Ch. 8: Peace

The wind howled and shrieked that night, brining with it only cold and discomfort. However, warm lights were burning bright in the living room of the ramshackle house on the hill. Had anyone been around, they would have seen the silhouettes of two women- one short and fat, the other tall and thin- lounging on the couches and sipping from tall glasses of wine. A peaceful enough scene from the outside, but there was no peace to be had within this particular house that night.

In an upstairs room, a little boy huddled on his bed under his rough wool blanket, trying his best to fend off the chilly breezes invading through his window. Shivering from both fear and cold, James tried to remain as still as possible to avoid drawing any attention to himself, but knew it would only be a matter of time before his two aunts sought him out. One of the first lessons he had learned upon coming to live with Spiker and Sponge was that they had the most uncanny ability to detect his every move and James knew that if he so much as set a foot down on the floor, his guardians would come storming into his bedroom.

Curling up under the blanket, James shuddered as a fresh gale made the window shutters rattle. Please let them forget, he thought to himself. Please let Auntie Sponge and Auntie Spiker forget they're mad at me. As it was, James wasn't exactly sure what he had done to aggravate his aunts that day, but for some reason, Spiker and Sponge had reason to want to punish him.

"Upstairs with you, you worthless thing," Spiker had yelled earlier, shaking a fist at him. "Your aunt Sponge and I will deal with you later!" Experience had taught James that the words "deal with you" were usually the prelude to a savage beating and he had long since given up trying to reason with them. "Disagreeing" with Spiker and Sponge always made a bad beating worse.

A crash downstairs jerked James out of his thoughts and he gave an involuntary yelp. Shaking, the little boy sat up and listened for his aunts' reactions; he could hear Spiker furiously complaining, but didn't hear his name (or his aunts' equivalent of it) mentioned. That was a good sign; perhaps they really had forgotten their earlier fury with him. The angry voices died down and James began to relax; he had huddled back down on his bed when he heard footsteps ascending the stairs and heading toward his room. Eyes wide with fear, James knew there would be no peace for him tonight.

Once again, the wind howled outside, making branches swing violently on their trees and sending any stray pedestrians scurrying for cover. James, who lying by the cheery blazing fireplace with his crayons and pad of paper, glanced out the window at the dark sky as a fresh gale rattled the windows. Miss Spider, who was sitting next to him looking over papers from her nightclub, also looked up.

"It is good we are all inside tonight," she observed, reaching out and running a comforting hand through James's hair. The small boy smiled at the action; Miss Spider always seemed to know when he was in need of a little reassurance.

"Centipede, must you keep switching the channels like that?" Mr. Grasshopper, who had been keeping an eye on James as well, now turned his full attention to fellow bug.

"You're reading the paper, so what's it to you?"

"It's distracting. Not just to me, but to everyone else, I'm sure."

"Yes. Yes it is."

Centipede raised an eyebrow at Earthworm, who was lying curled up on the rug in front of the couch. Mrs. Ladybug, sensing his confusion, spoke up.

"I believe the Earthworm finds the different sounds distracting, dear. It's probably best if you pick a show and stick with it." The maternal insect headed off to the kitchen, where the sound of a kettle reaching full boil was audible.

"Fine." James watched as Centipede settled on a family-friendly sitcom with a roll of his blue eyes. "If it'll give the rest of ya some peace."

James turned his attention back to his drawing, allowing the warmth of the fire and the company of his loving family to wash over him. As far as he was concerned, a peaceful night had never been in question.