The two children were laughing as they piled in to the back of the car. The little girl threw her arms around the woman and kissed her cheek. The little boy reached forward and tapped the driver hard on the head, and giggled as the driver mocked growled back at him. It was a very ferocious-sounding growl, but the children were not afraid.
"So, what happened in school today, Ashley, Henry?"
Helen Magnus sat in the back seat of the car with her arm around her six-year-old daughter as the Big Guy drove them back to the Sanctuary.
"We learned about Stranger danger, Mommy," little Ashley piped up.
Helen felt the gooseflesh begin to creep up her arms, and inwardly she shuddered. She was very careful not to let anything show on her face or in her voice, though. But directly in front of her, she saw the Big Guy's hands grip the wheel harder, his shoulders tensing ever so slightly. Helen knew he probably sensed a change in her scent or perhaps that he even heard the shudder she hid from her child as some faint creaking of the car seat.
"That's good, Ashley. What did they teach you about strangers?"
"Well, they said--"
Then Ashley was off. Helen could not help but smile as her daughter launched in to a very detailed account of the class, her hands moving animatedly as she sspoke.
She'll be a great scientist one day, Helen thought.
Ashley finally stopped for breath.
"Tell her, Ash," Henry put in quickly.
"What?" Ashley asked with a sidelong glance at Henry.
"There was a Stranger," Henry told Helen. "He was just outside the school yard. He was watching Ash."
"What did he look like," Helen barked, gripping Henry's shoulder firmly. "Tell me now, Henry! What did he--"
The deep voice rumbled from the driver's seat, and it was like a shot of cold water for Helen. She loosened her grip on Henry, but did not let go entirely. Ashley was now staring at her with wide frightened eyes.
"I'm sorry, Henry," she apologized to the boy. "It's alright, Ashley."
Helen reached over to gently stroke her daughter's soft hair.
"One of you please tell me what happened, now. Tell me about this stranger."
"Nothing really," Henry spoke up, his eyes moving from Helen Magnus, who was practically his Mother, to the front seat where the Big Guy sat staring straight ahead at the road, his large fingers making noticeable impressions on the wheel cover.
"He just watched Ashley playing," Henry said to Helen.
"Henry, I didn't see anything," Ashley protested.
Henry ignored her.
"When she looked at him, though, he'd look away real fast. He stood there the whole recess and watched Ash until Mrs. Kline came over, then he ran away."
"Step on it," Helen muttered to the Big Guy.
All she wanted to do was get back to the Compound, to get her daughter safely behind its walls and within its protections.
Later that night, Helen had Henry draw a picture of the playground Stranger. When she looked at it, Helen Magnus's blood ran cold in her veins.
"John! No, it can't be!"
The Big Guy entered the room with tea on a tray in time to see Helen shredding the paper viciously, and throwing the pieces in to the fireplace.
"Him?" The Big Foot asked softly.
Helen Magnus nodded, her eyes filled with frightened tears.