W couldn’t help but fidget under the intense gaze of the handsome, middle-aged man in front of him: Mr. B.
W wasn’t entirely sure what the B stood for. Rumours suggested it was for ‘beast’ or ‘brutal’. Either way, W made sure not to let his guard down in front of him.
Mr. B poured himself another glass of whatever alcoholic beverage he had been drinking that evening and gracefully held the glass to his lips, drinking from it slowly.
W coughed sharply, finally growing impatient of all the waiting. He needed this meeting to go well; he couldn’t go back to his boss empty-handed.
In his line of work, there was no coming back with nothing.
Mr. B carefully placed the half-empty glass back down on the desk and deliberately laced his hands together, resting them on the desk too.
Then he asked, “What is it you came for again?”
W sighed in relief. He was willing to listen.
But, before any words could escape him, someone else burst through the office door and skipped merrily into the room.
She was short, very young and dressed fancily in a beautiful, white lace dress. She had bright blue eyes, a small delicate nose, pink lips and golden hair that framed her pretty face in cute ringlets.
“Daddy,” she said, a sweet melody in her voice, “Can we have a tea party?”
W turned to see Mr. B rubbing his temples, “Not now, sweetie. Daddy’s busy.”
The little girl looked heartbroken, “But I even made cookies.”
Suddenly, a phone on Mr. B’s desk began ringing and Mr. B groaned. He, then, turned to W. “I need to take that. Entertain my daughter for a while, then we’ll talk.”
W did not want to babysit some spoilt brat but it might help to get him in Mr. B’s good books…
W turned to look at the little girl, “Did someone say cookies?”
W was led to a sizeable, pastel-pink bedroom. It was kept neat and tidy apart from a small stack of books near a big bed and a large collection of porcelain dolls bunched in a corner, all of them toppling over each other.
In the centre of the room sat a low table surrounded by four chairs. The table was decorated with pink plastic cutlery and plates with elaborate floral designs adorning their shiny faces. In three of the chairs sat mangled, old stuffed animals.
One of the animals had mottled brown fur in the shape of a bear; however, it was missing an arm and stuffing escaped the gaping hole. There was what looked to be a pastel blue cat with a pink lace bow wrapped around its neck – but it appeared to be missing both of its button eyes. The third was a pink bird with fluffy wings and three-toed feet. Or, at least, W assumed it was a bird but it was hard to tell when the poor toy was missing a head.
The little girl dragged W over to the table and gestured for him to sit in the fourth and final seat.
“So, what’s your name then?” W asked the girl, a nervous smile suddenly playing on his lips.
“Persephone,” she answered, proudly.
“Wow. That’s a very exotic name.”
Persephone bounced over to a table on the other side of the room which had a plastic tea pot and a plate of cookies on it. “Mummy chose it.”
W’s ears pricked up at that. He hadn’t thought that there was a Mrs. B out there. So he asked, “Where’s your mummy now?”
Persephone spun around to face W and he gulped when he saw her suddenly serious expression. “Mother is dead.”
But before W had enough time to react, the previously pleasant smile was back on her face. “Would you like some tea?”
“Oh! Yes, please-“
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Persephone giggled, shaking her head vigorously. “I was asking Uncle Damien.”
“Uncle Damien?” W asked, puzzled.
Persephone gasped, “I haven’t introduced you yet!”
First she gestured to the brown bear: “This is Uncle Damian.” Then she pointed at the blind cat: “That’s Aunt Angeline.” She came closer to W and whispered, “But she’s not actually my aunt. She was a family friend.”
Then she went to the opposite side of the table and picked up the headless bird, hugging it tightly to her chest so some of the stuffing spilled from the neck.
“This is Mother.”
W’s eyes widened at that and he tried to stutter out some words but Persephone cut him off. “Cookies?”
W nodded numbly and the girl busied herself on the other side of the room while W tried to un-stick the words that clung to his throat. He stared as she paused, looking down at something and then watched as she reached into a near-by cupboard.
Then, Persephone wandered back over with a plate of cookies in the shapes of different animals, decorated with brightly coloured icing and topped with silver icing sugar that looked like glitter and shimmered under the light. She held the plate in front of W’s face and he politely took one, taking a bite.
They tasted odd – but not necessarily bad.
He watched Persephone pick up the headless bird and sit in the seat, placing the cuddly toy on her lap and his eyes began watering.
“How did they become so… battered?” W finally managed to ask, even as he began to cough.
“Well, Uncle Damian lost his arm in a fight against Daddy’s bodyguard,” Persephone said as W’s sight started going slightly blurry. He was beginning to choke.
“Aunt Angeline had both her eyes gouged out when Daddy caught her stealing money from him,” the little girl continued even as small droplets of crimson were spat at her from W coughing up blood.
“Then, Mummy had her head sawn off when she betrayed the business.”
W was going limp over the table, his vision gone completely, his throat clogged up with so much blood he couldn’t even scream for help. His nails scratched against the table as if trying to cling onto some shred of hope in seeing another day even though it was futile.
Persephone only watched as the stranger before her struggled to breathe. He tried to reach out to her but she simply yawned and turned her back, suddenly exhausted.
The room was suddenly still. No air escaped W’s lips; no movement could be seen in his body. Silence was a black ocean that enveloped the room and the smell of death clung to every object.
Footsteps sounded in the corridor outside and slowly someone turned the doorknob, stepping into the room. Mr. B scanned the area, looking down on the pitiful body hunched over the table.
“Persephone, I thought we had discussed this-“ but Persephone had already fallen asleep on her bed.