For the first time in her arguably long existence, Mother's sleep was restless. She shivered through her cold sweat while her bedclothes clung to her like a spiderweb. She twisted herself up in them, tying them into knots.
The window shattered, spraying shards of glass everywhere. Mother was out of bed in an instant. She rolled across the floor and flipped the light switch. A very tall man in a dark suit and a black bowler hat towered over her. The light summer breeze billowed the curtains around the imposing figure. Mother looked defiantly up to him, in her flowery pink pyjamas.
With a growl reminiscent of an old water pipe, the man lunged at her, slamming her into the wall and knocking over the lamp of the bedside cabinet. Mother was winded, but linking her arms around his neck she shoved her knee into his chest with as much force as she could muster before flipping onto his back. The curtain burst into flame which distracted her opponent momentarily, she flipped him around and caught him in a headlock. However, he managed to stand up with Mother still on his back, turned and slammed her into the wall once more. She fell off his back with a whimper. He tried to get his long fingers around her throat, but she deflected his hand with her arm and tried to punch him in the face. He parried the blow easily, and retaliated with a blow of his own which she dodged. Dropping to the floor Mother kicked his ankle, the man swayed, his balance lost. Mother threw herself at him, pushing him over until she was sitting on top of his chest. Brandishing the fallen lamp, she smashed it over his head. Her hands burst into flame, the man howled apparently deeply concerned by this turn of events. Mother punched him repeatedly with her flaming fists until he was smoking and smelling of burning gas.
The door swung open.
"Mum? Oh my God!" Eldest saw a very disgruntled Mother get off the tall man's smoking body. Little patches of flame had erupted randomly on his suit.
"What happened?" Eldest asked aghast.
"Get the others. We are leaving, now."
"Is he dead?"
"I don't know. I don't care." Mother stood up, framed with billowing smoke. "Go! Get your brother and sister."
Eldest rushed down the hall. Mother, still in her pink pyjamas, grabbed her shoes and stalked down the stairs and got in the car. Her children were down within minutes and she screeched her way to the hotel entrance.
"Get in." She ordered through the rolled-down window.
The children piled into the car and Mother sped off into the night and did not stop before she reached the motorway. Her stony brow glowed faintly orange in the darkness.
"What the hell happened?" Missy asked.
"All I know is that I want to get as far away as possible as fast as possible. Junior, do we have a new assignment?" Mother said.
"We need to get to an airport." Junior sighed. "We're going back to the States."
Mother finally relaxed when the plane left the ground. Eldest was not in such a good mood. She had always hated stuffy airports with too many people and rude customs officers.
"Just once I'd like to fly the plane when we go on long journeys."
"I'm sure you would. But you can't complain that the plane is going too slow."
"You'd be surprised. Anyway, try and get some sleep, we've got seven hours to go."
Mother spent the next seven hours watching subpar movies and napping.
When they landed in Montréal, it was still dark, but being on European time they felt completely awake.
It was the same tired and slightly irritated bustle towards the exit and airport car park. More than anything they were happy to be out in the cool night after being stuck in the stuffy building.
"It's such a shame that we have to get a new car." Mother sighed.
"You do realise that it's the same model every time." Eldest said.
"I know, but each one is a little different."
They turned a corner and saw a small blue Mercedes Benz, with the car key in the door.
"Ah, home sweet home," said Junior.
Mother hummed contentedly, at the wheel of a car once more. They drove for a couple of hours before reaching the US border to Vermont. Mother turned to her children.
"Let's try to do it properly this time. Even if it's just for the sake of the form."
"Alright, mum let's just go." Missy said keeping her eye roll to herself.
The border officials were serious and grim as usual. Plump but displeased people sat behind the grey counters, surrounded by different forms of surveillance, waiting for someone to step out of line. The Family pulled out their identification which now looked like American passports.
Mother went first.
"Mildred Fairfax?" The woman on the other side of the booth asked. Her dark blond hair was cut harshly, and her mouth was an unsmiling gash. Mother kept a straight face as she answered, with a perfect American accent, that she was indeed Mildred Fairfax. Missy was not so lucky. She bit her lip in a desperate attempt not to laugh. Her siblings avoided all possible eye contact with her.
"Is there something funny?" The woman asked.
"No, nothing." Missy answered the official, schooling her face into serene apathy. They managed to keep their cool while their passports were checked and their eyes were scanned. Once outside the three children burst out into gales of laughter.
"Oh my God mum. Mildred! Really?" Missy gulped through tears. Mother sighed.
"It's just a name."
Mother drove through the winding roads along the hills and mountains, while Junior led them to their destination.
They arrived at a holiday bungalow. Junior retrieved the key under the mat in front of the door. He opened it and went inside.
Eldest turned on the lights to reveal a rustic but comfortable living space. They set down their belongings and congregated in the living room.
"Mum, can you tell us what happened, now?"
Mother sat on the couch and sighed deeply.
"I was attacked by a man. Or at least it looked like a man. He was wearing a bowler hat and a black coat, but I can't remember his face."
"None of us have ever been attacked before. I mean we've never actually been in danger before. Wait what did you do?"
"I know. I'm just as surprised as you are. I'm even more surprised that I managed to beat him to the ground."
"You what?" Missy gasped.
"Mum beat the living bejesus out of him. He looked like a smoking heap when I arrived."
"It would seem like your mother has some rather extensive fighting skills."
"Well, damn." Junior said impressed.
"Are we being followed, what's this all about?"
"I have absolutely no idea. For the moment I'm pretty sure we are safe." "We'll have to wait and see if this was a one-time occurrence, or something else."
"What so back to business as usual?"
"I think so for now."
The next few days were an adjustment. The family stood by its sentiment that they would settle down for a few days, at least until they recovered from their jet lag.
The Vermont landscape was awash in a sea of leafy green. Their new home, named the Honey Den, was nestled amongst maple and birch trees on the outskirts of Colchester, far from noise and traffic.
On the third morning, they were in the diner eating breakfast. The timber and paint establishment was cosy and quaint. Eldest had discovered that bacon and maple syrup were much better than he had anticipated.
"Do you have the next one Junior?" Mother asked. The young boy chewed and swallowed the large piece of pancake in his mouth.
"I don't know. It's not… I'm not getting anything yet. I was led here and that's it for now."
Mother pursed her lips and sniffed. She tried to bring her tea to her mouth, but set it back down because her hand was shaking.
"When did that start?" Missy asked.
"This morning. I'll be fine. I just need to go for a drive today."
"Nothing caught fire yet, has it?"
"No, not yet. But let me worry about that, just make sure to get our next destination."
"As soon as I know what is happening, I'll let you know," Junior said. "Now if you would excuse me I need to go to the restroom."
Mother laid her head down on the table and groaned in exasperation.
"When was the last time it took so long to get the next target?" Missy asked. Her brother and her both looked down. They couldn't remember.
Junior came back for the toilets, now a seventy-year-old man again. Mother clapped her hands.
"Alright everyone, we'll have to keep ourselves busy while we are here. It's a lovely area so we might as well make the most of it." She forced her face to fit into a bright smile.
"Do you have any idea how difficult this is?" Junior grumbled, a few hours later, while resting his weary body on a well-placed log.
"Come on old man." Missy, poked him in the shoulder.
"Children, play nice. Junior, give it twenty minutes and you'll be a boy again and you'll be running faster than anyone else."
The old man petulantly stuck out his tongue.
Mother sped back up the mountain, with a disgruntled Junior on tow.
"How long do we think she can manage like this?" Missy asked.
"I don't know, we would normally have moved by now."
"Let's hope Junior gets the next one quickly, before Mum blows everything up."
Eldest and Missy stayed back watching Mother and the now childlike Junior disappear into the trees.
Mother was now breaking a sweat, striding up the mountain, dappled light making golden freckles on her face. The ground beneath her feet sizzled a little, leaving dark footsteps behind her. Junior ran gleefully throwing leaves into the air and jumping on stumps.
"Run, the monsters coming to get you!" Mother mock growled as she tackled her son. They fell in a merry heap on the mossy ground.
"Got you!" Mother tickled Junior mercilessly until his sides were splitting from laughter.
"What on earth are you doing?" Missy asked when they reached them.
"Extroverts." Eldest mumbled.
"We're just having fun."
Mother got up off the ground and dusted herself off. A human cry reverberated through the trees. Mother stood still.
"What was that?" Eldest asked.
"That was a cry for help." Mother replied. The voiced cried out again.
"Come on." Mother ordered. The family ran through the trees towards the cry for help.
In a small clearing, a young woman was on the ground. Her leg was bloody and her ankle had a nasty sprain that was swelling by the second. A young man was crouched down at her side.
"Is everything all right?" Mother asked.
"It's so stupid. I fell busted up my leg and totally trashed my phone." The woman explained.
"I heard the cries for help and came to help out." The man said.
"We heard them too." Mother said. "I have plasters and antiseptic if you want, you know mothers and all that."
"That would be great." The woman replied, "I'm Becky by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Becky. I'm Mildred." She reached into her bum bag and pulled out plasters and antiseptic spray. "Now this might sting a little." Mother applied the spray and covered the wound.
"Alright, now let's get you home." Mother smiled. "El, could you help this gentleman carry Becky back down? I'm sorry I didn't catch your name."
Eldest pushed his dark hair out of his eyes and shrugged.
They made their way down the mountainside, and Kyle offered to take Becky home in his car.
"Thank you so much, again. You guys are life savers." Becky said as Eldest helped into the car.
"No problem, happy to help." Mother reassured her.
"See you around." Kyle winked at Eldest from the driver's seat. Eldest blushed and looked away. "Bye guys."
Kyle drove away, while Mother waved at their retreating silhouette.
"Well, after all that we should probably get home too," Mother sighed. "I suppose you don't have our next target?"
Junior shook his head.
"Ugh, fuck it. Let's just go."
They spent the next three weeks in Vermont, much to Mother's dismay, with no new mission. By then she had set a vase on fire, burned the curtains in the living room (which she dutifully replaced) and burned her slippers to a crisp. Some nights she would just go out and drive with all the windows down just to feel the whip of the wind on her face and in her hair. Once she left in the dead of night and didn't return until the end of the next day. It seemed like she had driven to New York city and back, but they didn't press the issue.
Becky, as it turned out, worked as a waitress at the diner, and once her ankle healed she made her return. She greeted them every day in the diner and would sometimes make conversation with Mother if hey crossed paths while grocery shopping.
Despite their changes in age, sex or ethnicity, no one seemed to notice or care about the odd habits of the family. Most were oblivious or made sense of it all by themselves, even Becky, who saw them the most, didn't notice a thing. Junior had an elderly uncle and Eldest had a cousin. Even when Missy turned from a blue-eyed blond to a rangy girl with black hair and olive skin overnight, no one was phased. They assumed she was a Hispanic relative.
Eldest sat in the diner, sipping on the ice tea Becky had served him. The bell on the diner door tinkled with a rush of cool air.
"Hey, long time no see."
Eldest almost choked when he heard Kyle's voice behind him.
"Mind if I join you?"
"No. Yeah. Sure, whatever." Actual conversations were a pain, Eldest thought. One night stands were so much simpler. Kyle sat down next to him and ordered a milkshake.
Eldest observed him. He seemed athletic. His hair was russet and his skin dark as were his eyes. He had a straight aquiline nose. To Eldest he looked intelligent.
"So, what's up?" Eldest raised an eyebrow at the question.
"Nothing much. Just killing time."
"You from around here?" Kyle asked. Eldest initially baulked at the question.
"Um, not really. Are you?" He was proud he successfully deflecting the question.
"No, I'm from Canada. Moved here recently actually."
"Oh, that explains the…" Eldest gestured towards his mouth.
"The accent? Yep." He sipped his milkshake. "So, you on holiday or recently moved."
"Just passing through I guess."
"Huh, you're an odd one, you know that?" Kyle said.
"Hey El," Missy said surprising them both before her brother had time to answer Kyle's question, or get offended by it.
"This is my cousin Carlota." Eldest lied.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Kyle." They shook hands. "It's funny, you kind of remind him of his sister. Family right."
"Yeah, uncanny," Missy laughed.
Kyle finished his milkshake.
"It's getting late, I should probably get going." Kyle stood up "Maybe I'll see you around sometime. Carlota, it was nice to meet you."
He went to the counter to pay then left with a small wave to Eldest. Missy sat down next to her brother.
"I know. Where's Mum and Junior?"
"Mother set fire to a pack of gum, so she took Junior for a joyride."
It was slowly getting dark outside. Apart from Missy and Eldest the diner was deserted, with Becky putting things away behind the counter.
"Hey, I'm gonna close up soon, you guys almost done?" Becky asked taking off her apron.
"Yeah, no worries. We'll be out of your hair soon," Missy said.
"I'm just going to go the bathroom, be back in a sec," Eldest patted his sister's shoulder before getting up and making his way to the back. Missy laid her head down on the table and closed her eyes. Travelling was tiring but staying in one place for so long felt wrong, unnatural somehow. She shivered suddenly cold like a cool mass had puddled in her stomach.
The diner doorbell tinkled.
"Hey, sorry we're about to close so the kitchen has stopped." Missy heard Becky say to the hopeful customer. "I can make you something simple like a coffee but that's about…" Becky didn't finish her sentence. Instead Missy heard a strange gargling sound. She looked up.
Becky was hovering a few inches above the floor with an arm imbedded in her chest cavity. Blood and small pieces of viscera dripped off the long finger tips protruding from the other side of her body. The long arm belonged to a man in a long black coat and bowler hat on his head. Becky gasped for breath, unable to scream, chocking on her own blood. With an impassive gesture, he tossed Becky body across the room. She crashed into the opposite wall with a thud and fell to the floor in a heap.
Missy stayed frozen in place trying to not make a sound but Eldest hearing the crash come rushing out of the men's room only to come face to face with the man.
"Oh, Jesus fucking Christ." Eldest face blanched as his opponent slowly walked towards him.
"Hey, dickhead!" Missy shouted to divert attention on herself. The man turned to her. Missy looked him straight in the eye and freezing dread showered her. The man breathed heavily, hesitating, sounding akin to a rusty drainpipe. Luckily for Missy and Eldest, this was distraction enough.
Glass, wood and metal flew everywhere with a deafening crash as Mother rammed her car through the diner wall straight into the man in black. He was thrown amid the rubble off the car bonnet. Miraculously the car wasn't too damaged and the Family were unscathed. The same could not be said for the man in black. However, he still managed to pick himself up and dust himself off. Mother was already out of the car and threw herself at him, with her legs wrapped around his neck and her thumbs in his eyes. The air around her burst into flame engulfing the man's head, turning his hat to ash. With a fluid motion she grabbed his head and twisted, snapping his neck. The smoking form crumpled.
"Everyone, get in the fucking car."