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It Likes Chicken Best

It likes chicken best


Estimated reading time — 25 minutes

“Maya!” Natalie said as she walked through the door, grocery bags in either hand. “Maya, Peter, we’re home!”
She walked into the kitchen, placing the bags on the counter as Logan followed in behind her with several more. She heard the rushing footsteps of their two kids and she looked up to see the pair of them making a beeline for the kitchen counter.
“Did you get the ice cream?” Peter asked excitedly.
“Yep,” said Natalie, removing a small carton from one of the bags. “Now remember, each of you only get a little bit. It’s almost bedtime. We can save the rest for tomorrow.”
“I get more than Maya since I’m older,” Peter chirped almost immediately.
“What? No fair, Mom! How come he gets more?”
“Because I’m ten and you’re six.”
“But I want just as much as he gets!”
“You both get the same amount,” Logan interjected.
“But Dad, I’m older!”
“Doesn’t mean you need more sugar. If you keep complaining about this maybe your Mother and I just won’t bring home treats from the grocery store anymore.”
Peter huffed as he sat down at the table, while Maya beamed. Natalie had gotten the ice cream most of the way ready by then, taking a single spoonful for herself straight out of the carton.
“Can I have chocolate on mine?” Maya asked.
“What? I want chocolate too, Mom!”
“No chocolate for anyone, there are already chocolate chunks in the ice cream,” Natalie responded as she handed her kids their respective bowls.
“Mom, can me and Peter trade? His is bigger!”
Natalie sighed, giving her husband an annoyed stare. “Why did you promise them ice cream?” she mouthed. He just nodded, hanging his head ever so slightly.
“Mom, I don’t wanna trade if mine is bigger!”
“You each got three scoops, they’re exactly the same. It’s just because of the light they look different,” Natalie said.
“Mom, can I have different light so that mine looks bigger?”
“No, honey. Just eat your ice cream, you can have some more tomorrow,” Logan said. “Now hurry, it’s about time for bed.”
Maya began maneuvering her spoon faster, as did Peter. Natalie went to put the ice cream away. She yawned as she passed by Logan, leaning in.
“I’m gonna get ready for bed, can you tuck the kids in tonight?”
“Yeah, you go ahead honey. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks.” She pecked him on the cheek and went to say goodnight to both Peter and Maya, a goodnight kiss on each of their foreheads as they wolfed down the dessert. She then went into the bedroom, brushing and flossing and removing her makeup. She heard the bowls clinking in the sink and the sounds of the kids’ feet rushing up the stairs as Logan instructed them to be ready for their tuck-ins within the next five minutes. She went ahead and plugged her phone into the charging cord, checking her email one last time before turning it off for good. She turned out her lamp, only for the lights to switch back on a few minutes later when Logan entered the room.
“Sorry, honey.”
“Ugh,” she groaned back. He made some more noise for a few minutes before turning out the lights again and joining her under the covers, putting his arm across her shoulder.
“I’m real proud of you today.”
“Eh, I can do better than seventh place.”
“Well, last time I remember you taking like fifteenth. You’ve gotten better.”
“One day I’ll win. I just need to get out there and ride more. It’s the bike portion that’s slowing me down.”
“When’s the next one?”
“There’s another one a couple of towns over next month that I know of.”
“Well good. That’s plenty of time to build your stamina on a bike.”
“You gonna finally join me on that one?”
“Um… I’ll think about it.”
“You should.”
“Maybe.”
She found herself breathing heavier as the fatigue from the race began to set in even further. Bit by bit, her body began to shut itself down as she dozed off.
She was suddenly jerked awake by the sound of little feet running down the stairs and towards the kitchen. She groaned, turning over in bed.
“Logan?” she said, prodding her husband. “Logan?” He replied with a snore, and Natalie groaned. “Always out first, lucky dog,” she mumbled. She sat up further in bed, calling out. “Who’s out there? Maya, was that you?” She waited a moment for a response, not receiving one.
She groaned as she went to march down the hall, trying to keep as much of the “tired” in her eyes as possible. She winced as she flipped on the kitchen light, looking around to see Maya.
“Hey, what are you doing out of bed? It’s past your bedtime.”
“I… I had to use the bathroom.”
“Then why are you looking through the freezer?”
“Because after I used the bathroom I got thirsty and wanted some ice in my water.”
“Maya, you know you’re not allowed to drink water this late, you’ll have an accident.”
“No I won’t. It’ll be fine.”
“Can you promise that you won’t have an accident?”
“Yes.”
Natalie sighed. “Okay, have some water. But just a little bit, okay?”
She nodded as she closed the freezer and went to pull out her water cup.
“Will you turn off the lights when you’re done?”
“Uh-huh.”
“Okay. Goodnight, I love you.”
“I love you.”
Natalie rounded the corner, heading back into the master bedroom. After a minute or so she heard Maya flicker the lights off and rush back upstairs. She wrinkled her brow, though, as the sound of her footsteps grew more distant. They had a bathroom upstairs. She didn’t hear Peter using it, why would she have come all the way down here to use it?

Natalie awoke the next morning with her arms and legs feeling fairly sore. She moaned as she reached to silence the alarm on her phone, yawning as she sat up in the bed.
“Mh,” Logan groaned, turning over himself.
“You tired?” Natalie yawned.
“Yeah. It’s still early. Pastor Sallow doesn’t start services until noon.”
“It’s already nine. I’ve got to get ready.”
“Why do women always take so long to get ready? You don’t need three hours worth of work.”
“Yeah, I need four. I chose to snooze my phone a few times.”
“Well, have fun. I’m gonna let the weekend laziness keep me here for a bit.”
“No, you’ve got to make breakfast for the kids.”
“Can’t they just have cereal like they did last week?”
“I can’t in good conscience let them eat that stuff all the time.”
“Well what do you want me to make them?”
“Eggs?”
A pause.
“Alright. I’ll cook ‘em up some eggs.”
“Great.” She donned a bathrobe, stepping out of the bedroom towards the kitchen. “And I’ll get myself something,” she muttered. She pulled a banana off of its bunch, her eyes suddenly catching sight of the freezer. The kids weren’t up, so they wouldn’t see her bad example if she ate just a few spoonfuls of ice cream with breakfast this morning. It had been a while since she had any, since she was training for that triathlon. But boy would some of it taste good right about now.
She walked on over, pulling the door open to look inside.
“Where did I put it?” she muttered. Her eyes performed a surface scan of each shelf, and when she was unable to find it, her hands began moving the goods around.
The memory of Maya coming down to the freezer in the middle of the night suddenly came back to her, and she shut the freezer door in frustration.
“That little sneak!”
She began marching up the stairs, towards her daughter’s room. She went up to the door and knocked gently.
“Maya? Maya, it’s Mommy. Can I come in?”
No answer.
“Maya, I’m coming in.” She twisted the doorknob and stepped into the room to find Maya sitting on her bed, reading out of one of her picture books.
“Hi, Mom,” she greeted.
“Maya?”
“Yes?”
“Do you know what happened to the ice cream last night?”
Her face suddenly went pale as she gazed into her Mother’s eyes. “No… no I don’t, Mommy.”
“Are you lying to me, Maya?”
“Uh… no.”
“If I were to look around your room, would I find an empty ice cream carton and a spoon?”
“Nope. You wouldn’t find anything. I didn’t even take a spoon last night.”
“And what about the ice cream?”
“Um… no. I didn’t take that either.”
Natalie stepped further into the room, looking around. She went in to pick up some stuffed animals off the floor, finding no ice cream cartons beneath them. She peeked under the bed, and took a quick look-over of the closet before resorting to looking in her drawers. If she had had the audacity to put such a messy thing where her clean clothes went, she had some serious trouble coming her way.
But, she found nothing.
“See Mommy? I told you, I didn’t take it.”
She looked at her, raising an eyebrow. Maybe Peter had gone down in the middle of the night while she was out cold and had it in his room. Or, oh, gosh. Maybe whoever finished it off put the darn thing in the trash can and she could find some evidence there.
“Daddy is making you guys breakfast, be ready in about ten minutes or so. When you’re done you’re going to need to take a shower, and then if you come to my bedroom I can help you with your hair.”
“Okay.”
She resumed her reading, and Natalie stepped out. She went on downstairs, mind focused on the need to check the trash can.

She found it somewhat difficult to pay attention to the sermon that afternoon, staring ahead with a wrinkled brow. That carton hadn’t been in the trash can. She checked Peter’s room, too, but she couldn’t find it anywhere in there. She even went and checked the toy room, wondering if maybe whoever snuck the rest of it last night would have hidden it there to keep suspicion off of themselves. But it was nowhere.
Logan suddenly nudged her, and she looked at him. He handed over a clipboard to her with a pen. It was a sign-up sheet. Misses Mortenson had had hip surgery that past week and needed meals taken to her. Natalie put the pen to her chin, wondering if she would be able to bring her something. Monday and today were the only last two days that hadn’t been signed up for yet, but she didn’t want to—
“Mom?”
“Sh, Mommy’s trying to pay attention, sweetie.”
“Mommy do we have any chicken?” Maya asked anyway.
Chicken! They did in fact have some chicken in the freezer that needed to get gone. She could make Misses Mortenson a chicken casserole tomorrow. She clicked the pen and scribbled her name and phone number on the sheet, then handed it to Peter and urged him to continue passing it down.
“Mommy!” she whispered.
“What, Maya?”
“Do we have any chicken at home?”
“What? Yes, we have chicken. Just pay attention, Maya.”
“Okay.”
She looked forward to the pastor, smiling to herself for some odd reason which Natalie just couldn’t figure out. Natalie stared at her daughter with a sense of confusion for a few moments before turning back to focus on the pastor herself.

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Natalie found herself yawning during their weekly family board game that night. She looked over at the kitchen sink, heart sinking as she stared at the stack of dishes in it. She then looked at the clock. It was just a few minutes past eight, about time for Maya and Peter to get to bed.
“Mom, that clock is fast, don’t forget,” Peter said, obviously noticing where her eyes were pointing.
“Only by two minutes, Peter,” she responded.
“Mom, we’ve got to finish our game though!”
“If you wanted to finish the game tonight you shouldn’t have chosen something so long,” Logan said. “I think it is time for you two to go up and brush your teeth.”
“Please can we finish our game?” Maya whined.
“Nope. We can play some more tomorrow after dinner, how does that sound?” Natalie said. Maya huffed, drooping her head as she walked towards the stairs.
“What about me?” Peter said. “Is it my bedtime too?”
“Yep,” Logan said. “You too.”
“Dang!” He got up and started walking towards the stairs after his sister.
“You wanna save dishes for tomorrow?” Logan said, looking towards his wife.
“When would we do them, though? It’s Monday. The kids have school, and you and I have work.”
“We can make the kids do them after school.”
“Logan, they’re both way too young. I don’t think any of it would genuinely be cleaned.”
“Maybe,” he murmured. “But there’s only one way to find out.”
“No, come on. There aren’t that many, we can get ‘em done by eight-thirty. Then we can just watch some TV or something before bed.”
Logan groaned. “Yeah, alright.”
He stood and began walking towards the sink, and Natalie went to snag a dish towel to begin drying some of the things that were already cleaned. Only a few minutes passed by before she heard the running of small feet coming down the stairs.
“Mommy, could you tuck me in?” Maya exclaimed excitedly.
She sighed, setting down the dish on the counter.
“And Daddy, too!”
Natalie looked at Logan, rolling her eyes with a smile. “Come on.”
He nodded and they went to follow their daughter up the stairs, walking into her room with her. She ran into her bed, getting under the covers. Natalie went and tucked them in around her, kissing her forehead.
“And a song too?” she begged.
“What song do you want?”
“Over the Rainbow.”
“Alright.”
“Are you gonna sing, Dad?”
“Sure,” he sighed. Maya smiled as they began to sing, Logan more off-key than Natalie. Maya grinned at them the whole time, and she received a kiss from each of her parents once the song was finished.
“Goodnight, sweet angel,” said Natalie.
“Goodnight Maya.”
“Night Mom and Dad.”
She rolled over, facing the wall as she took a sigh.
“Mom?” came Peter’s voice. “Mom? Will you tuck me in too?”
She sighed. “Yeah, we’re coming.”
She stood up and began moving down the hall, Logan following her. They entered their son’s room and she kneeled down beside his bed.
“Want a song, too?”
“Can I have two songs? Since I’m older than Maya?”
She groaned a little, looking at Logan. He just shrugged.
“Sure, Peter.”
He grinned. “Thanks.”
“What songs do you want?”
“I want… can I have Over the Rainbow too?”
“Yep. And then?”
“And then—”
Natalie turned her head when she heard Maya running down the hall. She stood up and stepped out to see her going for the stairs, running down in her pajamas.
“Hey! Maya?”
She stopped, turning around and looking right at her Mother.
“Yes?”
“Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom.”
“Why aren’t you using the bathroom up here?”
She paused, thinking for a moment.
“It’s too dirty.”
“You brushed your teeth in there just fine.”
“But the toilet is dirty.”
“Maya, just use the one up here.”
Maya bit her lip, looking at her Mother earnestly. “Can I get a drink of water first though?”
Natalie sighed. “Fine. But I’m not tucking you in again, got it?”
She nodded understandingly. “Okay.” She proceeded to go right downstairs, taking the corner towards the kitchen. Natalie went back into Peter’s room, where Logan was singing Over the Rainbow. She joined in, watching her son’s eyes begin to droop. After a few moments she heard Maya coming back up the stairs again. She looked back out the door and down the hall and watched her go directly into her bedroom and close the door behind her immediately.
“I thought she had to go to the bathroom?” she murmured to herself.

It was somewhat difficult to get out of bed that next morning, as it always is on Mondays. She had let Logan shower first while she continued to sleep. But, the time eventually had to come where it was her turn as well. Logan came out and began getting dressed in a collared shirt while she went into the bathroom to shower. She came out around half an hour later to see Logan making the kids sandwiches to pack in their lunch.
“Come on, Maya, hurry up and eat! The bus will be here soon!”
“I don’t like scrambled eggs.”
“Well then at least finish your toast,” Logan sighed.
“It touched the eggs!”
“I’ll eat it!” Peter exclaimed.
“No, Maya needs to eat it!”
“If she doesn’t finish it in the next few minutes you can have it, Peter,” Natalie said. He grinned and took the last bite of his toast then downed the rest of his milk.
“But he already ate, Mom!” Maya shouted.
“If you’re not gonna eat it we aren’t letting it go to waste,” she quipped back. “What meat are you using for their sandwiches?” she asked Logan.
“Ham,” he replied, washing off a couple of apples for their lunch too.
“Logan, the roast beef needs to get gone first.”
“Well how was I supposed to know that?”
“Because the beef was open and the ham wasn’t?”
“Well I didn’t see the beef.”
“Mom! Can I eat Maya’s toast now?”
“No! I want it!”
“But you’re not eating it!”
Natalie groaned as she opened a banana for herself. “I hate Monday mornings.”
“The bus will be here soon, then we’ll be off to work.”
Maya walked up to the counter, putting her plate down by the sink still covered in food.
“You done?”
“Yep. But don’t let Peter have it,” she snarled.
“But I want it!”
“He can have it, Maya. Are you guys almost ready for the bus?”
Maya suddenly touched her Mother’s hand, tugging on it a little.
“Mom?”
“What, Maya?”
“What kind of meat did you say we have?”
“Roast beef and ham. You’re getting ham today.”
She sat there for a minute, staring ahead.
“No chicken?”
“No chicken.”
She groaned, staring at the stairs longingly. “That’ll work, I guess.”
Natalie gave her daughter a quirky look, eyebrows raised. “What?”
“Nevermind, I think no chicken will work.”
She nodded. “Okay?”
“Kids, the bus is here!” Logan shouted. Natalie looked up and watched Maya and Peter head for the door, grabbing their backpacks and lunch boxes.
“I love you! Bye!”
“Bye Mom!”
“Bye!”
They stepped out the door and closed it behind them. Natalie turned and sat down, taking a sigh as she left her banana peel on the table. No chicken will work? What the heck was that supposed to mean?
“Well, you almost ready?”
“Yeah. Let me pull out the frozen chicken first though, I’ve got to let it thaw out today.”
“Kay. I’ll wait in the car for you.”
Logan stepped out of the car, and Natalie went towards the freezer. Natalie’s office was along the way to Logan’s, so he would simply drop her off every day before work. They saved gas money that way. It was nice, too, getting some extra alone time with him before she had to go into the office. Sometimes they were just too tired in the evenings to really visit like they wanted. And, as a plus…
She paused, wrinkling her brow.
Where was the chicken?
She started moving things around in the freezer more vigorously, pulling things out and placing them on the counter behind her. Shelf after shelf she emptied, not finding the chicken anywhere.
“The heck?”
She swore she saw it in the freezer just the other day when she put the ice cream away. First disappearing ice cream, and now vanishing chicken. Where on this planet were these things going?
Logan honked the horn, and she grunted as she went to put everything back into the freezer. She shoved it in there haphazardly, putting it away just neatly enough so that the freezer door would close and stay that way. She went out into the garage and climbed into their SUV.
“After work today we need to stop by the market.”
“How come?” he asked, backing out of the driveway.
“The chicken is gone,” she replied, buckling her seatbelt.
“What do you mean, gone?” He put the car into gear and began moving forward.
“I mean the chicken isn’t in the freezer.”
“Are you sure we had any?”
“I saw it when I put away that ice cream on Saturday night.”
“Huh. So first the ice cream is gone and now the chicken.”
She shrugged. “Guess so.”
“Well, yeah. We can get some chicken tonight. You sure you don’t wanna just make her something else for dinner?”
“I already know we have everything on hand to make the casserole. Except for chicken, I guess.”
“Why not just bring her a pizza or something?”
“Logan, I am not going to be one of those people who bring someone over store bought food when what they really want is a home cooked meal.”
“She’s pretty old, Nat. She probably won’t even be able to tell the difference.”
“My conscience will.”
He shrugged. “Alright, we’ll buy some more chicken. Does Peter know the code to get into the garage okay?”
“Yeah, he’ll be able to get in.”
He nodded. “Great.”
She looked out at the road, resting her head against the window as she tapped her feet on the floor. Where the flip was their food disappearing off to?

She was greeted that evening by Maya, who came and opened the door as soon as she heard the garage opening.
“You’re home!”
“Yep,” said Natalie, closing the car door. She went around back, opening the trunk to bring in the groceries.
“Why are you guys home so late?”
“We had to go and get some chicken,” Logan said. “We were out, and we didn’t know it.”
Natalie rounded the corner, being caught off guard by how gaunt her daughter’s face looked. Maya just stared ahead, blankly looking at her parents before turning around and shutting the door.
“Ugh, Maya! You could have held the door open for your Mother!” Logan yelled. He went and held the door open for Natalie instead, all four bags of groceries in her left hand.
“It’s alright, Logan.”
He shrugged. “You want me to cook the kids dinner while you make Misses Mortenson’s casserole?”
“Nah, just order them pizza,” she said, placing the bags on the counter. She began pulling out items, putting them away all except for the chicken.
“Oh, so she’s worth a home cooked meal but the kids aren’t?”
“If you want to cook, Logan, go ahead. But I seem to remember the last dinner you made ended in total disaster.” She started pulling out the casserole ingredients.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you burnt the food and almost burnt down the house, too.”
“But I didn’t.”
“I trust you to make pancakes, that’s about it. What were you planning on making them for dinner?”
“Pancakes.”
“Yeah, go ahead then.”
He bobbed his head, moving to get the flour ready. Natalie began mixing the spices together when suddenly Maya came running down the stairs from her bedroom. She went right to the fridge, opening it.
“Hey, Dad is making pancakes for dinner, Maya. Don’t spoil your appetite so soon.”
“I won’t. I’m not eating anything.”
“What are you doing, then?”
“I’m just seeing if we have something.”
Natalie raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“It’s okay, it looks like we still have it.”
“What do we still have?”
“Ham and roast beef.”
Natalie gave Logan an awkward look. “Why is it so important that we have ham and roast beef?”
Maya shrugged. “It’s okay, I can take care of it.”
Natalie stared at Logan, who gave her a confused glance right back before turning and looking towards the stairs.
“Hey, Maya!” he hollered.
“Yes, Dad?”
“Do you know what happened to the chicken?”
“What chicken?”
“The chicken that was in the freezer. I remember you asking your Mother on Sunday if we had chicken. She said yes, and the next day the chicken was gone.”
There was a pause. Natalie was unable to see her daughter from her vantage point, nor was Logan. They simply waited for a response.
“I don’t know anything about it,” she finally responded. Logan looked at his wife with a raised eyebrow.
“Will you go and talk to her about this?”
He shrugged. “Sure, be back in a jiffy.”
Natalie nodded. “I’ll keep working, you go and talk to her.” He nodded and departed the kitchen as she continued to prepare the casserole. Her mind raced as she began preheating the oven before continuing to dice the chicken. It seemed obvious that Maya had something to do with this whole thing, but she couldn’t figure out what. What would she have done with it? That chicken should probably be making a smell by now if she moved it somewhere. Or if she ate it she should be in the ER right now with salmonella. It was raw, afterall. But she seemed to be acting just fine. Maybe it just hadn’t entered her system yet? But if that was the case, where did the plastic wrap for the chicken go? That ought to be making a smell by now, too. But she didn’t smell anything. Granted, she hadn’t been up to Maya’s room at all yet today. Maybe there was a smell. But even if Maya did eat the chicken it still wouldn’t begin to explain why she would want to sneak down to the freezer in the middle of the night and snag it for a snack. She’d go for a piece of chocolate in the pantry if she was going to do that, or a bag of potato chips.
After a while Logan came back down the stairs, just as Natalie was putting the casserole into the oven.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Nada,” he shrugged. “Stayed firm in saying she had no idea where the chicken or the ice cream went. I talked to Peter, too. He said he didn’t even know that we had chicken.”
Natalie stared out the window as she washed her hands, eventually coming to a pause as she let the water from the kitchen sink just run over her skin.
“Who else would it have been? Are you sleepwalking out here in the middle of the night to eat raw chicken?”
Logan shrugged. “If I was I guess I wouldn’t know about it.”
Natalie finished up at the sink, drying her hands. “How much battery do you think it would take to run the phone camera all night?”
“A lot. We’d probably run out of space on the phone though before running out of power. We could always run the camera while it’s charging.”
“Yeah… what about your Mom’s old camera?”
“The one you put a tape into?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“That thing hasn’t seen the light of day in years. Probably wouldn’t work at all.”
“Well, maybe we could try using a phone. Just plug it in, maybe do a timelapse. Save some memory space.”
“A timelapse wouldn’t work. It doesn’t take that long to open the fridge, we’d miss it. Besides, don’t you think setting up a camera is taking it a little too far? I mean, I’m sure you just misplaced them.”
“Did I? Did I, though? I remember seeing the chicken in the freezer when I put the ice cream away. And have you seen the way Maya is acting? It’s all too weird. I know she has something to do with it.”
“She’s always been such an honest girl, Nat. I doubt she’d be lying about hiding raw chicken of all things. I doubt she’d be doing it in the first place. Just chalk up her behavior to a kid being weird.”
“I get that kids can just be weird sometimes but she is just being too weird this time.”
Logan shrugged. “Well, maybe some dinner will help us think better, huh? I’ll finish the pancakes if you finish Misses Mortensen’s meal.”
Natalie took a sigh, looking back towards the oven. “Yeah… okay.”

Natalie found herself sitting on the bed, waiting for Logan to enter the room that night before bed. She had gotten ready for the night’s slumber already, while he went to go and put the kids to bed. She was glad he offered; she wasn’t sure what she’d say to Maya. She had been quiet all during dinner, staring at the fridge. Or maybe Natalie was imagining that. Maybe she wasn’t staring at the fridge, and she was just on edge about this disappearing food.
“You ready?” Logan said, shutting the door behind him.
“For bed? Yeah.”
“No…”
“No, I’m too tired.”
He nodded. “Okay. I’ll just watch it on my laptop.”
“Don’t get too many episodes ahead of me,” she said, laying her head on the pillow.
“At this rate I’ll be several episodes ahead of you. You didn’t wanna watch it last Monday, either.”
“Yeah.”
“Well, sleep well, then.”
“How was Maya tonight?”
“Huh?” He took his earbud back out.
“How was Maya?”
“Oh. She was fine.”
“Did she seem weird, though?”
“No weirder than usual.”
“You know what I mean, Logan!”
“Natalie, paranoid parenting is not good parenting.”
“Our food is disappearing out of the freezer! Doesn’t that worry you?”
“I’m not so convinced we had any chicken in the first place, Nat. Food doesn’t just… disappear, afterall.”
“What about the ice cream?”
“What about it?”
“It vanished!”
“One of the kids probably snuck down in the night to finish it off, Nat.”
“I checked everywhere they could have put it! It wasn’t in their rooms, it wasn’t in the trash can—”
“Did you check the big can in the garage?”
“Well, no—”
“That’s probably where they put it, then. They knew you’d be too grossed out to look for it there.”
Natalie paused, staring ahead. “Yeah… I guess that makes sense,” she muttered.
“See? They snuck the ice cream and what you thought was chicken was just something else, we never had any. Real easy to explain.”
She sighed, placing her hand to her head. “Oh, I feel so stupid for freaking out about all this.”
“Eh, everyone feels stupid when they’re tired. You spent all last week up super early to train for Saturday, you’re just out of gas.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks, Logan.”
“Of course. You wanna watch an episode now? I’ll rewatch last week’s.”
“No, you go ahead. I’d just fall asleep halfway through.”
“Kay. Goodnight, then.”
“Goodnight.”
She laid the side of her head on the pillow, letting her eyes close. It wasn’t very long before she found herself turning over in bed, nudging Logan.
“Yep?” he asked, pausing the show and removing his earbud.
“Can you turn that down? I can hear it through your earbuds.”
“I have the volume as low as it’ll go with me still being able to hear it.”
“You wanna maybe go into another room, then? It’s…”
She heard the noise again, the noise she thought was from Logan’s earbuds. With his video paused, though, her brain was able to identify it as the muffled sound of the refrigerator door being shut, then the sound of footsteps. Without missing a beat Natalie leapt out of bed and ran into the hall just in time to see Maya heading up the stairs.
“Hey!” she hollered. Maya froze, staring straight ahead. Natalie opened her mouth to speak again: “Maya, turn around.”
She did so, moving her hands behind her back. “Yes, Mommy?”
“What do you have behind your back, Maya?”
“Nothing. I just came down to get a drink.”
“I heard the fridge door opening, Maya. You don’t need to open it to get a drink.”
“I wanted a drink of milk.”
“Then why are you acting like you have something to hide?”
“I’m not.”
“Move your hands from out behind your back.”
“No.”
“What did you just say?”
She swallowed. “I don’t wanna.”
“Why?”
“I … I don’t know.”
“Maya? Do I have to take away one of your stuffed animals?”
She fidgeted nervously. “Yeah… you can.”
“I don’t want to do that, Maya. I’d much rather you just show me what you’re hiding and then I’ll let you go to bed.”
She took a deep breath and brought her hand forward. In between her fingers was a package of lunch meat: the ham she was asking about earlier today.
“Why are you bringing that upstairs?”
“I’m not.”
“I was watching you go upstairs with it, Maya.”
“I… I wanted to snack on some. In bed.”
“Did you take the ice cream and the chicken too?”
She hesitated. “Yeah.”
“Why? Maya, don’t you realize that that raw chicken can make you really sick? I ought to take you to the ER right now for salmonella!”
“But I’m not sick!”
“Give me the ham back. And if I hear you coming downstairs again I’ll take away all of your stuffed animals.”
A tear developed in her eye as she forked over the ham, staring at her Mother longingly.
“Please, Mom. I need it.”
“Come on.” Natalie waved her fingers, and she took the ham. “Up to bed, Maya.”
She hung her head and began heading up the stairs, dragging her feet as she went. Natalie went back to the fridge and returned the ham to the meat drawer, then went back to bed.
“You’ll never guess what I just saw, Logan.”
“What?” he said, removing hisd earbud.
“I said you’ll never guess what I just saw.”
“What?”
“Maya taking the deli ham to her room.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. And she admitted to taking the ice cream and the chicken, too.”
“She did? Did she eat the chicken?”
“She implied it.”
“We have to take her to the hospital!”
“I mean, she’s not experiencing any symptoms right now. Do you get it every time you eat raw chicken?”
“Yes… as far as I know.”
Natalie sighed. “Let’s take her in to the doctor’s tomorrow during normal hours. It’ll cost less than a trip to the ER.”
“If she just ate raw chicken—”
“If she’s not feeling sick yet, we probably can do it tomorrow. Just get some antibiotics.”
Logan sighed. “Yeah… maybe you’re right.”
“Just like I was right about Maya taking the ice cream and chicken?”
“Yes… you’re right again.”
“I know.”
“But why would she want to eat raw chicken in the first place? And how did her stomach handle an entire bag of it?”
Natalie tried to put Logan’s observations out of her mind, instead focusing on sleep. It didn’t come easily, though… none of this made any sense. Why did her daughter eat an entire bag of frozen, raw chicken?

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She yawned as her alarm went off the next morning. It was her day to help the kids out of bed for school. She swung her legs out across the edge of the mattress and put her feet on the ground, swallowing some more yawns as she wrapped up in a bathrobe and began for the stairs.
“Maya?” she hollered, entering her room. “Maya, time to get ready for the day. I’m taking you to the doctor this morning, alright?”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Come on, get up. Start moving. How are you feeling today?”
“Fine.”
Natalie just stared at her. “I still can’t believe you ate all that raw chicken.”
Maya frowned at her Mother, moving right past her for the bathroom.
“Brush real well, okay? And then I want to be leaving in about an hour.” Natalie could probably have herself ready in that timeframe.
“Okay, Mom,” she moaned as she shut the door. She went down the hall into her son’s room, opening the door.
“Peter… time to get up.” She pushed the door open further, taking another yawn. “Come on, it’s Tuesday, and then tomorrow is Wednesday. Then it’s practically the weekend again.” She raised her eyebrow when not even the sheets moved. Usually he at least stirred. “Peter, come on. I need to get ready for the day, too. I still have to call my boss and tell her I’ll be late today, since Maya needs to go to the doctor.” Still, not any motion. “Peter?”
She stepped towards the bed, grabbing the blankets he had held over his head. She pulled back to find an empty bed, pillows where Peter should have been.
“Peter?” She knelt down to look under the bed, rolling her eyes. “Come on, Peter. I don’t have time for games this morning. Come on out, time to get ready for school.” Underneath the bed was empty, and she went for the closet. “Peter!” she yelled, now looking furiously through the mess of clothes. She found nothing after nothing after nothing. Her hands started getting sweaty, and she ran down the stairs.
“Logan!” Natalie called. “I can’t find Peter!”
“Check the toy room, he might be playing in there.”
Natalie went into the playroom, instantly noticing the distinct lack of anyone in there. She could feel her breathing getting heavier as she ran back up the stairs, going to double-check his closet again.
“Peter! This isn’t funny! Where are you?”
“Is he still not there?” Logan hollered.
“No! I can’t find him!”
She heard his footsteps moving around more vigorously downstairs as he went to check around the ground level. Natalie went in and began looking around Maya’s room—under the bed, in one of the massive dresser drawers, in the closet, but not finding anything. She bolted back down the stairs for her cell phone and called Liam’s Mom, who was Peter’s best friend. She was sent to voicemail, and called her instantly again.
“Come on, come on!”
“Hello?” came a groggy voice.
“Maggie! Hey, is Peter over there?”
“What?”
“Is Peter over there?”
“Why would he be over here?”
“I can’t find him anywhere. I thought maybe he went to take a sleepover without asking at your place.”
Maggie sighed. “Lemme check. Hey, Liam!” She heard footsteps over the phone, then some muffled talking. “Yeah, Liam says he hasn’t seen him.”
“Oh gosh.”
“Maybe try Diane’s number. He might’ve gone over to Todd’s.”
“Right, right. Diane’s. Thanks, Maggie.”
She hung up before Maggie could get another word in, calling Diane.
“Anything?” she asked Logan as he reentered the room.
“I… I can’t find him.”
“Hello?”
“Diane?”
“What are you doing calling so early in the morning?”
“Is Peter over there?”
“What? Why would Pete be over here?”
“I can’t find him. I think he might’ve went to someone’s house for a sleepover without asking.”
“If he did, he would’ve gone to be with Liam. Your boy doesn’t like my boy much.”
“Diane! Answer the dang question! Is he there?”
“Ugh… Todd! Todd, is Pete here?” A pause. “He says no.”
“Where the heck could he be, then?”
“Don’t know. Good luck, Nat.”
There was a beep, and Natalie was left racking her brain as to where her boy could be.

Maya tugged on her Mother’s shirt as she stood in the doorway talking to the policemen.
“Mom! When are you taking me to the doctor?”
“Sh! I’m busy, Maya.” She swatted her back behind her leg, looking at the policeman again.
“And you said you saw him last night?”
“Yes, officer. I saw him right before bed. So did Logan. He was the one who tucked him in.”
“So you were the last one to see him, Mister Harper?’
“Yes, sir. That is correct.”
“And did he seem upset, at all?”
Logan blinked. “No. He seemed like he did every night.”
“Uh-huh. Did he leave a note or anything?”
“No, sir. Nothing.”
“All of your doors were locked when you woke up this morning?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Windows, too?”
“Of course!”
The officer nodded. “Mind if we take a look around, Mister and Misses Harper?’
“Not at all,” Natalie said. “Just do whatever you need to to find my boy!”
The two policemen stepped in, one going ahead of the other.
“And there are no friends’ houses he might be at?”
“No, sir. We’ve already called the whole neighborhood.”
“Any… problems with the boy?”
“Never! He’s a pretty good kid.”
“But, would you say this is a generally safe home?”
Natalie’s jaw dropped in shock. “Of course!”
“Would your little girl here agree with me?”
“I don’t know why on Earth she wouldn’t!”
The policeman stooped down, looking at Maya. “Would you come with me, Miss Harper?”
Maya nodded and followed the policeman into the other room. Natalie looked at Logan in awe.
“Surely they don’t think we did anything, do they?”
“If they do, they’ll see pretty quickly that we wouldn’t have. We couldn’t have.”
Natalie’s stomach lurched again and again until the officer came back in, without Maya.
“Mister and Misses Harper, I’m going to take Maya away for the time being.”
“What? Why?”
“I have reason to suspect you two have something to do with this. Maya says that she doesn’t feel safe in this home.”
Natalie’s jaw dropped. “What? Officer, I need to see her!”
“I’m afraid that won’t happen, ma’am. We’re going to take her to CPS for a little bit while we open an investigation. We won’t place you under arrest, yet. No probable cause as of now.”
“You can’t take away my daughter! Officer, you can’t! I just lost my son! I can’t have her gone too!”
Natalie collapsed to her knees, and Logan put his arm around her.
“Just stay back, ma’am. Maya is coming with us.”
“No! Oh, officer, no!”
The second policeman was guiding Maya out the door. Before she could step off their front porch, she turned around to look at her Mother again.
“Mom… just keep putting food in my room. I’m sorry I had to use Peter, he would have liked the ham. And chicken even better.”
Natalie looked up through teary eyes, mouthing the word “What?” as the officers guided her out of the property and towards the car.
“We’ll be in touch,” said the policeman as he closed the door.
“No!”
Natalie couldn’t stop shrieking as the officers walked off. Logan had her in his arms, cradling her like a child as she bawled just the same.
“It’s okay. It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.”
“Oh, Logan! They took my little girl! I lost my boy and they took my little girl!”
“Sh, it’s gonna be okay. It’s gonna be okay, Natalie. I promise. Everything will work out.”

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For obvious reasons, Natalie skipped work that day. So did Logan. She did call CPS, though, and let them know Maya might need to be treated for salmonella. It was painful for her to do that. Now CPS believed she both harmed their son and was negligent enough to let her other child ingest raw chicken. Her hopes were getting lower and lower all day long that day. She was finding it hard to breathe. Or walk. Hard to exist without them. She went to bed early, drained of all her energy and unable to do anything but lay there. Despite her exhaustion, it was impossible to sleep at all.
“Maya… Peter…”
“It’s okay, honey. Just try and close your eyes. If you close them for long enough your body will sleep naturally.”
“Logan… I don’t know if I can. I don’t think I ever can sleep again.”
“You want some melatonin?”
“In order to sleep at all I’d have to overdose on that stuff.”
“Just try some. Take three, see where that gets you.”
He handed her the open bottle, and she took some.
“Logan… why is this happening to us?”
“I… I don’t know, Nat. I don’t know.”
“What did we ever do? Weren’t we good parents?”
“I thought so.”
“How will we ever get better?”
“We’ll push through. Let’s just try and make sure this brings us closer together, instead of driving us apart.”
She nodded, sniffing in some of her tears. “Yeah. Yeah, we will.”
There was a sudden thump, and Natalie shot up in bed.
“Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
Another thump.
“Look! There it is again! Do you think it could be Peter?”
Logan put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “Honey, it’s probably just the wind or the pipes or something. Don’t be driving yourself mad like this.”
“But what if it is?”
“Nat…”
“No, I’m going!”
She leapt out of bed and sloppily tossed her bathrobe onto her body, bolting to the living room. Another thump.
“Honey, it’s just the pipes!”
“No, it’s coming from upstairs! I think it’s Peter’s room!”
Her feet carried her up the stairs with haste, and she heard Logan’s following close behind.
“Natalie!”
She heard it again once she got to the top, and her head whipped towards Maya’s room.
“Maya’s room. It’s coming from Maya’s room.”
She sprinted, running for the window and looking out, expecting to see Peter sitting on the tree branch knocking on the window to be let in. But… there was nothing.
“No…” She fell down again, the sobs coming back as strong as ever. “Peter!”
Then, the thump again. From behind her. She turned around and looked at the ceiling, where there was some motion up in the vent.
“Logan?”
He came into the room. “Honey, come on. Let’s just head back downstairs.”
“No, look. There’s something moving up there.”
“What?”
“In the vent. I think it might be him!”
“Nat, he’s way too small to fit up there!”
It thumped again, and the vent shifted. Then another thump, and another. The vent suddenly fell to the floor, making a metallic clink as it bounced off the carpet.
“Look! That’s Peter’s arm!”
A small hand lay in the vent, a few of its fingers hanging out just slightly.
“Peter! Peter, is that you?”
“What the heck is he doing up there?” Logan shouted. “How the flip did he even fit up there?”
The arm shifted, then came out of the vent with a thump. Natalie screamed as she saw the bone protruding from the elbow, nothing attached to it.
“Oh my freaking gosh!” Logan shouted. “What the heck—”
A low growling sound echoed in the ventilation and a pair of spindly pale hands came out of the vent. An entire body followed, the thing crawling across the ceiling like a four-legged spider. It suddenly dropped to the carpet, turning around and wailing. In place of where its neck and head should have been was a gaping hole, massive teeth surrounding the border of it. They moved back and forth, and it lunged at Natalie.
“No!”
The thing’s spindly fingers grabbed ahold of her with strength that defied their size, her shoulders hurting from the intense pressure as it lifted her above its head.
“Natalie! Oh… oh… oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!”
Natalie tried to scream at him to call for help, but before she could she felt a sharp pain in her neck as the thing buried her deeper into its mouth. The tongue was like a bag of mud covered in sandpaper, shredding the skin off her face as its jaw clamped down harder. She heard the sounds of her blood spraying across the room and Logan screaming in panic. It rotated her head around in its mouth so she could see her body falling to the floor outside of its jaws, a spray of blood that landed in her eye being the last thing she experienced before her brain finally ran out of oxygen without its heart and lungs to supply it. And… a sudden clarity of what Maya had been doing with the food the past few days.

Credit: The Quiet One

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