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The Society of Misfit Stories Presents... (February 2021)

The Society of Misfit Stories Presents... (February 2021)

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The Society of Misfit Stories Presents... (February 2021)

Lunghezza:
235 pagine
3 ore
Pubblicato:
Jan 31, 2021
ISBN:
9781393897552
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Society of Misfit Stories is a home for those wonderful stories that are too long for most magazines but too short for stand-alone print books. Whether you call them short stories, novelettes, or novellas, these stories are all of a length that often struggles to find publication traditionally. Each issue offers a substantial volume of amazing speculative fiction for readers who enjoy spending time with a good tale.

Pubblicato:
Jan 31, 2021
ISBN:
9781393897552
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Julie Ann Dawson is an author, editor, publisher, RPG designer, and advocate for writers who may occasionally require the services of someone with access to Force Lightning (and in case it was not obvious, a bit of a geek). Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital media, including such diverse publications as the New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Black Bough, Poetry Magazine, Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Demonground, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others. In 2002 she started her own publishing company, Bards and Sages. The company has gone from having two titles to over one hundred titles between their print and digital products. In 2009, she launched the Bards and Sages Quarterly, a literary journal of speculative fiction. Since 2012, she has served as a judge for the IBPA's Benjamin Franklin Awards.

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Anteprima del libro

The Society of Misfit Stories Presents... (February 2021) - Julie Ann Dawson

Publisher

Mary

by Jill Benson

THE NIGHTMARE IS VIVID and real.

A spring day, yet there’s still a bit of a chill in the air. A large house looms nearby, one that I know—or will know, I can't be sure.

A young man, his head hung low, his face hidden from me, tamps down the dirt, rocks and chunks of sod. He pauses a moment, then lets the worn shovel drop to the dirt. He’s disheveled, fresh dirt covers his old pants and stained chambray shirt, a hand-me-down from an older sibling, I think without precisely knowing why. I would guess him to be in his late teens, though at this moment he looks so much like a boy. His mouth is drawn down in a tired frown; gray eyes. Something about those eyes. Stony, harsh, yet a little sad. As if a lifetime of hardship had been heaped upon him too young.

It's finished, he says.

Standing beside him is a young woman, little more than a girl herself. She lays a fistful of flowers on top of the soft mound of dirt—tulips, crocus, and a few hand-picked daisies.

The young man eyes the flowers, then grunts slightly. Your mother'll miss those from her garden, won't she?

The young woman does not respond. She simply lifts the bottom of her dirt-stained apron and dries a tear. The last of her tears as she silently vows never to cry about it again. And I can see quite clearly underneath her apron, the swelling of her belly.

After a moment she says, We can never leave, can we. It is not a question.

The young man flashes his gray eyes at her briefly, then back at the mound of dirt.

No. We can't.

MY PARENTS SEPARATED in the summer of 1974, just two weeks after my sixth birthday. I'll never forget it. I was supposed to be asleep, but it had been hot all that day and was still uncomfortably warm, and in those days the only room in the house with a/c was my parent's upstairs bedroom.

I could clearly hear them in the living room as my bedroom was downstairs and adjacent to it. At first, they were just talking, a soft drone, the words unclear. But the talking grew louder and soon my mother was yelling, then crying. I remember getting up and walking down the short hall, standing just outside the doorway to the living room. My mother was standing beside an old armchair that sat stodgily in one corner, her face in her hands. I'd never seen her cry like that. My father was slumped on the couch contemplating the faded carpet.

I was so shaken I didn't know what to do. I began to cry, silent tears running down my cheeks. All I could say was, Mommy? They both looked up at me then, and that’s when I really burst into tears.

The next day our packed bags were sitting in the front hall looking lonely and somehow final. My mother told me we were going to stay with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of weeks.

Is Daddy going?

No. Not this time.

She then said I should go say goodbye to my dad if I wanted to. He'd gone out into the backyard to work in the garden. I went to the backdoor hesitating at the screen and saw my dad hunched over some tomato plants. He was pulling weeds from the base of the stalks, and I remember thinking how tired he looked. Aged. Tears instantly welled up in my eyes, but I bravely swallowed them and stepped out the door to say goodbye.

THE DRIVE TO MY GRANDPARENT'S house was long and uneventful, and I drowsed most of the way there, the pleasantly warm sun shining through the side window, soft bumps in the road lulling me even further. We arrived late that afternoon, both of us tired and ready to get out of the car.

My grandparents lived in this old shadow of a house that seemed to exist in the middle of nowhere. As we got closer, I shook the drowsiness off and stretched my aching legs. We turned off the main road and followed the dirt lane for what seemed like an eternity into the heavily wooded forest. The gnarled honey locusts that dotted the perimeter reminded me of one of my favorite fairy tales, Sleeping Beauty, and I briefly fell into the fantasy that I was some forgotten princess trapped in an enchanted castle deep in the woods.

Finally, we rounded the last curve, and bright sunshine broke through the trees. Up ahead, I saw the house and felt a shiver run down my spine.

The old farmhouse was a large, rambling structure that sat in the middle of a small clearing. An immense oak flanked the eastern side, and it loomed over the house like a giant arm, lanky fingers dangling.

We drew closer, my mother maneuvering the car easily up to the front of the house. When we reached the end of the gravel drive, she paused for a moment, and I could feel the engine idling lazily in the warm sunlight. I looked up at the house, taking in its full visage. Sunshine danced off the rooftop, but the windows and the house itself were hidden in shadow, immune to the sun's warmth. I shivered despite the balmy weather, and my arms broke out in gooseflesh. This was a visit I did not relish.

As we walked up the overgrown pathway to the front door, I remember glancing up at the front-facing windows. There were eight in all, four on the lower half, three on the second floor and a single, oval window high up in an oversized dormer, the attic I supposed. That window was like a giant eye looking down on me, staring unblinking, as if it had caught me doing something I shouldn't have been. I quickly looked away and pulled closer to my mother.

Grandma was waiting for us at the door. Her hair was pulled back in a loose bun, the only way I had ever seen her wear it, and an apron with tiny blue flowers covered her dress. This vision of my grandmother was so familiar to me that even to this day I can't imagine her any other way, although I've seen several photos of her in her girlhood, smiling face, long hair in ribbons.

She stepped out onto the front porch and I shivered again.

Well, I see you made it.

My mother only smiled tiredly, gave my grandmother a brief hug and replied, It's good to see you, Mom.

Grandma then turned to me, leaning down to pinch my cheek, then dryly kissed the spot she had just pinched. I quickly brushed my cheek with the back of one hand.

We stood on the porch for a moment as if all of us were uncertain what to do next. My mother and I hesitating to go inside, my grandmother hesitating to let us in.

Or maybe that was just my imagination.

We stepped inside the dark and musty house and I turned back slightly, sad and a little wary, worried about leaving the safety of the sunlight. But leave it we did.

That was the first day.

THE THING I REMEMBER most about that summer was being so very lonely. It was just the four of us up there in that house in the woods with no one else around. I remember my grandmother saying the nearest house was over a mile away and that it was important not to wander off. If I got lost in the woods, I could scream all day and no one would hear me. Stories of old fairy tales my mother had read to me came tumbling into my mind, and I could imagine myself lost in a dark and scary forest surrounded by witches and monsters, all wanting to eat me. That had scared the crap out of me.

I stayed near the house.

The inside of the house was heavily curtained and smelled old and closed-in. I had the feeling that house hadn't seen sunlight for about a million years; if it ever had at all. It felt like I was in a coffin. Suffocating. Unable to breathe. So, I spent as much time as I could outside.

Mom stayed in her room a lot. My grandpa, I soon found out, had become bed ridden. He'd had a stroke earlier that year, which had paralyzed the right side of his body. He’d also become prone to colds and pneumonia. I remember going into his bedroom to say hello on that first day. He gave me a weak hug and said he was happy to see me and my mother. But the room smelled sickly, like medicine and urine, so I didn't go in there much after that.

That left only my grandmother.

Grandma, when she wasn't in the kitchen or taking care of grandpa, mostly worked on her knitting. She said little those first few days, and I got the distinct feeling that she wasn’t happy about us being there.

I didn’t want to be there either. I missed my dad terribly and only wanted my mother and I to go back home and be a family again. Already the two weeks had turned into much longer, and I'd asked my mother several times when we would go home. At first, she would say, Soon. Very soon. But after a while, all she said was, I don't know. And that I don't know scared me so much. Because that was the same as saying never.

Eventually, summer gave way to fall, and the leaves began to turn yellow and orange and red. I'd found some old first grade primers in one of my grandmother's old bureaus, and my mother would sometimes teach me to read, though mostly I just went outside and flipped through the pictures. I wanted so much to be happy like Dick and Jane and their parents. I didn’t understand why my parents had separated. I only knew there was nothing I could do about it.

As an adult, thinking back on how it all was, it reminded me of an old prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I MET MARY ON OCTOBER 2nd. It was a beautiful fall morning. Birds were chirping happily from their perches high up in the trees, and the sun shone down from a perfectly blue sky. The air was crisp but still pleasant.

That was the day my grandmother hit me.

I had woken up a little later than I normally did. (I was usually an early riser. The quicker I was up, the quicker I was out of that house.) My mother and grandmother were already in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Grandma was scrambling eggs in a skillet on the stove, the familiar smell of bacon and yeasty biscuits already filling the air.

My mouth watered in anticipation, but my appetite soon soured. I had gone into the living room, knelt in front of the TV and was clicking through the stations looking for cartoons.

I remember hearing my grandmother say rather harshly that a woman's place was with her husband, and then came my mother's muted, angry reply. Before I knew it, I was standing in the kitchen doorway. They both turned to me then, and it reminded me so much of the fight between my mother and father just a few months earlier. Only this time, I wasn't the one to cry. My mother burst into tears and ran past me, leaving me alone with my grandmother.

My grandmother said words to me I will never forget. She's not fit to be your mother. She'll ruin her marriage and your childhood. Believe me, I know. Then she leaned down to me and said, I could be your mother. Would you like that?

My stomach clenched and I could feel my hands ball up into little fists, and I screamed at her, No!

I ran after my mother then, ran to her bedroom door, but it was shut. I tried the doorknob, but it was locked. I tapped tentatively on the door. Mom? No answer. I tried again, then I heard a muffled, Tamara, I'll be out later, go eat your breakfast.

But I didn't want any breakfast. My stomach was in knots and the thought of all that bacon and eggs and biscuits made me want to be sick. I put my forehead to the door, and I felt my eyes sting and the back of my throat tighten, but I pushed those tears way back.

I'm not sure how long I stood that way, lost in my thoughts, but I soon felt a presence in the hallway behind me (Grandma!) and I turned suddenly with a start. But it wasn't my grandmother. It was my grandfather. I drew back against the door a little at the sight of him. He was all hunched over on his cane, one gnarled and shaking hand clutching the top of it. Gray stubble dotted his chin and that sickly, medicinal smell hung around his feverish body like an invisible mist. The left side of his mouth was pulled down into a thin grimace, a strand of saliva hanging from the other. But his gray eyes were bright. Alert. I hadn't seen him out of his room since we got there, let alone on his feet and walking.

Grandpa? I asked, almost timidly.

My voice seemed to startle him, and for a moment, he looked at me as if he'd never seen me before.

Grandpa? I asked again. Are . . . are you OK?

He squinted then, shaking his head slightly as he did so. And he pointed one trembling, liver-spotted hand at me, the other still clutching the cane. The left side of his face began to twitch violently, the right side still frozen from the stroke. His mouth fell open in a crooked gape and he said in a slurred voice, I thought you were dead. I thought . . . He took two uneasy steps towards me and turned his hand as if to gently stroke the side of my face.

I knew the feel of that hand on my face would be worse than anything. Worse than those pinched cheeks from my grandmother. Worse than her kisses. I leapt then, dodging that outstretched hand, and ran back down the hallway towards the living room. I ran, thinking only of the back door. Thinking only of yanking that door open and escaping this decrepit mausoleum. I wanted warm sunshine on my face. I wanted fresh air in my lungs. I wanted to go someplace where I could cry and cry until it was all washed out of me. I ran through the living room, fresh tears rolling down my cheeks—and ran smack into my grandmother.

Wha . . .? I began. But that's all I got out.

She grabbed my shoulders harshly, shook me and said, Don't you dare run through this house.

I tried to pull away from her grip. Let me go, I yelled. I want to go home!

You will not talk to me like that! she spat.

I yanked even harder then, freeing myself from her clutches and shouted, I hate you! I hate you!

And she slapped me hard across the face.

My head snapped viciously to one side, then slowly straightened. I stood there, stunned, one hand to my burning cheek. That slap had stopped my tears much quicker than any soothing words could have. I opened my mouth to speak but could not.

A spoiled little brat is what you are, she hissed. What you need is a good mother to straighten you out.

That brought it out of me, and with a cold voice I barely recognized I said, I already have a mother.

Then I dodged past her, easily ducking her arms that reached out to grab me and ran past the kitchen and down the short hall to the back door. I went barreling through the door, down the porch steps and through the backyard, scattering the fallen leaves as I ran.

I ran crazily, deliriously, without thought. A whirlwind of emotions poured through me as I whipped past leafless trees, the tears beginning to come again, half-blinding me. I was almost to the woods, when suddenly I stopped, my breath coming in ragged gasps. Looming before me was the old gazebo. It sat at the far end of the yard just before entering the woods. I wasn't supposed to play in it and had been told many times not to even climb the steps. It was old and rickety and dangerous; my grandmother had said.

At that moment, it looked like some sort of sanctuary, and I scrambled up the steps, sat on the far bench, and cried out the rest of my tears. I thought my grandmother might come after me and find me there. Thought she might snatch me up again into her clutches.

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