Child Defective Services
A Half-Baked Bishop & Holiday Short
Miss Folz was staring at Mikaela as if the dainty ten-year-old Latina had been speaking Japanese. The child stood before the class, gesturing to an elaborate presentation about Nikola Tesla’s theory of “cold fusion”, complete with photographs, charts, and quirky headers and labels written in bright blue marker. The whole thing was assembled collage-style on a broad piece of blue posterboard and stood almost as tall as she did.
Mikaela suddenly looked insecure. “What?”
Miss Folz shifted in her seat and leaned on her desk, head tilted curiously. “This just seems…remarkably mundane for you.”
The class tittered.
“Mundane?” said Mikaela.
“Yes. I was expecting something about ghosts or time-traveling dinosaurs again.”
Mikaela smiled. “Nah, I went vanilla this time. I mean, I had a project about the life cycle of a Yuggoth polymorph embryo, but it sorta got away from me.” She giggled for some reason. Then she gestured to her project. “Anyway, most of Tesla’s ideas were very conceptual, but the theory was–”
Just then the door burst open, and in walked Mikaela wearing a green flannel shirt and a white crochet bunny hat, its long ears trailing behind her like streamers. She had a spray can in one hand, and a look of determination on her face as she strode to the front of the classroom.
The first Mikaela went white at the sight of the second. “H-How did you get out of the trunk?”
The second Mikaela replied by applying the flame of a zippo lighter to the spray can, turning it into a miniature flamethrower: she doused the first Mikaela in flames and watched as she shriveled and smoldered like an old, dry bush. The classroom filled with the stench of ozone and burning rubber.
Mikaela wafted the smoke away from her face with a cough, then looked apologetically at her teacher. “Sorry I’m late,” she said.
“What,” said Miss Folz, “What, What was that?”
“Yuggoth polymorph,” said Mikaela. “I left the embryo in the car. I may as well have put it in an incubator.”
Dr. Bechdel looked like a librarian, if librarians served as the police on the lower circles of Hell. She walked rigidly as if she had a broomhandle for a spine, taking long, purposeful steps as she went. Her blonde hair was tied tightly back, her black suit tightly fitting and obsessively brushed, her chic librarian glasses molded onto her face.
She marched up the front steps of the old plantation house that served as the Bishop & Holiday Paranormal Agency building in downtown Arkham, Massachusetts. She rapped on the door with a rigid fist.
Dr. Holiday answered a minute later, adjusting his purple spectacles and smiling pleasantly. “Hullo,” he said, Kentucky accent as thick as butter. “How can I help you?”
Dr. Bechdel didn’t seem to know he was there. She smiled past him at the tall, slender Egyptian woman standing behind him.
“Good afternoon,” said the visitor. “I am Dr. Bechdel of the Arkham Child Protection Agency. Are you Miss Edna Bishop?”
Edna cocked an eyebrow. “Sure am.”
Dr. Holiday also cocked an eyebrow. “Ah…and I’m Dr. Holid–”
Dr. Bechdel cut him off, still ignoring him: “You should have been expecting me. I left a message on your machine. I’ve come to discuss the questionable living situation of your wards.”
Edna pointed at Dr. Holiday. “They’re not my wards. They’re the Doctor’s.”
Dr. Bechdel smiled condescendingly. “Yes of course. May I come in?”
Dr. Holiday admitted her. Dr. Bechdel marched right past him as if he were the coat rack, assessing the sprawling lobby and its archaic spiral staircase. The oak walls of the lobby were decorated with a plethora of eldritch artifacts that almost seemed alive, and Gothic paintings that seemed to watch her every movement.
“The Child Protection Agency,” she went on with a shiver, addressing Edna, “is greatly disturbed by Mikaela’s living situation here in this…carnival of the macabre. We feel it has begun to affect her psychological health, and insist on a full investigation.”
“You’re not concerned with Gabe’s mental health?” said Edna. “He’s the other ward.”
Again the smile. “Of course. Mikaela’s behavior at school is a strong indication of the poor influence this environment has had on her upbringing. She teaches strange spells and hexes to her classmates.”
“Harmless stuff,” said Dr. Holiday, trailing the woman like a neglected dog. “Really, I never teach my wards any of the dangerous–”
“She conducts inappropriate experiments on campus, sometimes for extra credit. Many of these experiments seem to be of a Satanic nature, and it disturbs the parents of the other students. They can’t abide such blasphemous and deranged behavior around their children. She’s lucky she hasn’t been expelled.”
“Really, ‘Satanic’ is an ignorant blanket term to–”
Dr. Bechdel withdrew a folded paper from her coat pocket and handed it past Dr. Holiday to Edna. “And have you been assisting with her school papers? This is her most recent assignment, where the students were required to write about what they did over spring break. Have you read it?”
Annoyed, Edna continued pointing at Dr. Holiday, but Dr. Bechdel didn’t seem to notice. “Again, his kids, not mine. He’s the guardian. Talk to him.”
Dr. Bechdel waved the paper in outrage. “A detailed account of her vacation on the Third Circle of Hell! And she swears up and down that it’s all true, every word of it! The school board is in an uproar as we speak! Two families have already threatened to withdraw their children from the school!”
“Didn’t they like the part about taking Cerberus walkies?” said Dr. Holiday.
“And not only is this environment unsuitable for young minds,” said Dr. Bechdel, turning up her nose at Edna, “it may even be dangerous, given the rumors of what goes on around here. I understand you fancy yourself an attorney of the dead or some such spiritual nonsense?”
Dr. Holiday opened his mouth to correct her, but stopped himself and sighed. He looked hopelessly at Edna.
Edna folded her arms. “You can scoff at our agency all you like. The Doctor may be eccentric, but the children are well cared for.”
“Well cared for? In this haven of Satanism and mad science?”
“The kids are perfectly safe and perfectly happy here.”
Dr. Bechdel adjusted her glasses. “Is that so? Then may I see her?”
Edna narrowed her eyes. “You mean them? Child Protection Services is concerned for Mikaela and Gabe, correct?”
Another condescending smile. “Yes, of course.”
“No, you may not see them. If you want to assess whether the children are being neglected or abused, or are living in an otherwise unsafe home environment, go through the proper channels and bring the appropriate paperwork. As it is, you’ve outstayed your welcome. Also, you’re weird and unpleasant and I don’t like you. Get out.”
Dr. Bechdel huffed. “Mark my words, I will be back. I will turn this place inside-out. And if I find it is an unfit home environment, I will liberate Mikaela from this ghastly place if it’s the last thing I do.”
“And Gabe,” sighed Edna as the woman marched out the front door.
“Yes, of course.”
Dr. Holiday closed the door behind her. He and Edna exchanged worried looks.
They walked up the spiral stairs, up the second floor hall, and re-entered Gabe’s bedroom three doors down. Teeny Latina Mikaela sat in her foster brother’s desk chair, spinning idly with boredom, the ears of her crochet bunny hat whipping lazily in the air. She smiled precociously at her guardian on reflex.
Sitting on the bed was the charred, skeletal husk of a twelve-year-old boy. Its empty eye sockets stared at the adults as they came back in.
“Who was that?” rasped the skeleton.
“Child Protective Services,” the doctor said dismissively. “Now, Gabe, start from the beginning and tell me exactly what happened to you.”
The basement laboratory intercom crackled to life in Mikaela’s voice: “Doctor!”
Dr. Holiday had been reading over the results of his extensive tests for the eighth time, while Gabe — or what was left of him — sat on the slate-top counter at the center of the room, a boy’s charred skeleton in a blue hoodie and jeans. He was staring at the doctor’s assorted jars and bottles of strange specimens lining the shelves on the walls; many of them stared back, or twitched, or glowed strangely in alien colors.
Ammut, Dr. Holiday’s familiar, laid next to the lab entrance, watching his master with his beady yellow eyes. Blasphemous science and ancient ritual had combined the essence of crocodile, lion, and hippo into this flabby mass — a golden, earless Garfield with a garbage disposal mouth.
The doctor continued reading on his mobile device as he turned to the intercom. “Yes, Mikaela?”
“Can I help with Mummy Gabe?” she said eagerly.
“You know the rules. You exposed your classmates to a hostile alien entity. That’s one week with no wi-fi, no Netflix, and absolutely no lab time.”
The sweet voice suddenly whined as if it were in pain. “¡Chale! Doctor, es ¡injusto!”
“Lee un libro.”
The doctor stood next to Gabe and tossed his mobile device onto the countertop. It was impossible to read the boy’s mood, what with his lack of a face, but given his history of suffering under the Black Curse of Hemingway — the bad luck curse that had plagued the boy since infancy, and orphaned him when a jetliner crash-landed on his house — he could safely assume the boy’s mood was more than a little apprehensive.
“What’s the prognosis?” said Mummy Gabe.
“Dead,” said the doctor.
“So what, you can’t reverse zombie-itis?”
“You’re a revenant, a person who has returned from the dead. A zombie is an animate corpse with no free will or personality, sorta like a robot.”
Gabe flailed his bony arms. “Whatever! Can you fix me or can’t ya?”
Dr. Holiday nodded. “It’ll take some doing. I’ll have to harvest some raw materials to revitalize your physical vessel, and the procedure itself may take at least a week. I called the school and said you were sick. They shouldn’t miss you.”
Gabe hung his skull and emitted a cloud of dust as he sighed. “Great. Make-up work galore.”
Dr. Holiday patted the boy on his shoulder. The skull dislodged and rolled under the counter. With a mighty skronk and supernatural speed, Ammut darted under the counter as his instincts took over. Furniture and trash bins scattered everywhere as he chased the screaming head across the floor, with Dr. Holiday in hot pursuit.
“Doctor,” said Edna through the intercom. “Dr. Bechdel is here with a correctional officer from the juvie branch.”
The doctor groaned. He said into the intercom, “Doesn’t that whackjob have anything better to do with her time?”
“They’re both standing right here,” said Edna.
Dr. Holiday hung his head. “Uh…Send ’em right down.”
As soon as he turned away from the intercom, he said to Gabe, “Take off all your clothes and lay on the counter.”
“Wh-what?” said Gabe.
“Do it! Hurry!”
Sixty seconds later Edna came into the lab, with the rigid Dr. Bechdel at her heels, her dagger-slit eyes judging everything they came in contact with. She took one look at the boy-sized skeleton laying on the counter and turned a shade green.
Following Dr. Bechdel was a meticulously well-groomed man in his early thirties, wearing a blue suit and vest complete with silver pocket watch.
“Excellent taste,” said Dr. Holiday, gesturing to his own vest and watch ensemble.
“Officer Lansing,” said the man as he flashed his badge, his eyes held fast on the skeleton.
Dr. Holiday introduced himself, eyes held fast on the officer’s holstered revolver. “That’s a big toy for a child corrections officer.”
“Have to carry when you spend most of the working day in gang territory.”
The doctor gestured to the skeleton. “You caught me at a bad time. I’m authenticating this specimen for the university. What can I do for you?”
“Dr. Bechdel asked me to assist her in assessing the living situation of your wards.”
Edna and the doctor both raised their eyebrows. “She actually spoke to you?” said Edna. “Eye contact and everything?”
Dr. Bechdel ignored the other humans, too busy trying to get away from the curious Ammut, who kept following her and sniffing her leg with his cold, wet snout.
“Well,” said Lansing, “she requested someone from Juvie, and the Captain assigned me. We didn’t exactly talk. She just got in the car and pretended I wasn’t there the whole trip out here.”
Dr. Bechdel pointed to the skeletal boy and said to Edna, “Is this sort of ghastly proceeding a daily occurrence?”
Edna shrugged. “He’s always working on something strange. People frequently seek the doctor’s expertise in ancient relics. It’s all pretty harmless, though.”
“Surely you don’t allow the children to participate.”
“Not when they’re grounded,” said the doctor.
“¡Injusto!” cried the intercom.
He reached past Lansing to hit the intercom button. “¡Silencio! ¡Lee un libro!”
“Judge says we’re supposed to speak to the kids,” said Lansing.
Dr. Holiday pretended to examine the skeletal boy, prodding him with a strange metal tool. On reflex the boy coughed a waft of dust into Dr. Bechdel’s face, who stumbled out of the room as a coughing fit assaulted her.
“Well,” said the doctor, brushing corpse-dust from his vest, “Gabe is sick in bed, and as his loving, caring, and highly responsible guardian, I can’t allow him to be disturbed.”
Lansing sneered. “Subtle.”
“Really? Not too hammy?”
Edna elbowed the doctor.
“Is that why he’s been out of school the past few days?” said Lansing.
“Unfortunately. You can see Mikaela, though, if it’s all right with the whackjob. I mean, the doctor.”
Lansing smiled awkwardly. “Won’t make a difference to her. Doesn’t seem to realize you have a boy as well.”
Dr. Holiday moved over to Edna. “Ed, could you find Mikaela and introduce her to our guests?” He added under his breath, “And, uh, tell her not to act any weirder than usual.”
Edna humphed wryly and led Lansing back up the stairs. Dr. Holiday saw them out and found Dr. Bechdel sitting on the hall floor, still coughing and looking like she were about to throw up.
“Sorry about that,” chuckled Dr. Holiday as he reached down to take her hand and help her up.
Like a wild west gunslinger, Dr. Bechdel drew a can of mace from inside her jacket and unloaded it in the doctor’s face. By the time he finished flailing, coughing, and screaming bloody murder, the hall was deserted.
Gabe was sitting upright on the counter when he staggered back in. “Can I get a grape soda?”
“After the Nazis leave,” said Dr. Holiday. “Your precocious foster-sister is comparatively normal, so she should be able to convince them to–”
A gunshot resounded throughout the house. Dr. Holiday was up the stairs like a rocket.
He found them all in his study, the adults gawking in silent wonder. Mikaela was sitting on the study desk. A half-dozen laundry clips were clipped to her face, and she wore a pair of boxer shorts on her head. In one eye was a shot glass, held in place like an alien monocle. She had evidently been using it to examine the double-barreled shotgun he normally kept mounted over the fireplace mantel; she had the weapon in her hands, and both barrels were smoking. Across the room, his bust of Dr. Henry Armitage had been blasted to smithereens.
When she saw him she smiled stupidly and awkwardly at him, and the glass fell off her face. “Forgive my clumsiness,” she said. “I, uh…I was merely cleaning your rudimentary firearm.”
Dr. Holiday’s heart sank into his rectum. The air grew thinner as Ammut growled from the study doorway — a low, ominous rumble while his beady eyes zeroed in on Mikaela, his fur standing on end, his tail twitching.
Dr. Holiday shoved past the gawking Lansing and Bechdel and held out his hand. “Can I have the gun?”
Mikaela looked at his hand curiously, then at the shotgun. She handed it to him with a smile.
He tossed it aside and leaned down so he was at eye level with the girl, adjusting his purple spectacles until they could register the odd glow behind her pupils — the sign that something else was occupying Mikaela’s skull. “Mikaela, darling, are you feeling all right?”
“Affirmative.” She said it casually, but she kept looking at the other adults, as if rating her performance in their horrified expressions.
“And do you, uh…do you know who I am?”
She tilted her head like a cat. “Mikaela…Darling…?” Her brain seemed to stall for several minutes.
Then her eyes lit up. “Oh! Darling! Of course!” The little preteen suddenly threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the lips. “Yes, Darling Husband, I am nominal!”
With a howl Ammut bounded into the room and pounced upon Mikaela, knocking her off the desk and onto the carpet. Dr. Holiday and Officer Lansing both pounced as well, Lansing grabbing the girl and pulling her to safety, the doctor hugging his familiar like a pillow and taking the brunt of its violent flailing: the creature shredded his vest trying to break free.
Dr. Bechdel was red-faced and ready to explode like a volcano. “I’ve seen just about enough!” she said, turning to Edna as usual. “I have never, in my ten years as an agent of the Child Protection Agency, seen such a den of lunacy and depravity! That anyone allowed you to take charge of a child of any age is beyond my capacity for logic!”
“I assure you, this is not normal even for us,” said Edna. “Ammut loves Mikaela!”
“It’s not Mikaela!” shouted Dr. Holiday as he wrestled the angry beast in his arms. “She’s been mind-swapped by some kind of entity! She has to be quarantined and studied!”
“She has to be taken outta this nuthouse as soon as possible,” said Lansing. “I’m calling Animal Control to take care of that monster first, and then I might just toss both your asses in jail!”
“On what charge?” snarled Edna.
“I’m sure I’ll think of something!” said Lansing.
“What the hell is all the shouting about?” said Gabe.
The room went dead silent as everyone stared at the skeletal boy in the blue hoodie standing the study entrance with a can of grape soda in his hand.
When she saw him, Dr. Bechdel screamed and fainted. Lansing screamed, dropped Mikaela, drew his revolver and emptied it into the boy at close range, perforating his skeletal body and spattering grape soda all over the hall. Riddled with bullets, Gabe banked off of the wall and collapsed on his face in the doorway.
“Wh-What the hell was that?!” said Lansing, his hands trembling.
Edna held her head and sighed in frustration. “The other ward.”
With a groan, Gabe slowly got back up, leaning wearily against the doorframe. He hacked, coughed, and spat a deformed bullet onto the carpet at Lansing’s feet.
“Keep ‘em,” Lansing said to Bishop and Holiday. He then scooped up the unconscious Dr. Bechdel and fled the house. A minute later they heard him cry out the same way Dr. Holiday had when she had maced him.