Novels

Below are excerpts from my three most recently completed novels:

 

Echoes from Dust

by L. S. Popovich

Riku 

1

Outside a small tin hut next to a shimmering river, Riku accidently stomped through a warble’s nest in her hurry. Whirring loudly, a tangled knot of silver-white warble-bees shimmied through the needle-grass and plopped onto the slowly crawling quicksilver stream. Gingerly avoiding a brass flower, she marched into the shady side-yard.

A slender priest named Nadyr hovered over the meditation stone with exquisite poise. He had a long rectangular frame and his thin, telescopic legs were compressed against his body.

Riku cleared her throat and Nadyr leered out of the corner of his crystalline eyes. “What is it, Riku?” he asked.

“I wanna go to the mountaintop and see the fireworks,” she said, interlocking her silver alloy fingers behind her. “Wanna go with me?”

Nadyr’s stance wavered as he sighed heavily. Extending his creaking legs, he returned to the smooth ground which emitted a harsh ringing sound as his magnetic sandals clicked into place.

“No, Dear. Have you forgotten? Today’s the arrival.”

“Can’t we go to both?” she pleaded, showing sparkling porcelain teeth and blinking charming sapphire eyes.

“The arrival is important. When the High Priestess’ daughter comes, she might choose a child from our village to take back to Mitchlum. If you’re lucky you’ll see the fireworks up close, from the steps of the cloister. Aren’t you eager to get your tattoos and have your name entered in the Book of Eternity?”

“I don’t want to be chosen. I’m only thirteen and I bet the smoky sky in Mitchlum smells horrible. And… I’d probably be the only inorganic girl.”

Riku, Nadyr, and everyone else in Kaminovo Village lived close enough to the wall of Mitchlum to have seen a few organics pass through from time to time. But Mitchlum itself – the organic city of eternal night – was well-nigh unimaginable to her.

Nadyr’s face squeaked suddenly as the plates of his jaws tightened. “If you’re chosen you will go to Mitchlum. Sacrificing your body to become a vessel for the gods is the greatest honor you can hope for. I might’ve starved to death if I hadn’t received my rites.”

Riku tucked her fists into the pockets of her dress and swayed from side to side, letting the sun glint off her tarnished hair. “I’m going to miss you, Nadyr, if I get chosen,” she muttered.

Nadyr smiled and said, “When the god of silence came to me, all my pain and fears were washed away. I promise you, my dear granddaughter, when it’s over, you won’t miss me. We will be as one in spirit. Now, go tidy up and put on your finest ribbon.”

 

2

Underfed livestock ambled around in pens, pulling up glinting spikes of needle-grass and chewing noisily. Like every creature from the Cauterhaugh, they had quietly glowing eyes. Everyone in Kaminovo Village had blue eyes, and the agate-horned sheep were no different. Riku thought it must have been something about her part of the Cauterhaugh that gave people and beasts and even cynths similar colors and composition.

After crossing the bridge, Riku glanced over her shoulder at the congregation of dwellings among the drooping tourmaline trees. She quickened her pace, shading her eyes from the glare of the reflective, wide-open plain. If she hurried to the jagged top of the mountain she might glimpse a few fireworks over Mitchlum’s wall before Nadyr came looking for her. Maybe the High Priestess’ daughter would choose another child and by the time Riku got back she’d be home free.

It wasn’t until she rounded the first jutting hillock and continued cautiously over crackling iron leaves, that she noticed a vague shape emerge from the base of the massive wall. As she clung with polished gloves to the magnetic side of the cliff, she watched it pass the edge of sunlight separating the two parts of the world, and as it drew nearer, she could make out a few details with her sharp eyes. It was the same unusual green vehicle from her memory, trailing dirty tails called ‘roots’ behind it. Once, when she’d seen it up close, she’d noticed intricate designs in its hull, like the stripes in jasper. During the last arrival she’d stared at those designs, forgetting to look at the priestess’ face. When she asked Nadyr he said it was a thing called wood, which never grew in the Cauterhaugh but made up a large part of Mitchlum. The movement of the car fascinated her, as did the little shadows it released into the air as it flew along. Considering the possibility, she was almost tempted to scamper back to the village, hoping to ride back over the shadowline, through the high wall into Mitchlum. Fear supplanted her temptation though, as she reached the peak.

As she tried to remember the strange appearance of the priestess, and looked to the little village down below, she saw the first few glints of fireworks against the dense backdrop of the distant city. Great splashes of fire and shimmering shapes licked the heavy smog out of the air. One after another the rockets cut through the atmosphere, soaring up, and leaving bursts behind them as they fired off.

Fireworks were something she’d loved as long as she could remember. They weren’t effective in the eternal sunlight of the Cauterhaugh, she knew, since they only worked in darkness. The sun never touched Mitchlum, and she was lucky to live close enough to the shadowline to enjoy them from afar beneath the black ceiling of smoke.

For a while the bright blooms enchanted her and the booms cascaded into her ears, until a chill wind brushed against her smooth, aluminum cheek. In the next moment, an odd smell made her turn her head. Unlike the smell of fields and cattle, this smell triggered no memories. She stood and slid underneath an overhanging ledge, looking down the other side of the mountain.

But before she could decide what to do, a huge creature swam up gracefully on a blast of wind and floated before her. Unlike all the cynths she’d encountered in the wild, this creature looked like an unnatural ghost. It was easily bigger than Nadyr’s house and between its curving talons and glistening teeth, looked ready to rip through the mountain itself. Its wings were red and tattered but each feather was razor sharp. The forelegs were long and mobile, like its neck, like a figure out of a nightmare. Organic material was nonexistent in the Cauterhaugh, she knew, but it seemed to her that the wings connected to the body through a webbing of soft, flexible tissue. Oddly, there was as much gleaming metal as was found on any cynth, with incomprehensible pipes and tubes threading through its massive ribcage. In the center of its serene face, round, bright eyes peered at her.

She trembled and backed away in terror, but the huge thing set itself down carefully on the uneven surface and collapsed into a shapeless unity of light and shadow. All at once a large woman stood before her. Twice as tall as Riku, with veins that glowed for a moment as the strange wings receded.

Now Riku recognized the priestess, like a shape from a half-forgotten dream, with features composed of the foreign organic material of Mitchlum, but with familiar bits and pieces: modifications and armor, and the strange and varied tattoos of the priesthood covering her from the shoulder to her flat abdomen. She had long, powerful legs and wore a clean, gold-trimmed official tunic. The priestess smiled kindly at Riku’s fright, reached a hand out to her and said, “Young One, come into the light. The god in me led me to this ridge, and so we bypassed your village and found you. Were you hiding because you’re scared to be chosen?”

Riku couldn’t answer. Instead she only looked away in despair.

The woman’s eyes glinted as she bent closer. Riku was mesmerized because the eyes didn’t seem to be just one color or substance, but living things in and of themselves.

“You saw me a moment ago transformed into a beast,” the woman continued. “No doubt it scared you, Dear. But don’t be afraid. The beast is an extension of my god and my god wishes you no harm.”

“You’re the High Priestess’ daughter,” Riku stuttered and bowed uneasily, signing the symbol for reverence with her fingers. As she bowed she couldn’t help but notice one of the priestess’ arms, which was artfully composed of various metals. She wondered if all the organics in Mitchlum wore such modifications.

“There’s no need to be formal. I find no fault in you. The god in me is the one who chooses. That’s why I came straight here instead going to your village. Your will is strong, and you will come to Mitchlum.”

“C-Can I say goodbye to Nadyr?” she whimpered, as the first oily tears polished her solid blue eyes.

“Let’s go to the village together. And we’ll present you as the chosen one. Dry your tears. I’m sure Nadyr will be charmed. Is he your father?”

“No. He’s a priest and my grandfather. My parents died before I was old enough to remember…” Riku wiped her eyes with shaking hands.

“Then we shall surely speak to him. Come, child. You may call me Izzie.”

 

3

After saying farewell to Nadyr and the other villagers, shedding a great number of tears, and petting one or two sheep, Riku stepped into the waiting car. Its interior was creamy white, like porcelain, but with soft hide seats. The vehicle expanded as it took in air and contracted slightly as it expelled exhaust. The driver was like Izzalia: tall, with asymmetrical features, much softer than the inorganic men of the Cauterhaugh.

Izzie sat next to her, her long dark hair flowing through the air until she shaped it into a ball with her fingers and secured it on the back of her neck in a neat clump.

Riku stared at the rich landscape as it zipped by through the transparent skin of the window. The car made hardly a sound as it skirted over the ground and she wondered how it flew without magnetism.

“Is it really always dark in Mitchlum?” Riku asked.

“Since it’s always daytime in the Cauterhaugh, it must always be night in Mitchlum,” Izzie said. “It’ll be strange for you at first, I’m sure, to leave the Cauterhaugh. But you’ve lived near the shadowline all your life. Another world has always been within your view. Now’s the time to venture out and meet your destiny.”

“Will you be with me all the time?” Riku sank into the cushion, feeling its sleek, seamless cheek against her back.

“I won’t be with you for long, Young One. The High Priestess requires many things of me. And there are thousands of other villages in the Cauterhaugh. It’s only because you’re near the shadowline that I happened upon yours. But now that we found you, there won’t be another arrival in your town for quite some time.”

Riku frowned.

“You mustn’t be shy,” Izzie continued. “A new life awaits you. Embrace the strange, for in time it’ll become familiar. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about the struggle of becoming a priestess. But being chosen is a profound blessing. Our only salvation.”

Riku sighed. The High Priestess’ daughter spoke exactly like Nadyr. She wondered if, when she was fully-grown, she’d talk as if something inside her had changed.

Soon the great wall of Mitchlum loomed in the sky. And from one moment to the next the world outside her window darkened, as fuzzy lightning crawled through the sky at the edge of the smog ceiling. For a moment she was scared, but then she glanced at Izzie’s smiling face and felt reassured.

The car passed through lanes of heavy trucks, grumbling and roaring as they sped about their business. The street was full of unusual people made of muscle, bones and other things she couldn’t remember the names of, wearing colorful clothes of surreal, soft materials. Everything moved differently than in the Cauterhaugh, as if the night-time community was all one big machine. Everyone moved with a purpose but she couldn’t imagine where most of them were running to. Curiously, Riku pressed her face against the window, which stretched against her sharp nose and left a pleasant feeling when she drew it away.

As the car pulled into an underground passage the darkness deepened. The three of them stepped out onto gravel under harsh natural fluorescence, and huge vines reached out unexpectedly from the ceiling to grapple the car, lifting it high into a cubbyhole for storage. Riku watched in wonder. How clever the organic buildings of Mitchlum are, she thought.

“It’s a long walk to the cloister,” Izzie said, stretching long, muscular arms. “No cars are allowed near it. My driver, Archie, will walk you there. Unfortunately I must attend to other matters.”

“You’re leaving already!” Riku said, on the verge of tears.

“Don’t worry,” Izzie said. “You won’t feel lonely after you’re introduced to the other students.”

The man called Archie led her by the hand through a twisting corridor that shuddered and flexed as if the weight of their steps were pressing upon the belly of a living thing. Riku coughed after taking her first breath of Mitchlum air. Her lungs creaked and grated together within her breast and she wept a little because she missed the brightness of the Cauterhaugh.

Archie pulled her up a steep staircase that wound around a massive structure, strutted with crooked branches, reaching all the way into the gray clouds and crowned with splendid green foliage. The stairs jutted precariously from the side of the round building as they spiraled up the trunk and her stomach knotted as she looked down at the winking lights of idling vehicles and the quickly moving hordes of people below. The lights in the receding streets were like frantic, blinking stars in contrast to the stationary stars frozen above the roiling film of smog.

“In darkness you sometimes find life,” Archie said smiling.

“What?” Riku asked, looking up at him.

“In olden times, trees like these needed light to grow.” He patted the wall of the colossal building. “But when the city was swallowed by darkness, life found a way to flourish in it. Of course, we have to paint the leaves green now, otherwise the whole city would be ghostly white.” He chuckled.

Surely no one could ever build something this big, she thought, but the fact it had grown was still surprising. Then she remembered how big the Fjord was supposed to be, reaching from Earth to Heaven, and it had been made by human hands…

The horizon was cluttered with green stalks, topped by bushy clusters of leaves piercing the clouds and rustling in the strong wind. With rasping breaths she begged Archie to rest. She sat on a step as he patted her back with a massive hand. They were high enough that she could just see over the top of the wall, to the magnificent brightness of the Cauterhaugh beyond, where small townships dotted the matte, pale-yellow landscape.

Archie smiled. She noticed he had only one gold tooth. “Would you like me to sing you a song?” he asked her. His striped jacket brushed against her. It was made of a material that shone even in the low light of Mitchlum.

“What song?” she sniffled. And he began to sing with a voice as lovely as a bird’s.

From the Fjord one day

We merrily came

With heads full of dreams

And hearts beating gold.

 

From the Fjord one day

We merrily came.

The heavens spilt wonders

And Grotto-le rose

From ancient slumbers

In Earth’s inner hold.

 

Where the moon once dwelt

Now all that remains

Is a moonlight tower.

 

But with a new name

We’ll go one day

To the Fjord,

One day to the Fjord.

 

The pleasant tickling of Archie’s words soothed her as Riku imagined the incredible future before her. Gaining strength from his joy she followed him up the treacherous steps, feeling the great world of Mitchlum all around her like one endless vibrating creature, more alive than all the dreams she could remember.

 

 

Their Story

 

By L. S. Popovich

1.

The tall stained glass windows of Ouille castle caught the dusky light as the king’s family gathered in the dining hall for a dinner of pink dillo-meat. The polished silver plates were piled high with yellow crabapples, buttered potatoes, and runny mushrooms that Princess Vera said tasted like pustules. The hounds had acquired a fondness for these delicacies since the adolescent princess spooned them onto the floor when no one was looking.

A servant named Calligari entered quickly with a wooden pipe drooping from the corner of his lips. After adjusting his sweat-stained collar, he poured a draught of fragrant wine into the queen’s goblet. Princess Vera held up her glass, and after a moment’s hesitation he obliged her with a few drops. Her older sister, Tali, watched with disapproval, sipping tea. When Vera grabbed the wineskin for more, her father’s voice stopped her.

“A young princess has no reason to drink,” said the king, whose two-tone beard Vera had once been fond of pulling. He flicked a layer of froth off his beer before tilting the stein to his lips.

Princess Vera was tall for her age, and her lanky arms gave the misleading impression of fragility. Grimacing, she swallowed a mouthful of wine. “But Father,” she said. “The Bard says wine inspires great visions… How can I paint without inspiration?” Her mobile green eyes flickered in the candlelight, and her delicate fingers prodded the food in front of her with deliberate impertinence.

Before the king could reply, Tali answered in the practiced tone of a family moderator. “They also say excess is the root of dark ideas, Vera.” Tali’s vibrant emerald eyes reflected both love and criticism. Their color was the same as Vera’s, but they were like refined gemstones compared to molten ore.

“Wise words, spoken by a future leader,” the queen said, tipping a glass toward the eldest princess, who blushed. “If the war comes anytime soon, you’ll find that even stale proverbs are planted in truth. Since you’re already well-versed in history you’ll know the enemy’s next move before they do.”

The king heaved a sigh heavy enough to rattle the impressive windows. “Must you always mention the latest war gossip at the table?” he moaned. “Soon I’ll have to stuff my ears with cotton to block out the ceaseless rumors.”

Silence reigned across the lengthy table for a few moments. Vera packed food into her cheeks and etched a groove into the wooden table with a fingernail.

On the queen’s round face a solemn look had settled. “Just glance out the window,” she said quietly. “The horizon grows smoky as the hordes of Zoloza inch closer.”

The king scowled. From deep within a pair of wrinkled gray pouches his eyes shone with the sputtering intensity of the faintest stars. “You’re just like a peasant woman. That darkness is just a veneer of soot on the glass. Calligari, how about some fresh air?”

Snapping out of a reverie, the servant creaked the enormous window ajar, whereupon a strong draft extinguished a dozen candles.

“Look what you’ve done!” the king growled.

Calligari bowed obsequiously, revealing the bald pate atop his chestnut-shaped skull. “I’ll just fetch the firedrake,” he said, hurrying down the hall.

“Now the food will get chilly,” the queen complained.

“Look at us!” the king said. “Sitting here in near-darkness. Remind me again why we need Drawn-to for simple things like lighting candles when flint and steel serve just as well.”

“But I made the firedrake!” Vera protested. “How else would all the torches in the castle stay lit?”

A few seconds later, Calligari stumbled in holding an unwieldy, bright red, miniature dragon. As he attempted to unhook its talons from the front of his frilly shirt, everyone but the king giggled. With an elegant swoop of its glowing tail it kindled every last candle in due course.

“There,” the king grumbled, “now get that silly Drawn-to out of here so I can eat in peace!”

Calligari called the firedrake but it continued to flap above the table as if it was admiring its reflection in the crystal chandelier.

“Here!” Vera said, letting her fork clatter onto her plate. Lifting her hand, she stood. Instantly, the Drawn-to settled on her palm. She petted the creature fondly and winked churlishly at Calligari. “You have to be friendly if you want it to come to you,” she said.

He sauntered around the table to retrieve the creature while Vera tossed the firedrake toward him playfully. Caught off guard, Calligari screamed and swung his arms instead of trying to catch it. Meanwhile, the firedrake released a few sparks from the tip of its tail and soon several of the oversized frills on Calligari’s shirt were smoldering.

“Enough of these games, you fools!” the king roared.

Responding quickly, Tali leapt out of her chair and dowsed the servant with her tea.

“This whole lamentable performance could’ve been avoided if you’d learn to control your gift, Vera,” the king said, shaking his head.

“If Calligari knew how to take care of them…” Vera mumbled. “Besides, they help out all over the castle.”

The queen cleared her throat loudly before the king could contradict Vera’s claim. “They have their uses,” she put in evenly. “Vera, you still have a lot to learn. Remember, your duties as a princess outweigh your function as an artisan.”

Vera sighed and sat down to finish her meal.

Wearily, the king watched the servant retreat, holding the firedrake with exaggerated dignity. Then his eyes lit upon the unfinished painting above the fireplace. The queen had insisted on hanging it, and every night the piece of artwork made his blood run cold. Guests often admired it without realizing that Vera’s intention had been to unleash the creature within it upon the world. Floating in the neutral background, a colorful toad with swollen eyes glistened with maddening realism. The only way to escape its penetrating gaze was to leave the room. Lately, the artistic creations of his brilliant daughter haunted his dreams as much as they haunted his hallways.

Tali leaned out her bedroom window as the setting sun frosted the mountains and then spilt onto a pearly river that wound through a valley of brightly colored houses. The next thing she saw was a tiny, leopard-spotted elephant splashing in the courtyard fountain. Sweeping her eyes past a row of pepper trees, she glimpsed a unicorn-toad crouching on a branch.

A hundred feet away Vera’s tower stood. The king’s advisor, who was called the architect, had designed the fanciful steeple to put distance between the castle and the disturbance of Vera’s Drawn-to creations. But nothing could stop the colorful coo-coos and meddlesome snoz-bats from perching on the parapets. A flag bearing the words “The Nest” was draped over the tinted glass roof as if it was the only safe haven for Drawn-to on their way to the forest.

As evening turned into night, a two-headed swan crisscrossed in front of the rising moon. A lurching Drawn-to servant named Baobab glanced through the window, imagining what it would be like to live in the wild. Sighing, he continued sweeping the studio.

“Baobab, your face is drooping a little,” Vera said, peeking from behind her canvas. “Maybe it’s time to start from scratch.”

“No, milady, I’m a fan of this pocked and mottled mug. There be plenty of flower petals in Ouille. If I had a face with nary a flaw, how hilarious I’d look, posing for a nobleman!”

His strange, lumpy torso, ape-like brow and not-quite human hands made the human servants nervous, even though he never hurt a fly. Still, there was something stoic and beautiful lurking beneath his deformed features, like the glimmer of an idea that hadn’t quite stuck. He felt pride in being one of Vera’s earliest creations, and the immaturity of her skill back then had resulted in his simple nature.

Vera touched the corner of a tortoiseshell giraffe-rat with her brush.

Tali picked up one of the artisan books stacked on Vera’s nightstand. Part of her nightly ritual was reading aloud as Vera worked:

Artisans are different from ordinary artists. Their souls can animate artificial bodies. Whether the souls of Drawn-to are only shards of the artisan’s, or are whole and complete is not fully agreed upon.

Even before discovering a signature, artisans must master the basics before life can emerge from their toil. For some it takes a lifetime, for others it’s forever unattainable.” Tali yawned and skipped a few pages.

Not all artisans work in the same medium: some paint, others sculpt or even forge metal. However the art is too complex for most artisans to consider changing their native medium. Since Drawn-to come from human souls, their forms have changed throughout history. In fact, many of the techniques first used by the Alchemists are now lost.

Relaxing deeply into the couch cushions, Tali set the book down. “They say artisans are getting rarer. What if one day there aren’t any more?”

“You hardly ever see any good Drawn-to, I mean besides the ones I make.” Vera said, smiling.

“One day there’ll be fairy tales about your mischievous creatures,” Tali said, half-seriously.

She paused before adding a signature to give life to the creature. “I wonder why my signature works.”

“You have the gift,” Tali shrugged.

Vera hesitated, deciding where to place the mark that distinguished all her Drawn-to: a little bird inside a cage.

Suddenly, the sound of churning wheels drew her attention to the window. Outside, the king and queen were setting off to some diplomatic event. Vera recalled the few times she’d ridden in the ornate carriage. It was another of the architect’s brilliant inventions. The gold trimming and bright magnesium handrails were the least of its wonders. The interior was as spacious as a ballroom and could comfortably seat twenty people without straining the horses. Localized manipulation of space was one of the architect’s special tricks.

“They’re expecting me,” Tali said.

“You’d rather go to some boring social event than hang out with me?”

“Father wants me to go to these things. One day, you’ll probably have to go too.”

“Well, we all have our talents,” Vera said, sneering. No amount of pleading ever dissuaded Tali from making an official appearance. Tali dropped the book, straightened her dress, pinned up her light brown hair and descended the stairs with sturdy strides, her back as straight as a post.

Watching from above Vera thought: She might sign declarations of war and peace one day, but she’ll never create life from art. Annoyed, Vera sighed and put a few finishing touches on her work, remembering all the times she’d been scolded for the trouble her Drawn-to caused. Every time a flying pig roosted in a chimney she was blamed, and Tali just went on impressing everybody with her understanding of law and archery and etiquette…

Baobab tried to distract Vera with a few jokes but from the stern lines in her innocent, freckled face he could tell she was still brooding.

 

 

The Pale Goliath

 

by L S Popovich

  1. a tooth

It was such a fine day that I decided to mow the lawn. It wasn’t even my lawn per se. It belonged to the apartment complex, but I figured someone had to do it, and since whoever normally did it was really slacking off I did it on my own initiative with the manual lawn mower my mother had given me one Summer to earn pocket money. Occasionally I do things purely out of nostalgia.

My ipod – one of the first generation that was as dense as a small brick of gold – was playing “Smooth Criminal,” a cover version by Alien Ant Farm. I became obsessed with this song for a few days and bought the CD simply to find that the rest of the tracks were a disappointment.

When I’d mowed lawns during summer vacation I’d done it my way. This consisted of attacking the tallest clumps of grass first then working toward the shorter grass. This is how I’d always done it, and even though it’s probably not the best way, I never questioned it and no other method ever presented itself. However, I realized after a while it no longer felt like it once had. The old lawn mower was rather clunky now, and one of the wheels squeaked.

Thirty minutes into it, I took a break, leaning on the handle and pressing my heels into the warm, springy grass. It was then I realized I wasn’t wearing shoes. My mother would have had a cow if she’d seen me, like a kid, trying to ruin every pair of white socks I owned as quickly as possible. I took stock of the rest of the lawn. The thing about mowing: once you start you have to finish, even if your mood changes. Just as I was about to continue I noticed something in the grass. Bending over, I discovered a human tooth. It was long (the entire root was attached) – as if it had been yanked cleanly out of someone. This tiny artifact, perhaps stemming from some unseen brawl in the courtyard, was somehow fascinating. It just goes to show what you can come across when you keep your eyes open.

“Whatcha find?” called a high voice about fifteen feet away.

I’d somehow failed to notice the girl in the lounge chair in the middle of the lawn, sunning herself. It was as if she’d appeared out of the bright blue sky. It might seem improbable that I’d mowed half the lawn without noticing her, but sometimes details are easy to miss when you look at the whole landscape.

She peered over huge sunglasses and tilted her fancy straw hat so that her smooth round face showed clear and gleaming like a pearl against the sea of grass.

“Nothing special,” I said, not in the mood to chat with someone her age. There were hardly any hints of breasts beneath her blue flowered top, and she had the uncontrolled facial expressions of a teenager. Not only that, but she was wearing lipstick, which seemed completely unnecessary if she was just lazing in the sun.

“Come on,” she persisted, “tell me.” The chair creaked as she sat up and I watched as she rearranged her legs, which stuck out of her denim short shorts like the toothpicks used to pick up hors de’oeuvres.

Should I show her the tooth? I thought. I decided there was no way around it.

“Yick!” she said. “You’re crazy to pick up stuff like that off the ground.”

“Someone has to pick it up.”

“Say,” she leaned closer, “what are you doing out here in the first place?”

“Am I bothering you mowing the lawn?”

“No, I just found it odd someone like you would be doing yard work on the weekend. And don’t people normally use gas powered mowers?”

I peered at her. Something about the way she spoke made me think she might not be as young as I imagined.

“You remind me of that fellow in Blue Velvet,” she said suddenly.

It took a second to register.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“You know, the main character finds an ear as he walks through a field and then a whole shitload of stuff happens.”

I cleared my throat. “Yes. I saw the movie. But there’s a big difference between finding a tooth and an ear.”

“Yeah, an ear is about ten times as disturbing. Which means that your descent into craziness will be ten times less entertaining. By the way, my name’s Jeune. What’s yours?”

I squinted at her, not sure I wanted to know her by name. You never knew what these types of girls would say or do next.

“Leopold.” I held out my hand.

“Nice to meet you, Leopold. Do you think we will end up being friends?”

I didn’t know what to say so I said, “I think I better finish mowing the lawn.”

“You’re right,” she said, “you could find another snake in the grass.”