard for any sign of the black and brown dog.  The dog is big.  He looks like he probably has Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, and she suspects he probably has some Tyrannosaurus Rex in him too.  And he is meaner than anything.

She does not see him and is filled with relief.  “The dog must be in the house.”

Nervously, she starts walking past Old Man Hooper’s yard.

 

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Dylan by Vivian Munnoch

Dylan shoulders his backpack and gets off the school bus, walking up the sidewalk.  He scuffs his boots moodily against the pavement with every step as if lifting his feet is too much bother.  He is thirteen, almost fourteen, and after more than a year as a latchkey kid, his parents now send him to a babysitter after school again.

“A babysitter,” he thinks angrily, “just like a little kid!”  It’s the same sulky walk and moody thoughts he has every day on the way to the sitter’s after school.  And just like every other day, he glances around surreptitiously for anyone who might see. “Nobody better see me going to the stupid babysitter’s.”

Dylan resents having to go to a babysitter’s house after school.  It’s embarrassing.

“Nobody my age has a babysitter.”

He arrives at the sitter’s house, Mrs. Foster.  With a last look around to make sure nobody is around, a noncommittal shrug, and an I don’t care slouch, he scuffs his boots up the sidewalk to the back door on the side of the house.

Dylan pauses at the door, pushing away the urge to knock.  Mrs. Foster said to not bother knocking and to just walk in, but it still feels weird to just walk into someone else’s house.  He opens the door and goes in.

“Mrs. Foster, I’m here,” he calls out, kicking his boots off and slouching out of his backpack and coat.

“I’m downstairs doing laundry,” Mrs. Foster calls back.  “Help yourself to a snack if you’re hungry.”

Another thing that feels weird to Dylan, helping yourself to a snack at someone else’s house.  Especially someone you don’t feel like you know that well.

Dylan shrugs and cuts through the kitchen to sit in the living room, plopping himself on a chair glumly.

 

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The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Anna by Vivian Munnoch

Anna gets off the school bus and waits for it to drive away before crossing the street.  The driver isn’t supposed to drive away until after the kids getting off have safely crossed the street, but he gave up in the first week of school on waiting for this one.  She had stood there defiantly staring him down, not crossing until he gave up and drove away.

He watches her in his side mirror as he drives away.  “Stubborn one, that one is,” he thinks.  “She’s going to be nothing but trouble and more trouble when she gets older.”

Anna saunters down the street until the bus is out of sight, then speeds up to walk brusquely, wrapping her arms around herself against the extreme cold, her breath puffing out in big clouds that hang in the air behind her.

“Why is it so bloody cold,” she complains.

Anna arrives at home, fishes out her house key, and lets herself in, gratefully closing the door against the cold.

“Hi, I’m home.”

She is greeted by silence.  She didn’t expect anyone to be there.

Dropping her backpack and kicking off her boots, she hangs up her coat and goes to the kitchen, looking for something to eat.

At thirteen, Anna is already well practiced at looking after herself.

 

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The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Kylie by Vivian Munnoch

Kylie gets off the school bus with a group of other kids. She pauses just long enough for a quick look around, then scurries to catch up and walk close to the bigger kids so it looks like they are together.  Her breath is pluming out behind her on the cold air with each breath.

They aren’t together and they ignore her.  They used to give her odd looks, but after a while they gave up and just pretend she isn’t there. She has done this since she started taking the bus when she was ten.

Kylie hears the sound of a car approaching from behind and moves so the other kids are between her and the approaching car, hoping the driver doesn’t see her.  She fights the urge to turn around and look.

“Don’t look, don’t look,” she says silently in her head, “don’t jinx it by looking. With everyone bundled up so much with hats and scarves, he might not even know it’s me if it’s him.”

The car passes by, slowing a little as it passes the kids walking on the side of the road, and keeps going.  She lets herself stop holding her breath, relieved.  “It’s not him,” she thinks.

Her thoughts turn to her predicament.

“I don’t have to pretend to be with the older kids anymore.  It doesn’t matter now that I’m twelve.  Twelve is old enough to babysit even.  But I still keep up with the older kids because I don’t like walking home alone.  It’s not safe.”

She breaks off from the pack of kids, turning up the sidewalk of her house.  At the door, she fumbles for her key, finally having to take off her mitten to find it.  The cold instantly bites her bare hand painfully. “Like it has a million tiny teeth,” she thinks.

She gets inside and quickly closes and locks the door behind her.  Dropping her backpack and lunch bag, she strips off her outerwear.  Her scarf is frosted with fuzzy hard frost from her breath.  She turns on the TV and plops into a living room chair.

“I wish I didn’t have to come home alone. Even my annoying little sister Becca might make me feel better, even though she’s just a little kid.”  She sighs unhappily.

“That’s our big lie. I’ve been coming home alone for two years, since I was ten.  I had to lie about being alone before and after school until I turned twelve.  I still have to lie about it to everyone, even to Becca.  As far as anyone knows, I just started being on my own.  It’s a hard secret to keep.  Mom says you aren’t supposed to leave kids alone at home at only ten years old. Mom said we could be taken away from her if anyone found out.”

She pauses, feeling lonely.  “I have a lot of big lies in my life.”

The weight of the secret has been a difficult burden for her.  She has lived for the past few years in fear that someone would find out and she and Becca would be taken away from their mom.  They might be put in a foster home or worse.

Kylie is sitting in the living room blankly staring at the images on the TV.  At twelve, she’s already an expert at being a latchkey kid.

“Ugh, I’m so bored.”  Kylie needs a distraction.  She flips through the few channels they have on the TV, finding nothing she wants to watch, and sits sullenly staring at what she considers a lame show for babies.  The cartoon characters giggle like idiots as they run pell-mell in brainless circles.

“I miss having more channels.  Just having the bare basic channels sucks.  Everybody else has the movie channels, HBO and stuff.  I wish Mom didn’t have to cancel all the extra channels when money got tight.”

“I hate being poor,” Kylie thinks unhappily.

She sighs again.  “There’s nothing to do.  We don’t even have a computer that can play games or anything.  That old computer that was given to us for free doesn’t have enough memory to do much of anything.  Even the simple games are too much for it.  Maybe I’ll see what’s up on the chats.”

She starts to get up and decides against it, feeling the familiar pang of dread in her stomach.  There are too many trolls online and she isn’t in the mood for it today.  She makes excuses, not wanting to feel like they control her life.

“Dumb free dial up internet hardly even works anyway.  It takes ages to load a single page.  Even the chat sites won’t work if they’re busy.  Forget about trying to watch any videos on YouTube or anything.  I am bored bored bored.”

Kylie is restless and feeling antsy to get up and do something, maybe go somewhere.

“Maybe I’ll go to the park.  It’s not far.”

The idea brings on a rush of anxiety, but she decides it has to be better than just sitting here doing nothing.  She tries to push away the anxious feeling.  Being home alone doesn’t feel safe either, but it’s safer than going outside.

“It’s only the park.  There’s nothing to be nervous about, you nervous nilly,” she tells herself.  That’s her own made up word.  Taken from the term ‘nervous Nelly’, a favorite saying of her Aunt Cora’s, meaning to be nervous all the time, and mixed with silly.

She puts on her coat, boots, hat, scarf, and mitts and locks the door behind her.  Kylie pauses nervously on the front step.

She’s not supposed to leave the house when her mother isn’t home.  That rule doesn’t apply anymore now that she’s twelve.  Her mother made the rule when she was ten, but now it’s Kylie’s own rule.

Checking both ways up the street before leaving the safety of her doorstep, the snow crunches under her boots as she walks to the park and her breath makes clouds in the air. For a moment, Kylie imagines she is a fire-breathing dragon who can kill anyone who tries to hurt her with a blast of fire from her throat.  She puffs big clouds of fog into the air, watching them slowly rise up.

Kylie has the unnerving feeling someone is following her.  She checks over her shoulder.  Nobody is there but the feeling won’t go away.  She checks at least half a dozen more times by the time she reaches the park.

There is no one at the park when she gets there.  She can feel the extreme cold through her coat and shivers.

“It’s not a good feeling to be this cold.  I wish I had a warmer coat.  Maybe I should just go home.  It’s too cold out.  But there’s nothing there to do.”  She hugs herself for warmth.

“I’ll stay just a little while,” Kylie decides.

Kylie finds a partially built snow fort in a corner of the park. She starts adding snow to it, packing and adding it to a wall.  She stops, rubbing her hands together, trying to warm them.  It does nothing with the mitts on and it’s too cold to take them off.  She tries blowing on them.  Her cheeks are burning with the cold too.  She cups her hands in front of her face, blowing warm air to warm both her cheeks and her hands.

She stops when she hears voices.  She looks around quickly then ducks behind the wall, trying to hide.

“Who is it?  I hope they didn’t see me.” She thinks quickly.  “Maybe it’s no one, some old people.  Adults won’t care and probably won’t even notice me.  But what if it’s someone from school?  Worse, what if it’s someone I know?”

Kylie is embarrassed at the idea of being caught making snow forts.

“Twelve year old girls don’t build snow forts,” she thinks in a panic.  But she’s just not ready yet to let go of all the things she did for fun as a kid.  As a tween, Kylie doesn’t know how to have fun anymore.  “I’m too old for playing and stuff like a kid and what I see teenagers do looks so boring.  All they do is hang out and message each other or play on their phones or listen to music.  I don’t even have a phone.”

Kylie waits, listening as the voices come closer.  It’s a group of girls.  The one voice is unmistakable.  She recognizes it immediately.  With it, she knows the other voices too.  She tenses and her heart sinks, her stomach tightening with dread.

“Please don’t see me,” she begs silently, crouching even lower.

The approaching girls have been bullying her for a while and it has been getting only worse with time.

“The mean team,” Kylie thinks miserably, “Amber, Jessica, and Brooke.”

Her heart races.  It’s pounding so hard in her chest that she’s scared they might somehow hear it.

The voices stop and Kylie holds her breath, waiting.  She can still hear the crunch of footsteps in the snow, coming closer, then that stops too.  She listens for the footsteps to go further away. There is only silence.

“Is that the quiet whisper of a coat rustle?” Kylie wants to press herself down lower, to disappear like she never existed.  She’s afraid to move.  They might hear her.

“What are they doing?” she thinks, feeling a surge of panic rising up in her.  “Are they just standing there?  Are they gone?  Please be gone.”

Kylie wants more than anything to peek but she doesn’t dare.

“It’s fine, they didn’t even see you,” she tells herself, trying to convince herself that nothing is going to happen.  Maybe if she tries hard enough to convince herself, if she believes hard enough, it will be true.

It was already too late before she got to the park.  They saw her walking towards the park and followed her, keeping their distance and ducking out of sight when she looked back.  That’s why she kept having the feeling she was being followed.  Her instincts were right.

Their heads pop over the edge of her partially made fort, looking down at Kylie with nasty grins.

“Oh, my gawd, is she building a fort?” Amber squeals nastily.

Before Kylie knows what is happening, Amber’s hands are pushing down on her, putting all her weight into it.  Kylie struggles and cries out, feeling the other two girls’ hands pushing down on her too.

The first thought in her mind is “I’ve been seen,” along with the feeling of abject horror at having been seen making a snow fort like a little kid.  She wants to dissolve into the snow, having never existed, at the embarrassment.

As quickly as the first thought comes, she realizes she is being attacked and fear surges through her, the embarrassment becoming even worse because it’s them.

They force her down, giggling and mashing her face into the cold snow, pressing so hard the snow feels like it’s biting into her face.  It hurts a lot.  Kylie can already feel the sharp pain of frostbite on her face from the snow.

The moment feels endless, Kylie struggling hopelessly, unable to overcome the weight and strength of the three girls, her prone position leaving her helpless to defend herself.  They push down harder, Amber taking even more joy in mashing her face harder into the cold hard ground.

Kylie screams and flails, trying to break free, the burning pain in her face unbearable.  By the time they let the pressure up, Kylie is sure her nose must be broken and bleeding all over the snow, staining it red.

She feels and hears them scrambling over the wall of the fort. They step on her feet and hands, not caring, pushing down with their weight on her back and holding her down while they climb over the low snow wall.

“Get her coat!” Amber cries in vicious delight.  “Pull it off!”

They start pulling and tugging at her and Kylie hears the sound of her coat ripping as she fights to protect herself against them, trying to cover her head and roll into a ball.

“No, no, no, Mom is going to be so mad,” Kylie thinks desperately over the ruined coat. Despite the pain they are inflicting on her, she’s more worried over the coat than herself.

“Mom will be furious when she sees it.  She’ll tell me that she doesn’t have the money to buy me a new coat.”  Insanely, Kylie can only think now of what she thinks her mother’s reaction will be.  It pushes away the fear of the girls hurting her.

She wants to cry out for them to stop, but knows it’s useless.  “It will only make the attack worse.  These nasty girls enjoy watching me suffer.”

Kylie tries to fight against the three girls but there are too many of them.  She manages to roll onto her back, to try to kick at them, her arms blocking their blows.  This only makes it worse because now her stomach is exposed.  She realizes the danger and tries to roll back onto her stomach. They take turns hitting and kicking at her sides and back as she struggles and rolls.

A blow to her stomach forces all the air painfully out of her lungs and she can only gasp for air that won’t come.  Every attempt to suck in air feels like it’s pushing more air out instead, like a fist is pushing her lungs up and squishing them from inside.

“How is that even possible?” Kylie thinks wildly. “I’m going to die.” She feels sick and dizzy.

They take her hat and mitts, tossing them back and forth in victory.  Amber yanks on her scarf, but the scarf is tied around her neck and it only tightens, strangling Kylie.  She can’t breathe.

They get her jacket undone and pull it off while Kylie tries prying at her scarf with desperate fingers, gasping for air, but it’s too tight.  They pull on her arms, pulling her hands away from her neck, pulling her coat off.  Kylie frantically grabs at the scarf again the moment her hands are free.

One of them is still pulling on the scarf, trying to yank it off her, stretching it out and making it impossible for her to loosen it.

“I’m going to die for real,” Kylie’s mind whirls in a panic. “I’m going to suffocate to death while they torture me for nothing more than their own amusement!”

She is so cold that it hurts, but it’s the lack of air that is the worst.  Every breath she cannot take burns like fire in her throat and lungs.  Her head feels like it’s swelling larger and stuffed painfully tight with cotton.

Every attempt to suck in air feels still like it is only impossibly pushing air out of her empty lungs, like her stomach and lungs are still being pushed in and up inside her, the breath knocked out of her.

Sounds seem farther away, her ears closing up and blocking it all out.  She wishes desperately she’s somewhere else, that she never left the house.

Kylie feels a tug at one of her boots.  Crying silently, unable to choke out a single sound past the tight scarf and empty lungs, she kicks out, trying to kick them.  Her boot is pulled off, then the other.  They’re laughing cruelly.  Oh, what great fun this is for them.

Kylie is crying harder now and can’t stop.  It makes her head feel like it’s swelling more.  “Do they even know I’m crying?”  They seem oblivious.  “It’s lucky for me they don’t notice, or maybe they just don’t care.  No, they can’t know how hard I’m really crying. They would only attack me worse if they knew.”

“Take the rest of her clothes,” Jessica squeals nastily.  Amber laughs at this, grinning at the idea.

“Let’s shove snow down her shirt,” Brooke says.  Amber gives them the nod.

The girls roll their victim in the snow, shoving fistfuls of it under her shirt and down her pants.  It’s so cold against her bare skin that the snow burns like fire.

Finally bored with the game, the mean girls take off laughing.

“Let’s go,” Amber says, scooping up and taking Kylie’s stuff with her.  The other two follow, leaving Kylie laying in the snow, wet and cold, her clothes stuffed with snow, and with no coat or boots to get her home.

Kylie feels dizzy from lack of air and fumbles at the scarf with frozen fingers. The knitted wool is already starting to freeze hard, wet and caked with snow from the attack.  It’s turning to ice and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to loosen it.

She is terrified.  “I’m going to die!” Kylie thinks frantically.  Everything seems darker, further away.  The sounds of the neighborhood muffled behind a cotton curtain.  Even her body feels somehow further away.

At last, Kylie manages to loosen the scarf just a bit, managing to suck in the first shallow breaths of air since the scarf was pulled tight. The air barely comes.  She is still winded from the blow to her stomach.  The air is sharp and cold and hurts, but she gasps at it anyway, trying to suck in as much as she can.  Her stomach still hurts from having the wind kicked out of her and she feels like she is going to vomit.

“Oh my gawd, what if I throw up? I can’t even breathe? Will the puke even come out, or will I drown in it in my own mouth?”  The thought makes her feel even more sick.

Sucking in those frantic shallow breaths of air, Kylie gets to her feet, shivering and dizzy and weak.  She tries again unsuccessfully to loosen the scarf, then to knock as much snow out of her clothes as she can without taking them off.  Her fingers are burning and numb from the cold. She fumbles clumsily at her clothes with little effect.

With only an ice-covered scarf and wet clothes that are already turning hard as they freeze to ice for warmth, she wraps the long trailing end of the stretched scarf around herself as best she can, wrapping her arms around herself too.  The scarf is still knotted tightly around her neck, constricting her breath and making her wheeze for air.

“I’ll have to thaw it out to get it undone,” she thinks.

Kylie is so cold it hurts as if she is burning up on fire.  She looks for the blood that must be soaked into the snow from when they jammed her face hard into the ground and is surprised there is none.  Everywhere, she feels the bite of ice fire.

“Why does being so cold burn so much?”  Her whole body is in sharp agony from the extreme cold.

She starts for home.  Before she even gets out of the park her toes hurt so much that Kylie thinks they must be frozen solid and ready to shatter at the slightest bump.  She walks with extra care, the slightest jarring sending sharp pain ringing through her feet and up her legs. By the time she reaches the corner her toes have become numb and the pain distant.

Kylie stops and looks down, making sure her toes are still there, afraid they really have snapped off.  Her feet are nothing but blocks of sharp pain that can’t feel anything else.

“I’m never going to make it home,” she whimpers miserably.  She forces herself to walk on.

Unbearable pain fills her feet before she gets more than a few houses from the park, getting worse with every step.  They feel like clumsy blocks of white-hot agony.  After a while, numbness seeps into her feet again.  As much as it scares her, the numbness comes as a relief. She can’t feel her feet anymore and she stumbles, having trouble walking with the bricks for feet that she can’t feel.  Even her hot tears are freezing on her face.

That short distance around the corner and up the street home is the longest walk she has ever had to make.  She stumbles on.

Kylie feels so very tired.  “I don’t know how I can take that next step,” she thinks piteously.  The cold is taking over; her body temperature is dropping.  She is getting sleepy and weak.  Kylie is in the early stage of hypothermia, but her reaction is from the stress and not from freezing to death. That would take much longer than the few minutes that have passed, feeling endlessly impossibly long.  She is giving up already.

“Maybe I should just lie down and let the cold take me.  Maybe it won’t hurt in the end to die like this.”  The pain of her whole body freezing pushes her on.  She feels so exhausted and sick and weak that every step feels impossible.

“I -I-I’m not going to make it,” Kylie chatters, her words barely whispering out her constricted throat, rough and weak.  She feels more distressed than she ever has in her life.

“I wish I was just dead.”

 

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The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Andrew by Vivian Munnoch

Andrew just got home from school and is already so bored that he can’t stand it.

He is in the living room playing half-heartedly on his Xbox game, the volume turned too loud, but there is no one there to tell him to turn it down.  With only one game to play, he got bored with it pretty fast.

“I wish I had more games.  The games are a lot of money and it’s taking me forever to save up enough allowance to buy another one.”

He snorts at the thought.  “I guess I’d earn the money a lot faster if I did my chores, but chores are lame and boring.”

He looks at the clock.  Nobody will be home for a few hours.

“Man, that is just forever,” he grumbles.

At twelve, Andrew has been a latchkey kid since last year and has never really gotten completely used to being home alone.  He’s fine except for one thing that makes him nervous; sometimes he hears strange noises in the house. It usually happens when the house is very quiet.  When everyone else is sleeping or he’s home alone.  Because of this, Andrew doesn’t like being home alone.  It makes him nervous, but he won’t admit that to anyone.

Andrew thinks he’s the only person with this problem and that it’s lame and for little kids.

Sometimes, he imagines the noises are giant rats in the basement, waiting for the right time to come squirming up the stairs to chew their noses off and devour their eyes in their sleep.  Sometimes he imagines it’s someone breaking into the house.

When he told his parents last year about his fear, they said it was ridiculous and laughed. He didn’t talk about his fear again after that; not to anyone.  He doesn’t want anyone else laughing at him too.

Andrew is only going through the motions of playing his game, running his game player through a maze of bad guys, jumping and shooting without really paying attention.  He doesn’t miss a beat.  He has this game down and figures he could play it blindfolded.

He freezes, eyes widening and hands locked on the Xbox controller while his helpless character is repeatedly beaten to a pulp and killed by the bad guy in the game, over and over, phasing back into the game with a new life only to be killed again each time.  It’s a repetition of music, weapon blasts, and his character’s death scream playing on repeat.

“What was that?” he thinks.  “That was a thump, definitely a thump from somewhere in the house.”

He heard it despite the loud noise of the game. His stomach knots with anxiety and he keeps still, listening.  The thump comes again, quiet, and then something that sounds like a wet slither. Andrew’s knees feel instantly weak.

“It’s coming from the basement,” he thinks.

“It’s nothing,” he whispers quietly, trying to convince himself.

“Mom and dad would say I imagined it,” he thinks.  “They would say it’s only my imagination, that there’s nothing there.  Or they would say it’s just the sound of the house settling, whatever that means.”

“More like settling its sour stomach after eating someone,” he whispers.

Andrew keeps listening, a frozen statue, waiting for more noises.  The television blaring the Xbox game in front of him is making him self-conscious now.  If there is anyone, or thing, in the house, the noise will attract it.

He looks at the television anxiously, wanting to move and turn the sound off.  “But what if the sudden silence alerts it or him or whatever that I’m here?” he thinks.

“Better leave it on,” he whispers. He is growing more nervous with each heartbeat.  The urge to get out of there is too strong to ignore.  “Whatever made that sound can have the house to itself.  I’m out of here.”

Heart beating fast and too scared to move, Andrew yells at himself in his head, keeping his lips closed tight because he is afraid whatever it is will hear him breathe.  “MOVE, COME ON AND JUST MOVE! STAND UP!”

Andrew finally makes himself move.  He puts the game controller down as quietly as possible and creeps to the front door, grabbing his jacket on the way from where he had carelessly tossed it on a chair.  He winces at the quiet hissing noise his jacket makes from the fabric rustling as he slips it on.  Jamming his feet quickly into his boots, he grabs his hat and mitts, almost forgets his key, and slips out of the house.  He closes the door quietly behind him, turning the key in the lock as quietly as he can to lock the door.

“If there’s anything here, that’ll slow it down,” he thinks.

He runs down the driveway, turns, and races down the road, the cold snow crunching loudly beneath his boots and his breath pluming in a cloud that hangs in the air behind him for a span of heartbeats before vanishing.  His heart is beating fast and he has to force himself to not look back to see if anything is chasing him.  The feeling that something is won’t go away, even though he knows it isn’t likely.

 

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

“I am freezing to death, it’s so cold.  Seriously, I am going to be a frozen dead body stuck to these stupid steps and they will have to pry me off with a crowbar and thaw me out just to bury me.”

Madison is standing outside the locked door to her house.  Around her, the world is covered in snow and ice.  It is very cold despite the bright sun, possibly the coldest day of the year.  She is fumbling in her parka pockets for the key, shivering with the cold.  Her mitts make it hard to feel for the small piece of metal.

Madison is a slight thing, average height for the girls in her class, but skinny enough that they sometimes tease her about it. It’s friendly teasing, not meant to be mean.

“Oh come on key, where are you?” Her breath hangs like a cloud in the air, each breath adding a new cloud of vapor.

“I had my key to lock the door this morning.” She tries the door again, just in case it is somehow unlocked. Again, the door is still locked.

Feeling a surge of fear and hopelessness, Madison fumbles through her pockets again. “I can’t find it.”

She has the urge to dump her backpack out all over the steps, but that would be embarrassing.  “Seriously, nobody does that except crazy people,” she thinks.

Madison looks around, hoping no one sees her.  At the same time, she hopes someone does, that they come and help her.

Taking off her mitts, she tucks them between her knees, the cold biting immediately at her fingers.  Her hands hurt from the sharp bite of the cold without the protection of her mitts, a mix of burning pain and numbness. Her fingers won’t cooperate.  She fumbles in all her pockets, one after another and digs through her backpack again, breaking down and pulling stuff out and dropping it on the steps.

“My key is gone!”  Tears burn at her eyes, but she is determined she won’t cry.  Someone might see.

“What am I going do?” Madison moans.  “None of the neighbours are home and I have no way to get in.”  She looks at the house hopelessly. “I wish there was a way I can break in.”

“If my parents would let me have a cell phone,” she groans, “I could call them.”  She leans against the locked door, cold and scared and alone.  The urge to cry is growing.

“Today is my first day going to school and coming home on my own and I completely blew it.”

Madison has been looking forward to this day for three years as she watched the older kids come and go with a freedom not granted to mere children.  She is finally a ‘tween’ between being a kid and a teenager, who has to come and go to school on her own, spending hours without adult supervision until her parents come home because both her parents work.  Her twelfth birthday was just last week.

“I was looking forward to today. Finally no more daycare.  No more being treated like a little kid.  And I blew it.”  She was so excited all week, eagerly waiting for this day to come.  She felt so grown up but she was nervous too.

Her mother’s words ring again in her head, the constant reminder replaying over and over in the most annoying way. “Don’t forget to lock the door when you go.  Don’t forget your lunch. And do not lose that key or you will not be able to get back in!”

She had repeated that so many times that it made her crazy.  Madison got mad at her mother, thinking she was treating her like a child.  She is a tween, not a little kid.  Next year she will be a teenager, thirteen.

Now her mother’s words are mocking her.

“My two biggest fears, and I would never tell them to anyone, are missing the bus and losing my key.  And I lost the key on my first day.”  She sags even lower against the door in despair.

“Just great, Mom is going to be so mad and Dad will say I’m too young to be trusted with responsibility.  They’ll probably send me to a babysitter.”

Madison moans. That would be the end of her life. It would be like going back to daycare.

“The worst part is that it’s so cold out and I’m locked out of the house and Mom and Dad won’t be home for a couple of hours.  I’ll freeze to death before they get home.”

Madison thinks hard.  “What can I do? I have to show them I can handle a little emergency like this or I’m sunk.  If I leave they won’t know where to find me and I can’t just wait here and freeze to death.”

She looks up and down the street as if the answer might be there.  It isn’t.

“Maybe I should go back to school.  Maybe someone will be there to let me in to warm up and use the phone.”

Madison’s hands and feet are hurting worse with every minute from the cold.  She shoves her stuff back into her backpack quickly, the touch of the nylon pack and zipper painful on her freezing hands.  She puts her mitts back on, and starts the long walk to school.

“Lucky I know a shortcut.”  She tries blowing on her hands through her mitts, trying to warm them.

“I’m not supposed to go that way and usually I wouldn’t do it because of Old Man Hooper’s mean dog Caesar that chases and tries to bite everyone.  That dog is as mean as Old Man Hooper himself,” she thinks, “but it will make the walk a whole lot shorter.”

“I just hope Caesar is inside,” she mutters as she heads off down the sidewalk, the snow crunching under her boots.

 

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