Mount of Truth
Ding Dong. The doorbell sounded. Thea limped over to the door nearly falling twice without her cane. She opened the door and could barely open it before the benefactor swept her up in his arms. He twirled her around and she squealed. “My sweet little girl. It’s good to see you!” He set her back down. “How have you been since your last surgery?”
“I walk better, thanks!” she said and held up her leg for him to see. She toppled over onto him and he picked her back up.
“Yes, the doctor said your walking should improve dramatically over the past few weeks. Those surgeries are expensive, but well worth it. How about running, is that any better?”
“Nope,” she said as he paced her back on her feet.
“Well, it’s alright. The doctors said that prolonged running would still be a strain. Someday you’ll be running with the other children. Don’t give up hope. Now Thea, I have a surprise for you.” He turned to the door and waved in a herd of maids and butlers. They took a bow to her and she giggled with delight. The other children emerged from around the corner and the Old Man flounced in after them. The maids bowed to him as well. He gave a light smile from his silver-capped teeth.
“What’s the meaning of this?” The Old Man asked as politely as possible.
“Oh hello sir,” the benefactor said and shook his hand. “And how are you?”
“I’m fine, but—”
“Oh yes, all this? I thought it would be a surprise for you and the children. We’ll have some maids from my house cook and some butlers serve it later.”
“Some maids? This isn’t all of them?”
“Ha-ha, why no. Not the half of it.” The maids smiled at the children who stared at them like aliens. They had never seen maids before. They wore standard aprons tied around their black dresses that dipped below the knee.
“If I had all those hotties serving me, I’d be as happy as him,” Azrael said as one maid pinched his cheek.
“Ha-ha, yeah,” Sola said, “but the Old Man, looks like he read to sock him in the jaw. He won’t be smiling then.”
“They really look happy,” Thea said and smiled as the butlers passed. “The benefactor must be a good boss.”
“Either that or he’s brainwashed them,” Sola whispered to her.
The benefactor clapped his hands. “Show them the kitchen, would someone please? If you don’t mind.”
“Yeah, I’ll take them,” the Old Man said. “I want to make certain that they don’t accidentally find the wrong kitchen.”
“Alright then, my fine gentleman. I will accompany you. I have a lot to talk to you about. However,” the benefactor said and paused for a moment. He knelt down beside Thea taking her by the shoulders. “I do have one more surprise, for you.”
“A what?” the benefactor asked and laughed so hard she thought he would faint. “Why no, my dear. A new friend. Come on in son.”
Son? Thea glanced at Sola with stretched eyes. She turned her attention to the door where a well-dressed kid waltzed in. He had a smirk on his face probably built from years of spoiling him. His hat had a plume so big it made them wonder if the dodo bird really did not go extinct. It brushed Sola’s face as he passed; making her spit it from her mouth. He seemed to take pleasure in them staring at him like a prized thoroughbred at a show. He approached Thea whose jaw dropped at the sight of him. He appeared roughly the same age as Thea.
“This is my son, Arcas. Son, this is my dear… Aletheia. I wanted the two of you to meet.”
“Uh,” Thea said and said no more. I thought I was the only child he cared for. The realization that he had his own family, son and life tore her to bits.
“Hum,” the benefactor said and waited. “She’s usually so pleased to meet new people.”
Thea stood gawking at the boy until she slapped herself awake. “Hello,” she said.
“Allo,” the boy said with a brilliant aristocrat accent and broadened his smile. He took her hand in his and kissed it. “I’ve seen adults do that.” He winked at Thea and the benefactor doubled over with guffaws. Thea finally broke a smile and she saw Azrael glowering at Arcas.
The benefactor clapped twice. The butler removed their coats. The benefactor laced Thea’s arm through his son’s then took his own arm and hooked it through the Old Man’s arm. The Old Man wiped the sour expression from his face. “Come let’s leave the children to get better acquainted. See you at dinner, little ones. You best behave yourself, Arcas.”
“Yes, father,” he said. Before the adults left, a maid walked up to the door to the backrooms. She started to open it, but the Old Man pulled from the benefactor’s arm to slam the door back closed.
“Don’t go in there,” he said in a tone he used only with the orphans.
“Oh my,” the benefactor said. “She just needed some brooms. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, I’m sorry I should have asked.”
“Come with me I’ll show you around,” the Old Man said. “And don’t open any more doors without permission.”
Arcas stared at the door. Curiosity seemed to strike him as he narrowed in for it, but paused when he noticed all the children watching him. He smiled at all of them for a while then frowned. He surveyed the inner house. “This looks similar to my bedroom at home.”
“Your room is this big?” Reichan asked.
“No, silly,” Napir said and kicked him. “No one’s room is this big.”
“Why yes it is,” the boy said. “Might be bigger. Why? Is yours not?”
“It’s a damn hole in the wall,” Azrael said and frowned.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Yeah, and we get these little shitty bunks,” Bast said.
The boy folded his arms. “How rude!”
“Ha-ha, we can barely fit an ass cheek on when we sleep two to a bed,” Tick said.
“We’re used to living in this fucking dung hole,” Tock said.
“My heavens.” He blocked his ears. They looked around at each other in confusion.
“What a weirdo,” Napir said. “Why’s he so upset?”
“He’s a little pampered prick that’s why,” Sola said.
“Make it stop,” he said.
“I think it’s the cursing you guys,” Thea said.
“Whoops, I think she is right!” Sola said. “Our mouths is pretty foul sometimes.” They stopped talking. He eventually pulled his hands from his ears.
“Oh that’s much better. The name is Arcas in case my father didn’t say.” He turned to the twins. “You seem like the oldest. The others probably look up to you two. You should probably set a good example and not curse so much.” They grimaced, but said nothing. “And you.” He turned to Sola. “You’re far too young to be using words like that.”
“I’m not as young as you think.”
“Sola,” Thea said and shook her head at her.
“Ah, and you’re the girl father escapes to go see.” Thea blushed as Arcas took her hands. “You are special, you know—all of you. Can’t imagine why. You’re all like little adults with bad attitudes.”
“That’s it you little brat!” Azrael went for him but Thea held him back. He managed to grapple his vest sending him down to the ground.
“Ha-ha, oh dear, he’s going to kill me. I like you guys.”
“Can’t tell from the way you’re talking down to us,” Azrael said and folded his arms.
“No, but I do! Very much! Maybe not your dirty mouths and clothes, however.” He frowned at Valin. “And what is this?” Valin bit at the boy’s finger that pointed at him. “Ha-ha, oh my.”
“Are all extremely wealthy people insane?” Sola exchanged a look at Thea who seemed even more upset. “Why would the benefactor prefer this little tool over you?”
“I guess you can choose friends, but not family.”
“The patron ought to leave him here and take you home instead.” Thea frowned placing a finger to her lip.
“Come on.” He took Thea by the hands and twirled her around. “Don’t look so glum. Let’s have fun or something. What do you all do for fun?” He smiled looking around, supporting Thea on his arm as she limped beside him. “Well?” They all remained silent. They could not speak about the secret break days so said nothing. “You do have fun don’t you?” He frowned when they shook their heads. “My word, you are like little adults—old retired adults—adult language, adult complaints and no fun. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you have bunions and back pain.”
“It’s not by choice.”
“Hogwash!” he said.
“Hog what?” Thea questioned.
“Ha-ha, I don’t get it,” Thea said.
“It’s fun, isn’t it? Nonsense words. Here try it. Karbibble. That’s a funny one. Go on try it.”
Thea laughed. “How about… Carsifflis…?”
“Sounds like a disease that kid has.” The boy pointed to Valin. Valin crouched to the ground and sprinted after Arcas. “Oh boff, I believe he wants to kanoff me.” He dodged Valin’s pounce rushing around the children. He ran in a circle with Valin close on his heels. They could not help but laugh. “My fine fellow, you are an incorrigible kasnifet!” His long white hair held a purplish hue and rested pass his shoulders braided down with a bow. It bobbed along his back as he pranced around. His clothes seemed very old fashion; a silk lined vest with fur trim, a pair of knickers and buckled pointed toe shoes with a small heel.
Sola cupped her hand to whisper into Thea’s ear. “Maybe all upper class people dressed like that.”
“Not like we would know,” Thea whispered to her. “He is such a happy kid.”
“I can’t relate, but can share the happiness or give us a sip of whatever he drinks.”
He dove behind someone to avoid Valin. “And we’re off!”
Thea laughed as he snatched her up on his back. “To where?”
“To the races where else?” He carried her off and up the stairs. His lightheartedness made him resemble his father and Thea warmed up to him. They all chased after him along with Valin who looked like he wanted to bite him still. “Let’s see here.” With Thea still dangling from his back, he assessed each room of the inner house. “There are a lot of bedrooms here. Is this not where you blokes live?” They shook their heads. “Where then?” Thea pointed to the ceiling. “Let’s go then. I want to see.”
Tick stood in the way. “I’m not sure—”
“Wait! If these rooms aren’t yours, do you know what we should do?” His eyes stretched.
“Oh no,” Thea said.
“Oh yes! We should mess them up!”
“Oh no, we can’t!” Thea said.
Tock blocked his entry into a room. “The Old Man—”
“The old men won’t care. We can have the butler clean it back up while we’re at dinner. Come with me?” The orphans eyed each other. “Grow a backbone, shipmates. This is your captain speaking.” He straightened up clicking his heels together. “I am not pleased with your current performance. Are we not men? Can we not fight? I say we plunder and take back what’s rightfully ours. Give them heck men! Who’s with me?” He gave a lone cheer. He placed Thea on her feet as his arms grew tired. “I said… who’s with me? Aw come on, don’t you guys have an imagination?”
“A what?” Napir asked.
“I guess not, that kid never even heard the word before,” Azrael said.
“This does not make me happy. Pretend we’re on a ship. It’s over two thousand years ago during the age of the twelve oceans! I’m captain of the Seawolf. We’ve all been starving for months. Some of you have scurvy. Rrr.” He growled at them with one eye closed. He took Sola by the shoulder looking into the air for the story his imagination told. “We’re sailing aimlessly through the Gaian seas for days. The days and nights are dark and stormy.” The lights began to flash like a thunderstorm. Only the lights in the hallway flickered. The children awed. “That’s right stormy.” Whenever he said the word, the lights would flicker.
“Are you making the lights flash?” Thea asked and he winked at her. “Wow! The power over light is unheard of anymore!”
“The storm rages on, tossing us about in the ship. Ye men are starving and restless. I have to stop a mutiny. I have been fearless, but now I’m fearful. Afraid my crew will finally succeed and toss me overboard.” He made a whistling sound falling down to the ground. He laid flat on his back and they all watched him. “And then!” He spring up while opening his eyes wide. “The One above blesses us. A town on the shore… full of pirates as well. Looting the people’s supplies. Well, we can’t let them have all the fun, right? I said we can’t let them have all the fun, right?”
“No!” some of the smaller children said.
“That’s more like it. I’m going to need all hands on deck! You varmints aren’t going to just stand around here and perish! Listen to your captain! I say we go down and loot the looters! Plund the plunderers! Thieve the thieves!” The little children bounced up and down and even the twins seemed like they enjoyed his “imagination” for a moment. “Right! Say ‘aye, aye’ if you’re in. Aye, aye!” he said and the rest of them did too. “Good, that’s more like it. Rrr.” He growled returning to Thea’s side. “You men divide up into groups. Take a room and rip it apart. I want every corner over turned, every morsel gathered and every scurvy dog looter with a sword pierced through his heart!”
“Oh no, don’t hurt anyone,” Thea said.
“Aye, kill them dead. It’s ok, lass, it’s all in good sport.” He whispered to her. “Alright, the first mate and I—”
“Um, who’s the first mate?” she asked.
“Why you, my dear. The first mate and I are headed to the grand room down the hall.”
“Oh no not there!” Thea said.
“And why not? Are ye turning yellow belly sap suckered?”
“I don’t know what that is so I think no,” Thea said. “That’s the Old Man’s room though.”
“Ha-ha, all the better. Whichever one of you has the galls to follow come with me to the headmaster’s quarters. The rest of you babies go plunder. I’ll send the infantry to clean it up later. Come on! Follow at your own risk.” As if he held a sword, he swung an invisible something into the air and ran for the curator’s room. Azrael followed and so did Sola. Thea hobbled along behind them. The others ran into the bedrooms and tossed the throw rugs around, pulled drawers out of dressers, and pushed the mattresses to the floor. Wishing they had a camera, they would love to savor this night on replay.
While in the Old Man’s room, they started in the bathroom. “Is there a bucket anywhere?” Arcas asked.
“Sure there’s one under the sink I think,” Azrael said before opening the drawer to pull one out for him.
“Ha, ‘sink, I think’. That rhymed. Alright. Let’s fill it with water.”
Azrael turned on the faucet for him. “Why?”
“What are we going to do with it?” he asked him.
“Up there.” Arcas pointed to the door.
“Up where?” Sola asked.
“We’re going to put the bucket on the top of the door and when the ‘ole curator comes in it’ll fall on him.”
“Ha-ha,” Azrael said. “I’m willing to risk anything to see that. But wait, how will we get it up there?”
“Ah, a scientific mind; never stop asking questions. That’s what a great alchemist said once.”
“It’s a legit question. How the heck are we supposed to get it up there?”
“Dump that water out. I got an idea,” Sola said before heading into the hallway. “Hey Mizu!” Mizu came in moments later with Napir following behind her.
“What’s up?” Napir asked.
“First off, Nappy, I didn’t ask you to come in. Second we need Mizu’s water ability.”
“Power over water? Why didn’t I think of that?” Arcas asked.
“I’d be happy to.” Mizu cracked her knuckles. “Where do you want it?”
“Over the door, but wait. We should probably leave the door ajar and set it up for him first.”
“How do we make the door into a jar?” Napir asked.
“Ah, a simpleton.” Arcas patted Napir’s head. “And what is your power?”
“Why should I tell you?” Napir stuck his tongue out.
“Ice,” Azrael told instead.
“Ooo, a good combination. I’ve got an idea. Why not leave an ice block shaped like a shelf attached to the door, set the bucket onto that, and then leave the door slightly open for it to fall on him.”
“What are we doing?” Mizu asked.
“Don’t worry about it girly,” Sola said. “I’ll take the blame if he asks. I just want to hear him scream with the ice cold water hits him. It’ll be worth it.”
“I’ll say. It’ll be worth seeing you get slapped,” Napir said. Sola glared at him. Arcas scurried them out, leaving the door slightly cracked open. Mizu pulled water from the sink and raised it above the door. Napir froze it in an instant. Mizu drew out another wave of water that lifted the bucket up above the door and came to rest within it. The bucket leaned against the wall above the door; it sat on the shelf ready to fall at any minute.
“Sweet. Let’s get the heck out of here.” Arcas snapped his finger turning out the light to the bathroom.
The Old Man waited for them at the bottom of the stairs with his arms folded and tapping his toe. The benefactor spoke business with him pacing back and forth. Arcas trotted down the stairs with Thea on his back. He sashayed between the Old Man and his father and over to a butler. After setting Thea down, he beckoned the butler to lean his ear down to him. Arcas whispered a string of orders for him. The butler nodded, bowed, and signaled for a few other servants to follow him. Thea tugged at the butler’s leg and he leaned forward to listen to her. “Be extra sure not to open the master bedroom’s bathroom door.” The servant smiled and bowed equally as low to her.
“I don’t know what’s better,” Sola said to Thea. “Messing up the house or getting away without having to clean it up.”
Just as the other children finished mutilating the upstairs rooms, the servants came by after them to clean up the mess. The other orphans scurried from the rooms laughing all the way down the stairs. Some of the kids tried to game with the nonsense words. Their joyful expressions caught the Old Man’s attention. Stepping away from the benefactor, he took Napir by the arm. “What’s wrong?” he whispered as quietly as possible.
“N… No... nothing,” Napir said. The Old Man glared at him then released his arm.
“Alright.” The Old Man noticed the patron watching him and he patted Napir on the head. “Little boy was missing at lunch today he’s had nothing to eat all day. He always gets a little nervous when he forgets his lunch.”
“Oh my!” the benefactor said, “probably too busy playing games or doodling. I swear Arcas would forget too if it weren’t for the servants.” The benefactor clapped his hands and a maid came from the kitchen. “My trusted servant, there you are. Could you have the other maids prepare dinner? I’m afraid it can’t wait. This poor little boy here hasn’t eaten all day.” The patron smiled down on Napir. He hugged the benefactor’s leg and he stroked his hair down. Mizu came up to hug his other leg. The benefactor noticed a bow in her hair. “This looks like the bow from a present I gave Thea. No wonder she never wears it.” Napir and Mizu flushed red. “Alright now, worry not about it. Perhaps I should get presents more often for all of you.” He picked Napir up and set him down at the dinner table. The other children skipped around him to his delight. Mizu took the seat beside Napir.
“Did you see that, Mizu? He paid attention to us.”
“Yeah, I wish the Rich Man would sit by us.”
“He’ll probably sit by stupid Thea again.”
The benefactor took his son by the hand and then reached his other hand out to Thea. The Old Man turned and grimaced at Thea from across the room. Fear enveloped her soul and a vision of the future struck her mind. Time froze around her. With her eyes stretched the vision of the future flowed through her mind, but the ending kept changing. She stared into space, every action or decision that the children made or every word they said or failed to say seemed to trigger a different series of events leading to one of the children’s punishment.
“Are you alright Thea?” Azrael asked and clutched her arm. “Don’t look so afraid.”
“One of us is going to be punished before the night ends.”
“I keep forgetting you some kind of psycho person. It’ll probably just be a whooping or a spanking.”
“No, it’s worse than that.” Her heart pounded as if death lurked in the shadows of the children. “It’s worse… but which one? Sometimes I can warn someone to prevent it, but my power seems out of control right now.”
“My sweet girl.” The benefactor snapped her back into reality. Azrael retreated with everyone else into the dining room leaving only Thea and the benefactor. A tear rolled from her eye and she clutched him with both arms. “Everything okay down there, Aletheia?”
“Yes, father,” she said without thought of her words. A tear fell from his eye and dripped onto her forehead. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to—”
“No, please don’t apologize, Thea.” The benefactor wiped his tear away. “Don’t apologize for calling me that… I’ve always wanted to hear you say that. Aletheia, my darling little girl.” He embraced her.
“Master,” a maid said as she came from the kitchen. “Dinner will now be served.”
“Yes, thank you. Come now.” He held his hand out to Thea and went in together.
At the dinner table, Thea could not meet the eyes of the overseer. Fear struck in her heart knowing a beating would happen that night. The rest of the vision haunted her and she could barely eat. Every time she looked up, the Old Man locked eyes with her.
“Hum, I notice some of the staff missing,” the benefactor said.
“It’s my fault, father. I ordered the butlers to tidy upstairs.”
“Oh the children showed you to their rooms upstairs?”
“Yes, father, they are very nice rooms. Expect the ones the ones in the back house from what I heard. They have bunk beds, isn’t that right?” Arcas eyed Thea with a smile, but she placed a finger to her lips. “Oh!”
“A what? Bunk beds,” the benefactor said.
“Well, really I think something should be done to liven up the place,” Arcas said. “I think someone should say something. I couldn’t find a single toy in the rooms and hardly any clothes in the dressers.” The benefactor’s eyebrows wrinkled as he wiped his mouth on a cloth napkin. The orphans squirmed in their chairs. Thea could not say much at dinner; her throat lumped up making it difficult to swallow. Beads of sweat tumbled down her forehead. The Old Man frowned at her then changed the subject before the patron could ask any more questions about the attic.
The hour grew late and the time arrived for the benefactor to leave them once more. Deep in thought, the benefactor placed his arms behind his back and stared at the door to the back room with a curiosity. He smiled down at Thea. He stopped for a moment before putting his hat on and glanced up to the attic door. The Old Man gritted his teeth into an awkward grin so hard the shimmers of silver that lined his back teeth could be seen. The benefactor sighed and placed his hat on. Bending to his knees, he held Thea close to his heart feeling her little body tremble in his arms. “Sweet girl, I wish I could take you up here and now and fly away with you.” He stood with a snap towards the Old Man. “I feel a deep compassion and concern for the children. I’m sorry I did not say much at dinner, but after what my son mentioned… I will look into investigating this house, but in due time. I do not wish to cause a scene before the children.”
“Yes, your grace,” the Old Man said.
Finally, the benefactor took his son by the hand and they descended into the darkness down the stairs to meet the army of servants at the bottom of the steps. No sooner than the door slammed closed, the old man snatched Thea up by the arm. “What did you tell him?” He wrenched her arm forcing her to the ground.
“I didn’t tell him anything!”
“I saw you at dinner! You looked as guilty as a thief. Well I’m gonna beat you like you stole something, that’s for sure!”
“No! It wasn’t me!” The other frantic orphans rushed about the house as he tossed vases, books, and pictures from the walls and tables. “Too bad you can’t read minds,” she said then covered her face.
“What did you say?” She shook her head still buried in her hands. “You think your pathetic psychic ability is better than mine don’t you? You think just because that man gives a darn about you, you’re somehow better than the rest! Is that it? Well listen up, I was born an orphan too and I lived with a man meaner than me. I never had any love. Why do you little turds deserve it? If I ever hear you telling him anything about your living conditions I’ll kill all of you on the spot. I’ll keep you alive for now because you’re the only reason that big shot gives a hoot about this little orphanage. I’ll teach you a lesson tonight. That’s for sure!” Thea held her chin up high just as the Old Man lifted his hand to strike her. He paused for a moment and waited for her to cry or scream for help. She closed her eyes and stood as tall as she could. He growled and reared his arm back up.
“Leave her alone!” Sola jumped in the way and he struck her in Thea’s place. The old man’s fist sent her into a wall and a picture flew off shattering glass on the wood floor. The old man shook the pain from his fist then grabbed Thea’s hair and proceeded to drag her up the stairs. Although the pain was excruciating, she would not scream or ask for help. The others watched from the bottom of the stairs petrified. Sola dashed after them, but the Old Man kicked her down the stairs. She collapsed into The Twin’s arms. The Twins tried to stop her from going back up, but she pushed them off and raced up the stairs to follow them. The Old Man slammed and locked the door of his room just as Sola raced up. She beat on the door trying to take all the blame, but the Old Man would not listen. The Old Man ranted, cursed, and took out a bottle of alcohol and even smashed it on the counter. He took Thea’s throat and held the broken bottle to it. Thea stood like stone until he bashed her along the face with the bottle. He seized her hair and threw her out the door onto Sola.
“It’s no fun when they don’t squeal,” the Old Man said and tossed the bottle in a trashcan. “All of you go upstairs now! Expect you, Sola. Take her up to the bathroom and bandage her up.” He shut the door still cursing and complaining. The children rushed upstairs to change, Azrael stayed with them. Thea and Sola lied facing the ceiling staring up for a long time. Sola burst into tears. Azrael stood over them staring down at Thea’s beaten and blue face.
“Thea,” he whispered.
“Do you want me to kill him?” he asked.
Thea closed her eyes and heaved in short breaths. “No, please don’t.”
“You know I would, but only if you want me to. I’ve never killed anyone before, but I’m sure I could.”
“No don’t! Don’t mess up your life for his.”
He held her tight. “Why don’t you cry?”
“There’s no surprise for me. If you know it’s coming and there’s no way to stop it, there’s also no need to feel scared about it. You’re just adding to your suffering by worrying about what bad things are going to happen to you.”
“How do you know in advance, does the Old Man tell you?”
“Not verbally, but with his actions he does; it depends on his words or his mood. I see it unfolding before my eyes. I’m usually not scared beforehand, but for some reason tonight… tonight I had a vision that something much worse is going to happen… soon and not just to me… but to all of us.”
“I don’t want to believe it.”
While heading up the stairs, Thea rested between them on either shoulder. From within the Old Man’s room, they heard the bucket of water fall. The Old Man cursed and slipped up on the wet floor. Thea stuck her fist into her mouth to block her laugh. They rushed up to their rooms to lock the door.