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art by Justine McGreevy

One Childhood of Many

Andrew S. Fuller grew up climbing trees and reading books, occasionally dabbling in archery, theatre, and heavy metal, but he never stopped writing. His fiction appears in On Spec, Abyss & Apex, The Pedestal Magazine, Crossed Genres, Space Tramps: Full-Throttle Space Tales #5, with stories forthcoming in Fish (Dagan Books). The "Circus Wagon" novelette received an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, and his screenplay "Effulgence" won the "Deep One" Best Screenwriter Award at the 2009 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. He has edited Three-Lobed Burning Eye Magazine since 1999. He lives and writes in Portland, Oregon and climbs rocks. Find him online at andrewsfuller.com and Twitter @andrewsfuller.
Almost exactly one week after the last day of seventh grade and one week before her thirteenth birthday, Sylvia stomped through the house, flung open the sliding door to the back porch and stood with hands on hips. The Sunday newspaper was not extremely captivating that day, nor were her parents in the practice of ignoring their daughter, but the lawnmower next door was loud enough to mask the impatient tapping of a foot and the flaring lament of teenage nostrils. Finally, Mr. Jera shut off the small motor to empty his grass clippings, and Sylvia said,
"Well?!"
"Well… what?" said Mom. Dad removed his spectacles to offer his full attention.
"When are we leaving for the lake?" Sylvia asked in a tone saturated with obviousness.
Her parents looked at each other, and Dad said, "Which lake is that, pumpkin?"
Sylvia rolled her eyes, took a breath, and sighed much more than it seemed she had inhaled. "Lake Moo-noo fHul-pa, of course," she stated. After waiting for a response, and then for a reaction, she added in a way that almost sounded like a question, "We go every summer."
Her parents looked at each other again. Mom frowned and said, "Honey, every summer we go with your father to physics workshops and seminars. And this summer, we signed you up for volleyball camp, like you wanted."
Sylvia shook her head. "No, no. Every summer. Since I was--" She thought about it. "Since I can remember anything."
"Dear," Mom said very gently, "Do you mean the duck pond at Grandma and Grandpa's?"
"Not that smelly little thing." Sylvia's face went all lemons. She sighed again.
It seemed she was about to storm off. Instead she jumped forward, and sat between them with her arms wrapped around her crossed legs, effulgent with glee.
"We set out very early. And we drive west for eleven hours and forty-two minutes, then turn off the headlights and follow the smell of quicksilver until we come to the huge lustrous sky dam. When a raven lands on our car hood, we close our eyes and he takes us through the invisible door, where we hum the song about the mountain king, louder and louder, until the armadillo appears, ten-feet tall and walking upright. We place three pinecones in his hat, each from a different yard and a different year, which gets us seats on the wagon. So we leave our car there in the cave shaped like a jack-o-lantern mouth, and we ride into the valley."
She paused here a moment and looked at their lost faces, then she continued. "We usually get a place on the spinning island, but the tree houses over the east bank are fine too, because the warble snakes sing in the mid-afternoon shade. I like to build castles from the bone dust on the beach and then touch them with a flaming pussywillow, so they rocket into the clouds and rain down onto the lake, which ripples in different colors and sounds too. Mom tours on the giant garfish barge to see the flying glacier, and bird watch and play the spore dice game while she sips the fruit drinks that make her eyes glow. Dad always rents one of the bubbles from the marina, and walks on the lake bottom to look for old coins and scrolls, and he stops in the grotto sometimes to hear the five witches tell him stories about the thousand lives of his other childhoods. In the evenings, we build a fire, and the neighbors come over for spicy barbecued centipede and grammar salad with Bach sodas. Much later, we tuck ourselves under the warm sand and watch our dreams perform in the waters of the lake." Her voice increased in speed and excitement. "I've been spending more time with the Ckoolee'ere boy--you know, Aluung?--his skin is changing color and his ear flames are sprouting higher. This summer we might kiss." Sylvia noticed she was twirling her hair, and stopped doing so.
She continued, somewhat quieter. But only at first. "Also, at every full moons, there's the market in the forest glen, where they have the tastiest bloodmalts and onomatopoeia candies and algebra fritters--except that time that Dad ate too many and grew another toe that wouldn't stop dancing until we poured gargoyle oil on it. Oh, and sometimes the traveling Xoofang theater troupe comes through, and they perform great stuff like 'I'iiXutle'pof' or 'Nightmare Soup' or that absolutely wrenching opera about the tryst between the locust swarm and the avalanche near the city inside the blacksmith's hearth. And also, we take off our skins and become a fish, which is just leagues better than a boring old sailboat if you ask me." Sylvia took a breath.
"Anyway, we spend all summer there, and never sleep. And we would stay there forever, except when the third moon appears, the Bluegills return to drink the entire lake and eat everything else. They're the nasty biker gang with a terrific appetite. Well, you know what happened to Mrs. Jera when she went back for her sunglasses that one summer and missed the last wagon out." Sylvia motioned next door and clucked her tongue.
Then she smiled and looked at her parents expectantly.
They looked at one another again, a habit that Sylvia now found annoying.
"I'm… sorry, dear," Mom said finally, and then nothing else.
"We don't have the foggiest idea what you're talking about," Dad added.
Sylvia shook her head like a disappointed parent. She slapped her knees and stomped away, turning back briefly. "Just who are you people, anyway?"
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 7th, 2012

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