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Greetings, Dear Friends!
In this delightful issue of BEORH QUARTERLY we introduce five new stories from our own day as we creep more and more toward the Light. Danielle Davis brings us terror with “The Collection.”
I then offer yet another tale from benighted Salem, but this time–I promise–not about witchcraft.
Then David Galef introduces us to “The Junk Man,” a delightful sojourner sure to whisk you away into a Bradburyesque world of shadowy whimsy.
Beth J. Whiting, a new favorite writer of mine and one I am happy to feature regularly, then tells us the story of “Seaweed” which brings to mind a certain Sid & Marty Krofft production many of us watched on TV every Saturday morning as kids.
And then… surprise! Ken & Barbie make an appearance in Sandy Hiortdahl’s “The Dream House Holiday,” a warm and funny view of Faeries from, yes, their own perspective.
Wintertime is here again, and you, good reader, are welcomed yet again to Beorh Quarterly !
a story by
“I’m not too sure about this,” Suzanne said. She stood just inside the threshold of the front door. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and glanced around like she expected something bad to happen. The hallway smelled like old people and boiled eggs. Faintly, underneath it all, there was a hint of bleach. It was like someone woke up, made breakfast, and set about to clean right away.
“Oh come on. It’ll be ok. Besides, we’re coming right out again in a minute.” Mark was already out of sight around the corner into the living room. It was his house, but his parents weren’t home yet, and this was the first time Suzanne had gone to a friend’s house when their parents weren’t there. She was pretty sure she’d be grounded if her dad found out, so she was anxious to get home.
A tabby cat poked its head from underneath a love seat in the entranceway and meowed at Suzanne. She stepped forward to pet it, glancing around again as her fingers rubbed the soft fur at the back of its ears. It leaned into her touch and closed its eyes in bliss, purring like a small motor. “If my parents find out that I’m over here…” She didn’t quite want to admit that she wasn’t supposed to be there. The Brewster twins, Mary and Mark, had only been at her school for a week, but she’d already developed a crush on Mark that her parents probably wouldn’t approve of. They told her sister Marianne that she was too young to be interested in boys, and she was a year and a half older. Suzanne was thrilled that Mark had invited her to his house—the last thing she wanted to do was act like she was scared of breaking the rules. That wasn’t how cool kids acted.
“What, they don’t let you visit friends’ houses?” Mark’s head popped out from behind the corner. He frowned. The cat gave a venomous hiss and darted back under the loveseat, startling Suzanne. Mark rolled his eyes. “That cat hates people. I’m surprised she let you touch her. You coming?”
Suzanne followed Mark into the living room and down a long hallway. The house looked ordinary, with a few boxes stacked against the wall. “We’re still unpacking,” Mark said over his shoulder. It was eerie to be in someone else’s house without their parents being home.
Mark stopped in front of a bedroom door that had a poster of Spiderman taped on it. Inside, the room was mostly boxes, with rumpled sheets on a bed against one wall and a lonely chest of drawers across from it. There were bumper stickers stuck to the fronts of the drawers, but the print was too small for Suzanne to make them out without staring.
Mark darted around the bed, picked something up from the floor and held it out to her. “Isn’t this cool? My dad bought it for me when we moved here. He said it might help me make friends.” It was a remote-controlled helicopter with blades that sounded like a hive of bees buzzing when it hovered. He demonstrated how lights on the side flashed when it made machine gun noises. Suzanne tried to pretend she was interested. But she was acutely aware of the time shown on the digital clock next to his bed. Her skin started to feel itchy with the sense that every minute she stayed put her one minute closer to being grounded. “Can we hurry? I’m supposed to be home in ten minutes.” It embarrassed her to admit she had a curfew, but she decided nothing was worth risking getting grounded for, not even a visit to Mark Brewster’s house.
“Do you always have to go straight home?”
“Not usually. Just since…” Suzanne glanced at the doorway and lowered her voice. “Just since the murders. My dad said it’s not safe to dawdle after school until they catch whoever did it.”
“Oh, yeah. I kinda heard about that.”
“You kinda heard? Wasn’t Terrence Latrell in your English class?” She was surprised—she thought everyone was taking the murders as seriously as her dad was.
“Wait, that’s why he’s been out this week? He got killed?” Mark’s eyes were wide. His mouth hung open as he stared at the floor in shock. “Oh man. I just thought… well, that he’d been sick or something. But killed?”
Suzanne straightened a little, pleased to be able to show off her knowledge on a subject he obviously didn’t know much about. “There’ve been three so far,” she said. “All kids.” She cocked her head. “Well,” she added, “the first was a high school kid. But the last two were from our school.” Her voice dropped even lower, and when she leaned toward Mark, he leaned forward, too, to hear her better. “My dad says there’s a serial killer on the loose.” She allowed a gloating smile when Mark’s eyes got even wider. “My mom got real mad when he said that, because it was at the dinner table. But I heard them talking later that night about it, and she thinks it’s one, too.”
Mark fidgeted with the edge of his shirt. “Yeah, my mom and dad mentioned that earlier, too.” Suzanne’s shoulders slumped a bit—she’d thought her parents were pretty smart to have come up with that—but Mark didn’t notice. “They were worried about my sister.”
“They were worried she’d be killed?”
“No, not that. Worried that…” He looked up at her, and she was surprised to see that he looked uncertain, as if he were struggling to decide what to tell her. “Do you know why we came to Woodbury?” She shook her head. “My sister kept getting into… she had some trouble at our last school.” He looked at his shirt again. “It got so bad that we had to move.”
Suzanne stared at him, unsure how to respond. “That’s… terrible.”
Mark gave an angry glance to the side. “It wasn’t fair!” he said. “One day stuff started happening and everyone thought it was her. People all over town kept harassing us. The teachers whispered things behind our backs. Folks tried to pretend they weren’t staring at us when we went to the grocery store. The neighborhood kids, kids at school—they started with the names. Calling her ‘Bloody Mary’ and ‘Mary the Maniac.’ It was awful! She’d come home crying every day. It wasn’t even her fault.” Suzanne thought she saw a shine of tears collecting in Mark’s eyes. “This is our chance to start over.”
“What kind of stuff happened?” Suzanne asked in a soft voice.
Mark blinked and frowned at her. “What?”
“You said stuff started happening. What kind of stuff? Was it the same kind of stuff as here?” Goosebumps rose along her arms. She felt her scalp tighten. The room felt colder, though she knew it probably wasn’t. It was her that was getting colder as she listened.
Mark opened his mouth, but before he could answer, a door slammed shut somewhere back the way they’d come. Suzanne jumped and whirled to face the hallway. “Hello!” a woman’s voice called out. “Hello? Anybody home yet?”
Mark stepped past her to the door and leaned his head out of the room. “I’m here, Mom! And I’ve got a friend. Suzanne.” It seemed so strange for him to be calling down the hall instead of going to meet his mother to talk. Suzanne’s mom always got on to her for yelling in the house, when she could just as easily walk to the other room talk in a normal voice like a civilized young lady.
“Oh lovely, sweetheart! Is she from school?”
Even though Mark’s mother sounded cheerful, Suzanne thought it felt wrong, somehow. She supposed it was just because of what she and Mark had been talking about.
Mark glanced back at Suzanne with a theatrical roll of his eyes. She giggled. “Of course from school, Mom! I was just showing her my pets.”
“Well, don’t get too messy, love. You don’t want to ruin your school clothes.”
Suzanne touched Mark’s arm. “No, wait. I can’t. I need to get home, remember?”
“It won’t take very long. They’re in the closet. Don’t you want to see?”
“But…” She glanced between Mark and the doorway, torn. “If my dad finds out, I’ll be grounded for life.”
“Relax.” He smiled at her—the same cute smile that he’d given her the first time she saw him in class. He pointed at the door. “One quick glance and we’re gone. Besides, it’s probably best if you’re not here when Mary gets home. She doesn’t like it when I have friends over.” As he moved toward the closet door, she realized there was no trace of the tears he’d been close to shedding moments before. In fact, his eyes were clear and alert, and he grinned like her sister did when she rode her bike down a steep hill.
Mark put one hand on the doorknob and then paused. With a glance over his shoulder at Suzanne, he said, “I only show this to my friends. But we are friends now… aren’t we?”
Suzanne couldn’t help but nod, though the way the sunlight slanted through the curtains in Mark’s room told her it was way too late for her to be out.
“On second thought,” Mark said as he stepped back. “You open it. It’ll be even cooler that way.” His shoes clicked together at the heels as he stood the way a doorman might stand at attention for a rich lady in a movie. Suzanne felt like some other girl in a dream as she put her hand on the knob. Though she expected it to be cold, the brass was warm from Mark’s hand. She pulled it open.
Inside were glass aquariums, the kind she’d seen in pet stores for lizards or snakes. Three were side-by-side on a shelf, with another three perched on top of those. Each one held a head, in various stages of decomposition. They floated in a clear liquid that looked too thick to be water. She stared at the heads that stared back at her, feeling empty as her brain struggled to make sense of what she saw. The three heads on the bottom row were the farthest gone, with milky orbs for eyes and floating bits of flesh like sediment around the faces. The ones on top were the freshest. She recognized Terrence’s head. It bobbed, frozen in an expression of surprise.
Suzanne opened her mouth to scream, but only a low huh huh huh noise came out. She turned, slowly, dreamily, to look at Mark. He stood where she had last seen him. He wore a feral grin, but now he held an empty aquarium. She hadn’t even heard him move to get it. He held it out to her. “We’re going to need this,” he said. She took the aquarium like a robot, looking down into it with a glassy-eyed gaze that didn’t really see anything at all. ‘Don’t get too messy,’ his mother had said.
“Now the fun part begins.”
Contrary to popular belief, Danielle Davis was not raised by wombats in Pau Pau, New Guinea, though she did own 2 gerbils as a child. She received her MFA from the University of Memphis and has had work published in Fantastic Frontiers Magazine and Whortleberry Press’s Strange Christmas 2012 anthology. She writes under the pseudonym “Danielle Davis,” which happens to be an anagram of her real name, Danielle Davis. Most of her time is spent worrying about the inevitable zombie apocalypse, fidgeting, and being awkward in social situations. You can find her wandering around Tumblr and blogging infrequently.
Neither Shadow of Turning
a story by
Scathe meic Beorh
The sturdy oaken door opened to the frigid air filled with the scent of burning leaves. The elderly yet alert Goodwife Naylor looked with inquiry at the stranger, but said nothing.
“I am Mister William Hinderall, come from Babworth this week passed. Your name please.”
“Well met, Goody Naylor. I am newly commissioned Inspector General whose duty be to go from house to house once a month to inquire what strangers have thrust themselves into the town.”
“I see, Mister Hinderall. Well, ye can be assured that little thrusting be done here these days.”
Hinderall winced. He bit his tongue. Surely this woman meant nothing indecent by that remark!
“Yet,” continued the Goodwife, “will thou come in to assure thyself there be nothing here amiss? Mine husband John Naylor the Blacksmith be at home. He prepares fresh fish out in the kitchen while I finish knitting a shawl for the Widow Crabb. Ye would be welcome to sup with us this night, Mister Hinderall.”
“I shall dine with Magistrate Hathorne this evening, thank ye. Now, it being the case that thine husband be at home, I will enter, Goody Naylor,” said the inspector as he stepped across the threshold. With somber ceremony he took his hat from his head and hung it on an ornate hook nailed up just inside the doorway. “Impressive ironwork, though excessively elaborate. My cloak, Goody Naylor?”
“I will take it, Mister Hinderall.”
“I thank thee.”
“Please to forgive mine eavesdropping, Mister Hinderall,” said Goodman Naylor as he entered the house through a side door of the dwelling. “Do ye have prior warning that House Naylor show hospitality to strangers? Forsooth!”
“Nay, Goodman Naylor,” said Hinderall as he turned to study yet more well-wrought iron hooks and tools of the hearth. “‘Tis but my obligation to inquire at every door in Salem. It be the duty of Magistrate Hathorne, by whom I be employed, to take care of matters of our holy religion. The end of the office of magistrate be, as ye know, godliness. It be the duty, therefore, of Magistrate Hathorne, and of myself by extension, to punish and repress idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, the venting of corrupt and pernicious opinions, open contempt of the word preached, and profanation of the Lord’s Day. Since strangers more oft than not bring with them such outside devilments, my position has been formed of recent to counteract such persuasions.”
“Yet, does not Holy Writ teach us,” said Goodman Naylor, “to be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares?”
“Goodman Naylor!” said Mister Hinderall as he whirled to face his opponent, incensed. “Ye seek to teach me Scripture? Where have ye been schooled in such matters as angels and those who wander in the Name of God?” He took in a deep breath in attempt to relax his anger. “Ye would not know, of course, that I have assisted in directing the new school of theology in Cambridge, Harvard by name, where conversations upon such topics be as commonplace as breakfast idle!”
“No, sir, ye be right. New school, ye say? Good news, that. Nevertheless, I do read, unlike many here in Salem. Be it not the Holy Ghost dwelling within we who have been baptized who teaches us according to the deep things of God?”
“Ye hideth someone here, methinks, Goodman Naylor,” said the inspector as he clenched his teeth and fists, “or a divertive talk on such matters which do lie far above thy station in life would not issue forth from thine heart. Where? Where be the stranger this house doeth hide away! Could it even be the likes of that heretic Roger Williams?”
“We have no stranger here, Mister Hinderall,” said Goodwife Naylor as she gestured to the narrow flight of stairs behind her. “And certainly Mister Williams would not dare be seen in Salem. Thou art more than welcome to discover for thyself.”
With a puff and a huff, Mister Hinderall took exaggerated leaps up the steep, narrow steps. He stomped around in the spacious loft upstairs. He swung open the wardrobe, shifted the bed aside, swished curtains along their sally rods. Nothing. He exhaled like a sea-pig. The Naylors snickered at the foolish man, but regained their composure before he returned.
“Cellar?” he said, red-faced.
“Follow me,” said Goodwife Naylor.
No one of import hid belowground, though a towhead with large blue eyes could be seen afloat in the vicinity of the apple barrel.
“A grandchild, Goody Naylor?”
“Indeed. That be young Habakkuk a’looking at ye.”
“Outbuildings? Kitchen? Horse stable? With a quickness, Goody Naylor! I do not have all day.”
The smokehouse, springhouse, tool shed, icehouse, stable, chicken coop, smithy, and finally the kitchen were shown to the inspector. Nothing.
“Satisfied, I do reckon,” said Hinderall as he reentered, crestfallen, the main abode. “But mark ye my words, Goodman Naylor! I am watching thee and thy wife and house. Let the very shadow of a stranger touch this dwelling hereafter, and both ye and thy guest shall be punished forthwith!”
“Aye, we hear and heed thee, good sir,” said Goodman Naylor as with grace he handed Hinderall his hat and cloak, then saw him to the door.
Outside, the afternoon sun showed then from behind a purpled sky, and lo! the shadow of Inspector Hinderall fell in monstrous size over the threshold of Naylor House. The poor man started, threw his hand to his heart and jumped back so that his silhouette did then touch the earth only, and no more the house. Flustered beyond words, he turned and jogged away.
The following morning, a sojourner, a journeyman blacksmith, came from the Bay Colony to Salem for work. He was welcomed into the Naylor home, with no penalty upon any head for the kindnesses shown him.
The Junk Man
a story by
The junk man travels through towns, showing and trading his wares. He can be a middle‑aged man with a salesman’s voice or a boy with a buttercup smile and cowlick. The junk man is an ancient figure, bent over his case of dusts and powders, muttering to himself as he goes from door to door.
The junk man walked until he came to a faded white house with peeling gray trim. A gap-toothed picket fence surrounded a patch of mostly dead grass. An old bulldog rested against a tree stump. The junk man opened the gate and walked up the path. He rang the bell once and waited.
A young woman wearing a tattered orange apron opened the door. Standing on her doorstep was a tall boy in his late teens. He wore a gray sweater and brown slacks and carried a satchel under one arm.
“Excuse me, but I wonder if you’re interested in what I’m selling?” He opened his satchel and took out a spray bottle. “Your name is Dorothy Ogleby, right?”
Dorothy nodded. He must have checked a telephone directory before he came: it was an old trick. Still, she had a long afternoon ahead of her, and she might as well see what this young man had to say. “What are you selling?” She tried to look into his satchel, but he closed it.
He began his pitch. “I’m selling the past: visions of yesterday, old experiences….” He let an embarrassed note creep into his voice. “Anything the customer remembers.”
Dorothy tried not to smile. He was almost handsome, in a crooked sort of way. “All right, then, give me a demonstration.”
“Gladly.” He shook the bottle and pressed the nozzle, enveloping her in a fine green haze. Inside the mist, she seemed to be leaning back and looking upward. As the vapor cleared away, she was smiling like a ten-year-old. Then she let her hands fall with a hurt look. “What kind of trick was that? I don’t know how you did it, but I don’t think that’s very funny.”
“It’s no trick, ma’am. You want a memory, I’ll bring it back for you. Your father, an old classroom, a few lines of verse. What is it you want?”
Dorothy leaned against the doorway, her disapproval gone. “Bring me back to our old house on Allen Street, the one with green shutters and gold trim. We’d sit on the porch and drink lemonade. I saw it again a moment ago.”
The junk man shrugged and lifted the spray bottle again. When the vision was over, he wasted no more time. “Here’s the bottle, Mrs. Ogleby, but I want something in return, some little item, something you may have lying around—may I look inside?”
Dorothy opened the door so fast it hit the wall. “Okay, look around, find something, but I’ll get the bottle, right?”
The teen nodded and smiled. Then he was in the living room, glancing at the souvenirs on the mantel. He reached out for a small brass knob. “Here, I’ll take this.” He showed it to Dorothy for an instant before slipping it into his satchel.
She bit her lip. “Look, why don’t you take something more valuable than that? I mean, how much use can you get out of—oh, you don’t want that.”
He put the bottle in her hand and hefted his satchel. “I’m sorry. This is the only object I can use.”
“All right, go ahead and take it.” Dorothy watched the young man walk down the path with measured, brisk steps. She shut the door and walked back into the living room. The bare spot on the mantel from where the junk man had taken his prize was like a sad eye staring at her. Why, of all the things in the house, had he taken the door-knocker from their old home? She placed the bottle where the knocker had been. It seemed to cast a presence of its own, some hint of a forgotten secret, or a dusty attic window opening onto a cloud-filled sky. She stared at it for some time in the fading afternoon light.
The junk man moved on, skipping three streets of houses before he stopped at another one. In the front yard was a boy playing in a tree, looking down from an overhanging branch.
The junk man was now a middle-aged man with a sandy mustache and a large shopping bag. He approached the tree and called up to the boy. “Come on down, Donnie. I’ve got something to show you.” He reached into his bag and took out a purple stone the size of a walnut. Held up to the light, it showed coils of smoke that curled and twisted about themselves. Donnie reluctantly left his perch and slid down the trunk. “My mom’s not home, and I don’t have any money. Whatcha got, anyway?”
The junk man held out the stone. “I’m giving away wishes, Donnie. The kind you read about in books. You can dream up anything, anything at all.” He placed the stone in Donnie’s hand. “Here, rub on it.”
The boy looked doubtful, so the junk man leaned over and moved Donnie’s hands over the stone. A haze arose and settled about him. He laughed and walked into it. He ran back a few feet and caught an imaginary ball. He waved. He yelled. Then the vapor disappeared and he was left holding the stone. “They’re not here anymore. What happened?”
The junk man smiled. “They were never really here. Only an image, a memory you had.” He pointed to the stone in Donnie’s hands. “You see, it gets smaller each time you use it. It should be good for a while, though.”
“What good is it if they’re not really there?”
“What difference does it make whether they’re real? While it’s working, you can have all the friends you want, people crowding around you…. When it’s over, you can do it again.”
Donnie’s fingers curled around the stone. “How much, mister?”
The junk man appeared to weigh the value as he sized up the boy. “I’m not interested in taking your money—”
“All I got is fifteen cents.”
“What I want is a rubber band or a piece of string, maybe a marble, something like that. In fact, a marble would be just right. You have one in your pocket, don’t you?”
Donnie felt in his pocket and brought out a yellow cat’s eye. “Here,” he said.
“That’s not the one I mean.”
He stuck his hands back in his pockets. “I don’t want to give you the other one. It’s special.”
“Then give back the stone.”
“What’s the matter with the yellow one? All you said was you wanted a marble.” With his hand in his right pocket, he gripped the special blue marble his friend Jake had given him before he moved away. “Here, take your stupid stone! I don’t want it anyway.” He ran for the tree and was soon high up on a branch.
The junk man sighed and put the magic stone back into his bag. He looked up into the branches where Donnie was staring down at him. “That’s all right, I might be back sometime.” He picked up his bag and made his way to the edge of the lawn.
Walking down the street again, the junk man shook his head. Where did they think he got his supplies, anyway? All recollections are based on something: lace from a wedding dress, the door-knocker of an old house, a marble given by a friend. Some people aren’t ready to give those things up, of course. But they all came to him sooner or later. It was simply a matter of time. And what did the junk man want? Hard to say. No one had ever asked him. He looked back at the tree where Donnie was climbing to a higher branch, not looking down. “I’ll be back someday,” he said, nodding. His tone was neither nasty nor kind, merely a flat statement. He watched the boy climb around in the tree for a while longer, and then continued along the street.
The junk man walked until he crossed into a wealthier area with finer homes and bigger dreams. He finally stopped in front of a large brick house set back from the street. It had a winding path with violets along the border. The yard was fenced in, but the junk man walked to the gate and swung it open. A pale face peeked out from a set of heavy green curtains on the second floor. The junk man pursed his lips. He walked up the path, now in the guise of a portly gentleman carrying a leather briefcase. He wore a charcoal gray suit and looked rather important as he walked up the three doorsteps and put down his briefcase.
The junk man knocked at the door.
David Galef is a shameless eclectic, with over a dozen books in over two dozen directions. They include the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress (listed by Kirkus as one of the 30 Best Books of 2006), the story collection Laugh Track, a nasty book of poems called Flaws, the children’s picture book Tracks, and a volume of translated Japanese proverbs called Even Monkeys Fall from Trees. His latest book is the short story collection My Date with Neanderthal Woman, which is as odd as it sounds. A professor of English and the creative writing program director at Montclair State University, he is also a humor columnist for Inside Higher Ed.
a story by
Beth J. Whiting
Marie told the camp leaders that she wasn’t doing anything this year. No summer camp activities. She brought a suitcase with seven large books so she could read the whole time.
She got aboard a bus for the two hour drive to camp. When she arrived, the girls in the bunkhouse were giggling and socializing, but soon went off to do camp activities. Marie sat in her lower bunk and read the whole day through.
The next day, a camp counselor came to Marie’s cabin and told her, “You have to at least go swimming.”
“What?” Marie moaned and thought for a second. Then she smiled. “Oh no, I didn’t bring a swimming suit!”
“That’s okay. I brought a few extra.”
Marie frowned and got into a black suit. She went out to the water to meet up with the other girls.
Marie descended into the water and almost immediately screamed in fear.
Something had bitten her. She saw a green creature swim away.
Marie ran to her camp leader with her bruised and bleeding leg. “I think I got bit by seaweed!”
“Oh dear,” one of the other camp leaders said. “That old myth again? Go get cleaned up.”
Marie bandaged her wound and was resting in the bunkhouse an hour later when two men approached her window, eager looks on their faces.
“Word’s got around that some seaweed bit you.”
The men looked happy. “I knew it.”
“It’s a sign that they’re here.”
“The seaweed creatures, of course. They live underwater, they have sharp teeth. They wreck boats for fun.”
Marie looked puzzled.
“There’s evidence. We call them seaweeds. Our mission is to find out about their culture. There hasn’t been a sighting in a year. You’re it. Would you care to give us an interview?”
Marie felt special.
“Well, I was under water when I felt something bite me. I looked and a seaweed creature rushed past me.”
The men listened in awe.
“We haven’t come that close to the seaweeds.”
“Please join us at the Seaweed Café. It’s just a mile from here.”
The next day, when she would have been reading, Marie walked on over to the Seaweed Café. There were paintings and blurry photos of seaweed creatures on the wall. A tooth was encased in glass.
The men now wore name tags and were eating fish.
“Welcome to the Seaweed Café. Look, it’s the girl who was bitten.”
“How long have the seaweeds been around?”
“As long as anyone can tell. They talk like humans. People have heard conversations. They speak English. For some reason they like to attack our boats. We’re not sure why. There have been little seaweeds, adult seaweeds spotted. ”
“Do you try to hunt them?”
“We want to study them. We tried to get research teams out here, you know, scientific people. But they laughed at us. They thought we were making it up.”
“Well, I know you’re not.”
“Over the years, explorers have captured seaweeds, but they always get away. They’re smart creatures.”
Marie looked at the ocean all day the next day, daydreaming about a culture that lived down there. A whole land of seaweeds. What do they do down there? Do they have school?
She eventually fell asleep, and when she awoke it was 2 a.m. She walked to the shore. She heard a splash. A tall seaweed climbed out of the water.
There was also a girl there. A girl from her camp. A pretty girl she had dismissed as a snob: Nana.
Nana kissed the seaweed.
Marie quietly walked away.
She waited until the next day when Nana was putting on makeup in the morning so she could talk with her alone.
“I know about you and the seaweed.”
“Who told you?” Nana asked, frightened.
“I saw you myself. Just how did you get to know such a creature?”
“I was alone in a boat and he attacked me. We got to know each other, and I’ve been meeting up with him for three summers.”
“Do you have any other boyfriends?”
“Yes, but they don’t count much. I don’t care for the ones at school.”
“What do you love about him?”
“His heart. He’s a simple creature. They only attack boats for pranks. They’re actually a very nice, sophisticated culture.”
“How do I get to know them?”
“You can’t. They’re shy about the outside world. They know people go hunting for them and take snapshots.”
“Can I get to know them?” Marie said, trying again.
The next day Marie went to the men again.
They were complaining about the seaweeds.
“They never interact with other creatures.”
“That’s not true.”
Maybe it was out of spite for not getting to know one, but Marie told her tale about Nana.
The men stood there amazed.
Word got around, and soon Nana was ordered to pack and go home. She wasn’t allowed to return to the camp again.
She stormed out of her cabin when her parents arrived early to take her home. In front of everyone she declared, “I’m in love with him! There’s nothing you can do about it. I’m 18. I can move to this place if I want!”
“Who will hire you around here?”
The café workers stepped in and said, “She can have a job with us.”
So Nana worked at the Seaweed Café. Sometimes the seaweed would step in shyly and ask for his wife.
The men treated him like a hero. It was the talk of the town for a while, and even made tabloid news (though hardly anyone believed it was real). Gradually, the residents accepted the relationship between the seaweed and Nana. Marie now liked summer camp.
Beth J. Whiting was born in 1983 to a large family of brainy eccentrics. At eight years old she developed a love of books through the works of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis. Her short stories revolve around underdogs in suburban settings, such as the one in which she was raised. She currently lives with her artistic twin sister in a tiny apartment in Mesa, Arizona.
The Dream House Holiday
a story by
“It’d have to be a very special cat,” Luke said as he kicked back on the ottoman for emphasis.
Kirk frowned. “Cats are fine. You’re too fearful for your own good.”
Both of them were boorish, as though being in the realm of humans had made them so. First, we hadn’t seen any cats, and second, we were seated in the Barbie Dream House, second floor, and the girl Tricia had kindly replaced the fake piano and two wicker arm chairs from the porch so we could all sit together. Not only was it air-conditioned in here, but she’d given us a grand tour, including the dollhouse elevator, which went wonderfully up and down. I rode four times and didn’t care what Luke and Kirk thought—as a girl, I, too, had played with dolls, though mine were carved from linden branches and wore clothes made from refashioned human shoe leather, feather down, and bits of dandelion cotton—similar to what I wore now.
“This is Barbie,” Tricia said to us as she held up the doll which was about our size. “And this is Ken.” She bobbed their heads. “They say ‘Hello, fairy people!’”
“Hello, Barbie! Hello, Ken!” I replied. I inspected their long, painted eyelashes and their blue, unblinking eyes. I really wanted them to be as alive as Tricia believed them to be.
The boys would have none of this. Luke, the soldier, was stretched out on the ottoman. Kirk was looking through his medic sack. Two hours earlier, the big black dog called Buddy had come to our glen in the linden wood and explained in his primitive language, “Girlchild… sick… I’m sad… this way.” We’d consulted with our Mayor, gathered a medic sack apiece and hopped aboard for the ride back, holding tight to the thick fur. Buddy’d galloped right through the kitchen, a glorious ride—where the Dad didn’t notice us clinging on—and up the stairs. We almost never turned down a dog’s request: they could be magnificent allies. Also, to do a human a favor was good luck, and almost always resulted in some useful booty. We still immortalized the group who’d brought back half a roll of duct tape from a campsite: it’d lasted for years and solved innumerable problems. For all that, we were a proud and ancient race, but we were practical as well. That was the party line, the one the boys followed. As for me, I wanted a holiday in human land, and I thrilled to the shine of Barbie’s plastic furniture.
“Wait! I know!” Tricia said and dropped her dolls to turn and open her toy chest. Her breathing was labored, and it was clear she was feverish as she turned back with handfuls of Barbie’s attire. She filled the dollhouse kitchen and pantry with leotards, sequined gowns, bathing suits, and mismatched shoes, along with a tiara. “Barbie would like to make a trade,” she said, though Barbie just stared. “She likes your vest.”
Luke laughed. “You’d look great in the wee silver skirt, Lil,” he said. “Or the fur coat!”
“Hush,” I said to him, and then to Tricia, “These are lovely.”
“Okay,” she said, “Okay, good! Because Barbie’s tired of everything and she can get more but what she can’t get is what you have on. You think about it and Barbie will think about it. Try stuff on if you want. I’m going to sleep again if you promise you’ll be here when I wake up?”
“Promise,” I said.
Tricia climbed into her bed and went to sleep almost immediately. Kirk busied himself with a repel line and hook so he could get a blood sample.
“Lil, is there anything good for lunch?” Luke asked. By ‘good’ he meant not the jerky and dried raspberries we’d brought with us. As kids, against the consent of our parents, we’d often raided the ‘spoils’ of human picnicking—a stray olive would be the equivalent size of a watermelon. One of those with a bit of hot dog and a corn chip or two was a feast for us. It’s junk, pure junk, the elders would say, but that hadn’t stopped us.
I opened the pink refrigerator, moved aside the plastic pizza and the plastic chicken and pulled out the round red “M” candy, about the size of a human cake for us. “There’s this.”
Kirk smirked. “Isn’t that plastic like everything else here?” Grumbly fae nature man!
“Chocolate inside,” I said.
Buddy the dog looked up from the rug at the end of the bed, where he was gnawing a bone. He nudged the bone with his nose. “Want?” he asked.
“Not quite our feed,” I said. He smiled, licked his lips, and resumed his gnawing. Dogs are simple creatures, generous and kind-hearted—but generally hungry as well.
The boys got busy. Luke took out a knife and came over to try his luck with the “M” while Kirk set up his line to get from the dream house to the dreaming girl. That left me and Barbie’s clothes! They were extravagant and very human, and though I tried with everything in me to be disdainful, I had to try them on. The elegant black dress with purple flowers and elbow length white gloves. Next came a crazy polka-dotted skirt with a football jersey. Then a pink gown with lace and an impossible hoop skirt, a sailor hat and shorts, a crazy-colored jumpsuit…. I glanced at Barbie and wondered if she’d be as thrilled with my leather jerkin, dandelion cotton frock, or hemp pants. Perhaps.
Luke peeked in, his face covered in chocolate. “What the hey, Lil? What are you doing in that?” It was the crazy-colored overalls and the aviator cap with glasses. He started to sneer, but then cocked his head and grinned. “Is there something for me to try?”
“Sure!” Ken’s clothing had been mixed in and I’d tossed it over the ironing board. “All kinds of stuff!”
Luke wiped his face and hands and started modeling, first the tuxedo with a fake rose held in his teeth, then the Hawaiian shirt and shorts, then the soccer uniform, and finally a pair of worn blue jeans and a t-shirt with a guitar on it. “This…” he said with a happy sigh, “feels heavenly….”
“Cool fae hippie rock dude!” I said.
“You like it?”
I clapped. “Encore!” There was tons more. More colors and styles than could have been imagined. Kirk, meanwhile, had gotten a blood sample from the girl and was back at the lime green plastic dream house dinette set running tests. When I glanced in, he didn’t look up, but huffed, “That’s the trouble with humans. They wait too long. A serious infection will run through a body in less than a day! Our people have old medicine, good medicine.”
Luke chuckled as he straightened his yellow bow tie and admired himself in a red and white striped suit. “Humans too busy making plastic doll couches and air conditioning. Not that I don’t appreciate both, but their cultural priorities seem a bit askew.”
Ten minutes later, Kirk had determined the problem to be a spirochete infection, likely from a tick bite, and had concocted a remedy. He loaded up his syringe and took it back to Tricia. When he pricked the back of her hand with it, she awoke. “You’re here,” she said, with a yawn. “Thought I’d dreamed you.”
Then she noticed Luke and me. “Oh, you both look so lovely dressed up! Let’s put Barbie and Ken in your clothes and see how they look!” We fished out our discarded fae-ware and handed it to her. She quickly dressed her dolls in it. Even Kirk smiled. The dolls looked like crazy fae mannequins. “Can we… can we have them? You can have all of these!”
It was too tempting. I pictured myself dancing down the olive branch in lime green sequins… skating across the Root-Oak Pond in the delicious white skirt and jacket…. “We won’t be able to get them home, though,” I said, sad.
“Sure you will,” replied Tricia. She already seemed to be feeling better. “Look, Buddy brought you in so Buddy can take you back when it’s time… and when it’s time, Buddy will carry them for you.” She grabbed a pink human girl sock. “In this!”
By the next day, Tricia was nearly well, we’d stuffed ourselves with half of her breakfast pastry, and Buddy proudly carried us on his back with our sock luggage in his mouth. We promised the little girl we’d be back for more visits, and she promised us there’d be new wardrobes and new adventures with Barbie and Ken. “Next time,” she said, “I’ll make you a swimming pool in the sink and introduce you to Wilma, our cat.”
“Cat?” Luke jumped and put his hand on the hilt of his knife.
“Next time,” I said, and we were off again, bound for home—but with fine holiday treasures.
Sandy Hiortdahl lives with her best friend Kismo Blue, an Australian Cattle Dog, in East Tennessee. She’s a recipient of the Sophie Kerr Prize and has an M.F.A. from George Mason and a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America. She teaches at Northeast State Community College. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming this year in Punchnel’s and Barely South Review, among others. More may be found on her website: www.sandyhiortdahl.com She’s on Twitter: @hiortdahl