Monthly Archives: February 2012
The Princes of Tanlgeforest
by Dorlana Vann
Although the girly-girl-filled lunch table buzzed with excitement over the cute new guy with the mess of blond waves, Julia Webster tried to ignore him. Even if she hadn’t watched Tanner Dobbs ride up on his skateboard this morning, she would’ve guessed he was a skater—graphic tee, baggy shorts, Vans. Plus, it was easy to conclude, after watching him walk into third period with a confident stride and nonchalant attitude, he believed he was cool. And the one thing she knew for sure: his type never liked her type.
One of the girls at her table said, “He’s coming this way.”
Julia wasn’t surprised that, out of the entire cafeteria, he migrated toward her table. Tanner had been through half of his first day, so he must have noticed the strangeness of Tangleforest Senior High. She figured the colorfulness of the students at her table gave him a sense of adolescent normality when nothing else in the school even came close to the norm.
After a loud group-gasp from the girls at her table, her head automatically jolted up and found the source. The Princes stood between Tanner and the safety of their table. Didn’t take them long, she thought.
No matter how much the Princes had changed the other students, they remained the same. First in command was Zachary Davis: Julia’s ex and the son of Dr. Davis, Tangleforest’s own celebrity psychiatrist. Zachary was wealthy, tall, slender, and his nerd roots ran deep: smart, sci-fi loving, black glasses, and a goofiness that couldn’t be suppressed, no matter how popular he became. And the only reason he no longer sported a cowlick was because before they had broken up, Julia had convinced him to let her cut his hair super short.
Next to Zachary sat Julia’s former best friend, Darla. Darla wore her hair in pigtails, which bugged Julia to no end. Pigtails! She was shorter than Julia, skinny-skinny, and was now the most pursued girl in school. However, Darla only had pitiful eyes for Zachary. And then there were the Pittman twins: Scrawny Johnny—red straggly hair, and Big Sean—brown flat top. Up to that year, they had spent their school career being shoved into lockers and underwearless, just in case of a wedgy attack.
Julia watched as Zachary tried to touch the new guy’s arm, but he jerked away, giving Zachary a, “What the hell?” glare. Probably either sensing something off, or more likely, he had a predetermined opinion of nerds and didn’t want to be associated with them on his first day.
Julia took a bite of her salad and felt Tanner’s arm brush against hers as he sat down right beside her. The entire table went on immediate ignore; a rule they had all accepted in order to keep from being too disappointed. They knew, sooner or later, the Princes would have their “little talk” with Tanner, and he would then look down his nose at them, like they were at the bottom of the food chain. As Julia imagined the outcome, Tanner didn’t turn out like one of the nerd Princes at all. Instead, as she thought about him walking into the lunchroom in slow motion, he actually looked pretty hot, dressed in a black suit with his hair slicked back, dark shades and a cool swagger.
“Why do you have that goofy look on your face?” Julia’s new “best friend” Ashley asked. Ashley, the girl whose face had the word “bitch” printed across it in all of Julia’s yearbooks.
“Oh,” she said. “Nothing. Just thinking about my next hair design.”
“Hair, hair… hair. I’ve never seen anybody so obsessed with hair. I mean… I am, but that’s different. I’m obsessed because mine is so fabulous. You actually want to touch other people’s gross, nasty hair.”
“Um… Ashley, you’re in cosmetology classes, too.”
“Yeah.” She rolled her eyes in disgust. “But I’m not actually going to get a J.O.B. cutting hair.”
“I’ll bite. What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to college.”
“All right. And major in…?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll be getting my M.R.S., and then my attorney husband can do all the working, and I’ll do all the shopping.”
“Maybe I should send you over to the Princes’ table.”
Ashley flipped her hair. “I don’t see why my career goals have to be like everyone else’s.”
Julia never considered being a wife as a career, but she knew she wouldn’t want Ashley doing her taxes or her therapy. “Touché.” Julia sighed.
“Too what?” Ashley asked.
“Never mind.” Julia shook her head. “All right. The only problem I see with your plan is that you have to make the grades to get into college and then law school. Right now, you might qualify for community college.”
“Whatever,” Ashley said, “because right now I would settle for any place where those so-called Princes won’t be. Once I get out of Nerdville, I’ll be popular again.” She smiled and gleamed up at the ceiling. “The girls will resume their places as my shadows, and all the boys will want to date me again because I’m me and not because…” She glanced at the new guy and then back to Julia. “Well… you know why. I still can’t believe any of this has happened. You don’t understand. You’re used to not getting any attention. It’s so bizarre-o not having boys…” She turned her attention fully on the guy sitting next to Julia. “Hi.” She smiled showing her orthodontist’s daughter’s teeth. “What’s your name? Where did you move from?”
“What, Julia? Sorry, but come on… he’s dreamy.”
“Tanner Dobbs,” he answered. “I’m from Dallas.”
“City boy… I like that.”
The fact that Ashley had broken the table silence rule didn’t surprise or really bother Julia because the idea of being able to talk to someone about something other than clothes and boy bands was appealing. However, what did bother her was the fact that Tanner had probably already come to the false conclusion that she was cool. And even if, by some miracle, the Princes decided to leave him alone, she knew Tanner would soon discover that her make-up and black clothes hid more nerd than ninety percent of the school population, and that would be the end of that. Besides, she didn’t need the aggravation or another rejection. Therefore, the best thing for her to do was to not even try.
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Silverweed: a supernatural fairy tale
by Dorlana Vann
Once Upon A Time
Aiden Young stared out the window of the rental car. His mom, Lucy, had described early fall in Indiana as spectacular, but they’d missed autumn altogether, and she’d failed to mention that the heart of winter was so freaking bleak and bitter. He pulled a pen out of the spirals of his notebook and forced himself to ignore the poem he had written about Summer, his newly ex-girlfriend, on the previous page. On the next blank page, he wrote:
shivers through the claws
of dense skeleton branches
“What are you writing?” his mom asked from behind the wheel, rescuing him from comparing the cold poem to the way he felt. “I would love to hear something. You haven’t shared your poetry with me in a long time. You know, I still have the very first one you wrote to me. Let’s see, it went… ‘Mommy, mommy—’”
“Hey!” He cleared his throat. “Umm… are you sure you turned down the right road?” He couldn’t stomach his mom’s “when you were a little boy” stories, even if guilt did nudge at him. He knew in her mind the reason he had tagged along was so that they could spend time together. In real life, her trip on the same weekend Summer had planned to come over had been perfect timing, and that’s all. Summer wanted serious answers, and he didn’t even want to talk about it, didn’t want to think about it. “It’s been forever since I’ve seen a house. Only trees and more trees and dead trees…”
“Nervous?” She smiled as she glanced back and forth from him to the road, her new, short hairstyle bouncing to the movement.
“You not watching the road is making me a little jumpy.”
“No, I think city boy is scared of the woods.” She gave a quick laugh before saying, “Granny once told me she saw the devil out there. Pitchfork and all.”
“Well, if I was scared, that wouldn’t help.”
His mom watched the road in silence for a moment. “How much do you remember about my family?”
He shrugged. “I remember Augustus was a jerk.”
“I’m sure he’s changed by now.”
“I hope some other stuff has changed, too,” she mumbled. “There are a couple of things about them you probably don’t remember.”
“Wait!” Aiden pointed. “There’s a house down that hill. Is that it?”
“That’s it.” She made a sharp left.
As they drove down the driveway, Aiden frowned. The house was old and worn, the paint peeling like someone had raked the white two-story from the top of the black trim down to the dead bushes. The windows, with a brownish build-up on the glass, didn’t catch a single reflection. But the porch actually triggered a memory. He knew it wrapped the entire house because he remembered running around and around it when he was a little boy.
Lucy parked beside a red BMW. “I don’t remember it being so—”
“I was going to say old. Anyway, how do I look?” She sat up straight and examined herself in the rearview mirror.
Aiden didn’t say anything because after the first fifty times he had told her she looked fine, he’d realized she wasn’t listening for an answer. She was just nervous. They had almost missed their plane because she had changed her outfit a few hundred times. She had finally settled on black slacks, black leather jacket, pastel shirt, and low heels.
Aiden opened the car door. His Texas winter coat, actually a thin jacket, was no match for the icy wind. Since it had been shorts weather back home, he was thankful that at least he had worn long pants. As he walked toward the house, he tucked his hands inside his pockets and tried to look down at much as possible to keep the miserable cold from hitting his face.
Lucy knocked on the front door and looked around at the containers of flowers, plants, and condolence wreaths on the front porch. “I don’t see the one I sent.”
The door opened abruptly. Aiden had been seven the last time he saw his cousin, but he recognized the guy with dark, slicked-back hair and swollen eyes, one green and one blue, as Augustus. He wore jeans and an unbuttoned black shirt, which revealed a chain that dangled down a muscular chest.
“What?” His cousin’s voice sounded groggy, like he had been woken from a nap.
“Augustus? Hi. Remember us? Aunt Lucy. And this is Aiden.”
Augustus remained unenthused. “Oh,” he said, walking away. He left the door wide open, presumably for them to follow.
Aiden had half expected the inside of the house to look as unkempt as the outside. Other than the sheet-covered frame that hung on the wall with only a tarnished corner peeking out, there was nothing wrong or special about the spacious foyer. He glanced at the formal dining room, which was to the right, and at the hallway, stairs, and ramp on the left.
As they followed his cousin into a warm living room, Aiden noticed Augustus’ hair wasn’t short like it had first appeared but hung down in a pony-tail.
“Whoop,” Aiden said as he tripped on the corner of the rug.
Augustus turned and glared at Aiden. “Watch your step.”
Aiden smoothed the rug with his foot in case it was expensive or something. “Sorry, man.”
“The last thing we need around here is more bad luck,” Augustus said.
“Oh, everything is fine,” Lucy offered. “Aiden’s just real clumsy.”
She looked at Aiden sternly, as if to say, “Please, play along.”
“Right…” Aiden said with full sarcasm. “I’m a klutz. I fall down all the time.”
Augustus shook his head and walked to a chair that faced a blazing fireplace. A dozen or so pillar candles, at all stages of being burned, lined the mantle. A sofa, a wooden console television that looked so ancient Aiden doubted it received cable, and a small end table furnished the rest of the room.
They stood behind the sectional like two dummies. Slowly, Augustus swiveled around. “Sit down,” he said.
After they made it to the front of the couch, Lucy only sat on the edge, clearly uncomfortable. “Augustus,” she said. “I don’t know how to express how sorry we are.”
“Diesel,” Augustus said.
“I’m sorry?” Lucy replied.
“My name is Diesel.”
“Oh! Your middle name. When did you start going by your middle name?”
“Five years ago.”
“Oh,” she nodded. “How… are you?” She smoothed her hair. “Are you doing all right?”
“The funeral was yesterday,” he said.
“Yeah. I know, and I’m so sorry. I hoped we could drive out to the gravesite.”
“You missed your own sister’s funeral.”
“I know. I know. We really tried to get here on time but the airport, you know, and Christmas. It’s insane. Trying to rent a car was…”
Diesel shifted in his seat.
Lucy cleared her throat. “How’s Granny?”
“She’s sleeping. Do you want to see her?”
“Nooo, not if she’s resting.”
“I’ll be right back.”
When Diesel jumped up and walked out of the room, Aiden tried to exhale the tension with a silent whistle. The fire crackled as they sat waiting.
They both turned when they heard a loud knock coming from above. A railing supported by carved wooden balusters edged the open landing. “Gran,” Diesel said loudly. “Aunt Lucy and Aiden are here. Finally.” The bedroom door creaked open.
After he heard the door shut, Aiden leaned over to his mom and whispered, “Man, he sure did get weird.”
“Well, he’s been through a lot. He just lost his mom.”
“Sorry.” Aiden felt bad for a second. But still… “What was with the rug and bad luck stuff, and you making me look like such a dweeb?”
“I didn’t mean to. I was trying to make him feel better. It’s so strange. I had no idea Augustus believed in all that stuff, too.”
“Diesel,” Aiden corrected with a smirk.
She nodded. “I mean Diesel. They’re all a little different… a little superstitious, old-fashioned.”
“How do you mean, superstitious? Black cats and stuff?”
She nodded. “It seems like every little thing. You see, the reason Diesel got upset earlier is because stumbling is suppose to be bad luck in general.”
“How do you know that?”
“I grew up with all of it.”
“But you’re not superstitious.”
She leaned in closer to Aiden and whispered, “Because I knew all the old wives’ tales, omens, and folklore Mom told me and Rose were only make-believe, like fairy tales. Now Rose, she soaked it all in and actually believed. But she didn’t go all,” she waved her hands, “you know until…”
Aiden shook his head because he didn’t know. His mom rarely brought up her sister in conversation.
“Well, when she was pregnant, her boyfriend, Harley, ran off and left her. I think something completely snapped. Even though I had already moved out by then, I heard she took it hard. At least that S.O.B. left money for Diesel when he died.”
“She’s not feeling very well,” Diesel said from directly behind them. They both jumped. “She wants to know if you guys can go up there.”
“Sure, sure,” Lucy said, her face bright red.
They followed Diesel into the foyer and up the stairs. After a few steps up, the stairs turned to the right. Aiden could see over the banister, down into the living room.
When they arrived at Granny’s door, Aiden’s heart thumped in his chest. He hadn’t seen her in ten years. His own grandma, a stranger. He could also sense his mom’s anxiety; she took her time walking inside the room.
Granny sat in a recliner covered by a worn quilt. Her grey, bushy eyebrows went all the way across and met in the middle of her brow. Her cheekbones sank in, and her long, silver hair draped over both of her shoulders.
“Lucille, you came,” Granny said, her voice ungrateful.
“Mom,” Lucy said. “How are you?”
“I’m hanging in there.”
“I’m so sorry about Rose.” Lucy leaned over and gave her mom a distant hug. “I can’t believe she had a heart attack.”
“I don’t believe it, either. Doctors. All of them, money hungry. Hmph, it doesn’t matter, anymore. She’s gone. Rose is gone.”
Aiden heard the door close behind him. Diesel had left the room.
“She was a good daughter,” Granny said. “I could count on her. Always here for me.” She looked at Aiden. “My, my look at you. Come give Granny a hug.”
Aiden walked over to Granny’s stretched out arms and hugged her, smelling the scent of grassy earth. He pulled away, and she smiled warmly.
“It’s so good to see you in person,” she said. “I’ve been sent pictures, but it’s not the same. Look at you. You remind me of your grandpa; he was tall and thin.” She looked around Aiden. “Where’s my new grandson? How old is he now, two? Seems a shame, a grandmother never even getting to meet her own grandson.”
“He’s three and… he has a cough, and I thought it would be easier.” Lucy cleared her throat. “Mike stayed home with him.”
Granny eased her attention over to Lucy. “I see. So when are you running off? I guess it’s just as well, anyway.”
Lucy straightened and smiled curtly. “There’s something I need to talk—”
“You can stay in your old room if you want,” Granny interrupted. “It’s the same. We haven’t changed a thing in case you ever decided to come home. Aiden, honey, you can take the guestroom downstairs. I’m feeling quite weak. Please ask Diesel if there’s some leftovers from Rose’s friends that I can have for my supper tonight. Rose always made supper…”
“I’d be happy to cook,” Lucy said.
“I suppose that will do. Turn the light out when you leave.”
Lucy stood for a second, wringing her hands, and then took a couple of steps to the bedside table and snapped off the lamp. The room went dim but not dark because of the daylight sneaking in from the window. Lucy turned abruptly and left the room. Aiden smiled at Granny, feeling awkward. “See ya,” he said before following his mom’s exit and shutting the door behind him.
Aiden caught up with Lucy on the stairs, mid-ramble. “She chose to live with Rose, and now she’s acting like I abandoned her or something. She wouldn’t even give me a chance to ask her. What makes me even think she would want to move in with me?”
“It was a little soon to ask, don’t you think? Hi. Condolences. Want to pack up and move across the country?”
“Shhh. Why don’t we go to the car,” she said as they reached the foyer, “and we can talk.”
Once in the car, Lucy placed her hand on her cheek as she stared out the front windshield. “I hope you can understand why I need to do this.”
“I know, you and Dad explained it all at home. I mean, she’s old, and you don’t think a college kid like Diesel can take care of her.” Ever since his mom had brought up her plan, he had been apprehensive, especially since his mom suggested she extend the invitation to Diesel, too, at least until after the holidays. However, after seeing Diesel, he didn’t think he had to worry about him wanting to bunk together. He didn’t seem the type. And, since Diesel was legally an adult, he could have the entire house to himself. Aiden knew what he would pick if he was given the choice.
“I didn’t realize it would be so hard,” his mom said, speaking more to herself than to Aiden. “I can’t believe she’s saying I ran off. I didn’t run off. I got married… I couldn’t bring myself to come back very often because every time I did, Rose acted and looked so strange, like a witch or gypsy or something. I couldn’t stand to see her like that. She used to be so pretty. The last time we came here, I swear she was in the kitchen making some kind of potion.”
“Cool, magic potions.” Aiden imagined his aunt standing over a black cauldron, stirring it with a long wooden spoon.
“She wasn’t normal,” she whispered and wiped her eyes. “I tried to tell Mom that I wasn’t sure Rose should be taking care of anyone and to come live with us. Of course she wouldn’t hear anything bad about her Rose. She chose her over me… So it’s not my fault. But I really didn’t mean for ten years to pass. Now I feel like a terrible daughter and sister.” Lucy inhaled a long breath and let it out quickly. “I’ll never see Rose again, you know.”
“I’m sorry.” Aiden pulled a t-shirt out of his duffle bag from the backseat and handed it to his mom to wipe her tears.
“I know it’s too late to make it up to Rose, but maybe I can help Mom and be there for my nephew. He doesn’t have a mom or a dad now. We’ll sit down and have a nice dinner and discuss everything with them, as a family. I’m sure they’ll see that it’s the best solution. Right?”
“I’m sorry. I really didn’t mean to get all into that.” She nodded and patted him on the leg. “I’m so glad you decided to come with me. I can’t believe you chose to spend your holiday with me. It means a lot to me.”
“Let’s just get the bags—”
“Wait a minute,” he said. “You’re not suggesting we sleep here, are you?”
“We don’t have a choice. After dinner it’ll be too late to drive very far. You saw downtown. Did you see a Holiday Inn?”
They had driven straight through Kingwood, Indiana. Surrounded by worn-down shops sat an old, two-story courthouse, complete with bell tower and soaring front steps that led to a columned porch. Unfortunately, he hadn’t seen anything that even resembled a modern hotel.
Lucy said, “Anyway, aren’t you the one who told me I should take my time?”
“Yeah, but I meant during the day and after we checked into a hotel that had room service.”
“It’s only for the one night.” Lucy sighed and stared at the house. “How bad could it be?”
He didn’t look forward to being in the house at night; it already had a creepy Poe atmosphere during the day. He imagined Diesel looming over his bed with a butcher knife chanting, “You’re bad luck. You’re bad luck…” Aiden shuddered. “Right,” he said.
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