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Missing the Party

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This inhuman place breeds human monsters.

They said it was always darkest before the dawn.

As Wendy Torrance stood beside her son's bedside, watching his forehead scrunch and eyelids flutter as he dreamed, the puffed circle of bruises still yellowing around his neck, she wondered.

It wasn't Jack who had strangled Danny. She knew that. He hadn't touched the boy. She wanted to say that he'd never harm his own son, but she already knew that was a lie. The broken arm- when he was drinking- I lose all my wits when I drink, Wendy, I'm so sorry-

But he hadn't been drinking. He'd given it up. The Overlook had a bar, but it was bone dry. She'd looked herself, more than once, stealthily padding through the Colorado Lounge. Just to check. Jack had never caught her.

It was bone dry, but all his drinking habits were coming back. When he curled into her back at night, she caught herself surreptitiously sniffing the air, shoulders tensing in anticipation of the miasma of gin. There was nothing.

So far.

Jack had destroyed the CB radio. A nightmare, he'd claimed. He'd sleepwalked up from the basement. Wendy had a hard time believing it at first, but after seeing the slack expression on Danny's face, the bruises staining his neck-

It was the hotel.

If the Overlook could make Jack destroy their only contact with the outside world, could make Danny strangle himself (she couldn't believe the waterlogged lady in the bathtub was real, not yet- her mind felt like it would snap free of even the last tenuous mooring if she believed that)...

What else could it do?

Anything your pretty little heart desires, Winnifred...

Wendy shuddered, her back suddenly crawling with gooseflesh. Danny whimpered, beginning to toss and turn, and she smoothed his hair back, reassuring him with soft, wordless murmurs.

"Is he sleeping?" Jack's quiet voice from the doorway. Wendy whirled, nearly losing her balance. Her knees twinged. For just a moment, Jack's eyes had looked oddly blank, as shiny as two new quarters-

It was the light, Wendy reassured herself, going to him. His eyes were full of concern, like they always were, and he wrapped one arm around her shoulders, squeezing gently.

"He is," she answered just as softly. "We should be, too."

Jack kissed the corner of her mouth, nodded. As she turned away, needing to pee and brush her teeth, she saw the back of his hand swipe unsteadily across his mouth. That thought rose up again, quavering and uncertain, like a breath of marsh gas in a swamp. Has he been drinking again? Has he? Then faded.

Wendy went to bed.

She dreamed that she was in the Overlook. But this Overlook wasn't shrouded in powdery heaps of snow, wasn't silent and still and cold down to her bones. It was warm and vivid and bright and full of life. There were throngs of people and as she moved through them, she realized she was no longer in her nightgown and slippers, she was in a dress she'd never seen before in her life. It was a light, jazzy blue, and the hem swirled enticingly around her knees. A glittery gold-and-blue mask jutted from a slender stick held in one hand.

Unmask! Unmask!

"You're Winnifred, aren't you?" a woman's voice spoke behind her. She whirled. For a moment, she could feel a scream bubble in her throat (she's dead! she has no face!), then it was gone. The woman smiled at her. No blood. Neat brown hair, curled at the ends.

"I am," Wendy said slowly. "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are."

"That's all right," the woman said, cheerful. She was dressed in an old-timey maid's outfit, an apron tied tight round her waist. Red smears like juice or syrup (or blood) ran down the front. "Call me Aldina, would you? Aldina Grady."

"That's a pretty name," Wendy replied, shaking hands (Aldina's fingers were cool and dry, her nails nicely shaped), before the import of Aldina's last name hit her. She froze as her hand dropped limply to her side. Aldina's face became a mask of blood, fragments of startling white bone laying fetchingly on her collar.

"Grady, yes, that's right," Aldina said with a smile. "My husband was the caretaker. That's up to yours now, though, isn't it? Jack, was it?"

"Y-yes," Wendy stammered, wishing very hard that she would wake up now.

"He's got big plans, doesn't he? Wants to become the manager," Aldina confided with a tinkling laugh. "You should be careful, Winnifred. That boy- your husband drinks, doesn't he?"

"He used to," Wendy said, very stiffly. "He doesn't anymore."

"Are you sure about that?" Aldina asked, a coy tilt to her head. "Really sure?"

"Yes!" Wendy nearly shouted. "...No," she admitted. "But there's nothing here..."

"The Overlook accommodates its guests very well," Aldina whispered. "And compensates its employees even more so."

Wendy shook her head, backing away from the dead woman. The mask fell from nerveless fingers, bouncing once.

"You've got a talented boy, Winnifred," Aldina said, delicately stepping toward her. The maid's outfit had changed into a mirror of Wendy's own dress, though Aldina's was bright, wet red. "The Overlook wants to nourish that talent- develop it- help it flourish. Does Jack?"

"Of course he does," Wendy murmured in a weak, hurt, little voice. Confetti streamed down briefly on either side of them, gone before it hit the floor.

"Take care of Danny, Mrs. Torrance," Aldina said. "Don't let Jack hurt him. Don't let Jack-"

Wendy woke up.

Just a dream, she thought shakily. She could hear Jack's peaceful snores beside her. There were no sounds from Danny's bed. She hadn't screamed or anything like that.

Why would she, Wendy thought to herself as she slipped out of bed and padded to the bathroom for a drink of water. She'd just get a drink, check on Danny, and go back to sleep. There was no- no need to worry. Just a dream. Just a bit of a nightmare and small wonder, with everything going on lately.

Don't let Jack hurt him...

But he wouldn't. He couldn't, she reassured herself as she drank from her cupped hand. The water was so cold it made her teeth hurt.

He had slapped Danny- he had broken Danny's arm- but murder?

No, Jack Torrance was not capable of hurting Doc like that. He just wasn't.

...But what if the Overlook was?

Wendy shivered. She suddenly felt very cold and very alone, as if the bathroom had been transported elsewhere, an alien world where there was nothing but the snow and the ice and the wind, howling around the eaves and whispering things that she could almost make out, if she just tried hard enough...

Jack said he was going to find out if the snowmobile still worked.

It had to. They would all make it down to Sidewinder and Danny would be all right again and away from the oppressive mantle of the hotel, Jack would be all right again and they would make do. They had done it before and Wendy was prepared to do it again. She'd shovel driveways hand-in-hand with Jack if she had to.

She'd do anything for her son. Anything.

They had to get out of the Overlook.