Jolly was the word for four-year-old Joyce.
Chubby-yet-energetic were three more.
A bright, playful male child — despite the androgyny of his name — Joyce’s fascination with the sensory perceptions of life made it all the more appropriate a reference by his literary-minded parents, Lester and Mackenzie Sullivan. Each of them had wrestled with that Modernist Irish author’s sensual, quixotic prose as students (a necessary ordeal for many an aspiring writer) – in ultimate befuddlement. This was a commonality they discovered and lamented on their third date — the one where they both knew. After a light flirtation in the improv classes where they met (Mackenzie’s response to Lester asking her out a simple, “yes, and– ”), each detected something more serious and abiding that night; not only were they both going to write the Great American Novel, they were both going to assuage deep, aching senses of aloneness in their prose.
Instead they got married.
Joyce sniffed the air as he tottered across the pinewood kitchen floor, too absorbed in his senses to notice his mother standing by the counter-top slowly flipping through yellowed pages of old family recipes, teeth sinking into a ripe pear. Nor did he notice his father, seated slightly slumped, sipping cocoa, perusing the most recent issue of Smithsonian Museum Magazine, scribbling lines of verse onto a clean blue napkin. Neither Mackenzie nor Lester — each in his/her own world — noticed Joyce’s entrance either.
He had a way of sneaking up on them, presence unannounced until he was good and ready.
For now, a comforting mélange of scents demanded the child’s attention, smells already stamped indelibly in his heart as “kitchen smells” — allspice and nutmeg, wood polish, dish soap bubbles and the faint waxy fragrance of fresh fruit. Joyce could not name the sources, but he had it in his mind to learn names. To know what each and every scent meant. To understand.
Of course, there was a time when Lester and Mackenzie sought to understand it all too.
To read every classic, visit every gallery, apprehend every bon mot in flight. Instead, they discovered the herculean task of just understanding one another. Similar reading lists and overlapping Facebook networks served them little when the academic market dried up and they found themselves in a strange city, teaching at different community colleges. Unfamiliar streets and unfamiliar slang teased out atavistic, adolescent habits. Strangeness wedged itself cozily into bed between them, into every silence. Dropped literary references fell with heavy thuds. Each other’s sentences, they could no longer—
And when they tried to write, the words would not—
Each one silently blamed himself/herself.
Joyce stopped before the refrigerator.
He looked up, running his stubby pink digits across the white surface, thinking back to the beluga whale he had seen just inches away — through glass — at the marine park. That was one month ago. He had cried bitterly when Mackenzie explained to him that he couldn’t go swimming with the beast staring back into him with a single limpid black eye. But Joyce had dreamed of the captive whale every night since, swimming by its side, caressing its stark white back — rubbery and smooth to the touch.
For a moment, rubbing the side of the refrigerator brought Joyce great sadness, though he was not yet able to identify the emotion as such. Instead, he turned to his mother, and — distracted by a new sensory perception — asked, “Mamma! Whassat in your hand?”
Mackenzie started, startled. “Oh, Joyce baby, you scared Mommy! I thought you were still watching your cartoon…” She swallowed the sweet lump of fruit in her mouth.
“Nu-uh, it’s over now… so whassat in your hand?!”
“Oh this?” said Mackenzie, as she dangled the stringy mass of pulp by its stem. “Well… this is… just a pear core, dear.” She marveled that something so mundane could elicit such curiosity.
“Oh!” said Joyce, eyes wide and luminous. “What’s a pear core?”
Suddenly, Lester looked up from his magazine, and his eyes met his wife’s. Mackenzie stared back, a dim recollection of…something… bubbling up in concert with the shy, mischievous grin on Lester’s face.
“Well you see, Joyce,” said Lester, “a pear core… that’s… that’s a special magic… thing… that brings mommies and daddies together…”
Mackenzie, a small grin creeping across her own face now — like a caterpillar — picked up the thread, “–yes, you see, when two people come together, and decide they want to share their lives… they become a pair… like a pair of shoes, or a pair of eyes– ”
“–And there is always one thing,” continued Lester, “one special thing that forms the core of their relationship… that holds the two together… like those Charlie Brown magnets on the refrigerator there…”
“And that–” said Mackenzie.
“Yes, that…” said Lester.
“–is a pear-core.”
Joyce broke into giggles, entertained by this unexpected back-and-forth by his so-often-serious parents. Then he peered closer at the eaten-up fruit in his mother’s hands, which she had lowered to eye-level. Inside of it, there was something small — hard, black, and shiny — that reminded him of something else.
Something he couldn’t quite place…
“Are there… seeds… in your pear core?” he finally asked, in a softer, more steadied voice — the inchoate voice of five-through-seven, rather than two-through-four.
Mackenzie and Lester looked at one another again, meaningfully. “Oh, this is not our pear core Joyce… this… is just a piece of fruit… but yes… I think our pear core has many seeds.”
They said this, between themselves.
“So,” said Joyce, “what’s your pear core then?”
And Lester and Mackenzie looked at this strange creature they had created together, marveling at his strange questions, questions they never could have imagined a four year old asking. And they looked at each other. And their eyes shone brightly, transmitting back and forth the same ineffable message they shared on that third date, the one where they realized they had both read Joyce, but neither of them could understand him.
And they smiled.
Benjamin A. Friedman is from Northern New Jersey, the child of a Tai Chi-loving biophysicist and a Conservative Rabbi’s daughter, his personal religion as a child was dinosaurs and space aliens. He received his BA in English and Cinema Studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, and his major interests include philosophy, social justice, the history of civilization…and of course paleontology and astrobiology.
editorial by Camille Gooderham Campbell
From the Editors
Autumn is a time of change — leaves falling, weather cooling, nights drawing in now for the Northern Hemisphere. And of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, it’s spring — renewal, growth, brightening.
We’re also in a time of change at Every Day Fiction.
This past month, editor Rose Gardener has had to step down, and we are sorely missing her. I think this statement from Joseph Kaufman says it best:
“Rose started around the same time I did, working through the slush pile. I remember her because she liked a lot of pieces I didn’t, and vice versa. That’s the beauty of multiple people reading submissions and giving feedback. In any case, I automatically learned a great deal from Rose due to that contrast. It was a cauldron of enlightenment. Over the years (yes, years), my fondness for Rose (and her editorial prowess) has only grown. Voracious reading, in-depth critiques, fascinating insights — Rose has it all. And she has done that all with patience and grace that is too often far beyond my own muster. We’ll not be able to replace the irreplaceable.”
There’s not much anyone can add to that. All I can say is, “Thank you, Rose.”
Further, our long-time webmaster, Steven Smethurst, is also resigning. He has done amazing work for EDF for over eight years, which is really more than anyone can reasonably ask or expect, and we’re lucky to have enjoyed his expertise for as long as we did. EDF could never have been created or continued in existence for so long without him, and we owe him a permanent debt of gratitude for that. This means that we are now without a webmaster, and facing the slow process of a move to a new host and a new submissions system at some point in the next two months. We are doing our best to handle technical issues ourselves, but please be patient if we experience challenges over the next while. We are, of course, looking for a new volunteer webmaster — please help us spread the word.
Canadian Thanksgiving is on the weekend of October 11th, with the holiday Monday being the 12th. For those two days, we have “A Tall Tale” by Jason Merryfield and “Bump in the Night” by Linda M. Scott. Neither is specifically a Thanksgiving story, but they suit the occasion all the same.
For the week leading up to Halloween, we’ll start off laughing with “Halloween O’Hungering” by Dustin Adams on October 26th and then get right into solid horror with Molly Flynn, J.C. Towler, Patrick Perkins, and David R. Gilbert, wrapping up on Halloween night with Paul A. Freeman‘s story “Sea Monkey Business – a Halloween Tale”.
Thank you for your patience as we deal with many changes at this time. We are also saying goodbye to slush reader Andrew Cochrane whose academic commitments have to take priority, and since we’re unable to add or change database access at this time, we are not able to add new slush readers or promote editorial staff. We’re working with a stretched-thin team this month, and are doing our best to keep up, hopeful that we’ll be transferring to our new home at the beginning of November (at which point we will be doing a recruiting push for new slush readers, looking at editorial promotions, etc.). At the moment, we are still expecting to be able to import current submissions from the existing system, but we will keep you updated as we learn more.
October’s Table of Contents
|Oct 1||Benjamin A. Friedman||The Pear Core|
|Oct 2||Theo Taylor||Survey Corps|
|Oct 3||Mary E. Lowd||Small Smooth Pebble|
|Oct 4||Kelly Castillo||Ready or Not|
|Oct 5||C.I. Kemp||Dis-Orientation|
|Oct 6||Rachel E. Printy||Pink Pill Dreams|
|Oct 7||Janet Savage||The Queen’s Spade Or The Queen’s…|
|Oct 8||Sarada Gray||Mem Mat|
|Oct 9||D.J. Kozlowski||Should Have Found the Quiet Car|
|Oct 10||Mickey Hunt||Homesick|
|Oct 11||Jayson Merryfield||A Tall Tale|
|Oct 12||Linda M. Scott||Bump In The Night|
|Oct 13||Damien Krsteski||Junk Dreams|
|Oct 14||Rasmenia Massoud||Our Days of Cool|
|Oct 15||J. Chris Lawrence||Just Fireworks|
|Oct 16||G. L. Dearman||Fishing Lures|
|Oct 17||Jennifer Knopp Leeper||The Bench|
|Oct 18||Gerald Warfield||Looking for Nanna|
|Oct 19||Jemma Marie Beggs||Food for Thought|
|Oct 20||Kat Otis||An Old Warrior’s Final Countdown|
|Oct 21||Sheryl Normandeau||With Friends Like That|
|Oct 22||Mel Staten||An Episode Below|
|Oct 23||Scott A. Michel||The Climb|
|Oct 24||John S. Skinner, Jr.||Across The Street|
|Oct 25||E. M. Byrne||Ephemeron|
|Oct 26||Dustin Adams||Halloween O’Hungering|
|Oct 27||Molly Flynn||Daddy’s Glasses|
|Oct 28||J.C. Towler||The Wendigo of the Plains|
|Oct 29||Patrick Perkins||Me Want to Play|
|Oct 30||David R. Gilbert||Bitten|
|Oct 31||Paul A. Freeman||Sea Monkey Business – a Halloween Tale|
I ingest a single swallow and hold on. Bruno says I’ll feel the effects in a few minutes—our flasks will be nice and secure in our coat pockets. Mine’s a thin jacket on a cold night, but ink warms you up, and it tastes better with a little chill to it.
I lock my door on our way out; the city is a dangerous place these days—lately all the thugs acquired these laser box cutters to mug people like my elderly neighbor Mrs. Faust. Cauterization probably saved her from bleeding to death.
But I’m with four other dudes, a pack on the prowl with no natural predators, and now the ink’s starting to kick in. Mild euphoria, nothing major—Bruno gave me the flask, and despite what the public health people say he insists ink is fine, and if you can’t trust your best friend, who can you trust?
“This is going to be a great night, Jim,” Bruno says, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
The stuff is like black honey, hard to take in large mouthfuls. Ink has power to it—every day of your life you write your story in ink. This time I can feel its power faster, like it’s making the jump straight from tongue to bloodstream and bypassing digestion. My smile is huge.
Dan takes us to a club called The Hyper Dome. Everything inside is certainly hyper—flashing strobe lights and pounding music and bumping hips and bass drops. A girl in a bikini top passes us a handful of luminous sticks to wrap around our necks, wrists, hips, whatever. Bryan lingers to flirt and Dan has to drag him away, but she’s good with the attention, and Bryan’s good with the rejection, and I’m good with watching them—it’s all good!
The first thing I notice on the dance floor is the girl to guy ratio—so many more girls! This goes against the general rule of bars and clubs throughout the history of time, and I feel the flask in my pocket and wonder if the ink is actually changing the rules, altering the odds in the drinker’s favor, contorting the very fabric of space-time itself!
There are two other guys near us, though, and Harvey steps on their toes, literally and figuratively. They are big and burly, with necks like buffaloes—football players? Harvey claims it was an accident, but he’s speaking to the pair of college girls beside them. He receives a shove.
It appears the rule of numbers still exists as the five of us rush the two jocks and tackle them. The ink is pumping through my arteries now, dancing with adrenaline, thick and viscous and commanding. I’m not a fighter—I played soccer as a kid and got good at flopping—but with a dab of ink I am whatever I want to be. Right now I want to be a flurry of fists and feet.
Shouting girls attract security, and Harvey has his arm bent behind him and is steered out. His lip bleeds; he shouts profanities; we follow in their wake, glaring at the crowd that has paused mid-debauchery, though the music still thumps. Someone come for us! Someone try to take us! We dare you!
“That was some intense stuff to say, Jim,” Dan says.
Had I spoken aloud?
“Well, things got heated, didn’t they?” Bruno says. “Have a sip, bro.”
The night air carries a thin breeze that cracks my lips, helps the blood congeal on my knuckles, seems to take my vision for a doe-see-doe as it blows by. We wander. Some of us are talking; I can’t tell who, but I can tell they’re upset by their raised voices, their tones, their shouts.
Something tells me I should find out what’s wrong. I stop and pivot, realizing I’ve roamed half a block away from my friends, who stopped to meet the two hulking silhouettes of the jocks from the club, come to finish what was started.
Harvey leads our vanguard, but apparently these two aren’t football players but heavyweight boxers—one right hook and he’s tasting sidewalk. My pack lunges; I see Bruno double over, spitting.
My legs hurl me toward them, teeth bared like a wolf, my only thought to do as much damage as possible to these intruders threatening my friends. My forehead connects with nose; my victim stumbles back. I expect him to come after me, but something steals his attention.
Three figures materialize from the shadows of low buildings—we’re far from downtown now, though how we got here I couldn’t say. The thugs rush us, their tattooed faces illuminated green by something in their hands.
The blow meets my side, dull at first but once I’m on the ground it becomes hot and clarifying; I see a brawl on the sidewalk; Bryan slamming into a parked car so hard its alarm goes off; a thug flailing with a box cutter so fast it spells names in the air.
One of the jocks lands an uppercut and flattens a thug. The other two turn on him. His friend with the newly broken nose rushes to help. I grab Bruno by one arm and hoist Harvey off the ground. A blink later we’re all five blocks away, sprinting, running as if lions bit at our heels, turning right and flying past a gasping crowd enjoying drinks outside beneath orange heat lamps. I fumble my key out while we’re still two blocks away.
Back inside, we all collapse—on couches, in chairs, on the carpet. I shrug out of my coat and examine the wound—a simple cut. Practically nothing. But my jacket is shredded, the flask inside split open, ink draining out like blood from a wound.
“Dude,” Bruno pants, “save what’s left.”
I don’t think I will.
Devin Miller is a tar heel who writes stories… and sometimes does other things, too.
Leon’s pinky wraps around my pinky underneath the desk. Our hands hang linked in the gap between our laps; his warm, mine cold. Facing forward, I wonder if he’s looking at me. Wonder what sort of eyes go with his perfect voice. Wonder what his hair feels like. Wonder what—
“Miss Walters? Mr. Leto? Whenever you’re ready.”
As I yank my hand away from Leon’s, my cheeks heat. How long has Mr. Smythe been ogling our game of handsies? So embarrassing.
Leon’s chair shifts beside mine, stuttering across the floor. Thankfully, he answers Mr. Smythe for both of us. “We’re ready, sir.”
He can be such a smartass.
My voice is stuck somewhere between my throat and my stomach, where the nerves are jigging in some sort of happy dance.
“Good. Let me remind you this project counts toward forty percent of your final grade. You have one hour, and it’s the last hour you have. No excuses this time.”
My nostrils flare as my eyebrows bend. Spending the afternoon crying in the counsellor’s office while having gum cut out of my hair was not an excuse.
“Screw you.” The words rumble under my breath, but Mr. Smythe catches them.
“What was that, Jessica?”
“Nothing, Mr. Smythe. No more excuses.”
Leon’s hand finds my knee and he squeezes it. There’s an explosion at the base of my spine, shooting fireworks toward my neck. He’s sitting closer now. I can smell the lavender in his laundry detergent.
“Good luck.” Leon’s whisper tickles my ear, and a nervous giggle escapes my chest.
“You too.” I breathe him in without sound, stretching straighter in my hard chair.
My pulse beats out of control as I pull the plastic bag off my somewhat sculpted lump of clay. Or my big-fat-mess-of-a-lump-of-clay as it feels beneath my fingers. Signing up for art class was the dumbest idea my psychiatrist ever had.
A waft of wet earth hits my nose, cancelling out the smell of Leon. The nerves rise again, and this time they’re not good. The classroom is quiet. Too quiet. The tick of the clock and the soft scratching next to me where Leon’s probably crafting a masterpiece. A masterpiece he would’ve finished if he wasn’t always late.
“I think you’ve got it backwards.” Leon’s chair scrapes, lavender returns. “Here. Do you mind?” The clay spins against my skin.
“I would’ve figured it out.” Frustration comes out with my words—more than I would like. But, sheesh.
“I know. An hour’s an hour, though. And I want you to pass this class so we can sit beside each other next semester.”
“What makes you think I’m signing up for Art again?”
“Because I am. And I was hoping you would as well.”
It’s a good thing I’m sitting down. Because, wow—my heart pulls some major stretches inside my ribcage.
“Uh, can we listen to music?” My thumbs dig deep into the cool mass of clay.
Mr. Smythe’s tongue clicks. “What did you have in mind, Jessica?”
“I’m okay with the classical music you listen to at break. Whatever you want.”
Exasperation fills the room, or at least a sigh the size of the gymnasium, and I reach down to the space between my chair and Leon’s, hoping to find his hand.
I do. It’s there.
A second later the sound of a guitar vibrates around my ears. The muscles in my shoulders relax. I will spend the next semester twisting pinkies with Leon and inhaling subtly. I will find out what his hair feels like. He doesn’t reclaim his hand right away so I explore its digits with both of mine. He lets my fingers spider between his, then up his smooth wrist free of scars. Or a watch.
My hands rush the surface of my clay, smooth the ruts. Whatever this mound ends up being, my parents will probably put it on our very empty mantelpiece. Anything’s worth celebrating these days.
The bell rings while I’m working up the shapes and shadows of the last fingernail. Footsteps approach. Mr. Smythe raps his hand on my desk. “Well done. I’ll prepare your projects for the kiln. Final marks will be available in two weeks’ time.”
I scoot around to face Leon, hitting his chair with my knee. Whoa. He’s so close. “I take it mine’s not horrible?” It doesn’t feel horrible, but it wouldn’t be the first time my touch has lied to me. Like that time with the kids and the ketchup in gym class.
“Far from it. It’s amazing.”
A smile pulls my lips toward my ears. He’s so sweet. “That probably depends on your definition of amazing.”
“Do you want to see mine before you go?”
“Um, yeah. But, you know…” I draw a circle around my face with my finger and stick out my tongue.
Leon’s hand trembles as he takes mine in his for the umpteen-millionth time this afternoon, and places it on the damp surface of his project.
“Wow. It feels very, uh… detailed.”
His breath hits my cheek when he laughs. “Yeah, I pay attention to details.”
“But you’re always late.” Great. Now he knows I’ve been paying attention to him. I’m going to die of embarrassment today. I know it.
My fingers stop at a deep crevasse in the middle of his project. “What’s this?”
He moves my hand along its edges. “It’s a crack.”
“It feels out of place. Is it meant to be there?”
Leon pulls me up, hands me my cane. “Yep. That’s how the light gets in.”
When his mother opened the door, Conrad didn’t know whether he should close his laptop or cover his lap with the blanket, so he did half of each. “Can’t you knock?”
“I’m your mother, I don’t have to knock.” She scanned the room. Posters of famous authors filled the gaps between the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Asimov, Le Guin, Zelazny and Delaney kept watch over the varied army of action figures. “What are you doing?”
Conrad hunched over. “Nothing.”
His mother strode across the room and opened the laptop. After a moment she said, “Open the blanket.”
“But, mom, I—”
Conrad let the blanket fall away.
His mother gasped. She walked over to the door and opened it. “Steven!”
His father’s voice was faint. He was downstairs in his office. “What?”
“Get up here!”
Conrad sat frozen with shame. It was bad enough being caught by his mother.
His father appeared at the door. “What’s going on?”
“Look at what I caught your son doing.”
Conrad felt a hand on his shoulder as his father leaned over him, looking at the screen and then Conrad’s lap. He let out a long exhale. “It’s all right, buddy, lots of kids—”
“Steven! Don’t do that. He should be ashamed. I thought I told you to talk to him about this.”
His father spun Conrad’s chair around and took his place near Conrad’s mother.
His mother waved a hand. “Go ahead.”
Conrad looked up. “Yeah?”
“In this family… we don’t write fan fiction.”
Conrad’s mother, Rachiel Hibbing, had a best-selling series of novels set in the Petrachian Cycle universe. Cosplayers and burgeoning writers mobbed her at cons, and often camped out on their lawn. Conrad’s father, Steven Hibbing, wrote literary science fiction full of impenetrable meaning and obscure references to long-forgotten stories from the pulps, and he used the word postmodern more than anyone else in the universe. Conrad had been named after the main character in Zelazny’s This Immortal, and after 25, a popular minor character in his mother’s series.
Conrad held up the action figures of the Mighty Thor and Belldandy from Ah! My Goddess. Thor was from Conrad’s collection, but Belldandy had come from a box of his older sister’s stuff in the attic. She was off at college and didn’t know that Conrad was touching her stuff. “Just listen for a minute, okay. Both universes have Norse themes, so I thought—”
His mother raised her hand. “You can do what you want when you turn eighteen and move out, but this,” she waved a hand and frowned, “is not happening in my house.”
“Maybe he’s doing some kind of ironic, postmodern interpretation,” his father said.
“Are you kidding me? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“He’s just a little boy, he’s experimenting.”
“That’s what you said when you wrote that Star Trek novel?”
His father’s face went white. “You said we didn’t have to talk about that anymore. You said you forgave me.”
“I’m sorry you had to hear that, Conrad. But it needed to be said. You needed to know about your father’s… indiscretion.”
His father raised his fists. “I used a pseudonym!”
“There’s no need to yell. I just don’t want our son to think that it’s okay to be unoriginal.”
Conrad’s father deflated. “I’m sorry.”
Conrad’s parents hugged.
“I’m sorry too,” his mother said. “I promised not to throw that in your face anymore.”
“It’s all right.”
“No, it’s not.” She leaned in close and whispered. “Later tonight I’ll come into your office… and we can co-write a story set in my universe.”
“Really? I’ve been asking for years to—”
She held up a hand. “Don’t spoil it by talking too much. We still have our son to deal with.”
They walked over and stood on either side of Conrad.
“You understand what you did wrong?” his father asked.
“And you know what you need to do?” his mother asked.
His mother put her hand on his shoulder. “Show us.”
Conrad opened his laptop, and with shaking fingers keyed Ctrl-A. He hit the delete key. Five pages of prose gone. Just like that. He took a deep breath and sniffled.
“Now save, so you can’t get it back,” his mother said.
Conrad’s hands hesitated over the keys.
“Kill your darlings, darling,” his mother said.
Conrad keyed Ctrl-S. His chin dropped until it rested against his chest.
“It’s okay, son,” his father said. “You’ll come up with something new.”
“Can I be alone for a while?” Conrad asked. “I need time to brainstorm a new idea.”
His mother kissed him on the head and his father gave him a reassuring pat on the back, and then they left.
Conrad replaced Thor on the shelf amongst all his other action figures, vintage and in-box mixed with new ones that’d been worn down with use. He sat on his bed, holding Belldandy. Life was so unfair. And his father? What a hypocrite. What a total dick.
His father had read to him—dragging in his lectern, and giving dramatic readings, voices and all—for as long as Conrad could remember. Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness lay on Conrad’s bedside table. They’d been working their way through Zelazny’s classics for the last month, and they never failed to thrill.
Upstairs in the attic, Conrad opened the box of his sister’s stuff. As he laid Belldandy in the box his fingers brushed a deck of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards held together by a rubber band.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Creatures of Light and Darkness. The Egyptian connection.
Two worlds and two stories began knitting together in his head.
Before he let the story go too far, Conrad made a plan to hide his dirty secret.
Dale Carothers lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sara, and an emotionally demanding beagle. He provides independent living skills for adults with disabilities and eats way more cake than he should.
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