The Baby Burden
“And then this great big HUGE monster Chia made of jelly swoops down and starts pelting me with these great big HUGE snowballs he created from this great big HUGE wand! PEW! PEW! WHOOSH! PEW!” the little green Kougra cried, imitating being struck by giant snowballs. She staggered back and clutched her chest, falling over onto the thick shag rug.
“Disaster, you used great big HUGE three times in your sentence,” the small boy curled up on the armoire mumbled, chewing on the end of a pencil and studying the notebook in his lap. “It’s not good to be repetitive.”
“Oh, what do you know! You’re just here to make sure we don’t get into too much trouble, and punish us when we do,” Disaster mumbled, still lying on the rug. “We’d be fine without you. Trystie can cook, and I’m a good fighter, so I could defend us if the time ever came, and Ehril can provide us with entertainment.” She pointed both paws in the directions of her siblings, one stirring a large steaming pot at the stove, the other tuning his shimmery black guitar. “All you do is sit on your chair and write in that stupid tatty notebook.”
“Oh, really?” the boy muttered, frowning at the notebook and scratching off a sentence with the pencil.
“DAD! Are you listening to me?!” Disaster shrieked, and beat the rug with her fist.
“Yeah, sure...” Dad said, smiling as he furiously scribbled down a couple lines, tongue sticking out of the side of his mouth. “Ehril, could you turn that down a notch?”
“Gotcha, Dad.” The royal Peophin draped the shoulder strap of his guitar over his neck and descended the stairs to the basement.
“FA-THER! What are you doing that’s so important that you don’t have time to marvel in my bravery? I single-handedly defeated the Jelly Chia with my bare claws!” she cried dramatically, extending her paws under his nose.
“I,” he said, gently pushing her green paws down, “am writing an application for a new job. It’s a great big HUGE job, and we could make triple of what I make in a month!”
“A-another job?” Disaster squeaked, arms going limp at her sides. “But, but, Dad! You already have a second job at the book store, and you restock, and the stock market is doin’ great, and-“
“Dis! I know, I know. All of that is enough to sustain me, the house, and the three of you. But, tell me,” Dad paused, turning his body in the sunny yellow chair to face her. He leaned against the armrest. “Tell me, what would happen if we added another addition into our little house? We need more neopoints!”
“What do you mean ‘another addition’? Are we getting an indoor pool, or another game room?” Disaster cried, eyes wider than saucers. Dad watched Trystie’s ears perk up, and she abandoned the pot at the stove to join in on the conversation.
“Can we get another bathroom?” the brown Lupe asked, reaching behind her ear to scratch her neck. “We’ve only got three, and you two and Ehril always hog them, and I never get to school on time because I’m never ready.”
“That’s dumb! Why be on time when we could have a pool! You could bathe in it for all I care,” Disaster argued, flicking Trystie’s head for her ignorance.
“Dis, Trys, stop.” Dad stretched his back and arms, and swiftly got up from the chair.
“Aww, Daddy, stop! I hate it when you rhyme our names! We soo don’t go together,” Disaster pouted.
“Whatever. I’m going to bed,” Dad mumbled, and stalked up the stairs to his room. “Oh, and Trystie,” he knit his eyebrows together and sniffed the air, “what’s burning?”
Trystie gasped and dashed to the kitchen, dropping a lid on the pot. Clanging metal could be heard, followed by a loud hissing as she dropped the pot in cold water. She shook her soft brown head and sighed. “There goes my dinner.”
“Your tie looks fine, Dad. Chill,” the royal Peophin said, stirring his soggy cereal with a fork.
“You, however, don’t,” Dad interjected, straightening his tie in the hall mirror for what appeared to be the bazillionth time. “Still in his pajamas, and you haven’t even combed your mane.”
“It’s summer vacation. I don’t have to. Dude, you need to relax.”
“W-what’s for breakfast?” Disaster yawned, descending the stairs, dressed in her usual Darigan Citadel Yooyuball jersey and sweatpants.
“Cereal,” Trystie smiled cheerfully and placed the bowl on the counter in front of Disaster’s chair.
The green Kougra slowly slumped into her chair and rubbed her eyes. “Aww, Neocrunch again?” she complained, shoving the cereal bowl away with her tail. “I hate Neocrunch.”
“I’ow twade wig yah,” Ehril garbled, mouth full of Florg O’s. A bit of milk dribbled down his chin, so he wiped it away with his sleeve and pushed his bowl towards Disaster.
“Gross! It’s already got your lip germs floating around in there!” She took his fork and speared a Florg O, slapping it down on the countertop. On impact, it splatted in all directions, being too soggy to keep together. Disaster raked the remnants of the Florg O off of her face, and scrubbed her cheek with a napkin.
“Dis, quit making messes and eat your cereal,” Dad warned, trying to straighten his shirt collar. “Trystie, how does my tie look? I don’t think it matches these shoes, and I-”
“Dad, you look great. Go,” Trystie said, pushing him towards the door. “You’re going to be late.”
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Dad stopped in his tracks, and Trystie bumped into him. She rubbed her nose quickly. “I forgot to tell you guys something last night. You distracted me with your ‘I wanna pool’ stuff. Tonight, I’m bringing home a surprise, so I might be a little late. Trystie’s in charge, as always, and ‘Ole Mrs. Erin lives just down the street if anything goes wrong.” Disaster and Ehril mimicked the last part, having memorized the little one line speech that Dad gave every time he went out.
“Bye, Dad!” Trystie muttered, ushering him out the door. She gave him a last push, and slammed the door, locking it behind her. Dad’s untidy blonde head appeared in the window beside the door, and Trystie hastily shut the blinds. “He’s finally gone,” she mumbled, and sank to the floor.
“What do you think his surprise is?” Ehril asked quizzically, and dumped what remained of his cereal down the garbage disposal. “I mean, it’s gotta be important if he’s coming home really late. We all know he’s a hermit and doesn’t like to leave the house.”
“At the moment, I don’t care.” Disaster copied Ehril and poured her uneaten Neocrunch down the disposal. She hopped down from her chair and grabbed her Darigan Citadel sweatshirt and spare keys off of the coat rack. “I’m going over to Sharlic’s house. He got this new board game, and... well... it’s cool. See ya.”
They watched her walk out the door, and then say, “Dad? Why are you still here?” Ehril and Trystie snickered when Disaster poked her head back through the old wooden door. “On second thought, I think I’m going to walk Dad to work—he seems a little, um, frazzled.”
The Lupe and the Peophin giggled hysterically as Disaster and Dad passed the window. She wasn’t exactly walking him to work; it looked more like dragging him by his feet.
It was almost midnight before he came back.
Trystie and Disaster sat around the coffee table playing with a deck of cards, and Ehril was flipping through on old guitar magazine, circling the new acoustic ones with red ink. Trystie’s mazzew hid in the flowerpot, as always, surveying the room. He yowled when Dad’s keys clicked in the door.
He came in back first, cradling something in his arms, and a pink polka dot bag with lime green ribbons was slung over his shoulder.
“Nice purse, Dad!” Disaster giggled, partly covering her mouth with an ace of spades. “You into accessorizing now? I’d personally wear little pointy house slippers and a nightgown with that bag, not a suit. You wanna borrow Trystie’s pajamas?” Trystie threw her hand at Disaster’s face. “Hey, you had a royal flush!”
“Guys,” Dad announced, still not facing them. “Remember when I said that we might add another addition into our little house?”
“Well, yeah, but I don’t exactly think you could fit a pool into your little man purse.”
“No. And it’s not a ‘man purse’. It’s a diaper bag.”
Disaster looked confused, but her smile broadened a bit. “Ooooh, you’ve resorted to diapers since your new job scares the bajeebers out of you?”
Dad sighed. “No, Dis. But I’d like you to say hello to the newest addition to our home.” He swung around, and the three stood gaping at what squirmed in his arms.
Trystie gasped and swayed uncontrollably, and Disaster fell to the floor, fainted. Ehril just stood gawking.
The thing ‘cooed’ and Trystie covered her mouth with her paw and rushed to be sick in the bathroom.
“What’s wrong?!” Dad cried, eyes wide. “What’s wrong with her?!” He held the baby out from him at arms length, and inspected her from her fluffy little head to her tail. “I don’t see anything!”
“D-d-dad? What is that thing doing here?” Ehril whispered.
“This is your new sibling, Krystun. I, um, adopted her from an old friend of mine, and so, she’s here to stay.” He placed Krystun in the crook of his arm and locked the door. Ehril continued his gawking. “Oh, come on! She’s not that bad! Well, she might need a diaper change, but, hey! She’s cute, and she’s smart for her age, and she really seems to like me. You’re just going to have to live with her. I mean, wook at dat widdle Eyrie fayyyce!” He made a kissy face and the baby Eyrie giggled.
“That THING is disgusting! It smells like... like... smelly stuff!” Disaster croaked, coming around from her fainting spell. “It belongs in a toxic waste dump.”
“Too. Bad. Kid,” Dad mouthed, and carried the little baby Eyrie down into the basement.
“Er, Dad, why are you bringing Krystun into my music studio?” Ehril asked, scrambling up from the couch and down the stairs.
“Sorry, bud, but we’re going to have to convert the basement into a playroom.” Ehril screeched something unintelligible. “I’ll tell you what. When we get this place totally renovated, we’ll add on another room to the house—just for your music. It’ll be on the first floor; I know you hate walking downstairs on your flipper.”
“TRYSTIEEE! DAD’S STEALING EHRIL’S STUDIO!” Disaster howled, but Trystie waved her off, heading down to the basement anyway.
“Dad, you-you can’t be serious. I mean, a baby? I could understand maybe a Christmas or rainbow Eyrie, but a baby?! This is a really, really big responsibility,” Trystie pleaded quietly, urging tears to come to her eyes so her act would seem more realistic and believable.
“Hey, Trys, remember when we brought Disaster home? How little she was? She was just a baby too. I’ve dealt with this stuff before; I know what to do.” He placed a hand on her fuzzy head and gave her a noogie. She combed her fur back into place and cocked her head to the side.
“She’s going to be a great sibling—you’ll see. She’s going to fit right in.” He placed Krystun in Disaster’s arms, and she held the baby at arms length, wrinkling her nose. “Now, Trystie, help me get that crib outta the attic.”
“DAAD! Krystun had an ACCIDENT!” Ehril called from the kitchen, one week later. Dad’s theory about Krystun ‘fitting right in’ and ‘you’re gonna just love her!’ had been absolutely wrong. All she did was eat, poop, sleep, and cry.
“Dad went to work,” Trystie said, rounding the kitchen table and going to stand beside him. She scowled at Krystun.
“You mean he just left us here? With this?” He shook Krystun’s squirmy little body. “I don’t believe this!”
“He just went to work. Chill out. He said he’d be back by lunch to check on us.”
Ehril yawned. Krystun had kept him up all night crying. “Where’s Dis?”
Trystie rubbed her eye. “I don’t know. Probably in her room. I’ll go check on her.”
“What? Now you abandon me?”
“Yup.” Trystie dragged herself up the stairs and opened Disaster’s door, peering around the edge. Her room, just like her name, was a complete disaster. Not a speck of the floor was visible underneath all of her junk, and posters and papers hung from every square inch of her walls. Her bed was totally impossible to sleep on; bundles of dirty clothes, plushies, and an assortment of Battledome weapons littered the whole entire mattress. Trystie gingerly stepped over a pile of half-eaten food and a sharp looking sword, and glanced around the room to see if she could spot Disaster.
“What are you doing in my room?” came a muffled voice somewhere over by the overflowing closet. A small green head poked out from a jumble of dirty sweatshirts. “Get out!” Disaster ordered, pointing to the door.
Trystie kicked over a box of cookies that had probably never seen the light of day. “We just didn’t know where you are. It’s easy to get lost in here.”
“Yeah, well, you better get out while you can,” Disaster warned, inclining her head towards the door again. “I’m going over to Sharlic’s house.” She emerged from the pile of socks carrying her Darigan Citadel backpack, autographed by Layton Vickles on the front pocket.
“Ooooh no, missy,” Trystie said, grabbing Disaster’s shoulder as she pushed past her. Disaster shoved her hand off, and gave her an evil glare. “You are going to help take care of Krystun until Dad gets back home.”
“And when will that be?”
Trystie threw a glance at a clock hanging upside down over the face of Gordo Gunnels from the Roo Island team, his body repeatedly crossed out in permanent marker. Disaster completely and utterly loathed him for knocking Tandrak Shaye unconscious during the finals, and vowed to slap him silly if she ever made the Darigan Citadel team. “In about five hours.”
Disaster glowered at her and shook her head. “You guys are hopeless. Break a few rules, live a little, deal with the punishment—Dad never makes punishment that bad.”
Trystie stood glued to the floor, but it wasn’t the sticky glob of melted ice cream that kept her in place. “You do have a point...” She raised a paw to her mouth and chewed on her lip. Dad never got mad at her, and Ehril was Dad’s favorite pet. I suppose we could take a break, she thought, and made up her mind. “Disaster, you’re right.”
Disaster’s ears perked up. “I am? I mean... I am.” She stalked proudly out the door and down the stairs, saying ‘goodbye’ to Ehril and slamming the front door.
Trystie hopped down the staircase, scraping the sticky pink ice cream remnants off of her foot, and chucking the flakes in the trash bin. Ehril sat slumped over the backside of a chair, watching Krystun play on the floor with a bored expression on his face.
“Ehril,” Trystie announced, head held high. “Ehril, buddy, we’re taking a break from babysitting, and I’m treating us to some coffee from the shop over at the Art Centre.”
Ehril jerked his head up. “What? We can’t just leave Krystun here all by herself!”
“Yes we can. She’ll be fine if we put her in the basement and lock the door. She can’t get out, or hurt herself, or whatever. We can unhook all of the electronics and stuff.”
Ehril looked longingly at the front door, and glanced back at Krystun, who had stopped to listen to their conversation, but not understanding a bit of it. “Well, I guess it’d be okay...”
Ten minutes later they were on their way to the coffee shop.
Disaster and Ehril and Trystie arrived at the house within seconds of each other. The Lupe and the Peophin held steaming styrofoam cups of espresso, and Disaster clung to a brand new official Darigan jersey, once worn during a practice session by Kep Bonnefie and later discarded. Apparently, she’d spent massive amounts of neopoints on it, as Ehril found none when he went rifling through her wallet the next day.
“Well well well,” Disaster retorted, stopping in her tracks to put her hands on her hips. “Looks like Daddy’s Angels decided to take a ride on the wild side. Where’d you put the baby? In a rocket headed for Kreludor? That’s what I’da done.” She pushed past the two and unlocked the door. “Meh, Dad’s not home yet. Looks like we made it just in time.”
The house seemed incredibly silent, and almost eerie. Disaster cradled her jersey as she headed to the kitchen for a snack.
Something didn’t seem right to Trystie. She placed her jacket and scarf up on the coat rack, and gazed around the dim living room. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. She straightened a pile of Dad’s cookbooks that lay jumbled on the coffee table, and sank onto the overstuffed green couch. It wasn’t until Disaster walked by eating a bowl of Florg O’s and said, “Why is the basement door open?” that Trystie realized what was wrong.
“EHRIL! Krystun’s GONE!” Trystie screeched, desperately searching the crib and in any nook and cranny the little Eyrie could possibly climb into. “EHRIL!”
“Holy Fyora! I thought I told you to lock the door!” he cried, flopping down the steps.
“I told you to lock the door!”
“No you didn’t!”
“It. Doesn’t. Matter,” Disaster murmured, shoveling a spoonful of Florg O’s into her mouth. “Da poingt ig, ig she’s gan,” she garbled, and swallowed the lump of cereal.
“DISASTER! Chew with your mouth closed and help us find the baby!”
Two of the three searched frantically throughout the house, while the other dribbled soggy cereal and milk over the carpet and furniture.
“I can’t find her!”
“Neither can I!” Ehril shouted, almost to the point of tears.
“Neither can I!” Disaster mimicked, making mocking gestures with her paw.
Ehril and Trystie gawked at each other. “Disaster’s room!” they said in unison. They scrambled up the stairs, accidentally knocking the family portrait off of the wall. Ehril forced the door open and the two scuttled inside.
“Where do we start?” Trystie demanded.
“You take the left side, and I’ll search the right. We can tackle the closet together.”
Trystie literally dove into the pile of clothes that seemed to rise every time she looked into Disaster’s room. She thrashed around, reaching out for any signs of Krystun, but what she thought was Krystun’s tail turned out to be a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Ehril wasn’t having much luck either. A few interesting items emerged from behind her dresser, and he nearly fainted when a scroach scuttled over his hoof.
For another hour they shuffled through the mess, until every square inch of her room had been upturned. Exhausted and panicky, they slumped down the stairs and into the living room.
“Erm, guys, I think I found her,” Disaster mumbled quietly from the couch, petting Krystun’s head.
Trystie and Ehril gawked at the baby, and Ehril stuttered. “How... when... who, what? Huh?”
“She just crawled right up to me,” Disaster smiled crookedly, and tears sprang to her eyes. She rubbed them away quickly. “She brought us a few gifts.”
Ehril and Trystie flopped onto either side of the couch and looked at Disaster expectantly. Krystun gazed at her siblings with bright pink eyes, and plucked a few shiny objects out from under her belly. She grasped a long chain with her beak and dropped it in Ehril’s lap. He inspected it closely, and his face softened, tears escaping the corners of his eyes.
“T-this is my guitar pick,” he said, holding the pick on the chain up to the light. “My old guitar pick. The electric guitarist from Sticks ‘N Stones gave it to me—it was special, he said.” Ehril hooked it around his neck and stroked it.
“There’s one for you, too, Trystie.”
Krystun gently laid a folded up piece of paper on Trystie’s knee. The brown Lupe slowly unfolded the paper, and she brought a hand to her mouth, gasping. Ehril and Disaster leaned over and stared at the picture of a young boy, a child, trying to keep a squirmy puppyish version of Trystie away from his face. The puppy’s long tongue licked his cheek, and the boy was smiling, his arms draped around her neck. The caption at the bottom of the picture read ‘My first pet’ in scribbly, scrawly writing.
“I lost this a long time ago,” Trystie whispered, voice barely audible. “I thought I’d never see it again. What did she bring you, Dis?”
Disaster sniffled and shrugged. “Oh, just an old itty bitty dagger, the one that I used on my first fight in the Batteldome. Oh, happy memories of stabbing Inflatable Balthazar are coming back to me now,” she sniffed, and a small sob rose in her throat.
“Where’d you find these?”
Krystun pointed to the staircase. “Digager’s room!” She gurgled, and giggled happily.
“Krystun’s not as bad as she seems,” Ehril mumbled, and gently picked the baby Eyrie up by her underarms. “She’s not bad at all.”
“I know you probably can’t understand us yet, Krystun,” Trystie smiled, “but we’re sorry we misjudged you, and we realize that you’re a great little sister, and we all love you.”
Dad’s keys jingled in the lock, and he swung open the door, letting in a gust of cold air. He dropped his briefcase on the floor and strung his scarf over the coat rack, and frowned as he saw his four pets smiling at each other on the couch.
“Erm, guys, is something wrong?”
“No, Dad. We just realized that you made a good decision on bringing Krystun home,” Ehril said, tickling Krystun under her beak.
“O... K... Sorry to interrupt this little ‘Love Fest’, but I have to get everyone situated before I leave for work again.” He stalked off to his bedroom upstairs and shut the door loudly. It wasn’t long before he cried, “My fuzzy Cybunny slippers! I found my Cybunny slippers!”