Dear Anders’ mother, I have no idea where you are or what your name is, but Anders told me that you love me and that I can trust you, so I’m writing you now.
Two hollow knocks sounded from Miranda’s door. He leaned to his left from where he was seated on the bed and pulled the door open, allowing the woman who’d taken him from the Lab to enter the room.
“Miranda, how is everything going?” LaJean twirled around and brushed her hand across one of the many crucifixes hanging on the far wall around the bay window. Her skirt fluttered in Miranda’s face as she passed by, causing him to pull his notebook closer and turn his face away in annoyance. “Is this room of acceptable quality?”
“I guess so.” He closed his notebook and sat up, brushing the creases out of his plain white shirt that LaJean had so graciously lent to him the day before. “Where are all of the women that you promised would be here?”
“They’ll be arriving soon.” LaJean turned back towards Miranda, clasping her hands together. “So sorry that you couldn’t attend church with us yesterday. It was absolutely delightful, seeing the pastor up there preaching about the Holy Kingdom.”
“Okay…” Miranda reopened his notebook to the first page. He traced over one of the swirls from yesterday, trying to block out the memory of hearing Anders’ distraught voice on the TV. “You’re not going to lock me up in the basement again, are you?”
“The police already came by and found nothing.” LaJean tipped her floppy hat in Miranda’s direction and exited the room, dancing into her own room across the hallway with light feet. “As you might have guessed. Do you think that the women will be here in a few minutes? Or should I call up Sheila and start questioning? She might have gotten everybody distracted by the nail salon at the local Walmart again.”
“Do what you want to do.” Miranda blocked out the rest of LaJean’s airy drivel as he flipped back to the page with the letter and continued to write. Your son is simultaneously everything I love and everything I fear. When I’m in his arms, I feel peace. I feel home. But there were nights when I feared for the safety of my child and of myself. There were nights where I wasn’t sure that I would see the light of day the next morning.
The doorbell rang as Miranda dotted the page with a period, and LaJean whipped out of her room. A commotion of voices rang at the front door as Miranda put his pen to his lips, pondering the next statement to write.
“Why, yes, the lovely Miranda is awake at last!” LaJean’s voice separated from the group, and high heels were flung off and neatly set by the heating vent as LaJean opened Miranda’s door open a crack. “Are you ready to meet my friends?”
“Fine, whatever.” Miranda set his own down and closed the notebook, stashing it beneath his pillow before joining the women in the living room. As soon as he peered around the hallway corner and caught sight of the five young women- they could possibly be college graduates!- sitting neatly with crossed legs on the couch, he froze in place.
“I’m Claude.” The first woman stood up, setting her floral hat down and mussing her pixie cut as she forced Miranda to come fully into the living room and shake her hand. Her scarlet lips twitched as she inquired, “Are you okay?”
“I’m…” Is astonished the correct word? A bit of fearful mixed in as well? The last woman on the couch fidgeted a bit, adding to the stress building up in Miranda. “Nervous? Maybe?”
“We’re God-fearing women. Nothing to be nervous about here.” The second woman stood up, also opting to shake Miranda’s hand- but unlike Claude’s, hers were freshly trimmed and painted with a clear coat. “I’m Sheila.” She scratched the freckles spattered across her face. “We’ll probably end up being better friends than the rest of these buttheads here.”
“Come on, now, Sheila, you don’t mean it!” The next person didn’t bother to get up off the couch, choosing instead to simply wave a darker hand and then recline on the couch. “I’m Audette. Sheila’s the only butthead here.”
Peals of laughter sounded across the room as the next girl “And I’m Maine.” She also chose not to stand up, brushing off her dusty jeans instead. Her plain face contorted as she added, “Don’t expect any special favors out of me. Unless they’re garden related.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Then irritate me all you want.”
LaJean slipped in front of Claude, eliciting a disdainful glare as Claude stepped back towards the couch to make space. She pointed to the last girl sitting on the couch as she explained, “That’s Alice. She hasn’t spoken a single word ever since she came here, so you have to explain things to her especially well if you want any work out of her.” LaJean turned around towards the kitchen and yelled, “Jeaneé! Come on out! I know you’re hiding in the kitchen cupboards!”
“Just one more moment, please, Madame!” A few cans clattered to the floor in the kitchen, and a ragged mess of a girl came crawling out of the door nearest the fridge. “You called?”
LaJean extended a hand behind her and pointed at Miranda. “Here is our newest guest. Won’t you say hi?”
Jeaneé eyeballed Miranda, and he shuddered as he remembered the creature who’d attacked him. Jeaneé bore a strikingly similar appearance to the freak, except that she was considerably healthier and could have passed for a twisted cosplayer of a white-striped ghost if she had chosen to stand up straight. Jeaneé brushed a lock of faded orange out of her eyes and behind her ear as she raised one arm up to also point at Miranda. “Woman. Touch demon.”
“Demon?” LaJean’s arms dropped as Miranda crossed his across his chest, taking a few steps back as Jeaneé crawled a few feet forward. LaJean turned her attention from the freakish girl to Miranda. “Have you consorted with demons?”
“Does telling one to screw off count?”
Silence fell over the whole group for a few moments before those who had hats discarded them onto the coffee table. Everybody, with the exception of Miranda, rolled up their sleeves and advanced on the androgyne.
“What are you doing?” Miranda held his hands out as the women creeped a few feet forward. “I haven’t made any deals with the devil or any of them! What’s your problem?”
LaJean’s eyebrows lowered. “All those who pass through this house must be cleansed of any demonic activity before coming to rest.”
“But I don’t have any demons!” Miranda stepped back, passing by the door of his room as the women, followed by a wildly-grinning Jeaneé, pushed him towards the bathroom at the end of the hallway. “In fact, I resisted them!”
“You have come into contact with one. I’m pretty sure you don’t want to defile this household.” LaJean laid an arm on Miranda, causing him to freeze right outside the bathroom door. “If you’re not possessed, then surely you won’t object to a shower.”
“A group shower?” LaJean reached around Miranda, opening the door so that he could enter and take his clothes off. “I’m really not into women, so I’d prefer not to.”
“Not a group shower. Nobody’s getting dirty today.” LaJean closed the door on Miranda. He stood in silence for a few moments, admiring the golden-framed mirror hanging above the sink, before sliding his shirt off and undoing the buttons of his jeans. “Please don’t take long, Miranda.”
“I won’t.” He dropped his jeans in the corner and slid off his undergarments, exposing his skin to the bathroom air before hiding behind the shower curtain. “You can come in now.”
LaJean opened the door and slunk in, softly kicking Miranda’s clothes to the side before allowing Claude and Audette to join her. Claude peeled the plastic off of a bottle of shampoo before handing it to Audette and peering behind the shower curtain. Miranda turned away from Claude’s eyes, instinctively shielding his crotch with his hands.
Claude stared at the back of Miranda’s body with wide eyes for a few moments, unsure whether or not she should be scared witless. “Miranda?”
“Yes, I have man parts. No, a demon did not make me this way. Please just get on with your purifying shower thing.”
“Alright.” Claude handed the shampoo bottle to Miranda, and she looked away as he turned around to receive it. “We’ll be waiting here.”