Megan The Ninja Explorer
The scream that wakens me is, strangely, not my own. It's followed by a splash. I turn to the clock beside my bed, some cartoon character with a dial in its belly. I prefer The Roadrunner, but Mother thinks the mouse is cute, so I leave it.
11 PM. I sense an opportunity.
“Harmony, wake up. They’re getting silly already, now’s our chance.”
“Mufenwafel,” my friend mumbles.
I leave a trail of my 'nice pajamas', Nanny Elin's term, on the way to the dressing room. I emerge wearing my 'ninja pajamas', my term, for that is what I am. All black except for my face and feet. No way I'm wearing the skunk slippers with the white stripe and a tail sticking up in the back my mother bought me. And Nanny has hidden my black ski mask. Yet another agent of evil sent to resist me on my mission to save the world 'one contract at a time'.
"There has been too many late night assaults on the enemy's pastry supply," she says. "Secret agents, if they are to be great secret agents, must be careful not to get fat, min kjære.” She says the words mean my dear in her native Norwegian but no way! It looks so totally different from the way she says it, 'sha-DUH'. It's obvious it's a secret code. I am sooo on to her.
Tonight's mission is special and I'm getting impatient. “Will you come on, Harm,” I say as I bounce on the bed beside her, “I want to go exploring.”
“No, you don’t,” she says through a yawn, “you want to see what you can get away with.”
“There is no question of that. I can get away with anything. I am invincible, a finely tuned machine,” I say as I jump off the bed. “An agent of justice and freedom feared by enemies of free enterprise throughout the world. But, if you want to sleep away your life, I’ll go without you.”
She sighs. “No, you'd only make my life miserable when you got back.” She frumps across the floor. She knows nothing of stealth mode.
“Will you be quiet. Someone will hear.” I hiss.
“No, I will not. This is stupid. The only people stupid enough to be awake now are stupid adults. They're having another stupid party and tossing other stupid adults into the stupid swimming pool. Sensible people understand the value of a good night's rest.”
I open the door a crack and smile. “See? That silicon stuff I got from the maintenance closet worked. It neutralized the early warning device the enemy planted in the hinges.”
I step into the empty hallway and peer over the railing into the main hall of the family wing. “No one. All the servants are busy serving drinks to the guests at the party.”
The marble floor feels cool as I tiptoe by Nanny Elin’s bedroom to the door of my mother’s suite. I push open the door and freeze. The enemy has laid another trap.
“Okay, genius, where’s your silicon stuff now?”
I stay motionless, a statue, a true ninja for a full minute. Then open the door just enough to squeeze through.
I glide across the suite to the French doors that open without a sound onto the balcony. “Figures.” I say aloud. "No one’s around to care now.”
“Megan, this is stupid.”
“Quit being such a baby,” I say as I climb up on the railing. I steady myself with a hand against the cool granite of the mansion’s exterior. It’s more like a step than a leap to reach the railing of the upstairs gym. I hop down and walk over to the opposite railing and climb up. Now I need more focus. The distance is greater to the railing of my father's upstairs office.
“This is too dangerous, M. Let’s go back.”
“Would you knock it off, Harm? I’ve done this a bazillion times!”
“Yeah, but you’re not as young as you used to be.”
“My point exactly. You’ve been in a growth spurt. You’re getting all gangly and gawky.”
I overcompensate for Harmony’s negativity. The judges will knock off a tenth for style, I'm sure. I land on my hands and knees...hard. The marble floor takes its share of skin.
“Ouch. I’ll bet that hurts.”
“Spare me the sarcasm. And it’s your fault. If you weren’t such a scaredy-cat, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“Yeah, I know. It's always my fault when you screw up.”
I am horrified to see two giant tears splash on the marble floor between my hands. I swallow down the pain in disgust and get to my feet, careful to wipe any evidence of weakness away with my foot.
The balcony of Father’s office has stairs. Once down on the South Lawn, the coolness of the grass between my toes distracts me. I run toward the interior hedge of The Promenade.
“Security will have us on camera, genius,” Harmony warns.
“Relax, Colin’s working tonight. We’re buds. We watch old TV shows together on the big screen in the security office.”
“And you think the guy you call Barney Fife won’t rat us out, huh?”
I smile when I recall the ring I gave him last year to celebrate the five years he’s been on my protective team. A single gold bullet surrounded by black onyx.
I crouch down next to the hedge and listen. Adults often pair off from the party to ‘stroll along The Promenade’. Funny, what I’ve seen going on here many nights before doesn’t seem like the strolls I take with Nanny Elin. Is it called strolling when two people mash their lips together? Yeah, yeah. I know what it really is. I'm not stoopid.
Silence. I ignore the pain from my hands and knees as I crawl through a tunnel in the hedge. I cross The Promenade and crawl through another tunnel in the hedge opposite. A quick scan tells me we have the South Grove to ourselves. No one from the party has decided, yet, to skip the whole walk pretense and get right down to business.
I love the long run in the warm night air to where there is a large bulge in the outer hedge. Here, in The Grotto, there are changing rooms, a lap pool, a spa and, for my purposes, a bar. The enemy never forgets to secure their favorite drink containers in the main house. Yet, reconnaissance reported seeing Mother wobbling from The Grotto this afternoon. Could there have been a lapse in security I can exploit for the betterment of humankind?
The hedge is thick and deep, and the tunnel widens out in the middle to form my secret fortress of solitude. Here, I can observe the enemy in their lair while they are unaware of my presence.
Security here has, indeed, been lax, and I have two easy targets for tonight’s mission with no one around. There is a bottle of De Luz XO cognac and a bottle of Grey Goose XV. I am a shadow, less than a blur. James Bond himself could not have done it better. In the blink of an eye, I am back in my hideaway with the enemy's potion. Now the brilliance of my plan all comes together. I will rob the enemy of their secret formula for global mind control and smuggle out samples for analysis in Q’s lab. Even more clever, I will hide where no one will ever find it.
First, the cognac.
I take off the cap, tip the bottle back and drink. In the middle of the third swallow I realize I’ve been duped. The enemy has replaced their latest batch of the secret formula with molten lava. I spit out what remains in my mouth and it soaks into the front of my pajamas.
“Pee-ew!" Harmony says, “That is going to blow your cover big time. The enemy will smell you coming a mile away.”
I’m expecting to see my pajamas have caught fire. If the stuff I spit on them hasn't set them alight, then the stuff consuming me from the inside out will. The clear liquid in the other bottle is, obviously, the antidote. I open that bottle and take a quick gulp.
Another trick, but I catch on a tad quicker this time. I manage to spit it out without getting all of it onto my soon to be flaming pajamas.
“This stuff is horrible, Harmony! Adults really are stupid!”
“My work here is complete. You are now a true Jedi, Obiwan-B-Silly. Can we go back to bed now?”
“It’s too late. I am already beginning to feel the effects of the poison. I will die here in the fortress of solitude. In the morning, the garden staff will discover what's left of my mostly dissolved remains.”
"My friend, always a source of compassion and comfort.” I hiccup. “It’s interesting, though, the effect I’m getting suggests this may not be a bad way to go.” I take another sip of the brown stuff. It's getting better. I smile and have a sudden urge to bond. “You know, Harm...”
“Shush, someone’s coming,” she says. She has awesome hearing. She has ears like a...like a...hmm my brain isn’t working at the moment...like a thing that can hear a lot! My smile broadens. I was pretty clever to come up with that one.
Then I recognize the voices.
“Big deal,” I say, “it’s my parents hiking all the way down here, so they can fight in private. Can't let the guests know how much they hate each other.” I take another sip, a bigger one. Maybe I won't die after all. If not, this drinking thing could be fun. I wonder if there is any place I could get work as a professional drinker.
“I can’t believe you, John!” As always, when they fight, Mother’s shrillness makes me wince. Yet, Eureka!, I have the means to counteract the effect. I take another drink and shrug. Can’t sneak back to my room now so I'll sit back, have a drink and l take in the show. Yup, I’m turning out to be quite an adult.
“I never could count on you to be reasonable, Caroline. That’s why I don’t bring you into any of my business affairs, especially ones as delicate as this.”
“John, she’s our daughter! How can you negotiate for her as if she were the stakes in a penny ante poker game?”
“What was that? Harmony, did you hear that?”
“Yes, your wobbliness, I did. Now will you please put your newest career choice on hold for a second and start paying attention.”
“Nothing is penny ante about Megan, Caroline. It was a long and careful negotiation and we've made an awesome deal. The best ever, if you stop to think for a second.” My father is the calm one, his voice steady and even, all the time and every time. Mother hates that. I think it's cool.
“All I can see is my baby girl bargained away like she’s a piece of meat!”
“Megan is far from being a baby. I’m not sure she ever was.”
"That's true. I’m a drinker."
"Will you please be quiet?"
“So then why does she still talk to an imaginary friend?”
I stare at Harmony. “You’re imaginary?”
“Both of you?”
"Cool.” Both Harmonys ignore me and go back to observing the drama in The Grotto. It seems the bottle's contents have powers. It makes extra Harmonys. Also, it seems to be moving around all on it's own. Odd. Somehow I manage to get my mouth around the moving target and take another drink.
“She is not another commodity to on the open market, John?”
“There is no open market for my daughter. Company agents approached the Chinese eighteen months ago. It was soon obvious to all parties that an agreement between us could be very beneficial. It was further agreed that the ultimate seal to put on the ultimate deal of all time was a marriage contract. A binding agreement between my daughter and the premier’s son once Megan turns twenty-one. All perfectly logical.”
“Oh, sure. All so logical but without a single drop of love and compassion to written into even the fine print!”
“It will be fine, Caroline. Megan is almost as intelligent as me and that's saying something. When the time comes, she’ll jump at the chance to marry the premier’s son.”
“Not a chance. I’m a drinker, not a marry...uh...er. Unless, of course, he's a professional drinker too.”
“I really think you should put down the bottle and listen.”
"No way that is going to happen. I have discovered wonderous things this night. I have become Wonder...er...Ninja Girl!"
"Er...right. You got it together."
“Why worry about it now, anyway, Caroline? A lot can happen by the time she’s twenty. Chairman Li could be out. The Company could fail to maintain its compounded year over year growth projections. But if it works, think of the possibilities! An alliance between the two most powerful organizations the world has ever seen. All other countries would have no choice but to fall into line. No monarch in history has bargained his or her offspring for a bigger piece of the pie!”
“It’s despicable. It’s child prostitution. You’ve pimped our daughter out for the best price you could get.”
“Oh give me a break. How did you get so high and mighty, miss former super-model? Did you forget where you came from? Did you forget how much you were getting per night from the uber rich? You, more than anyone, should understand. I went all in to make sure you were mine alone. I thought you were someone who was incapable of these troublesome dalliances into morality. But don’t fool yourself, you’re still what you were then. It's only a different chemical twisting around in your skull that convinces you you’re a real mother but it's all an illusion. You may as well face it, Caroline, you're nothing more than an egg donor and eye candy.”
I’m beginning to get bored so tip the bottle back right when there is a sharp crack. My coordination seems off. I pull the bottle away from my mouth without tipping it up straight. More stuff gets on my pajamas but, pffft! who cares. Leaning forward, I try to peer out between the leaves of the hedge, but they keep moving around. It’s weird because I don’t feel a breeze. When I set the bottle down and put both hands on the ground, the leaves steady themselves enough that I can see between them.
There is a bright redness on my father’s cheek where his beard doesn’t grow. Blood is trickling from his nose. He ignores it. There is a cold fury in his eyes that makes me gasp. He hears and turns in my direction. He smiles, and I smile back. My mother is too terrified to notice anything but that terror. She leans back against the bar and stares at the floor.
While still looking at me, my father continues. “Caroline, Megan is going to be fine. In her, I see myself. I see a strong will. The will it takes to run a great company. I see an immense intelligence, courage and toughness. With the right training, she’ll make a history for herself beside which all others pale. She is everything, Caroline, that you could never be. She is the only good thing you have ever done.”
Mother sags but I peer deeper into his eyes, far beyond the terror that has cowed my mother and so many others. I see something that surges through me and thrills me more than anything anyone could ever put in a bottle. It’s power with no limit and I want it, I want it desperately, for myself. Father turns and walks away, leaving behind a gaping hole in the universe where he had been standing.
Mother searches along the bar, her face one of desperation, of weakness. Not seeing what she wants, she rips open a cupboard door and takes out another bottle of the goose. She opens it and tries to drink straight from the bottle but gags and spits it out. She sobs and tries again with the same result. The third time, she holds it down and a large part of the bottle’s contents soon disappear down her throat.
It hits me like a lightning bolt. The main ingredient of the bottles is a rot that ruins the heart and soul from the inside out. It leaves behind it a despicable shell, its effects obvious on the face of the woman who birthed me.
Disgust mixes with the alcohol in my belly and turns it to acid. I arrange the two bottles side by side to forever remain in the hedge as a kind of headstone. I will leave them there and never return.
I no longer need a fortress to protect me. I know I have within me a power beyond that of all others but one. Tomorrow, and every day after, I will learn at the feet of that one and, someday, I too will tower above entire nations.
Exhaustion, and the poison from the bottle, consumes me. I curl up on the ground and begin to drift off when, somewhere nearby, there is another splash, another scream.
But, this time, the scream is my own.