Genres: ,

Episode 253: Single Parent by Sarah Gailey

Show Notes

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Single Parent

By Sarah Gailey

 

The monster in my son’s closet is so fucking scary.

Here’s what happened: Jack screamed in the middle of the night and I came running because I’m his dad and that’s what dads are for. He’s been doing that for a month — screaming like someone’s in his room murdering him with a screwdriver. And even though there’s never, not even once been anyone murdering him, I couldn’t just let him scream his little head off all night. If I didn’t come running, his mom would have risen from the grave just to come and slap me upside the head.

I know what you’re thinking, but the monster in the closet is not his mom. It is not my dead wife, come back to watch over him and protect him. This isn’t that kind of a story. It’s a fucking monster, okay?

Anyway, he screamed like he’s screamed every night since we watched Denise go into the ground. I came running like I’ve come running every night since we threw dirt at her coffin, which seems like it’s supposed to be important and respectful but really just felt like throwing dirt at my wife’s corpse. He was sitting up in bed, sweating and crying and smelling like little-kid-piss and I remember thinking that this was the last straw — that tonight I would be Tough Dad and tell him I wasn’t going to put up with the screaming anymore.

I didn’t end up doing that, though. I’ve never been a tough guy. Denise was always the tough guy, but she’s being tough on Abraham up in heaven somewhere and I’m down here sitting on my kid’s wet bedsheets.

Anyway, I burst into his room and put my arms around him. I kissed his sweaty head and told him that everything would be okay. I asked which nightmare had woken him up this time. Usually they’re nightmares about his mom coming back, which breaks my heart to hear, but the therapist said I have to listen. So I braced myself, and tried to be ready to hear him talk about how Denise’s face is melting off in his subconscious.

Only this time, he shook his head. Not a nightmare. A monster.

I am a bad father because I was relieved. That’s how you know you’re a bad father: your kid is trembling and terrified and you breathe a sigh of relief because it’s only his worst fear and not yours.

The thing is, I thought I knew how to handle the monster situation. From experience. For six months or so before Denise died, Jack had this thing about a monster in his closet. The therapist said that he was processing her sickness through a proxy – that he couldn’t quite understand what was coming, that he couldn’t know what “terminal” meant, so his little-boy brain just decided “there’s scary shit on the way” and invented a monster that was always getting ready to eat him. That’s how I felt for the entire time she was dying. And sure enough, once she died, he stopped having the thing about the monster.

So I did what I had done every other time that Jack had woken up screaming about the monster: I checked the closet. That’s what you do, right? Your kid says “oh god there’s something scary” and you say “I’ll go look at it for you” and then you look, and there’s nothing there, and you tell the kid that nothing is there, and everyone goes back to bed.

Except that’s not what happened.

Look, there’s never been a monster in there before. I can deal with a lot of stuff. I’m a bedtime champion and a dang master at after-school-talks about feelings. I can re-shingle a roof and I’m even okay at plumbing, if the water’s shut off right. I can handle myself, is what I’m saying. But a monster? I had no game plan for there actually being a monster. My game plan was oriented towards getting the kid back to sleep. It’s a fifteen-minute plan at the most. The point is, who prepares for the eventuality that a six-year-old is right about something at two in the morning?

Not me, I guess.

So I told Jack-o I would look in the closet, and I did. I opened the closet door, and then I shut it again very quickly, because guess what? There was a monster in there.

You’ll want to know what the monster looked like. I was too busy clenching to retain details, but here was my general impression: teeth, claws, tentacles. I didn’t know that tentacles could have claws, but apparently the limits of my imagination do not encompass the fullness of God’s creation, so what do you want? Also, eyes — so many eyes, like a spider with a lot of little spiders on top of it. All of them were looking at me.

It was without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever seen in my ever-loving life, and I’ve seen a doctor’s face when he’s about to say the phrase “six months left”, so I know from scary.

I opened the closet door again. The monster made a noise like a percolating coffee maker. I shut the door.

And now I’m sitting in my son’s bed, not minding the piss smell so much, and I’m trying to figure out how to tell him that the monster in the closet is real.

 


 

It’s not fair to Jack, is the thing. It’s not fair that he already had to find out that moms can die and dads can’t stop it – now monsters? In his closet? And I can’t spin this as maybe it’s a nice monster because it’s a monster and monsters are by definition not nice, and something with that many eyes eats little boys. It’s just a fact.

He’s looking at me and his little pink lip is quivering and he’s shaking like he runs on batteries, but he’s setting his jaw like his mom used to. Christ. He’s being brave.

He rubs the back of his head, foofing out his duckling hair, and I realize that it’s a motion he’s learned from me. I do that all the time. I’m doing it right now.

“Well, buddy. What are we gonna do about that thing?”

He shrugs in that little-kid way. When a teenager shrugs, it means “I don’t give a crap, what do you know? Leave me alone, I’ll never get old, I’ll always like this kind of music.” When a little kid shrugs, it’s so honest — a little-kid shrug just means “I got no goddamn idea, pops.” I love the hell out of him when he shrugs at me.

“When did the monster come out?”

The kiddo looks at me like I’m an idiot. “When I let my feet stick out from under the covers.” Of course. His feet are well and fully tucked in now. I lift the corner of one of the blankets just an inch, and sure enough, the doorknob on the closet starts turning. I put the corner of the blanket back down fast and the door stays shut.

“Well, we can’t have it coming out of there.” He agrees with me, nodding gravely. “‘Cause kiddo, I don’t know how to tell you this, but… I’m, like, one hundred and ten percent certain that it’ll eat us.” He nods again, Duh, Dad. Kid already knows this stuff, I don’t need to tell him. He doesn’t look so scared anymore, and I realize that it’s because I’m here. His work is done — he called in the big guns, and now, the situation in the closet will be resolved by someone who knows what to do about situations in closets.

He thinks I can fix it. He thinks I can fix anything. Even after I couldn’t fix the one thing that mattered most, he still thinks I know all the answers.

We sit on the bed, talking over our options. We could nail the door shut, but then he wouldn’t be able to get any of his shoes or his pants, and he needs those for school on Monday and all. Plus the monster can probably dissolve nails with acid or something. From our combined understanding of monsters, it’s probably allergic to something dumb like mustard or broccoli or spider-man band-aids, but we don’t have time to experiment. I don’t have a gun, because I live in a house with a six-year-old. I’m proud to say that the idea of a gun doesn’t even occur to him until I mention it. What a guy.

We sit in his rocketship bed, trying to figure out what to do about the monster. He doesn’t want to kill it, because he’s six and he’s the best person in the world. I want more than anything to kill it, but I’m pretty aware of my own limitations and frankly, I don’t think I could take that thing on. I take Jack out for ice cream if there’s a spider in the kitchen, okay? Denise was always the one who dealt with those, and I never saw her take out a spider the size of my kid’s closet. This thing — it’s big. And it’s a monster. And did I tell you about the tentacles already?

After a long time spent discussing the merits of just burning the house down – and let me tell  you, spend an hour trying to explain fire insurance to a six-year-old and you’ll feel eager to face a monster – we notice that it’s getting light out. When it’s definitely morning – birds are chirping, sun is shining, the whole magilla – we decide to see if the monster is still there. Maybe it’s only there at night, you know?

My son lifts up a corner of the bedsheets.

Nothing happens.

He pushes the bedsheets down until they’re just covering his feet to the ankles.

Nothing happens.

He takes a deep breath, my brave boy, and whips his feet out from under the covers like the he’s fastest gun in the West winning a shootout. We watch the closet door, eyes wide, hearts pounding.

Nothing.

He looks at me and I look at him and we both know that one of us has to look in the closet. He whispers, “Maybe it’s sleeping. Maybe it’s nocturnal.”

I squint at him. “When did you learn ‘nocturnal’?”

He rolls his eyes and I realize that someday this kid is going to be a teenager, and I look at the closet door, hoping the monster will come out and eat us both before that happens.

“Okay. Okay, buddy, here’s what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna go shut yourself in Daddy’s bedroom, okay? You’re gonna lock the door-”

“I’m not supposed to lock the door.”

“I know, but just this once, you’re gonna lock the door and -”

“But I’m not supposed to lock the door because -”

I rest a hand on his head and deploy the Dad Stare, which is basically the only weapon in my arsenal. He’s polite enough to pretend it’s intimidating.

“You’re gonna lock the door. And then I’ll take a look and see if the monster is sleeping, and then we’ll figure out what to do, alright?”

He nods. His eyes are huge, but his jaw is still set in that Denise kind of way. I put my arms around him and I hug him, I hug my son so tight that I’m sure I’m hurting him, but he hugs me back anyway because he’s the best damned kid there ever was.

“If anything happens to me, you take my cell phone from my nightstand and you call Grandma Irene, okay?” His answer is muffled because I’m jamming his face into my chest. I pull back to let him breathe. His face looks like he has a lot of objections to this plan, but he just says “I love you, Dad,” and I don’t know if I can keep it together much longer so I push him out the door.

I sit on his rocket bed and listen to his little feet pad down the hallway. I hear him go into my bedroom with the one empty nightstand, and I hear him close the door, and God bless his six-year-old heart, I hear him turn the lock.

I don’t want to waste any time, because my son is probably terrified in there. He’s scared and alone, wondering if his dad is about to get eaten by a monster.

I have to open the closet door.

I can’t just sit here and wait – it’ll be the same thing in there no matter when I do it. I have to get up and walk across the room and open the door to my boy’s closet.

I wish Denise were here. I always wish she was here – that hasn’t stopped, not once since she died – but right now I really, really wish she was here, because she would be the one to look in the closet. She would get right up and march on over and yank the closet door open. She would grab the monster by one of those frilly things around its primary eyeballs and she’d drag it out to the front yard and make it feel ashamed of itself.

But I’m not Denise, and I’m just sitting on the rocket bed with my head in my hands because I can’t take on a monster. It’s too hard, and it’s not fair, and I don’t know how. I’m not her. Looking in the closet to confirm that there’s no monster is right in my wheelhouse, but dealing with the monster when it’s real — that’s Denise stuff.

Something tickles between my ears.

Denise stuff. This is a Denise job.

The tickle fades, but then returns again, brighter. Denise stuff. Denise stuff. Why does this feel so important?

And then I remember.

I was six. My ma came into my bedroom because I was screaming at the top of my lungs. She looked in my closet and then she said ‘oh no, no sir. This is Reggie Stuff,’ and then my pop came in and he looked in my closet, and then he sent me out of my own room. I remember I sat in my parent’s bedroom with my ma. We shut the door and put a chair in front of it and then she taught me how to play poker for a few hours.

Of course. Of course it was him.

I run down the hall to my bedroom. The door is shut – locked, of course, damn it, Jack locked it because I told him to. I’m about to pound on the door, about to yell for him to let me in, but then I think better of it. I tap on the door with the pad of my index finger.

“Hey buddy, can you let me in? It’s your dad.”

There’s a long pause, so long I almost tap again, before I he answers. I can barely hear him.

“How do I know you’re not the monster?”

Oh, Jesus, how do I answer that one?

“Kiddo, it’s really me. I… huh. How would you know if I was the monster?”

Another long pause. The sound of the lock clicking open. He eases the door open a crack, peeks out at me with one eyeball. I kneel down to look through the crack at him.

“Buddy, it’s me, I promise. But if you’re scared, you can just grab my phone from my nightstand and slide it through to me, okay? I have to make a really important phone call.”

The door shuts, locks again. Smart kid. A minute later, my phone slides under the door.

“Thanks, Jack-o. I promise I’m not mad at you for not letting me in, okay?”

No response. I tap on the door with with my pinky finger, soft as I can, wishing I could rest my hand on his fine blond hair; wishing I could give my frightened little boy a hug.

“I mean it. I’m not mad at you. You’re a smart guy, and you did the right thing. I love you.”

There’s a sniffle from the other side of the door. “I love you too, Dad.”

There’s a sniffle from my side of the door. I wipe my eyes on the sleeve of my t-shirt, and head back to the bedroom before he can hear me crying, because what’s scarier to a six-year-old boy than hearing his dad cry?

I make the phone call, and after that, it’s only ten minutes or so before Grandma Irene arrives.

I’m not supposed to call her Grandma Irene – I’m supposed to call her Irene, or Mrs. Hart if she’s mad at me about something. But to Jack, she’s Grandma Irene, so it’s in my head now. You know how that goes. She’s the only grandparent the kid has, what with my ma and pop dead and Denise’s dad having run off way back when. Jack loves her.

“So, what’s the big emergency?”

I don’t know how to tell her, so I just point upstairs. We go into Jack’s room. Her eyes fall on the empty rocket bed.

“Where’s Jack? Is he alright?” Her face is white and she’s gripping my arm with such incredible strength that I know I was right to call her.

“Jack’s fine, Irene. He’s in my bedroom. I – I need your help.”

She’s searching my face, and just like that, she knows. Her head swivels until she’s looking at the closet door. She definitely knows. But she asks me anyway.

“Why did you call me?”

I clear my throat. I’m embarrassed. Wouldn’t you be? Calling Grandma to come help out? Admitting that since your wife died there are some things you just don’t know how to do? Some things you just aren’t ready to take on yet, because you can’t accept that she’s not there to help with them anymore?

“There’s a monster.”

“What? Speak up, I can’t hear you.”

I clear my throat again. I try to make eye contact with her but I can’t, so I settle on looking at her chin.

“There’s a monster. In the closet.”

She ducks her head to look in my eyes, and the way she does it is so Denise that I well up.

She nods. “What kind of monster?”

I am at a loss. What kind? How should I know?

“Uh, tentacles? Teeth, claws, eyes. Frilly things.” I wiggle my fingers around my temples like that’ll clear up the meaning of ‘frilly things.’

Irene looks at the closet, and it looks like she’s doing math in her head. She nods again.

“That’s Irene stuff, alright. Take Jack to the park and play catch. Don’t just look at me with your mouth open, Donovan, do as I say. Go to the park with him and play catch and then come back.” She calls me Donovan instead of Donny and that’s how I know she means business. And I want to take Jack to the park. But even this I can’t do on my own.

“…He won’t come out of my room. He wants me to prove that I’m not the monster, and I – I don’t really know how to do that.”

She stares at me for a long moment, then smiles. “He’s such a smart boy.”

She strides down the hall to my bedroom, raps on the door, and calls to Jack. “Jack, you come out of here right this instant. It’s Grandma Irene. I’m taking care of the monster; you and your father are going to go play catch in your pajamas.” She sounds so much like Denise that I want to curl up on the floor and bite my knees. Her tone is one hundred percent Irene, and I feel a pang of sympathy for what the monster is about to go through. Jack comes out of my bedroom. His eyes are all puffy. Grandma Irene gives him a quick hug and then pushes him towards me.

We go to the park and we play catch. Actually, we’ve never played catch before, so it’s kind of weird – us in our bare feet in the dewy grass, me teaching my kid how to throw a baseball. He’s good at it. I’m good at teaching him.

When we get home a few hours later, there are three big garbage bags piled up on the curbside for pickup. I set Jack up in the kitchen with a bagel and some peanut butter, then head upstairs. Irene’s jacket is draped across the fin of Jack’s rocketship bed, and the water is running in the hall bathroom. I knock on the door.

“Irene? Is everything okay?”

She cracks the door and peers out at me, exactly the way that Jack did when he wanted me to prove I wasn’t the monster.

“Everything is fine, Donovan. I’m taking a shower. Would you be a dear and throw this out for me?” She passes out what remains of her smart pantsuit – it is a wad of pastel shreds, held together by green ooze. “And would you loan me something to wear?”

I haven’t thrown out any of Denise’s clothes yet, and in her side of the dresser I find a set of her pajamas that look like they’ll fit Irene. I pull them out, run a thumb over the penguins on the pajama bottoms. They’re surfing. The penguins, not the pajama bottoms.

How do I do any of this without her? How do I do it alone?

But then, I’m not alone, I guess. I’ve got Irene. And I’ve got Jack. And I know that eventually, I’ll learn to do the Denise stuff. When I’m done looking at the empty places where she should be. When the fact that they’re empty stops being something I need to stare at in order to understand the contours of my loss.

I hear the water in the hall bathroom turn off, and I know Irene’ll be needing these surfing penguins in a minute. I crack the door open just enough to slide the pajamas through, then close it again as quietly as I can.

I walk downstairs, bracing myself for the peanut butter explosion that inevitably awaits me in the breakfast nook – but when I get down there, there’s no peanut butter explosion. My boy has pulled his chair up to the sink, and he’s standing on it so he can reach to wash his own plate. Getting soap everywhere, but still. He’s trying to pull his weight.

What a guy.

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Episode 252: The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey by Aimee Ogden


The Forty Gardens of Calliope Grey

By Aimee Ogden

 

In her fourth-floor apartment on Wrightwood Avenue, Calliope Grey kept forty gardens of varying size and composition. She had gardens in drawers, in old hat-boxes and mixing bowls. In the drawer that pulled out from beneath her stove, she had a desert garden of cactuses and sagebrush; in the plastic freezer box that was meant to store ice cubes, she grew bearberries and arctic moss.

Real gardens, in miniature, not models or mere toys. Calliope didn’t go out looking for them, but they’d found their way to her one by one. It had been some years since she’d discovered a new one, but she still harbored hopes every time she opened a cupboard or peered beneath the furniture. Once, she’d opened a box of cereal only to have a jumble of dirt and tangled roots go spilling into her bowl. Another time, she’d left a coffee cup out on the end table overnight and found it overflowing with a tiny raspberry bramble the next morning. It didn’t matter where they come from, only that they found their way to her. She had room in her heart for all of them, and plenty more to spare.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 250: Blood and Water by Jason Kimble


Blood and Water

by Jason Kimble

The year we turned nineteen, the boy I loved disappeared under the waves of Lake Michigan, but he didn’t die. I never told anyone. That he was alive. That I loved him. That he

My fingertip goes white as I smash down on the delete key and the cursor devours my words.

The broken swimming trophy lies sideways on the kitchen table. I stare at it as I dial, ignore the cat mewling, exiled, on the other side of the door. I count the rings of the phone at my ear. Seven rings (for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone) before Mr. Gravere picks up.

“Why are you calling, Mike?” Gravere says.

“It’s about a book,” I say. “I … think that I loaned it to Andy, before–”

“That wasn’t his name.” I can’t decide if the ice sheathing Mr. Gravere’s voice is better or worse than his scalding anger at the funeral.

“It’s special. A first edition. Return of the King. My mother–”

“So special it took you five years to notice it missing?”

“It’s just … ” I turn the gilded swimmer in my hand.

“I told you when he died, Michael: you’re not welcome here. Live without the book. I’m living without a whole lot more.” Mr. Gravere hangs up. (Continue Reading…)

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Episode 246: Old Teacups and Kitchen Witches by Kate Baker

Show Notes

Theme music “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available from Promo DJ or his Facebook page.


Old Teacups and Kitchen Witches

by Kate Baker

 

On the night my grandfather died, we all sat around his kitchen table and marveled at how he’d been able to raise six kids in such a tiny house. While creative with the cramped living space, one bathroom seemed to be enough despite the hustle to get to school and work in the mornings. Especially as children grew into teenagers and time preening before the mirror was at a premium.

There is chaos that comes with illness and death, yet despite piles of unopened mail and neglected dishes and floors, my eyes lingered on the subtle touches that made this house a home. Especially in this kitchen. A wooden hutch still held the “good” glass and dinnerware that my grandparents cherished and thought to protect. Pots and pans of every shape, size, and color hung from racks and peeked out from crowded cabinets. And despite a very thin layer of dust, the spice rack stood at the ready for whatever recipe came along.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 198: The Authorized Biography (Part 2) by Michael G. Ryan

Show Notes

Show Notes

This week we present the conclusion of The Authorized Biography by Michael G. Ryan, narrated by Brian Rollins.

Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.

 


The Authorized Biography (part 2)

By Michael G. Ryan

 

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 197: The Authorized Biography (Part 1) by Michael G. Ryan

Show Notes

Galen Dara’s amazing print for Artemis Rising is available on Society6.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.

 


The Authorized Biography

by Michael G. Ryan

 

In the beginning, Tim Toonby was bewildered to find his biography. Bewildered and ultimately alarmed.

It appeared Saturday morning on his front porch in an unadorned metal box, the fireproof kind meant for legal documents. No key. Tim Toonby had just stepped outside to leave the full diaper pail liner for the service, and in the age of letter bombs, he hesitated when he saw the box on the steps. He looked around as if the deliverer would still be nearby, waiting for the detonation, but the neighborhood was typically quiet—prefabricated homes with lawns of sod, flower boxes along porch railings, stone lions at the end of driveways as affectations of the neighbors’ aspirations. Toonby had them, too. It was a street for dreamers, not killers.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 196: She Sleeps Beneath the Sea by Shveta Thakrar

Show Notes

Shveta’s inspirational image, La Dormeuse, by Alain Lacki.


Theme music is “Appeal to Heavens” by Alexye Nov, available at MusicAlley.com.


She Sleeps Beneath the Sea

by Shveta Thakrar

 

She sleeps beneath the sea. Shh, shh, plish, splash. The susurration brushes past her unresponsive ears as the surf tucks itself below her chin, a sleek coverlet of warm salt water in shades of blue and green and bordered with seed pearls of foam. Reclining on her side, her dark tresses matted against the damp sand and one brown hand supporting her head, she hints at secrets in the mysterious tongue of slumber: a slight gasp here, a soft sigh there.

When she dreams, she finds herself in a world of glass. It is aquamarine, it is teal, it is turquoise and balmy and wet, and it is the sea, oh, the blessed, blessed sea. It is home, her home.

(Continue Reading…)

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Episode 183: Hat Trick by Beth Cato


Hat Trick

by Beth Cato

 

“The pond is open today!”

No one else was in the kitchen, but I had to make the cheery announcement, even if it was just to myself. It was tradition. 

Mom’s St. John Ambulance books sat on the table, one still flipped open. She’d just gotten a job as receptionist at the old folks’ home and they had her taking a first aid course. At the far side of the table, two mugs touched handles like old friends. Two packets of cocoa – the best kind, with the little marshmallows – lay flat behind the mugs. I grinned. The cocoa would wait until we got back from hockey.

She used to always set out four mugs. Maybe I could still pull down at least one more.

“Chuck?” My brother’s door was open a smidge. The lights were off and he was sitting in front of the computer. The faint light from the monitor cast a spooky glow on his face. “The pond’s open, remember? You want to come?”

In the funny light, it took me a second to realize his eyes were shut. His hands were folded on his lap, graceful like when we had to sit all proper in church. It’s not like he needed to touch the keyboard.

“I’m busy, Sara.” His voice creaked like an old floorboard. Since he’d “manifested,” as the local Guild rep liked to say, Chuck had been able to listen and talk to computers. The Guild had even given us a brand spanking new Tandy 2000 so Chuck could hone his skills.

He used to have lots of other skills, too. A husky singing voice. Quick wit. A mean slapshot. 

“But this… it’s the first day.” My shoulders slumped. This had been our tradition since I was five, wearing awful figure skates with pink laces. I mean, the first day on our pond! This used to mean everything to our whole gang – me, Chuck, Chuck’s best friend Jeff, and my buddy Amaud. 

“Fine,” I muttered, shoving myself from the doorway and stalking to the kitchen. If I had a superpower, I’d still play hockey. Maybe I’d even be better, depending on what I could do. Our little town of Red Hawk already had crazy odds, with two manifested kids. Even Edmonton, as big as it was, only had five.

“Hockey day! Hockey day!” I chanted beneath my breath as I rummaged around in the kitchen. I refused to let Chuck ruin my morning. I charred some toast and slathered on gobs of butter to compensate. I glanced at the St. John Ambulance book as I chewed, and all the information flooded back into my head from when I was stupid enough to skim through it a few days back: bloody arms, tourniquets, rescue breathing, brain trauma. I gagged and forced myself to swallow. I should have known better than to even look between the covers, with how my memory was and all. “Eidetic memory” was the fancy term for it. My grandpa memorized the whole Bible and could spout passages on request. Mom said she’d kill to have inherited the family knack, but she didn’t know how things were in school. Everyone hates know-it-alls. Hates in a mean sort of way.

A minute later, I swiped the crumbs onto the floor, grabbed my gear and bolted out the door.

The morning smelled all wet and fresh, ice crystals zinging in my nostrils. The sun glared through gauze-thin clouds, and I glared back. I didn’t want a warm and sunny day that’d make all the ice melt. Snow crunched under my boots, and my tied-together skates swayed against my shoulder. My freshly-taped hockey stick felt perfect in my grip. 

Up ahead, Amaud waited for me under our meeting tree. He’d accidentally crushed his glasses a few days back and his face looked bare and weird without them.

Amaud was the other gifted kid in town. He wasn’t a technophile like Chuck. He was big. Like, refrigerator-sized big, and still growing. That also had its own fancy term, “myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy,” but what it really meant was Amaud was becoming some super muscle man.

It was weird to think of Amaud as a man at all. I mean, he was twelve, same as me, but I was still totally average and now he towered over me. 

I wouldn’t be average forever. 

“Where’re your skates?” I called.

He shook his head, like in slow motion. “Don’t fit,” he said in his low mumble. His hockey stick was too short, just coming up to his chest. Even his snow shovel looked stubby next to him.

Amaud never said much. Kids always teased him for being slow, but he was really super-smart except for math; that’s how we met, because our teacher made me start tutoring him back in first grade. But Amaud read Shakespeare for fun. No one else in school did that. No one would want to.

“You said your skates fit in October!” My voice squealed. Snow shivered from a branch overhead.

“My feet’ve gotten bigger since then.” He shrugged.

“Well, you were going to be goalie, anyway. Don’t think you’re getting out of it.” He was no Grant Fuhr, but at the very least Amaud could stand there and let stuff bounce off him.

First Chuck, now this. I stalked past Amaud and blinked back tears.

His voice softened. “I’m not trying to get out of it. I like playing hockey with you.”

I grunted. The pond was just over the rise. My feet crunched through a thin layer of ice with every stomp, the crystals scratching through cloth to my calves. I suppose I could have let Amaud go first and plow through, but I wasn’t lazy like that.

“Did you finish your math homework?” I asked, needing to change the subject.

“Started it.”

I squinted at the annoyingly bright sky. “Started it, meaning you did one page and stopped at the word problem, right? ‘Mary ate 3/8 of a pizza, while Michael ate 1/16, while little Susan ate 1/32.'” I saw the words in my head, clear as if I held the book in front of me. A neat trick but no superpower; superpowers did something. All I could do was bore people to death. Or open my big fat mouth yet again and cause half the class to pin me down on the playground and shove snow down my sweater. “I’ve shown you how to do common denominators a million times. It’s no different when the numbers are stuck between words.”

“Hate math,” he muttered.

“I know.” Amaud wouldn’t have made it past basic addition without me harping on him every day.

I frowned and tilted an ear. I could swear I heard kids laughing and the thuds and whispers of skates on ice, but this was our street, our pond. The kids on the other side of town had their indoor rink and all – why’d they come here? I started to jog. Amaud huffed behind me, his heavy feet pounding.

Older kids in blue jerseys cluttered the ice. These guys had gotten here early. The ice was scraped clean. White gouges gleamed across the surface and cast-off boots designated the goals on either side of the pond. The sweaters were from the high school team, complete with a blazing red hawk embroidered on the front. Chuck used to wear one before his brain started computer-talk.

I recognized a tall mop-head of red hair. “Hey, Jeff!” Angry as I was, I knew not to try and run or I’d just flop down the slope.

Jeff swirled off from the rest and scraped to a stop right in front of me, his face ruddy with exertion and cold. “Hey, Sara.” 

He had been Chuck’s best friend since preschool, like my second brother as far back as I could remember. He always drank his cocoa out of an old Christmas mug showing Santa and his sleigh. About now, I felt like shattering that mug to a million pieces.

“What’s all this?” I jabbed my stick at the players. “This is our pond. Your team can practice at your own rink, or on one of the ponds on the east side.” 

The one time I’d tried to skate at one of their ponds – it had a changing room shack with heaters and everything – the kids demanded I pay admission and laughed the whole time, knowing I could never pay.

Jeff looked past me. “No Chuck?” Sadness flashed in his eyes, and he blinked it away. “Hey, Amaud.”

“No.” My word came out as a growl. “Listen, this is our–”

“Emphasis on ‘our.’ Look, Sara, I live here, too. I’ve been coming here since before you were born. The school rink is hosting some event today and I invited the guys over.”

“So can we play, too?” I met his eye.

Jeff cringed. “That’s… probably not a good idea. Look, Sara, you’re a sixth grader. Some of these guys are seniors–”

One of those seniors zoomed by. “Hey, come on, we’re playing a game here! Tell the little girl to go build snowmen with the other kiddies.” The other players laughed. 

I looked past Jeff to where three girls in puffy coats were building snowmen along the little ridge that separated our pond from big pond beyond. They couldn’t have been older than five or six. Heat flushed my cheeks.

“We’ll be out of here soon,” said Jeff, a pleading note in his voice.

“This was our pond,” I snapped.

“Well, the old gang isn’t what it used to be.” Something shifted in his face then, making him sound colder. Older. He skated backwards and away. Ice spat off the blades.

“Come on,” I said to Amaud without looking at him. “Let’s go shoot pucks on the big pond.”

We trudged along the snowy shore. A few low whistles and utters of, “Damn,” showed they recognized Amaud’s presence – not that he could be ignored. I got angrier with every step. One of the little girls tried to say hi and I just glared until she shriveled into her fluffy hood.

No one was on the big pond. No one was supposed to be on the big pond, really. It was too big to freeze in the middle. But along the shore was okay, and better than nothing. That’s almost what I had – nothing. I fumbled the puck out of my pocket and thwacked it, hard.

“You could have like, done something!” I snarled at Amaud. I knew I shouldn’t take it out on him but I couldn’t help it.

“Like what?”

“You could throw them off the ice! Do something! I’d do something!” I flung my skates into the snow bank. I didn’t even feel like putting them on now. I just needed to hit things.

Amaud walked along the crunchy shore. I could see the puck from where I was, but he walked past it three times before he plucked it up and tossed it back my way. He really needed his new glasses. 

“I dunno.”

“No, you don’t.” I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Chuck, Jeff, Amaud… everyone was changing. I hated it. And if I had to change, let this be the time. Let it be something brilliant. I could burst out of my skin like a butterfly from a cocoon. 

“I don’t hurt people. You don’t hurt people.”

“I don’t know. Maybe some people should be hurt.” Tears burned in my eyes. I knew I was saying stupid stuff, but I wanted to get it out. See if it helped me feel better.

It didn’t.

“I want to help, not hurt.” Amaud’s voice was soft as he kicked the puck back at me. Anger made me feel too hot beneath my coat, even when I was standing still. “I want to feel like I’m going through… this for some reason. A purpose.” He motioned at his massive body.

I wanted that purpose, too. I wanted to fly. I wanted to heal people with a touch of my hand. Maybe not talk to computers like Chuck, but there were lots of other powers out there – fire from fingertips, cold creation, fast running, amazing hearing. Dozens more, probably. 

“I hurt all the time.”

Those words came from nowhere. I blinked at Amaud. “What?”

“I hurt all the time. I can feel my muscles stretch, even when I sleep. They say – the Guild people say – that I’m going to be so big and heavy it’s going to mess with my joints. I may not be able to walk by the time I’m forty.”

“Oh.” I don’t think I ever heard Amaud say that much at once. “But the Guild, they have healers. They can take care of you, right?”

He shook his head, slow and swaying. “I don’t know.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I still had that awful, raw knot in my chest, that tight feeling that had been there since Chuck started listening inside his head instead of with his ears, since Amaud’s body started changing to something big and foreign. They were special. Different. Isolated in a way, yeah, but… amazing.

I wanted to be amazing, too. Not just the weird girl who had to sit at the front of the class so no one beat her up.

I handled the puck with my stick, then I reeled back and struck it with all my strength. In my head, I could see it like an old cartoon – flames and contrails, like a rocket to the moon. In reality, it skittered over the ice and landed on the far shore.

“I’ll get it,” I said and set down my stick. Amaud would never be able to see the puck that far away.

All of a sudden I felt deflated. Tired. I didn’t know what to think anymore, about Amaud or any of this. The echoes of the hockey players at the little pond seemed to dully ricochet in my head. A small gust of wind slapped my face as I walked along the shore. Icy stones squealed beneath a thin sheet of snow. 

It took me a few minutes to find the puck. It had bounced off a tree or two and landed on a little drift. I trotted back towards the pond.

The first thing I saw was glaring pink – a little girl’s coat – way out in the middle of the big pond. My heart just about stopped. Then I saw Amaud crawling out on the ice, halfway from the shore to her.

“Oh, God,” I whispered. The puck fell from my hand. “Amaud! Amaud! Go slow, okay? Be careful!” What had he been thinking?! Why didn’t he yell for help? I’d never heard him yell in my life, but now would have been the perfect time. He probably weighed three hundred pounds. The ice out there’d be thin as skin.

I ran down the shore, screaming. “Jeff! Jeff! Guys! Help!”

They came. I may have wished them terrible pain ten minutes before, but they ran over that crest. There was a split-second pause as they assessed everything, then most of them ran towards me. One headed the other way, to the firehouse.

That’s when I saw the girls, all three of them. One without a coat.

“Amaud, stop! It’s just a coat!” I screamed.

He stopped. The pink coat bobbed about twenty feet away, and had to look like a real kid in his fuzzy sight. He edged backward, slowly. The other guys clustered along the ice, waiting.

“Come on, Amaud,” called Jeff. 

It happened so fast, so very fast. That vicious crack that made my whole world break. His legs sank in, but not his upper body. He clutched the ice with his hands splayed out.

There was another crack. Amaud was gone. Just, gone.

I stopped breathing. Everything stopped. “Please, God, please.” I took two steps forward and stopped. I never felt so helpless in my life. Powerless. Jeff and another guy flung themselves down, belly first, and slid out towards that awful black hole. It hurt to watch, it hurt to think they all could die, trying to save Amaud. Big wonderful Amaud.

An arm flailed upward. A head. His hat was gone, his skin so white, so terribly white, his hair black, then he was gone again.

Another flail. A splash. Seconds stretched out like hours. They were almost there. The pond was so shallow. Maybe – maybe he can stand up. Jump up. Something. Another hand out. A brief gleam of face.

“Hang on!” yelled Jeff. The girls wailed in an awful chorus.

The guys were at the hole. Reaching in. Fishing. I took another step forward, willing something to happen, aching for some kind of miracle.

“We got him!” screeched Jeff.

Then they had an arm, somehow. A third guy joined them. I recognized the slick black of Amaud’s coat. 

Another sharp crack. No one moved. They didn’t drop in, but they were slow to move after, like an old man from a hospital bed. Together, they somehow pulled him out. He was big, limp, and sleek like a walrus. So, so slowly, they eased him backward. They didn’t dare to stand up for another twenty feet, and then they dragged him as a team.

Amaud’s eyes were closed, his head slack. They set him down on the snow and he was just there.

I ran forward. Dropped to my knees. I touched Amaud. He was cold, achingly cold, dead cold. I willed something to click in my brain. That magic, that superpower, a healing touch. 

“What do we do?” asked one of the boys. They were all panting, drenched and shivering.

The images flashed in my head. Page 36 and 37 of Mom’s St. John manual. One of my hands tilted Amaud’s head back, chin jutting up.

Pinch his nostrils shut.

Open mouth and check for obstructions.

Breathe.

I brought down my lips over his. The chill of his lips sank into me and ached in my jawbone. I sealed my mouth over his and released two quick breaths. Releasing his nose, I looked at the rounded wetness of his chest. No movement.

Again.

Again.

As I looked at his chest again, breath warmed my ear. I gasped, recoiling. Amaud’s dark eyes were wide open. A violent shiver quaked through his massive body.

“We need to get him warm, out of these clothes,” I said. Page 63.

“Firehouse,” said Jeff. The other guys moved in and hauled up Amaud by the coat and legs. I worked my way in between them to grab Amaud’s hand. It was icy, like a fish from the freezer. He convulsed.

“Hey,” I said.

His eyes found mine. “Hey-y-y.” His teeth rattled.

“That was amazing, Sara,” Jeff said as he huffed for breath. Water and sweat beaded from his jaw. The guys leaned forward and struggled up the ridge. 

“You guys, too. You got him out.” I grinned down at Amaud. “Hang in there. You’re going to be okay.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. We’d saved a life. I’d saved a life. I hadn’t needed to manifest a thing – no healing, no telekinesis.

I sandwiched Amaud’s hand between my palms and rubbed briskly. Maybe I’d warm him some. 

And maybe, just maybe, my brain would still let me do a little something more.

In any case, I wasn’t about to let go. 

 

END

 

Genres:

Episode 181: Fairy Bones by Guy Stewart


Fairy Bones

by Guy Stewart

 

Owl hadn’t been real to her since she stopped reading WINNIE-THE-POOH on  her thirteenth birthday. That day, she realized she had become Eeyore, losing her metaphorical tail in real life.

Later, her husband hadn’t been real to her since the divorce.

Even later, the rest of Clementine Dresden’s family had faded from her life one by one.

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Episode 176: Makeisha in Time by Rachael K. Jones

Show Notes

You can find the Uncanny Magazine Kickstarter here.


Makeisha In Time

by Rachael K. Jones

Makeisha has always been able to bend the fourth dimension, though no one believes her. She has been a soldier, a sheriff, a pilot, a prophet, a poet, a ninja, a nun, a conductor (of trains and symphonies), a cordwainer, a comedian, a carpetbagger, a troubadour, a queen, and a receptionist. She has shot arrows, guns, and cannons. She speaks an extinct Ethiopian dialect with a perfect accent. She knows a recipe for mead that is measured in aurochs horns, and with a katana, she is deadly.

Her jumps happen intermittently. She will be yanked from the present without warning, and live a whole lifetime in the past. When she dies, she returns right back to where she left, restored to a younger age. It usually happens when she is deep in conversation with her boss, or arguing with her mother-in-law, or during a book club meeting just when it is her turn to speak. One moment, Makeisha is firmly grounded in the timeline of her birth, and the next, she is elsewhere. Elsewhen. (Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 159: There Are No Marshmallows in Camelot by Christian McKay Heidicker

Show Notes

Learn more about the new LGBTQ podcast Glittership!


There Are No Marshmallows in Camelot

by Christian McKay Heidicker

Leticia Andrews saw the wizard hat on a Monday morning at 7:06 a.m. She was eating Lucky Charms in the kitchen nook. The hat was gray and tattered and sat in the window of her plastic princess house, which was in the backyard.

MOM!” she screamed down the hallway. “DO I HAVE A WIZARD HAT?”

“Don’t think so! Unless Uncle Lewis . . .”

“DOES JAKEY?”

“Honey, I don’t know! I’m working?”

Jake, Teece’s baby brother, did not have a wizard hat. She was 96.2% sure. At least not one so pointy and floppy and not covered in glitter like the ones from Toys ‘R’ Us. Even though Teece had never seen one before, she knew the hat that currently sat in her princess house was a real wizard hat. And that meant things.

(Continue Reading…)

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Cast of Wonders 158: This Is Your Problem Right Here by David Steffen


This Is Your Problem, Right Here

by David Steffen

“This is your problem, right here.”  The plumber’s deep voice resounded from beneath the maintenance hatch by the main pool at Cascade Reef water park.  “You’ve only got one troll left. For a pool this big, you need fifty minimum, seventy-five if you want everything to run smoothly.”

“Pardon?” shouted Anita Westegard, the owner.  “I only have one of what left?”

The plumber appeared beneath her.  His arms were covered to the elbows with green slime.  “Trolls. See?” He held one grimy hand up toward her holding a tiny skull.  It was almost human in shape, with two thick tusks and curved ram’s horns. “Poor things must have been starved to turn on each other like that.”

(Continue Reading…)