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Fiction River Presents: Legacies

Edited by

Allyson Longueira

Contents

Introduction

Introduction to Prism of the Crab Gods

Prism of the Crab Gods

Introduction to Sisters

Sisters

Introduction to Deathmobile

Deathmobile

Introduction to The F Factor

The F Factor

Introduction to Shaman

Shaman

Introduction to Legacy

Legacy

Introduction to My Real Cousin Ruby

My Real Cousin Ruby

Introduction to The Man Who Decided

The Man Who Decided

Introduction to The Farewell Gift

The Farewell Gift

About The Editor

The Fiction River Series

Fiction River Presents

Copyright

Introduction

The Ties That Bind

I learned very early on that family means different things to different people.

For my mom and dad, family was pretty traditional. My mom comes from a big Irish Catholic family. She’s the eldest of seven. Aunts, uncles, cousins…family reunions get pretty big.

My dad is the first-generation first-born son of Spanish Catholic immigrants. He’s the eldest of three. We have some family here, but most of the Longueiras still live in Spain. I was lucky enough to meet some of those cousins. Amazing how far we’ll go to meet those who share our genetic material.

For me, however, family took on a less traditional meaning. At least, it did for the time. Nowadays, divorce is pretty common. Blended families are everywhere. No one really blinks an eye at the concept.

Even before my parents separated when I was 10, though, I seem to have bucked the typical system. I called all of my close friends’ parents Mom and Dad. Mr. and Mrs. seemed too formal. And first names were out of the question. So, I called them what my friends did.

As I got older, I realized close friends sometimes felt more like family than some of my own relatives. And blood relatives sometimes seemed like strangers. And that’s when it occurred to me: Family is not just what we were born into, it’s who we choose to share our lives with.

I’ve lived by that mantra since I was old enough to make my own choices. I’ve cut ties with blood relatives who were toxic and expanded my family to include those I feel love and support me the most.

I was born into a nuclear family: two parents, two children. I’m now blessed by a large extended family of relatives and friends, very few of whom are related by blood. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The stories I’ve chosen for this fifth volume of Fiction River Presents illustrate the complexity of the term family: its potential strength and potential for destruction.

I’ll be honest, the stories in the beginning of this volume will punch you in the gut. The very first one—the story that inspired this volume, Kelly Washington’s Prism of the Crab Gods—reduced me to tears the first time I read it (okay, and every other time I’ve read it). In fact, more than one of these stories made me cry. And I don’t cry easily or often. Proof positive that these stories are powerful fiction.

But there’s also hope woven into these tales. And opportunities for redemption. And the strongest kind love.

And by the end of the volume, even a few happy endings.

I hope you enjoy reading this latest Fiction River Presents as much as I have creating it.

And thank you for being a part of the Fiction River family.

—Allyson Longueira

Lincoln City, Oregon

August 26, 2016

Introduction to Prism of the Crab Gods

We begin this volume about families with one of the most heartbreaking stories I’ve ever read. Children should feel safe in their own homes. Sadly, that’s all too often not the case.

The concept for this powerful story was born out of one of our most creative Fiction River volumes to date: Recycled Pulp. For that volume, editor John Helfers tasked the authors with writing a story inspired only by a pre-determined pulp title.

Of the evolution of this story from that title, author Kelly Washington says: I wrote ‘Prism of the Crab Gods’ over two other titles because I really liked the title. However, I almost didn’t write it. I found it difficult to come up with a non-hokey story about crabs. One night, while talking over the issue with my husband, he casually threw out a, ‘What about hermit crabs?’ and eureka, the story grew from there. I knew the story would have to have an underdog, innocence, and magic. By the end, Miles felt very real to me. Because, at some point in our lives, we are Miles. We are all Miles.

Kelly Washington never does things halfway. This former soldier somehow holds down a day job as a defense contractor working for the U.S. Army while moonlighting as an author. She has appeared in two volumes of Fiction River so far (Recycled Pulp and Hidden in Crime), with more to come. You can usually find her hanging out at her website: www.smallfiction.com.

Now, grab some tissues, and get ready for a story that will stick with you for a long time to come.

Prism of the Crab Gods

Kelly Washington

He was a small boy, crippled by misfortune…and only the Crab Gods could answer his prayers…


The boy pulls the blanket over his head. His breathing slows, a hiccup builds, and, in between all of the other voices and noises in his mind, he listens. The fan whirls. The crickets chirp. In the silence of the silence, he thinks he hears his own heartbeat and that of the person—the shadow—lying on the floor of his bedroom.

He knows something is wrong, and after the screeching tires fade into the distance, the quiet works his nerves. To keep himself calm, the boy hums and counts. First by ones, then by twos, fives, tens, and then, hundreds. He can count to a million. Not that anyone knows this. They always stop him when he gets to around fifty.

But tonight the numbers aren’t right. The loud noise jumbled them. As he hums, he puts them back in order. One. Two. Three. He worries about his best friends: Mr. Oval Soccer Ball, Mr. Lopsided Spiderman, and Miss Intertwining Hearts. His hermit crabs.

His fingers slide the blanket down just to the point where he can look over at the aquarium tank. He sucks in a breath. He doesn’t notice that the lights are on, or that his mother stands dumbfounded at the edge of his bed, or that his twin sister, Martha, watches all of it with a slightly furrowed expression, a pink stuffed toy piggy pressed against her nightgown.

What he notices is that the aquarium has been shattered. His best friends are in danger. Scared. Terrified.

He must be brave. The boy scoops them up by the back of their shells and cradles them gently in his hands. He can barely see their dark legs as the hermit crabs recede further into their shells.

Miles! His mother’s voice penetrates his crowded mind, and he thinks she sounds just like a train operator. I need you and your sister to go into the kitchen. She pulls his blanket down and sighs. Jesus Christ, Miles, she says in the Sad-Angry-Voice he knows so well. The smell of sulfur fills his nose as she lights another cigarette. Not tonight… she sighs again. Martha, find your brother a clean pair of underwear and take him to the kitchen.

His sister helps him. She doesn’t speak, as usual, and her Silent-Voice is as loud as the rest of the noise in Miles’ head. He counts the number of times her bare feet touch the carpet. Twenty-six.

She stops when she reaches the laundry room. Miles softly pets his best friends and whispers, Thank you.


Earlier

"Dear Mr. Lopsided Spiderman, I pray that Ms. Danvers will like my art project this week. She says that I need to stop drawing you all the time, but she doesn’t understand how magical you are. I know that you are only waiting for the right time to save us.

"Dear Mr. Oval Soccer Ball, I’m still sorry that your lines are crooked. My hand slipped, and Martha wouldn’t let me use any more of her paints. That was mean of her, but Mom says that’s what sisters are supposed to do. But I don’t think Mom is right most of the time. That’s what Dad says, and she never disagrees with him.

Dear Miss Intertwining Hearts, technically you belong to Martha. I would never paint hearts on a best friend, but since you keep Mr. Lopsided Spiderman and Mr. Oval Soccer Ball company, I really wish that you could keep my dad from coming home forever. I like prime numbers best. Thank you. Good night.

After prayers, Miles counts until he can no longer remember what number he’s on, his mind gets blurry, and the only noise that can bother him would be the one where the front door slams shut.

For now, all is quiet. Numbers swim through his mind in a thick mathematical soup. He listens to the cricket chirps and calculates the temperature, the living room ceiling fan rotates one hundred and thirty-nine times a minute, and he thinks about how many days until his ninth birthday. Eighty-four days. Tomorrow will be better at eighty-three days.

Content, he sighs and snuggles under his solar system blanket.

But then the front door opens and slams shut.

Dad’s voice is loud, booming, and uneven, while Mom tries, at first, with her Don’t-Make-Dad-Angry voice. Miles knows instantly that it won’t work. It never does.

Shut up, Angela.

Something falls. It sounded like that time Robbie from next door tried to jump four boxes but landed on them instead. It was a soft, crunching thud, like someone’s head hitting a wall.

The silence walks into his bedroom and stalks over his blanket. Hovering. Waiting. It turns his heart into a racing clock. Miles counts eleven thick breaths coming from his doorway. His dad smells like crumpled tin cans, sweaty rags, and rain.

Hey halfwit, I know you’re awake.

The boy lies as stiff as a ruler. He wishes he had his own shell. It would make him strong, brave. His dad would like it, and wouldn’t make fun of him. Miles hears his mom at the door. Come to bed, Michael. He can smell her bloody lip, but she’s using her I’ll-Make-You-Happy-In-The-Bedroom voice. It works sometimes. I just got Miles settled. You know how he is. He’ll never sleep if we mess up his counting.

A snort fills the room. "I know how he is, Angela? So it’s my fault? Because that’s what I’m hearing you say. A layer of grit coats his words. There is no way this idiot is mine. Miles needs to know who’s boss around here."

A quick fwiiiiiiip, followed by a metallic jingle, crackles in the air. Dad’s old army belt. Miles never understood the pride of that belt. Something about how it still fit five years after his discharge. Five. That’s a good prime number. Miles always forgets this part. How the belt stings his back.

He screams until his pillow is wet and filled with words. Iamabadboy. Iamabadboy. Milesisabadboy. His thoughts squeeze together. Under the covers, Miles smacks his face, hits his numb legs, and scratches his arms. Iamastupidboy. One… three… five… seven… eleven… thirteen… seventeen… nineteen…

He no longer feels the belt’s bite, but its thin weight is on top of the blanket, right at his shoulders. Dad lost interest. He hears his parents fighting. The usual words of ihateyou, youareawhore, youaredrunk, and iwillkillyou float in Miles’ ears.

He hums. He counts. He listens as his best friends crawl around in the sand-filled tank next to his bed.

Miles whispers in his head, Please help us, Mr. Lopsided Spiderman, Mr. Oval Soccer Ball, and Miss Intertwining Hearts.

Just then an explosion-sound bursts in Miles’ room. It sounds just like the movies he isn’t allowed to watch, the ones with guns and bad guys and bullets and blood.

The silence walks out of his room. Miles peeks out from under the blanket. Dad’s shadow stumbles. Then the shadow falls to the floor.

Mom is on the phone with Grandmom. I’m-Sorry-Mom-But-I-Need-Help. ItisdifferentthistimeIpromise.

Martha helps Miles climb into his wheelchair, then pushes him into the kitchen and opens the freezer door. She moves the step stool to the microwave, and after a minute, Miles smells the chicken nuggets. Miles lets his best friends crawl out onto the kitchen table. Mom’s busy and she won’t care. Not with the shadow on his bedroom floor.

The hermit crabs scatter, timid at first, and then playfully. They discover Miles’ craft box. Mr. Oval Soccer Ball and Miss Intertwining Hearts wrestle over a purple crayon.

His sister, watching Miss Intertwining Hearts more than the other two, frowns slightly. She opens the fridge again and places a few baby carrots in front of the hermit crabs.

She jumps when the microwave beeps. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeep. Martha doesn’t sit still long enough for Miles to count the goosebumps on her arms. When she returns, he wheels himself to the laundry room. He finds Martha’s coat, white socks, and the pants she wore to school that day.

She clears her throat, like maybe she wants to say something, and it sounds like a kitten mewing. Miles looks up, waiting, hoping. But, in the end, her cloudy eyes thank him. He watches as she takes off two of the three pairs of underwear she wears each night and slips her legs into the jeans. Once, several months ago, thinking he was supposed to do the same, he asked for three pairs of underwear. His sister overheard this and began to cry. He never said anything about it again.

Martha slides a plate in front of him. He bites into a hot chicken nugget and points to the hermit crabs. I told you they were magical. She frowns at him. If only they could make Martha talk again, he thinks. He doesn’t understand why she always frowns, but it isn’t because Milesisastupidboy.

Mom comes into the kitchen. She brings winter into the room, and talks in her Nervous-But-We-Can-Get-Through-This voice. Martha, pack a bag for you and your brother. We’re leaving in an hou— She stops, and Miles realizes her eyes have focused on him. She gives him a ghost of a smile, like maybe she has forgotten how. "Sixty-seven minutes. We’re leaving in sixty-seven minutes."

Martha shoots up from the table, and Miles watches as both of them move in opposite directions away from him. He thinks about the shadow, and how he can no longer hear its heartbeat. When he turns back to tell all of this to his best friends, they are gone.

Miles is too young to remember the circumstances of why his grandparents took him and Martha to Wildwood, New Jersey, the summer before kindergarten. But he remembers two things as they explored the boardwalk: the ghost of his sister’s voice, and the exact moment he saw a hermit crab.

Its pinchy fingers jutted out of a magical colorful, swirly shell. He watched, amazed, as three crawled up to the edge of the glass, facing him. His head barely reached the edge of the counter.

Holy crab gods, that never happens, the girl