Lilah Fails at Saying Good-bye
Kazooland, July 21st, 1991
The crown prince of Asininia leaned against his folded arms on the rail of a balcony overlooking his great-grandfather’s kingdom. Out in the greenish-black haze a city sprawled, bursting at its borders like a bad can of potted meat. All of it would one day be his. He furrowed his brows and coughed softly. “Damned pollution,” he whispered. “One day, soon…” He pursed his lips, spun around and marched back into the castle, his cape billowing in his wake. He was of a stocky build but appeared healthy save the persistent cough. He was clean shaven and his reddish hair was cut short. His hairline receded from either side of a widow’s peak.
“Mortimer!” a voice bellowed from somewhere far down the hallway. “Mortimer!” One of the two people allowed to refer to him by his first name came into view as he rounded a corner a hundred feet away. “There you are, blast it. Come! They have returned!”
Mortimer’s face sagged as he changed direction and followed the king and his entourage of four automaton lackeys billowing black smoke and one painfully thin human man who was trying to get the king's ear. “Right away, father.”
The royal castle was crafted of black granite and stainless steel and towered above every other structure in the blackened landscape. Corpulent King Cedric stomped into the throne room--a cavernous, echoing chamber that looked like something out of a medieval parody film with its lone, huge throne, enormous tapestries on the walls, and meant-to-be-impressive banners hung from the ceiling. Three green-haired pale-skinned humans wearing long black coats knelt before them as they entered.
“Your Highness,” their leader greeted their king. “We have returned, successful.”
“Successful?” Cedric cried. “You have them? Those blasted robots are dead?”
“As doornails, Sire.”
Cedric grinned to split his face and clapped his hands three times. “Excellent! You will all be knighted! Show me, show me!”
The leader nodded and the woman on his right passed him a steel case which he turned around, opened and presented to the royals. Mortimer leaned in to get a better look, knowing better than to step in front of his father. Inside, three smooth crystal spheres nestled in black velvet glowed with a tell-tale blue glow.
“It worked! You see that, Mortimer! It worked!” Cedric laughed, slammed the lid closed and tucked the box under his arm. “Eustace, your capture method appears to have done the trick, good job, Son.” he praised the thin young man at his right arm. Eustace made a low bow and smirked at his brother. “Today, we will correct the mistake my father made forty years ago. When we are successful, Eustace, I have no doubt that your…” he paused and the left side of his mouth curved into a devilish grin. “...special project will go forward smoothly. To the lab!”
The three operatives bowed as Cedric Becile turned left and followed by his ever-present lackeys made for the labs. “Yes, father,” Mortimer said and waited to follow until he was left alone in the room. “Mother, forgive me,” he whispered. “For my thoughts are quite dark today. Darker than usual, anyway. I know it’s wrong to wish death on anyone, but...” He took a deep breath. “Perhaps nothing will happen. Nothing at all, but perhaps…” A coughing fit overtook him and he gasped for breath as he hurried to the labs.
Earth, Thursday, August 1st, 1991
The glowing, blue background of Lilah’s LCD alarm clock was bright enough to make her squint to read it. Four-thirteen. Still dark. Quiet. She didn’t really remember what time she’d fallen asleep. It could have been yesterday. Her stomach growled and her face felt tight from the tears. It seemed safe now, they had stopped and didn’t leap immediately to her eyes as she rolled to the left and looked blearily to where she could have sworn she saw her friends sitting each in turn.
Nothing there. Of course not. Lilah sat up and scratched her head. Her stomach growled again. Bathroom first, then food. Then sleep again. She nodded to herself and with bare feet quietly stumbled across the room to her private bathroom which she used in the dark.
“Food,” she whispered and crossed the room. The odd sound of her own voice forced a strange giggle to escape her lips and it startled her. She clapped a hand over her mouth and collected herself before slowly opening the bedroom door, looking both ways and heading to the kitchen. When she made it down, having stepped carefully and softly so as not to alert anyone to her presence, she almost ruined all the effort by laughing out loud at the sight of a dozen or so Coors cans scattered on the table and in the sink. “What the…?” she whispered and shook her head. “Must have been a party. Woo, new robots. Aren’t they wonderful?” Lilah mimed raising a glass then frowned. “Not woo. Not hardly. Where was I? Food. Right.” Rather than preparing a meal and eating it as normal, she grabbed a container of peanut butter and a box of granola bars from the pantry, found a loaf of white bread and a jar of jam in the refrigerator and put all of these with a knife into a large, plastic bowl and snuck back up to her room. She made and ate a sandwich while staring at the floor. Occasionally, she would chuckle to herself or shake her head. When she had finished she looked at the clock. Five-twelve. Still dark.
Her head swiveled around her room lit solely by the alarm clock and she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror on the back of her door. The image of her gaunt frame, hunched over, chewing the last bite of sandwich, hair askew caught her off-guard and she coughed as she choked a little. Lilah crawled to the reflection and her image grew darker as she got further from the alarm clock. “Oh,” she said, “that’s me,” and laughed again. She put a hand to the mirror and trembled. “Jon, you said… you said...” Suddenly, she scrambled to her feet and still trying to be quiet, hurried out of the room and down to the fourth floor where the robots had had their rooms.
Lilah closed the door behind her and flipped the light switch. The Jon’s room was, to put it mildly, terrifying. He had a love for clowns and circus-related objects and the large bedroom was jammed full of them. Huge faces, stuffed animals and signs loomed in every corner and Lilah had everything she could do in her delicate mental state to keep from screaming. Fortunately, the sleep she’d gotten and the peanut butter sandwich were doing much to repair her sanity and she kept it together fairly well.
“Mirror, mirror,” she said softly, trying not to look at any one object for too long. “Mirror, mi- there it is.”
Not surprisingly, the mirror was of the funhouse variety and her reflection stared back even taller and thinner than usual. Putting her hands on the frame she gave it a light tug and found that it wasn’t fastened to the wall. She paused and shook her head for a moment. “Whaddaya know. There’s a mirror, here, Jon. Let’s see what’s behind it, shall we?”
As she pulled the mirror back, the last residue of her delirium vanished. Behind this against the wall was a four-foot gaping, blacker-than-black void, the border of which glowed blue, swirling around and pulsing darkly. With horror and intense curiosity, Lilah extended her shaking hand and stuck it into the void.
Shocked by the absolute truth of it, she yanked her hand back out and examined it for damage. It looked fine, felt fine. Next she placed her left hand firmly on the wall to the left of the portal and leaned her head in.
When she opened her eyes, she saw a vast, green jungle, teeming with life. Massive animals and birds that defied description roamed the leafy environment and she remembered The Jon’s advice not to enter if there were no friendly people around. Lilah pulled her head back out into The Jon’s room and stared, mouth agape at the portal.
“Thank you,” she said, gently pushing the mirror back in place. “Thank you, thank you!”
It wasn’t until late morning that anyone realized she’d gone. Deelia Moreau-Walter ran down the stairs in her plaid pajamas and looked in every room she could think of then finally down to the lab where she found her father, brother and Patrick Reed working on the new robots. She burst into the lab, frantic and panting.
“Deelia, what on Earth…?” her father said.
“She’s gone!” Deelia shouted.
“Lilah?” Reed gasped.
“Yes! She’s gone, she left!”
Alex’s shoulders slumped in slight relief--his initial fear was that ‘gone’ meant ‘dead’. “Where’s she gone to?” he demanded.
The teen was crying and shaking slightly. “I dunno, she left this!” she said and thrust a VHS tape toward them.
Patrick snatched it from her and ran out of the room. Deelia followed, shouting at him and Peter looked to his father for a beat before following her. “A message?” Alex whispered then turned to the three perplexed automatons behind him. “Robots, I’m sorry, we’re having a bit of a family emergency.”
“Emergency? That is what we are programmed to handle,” Salve said smoothly. Ether raised its arms in a helpful gesture and said “Can we help?”
“Not that kind of emergency, I’m afraid. Best to stay here for now. I’ll be back soon,” Alex said cheerily but his brows knitted together as he thought of the care his daughter had for the robots. He turned and looked them each in the face. “I promise,” he said.
The more-humanoid of the three, the one he and Lilah had built together and he had named Pi gave him a thumbs-up and a head nod. “Ok, Alex. We’ll be here.”
Alex nodded back and rushed after the others.
In the seldom-used family room on the second floor, Patrick Reed, Alex and Deelia hovered around the large television set against the wall opposite a couch and two overstuffed chairs. Deelia sat on her knees before the VHS player and put the tape in.
“Don’t play it yet,” her father barked.
“I’m not!” she snapped back. “It needs to be rewound!”
Fortunately, the wait was short as Peter entered the room supporting the arm of a frail-looking middle-aged woman with blond hair wearing a bathrobe over her nightgown. “Alex!” she cried. “Is it true?”
Alex nodded to his wife. “I’m sorry, Ellie.”
She swooned and her son helped her to lie on the couch. Deelia frowned and hit play. Her sister’s face popped up larger than life on the screen, out of focus and close to the camera lens as she turned the recorder on. She walked backwards and sat on her bed, looking small and thin for being so far from the camera. Deelia turned the volume up and green bars on the screen ticked up as Lilah began speaking.
“Hello. I’m sorry to do this to you but I’m leaving. Today. Now. When this over,” she said waving her hand toward the camera. “I need to go somewhere… else. Not here. Not where I’m reminded of…” she sat up straighter. “I’m going somewhere where you can’t find me, so don’t bother looking. And no, this is not a euphemism for suicide--I am not taking my own life, life is too precious to… far too wonderful, and I still believe there is a reason I’m alive, I just don’t really know what that is. I do know that it’s not here. Not anymore. I’m making this message because I feel like you deserve it, though I can’t face you, any of you. I can’t be dissuaded and I don’t want to hear you scream at me and tell me I’m wrong,” Lilah said fairly angrily. “I’m sorry. My head isn’t quite together anymore, I don’t think. I need a break. I need to get away from here for a while. I’m not sure when if ever I’ll return. So I’m sorry. I have two very important things to mention before I go. First, you can use the footage I’m about to record for the media if you want.” She fidgeted to get comfortable and smoothed her hair which just popped right back into place, curling up and away from her face. “My name is Delilah Moreau-Walter and effective immediately I hereby resign from my position as Vice-President of Moreau-Walter Amalgamated. Due to a…” she said, choking a bit, “...an intense personal tragedy, I will be retiring from professional and personal life to attend to my mental well-being.” Even from as far away as she was from the camera it was clear that her eyes were tearing up. She paused, looked off to the left and squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “That should do it so no one speculates that I offed myself. Just went crazy. Ha,” she laughed quickly and a little disturbingly. “The other important thing I need to impress upon you is that you retain the… bodies. They are great-great grandfather’s masterpieces and must never be destroyed. If not for posterity, then think about Hatchworth. If you are ever able to repair him, he would want to see them one last time, even as they are. I know it.” She patted her thighs with her hands. “Well, that’s about it. Take care.” Lilah nodded, stood up and approached the camera again and as she leaned in her face blurred out of focus and she whispered. “I’m sorry,” before stopping the recording.
Snow-static played on the screen. Deelia hit stop and the screen went to blue, displaying the time--6:23 AM. The television bathed the family members in a cool blue glow. Eliza Moreau-Walter sobbed softly, leaning against her son on the couch. He frowned at the television but was otherwise unmoved. Deelia ejected the tape and restrained herself from throwing it across the room. Patrick Reed sat down heavily in a chair, despondent that she didn’t once say “I love you,” or “I’ll miss you,” let alone say his name. “She’s really gone?”
Deelia nodded. “I went to her room and found the tape. I checked everywhere. She’s not here.”
Alex took a deep breath. “Well. That’s that, then,” he said coldly, pivoted and headed out of the room. Eliza sobbed louder and curled into her son, muttering apologies.