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Too Quiet
by Kelly Kon

Patty was enjoying a sunny day in late autumn to clean the house without the interference of tiny people underfoot. Three kids under five sounded more daunting, but she swore three kids under eight was worse. Three kids under five could stay happy and occupied penned into the backyard fence. Three kids under eight were more mobile -- and more inventive.

Dishes from lunch, breakfast, and dinner the night before piled up in the sink. Patty unloaded the clean dishes from the dishwasher and fitted the dirty dishes in with the skill and precision of a code breaker. She'd managed to fit the last plastic cup --gotcha -- when she froze.

No sound of panic, no stormy skies alerted her to danger, but her senses tingled. Things out back were quiet -- too quiet. The usual shrieking and laughing and bargaining were absent. And that meant just one thing.

The kids were doing something they wanted to hide from Mom.

Dropping the cup, Patty raced to the window and peered out, scanning the yard for the red, pink, and blue windbreakers. She spotted them and gasped, running for the back door, throwing it open, clattering onto the porch, pressing her palms against the air, a universal halt sign.

Her voice boomed into the yard. "Everyone --stop what you are doing!"

Her voice and manner brooked no argument. The three children froze. Three wide pairs of calf-brown eyes looked toward the porch. Three mouths fell open.

Patty strode into the yard, barefoot, no coat, determined not to scare anyone into flinching. She approached the tree her three children had climbed, marched up to her youngest, and unwrapped the bungee cord from around his neck.

She held the offending cord, her voice soft and trembling with rage. "Explain."

The oldest piped up, his eyes glittering with tears. "We were just playing bungee jumping. It wasn't long enough to fit around his waist, so..."

"You wrapped it around his neck." Patty pressed her hand over her eyes, ignoring the impending migraine. "And he was going to jump out of the tree?"

The three kids nodded.

"Did it ever occur to any of you that you were about to kill your brother?"

Tears and general denial from the children.

"I never want to see you wrap anything around each other's necks again. Clear?"

The feather boa in the dress-up drawer got considerably less use after that.