What are Little Girls Made Of?

Helen caught her first sight of the new neighbour from the bathroom window. Her name was Gloria Sweeting, and it suited her. She looked like a Barbie doll, and her pink boiler suit reminded Helen of a large stick of rock.
She had pulled up in a gleaming Cadillac; that was pink too. And she had parked it in Dad’s space. Dangerous. No-one did that. He was having his car serviced that day, and had just hosed down his section of pavement in readiness. He would not be happy.
Sure enough, she heard the eruption through the floorboards, and then the sound of the front door being flung open. Helen felt almost sorry for Gloria. Her dad was a patient man, but his section of pavement was sacrosanct. Mum said it was a territorial thing, hearkening back to the Stone-Age.
She saw him marching briskly towards Gloria’s car. Though she couldn’t see his face, every line of his body screamed out: “I’m going to give that young woman a piece of my mind!”
But suddenly he stopped. Gloria said something to him, and he said something back. Then he went to the boot of her car and carried her suitcases into her house.
He returned shortly, and Helen noticed that he had that stupid look on his face that he sometimes got when Carol Vorderman was on the telly. Pathetic. Mum was not looking too pleased, especially when she heard that Gloria had been invited to supper!
When Dad’s car was delivered later, he managed to find a spot a couple of streets away. The Cadillac remained parked outside the Bleasdales’ house.

Helen had known it would be an awkward evening when Mum went all tight-lipped and started clattering about in the kitchen. She didn’t usually do this. Normally the only sound that could be heard was a tuneless hum that Mum said was The Beatles. There were no Beatles tonight though, they would have had their heads bitten off, Mum was that mad.
At about seven o’clock the doorbell rang. Dad jumped up, but was sent back to his seat with a hard stare. Helen had the feeling that Gloria was going to get a frosty reception, and strained to hear what her mother might say to this unwelcome visitor.
“Hello. You must be…”
“Gloria! Gloria Sweeting. Oh, Mrs. Bleasdale, what a beautiful dress!”
The voice of the newcomer was like one of those stereotypical dolly-bird secretaries. Sugary and sweet. If she thought she could get round Mum with a transparent ploy like this, she was in for a shock!
It was Helen who got the shock though, when she heard her mother saying, “Oh thank you. Do you really think so? Do let me take your coat, Gloria.”
When they came into the sitting-room, Mum had a happy smile on her face.
Gloria had changed into a pink cocktail dress. Helen wondered why she had made the effort. They were only having supper. Dad seemed impressed though, and gazed at her dreamily. Mum didn’t seem to mind anymore though, and after settling their guest into an armchair, went out to take a look at the dinner. Through the serving-hatch, Helen could just make out the strains of She Loves You (Yeah-Yeah-Yeah)…
Dad was still staring at Gloria, his mouth hanging slightly open. Helen wished that he would stop. Not that Gloria seemed uncomfortable with this. She just looked back and fixed him with her supermodel smile.
“Tell me, Mr. Bleasdale, what are all these trophies for?” This seemed like a silly question to Helen, particularly as one of them had a small bronze golfer on top of it; but Dad was only too happy for an opportunity to talk about his hobby, and Gloria was an avid listener. Her large blue eyes widened in admiration as he described in great detail his triumphs on the putting-green.
It suddenly occurred to Helen that Gloria had not spared her so much as a single glance since she had entered the house, and neither Mum nor Dad had even thought of introducing her. She must take matters into her own hands.
“I’m Helen, by the way,” she said. Immediately the conversation stopped, and those huge blue eyes looked into hers, as if seeing her for the first time. She felt somewhat unnerved by this scrutiny, for there was something more than the look one gives to a new acquaintance. For just a split second, there was a cold anger. Burning hatred. And…fear? But the look vanished almost as soon as it had appeared, to be replaced with the beautiful smile; a smile that did not quite reach the eyes.
“Hello, Helen. What a lovely name. Do tell me all about yourself. We are going to be so close.”
As Helen was about to stammer out a reply to this strange assertion, her mother opened the serving-hatch doors, and announced that supper was ready.
“Go and get your brother, Helen,” said Dad, as he helped Gloria to her feet. His breathing was shallow, and his pupils dilated.
As Helen left the room, she caught a whiff of Gloria’s perfume. It smelt of candy-floss!
“You have a little boy, too!”
“Jack. He’s twelve…”
Helen heard no more of the conversation, but assumed that Gloria’s next remark would be along the lines of how wonderful it was to have a twelve year old son. As she surveyed Jack’s room though, she wondered if Gloria would have been quite so enthusiastic. There were dirty underpants on the floor, and old coffee cups sprouting penicillin. After the cloying sweetness of Gloria though, there was something rather reassuring about her brother’s squalor.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, she could just make him out, sitting cross-legged on the mantelpiece, picking out a tune on his stringless guitar.
“You’re weird, you know that?”
“Yeah.”
“It’s dinner-time, and we’ve got company.”
“The new neighbour? What’s she like?”
Helen hesitated. How could one describe Gloria? Fake? Sickly? Condescending? Even a little sinister?
“She’s creepy,” she said, “but Mum and Dad think she’s great. Let’s go.”

“You must be Jack,” said Gloria, “What a handsome young man.” And she gave him a burst of that dazzling smile. Helen had never seen him simper before.
On the table was a steaming casserole dish. Lamb Hot-Pot. Helen suddenly realised how hungry she was.
“Can I help you to hot-pot, Gloria?” asked Mum.
“Oh, not for me, thank you Janet.” (So now it was Janet!) “I’m on the dessert diet. It’s the only way I can maintain my figure.”
“Really,” said Mum, “I don’t think I’ve come across that one. Is it the same principle as the Atkins Diet?”
“Something like that.”
“Well you look very good on it, Gloria,” said Dad.
“Gorgeous,” said Jack.
“I think I shall take a leaf out of your book,” said Mum, “what say we all skip straight to the Vienetta?”
There was a chorus of agreement from all except Helen, who watched in horror as her mother turned on her heel to take out the hot-pot she had slaved over for several hours and to doubtless throw it down the sink.
“Mum,” she said, as she saw her dinner being whisked away, “can’t I have some hot-pot?”
Helen felt as if she had demanded something outrageous rather than her supper, and her mother told her in an audible whisper not to be rude.
“You must forgive my daughter, Gloria,” said her father, “it’s a little fad she’s going through at the moment, isn’t it, sweetheart? She’s so obsessed with losing weight that she’s given up sugar for Lent. Won’t even have it in her tea.” Suddenly he looked concerned, “you’re not turning anorexic are you?”
“No, Dad. I’m just being healthy.”
“Lent finished yesterday!” said Mum triumphantly, “on Good Friday. That means you can have Vienetta like the rest of us.”
“You’ll have a little ice-cream just for me, won’t you, Helen?” asked Gloria coaxingly.
“No! I don’t want any ice-cream!” She realised that she was on the verge of tears, and her voice came out in almost a whimper, “I just want some hot-pot. Please. I’m so hungry.”
“If you’re hot-pot hungry, you’re Vienetta hungry,” said her mother grimly.
“You know that boys don’t look at girls who don’t eat their pudding?” said Gloria.
“Come on, Sis, don’t be difficult…”
“You will not leave this table until…”
“Come on Sweetheart, do it for Daddy…”
She was being attacked on all sides! Threatened, coaxed and cajoled into eating a bowl of ice-cream! And the strange thing was, she liked Vienetta, too. In the weeks of her abstinence, she had sometimes lain awake dreaming of it. That creamy white vanilla, and the gentle crunch as her teeth broke through the wafer-thin layers of milk-chocolate…it would be so easy to just surrender to them all, and to do what Gloria wanted…To do what Gloria wanted!
What was it with Gloria anyway? She’d been in the neighbourhood less than a couple of hours, and somehow she had contrived to turn Helen’s world upside down. Her family against her. Why was it so important to Gloria that Helen ate dessert?
The babble of voices had stopped. Gloria was speaking. Of course! Who else?
“Although Helen is being just a little stubborn, I’m sure we all agree that she has shown a lot of self-discipline in giving up sugar for so long. And I think she should be given a treat. As it’s Easter tomorrow, I am going to give her a very special egg.”
“Whoopee-doo!” muttered Helen sarcastically, but she might as well have shouted it; it would have been drowned out in her family’s tumultuous applause at Gloria’s generosity. It went on for several moments, and all the while those big blue eyes regarded Helen with a look that was strangely triumphant.

Helen was left to her own devices for the rest of the meal. They were all too busy competing with one another for Gloria’s undivided attention. When they eventually retired to the lounge, Helen offered to make some tea. It was not so much that she wished to dance attendance on their guest, like the rest of the family seemed intent on doing, but rather to escape her sickly and incessant chatter for ten minutes.
It was funny, Helen thought, that though Gloria spoke a great deal, she did not really say anything. She had been very good at extracting all sorts of information from her hosts, and then responding with over-enthusiastic admiration to whatever they said, but she had revealed nothing about herself. Where did she come from? What did she do? These things remained a mystery.
Helen checked herself as she reached for the mugs. Her mother had told her to use the best bone-china. This was rather a pity, as each tea-cup was identical, which meant she could do nothing to Gloria’s tea without running the risk of one of the family choosing that cup. Not that she would have poisoned Gloria of course, but perhaps a little milk from the cat’s plate – it would have been immensely satisfying to sit and watch Gloria daintily sipping at Scratchpole’s leftovers…

“Ah! Here’s the tea lady!” said Dad, as Helen entered with the tray. He and Mum were sat on either side of the sofa with Gloria in-between. Jack was at her feet, looking up adoringly. The scene reminded Helen of one of those old paintings that depicts a Greek goddess holding court. Certainly that was what Gloria was doing. Helen wondered irreverently if her brother had a good view of Gloria’s knickers. They were probably pink too. She would tease him about it later.
Gloria stretched out a languid hand for the proffered cup and saucer. “Ooh, you little life-saver,” she said, taking a sip, and then gagged. Immediately there was pandemonium, as each of her worshippers rose in consternation:
“Gloria, are you okay?”
“Helen, why did you make the tea so hot?”
“Can I get you some water, Gloria?”
“No, no. It’s quite alright,” said Gloria, “I just can’t drink tea without any sugar in it.” She picked up the sugar bowl and started to spoon it into her cup. One, two, three…four, five, SIX! Helen watched aghast as Gloria stirred her tea. It wasn’t as if the cups were particularly big.
“…and one for luck!” trilled Gloria, adding a seventh. As usual, the family behaved as if Gloria had done something wonderful.
Eventually Gloria got up to leave. It wasn’t before time, Helen thought sourly. Then she felt that piercing gaze upon her.
“We mustn’t forget Helen’s special Easter egg, must we? I think she should have it straightaway!” For one ghastly moment, Helen thought that she might be asked to accompany Gloria home to fetch it, but to her relief, the doll-like eyes turned towards Jack. “Will you walk me home, Jack? I’d feel so much safer with a strong man to protect me. Then you could take back Helen’s egg.”
Jack was only too happy to go along with this, and as he escorted her down the path, the rest of the family stood in a little knot at the front door. Mum and Dad waved.
“What a lovely girl,” said Mum, “I wish Helen could be a little more girly like that.”
“Oh, I’m sure something will rub off on Helen,” said Dad, “In fact, I think Gloria’s an influence on us all.”

Helen took her feelings out on the dishes. She had a feeling that they would be seeing a lot of Gloria from now on. Only one small ray of sunlight had pierced the gloom of her evening, and that had been as Gloria sedately stepped through the gate.
Scratchpole had chosen this precise moment to return from one of his evening prowls, and visitor and cat had come face to face. The encounter had been electrifying. Scratchpole’s back had arched and his fur bristled, as he hissed and spat like a wild thing. Now in disgrace, he skulked under the kitchen table. Helen felt like joining him. It was good to have at least one ally. Like her, he could not be bought with Gloria’s insipid sweetness.
Sweet in every sense of the word, thought Helen as she scrubbed at the casserole dish, thinking back to the Vienetta episode and the seven spoonfuls of sugar. If she wished to live on such an unhealthy diet, that was her choice, but why try to force it on Helen, even using the rest of the family to try and persuade her?
Her brother came into the kitchen, or rather floated. A huge besotted grin lit up his face. There was something hidden behind his back. Obviously Gloria’s Easter egg. She was very determined.
“Close your eyes and hold out your hands,” said Jack.
“They’re wet,” said Helen, “besides, I know what it is. Gloria went on about it enough.”
“Why are you so hard on her?” asked Jack, picking up a tea-towel, “she’s only trying to be nice to you. I think you’re jealous.”
“Jealous?” exploded Helen, “What’s to be jealous of? She’s really got you brainwashed, hasn’t she? All of you.”
“You could at least give her a chance.”
“That’s it, isn’t it? You fancy her, don’t you?”
By his blush, Helen could tell that it was so, and knew she should let the matter drop, but some inner demon drove her on: “What would she see in a twelve year old boy? She’s not interested in you; she’s just using you, same as she is Mum and Dad.”
This should have hit home and produced a heated response. It didn’t. Her brother was off on another planet. And it was pretty obvious who with…

Just how far the depth of his feeling went, Helen realised when she heard the sounds of Gwen Stefani and Girls Aloud being ripped from his bedroom walls. Jack had found a new idol.
From downstairs she could hear her parent’s voices raised in enthusiastic conversation about the new neighbour. They too, it seemed, had found an idol.
In disgust, Helen went in to her room and closed the door. She put Gloria’s Easter egg down on her dressing table. It was rather large and tied with a pink bow. How typically Gloria! It would go in the dustbin first thing in the morning.
A little of the chocolate had melted on to her fingers, she noticed, and absent-mindedly licked at them. A feeling of calm and peace descended over her. It was so kind of Gloria to give her such a gift. Jack was right. She had been jealous. It was just that Gloria was so beautiful, so charming. She’d like to be just like Gloria! Lovely Gloria. Lovely, lovely Gloria. She would go and see her tomorrow, and apologise -
“No!” someone shouted, cutting across this agreeable train of thought. It was a bitter and harsh voice. Why didn’t it go away? Why wouldn’t it leave her alone, so that she could think about Gloria?
“No!” shouted the voice again. Then she recognised it as her own. Shuddering like one who has woken from a pleasant dream into grim reality, she knew the truth at last. Though it seemed improbable to say the least, it made a strange sort of sense. Sugar was somehow the secret of Gloria’s power. That was how she had gained control of the family. How she had tried to gain control over Helen.
The Easter egg had been no peace offering, but a declaration of war! And as if to confirm these suspicions, it started to crack and fissure! As the chocolate shell became brittle and started to cave in, a thick pink yolk that had been concealed inside began to bubble and pulsate, weakly struggling to break free from its constraint. The air was thick with a smell of acrid sweetness that made Helen gag.
Then suddenly the embryonic sludge gained in strength, bursting from its chocolate cerements and landing on the bedroom floor with a sickening squelch. Helen realised with panic that it lay between her and the bedroom door, cutting off any avenue of retreat.
She watched, mesmerised, as the huge bubble-gum coloured entity began to thrash around. Nightmare tendrils and feelers formed from its shapeless body and began probing its environment. Then it rose up, stretching, its own substance rushing in on itself; creating for itself a form. At first it was crude, lumpy and misshapen, but then the features began to even out, to refine themselves into something humanoid. The creature was taking on a shape that Helen knew only too well. It was Gloria.

Once the transformation was complete, Gloria took a deep breath, as though reacclimatising herself to breathing oxygen. Then she looked at Helen and smiled. As sweet as always.
“You and I need to have a little talk, Helen. I do hope you enjoyed my fondant surprise.”
“What…what are you?”
“I’m a Sucrosian. A form of sentient sugar. But you can just call me Gloria.”
“That’s impossible!”
“Why should it be? Every living creature is made up of salts, amino acids and sugars. Why shouldn’t there be those whose compositions favour sugar above the other ingredients? Just look at the evidence of your own eyes.”
“What do you want with me?”
“I just want you to be happy, Helen. Like the rest of your family.”
“What have you done to them?”
“I did nothing. It was the sugar in their systems that drew them to me.”
“That’s why you couldn’t control me, isn’t it? Because I haven’t touched sugar in the last forty days!”
“For a few moments you did pose something of a problem. That is why we are talking now.”
“Why do you want to take over us though?” asked Helen, “We’re nothing special. We’re just an ordinary family, living in an ordinary suburb. Why not the Royal Family? Or the Blairs?”
“But my dear Helen,” giggled Gloria, “Yours isn’t the only family that will be infiltrated. We decided to begin with yours, because you were so ordinary!”
Her expression hardened, “And now it’s time for you to join them, Helen.” At these words she extended a forefinger…and broke it off – with a sickening snap!
Helen was not particularly surprised when another began to grow to take its place. She had seen enough that night to make it almost unremarkable. But there was something else…an almost imperceptible change in the figure that now advanced towards her, brandishing the snapped off digit in a completely healed hand.
“You’ve always been fond of barley sugar, haven’t you Helen?” crooned Gloria, “Just a little taste, and then we shall be friends.”
An arm shot out, and seized Helen by the throat; she was pinned against the wall, unable to move. The finger came towards her mouth. She must resist the urge to scream! If her mouth opened so much as a fraction, the barley sugar would be popped inside. Instead she concentrated on keeping her lips compressed, her jaws clamped tightly shut.
“Open wide!” said Gloria, sounding like a dentist as she pushed the grotesque object towards Helen’s mouth. At such close quarters, it was hard not to notice that the finger was very slightly thicker, and not quite in scale with those that were attached to the palm. As if…as if somehow the whole of Gloria’s body mass had subtly reduced itself to compensate for the missing digit. Not that it seemed to have weakened the Sucrosian at all, who was now employing a new tactic.
“You’re being very obstinate, Helen. If you won’t eat your sweet, I’m going to have to hold your nose!”
Helen felt the panic of suffocation as her nostrils were pinched together. She must either submit to Gloria, or die of asphyxiation.
The cold blue eyes bored into her. “Eat it, Helen! Eat it now, or you will be given such a concentrated dose that your pancreas will explode!”
Confident in her supremacy, Gloria had overlooked the fact that in seizing Helen’s nose, she had had to release her grip on the girl’s throat; and suddenly able to move again, Helen lashed out wildly with her arms. The deadly finger flew out of Gloria’s grip, across the room.
If Helen had expected Gloria to scramble after it, she was to be disappointed. The Sucrosian had other weapons in her armoury.
“You leave me no alternative, Helen,” said Gloria, as reasonably as anyone can, when their forearm is metamorphosing into a sharp-edged, sugar-coated weapon, “I’m going to have to KILL YOU!”
If Helen had not instinctively ducked at this moment, she would almost certainly have been decapitated. She had once cut her tongue on a sherbet-lemon, and this was far larger and just as sharp. SWISH! The blade swept across once more, scything the air where Helen’s jugular had just been. She hadn’t known she could move so quickly. Her forty day diet was paying dividends. But it was only a matter of time, she thought, as she side-stepped a blow that would have split her neatly in half, sooner or later she would tire. And then Gloria would chop her up into little pieces.
She wondered if the family would miss her. Probably not. With Gloria around, they wouldn’t remember there had ever been a Helen.
“This would be so much easier for both of us, Helen, if you would just keep STILL!” said Gloria thrusting at her epée-style. Once more, Helen was glad of her healthy regimen, and narrowly missed being skewered like a marsh-mallow by throwing herself to one side…as Gloria’s self-fashioned sword-arm embedded itself in the plaster wall!
While Gloria struggled to free herself, Helen decided it was high time she went on the offensive, and cast her eyes about the room for a suitable weapon. She wondered what girls in films did when cornered by knife-wielding maniacs. Then she remembered. They usually ended up getting killed. This was real life though; incredible as it seemed, and at last her eyes fell on her old hockey stick. Another of her passing fads, Dad had said. Thank God she hadn’t sold it on E-Bay! Not that it was likely to do her much good. Gloria was probably impervious to pain. Still, it was better than nothing, and with a shriek, she swung it over her head and brought it crashing down on her enemy’s trapped arm.
Gloria toppled backwards, her shoulder stump disgorging a thick purple fluid. A heavy scent of Parma-Violets hung in the air. The now separated arm remained lodged in the wall.
Already though, the Sucrosian’s body was starting to renew itself: a fresh limb was forming from the shattered shoulder. But she was noticeably shorter.
“That was very mean of you, Helen,” said Gloria in a somewhat smaller voice, “mean and dishonourable! As soon as my arm is fully restored, I will throttle you.” For all her threatening though, Helen could sense her fear. She knew she must not let Gloria regain the upper hand. She must attack again, whilst the Sucrosian remained in this weakened state. She brought her makeshift club crashing down, again and again on the recumbent Gloria.
It was some time before the blood-lust left her. When it did, the room was littered with lumps of broken pink candy, some of it desiccated into a fine powder. All that was recognisable of Gloria was her head that had somehow escaped the carnage. Then this too distorted and changed, shrinking in on itself as it once more it took on bipedal form.
Now Gloria really did look like a Barbie doll, and the tiny figure clambered to its feet, squeaking with rage as it tried to scuttle to safety. But it was easily outpaced by Helen, who ignoring the piteous squeals for mercy and the hideously flailing little arms and legs, wedged the tiny head in the door-frame – and SLAMMED with all her might…

It was over. And for the first time, Helen was aware of her shaking hands. She had killed another living creature! Had there been some small part of her that had revelled in this destruction? That had enjoyed it? Yet what other choice had there been? Gloria would have despatched her without compunction. It had been a matter of survival.
What was it that girls in films did on the rare occasions when they survived the would-be killer? In a movie, she might have delivered a callous one-liner over Gloria’s sugary remains. But nothing sprang to mind. This was real life, and she was Helen. Neither brave nor particularly heroic. And certainly not callous. She was just ordinary, and she did what any ordinary person would have done in the circumstances.
“Oh my God,” she groaned, clutching at her churning stomach, “I’ve got to get to the bathroom!”

Helen was feeling slightly better, though she had no desire to return to her room. She hung out of the bathroom window, breathing in the cool early morning air. As she caught sight of Gloria’s car, still parked in Dad’s space, she was almost sick again.
So much had happened since it had first pulled up outside their house. The dinner party; her family brain-washed; the sinister Easter egg and the final deadly battle in which she had participated. She broke out of her reverie as she heard the sound of a car-engine getting closer…Another pink Cadillac was parking up behind the first…and far off in the distance, a cat hissed!

What are Little Girls Made Of?

kinghereafter

Portsmouth, United Kingdom

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

‘Grange Hill’ meets ‘War of the Worlds’.

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fi sci

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