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The Surprise

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     For Mitchell, the next few minutes are a blur. One moment, he’s following his new - old? - friend, Gabriola, and her brother around the corner of the school building, and the next, they’re walking down a familiar driveway, one he walked down with his mother once before, when he was much younger.

     His footsteps slow as he looks over the house before him. Much like back then, there’s a little bed of golden flowers in a window planter, a cozy awning over the porch held up by two brick pillars, and a silver knocker on the front door with some weird symbol - a winged circle over three triangles. He’s vaguely aware of Boli walking to the door and asking his sister a question. He sort-of-hears Gabriola’s nonchalant response. What has most of his attention is the haunting sense of familiarity he has with this place and this moment, arriving in the mid-to-late afternoon on a weekend at his friend’s house to hang out.

     The only difference between now and then is that his mother isn’t holding his hand and dragging him away from the door; her texts are making his phone buzz in his pocket like a hive of angry wasps.

     Mitchell stops walking for a moment, and pulls his phone out of his pocket to scan the messages. He winces. Where are you? Why haven’t you called yet? Are you with someone? Is your phone dead? I’m going to call you in five minutes. He sighs.

     “Yo, Mitch, you good?”

Looking up, he sees both Boli and Gabriola regarding him with concerned eye-lights. He manages to give them what he hopes is a convincing smile, and says, “Yeah, just one second, I gotta call my mom.”

     “Oh, sure.” Boli nods. “I’ll head in and let Mom know we’re back.”

     “Cool.” Gabriola wheels about and sits on the stoop. “I’ll wait.”

     Mitchell gives a bit of a breathy laugh, and looks down at the messages again. “I’ll just… go stand over here, real quick. Shouldn’t be long.” He trots to the end of the driveway, and sits on the curb near the mailbox.

     He can feel Gabriola’s eye-lights glued on him while he pulls up his mother’s contact and hits the call button. Until just recently, her stares used to make him feel uneasy. Somehow, this time, he can tell she’s trying to make sure he’s okay.

     “Guess Monsters are weird like that,” he mutters to himself, listening to the dial tone.




     The Schmidt residence is the very picture of functionality. Mr. Connor Schmidt is a successful caterer of no small reputation, and as such brings in a substantial income; his doting wife, Kathleen, has made it her personal goal to be as much a shining beacon of success as her husband is. She is a consistent presence at the PTA for her son’s school, and hosts a book club on the weekends for other mothers in her neighborhood. She donates on a monthly basis to the local soup kitchen, she goes to church every Sunday morning, and she picks up her son every day from school.

     Her home is a mere five-minute drive from the school itself, so on this day in particular, with her son in detention, of all things, she insisted he call her the moment he got out so she could come get him. However, it’s now nearing three in the afternoon, and she hasn’t heard a word from him.

     She texts him, as she does when she starts to worry. Where are you? Why haven’t you called yet? Are you with someone?

     She sends a few more messages, waiting a few moments between each one. All the while, she paces up and down the length of her kitchen, occasionally stopping to pick up her purse, before putting it down and reminding herself to wait.

     Mitchell isn’t a child anymore, she tells herself. If she wants him to trust her, she has to give him some leniency.

     Her phone rings, and she nearly drops it, having been lost in thought. “Hello, you’ve reached --”

     “Hey, mom.”

     Kathleen lets out a heavy sigh and clutches at her chest. “Mitchy, thank goodness, I was so worried! Are you all right?”

     “Yeah, mom, I’m fine. I… didn’t want to bother you, so I got a ride with a friend.”

     A … friend? He hadn’t mentioned any friends were going to be there. That, and something in the way his voice trembles when he hesitates tells her something’s up. “Mitchell, I told you to call me when you were done, so I could take you right home. Where are you?”

     “I’m,” His voice cracks a bit more this time, and her eyes narrow, “I’m at, at Ryan’s house, y’know, on Spruce? I’ll have him bring me home, d-don’t sweat it.”

     “Absolutely not.” She knows something’s up, now. “I’m coming to get you right now. Don’t you move an inch, young man.”

     “W-” he yelps, which is new, and gives her pause, “Wait, mom, please! I… I’ll be home in just a minute, okay? I’m - I’m already on the way. Promise.”

     She hesitates. Her keys are already in her hand, and she’s got her purse over her shoulder. “You have two minutes, young man,” she says, “or I’ll check the location on your phone.”

     Mitchell makes a muffled sound from the other end of the line, and Kathleen grips the straps of her purse with white knuckles. “O-okay. I’ll see you soon. Love you.”

     “Love you, too.” Her son hangs up immediately, and she in turn taps her service provider’s app on her phone, and pulls up the location of her son’s device.

     She stares at the screen with a scowl that slowly intensifies into a glare; she recognizes that address. She drove him there nearly a decade ago, and ever since has taken every precaution to avoid it on any route to or from town. However, just as quickly as she’s ready to declare war on the Feemurrs, the front door opens, and Mitchell walks inside.

     “H-hey, mom! Told you I’d be home!” The smile he offers is a little shaky, and so is the wave that accompanies it, but Kathleen is too distracted by what she’s witnessed on her app to really notice.

     “B-but, you were, just,” She balks at the screen, unsure of what she’s seen. Where a moment before, Mitchell’s phone had shown itself at the Feemurr’s home address, it’s now… here. At home.

     Kathleen looks at her son. He’s standing in the kitchen doorway, giving her a forced, nervous smile. He jerks a thumb over his shoulder, and says, “I’m gonna do homework in my room.”

     “Okay, Mitch.” Kathleen watches him leave, rubbing at her forehead. She knows something isn’t right. As for what? She can’t say.




     Toriel sits in the living room, a book on snail categorization lying half-forgotten on her lap as she stares worriedly out the window at her two children on the lawn. Gabriola is kneeling in the grass, staring motionless out at the street; Boli is kneeling beside her, no doubt comforting her in the best way he can. Toriel had only heard a little of what was going on; one moment, Boli came inside announcing there was company; the next, he was rushing back outside at Gabriola’s call, and now… it’s quiet.

     Toriel doesn’t have to see Gabriola’s face to recognize the grief. Moments like that tend to stick in the mind. She sighs, and closes the book in her lap. Standing, she crosses the floor to put it away.

     She knows Gabriola prefers to trudge through her feelings on her own. At most, only Boli has ever been able to truly console her. Regardless… Toriel can’t just sit still and--


     Toriel jolts, and turns around to see her daughter standing behind her, with her son gently shutting the front door. “Mom,” Gabriola says, and the misty lavender tears in her eye-sockets are enough to break Toriel’s heart, “Can… we talk?”

     Toriel smiles, blinking to fight back her own tears. “Of course, my child. Let’s talk.”

     Gabriola takes a seat on the sofa. More specifically, she kind of lets herself collapse onto the cushions. Toriel can almost hear her bones clattering unceremoniously under her oversized sweatshirt. Boli clears his throat from the other side of the room, and strolls wordlessly toward the stairs, tossing a thumbs-up and a small smile at his mom before taking the stairs two at a time. The boss monster turns to her daughter once more, and resumes her own seat in the oversized and well-loved armchair by the mantel.

     Gabriola is quiet for several moments, her eye-lights small and trembling in her teary eye-sockets. The tears remain unfalling, resting bubbled on the precipice of her cheekbones, threatening to burst at the slightest movement; for a moment, Toriel imagines that’s why her daughter is staying so still. Presently, Gabriola speaks, her jaw unmoving, in the smallest voice Toriel has ever heard from her.

     “... What am I doing wrong?”

     Toriel blinks. “Wh-” She shakes her head, baffled, “Whatever do you mean, my child?”

     “Both times I’ve asked him to come over, he never gets to stay.” Gabriola says, her voice wavering in the air, her eye-lights focusing as intently as they dare on her mother. “Last time, I didn’t get to talk to him for years . What if - what if his mom makes him move so far away, I never see him again?”

     Toriel’s gaze softens, and she offers her daughter a sad, empathetic smile. “... Speaking from experience, my child, I do not believe any of that is any fault of yours. This is the Schmidt boy, yes?”

     Gabriola nods slowly.

     “I see.” Toriel closes her eyes with a sigh. She clasps her paws together in her lap. “His mother had myself and your principal in a conference call earlier today, going on about her… opinions regarding your contact with her son.” Toriel pulls a face. “She is… a difficult woman. But if I can measure anything based on how Mitchell was willing to try again to come spend time with you… well, that alone can speak volumes.”

     She opens her eyes, to find Gabriola looking at her with confusion in her own sockets.

     “I don’t get it,” the skull-monster says, blankly.

     Her mother smiles a little more. “If he truly wants to be your friend - and I suspect that he does, somehow - his mother won’t be able to put a stopper on that friendship.”

     Gabriola blinks slowly, the lavender tears finally rolling down her cheekbones. Her jaw curls into the slightest smile, and a bit of hope glimmers in her brightening eye-lights. “... Thanks, mom.”

     “Of course, my child.” Toriel smiles warmly still for a moment, and then her brow sets with a matronly scowl. “... And now, we must discuss the ramifications for your fight at school - the one that sent you to detention. I need you to tell me what happened, and how serious it was.”

     Gabriola tenses, going stock-still.

     “Did you use your magic on the human?”

     The skull-monster shakes her head.

     Toriel’s eyes narrow slightly. “Did you see his Soul?”

     Again, Gabriola shakes her head.

     Toriel draws a breath, and nods. “Very well. Regardless, I need you to understand that these actions have consequences, Gabriola. You are grounded for a week. No going out, no video games.”

     Gabriola’s shoulders relax as she nods. “Okay, mom.” She stands, and picks up her backpack to sling it over one shoulder. “I’m going upstairs. Got homework.”

     “Very well, my child.” Toriel stands and gives her daughter a warm, fuzzy hug. “I love you, Gabriola. And I am sorry you are having these troubles.”

     “I love you too, mom.” Gabriola hugs her mother back with her free arm. Once freed, she offers the boss monster a small smile, and then heads upstairs.

     Toriel watches her go with a sad little smile, and releases a deep sigh once she disappears into her room. She can’t shake the feeling her daughter is hiding something from her, but she decides to let it go, for the time being. If it’s important enough, Gabriola will tell her sooner or later.




     Mitchell closes the door to his bedroom as quietly as he dares, and lets out a shaky breath once he’s behind the closed latch. He drops his backpack onto his bed and sits on the floor, back against the side of the mattress, head leaning back against the comforter so he can stare at the ceiling fan. He did the right thing, in coming home - he knows that. If - no, when his mother found out he’d been at the Feemurrs’ house, he’d be in huge trouble. The last thing he wants is to drag Gabriola into it, especially after how fiercely she’d protected him after detention.

     He looks at his hands for a moment. They’re shaking, if only just a bit. He laughs. Of course, he’s scared - his mother hates monsters more than she hates seeing a C on a report card. For his whole life, she’s told him they’re nothing but manipulative demons trying to prey on the Souls of humanity.


     Mitchell - purely for the need of something to do with his shaking hands - reaches into his backpack and pulls out his sketchbook. The ratty old notebook threatens to fall apart in his hands, but he handles the flimsy cover and the tangled wire binding with a practiced ease. He grabs a pencil off the floor - because, of course, he hasn’t cleaned his room all week - and starts to draw.

     A few lines, scratch, erase, re-scratch , shade it lightly, make it sharper - no, sharper still . He sketches without really thinking, drawing a figure familiar to him, one he’s drawn a hundred dozen times over, a deer with no inhibitions, grinning like a champion and ready for anything - and another figure, one that’s new, but refreshing, almost like he’s been dying to draw it for ages.

     He blinks at the page, once he realizes it’s done. His face buzzes a bit, in embarrassment. Is this… okay? Is it acceptable? God, he wants to show Gabriola. But he can never let her know.

     He tears out the page - carefully, so as to not rip it. He holds it for a moment, feeling the buzzing in his cheeks grow warmer still. He smiles in spite of himself. Standing, he crosses the floor to his desk, and opens up a bottom drawer to stash his latest work where no-one can find it.

     He takes one last look at the piece; Buck the deer, standing with his arm around a certain skull-monster, giving the viewer a bright grin and a thumbs-up. The skull-monster, heavily stylized in this depiction, of course, is wearing a dark robe and wielding a scythe, but is also smiling, and giving the viewer a peace sign. The two are close; that’s what gives Mitchell that buzzing sense of hopefulness in his chest, as he closes the drawer and locks it out of sight.




     Later that night, Gabriola finds herself scrolling listlessly through her social media feed on her phone. She’s hardly reading anything that appears before her, just… scrolling. She’s vaguely aware, now and again, of Boli tossing and turning in the bunk above her, equally restless. He’s never slept well, she knows that. It’s not often that she doesn’t.

     Her phone buzzes, rattling against her phalanges, and she sees a new notification pop up - a little red balloon in the top-right. She taps it, and is greeted by an icon of a grinning blue deer, seemingly done in colored pencil, and a message beside it:

     New friend request from Buck Wilde.

     Gabriola grins, and hits ‘accept.’ She then pulls open a new message to Buck. Sup nerd.

     The reply is almost immediate. Lsdjf this is dumb i know i just wanted to talk to you but i couldn’t do it on my main account cause my moms on there

     Gabriola laughs quietly. Easy there tiger you’re good

     Oh. cool. I knew that. How’re you?

     Grounded. Can’t sleep.

     Grounded?! Aw, dang. Sorry - wait, how come you have your phone?

     Mom doesn’t know about IM’ing yet, I guess. Never had anybody to message before. Gabriola is twirling an old stuffed bear in the air beside her with one hand while she texts. She said no going out and no video games, so… this is neither of those.

     Careful now, you’re starting to sound like a real delinquent.

     Gabriola chuckles again. Boli groans in annoyance and throws a blanket over his skull. This doesn’t stop his sister from continuing to text into the small hours of the morning.

     Thank goodness it’s the weekend.




     It’s not very often that the entire Schmidt family can sit down for breakfast in the morning, but Kathleen pounces on every one of these rare opportunities that come by. Sure, her only son had just been in detention the day before, and sure, her husband is already talking on the phone in the other room with a potential client about a catering gig, but that doesn’t mean she can’t make a Sunday morning meal special.

     Kathleen hums a little song to herself - a snippet from the chorus of some popular radio song she heard the other day on the radio. The stove hood hums its discordant harmony. Its efforts against the bacon smoke are worthwhile enough; the fog in the kitchen isn’t as thick as it could have been. A pile of freshly-done pancakes sits proudly on a plate to her left. All she has to do after this is--

     “Hey, honey, is there anything I can help with?”

     Kathleen looks over her shoulder at her husband, Connor, with a sleepy smile. “As a matter of fact, I could use some help with the oranges. Could you peel those for me?”

     “Sure, hon.” Connor slides around his wife to reach the fruit, stealing a little peck on her cheek as he does. They work together in companionable silence for a couple of minutes, him peeling and parting the oranges, and her putting the finishing touches on the bacon.

     It’s mornings like these that help Kathleen forget her troubles. No more PTA, no more bothersome school policies; just family. Isn’t that what matters?

     The quiet minutes pass, and Connor breaks the silence. “So, Kathy, I’ve got a new gig lined up for next weekend - big, fancy party, should pay well.”

     “That’s great, dear!” Kathleen smiles up at her husband once more. “I hope you have fun.”

     “You kidding? I always have fun at these things. You wouldn’t believe the appetites on some of these rich folks.” Connor laughs. He tosses the last of the orange peels into the trash, and holds up the bowl of peeled slices. “We ready to eat all this, or what?”

     She nods, and they load up the plates to bring breakfast out to their son. Kathleen can’t help noticing the sleepy bags under Mitchell’s eyes, in spite of how happy he seems.

     With the food set out and everyone seated, they all help themselves to a bit of breakfast. Connor says grace before they actually start eating, as is customary in the household. Only after everyone’s taken a few bites does Kathleen say anything to her son.

     “So - you have a late night?”

     Mitchell blinks, and then nods. “Yeah, uh… up studying. Been having some trouble with math, but… I think I got it now.”

     “Attaboy,” Connor cheers from across the table, raising his glass of juice in a mock salute. “By the by, kiddo, how was your first detention yesterday?”

     Mitchell grimaces, “Oh, you know, pretty boring. I mean, it’s detention, right? Not supposed to be fun.”

     “Mm-hmm,” Kathleen nods slowly, sipping her mug of coffee and watching her son in curiosity.

     “Yeah, well, goes to show you shouldn’t make a habit of getting in trouble like that, anymore.” Connor sniffs, and swallows a bite of pancake.

     Kathleen’s jaw clenches a bit in spite of herself, and she sets down her mug. “Connor… do you know why our boy was in detention?”

     Connor pauses. “He… he got in a fight, right?”

     “He was attacked, Connor. By one of those animals.

     Mitchell winces again, and stares down at his plate.

     “Wh- attacked? ” Connor balks, and does a double-take. “... But there isn’t a scratch on him.”

     “That’s not the point , Connor,” Kathleen hisses, glaring at her husband outright. “That, that terrible little beast threw our son into a trash can with its devil magic, and the school saw fit to punish him, too!”

     Connor’s brow creases in concern, and he looks at Mitchell. “Is that right, son?”

     Mitchell only whimpers in response, hunching over his plate and picking at his pancakes.

     “Of course it’s right! Those things are a blight on this good town, and we’ll be better off when we put them back underground where they belong.” Kathleen spears a bit of pancake on her fork and eats it.

     The remainder of breakfast passes in silence, but Kathleen Schmidt hardly notices, consumed as she is with her anger. Toriel Feemurr will rue the day she sicced her dirty gremlin on her baby boy.