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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

“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

Extraterrestrial

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.

Dad!

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.

Tulip!

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.

What?

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.

Unders?

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.

***

Zee?

Hmm?

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?

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.
I’m—

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?

What?

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.

Why?

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

“Surprise!” by Victoria Steik

Surprise!

by Victoria Steik

 

“Did you bring it?” Mario said in a low voice to his older brother Louie, as they stood at the chain link fence marking the property line between their backyards.

“Yeah, I left it over there under the porch,” Louie said. Squinting his dark Italian eyes, he looked right, left, and all around. “We gotta be careful, Mario. We don’t want any snooping eyes finding out our plan.”

“Are you crazy?” Mario replied. “It’s frigging midnight, dark as pitch. Who’s gonna see unless that pain in the ass Chihuahua of yours starts yipping its head off.”

“Don’t worry about that. Chi-chi’s asleep in the bed next to Carla. He couldn’t hear a fire truck over her snoring,” said Louie.

Louie tiptoed the four or five steps to the porch, reached underneath it and pulled out the long orange extension cord. He plugged the male end into the outlet on the wall facing Mario’s house and then he grabbed the female end of the cord, stepped back to the fence and began shoving it through the metal mesh to his younger sibling.

Mario pulled the cord through the fence and alongside an old Dodge station wagon that sat on blocks against his side of the fence. He threaded the cord through the open wing-window on the passenger side of the Dodge and then walked around to the driver’s door. He opened it, climbed in and plugged some wires hanging from the ceiling of the car where the overhead light used to be into the cord. He slipped out of the Junker and quietly, but firmly, closed the door.

“Got it?” Louie whispered to Mario as he came close enough to hear.

“Absolutely,” Mario replied. “All they need to do is open that car door and the fireworks, so to speak, will begin.”

“Good,” Louie said. “I don’t want that pencil-prick little Anthony doing the horizontal hula in the back seat of a car with my sweet little Angela. She’s too good for that.”

“Oh yeah? Seems like I remember some young Lothario making moves in the back seat of that same car, when it had wheels, with a certain lovely young lady named Carla and that was the beginning of your sweet little Angela. Am I right, Romeo?” Mario teased.

“Shut up, you,” Louie swatted at his brother. “But that’s why I don’t want those two alone in that car tomorrow night at our Anniversary Party. They might think we’ll be too drunk to notice, but the head of this family pays attention when he needs to.”

“Okay, so all you have to do is flip the switch before the party so that outlet has power,” Mario said, “and you’re all set.”

The two brothers parted for the night with a fist bump at the chain link fence.

***************************

The next evening, the last faint colors of dusk had faded from the sky and the only lights illuminating the faces in Louie’s backyard came from the paper lanterns that Carla insisted Louie and Mario hang earlier that afternoon. Maybe it was the lantern light; maybe the Chianti or maybe the sun bronzed faces of family and friends gathered around the table that spread an atmosphere of love and peace to all.

Despite the heavy meal and numerous toasts to the happy couple’s marital success, Louie and Mario, remained vigilant, keeping a close eye on the young sweethearts. The teenagers sat on a bench at the very edge of the pool of light, Anthony holding Angela close, her head resting on his shoulder. Anthony stealing quick, but passion laden kisses whenever he thought no one was looking.

The ladies began gathering up the dishes and platters of food and carrying them to the kitchen. The men moved closer together to share more Chianti, Cuban cigars and conversation. Anthony and Angela casually strolled off into the shadows. Missing nothing, Louie and Mario smirked at each other and settled back for the show to begin.

Seated only feet from the chain link fence and the booby trapped vehicle, the men had to fight back the kind of laughter school boys share when they toss a plastic spider on the teacher’s desk while her back is turned.

The men could hear the shuffling footsteps in the long grass as the couple approached the car. They heard the click of the door latch and the low creak of rusty hinges. Then nothing: their plan was not happening. Louie could hear the rustling of clothing, passionate moaning and the smack, smack, smack of slurpy kisses.

He grabbed Mario by the throat, pulled him close and whispered, “Where’s the frigging fireworks? You said you had it all worked out!”

“I dunno,” Mario croaked out. “There must be a loose wire or something.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Louie growled.

“Angela Marie Stefano!” he shouted, “get your young ass out of that car and bring that worthless boyfriend of yours with you. Don’t make me come over there!”

The car door creaked open, then the rustle of clothing being frantically pulled on reached Louie’s ears and finally the sounds of feet running through the long grass, around the end of the fence and back into Louie’s yard.

“Jesus, Dad,” Angela screamed. “How could you!”

“How could you, young lady?” He shouted back. “Get yourself in that house this minute. And you, Anthony, you better get walking on home before I totally lose my patience and fix you so you’ll never walk again! Get outta here!”

Being a young man with excellent survival instincts, Anthony lit out down the driveway shoes in hand and shirttail still aflutter.

“See ya later, Ange,” he called over his shoulder as he ran into the night.

Mario and the other men who had witnessed this outburst of paternal rage exploded with laughter at the sight of Louie standing at the end of his driveway, shaking his fist high in the air as a final threat to the teenage boy. His friends’ laughter deflated Louie’s rage and he began laughing with them.

“Goodnight Louie.”

“Happy Anniversary you two!”

”Great party Carla.” the last of the partygoers called out as they headed down the block to their respective houses.

Breathing a deep sigh, Louie put his arm around his bride, escorted her back to the table and with a flourishing bow asked, “Care for a nightcap Gorgeous?”

“Don’t mind if I do, good lookin’,” she replied.

Just as he replaced the stopper in the bottle, they heard the screen door creak and there stood their precious Angela, hair in ponytails, wearing her fluffy slippers and Minnie Mouse pajamas.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” she said. “Nothing happened. Honest. Don’t hate me, okay?”

“Come here, baby girl,” he said opening his arms to her.

“I could never hate you,” he said as she snuggled him. “I just want you to stay Daddy’s little girl for a while longer, okay?”

“I love you, Dad. Goodnight!” She headed back toward the screen door.

“Hey Angela,” he called to her, “Flip that light switch by the door. We don’t need these lights anymore.”

“Okay, Pop.”

“You’re such a good Daddy, Lou,” Carla whispered to him as he held her close.

“Aw, enough about Daddy. How about some sugar for Mama?”

“I know why you were so worried about them being alone in that car,” Carla said. “I remember the back seat of that car. I wonder if it might be as fun as it once was.”

“You little vixen,” Louie teased, nibbling on her neck. “Why don’t we just find out? I’ll race you.”

They took off running around the fence, giggling and stripping off clothes as they went. Louie reached the door just one step in front of his wife. The moment he pushed the button and pulled on the door, the latch opened up and four different car alarms began blaring, headlights, tail lights and turn signals began flashing and a recording of the Boston pops playing the Star Spangled Banner began blasting, set on ten, through the super deluxe stereo system Mario had devised just for the occasion.

© 2014 Victoria L. Steik