Newt stared at her reflection in the mirror. She stuck her tongue out at the reflection. The reflection stuck its tongue out back at her. She pulled her tongue back in and wrinkled her nose. The five small freckles centered on the tip of her nose bounced up and down in the mirror until she unwrinkled her nose again.
“Dressing up as Marie Antoinette may have been a serious mistake,” she announced to no one in particular, then continued, “but it’s definitely too late now to do anything about it.”
She tugged the dress upward again. It had obviously been cut for someone who was, well, built with just a bit more curves than she had. The dress didn’t move. It fit her perfectly in the lower torso, but there was definitely something lacking about the fit in the upper torso. She understood completely that what was lacking wasn’t the dress. It was her. Specifically, there were certain parts of what she considered to be her “severely underdeveloped body”, that were apparently necessary for the dress to fit properly, and which she was sorely lacking. In short, she was shaped as straight and flat as a boy.
Newt sighed. Then she took a deep breath in and held it while she examined the mirror for any hopeful signs that the dress would suddenly fit properly. Nothing happened. She let her breath out with a slow whistle, and noticed the large gap between the fake pearls sewn at the neck edge of the light blue gown, and the frilly blouse of dazzling white lace trimmed cotton she was wearing beneath the gown. Suddenly, an idea burst across her brain.
She slid out of the jewel and pearl encrusted blue gown, and laid it carefully across her bed, depositing the slip with the hoops embedded in it on top of it, and then slipped quietly down the hall way to the laundry room dressed only in her blouse and the cute ruffled knee length knickers that she was certain had been added to the costume for modesty. If she recalled correctly, knickers didn’t become an item of women’s under clothing until the civil war period, and that was about four score, or eighty years later than the French revolution. Then again, perhaps she hadn’t been paying strict enough attention during her world history class. Too bad they couldn’t teach history in the order it had happened, instead of chopping it up into chunks based on where it had happened. If they taught it chronologically, you’d have a better idea of when things happened and what else was going on in the other parts of the world at the same time.
Having gained the laundry room with out being noticed, Newt utilized all of the stealth that her thirteen year old body possessed, which could be quite a lot of stealth, depending on who you asked, as she dug through the laundry that had been washed and dried and folded and was now waiting patiently on the shelves marked with each family member’s name for that family member to come and claim it and take it to their own individual bedroom to put it away. Newt’s mother washed laundry only once each week, but it was up to every one to put their own laundry away. You also had to make certain that you got all of your dirty laundry to the laundry room before washing day. If you didn’t, then you had to wash your own laundry, or hope you had enough pairs of underwear to make it through to the next washing day.
The reason Newt needed such great stealth, however, was because the shelf she was rummaging so carefully through wasn’t her own shelf, but the one belonging to her older sister, Karen. Karen was sixteen; bossy, nosey, and just by some coincidence of fate happened to have curves that would fit this dress perfectly. Newt giggled softly. Karen’s upper curves would fit the dress, but her lower torso was probably too wide to get the dress done up properly, since, as Newt liked to remind Karen whenever their parents were not around to witness it, Karen’s “butt and her gut were at least as big if not bigger than her chest”. It wasn’t just the uncouth language that made Karen so angry when Newt told her this, although that was certainly part of it, but it so happened that the facts were true. Karen had been slender until she began to develop, but then she had developed in all areas at once. After watching Karen, Newt had decided that she had better take after their still slender mother, rather than their Aunt Artie whom Karen resembled in both appearance and nature.
Because Newt usually didn’t like to use such crass language, however, she reserved the butt and gut rhyme for when she was seriously annoyed at Karen, generally after Karen had been indulging in her favorite pastime of spying on Newt and then tattling with the specific intention to get Newt grounded when she really had her heart set on doing some specific activity that Karen wrongly thought she wasn’t old enough or mature enough to be engaging in.
Newt’s fingers finally closed on the object she was seeking. It was one of Karen’s bras. She slid it from the stack and concealed it beneath her blouse, then picked up her own laundry stack and carried it to her bedroom. She thought the laundry pile made the perfect cover for the real reason she’d gone down the hall, just in case anyone was looking, like Karen the snoopy spy.
Once her bedroom door was shut securely behind her, she dumped her laundry unceremoniously across her bed and stripped the frilly white blouse off. She rummaged through the socks and underwear in the top drawer of her chest of drawers until she found the tiny sewing kit that her great aunt Shirley had given her for Christmas last year. Sure enough, it still had the safety pins in it that she had so clearly recalled seeing.
With a pair of safety pins, she was able to make quick work of securing the bra in its proper place around her upper torso. A couple of other pins, one on each strap, shortened the straps to the point that they would fit her, without running the risk that Karen would notice the change in the size adjustment and become suspicious that her bra had been borrowed or tampered with in any manner.
A little further rummaging in her sock and underwear drawer produced two pairs of balled up knee high soccer socks that would fit just about perfectly in the purloined brassiere. She poked and squeezed the balls of socks into the proper shape, so they would look more natural, although anyone who knew her, which in fact was everyone in town, would know that there was no way on earth the socks were actually a part of her severely underdeveloped body.
The frilly blouse went back on, followed by the slip with the hoops that would hold the skirt out, and finally the pearl covered light blue dress. This time, Newt had a little trouble getting the zipper up, but when she finally turned to the mirror again, she saw that the blouse puffed out where it should, and now lay properly inside the bodice of the dress.
The last bit of the costume would be the trickiest. She quickly split her hair in a central part down the middle, and began plaiting the first braid. When she finished, she wound an elastic band around the bottom tip, then released it. The braid slid down and slapped against her bum while she braided the second one.
It was a matter of just a few scant minutes before her twin braids were twined around her head, and securely pinned into place. Then she took the tall white wig and placed it carefully on her head, and secured it by taking two extremely long and thick straight pins with fake glass jewels at the ends, and wove them in through the wig, in through her own braids clear to her scalp, and then back out again, and then finally back out through the wig again.
Newt shook her head, gingerly at first, and then a little more energetically, and satisfied herself that the wig was securely fastened, at least for now. She made a mental not to avoid the most violent of the carnival rides at the shopping mall, though, just in case. Just for luck, she fastened a third long hair pin through the wig, and finally felt that she was nearly ready to go.
She quickly powdered her face and put on a very little bit of rouge, and then slathered a generous amount of cherry red lipstick on, and checked herself one last time in the double wide full length mirror. Eminently satisfied, she gathered her skirts in her hand, and opened her bedroom door.
She immediately heard Karen’s voice whining from the other end of the hall.
“But I know I had one clean bra left,” she whinged in her most piteous poor-little-picked-on-me voice.
Her mother’s calm voice was a sharp counterpoint to Karen’s high pitched and petulant tone.
“If you won’t take your laundry and put it away in your own bedroom, then it’s your own fault you’ve lost track of your clothing,” her mother replied.
“But I need that bra; I can’t go to the party tonight with out a bra!” Karen was almost whimpering now.
Newt listened with anxiety. Since this time she was actually guilty, if the truth were discovered, it would be she who would be going nowhere today, rather than Karen who would now have to stay home and do some of her own laundry instead of going to the carnival at the shopping mall.
“You know I only do laundry on Wednesday,” her mother said, in what Newt knew Karen would take as an infuriatingly calm tone, “so if you want an extra load done now, you’re going to have to do it yourself.”
Newt decided that she would definitely wait until Karen was out of the way before she dared go into the living room. If her sister got even one look at her new faux cleavage, the game would be over before it had begun.
Newt smiled to herself, and then picked up the small blue purse, or reticule, that was a part of her costume. She hurriedly stashed her money and mp3 player into the soft folds of the purse, and pulled the drawstrings tight, looping the strings over her wrist. She also tucked the obligatory handkerchief up one sleeve, and a second one into her new cleavage, and then with a last long look in the mirror, declared herself ready to face the world.
She listened as Karen banged things around in her bed room, apparently looking for enough clothing to wash to make a full load to go with the bra she intended to wash today. That was another one of the laundry rules. Nothing less than a full batch of laundry must ever be run in the washer. After all, they lived in the desert, albeit the high and chilly part of the desert, and their family must do their utmost to conserve the precious water at each and every opportunity.
She gathered her skirts, this time in both hands, and stepped out into the hallway, carefully closing the door behind her before gathering her skirts up again.
She made her stately way down the hallway and into the living room, where she carefully arranged her skirts around her as she perched on the arm of the couch. It was only a few minutes before the doorbell rang. She sat regally, waiting, while her mom opened the door. Listening carefully to the conversation that drifted through the door, she deduced that Harold was the first to arrive.
Within moments, he entered the room, and she was treated to the sight of his wonderful pirate costume, complete with a sword, and a rather battered fake parrot sitting on one shoulder. As she watched, the parrot dropped what was obviously only one in a long series of feathers. Her eyes followed the pirate’s parrot’s falling feather as it drifted to the green carpet.
Harold’s jaw dropped as his eyes fastened on her costume. “You...you’re gorgeous!” he stammered and gasped.
Newt felt the heat in her cheeks, and knew she was blushing fiery red.
“Thanks,” she managed to answer, her eyes still on the floor. Hopefully Harold didn’t think she was gorgeous only because of her new and improved mature shape. Or possibly that was what had made him say that. The fact that she had heard guys liked that sort of curvy femaleness explained why she was currently in despair over the undeniable fact that she hadn’t yet begun the process known as “filling out”.
Newt stood up and twirled around slowly to show off the entire costume, moving with what she considered to be a stately grace, but also fearing that if she moved too quickly, her wig might fall off, or the dress might shift. Or certain additions under the dress might shift, and then she’d look just plain ridiculous.
She seated herself on the couch arm again, and then watched as another feather floated to the floor.
“I would say the same thing about you, but you really ought to lose that poor beleaguered parrot,” she said with a wicked smile.
He grinned back at her with almost a pained grimace. “Can I leave it here? My little brother insisted that I take his parrot with me, because he claimed that every respectable pirate needed a parrot. He ran out of the house and followed me half way down the street trying to get me to take it, so I finally did, just to shut him up.”
“Sure,” Newt said, “you can leave it here. You’ll look a lot more like a respectable pirate without it, but be really sure to pick it back up after the party at school, so your brother won’t figure out what happened.”
With a grin, Harold detached the molting parrot from his shoulder and dropped it on to the coffee table in front of the mocha brown overstuffed suede couch. Then he sank comfortably into the folds of the couch.
“So,” he said, “have you seen Dusty yet?”
Newt shook her head. “No, I haven’t seen him yet, but I expect him to show up any moment now.”
Just then, the door bell rang again, and Newt heard her mother step to answer it. There was a sharp intake of breath, and then they heard Dusty’s laughter. “It’s just me, Mrs. Newton, I promise. I wouldn’t hurt you.”
Newt’s mother laughed then, and there was the sound of a few foot steps from the hall, before an unidentifiable thing appeared in the doorway.
Dressed in a pair of long black pants and a black long sleeved shirt, and his usual black sneakers and his hands encased in long black gloves, Dusty had also put on one of those phantom masks, so his head was also entirely masked in black. It was that sort of mask where you appear not to have a face at all, but you can clearly see out through the fabric. Well, not clearly, exactly, because you could never recognize faces well, but you could see clear enough not to run into things. Dusty also had a hooded cape made of some semi transparent black fabric draped over the entire outfit, so that it softened the lines of his silhouette and made it very hard to make your eyes focus on him.
There was a very long pause in which the silence was so thick that you could have cut it with a knife and stacked it in slabs.
“What are you supposed to be?” Newt finally asked, breaking the long moment of silence.
“I’m the Vashta Nerada!” Dusty’s cheerful voice exclaimed from the depths of the phantom mask
“You’re the what?” Newt and Harold asked in near perfect unison.
“I’m the Vashta Nerada.” Dusty repeated, and then explained. “It’s a bunch of creatures from Doctor Who. You can only see them sometimes, they look like dust specks in sunlight, but pretty much most of the time they’re totally invisible, and they can hide in shadows and strip corpses to the bone in mere seconds. They’re not in every shadow, of course, but they can be in any shadow. You’ve to make sure to count how many shadows you’ve, because they attach themselves to you with an extra shadow, and then they eat you. That’s how they hunt. You can’t even get rid of them at all. They breed in forests, but their eggs are so tough that they can even survive being ground up into paper pulp and made into paper and printed and bound into books.
“Even the Doctor can’t do anything about them, he said that the only thing you can do when you meet the Vashta Nerada, is to run. Just run. That’s a pretty bad opponent, when even the Doctor can’t beat them.”
Newt and Harold had both rolled their eyes at the first mention of the words ‘Doctor’ and ‘Who’. It was an English television show that Dusty was inordinately fond of. Actually, obsessed might be a better word. The pair of them stubbornly refused to be drawn into his madness; partly for fear that they would end up as obsessed with the show as Dusty, and start sounding as totally geeky on the subject as he did.
Newt had to admit, however, that there were times that Dusty’s obsession with the show came in handy.
Every so often there was the most amazing and obscure fact that Dusty knew, and when they would ask him how in the world he knew that, he would blame it on that infernal show. So yeah, occasionally it did come in handy.
“So,” said Harold, “to summarize, you’re a shadow full of nasty, ill tempered, invisible carnivorous creatures that no one can see, and your sole purpose in wearing this costume is to scare the living daylights out of all of the little kids at the shopping mall in the hope that they will drop their candy bags so that you can pick the bags up and have their candy too? Did I get that right?” He made his statement sound like a question, probably just in case there was some remote possibility that he had misunderstood Dusty in some way, although Newt thought he had hit the nail precisely on the head.
“Yeah, basically,” Dusty said with a shrug, and even though they couldn’t see his face, Newt could hear his shy and crafty grin in the voice that issued from beneath the hood.
“Are we ready to go then?” Newt asked, looking at the pair of boys who were the absolute best friends anyone could ever have in the entire world.
Both boys nodded, and Harold and Newt rose to their feet. As they moved into the hall, Newt heard the washing machine start, and she called out to her mother that they were all leaving.
Newt’s mother called back that they should have a nice time, and the rich tones of her loving voice drifted from the kitchen as though the words were wafting on the fumes of the freshly baking bread that were beginning to permeate the entire house.
The three friends left the house, closing the door carefully behind them, and set off together on the biggest adventure of their young lives.