My name is Magnolia Shakes, and I was born on July 28, 1970. Exactly eight years later my daddy died in an act of self-killing out on the interstate near where we lived. I don’t know why he picked my birthday to do what he did. People tried to tell me he wasn’t feeling right and didn’t pick that day on purpose. I knew better because he left me a present that I found after. It was a doll inside a box that you could see through. She had blonde hair and wore a pink dress with yellow dots on it. I never did open it and just sat her on a shelf in my room and I would look at her once in a while. I wanted to play with her, but I just couldn’t. He had a little note with it too that just said: Happy Birthday always, my Magnolia. Love, Daddy. On all my birthdays after that, I made myself believe he picked it so I would never forget and always remember him, but not in a bad way. Thinking otherwise would have crushed me to dust.
The accident was awful, and they had to shut down the highway and reroute people through town. There was a story about it in the newspaper the next day, but momma wouldn’t let me look at it. She folded it up and hid it away somewhere. I found it later and my brother clipped it to keep. They had to take the driver of the truck to the hospital and sedate him because he was so traumatized. There were about half a dozen cars that wrecked, too. No one else was killed but I think some people had some bad gashes and broken bones. The highway patrolmen that came to the house warned us not to go down there. Later, if we had to go on the highway, I would close my eyes at that particular stretch and try not to think about it, to push it away. It wore me out, in almost anything I did, having to do all that pushing of bad memories away. They just kept coming back, like I was constantly building a dam and it just kept breaking.
My mother’s name was Helen Shakes and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. She had long, bouncy blonde hair that she loved tossing around with her hands. Her eyes were a smooth green with a dot of sparkle that looked like the Emerald City from that Wizard of Oz movie. I thought she looked like a real-life princess, but other people said she was a little rough around the edges in both looks and actions. I don’t think she was, not until what happened to daddy. She kind of just let herself go after that. She started to drink more than usual, too. She was never mean to me, just a bit neglectful at times, especially when that Eddie Dallas started coming around more and more. My older brother Dylan and I didn’t like him at all. I thought he was arrogant and rude and disrespectful to our mother. I don’t know what she saw in him. He was a small, red-headed man with a smooth and youthful face dotted with freckles. If you didn’t know the real Eddie Dallas you would have thought he was a sweet, nice guy just by looking at him. But he wasn’t. He had a mean streak running through him all the way. I don’t know how my momma could feel any comfort looking into those demon eyes or being held in those scrawny arms. She acted like she did. But I knew better. It was sort of like I could see her insides, past her skin and into her soul, and what was on the inside was different than what was on the outside. I’ve always been able to do that, with most anybody. The only one I really couldn’t do it with was Dylan, and I think that was because he could do it too.
Dr. Frost was sitting in a chair across from Feldon and flipping through a file. He clicked a pen and scribbled something down. He was dressed in a shirt and tie and perfectly pressed pants. His shoes shined like the gates of Heaven. He was a man in his late 40s with a neatly bearded face and a high forehead with thinning dark hair slicked back over his scalp. He wore expensive glasses over his dark eyes and constantly sipped at lemon water during the sessions.
Dr. Frost was a serious man who seemed continuously annoyed at the less intelligent world that surrounded him. The doctor carried himself with an air of self-importance; he was a product of wealth and the best schooling, but it did him no favors because he was often looked upon by his colleagues as snobbish and close-minded. He had been trying to help Feldon for months now but was dismayed and often bored by his lack of progress. In fact, he felt Feldon was getting worse each time they met. The doctor folded his hands in his lap, cleared his throat and nodded his head with a fake grin.
“Are you ready to begin?” he asked in a firm yet soft tone.
Feldon was lying on the comfortable couch and staring up at the white ceiling.
“How have things been since we last talked?”
“I got into a fight with Carl last night. I hit him.”
Dr. Frost readjusted himself in the chair and leaned in with some interest. How absolutely exciting, he thought to himself.
“Why did you hit him?”
“He was annoying me.”
“It’s just every time I try to get close to Eve, he’s always right there. He’s always getting in the way.”
The doctor clicked his pen again and jotted something down in the file.
“I seem to recall that you had talked about asking Carl to move out. Maybe it’s time to do that. It sounds like things are getting a bit out of control.”
“I can’t just throw him out into the street. He doesn’t have a job. He’d never survive,” Feldon complained.
“I think it’s admirable that you care about the wellbeing of your friend, but you also have to consider your own happiness as well, Feldon,” the doctor replied.
“Happiness? What’s that?”
“I suppose it’s something different for everyone, but for you, I believe a sense of security and having less chaos in your life would be a start.”
“Maybe I should be the one to move out,” Feldon said. “I could just go away, somewhere else, and never come back. I just long to escape.”
“But Feldon,” Dr. Frost began. “Until you give up this idea that happiness is somewhere else, you’ll never be happy where you are. So, you see, it really doesn’t work. And you know why?”
“Because you’re with yourself wherever you go. You may be able to escape from a physical place where you may feel sad and uncomfortable, but in the end, no matter where you go, there you are. Does that make any sense?”
Feldon turned his head to the side and craned his eyes to look over at the doctor.
“No,” he said. “It makes no sense at all.”
Dr. Frost reclined in his chair, adjusted his glasses, and sighed.
“All right then, I see we have work to do in that area, but tell me, what about Eve? How did she react when you hit Carl last night?”
Feldon squirmed a bit on the couch. “She didn’t say much about it.”
“Not really. I think she was a bit shocked maybe. But I also think she’s messing around with Carl when I’m not there, so, you know, she didn’t want to act like she cared too much about him. I’m not fucking stupid.”
“So, you suspect they’re having an affair behind your back?”
“Yes,” Feldon said, with little hesitation.
Dr. Frost removed his glasses and rubbed at his eyes with his thumb and a finger. “Feldon,” he began. “I feel living with these two people is causing you a lot of unnecessary anxiety and worry. It’s unhealthy. I would strongly suggest separating yourself from them.”
“You want me to kick both of them out?”
“It may seem drastic, but I feel it’s for your own good.”
“But then they’d shack up for sure, just to spite me. I’d be sick to my stomach every single night. At least if we’re all in the same place, I can keep my eye on them. What kind of advice are you trying to give me? Are you sure you’re a real psychiatrist?”
“Feldon, please! I am not the subject of this session or any of your sessions. Let’s focus on this. You think they’re messing around when you’re not there, you said it yourself. What are you going to do when it goes too far and you walk in on them going at it in your own bed? Then what?”
“Why would you say something like that?”
“I’m just trying to help you realize how unhealthy all this is. You have to choose what’s best for you, not what’s best for them.”
“What if I asked her to marry me?”
“I would put that notion on the back shelf, Feldon,” the doctor strongly advised.
“Why? Do you think I wouldn’t be a good husband to her?”
“It has nothing to do with that. You have far too many immediate issues to deal with. Marrying her would be a complete disaster for you.”
Feldon closed his eyes. His stomach hurt. “I’d like to talk about something else now.”
Dr. Frost sipped at his lemon-tainted water. “What would you like to talk about?”
“I had a job interview.”
Hmm, this should be interesting, the doctor thought to himself. “Well, that’s a positive step. What kind of job?”
“Working at a doll salon.”
“A doll salon.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s a place where people can bring their dolls for a makeover and what not. A salon… For dolls.”
“Are you making this up, Feldon?”
“No. It’s a real thing.”
Dr. Frost clicked his pen once again and wrote something down.
“What’s the matter?” Feldon asked.
“I’m simply taking notes. But why would you want to do that? Why would a grown man want to play with dolls for a living?”
“Are you questioning my sanity?”
“That’s my job, Feldon. But please, I want you to explain to me why you would want to play with dolls all day.”
“It’s not playing with dolls! It takes real creativity and skill to make a doll look beautiful and perfect. There’s hair and makeup to consider, the right dress, and accessories, too. Yes, you must know about accessories. These people pay good money for this type of thing, and besides that, I prefer human interaction with non-humans.”
Dr. Frost paused. He tapped his finger against his face and sighed with concern. “Do you realize how very odd that sounds?”
Feldon grew more defensive and sat up on the edge of the couch. “It’s not odd at all. There’s a real need for it for some people. It’s a service I’d like to provide, and I think I’d be good at it. I see nothing wrong with it. I thought you’d be pleased that I’m trying to put myself out there. Why are you trying to sabotage my progress!?”
“Just calm down, Feldon. There’s no need to get upset. I’m not trying to sabotage you at all. Please, lie back down.”
“I don’t want to. I want some chicken and coffee.”
“You want to leave?”
“Yes. I don’t think you are any help to me at all.”
“Have you been taking the ‘don’t be sad’ pills I’ve prescribed.”
“No. I’m making Carl eat them. I think that’s why he’s constantly grinning.”
“You shouldn’t do that. That medication is specifically prescribed for you. You could be causing harm to your friend, and yourself.”
“There’s trapezoids in my empty mind, doc. My empty mind.”
“Feldon, I want to see you more than once a week now.”
“I’m gravely concerned for your mental health.”
“Concerned? You mean you want more money, right?”
“That’s not it at all.”
“These are my last days, doc. My last days.”
“Are you feeling suicidal, Feldon?”
Feldon wanted to scream “YES!” at the top of his lungs, but he knew that such a response would surely be a death sentence anyway — a lie would spare him further agony and torture. “Of course I’m not,” he answered. “Don’t be silly.”
“Are you sure?” the doctor pried.
“Yes, I’m positive. It’s just that, well, sometimes life feels like a broken fucking record. Is that so immoral and worthy of persecution? Surely you feel the same way at times. You’re human, right?”
“I am,” he answered, and then the doctor leaned back in his chair and wrote some more notes. “I want you to come back on Wednesday, at 4.” He tore a piece of paper from a pad and reached out to hand it to Feldon. “And I’m prescribing you some more anti-anxiety medication. It’s for you, not Carl, okay?”
Feldon took the piece of paper and looked at it. The writing was indecipherable to him.
“I want you to take 8 pills a day, four at breakfast and four at dinnertime. Understand?”
“Okay. I get it. I’ll see you on Wednesday.”
Dr. Frost watched as Feldon depressingly dragged himself out of the office, and he noticed he was mumbling something to himself. Then the doctor looked down at the file, clicked his pen, and wrote the words: TERMINAL MADNESS in big, bold letters.
TO BE CONTINUED
Aaron Echoes August
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Feldon pedaled his red bicycle to his apartment building at the corner of Third and Park streets. It wasn’t the best building in the area, not by any means, in fact, it was a bit run down and housed a lot of seedy characters. He secured his bike to a rail out front and hopped up three flights of stairs to the long hallway. He looked down and he saw a couple of rough guys hanging around talking loudly and drinking 40s of beer. He sighed and went forward, key in hand.
When the loiters saw him, they clapped and yelled out, “Hey it’s Mr. Fartz!” And then they childishly started replicating bodily function noises with their mouths.
“Knock it off you guys,” Feldon protested as he got closer. “You know that’s not how you say my name. Do you really have to do this every single time I come home? Why don’t you losers get jobs and leave me alone!”
A punky black guy named Lester approached and stepped in front of him. He was stout and muscular and smelled of frustration and failure.
“What did you say to us fairy fart boy?” he angrily wanted to know.
“I said I think you should get jobs instead of hanging around the hall being jerks and harassing other tenants. I pay rent, too.”
Lester suddenly punched him hard in the stomach. Feldon doubled over and gasped for breath. The rough guys laughed at him.
“Yeah, bitch! How do you like that job fairy fart boy?” Lester said, sauntering in a circle around Feldon. “Maybe you should mind your own damn business next time before I go GTA all over your ass.”
Feldon tried to straighten up, and that’s when a bald Hispanic dude named Pinto came over and kicked him in the head. Feldon collapsed to the hallway floor and started crying.
“Oh shit, man,” Lester said to Pinto. “Look what we did. We made fairy fart boy cry.”
Pinto bent down and mockingly laughed at Feldon. “Hey fart boy. You want us to get your mommy for you?”
Feldon got to his knees and managed to slip his key into the lock of his apartment door. He was shaking and weeping. He turned to look up at them. “My mommy’s dead,” he whimpered. The door opened and Feldon scrambled inside and slammed the door shut. He got up slowly and looked through the foggy peep hole. Pinto put his milk-chocolate-pudding face real close on the other side, shook his head, and then moved away.
“Just wait ‘till next time, fairy fart boy, we’ll kill you!” Lester yelled through the door.
Feldon hobbled to the bathroom and started the water in the tub. He poured in some bubble bath and watched the suds blossom. He went to the mirror and tugged off his shirt. He looked at himself. He was so thin and pale, and now there was a big red spot on his skin where Lester had punched him. He peeled off the rest of his clothes and studied his scrawny body. He held his arms up and flexed, but there were barely any muscles.
Feldon was depressed and discouraged when he got into the tub and sank down into the warm, fragrant bubbly water. He scrunched his eyes real tight, held his nose, and went all the way down until he was completely submerged. He felt like drowning himself. He felt like sailing away, forever into the warm recesses of the bath water. The water filled his ears and made his head feel heavy and clotted. He puffed his cheeks out. His heart was pounding. And when he couldn’t hold it anymore, he suddenly shot up and gasped for breath.
“Bubbly, bubbly, bubbly,” he muttered to himself. “I’m so damn bubbly wumbly.” He panted and rested. He used his hands to scoop up the suds and then he’d let them drip down over his body. First there was an eerie and dripping quiet, like the earth suddenly stopped moving, and then, without warning, there came a thundering noise from between his legs that reverberated against the bottom of the tub. Great bubbles rose and burst. Feldon made a face of disgust. “Ugh. I really am nothing but a farter,” he said aloud to the walls. “And my heart is like a broken cup.”
When Feldon finished bathing, he got out of the tub, put on his robe, and went to the kitchen to fix himself a snack. He looked through the cupboards, but money was tight now and he had very little to eat. He reached for a half-empty jar of peanut butter, twisted off the lid, and then stuck his finger inside. He scooped out a big hunk of it and put it into his mouth.
Feldon talked to himself more than usual lately. “Mmmm, that’s good. I’ll have some peanut butter bread and a glass of milk for dinner.”
After he prepared his snack, Feldon brought the plate and glass out to the living room and set them down on the coffee table. He took a seat in the middle of the couch and then turned his head to the right. “Hello, Carl,” he said. And then he looked to his left. “Hello, Eve. How are you both this evening?”
Feldon waited for responses that he knew would never come, but he did not care. The mannequins gave him a sense of comfort.
“Should we watch some television?”
He clicked on the TV with the remote control and a strange light filled the room. Carl was glowing green and white, and he had a strange grin on his face that never went away. Eve was more stoic; her pink lips were tight and slightly chipped. Her eyes were wide and glassy, and the lashes were full and turned upward. She had an air of classy gangster sophistication — like she was someone fresh out of 1930s Los Angeles hiding a machine gun underneath her dress.
Feldon enjoyed Eve’s company more. He really liked her. Sometimes he thought he loved her. He reached out and gently touched her brassy blonde hair. He liked how it felt between his fingers. Then he was uncomfortable because Carl was right there on the other side of the couch.
Carl was more of a nuisance to him now. He felt he interfered with his intentions toward Eve, and several times he had thought about simply setting him out with the trash. But he just couldn’t do it. They used to be the best of friends. Carl came home with him first. He clearly remembers the night he snuck him out of the back room at Sahara’s Department Store and carried him home in the darkness.
But then Eve came along and the whole dynamic of the small apartment changed. It was something Feldon never expected. Feldon often wondered what Carl was up to when he wasn’t around. He was overly suspicious of him. He kept the two separated at night now. Carl was laid out neatly on the couch and covered with a thin blanket. Eve was placed in a chair right beside Feldon’s bed so that he could look at her until he fell asleep. He hadn’t gotten up the nerve yet to lie her in the bed beside him. That would be pushing it, he thought. It would be better to work up to that slowly, Feldon decided.
Feldon leaned forward and began to eat his peanut butter bread. He held it up to the mannequin’s faces in a sign of offering. He hated to be rude. There was no response. “If you don’t eat, Carl, you’ll die,” Feldon said as he chewed. Carl just grinned and stared at the television. He put the sandwich close to Eve’s plastic mouth and pretended she was eating. “That’s a good girl,” he said. “Can’t have you starving now can we.” He put the glass of milk to her lips and made sipping sounds. “Mmmm, yummy. Good for your wax bones, too.”
He finished the rest of the sandwich, drank the remaining milk, and settled back between them. Feldon didn’t really care what was on television. It was mostly damn commercials anyway. He loathed the fact that he could barely afford to pay to watch this shit. He pushed the frustration aside and focused on her now. His heart wobbled faster when he sat next to Eve. He carefully reached out and grasped her hand. Her plastic skin was cool to the touch. He gently squeezed her fingertips and then leaned in to kiss her on the cheek. He suddenly sensed Carl was watching and he snapped his head in his direction and yelled. “Don’t you have something better to do than just sit there and stare at us!”
Carl grinned and watched yet another bullshit commercial about car insurance as it flashed across the screen annoyingly.
Feldon stood up. “Damn it, Carl! I’m talking to you.” He reached out his hand and slapped the mannequin in the face. Carl oddly tipped over on the couch. Feldon suddenly felt terrible and went to him and set him up right. He looked into Carl’s high eyes and tried to soothe the tension. “Oh, Carl. I’m so sorry I hit you. Please forgive me.”
Carl’s white smile was distant and masking a bucketful of pent-up frustration.
TO BE CONTINUED
Aaron Echoes August
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Feldon Fartz sat nervously in the waiting area of the glossy Fifth Avenue Doll Salon. It smelled like makeup and money and there were a lot of people moving around and phones ringing.
His dress clothes were too tight, and he was squirming like a galactic worm under the sun after a rock was upturned. He ran a finger inside his collar in an effort to loosen it. He felt like he was being strangled by society.
His thin and perfectly manicured fingertips were gently strumming the cover of his portfolio, a portfolio of few accomplishments. He wet his miniature lips with his snake-like tongue, cleared his throat, and pinched at his eyes. He was being impatient. He was tired and restless. His sleep lately had been unsettled.
He had very feminine features for a man. His face was clean-shaven and baby-butt smooth, his nose was thin and slightly pointed, as was his jawline. The color of his skin was peachy, but he had rosy cheeks. His red hair was split in the middle and went down both sides of his slightly elongated head to just the tops of his ears. He resembled a soft-muscled prince from a magical kingdom as he sat there so at odds with the world, but in fact, he was some sort of a regular man, a real man, one who longed to do great things.
Feldon had pale blue eyes, and the rusty lashes were soft and upturned. He fluttered his lids like a butterfly toward the woman sitting across from him and he asked her, “Are you interviewing for the position, too?” His voice was quiet and soft, like a feathery pillow in the dead of night.
The woman looked up at him and smiled slightly. He could tell she was a bit annoyed by his intrusion. “Yes,” she answered him, and then she tried to look away but really couldn’t. He was just so strikingly odd.
A door suddenly opened, and a sharp-dressed black woman stepped out. She was very sparkly. “Feldon?” She looked down at a piece of paper and paused. “Fartz?”
Feldon raised a finger and smiled. “That’s me,” he said, and he stood up and followed her. As he went by the woman who was in the waiting area with him, he gently tapped her on the arm and whispered, “Good luck.”
The interviewer led him down a short hallway and into a small, brightly lit office of glass. She directed him to sit down. He immediately leaned forward and gently tapped his finger on her desk.
“Actually misses, my name is pronounced Fairtz. Like, say, the county fair, but with the letters t and z at the end.”
The interviewer put on her glasses and glanced over his resume, troubled by her mistake. “Oh. I see. My apologies, Mr… Fairtz.”
Feldon leaned back in the chair and playfully waved his hand at her. “Don’t worry about it. Everyone gets it wrong.”
“That must get very annoying at times,” she said with a feigned smile.
“It did annoy me, but now I’m just so used to it I kind of have to just laugh it off.” Feldon chuckled oddly, and then he felt her staring at him strangely. He could sense she knew he was lying. He hated his name, and the ridicule he’s endured forever.
“Have you ever just considered changing the spelling of your name to reflect its pronunciation?”
Feldon stared at her, dumbfounded, lost in space. Pondering the ridiculous question, once again.
“No,” he answered a few moments later. “I shouldn’t be forced to change the spelling of my name just because the rest of the world sucks.”
The woman was uncomfortably silent, cleared her throat and went on with the interview.
“I have to say,” the woman began. “I really wasn’t expecting any male applicants for this type of job. You do understand this is a position for someone to provide beauty salon services to our clients’ dolls, don’t you?”
“Yes mam. And I do hope you understand that you cannot discriminate against me based solely on my gender.”
The woman glared at him from across the desk, then smiled seriously. “Yes. I’m quite aware of fair hiring practices.”
“And I’m not gay, either, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No, of course not, that has nothing to do with anything, but…”
“I like to plow the feminine fields of love just as much as the next guy — if you know what I mean.” Feldon winked at her.
“Let’s just try to get back on track with the interview, Mr. Fairtz… As I was saying, and I mean this in no way to reflect a preference between male or female applicants, but this position has traditionally been filled by women and I am rather curious why you feel you would be a good fit for us in this type of environment.”
Feldon straightened himself in the chair, cleared his throat softly, and tried to remember what he had practiced in his bathroom mirror the night before.
“Well,” he began. “I enjoy beauty. All kinds of beauty — whether it be a sunset or a flower or even a doll. I feel like there is enough ugliness in the world, too much ugliness in fact, and I just want to be part of a team that adds a little sweet frosting to the beautiful birthday cake of life.”
The woman leaned forward and smiled again. “You do have a very intriguing attitude, Mr. Fairtz, but what about the skills and past work experience you have listed here on your resume? Tell me more about that.”
“You can call me Shirley.”
Feldon smiled and chuckled again. “Surely Shirley. As you obviously have seen, I have worked in a real salon with real people as a shampoo agent. I very much enjoyed that feeling of soapy hair all over my fingers. The clients always raved about my scalp massages, too. It was all very exhilarating.”
“And may I ask why you left there if it was so exhilarating?” Shirley glanced at his resume again and then back at him over the top edges of her thick glasses. “It looks like you weren’t there for very long.”
Feldon shifted uncomfortably. “Well. There was a misunderstanding with a client. Someone claimed that I purposely got shampoo in their eyes… Which is a complete lie. I did no such thing. I believe the real reason they let me go is that the other employees felt threatened by my advanced skills.”
Shirley stared at him like a pondering stone. “Hmm. I see.” She scribbled something down. “And what about your position at Sahara’s Department Store? It says here you were the senior mannequin manager.”
Feldon touched the tip of his long, pointed nose with a finger and then pointed at her with a finger on his other hand. “Bingo,” he said, and he chuckled. “I mean… Yes. That’s correct.”
“And which of these two positions do you feel suited you the best?”
Shirley feigned another laugh, put her elbows on the desk and leaned forward. “Mr. Fairtz, the details of the job are quite rudimentary, and of course we’ll train you on exactly how we want things done around here. The challenges in this position come from the reality that despite the fact you will be working with dolls, those dolls belong to real people, very serious real people. We do cater to a very upscale clientele, and what may seem frivolous and grossly shallow and unnecessary to most, is very important to the people we serve. I guess the bottom line is, Mr. Fairtz, is that even though the dolls don’t talk back, the moms and daughters, and believe it or not, a few of the fathers and sons, do. I’ll be blunt. People can be very particular and demanding about these things. How do you think you will handle that kind of pressure?”
Feldon looked up to the ceiling and thought hard to himself. Then he smiled and looked back at Shirley. “With the upmost dignity and giggly delight,” he answered.
She beamed at him and scribbled another note. “That’s an excellent answer, Feldon.”
“Thank you. Did I get the job?”
“Um, well. We’re not quite through yet. You seemed to have really enjoyed working as a mannequin manager, so, I’m curious as to why you left that position.”
Feldon fidgeted nervously again. “I guess you could say I had a disagreement with management.”
“Really? Tell me about it.”
“They felt I was spending way too much time prepping the mannequins for the sales floor. I took my job seriously but apparently they thought I was overly consumed with the details.”
“That’s odd,” Shirley said. “Usually, employers are thrilled to have someone who pays attention to details. I know I am.”
“Right. That’s how I felt, but instead they just wanted me to get the mannequins churned out as fast as possible to drive sales. That’s all they cared about. They didn’t care about the time and pride I put into it. Those assholes only cared about profit. I just can’t be rushed like that when I’m really into my work.”
“I appreciate your straightforward honesty.”
“Sure. Did I get the job?”
“Well, I do have some other applicants to interview. And I’ll have to check your references, of course. But I do like you for some strange reason. I really do like you.”
She stood up and extended her hand. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Feldon. We’ll be in touch.”
The girl and the man waded through rumpled meadows as they headed toward the lake. The sky was full of sun and a blue-white light. Papa began to sweat, and he wiped at his brow with his forearm and stopped.
Linnifrid looked at him, concerned. “Papa? Are you feeling all right?”
The man who was too old for his age was panting like a bear in Death Valley. “Just let me rest for a minute. I have to catch my breath.”
Linnifrid helped him to the ground where he slumped in the grass. “Papa,” Linnifrid began as she nuzzled up close to him there. “You’re not acting right. Are you sure you’re okay?”
It was then the man winced and clutched at his arm. The sweat was pouring down his face and dripping into his pained-looking mouth. “I can’t breathe very well,” he mumbled, and then another jolt of pain shot through his arm and chest and he laid down flat.
Linnifrid screamed, “Papa!” She rested her head on his chest and there was no beating heart in there. She put her ear to his mouth and felt for breath but there was none there. The girl touched his clammy face and it had already begun to turn cold. She tried to hold his hand up but it just slumped back down to his side.
Now Linnifrid cried as she kneeled there beside her dead father. She cried and cried and cried for a long time and then the sky was grayed over, and the clouds up above began to softly rumble. She looked down at the man and didn’t know what to do. A girl her size could never lift such a large man. Maybe she could drag him to the church and set him down on the stairs and leave a note attached to him while she left to look for Bucky. The rain started to fall lightly and so she went to work covering her father’s body with long grass and tree boughs until he could no longer be seen. “I’ll be back for your body, Papa. I promise. Then we can have a proper burial for you.”
The girl took one last look at him and then walked away in the direction they had been heading. Even the cool rain wouldn’t keep her from getting to the pub by the lake in hopes of finding Bucky. She was a very determined young lady. Determined yes, but she was still afraid of things — most especially the far distant laughter rolling on the waves of the air all around her head. She stopped and strained her ears to listen. There was nothing but the sound of the wind, the gentle patter of the rain, and some far off unattended drilling. She whipped her head around and saw that the same wind was blowing the coverings from her father’s body and scattering them all about. She sighed and turned away, and then kept on walking.
Linnifrid reached the crest of the hill that overlooked the long shimmering lake and the pub that sat near its far shore near a shaded cove. The red metal roof glistened, now that the sun made another appearance. The girl saw the car sitting out front, the car with the dead man she was presently so unaware of. She glanced over the edge and then leapt down. When she landed, she slipped and flew down the side of the hill on her backside. She came to an abrupt stop and twirled when her legs met the gravel of the road.
Linnifrid looked around to see if there were any people who may have seen her circus act. But of course, she was being foolish; there were no other people around. There were never any other people around. She got to her feet and brushed off her cornflower blue dress and wiped away the pebbles from her knees and the backs of her calves. There was some blood, and she wet a finger and ran it across one of the scrapes and then stuck it in her mouth. “Everyone likes the taste of their own blood,” she softly said to herself. She pushed her raven flying hair back and looked straight up the road. The girl began walking with purpose, but then the heat blossomed once more, and she began to drag. She wiped at the forehead beaded with sweat. And then someone said something.
“Hey you. What are you doing around here? Shouldn’t you be home playing with dolls?”
Linnifrid startled, whipping her head around in all directions to see who it may be. “Who’s there!?” she cried out. “Please don’t scare me. I’m just a young woman all alone looking for her horse.”
“A horse, you say?” the voice came again. “Why, I was just talking to a horse earlier today.”
It was then that Linnifrid saw the great tree just ahead and off the road a bit. She moved toward it carefully and wondered. “Was it you that just said something?”
“Yes, it was,” the tree answered, and Linnifrid was shocked. “I don’t believe it. How can you talk? You’re just a tree.”
“Believe me, I hear that all the time,” the tree grumbled. “I don’t understand why you mammals think you’re so superior. Your species is so egotistical.”
“I don’t care about that,” Linnifrid snipped. “Did you see my horse today?”
“Well, I did see a horse. But I don’t know if it was your horse.”
“What did he look like?”
The tree thought about it hard. He was an old tree and his memory wasn’t as sharp as it used to be.
Linnifrid grew impatient. “Well?”
“He was a big horse, I know that.”
“What color was he?”
The tree scratched at the bark above his eyes. “I’m pretty sure he was brown. Yes, he was brown.”
“That sounds like Bucky. Where did he go?”
“He went to the pub,” the tree said, and he pointed with a twig at the end of one of his branches.
“Thank you,” Linnifrid said, and she began to trot away.
“Wait!” the tree called out. “Just so you know… There’s a dead guy in that car over there.”
Linnifrid scrunched her face. “Eww. Why would you tell me something so horrible?”
“I thought you might want to take a look.”
“No I don’t want to look. I’m trying to find my horse. I don’t have time to look at dead bodies!”
Linnifrid shook her head and huffed before turning and continuing on to the pub. The door was open, and she went in. The place smelled like booze, she thought, and then she stepped in something sticky. “Bucky,” she called out through an opening that led into a long room with a pool table; not a green one, but a red one. “Bucky?” There was no answer and Linnifrid was disheartened, and she walked back out into the sunlight and didn’t know where to go next. Maybe, she thought, he went to the lake for a drink of water. She decided that was her next best move — walking along the shoreline of the lake. The beach was narrow and rocky and when she touched the water it felt cold and somewhat greasy. She looked deep down the shoreline to scan for Bucky. He would surely stand out against the background of the world, she thought. He was a horse, and a horse would be easy to spot.
TO BE CONTINUED
Aaron Echoes August
An online journal of fiction, essays, and social commentary.