Cast of Wonders 83: The Dictionary’s Apprentice

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal To Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at

The Dictionary’s Apprentice

by Sandra M. Odell

The narrow streets of Gretchentown echoed with barking dogs and late evening front stoop conversations as Johnny-J made his way to the rally grounds. He circled twice to be certain no one saw him before hurrying to the burn piles. The air was bitter with sulfur and char. He breathed in through his mouth.

So little remained of the day. He hadn’t been allowed to stand with the adults in the front row at the purity rally, but had seen enough of the burn selection as it was brought in to regret looking. Johnny-J salvaged what he could of the Lessonkeepers’ fervor: a woman’s startled profile; a sooty hand clutching a rifle; a bouquet of once pink roses. Tucking the pieces inside his shirt, Johnny-J hurried back the way he came, avoiding the stern bulk of the Elder Hall on his way to the tarpaper-roofed shack beyond the west cistern. Breath came easier away from the killing grounds.

The shack hunched still in the night, its single window dark, the rope door handle pulled in for the night. Johnny-J knocked softly on the plank door, looking back the way he came, certain that he’d been followed, if not this time then the next. He knocked again. “Friedrick?”

Shuffled steps sounded within. “Go away.” Gruff words, filled with suspicion. “It’s almost curfew.”

“Open up, Friedrick. It’s me.” Johnny-J shifted nervously from foot to foot. “T’was brillig, and the slithy toves.”

The door opened wide enough to reveal a head crowned with tufts of pale hair. Shadows tangled in the wrinkles around the nose and mouth. “Get inside, boy,” Friedrick Mullhouse said as he peered into the night. “Quickly now.”

“I can’t. I have to get back before curfew or Papae will beat me good. Here.” Johnny-J pulled the singed remnants of covers and pages from under his shirt and pushed them at the old man. “I gotta go.”

Friedrick dared a look at the treasure in his hands. “Good boy. Get off home, then.”

A bucket of water pulled from the cistern to wash his face and hands, and Johnny-J was home abed as the tolling of the curfew bell declared the official start of night, Papae none the wiser. He curled on his side as he scoured the memory of brittle paper from his hands with the hem of his nightshirt, hoping sleep would scrub away the memory of the burn piles.

“Eighty-three books. Can you believe that?” Mamae tsked her disapproval as she brought a bowl of steaming porridge to the table. “Carol June said the Elders are calling for Henry Kitcham to pay a twenty dollar fine, maybe even recant in public.” She settled herself on the bench beside her husband, tucking her skirt and apron under her legs.

“Mmm.” Papae did not lift his shaved head from his plate, shoveling spoonfuls of sausage hash into his mouth. He swallowed, wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his field shirt, and spooned the cereal into his bowl, crumbling a thick slice of bacon on top.

“Serves him right.” Mamae served up her own porridge and hash. “Henry always did have too much sense, an’ none of it good. A man like that is nothin’ but trouble. Dangerous.”

Across the table, Johnny-J gobbled hash until his cheeks bulged. “Muh ah buh. . .” He managed a few sips of water to ease the swallow. “May I be excused?”

“People should know better, is what I say. Sure you don’t want a biscuit, John Junior?”

Johnny-J finished his water and licked the back of his spoon. “I’m full.”

“All right, then,” Mamae said. “You’re excused. Put your things in the bucket.”

Johnny-J scraped his plate and dropped his eatingware in the soap bucket when Papae looked up from his plate. “You come straight back from the lessonhouse, you hear me?”

Johnny-J hooked his thumbs around his suspenders. “Yessir.”

“Get on, then.” Papae went back to eating.

“Don’t forget your lunch biscuit, John Junior,” Mamae added.

“Yes’m.” Johnny-J paused long enough to stuff the paper wrapped biscuit into his pants pocket and not a moment more, eager to be finished with his lessons so he could spend time with Friedrick.

“Can you save them?” Johnny-J absently rocked back and forth on the uneven stool. Tock-thump, tock-thump, tock-thump.

Outside, sensible folk chopped wood, took in the wash, stacked and set bricks. The distant rumble of the mill curled beneath the muted insistence of dogs herding sheep, and geese challenging passers-by. Inside, Friedrick carefully wedged a sliver of wood between fused pages. “Sadly, no,” he said, and sighed. “The Lessonkeepers are not so thorough as they might think, but certainly more than thorough enough for my tastes.”

The back room of Friedrick’s shack kept to itself, a dictionary’s haven with no windows to invite prying eyes, a single door closing it away from the homey clutter of the front room. Here, everything had its place: neatly folded blankets at the foot of the cot; the comb and razor by the basin on the washstand; the worktable an antique with collapsible legs rescued from a scrap pile years ago and touched up with gray paint. Johnny-J liked the backroom though it frightened him some days, not the room itself he supposed, but what might happen if the sensible folk of Gretchentown caught them in the act of salvage.

He propped his elbows on the table and leaned in for a closer look at the orphan pages. “What were they about?”

“Are, boy, are. The words still exist, so the stories live on even if we’ve no idea what they are. Never forget that.”


The old man picked up the cover remnant with a woman in a kerchief looking nervously over her shoulder, and a smudged $1.95 US/$2 in the bottom left corner. “This one appears to be a romance.”

Johnny-J squinted at the picture in the dim light. “She looks frightened.”

Friedrick carefully sorted through the pages. “I read something about an uncle and an inheritance, but I can’t recall what page. Bother. Anyway, this one may be a book of poetry.” He motioned to the singed bouquet. “You remember what poetry is, right?”

Johnny-J nodded. “Rhyming verse, like songs you don’t sing.”

Friedrick smiled. “Very good, but remember not every poem rhymes. And this one is a story of a war in the stars.”

Johnny-J touched the third ruined cover, smearing the soot over the rifle. “It sorta looks like one of the Lessonkeepers’ guns.”

“I suppose, although this one was never used to shoot a dissenter.”

“What’s a dis-center?”

“Someone with the gall to think for themselves. Here now, Johnny-J, help me catalogue the pages so we can put ’em in the stock.”

Together they arranged the remnants, stopping now and again to read a stray passage and wonder what came next. Johnny-J used the stub of an art stick sharpened to a point with his pocketknife to record the first and last line of every page in a hand-stitched butcher paper book.

Friedrick carefully tied each remnant bundle with a strand of twine. “Check out front to make certain the coast is clear,” he said as Johnny-J slipped his finger from the final knot.

Johnny-J went to the front room, and peered out the window for a full sixty count before signaling all clear. Together they stepped outside and headed to the root cellar at the back of the shack. Johnny-J slid the weathered peg out of the brace, shouldered open the door. Friedrick stepped down first, passing the fragile bundles up to better manage the five narrow rungs of the ladder and taking them back at the bottom. Johnny-J followed.

The earthy cool of the cellar traced pinprick kisses over his cheeks. Arranged in low bins against the walls, potatoes, turnips, and cabbages promised plenty for the coming winter.

Friedrick set the books on the corner of the cabbage bin. “Help me with this.”

Johnny-J propped the cellar door open with the peg before scooting to the old man’s side. With a grunt and a bit of muscle, they pushed the bin out of the way to reveal a rabbit hole shored up with discolored planks. Friedrick wriggled through feet first; moments later light shone from below. Johnny-J looked down at Friedrick looking up at him. The yellow light of a crank lantern made a halo of the dictionary’s white hair. “Come along, we don’t have all afternoon.”

Only after securing the cellar door from within did Johnny-J follow Friedrick down the rabbit hole. Wattle and daub fortified the walls of the room at the bottom, as long as the shack was wide, and as wide as three men lying head to toe. Wooden shelves crafted with love rather than skill overflowed with contraband: thick or thin; paper, cardboard, or scuffed leather covers; fact or fiction. A sanctuary of the printed word.

Johnny-J stepped carefully as he threaded his way through the room arranged without an inch of wasted space. What couldn’t be fit on end on a shelf was stuffed into the spare inches between book top and the shelf above. Other selections were sorted into stacks precisely spaced to allow a careful body to walk between them. Two wooden crates at the far end of the room served as the final resting place of tomes that had suffered at the hands of the Lessonkeepers and other like-minded, sensible folk.

Johnny-J could look at the books and not help wondering about the people who braved history to write them. Did George Orwell like braised cabbage? Were Harlan Ellison and J. T. Ellison family? Did George Eliot’s wife read his stories? Did Elma Patrick have a book in Queen Alexandria’s library? Did any of them know how to milk a cow?

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, savoring the smell of paper, age, and earth, imagining his name embossed in gold on the leather spine of a book, his book. He opened his eyes to lantern light and the forbidden. Friedrick often said it was easy to dream, but the sleeper must awaken to make it real.

They laid the bundles to rest, cushioned by woodchips and curls of red cedar. Friedrick sealed the crate and settled himself on the lid. “Three more saved from the fires of Hell, kinda like the old time revivals only we don’t dare praise the glory.”

Johnny-J pulled his favorite book from the press of the shelfe, opened it to the first page of the story. “My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire;” – He gave every syllable his full attention as his finger traced his progress. – “I was the Third of five Sons.”

“Aren’t they delicious, boy?” Friedrick said. “Jonathan Swift was a genius back in the day when the word was not criminal.”

Johnny-J flipped slowly through the pages, taking care not to tear or crease the yellowed paper. “I don’t understand all of it, but I like it.”

“You will in time, boy. Why, you couldn’t even read when you first started coming ’round, remember?”

Johnny-J ducked his head. “Yeah. I couldn’t write neither. I was kind of stupid, huh?”

“Tch. You’d never had the opportunity, boy. Stupidity is thinking you shouldn’t read or write in the first place.”

“I like writing. It feels someways good to see the words I want to say.” Johnny-J wedged the book back into place and continued to peruse the shelves, brushing his fingers against the spines, saying hello to his secret friends. “I wish I could’ve saved more of Henry Kitcham’s books. I bet he had some you didn’t even have, huh?”

“Probably, but I doubt he took the time to read them.”

Johnny-J tried to imagine the dour grocer following Gulliver’s adventures or learning how to groom cocker spaniels, and couldn’t. “I would’ve read them if they were mine. Maybe even written a couple, too.”

Friedrick chewed on the ends of his mustache. “Henry doesn’t have a dictionary’s love of books. He doesn’t care about preserving books so others might read ’em someday. To him, they’re trophies, something to covet because the Lessonkeepers say they’re forbidden. He once offered me two hams, a case of sardines, and ten pounds of flour for twenty magazines or five books.”

Johnny-J’s gut clenched at the thought of Jonathan Swift put to the torch. “And you said no, right?”

“Of course I did.” Friedrick spread his arms wide. “These are my fosterlings, my children. How could I part with even one of them?”

“The written word is a beautiful thing,” the old man continued, leaning into the subject, “and powerful, very powerful. Two men can read the same passage and interpret it as they like, but the words are the same. The Lessonkeepers, well, they don’t like that. Words aren’t for imagining, or debating. Words are for saying over and over so you keep the right lessons in mind.”

Johnny-J took his time with the familiar challenge, trying to catch Friedrick by surprise. “But you don’t always gotta agree with what’s said. You can call a person out.”

“Answer me this.” Friedrick gave a tight-lipped smile. “When’s the last time you heard someone call out a Lessonkeeper, hmmm?”

Johnny-J dropped his gaze. “Oh.”

“The Lessonkeepers have told folks right from wrong for so long, folks think it’s the only way of being. It’s been that way for a sad, long time. My grampae told me secret stories of what it was like in his grampae’s day, when safe didn’t mean one way of thinking. You and me, we’re not like everyone else, Johnny-J, because we aren’t afraid to make our own choices. I’m proud of it. Proud of you, boy.”

Friedrick tapped the side of his nose with a knobby finger. “That’s why we need the written word. You don’t agree with what was said, that’s your business. If you think what he’s said should be heard by others, whether you agree or not, you put the fellow’s words in writing and give them to someone else. They can choose their own mind about what was said and what they think was meant even if they weren’t there to hear the words spoke.”

Johnny-J scrunched up his face as he chased a question. “What’s to keep you from writing something that isn’t true?”

“Writing something not true is fiction. People never wrote anything untrue about life because they’d be called out for a fool if they were found out.”

Friedrick scooted to the edge of the crate and stood, rubbing his knees as he did. “That’s the magic of the written word, not that the words themselves are bad, but what they represent to folks. Remember that, boy.”

Johnny-J nodded. “Yessir.”

Together they secured the hide-away, moved up to the root cellar, and after a cautious look about, returned to the world where book was a four-letter word. Johnny-J never understood why Friedrick said it, but he smiled all the same.

“You told your mae you were out picking ‘shrooms for the afternoon?”


“I think I have some pine ‘shrooms and hedgehogs for your basket so you don’t go back empty handed. C’mon inside.”

Johnny-J stood by the front door, full basket in hand, waiting for Friedrick to give the clear, when he caught another question by the tail. “Why would I write down what someone says when most folks don’t know how to read anymore?”

By the window, Friedrick dropped his head with the hem of the curtain. Johnny-J was about to repeat the question when the old man turned to him with a smile and eyes teary bright. “So someday your apprentice won’t have reason to ask the same thing. Get along now before your mae starts to worry, Johnny-J.”

“The foreman’s cat is a clumsy cat.”

“The foreman’s cat is a terrible cat.”

“The foreman’s cat is a schrödinger cat.”

Patsy Henridge stopped mid-step on the log, teetered, and caught herself before falling into the stream. “What’s shrow-dinger?”

Johnny-J squatted to pick up a rock in an attempt to hide the color coming to his cheeks. “I dunno. A word.”

“Well, what kind of word?” Patsy skipped the last two steps across the log and joined him by the creek’s edge.

Johnny-J didn’t pay attention to her brown curls, her blue dress, her eyes the prettiest green he had ever seen. He threw the rock under the log, wishing he could turn back the conversation as easily as turned a page. “I think it means bird eating.”

“Oh.” Patsy daintily chose her own rock. “I’ve never heard Papae use it.”

He certainly didn’t want to talk about Patsy’s father. Gerald Henridge was known far and wide for keeping his lessons well. He lightly slapped her shoulder – “Tag! You’re it.” – and sprinted up the hill.

“What? Hey!”

Johnny-J ran from Patsy and the conversation, perhaps the conversation the most because he liked having Patsy around. If he were 13-years-old he would ask for permission to court her, but today he was 12 and wanted nothing more than to lead Patsy on a merry chase, hoping she forgot all about cats, schrödingers, and anything else that may have slipped his tongue. Chase and tag and laugh past the east cistern and around the washhouse with its steamy ash and lye breath.

And it came to an end as they rounded the back of the mill to find a work crew clearing ash from the rally grounds.

Four men shoveled sooty remnants into wheelbarrows, their sleeves rolled up in hearty disregard of the afternoon chill. Nearby, a young Lessonkeeper watched and talked and laughed with them.

Johnny-J slowed and stopped at the crusty black edge of the rally grounds. “They’re cleaning up.” Thick, sour feelings snuck up the back of his throat. He swallowed as best he could.

Patsy moved to his side. “Yeah. Hey, Roger,” she called out, waving to the men. “Are we fixing to have a town gather or another purity rally?”

The Lessonkeeper looked her way with a wave and a smile of his own, his face young and bright above the severe cut of his dark coat. “Can’t say for certain. All I know is your pae said to clear things out.”

“Neaties.” Patsy did a little dance, twirling in one spot until her dress blossomed around her stem-thin legs. “Maybe Earl’ll put up his peanut stand again.”

“I guess,” Johnny-J said.

“Let’s help push the wheelbarrows.”

Johnny-J scuffed at the charnel earth. “Nah. I need to be getting home. I, um, I don’t feel so good.”

Patsy stopped dancing and set her hands on her hips. “Hmm. You do look kind of peaked. C’mon, I’ll go with you.”

Unable to hurry without looking like he hurried, Johnny-J kept his head down and his hands in his pockets as he followed Patsy home. Thoughts he’d rather not think kept pace.

Day and night nodded in passing by the time Johnny-J spied his parents chatting on the front step with a tall drink of water in a Lessonkeeper long coat.

“Papae!” Patsy rushed ahead, and was swept up in the big man’s embrace. “I saw the rally grounds. Are we having another rally? Can I get a bag of peanuts to myself?”

Lessonkeeper Henridge kissed his daughter’s forehead. “Rallies aren’t all about peanuts, Patsy Mae.”

Patsy squirmed until he set her on the ground. “Well, yeah.” She rifled through his pockets. “Where’s my treat?”

Johnny-J sidled up to his mother.

“You wash out all your color in the crick, Johnny-J?” she said with a quick hug and a kiss.

“He’s not feelin’ good,” Patsy said. “I learned a new word today, Papae. Shrow-dinger.”

Johnny-J’s stomach dropped into his boots. He smelled wood smoke and heard the eager crackle of flames.

“Really?” her father said. “What’s a shrow-dinger?”

“It means bird eating. Johnny-J said so.”

“Did he now.” Lessonkeeper Henridge looked to Johnny-J with a sensible smile. “Where’d you come by that, Johnny-J?”

“Heard it somewhere I guess, sir,” Johnny-J said, hoping his voice didn’t shake too much. “I can’t really remember where.”

“Shrow-dinger, huh?” Papae spit a stream of tobacco juice over the side of the step. “I’ve never heard it before.”

“Neither have I.” The Lessonkeeper looked down his long nose at Johnny-J in the crook of his mother’s arm. “That’s some vocabulary you have there, son.”

Johnny-J mumbled something near to a thank-you, and did not raise his eyes.

Certain Lessonkeeper Henridge waited just outside his window with a torch and a switch, Johnny-J kept home the next two nights. He wasn’t chicken, but afraid all the same.

He spent the next two days working shoulder to shoulder with the folk of Gretchentown to bale the last of the season’s bedding hay before the rains rolled in from the Olympia Mountains in earnest. Johnny-J worried his hands to blisters at the rake, and endured his mother’s gentle pestering as she drained the fluid and bound them with bandages each night. Lessonkeeper Henridge did not join them. The rally grounds were very clean.

Afraid the rains wouldn’t come soon enough to extinguish his fears, Johnny-J snuck out well after curfew on the third night, avoiding the post lights where he could, moving quickly where he couldn’t. He dreaded the empty expanse between the west cistern and the shack, but made it across without incident. He pounded on the plank door. “Friedrick? Slithy toves, Friedrick. Please.”

Only the faintest light dared the gaping slats in the shutters. There came a muffled bump and crash and then quick steps inside. The door opened, and a bony hand took Johnny-J by the shoulder and pulled him inside.

An oil lamp on a table by a pile of torn blankets cast the room in a sickly light. The bite of kerosene and cedar shavings made Johnny-J’s nose run.

Friedrick smiled, thin-lipped and hurried. “I was hoping to see you again. You have your coat. Good. We don’t have much time.”

He led Johnny-J into the backroom. The worktable lay in a jumble of pieces at the foot of the cot. A scattering of paper and twin extended from the cloth pile in the front room to the wood scrap in back. Set on top of a the feathered remains of a pillow, books spilled out of a black oilcloth satchel in the center of the cot.

Johnny-J’s palms began to sweat. “What happened in here?”

“Never you mind.” Friedrick hurried to the cot where he continued to pack the satchel. “Now, you listen and you listen good, Johnny-J. This has most everything you’ll need –”

“Need for what? I think Lessonkeeper Henridge knows, Friedrick. I accidentally told Patsy about the schrödinger cat, and I’m sorry, and –”

“That as may be, boy, but I’m thinking it wasn’t entirely your fault. I wager it was Henry Kitcham that set them on my trail to keep from being fined. Henry never could bear to part with a dollar.” Friedrick crammed the last book inside and flipped the top closed. “Lessonkeeper Henridge came by earlier this evening, but he won’t be put off for long. I expect they’ll be coming to call any time now. Help me with the ties.”

Johnny-J managed the ties with shaking hands while Friedrick held the satchel closed. “He did? What are we gonna do?”

“We aren’t going to do a thing. You are going to do as I say.” Friedrick hoisted the satchel over Johnny-J’s neck and settled the weight on the young man’s shoulders. “I want you to run as far as you can. East and then south, you hear me?”

“But –”

“No buts. You keep running and don’t look back. Your mae and pae will be fine once you’re away, I wager. I packed jerky and cheese and some tack. It will have to do you.” He pushed Johnny-J out of the backroom as he spoke, keeping the door open behind them. “You’re a smart boy. You’ll get by. Here, take my hat.”

The unknown loomed dark and terrible, but the certainty settled cold in Johnny-J’s bones. “But the books –”

Friedrick stopped by the oil lamp. “I packed the ones in real need of saving, Johnny-J. The rest, well, I’ve done what I can.” He coughed and wiped his eyes. “You’ll find tinkertowns on past the Columbus River. Mind your P’s and Q’s and they should take you in if it turns too cold. After that, there should be a man far south in the town of Redville, William Plummery. You find him, tell him I sent you, and he’ll put you up. He’s a good sort, a dictionary with an honest love of books. If he’s not there, you turn east and head for the old Colorado. You should be able to find –”

A knock sounded at the door and a pleasant, sensible voice. “Friedrick Mullhouse.”

Johnny-J jumped at the sound.

“Now, boy, we’ll have none of that.” Friedrick closed his eyes and took Johnny-J by the hand. He murmured something under his breath, tremulously, tenderly, the final words: “. . .mortis nostrae. Amen.”

Johnny-J opened his mouth to ask what the words meant, and found he had no voice.

Friedrick opened his eyes and looked at him. “I’m proud of you, boy,” the dictionary said. He walked to the door and opened it to the night. “Come in, Lessonkeeper.”

Lessonkeeper Henridge removed his hat and stooped to cross the threshold. “Evening, Friedrick. Johnny-J.” Two Lessonkeepers with guns and crank lanterns stood outside the door.

Johnny-J swallowed twice before he managed: “Sir.”

“What brings you to call this late, Gerald?”

“Nothing in particular, Friedrick. I thought I’d stay on a bit and maybe you could show me around.”

Johnny-J wondered at the exchange. Friedrick sounded almost happy, Lessonkeeper Henridge genial and calm.

Friedrick chuckled as he moved back to the oil lamp. “Now, Gerald, you know I can’t do that.”

The Lessonkeeper sighed. “Sure you can, Friedrick. Think of it as being neighborly.”

“I wish I could, Gerald, but there hasn’t been a neighborly bone in your body since they fit your first jacket.”

Lessonkeeper Henridge frowned and ran a hand through his thin brown hair. “You know it’s what’s best for everyone. We can’t have books and the like cluttering up people’s thoughts like they did before the crumble.”

Friedrick straightened and put his chin up. “I’m sure Mister Swift would not ken to your version of neighborly.”

Johnny-J gripped the satchel strap, his heart pounding in his chest. The Lessonkeepers outside spoke softly to one another, shaking their heads.

“It’s thoughts like those that tore us down, and owning up to it which lifts us up again.” Lessonkeeper Henridge nodded towards Johnny-J. “Be reasonable, Friedrick, for the boy’s sake if nothing else. Let’s set a good example.”

At that Friedrick laughed full and low in his belly, laughed and shook his head and looked Johnny-J in the eye. “Of course. For the boy.” He grabbed the oil lamp and threw it against the wall. “Run!” The word exploded with the glass.

Too fast, the oil scorched a blue trail down the wall to the pile of scrap remnants; the soaked cloth drank up the flame and spit it out again hot and hungry, and Johnny-J ran. Lessonkeeper Henridge called for him to stop. The Lessonkeepers outside the door reached for him. He ducked under their arms and dashed around the house.

The night air burned with every breath, burned like the fire in the tiny shack with the tarpaper roof. Johnny-J heard the crack of a shot fired in the night and a voice ordering men to hold their fire. He ran faster than the footsteps chasing him in the dark, never once looking back no matter how bright the night became.

The rains came in the early morning hours. Johnny-J huddled beneath his sodden sanctuary of leaves and cedar boughs for as long as he could before crawling out to do his business.

Bird calls and the scratch and scavenge of small animals in the brush accented the forest quiet. A strip of jerky and half a piece of tack made for a lean breakfast. Johnny-J sat with his back to a tree and tried not to think about the night before as he worked crumbs of tack against the roof of his mouth to soften them up. He licked water from the cedar to wet his mouth.

When he couldn’t not think about it any longer, he brought the satchel around and opened it. He had his butcher paper book, four small art sticks, and a paper-wrapped packet of food. He said hello to Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville, Dr. Seuss, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Plato, Robert Heinlein, Danielle Steel and others from the rabbit hole library. Ray Bradbury waited for him at the bottom, the first one Friedrick had packed away. Johnny-J put that one back without opening it.

His life now fit into a single satchel. He thought about Mae and Pae, and Patsy. He thought about Friedrick, and fire. Instead of crying, he sharpened one of the art sticks with his pocketknife and found a clean page in his book.

He searched the sky through the drooping branches overhead before daring to make a mark on the page. Finally, in a blocky, precise script he wrote Call me.

Johnny-J considered the third word, wrote it in, scratched it out. After a moment’s thought, the young dictionary tore out the page and stuffed it in his coat pocket before starting once again on a clean sheet.

Call me Johnny-J.

About the Author

Xander M. Odell

Xander M. Odell lives in Washington state with their husband, sons, and an Albanian miniature moose disguised as a dog. Their has appeared in such venues as Crossed Genres, Daily Science Fiction, PseudoPod, Cast of Wonders, and PodCastle. They are a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and an active member of the SFWA.

Their collection of speculative fiction holiday stories, THE TWELVE WAYS OF CHRISTMAS, and debut short story collection GODFALL & OTHER STORIES are available from Hydra House Books.

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About the Narrator

Graeme Dunlop

Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.

Find more by Graeme Dunlop