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Ch. 3 - Call Home

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She has returned.

Rhianna startled awake, the whispers of a dream still lingering. She glanced over at the closet, so ordinary in the morning light creeping into her new room. It had been a well of darkness last night, filled with unseen terrors, keeping her wide eyed and staring for most of the night—too afraid to blink. The black shapes that kept her in bed last night, too afraid to set her toes down on the carpet so she could close the closet door, were now just the bulky hangings of Pippa's winter wardrobe. Still not very colorful, but at least mundane.

She dragged her palm down her face, trying to get ready to face her first full day on her grandmother's farm and wipe away the last unsettling dregs of her dream. At least she'd slept some, but she never had bad dreams. Even sleeping in the car in the woods.

She'd been in bed and surrounded by tall people, all looking down on her. They were like people but with elongated bodies and limbs, and seen through a haze of gray, their pallid faces were just a blur of brightness with two black holes for eyes and a dark smudge for a mouth. Too much like slender skulls.

The strangest thing about it had been that as much as their staring and whispering had freaked her out, but the feeling that if she wanted anything in the world they would give it to her.

Rhianna dragged her feet over to the mirror, and scrubbed her short boyish hair into some semblance of straightness. The mirror was another issue like the closet, though not so easily dealt with. She closed the closet door and pressed it firmly to be sure it shut all the way and wouldn't pop open in the middle of the night like some kind of scary movie. She'd always had a thing about mirrors. She refused to look at her reflection in the dark, as if doing so would give the creature on the other side power over her.

She wondered if it was too soon to ask Pippa if she could redecorate to room, but didn't want to spend her time on a pointless project. Mom will be back soon. The mirror wasn't visible from the bed anyway.

She paused at the top of the stairs, before going down to breakfast. The narrow hallway felt more crowded than it should, like the beings from her dream still hovered over her, watching.

She tiptoed into the kitchen. It was still early, and she wasn't sure if her grandmother was up yet. The rising of the sun always woke her, and the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, was only a week away. The clock showed quarter to six. Rhianna gingerly opened the fridge to see what there was for breakfast.

She crammed a handful of leftover chicken into her mouth, peering over her shoulder to make sure Pippa wasn't around. Orange juice was breakfasty and easy, so she grabbed the bottle from the door and a cup from the dish strainer where she had piled last nights dishes.

Her mom was probably sleeping in as usual. Even at a rest stop with the sun blazing through the windshield she could keep on sleeping long after Rhianna woke up. Maybe Rhianna should call her, make sure she was somewhere safe.

There was an old-fashioned phone on the wall with a super long cord that could probably stretch from the yellowing wallpapered wall by the door to the dining room all the way to the stove and the sink. Rhianna made a face at the avocado color of the stove. She picked up the receiver and dialed the latest prepaid number they had been using.

There was a moment of silence, as if the phone were debating the wisdom of making a call this early in the morning. The sound of the default ringtone shrilled from a pile of papers on the kitchen counter, echoing the ring in the receiver. Rhianna slammed the phone down and fumbled for her mom's phone amidst the paper, cursing the delay between hanging up and the end of the ringing.

No! How could she have left it. She stood there staring at the phone in her hand. She couldn't even talk to her on the phone. Her mom may as well be on a different planet. She may as well be dead. Her scalp prickled. Was her mom in trouble, or did she just not want to talk to Rhianna?

"Ah you're up." Pippa came in the back door, already dusty from feeding the animals.

Rhianna set the phone on the table, not quite sure what to do, and took a sip of orange juice.

"Is that all you're having for breakfast?"

She smudged the back of her hand across the chicken grease on her chin. "I guess."

"That may be good enough for your mother but it doesn't mean it's good. I was just about to make breakfast, how about I fix some for both of us?" Pippa pulled out a frying pan and set it on the stove. There was plenty of food in the fridge, just nothing Rhianna considered edible without a considerable amount of effort—like the milk and eggs that now sat on the counter waiting to be cracked into a vintage pyrex mixing bowl.

"Sure, Gran." Rhianna sighed, inwardly. More dishes.

"Why don't you put away last night's dishes?"

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