The car was dark, the evening darker. We were driving, the girls and I, Gideon sleeping in his bucket, passing the time with conversation on our way to a friend’s birthday party, when suddenly Clara, turned from the window and quietly shared her thoughts, “I hope I never have to have braces,” She grinned dramatically and ran a finger across her teeth.

“Why’s that?” I asked.

“Well, Uncle Adam says that if you have braces you can’t eat popcorn!”

“Ooooh. Yeah… that’s true,” I said. I understood her concern. She and her sister love popcorn.

I opened my mouth to continue, but Lydia was faster, “Oh that’s silly. Having Braces isn’t that bad.”

We were all a bit startled by Lydia’s advanced understanding of braces.

“How do you know? You have never had braces,” Clara insisted.

“Yes, I have,” Lydia said simply. “I had braces once a long long time ago. When I was in Momma’s tummy. I had braces then.”

We were all startled, once again. What trick was this strange little creature trying to pull? Was it a misunderstanding? Some elaborate trap?

“That’s crazy,” Clara said, laughing to herself, but not seeming completely sure of herself. “You didn’t have braces in Mom’s belly… Right Dad?”

“I did have braces,” Lydia continued, sensing her sister’s uncertainty. “I had braces and life was okay. Everything was great there. I used to sleep and have wonderful dreams while I was there.” She waved a hand into the darkness of the backseat. “I dreamed that I lived in a big house and everything was taken care of for me all time. There were big tables filled with food. And we would dance to music all day long. And there were servants there. Lots and lots of servants and they were very nice…” She trailed off, lost in thought. “They were nice, but they were also kind of strange.” She paused and then said quietly to herself, “They always looked like they were in a staring contest.”

There was a moment of road noise and I pulled to a stop at a red light.

“What?” Clara said plainly.

“You know,” Lydia said softly. “They looked like this.” And I glanced into the darkness of the backseat and saw that she was staring straight ahead, face blank, eyes slightly wide, lips parted just a fraction of an inch. She sat there like that. Like a statue. Like a child frozen on stage. Staring. Unblinking. Gazing out the front of the car. Clara watched her with raised eyebrows, then frantically looked at me with great concern.

I turned back around where my stop light had just turned green, but I glanced once more in the review mirror where I could see the little girl still sitting there, frozen in a look of blank horror. Her older sister waving a hand in front of her stony face.

“Hey! I have an idea!” I said finally, unsure of how the conversation could possibly continue. “Who wants to listen to some Christmas music!?”

Within moments we were all singing about Santa Claus coming to town. But somewhere deep inside I was still thinking about dreams. Dreams about a house, with banquet tables filled with food, music and dancing, kind inhuman servants with blank stares wandering its halls at night.” I shuddered quietly in the darkness.