25 December 2009

"The Gift of the Maggie"

By Curtis C. Chen

She had been feeling tired all week, and now she knew why: the talisman wasn't in the hall closet with her other artifacts. Maggie calmed herself and went into the living room.

"Jonah, have you seen my bugle?" she called.

"Snacks are in the pantry," said the man sitting in the armchair. "We got some Funyuns, too."

Maggie rolled her eyes. "I'm talking about the brass musical instrument. Looks like a trumpet, but without any valves?"

"You haven't touched that in years," Jonah said, and drained his beer bottle.

"Not since high school," Maggie agreed. "But I need it now. It's important. Have you seen it anywhere?"

She walked around the armchair and stood between Jonah and the television. He muted the sound and looked up at her, the corner of his mouth twitching.

Maggie got a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. "What did you do?"

"It was supposed to be a surprise," Jonah said.

"What did you do?" Maggie repeated, her voice rising in pitch.

Jonah stood, holding his hands up, palms out—not surrender, more like pushing. "Stay here. I'll show you."

He walked past her and into the garage. Maggie folded her arms and tapped her foot on the carpet. The flashing images on the TV drew her eye, and she grabbed the remote and turned it off. Thumping noises came from the open garage door.

Jonah returned, holding a large, oddly shaped mass of wrapping paper.

Maggie's foot froze in mid-tap. "What the hell is that?"

"Merry Christmas!" Jonah said. "You might as well open it now—"

The package jerked out of Jonah's fist and sailed across the room. Maggie caught it with her left hand.

"Whoa!" Jonah gaped. "What—how did you do that?"

"Long story," Maggie muttered. She ripped open the wrapping paper and grimaced at the object inside. "You got me... an electric guitar?"

"And lessons," Jonah said quickly. "You know how we're always talking about doing more stuff together? And we both love music, right?"

Maggie glared at him. "How did you afford this?"

"Don't be mad," Jonah said. "I traded in your trumpet-thing."

"You WHAT!"

"Okay, you're mad. That's fair."

Maggie dropped the guitar, walked up to Jonah, and grabbed the collar of his t-shirt. "Where is it? Where?"

"Inside voices," Jonah said.

"Tell me where it is!"

"Okay, okay! I took it to that music store on Sixteenth Avenue! The one with the funny name, and that old dude with the glass eye."

"Pokorny's?" Maggie asked, horrified.

"That's the one," Jonah said. "You know he runs an antique shop, too? He told me—"

Maggie placed one palm flat against the side of Jonah's head. His face went slack, and he said, "Yes, dear."

He sat down in the armchair and stared at the blank TV screen.

Maggie stalked into the kitchen, yanked the telephone handset off the wall, and dialed an international number. It took forever for the woman on the other end to pick up.


"Grandmother," Maggie said, "we have a problem."


Photo: marching-band automatons at the House on the Rock, July, 2008

22 December 2009

3,900 Other Words

"The Tongue of Bees," by my Viable Paradise XII classmate Claire Humphrey, was published yesterday at Fantasy Magazine. It's a damn good piece of fiction, and one of the legendary "Evil Overlord" stories from the workshop.

The first two lines:
The children roll in clover on the other side of the hill. On this side, Raymond Holt is eating belladonna.

If you tell me you don't want more, I'll know you're lying. What are you still doing here? Go. NOW.

Read "The Tongue of Bees" by Claire Humphrey