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Pandora's Subdivision

When I was just a wee lad, some kid from the neighborhood wanted to scare or impress me by claiming that he had zombies in his cellar, and I've been creeped out by basements ever since. The setting--Pandora's Subdivision--has since spawned a number of tales, uncovering the truth behind the government's Fury Relocation Program.

I asked Tommy again about the zombies in his basement. He snorted so hard I thought boogers would fly out of his short, ugly, freckled nose.
"They ain't so bad," he sneered, "Mostly they just shuffle around in circles, but sometimes Ma has 'em doing laundry." He wiped at his nose using the sleeve of his flannel shirt. "What you got?"
I gulped, unsure of why I started talking about furies because everyone who lived in Pandora's Subdivision had something really cool living in their basement-everyone but the McGradys. I rolled dirt clods under my flip-flops, slowly pulverizing them to dust. "Well," I stretched the word out as long as I could, ears turning purple already. I thought about lying, but there was no use. Except for ugly Tommy Baxter, the whole school knew what lurked in the basement of Hannah McGrady: "We got a black ooze."
"Huh." Tommy's face scrunched up like the empty lunch bags beneath the swings. "Black ooze," he repeated.
The swings creaked while I waited for the laughter, for the stupid dig. I grabbed the ends of my braids, the elastic ties and yellow-clear marbles suddenly the most interesting thing in the whole world. I pulled sandy hair over my eyes, already burning around the edges from tears held back.
"Black ooze, huh? What's that like?" Tommy kicked off against the dirt and flew backwards, chains rattling like the skeletons in Amanda Biedenbacher's cellar.
I was stunned, and didn't say anything as his swing passed through the cloud of dust he'd stirred up. No one had ever asked me a question about the ooze before, and so I thought, Maybe it's a trick. Maybe Tommy's fishing for more details so he can set me up for an epic smackdown. After all, everyone knew there were much better, much more interesting furies to have in your basement than a crummy old black ooze.
It hadn't always been that way. Before Kindergarten, I thought the ooze was as cool as pizza and soda pop on Mom and Dad's bowling night. Oh, the babysitter wrinkled her nose at the mention of our ooze, but I just chalked that up to her being a teenager. She didn't like anything, other than boys, lip gloss, and twisting her hair into curls. But then came elementary school, and I learned the truth--the hard way.
My teacher, old Mrs. Ruffleshirt, made us sit in a circle and tell what kind of fury we had. The other kids had oak trolls, strangling mossmen, thorn demons, shrieking shadowmares--fun stuff. When they heard that we had a black ooze in our basement, the others started giggling, confirming every one of the babysitter's eye rolls and long sighs. I even caught a smirk on Mrs. Ruffleshirt's wrinkled face.
And the next year was no better: First Grade was Worst Grade. How many times did I hear a singsong, "there's your black oo-OO-oooze!" and turn around to find chocolate pudding spilled all over my desk? Enough to fill Pandora's Shop~Mart.
By now, I'd learned to keep my big mouth shut about the ooze, and wasn't even sure why I had decided to open it again. And to tell ugly Tommy Baxter, of all people! Maybe it was because he was a new kid, and the others teased him the way they teased me. They called Tommy "a red-headed freckle-fury" and then went on to guess whose basement he escaped from: the principal, the janitor, the lunch lady, each one getting bigger laughs. Tommy retreated to the swings, and I followed.
And now, for whatever reason, I'd let the fury out of the cellar, and there was no going back. "Well," I tested the water cautiously, "the ooze is black," my face reddened as I realized I was repeating the obvious, so I quickly added, "but it's blacker than anything you've ever seen. It gobbles up all the light around it, and all the emotions, too. If you get too close to it you can feel it sucking up all your feelings." I clamped my teeth together. Stupid girl, I told myself, boys don't want to hear about your feelings! Now Tommy was sure to let loose with some snide little comment coming out of his spotted face.
He didn't say anything at first. He just rocked back and forth, swinging higher and higher, stretching the silence out, longer and longer, like taffy being pulled on the machine at the Pandora Funpark. The wait was killing me. I considered saying I had a stomachache and running off, but this was the longest conversation I'd had about the ooze. I was sure it wasn't going to end well, but I had to know.
Tommy reached as high as he could go on the swings. He took a breath, turned his head, looked at me, and as he whooshed past I heard--
"Is it shiny and wet?"
He swung by.
"Is it like chocolate pudding?
He swung by again.
"Is it like motor oil?"
"One time my dad spilled a whole can of motor oil in the garage."
"I bet it was like that."
"Was it like that?"
I began to open my mouth to reply, but Tommy flew off the end of the swing and his sneakers slapped the dirt. My heart sank, because I was sure, absolutely sure, he would go running off. But he didn't. Instead, Tommy turned around and said, "Black ooze, huh? Cool." Then, he waited for me.
He. Waited. For me.
Tommy shook the dust out of his red hair, and it settled around sparkling blue eyes. I felt kind of funny inside, but I hopped off my swing anyway. That's when I knew Tommy Baxter and I would be best friends forever.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Author Comments

The road outside Falstaffe's Tavern is long and leads to an infinite number of worlds, and he spends his days pouring pints and bending ears. You can find his story "The Weary Traveler" in the fantasy anthology Mummery & Magic, from 7th Titan Press.

- Falstaffe
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