The Revolt

“We have to do something,” Betty said. “He’s taking our children. He keeps us prisoner, breeds us, then takes our children.”

“We’re not prisoners,” Tallulah said. “We can go outside.”

The other girls nodded their heads, murmured words of agreement while casting furtive glances toward the door.

Betty snorted. “Oh, for the love of God!”

“They’re not really children,” Tallulah said. “Why, they haven’t even been named yet, so how can they possibly be children?” More nodding of heads. Continue reading

The City by the Sea–part 2

Part one here

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him.” Doctor Littlefield moved the palm-held heart monitor over Zackary’s thin chest. “He seemed fine when he was born—except for the skin color, of course. But that’s beginning to fade, and still…”

The baby was breathing almost normally now, but earlier Lissa had wondered if he was going to make it this time. The coughing and wheezing and sucking for air, it had tied her stomach in knots. Zackary was only a week old and she was already madly in love with the tiny life she and Gavin had created. She had tried to distance herself, knowing from the moment the doctor placed him in her arms, and she had seen the green tint of his skin, that she would probably lose him. He was one of those who were not-quite-right. But how could she not love him? She had changed his diapers, sang to him, held him as he suckled at her bosom. My God, she had even named him—against everyone’s advice.

Doctor Littlefield smiled down at the infant she held cradled to her breast. Lissa saw the sadness in her eyes. How many babies had she helped into the world? How many babies had she seen depart it?

But not my baby! Lissa held out her arms. Continue reading

The City By The Sea–part 1

Part One

“Gavin, wait, you forgot your mask.” Lissa waddled to the door, holding out the filter by a thumb and forefinger as if it were one of the icky, four-inch roaches that prowled their apartment every night. God, how she hated those ugly things, but nothing you could do but learn to live with them; they weren’t going anywhere.

Gavin took the silver mask and settled it atop his blond curls. “I could’ve got it, babe.” He looked down into her eyes, a gentle smile curving his lips. “You’re supposed to stay off your feet as much as possible, you know.” He laid a gloved hand on her swollen belly. “Doctor’s orders.”

For all the good it’ll do, Lissa thought. Had staying off their feet saved her sister’s baby? Or Beverly’s? Or anyone else’s she knew? She wanted to go outside, walk, run, even if it meant suiting up and breathing through a filter. “I just…I want…I’m so tired…” Continue reading

You Are What You Read–part 2

Part 1 here

She came down hard on her butt.

The ship listed to one side. A dream, Jane thought as she slid along the planking. This is just a dream. But that knowledge didn’t stop her from being scared out of her wits, and it sure didn’t stop the all-too-real pain of splinters gouging her palms as she scrabbled for a handhold.

Her fingers brushed—what? She turned her head to the right, and there was The Book and her fingers were gone, swallowed between its open cover. Then her arm was gone, and oh sweet Jesus, it was sucking her up, pulling her inside itself, pulling her into its yellow mouth.

Again, falling, tumbling. And again being deposited. Somewhere.

Jane opened her scrunched-tight eyes. Back resting against the wall, she was sitting on the floor of the closet inside the Liberty Public Library, the feather duster on the varnished boards beside her. And The Book.

She giggled. Silly of her, she’d sat down in the closet to look at The Book, and had fallen asleep. Good thing it was Saturday and she had the place all to herself. It wouldn’t have done for sour-faced Miss Maples to have caught her napping on the job.

Yes, that’s what had happened: she’d fallen asleep and dreamed. And oh, what a lovely dream it had been. Until its end. Continue reading

You Are What You Read–part 1

Jane Hitchcock twitched the feather duster over the shelf of old books, stirring up years of dust that had settled upon their frayed tops. Wonder why they’re hidden away in here where no one can see them, she thought. A treasure they are, so old. And worth a lot of money, I’ll bet.

Her nose tickled. She sneezed, the sound as loud as a thunderclap inside the small closet. The flailing duster snagged one of the books, knocking it to the floor where it lay open, its fragile insides exposed.

Jane bent over—no easy task for her two-hundred-pound-plus frame—and reached for the book. But then she noticed something. Strange. The lines upon the yellowed pages squiggled, wiggled, jiggled.

What in the world…

With a pained grunt, she dropped to her arthritic knees. She pushed back wisps of graying brown hair that had escaped its tight bun and peered at the dancing letters. Something was there, on the page beneath the words. She leaned forward for a closer look.

Her belly shoved up against her ribs, demanding room for itself, almost cutting off her supply of air and causing her to breathe in fast little pants. “What…is…that?” Her chubby fingers splayed over the brittle paper.

And she was falling. Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 3

Part 1 here       Part 2 here

Propped up on the pliant, leather sofa, iced coffee and a bag of Dove chocolates near at hand, I tried to concentrate on the open textbook braced against my raised thighs. Meta-ethics, normative ethics, applied ethics…

Why did I need to study philosophy to be a molecular biologist? What did philosophy have to do with genetics? I sure as hell didn’t know, but the counselor had said if I wanted to supervise research projects in vector construction, I’d need to hold a Doctor of Philosophy, along with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology.

I had to agree with Daddy on one thing: you can’t fight city hall. So I hadn’t argued, just signed up for the required classes because…

Because someday I wanted to fiddle around inside the human DNA, discover which gene did what, which ones produced murderers, rapists, child molesters. I wanted to ferret out the genetic factor that made people turn out like my Daddy: mean to the bone. And I wanted to turn them off. For good. Better yet, introduce an improvement, something like the spider-silk goat milk.

My mind swam with possibilities, the changes and enhancements that could be made to the human race, creating a society where fear of your fellow humans didn’t exist. Utopia. Well, almost. There’d still be—

A soft thump broke the silence. Continue reading

It’s a Job–part 2

Part 1 here          Part 3 here

“Ania, my baby sister has died.” The professor’s voice pulled me back into the present. “I have to go home for a few weeks.”

“Of course,” I said. “Where’s home?”

“Krakow. I have booked a flight out for tonight. Tessa, I hate to ask this of you, but I have no one else I trust.”

“Anything, Professor.” I took a sip of coffee, looked up into Cass’s curious eyes. “Anything at all.”

“Can you drive me to the airport, then pick me up when I return?”

“Of course.”

“And there is another thing…it’s about the spraying you have been doing for me.”

“Don’t give it a second thought. I’ll do it every evening like always.”

“There is more I need to tell you, Tessa…to keep you safe. There are things you do not know.”

I looked up. Cass had moved away, but was still within earshot. Whatever the professor had meant about keeping me safe, I didn’t want her to pick up on. My love was such a worrywart. “You can tell me on the way to the airport.” Continue reading

It’s A Job–part 1

Part 2 here           Part 3 here

My job was to walk the perimeter of Professor Dembowski’s property late every evening and spray down a foot-wide swath of bluish-green foam to contain It when he let It out to feed at night. As far as jobs went, this was an easy one, taking little of my time. And it paid well. A lot more than cashiering at Walmart or waiting tables.

I had no idea what “It” was and didn’t care. All that concerned me was the crisp, hundred-dollar bills the professor counted out onto my palm every Friday after I returned the emptied sprayer to the shed in back of his sprawling, log home in the country.

“Thank you, Tessa,” he invariably said in that funny accent I couldn’t quite place. “You are such a good girl.”

We engaged in a bit of small talk, then I was on my way.

Seated on his motorized scooter at the bottom of a wooden ramp leading up to the head-high back porch, he watched me walk away. I always turned and gave him a little wave when I reached the side of the house, then picked my way along an overgrown rock path that meandered through wild grasses, weeds, and trees, to my dusty, red Thunderbird parked out front.

That was the way it had always gone, and that was the way it went this evening.

After pulling off my muddy boots and wet socks and pitching them in the trunk, I slid behind the wheel and twisted the key. The engine whined but didn’t catch. I turned it off, waited a bit, tried again, got the same result. And again. “Start, you ole sumbitch…” I muttered, falling back into the hill-country dialect that was always on the tip of my tongue, stuck there like glue, just waiting for an unguarded moment to slip out.

Mama’s pride-and-joy that she had given me to make the long trip north finally caught, sputtered, then came to life with an oily roar. Guess hearing Daddy’s words coming out of my mouth scared it like they had everyone else back home. Even me. Until I had gotten bigger and tougher and could take the beatings, both verbal and physical, without making a sound.

I steered the Thunderbird around the circle drive, then along a lengthy straightaway before the concrete gave way to packed dirt. I took a sharp left, following a set of tracks plowing through knee-high grass. A few hundred yards more and the road ended at the highway. I stopped, glanced into the rearview mirror at the encroaching darkness. Nothing but trees and vines and brush. No sign at all that a million-dollar-plus house lurked behind the gnarled thicket. Why, even his mailbox was a rusty, listing thing.

And not for the first time, I wondered: why the camouflage?

But it was just a passing thought. The thousands of dollars growing in my bank account earmarked for a decent car rested in the forefront of my mind. Soon, there would be enough. And after the car, I would be able to send money home to Mama. I just had to come up with a way to keep it out of Daddy’s hands.

I flipped on the headlights, rolled through the strip of aquamarine foam, and pulled onto the highway. Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (3)

The days following Daddy’s departure passed by uneventfully, one much like the other. I came to know and love Granny as I worked along beside her. She taught me how to do things I’d only read about it books: canning vegetables from the garden, milking a cow, washing clothes on a wringer washer, plus numerous other things I had never done before. It was all hot, hard work, but even so, it was fun. I felt as if l had stepped back into an earlier, simpler time, and was living a grand adventure.

Granny seemed to enjoy being my teacher. Her bright eyes shone with pride at each of my new accomplishments.

Early one morning about a week after my arrival, she announced that we were going berry picking. “I know where there’s a fine patch of blackberries, big as your thumb!” She waved said appendage under my nose.

With both of us carrying a clean, metal bucket, we set off down the road, back toward the highway. We walked in companionable silence along the dusty trail for about a quarter of a mile, until we came to the place where the road forked.

“Does anyone live out that way?” I asked. “Daddy told me some Indians used to live down there. He didn’t like them, and told me to stay away.”

“And with good reason.” She grabbed my arm and wagged her finger in my face. “You listen good, Chloe Walker—them no-account Jamisons ain’t nothin’ but trash, pure and simple. The man stays drunk pret’ near all the time and is meaner’n a snake to boot. Now the boy, he’s a strange one, sorta queer like. He stares at a body like he’d just as soon kill you as look at you. You steer clear of ’em. They ain’t nothin’ but trouble.” She spun on her heels. “Come on, gal. We got berries t’pick and jelly t’make.” Continue reading

Sins of the Fathers (4)

The sun rose a bright-orange hot, promising another scorcher. It crept across the cloudless blue sky at a snail’s pace, seeming to mock my urging it to hurry by traveling even slower. More than once Granny had to repeat herself. I couldn’t concentrate. Ira filled my thoughts.

Guilt gnawed at me for not telling Granny about sneaking out last night and meeting Ira, but I remembered what he had said, that if I told, I wouldn’t be allowed to see him. I couldn’t take that chance. I had found a friend and I didn’t want to lose him.

When darkness fell and Granny and I went to bed, I waited for a while to make sure she was sleeping, then dressed again in the cutoffs and pink tank I had worn that day. Remembering Ira’s warning, I slipped on my sneakers before crawling out the window.

I ran most of the way to the old bridge, praying, Please, please, please let him be there.

Bathed in moonlight, I saw him in the place where he had been the night before: leaning up against the railing, gazing out over the water. Only then did I slow to a walk. At the sound of my sneakers hitting the boards, he turned in my direction. Continue reading