Margie Clifford reached over the kitchen sink, pulled the little ruffled curtains aside and gazed into the face of the new morning. Grey and overcast. Probably going to rain. She glanced at the outdoor thermometer affixed to the side of the window. And chilly too.
"Joey," the woman called out, truning from the window, "I want you to put on a sweater. It's going to be cold today."
As Margie filled a bowl with hot oatmeal, toast and juice already sitting beside the Ghostbusters bowl, Joey entered the cheerful kitchen, carelessly tossing his jacket and books on a chair.
"Here," Margie said, straightening his sweater, "now that's much better. I want you to wear your blue jacket too."
"Don't 'aw mom' me, little man. I want my son to be healthy and to grow up big and strong."
Joey had straight brown hair that always seemed to be a little too long, even a few days after a trip to the barber, and he was constantly brushing it out of his big brown eyes. He was nine years old - excuse me, nine and a half - and an occasional bruise gave the impression that he was a rowdy little fellow. The fact of the matter was, Joseph George Clifford, Joey to everyone who knew him, was rather quiet and withdrawn on the playground. He did not play much with the other children and spent a great deal of time in his room drawing pictures - pictures usually of his mother. Joey's father was dead. He had been dead for a long time. His mother told him that he had died when Joey was just a little baby. It had been a hunting accident. Edward Clifford was an avid hunter. He loved hunting so much that he had convinced Margie to go with him a few times. Ed had even given her her own gun - excuse me again, rifle. Margie did not like to think about all of that.
"Now you have plenty of time," she told her son, "so eat all of your oatmeal and toast and drink your juice, little man."
"Aw moooom..." You rather expected that to follow practically everything Margie said to her pride-and-joy.
The woman turned towards the toaster when she heard her toast pop up - toast and coffee being her breakfast. When Margie caught her reflection in the side of the always shiny chrome surface of the kitchen appliance she stopped for a second, inspected herself and fluffed up her red hair. Not bad for thirty-eight. Not bad at all. Then she sighed heavily. Now if only I had the time to go out and have men notice me. Since Ed's death she seemed to have little time for dating, and at her age dating seemed so ... so juvenile. Besides, she was beginning to think that men no longer found her attractive. That the "laugh lines" and "characteric lines" in her face were regarded by men simply as wrinkles. If a woman was not in her twenties, once she had passed the thirty mark, well, she was over the hill.
At least she was still rather attractive ... despite the "character lines" ... and little Jocelyn had looked so much like her, just as Joey strongly resembled his father ...
How long has it been since I thought of her last?
How long has it been since that day?
Jocelyn was Joey's older sister, but she too was now gone. Another tragic accident. Margie had taken little Joey to the doctor's - nothing really important, as it turned out. Margie never took chances with his health and safety - especially now. While they were gone Ed was working in the basement. He had a little wood shop down there, as well as an old army surplus cot that he sometimes took naps on when he was tinkering for long hours. The coroner's report said that Jocelyn had died as a result of a bad fall down the basement stairs. Margie remembered her delicate, limp body, covered with bruises, her pink dress eschew, as it laid there at the bottom of the steps, perfectly motionless. She found Ed sitting on the edge of his cot, his tear-streaked face frozen into a wide-eyed gaze at the body of their child.
Margie shook herself.
She did not want to think about any of this!
A horn sounded outside.
"There's your bus, honey. Here's your lunch," she handed him a Ghostbusters lunch box and kissed him on the cheek. "Now be careful and have a fun day. Mommy loves you."
Margie watched as Joey ran to the bus and boarded it. After the lumbering yellow vehicular anachronism ground its gears and pulled away, Margie turned on the radio before sitting down to finish her coffee and toast.
"And that was the Starship with The Children here on WYRD, 93.1 FM in Pittsburgh. I'm your host, Jeri Brown," the soft feminine voice said, "and it is time for the news.
"Lester M. Olsen was released today with all charges against him dropped. When Judge Casey was questioned he replied that the evidence against the accused child molester was circumstantial and that because of a technical irregularity he had no other choice but to dismiss all charges against Olsen."
The wall 'phone rang. Margie got up to answer it, ignoring the rest of the radio newscast.
"Hello? Oh, hi Sharon! No. I'm afraid I won't be able to today. What? Oh, it's nothing really. I just have some cleaning up to do, that's all. Okay. Sure. Fine. See you later then. Bye, Sharon."
Replacing the telephone receiver, Margie turned her attention back to the radio.
"The NRA, that's the National Rifle Association," Jeri Brown said, "is up in arms over a new bill being set before Congress that seeks tighter regulations in the handgun issue."
Gun control, Margie thought. There just can't be enough of that to suit me.
She caught her reflection in the toaster again. Her reflection smiled back at her ... but it was not a friendly smile.
Joey was having a typical day at school, and as was occasionally the case, Mike Dolan and his pals came over to him in the lunchroom. Joey was not sure why Mike always picked on him with special vim and vigour. Maybe it was because he was getting pretty good grades, raised his hand a lot and answered questions correctly when the teachers, most of whom liked Joey, called upon him. Maybe it was just because Mike had red hair and freckles and kids that looked like that often tended to be bullies to make up for it ... and often picked on kids that looked like Joey because they were envious and jealous.
"Howya doin', Jo-ee?" Joey tried to ignore him and just eat his lunch. Maybe he would go away. "I see mommy gave her 'little man' a nice little 'kiss' again." Ignoring him would not work. It never did. Joey absently wiped the lipstick from his cheek, wishing that Mike had never heard his mom call him "little man". "So didcha give your mommy a great big hug, 'little man'? You're the man of the house now, Jo-ee, and your momma's got needs ya know." Of course Mike was not completely aware of the meaning of his innuendo, but he had heard his father speaking in much the same way and whatever it meant exactly did not matter to Mike since it obviously upset Joey and that was, after all, the only thing he cared about.
"You shut up, Mike! Just shut up!"
When Joey suddenly turned upon him, Mike was startled. Usually he just walked away. After the initial surprise, Mike looked first to Danny on his left and then Frank on his right, then back to Joey with anger in his eyes. He felt as if he had just been challenged.
"What's the matter, 'little man'? Can't you do the job?" Again he was not certain about the meaning of his words, yet again he had heard his father say that to another man once and it had succeeded in humiliating the man.
"Why youuuuu...!" Joey tore into Mike with fists windmilling. Mike, however, was ready for it, somewhat bigger and more experienced when it came to fighting. Within moments Joey was sitting down hard with a nose bleed.
"You'd better be careful next time, Jo-ee," Mike said, standing over him. A teacher, Miss Snyder, came rushing up to the boys. She had only caught the last part of the show, Joey falling down, and asked what was going on. "Joey fell down, Miss Snyder," Mike replied with mock wide-eyed innocence. "He's always falling down." Mike looked at Joey who was glaring angrily at him. "That's what his mother says."
The old Ford station wagon had a tendency to stall every time Margie had to stop for lights and signs. Whistfully she thought about how it was when Ed was alive. He was not the greatest mechanic in the world, but he would tinker with the car and get it running again, eventually. She really knew nothing about automobiles, and right now she just could not afford to take it to a mechanic.
Her father had also been good with his hands. Often he did not know what he was doing when he started, but once he got to tinkering with something he usually figured it out and had it running pretty good. Sure it took him longer to fix something than it would have taken an experienced repairman, and sometimes he had to do it a few times to get it right, but when he did get something broken back in working order he took such pride in his handiwork.
And he got so angry that time Margie accidentally broke the alarm clock he had just repaired.
Margie was quite young then, about as old as Joey is now, and her father lost his temper often.
When her father, "Big Jim", was not angry with her he was very loving and tender with Margie. Extremely loving and tender. However, Margie always seemed to accidentally find a way to get him angry. Of course that was because she was a "bad girl." She was not certain why she was so "bad", but it had been drilled into her that she was and as a mature woman with children ... a child ... of her own she merely accepted it as a fact. And whenever she was bad she would be punished, which was, after all, the right thing for her father to do. Her mother was also punished for being bad, she remembered, but thinking about this bothered Margie because she found it even more difficult to understand how her mother had been "bad". Her mother took care of Margie and "Big Jim", cooking, cleaning, attending even to yard work and other chores often considered to be "men's work" while her father worked in the garage on one thing or another. In the evenings, after cooking dinner and washing the dishes - Margie sometimes drying and God forbid she should drop a dish and it be heard by "Big Jim"! - Margie's mother would work as a cleaning woman in the downtown office buildings. Then, of course, after coming home very tired from a full day, Margie's mother was expcted to do "the bedroom thing" - that's what Margie called it when she was little, not understanding what "the bedroom thing" was. She would lay awake since she never fell asleep quickly and listen to the sound of the bed springs, their rhythmic squeaking, grunting sounds from "Big Jim", and occasionally a hint of the carefully stifled sobs of her mother. Poor mommy.
That was a long long time ago.
Both of her parents were dead now. Her mother had died in an accident. She had fallen down the front steps. Funny, Margie thought, it never dawned on me before, at least I don't think it has, but both mother and Jocelyn died in accidents falling down stairs. How very odd...
Margie's father eventually had one stroke too many and ended up in a nursing home, unable to care for himself. Yet, every day of his remaining years on earth Margie visited him, fed him, often changed his sheets when he had messed himself, and showed him the tenderest love she could. At the funeral, however, after he had finally had one more stroke, she shed not a tear. Over and over again, as she stood there at the grave site, the priest eulogizing her dearly departed father, a loving husband, Margie replayed the last moments of his life in her mind. She was alone with him in the room. She was teasing him. Really. She was only teasing. She was not really going to turn off the oxygen that "Big Jim" had to have in his last days due to sluggish lungs.
She was just teasing. Just trying to cheer her father up with a little horsing around. She did not mean for him to have another and final stroke.
The balding man chomping on the cigar in the Mercedes behind her honked his horn angrily, and Margie realized that she was sitting motionless at a green light. The car had stalled and by the time she got the engine going again the traffic light had changed back to red. The man behind her gripped his steering wheel in a strangle hold and looked heavenward as if to say, "Dear Lord, why did you create women drivers?"
Margie smiled, studying the man's frustration in her rearview mirror.
He probably punishes his wife and children.
"I may be seeing you again sometime," she said softly to herself as the light changed and she pulled away from the man in the Mercedes.
Margie reached down, picked up the page torn out of the 'phone book that was sitting on the seat beside her, double checked the address on it, circled in blood-red, then set it back down upon the vinyl.
There was something else resting on the seat beside her. Something small, wrapped in a dirty looking oil rag. Her husband Ed, the great white hunter, the macho man protector of the family, had once bought it illegally and supposedly for his family's protection.
It had become a handy little tool these past several years after Ed's untimely death.
The man's hair was thinning, his hairline had receeded, and he needed a shave, yet he retained a childlike quality about his face and little ten year old Nicki did not think of him as a grownup. Not exactly. Only sometimes, and most of the time she felt safe and loved when around him. Yet there were also times when he was a little scary. Especially when he touched her. Most especially when she was reluctant to let him touch her.
As always he spoke softly, soothingly, offering her all kinds of goodies, the kind of sweet things her mommy and daddy would not allow her to have, and little Nicki let him touch her. She let him touch her because he was nice to her ... and because she did not want him to get scary.
And Lester Olsen loved this pure and innocent little girl. Yes, he loved her very very much. So sweet. So untarnished by adulthood. She would not refuse him like so many women have. She would not be rude to him, call him nasty names and humiliate him in public. Lester would not get those filthy diseases that those over-painted, self-loving sluts carried around in their uterus. He would not contract and die from those diseases ... not from sweet, guileless little Nicki. No, not from Nicki. Lester would only receive pure tenderness, love, affection and trust from Nicki. Lester's little friend. Lester's little girlfriend.
And she was not the first.
And Lester thought that she would probably not be the last.
Margie sat in the station wagon across the street and parked at the curb. She was waiting for someone to leave and while waiting she gazed out into the dismal overcast day, her mind projecting memories on the grey clouds overhead.
There had been fights. Real fights, not just arguments. Sometimes, when he had really lost his temper, Ed hit her. Hit her hard. Usually he hit her in places where the bruises could be easily hidden by clothing. And when, one day, they were fighting about Jocelyn, before their little daughter had her fatal accident, she made the mistake of screaming at him, "You're just like my father was!" He knocked her unconscious that time.
When Margie regained consciousness she heard her daughter crying. Steadying herself, she went upstairs, practically dragging her body up, pulling on the railing as she was still quite dizzy. Ed was gone. He had gone out, probably to tie one on at the local bar. Jocelyn was laying on her bed, sobbing into her frilly pink pillow.
She was naked ... and bruised.
A dog stood in the road outside of her car, barking, and it caused Margie to interrupt her memory movie.
"Go away! Shoo! Shoo!"
A car drove by, honking its horn at the dog, and the mutt took off after it for a couple of blocks before giving up and dejectedly slinking home.
Margie glanced at the house and then leaned back again to stare up through the windshield.
There had been an explosion when Ed fired his rifle. The rabbit escaped, but her husband had not. The weapon was blown practically in two and, well, there really was not much left of her husband's head after that. It was terribly messy.
The death was clearly accidental. Ed Clifford and obviously failed to check his rifle before going out to hunt, taking his wife Margie with him, and so he did not notice that the barrel was jammed. He did not discover the obstruction in the way of the bullet, that is, until it was too late. No one knew exactly how the thick screw had gotten lodged in the barrel, but it was assumed that because he kept the rifle in his wood shop it must have somehow been due to his own carelessness. There were hundreds of accidents, many fatal, during hunting season, and each one was due to carelessness.
Margie was the model grieving widow after that, although her friend Sharon noticed that she had not shed a single tear during the funeral. Sharon tried to get her to cry, felt it was necessary for Margie to cry and get it out of her system, but to no avail. Later that evening, alone in her bedroom, gazing into the vanity mirror, Margie did cry, however, saying over and over again, "Daddy won't hurt you now because daddy's gone. Daddy's been punished. Daddy won't hurt you any more."
Margie heard a door open then close. She stirred herself and turned to look across the street. A little girl, about Joey's age, she noted, was leaving a house. She was a sweet little thing, but she looked scared and ashamed. As the little girl walked away from the house she hung her head as low as she could ... and Margie was not certain, but she thought that the girl might be crying, just a little.
Margie removed the blue metal object from the oil rag, popped it into her purse, and left the car to cross the street. In moments she was ringing the doorbell of the house that the little girl had come from.
The man who answered the door was slight and childlike, perhaps only five feet, six inches tall. His hair was thinning - his hairline receeding.
"I've seen you around," she lied with a suggestive air; "I just moved in down the street, and I thought that, well," she flirted with her eyes teasingly, "that we might get to know one another. My name is Margie."
At first the man was surprised as this was an unusual event in his life, then his face lit up with pleasure as he offered his hand to the attractive redhead.
"I'm Lester. Lester Olsen. Please ... please, come right in!"
"Thank you ... Lester."
He closed the door behind her. There was a magazine sitting on an end table that Lester noticed her eyes had fallen upon and which he then quickly grabbed up to hide away as casually as he could. Margie did not quite catch the title of the magazine, but she did catch the colour photograph of two naked children on the cover - a boy and a girl. Somehow she managed to maintain her inviting smile anyway.
"Can I get you something to drink ... Margie? Oh! Here! Please sit down. Make yourself comfortable."
As Margie sat down on the sofa (not the chair, Lester noted) he dashed into the kitchen then quickly returned.
"I hope this is all right. I only have soft drinks I'm afraid."
"Really, Lester, you don't have to bother. I would really just like to sit here and talk with you for a while." She patted the couch beside her.
His eyes wide with pleasure and surprise, Lester set the soft drinks down and took his seat beside the woman, close to her, eagerly but with a bit of timidity.
This had simply never happened to him before and all he could think about was the possible fulfillment of an old fantasy he had nearly given up.
This redhead, he noticed, had a few lines at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth, but she did not seem terribly old. There was a youthful quality about her face, when she smiled, and her small breasts enhanced the illusion of youth.
"Do you like me, Lester?"
"Y - yes. Oh, very much!"
"Do you like girls, Lester?"
Lester simply shook his head eagerly in affirmation and licked his lips, wetting the canker sore just forming at the corner of his mouth.
"Young girls, Lester?"
Although she was still smiling and sensually teasing, there was something about the way she asked that particular question, something about the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes, that worried Lester.
"Very young girls, Lester? And sometimes little boys?"
"Who are you?" Lester Olsen had become suspicious. For a moment he thought that Margie might be a police woman, but he quickly dismissed the notion.
"I told you who I am, dear. Margie. Don't you remember me?"
"Why should I remember you? I never saw you before!"
"But I've seen you, Lester." The man froze as she slipped the unregistered handgun out of her purse and smoothly rested the barrel on his thigh. "I've seen you on the television, in the newspapers, and every time the news comes on the radio, there you are again, daddy. Everywhere I go, no matter what I try to do, there you are. And each time the television, the newspapers, the radio, they all say that you are not going to be punished for being bad."
"Lady ... I d - don't ..." When the woman jammed the barrel of the pistol into his crotch, Lester Olsen groaned in pain and fear, too frightened to make a move, sweat pouring down his face.
"Every time you wear a different face, daddy. You use a different name. Big Jim. Ed. Richard. Sam. Now Lester. But I know you, daddy. You can't fool your little princess. No matter what you look like, or what you call yourself, I always know you, daddy, by what you do."
"M - miss ... please ... please ..."
"It's always the same, isn't it? You just never learn. Time and time again I have to punish you, daddy. Over and over and over again I have to teach you a lesson, but you keep coming back. You keep doing those bad, bad things, daddy. Well, I'm a big girl now. I'm all grown up and now I have to punish you. I have to teach you a lesson, daddy, because you've been a very bad boy."
"Oh, God, no ... please, lady ... no ...no ..."
The sound of the pistol was muffled so that it went completely unnoticed in the neighbourhood. Margie calmly left the house, smiling, got into her car and slowly drove away from the residence of Lester M. Olsen. Behind her an unmarked police car came up the street, pulled over to the curb and parked almost in the exactly same spot she had parked earlier. Detective Walsh was late. He had been assigned to watch Lester Olsen's house. It was hoped that he could be caught in the act this time and that the child molester would finally be put behind bars where the majority of inmates would show him what they think of criminals of his kind. Sure he might scream harassment, but Walsh's captain was convinced that the accusation would be overlooked ... under the circumstances. It was possible that a clever lawyer might get him out of a prison sentence by pleading insanity, but that was okay too. It would at least get Olsen off the streets for a while. And if Olsen was once again set free, well, the captain had ways of dealing with such injustices in a manner that made the troubling memories of his father go away for a while.
Walsh glanced at the house, never paid the car that was there before him any notice, picked up the morning newspaper and began to read it. He hated stake outs. They were so boring. That was why he had that extra cup of coffee and another donut before going on duty.
For three days either Detective Walsh or Wally "the walrus" Windham watched the house of Lester Olsen before they finally realized that something was wrong. It was Walsh who eventually knocked on the front door, received no answer, noticed the awful smell, and then kicked in the door to find Lester laying on his livingroom floor in a pool of dried blood. He was quite dead by then. He had been shot in the groin and had bled to death.
There was a time when Walsh was still in uniform that such a sight would have made him give up his cookies - or donuts, as the case may be - but now he merely put his handkerchief up to his nose and mouth, shook his head, and under his breath said to himself, "An equitable solution to the problem."
Margie had just seen Joey off to school and she was sitting down to her usual breakfast of coffee and toast. For the past few days she felt very good. As if a great weight had been removed from her chest. She had felt so good that even when Joey was being a bad boy she did not punish him. Instead, she was more affectionate and loving to her son. Much more affectionate. Joey was a little uncomfortable about it as usual, but it was better than the other times when mommy was mad at him. Lots better.
Absently, as was her habit, the woman turned on the radio.
"This is WYRD, 93.1 FM in Pittsburgh, and I am Jeri Brown, which you sleepy heads should know by now. And guess what? It's time for the news.
"Late last night Lester M. Olsen, charged with child molestation but released by Judge Casey on a technicality, was found murdered in his home. The police refused to give details regarding the murder, saying only that he had been discovered during a routine check on the alleged sex offender. Coincidentally, while Olsen's body was discovered, Amos Buser of Butler County, Pennsylvania, was being released upon his own recognizance after being arrested for child abuse and molestation."
Margie sighed heavily.
Well, that certainly changes my plans for the day. Maybe I can get Sharon to babysit for a while. Butler is a pretty good drive. I don't think I can get back in time to be here for Joey.
"You just won't learn, will you, daddy? I have to keep punishing you over and over again."
"That's it for the news," the woman disc jockey announced, "and now for a little music. Relax. Take a break and get ready for that busy day ahead of you and listen to this selection from Pink Floyd. Echoes."
Author's Note: This story was originally written on the 3rd of October of 1987 E.V., and I guess you could say that it is an example of several old æon problems in society that will hopefully be solved in the New Æon of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child.