Her brother's words still echoing in her ears, Elana slowly made her way down the staircase. Pleasant aromas flowed into her nostrils from all directions, but they provided no comfort.
"Dear, I need you to be there to greet the Robinsons the very millisecond they step in, and be very..."
But Rebecca's words were drowning amidst the stormy seas of her daughter's mind. It wasn't until the door creaked open that her eyes fluttered then lay still, alert as a tabby cat during a hunt.
"I warmly welcome you to our house Mr. and Mrs. Robinson and I hope you have a fine time at our tea party-"
All mechanical greeting ceased when Elana caught her first true glimpse of their guests. The tall one, most likely the father of the family, had a coal black overcoat with an enormous hood, hiding all but his squinty eyes, leaving the remainder of his facial features in dark shadow. His wife sported a foot-length ivory gown and their two children, both boys around the age of six, wore black suits, black caps, and shiny new black boots. Elana could not help but wonder what that sour-faced woman was thinking, wearing white among such company as this.
"Where- ees- the party," intoned the man, his accent completely unfamiliar even to the Peters girls who had hosted guests from the whole world.
"Why, it's in the garden," answered Nathora uncertainly, tugging at the hem of her dress.
"Where- ees- the garden."
"You're an impudent little girl!"
Startled, Nathora could only stare wide-eyed at this strange personage. She did not think she was an impudent little girl, whatever "impudent" might mean.
"Obvi-ees-ly ees outside, being a garden. But where outside ees it?"
And that's when the black mountain dealt her a crushing blow, and she tumbled into blissful oblivion.
* * * *
People were panicking right and left, all in their own special way. The two conscious Peters girls were reduced to running around screaming hysterically, whilst Rebecca sat in her favorite armchair, gazing intently at a minuscule moth stuck helplessly on the ceiling, betrayed by false promises of a happy life spent fluttering around the heavenly candelabra's gleam, as if it could solve her problems somehow. That left Carlo to take the initiative and run for the neighbors. His father was stewing at work and the family had not taken to the idea of owning a telephone yet. After all, they were a new concept at that time, and the Peterses preferred to stick to the old and glorious traditions.
Caroline was regretting her decision to turn a year older as she wailed for Nathora. And. the Robinsons?
Well, funny you should ask. They were all huddled around one of the sad little oak picnic tables, hugging themselves as if it were 40 degrees outside instead of 82, and raiding the tea and side items as though they had not taken in food for a week.
Elana had a sudden, intense, burning desire to punch the tall one in the nose, but she knew well from past experience that such actions rarely ever helped anybody when dealing with people such as these, and it would only hurt her family more. So instead, she approached them slowly, loping through the garden at an easy, but steady, pace.
"What ees it that you want," said the man coldly, making Elana wish he would try to use question marks occasionally, "because if eet ees sympathy, you ought not to expect any. That little geerl got what she was asking for. No, more like begging for." All of the Robinsons chuckled appreciatively, setting down their sandwich crusts and Mama's favorite tea cups. How dare they. Elana felt the drought beginning in the depths of her throat, but she knew she must not leave.
"What is your name?" Her voice trembled palpably.
"At the risk of sounding cliched, leetle girl, that is absolutely none of your concern." Mr. Robinson paused. "You may call me the Porcupine, however. I'm a touch prickly." More laughter ensued. Elana felt her cheeks growing hot.
"Why are you here?"
"So I can take you home with me."
"I am home."
"You just think you are."
The Porcupine gazed at her seriously, his emerald pupils boring into her own.