Starlight
Starlight
Chapter 2: Dreams and Desperations

Lilo rubbed her eyes, and squinted across her dim, dark domicile. A pile of unwashed laundry stared back at her, smiling grimly.

She noticed she was sitting up. When had she sat?

Below her, footsteps crashed through the house. Who would be up at… She checked her clock through watery eyes.

Five o’clock! Was it that early?

She stretched her arms high in the air, wondering when the last time she’d been up this early before. Having nothing to do at such an early time as this, she decided to briefly amuse herself by watching the clock tick the seconds away.

Lilo was so distracted by the clock that she didn’t hear the elevator to her room slowly sliding upwards, nor did she hear someone’s footsteps rush across the room; and so she was completely startled when two big hands surrounded and embraced her in a crushing hug.

Gah! G’roff me! Help!

“Oh, Lilo!” The young girl heard the familiar voice of her older sister, and stopped struggling.

“Nani?”

Nani’s upside-down face zoomed in from above. She giggled; upside-down Nani always looked weird to her.

“What’s wrong? Did you have a bad dream?”

“Yeah,” she said, trailing off into the distance. Did she scream out loud?

“But, it’s nothing,” she decided to herself.

“Oh.” Nani knew it wasn’t nothing; part of the job of taking care of an eight-year-old girl was that you had to be proficient at reading their minds, and Nani had had plenty of time to hone her skills.

“You had the dream again,” she whispered. “About that night?”

Lilo nodded slowly, looking from Nani’s large brown eyes to her potato-nose.

“It’s okay, Lilo, everything’s alright. It’s just a dream.” Nani rocked her from side to side, trying to comfort her as best as she could, while still admiring, for a moment, the little girl’s courage.

And then, she had an idea.

“Hey, look over there.” Nani grasped Lilo’s shoulder and pointed across the room. Stitch was still fast asleep, snoring loudly.

She giggled. Stitch could sleep through a nuclear warhead explosion. He could survive through a nuclear warhead explosion, and if anyone found him, he’d be still snoozing away, until Nani said the magic word.

Nani quickly but silently snuck along the floor, minding not to knock anything over. In a low, quiet voice, she whispered in Stitch’s ear.

“Breakfast.”

Immediately, Stitch’s ears popped up.

“Breakfast?”

In a flash, he zoomed down the lift and into the kitchen.

Nani smiled again. It was so rare for her to smile, with her rushing around to work and paying the bills and yelling at Stitch, that Lilo couldn’t help but laugh.

“Well, I’d better get down there before Stitch wreaks the place.” And with that, Nani descended down the lift, leaving Lilo alone to deal with her thoughts.

 


 

At that time, Lilo’s thoughts consisted of a jumble of mixed emotions and confusing messages. At first, she tried to remember more about the dream – she was with her parents, in a car, and then it… and then, she wanted to forget. She couldn’t help but feel that there was something important in those dreams, something she was missing, but… she didn’t want to go over those memories, the last day she would ever see them. She wanted to keep them buried in her mind, locked away in a metal cabinet with a sign reading “Kapu!” But it seemed her mind was ignoring her requests, for she had had that dream several times in the last few weeks.

Besides, trying to remember something from a dream was like attempting to capture wisps of smoke or hold grains of sand: the more she tried, the faster they slipped away, until she was left with nothing more than an impression of what had happened.

That, and her own memories of the fateful night.

Lilo shook her head, flinging a lingering tear from her eye. It was no use worrying.

She decided to look herself over in her make-shift mirror. Staring back at her was what looked like an average eight-year-old Hawaiian girl, with chocolate-brown eyes, midnight-black hair and a sea-green nightgown. Except, of course, for the fact that there was nothing average about Lilo Pelekai.

From her obsession with vampires, zombies, tiki-monsters and other legions of the undead to her ‘hobby’ of capturing, relocating and educating illegal genetic experiments so they could help society, rather than hinder it with their destructive tendencies, Lilo was a very strange person indeed. Even her ocean-blue koala-like ‘dog’, Stitch, was really a genetic experiment, number 626 of the mad scientist Jumba Jookiba’s many creations.

Quickly making sure her head had not spontaneously transformed into a pumpkin, Lilo hopped on the lift and waited as it descended down to the hallway below.

 

*

 

By the time Lilo had arrived in the kitchen, Stitch had already consumed his fifth bowl of cereal. Lilo laughed at her companion’s eager voraciousness, although she considered it can’t have helped Nani’s money situation.

“Look who finally decided to come down!”

Nani was in the middle of baking some toasted sandwiches, humming as she went. Obviously, she had gotten some kind of promotion at work, because usually she was far too stressed to be happy.

“Hey, would you pass me…”

Nani paused to simultaneously flip the sandwich she was toasting and try and count how many had not gotten their own breakfast.

“…er, hang on… two eggs?”

“Huh?” Lilo, still slightly tired, blinked from her stupor.

“I need two eggs, could you pass them to me?”

“Oh, of course.”

Lilo grabbed two shiny beige orbs from the orange egg holster to Nani, who lay them beside the, waiting militantly to be used.

She glanced around the kitchen. Pleakley, a yellow-coloured being with cycloptic vision and an antenna perched atop his cranium, was greatly enjoying his bacon-and-eggs. Lilo noted with interest that he had not touched his cornflakes, laid out in a bowl beside him; perhaps he was still too much reminded of the incident with Experiment 222, two years prior.

Dr Jumba Jookiba, mad scientist extraordinaire, was a purple-skinned creature, rather rotund, with the unusual trait of having four eyes instead of two. Jumba was peering down a microscope, occasionally prodding the slide placed in its’ scope. Every now and then, he would quickly jot down something in his notebook.

Both Jumba and Pleakley were aliens, having come from the worlds of Qwelta Quaam and Plorganaaf, respectively. Both were considered outsiders to their Galactic Federation of Planets – Jumba was still on parole for his past demeanours, while Pleakley was forced to watch over him as an Expert on the planet ‘Ee-arth’, making sure he doesn’t mess too much with the local population. While the Galactic Federation still sometimes collaborated with them, they considered it too much of a PR risk to let them leave the planet.

Nani placed one of her floral plates, upon which lay a bacon-and-egg toasted sandwich, beside Jumba’s left elbow, and prodded the mad scientist of the shoulder.

“Hey, Jumba, got some breakfast for ya.”

Jumba made a noise halfway between a confused sigh and a grunt. He looked to the side and, noticing the plate, he nodded his acknowledgement.

“Oh, yes… thank you, Older Girl.”

And with that, he returned his stare to the lens of the microscope.

Lilo watched him adjusting the focus, and poking the slide with the knob of his pen. Soon, however, this got boring, and Lilo began to wonder what the slide held.

“What’s that?” she asked inquisitively, pointing to the slide.

Jumba looked up again, eyes tensing slightly.

“Oh… er, ‘tis nothing!”

Since Jumba was usually rather forthcoming with his evil plans, Lilo concluded that he must be up to no good.

“Then you wouldn’t mind me taking a look,” she replied, motioning towards the microscope.

“No!” Jumba pushed it out of reach. “I mean… it’s very boring, just cure for pesky Earth virus. Little girl would not be being interested.”

“But I’m very interested in micro-bacterial organisms.”

Lilo, of course, had no idea what micro-bacterial organisms were, she had heard that word on a Discovery Channel special she had once dozed off in the middle of. But she had to see what Jumba was hiding.

But, instead of answering, Jumba picked up his microscope and notes and calmly walked out of the kitchen.

“Jumba, you forgot your breakfast!” Nani called down the hall, but was only met by the slam of his study-room door.

 

*

 

“See ya!” shouted Lilo to a waving Nani. Every morning, she, Stitch, and several other girls practiced hula at the Mo’ikeha Hall and Community Centre, and today was a special treat - a group of actual hula dancers were coming in to dance with them and give advice. Real live hula dancers!

“Bye!” Nani suddenly remembered something. “Oh, don't forget to help Jumba clean out the attic like you promised!”

Lilo had indeed forgotten, and she took a moment to quietly curse her sisters’ mind reading abilities.

“Er… I won’t!” she reassured her. “And if I do, Stitch’ll remind me, won’t you?”

Stitch looked to her and smiled a toothy grin.

“Ih!”

“See, I’ll be fine!” Lilo knew Nani probably didn’t buy this one bit, given her recent escapades, but saying it aloud helped her feel better. The look of knowing misgiving on Nani’s face all but confirmed her theories, but she didn’t say anything more; she just waved and waved until the path took them out of sight.

 


 

As the two turned the corner, Nani breathed a sigh of relief. Today she only had to work a half-shift, and because she had spent the last night filling out tax returns, she hadn’t gotten much sleep. And so, grabbing a duvet, she lay out on the couch. Perhaps she could sneak a couple of hours before her shift began.

She was to have no such luck.

“’Tis completely safe, I am swearing on my word as evil scientist!”

The low rumbling tones of Jumba’s voice pulsed through the lounge as he thudded up the stairway leading to the house.

“Yes, evil! Besides, the last time you - what were the words? ‘Enhanced our cooking experience’ – we ended up with radioactively contaminated food!”

Pleakley’s shrill voice pierced the air. Nani scrunched up her face – she was far too tired for this.

“You’re lucky,” he continued scoldingly, “that Stitch was playing with the Geiger counter!”

“It was small plasma leak, only tiny bug!” Jumba insisted. “Besides, ‘tis fixed, I swear!”

“Oh, no-no-no-no-no, I’m not running that risk again! You’ll just have to…”

“QUIET!”

Nani was on her feet, although she didn’t remember getting up. She glared from Jumba’s confused face to Pleakley’s rather scared one. She now felt guilty for having shouted at them, but then again, was it so hard to see she just wanted to rest?

“I’m sorry, but I really need to get some sleep, so whatever you’re discussing, could you… I dunno, take it outside?”

Pleakley muttered something in a low tone to Jumba, who, in turn, nodded slowly. They exited the room slowly, leaving Nani alone to stare at the ceiling, enveloped by quickly oncoming sleep and dreams of days gone by.

 

*

 

Dabs of red streaked the sky, accented by the golden yellow of the setting sun. Below them, several young teenagers were huddled in a group, gossiping about days gone by.

Nani sighed. She had reached the offshoot that led to her house. Bidding her friends farewell (“See ya, Nani!” they chorused back), she strolled up the steep embankment, hoping that her parents were home.

As she walked, she could hear the call of several birds, singing in complete harmony. She marvelled at this ability, to sing together as one. Maybe…

The sight of the house snapped her out of her ponderings. The sun, blackened by the silhouette of a palm tree, cast a long, deep shadow over the Pelekai residence, giving it a look of foreboding, of hash coldness.

And besides, the carport was empty.

Nani shivered as she climbed the shaded steps. A slight breeze had picked up, which normally would be very pleasant – however, in the late afternoon, it felt chilling.

Entering the lounge, she quickly checked for answering machine messages. Some guy had called about the anniversary, but she could let her mother deal with that. She was much too tired.

She brushed the couch with her hand. It felt so… inviting, welcoming Nani into its’ folds… but she had to resist – she had to study. Perhaps a video would keep her awake? She had been meaning to make a study of one for English class…

She picked up the first video she saw and inserted it into the VCR. To the droning melody of Jerry Goldsmith’s score, she soon fell asleep.

 

*

 

In the far off distance, Nani heard a noise. She wasn’t sure if it was the ringing of the phone or of her alarm clock. It took a few moments for soberness to kick in and remind her that she had fallen asleep on the couch in the living room, and she wouldn’t be able to hear her alarm clock, as the sound would have to travel through several walls.

She tried to read the wall clock, but her brain had not fully woken up yet, and thus the positions of the arms made no sense to her. She stumbled around for the television’s remote control, but after several seconds, she gave up.

And then she remembered the phone was still ringing.

Rushing towards the kitchen, she made a desperate lunge for the phone in an attempt to pick up before the answering machine did.

“Hello, Pelekai residence, this is Nani.”

“Yes, Nani. This is Mrs. Winfield, from the kindergarten?”

Nani breathed a sigh of relief. Her parents were probably just participating in some kind of event. A sleepover. Yeah, that was it.

“Oh, Mrs. Winfield! How’s Lilo been?”

“She’s been a pleasure to teach.” The woman paused for a moment, as if unsure whether to continue. “Although, that’s actually why I called. You see, we’ve just been through quite a storm… dunno if you felt it on your end.”

“No,” Nani said, “although I heard they predicted it on the news last morn’.”

“Well, you see… not to worry you, but did your parents arrive home last night?”

Nani’s heart plummeted. That means they weren’t at the kindergarten.

“Er, n-n-no, they didn’t.”

“It’s just, well… Kalani and Jess… they arrived before it rolled in. It was only a sunshower then.” She paused again, perhaps trying to phrase her words carefully. “It’s just, I know the road they take… it winds quite close to a cliff face, doesn’t it? So I was worried…”

A cliff face? Nani had heard of cars slamming the barrier a little too hard, driving unstoppably off the cliffs that lined the mountain roads… they weren’t usually pretty affairs, to say the least.

A beeping noise interrupted Nani’s train of thought.

“Er, Mrs. Winfield, could you hold the line a bit? I’ve got another call.”

“No problem.”

This would be them, calling from a motel or something… Nani pressed the pound key.

“Pelekai residence, Nani speaking.”

But the voice that spoke was not her parents. Whoever he was, he was male, and he sounded very technical.

“Er… ah, yes, Nani. My name is Dr. Sanders… with West Kauai Medical? I believe we’ve met before.”

Nani nodded. “Four years ago, right?”

The man named Dr. Sanders laughed. “Ah, so you do remember!” Then his demeanour became more sombre.

“Listen, Nani, something terrible’s happened.”

He took a breath before continuing.

“At 7:34p.m., we were called to a car wreck along the canyon side – some jogger had found it on their evening run.” He paused. “Would you recite your cars’ license plate?”

“Sure.” She found the registration papers, and rattled off the letters.

“Ah, yes. I thought so, but I’d hoped…”

He trailed off, and Nani felt her hopes dim.

“The car had crashed into the rock face. Even at twenty-five… well, it’s rock, it doesn’t give way to you. You give way to it.”

He sighed.

“We found Kalani and Jess in the front seats. Vitals extremely weak, from the large blood loss, no doubt. Fractured ribs and arms. Severe haemorrhaging in the skull. They didn’t make it.”

Nani dropped the phone. Outside, lightning struck the hapless ground.

“Nani? Are you still there?”

“Yes, yes I’m still here,” said Nani as she picked up the phone again. She sniffled, trying to fight back oncoming tears.

“The Waimea police, of course, would want identification from a family member, but… they look like them, and... well, Jess had his drivers’ license in the glovebox.” He sighed wistfully. “Just as pragmatic as I remember him.”

Feet, presumably Dr. Sanders’, shuffled nervously. “You know, Nani, we do have courses for dealing with…”

“No, I’m fine,” she hoarsely croaked, in a voice that did not sound very fine at all.

“Well, then.” Some papers shuffled. “There is some good news, though. A young girl was also found… she had some trouble before, but now she should be fine. Some lacerations across the chest, a few cracked ribs, slight arrhythmia… but she’s really lucky. She was in the middle-back seat, so she managed to miss much of the damage.”

“Lilo?” Nani whispered, now barely audible.

“Well, personally, I haven’t met your little sister since her ultrasound, but I daresay it’s her. The age is about right.”

Lilo… she survived… Nani wiped back a tear.

“Now, we’re trying to get some dental records released from your GP, but…”

“Nani?”

She heard a voice call her name - frightened, weak, whispery, but most definitely that of her sister.

“Ah, she seems to be awake. She’ll probably be conscious for only a few seconds, so…”

There were footsteps, some shuffling, and then Nani heard Lilo.

“Where am I? Where’s Mum and Dad?”

Nani thought carefully. “You’ve been involved in an accident, but everything’s OK now.”

That was a lie. Nothing was OK. Not right now.

Some silence passed between them before Lilo spoke again.

“Nani, I’m scared.”

Tears were brimming Nani’s eyes, as she tried to speak words of comfort to her little sister.

“Don’t worry, Lilo, everything’s going to be all right.”

Some more shuffling, and Dr. Sanders spoke again.

“She’s fallen asleep again.”

He clicked his pen.

“I recommend you arrive as soon as possible. Take a bus, or fly if you have to. Kokaua has an airport, right?”

“Er… I think so…”

“We’re down Waimea Canyon Drive… I’m sure you know where it is…”

His voice softened, well, as much as a raspy stressed and overworked voice could muster.

“She’ll need you here, more than ever. And, of course, the police will want to ask questions…. but if money’s a problem, we could…”

“No, it’s fine.” Was he mad? Recommend? She had to go. Both for her parents... and for Lilo.

 

*

 

Nani awoke to the droning sounds of vacuuming.

She sighed. If there’s one thing she could count on, it was Pleakley’s obsession with cleanliness, rivalling even her own.

Pleakley had been facing the wall, trying to get a stubborn dust-bunny out of a corner. Having been satisfied he had succeeded, he turned around – and saw Nani.

“Er, ah, Nani!”

He hastily hid the vacuum cleaner behind him.

“Don’t, Pleakley – it’s fine.” Nani rubbed her eyes… what time was it?

“Nani, shouldn’t you be getting to work?” Pleakley asked. “It’s about midday…”

“Midday? Already?” Nani jumped to her feet, grabbing her blue-green uniform as she rushed to the bathroom. A second later she had rushed past Pleakley, leapt out the door, and bound down the stairs, almost knocking Jumba over on her way.

“Sorry Jumba!” she called. Jumba waved back as if to say “no problem”.

She opened the door, sat in, checked her mirrors, strapped herself in place, and placed one hand at two o’clock on the steering wheel.

“Alright, car, work with me today”, she growled as she tried to rev the engine. The car, in response, groaned and moaned, eventually spluttering to life.

Obviously it was comfortable just where it was.

Nani switched out of neutral, slowly backed out of the carport, and eased the car out of the drive. Turning the radio on, she began to hum to familiar tunes.

Everything was going to be alright.


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--MarkKB

Copyright © 2013 Mark Kéy-Balchin.