Dale Carothers

Dale Carothers lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sara, and an emotionally demanding beagle. His work has appeared in Neo-opsis, Ruined Cities and The Death God's Chosen.

Dale Carothers lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sara, and an emotionally demanding beagle. His work has appeared in Neo-opsis, Ruined Cities and The Death God's Chosen.

A Life Lived Above

Brecaccio spent his whole life looking up at the cosmos. He tracked the movements of the planets and charted the arrangements of the stars.

A life spent with his face pressed against a telescope left him with one puckered eye, no wife to warm his bed, and no child to inherit his vast knowledge of the sky.

Brecaccio blinked his rheumy eyes and looked past his yellowed beard at the thick horns of his toenails sticking out from under the blankets. His feet framed a table. Soft bread and pale, crumbly cheese lay under the glass cover of a wooden tray. Beside the tray stood a bottle of mellow wine. Beyond that, dusty brass orreries lined the top shelf of a vast bookcase. Star maps and volumes written by Brecaccio himself were shoved haphazardly into the shelves.

Above it all, on a folding ladder he’d rested against the ceiling beams, stood Melchick. “Magistero, I don’t see anything.” Melchick’s Buerbec accent stumbled along the rhythms of the Flerosi language, hardening the consonants and thickening the vowels.

“What are you looking for, boy?” Brecaccio asked.

“I was told we have an infestation of pixies.”

“Magistera Ofelia will be excited about that.”

Melchick squealed and scurried down the ladder. His face was clad in lacy, gray spider webs. He peeled them away, and wiped them on the yellow robe that marked him as a second year student. “It’s time for me to go.” The metal fittings on the ladder squeaked as he folded it. “I need to study for my mineralogy examination. Do you have everything you need?”

“I think so.”

“Ring the bell when you get hungry,” Melchick said, pointing to the pull cord that hung near the headboard, “and I’ll come back to help you.”

“I can get out of bed by myself!”

Melchick picked up the ladder and clutched it under his arm. “Please, Magistero. I don’t want you to fall again.”

“That wasn’t my fault.”

“Were you alone?”

Brecaccio sucked his mustache into his toothless mouth. “Yes.”

“Then who else is to blame?”

Brecaccio waved a hand. “Fine, fine, you win. Congratulations. You can go now.”

Melchick bowed. “Good day, Magistero Brecaccio.”

“Hurry along now, boy.”

Melchick spun, his yellow robes swirling, and carried the ladder down the stairs. Brecaccio liked Melchick well enough, but the boy never knew when it was time to leave. He was a poor boy, from a poor country. Taking care of aging instructors helped pay his way.

Eggs from the Cuckoo Clock Bird

Before I quit my job at Quality Vending earlier that morning, I was the master. I could sell snack machines to anyone. My waistline and my love for refined sugar were my arsenal. My passion for snack cakes translated into excitement during my pitch. My sincerity sold.

Until my sincerity turned to bitterness.

I still ate loads of snack cakes, but they didn’t do anything for me anymore. They’re just a habit. Like breathing. Like masturbation for the ever-shrinking satisfaction of release.

Repetition had worn me down. Eleven years doing the same thing every day will do that to you. When months started to feel like weeks, and weeks like days, I lost my connection to everything. Life was passing me by, but nothing was happening. Time moved faster than I did.

Now that it was over, I needed to retreat to a safe place to figure out what to do next. And that meant Grandma’s house. She used to host Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter, and she’d throw you a killer birthday party if you called a few days in advance. The whole family used to come before we all grew up and moved away.

I drove around a curve in the driveway and a gap in the trees revealed my Grandma’s house.

My mother, the real estate agent, called it a lovely Queen Anne Victorian. Three levels with a wraparound porch, a gable roof, and two spire-topped turrets. All of it was still perfect. Grandma had her house painted the same blue-gray every five years, and she quickly repaired anything that broke.

There were two other cars in the parking lot. One was a van for her in-home medical staff. The other was a broken down Kia: dented and rusty. I didn’t recognize it

I got out of my car and several cellophane wrappers came with me. A gust of chilly fall wind blew them into the grove that surrounded the house, where they mixed with the fallen leaves.

I crossed the lot and went up the stairs, trailing my hand along the spindles of the whitewashed railing. I stopped at the wide oak door and rang the doorbell.

I waited a long time before I heard clomping footsteps coming closer to the door. Someone fiddled with the lock, swearing all the while, and finally pulled the door open.

Shit. It was my cousin Cassie. The owner of the crappy Kia.

Cassie frowned. It was one of her two facial expressions. The other was…let me think…oh yeah, bitch. Frown and bitch. They were all she had to work with. She was dressed in a mismatched sweat suit, the top was turquoise and the bottom was pink. Her blonde hair was brown at the roots, short, spiky and angry.

“You selling something?” Cassie asked. “Because we probably don’t want it.”

“No, Cassie. It’s me. Paul.”

Her frown tightened and her lips pulled back to reveal her artificially whitened teeth.

“Your cousin,” I said.

“What do you want?”

“To come in and see Grandma.”

“She’s in the bath.”

“I’m willing to wait.”

She put her hand on her hip. “Are you looking to stay for a while?”

“Just this afternoon, overnight at the max.”

Her frown relaxed to her face’s resting bitch setting. “Come on in then.”