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“Bohemut’s Dream” by J. S. Welch

Bohemut’s Dream

J. S. Welch


In the water, the murky water, Bohemut rose. The lagoon was so dense that the darkness echoed upon itself as Bohemut’s snout broke the oily surface and sent up two plumes of salty mist into the early morning air.

“There he is!” Steven hissed. He pointed, squinting through his stylish horn-rimmed glasses.

“Where?” Michelle whispered.

Steven put his fingers on her binoculars and guided her to the subject’s location.

“Stop it!” Michelle’s voice rose in frustration.

“Shh.” Steven said quietly. “He might hear us.”

Both of them backed a step deeper into the heavy boughs of the forest that towered over the banks of the lagoon.

Bohemut seemed to have heard them, indeed. He lifted his head above the water, his skull alone was the size of a small herd of cattle.

Steven and Michelle held their breath, gazing in awe at the ancient magnificent of the breathing, supple mystery before them. Suddenly, with a whoosh, Bohemut dropped back into the lagoon and disappeared far into its smoky depths.

“Shitake mushrooms.” Steven muttered.

Michelle sighed, disappointed in herself. “At least he stayed a little longer this time.” She inspected her binoculars to make sure they were still clean, then stowed them in their case and absentmindedly handed them to Steven. Steven secured the case to a modified tool belt over his shoulder. “Yeah!” He grew excited “His head was huge!”

Turning, they walked side by side beneath the canopy of the forest. A carpet of grass dampened their footfalls, and they breathed in the sparse fingers of sunlight that crept softly through the morning mist.

“Yeah, massive…” Michelle’s voice trailed off as she gazed up thoughtfully at the fabric of leaves overhead.

Abruptly, Steven gripped her shoulder. She stopped alongside him, and they both saw a shadow step into their path.

“Going walkin’ on an early morning, are we?” asked the shadow.

Michelle glanced at the shadow’s shoulder, trying to discern if the golden patch of a park ranger was knit onto the sleeve.

“What’s it to you?” Steven challenged. Out of the corner of her eye, Michelle saw his hand stray up to his tool belt he still carried over his shoulder. His thumb casually flipped out the butt end of an orange extension cord, its three holes staring innocently out at the forest.

“What’s it to me?” The shadow repeated. “Well, nothing I suppose.” He stretched out his arm towards Michelle, and pointed at her wrist. “What happened there?” He asked.

Michelle shrugged. “I tore my sleeve on a chain link fence the other day.”

“The other day?” challenged the shadow. “Or, more likely, you tore it on a chain link fence this morning entering the park to visit a certain lagoon, “The shadow chuckled, and lit a cigarette.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” Michelle’s voice quivered. She glanced side long at Steven, but he appeared calm, his hand still fingering the cord in his tool belt.

“Who are you?” Steven asked the shadow.

The shadow exhaled heavily, two plumes of smoke rose from his nostrils. “Me? Well I am just a concerned citizen.”

Michelle felt certain that his tone implied something far more menacing.

Still obscure, the shadow managed to lean against a tree trunk. Cigarette in hand, he gestured behind them. “I’ve heard folks say that all sorts of creatures have been spotted in that lagoon; mollusks, shellfish, invertebrates, bony fish, and even the head of the family, so to speak. Some say, at least.” The shadow brought the cigarette back up to his lips.

“Well,” Michelle began, when she saw Steven’s hand suddenly flick out towards the shadow, and the orange cord curled in a wicked coil, holding a braided metal cord with fish hooks woven in. The makeshift whip struck on target, cutting the cigarette in half, and hooking deep into the shadow’s face.

At least, it was supposed to. Michelle blinked. The shadow was gone. Steven’s cord lay upon the grass, and two plumes of smoke rose up from the cigarette halves.

Startled, Michelle looked fearfully at Steven. He looked back at her, and whispered “Michelle! Michelle, wake up!”

Michelle opened her eyes, feeling Steven’s grip on her shoulder. “Look!” He whispered, and pointed towards the lagoon.

Michelle looked, and saw two plumes of smoke (or, mist? She wondered groggily) rising ominously above the oily lagoon.

“Bohemut.” She whispered.

© 2014 J. S. Welch


“Stealing a Chance at Life” by Faith Hunter

Stealing a Chance at Life

by Faith Hunter


Shit. Shit. Shit. Jenny warned me time and time again that my arrogance would be the end of my devilishly charming thieving ways. My battered boots hit the asphalt hard and the ground crunched unhappily in protest. Footsteps close by echoed as loudly in my ears as my own feverish heartbeat, pushing me to pump my arms harder and my legs faster despite my aching muscles screaming for mercy. Why the hell did I listen to Ralfie? Fucking cheat sold me out to save his own neck. But it’s my own damn fault. Never should’ve tried to steal from the Valences, especially not their bloodthirsty family head Renaldo. Or at least never get caught. Sloppy. My breaths were becoming more ragged with each quickened step extravagantly showing off my blatant lack of regular exercise and overall poor health. Hell, if these goons haven’t caught me yet one can only assume how badly out of shape my pursuers really are. The first hopeful trickles that I might just get away with this fluttered through my spinning mind. A chuckle caught me right in the ribs as the world was suddenly flipped upside down; the ground fell out from under me and I less than gracefully fell flat on my face. Crackleberries, thought too soon. Bitter grains of earthy goodness and city sewage made their way in my mouth and settled uncomfortably before being promptly coughed and spat up. Gross. Running a mucked hand across my mouth did little to rid the infestation-taking place on my lips. Pain blossomed as fresh skinned spots made themselves apparent across my arms and legs. Gingerly I reached up to my numb forehead and brought back sickly-wet bloodied dirt that smelled suspiciously of copper…and blood. Aw shucks, guess I won’t be running for Miss Missouri this year, I thought sourly. Ah shit. My fingers reach around the side of my waist before sinking in to wet, ripped flesh and I bite down hard on my lip to stop from whimpering. Well, that’s not good. Dusting my hands off on my wet and mucky- and now newly ripped- bloodied trousers I rolled over and searched for the cause of my fall. Wrapped tight around the length of my ankle like a traitorous boa snake was a used and abused hideous neon orange and dirt covered extension cord. Footsteps crunched the pavement unforgivingly and forced me out of my momentary reprieve. Like dogs relentlessly hunting their prey in hopes of appeasing their master. Yanking forcefully at the distastefully colored death sentence strangling my only means of escape I stilled when the sounds of ragged breath drew dreadfully close. My heart was pounding like a jackhammer in my chest drowning out all else but the sound of my fear. Whimpering I pulled harder on the cord willing it to release me from it’s death hold. Giving up on escape I settled for subterfuge and attempted to nestle myself in the darkest corner in the alley. A few inches away a rat scurried near me and regarded me hungrily before I batted it away with the back of my hand. “I’m not food you vermin. Not yet.” Though I was feeling pretty close to nothing but pain. Leaning my head back against the rough chain link fence I tried to focus on sounds that might signal danger, trying harder to ignore the increasingly loud pounding of my head and heart and the freckled black spots closing in on everything around me.

“Come.” She said. No more, no less. This place is loud. Filled with strange sounds and crying and laughter. Spicy smoke trails through the main lounge hiding the leering faces that sit menacingly behind them. Her skirts trailing gaudily out from behind her in a multitude of haughty colors. My fingers itch to reach out and embrace the warm stretch of fabric. It looks like the sunset, I think idly. I glance up from beneath my paltry lashes and jump when I see her accessing me coldly. “Your dress. It’s pretty.” I mumble blandly. A faint trace of warmth flashes in her eyes before promptly returning to ice. “Yes, it is. Hope that you won’t have to wear one just yet.” She whispers. “Why, don’t you like wearing such pretty clothes?” I ask. “These clothes are a brand. They signify that we are not our own. They’re a death sentence.” She says. Why would clothes mean that she would die? “Are you going to die? Am I going to die?” I ask boldly. “I’ll tell you a secret.” She says, giving me the first true glimpse of a smile on her pale lips, but it was cold and emotionless. “We’re all already dead. We just haven’t stopped breathing yet.”

Funny, huh, living an existence in a cage only to die within the confines of another fenced cage. Cowering from death. But the thing is, I’ve spent my whole life dying. I’m still waiting for the chance to live. My dirty fingers smudged from the toxins of life wrap weakly around the grated fence and pull. Pull harder and harder despite not having any strength left to give. Yanking dreadfully weakly at my gateway to life.

I stood in the middle of the room in front surrounded by three large windows twirling in circles over and over and over. My small, chubby fingers ran over the length of the crimson fabric lovingly. It’s the first time I’ve been allowed such fine silks and I smile beside myself in joy. “Ah, you look so pretty love, so pretty.” Mistress Molly crooned, rubbing her fat fingers together eagerly. I half-listened to her rant and flinched away when she tried touching my face with her grubby fingers. I didn’t appreciate the wicked glint reflected in her eyes. My young mind didn’t pay much heed and continued to admire the full glory of the deep red brocade that nearly swallowed whole my underdeveloped frame. “Yes, yes he’ll like you just fine,” Mistress Molly whispered. My whole frame stiffened at the full meaning of her words. Young I was but not stupid. I knew what kind of business my parents had sold me to. “What?” I asked gingerly, not wanting to entice her temper. “Why, you’re to have your first job today.” She said happily. The silk enshrouding me became tighter, wrapping around me like a noose, making it hard to breathe. To think. I desperately didn’t want to think. “Maybe now you’ll actually be good for something other than cleaning out my kitchen cabinets and following that no good girl around,” she muttered darkly. My chest clenched tightly in anger. How. Dare. She. What right does she have to speak ill about Jen like that? Jen took care of me when I was left alone to die. She snuck me portions from her own meager helpings so that I wouldn’t rot away in the musty hole that they stuck me in six out of seven days of the week. Too small to lie down or sit up straight. My fingers roamed the corset-taking note of the obvious ill fit due to malnourishment. Tight fingers wrapped around the length of my hair yanking hard and unforgivingly. “You will not screw this up you little whelp.” A large burst hit the wall as someone flung the door in. “Take your hands off of her.” Jen’s voice. Jen. Relief flooded through me and began to purge the unease settling treacherously in my gut. “Who are you to tell me what to do? She is to serve today and earn her stay.” Mistress Molly spat, the turkey flap under her neck shaking angrily. “She is barely eight summers and you intend to whore her out to perverted, vile men?” Jen shrieked, her voice rising uncontrollably with her rage. “Those perverted, vile men will pay four times the rate for a specimen like her,” Mistress Molly chided, clucking her tongue like a chicken. “It is illegal. She must be fourteen summers before the law permits her to be bid for in an auction. I will report it.” Jen said, her rage spreading through the air until the first inklings of Mistress Molly’s fear began to mix with it. “You would not dare. You ungrateful bitch, after all I’ve done for you?” Mistress spat before hastily letting go of the iron grip she had on my hair and spinning out of the room. “I knew what the punishment was for selling children before their time in brothels. I thought the death penalty would keep me safe.” I mumbled in between hiccupping breaths. Jen wrapped her arms around me and gently stroked my hair. “I’ll keep you alive. For whatever that’s worth.” It was worth everything.

Shallow breaths, shallow heartbeats and the sounds of eager vermin fill up the empty void of silence in the alleyway. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired, like each of my limbs are covered in concrete and my head’s been hit by a freight train. Stupid. Everything just feels so stupid. Being sold by my parents. Being forced to work at a brothel. Being forced to steal. Getting caught. Not listening to Jenny. Soft tears trickle down and mix with the sewage coating my face. Ragged sobs rack my aching ribs and startle away my soon-to-be skin pickers. Nothing in this life has been mine. Sold into prostitution by those meant to protect me. Being starved and whipped and forced to steal. I’ve been doomed right from the start. A low, wretched laugh forced itself from the confines of my hoarse throat. Darkness enshrouds me like a thick fog, menacing and comforting. Why didn’t I listen to Jenny?

“Jenny, aw, Jenny don’t be like that. It’ll be a quick job. Ralfie says it’ll set us up for good. No more stealing. No more begging for the mercy of the merciless.” Jenny’s furious, but it’s not like we have a choice. A life full of dying ain’t no way to live. It’d been three summers since we escaped from the brothel together before my fourteenth summer. “I know I promised no more stealing, but Jim’s cut my hours at the shop and we need the money. We don’t have a choice.” Jenny spins round on her heel so fast the folds of her skirt turn furiously with her like a tornado. And with her face twisted in anger and her eyes alight with fire, it’s safe to say I’m looking at the eye of the storm. “That’s just it ain’t it? We ain’t never had a choice! If we want to live then we work until we die. Sell our hearts, sell our bodies, sell our souls for a measly scrap of food. What kind of a life is that?” She asks. I know it was a question towards me but since we both know the answer already I don’t bother saying anything. Her gaze cuts me sharper than the most honed of knives. “We’re all dead. From the moment we were born kicking and screaming covered in our mama’s blood. We were already pronounced dead.” Her words caress my skin sadly with the truth I’ve always known. “Maybe. Maybe we’ll die today. Maybe we’ll die tomorrow. But as for right this instant we are alive and I want so desperately to start living.” I break. Simple, truthful words. I want to live, I yearn for something greater than breath, hunger for something with more sustenance than food, something to quench this insatiable thirst that rasps my throat and suffocates me. I yearn for life. From the moment I met Jenny at the brothel I’d been sold to as payment for my family’s debt. From the second my wide innocent eyes met her weary and cold ones I knew that I was sentenced to a life of dying. Slowly. Piece by piece until I was nothing more than skin and bones. A hollow shell. But I resolved to live. “Jen. Please.” I plead with her. She regards me warily before a look of resignation shrouds her worn features. “Do what you like.” She turns to leave before stopping and rushing into my frail arms. “Be careful. Stay smart. Return to me. In order to start living you have to still be alive.” Tears. Salty and sweet traces down my face and I flick out my tongue to taste it. The sickly-sweet beginnings of life.

Rain. Soft and forgiving stroke trails down my face and mingle with my own bitter taste. It drenches me in understanding and pity and I hate it more in that moment then I have ever hated anything before it. More than I hated my mother and father for selling me at the tender age of six. More than I hated them for giving birth to me and using me as currency. More, even, than when they cried in agony when I called out for them as rough hands ripped me from their warm ones. I hate it with my woefully barren heart that has been ripped and broken and pillaged. I hate it with every inch of my stolen and battered body. I hate it with my every twisted and deliciously dark thought scouring through my mind. And more than anything I love it. I love it with all of my wounded soul, more than I have ever loved anything before it. More than when my mother first told me I was pretty and that I would make a good bride someday. More than when my mother and father baked me a cake for my fourth birthday despite how poor we were. More than when Jenny told me I was strong. Stronger than the strongest cruelties life had to offer. More than when she told me that I would survive, maybe not past tomorrow, but today I would survive. And despite myself a slow coming smile spreads across my bruised face as my lost soul rejoices in the soft, loving caresses of the rain. If even heaven weeps for me then I must be pretty damn pitiful. I crane my neck painfully to look up into the sky. But it’s bleary and grey with no stars to grace its great expanse. It’s like staring into an eternal nothingness. It’s like looking at my life. Black spots begin to reappear at the edges of my vision. I squint but I still can’t see what I’m looking for. There, a small white light. Small and frail breaks out from the cover of darkness and across the bleak dreariness of the night sky it shines. The rain grates down on me harder trying to cleanse me of an existence full of misery. It falls down my face and into my cracked and bruised lips. With every trickle I can taste what I have been so desperately yearning for. Life. And it tastes…so. Damn. Good.

Hey Jenny, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it back like I said I would. But I found it. In a sewage-ridden alleyway no less, hiding from Ralfie I found it. The meaning of life…my life.

© 2014 Faith Hunter


“The Girl Who Lived with Purple Trolls” by Mia Robertson

The Girl Who Lived with Purple Trolls

by Mia Robertson


Once there was a girl who had bright green eyes and flaming red hair who lived with purple trolls. She had no memory of her parents. The oldest troll and the head of the family taught her to eat like a troll, make beds like a troll and shake hands like a troll. But as Poppy got older she had to do more and more chores, and of course her little sister didn’t have to do any. The trolls were the last of their kind. One day she received a letter from an elementary school.


Dear Poppy,

You are invited to Piewall School.

Principal Cookie


The next day she went to Piewall School. The troll family gave her tragic troll dust to transport her. She worked very very hard. BRRING! The recess bell rang. Children came piling out of the school.In the schoolyard there was a swing set, monkey bars and a playhouse. There was a chain link fence surrounding the schoolyard. Poppy swung from the monkey bars. When she got on the swings, the bell rang to end recess and send the kids inside. They did more math worksheets. Finally Poppy went home to the trolls.

When she arrived home, she had snack of salami because purple trolls only eat meat. Then she played princesses with her sister. After playing Poppy had a dinner of am burgers without buns. Then they plugged in their new tv with an orange extension cord. They watched a cooking show. Poppy was squinting the whole time because they bought the tv from an antique store and the picture was blurry. The purple trolls own an antique store. They disguise themselves as humans and use troll magic to transport back to their secret home cave in the mountains. At last Poppy went to bed.

The next morning Poppy found herself in an orphanage!!!!!! Poppy and the purple trolls were worried that someone at school would learn that she lived with trolls and harm them. So the trolls used their magic troll dust to send her away. Five other girls lived at the orphanage and were playing chess. So Poppy decided to join in. They were playing chess happily until a very tall woman entered. She was the head of the orphanage. They played chess for a few more minutes. They ate lunch and then played tag in field. Then they had broccoli, noodles and chicken for dinner. Then they slept in their bunk beds.

A couple months later her troll sister found another purple troll and got married. She had purple troll babies. Poppy created a community to keep purple trolls safe from humans.

© 2014 Mia Robertson


“Extraterrestrial” by Sarah Robertson


by Sarah Robertson


“Go away, Kibbles!” I didn’t have an alarm clock, so my pet pug woke me up each morning instead. Please don’t question his name, I got him when I was eight and wasn’t very creative. As you can see, I wasn’t a morning person, and I still consider myself a night owl. Forcing myself out of bed, I grabbed my glasses and attempted to drag brush through my curly red hair before slowly walking down the stairs, Kibbles at my heels.

I walked into my houses small bright yellow kitchen. I squinted from the light as the room slowly came into focus. My eight-year-old twin brother and sister, Alex and Alice, were sitting at the breakfast table, bent over their newest prank. My mother was humming to her self as she hurried around the kitchen, cooking a quick breakfast. I sleepily sat down at the table, pulling one of my younger sisters perfect caramel brown ringlets just because I knew it would annoy her. Alice glared at me as our mother placed a plate of scrambled eggs on the table before she rushed out to work.

“ Ava’s in charge!” My mother yelled to my siblings before stepping out the door. Even if she was the head of the family, I seriously doubted my mother’s judgment on that decision. Alex and Alice would now do whatever possible to me today to prove that I wasn’t their babysitter. The week before, they had raided my candy stash, destroyed Kibbles dog toys, and then convinced my mother it was my fault. Before the twins could get a chance to harm me in any way, I had Kibbles on a leash and was safely away from my house, claiming to be taking Kibbles on a walk. I lived in Shawnee Mission, Kansas which was a farmland surrounded by city. I was walking Kibbles to an old abandoned farm. In front of the barn, there was a large field that was perfect for Kibble’s favorite game, fetch. Next to the field there was a cluster of trees, but I had never gone past them because of the stories that a group of witches that feasted on twelve-year-old children lived there. I know I shouldn’t belive everything I hear, but most kids at my school wouldn’t even go within twenty feet of the farm.

Crawling, I followed Kibbles under a hole in the chain-link fence that surrounded the old farm. I sighed in annoyance as I brushed chunks of dirt of my jeans. Kibbles placed a tennis ball by my feet, waiting for me to throw it. Instead of chasing after the ball, Kibbles turned in the opposite direction and growled. Eager to see what had made the pug so upset, I spun around to see the strangest creature. It was small, plump and as bright yellow as my mothers kitchen with four little feet and two huge, adorable eyes the color of a perfectly toasted marshmallow. As soon as the creature saw me, its eyes widened and it sped of into the cluster of trees. I followed it, branches hitting my face as I ran through the miniature forest. Okay, maybe it wasn’t miniature. What had appeared to have been a small group of trees on the outside was more like a vast forest on the inside. Before I knew it, I had lost sight of the little yellow creature and it was getting dark. Panting, I retraced my steps through the woods and back to my house. Opening the front door, I saw my mother standing behind the door, looking as if you could fry an egg on her face.

“ Ava Elizabeth Oakley!!!” She started, “ You were supposed to be watching your brother and sister today, and I come home to and you are no where in sight! I-“ She was cut off by my younger sister.

“ Alex, Ava, and I were out in the backyard, and Kibbles escaped through the gate. Ava went off to catch him.” She lied.

“ Oh.” My mother said, walking off to cook dinner.

“ You owe me.” Alice stated. I groaned and grabbed a chocolate bar from the (newly hidden) candy stash in my bedroom closet. Alice’s eyes lit up when she saw it, quickly taking it out of my hands. I leaned down and whispered in Alice’s ear:

“ You can have another if you cover for me tomorrow.” Alice nodded eagerly, scampering off. My mother eventually gave up on whatever she was attempting to cook and just ordered pizza, which was delivered half an hour later. As the family sat down to dinner, I noticed Alice was jittery, she couldn’t sit still. She had quite clearly already consumed the candy bar.

I went to sleep early, Kibbles curling up by my feet. The next morning I got up early, writing a note to my mother, saying I was taking Kibbles on a walk.

I repeated my steps from yesterday, climbing underneath the fence, entering the woods. I had been walking for a little while when Kibbles pulled his leash from my hands, bolting away from me. I chased after him, racing deeper and deeper into the forest.

“ No Kibbles! Bad dog!” I yelled trying to catch the dog. I tripped, and as I fell, I vaguely remember seeing the little yellow creature from the day before….

When I woke up a group of odd creatures where huddled around me. They looked just like the little animal that I chased the other day, but these where different colors of the rainbow. One was red, one was blue, another was purple, and yet another was green. I also spotted the little yellow creature standing to the side.

“ Who is you?” Said the red creature, who seemed to be the leader of the strange group.

“ Who are you?” I responded. The leader thought for a moment, before shrugging.

“ I is Fizzwizz, blue Shroom is Filp-flop, purple Shroom is Bopitty-boo, green Shroom is Puff, and yellow Shroom is Wheezy, and we are part of the first ever Shroom colony.” He said with authority.

“I am Ava Oakley, pleased to meet you.” I said putting my hand out to shake.

The creatures looked at me like I was crazy. I quickly lowered my hand.

“ So where do you come from?” I asked as the creatures as they began leading me somewhere. The blue creature handed me Kibbles as she began to speak.

‘ Come from planet Shroom . Fly here fifty year ago because planet go BOOM!” She said sadly. The other Shrooms nodded.

“ This is Shroom colony.” Fizzwizz stated as we entered a clearing. Marshmallow shaped houses stretched s far as the eye could see. Shrooms darted from house to house, chattering in an unfamiliar language. In the center of it all, a giant metallic building wrapped in what appeared to be an orange extension cord stood. Wheezy followed my gaze.

‘ That is Shroom shuttle,” He said pointing to a square car driving across a golden paved road. “ That is my house,” He pointed to a pink marshmallow house with a small garden, “ And that is old spaceship.” Wheezy finished gesturing to the metal blob in the middle of the city. The Shrooms gave me a tour of the city, so I got to try a special        Shroom food, called Puffuzzfizz ( Shroomian for orange muffin cake.) and I even got to meet the Shroom president, King Bonkers. I had an early dinner of Puffuzzfiz before slowly realizing it was getting dark out.

“ I have to get home!” I squeaked, grabbing Kibbles.

‘”You no go home, you no tell humans of Shrooms!” Fizzwizz said and he slowly began to grow fangs, and doubled in height. I grabbed my backpack and ran, Kibbles at my heels. I ran out of the forest, under the fence, and back to my house.

It was the last time I visited the alien colony for many years.

Little did I know that a little yellow Shroom had followed me home.


The End

© 2014 Sarah Robertson

“Tin Violin” by Matea Wasend

Tin Violin

by Matea Wasend


My dad came home for the first time in two years four days after my fifteenth birthday. He usually brought something along with him from wherever he’d wandered to, and this time was no exception: he brought Amaryllis, and Tulip, and Daisy Mae.

You might be imagining him knocking on the front door and presenting me with a bouquet of birthday flowers or something, but let me paint right over that picture. We don’t have a front door; it’s more like a front curtain that just hangs down from the crossbeam we managed to shove into the side of the mountain. It’s no good for knocking, but it’s okay for keeping the house flies and fruit flies and every other kind of fly out while letting the breeze in, when there’s a breeze to let.

Also, Amaryllis and Tulip and Daisy Mae weren’t in a bouquet, since they’re people. Well, two people and a dog.

How it happened was this: Rex and I were fixing dinner and our grandmother was wiring a tin guitar when from outside there came floating in three notes of music, sweet as a spoonful of canned peaches. I dropped my knife with a clatter and Rex whirled around so fast he knocked pieces of slimy onion all over the floor. Only grandma did nothing, since she’s almost entirely deaf. There was a split second where Rex and I both stared at each other, and then we tore through the front curtain and down the narrow trash-packed lane towards the whistling.


Rex was up in his arms, whirled around, then deposited back on the ground. I was too big to whirl but we hugged and I touched his long beard, which made him look the consummate drifter, and he laughed as Rex and I asked ten questions each, stumbling over each other like uncooperative partners in a three-legged race.

Slow down, he said. You’ll use up all the question marks.

Come inside, I told him. We’re just making dinner.

How’s your grandma?

Grandma was our dead mother’s mother, and she didn’t much like our father on account of how his wanderlust had dragged him off the mountain and away from our mother for the first time when I was just a baby, and again and again in the years since. But they got along okay by sticking to polite basics whenever my father was around.

She’s fine, I said. Come in and you can see for yourself. There’s junk all over your bed, but while you’re here we can—

Actually, kiddo—I’ve got news for you, he said, and his face split into an infectious grin that jumped over to mine faster than the plague. I’m staying for good this time.

Are you serious? said Rex.

Dead serious, he said, and crossed his heart. Hope to die. Which is why I got my own place.

Your own place?

Yeah. Over by the fence.

Why’d you get a new place? We can all fit here.

Well, he said. This place is a little nicer.

He’d never had his own place before. I pictured his nicer new place—maybe it had wooden walls, and a real front door. Maybe it even had electricity; there were lights and power lines along the broken-down chain-link fence that had once, decades before, contained the trash, though now the trash contained the fence.

It’s a lot bigger, my dad went on. Two bedrooms, and a living room.

I thought about this. Having a real bedroom would be a definite upgrade, even if I did have to share it with Rex.

Perfect for three people, said my dad.

Three people? I said. What about grandma?

Grandma? my father said, as though he hadn’t thought of this. And I supposed he was right—she could stay by herself. Come to think of it, she probably wouldn’t want to leave her instruments anyway; in the last year alone her workshop had been looted three times, so she’d finally moved them all into the house so she’d be there to protect them if someone came calling. Now there were bits of makeshift tin can violin and tuba and guitar and clarinet hanging from the walls and ceiling and cluttering up the floors, to the point where I sometimes felt I was living in the stomach of a large beast with a musical appetite.

Just then a little dog came racing around the corner, tongue lolling, ears flopping like the wings of some awkward flightless bird. It had an orange extension cord tied around its neck for a leash, which was trailing along the ground behind it, and as it neared us the cord got tangled up in its paws and it face-planted right at my feet.


A girl came running after the dog, which had by then righted itself and started jumping up against my legs and slobbering all over the place. She almost tripped to avoid running into my dad. He caught her and righted her.

Zee, Rex, he said. This is Daisy Mae, and Tulip.

Which one’s which? said Rex.

Tulip’s the puppy, said the girl. I’m Daisy Mae.

I stared at her. She wasn’t from the mountain, that was obvious; nobody half so clean or half so beautiful lived here. It was an odd kind of beauty, since she was covered all over with pink splotches, like someone had splattered her with bleach and then laid her out to dry, but the spots only drew attention to the perfection that was her face.

I tore my eyes away and I waited for my dad to offer an explanation, but he didn’t seem to be in any hurry. Rex came to the rescue with his standard forthrightness.

Why are you here?

My mother is Amaryllis, she said, as if another flower explained everything. Then a woman came walking around the corner—a pale and wispy vision of a woman, like something off the kinds of scrap advertisements for laundry detergent my grandmother used to hang around the house for decoration.

This is Amaryllis, said my father. My wife.

You better be careful of that dog, Rex told Daisy Mae, not seeming to blink an eye at the addition of two people and a dog to our family tree. People’ll eat dog around here, if they can get their hands on it.


Neat, huh? said my dad, as Rex plugged and unplugged a small television into a power cord and the screen flickered on and off. Place came with a television—can you believe it?

I sat there on the bed with my arms crossed, feeling as though someone had stuffed my eyes with pins. Every movement was excruciating; everywhere I looked I saw what my father had bought for his new family, and not for me. The place had electricity, like I’d suspected; it had a small and functional-looking kitchen area, two queen-sized beds in the bedrooms, and fake flowers tacked up all over the sturdy walls. I couldn’t tell one flower from the next, but I wish I knew which ones were the daisies.

You can come on over whenever you want, alright, bud? my dad told Rex, and ruffled his hair so he looked like the roosters our neighbors kept in a pen behind their house. It’s as good as yours.

Awesome! said Rex.

My dad turned to me. You too, kiddo.

Right, I said. Thanks.

I was thinking, my dad said. Maybe tonight you guys could come over for dinner? Zee, you could bring your violin. I’ve told Amaryllis and Daisy Mae all about how good you are on the fiddle.

He did, Daisy Mae put in enthusiastically. He said you’re like a prodigy.

I stood up. I have to go, I announced. I flicked Tulip off my bare feet, which he’d been licking as enthusiastically as if they were covered in molasses.

Where? said my father. School doesn’t start for another hour, does it?

I’m not in school anymore, I said.

Then where are you going?

His eybrows went up. Work? You on a crew now?

The Riddler’s, I told him. In spite of my anger I actually looked at him for a moment, to check for the pride in his eyes. I found it. The Riddler was one of the best collection bosses on the mountain, and even my dad knew that

That’s great, he said with an electric smile. Good for you, Zee.

I turned off my face before my own smile could appear. Yeah, well. I better go.

Hey—I have an idea, said my dad. Why don’t you take Daisy Mae with you?

My stomach fell faster than a tumbling trash-slide.


Yeah, he said. You can show her the ropes. Let her see how things are done around here.

Dad, I said. I—she can’t.

Why not?

She’s—she’s not on the crew. She can’t just—

Why not? You’ll increase your haul. Just swing by the Riddler’s and ask. I’m sure he’ll say yes.

That’s not how things work, I said. It took me months to get in. You don’t—

If he says no, you can send her back home, said my dad, who was obviously in one of his irrepressible moods.

But dad—

I realized suddenly I was putting on a whining show to rival Rex’s long-ago toddler tantrums, and stopped myself with an effort.

You know what? Fine. I turned to Daisy Mae. Let’s go.

Thanks! said Daisy Mae, and she practically bounced to her feet. Can I bring Tulip?

Tulip seemed not to have learned to walk very effectively yet. He tripped over the extension cord just about every thirty seconds, which was why after five minutes or so Daisy Mae ended up scooping him into her arms.

How can you find your way around here? she asked me, gazing around at the trash landscape that was the mountain—that particular glinting gray that, if you squinted at it in just the right way, became a prism of color. It all looks the same to me.

I ignored her question.

Wait out here, I told her when we’d reached the building—the only cement structure in a five-mile radius of refuse. This was where the Riddler lived, which put him among the elite percentage of mountain residents who didn’t have to put out buckets when it rained.

That’s okay—I’d rather come in with you, she said.

I clenched my teeth.

I nodded to a couple of other collectors inside, then headed for the Riddler’s office. He was on the phone when I stuck my head inside the door, but he shoved his hand over the receiver mouth to block out the noise and mouthed What Is It?

My dad’s in town, and he’s got—well, this girl is with him, and he wants her to come collecting with me today to get to know the mountain, I said, gesturing at Daisy Mae behind me.

The Riddler frowned and I felt vindicated for my earlier whininess.

I told him you wouldn’t like it, I added quickly. If you say no, I’ll send her back home.

Daisy Mae stepped into the office beside me, Tulip still in her arms, and it was like she’d brought the sun in alongside her the way the Riddler’s face brightened. He pointed at her as if to say This Her? and I nodded. Then his waving hand said Take Her Along.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if there’d been smoke coming out of my ears. I stomped all the way back down the hall, out the front doors and halfway to my route-start before I realized I’d forgotten my basket and had to go back for it.


Daisy Mae carried Tulip in one arm and a bushel of questions in the other. She slung them at me one after another and I offered up the bare minimum in return.

What are we looking for?

Anything valuable.

Like what?

I bent and snatched up a gleam of silver, which revealed itself to be a necklace with a teardrop pearl hanging on by a tenuous broken clasp.

Like this.

I dropped it into the basket on my back.

What do you do with it?

Take it to the Riddler.

And what does he do with it?

Sorts it.

Then what?

Sells the good stuff.

To who?

People, I said, not knowing a more specific answer.


I guess.

You’ve been under, haven’t you? Your dad told me. He said you got to play the violin in a real concert hall.

The audition that could have changed everything settled in over my eyes like a layer of film strip, the fancy stage chair and the snob-nosed judges and the sparkling water they’d given me to drink afterward that had made my throat burn. My grandmother had been hopeful, my father certain to the point of using words like When and Next Year. That had been just before the last time my father had left, and I’d been half-sure he’d been so disappointed that he’d never come back.

I’d love to hear you play, said Daisy Mae.
I don’t really play anymore.

Why not?

I sighed. Look—it doesn’t really make sense for us to search the same spot. We’ll just end up in each other’s way. Why don’t you go over there? Anything you find, just make a pile and I’ll come get it later. Yeah—all the way over there by that flag.

I directed her far enough away that she couldn’t talk to me without shouting. As I watched her for a moment, thrusting her clean hands into the garbage while Rex began digging enthusiastically beside her, the discolorations on her face seemed to squint and wink at me under the blazing sun.




I’d found a treasure trove—a bag of old mobile phones. Some of them were damaged completely beyond repair, but a lot of them looked like they’d hardly been scratched. I was sorting through them and placing them carefully in my basket, not wanting to damage them.

I think I might have found something.

Just wait, I said, and sorted through the rest of the phones. Then I walked over to where Daisy Mae was sitting with Tulip in her lap, pleased at my haul for the day; I’d get a good return. I found myself returning her smile automatically on the high of my own discovery.

What is it?

I’m not sure, she said. She gestured at the briefcase leaning against her leg. It’s just got paper in it, but I—

Paper? What kind of paper?

She undid the latches and flipped it open. Inside were stacks of green bills, the kind you’d be lucky to find one of in a month. I reached out and grabbed one stack and flipped through it—at least thirty twenty-dollar bills, all their balding puppy-eyed Benjamin Franklins looking up at me in quick succession.

What do you think? said Daisy Mae. Tulip found it.

Tulip found it, I repeated. My voice shook.

Yeah, said Daisy Mae. Think it’s worth something?

I threw the stack of bills down into the briefcase and stared at Daisy Mae’s eager face, at the beautiful contrast between perfection and malformation. I found that I was near tears.

This is worth more than everything I’ve ever hauled in put together, I said. Period.


Seriously. You’ll get a huge payoff for it. I turned away. Congratulations.

Me? said Daisy Mae. No—it’s yours, Zee. I was just helping.

You found it.

Tulip found it, she said. And you told me where to look, anyway. You told me this was a good spot. It should be—

It’s yours, I snapped.

Look, I said, turning back to her. That’s just how it works here, okay? You found it, you collect the money. I don’t want your charity.

I’m sorry, she said. I was just trying to—

Let’s go, I said. You need to get that in before someone takes it from you.


My father took us all out to dinner at one of the slightly respectable mountain versions of a restaurant the next night—really just a set of broken-down picnic tables under holey umbrellas—on Daisy Mae’s money.

To Daisy Mae! he said exuberantly, raising his beer in a toast, and the rest of us echoed To Daisy Mae, me just lip-syncing along.

And her incredible, fortune-finding dog! Rex added.

It wasn’t really a fortune, of course; it wasn’t the kind of find that could get you off the mountain and down under, into a life of air quality control and soft towels and fresh meat. Old paper currency was worth only a fraction of its original value. But it was definitely the biggest haul any one person had made in a year or two, and made all the more remarkable by the fact that Daisy Mae had found it on her first day as a collector—as my father reminded us all through dinner and over the course of three post-dinner drinks.

He was slurring a little by the time we made our way back to his, Amaryllis’ and Daisy Mae’s television-containing house in the fading light.

Good on ya, kid, he said, his arm slung around Daisy Mae in a fatherly way.

I saw the way she looked up at him, and knew that here in front of my own eyeballs was the very look I’d worn so many times before. My father was larger-than-life, and when he turned his gaze on you it was hard not to feel like you’d been singled out for a miraculous destiny. It hit me that I was watching my life on repeat, only played out by an un-scrawny, un-dour-faced version of myself. At first I’d hated Daisy Mae for stealing my father, but now I realized I hated her for how pathetic she was—the way she ate it all up, every little lie he promised her, just like Tulip scarfing down whatever half-rotted food he could get his little teeth on.

And I hated her extra because she did pathetic more beautifully than I ever could.


Once I’d realized this I stopped going over to my dad’s house as his daughter, and went over as an outsider to his family. And as an outsider, I could see all the telltale signs, starting about five weeks after my fifteenth birthday.

First my dad got all big-spirited and expansive, doling out affection and compliments and taking us all to the leveled trash pit beyond the fence to kick around a soccer ball, where he made dramatic diving saves while parodying the commenters we’d heard on his new television.

After that it was snappish irritability, and a cold detachment that lasted for a few days.

Then there were about twelve hours of cruelty, during which he hurt nobody physically but emotionally bruised everyone but me, me being pretty much protected by my new truth-seeing eyes.

You okay? I found myself asking Daisy Mae as we scavenged on the far end of my assigned route. The Riddler had made her my permanent collecting partner after that first day, and usually she asked the questions and I fended her off, but today she seemed to have left her voice at home. The night before, my dad had made a jibe about the discolorations on her face that had set her to blushing and petting Tulip in a pitifully transparent attempt to hide the fact that she was crying.

I’m okay, she said, and I wondered suddenly if she had a good singing voice. She sounded like she would—or maybe it was that she looked like a love song.

I was just thinking about our old home, she went on.

Where are you from? I asked, realizing that I didn’t know. My dad tended to dominate conversations, both as speaker and topic.

Colorado, she said.

I nodded, having no idea where that was. What’s it like there?

Beautiful, she said. Trees and flowers and mountains—real mountains, not made out of trash. You would love it.

Do you think you’ll ever go back? I asked, a large part of me hoping she’d say yes.

Never, she said.

Why not?

Beauty isn’t everything, she said. The land is sick there. The people are sick. My mom… She trailed off, and I thought about Amaryllis’ big, glassy eyes and sickly demeanor.

That’s why I have this, she said, pointing at her discolored spots.

Zee? she asked me a few minutes later. Can I ask you something?


Why’d you stop playing the violin?

Though I felt like I’d kind of fulfilled my quota of Daisy Mae-outreach when I’d asked her if she was okay, I somehow found myself answering her with a portion of the honest truth.

No reason to play, I said. And nobody to play for.

What about Rex? And your grandma?

That’s not what I meant, I said. I meant—nobody important. Nobody who could make a difference.

We dug in silence for a while.

I think family is important, Daisy Mae whispered, but I pretended I hadn’t heard her and I said What?

And she said, Nothing.


After the cruelty, my father got drunk and repentant.

I’m not good enough to be the head of this family, he slurred to me outside the mountain’s closest approximation to a bar at two in the afternoon, after I’d been informed he was making a scene and left my route to go drag him home. Or any—any—any family. I’m not a g-g-good man. He swallowed hard, like he was force-feeding himself this guilt. I don’t deserve a f-family.

Well, you have two of them.

He nodded, and then vomited his repentance all over the trash mountainside.


I woke in the middle of the next night to a scuffling at our front curtain, and my hand was on my knife before I was even sitting up straight. But then someone whispered my name. I stepped outside to find Daisy Mae crying fat tears under my flashlight beam, Tulip looking sleepily up at me from where he sat on her foot.

Daisy Mae? What’s wrong?

My—your dad, she said. He’s—he’s gone.

I looked at her in exasperation.

You came all the way here to tell me that? It’s the middle of the night, Daisy Mae.

I—I thought—Daisy Mae looked down at the ground. I thought you’d want to know.

Why should I?

Because, said Daisy Mae. He’s your dad.

Not since you came, he’s not.

Zee, I—

You thought he’d stay for you? I said. Because you’re pretty and always get what you want?

She just looked at me. Tulip gave a little yip.

You’re an idiot.

I tried to slam the curtain, but it just flapped in the breeze.


Daisy Mae wasn’t at our meeting place by the chain-link fence the next morning, and I spent the whole day trying not to think about her, which meant I thought only about her—the flashlight hurt I’d glimpsed before I left her standing outside my house in the sweltering heat. I’d thought her a fool for expecting him to stay, but how many times before had he told me he was staying for good? He was a born salesman, my dad; he could sell a glass of water to a drowning man, just by flashing his pearly whites. And there was irony in that, since he could have made a good living at the mountain as a crew boss like the Riddler, if only he didn’t have that itch inside he could only scratch by staying on the move.

Even seeing all that now, it still hurt that he’d stayed longer for them than he ever had for me.


Three days later and Daisy Mae hadn’t showed up, so I grabbed Rex after school and we went over to the house that was my dad’s and now just belonged to the dried-and-pressed flowers he’d left behind: Amaryllis, Tulip, and Daisy Mae. Nobody answered when I knocked, though we heard Tulip barking and someone shuffling around inside.

Daisy Mae? I shouted.

Daisy Mae? said Rex. Open up! It’s us! It’s your family!

There was nothing, even though we knocked for five minutes and Tulip didn’t stop barking the whole time.

Come on, I said to Rex. I have an idea.


Rex was a smarter kid than I’d ever been at his age; he’d told me he’d known dad was leaving for days.

Whenever he starts complaining about the smell, said Rex. That’s when he leaves.

You mad? I asked him, as we walked back to our house.

He shrugged. I just hope Daisy Mae lets us back in so we can still use the tv.




The sky was darkening by the time we made it back, but we had our flashlights—all three of us, since grandma had insisted on coming along when I’d picked up my long-silent tin violin.

I miss your music, she said, as she’d told me every day since I’d quit, but this time I allowed myself to truly consider it.


She chuckled.

Nobody else plays my trash instruments quite so exquisitely.

What about me? said Rex, clutching his own, smaller grandma-made clarinet.

Except you, darling, she said, and it was a kind lie because Rex was abysmal at the clarinet.

We stood outside the house by the old chain-link fence, and the smell of rotting trash rose up around us in the heat, and somewhere my father step-by-stepped away from us to wander once more, and I played my violin until Daisy Mae opened the door.

© 2014 Matea Wasend