Set Me Free

Disclaimer: I don't own the Hey Arnold! characters.

Author's Note: This first part was written from Helga's point of view. The next will be written in Arnold's own perspective as well. Following chapters will alternate between the two characters.

Helga: Rampant Chaos

Don't say I'm out of touch

With this rampant chaos-your reality

I know well what lies beyond my sleeping refuge

The nightmare I built my own world to escape...

Evanescence, "Imaginary"

May 2001

"Damn it!" I moaned in disappointment.

The clock radio on the nightstand next to my bed was practically blaring deafening alternative music in my ears, interrupting another marvelous Arnold dream. Even though I must've had at least one every night, they were never long enough for my satisfaction. As usual, I smothered the urge to hurl the contraption against the wall and forced myself out of the inviting comfort of my bed to start another unpromising day.

"Man, I feel like I've been hit by a truck!" I groaned, clutching my throbbing head. "I'm going to need a ton of coffee before I'm fit for human contact."

I smiled at the irony of my last remark. If anything, I was on the verge of being completely antisocial. There were not many people in the world whom I really liked and fewer still that I truly respected. With my abrasive wit and Old Betsy and the Five Avengers as constant companions, I was able to keep all those saps and maroons at bay.

Arnold was my greatest reason for not abandoning humanity altogether. I'd been in love with him since preschool, for he was the first to notice me as an actual individual and not as some shadow of my perfect sister Olga. Even after I'd earned my blustery, scornful bitch reputation, Arnold still believed my behavior was nothing more than a veneer to cover up the softer side he once knew.

That was what I admired most about Arnold: his altruistic personality. You don't find a lot of his kind around anymore, especially those willing to practice the ideals that the rest of us would leave to theory. I couldn't begin to tell of the countless Good Samaritan deeds he'd done over the years for the betterment of our neighborhood.

Nevertheless, as deep as my devotion was, I knew I could never reveal my feelings to Arnold. I had nothing to offer him. Not that he'd received any encouragement from me other than contemptuous bullying, which I had to do in order to fully control and conceal my affections.

All right, I was also a coward. Beyond my insecurities about myself, of which were numerous, I had no wish to subject myself to the vulnerability that results from exposing yourself to the scrutiny of others. The only one I'd officially let society lay claim on me was my best friend, Phoebe Heyerdahl. No one else was deemed necessary to be privy to my inner thoughts, least of all Arnold. It was much safer to nurture my growing passion in private.

Obsession is more like it, I thought, grinning broadly in amusement. I hopped out of bed, strode up to my closet, and threw open the door. In the front were several cardboard boxes containing books full of Arnold-inspired poetry and prose. Behind the clothes hanging in there was my Arnold shrine occupying the very back as it always had. Anymore I didn't chant to it or dance around my room while wearing the head, yet I did prefer to keep it around for old times' sake. Usually I would end up sprawled out next to the shrine whenever I was scribbling my sentiments down in this notebook or that. In fact, I planned to do just that before I had to get ready for school...

A loud knock thwarted my efforts. Irritated, I dropped the book I had picked up back on the stack where it came from and marched out, slamming the closet shut behind me.

"Helga?" It was my mother. "Are you awake?" She turned the knob on the hall door several times, but it wouldn't budge. "Honey, are you all right? The door's locked."

Well, doy, of course it is, I silently answered her, rolling my eyes. How else can I get any privacy around here?

Aloud I retorted, "Everything's just peachy here, Miriam." I unclasped the bolt on the hall door and cracked it open, adding dryly, "And you?"

Mom appeared exceptionally haggard this morning, even for her uncomfortable habit of sleeping on the couch. I suspected she was suffering from another hangover brought on by spiking too many smoothies. Although she must've indulged in this activity on the sly for years, I hadn't caught on until I was twelve.

"Could you keep the music down?" my mother requested, adjusting her wire-frame glasses over her nose. "B.'s complaining that he can hear it all the way down the hall."

I had forgotten about that. Shrugging indifferently, I flipped the radio off. It wasn't like I wanted to listen to it, it was just a convenient way to drag my ass out of bed in the morning without having to rely on people like my irresponsible mother, who was too busy "looking for her keys". Believe me, if my parents, for all their blatant favoritism and neglect, had taught me anything, it was independence.

The silence didn't last long. "Miriam!" my father roared.

"Uh-oh," Miriam mumbled to herself. "I better go see what's bothering B."

Bob materialized in front of us, saving her the trouble. Instead of wearing his usual polo shirt and khaki pants, he was in a suit, which slightly surprised me. Dad must be meeting with someone important enough to impress, I guessed. Miriam and I are sure to hear about that one later.

"B., what's wrong?" Mom sputtered.

I snorted derisively. "As if it isn't already apparent Bob's pissed at you, Miriam," I muttered to myself.

Evidently I needed to improve on scoffing under my breath. Bob's head twisted around toward me so fast that I swore it could've snapped off. "HEY, HEY, HEY! What was that, little lady? Are you disrespecting your mother?"

Funny he should word it that way. Wasn't the situation reversed just a moment ago? I felt like telling him, "Hey, hey, hey, if you can't tolerate the same shit you deal out, at least recognize the hypocrisy in yourself."

However, the hallowed day in which I would be able to irrevocably affront my old man was still frustratingly out of my grasp. I wasn't even in high school yet, or, rather, I wouldn't be until my eighth grade graduation later this month. For now, I'd have to settle on using a more indirect method of conveying deviousness in my house.

"It was nothing, Dad," I replied coldly.

Dad didn't even blink. "Report to the trophy room pronto after school, Helga!" he bellowed, sticking a thick forefinger in my face. "Now get ready for school! I have to talk to your mother."

Immediately Bob launched into a tirade about how Miriam misplaced his shaving cream with the cheese fizz again. Why don't they admit it's a lost cause and get a divorce? I glowered sullenly, stalking my way into the bathroom.

Once I hopped into the shower, though, my temper cooled, and with its departure, concern set in. This is serious, I thought. Bob never calls me by my right name, much less summon me into Olga's own private shrine, unless I really am in trouble.