narrated by Bob Eccles
Rosie stared at the playground with her mouth open. She should move, do something, but what she was witnessing had her glued to the kitchen counter. Kids were jumping out of the swings and popping out of existence.
Rosie was a U.S. Army officer’s wife, but not just any officer’s wife. She was Captain David Reever’s wife, Army Corps of Engineer’s mastermind that had developed the new system of construction allowing for the hasty deployment and set-up of a special, air-droppable habitat called the Rapid Deployable Helicoil Support Habitation System, or RDHSHS for short.
Soldiers called it the Radish.
Rosie thought it actually looked more like a turnip, but she was just a dumb Army wife that was supposed to stay home, raise kids and worship her husband in his career. She wasn’t bitter though. She also was expected to be level-headed under all circumstances as a Captain’s wife.
Pop. Another kid vanished.
Timmy, her own little swing-popper, ran to the gym set and yelled out something to his older sister, Tabitha, just before mounting one of the horrible contraptions. He was going to swing.
Pushing off from the counter and spinning out the back door in one fluid motion, Rosie vaulted the back fence and hurled down the hill toward the playground, screaming at the kids. Tabitha saw her mother coming and reacted just as expected: she raced towards the next empty swing.
“No! Get off!” Rosie screamed, waving her arms as she ran.
Both kids tippy-toed back as far as they could and then, with simultaneous grins, kicked off and started their arcs.
“Stop!” she yelled. The distance was closing, but not fast enough. They were on their third arc already, Tabitha slightly ahead of Timmy. Both kids were kicking out for dear life, no childhood wonder and frolic about it. They each wore equally intense looks of dire concentration as they struggled to reach a specific height.
Rosie realized that they were preparing their trajectory. They knew what they were doing. She hurdled over the small, double landscape-timber fence that surrounded the playground like an Olympian.
Too late. Both kids launched out of the black rubber swing seats. Rosie held her breath and followed their flight. They soared beautifully, Tabby spreading her wings and arching her back like the true Swan Princess she was, Timmy putting his hands together in a perfect frogman dive, just like his father had taught him.
They hit the exact point and—POP.
She plopped to her knees, then her butt, speechless. They were gone. Just like that. The swings continued to pendulum back and forth, eventually settling to a lazy twist before they rested in place.
The sun dipped and the air grew chilly.
“Megan!” yelled a distant voice from another mom. “Dinner’s ready!”
Rosie glanced around. There were no children left. The Reever kids had been the last swing poppers to hit the air. She had no idea how long she had been sitting there on the woodchips. It hit her then; her kids were gone. All of the kids were gone.
CPT Reever was not going to be joining her for dinner this evening. He was not going to be joining her any evening for the next seven months. He was deployed, yet again, to the magical land of Iraq where her little girl fantasies of Princes of Persia, Aladdin Lamps, Genies, flying carpets, Ali Baba, and the ever illustrious belly dancers were grounded in the harsh reality of The Global War on Terror. The world of desert romance was replaced with a life sentenced to raising children alone while maintaining the dainty smiles and googley eyes of a non-working spouse merely grateful for her hero husband. Her hero.
Now that Dave was famous for his Radish contribution, he was untouchable, apparently the dreamy idol of every long-lashed female lieutenant out there doing whatever female lieutenants and dream-boat rivet-designer captains from the Corps of Engineers did in their stupid turnip tents.
She hated her marriage.
Rosie still had dreams of not just flying, but designing. Her whole childhood she had wanted to be a pilot. Someone told her that girls were not allowed to fly and that had set her off like a Harrier jump jet. She wasn’t only going to fly, she was going to further defy male gravity and do what no man could do by creating a female airship that would redefine the rules of the air. Women would become the new skymasters in her future. Men could make machines, but women made life, and she was going to bring her dreams to life in the same way.
In high school, she had honed her grades for the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona, Florida. She had taken flight lessons as her graduation present from her mom and dad. Rosie made a plan . . . and then dumped it all in the back seat of her first station wagon for Dave.
But she still had her dreams and in the last few years, that jump jet got a long needed refueling.
Flying went way back with Rosie. She had been the only girl to build models. Kites were sacred. Her first aerial lessons were self-taught as a little girl with a pink towel safety-pinned around her neck for a cape, taking flight . . . by jumping out of her swing.
Rosie jumped straight to panic.
“What do you mean the kids are gone?!” CPT Reever scolded through the phone. He was using his “command voice” on her. She rolled her eyes.
“Look, I told you. They disappeared. I saw them. All of the kids in the area are gone.” She maintained a strange cool. In the past twenty-four hours, she had been investigated by the MPs, CID, and the FBI. She was waiting for the CIA and, once they ruled out the possibility that she had sold every kid on the block for Cuban cigars, then NASA would probably show up with Tricoders and Phasers. Heck, if she were in charge, she would have sent the guys with fishbowls on their heads to start rolling out E.T.’s funky bubble wrap first. But this was the military, after all, not the Smithsonian Institute.
“Stop.” God, she hated that! “You expect me to believe that every freaking kid in the neighborhood is missing?”
“Dave, I have been trying to tell you that. Yes, they are all—”
“Stop. I am really not in the mood. Do you not get enough attention? Is that it? I have been shot at, blown up, threatened, spent hours with the gir . . . soldiers here in a bunker while we take round after round of steel freaking rain, and the one call I get this week to talk to my kids and you are trying to tell me that you didn’t just lose mine—ours—but the whole damned neighborhood’s kids? Am I right?”
The quiet in her voice was more powerful than any yelling he could have hoped to produce. It was confident, and that must have been the key, because CPT “Super Dave” Reever clammed up while she finished the last sentence she would ever say to him.
“My kids are missing and I am going to find them, so I will let the Red Cross get the message out and, as far as your behavior with your Army Spouse, Captain Reever, I will allow your Chain of Command to deal with you and your bunker bunnies, oops, soldiers. Goodbye.”
She hung up and disconnected the phone. There was no point in leaving it plugged in. She already knew that no one with whom she had an interest in speaking was going to call. She already saw what happened to the kids.
The other families would talk soon. Rumors would run like sewage through the turtle ditches of Iraq during the rainy season. She was not ready to deal with a bunch of bitter, catty Army wives who lost their precious babies. The fact that she was the only mom that saw hers—hell, was there when they disappeared—told her the caliber of people she would be dealing with. The base was a breeding ground for Judge Judy and Springer candidates. She sometimes envisioned them all crawling out of the back of the local Super Wal-Mart store in their pink Crocs and Lee Press-On Nails while everyone else slept. They crawled out and set up camp in suburban neighborhoods across the country where it was not their responsibility to care for their own kids until it was too late.
Rosie went to the fridge and made a Rum and Coke. Drinking was not really her cup of tea, but a little hair of the dog sometimes did take the edge off, and she needed to relax right now.
The door bell chimed. She had just sat down on the couch.
Seconds passed while Rosie debated on whether or not to bother with the door. It chimed again, this time twice rapidly.
“Coming,” she announced, throwing her head back against the cushions. She closed her eyes and rolled forward to her feet. She felt suddenly very light.
The doorbell suddenly erupted in an obnoxious tinkling of spastic dings as the button pusher ignored all regard for polite introduction.
“Jeez, I said I’m coming!” she yelled, yanking the door open.
It was a classic scene from a movie. She saw no one at first, and then looked down. Rosie jumped back and hid behind her door.
It was not moving.
She slowly crept forward. The thing on the door step was completely still. It was actually kind of cute.
It was a WWII-style gremlin.
And it had a present.
Rosie crept forward, her hand extended. The gremlin did not move. She relaxed, even though she realized how ridiculous it was to think that the toy was anything other than just that. The package also had her attention. It was wrapped in paper covered in little airplanes. “Kilroy Was Here” was scrawled in a woman’s script across the top, just under the gremlin’s nose.
Rosie looked from the package to the gremlin. Then back to the package. She bent down to pick it up and the gremlin turned abruptly and waddled down the drive.
Rosie shrieked and ran back into the house, hiding behind the door once more, watching from the safety of her foyer. The gremlin was gone.
She eyed the package.
It took a few seconds to gather the courage, but Rosie eventually threw the door open and raced out to the box and then scuttled back inside, slamming the door and engaging all three locking mechanisms. She slid down to the floor, holding the package in her hands, staring at it, not really seeing it. He mind was looking a bazillion miles away.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” she muttered. Wa-ay on the other side of the looking glass.
Rosie pushed to her feet, her left butt cheek numb from where she had been sitting on the tile floor. She carried the box to the table. Common sense fueled by a host of crime shows told her to call one of her earlier visitors. After all, her kids had vanished into thin air, her husband was a stupid prick, and a gremlin just gave her a present in airplane wrapping paper.
The box weighed nothing. She set it on the table and then went back to the coffee table and let common sense fly out the window. She was a girl. She needed heart right now, not common sense. She grabbed her rum and coke before digging through her sewing drawer for a pair of scissors. It was not because she was being extra careful; she actually liked the wrapping paper. Kilroy Was Here.
Rosie took a sip of her drink and let the alcohol- laden fizz bathe her tongue while she peered around all sides of her gremlin present. It was a normal gift-wrapped box. Whoever wrapped it was pretty good, too; she had to admit. Taking the scissors to the ends, Rosie snipped at the invisible tape and let the little toy planes fall away.
Beneath the colorful paper stood a clear, acrylic box. Inside the box was a towel.
Rosie squinched her eyebrows and moved her head around the box at table level. She did not want to touch it, though she had no real reason why. The towel seemed pleasant, familiar even. It was just a plain pink bath towel.
A sound came from the back door. Rosie turned away from the table to see lights flash across her sliding glass door, cutting in and out of the vertical blinds. She moved to get a better look.
The search party had long filtered away, and she could still see those lights in the distance, as well as the police cruisers and other vehicles lined up around the playground. But this light was coming from a group of harried mothers, calling out names and searching the playground for clues. Rosie couldn’t relate. They weren’t being girls, they were being stupid girls.
Rosie sighed and turned her attention back to the towel box.
The door chimed once more. She regarded it with trepidation. Another gremlin, perhaps? And how come no one was out front when her first freaky friend showed up with his present?
She did not even bother to ask who it was, but threw the door open wide with reckless abandon.
“Oh, Rosie, I just heard, honey. I am so-o sorry—” she slammed the door on the Colonel’s wife.
Once more, she found herself sliding down the front of the same door.
Rosie knew in her heart that she should be crying. But she could not. There was no reason why. Her kids were gone. Not just gone. Crazy gone. Her marriage was over. Not just over. Screwing around after taking everything she ever had to give. She was now completely . . . alone.
She did not feel like crying. That was for stupid girls. Rosie realized she still had her drink in her hands. She needed another.
For no reason other than it seemed to be the most active spot in the house and she wanted to be prepared, Rosie resumed her post at the base of the front door, grabbing a couch cushion to sit on so that her butt cheeks wouldn’t keep going numb. She also sat the Cherry Coke and Parrot Bay Coconut Rum by her side. She thought about playing soldier and grabbing a funnel and empty bottle but figured that was a bit extreme; she would just go to the potty if she had to pee.
Rosie took another drink and lost herself in thought.
She had loved him once. She had plans. They had plans.
She neederd new plans. She needered ter fly.
Yep. Fly. She neederd her flies (she giggled). No silly, not flies. She NEED-ed to FLY her KIDS. NO-O, FIND her kids. But she wanted to fly her butt to keep stop not going numberer (she giggled again). Her butt fell asleep couldn’t fall asleep silly she was Rosie. Rosie Reever. Rosie the Reeverer (she giggled and passed out against the door.)
Rosie awoke with a head full of cotton. Suddenly, all of the fizzy wasn’t so great. She rushed to the potty and threw up the Rum and Coke, with a few dry heaves for good measure. When she was done, Rosie brushed her teeth twice—God, she could smell her own breath—and then washed down two Advil with a glass of warm water. She felt better, but knew it would be worse later. She was not much of a drinker. That had been Dave’s job. He was pretty good at it, too.
Rosie returned to the kitchen for a midnight snack to get her past the hangover she was already starting to feel.
She passed by the towel box.
“What are you, anyway?”
She had forgotten about the gremlin. Gremlins used to be special to her, back when she had a heart left. Back when she had hope.
Gremlins were special because they were something that she and Dave had shared before they met. They drew them on all of their books, school papers, clothes; no surface was safe from Kilroy. He was a cute little guy with eyes, nose, and fingertips hanging over the edge, peeking out at the viewer. It was a shared concept that united them and represented her perfect marriage. Actually, that was his perfect marriage. Hers had involved a career and a partnership. Not the CPT Reever worship and snap-to crap she had dealt with for the last six years since Timmy was born.
Rosie picked up the box and turned it over in her hands. There was nothing special about it. She opened it up.
The towel was carnation pink with rose madder embroidering on it. It had her maiden name initials and then a little embroidered picture. She looked closer.
Rosie recognized it.
The picture was done superbly in multicolored thread. It was a young woman wearing a red and white polka dot bandana on her head and blue sleeves rolled up. She was making a fist and held a determined look on her beautiful young face. Above it were the simple words, “You Can Do It, Rosie.”
A large safety pin connected two corners in a single cuff.
The day went by in a blur. She prepared well. Whenever the doorbell rang she hid beneath the eye hole until she was sure the visitors were gone. The phone remained off of the hook.
There was no point in calling her mom and dad. She didn’t even know if it would work. It would be irresponsible to alarm them even more than they already would be by the time the news got to them.
Rosie waited all day for the sun to start its descent. When it came, she stood up and walked passed her day’s endeavors. Her favorite books were scattered all around her nesting spot at the front door. Avionics texts, physics workbooks, the Air Traffic Controller Exam prep guide, a study source for the Army Flight Aptitude Selection Test, and her personal notes from school. That was the collected academia that was Rosie Reever. The heart collection was found in the even larger stack of Supergirl comics, fairy manuals, and little girls’ books about teen witches and super heroines with one common denominator: the sky.
Rosie snatched the wrapping paper from the table and folded it up before putting it in her back pocket. She just liked it. She liked planes. And Kilroy.
She grabbed her towel, undid the safety pin, and donned her cape.
Rosie ran down the hill to the swing set in the setting sun.
She pushed off backwards and felt the exhilaration in her tummy as she arched her back into the first descent. Higher she climbed. On her third pass she saw the other moms staring at her from the top of the hill. Rosie laughed while she swung forward, pausing before reversing.
She did not know what to look for, but knew she would find it. This was not a matter of collected academia. It was all about heart and she was following hers wherever it took her, higher and higher.
Rosie glided forward and started to worry. The other women were moving towards her, looks of anger and frustration glowering over their faces, some mouthing words she could not hear over the wind in her ears.
She still did not see it. Her heart jumped to panic.
And there it was. The air shimmered just above the heads of the angry women. They began to run down the hill towards her just as fast as their chunky legs could carry them.
She wasn’t going to make it. The point was shimmering in the air, but it was much farther away than when the kids had jumped.
She flew to the pinnacle of her reverse arc on her final sweep. Pushing and then pulling, Rosie swung forward in slow motion. Her cape fluttered behind her and seemed to have a life of its own. The first angry Army wife reached up and missed just as her legs swung over her head.
Rosie laughed out loud in a voice that was clear and beautiful and free.
The shimmering was a good twenty feet ahead. Rosie flew through the air feet first and then did a forward double somersault, righting herself into a controlled flying position. She stretched her arms out in front of her, pulled her left fist into her shoulder for a proper Supergirl pose, and soared towards the shimmering window of air in complete control of her flight.
She looked down at the astonished group of women then back toward her target, now only a few feet away. Rosie pulled at the last minute, shooting straight up in the air. She heard the sounds of shock and awe from beneath her as the earth fell below. When Rosie reached her peak, she closed her eyes, grinned, and then fell backwards, hurtling to earth at mach speed.
The women screamed. Rosie pulled. She turned and looped into the shimmering veil ten feet above the ground.
The veil disappeared. A group of hurt, angry women, now in shock, stared at the scene unfolding before them as child after child materialized in thin air. The women ran to their laughing children, tears of joy and sounds of relief filling the evening air.
Rosie suddenly reversed and landed in a freefall, feet first. She hit the ground and fell forward to her knees.
“Ouch!” she cried.
“Aw, Jeez! Babe! Are you okay?” Dave said.
He rushed to her side and she started to knock his hand away. She stopped herself.
He was . . . different. This Dave was chubbier. Softer. Happier. He even wore glasses now. He reminded her of the guy she fell in love with.
She heard laughter and looked behind her concerned husband. Timmy and Tabitha were swinging higher and higher. Timmy let go.
“No!” she screamed.
He hit the ground in front of her.
“Rawrrrr!” Timmy growled just before he pounced on her.
Tabby followed in suit and Rosie pulled her children to her, laughing and crying at the same time. Looking up, she caught Dave. He was blushing. Everything was so different.
“Um, I made dinner whenever you guys are ready,” he said.
“Yay!” Timmy yelled, “Lasagna!”
Both kids leaped to their feet and raced to get to the back door first. Her beautiful back door and stained wood deck. And the palm trees growing around her house.
“Come on, babe. You’ve got your big day tomorrow. I want you to have a good dinner in case the Rosie doesn’t make it off the ground first flight.”
He kissed her gently, with more love than she had felt in seven years.
Kilroy Was Here
BIO: C.S. Nelson writes novels (about weird stuff), short fiction (really weird), poetry (go figure), and music (HA!) when he is not skateboarding, yoga-ing, or jamming to Green Day or HALO with his four best friends (one marital three bio-chemical). He holds a BA in English from Thomas Edison State NJ, and applies the hell out of it to his day job as a Scout Platoon Sergeant in the Army. Really.
For Sheri, Javi, Razi, and Daemon—