It was the average afternoon in the Acachalla household. Papa Acachalla was slouched over in his couch, staring intently at the television as a game of football played on the screen. Billy and Sally were sitting on the floor in the dark room next to the couch, playing with Barbie dolls. Gertrude was cooking dinner in the kitchen, probably trying to put out a fire spurting from one of the pots on the stove.
The doorbell rang. It went unnoticed by the entire family. Sally was too busy making Barbie propose to Ken with a pile of plastic waffles. Papa Acachalla still had his eyes glued to the television, and Gertrude couldn't hear anything over the hissing that came from various pots on the stove.
The doorbell rang once more. Gertrude turned back towards the door, immediately regretting it as another fire burst from a wooden spoon that was a bit too close to the stove. "Acachalla, honey!" She called as she quickly took the spoon to the sink, turning the faucet on over it. "Could you get the door!?" However, Papa Acachalla was still staring at the television, his face blank and focused.
The doorbell rang another time. Not even the kids could get it after their door-answering privileges were confiscated after an incident involving butter and a small computer. However, Gertrude was fed-up with this. After slapping the last fire into submission with a dish rag, she stormed off to the dining table where her crowbar lay, taking it in her hand. Dish rag in one hand, crowbar in the other, she walked up to Papa Acachalla in the other room.
"Whaddaya want, woman?" He asked without looking at her. She swung her crowbar at the wall just above Acachalla's head, a crash resounding through the house.
"Door. Now." She demanded. Acachalla nervously looked up to his wife and he saw the furious look in her eyes. "I'm going, I'm going, woman!" He yelped, pushing himself out of his couch and jogging to the door, the kids watching curiously.
Papa Acachalla opened the door to a man with a strangely serious smile in a suit. "If yer gonna sell me sometin', forget about it." Papa Acachalla growled, slamming the door. Or at least trying to, as the man was leaning forwards on the door, pushing it open.
"Oh I don't think so, Mister Acachalla." He said sternly. "I'm a social worker. And you have a bit of explaining to do regarding your children."
Papa Acachalla looked at him nervously. "Err, well, I'll be right back!" He said, quickly pushing the door closed. "SALLY, BILLY!" He yelled.
Billy got up, peeking from out of the television room. "Yeah, Papa?" He asked.
"Get in the basement! And take Sally with you!" Papa Acachalla shouted frantically. Billy, surprisingly enough, didn't ask any questions. He took Sally, dashing down the hall towards the trap door that lead to the basement as his younger sister asked if the basement had waffles.
Papa Acachalla opened the door again to the man. "Err, may I help you?" He asked, just as Gertrude walked up to Acachalla, her crowbar swinging passively at her side in her hand. "Okay, what's going on here?"
"Ah, Miss Acachalla." He smiled. "Perfect timing. Now let's discuss your children."
"You mean Sally and Billy?" She asked.
The man nodded, never breaking eye contact with the Acachalla and Gertrude. "Indeed. We have reports of gunfire, screaming, explosions, and even cars inside the walls of your house." He pulled out a file from a bag at his side. "What also concerns us is your children's school files." He handed the pale yellow file to Papa Acachalla, who opened it, knowing that any other action would not end too well.
"...It's empty." He said.
"And that is exactly what concerns us!" The man said, raising his voice. "We have warned you several times before. Are you certain that you and your wife are fit for being parents?"
Acachalla grimaced, letting Gertrude pipe in. "Of course! We've made it this far, right?" She said, her only response from Acachalla being a quick grunt.
"Mister and Miss Acachalla, this is your last warning." The man said. "I'll be back in a week, and unless you managed to clean up your act, I'm afraid we'll have to look for new parents for your children."
Acachalla sighed. "Sure. Now get outta my house." He grumbled. The man walked off, turning back to look at Papa Acachalla. "One week." He repeated. "One week."
Day two. The incident did not go unnoticed by anyone, especially Gertrude. She stood in front of her family, holding open a big black trash bag.
"They go in. Now." She said, looking her children in the eyes. Grudgingly, Billy handed over a small metal pistol, sobbing a bit.
"But what're we gonna do if we get attacked, mama?" He asked sadly, trying to restrain himself from snatching back the small gun.
"...Call the police, maybe?" She suggested. She was met with angry glares from the entire family.
"Nope!" Papa Acachalla growled. "There ain't no way that we're gonna call the police. Not with Maloney patrolling our area!" He held his rifle closer to himself, hugging it. "Yer not gettin' my gun from me!"
"Acachalla!" She yelled. "We need this for the kids!" She yelled, waving over at Billy and Sally. "We can't have them taken away!"
"No! Not ever am I gonna give up my gun!" He growled. Gertrude grabbed the gun from his hands, pulling as hard as she could. "Acachalla! Give me the gun!!" She yelled.
Sally looked nervously at her brother. "Billy," She said quietly, clutching her waffle gun. "what are they doing?"
Billy didn't say anything, barely able to tear his eyes away from the fight between his parents. He turned his head towards Sally, his face filled with confusion. He reached down and took the modified toaster from Sally's hands and placed it on the couch, his parents still fighting.
He took his little sister by the hand, staring at the fight going on between his parents in terror. "Let's just... go outside, Sally."
The two spent the rest of their day outdoors. Sally had taken to pushing Billy on a makeshift tire swing hanging from a branch of Sally’s tree house. Both were surprisingly quiet the entire time. The yelling from their house eventually died down as the sun fell.
The door to inside the house squeaked open, Gertrude poking out her head. Sally and Billy turned towards her, uncertain of what to do. She walked up to her children. “Kids, I…” She said.
Sally did not stop to wait to run up to Gertrude, sobbing. “Mama!” She cried, hugging her. Gertrude embraced Sally tenderly.
“It’s okay, Sally… Papa and I just had a little… disagreement…” Gertrude whispered to her daughter. “I’m sorry...” Billy just stood aside, watching it all unfold. He shook his head, backing up from the two.
"...Mama…” Billy said in quiet disbelief. ‘Papa Acachalla and Mama were supposed to be best friends… right?’ He thought to himself.
He ran back inside quickly, passing by Papa Acachalla in the living room, who looked legitimately tired on the couch, holding his head in his hands. Billy ran up the stairs to his room, locking he door before crawling into his bed and burying his face in his pillow.
A knock at the door.
“No! Go ‘way.” Billy yelled. There was another knock. “Billy, it’s me,” Came Papa Acachalla’s voice from behind the door. “Look, son. Sorry about what happened earlier… I still love you.”
Billy sat up in his bed sluggishly, staring at the whitish-grey walls of his room. “What about Mama Gertrude?”
Papa Acachalla was a bit taken aback by this. “Er, yeah. I still love 'er too. Look, son, we’re not perfect, and sometimes we disagree, but in the end, we’re still a family. Got it?”
“…Yeah, Papa. Got it.” Billy said after a while of hesitation. He heard his father say, “Good.” Before the loud thumping of his footsteps down the hall resounded, tapering off to silence.
The entire week was full of work, and nothing but work. Gertrude was the busiest. The bag of guns collected on the second day to be left inside the basement, only to be removed if there was an extreme emergency. The house was completely cleaned in order to make a nice second impression. Dishes were washed, old trash was tossed out, floors were mopped, and everything was nicer-looking overall.
Everybody in the family had pitched in to help in one way or another. By demand of Gertrude, Papa Acachalla tried to get over his “drinking choice,” although it never really worked out. Billy and Sally were required to help around the house, even if it meant only doing little things like dusting the blinds and making their beds. Several times, a case of bullets or a small bomb would be found, and those went straight to the basement along with the guns.
It was already the morning of the day that the social worker would come to check on the Acachalla family. Still, none of them were worried in the slightest.
Well, almost nobody.
Gertrude sat on the couch with Papa Acachalla, fiddling with her thumbs. She just simply couldn’t sit still. That man was coming back today. If she messed anything up, there goes any chance of her being able to stay with her children. All the time they spent together as a family, even if it was a bit strange, all out the window.
Papa Acachalla looked over to his frantic wife. “Gertrude,” He said. She immediately perked up at the sound of her name, a fearful look on her face. “Don’t you worry yourself none; it’s gonna work out fine!”
Gertrude jumped out of her seat, standing to face Papa Acachalla. “Acachalla! Do you know what’s at stake here!?” She was met by Acachalla’s deadpan look, infuriating her even more. “Our children!” She yelled. “Our children!! One wrong step and they’re gone!”
Papa Acachalla put a hand on her shoulder. “Look, yes, yer worried, but calm the heck down! It’s gonna be fine, okay?” Gertrude stood unconvinced. “It’s gonna work out, got it?” He reassured. “You’ve been workin’ all this time to make sure it won’t go wrong, and I be darned if it goes wrong. Got it? But right now all yer gettin’ yourself all worked up, and that ain’t gettin’ you nowhere.”
Gertrude stared at Acachalla, shocked. For once, he was probably right.
“Yeah, Mama,” Billy smiled from his place on the floor. “It’ll be fine… right?”
Gertrude couldn’t help but let off a bit of a smile herself. “…right.” She said, taking her seat by her husband.
The family sat in the living room together, watching television. Laughing together, cracking jokes together, talking together: it was family time all the same. Nothing, they thought, could darken their mood. Suddenly, the lights went out. Everyone paused in the dark. “A power outage?” Gertrude thought out loud. However a soft, menacing laugh told her otherwise.
“Maxwell…” Papa Acachalla growled. He got up, barking orders. “Everybody get outside! ‘E can’t sneak up on us if we’re in broad daylight!” Nobody objected. They made a beeline to the door, feeling their way out.
Billy, the one at the back of the group, felt something up against his back. He screamed. “The door! Open the door!” Suddenly the door was burst open, letting light flood in and nearly blinding everybody. The entire family scrambled outside in a disoriented flurry, then stopped for a second to let their eyes adjust. “Wh- What was that!?” Billy yelled, in shock from his encounter. Papa Acachalla looked at his son in the eyes, looking more serious than usual.
“Maxwell Acachalla.” Papa said, gently pushing his son away from the door to the house. “Ye better stay back; he’s dangerous.”
Gertrude was still staring at the door in shock. Shaking off her surprise, she walked over to Acachalla, debating on whether to be furious or afraid about what’s happening. “What does he want…?” She asked.
A sickly sweet and mellifluous voice resonated from the house. “Acachalla.” It said. “’Papa’ Acachalla, is it?” Papa Acachalla stormed up to the house, right up to the front door, empty-handed but prepared. ‘You heard the woman; whaddaya want!?” He yelled.
Suddenly, a wispy, humanoid form appeared out from the front door, somehow holding an unidentifiable object in its hand. He smiled, rolling the object around a bit in his palm. “The social worker comes today; is that not correct?”
Papa Acachalla grunted, crossing his arms fearlessly and standing face-to-face with Maxwell. “Yeah, so what?”
Maxwell grabbed Papa Acachalla by the front of his shirt and lifted him up threateningly. “You ruined my life, ‘Papa Acachalla,’” He snarled, spitting out Papa Acachalla’s name like a sour taste in his mouth. “You ditched me at the bank, remember?”
Papa Acachalla thrashed in Maxwell’s grip slightly. “Get to the point already and leave!” He yelled, frustrated.
“You ruined my life,” He said, flashing the object at Papa Acachalla quickly. The father gasped, becoming more frantic in his thrashing. “So I’ll ruin yours.” He lit the object, a small bomb, and tossed it into the house with a flick of his wrist.
Papa Acachalla was dropped onto the ground and kicked by Maxwell. The vengeful ghost looked up to the family in pride. “Remember the name of Maxwell Acachalla!” He hissed with joy, throwing back his head in laughter and vanishing.
The family stared at the house. For a second, it seemed like the bomb wouldn’t go off and it was broken. Maybe it was defective and didn’t work. They held their beliefs close to them, up until a great boom, like a shout, crushed their home in a fireball.
It felt like hours before somebody gathered the will to speak after watching their house go up in flames, and out of all people, that someone was Sally.
“…Mama?” She said nervously, glad she took her Father’s advice earlier and kept her distance from the house. “who’s car is that?” Sally pointed back towards a car that was parking at the front of the Acachalla’s driveway.
“I-“ Gertrude began, turning towards the car. A man stepped out, a stern look on his face and a black suit on. That same face and that same suit. He closed the door behind him after seeing the house and walked up to Gertrude.
“It’s people like you that make me sick.” He snapped, letting Gertrude flinch from the sound of his voice. “The children come with me. Now.”
“MAMA!!” Billy cried as he banged on the window of the car he was taken to. The man’s car, the one who wanted to take him away from his parents. “PAPA!”
Gertrude ran up to the car, trying to comfort her child even as a wall of glass separated them. “It’s okay, honey!” She said, pressing her hand against the window. “Mama and Papa are right here, okay?” However, the mother’s words could not calm her crying children. “…No, but it’s not okay!” Billy yelled, hitting his head against the window. “We’re never going to see each other again!”
The sound of the car’s engine starting began to roar in their ears, drowning out what either said. Gertrude’s faked smile dissipated and she began to scream. “NO!” She howled as the car moved forward, the great machine halfway taking care to not run over the mother.
And that was it. Billy began to feel the bumps of the road underneath him as they sped along. He looked to his sister, who was worn out and sad, slumped over in her seat beside him. She was drowsily picking at the seat belt that held her in place. That was another thing that bothered Billy. Papa Acachalla never made them wear seat belts. They were dangerous, and Billy knew it.
Out of the blue, Sally asked, “Mister?” She made the driver, the man in the suit, look back at her. “Yes?” He replied sweetly, but Billy knew better than to trust him.
“Where are we going?” Sally whimpered, clutching her seat belt. Billy saw the man’s all too friendly smile in the car mirror when the man heard Sally’s voice.
“It’s alright, sweetie. We’re going to a nice place with other boys and girls just like you.” He reclined in the driver’s seat a bit, eyes locked to the road. “A place without those nasty people who called themselves your parents watching over you all the time.”
Billy snapped, ripping off the seat belt to stand up as an act to try to prove himself. “You’re wrong!” He shouted. “They’re my mama and papa and they lo-“ The car jerked to the right, throwing Billy against the car door on Sally’s side.
“What was that?” The man in the suit asked, looking back at Billy and Sally for a second. He gasped. “My god, boy! Get back in your seat and buckle yourself!” Billy flinched at the sudden way the man snapped at them, and he instantly got himself back into his seat, fumbling with his buckle before finally clicking it into place.
The man looked back at Billy and Sally. “Boy, your seatbelt’s twisted…!” He yelled. “Ah never mind, we’re there already anyways.” The car eased to a stop, a loud, unhealthy screech coming from the bottom of the car. “Come on.”
Billy and Sally stepped out of the car after unbuckling, looking up at the building they were parked in front of. It was a house, two stories and a bit bigger than their own home. The walls were painted a sickly dull yellow, and a second row of concrete acting as a fence was covered crudely with thousands of little drawings, all apparently done by children.
“Well kids, this is your new house.” The man said proudly, stepping out of his little red car and pulling out a suitcase after him. Sally looked up at the man. “Does it have waffles?”
“No.” The man shook his head. “Well, not always.” Sally’s face twisted with sadness and she hung her head. “So…” He smiled. “Let’s go!”
The man took the two siblings hand-in-hand, leading them to the front of the house and opening the door with a creak. Inside, there was a small hallway, just barely wide enough for the three of them to stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The walls had drab white wallpaper with fading blue designs and the floor was wooden, causing a faint glow from the one too many times it’s been cleaned.
Sally, being easily fascinated, gaped at the hall in awe. Billy, however, had a scowl on the entire time the man was leading the two down the corridor, his destination a tall dark door on the left of the hall. This time the door opened much more softly, the only sound being a click from the doorknob and the swish of the swinging door.
Inside sat a fair-skinned woman in red glasses shuffling through stacks and stacks of papers. She glanced up to the man, looking him in the eye, and then turning her attention to the two children standing on either side of him.
“Oh, what’s this, Mister Nick?” She croaked, reaching for a mug of water. “More kids?”
The man nodded. He kneeled down to click open his briefcase, pulling out two worn yellow folders. “Their files, Miss Amanda. Their house, along with their parents, are supposedly still being investigated as we speak.” The man began to drone, however, the woman seemed to have forgotten him, holding the now opened files at a careful distance to read them.
“Sally Acachalla and Billy Acachalla, is it?” She asked, only getting a cold glare from the older brother. She chuckled softly, glancing back at the papers. “You’re fourteen, right, Billy?” Miss Amanda looked at Sally, who was trying not to be noticed. “And you, sweetheart, eight, is it?”
The two siblings looked at each other, confused, then back at the woman. “N-no.” Billy stuttered. “Five.” “Three!” Sally shouted.
The woman raised her eyebrows, Mister Nick walking over to whisper something into her ear. Billy wasn’t going to allow information as to what was going on slip so quickly, so he leaned in slightly to hear. However, the only words he could catch were “school” and “pity” in the man’s short barrage of words to the lady.
Miss Amanda nodded, looking back at the two siblings. She smiled, talking slower to them as one would do to a dog. “Yes. Okay. Follow me.” She got up from her office chair and walked out of the room, leading Billy and Sally further down the hall. She stopped at a red-painted door and faced Sally. “Now then. This is the girl's room.” Miss Amanda explained gently. “This is where you’ll be staying.”
The woman opened the door and ushered Sally in with a gentle shove. The girl hesitated, stopping in the frame. However, with another push from the older woman, she was in the room. Billy smiled and tried to follow her in, eager to get a glance of where he would be staying with his younger sister.
Miss Amanda grabbed Billy by the back of his shirt, chuckling softly. “Now where do you think you’re going, boy?”
Billy gulped as he looked back at the woman, her annoyed eyes framed by her red-rimmed glasses. “I-I… I was going with my sister… That’s what we’re gon’ be doing, right?” Billy said, getting even more and more unsure of himself by the minute.
The woman shook her head. “No. What made you think that?” She took Billy’s hand sharply, shutting the door behind her as she continued down the halls. Billy stared behind him in desperation, worried for his sister. Sally’s confused voice barely reached him from down the halls, muffled by the door.
“…Miss?” Billy croaked as the two continued down the corridor. She spared him a glance, her face hiding annoyance, albeit not very well.
“What?” She said simply, still walking forwards despite Billy’s slight tugging towards the room Sally was in.
“So… I can still meet up with Sally whenever, right?” He said with a bit of a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
“No.” Miss Amanda stated bluntly, crushing that hope. “The girls and the boys must be separated for the safety of everyone. You are no exception… Billy, was it?” Billy simply nodded, hanging his head low until he felt the older woman come to a stop.
She smiled. “We’re here!” She said with faked glee, simply trying to excite the boy. Billy glanced up. The door was painted sky blue. It had none of the tidy decorations of the girl’s room, however. It was just blue, simple and to the point.
Billy straightened himself, opening the door cautiously. Inside was a large room, rows upon rows of bunk beds were lined along the walls. The majority of the beds were claimed by boys, at least a dozen of them in all, and they were maybe a bit less than welcoming. Each and every one of them simply sat and stared at Billy quietly, not even making the slightest peep.
For whatever reason, the way every one of their eyes were focused solely on Billy unnerved him. “Go on.” Miss Amanda smiled, pushing him in in a way not unlike how she treated Sally. “Go and introduce yourself; you can come for lunch in a few hours.”
She closed the door behind her, giving everybody a small smile before walking off, leaving Billy alone in a room filled with people. Billy took another look at the boys, the large majority much younger than him. He sighed and made his way to an empty bed, a bottom one with the unnaturally neat sheets. He plopped down, face first into the pillow splayed across his bed.
“Look, son. Sorry about what happened earlier… I still love you.” Billy thought, remembering what his father said just a week ago. “We’re not perfect, and sometimes we disagree, but in the end, we’re still a family. Got it?”