Authors Notes: Death of a Simpson began as a small segment in a much broader storyline that I really liked and decided to go back and flesh out. This is my first attempt at Fan Fiction so forgive me for the length. I don't know any better. I found Homer the most difficult to write for; I went for canon circa Seasons 4-6, this was a conscious decision. Otherwise it rapidly would've degenerated into the more recent "Shrieking Homer" and I think the overall quality of the story is better for it. Maggie was definitely the most interesting to write for, however, because she's pretty much left blank (exempting the future-centric episodes and her occasional affinity for firearms...). I was satisfied with the direction her characterization took and being the oldest of three boys, I'm about as far from being in her situation as possible. The rest of the characters were pretty easy to fall into because I either felt close to them emotionally or I knew someone in my life to base them off of. Watching 3-4 hours of the show almost daily might've had some influence too.
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No... it was the clown. That filthy, disgusting clown he couldn't stand!
Sitting behind the wheel of his stolen Oldsmobile, Bob was so focused on the building in front of him that he barely registered that he wasn't alone anymore.
"Bob!" rasped a voice from the empty seat next to him.
As he watched, hundreds of students loitered outside of the high school that was to become their prison for the next nine months. "They wanted to taste that last bit of freedom that lingers in the air." Terwilliger found that he could respect that, if nothing else.
"Hey, Sideshow Bob! You yutz! What're you waiting for? We gonna do this thing or not?" The voice persisted.
Bob sighed and turned his head to look at the personification of all his demons. The splotchy blue-white makeup was cracked and peeling in places, only serving to accent the depraved look in Krusty the Clown's eyes as he lit yet another of his endless supply of cigarettes.
"Please, Krusty... will you just SHUT UP?! I'm thinking!"
The dirty old clown hacked and coughed up a wad of brownish spittle, shifting slightly to expel it out the window.
"Well I don't see the problem, kid." He took another long drag.
Again Bob sighed. "It's going to be a very long day." This "clown" had single-handedly worn him down over the years, to the point that he no longer had the strength to argue, but that didn't mean he couldn't try.
"It's not that easy." He snarled sarcastically. "I can't just walk in there. Being a wanted criminal does have its limitations, you idiot.
"Ya know what your real problem is, Sideshow?"
Bob growled. Krusty ignored the noise and continued.
"You're doing it all wrong! Think about it. What's this kid got that you ain't?" He emphasized the question by waving the foul-smelling cigarette in Bob's face. "Eh? Why does he always, always, always win?"
"Now, really! I fail to see what that..." Bob's temper disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced. He thought back to all of his encounters with the boy and noticed something he had overlooked for all these years. "Mmm... now that you mention it."
"There ya go. See? No problems. Now can we get on with it, please? My back is killing me today." Krusty hacked again and snuffed the cigarette out on the tip of his tongue.
From the rear seats came a rustling sound that made Bob start.
"Yeah, man! You wanna kill me? You gotta do it right! Show him Krusty!" A small spiky blonde-haired head popped up between the seats and set Bob on edge. "Oh, baby! This is gonna be sweet!"
"This has never happened before." Bob realized, then he smiled in spite of himself at the boy's enthusiasm.
The clown grunted and groaned as he twisted, a knife appearing in his tar stained gloves.
"Sure thing, kid. Just hold still so he can see." With a flick of the wrist the knife sailed through the air and caught the boy in the center of the throat, coating the seats with a wave of red. Bob watched with morbid fascination as the youngster thrashed and kicked before finally laying still.
"That's how ya do it. Nice, quick and easy. Now stop stalling and let's get this show on the road!" Krusty reached down and yanked the spattered knife from its victim.
Off in the distance the bell rang, signaling the start of the first school day of the year. Bob's attention was drawn in the other direction suddenly as a young girl ran past, obviously late, but there was something vaguely familiar about her. The clown began to laugh riotously.
"Bob, you are one lucky son of a bitch!"
He could take no more. Bob erupted into a bout of insane laughter, fully appreciating the twist this new development had dumped into his lap.
"Oh this is too perfect! Prepare yourself, Bart Simpson!" Bob hissed. "For today you lose EVERYTHING you hold dear!"
It would never be said that Bart Simpson was much of a planner. The bigger picture was secondary to living in the moment and to hell with the consequences! As much as he hated to admit it, this was his father's influence creeping into his personality.
To be fair, it wasn't greed or maliciousness or even stubborn pride that filled his heart as he stalked through his childhood home. It was simple jealousy. Earlier that day his sister Lisa had received a letter from their school. (During summer break even!) It informed her that, due to her stunning academic performance over the years and her stellar application essay, she would be eligible for what they called the A.L.P or Accelerated Learning Program. "But she's smart enough already!" Bart had wanted to scream at the entire family during dinner that night. The real sting came, however, when Lisa explained to them that she could graduate more than two years early if she dedicated herself to it. That meant his kid sister would be free before him! He couldn't let that happen!
One of the few things Bart still had on his overachieving sister, which he frequently used as leverage in their long-running rivalry, was the fact that no matter how well she did Bart was still older and she would never catch up to him. Apparently he was wrong. It wasn't just the injustice of it that got to him, though. It was the smug smirk that he could swear he saw cross her face every time he looked at her. But Bart wasn't licked yet. Oh no, not while he still had his best edge on Lisa. "Yes", he thought, "I still know her weakness." Bart looked up to the second floor from the base of the stairs and cackled with childish glee.
Lisa scrambled through her room for what seemed the millionth time that day, checking and rechecking her school supplies. In just a few short hours her entire future had changed! Suddenly she was faced with the possibility, no, the opportunity to advance much faster into the adult world than she had ever anticipated.
On the bed sat her young sister, Maggie, who maintained a cheerful, if silent, presence that Lisa found reassuring. Next to her were scattered a few miscellaneous items she was having trouble fitting into her backpack. The room itself was unnecessarily tidy to the point of obsessiveness, a testament to Lisa's stir-crazy mood regarding school over the last few weeks.
"Everything's gotta be perfect." She mumbled more to herself than anyone in particular.
"Oh, it'll be more than perfect." Bart's sarcastic reply echoed from the hallway outside her open door. Lisa grimaced. She secretly dreaded her brother's reaction to her "happy" news.
"What do you mean?" Asked Maggie as Bart came into view at the doorway.
"Nothing. It's nothing.".
Lisa sighed and turned to face her intruding brother. "Bart must feel like milking this.", she reasoned.
"Out with it, Bart. I'm not in the mood for games."
"What? Can't a guy just be happy about his kid sister's success?" Bart's exaggerated motions and tone clearly suggested the opposite to be true, however.
"I don't have time for this, Bart." Lisa reiterated.
"What do your friends think?" Bart said suddenly, switching tactics. "You... have told them, right?"
He smirked devilishly.
"No, I haven't. Why does that even matter?"
"Have you considered if that's because you don't have any?" Bart watched her carefully and could see she hadn't expected that one.
"That's ridiculous! Of course I do. I've known Janey since the first grade, Allison and Alex since second."
"But you won't have any classes with them. Your stupid "Alf" classes are separate." He let the bomb drop.
It was true, Lisa realized. She was so worked up she hadn't considered that downside. They might understand, but Lisa was realistic. This would definitely affect their relationships.
"Stop it, you guys!" Maggie shouted, standing up on the bed. She was visibly upset from the subtle power struggle but Bart, having smelt blood, continued.
"How good of friend's can you be? Look at this place! No pictures? No mementos of happy times? None? Just a few trophies of how "awesome" you are? C'mon Lis, this room is about as welcoming as a hospital room! You really need to get a life. There's a difference between people who don't know you and people who don't give a damn. That's called High School, enjoy."
He looked at Lisa and saw the beginnings of tears forming in her eyes as she struggled to keep together what little semblance of calm she had left. Bart recognized that maybe he had gone too far.
With no hesitation he about faced and made for the front door, purposely slamming it behind him so they knew he was gone.
Moments later Lisa and Maggie heard the front door open and close quickly. Maggie looked up at her sister and saw that Lisa was standing very still.
"Lisa?" She probed gently, her voice barely above a whisper.
"Sorry, Maggie. Could I have some time... by myself?" Lisa's shoulders gently bobbed with silent sobs. Her voice portrayed all of her recent hair-trigger mood swings as openly as anything could.
It disturbed Maggie greatly to see Lisa like this. She'd always looked up to her older sister as a role model. Lisa had always been there for her. But now, looking at her sister's fragile emotional state, Maggie was led to wonder why Lisa didn't do the obvious thing and just make some more friends.
That was one big difference between Lisa and herself that she couldn't figure out how to bridge. Maggie had always made friends easily. It wasn't that hard, was it? Lisa was smart and pretty, so why didn't she help herself?
Maggie simply didn't understand.
"Okay, Lisa." She answered, finally. Maggie hopped down from the bed and walked to the door, still deep in her private thoughts.
With regret in her eyes Maggie slowly closed the door on one of the few people in her life that she still respected, accepting that her way was not always best for others.
Outside the evening sky darkened prematurely as thick roiling clouds quickly massed for what was bound to be an epic storm. Deep inside herself, Lisa couldn't be bothered enough to get up and close her open window. "Good," she thought darkly, "I could use a nice cleansing rain."
Instead, she scanned her room with new eyes and saw just how empty it really was. It was true, she noted, there was nothing to reflect her personal life except for the meticulously maintained medals and trophies she had chosen to pursue rather than a real, active social life. But she had her reasons. People bored her, people could fail (They proved that on a daily basis!) and there was nothing she could do about that. These awards, though, represented the one thing she had come to rely upon over the years, herself.
"But, oh, how hollow those successes are," she came to realize as she balefully tore her eyes from them, "when there is no one to share them with!" All she really wanted was true companionship, a bond with another person that she could reliably fall back on. Okay, sure her mother and father were there for her, but she desperately sought acceptance from someone her own age. Alex and Janey might fit the bill but they, too, had proven themselves to be human over the years.
"Allison." Lisa thought, then recalled with a frown, "But she's usually so condescending these days!" She had to know that she wasn't alone in a world that was spiraling wildly out of control. These days she couldn't pick up a newspaper or watch the news without being outraged at one thing or depressed by the next. It was overwhelming to her innocent, youthful optimism.
Lisa's eyes finally settled on the one thing in her room that radiated any kind of warmth, her desk. For years she had retreated there to lick her wounds after a fight or pour her soul out onto paper for the entire world to see. She even practiced playing her saxophone in front of the mirror that sat on top of it.
Sluggishly she got up and wandered over to the desk, her final sanctuary. In the peripheral reaches of her mind Lisa dimly registered the gathering strength of the storm outside, making the air positively crackle with its pre-rain excitement.
Maggie watched her sister's self-inflicted torment from her lofty perch in the old tree house above the back yard. The longer she sat, the less she found she sympathized with Lisa. Her overriding thought being, "C'mon Lisa, you're stronger than this!" Presently, however, that was being muted as she considered if, in fact, Lisa was.
Looking up at the angry blackish-yellow sky, Maggie sighed and found she could watch no longer. She reached into a pocket of her well-worn jeans to extract a faded yellow note as the heavens opened before her and the rain began to fall in earnest.
She stood for a long time reading the four simple words over and over.
"You are Lisa Simpson."
Maggie had secreted it from her sister's room months ago after discovering it in the back of Lisa's desk during a bout of curiosity. The very desk she could now see Lisa hunched over, tears pouring down her face in a macabre reflection of the outside world she so obviously felt cut off from.
Those words tore into Maggie's already conflicting emotions. A blazing omen of the distance she could now see separated her from Lisa. The answer to her confusion was suddenly and undeniably etched into her mind as clearly as the words on the scrap of paper in her hand.
"No." Maggie admitted with a note of profound understanding. "I'm not."
A stiff wind caught her off guard at that moment of revelation and claimed the note from her weakened grip, whipping it outside to the mercy of the storm. Maggie watched it go sadly, then turned and retreated into a corner of the creaking shack where she lit her camp lantern. It soon burned fiercely against the growing strength of the storm.
"I'm sorry, Lisa." She mumbled before resigning to wait out the storm back inside.
Lisa found little solace at the desk. Flicking on her small lamp she frantically searched it, inside and out, for some small shred of comfort. After paging through her diary for several minutes she gave up and, in frustration, tore several pages from it and hurled them out the open window.
"Why?" She sobbed at her reflection. "Why do I have to be so alone?"
Lisa recounted the few friends she'd gained and lost over the years. It didn't take long to arrive at the one that hurt the most, her mentor and idol, Bleeding Gums Murphy. How she wished she could talk to him now!
"No." Lisa chastised herself for her weakness. "He's gone, long gone. Don't do this to yourself."
But the fleeting memory of the only other soul on the planet she ever connected to had done its damage and Lisa fell apart like a house of cards, crying out at the world for the terrible place she saw it to be.
The wind outside intensified to match her howl of anguish and the curtain over her window billowed inwards, momentarily obscuring Lisa's view of the mirror. As the curtain slowly drifted away Lisa noticed a small sheet of paper stuck to the mirror. Her senses of reason screamed in denial of what she was looking at!
"You are Lisa Simpson."
"No..." Lisa squeaked. "That's... not possible..." She'd lost "that" years ago!
Slowly, Lisa reached up and touched the rain-spattered relic of her early childhood. "It's was real?!" Her rational side told her to run but her instincts told her this was too important to ignore. She delicately peeled it from the mirror and clutched it in both hands, recalling for the first time in years the circumstances under which another friend she had nearly forgotten had given her this same note.
Mr. Bergstrom, the measure to which Lisa held herself up to as an academic. He had only been a part of her life for a few fleeting days. But her favorite teacher still managed to leave such an indelible impression on her that even now, alone in her room staring at the vote of confidence he had once given her, Lisa felt as though he was still right here. Silently encouraging her to nurture and cherish the gifts that she was blessed with, not to waste her efforts feeling sorry for herself, she realized.
Despite how bad she felt only moments before, Lisa couldn't help but smile weakly at the insanity of her previous line of thought.
She swallowed hard and held the faded note to her chest, feeling happiness bloom inside her for what seemed the first time in ages.
"Thank you." Lisa whispered, finally finding the center of peace and wellbeing she hadn't really noticed was missing until after it returned. She was ready for what life had to throw at her, she knew now. The worries and burdens felt insignificant next to the swelling pride and confidence in her abilities that were inspired by those four simple words.
Lisa looked into her mirror once more and, finally happy with what she saw there, wiped away the tears of sorrow, only to replace them with ones of joy.
Lisa lay awake in bed, allowing the sun to warm and fully rouse her from a surprisingly peaceful sleep. Her first thought was of the note folded neatly under her pillow but that was quickly replaced with a budding sense of urgency to get ready. Bart was supposed to drive her to school, but after yesterday she would believe her father's boss, Mr. Burns, was handing out money all over town before she trusted Bart to fulfill that duty. No, it was better to plan accordingly.
Finally Lisa managed to get up, realized she needed to get to the bathroom quickly and darted out into the hallway. She caught a brief glimpse of Bart before he slammed the door. "Of course" Lisa fumed, deciding to eat first. She made her way downstairs to the kitchen and found Maggie already seated opposite her rotund father.
"Good morning, honey! Are you ready for your big day?" Marge greeted her oldest daughter, having returned to her stove in order to finish breakfast.
"Yep!" Lisa said cheerfully. This drew a suspicious glance from Maggie that Lisa didn't notice.
"We're so proud of you, Lisa! Right, Homey?" Marge nudged her husband on the shoulder, causing him to look up from his nearly empty plate of waffles and syrup. Mostly syrup.
"Mmpfh?" He tried through the mouthful of food he was trying mightily to swallow. A glob of syrup dribbled down his muzzled chin which he wiped clean as he succeeded in downing the chunk of waffle. Licking his fingers, Homer tried again. "Huh? Oh, yeah." He chuckled. " Right. Of course we're proud of you, Lisa! You did better on the thingy than the other kids, right?"
"Yeah, Dad." Lisa replied with a grin as she fell into her usual seat at the table. She looked across the table at Maggie. "Sorry for kicking you out last night, Maggie."
Maggie smiled but remained silent and Lisa couldn't help but notice the awkward reaction. When Maggie saw that her sister wasn't satisfied with the answer, she relented.
"It's okay, Lisa, really. I understand. You sleep alright?"
"Yes, actually. That storm sure was something, though."
"Sure was." Bart interjected as he finally arrived, looking freshly showered. "I got soaked trying to get home!"
Marge groaned as she slid plates in front of her children. "You really shouldn't do that, Bart. You'll catch your death of cold."
"I'm fine, Mom! Quit it!" Bart protested as Marge fussed over him. "No big deal."
They ate in silence for several minutes before Marge looked up at the clock and began shooing Maggie out the front door to catch the bus.
"You two had better get a move on or you'll be late." She caught the look in Bart's eye and went into full mom-mode. "No buts! Go! Go! Go!"
Lisa remembered why she was so quick out of bed earlier and rushed up into the bathroom. After completing her usual hygienic rituals she returned to her room and collected her school bag. It was a mighty beast of a thing. Looking more like an overstuffed beanbag than anything else, and it was nearly too heavy for Lisa to lift. Even using both arms! With a sigh she dug out a dozen or so non-essential books she thought might have come in handy, realizing she'd never make it through the day trying to lug it all around.
Moments later she called out good-byes to her parents and ran out the front door, hoping against hope that Bart was still there, waiting for her in his ugly old dark green Buick beater.
"D'oh..." Lisa grunted, not really surprised. Looking down at her watch she noticed how little time was left and panicked. Ten minutes?! The school wasn't that far but that was pushing it!
"He's gonna get it!" Lisa promised as she grudgingly started walking at a fast pace towards the school. When she passed the Kwik-E-Mart several blocks later she threw a half-hearted wave at Apu, the clerk, who returned the gesture with a wide smile.
The brisk morning air revitalized Lisa's appreciation of the natural world that was awakening around her. Everywhere she looked there were signs of nature struggling fiercely against man's stubborn encroachment. Instead of feeling dismay, however, Lisa chose to see this merely as nature's best attribute. "Never give up", she thought to herself with a smile as she became lost in the realms of thought and automatically followed the path that would take her to school.
Her sense of urgency returned two-fold when she heard what she thought was the school bell ringing a few blocks up.
"Oh no!" Lisa's mind raced and she started running as fast as her bulky bag would let her.
She was so focused on the school up ahead that she didn't notice the car door some distance back open and slam shut. Nor did she hear the heavy footfalls closing in fast.
Lisa's first and only indication that anything was amiss, other than her tardiness, came in the form of a filthy, chloroform-soaked rag being shoved over her mouth and up her nose partially as she was roughly pulled behind a parked car.
Her world quickly collapsed into darkness.
It read, "A.L.P.- For higher education, look no further!" Bart had to suppress a belly laugh at the corny greeting.
"Where is she?" He wondered out loud. Bart had decided to apologize to Lisa for skipping out on her ride earlier. At the time he thought it best because of their argument the night before, but all awkwardness aside, now he wasn't so sure. "She couldn't be that upset, could she?" Bart peeked into the A.L.P classroom just to be sure Lisa wasn't hiding. He turned back sharply to see his old friend, Milhouse Van Houten, standing right behind him.
"Uhh... what'cha doin, Bart?" Milhouse asked sheepishly.
"Looking for Lisa." He answered, regretting it almost immediately as an all too familiar look came into his old friend's eyes.
"Is she in there?" Milhouse asked hopefully, though perhaps a little too loudly for Bart's comfort. He winced, well aware of Milhouse's attraction to his sister.
"Cut it out, man, jeez. Seriously." Bart said irritably, his hackles raised by an uneasiness he couldn't quite put his finger on.
"What? What'd I do?" Milhouse complained before trailing off, "Just asking... sheesh..."
Overhead the intercom kicked on with a loud static-filled hiss.
"Attention, please. Bort Simpstone please report to the main office. Eh? Excuse me, Bart Simpson, to the main office, please." Came the voice of the kindly old lady that made the morning announcements. Bart had never bothered to learn her name. Apparently the feeling was mutual, but it still irritated him. "She calls me up there how many times a year? Get it right!"
"Already?" Milhouse mused as he fiddled with his red, horn-rimmed, coke bottle glasses.
"I'unno," Bart shrugged. He hadn't had time to do anything yet, it was only a few hours into the school year after all. "You don't think they're still mad about that pig in the heating duct, do you?"
Milhouse chortled but shook his head emphatically.
"I heard they blamed that on Nelson! It took three weeks to find it!"
Bart smiled weakly, that uneasy feeling returned in full.
"Well, I'd better go face the music." And he quickly broke away through the thinning crowd, hoping Milhouse hadn't thought to follow him. Even ten years of friendship wasn't worth the damage to his reputation if he was seen going everywhere with that walking faux pas! "Damn it, Lisa!" Bart cursed his sister as the unnatural words passed through his head.
Having trodden this path often over the past two years Bart made his way to the office in no time. As Bart rounded the corner he spotted an unlikely figure standing rigidly by one of the office's large panoramic windows, his expression even grimmer than usual.
"What the hell is Skinner, doing here?" Bart wondered. "This day just keeps getting weirder and weirder."
"Have fun, little dudette!" Otto, the school bus driver, wheezed as he pulled up in front of Springfield Elementary. "Give 'em one for Otto!" He gave Maggie a vacant grin and thumbs up.
Maggie rolled her eyes and laughed at the strange man as she passed him to jump down to the pavement outside of the bus. She looked up at the school and wondered if this year would go as smoothly as her first. Her reluctance soon passed, however, when she spotted a girl she recognized as her best friend chatting with a boy she also knew from her class up near the entrance.
"Hey, Sarah!" Maggie called out, running fast to greet her friend. "Hey, Stew. You guys have a good summer?"
The girl looked at Maggie for a few seconds as if she didn't remember her, but when realization hit she squealed childishly and ran over to hug her friend.
"Hey, Maggie." Stew remarked, rather coldly, as he turned and quickly disappeared inside.
"What's his problem?" Maggie wondered out loud, intending the question to be rhetorical.
"Who?" Sarah asked, not catching her inflection.
"That boy, Stew. Mr. McStuffypants." She answered, hoping that further explanation wouldn't be necessary. Sarah giggled shrilly.
"I think he likes you!" She took a step back, enjoying the sight of Maggie blush. A rare occurrence.
"He does not! Take that back!" Maggie playfully swatted her friend on the shoulder. "C'mon, school's about to start!" She let the worries of the previous day melt away as she fell into the joyful bliss of being around other eight-year-olds. Together they rushed through the doors, nearly knocking over Willie, the groundskeeper, in the process as he tried to keep the children milling about from destroying his entire summer's worth of hard work.
"Ach! Wee'uns! You'd better not let Willie catch you messin up his halls or he'll get the hoose!" He soon gave up, though, and fell into a defeated posture.
"Sorry, Willie!" Maggie cried from down the hall.
Sarah got to the door of their new classroom first and casually tossed "Rotten egg!" over her shoulder with a grin.
"Whatever!" Maggie darted around her friend and into the room before she could react.
"Hey! No fair!" Sarah giggled again as she settled into a seat adjacent to Maggie. Looking around, Maggie saw a lot of familiar faces, including that boy from outside, Stew, who seemed to be glancing everywhere but at her. Maggie then turned her attention to the front of the room, spotting her new teacher. "Miss. Hoover", claimed the rectangular plaque on the desk.
"My sister had her, I think..." She whispered to Sarah, though the girl didn't appear to be listening anymore. Maggie continued to study the woman, giving up on her friend's short attention span. So thiswas the person who was expected to impart a year's worth of knowledge on them? Maggie wasn't impressed. "She looks like a broken toy!"
Constantly abused over the years, Miss. Hoover sat slumped haphazardly in her seat. Dark circles under her bloodshot eyes betrayed a long-term drinking problem which was only highlighted by the large, angry, blue veins that ran the length of her too-thin neck. The tips of her sharply clawed, brownish-yellow fingers were a permanent hallmark from years of chain smoking. Overall the effect was disturbing to Maggie, who worried that the slightest push would send the woman over the edge of sanity.
Finally the secondary bell rang and drew Maggie from her dark observations. Miss. Hoover got up and put on a practiced smile. "Not a good sign." Maggie thought.
"Good morning, class." She said with a note of sarcasm only Maggie seemed to catch. "Let's get started. First, role call. Who isn't here?"
A few students waved their hands enthusiastically and the whole class snickered. Ms Hoover ignored them, focusing instead on her seating chart.
"Says twenty-three... okay, twenty-three. Good enough." She muttered.
As the day got underway Maggie began suspecting that she wasn't going to be very happy with this new teacher. Every subject blended together under her monotonic instruction. Nearly two hours later Maggie had lost interest, along with the rest of her class, in what was being taught. "This is ridiculous! I could do it better than this!" she privately boasted.
Up front Miss. Hoover was writing a few basic math problems on the dry-erase board that Maggie hoped sincerely were a joke. Instead, Miss. Hoover turned and fixed a disinterested gaze on the class.
"Any volunteers?" Predictably no one wanted to so she pointed absently at Maggie. "How about you?"
Maggie's gut instinct was to comply, regardless of how pointless it seemed. But some part of her, still upset about the previous night's events, interfered and told her enough was enough!
"No, Ma'am." She responded rather sharply.
"Excuse me?" Miss. Hoover focused for what seemed like the first time all day and glared at her. She glanced at her seating chart once again, but to no avail. No one was seated properly, though one name stood out. "You are... Maggie Simpson? Lisa's little sister, right?"
Maggie bristled, the discontented part of her psyche latched onto that comment.
"So what if I am?" She didn't break eye contact.
"Yes, I see it now. You look just like her!" Miss. Hoover's eyes glinted at the thought of her former prized pupil. "Now, tell me, why don't you want to solve the problem?"
Her condescending tone dug into Maggie like nails on a chalkboard.
"Because..." She said evenly, trying to suppress her rising temper. "...the problem on the board isn't relevant."
"What do you mean?" Miss. Hoover finally broke eye contact, glancing around the room, where more and more eyes were turning to fix upon her. students sensed something was wrong as Maggie began to lose control.
"What I mean is, why are you wasting our time like this? This is the same stuff they forced down our throats last year! I hoped this would be more challenging but I can see that I was wrong."
"Your sister..." Miss. Hoover tried to change the subject, but succeeded only in riling her further. "Uh-oh... another independent thinker. Should I trip the alarm?"
"I'm... not... HER!" Maggie shouted as loud as she could, startling everyone in the room as she stood abruptly.
"That is enough, young lady!" Miss. Hoover took a step forward, gathering what little courage she had left. "There is no yelling in the classroom! Take your seat!"
"I know why you're angry." Maggie's eyes hardened into a raptor-like glare. "You hate this just as much as I do." She, in turn, took a step towards her quickly crumbling teacher.
"What are you saying?" The shaking woman paled, fearing the answer.
"I'm saying you've failed, Miss. Hoover. You've failed us, you've failed the profession of teaching, but most of all you've failed yourself. You are just a tired old drunk who lost passion for the job she pretended to enjoy years ago." She completed her slow walk to the front of the room, aware of the nearly two dozen pairs of eyes boring into her back. "I've had enough of this. I'll be back when they put a realteacher in here. Don't know about you, ma'am, but I can't fake it anymore."
Leaving a scene of total shock in her wake, Maggie stormed out of the classroom.
"You can't speak to me like that you little bitch! Go to the principal's office!" Miss. Hoover, having recovered slightly, called after her. More out of spite than any real conviction.
Maggie paused and looked back over her shoulder with a frown.
"Funny. I think I just did." She remarked, as sweet as sugar, then continued down the deserted corridor. As for where she was going, Maggie didn't have to be told to go to the principal. She'd already decided that for herself.
When her temper cooled, a twinge of regret entered Maggie's mind. "Perhaps that was a bit much." She admitted privately. But as she approached the door to Principal Skinner's office, Miss. Hoover's condescending tone echoed through her head. "No. I'm not backing down on this!" Steeling her resolve, Maggie pushed open the door and found the stern disciplinarian sitting at his obsessively tidy desk.
As Maggie entered, Seymour Skinner hung up his phone and noticed her standing right in front of him.
"That was fast. Very good."
"What was fast?" Maggie was thrown not only by the answer, but it's lack of context.
"There will be time for questions soon enough, I'm afraid. Gather your belongings; I need to bring you to the High School as quickly as possible. Your parents will meet us there."
"What's going on? Tell me!" Maggie slammed her hand on his desk, sending several pencils (which Skinner seemed to have great difficulty ignoring) rolling off the edge. He appeared confused for a moment before a hint of sadness cracked his usually indifferent façade.
"You don't know? I just told Miss. Hoover..." Seymour sighed, letting the thought drop off. "I'm sorry I have to tell you like this, Maggie. But your sister, Lisa, never made it to school this morning. No one knows what happened."
Lisa's mind cleared as time passed slowly, bringing with it foggy memories of the morning. Bart left without her... she had to walk to school... okay, but then... nothing. Trying as hard as she could Lisa couldn't recollect how she came to be here. "Wherever that is."
"Hello?" She called out, trying to gauge where in the room she was.
From the odd way the sound echoed Lisa could tell she was in a fairly large chamber. That didn't help, and wherever she was there didn't seem to be any windows to allow warmth inside. Lisa shivered, more from fear than the chill in the air, and tried to move again, to no avail. She would never get very far tied up like this, so instead Lisa focused on gathering more information about her surroundings.
"There's no noise!" The revelation jolted through her mind. In point of fact the only thing she had heard up to now were her own attempts at sound and the steadily increasing speed of her breathing. No birds, no cars, no people. Lisa was utterly alone and the irony sliced into her wickedly, threatening to open her freshly sutured psyche. Her eyes watered, turning the blindfold into a damp mess, then a tiny voice awoke at the back of her subconscious.
"So that's it, huh? You're just going to give up?" It's imagined tone suggested displeasure, even a touch of contempt. "Come on, Lis! FIGHT!"
"It's hopeless!" Lisa gritted her teeth and struggled against the ropes, not quite sure how to react.
"So cry me a river. Build a bridge and get over it! Just because it seems hopeless doesn't give you an excuse not to try!" The voice chided her.
"Oh dear god, I've lost my mind." Lisa thought nervously.
"I can hear that, you know."
"Sorry." She mentally replied. "But you are sort of a voice in my head!"
"So? This is just your brain doing what it has to in order to cope with what is going on. You aren't crazy, so calm down already!"
"Okay... then what's happening?" Lisa resigned to let this curious happenstance play itself out. After all, it wasn't like she had a choice in the matter. She wasn't going anywhere.
"Hell if I know. I'm essentially you. But we can find out. What do you know?" The voice turned serious.
"Well, I know that this sucks, the floor is hard, I can't feel most of my arms, the air is too dry and now I'm talking to myself. Did I mention how much this SUCKS?!"
"Yes." It responded coyly. "But you haven't really answered the question. Those are complaints. What do you know?"
"What do you want? I'm tied up and blindfolded, alone in some godforsaken room. How much else is there I could know?"
"How did you get here?"
"I can't remember! The last thing I know I was doing was going to school and I don't even know how long ago that was! What am I missing?!"
"Stop panicking! Someone had to bring you here, right?" Lisa's stomach contracted painfully.
"They'll be back." She reasoned, adding that important fact to the slowly forming picture in her mind.
"Very good, Lis. You can prepare for that, at least. Whoever did this probably won't be gone much longer. Is there anything here you can use?"
"I don't think so... hang on, maybe if I found the wall..." With something to work towards, Lisa broke out of her private discussion and found that she could, in fact, slowly inch her way along the floor. By getting to a wall she would at least have some leverage in the inevitable confrontation. Minutes crept by and finally Lisa let out a gasp of relief as her head bumped into something solid.
"Going somewhere?" A frighteningly familiar male voice asked dryly. She hadn't heard anyone nearby, and that could only mean... he was there the whole goddamned time! She recoiled in horror at the personal violation and managed to place the voice to someone she hadn't seen in a long time.
"Sideshow Bob?" Her horror turned to dread as she realized how much trouble she was in. A hand firmly grasped her arm at the elbow and Lisa felt her weight leave the ground as she was unceremoniously carried a short distance and dumped against the wall she had been searching for. The blindfold was removed abruptly and she had to look away in order to let her eyes adjust to the suddenly brilliant light.
"Come now, Lisa, we've been acquainted for years. Just Bob will suffice." His voice carried the weight of a threat. As Lisa's eyes came into focus she looked upon the man in front of her for the first time in nearly four years and almost yelped at the sight of him. Once tall, bushy, ginger locks of hair now hung in limp, faded and greasy strands, casting his face into shadow. That face had, at one time, held the air of a dignitary but now it was pockmarked and ragged, the eyes never quite staying still. He looked to have suffered immensely since Lisa had last seen him, and the impact was evident on his emaciated body. She swallowed hard and tried to summon as much courage as possible before she responded.
"What do you want with me? Why are we here of all places?" Lisa took in more of her surroundings and was struck by how familiar they seemed, as if it was just out of her reach to place within her memory. Bob's eyes flashed dangerously and he suddenly flew at her, holding out a knife she hadn't noticed. He stopped, quick as lightning, the knife a hair's breadth away from her throat.
"Do be quiet! I've little patience today!" His expression reversed itself but he remained uncomfortably close, never wavering from her face. "Though I suppose those are fair questions. You assume I intend to lure your troublesome sibling here so that I might finally taste of the sweet waters of revenge?"
Lisa moved her head very slowly up and down, careful of the knife still drawing a neat line on her throat, as her heart thudded painfully against her ribcage. The voice in the back of her head warned her against any sudden movements. Finally Bob stood up to his considerably full height and smiled cruelly.
"It has been a long time, hasn't it?" Bob looked into Lisa's eyes and she saw nothing but endless madness. He stood and paced several steps away. "Too long, in fact, for you fail to see the simple brilliance of what I have planned. Your brother's day will come, do not doubt, but for now he is... irrelevant."
Lisa didn't understand what he was getting at, but a hint, an inkling sent a glacial chill up her spine, raising the fine hairs on the back of her neck.
"What do you want?" She repeated.
"I have come to understand something, child." Bob cut her off with another wild mood swing, the primal glint returning to his eyes as he casually manipulated the knife. "Every time I have sought vengeance it was not young Bartholomew who thwarted my carefully laid designs. No..." He turned and faced her fully.
"It was you." The knife stopped, pointing ominously at Lisa's heart.
"Me...?" Lisa found it difficult to speak as the weight of his implied gesture flooded her mind. "You monster, you wouldn't!"
Lisa knew now what Bob intended. Her eyes widened as she tried to keep from giving in to the despair quickly rising to consume her mind. "There has to be something I can do to stop this!"
Suddenly Lisa realized where she was. "I knew it!" The voice in the back of her mind screamed angrily. "Krusty's old television show set!" Maybe she could buy some time by sidetracking Bob. Lisa thought back to the odd series of events surrounding Krusty's passing and her own private suspicions.
Herschel Krustofski, better known as Krusty the Clown, was discovered dead four years ago under mysterious circumstances. Since his will stated that he wanted no autopsy, no one knew how it really happened. Bart was crushed when he heard the solemn news, irrefutable due to the fact that all DNA tests allowed under the legal stipulations proved it was really his childhood hero. After mourning briefly Bart insisted to everyone that he knew Sideshow Bob had to be responsible. Secretly Lisa agreed with him. Now that she thought about it, Bart's attitude had taken its largest turn for the worst right after that horrid affair, most likely becauseno one had openly supported him. Lisa realized her mistake now, and promised herself that she would try to make it up to him. "First things first. I've gotta stall this maniac!"
"Is this where you've been hiding all this time?"
"Why, yes. I have been living here as a matter of fact!" Bob spat viciously. "It has a certain poetic justice to it, don't you agree? The "clown" who disgraced the name of Robert Underdunk Terwilliger, in death, provided me with such a convenient place to hide!
"How he screamed, Lisa! I didn't honestly think there was that much life left in the man, but the surprise was... delicious." Bob's head moved slightly, illuminating his face with an unseen source of light.
The admission of murder brought Lisa's situation sharply into focus. She now knew this psychotic was capable of that most vile of human acts. Two choices flashed into her mind at that moment. "I can goad him on and get this over with." She rejected that on principal. "Or I have to keep him busy and trust that Bart is smart enough to figure out what happened, where I am and help somehow." With a shudder she attempted the second.
"Obviously killing Krusty didn't satisfy you. What makes you think doing the same to me or even Bart will be any different?"
"I am a very patient man, Lisa. Do not delude yourself with thoughts of rescue. It's not the killing that I find to be enjoyable." Bob took a step towards her, his face darkening once again. But his eyes, still visible, reflected the sudden lucidity by finally focusing and remaining still.
"It's the build-up to death. That look in a person's eyes as you steal their last shreds of hope and finally... break them. I have a feeling you and I are going to have a lot of "catching up" to do before this is over. There is plenty of suffering ahead for you, my dear. Be patient or I may spoil things for the both of us, and we don't want that... do we?"
Lisa's brain bellowed at her to run, suddenly not caring that she couldn't possibly do it. The finality of what was going to happen engulfed her, overloading her mind and plunging her back into the merciful blackness. Lisa's last thought echoed through the void rushing up to consume her. "Please, Bart! Hurry!"
The past few hours were a blur. After arriving at the High School with Principal Skinner, Maggie spotted her parents waiting outside for her. Even though Marge embraced her youngest daughter with all the tenderness and love she could impart in the gesture, Maggie noticed that her mother kept looking over her own shoulder at the same spot down the street. Maggie later learned that spot was where police discovered Lisa's backpack stuffed underneath a parked car. The officers managed to turn up only one eyewitness; the Kwik-E-Mart clerk, Apu, who had seen her that morning walking briskly towards the school.
Back inside the school her brother, Bart, arrived and quickly fell into a foul mood when he learned of Lisa's disappearance. He refused to speak to anyone who tried to question or console him, but Maggie could see his pain as clear as day.
When news of an "Amber Alert" hit the local media the situation spiraled out of control. It came to a head when Homer brutally punched the Channel Six Action News anchorman, Kent Brockman, in the mouth for repeatedly badgering Marge to do an interview. Maggie had silently pumped her fist into the air in support of her father's actions even as officers dragged him away to spend the night in jail. As Homer disappeared into the crowd he called out helplessly.
"Save me, Marge! Use the savings and bail me out! I'll never last inside, I'm too pretty!"
At that point Marge decided she couldn't bear the public scrutiny any further and herded her children outside, through the rapidly gathering media circus and curious onlookers.
The drive home was very quiet, with Marge and Maggie in the family's light pink station wagon and Bart following closely in his beater. Upon arrival, Marge excused herself and retreated to her bedroom. Presumably, Maggie thought, to begin the process of getting her Dad out of jail, yet again. Bart choose to sit in the living room, not even bothering to turn on the T.V.
Presently, Maggie reached up to the top of Lisa's bed and grabbed a pillow to put over her head. As the soft fabric touched her expressionless face she realized there was something else in her hand.
Maggie sat up and soured when she recognized the note for what it was. Holding it up in front of her, Maggie asked it bitterly. "Why do you keep coming back to haunt me?"
"You are Lisa Simpson." Was it's only reply. Maggie shifted her attention to the mirror above the desk where only last night her sister sat in the throes of emotional turmoil.
"How many times will I hear that now, Lisa?" Maggie wondered out loud. "You can't be gone, you just can't! I... I can't do this!" The tears came freely now. Her sorrow and torment unleashed themselves in full, nearly crushing Maggie's now fragile spirit.
"Maggie?" Bart's voice echoed down the hall. She panicked and tucked the note into a pocket as he appeared outside Lisa's bedroom door, just like he had the day before.
Bart saw the tears in his sister's eyes even as she tried to wipe them from existence. "I don't think I've seen her cry like that since she was a baby!" He was then forced to admit he hadn't seen much of her at all since then. Maggie was usually so quiet that Bart simply forgot she was even there. In fact, the only time they spent together these days was because of Lisa, their only common ground. This was a regret he would have to atone for now as best he could.
"You alright?" He crossed the room and sat next to her, wincing at the awkwardness. The small girl hiccupped but didn't answer. Bart decided to wait as long as it took, thinking that maybe all she wanted was someone to open up to.
Eventually Maggie turned and faced her older brother, looking like some horrendously tear-jerking poster.
"Who would do this to her?" Maggie asked softly. "I can't figure it out, Bart."
Bart considered her words carefully, and his response was sincere.
"I don't know either, Maggie. Maybe they didn't have a reason. But we shouldn't give up hope, they could still find her..." Bart's eyes unexpectedly burned with shameful tears as his guilt overtook him. "It's all my fault! If I had just given her a ride to school she'd still be here! Now I'll never see her again! Never get to tell her I'm... sorry."
Bart became caught up in his personal memories. To him it was as if experiencing them for the first time all over again. The hockey rink where they competed seriously for the first time...the Thanksgiving centerpiece he accidentally smashed... reuniting Krusty with his estranged father... on and on until Bart could stand it no longer. But they kept coming.
Bart was ten-years-old again, watching from a beachfront porch as Lisa laughed with a group of people she had only just met. It annoyed him to no end that his sister was finding people to hang out with while he was stuck with his friend, Milhouse. A boy who, Bart had come to understand, was going nowhere fast. That night Lisa got permission to stay out late so she could play with her new friends and Bart was left to seethe and stew back at the cabin. He absently began pawing through random drawers and shelves to distract himself until he happened across... the yearbook! "This oughta fix her good!" Bart couldn't stop himself as he ran full-bore out the front door and started laughing at what he had in store for his lofty sister.
"Enough!" Bart began to sob uncontrollably. He couldn't hide from his past, and he had always been his own worst judge, after all. Faced with this new perspective, Bart was unable to deny one fact about his sister. "I really treated her horribly!" Over the years his pranks and jokes had driven them further and further apart, to the point that Lisa simply stopped arguing back or caring what he was up to. Then he entered High School and the distance seemed to expand exponentially.
His actions from the previous day ran through his head briefly and Bart understood that even to this day he was making things worse. They were two very different people, and Bart accepted this. It was painfully obvious now that the past couldn't be undone. Instead Bart refocused on what he could do to make up for it. Here, right now, in the present.
"I will find her!" Bart vowed, more resolute and confident than he had ever been before.
Maggie watched helplessly, unsure of how to react to Bart's emotional confession. So she kept quiet and held his hand in hers, playing silent witness. The distraught boy fell into a violent series of racking sobs before regaining his composure with a curious glint in his eye.
"Wait..." He wiped his eyes and screwed up his face, thinking hard. "It couldn't be... Sideshow Bob?"
Bart's expression settled on one of general uneasiness.
"Sideshow Bob? Isn't he dead?" Maggie's gut instinct told her Bart was onto something but felt she had to ask.
"No... you're thinking of... Krusty!" Bart went rigid with inspiration. "Oh man, if he did this we are in big trouble! Bob is crazy! I'm pretty sure he's the one who killed Krusty!"
"What makes you so sure he's involved?" Maggie prodded, trying to direct her brother's sudden brainstorm.
He... wait, you don't know?" Bart turned to her.
"I've heard stories, yeah. He wants you dead, right?" She frowned.
"Do you know why?" His voice shook ever so slightly.
"No..." She admitted.
"Seven years ago... he tried to set Krusty up to be killed. Krusty was in big trouble with the mob and Bob found out. He blackmailed Krusty for a lot of money to keep silent about where he was hiding. But then Bob framed him for a convenience store robbery and phoned in Krusty's location anonymously. It happened at the Kwik-E-Mart just up the road, actually. That's how we found out about it. Anyways, Bob just wanted to get Krusty sent to jail where the mob could get to him."
"What went wrong?" Maggie asked, enthralled by the brief story.
"Lis and I stopped him. She noticed all sorts of stuff that was wrong with the video surveillance of the robbery. Not only that but both of us could tell it wasn't really Krusty on the tape. When we showed what we found to the police, they dug deeper and found enough evidence to place Bob at the Kwik-E-Mart. But they made us testify anyway, just to be sure he got put away. Unfortunately that meant he knew who ratted him out."
"Wow... I had no idea Lisa actually helped catch Sideshow Bob." She sounded very impressed with the idea.
"But don't you see? That makes her a target, too! He's the only one with the motive to want to kidnap Lisa! We have to stop him!" Bart's eyes moistened again at the affirmation of his fears.
Maggie hopped off the bed and began pacing the room aimlessly. After a long silence she turned to Bart from the bookcase.
"So where is Bob? He escaped from prison a long time ago and kept coming after you, didn't he?"
"I haven't seen him since Krusty died. That's what made me think he did it!"
"Well I believe you. I'm pretty sure Bob killed Krusty and now has Lisa hidden away somewhere. But where would he hide? It can't be too far from the school, at least still in Springfield. If he is alone then she would slow him down, so he needs a secluded hideaway. Some place he could feel secure and not have to worry about intrusion."
Bart's head slumped as his shoulders shrugged, at a loss for an answer. Maggie sighed and turned her head to the side. She spotted something that seemed out of place on one of the shelves of the bookcase.
"What's this?" She reached out and withdrew a large, dusty square from a corner of the bookcase. Wiping it slightly cleaner, Maggie read the large print now visible.
"Sax on the Beach?" She cocked an eyebrow and looked back at Bart. "Who's Bleeding Gums Murphy?" Her face showed a hint of disgust at the odd name.
"Woah....really?" Bart jumped up and extended his hand. "I remember this... haven't seen it in years... cost me five-hundred bucks!"
"You bought it?" Maggie looked surprised at Bart's unusually kind gesture as she handed it to him.
"Yeah." Bart gently wiped the remaining dust off of the vinyl's cover. "Lisa was really sad because this man, here, on the cover died after she visited him in the hospital. I had a little money left over from a lawsuit against Krusty."
Maggie's questioning expression prompted him to elaborate.
"What? It's a long story and the point is she didn't have enough to buy it. So I surprised her."
"That was really nice of you!" Maggie said sincerely. She never thought Bart was capable of such a selfless act.
Bart shrugged again, a little red in the face, and moved to hand the record back to Maggie. As he did, several small pieces of paper fell out onto the carpet. Maggie gathered them up and looked at each one in turn.
"That's odd. These are newspaper clippings." She mumbled, concentrating on this strange development. "They're all about Sideshow Bob!"
"Lemme see those!" Bart replaced the album on the bookshelf and bent down to look closer. The articles all made some mention of the crazy escaped killer, everything from last sightings to older reports of his trial.
"She was keeping track of Bob, it seems." Maggie postulated.
"Sure does look like it. This is unbelievable! She never told me she was doing all this!" Bart whispered seriously, then pointed at one of the clips that appeared to be out of place. "This one's about Krusty, though, look."
"Former T.V. clown's media production facility up for grabs." Maggie read the headline and quickly skimmed the article. "It talks about Krusty's old show sets being auctioned off to cover his remaining debts."
She looked at the next one, noticing that there was only one left under it.
"Here's a short notice of the completion of the auction. It doesn't say who won, only that it did get sold."
"That's really interesting and all, but why would Lisa save those? It doesn't make any sense!"
"It makes perfect sense, think about it! You said Bob got a lot of money out of Krusty before betraying him, right? What if Lisa suspected Bob was trying to come after you again and had purchased the lot? He would need somewhere close, remember? A whole complex to himself? It would be perfect!"
"Hang on, look at those dates. These are more than a year old! If it was Sideshow Bob, then he's been back for at least that long! Why hasn't he already tried to get me? Why would he make his move now? And more importantly, why would he kidnap Lisa instead of me?"
Maggie hesitated, at a loss for words. She suspected that Bob must have a very good reason for going after her sister but she couldn't put her finger on it. Moving on to the final article in Lisa's hidden collection she read the first few lines and immediately smiled.
"At least we know why he's making his move now. This is why! It's a notice of foreclosure on the studio due to "non-payment"! This is only a few months old, Bob must not have had enough to cover whatever he bid to get the place! They scheduled the eviction for next week so he has no choice!" Her eyes were a blur as she sped-read the entirety of the story. "It fits! All of it!"
Then she realized the implications of this discovery. "He's desperate. That only makes him more dangerous!"
"Bart! We have to go, right now! It could already be too late!" Maggie nearly shouted at her brother.
"Too late for what?!" Bart looked positively alarmed at her growing intensity.
"I think he's going to kill her!" She cried with enough conviction to convince him.
"Omigod! You're right! I'll be right back!" He ran from the room and headed into his own. Bart grabbed his old Louisville Slugger and returned to Lisa's room. "Gonna need something to use against him... let's go, Lis! Oh..." Bart faltered at the slip of tongue. "Oops, sorry."
"It's alright! Forget about it!" Maggie knew for certain, if they were correct, that they had to make every minute count. "I'll meet you outside, go!"
Bart nodded and dashed off again to get his car started while Maggie paused for a short moment, gathered herself in the mirror over her sister's desk, then followed him downstairs. Her heart was pumping furiously with adrenaline as she hit every step.
Marge's purse lay on the table next to the open front door, catching her eye. Maggie stopped and considered her options. "Do I dare?" She thought before deciding firmly, "It's better to be safe, than sorry!" After digging through the purse frantically for a few seconds Maggie found the object she sought and stuffed it securely inside her autumn coat as she threw it over her shoulders.
"Come on, Maggie!" Bart yelled impatiently.
"Hang on!" Maggie turned briefly, looking back upstairs. "Forgive us, mom. Please?"
Then she ran out the door and towards fate.
"Why do I lose control so easily these days?" He lamented. Truthfully, Bob felt he could do something more to keep control, but the disturbing part was he wasn't sure he wanted to. Bob felt less like himself with every passing day. This chase had consumed his entire life for the better part of a decade, and that just didn't seem fair to him. Bob was growing weary of trying to close this chapter of his past, to get on with things, and rebuild some kind of life. "But the boy..."
Bob swung on his half-rotted, three-legged chair and observed the still form of his most recent problem. Under better circumstances, Bob hated to admit, he might have actually gotten along with Lisa quite well. But the image of this same girl, speaking confidently before a jury of his peers all those years ago, enraged him beyond reason.
"How dare she? How dare any of them! Laughing, always laughing at poor Robert! She deserves to feel what I have felt! Ridicule and humiliation! A slow, painful death..." Bob felt his mental barriers dissolving quickly as he slipped over the edge of rationality.
"Hello, Krusty." He remarked without moving an inch. The clown materialized from the corners of Bob's subconscious and stepped out of the shadows cast by a large piece of the faded, old scenery.
"It's time to end this, Bob. For the zillionth time, stop stalling! Do you really have to play with your food before you eat it?" Krusty followed Bob's line of sight and grimaced in disdain.
"There's no need to rush things, I assure you. No mistakes will be made."
"Mistakes? I'll give you mistakes! You've already made one! The backpack getting left at the scene? Amateurs would do a better job than you... so sloppy! And look! You're about to make another one! She's been here for a long time when she should already be cold!"
"Stop! I've had enough of your preaching! What has to be done will be done, so just... shut... up." Bob drove his point home by aiming the gun in his hand at Krusty and firing off a few rounds, dispersing the apparition. To the side Lisa stirred and he intoned darkly, "It's time."
Holstering the gun as he rose from the chair, Bob calmly sauntered over to the spot where she was beginning to come around. With a haughty grin he casually aimed a kick for her mid-section.
"Get up!" Bob snarled savagely as Lisa cried out and tried to curl up into a tight ball. He then continued, much softer. "I promised you some fun didn't I?"
He took a hold of the hair on the back of Lisa's head with a dark chuckle and firmly tugged her up off the ground to stand on tip-toe. Bob laughed inwardly as he was forced to bend down, allowing him to get right in her face.
"So, shall we begin?" he reached behind his back and, with measured precision, slapped the flat of the knife he had concealed there against the shivering girl's cheekbone.
Lisa looked into his eyes and saw no reason to doubt what would inevitably follow. She fell into her center of calm and gathered together the angry and frustrated feelings she had been storing up since returning to consciousness thirty minutes before. Lisa was slowly coming to accept that, perhaps, nobody would be coming after all.
With a loud hack, she spat in Bob's face.
"Hmm... what a charming little girl you are, Lisa." Bob let go of her to wipe the spittle from his eyes and nose. Abruptly he stood and whipped the butt of the knife against Lisa's temple. She overbalanced with a whimper, having been deprived of her natural balance and still inhibited by the ropes around her arms and legs. As she crashed heavily to floor in a heap, white stars exploded into her vision and everything seemed to darken several shades.
15 minutes earlier...
Bart's tired, old Buick rolled to a stop next to the tall wall that enclosed the bulk of Krusty the Clown's former production studio. Shutting off the engine, Bart pulled a cell phone from his pocket and paused, unable to decide.
"Maybe we should call the police and give them the address." He glanced at Maggie for her opinion.
"It couldn't hurt..." She responded nervously. The reality of what they were about to do was settling in on her. Bart placed the call anonymously, then hung up and surveyed the buildings visible against the sky just on the other side of the wall.
"Let's check the front gate, Bob might not have locked it." Bart suggested as he reached into the back seat, grabbed his bat and got out. Maggie nodded, following suit. A short time later they reached the ominous, rusty steel doors and came to a stop in unison. Bart grabbed one of the thick bars and pushed with all of his strength, but the gate remained stubbornly shut. Then he tried pulling it, with similar luck.
"I can climb over and unlock it from the inside, I think." Maggie stepped up next to her brother as he panted in frustration. She looked for an obvious way up and found it. "Can you give me a boost?"
"You'd better be careful, that's a big drop." But Bart set the bat down and offered his hands, cupped at knee height, despite any doubts he may have had. She stepped onto the makeshift platform, holding onto the bars for support. Slowly Bart lifted his sister up, with no small amount of effort, to the lip of the door. Bart added, "Heh, I bet he didn't count on you being with me!"
Maggie clamped on as tightly as she could and struggled against the incessant pull of gravity., cursing every snack she'd ever eaten. Finally she managed to hook a leg around the top of one of the bars that jutted proudly into the sky. Using the leverage from a horizontal bar near the top, Maggie succeeded in reaching her goal and perched herself delicately on the thin gate.
"One...two...three...!" She quietly counted, then launched her body out into the open air. Her landing was far from smooth and she hit with a sickening smack that echoed throughout the vacant lot, knocking the wind out of her with the sheer force of it.
"You okay?" Bart softly gasped. Maggie coughed and sucked in deep lung-full of oxygen before rolling over to stick her thumb up. He breathed a sigh of relief, retrieved his weapon and waited for her to recover. Eventually Maggie got to her knees and looked around. A smile lit up her face as she spotted the guard's shack off to one side of the entranceway, it's door cracked open slightly.
She stood and limped slightly with her first few steps towards it. "Just a small sprain, walk it off!" Maggie scolded herself. The door opened easily when she pushed, revealing a simple office. There was a high stool for the guard to sit on in front of a tall control panel. Her leg throbbed as she used it to scale the stool and reach out for the button clearly marked "Open". Maggie slammed her palm down on it with a groan of pain and fell back to the ground.
Outside, the heavy gate shuddered and creaked eerily as it swung inwards, allowing Bart into the facility. Maggie reappeared from inside the old checkpoint, still walking a little stiffly as she approached.
"You sure you're alright?" Bart asked with concern in his eyes.
"Don't worry about me, I'll manage." She replied breathlessly, becoming a little annoyed with her brother's constant babying attitude. "Which building should we check first?"
Bart paused and thought back to his childhood, trying to recall how Bob operated. A cog turned.
"Well, if I know Bob, he's going to want somewhere special. I'd bet Homer's last doughnut he's somewhere in the building where Krusty filmed his show. Yea... maybe..."
Maggie shifted her attention from the empty complex in front of her to Bart as he trailed off.
"Maybe... what? Do you know where they are or don't you?"
"It sounds a little too easy, but it sort of makes sense. We should check it out, at least." Bart started walking but Maggie was lost.
"Where?" She asked firmly, forcing Bart to halt and turn to regard her as an equal.
"Oh, right. Krusty filmed his show on the largest set in the largest building. If I wanted to be sure I'd be alone, that'd be where I would hide. Krusty really liked his privacy... that's... another long story."
"Alright, that's a start." Maggie was nodding even before Bart finished speaking. A moment later they were walking again and she pulled her coat tightly around herself, shivering as the sun slowly dipped over the western wall in the distance.
Bart seemed not to notice while he tried to remember the way to the building. After several attempts, accompanied by excessive bouts of swearing and smashing of random glass objects, Bart was showing signs of desperation.
"Take it easy, Bart. Just slow down and think!" Maggie huffed, becoming more than a little frightened of the increasingly foreboding shadows. Bart stopped and rubbed his temples with a groan.
"This is taking too long!" He answered, on the edge of exasperation. "I need to find a landmark."
Bart spun in place and glanced at every building. In the gathering twilight each one looked the same as the next, save for the closest ones.
"Hmm... just over there, I think..." He walked around a corner and quickly turned back. "This is it!"
Maggie rounded the corner and nearly screamed as a gigantic effigy of the deceased clown gaped happily at her from its perch high up on the front of a huge building. In front of the wide grin sat an Oldsmobile that appeared to have been left there in a hurry. The driver's side door was flung wide open, not to mention the unlatched trunk.
"C'mon! I know the way now!" Bart exclaimed in a low voice. He semi-stooped and cautiously started running towards the large door that was located in the center of mural-Krusty's mouth, with Maggie close behind. The door protested loudly when Bart pushed it open, causing them to freeze in place.
"Last chance to turn back, you know..." Bart chanced a whisper to his panting sibling. She glared at him indignantly and firmly set her stance. He nodded appreciatively and patted her on the shoulder. "Okay, thanks... now quietly..."
Together they crept through a spacious entry-hall which was obviously in severe disrepair. "Just like I remember it!" Bart mused. Tiny movements from every shady corner made them jump until a six-legged monstrosity skittered across their path. Bart's grip on his bat tightened momentarily.
"Cock-a-roach..." Bart muttered, stepping heavily on top of it.
"Eww..." Maggie paled a little at the display and Bart let a faint grin play across his face at her squeamishness. "Like old times... " He thought bitterly.
"Down this way." He scraped the insect off on a dusty, plastic chair that sat nearby and continued deeper into the building. Bart opened a door near the back of the foyer, revealing a long hallway with several lights broken and more than a few flickering out of time with each other. Between the sporadic light changes, Maggie noticed dozens of doors set at regular intervals along the right-hand side of the hallway.
"These all lead to the center stage where Krusty worked his magic." Bart explained before tugging on the handle of the one nearest to them.
Behind the door lay a vast darkened room where row after row of child-sized seats were laid out in a descending fashion in either direction for as far as they could see. Down further, past the tiny silhouettes and stairs, sat the stage. It was only visible by the illumination of a single, cannon-shaped, spotlight overhead.
Near the edge of the light's radius sat a lone, slumped figure that Bart couldn't immediately recognize. He motioned for Maggie to keep quiet again and follow him as he carefully slid into the room and closed the door behind them. They made progress down to the stage as quickly as their rattled nerves would allow.
"Hello, Krusty." Sideshow Bob's deep voice reverberated throughout the room and Bart had to clamp a hand tightly over his mouth to keep from screaming bloody murder. The duo spotted a large prop near the bottom of the steps and both had the same thought. As they crouched behind it, Bob stirred and said something about mistakes out loud to himself.
"What's...he...doing?" Maggie mouthed to Bart after tugging on his sleeve. He simply shrugged and looked, if it were possible, even more concerned about the situation. Bob's strange behavior, coupled with the odd mention of his former colleague in clowning, set Maggie on edge like nothing ever had before. "He's lost it... Omigod... we're all gonna die!" She stifled the panic before it could grasp control and then started as Bob began shouting randomly.
"Stop! I've had enough of your preaching! What has to be done will be done, so..." Bob's last few words were lost as his hand appeared, holding a gun up to some perceived adversary, and he fired three times.
Bart and Maggie gaped at each other in shock as the erratic behavior Bob continued to exhibit faded with two more words.
"It's time." Bob stood slowly and disappeared towards the far side of the stage, beyond their ability to see. Several moments later they heard him yell sharply.
"Get up!" This was followed by a dull "thwump" and an evil cackle. Bart's eyes widened angrily as he heard a female voice cry out in pain and he started to shake with fury. Maggie swallowed her own feelings and put a hand on Bart's shoulder.
"Not yet... She pleaded when he turned to her, his eyes shooting daggers. In the distance they heard a soft, wet, smacking sound and Bob's voice echoed venomously after a brief pause.
"Hmm... what a charming little girl you are, Lisa." Bart tried to stand up abruptly but Maggie grabbed on with her other hand, torn between not wanting to be found out and a strong desire to let go of her brother and rush out with him.
A sharp, metallic ringing filled the air then and Bart would wait no longer. His decision made, he shook free of Maggie's death grip and called out as calmly as he could manage.
"Bob! Stop!" Bart hefted the bat in front of him and stepped into the circle of light as Maggie struggled with her aching leg and tried to catch up.
"Who's there?" Bob spun and took out the gun again. As he leveled the weapon at the intruder he moved closer, back into semi-illumination. "Bart Simpson? What a pleasant surprise! Are you one of "them"?"
Bart gasped at Bob's appearance and struggled to regain his composure before answering the insane question.
"What? "Them"? Just let my sister go, Sideshow Bob!" He tried to sound as confident as possible.
"I've become so sick of that "honorific" over the years! Why do you children mock me so?" Bob paused and then tilted his head in a curious fashion, back and to the right. "You can't possibly be standing here before me on the night of my penultimate triumph, can you? This seems too good to be true! Lies! Be gone, false vision!"
The scene around him froze as Bob licked his lips and pulled the trigger.
Maggie and Lisa shrieked in unison while Bart grunted, dropped his weapon and stared down at the rapidly expanding blot of red on his chest. He then turned his eyes back to Bob with a questioning look before collapsing to the ground in a jumbled heap.
"You... mean he was... real?" Bob answered of his own accord. He trembled and let out a long insidious laugh, born of the pits of Hell itself. "At last! Retribution!"
Maggie now found herself face to face with the man who shot her brother and a frightening center of focus overtook her senses. She moved into the radius of light and glared at him.
"What's this now? Little Lisa Simpson?" Bob said joyfully with a glance over his shoulder to where the larger Lisa still lay in stunned silence. "How wonderfully appropriate!" he began laughing again.
Maggie absorbed his words and added them to her collective rage. He hadn't moved or shot her yet, so she used it to her advantage.
"No? Well perhaps you know how I should take care of the "you" over there? I daresay that would make a fitting end to this ordeal."
Maggie's eyes narrowed into slits at the mention of that unthinkable deed. She reached into her coat and withdrew her mother's handgun slowly, letting Bob see every movement.
"I see... just like her brother, then? A sentimentalist's approach, you suppose?" Bob grinned madly and stroked the chamber of his own gun with the tenderness of a loving mother.
Maggie clicked off the safety and brought the weapon to bear on Bob, who was still preoccupied with his own firearm.
Finally coming out of his revere, Bob looked at "Lisa" again and noticed the twin streaks of crystal clear tears that ran the length of Maggie's face.
"Whatever is wrong, dear child?" Bob inquired.
Maggie sniffed and replied, her voice carrying an unnatural chill in it's deathly calm.
"My name is Maggie." She aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger.
"Ma..." Bob managed before his face imploded and he flew several feet backwards to the ground. Maggie was knocked from her feet by the force of the recoil but all she could think to do was desperately focus on making her numb fingers let go of the gun. After succeeding she struggled back up.
"Maggie!" Lisa cried from behind Bob's twitching body and the still-shaking girl ran around it to find her sister tied up on the ground. "He's got a knife! Hurry and cut me loose! Oh god, Bart! We have to help him Maggie!"
Lisa watched as Maggie turned, ran back to the corpse, and started searching it frantically.
"It's on his back!" She offered and moments later Maggie returned to cut Lisa's bonds. When she finished, Maggie threw the knife away into the gloom with a look of disgust and helped her older sister to her feet. They made their way to the crumpled body of their fallen brother.
"Oh my god..." Lisa moaned as she fell to her knees. Her eyes swam with grief for the shattered boy. "There's so much blood...!"
Maggie found the presence of mind to lay Bart out flat, and as she watched she saw his chest weakly rise and fall.
"He's still breathing! Lisa, take my coat and try to slow the bleeding. Help is on the way!" Maggie looked Lisa in the eye and they both understood what needed to happen. Maggie removed her jacket hastily and handed it to Lisa before turning to go find the police.
As Maggie ran from the room, Lisa looked at her brother's pale, clammy visage and wept bitterly while she held the coat firmly over his wound with one hand and gently stroked her hand through his hair with the other.
"Not like this! Please, god, not like this! Don't take him yet!"
She knew what it contained, but every shred of sanity she clung to refused to admit the truth. In the background she could hear a slow, lilting, organ-based melody that spoke to her of hope through change.
On Lisa's left were Homer and Marge, gratefully accepting the offered hands of solace.
"We're so sorry for your loss... you know you can always count on us for support. After all you done-diddily-did when I lost Maude..." Ned Flanders gathered his two sons and led them to a nearby pew.
Maggie sat on her right, transfixed with the sheer number of mourners showing up. Every now and then the small girl would catch sight of the casket up front and break down into fresh tears, each individual drop tearing Lisa's heart to shreds.
A collective hush filled the chapel as Reverend Lovejoy entered the room and the music faded abruptly. He solemnly approached the short podium adjacent to the casket. Like a record, Lovejoy scanned the reading that had been prepared for him and began to read aloud.
"We gather here, today, in order to mourn the passing of Bartholomew Jo-Jo Simpson. The tragic twist of fate that brought such an abrupt closure to the story of one of the Almighty's Blessed Children truly affects us all. Let us lend our understanding and support to the family of young Bart, however, for it is now that they need our help the most."
"In life, young Bart was known by most of the people of our community, though perhaps not in the most joyful light... (I kept telling him to "stay away" from my Jessica...) Anyways... we will always hold him in our hearts and minds." Timothy Lovejoy continued on for a few minutes before he paused and rechecked his notes.
"I understand a few of his family members have sentiments prepared, so if you wish to say anything, now is the time."
Maggie started and looked up at her family. Marge nodded numbly, nudging Homer and Lisa out of their seats. The family rose in unison and filed out into the large center aisle, making their way to the front of the chapel.
Marge and Homer approached the coffin first, both shaking visibly as the body within was suddenly visible. Maggie sniffed and followed her parents, but Lisa hung back. She watched her family and tried to borrow their strength so she could go through with this.
Marge finally turned and beckoned to her older daughter, prompting Lisa to take a few steps forward. She could see him now. Tears splashed down her face as she fell to her knees on the thin padded bench in front of her brother's body. Maggie patted Lisa on the shoulder consolingly before walking to the podium and grabbing the microphone.
"Excuse me, everyone. My name is Margaret Simpson. If it would be alright, I have a song prepared to sing for my brother, Bart." She looked at her grieving audience and saw no objection. Maggie's haunting voice began to echo through the high-ceilinged chamber as Lisa turned to regard her sister in awe.
Oh a man is placed upon the steps and a baby cries,
And high above you can hear the church bells
Start to ring.
And as the
Heaviness, oh the heaviness, the body
Somewhere you can hear a mother sing.
Then it's one foot, then the other,
As you step out on the road of hope.
Step out on the road.
How much weight? How much?
Then it's how long? And how far?
And how many times
Oh, before it's too late?
Calling all angels, calling all angels.
Walk me through this one,
Don't leave me alone.
Calling all angels, calling all angels.
We're tryin' and we're hopin',
But we're not sure how...
Ah, and every day you gaze upon the sunset,
With such love and intensity.
It's, ah, it's almost as if you could only crack the code.
Then you'd finally understand
What all this means.
Ah, but if you could,
Do you think you would
Trade in all, all the pain and suffering?
Ah, but then you'd miss
The beauty of the light upon this earth,
And the sweetness of believing...
Calling all angels, calling all angels.
Walk me through this one,
Don't leave me alone.
Calling all angels, calling all angels.
We're tryin' and we're hopin'
But we're not sure why...
Calling all angels, calling all angels.
Walk me through this one,
Don't leave me alone.
Calling all angels, calling all angels...
We're tryin', we're hopin',
We're hurtin', we're lovin',
We're cryin', we're callin',
Cause we're not sure how,
Lisa found that she couldn't take her eyes off of Bart as her sister's words drew to a close. When Maggie's voice faded, she turned and held out the gun she suddenly held in her hand.
"You have to be strong, Lis! Make it right, please!"
Lisa couldn't stop herself from rising and reaching for the gun. As her hand closed over the warm barrel it began shaking violently before a brilliant light suffused the scene and there was an ear-shattering explosion.
Lisa opened her eyes, panting heavily, and looked out the window pressed up against her face. Just visible through the collective gloom she could make out her house approaching slowly.
"This it?" said a man from the driver's seat of the car, next to him sat another man. Lisa saw they were in uniform and recognized the one who had spoken as Eddie, a local cop. She sat up and shook her head, trying to clear away the horrible images dancing in the back of her mind. Some memories returned and Lisa recalled why she was in the back seat of a cop car. In her lap lay the damp coat she had refused to turn over to the police. In the confusion of the moment Lisa dimly recalled finding and concealing her mother's small handgun inside of it and, sure enough, she could feel it's cold handle through the thick cloth.
"Lisa?" Maggie asked again and glanced up to the expectant faces of the two police officers.
"Yes, I'm sorry, must've dozed off there for a second. I'm still a little dizzy from the chloroform..."
"S'no problem, you sure you wouldn't rather just go to the hospital?" Asked Lou, the other officer, from the passenger's seat.
"No, thank you." She answered firmly. "I have to see my mom, she needs to hear what's happened."
Lisa wrapped the gun tightly inside the bloody coat and opened the door to get out. As her foot hit the driveway the front door flew open. Marge appeared, in silhouette, at the entryway and gasped when she saw her oldest daughter.
"Lisa, oh thank god! Where have you been?!" She made it halfway down the paved walkway before spotting Maggie's coat, held protectively, in Lisa's arms.
"Lisa... where's Maggie? She and Bart disappeared on hour ago, where's your sister?!" Marge frantically wrung her already red wrists and approached her daughter. "Tell me... please?"
"I'm right here, Mom!" Maggie cried out and ran awkwardly around from behind the police cruiser. She positively flew into her mother's waiting arms.
"Oh! My precious little angel! You never should have left without telling me! I was so worried about you and what with your sister and everything...! "Marge paused to catch her breath, though she sounded relieved. "I'm going to have a very serious talk with your brother, girls. He's sixteen for crying out loud, he should know better! Where is he?! Where's Bart? Stop hiding, young man! Is he still in the car?"
"Mom..." Lisa tried to say, but her voice was suddenly caught in her throat. She felt like she was going to choke on the thickness that hung in the air. Maggie noticed her sister's apparent paralysis and grabbed her mother's hand to get her attention.
"Bart got hurt, Mom." She said delicately. "He's at the hospital. We should go there."
Lisa held up the coat with one hand while she tucked the gun safely into the belt of her jeans, underneath the hem of her T-shirt. Marge glanced up and her face blanched when she saw the bloodstains covering it.
"Y...your father will be home soon! He should know, yes, oh! No! He needs to meet us at the hospital, we can't wait for him!" Marge attempted to remain calm and take control of the situation. But to her daughters, she appeared to be unable to decide what to deal with first.
"Mom, take it easy. Go inside, call the jail and make sure he gets the message. Lisa and I will get changes of clothes ready and maybe some other stuff to bring with us." Maggie offered.
"Good thinking, Maggie." Lisa stepped forward. "We'll get ready while you call Dad. We can leave as soon as you get through to him."
"You folks want an escort? Y'know, extenuating circumstances and such?" Called Lou from the cop car.
"Yes! Oh, thank you! Just give us a few minutes to get some things, we'll be right back!" Marge disappeared inside the house.
Lisa looked at Maggie, who eyed the gun concealed at her sister's waist, as they followed their mother.
"We gotta put it back!" Maggie implored her sister desperately. "She can't find out!"
"Actually, we should clean it first, so it doesn't smell like gunpowder." Lisa said knowledgeably, with a frown. "Make sure she stays upstairs for now, I'll need a few minutes."
Lisa walked through the living room and turned quickly, heading into the kitchen. Maggie plodded up the stairs and down the hallway to her bedroom door, opposite her parent's own. Once inside, she left the entry open to keep an eye out for Marge. Methodically, Maggie gathered together the few things she would need for an overnight stay at the hospital.
"I killed a man, today." The thought crept through her head, catching Maggie off guard. She gave an involuntary shudder, fled out into the hallway and went into Lisa's room. Maggie quickly repeated the process, trying to distract herself from those errant thoughts. In the corner of the room, shining proudly on it's display stand, stood Lisa's saxophone. Maggie expertly disassembled the instrument without thought, having watched her sister do it countless times, and packed it safely into it's storage case.
Out in the hallway, Marge opened her bedroom door and paced towards the stairs.
"Hey, Mom! Can you help me carry all this stuff? I can't do it by myself."
"Sure, honey! But why the sax?" Marge entered the room and looked perplexed.
"Oh... well, I figured Lisa might want to have something to do later. Maybe she can play for Bart?" Maggie replied, thinking quickly.
"That's a wonderful idea, Maggie! Here, let me take that. Now where's your sister? We need to get going! Your father will meet us there in a few hours."
"She wanted to sit down for a few minutes, so I packed for her. She's probably ready now, let's go!" Maggie handed the heavy case to her mother and hoped that Lisa was, indeed, ready.
At the bottom of the staircase sat Lisa, waiting patiently.
"Got everything?" She spun as she stood, covertly throwing Maggie a thumbs up. Lisa saw the case in Marge's hand. "Hey... my sax?"
"Yes, it was your sister's idea and we shouldn't make the officers wait too long. Everyone out to the car, er... well, both of you..." Marge sighed painfully and plunged out into the night, grabbing her purse off the table as she passed.
The clock ticked at an agonizingly slow pace while they stared bleakly at the sea foam green walls of the visitor's lounge of Springfield General Hospital. Upon arrival, the receptionist had directed them to the small room, on the top floor, near where the "Intensive Care Unit" was located for quick helicopter access.
After almost two hours with no word on Bart's condition, all three jumped expectantly as Homer appeared from down a side hall and called out.
"Marge? Has anyone seen my wife? Big blue bouffant?! What about you?" Homer pulled aside a wide-eyed nurse as she passed him and she nodded slowly, looking frightened. "Where?"
"I think they're all in the lounge." The woman pointed in their direction.
"Dad! You made it!" Lisa got up, smiling for the first time since that morning, and stretched her muscles back to wakefulness.
"Oh, Lisa, honey! You're back!" Homer gazed up towards the sky as he began to run towards his daughter. He added, "Thank you, Superman!"
"Uh, dad? Fictional character." Lisa chuckled softly as she met her father halfway in a warm embrace.
"Yea... he sure is..." Homer tossed his eyes back to the ceiling dreamily. "What's going on, Lisa? What's wrong with the boy... I mean, with Bart?" He turned his gaze to his daughter, looking suddenly as helpless as a newborn baby.
"Um... well... give me a moment, Mom should hear this, too." Lisa led her father back to the lounge and waited while he took his seat next to Marge. "It was Sideshow Bob. He did this."
"Now hang on! That's done! Isn't it? He stopped coming for Bart years ago!" Marge looked outraged at the mention of the man who had repeatedly tried to murder her son.
"No, Mom! He never stopped! He was just biding his time until something changed. And it did! Bob told me he was the one who murdered Krusty back then!"
"But why now? What did he do to Bart, Lisa?"
"Bob snapped, Mom! He shot Bart, then himself!" Lisa tried to catch Maggie's reaction, hoping her sister wouldn't object to the obvious lie.
"Oh my lord..." Marge collapsed back into her chair. "Oh my god..."
Maggie shifted her attention elsewhere while Lisa continued explaining whatever she decided had happened and spotted both the first and last person she wanted to see at that moment. Dr. Julius Hibbert appeared from around a bend in the hallway, staring intensely at his charts, and shaking his head almost sorrowfully.
"No..." Maggie squeaked as her mind interpreted his body language. " NO!"
Everyone in the room stopped and looked at Maggie questioningly. Dr. Hibbert rounded the corner, becoming visible to the rest of the family.
"Julius! Please tell me he's alright!" Marge cried out from her husband's protective clutch.
"I'm sorry, Marge..." The large man said in his deep, powerful voice. "It's simply too early to tell. He just got out of a very serious surgical procedure, so we won't know for sure until morning, please understand."
"Surgi-pro-wha, now?" Homer asked, looking lost.
"He means Bart is okay for the moment, Dad." Lisa interpreted.
"More or less. It's hard to say for now." The doctor added.
"Oh, that's good. Wait till morning, right?" Homer seemed to catch up a little.
"We will closely monitor your son's status throughout the night, Mr. Simpson." Hibbert assured him, then paused and looked uncomfortable for a split second. "I don't know exactly the best way to bring this up to you so perhaps I should just say it. I've... seen you at the church every Sunday for years..."
"What are you talking about?" Lisa looked him in the eye, already suspecting where he was going with his cryptic comment.
"Look... as much as you may want to deny and distance yourself from what could happen, it may be in your son's best interest to let me contact Reverend Lovejoy."
"Don't say that! Anything but that!" Marge choked angrily as she dissolved into sobbing once more. Lisa and Maggie watched their mother sadly and moved closer to help hold her up.
"I'm sorry. It was too soon. Why don't I give you some time to discuss this? If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask a nurse to page me." Dr. Hibbert fell back behind his professional veneer and turned to leave.
"Contact the reverend, please." Marge said weakly.
"Marge? Honey?" Homer looked into his wife's beautiful hazel eyes, ignoring the tears streaming from them.
"It's his soul, Homey! My god isn't this horrible enough already? I can't live with that as a regret!"
"Do it." Homer nodded to the doctor.
"Can we see him?" Marge's head rose hopefully.
"Ah, heh, heh, heh! I'm afraid he's still unconscious, but I guess that would be alright. I'll tell the nurses to let you in." Dr. Hibbert replied jovially.
"Thank you, Julius!" Marge said sincerely as she stood to follow him to the ICU.
"Not at all, Marge. I understand how difficult this must be for you." He turned to Lisa and added. "You should let someone take a look at you before you leave, young lady. I want to make sure there are no lasting injuries, your sister, too."
"Ho'kay, Dr. Hibbert. Maybe in the morning once Bart's doing better."
"Fair enough, child. Ah, heh, heh, heh! Come along, all of you."
"You are here to visit...?" She inquired politely.
"My son..." Homer said with a sadness he rarely expressed for Bart.
"He just got out of surgery, his name is Bart Simpson." Lisa told the nurse to fill in the blanks from Homer's inadequate description.
"He's right over there, bed number five. Remember to be quiet, there are a couple other patients here tonight." The woman paused and thought for a moment. "Wait, aren't you the girl I saw on the news earlier, the one who was kidnapped?!"
Yes... and I'd like to see my brother, please. Would it be alright if I brought this in?" Lisa held up her saxophone case.
"My goodness! That's your brother in there? I'm so sorry! Please, my name is Jenny. If there's anything I can do, just ask. This must be so terrible for all of you..." Nurse Jenny trailed off. Lisa looked at her sax hopefully and grinned when the woman nodded with a quick wink.
"Thank you!" Lisa turned to her family and led them into the small, three-walled cubicle labeled "#5".
Each member of the family found a place around the bed. Bart's pallid face was only just visible behind a dazzling array of tubes and wires. The symphony of machinery that surrounded them beeped and hummed seemingly with a random rhythm.
Lisa stood at the foot of the bed and couldn't help but notice, "it looks like they have already put him in a box..." She saw some seats lined up against the far wall and sat down in one, placing the saxophone case next to her.
"Oh, my special little guy..." Marge cooed and she touched his face gently with her shaking hand. "He's so cold..."
"He'll be fine, honey. Dr. Hibbert said so." Homer remarked while he gazed sadly at his son. "In the morning we can go home and things can get back to normal."
"I hope so... for all our sakes, Homey." Marge continued to fuss over Bart's limp body.
Maggie soon became frustrated with her height relative to the bed and searched for something to stand on. She spotted Lisa, sitting in a chair that caught that caught her eye, beginning to assemble her saxophone.
"You gonna to play, Lisa?" Maggie approached with her hands clutched together in front of her in an almost pleading gesture.
"A little, it'll help calm me down." Lisa stopped and regarded her sister. "You want to try?"
"Me? I've never played a musical instrument before..." Maggie looked slightly uncomfortable at the suggestion, then sad at the realization.
"You have to start somewhere. Come on, it'll be fun. I promise!" Lisa patted the hard plastic chair next to her after sliding the now-empty case underneath it. "Here, use this to keep your balance."
Maggie looked at her sister blankly, surprised at the simple kindness of the gesture. "She hasn't acted like this in ages..."
"Trust me. You'll want it, this old thing gets heavy." Lisa continued making her very tempting argument.
"Okay!" Maggie folded and flung herself into the waiting chair. "What first?"
Lisa carefully showed Maggie the finer points of posture and hand placement, taking a little time for herself to demonstrate when necessary.
"My mouth and lips hurt." Maggie commented after a half hour or so. "Why don't you play for a while?"
"It takes some getting used to, but very good for a first try!" Lisa beamed at her sister. "Now... what should I play?"
After a moment of thought, Lisa nodded and launched herself into a soft, soulful song that seemed to fill the room effortlessly. No one complained, not even Homer, as she fell into the spirit of the music and started adding her own little innovations. The complexity of the piece built to a mind-numbing climax only to be broken at its peak by an unexpected voice.
"Lisa... enough sax already..." Bart mumbled from the bed.
"Bart!" Maggie grabbed her chair, threw it up against the bed and leapt on top of it. Bart's face flickered with life for a moment before he sighed and fell back to sleep. Maggie slumped into a squat, sighing heavily. "Ohh..."
"That's a good sign, angel! He's strong, just like his father!" Marge assured Maggie.
"Speaking of which, I haven't eaten all day!" Homer stared at the rest of the family, his eyes as wide as dish plates.
"Didn't they feed you in jail?" Marge asked.
"Pfft! Like I'm going to eat cornbread for dinner... oh, oops! Sorry, Lisa!" Homer glanced apologetically at his daughter. " Anyway, we should see if the cafeteria is open!"
He nearly danced out the door to ask Nurse Jenny for directions.
"Some food would be good; we should all keep our strength up." Marge followed her enthusiastic husband, with Maggie bringing up the rear.
"Coming, Lisa?" Maggie called from her place next to Marge and Homer.
"You guys go on ahead. I'm not really hungry. I think I'll play just a little bit more." Lisa held up the instrument.
"Oh, Lisa... don't push yourself too hard. This has been a very trying day for us all, especially for you. If I bring you up a salad, will you please try to eat something?" Marge searched Lisa's eyes for some indication of what she was feeling.
"Yes, if you ask specifically for a non-meat one." Lisa relented.
"Of course." Marge smiled and the three Simpsons disappeared down the hallway towards the elevators.
"Mmmm... hospital fresh..." Homer's voice echoed back to the nearly empty room.
Lisa glanced from her sax to the open door and sighed. She got up, quietly closing the door before turning Maggie's stepping stool around and sitting back down, near Bart's head.
"Hi, Bart..." She hesitated. "I wonder if you can even hear this... I... don't know what to say... where to begin..."
Lisa leaned onto the bed, propping her chin on the palms of her hands. Thinking hard, Lisa tried to find words to say what she felt had to be said. "Before it's too late." The words echoed morbidly through her head, and she found her resolve.
"I can't help but feel that what's happened to you... is somehow my fault. I knew you were right all those years ago... about Krusty...
"Please, Bart. Forgive me for being such a coward. I couldn't stand by you back then, as much as I wished I had. Just look at what happened! My pride kept me from being your only support... I was petty and foolish." Lisa fell silent for a moment.
"Remember when Grampa died? He talked about it forever, but then... he was just... gone. Dad cried like a baby for a week. It was so hard on all of us." Lisa wiped away a tear at the recollection. "It kinda feels like that, now. Only a lot more intense, you know? It's impossible to imagine a world where you aren't around. You're right here."
Lisa clasped his clammy hand in hers.
"You're still alive, in front of me. But the thought that soon, tomorrow? You might not be... is the hardest thing I've ever been asked to accept."
"I remember the good times, Bart." As she fell into her memories, Lisa looked at him, his face sunken into the pillow and layered with tubes. " Remember military school? You were there for me when I needed you the most. Or that time I was being picked on by Nelson and his friends? I remember how you stood up to them, Bart! Don't ever think otherwise! Today was no exception. When I saw you standing up to Bob... it almost felt like back then... I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me...
"I guess what I'm trying to say is... thank you for being the person that you are. I wouldn't have you any other way. What you did for me today, I will always cherish. Just... try to pull through this. Not so much for us, but for your own sake. You have so much to offer the world. Maybe not for your mind... but we need more people like you out there. Your heart won't let you sit back and watch someone suffer needlessly; I think that's why you're always getting into trouble. Even your pranks have softened over the years. Perhaps... you are finally coming to realize their futility."
She fell silent once more and leaned up to kiss him on the forehead. With a hopeful expression, Lisa got up to join her family.
"Lis..." Bart groaned, opening his eyes barely a crack.
"You're... awake?" Lisa's face burned red. "For how long?"
"Since... the sax..." Bart said with a weak laugh. "It's alright... what happened? Where's Bob?"
"He's gone, Bart... dead."
Lisa bit her lip, struggling to decide whether she should tell him the truth.
"M... Maggie shot him."
"What?" Bart shifted and coughed when he tried to sit up higher on the bed.
"She had Mom's gun, the one she keeps in her purse "for emergencies". But they can't know! I told everyone Bob shot himself. After what happened to Mr. Burns all those years ago, no one would believe it was an accident!"
Bart eyed her suspiciously.
"It wasn't." Lisa confirmed his unasked question. "She knew what she was doing. There's no denying that. But Maggie was only doing what she thought had to be done. Bob was coming for me next."
"It's... okay, Lisa. I won't tell anyone." Bart coughed again, a little more forcibly. "I'm glad it's finally over. Now... why can't I move?"
"You're still heavily medicated from the surgery."
"Surgery?" Bart's eyes widened and the heart rate monitor next to him jumped momentarily.
"Bob shot you, remember? They had to get the bullet out before it could do any more damage."
"Oh... thanks for being honest, I guess." Bart clutched at his bandaged chest. He looked up at Lisa, his eyes rimmed with tears. Seeing his expression, Lisa realized she was being rather blunt. She decided to change the subject, but the first thing that came to mind was a question she'd been refusing to ask for years. "I may never get another chance..."
"What happened to us, Bart?" The words fell out of her mouth in a low, somber cadence. Bart screwed up his eyes, trying to catch up with her abrupt reversal of moods.
"Why don't we hang out anymore? Do stuff? Like in the old days..."
Bart shifted again, his expression now showing understanding and a hint of regret.
"I've asked myself that dozens of times... I don't really know..." Bart said, suddenly serious.
"Was it something I said? Or said?" Lisa asked.
"No. I honestly think it's all been my fault, Lisa. Ever since Krusty... well, you know... died... no, was murdered..."
"He was, Bob admitted to me that he did it." Lisa said gently. Bart's eyes flashed with anger for a split second before he realized it didn't matter. At least not now, in any case.
"Thanks." Bart said sincerely before continuing his chain of thought. "I've noticed how much worse I've been to you guys lately... it sickens me to think about it."
"It hasn't been that bad. You have your good days and your bad." Lisa couldn't bear the thought of Bart trying to take all of the blame for their problems in the past. Thinking quickly, she decided to ask her original question again, phrased slightly more optimistically.
"We used to have so much fun, can thing's ever go back to the way they used to be?"
"I doubt it... too much has happened since then... we've changed so much..." Bart's eyes softened for the first time since his childhood hero had been brutally cut down. "But, maybe we could... start fresh?"
"That's a wonderful idea, Bart!" Lisa smiled spontaneously, nodding her agreement.
"I'm sorry for what I said yesterday. It was my fault you got kidnapped, not yours. If I'd just given you that stupid ride to school then... I'm sorry."
"Bart... you couldn't have known what Bob was planning. If anything, it's mine for failing to see this coming. I've been keeping an eye on him for years."
"I know. Maggie and I found your news clippings in Murphy's old album."
"How did you... know where to look?"
"Maggie... did most of the work. She found it... on your bookcase. Then pieced it all... together..." Bart's breath was becoming slightly more labored as he tried to articulate his response.
"Be careful, you're still too weak to be getting so worked up." As Lisa reached up and wiped away the sweat beading on his forehead, she noticed his skin felt hot to the touch.
"I take... it back... Lisa. You know, what... I said earlier? Your room... is definitely more welcoming... than this... place. I'm scared... Lisa..." Bart ignored her suggestion and attempted once more to sit up. His face suddenly drained of color and he began coughing uncontrollably. When he pulled his hand away from his mouth it was splattered with bright red mucus.
"That's..." Bart managed before falling limp. Around them, the machines lost their minds and started beeping erratically.
"Bart! Someone help, please! Nurse!" Lisa flew to the door and yanked it open. As she tried to rush out of the room she was pushed aside by three doctors and a handful of nurses.
"He's flat lined! Get the crash cart!" Cried one of the doctors as he checked the instruments.
"Incubating... now!" One of the nurses warned.
Lisa stared at the wild scene, numb to what was actually happening. Nurse Jenny appeared and grabbed her by the shoulder. She found herself being led down the hallway as the shouts continued to ring out.
"Prep the OR, he needs in... NOW! I must have missed a piece in his lung!" Came the booming voice of Dr. Hibbert.
"Let me through!" Reverend Lovejoy's equally baritone voice cut though the rest. "This soul needs Viaticum! He can't pass on uncleanness!"
Lisa peeked over her shoulder as the kindly nurse continued to lead her away from her brother.
"Bart!" She cried out again, renewing her attempts to return to the room.
"No! Let the doctors do their jobs! He's in the best hands this hospital has to offer! Please, just trust me!" Jenny implored the frantic young girl. Lisa stopped and tried to keep from bursting into tears as she looked up at the inexplicable woman.
"Will he be okay?"
"This is his best and only shot, pray for the best and let them work, okay?" Jenny tried to explain calmly.
Lisa gave up fighting Jenny, realizing she'd only be in the way, and started walking down the hall of her own accord.
"Where are you going?" Jenny asked.
"To find my family." Lisa replied tearfully. "Thank you for helping, Jenny. Make sure they do everything they can for him. Everything."
"I promise..." Jenny watched helplessly as the young girl fled from her worst nightmare, brought to life.
Down the hall, a set of elevator doors slid open and the other three Simpsons filed out. Homer caught sight of Lisa and his mouth turned down to match his daughter's.
"It wasn't open..." He explained.
Overhead the intercom sparked to life.
"Code blue... intensive care unit... repeat, code blue... intensive care unit."
"What's going on?" Marge gasped in alarm.
"It's Bart... he's..." Lisa could feel her throat closing again, just like earlier, but she forced it back open. "Dying..."
"Bart! No!"Marge started to run down the hall but found a large arm around her waist instead. "Let me go, Homer!"
As she struggled with her husband, the door to Bart's room flew open. Two nurses ran out, turned around and began pulling something through the entryway. Lisa realized it was Bart's bed immediately upon seeing the bleached white sheets slide out into the hall. Behind the bed came four doctors, including Hibbert, the rest of the nurses and an exasperated Reverend Lovejoy. The group began quickly making it's way towards the family as he shouted angrily.
"But it's not finished yet!"
"I'm sorry, but the operating room precedes my spiritual obligations! Rites or no rites, I have my Hippocratic Oath to uphold! Now, if you'll just calm down, you may continue on the way there. End of story, Reverend." Dr. Hibbert said severely.
"Oh, well. All right then. Now where was I?" Lovejoy scanned his book as he jogged to keep up with the fast moving group. "Ah yes, here we go. Second act of the body's Last Rites. Recite the Apostle's Creed."
With a deep breath, the Reverend began.
"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord. Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried."
As the bed reached the point where the Simpsons stood, aghast in the hallway, Dr. Hibbert nodded his head and said.
"He'll be just fine, he's in good hands with these men and women. I'll be right back, just let me make sure they get him in quickly." Hibbert managed a half-hearted smile while Lovejoy continued from behind him.
"He descended into hell."
The doctors glanced at each other nervously as they finally reached the emergency staff elevator.
"The third day he arose again from the dead."
The light over their heads macabrely flashed on at the appropriate moment, just as the Reverend finished his sentence. Oblivious to the uneasy looks trained upon him, Lovejoy continued onwards as they crammed themselves into the waiting elevator.
"He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead..."
Marge turned to Lisa when the doors shut, cutting Reverend Lovejoy's cheerless monologue off.
"But he told us everything was going to be okay! How did this happen? How could he have missed something?"
"The bullet was really tiny to begin with, Mom..." Lisa said honestly. "It could happen to anyone."
"But it's happening to my little Barty!" Marge dissolved into tears and had to be held upright by Homer.
"There's nothing more we can do right now, honey." Homer consoled his wife, surprising everyone with his articulation. "Let's go back to that green room and let the doctors work their hocus pocus."
Marge steeled herself and found strength in his words to stand on her own again.
"You're right, Homey...come on girls, lets try to get some rest."
Minutes later the reentered the deserted visitor's lounge and Homer's face lit up.
"Ooh! A television! That'll help distract us!" He looked around for a remote, then sighed and walked over to switch it on manually. The familiar face of Kent Brockman filled the screen and all four Simpsons immediately noticed the poorly concealed bruising around his mouth.
"This is local anchorman, Kent Brockman, reporting live from the scene of our evening's broadcast. As we've been discussing, behind me lies the former studio of deceased funnyman and station colleague, Herschel Krustofski. Better known as Krusty the Clown. Earlier tonight we brought you coverage of the search for missing teenager, Lisa Simpson. We are happy to update her status from "lost" to "found", folks! Police were unable to comment on the fortunate rescue or on the exact happenings inside this facility, but we did manage to get some information. It is believed that escaped convict and attempted child-murderer, "Sideshow" Bob Terwilliger, was found dead inside just hours ago after police received an anonymous tip leading them to this location."
A hand appeared from off-screen and handed Kent a sheet of paper. After reading for several long moments, he shook his head sympathetically and looked back into the camera.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm sorry to have to report this, but it appears that in a cruel twist of fate, young Bart Simpson, brother of the formerly missing Lisa Simpson, was admitted to Springfield General Hospital a few hours ago. His condition is described only as critical..."
"Awww... T.V."s failed me again..." Homer lamented before loosing his temper. "I'll show himcritical! Yarg!"
His foot connected solidly with the television screen and a loud "pop" followed by a steady angry hiss filled the room for a few seconds before the screen went blank.
"D'oh!" He grunted and got himself back under control.
"Is that why you were in jail, Dad?" Lisa asked her father disapprovingly. "Did you hit him?"
"He had it coming! Lousy, rotten, soul-less, good-fer-nuthin scumbag wouldn't leave us alone!" Homer huffed.
"Sit DOWN, Homer." Marge commanded, her patience wearing thin.
"Yes, dear." His expression switched to one of supplication.
"Oh, Dad... you know better than that." Lisa said, smiling slightly to cheer him up.
"Yeah... I do." Homer answered with a sly grin, then muttered. "Still worth it, though."
Maggie turned to Lisa, a confused look on her face.
"How did they know Bart was here?"
That bugged Lisa as well, but she didn't want to admit what she thought.
"You don't suppose... that nurse from earlier...?" Maggie spoke it for her. Out loud the idea sounded laughably ridiculous to her.
"No. I refuse to believe that such a nice woman would be capable of doing anything as crass as that."
"But..." Maggie looked ready to argue.
"I'll ask someone in the morning, Maggie." Lisa ended it before her sister could get herself worked up.
"Knock, knock." Dr. Hibbert appeared at the entry to the hall outside. With every eye turned hopefully towards him, he continued into the room.
"Bart's condition has stabilized and he is awaiting further surgery. I assure you all, we are doing everything we can for him." Hibbert winked at Lisa, who flushed and grinned her thanks in order to mask her suddenly guilty feelings.
"At least as long as your insurance holds out." He added. Marge gasped and he quickly added. "Kidding! I'm kidding, of course! Doctor humor. In any case, I need to get back down there. That bullet fragment isn't going to remove itself! At least it'd better not... I'll be out of a job! Wish me luck! Ah, heh, heh, heh!"
"Sometimes it's impossible to tell when he's serious... if ever." Marge murmured as the doctor hastily retreated back down the hallway. The other three mumbled somber agreements and each, in turn, fell into their own private hell.
As the minutes that passed turned into hours, Marge, Homer, Lisa and Maggie drifted off into a troubled sleep.
Lisa felt herself being shaken lightly and opened her eyes with a weary groan. "Why am I still so tired?"
Nurse Jenny returned an equally tired smile when Lisa recognized her.
"Morning..." She stretched, then her eyes snapped open wide. "Is Bart...?!"
"He's fine. The surgery was a complete success!"
"Really? Oh, thank you! Thank you so much! But why are you still here?"
"I volunteered for a double shift. Silly me!" Jenny responded flippantly.
"Oh." Lisa recalled her half-hearted promise to Maggie from last night. "Jenny?"
"Yes?" The nurse sat down in the chair next to Lisa.
"How did they know about Bart on the news last night?"
"Oh, that? Let's just say, the good Reverend should've known better than to tell his wife why he was needed here in the middle of the night. Or rather, for whom." She added with another friendly grin.
Lisa glanced at her mother and father, curled uncomfortably together in one chair as the slept. Their hands were clasped in each other's lovingly. She nodded her acceptance of Jenny's explanation and noticed Maggie was nowhere in sight.
"Where's my sister?" Lisa asked.
"She wasn't here when I arrived..." Jenny took a brief look around and shrugged. "Maybe she had to go to the bathroom?"
"Well, I'd better find her. I know mom, she'll pull her hair out worrying about her." Lisa stood and shook the final vestiges of her fitful slumber away.
"When they ask, I'll tell them you two went for a walk to clear your heads before visiting your brother. Just meet us at his room."
"Thank you, Jenny, really! I know we only met last night, and under such terrible circumstances, but you've been simply wonderful through this entire ordeal."
The woman beamed at Lisa's heartfelt compliment and couldn't stop herself from drawing the girl into a tight embrace.
"Hurry back, okay?"
Maggie watched the reflected sun slowly rising towards her upon the surface of the pool she sat in front of. She'd found the glass-walled atrium deserted, not surprising this early in the morning, shortly after waking up. Not wanting to awaken the others, Maggie had slipped out, quietly as a mouse, and made her way down to the first floor.
Her right index finger twitched slightly.
"What's happening to me?" She wondered. "Am I losing my mind? Why can't I get the image of Bob's body out of my head?"
"That is easily answered, child." A deep voice echoed from deep within. Maggie's mood darkened when she placed Bob's voice. "You're as crazy as I was."
"Why is this happening?" Maggie started to shake slightly.
"You want to be different, yes? Step out of your sister's shadow?" Bob's voice preyed on her deepest fears and desires. "Then be different!"
"Stop it!" Maggie shouted out loud. "You aren't real!"
"I'm real enough to know what's best for you, Maggie dearest." It replied slyly.
"Leave me alone!" She returned to speaking mentally.
"Why? So you can go back to your button-down, hum-drum... unsatisfactory life?" Bob's imagined words cut into her cruelly. He continued, unabated.
"I can help you to do great things, Maggie."
Maggie cast her sight back down to the water, but instead of seeing her own fair, sunflower-blonde hair and soulfully blue eyes, a blot of vivid ginger assaulted her.
"I said NO!" She screamed, while hideously sinister laughter seemed to taunt her from all sides.
"Maggie?" Lisa's voice abruptly came from behind her and the laughter faded away. Maggie spun and spotted the dark red T-shirt she remembered packing for her sister the night before. "Oh, thank god..."
"Lisa!" She said in feigned surprise and tried to change the subject. "Has there been any word on Bart?"
"Is he...?" Maggie stood up.
"Fine? Yes, thankfully!" Lisa smiled a little but still showed signs of unease at her sister's outburst moments earlier.
"They got it all? They're sure?" Maggie asked.
"Nurse Jenny seems pretty sure of it."
Maggie cocked an eyebrow.
"If you're still wondering about last night, it was Helen Lovejoy, the Reverend's wife, who told the reporters. I told you Jenny wouldn't have done something like that."
"Okay... okay, you win, Lisa. You were right. Sorry." Maggie stared at the floor, ashamed for having doubted both her sister and the friendly woman.
"So, why'd you come all the way down here?" Lisa inquired, glancing around the steadily brightening room.
"I didn't want to wake you guys and I couldn't sleep anymore. Bad dreams." Maggie admitted. "It's kinda nice down here in the light, isn't it?"
"Yeah..." Lisa regarded the reflecting pool and moved closer. The rays of new sunlight danced across it's surface, casting random colors in all different directions. Maggie turned and silently stood next to Lisa for a few moments. She absently put her hand into her pocket, out of habit, and felt a folded piece of paper within. Maggie started and pulled it out.
"Oh...yeah. This is yours, Lisa." She offered it to her sister. "It was under your pillow, sorry for taking it."
Lisa accepted the faded note gratefully, unfolding it with a sigh.
"Have I ever told you where this came from?" Lisa said wistfully, without taking her eyes off of it. "It was a very special someone..."
"A boyfriend?" Maggie asked meekly.
"What? No! He was a substitute teacher I once had. The best I've ever seen."
"Oh... I don't like teachers." Maggie frowned. "Miss. Hoover, especially."
"Miss. Hoover, eh? Yeah, I remember her. A real character, that one. I can sympathize." Lisa reminisced, "One time I hid all of the Teacher's Editions just to see what would happen... I guess you could say it didn't go well."
"Though, in the end, it was Bart who saved me from continuing down his path." She finished privately, a warm feeling filled her mind as the memory played itself out.
"I'm so tired of everyone comparing me to you, Lisa." Maggie uttered, sounding slightly upset. Lisa jerked herself out of her revere to stare at her sister in surprise. The bitterness she detected causing her to respond sharper than she'd intended.
"Do you think so little of me?" Lisa looked into her eyes.
Maggie scowled and broke their brief eye contact. Lisa leaned in with a softer expression and gently directed her sister's chin back until Maggie was forced to reestablish it.
"That's not what I meant, and you know it. Did you know, when I was your age, everyone wanted me to be more like Bart?"
Maggie didn't move or make a sound.
"It's true. There was even a short time when I actually talked myself into believing I would end up just like him and Dad.
"Maggie, I don't want you to be me..." Lisa withdrew her hand but Maggie still didn't budge. "What's most important is that you hold onto what you believe in. Don't let anyone take that away from you!"
The small girl's eyes filled with tears as her calm façade crumbled. She wiped them away and looked to Lisa in desperation.
"What have I done, Lisa? I killed a man yesterday!"
Maggie suddenly calmed once more.
"Am I a monster?"
" You have to be strong, Lis! Make it right, please!" The final words from Lisa's surreal dream the day before flashed through her head, taking on new meaning.
"No, Maggie. How can you even say... even think that?" Lisa stepped closer, placing her hands consolingly on Maggie's shoulders. The frightened girl looked up at her.
"How am I any better than Bob? If anything, I'm worse... I actually got the job done..." She trailed off.
"You're wrong, Maggie! Bob was a monster. He killed out of spite and malice. He killed because he enjoyed it... I... can't justify what you did, but you're still human enough to suffer because of your choices and actions. That's the difference."
Lisa saw that her words did little to bolster Maggie's temperament. "Okay, time for Plan B." She searched the room while Maggie turned to stare at the water once again. Chained to a table nearby, Lisa spotted a pen and she took a few steps away to retrieve it. Lisa carefully scribbled on the note, still in her hand, before refolding it and returning to her sister's side.
"I want you to have this, Maggie." She handed it back to her somber sister.
"But... why? It's yours... you said it yourself." Maggie squeaked as she tentatively the brittle paper. Lisa shrugged with a brave smile.
"I don't need it anymore. I know who I am in this world, and at the moment part of that seems to be helping you to do the same."
"Who I am...?" Maggie repeated Lisa's words, staring hard at the note before taking and fearfully unfolding it. She trembled as she read the four simple words that spelled out her fate.
You are Lisa Simpson.
"You are Margaret Simpson!"
The impact of those words crashed into Maggie's mind, assaulting all of the negative emotions she'd been trying to suppress. The held such a pure, powerful truth for her at that moment, Maggie could actually feel a part of herself wither and die. The deepest recesses of her psyche, parts that were beginning to blacken and fester, screamed in futile protest as they were wiped from existence by what her sister's sacrifice suddenly came to mean to Maggie.
New feelings, ones she didn't fully understand, blossomed in the void and quickly filled it to brimming. This was reflected on her face as Maggie's eyes welled up joy and a sense of joy and optimism overtook her. Feeling better than she'd felt in ages, Maggie flung herself into Lisa's arms.
"Oh, Lisa!" She cried. "That's more than enough for me! Thank you!"
Lisa returned the unexpected embrace, the second one she'd received that morning so far and answered emotionally.
"I'm so happy to hear that!" She separated from Maggie and grabbed her hand. "Now then, lets go see that troublesome brother of ours."
Lisa and Maggie arrived outside the room labeled "#5" in no time at all. Lisa threw a hearty wave to the half asleep Nurse Jenny on the way past. The woman started awake and she spotted the sisters in front of her. With a wink, Jenny pursed her lips and slid her right index finger over her mouth vertically before closing her eyes again and slumping down in her chair, already asleep.
"I don't think she's on duty, you know." Lisa whispered to her grinning sister. Maggie nodded in agreement as she watched the expression on Jenny's face change from worried to content. Together they entered the room and saw their brother, propped up with pillows, in mid-conversation with Marge and Homer.
"Bart!" Maggie shouted happily after she closed the door. Both sisters ran across the small room to embrace the smiling boy.
"Hey! Maggie! Lisa!" Bart exclaimed.
"Where have you two been?" Marge asked suspiciously.
"About. Talking, mostly." Lisa replied as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"About?" Marge persisted.
"Sister stuff." Maggie spouted cryptically, with a laugh. Marge threw her hands up in frustration.
"Maggie, I wanted to tell you...thanks for all your help yesterday." Bart said seriously.
"Don't mention it. If I hadn't been there, what kind of person would I be?" She caught Lisa's eye and they shared a private moment of understanding and affection.
"We gonna tell him...about Bob?" Maggie leaned in towards Lisa subtly, whispering while their parent's attention returned to Bart.
"Already did, last night." Lisa whispered back, smiling at Maggie's confused look.
Marge and Homer got up and moved to the bed, gathering their three children into a loving embrace.
"Oh, my precious children! We're a family again!" Marge cried.
"Mooooommm!!!" Bart protested loudly.
"Oh!" Marge relented, looking a little alarmed. "Sorry, did I squeeze too hard?"
"No... worse! You're embarrassing us!"
The entire family, even Marge, broke into riotous laughter at the simple normality of his comment.
A click signaled the opening of the door behind them and they turned to see Dr. Hibbert poking his head inside.
"Glad to see we're all in good spirits! Ah, heh, heh, heh! Perhaps now would be a good time to discuss your medical bill?"
In unison, all five Simpsons shouted: