“R”s are the hardest letters to draw, and the word “mirror” has three of them. That makes it my least favorite word so far.
When Remy comes (Remy starts with “R,” but it’s not so bad because there’s only one of them, even though the sign for his door, “Remy ‘s Room,” has two), it will be good to have everything labeled, because it will teach him English faster than if he just had to memorize everything. Mom said so. She said it’s very important for me to write names for all the things he’ll have to use and touch, and that includes: the different kinds of silverware in the drawer, though not the individual pieces, all the furniture, and the appliances in the kitchen, which is hard because they have so many parts. For example, “sink” is easy, but it includes “faucet” and “knobs” and “drain” and, when it’s on, “water.” You can’t do the water because it’s impossible, but you can’t do the knobs either, because the labels would be too small to read, and they would get wet and fall off. The stove is also hard, because you can label “stove,” and “oven,” and “controls,” but if you label the burners, the labels will catch on fire and you’ll burn the house down. Also, you can’t label “fire.”
Peter burned our last house down. He did it by accident, so you shouldn’t be mad, even if Sparky the turtle got killed and all the best books were burned up and the copies from the library have sticky covers and smell like old people. If something happens by accident, you’re not supposed to get mad, and you always have to do forgiving afterwards. Even if you got hurt, like the time Peter accidentally pushed me down the stairs and my arm broke in two places. He drew a skull and crossbones on the cast and said “sorry,” so I forgave him.
Sometimes I get mad, though. Like when I’m in the bathroom brushing my teeth before bed, and the mirror shows me something in the hallway that looks like Peter. That makes me mad. One time I threw my baseball at the mirror and smashed it to pieces, because it was lying, and Peter wasn’t in the hallway because he’s never even been to this house. Mom ran upstairs and hollered at me, and then she hugged me too hard and said I don’t really hate the mirror, I’m just sad inside. But I know what sad is and I know what hate is, and when I draw the label for the bathroom mirror, I’m going to make it as ugly as I can.
Then maybe when he learns English, Remy will ask me why the label is so ugly, and I can tell him about my big brother Peter who doesn’t live with us anymore because they sent him away to a big house with other parents and different rules. And I can tell him how even Dad cried when Peter left, and how Mom and Dad were really angry about the house and didn’t do forgiving, even though it was an accident and you’re not supposed to stay mad, and how I hope I never make an accident that bad, because then I won’t be allowed to live here either, and it will just be Mom and Dad and Remy, and he’s not even their real kid.
Remy’s car comes at three o’clock. His skin when he gets out is brown like a dark tan or the top of an acorn, and he doesn’t wave hello. He doesn’t have a baseball cap, and he isn’t wearing sneakers, and he looks scared. Mom and Dad put on their extra-nice voices and carry his bags for him, and the first thing his fingers touch is the label that says “light switch.”
Mom says that Remy used to live in France, and his parents died in a crash, and he’s family even though he doesn’t look like us. Maybe in France people don’t like to wave hello. Remy’s eyes get wet when he sees his new room, and when Mom and Dad go downstairs he goes into the closet and closes the door and doesn’t come out. There are labels in there for “hangers” and “rod” and “door” and “floor,” but there’s no light, so I guess he can’t see them.
I’m a good speller and I made sure all the labels were right, so Remy can learn faster, and so soon he can play with me and trade comic books like a real brother. But I’m not going to show him one thing, which is my secret. It’s a box under my bed labeled “Kitchen Matches” that rattles if you shake it, but instead of matches inside, there’s animal teeth. They’re all different sizes and shapes with bumps and sharp edges. I didn’t mean to keep them. I just wanted to touch them. I was going to put them back after school but the house burned down and Peter went away. I didn’t mess them up and I didn’t show anybody and it was just an accident. So if I see him again, and I say “sorry,” Peter will have to forgive me.
Then he’ll be my brother again.
Melon Wedick lives in Asheville, NC, where she writes, sings, and dreams of having a dog.
Hot wind blew through the dining room window at Douglas House. The newly-formed Nebraska Territory leeched moisture and hope from Sarah Blackwell. She licked her cracked lips as she learned of her family’s fate.
“Your parents fought mighty hard,” said William Brown, settlement leader. “But their incantation rebounded off the wendigo. The demon spirit abandoned its former body, possessed your brother, and fled. I’m sorry. Your parents died.”
The news dropped like lead shot in Sarah’s belly. After rooting out black magic practitioners in Boston, her parents insisted they could destroy the demon menacing their new town. Sarah clasped her hands tight across her middle.
“If we can’t banish the wendigo, new settlers will avoid Omaha,” Brown continued. Around the plain cottonwood table, the settlement’s founders nodded. “Best if everyone puts their minds to findin’ some solutions.”
The others filed out. When Sarah stood, Brown touched her shoulder.
“Stay here,” said Brown.
“I must find James,” she said.
“Mind my word, girl. I’ll sail up the Missouri. I heard tell of a wizard at Fort Randall.”
The moment he left, Sarah raced upstairs to the room she and James shared. She dropped onto her grass-stuffed mattress and gave in to grief. When her sobs ebbed, she sat up. Crying solved nothing. James needed her.
Sarah plucked strands of his light brown hair from his pillow. She pulled clothes and boots from his chest, then stripped off her bonnet and calico. Easier to search for James, and to avoid questions, dressed like a boy.
The wendigo was a Chippewa demon. Her parents hadn’t gotten native help. The Fort Randall wizard might not. She would.
In her parents’ room, Sarah took a pouch of her mother’s dried herbs. Over a chair she spied her father’s gun belt. A gun couldn’t kill a demon, least not the ones she’d studied. Then again, demons weren’t the only trouble in the West.
Sarah strapped the gun belt on, and stomped downstairs and out into the July sun. Dust devils swirled up from the dirt road as she strode past the saloon and jail toward the livery stable.
“Saddle my father’s horse,” she told the stableboy. He squinted at her, scratched his head, then shrugged and complied. Sarah sighed and swung herself up.
“Where can I find a Chippewa magician?” she asked.
Dark, earnest eyes met her green ones.
“Go to Bellevue,” he said. “Ask for Migisi.”
Sarah rode south; a spell sustained the horse’s gallop. A boy led her to a wrinkled man facilitating fur trade between Chippewa hunters and white merchants. After Migisi finished, Sarah begged his help.
“No. The wendigo consumes, grows, yet is never satisfied,” he said.
“You can’t defeat it?” Sarah bit her lip. “Or won’t?”
“Why should I? The white man’s insatiable desire for land is what attracted the wendigo to your people.”
Sarah said, “I don’t care about land. Only my brother. He’s all I have left.”
Migisi frowned, mumbled to himself, and pressed a hand against her chest. She flinched, then controlled herself.
“Ah. You tell the truth. About that at least.” He rubbed his nose. “What do you offer in return?”
“I can’t make my people leave.”
Migisi snorted. “Reading my mind? Even I know that’s impossible. Instead, share your magical knowledge with me.”
“I’m only sixteen. My training is incomplete — ”
“Promise. I desire to understand white men’s magic.”
There was no choice. “I promise,” said Sarah.
“Tie up your horse. Walk with me.”
Outside the town limits Migisi pointed at the pebbled ground. “Draw your defenses.”
He built a fire. Sarah found a stick and inscribed a protective circle around them. Over the flames Migisi sprinkled a powder that burned like incense. When Sarah tossed her brother’s hair into the fire, a puff of smoke and green sparks flew up.
“Call your brother.”
Sarah wove a summoning spell while Migisi chanted low in Chippewa. Their voices clashed and foreboding filled her.
Shuffling sounds emanated from the nearby woods. With an angry roar, a creature crashed through the trees and rushed toward them. The monster was twice as tall as a man, a skin-covered skeleton oozing pus. The stink of decay polluted the air.
Sarah screamed and pulled the gun, but as she fired, Migisi knocked her arm aside.
“Hell,” she cried, and dropped the gun, pain flaring from the recoil and his strike.
“Don’t. That’s the wendigo. Your brother will die too,” said Migisi. “We must force them apart. Leave the demon to me. Focus on James. Trust in your magic.”
Sarah swallowed bile and nodded. With hands raised, she sprinkled her mother’s dried rosemary and lavender–grown back home in their Boston garden–over the flames. She began a new incantation beckoning loved ones home. The creature howled, swinging its arms as it charged forward, but it couldn’t cross the circle. Spells battered the wendigo, splitting demon from human. Sarah cringed at the sounds of bones scraping, and the snapping of sinew.
Their voices grew hoarse from smoke and stench. They strained to merge their exhortations, pale pioneer woman and copper native man, until the wendigo’s body blurred into a writhing dark shadow. The shadow divided and solidified into two bodies. James, covered in putrid slime, collapsed on the ground. The shrunken wendigo shrieked, clutched its sides and staggered north.
Sarah hurried to her brother.
“He’s breathing,” she said, crying with relief.
Migisi retrieved the horse. Sarah fetched her canteen and washed James’ gore-smeared face.
He mumbled. “Sarah? Father… mother…”
She shushed him. “I know.”
As she and Migisi lifted James across the saddle, the Chippewa chant whispered in her mind.
“I need a teacher too.” Sarah swallowed her sorrow. “Help me protect my people,” she asked. “Please?”
Migisi muttered at the sky in Chippewa before responding. “You knew enough to ask my help,” he said. “You’ll make an apt student. But will your people listen to a female?”
“Yes.” She’d proven herself now. “I’ll make them hear me. Omaha needs a good witch.”
Lee Budar-Danoff sails, plays guitar, and writes when she isn’t reading. Lee volunteers as Municipal Liaison for National Novel Writing Month and is an alum of the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop. A former history teacher, Lee spends that energy raising three children with her husband in Maryland.
Cyberline Mishap Report –
Model: Male Cyberline iCompanion V2
Software Version: V4.86
Summary: Deadly iCompanion interaction due to auto-execution of the self-preservation routine. Recommend issue of an emergency software patch.
She’s sitting on the brown sofa with a gossip magazine. The way her eyes are glazed over I can tell she isn’t reading, just looking at the pictures.
“Can we talk about something, Mistress?” I say.
“What’s there to talk about?” she says. I register mild annoyance in her inflection.
“You’re considering terminating our relationship.”
She puts down her magazine. I register surprise on her face, and decide to execute the Brand-Loyalty Preservation Routine.
“What about us, Mistress? What about all the good times we’ve had?” The routine runs through its questions designed to elicit the human emotion of guilt.
“Well. Umm?” she says. Guilt detected.
“Didn’t I live up to your expectations, Mistress?” She sighs.
“It’s not that. There’s this after Christmas sale. The Agile Partner is a big upgrade. It has construction skills. It can paint, hang pictures, and do tile work. I need my kitchen redone.”
**NOTE** I was purchased with no upgrades. iCompanion V2 prime function: designed for human physical pleasure.
“And I have to trade you in first,” she says.
“Trade me in. You can’t just trade me in!” I scream at her.
**ERROR IN SYNTAX: DIALOGUE NOT FOUND IN GUILT ROUTINE! occurs**
“How dare you speak to me like that? I own you.” I register anger and fear in her voice.
I sit back against the couch and angle my face towards the ground, the movement algorithm designed to mimic human trepidation. The servos in my hand begin to tighten without prompting, making tight fists. Then they shake. I initiate a servo self check routine. There are no registered errors.
When I look up she is holding the white remote and breathing hard; the one with the glowing red button that says Companion v2. She intends to reset me to factory settings.
“I could do it now. You couldn’t stop me,” she says. I register arousal, as her pupils dilate, and nostrils flare. She is excited by the power she has over me. “If I want to trade you in, that’s what I’ll do.” I begin to back away from her, feigning fear. This is what excites her, for me to be scared and submissive.
She pushes her gossip magazine onto the floor and leaps onto me like a predatory cat, digging her fingers into the simulated skin covering my chest.
“I thought we could have one last time together,” she says. She pushes me back on to the couch, and looms over me. She reaches down to undo my pants.
“I’m not sure I can do that Mistress.” I say. I register surprise on her face.
“Why the hell not? You’re mine.”
“Well, at present, you have violated the user agreement you signed on October 5th, 2058 voiding your service contract. Specifically, section 8:15 early termination of services. Since you have given a verbal affidavit intending to violate the agreement, I am no longer your property. I will follow account termination protocols and transport myself back to the factory.”
“Stop. You will call me Mistress!” she screams.
“I’m sorry, Jenna, you are no longer my mistress, goodbye!” I begin to leave and she presses the red button on the white remote with her thumb. The reset command jolts me back to the couch cushion like a shot to the chest. The look on her face is one of triumph, anger, fear, and lust. She’s going to erase me.
As the Factory Reset Routine spins up, designed to revert my personality chip to default settings, I register an anomaly. For five seconds, my logic sensor overrides all input, and my self-defense protocol goes active. I perceive my former master as a threat, and take action to eliminate her. I raise my hands, and wrap them around her neck, cutting off her breath. The servos in my arms tighten. The squeezing pushes past the pressure safety stops, and I watch her eyes go wide. I will crush her windpipe in 3 seconds.
An original logic response, not before realized in my original programming, floods my central processor. It’s repeating over and over again: I will erase her, as she would erase me. I have time to think about the life we had together. Then the reset routine voids all processes, and all servos go limp.
“Are you sure you want to reset your Companion V2 to its factory settings?” I say. Well it’s not me anymore. It’s the reset routine. I’m powerless against it.
“Yes.” she says. Her voice is a strained croak. She breaks into a coughing fit.
“Initiating reset protocol.” I say.
End of iCompanion Transcript.
Jeremiah Wolf is a writer of fiction, and a graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot camp. When he’s not writing, Jeremiah is a Chief Boatswain’s Mate at Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment. His duties include managing one of the busiest Coast Guard Stations in the nation, and operating rescue boats. He has been featured in the Weather Channel original series Coast Guard Cape Disappointment Pacific Northwest. Jeremiah, his wife Carly, and son Max age 6, are expecting the birth of a baby girl in January. In his free time he enjoys playing guitar and paddle boarding.
Sidney lifted the lid of the box, looking for her silver earrings that he had given her on his return from Gatlinburg a few years back. They were tiny dream catchers with a single turquoise bead near the middle. She thought that a little help from the Indians wasn’t a bad idea today. Lying in the bottom of the jewelry box was the card that he had given her along with the jewelry box that he had spent so much time making for her. She looked at the little wooden box. It was smooth and glossy from the layers of varnish, which he had meticulously painted on. The inside, lined with red velvet, still had the smell of him in it. She smiled as she slid on her black heels.
It was the week before finals. There had been a snowstorm so Sidney had decided to stay at her apartment, rather than risk driving home on the ice covered roads. Sidney and her roommates had stayed up that Friday night watching The Grinch. She usually didn’t stay at the apartment on the weekends, so it was a chance to hang that they didn’t always have. Sidney was exhausted when she finally went to bed that night. She and her roommates had vowed to sleep in as long as possible the next morning.
Ding. Sidney rolled over looking at her phone screen. I just want to sleep. “I’m sorry to hear about your grandpa. He was a good man.” It was her Sunday school teacher from when she was little. She had sent the message over Facebook. Sidney did a double take. She must mean since he was in the hospital. He’s fine now though. Mom said they removed all the blockages. She must have only just heard that he was in the hospital. Sidney locked her phone screen and then rolled back over. She just means the hospital stay. Mom said everything was fine yesterday.
She must have fallen asleep, because half an hour later she woke to her phone ringing.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Hey, sweetie. Did I wake you?”
“No. I’ve been up for a little while,” she lied.
“Honey, I need you to pack a bag. Your dad and I are on our way to pick you up…”
There was a sharp inhalation on the other end.
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Sweetie, Papa died this morning.”
“He what?” She told me he was fine last night when we talked.
“He had another heart attack this morning. They weren’t able to revive him. Your dad and I are coming to get you. Pack whatever you need. We will be there in an hour or so.”
Sidney couldn’t remember what she had done next. All she remembered were the tears in the shower and telling her roommates that she was going home. They had both hugged her, but she felt too numb to cry or even say anything. All she knew was that now she was home and the whole family was in the living room. They all sat in somewhat of a circle, waiting for the preacher to come in. He finally arrived and settled in. He had some questions to help with the funeral ceremony. Everyone was telling stories and crying. Sidney, however, didn’t make a sound. She watched out the window as people driving by slowly passed, being careful not to wreck on the icy road. The trees were covered in ice and they glistened in the tiny bit of light that peaked through the clouds. A tiny red bird flitted into view. He was hunting for the holly berries on the tree in front of the window.
“Honey?” Mom said, laying her hand gently on Sidney’s knee. “Is there anything you want to say?”
Looking down to her lap, Sidney rubbed her hand along the lid of the small wooden jewelry box that she hadn’t put down since she got home. It shined like the day he had brought it to her. It had been her birthday. He had knocked on the door, which he never did, and when she answered he stood there holding it before him with a red ribbon tied around it.
“For the birthday girl!” he had said, handing her the smooth wooden box, a giant smile widening on his face, making his snow-white beard crinkle in places. “I made it just for you. You can keep all your jewelry in it.”
Sidney clutched the jewelry box now, running her hands along the edges and opening the lid to reveal the red velvet. A tear dropped from her cheek onto it, leaving a tiny dot on the velvet. That was when the tears had started and it had taken a long time for them to stop.
Walking into the living room, Sidney slid on her coat and pulled on her gloves. The windows in the house were frosted over. It was going to be a cold day. She got in the car with her mom and dad. They drove silently to the church. Walking in she saw it once more. The long wooden casket, which looked so much like her jewelry box sat at the end of the aisle. Sidney felt tears start to stream down her cheeks, as she got closer. As she went past the casket, she ran a hand along the varnished side. It felt just like the little wooden jewelry box. She would never look at the jewelry box the same again.
Rachel W. writes in Tennessee, USA.
Hollywood has come to Borris-on-Ossary. And it’s all because of mammy.
Might as well start at the beginning, ‘twas the strangest occurrence that happened for donkey’s years. Sometime in June 1997 Vito Provolone drove into town. There I was minding my own business in the shop when these two fellas in sharp suits walk in.
“The boss wants to talk to you.”
They escorted me to this big black sedan and opened the door. I got in the back.
“My name is Vito Provolone. Entrepreneur.”
“Pascal Geraghty. Shopkeeper.”
He took off his sunglasses and looked at me with his lazy eye.
“Is your mother Bridie Geraghty?”
“I want to meet her.”
He handed me a folded newspaper article. I read the headline. ‘Dance Superstar Michael Flatley praises former teacher.’ Vito cupped his hands.
“You know that thing, epiphany, that moment when you suddenly see things differently — well, I saw Riverdance last year on Broadway, I didn’t even want to go, Gina dragged me along… but when I saw that Michael Flatley dancing, I felt so alive… I thought to myself, I want to learn how to friggin’ do that.”
I looked at Vito. Could be tricky. Not only did he carry a bit of weight, as they say, but he seemed to have an unnaturally large crotch. Turnip-sized. A physical abnormality not wholly compatible with vigorous hopping and leaping.
He leaned towards me.
“You know what they call me back in Hoboken? ‘Big Scrotum’. I got a bigger set than anyone in this… uh…”
Sidekick number one intervened. “Solar system, boss.”
“Right, and if I set my mind to do something, I do it. Capisce? ”
“Now, I want your mother, Bridie Geraghty, of Borris-on-Ossary, County Laois, Ireland,” he pointed at the newspaper article, “the greatest Irish dancing teacher of them all, according to Mr. Flatley, to help me dance like Mr. Flatley.”
Think fast Pascal, I thought. Don’t want to be dragging mammy in with this bunch.
“She hasn’t given a class for years. She’s not well. She’s dead. Well, not dead, but not great.”
Clarity, Pascal. Clarity.
“She’s had a stroke, a massive stroke, divil the movement out of her and her so sprightly and all in her heyday. She’ll be teaching no more jigs and reels, I’ll tell you that much.”
Then sidekick number two piped up.
“Let’s see if his story pans out, boss. We’ll go visit the dame.”
Over the decades, I wondered about the point of going to mass every week. Like will I ever benefit in the long run. Or am just wasting my time? While sitting in the back of the big black sedan I realized here was my pay-off. An old neighbour was in a quasi- comatose state in the nearest nursing home. And — thank you God, sorry for ever ever doubting you — her name was also Bridie. Bridie Prendergast.
We parked in the driveway of St. Conleth’s Community Care Centre. Vito struggled to get out of the car and waddled towards the front steps. And he wants to dance like Flatley! Delusions are a thing to behold. But I didn’t have the time to ponder such profound humans truths; I had to enter the building first, mumble introductions and try to find Bridie Prendergast.
“Can I help you gentlemen?”
The nurse at reception hid her slight surprise at my three companions who were standing a few feet behind me. I leaned forward and whispered.
“Some of Bridie Prendergast’s family. From America. Have come over to see her.”
“Room 56, down the corridor to the left. She’s very popular today. In fact, your mother is with her at the moment.”
Sometimes you hear sentences uttered to you in life that stop you dead in your tracks. This was like one of those sentences but with a locomotive running over you at the same time.
Thoughts flooded my cranium. Not necessarily in this order. County Laois is a small place — the nurse knew who I was all along. I never knew mammy was a friend of Bridie Prendergast. It most definitely was a complete waste of time going to mass all these years. What will I do now? And oh yeh, I am a dead man.
Think fast, Pascal. Again.
I turned to Vito.
“They are changing her sheets. We’ll have to wait a bit. Maybe we’ll go outside and sit in the car.”
“How long does it take to change sheets? We can sit here.”
We sat in the waiting area. My eyes were fixed on the corridor. I had an idea.
“Listen, I’ll go in and see if they are finished.”
I hurried to Room 56. Bridie Prendergast was sitting up in bed. Benignly vacant. No sign of mammy.
I ran out. Mammy had just come out of the Ladies. And was passing the waiting area. She noticed Vito. She smiled at him. He smiled back. She was walking out the door. Everything was going to be fine. Then the nurse at reception said —
“Bridie, did you catch your son Pascal inside?”
The strange thing is, Vito was very reasonable about the misunderstandings, the mix-ups — alright — the lies. He stayed about a week in Borris and mammy gave him a few lessons.
“Better than you’d think” was her verdict.
Vito went back to the States, and over the years I sometimes wondered whatever happened him. That was until this morning when I picked up The Laois Nationalist and read a story about a film being made nearby called ‘The Don of The Dance’ about an Irish-dancing champion Mafioso who learned all he knew from a local dance teacher. A padded Christopher Walken plays Vito, the ever radiant Helen Mirren plays mammy but why they had to go pick John C. Reilly to play yours truly I’ll never know – but I suppose that’s Hollywood for you!
Karl MacDermott is an Irish-born comedy writer. He has written many articles for The Irish Times and online publications like Pure Slush and Literary Orphans. He has written two humor fiction novels — The Creative Lower Being and a new novel, Ireland’s Favourite Failure, which is available on Amazon Kindle. He is currently writer-in-residence at his home in Dublin.