The following is just a taste of what I’m doing in my novel. It will have a variety of flavors, ranging from horrific, to humorous hitting pretty much every thing in between. “Paper Gods” will have one major story per book, a variety of sub plots, with numerous side stories that will help build my world. The following is one of those side stories. I hope you enjoy “The Queen”. If you you do, please comment and share! Thanks! Oh yeah…The picture I posted with this is not related to the story, but I find I get more hits when I add a picture I’ve drawn! Yeah! I’m that petty! If it helps, you can think of the woman in the picture as the character “Denise” in the story.
It had been one of the best days ever for Denise Mcgee. Finally, after a bit more than a year, the papers were finalized and Winnie was now officially their daughter. Denise and her husband Randy had spent many, many hours dotting every “I” and crossing every “T” to make this happen. The McGees were a wonderful couple, who missed being able to give as parents since their two boys had grown up and moved out. Denise and Randy were doting, loving parents that had raised their children well. The boys had grown up into fine young men and were now following their own life paths which looked bright and full of great promise. Trent had finished college, married and had followed his job to Dubuque Iowa, and Bobby had joined the Marines and was stationed in San Diego, both places far from their childhood home in Columbus Ohio. Denise and Randy were extremely happy for their boys, but that didn’t stop the house from feeling too big and too empty since they had departed on their life journeys.
The McGees had tried to keep occupied to combat the loneliness, Denise with the church and a variety of hobbies, Randy still played drums in the basement with some of the buddies he used to gig with locally. Denise was pleased when her husband became interested in the whole “super power” thing that had filled the headlines since people started showing up who displayed real, strange, impossible abilities. Randy had taken to watching all the new programs focused on these “Enhanced”, as the media had dubbed them. Simon Cowell had scored a huge hit with “America’s Got Powers”, Vince McMahon’s “SPWL” or “Super Powered Wrestling League” was a rating’s bonanza, not to mention the cornucopia of documentaries and news programs dedicated to the phenomena. Randy was addicted to them as well as scouring YouTube and other web sites for glimpses of new Enhanced. Denise was a little conflicted by all of this strangeness. It scared part of her, all of these people with powers that could be potentially dangerous, but the christian in her knew that it all had to be part of God’s ultimate plan, and knowing that comforted her.
Despite their varied interests, the McGees still felt something missing. With the boys gone, they just didn’t feel they were being fulfilled. Then she saw the news story about that poor, poor girl and had begun following it and the more she learned the more she felt moved to become a part of it. At first it appeared just another terrible story of domestic abuse leading to murder, but as the details emerged, Denise became interested. According to the news reports, a local woman had killed her boyfriend when she caught him abusing her daughter and had a complete mental breakdown in the process. The slaying was described in terrifying detail in one paper’s bold headline: “Death of a Thousand Cuts!” Details were skimpy, but the incoherent woman had been institutionalized and the daughter placed in the care of Child Protective Services. That’s where Denise met Winnie.
As part of her work for the church, Denise often visited the many displaced children living under the governments watchful eye. The church sent representatives to minister to these lost children, to offer them comfort where they could. All of them had sad stories that broke Denise’s heart, but it was different with Winnie. The staff had informed Denise that this was the little girl from the horrific murder from a few weeks earlier, but neither they or the news reports had prepared her for this. When introduced to Winnie for the very first time, the girl had wrapped her arms around Denise and hugged her mightily. The arms were not tapered like most kids, Denise noticed. They were just a bit shorter and rounder than other children her age, the joints a smidgen thicker. The child drew back and looked Denise squarely in the eyes, her own eyes just a little too close together, a little too small, and they eyelids drooped somewhat towards the outside. The face was just a little too round, and that warm smile was punctuated with deep, mirrored commas at either sign of her upturned mouth. “Hello!” said Winnie brightly, with a voice a touch huskier than it should be, the word slurred just a bit by a too thick tongue. “Downs Syndrome.” Thought Denise, collecting herself before she showed actual surprise. “Hello, right back!” she said flashing the girl her brightest smile! “I’m Denise and I think we’re going to be wonderful friends!” And they were.
Denise had felt the connection almost immediately. While she had always empathized with any of the children she met here, the bond she felt with Winnie was overpowering. She and this little girl with the beautiful blonde hair, and the sparkling eyes only grew closer and closer with each visit. Denise took it upon herself to learn as much as possible about the life Winnie had lived before being placed here. She gathered much information from the staff, but she also learned a lot from Winnie herself. After interviewing friends relatives and neighbors, the authorities had put together a thoroughly depressing story. Winnie’s mother was a pill hound, who lived by sponging off a string of boyfriends, none of which ever lasted very long. Between government assistance, and the check she got for Winnie’s disability, they had lived a spartan life, moving countless times to keep ahead of rent demanding landlords. The mother got the majority of her pills from friends who shared and swapped legal prescriptions, which for the most part kept them off the legal radar. The mother had been bi-polar, alternating between an overly possessive mother, to hating her daughter for being “messed up” and holding her back, according to her twisted logic. She had told people on numerous occasions that Winnie was a punishment from God and if it weren’t for the government check, she would gladly hand her over to the state, which is ironically just where Winnie ended up anyway. Denise was infuriated at the very thought! How could ANY mother have those kind of thoughts about their own child! It was maddening!
Denise was both surprised and delighted to learn that God had compensated for Winnie’s Downs Syndrome by gifting her with a talent far beyond her years. Even at this age of eleven, Winnie had shown remarkable skill at drawing and painting. When first shown the artwork, almost all done on the back of leaflets and advertising flyers, Denise had trouble believing that these beautiful, intricately detailed drawings could possibly come from those stubby little fingers. Denise had taken a few art classes and knew enough to know that this girl wasn’t just talented, she was a prodigy! Unicorns. Faeries. Elves. Leprechauns. A veritable plethora of fantasy creatures, all lovingly and immaculately rendered, limited only by the inadequate supplies used to create them. Denise learned that Winnie preferred to do her artwork alone, perhaps because it had been her escape from her mother’s shifting moods and inevitable periods of unconsciousness. Winnie told Denise that her art time was her “‘Magination” time. Winnie explained that while drawing, she would make up stories about her creations and that she loved them all and they were her best friends! Denise found it both sad and yet somehow encouraging that this girl who had suffered through so much had instinctively found a way to deal with her unfortunate circumstances and had persevered.
Winnie also sometimes talked about her mother’s boyfriends. Winnie told her, “Mommy liked lot’s of men. She made me call them ‘Uncle Bill’ or ‘Uncle Gary’, but I’m not stupid. I knew they weren’t my uncles. They were her boyfriends!” Winnie said that most of them came and went pretty quickly, but one had stayed for a long time. “That was Uncle Jerry and I loved him so much!” Winnie gushed. Winnie explained that “Uncle” Jerry wouldn’t let her mommy do the pills and things were really good for a long time. “When Uncle Jerry was there, we always had milk for the Lucky Charms! Mommy never had to take the landlord to the bedroom to ‘gotiate the rent’ either.” She explained. “Uncle Jerry was a truck driver and he would take me out in his truck!” She said, her thick voice only slightly distorting her words. “He would take me for rides in his big, giant truck! I loved riding in Uncle Jerry’s truck! We would be up SOOO high, and I could look down and see the tops of the cars and everything! Being up in the air like that made me feel like I was a princess in my throne!” She glowed as she told how Uncle Jerry had bought her a REAL art pad, with clean, white paper on BOTH sides! “Then Mommy started doing the pills again while Uncle Jerry was gone on the road and thing started getting bad.” She had heard them arguing, Jerry begging her mother to stop over and over. Finally one night Jerry had come to Winnies room, cradled her in his arms and told her that he had to go away for good. He couldn’t live with her mother when she “got like that”, and if he left, her mother wouldn’t let him see Winnie again. Winnie told Denise that made her cry really hard and Uncle Jerry cried really hard too! The last thing he said to Winnie was “I’m gonna try to get you some help!” he hugged her tight, then a choked, “I love you, Winnie!” Then he was gone. It was only a few days later that Uncle Jason had moved in, but Winnie didn’t like talking about Uncle Jason. Not at all.
After learning all this, a tugging at her heart that was also nipping at her mind finally found clarity in one demanding thought, “We need to adopt Winnie!” She brought Randy to meet this special little girl and they had bonded instantly, Randy playing with her and making her laugh uproariously. The paperwork was started, they attended religiously every meeting and conference asked of them. They jumped through more hoops than Wham-O made in a year! But now, tonight, it had all payed off. Winnie was their daughter, tucked safely in her new bed, sleeping soundly with Denise in the big chair next to it. She was lovingly watching the girl slumber, simply content in being a mother again. The day had been a long one, signing the final paperwork releasing Winnie from government custody, gathering up Winnie’s meager belongings and stowing them in the SUV. From there had come a whirlwind of shopping. They had pretty much set up Winnie’s room earlier, but they wanted their new child to pick out any item she wanted to decorate her room. Not surprisingly, they ended up with a truck full of fantasy items. Unicorn statuettes. Fairy night lights. Every fantasy land movie they could find on DVD. The works. Winnie was ecstatic. She just glowed all day. She beamed when they let her pick out her favorite foods and snacks from the grocery store. They let Winnie pick out where to eat and she chose a chain pizza place, where they had pizza with all of Winnie’s favorite toppings including the “‘Chovies” that neither Randy nor Denise liked very much. Naturally the contented couple didn’t mind suffering through the salty tidbits on this wonderful day. They were all in their own little heaven. The McGee’s were all tuckered out, but Winnie was exhausted. Even her joyous excitement at seeing her new room, complete with a real artist’s desk and easel, complete with professional quality pencils, pens, paints, papers and canvases couldn’t keep the happily weary child up long.
As Denise sat there savoring this wonderful, warm occasion , she unexpectedly drifted off herself, falling into a deep sleep within moments. As she slumbered, a discordant series of sounds and images began flashing within her sleeping mind. The images began to coalesce until they became something more coherent. To Denise it felt as though she was the lone viewer of a very vivid movie. A movie complete with narrarator. “I am Queen Winnifred!” a lovely, strong female voice announced. “There are things you need to know. Watch and learn!” The proud, regal voice commanded. Denise was like an invisible presence standing in a three dimensional theater. A room came into focus around her and she saw a little girl, who was obviously Winnie, standing in front of a couch where a very pretty woman lay, not responding to the little girls insistent shaking of the woman’s arm. “Passed out.” Denise thought, caught up in the dream. The little girl then went to the kitchen where she found a box of Lucky Charms laying on it side, on a very cluttered counter. The little Winnie dragged a chair up to the counter, climbed on it and opened a cabinet door, looked inside and thought “No bowls.” ” I can hear her thoughts.” Denise thought, accepting the strangeness casually, as you can only do while dreaming. Little Winnie then cleared room in an overstuffed sink, washed a bowl, then set it on one of the few clear spots on the kitchen table. She walked to the refrigerator, peered in and thought. “No milk.” she considered this and then, “Maybe eat them with water?” to which she immediately told herself, “No. They taste icky in water.” Resigned to her situation, she picked up the box of Lucky Charms, looked inside and spied what could only be enough to fill her tiny hands a couple of times. She shrugged, jammed her arm into the box past her elbow, snagged a few pieces of the dusty cereal, along with a couple of the crunchy marshmallow bits, guided them to her mouth and walked back to her room where she took one long look at her mother before closing the door.
The scene began to dissolve around Denise as another took it’s place. It was the same living room as before, but Winnie’s mother was awake. Winnie was struggling to hold on to something that her mother was trying to take away from her. It was a cheap, Wal Mart quality art pad and Winnie had a death grip on it. “Let go of it!” her mother screamed. “That motherfucker Jerry bought that, and I don’t want a damned thing of his in this house! Not after calling Health and Human services on me!” She jerked the pad free of Winnie’s stubby fingers, throwing it across the room in the process. She bolted to get it, before Winnie could get it back. She raised it up, opened it, and sneered at the drawings inside, saying, “He told you that you’re special just because you can draw pretty pictures.” she said flipping through them, “Well, he was partly right.” the woman spit out as she began ripping pages out of the pad and wadding them into small little balls. “You’re special for sure, but not because you can draw. You’re special bus, special you little retard! If it weren’t for you, I could get a real man!” Winnie was wailing, tears flooding her round face. “Oh just shut the hell up!” her mother demanded. “The assholes gone and not coming back, so no more special presents for you, Miss Special Bus!” She reached over to an end table, grabbed a stack of junk mail and flung it at the girl, envelopes scattering across the room. “Pick those up and you can dig through them to find some shit to draw on. It was good enough for you before “Perfect Jerry”, she said with a sneer, “you can make do with them now. Now go to your room, do your precious art thing and leave me the hell alone.” Winnie began gathering up the envelopes, picked them all up into a small stack then went to her door, taking a moment to glare back at her mother before closing her door.
“WOW”, thought Denise, a moment of clarity in this dreamscape. “This is too much. I even know I’m dreaming.” The scene shifted again, this time to the little girls bedroom. Winnie was hard at work, her fingers making painfully slow, yet absolutely precise movements across the page in front of her. It wasn’t good paper, but it would do. It was the back of a flyer for Speedy’s Bail Bonds. She had used many just like it. Speedy knew this neighborhood was ripe for his services, so he had these hand delivered to all the houses and apartments in the area. Local kids would pass out a few for a couple of bucks, eventually tossing a pile in the closest garbage can. That’s where Winnie got this page. It was in a garbage can next to the school bus stop, and she had managed to get a bunch. This drawing was of one of her favorites! Princess Flutterby! She was so beautiful. Winnie wished she was beautiful like any of her Princesses. She had lots of Princesses, and they were all lovely. It would be nice to be pretty, she thought, but she had learned to live with not looking like the other kids. What really made her mad was when people treated her like she was stupid. “I’m not stupid!” Winnie thought. “I’m just different. I can figure stuff out. I understand lots of stuff. I just hate how I can’t get things to go from my thinking part to my talking part. It gets messed up somewhere between them.” This frustrated Winnie. She even hated the word “frustrated”. It always came out as “flustrated”, no matter how hard she tried to say it right.
To her amazement Denise could actually FEEL that Winnie was “flustrated” tonight. She was having a hard time concentrating on doing her drawing right. Mommy and “Uncle Jason” were fighting and screaming at each other and that made drawing hard. She didn’t like Uncle Jason. He was mean. Sometimes when mommy was asleep, Jason would come to her room and make her do things. Things she didn’t like. Winnie didn’t like thinking about Jason’s visits to her room. He was mean other ways too. Last week, she had found a kitten wandering outside their back door and since mommy was asleep again, Winnie had snuck the tiny bundle of fur into her bedroom where she had hidden it for a couple of days. She fed it scraps from the table and hid it in a box in her closet. Then one night her mommy had smelled where the kitten had gone potty in the box and found little Jerrycat. Her mom threw a fit! “What the hell is this.” She screamed. “I didn’t tell you, you could have a fucking cat!” “Jason!” she yelled, “Come get this fleabag and do something with it.” Jason appeared in the doorway, naked except for a pair of boxer shorts. “Well, well,” he said “What have we got here?” He grinned an evil grin and asked, “Can cats swim? Let’s find out!” Winnie was bawling as Jason left the room. She heard the bathroom door open then close, then lots of meowing and splashing and Jason using bad words. “Bring me a plastic bag, so this thing won’t drip everywhere.” he called to Winnie’s mommy. “You’re gonna owe me some special lovin’ tonight”, he said when she brought it. “That thing tore my hand to shreds!” “Don’t worry.” she replied. “I’ll kiss and make it all better!.” “That’s not the only thing you’re gonna kiss!” Jason said and they both laughed. Winnie never saw the kitten again. She missed Jerrycat.
She also missed Uncle Jerry and that made her lonely. Winnie struggled to concentrate on drawing, trying to ignore the fighting coming from the other room, but it was hard. ” I wish you were real.” thought Winnie. “I wish you were my real friend.” Then something completely unexpected and magical happened. The paper began to quiver under Winnie’s hand. It fluttered and thrashed like a strong breeze was attempting to grab it up. Then the drawing moved. Not the paper. The drawing. Just a little. Suddenly to Winnie’s shocked eyes, it lifted itself up away from the paper and just floated there above it! It was flat at first, just floating there, but then with a pop, and a burst of tiny sparkles it swelled up and there in front of Winnie was Princess Flutterby, beautiful wings gently flapping. “Hi!” said the creature, “I’m Princess Flutterby, and I’m here to be your friend!” Winnie beamed, but Princess Flutterby was glowing. Glowing like a soft, green neon tube. “Let’s keep this our secret! Ok?” “Sure!” agreed Winnie, smiling from ear to ear.
Once again, Denise watched the scene melt away, but this time she just somehow knew that the story she was being shown was about to come to climax. Winnie’s room was dark. the little girl was awakened to the sound of the door being opened, a sliver of light breaking around it’s edge. As the door swung slowly open, she saw the figure of a man, silhouetted against the bright light from the living room. It would be too much for her to hope this was Uncle Jerry come to take her away. She knew who it was and she was scared. The last time he came to her room like this, all smelling of beer, he hadn’t just made her do things. He had done things to her. Things that hurt. Denise tried to scream at the man to leave Winnie alone, but here in this now nightmare world, she had no voice. She could only watch in terror as the man advanced toward Winnie’s bed, one hand unbuckling his belt, the other holding a finger to his lips. “SHHHH!” he whispered. “Mommy’s passed out, so I decided we could have a little play time.”
“Go away.” whimpered Winnie, pushing herself back towards her headboard, pulling her blankets to cover her all the way to her eyes. “Now don’t be like that.” He said in a voice meant to sound sweet, but couldn’t cover the depravity slithering beneath it. “Leave me alone!” Winnie cried louder this time. Jason grabbed the blankets covering the girl and whipped them away, leaving the girl defenseless. His voice wasn’t even trying to be sweet when he said, “Be quiet! Just lay back and let me enjoy myself and it won’t be too bad, but if you fight, I’ll make sure it hurts! BAD!” Suddenly, Jason was distracted by unexpected light. With no warning the room had filled with dozens of flitting, flashing multi-colored fireflies. They were everywhere. They swirled around Jason in a tornado of flickering neon. “What the fuck!” he exclaimed, swatting at these strange insects. His arms began flailing in an attempt to connect with these things. They dodged him easily, swarming around him until he lost his balance and fell from the bed. As he scrambled to get to his feet, one of the lights hovered in front of his face and with a faint pop, he was suddenly confronted by what appeared to be a glowing doll. A doll that had wings buzzing like a dragonfly’s. He then heard another “pop” and now there were two impossible dolls. He reeled back as the room began to sound like popcorn in a microwave and now he was surrounded by dozens of these softly glowing, unreal creatures. They darted around him, his head and torso twisting to keep up with their speedy flight, him to slow to track them all. He backed against the door, arms akimbo, palms pressing against the cheap wood. “Get away! Get away!” he yelled, his head flipping from left to right repeatedly. The creatures all stopped racing around and the room was filled with thirty or more silently hovering, doll like, glowing figures. One slowly drew close to his face, it’s wings humming and looked him deeply in his eyes. A tiny voice that sounded like fragile chimes in the wind said, “We are the friends, subjects and protectors of Princess Winnie. We have been charged with the duty to protect Princess Winnie by the Great and Powerful Queen Winnifred. You would harm our dearest Princess, so you must die!” Even in the surreal clarity that the dreamscape offered, Denise couldn’t focus on what happened next. It seemed all the floating figures grew a bit, then they all flew as one to swarm the slapping, flailing, screaming Jason. They were all over him, around him, dozens of tiny arms flashing and slashing and then there was blood. Lots of blood. Denise sensed it more than she actually saw it, but she knew she was witnessing a blood bath. Jason screamed and screamed and screamed. The screams dwindled to a series of thin whimpers. Then he stopped. His body swayed for a moment then fell in a heap at the foot of Winnie’s bed. It was quiet for a minute and all Denise could hear was the faint buzzing of dozens of tiny wings and the heavy breathing coming from the terrified Winnie. It was quiet like this for only a few moments before the door burst open, thundering against the wall as it swung it’s full path. “What the hell’s going on in here?” Winnie’s mother bellowed as she flicked on the light. It took a moment for her dazed mind to register what she was seeing. Winnie was cowering at the head of her bed, Jason was on the floor, his body tattooed with hundreds, if not thousands of short, deep lacerations. Blood was seeping from him as if his entire body was crying crimson. The floor and walls were painted red in an abstract painting of horrifying scale. Then she saw the tiny figures flying around the room who all started to float closer and closer to her. Winnie’s mother screamed and Denise woke up.
Her body jerked as she awakened. Confused as to where she was for a few seconds, then she realized she was in the comfy chair in Winnie’s room. There was a soft glow coming from the brand new fairy night lights they had plugged in earlier. It took a moment for Denise to shake off the lingering fear that still clung to her from her nightmare. “Wow!” she thought, “I’ve had some vivid dreams, but that one was a doozy!” As she gradually came to full consciousness, Denise couldn’t help but consider the strange dream. “Whoa! That was wild!” she thought. “My mind must have been trying to fill in the blanks about Winnie’s life,” she reasoned, “and it dragged in her pictures of faeries and combined them with those anchovies I ate earlier and mixed up that nightmare of a cocktail.” she grinned sheepishly at herself for having been so afraid when she woke up. “Nightmares do that.” She rationalized. Denise gathered her strength and pushed on the arms of the chair to lift herself up. “Time for MY bed and hopefully no more anchovy dreams!” As she raised herself, she abruptly became aware of a soft glow coming from just above her. She fell back int the chair with a thump as four tiny figures wafted into full view. “I’m going crazy!” she thought as a softly glowing green fairy hovered directly in front of her. “Hi!” a bell like voice said to her. “I’m Princess Flutterby. These are Princess Bluebird, Princess Buttercup, and Princess Rosebud.” Each figure bowed as their names were told. Denise noticed that each faerie was glowing in a color that matched their name. “We’ve been charged by Queen Winnifred with the safety of Princess Winnie.” the pixie said, her arm slowly and dramatically indicating the sleeping Winnie. “The Queen lives in a big castle way back in the dark shadows of the Princess’s thinking part and she informed us that you have accepted the responsibility of becoming Princess Winnie’s new mother. We are required to notify you that we’ll be watching and if you are a good mother, we’ll protect you and your home, just as we protect the Princess. But…” the figure drew back slightly and then it darted forward having changed horribly! It and all the rest were no longer beautiful, waif like angels, but had transformed into twisted versions of their previous forms. Their arms were longer, their legs bent in strange angles. The hands and feet were massively out of proportion to their diminutive size. The joints were all topped with thorn like projections, with the end of each digit elongated into razor sharp, boney knives. Worst of all were the beings heads, which were no longer those of fairy tale princesses. They had shifted into baseball sized masses which no longer held a face, but rather were nothing more than giant, open mouths, bristling with row upon row of shark like teeth. “BUT…” the voice no loner tinkled like cracking icicles, but rather mimicked gravel scraping against rock in a lava flow. “…if you are mean to our Princess, if you hurt her or allow harm to come to her….” The tiny monstrosity lifted one stiletto sharp finger to the end of Denise’s nose, “…we will hurt you!” the finger flicked and Denise felt a tiny flash of pain. Suddenly the creatures were replaced with the magical, beautiful figures who had first confronted her. “Ok.” The chiming voice twittered. “Glad we’ve got that out of the way. Bye now!” They were gone in a flash of sparkling dust. Denise fainted.
She woke again in the comfy chair, dazed for a moment, then thought, “Oh my God! I’m never eating anchovy’s again!” She rose from the chair, walked to Winnie’s side, leaned over and kissed the girl lovingly on her cheek. She brushed a stray strand of hair from the sleeping girls face. She had brushed her own hair earlier along with her teeth, so she waddled groggily down the hall where she slipped into bed with her already sleeping husband. She woke the next morning to the smell of bacon and coffee drifting into her room. She decided to get her shower after breakfast, not wanting to let the food get cold and joined the waiting Randy and Winnie who were helping each other prepare breakfast. “I set the table!” Winnie erupted as she ran to Denise to grip her in a fearsome embrace. “Very good, Baby!” Denise returned the hug. “I’m proud of you.” “I’m not a baby.” Winnie frowned. “I know you’re not, but can’t you pretend to be MY baby?” “Well ok.” Winnie grinned. “But just for you.” she paused then added “And you!” “Thanks Baby!” Randy smiled back. “I’m honored!” Winnie giggled. Randy began serving up bacon and eggs, placing a plate in front of both the ladies. He looked at Denise closely for the first time since she had joined them. “What’s up with your nose?” he said pointing at it with a greasy spatula. “I like bacon and eggs,” Winnie said, but can I have Lucky Charms too?” Denise lifted a spoon to her face, looking into the mirrored concave and saw a tiny bit of crusted blood framing a half inch slash in the very tip of her nose. “Wait!” She said breathing heavily, addressing Randy who was pulling a box of Lucky Charms from the cupboard, a hint of distress in her voice, “Are you SURE we have milk?”