A rotting, dirty grey sign, full of holes and barely standing announced Mary's entrance into Kriuq. Immediately after passing the sign, her tiny car began to leave a smoggy cloud of dust and gravel behind it as the smooth pavement morphed into dirt.
Mary carefully scanned her surroundings. The buildings lining the road were all plain, simply built bungalows. They were all an identical shade of ugly brown, only a shade darker than the road. She saw the address she was looking for almost immediately. It stood out with its drab grey color and ranch-style architecture. This must be her grandmother's house.
She pulled into the driveway and rang the doorbell. "I'm coming!" A voice inside replied. The door opened. "Mary dear! What a surprise!"
"Mom said she sent you a letter," She pushed her way past her grandmother and into the much cooler house.
Her grandmother twisted her hands together, eying the ragged canvas bag in Mary's hand, "I never received it, I'm afraid."
"Oh. Well I'm staying here for the summer. So where's my room?"
Her grandmother raised her shoulders and smiled brightly, "Of course dear. Your room will be the guest room next to mine," She led her into a simple room furnished with a single bed and dresser.
"Whatever," Mary threw her bag onto the plain blue comforter and flopped down next to it, the bed creaking loudly with the sudden extra weight, "I'm sleeping now."
With the same bright smile pasted onto her face, her grandmother whispered, "Of course dear. Sleep well."
After one week of living in Kriuq, Mary was bored out of her mind. There were no malls, movie theatres, or even restaurants. It was stupid that just because she had decided to make those girls at school not-so-blonde anymore, she was now trapped in this dreary little town in the middle of nowhere.
That night was her grandmother's turn to host the town's quilting circle. Since there was nothing else to do in the boring town, Mary decided to check it out. The only people in attendance tonight were Glenda and her twin sister Belinda.
"And then Clarence said, 'I'm gonna nail him right in!'" Glenda's busty laugh filled the small room as she gossiped about the latest town happenings, "Get it, nail? Funniest thing I've ever heard!"
Mary's grandmother laughed politely while Belinda continued to glare at her sister. Glenda stopped telling her story long enough to look at her sister "What crawled up your butt and died?"
Belinda glared for a second longer before lifting up her newest doll, a male one this time with a tiny little blue hat, to 'talk' to her sister, "Perhaps your sense of humor since it's already dead!" The little doll crossed its little hands over its chest and 'glared' at Glenda.
"Wow that was an amazing comeback! At least I don't still play with dolls!"
As the two women started to bicker, well one woman and a doll, Mary's grandmother turned to her, "Mary, dear, could you go get us some cookies from the kitchen?"
Mary glared balefully at her grandmother before reluctantly getting up to get them. As she passed Glenda, she was careful to keep her butt facing away from her. She had learned this lesson early on after Glenda had slapped her butt while in the middle of a conversation with her grandmother. Her grandmother had later on said it was normal.
When she returned, she realized that the twins were no longer squabbling. They were now calmly discussing the disappearance of dogs lately.
"It's really quite annoying. It's keeping my poor Clarence busy all the time!" Glenda trailed off, frowning.
The doll laughed, "What are you talking about? Clarence is a coffin maker…for humans! He shouldn't be doing anything about missing dogs! He's probably just trying to avoid you!"
"Hmph! You're wrong! Clarence would never avoid me. He cares too much for Grizelda and me to do that!"
The doll huffed, "Like anyone would care about that ugly child! She looks more like a troll than a girl! Only a mother could love someone with a face like that."
"Don't talk about my daughter like that!" They were bickering again.
"Mary, dear, have you found a place to stay while I'm out of town tomorrow?"
She was about to reply when Glenda answered for her, "She's staying with us! Grizelda will enjoy having a playmate!"
Mary gaped for a second before starting to protest, "But-"
"Wonderful! I'm glad you found someplace to stay!"
"I'll pick you up tomorrow morning!" Without letting Mary get a word in, Glenda picked up her things and fluttered out, stopping to slap her grandmother's butt on the way. Belinda's doll shook her head before she followed her sister out.
The next morning, Glenda arrived as promised to walk Mary the five minute walk to her house. Once there, Mary was immediately greeted with the sight of the ugliest child she had ever seen. The 'thing' had messy blond ringlets that looked like they should've been cute. On any other child. Instead, they just brought out her greenish pale skin and misshapen head more. She almost asked Glenda why she had a troll in her house. She had to stop herself from shrinking away when 'it' approached her,
"Be my friend?" the troll girl asked.
"Yes dear. This is Mary she will be your friend from now on." Mary grimaced and wanted to reply that there was no way in hell that she would be this thing's friend. But for a reason unknown to her, she kept her mouth shut.
Glenda said she was going to go make lunch and almost immediately after she left the little girl attached itself onto Mary's leg. "Wanna play dollies together?"
Mary tried to shake her off, but it was a lost cause. The girl was like a barnacle. Resigned, she sighed, "I guess."
An hour later, Mary was starting to get into the game. She hadn't played with dolls for years. Not since her mother had thrown all of hers away, explaining that normal grown up girls didn't play with dolls.
"Aren't dolly's fun?"
Mary looked at the ugly child who was still so young, she smiled, "Yes, they're very fun."
A little while later, Mary stood up to stretch. She jumped when she felt a hand suddenly connect with her butt. Glenda was back.
"Lunch is ready, girls!"
Mary carefully put away the dolls, before following Glenda into the kitchen.
They were just sitting down when there was a knock on the door. "Clarence! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Hello, Glenda. I was in the neighborhood so I brought you some flowers," The tall man was dressed in his usual all white suit. The only color that was on his person at all was the crimson spreading across his cheeks.
"Aww, how sweet!" She took the bouquet of roses from him, "These aren't left over from a funeral, are they?"
Clarence shifted nervously, his usual smile pasted in place, "Of course not."
"Good. I wouldn't want some poor dead person to miss out on his flowers because of me!"
Mary rolled her eyes as she watched the couple flirt. They were so obvious. She looked back down at her plate. Her pile of spinach had grown suspiciously larger. Grizelda grinned angelically at her.
Mary was surprised to find that she found herself wanting to play with little Grizelda even after her grandmother was back. Something about playing dollies with her had been freeing. It was on one such visit when Grizelda asked about her school.
"I just started school this year! It's really fun!" She brushed the hair of the doll she was playing with, "Do you like your school?"
Mary froze. She slowly started to smooth her doll's skirt again, "No, not really. It's not very fun."
"Why not?" Innocent eyes looked up at her questioningly.
"It's just boring," She continued to smooth the doll's clothes before moving onto another doll. She still hadn't looked up at the child.
"It just is, "She hurriedly put the doll down before quickly leaving the house.
Later that day, her grandmother came to her room.
"Glenda told me that Grizelda won't stop crying."
Mary glared at her grandmother before turning away and ignoring her completely.
"Your mother told me that you go to a top school. One that leads to many college options."
"She would. She doesn't have to go to that hellhole every day!"
"What's so bad about it? Why are you so angry?"
"Why do you care?"
Her grandmother sat down on her bed, "Because I'm your grandmother, and you're currently staying under my roof."
Mary stared at her grandmother for a second before sighing, "It's just too perfect. Everyone is the same. We all wear the same uniforms, have the same schedules, and eat the same food. Nothing different is allowed. If something or someone different does get in, it's severely beaten down, until it "disappears." "
"You're right. That doesn't sound very fun," Her grandmother suddenly got up and walked to the door, "But isn't that school the reason you're here now? Haven't you been having a lot more fun since you arrived?
Mary watched her grandmother shut the door as she left the room with wide eyes. She was right. She hadn't had to conform to anything since she had gotten here. She could just be herself. And she had been enjoying herself a lot more because of that.
Mary went to Glenda's house and apologized to Grizelda the next day. She had become fond of the girl at some point, and she couldn't stand to leave her so upset. Grizelda accepted
her apology happily and even apologized for bringing up a hurtful subject.
She was back at her grandmother's house when the knock came. It was Mayor Jim. She knew something was up from the moment she saw him. His usually perfect posture was slightly slumped, and his bright smile was dim.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news, Miss Mary." He twiddled his thumbs nervously before continuing, "There was a car accident out on the main road today. It seems like the driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran right into that big old Oak tree at the end of the road. She died instantly."
Mary continued to stare at him, a sense of foreboding overwhelming her. There was only one reason he'd be telling her this, "Do you mean…?"
Mayor Jim sighed before lifting his head and meeting her eyes, "I'm sorry, Miss Mary, but your grandmother is dead."
Mary just stood there in shock as Jim tipped his hat and left. She just couldn't seem to grasp it. Jim's words kept repeating in her mind over and over. How could her grandmother be dead? She had just talked to her last night!
For a reason unknown to her, once she had stopped staring at the empty doorway, Mary was drawn to her grandmothers newly abandoned room. Logically, she knew that her grandmother's death had been unexpected and she would find no answers in her room. Yet, something inside of her made her go to the empty room. She paused at the door for a second before slowly turning the knob.
Inside, it was dark and somewhat eerie. This was now a dead woman's room. Mary quickly flipped on the light to banish those dark thoughts. The room seemed normal once it was flooded with light. It was just an old lady's room.
Mary walked silently through it, as if looking for something still unknown to her. She opened the closet half-heartedly and almost closed it again before she saw it. Towards the very back of the table was a small table. As if in a trance, she walked into the large closet and carefully reached out to touch one of the twenty or so small objects lying on a silver platter atop the table. It was furry. She pulled back her hand with a gasp as she realized what it was. Her grandmother had collected dog tails.
She was quickly backing out of the closet when something else caught her eye. A small piece of paper lay beside the platter of tails. That was it. That was what had drawn her here. Some part of her was certain of this as she reached around the tails to grab the paper. With the paper in hand, she backed out of the closet, closing it behind her, and left the room.
When she was back in her own bedroom, she looked at the folded piece of paper again. She opened it quickly. There was only one line of writing. She started crying. Why was it that the one person who actually understood her was now dead?
The funeral was a few days later. It was a quiet affair, yet the whole town still showed up. Mary noticed that her family was absent.
Glenda and Grizelda almost immediately came up to her. The child didn't exactly understand what was going on, but she hugged Mary anyway, attempting to comfort her. Glenda hugged her as well, for once not even trying to slap her butt. Everyone in the town was extremely supportive. They had cared for her grandmother as well, after all.
"Clarence this, Clarence that! You're unhealthily obsessed with that man!" the doll yelled at Glenda. It was a female this time.
"I am not obsessed! Just because Clarence always looks great and wears great clothes and has a nice-"
"See? I told you that you were obsessed! And he always wears the same kind of clothes! They're always white suits! And that smile! It's so creepy!" The doll shuddered dramatically.
"It's not creepy! It's a beautiful smile!"
As the two continued to argue, Mary rolled her eyes. It was just another normal quilting circle. She had started to learn how to sew when she had officially moved in with Glenda and Grizelda and transferred to the small town's high school.
"Mary dear, Grizelda told me to tell you that she got new dollies. She says you should come over soon to play with them," Glenda stopped arguing long enough to say this, before turning back to her twin and continuing.
Mary looked at the two affectionately. The only thing missing from the scene was her grandmother's calm normalness.
She pulled the piece of paper out of her pocket, where she always kept it. She unfolded it and smoothed it out before reading it fondly for the thousandth time. Treasure your differences. Maybe normalness wasn't the right word.
A/N: I originally wrote this for my writing short fiction class in college. The idea came from the picture on the cover of our text book. It was very strange and I felt like I had to write about it. Thus "Kriuq" was born.