Something in the Water

Submitted into Contest #88 in response to: Write about an author famous for their fairy tale retellings.... view prompt

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Bedtime Horror Fantasy

“Hi Lenny.”

“Hello,” I replied to the lank-haired guy in horn-rimmed glasses, sitting about three rows from front. The host, Jerome, had picked him as he’d the one being most insistent with his hand-waving. Jerome was probably grateful that someone looked more nervous than he did. I shot a glance at him before turning to listen to the question from the audience member. He was holding the mic at arm’s length, like it was a snake about to bite him.

“Um, so, as I’m sure a lot of us are wondering, but, err, how is it you get your ideas for these retellings?”

Stuttered foreplay, followed by frenetic expulsion of that generic old chestnut. I swallowed my sighs as I began my well-rehearsed answer. Which was itself another fiction.

I don’t think anyone here at the Q&A, not Jerome picking away at the frayed end of his sleeve or wavy glasses guy or even the kohl eyed gaggle of goths at the back could’ve handled the truth of how Lenny Spoors became a best-selling author of twisted fairy tales.

It began with my little brother’s night terrors. I heard my mouth trotting out all the usual stuff about news headlines and occult research, but really, it all went back to lil Cam. 

I’d lost count of the number of times he’d wake me up with his screams when it all started that summer. Or his thrashings and mouth going like a fish’s when he wanted to yell, but was unable. Our parents got together young and they liked to party hard still, out all hours, so it would usually be me administering words of comfort and fresh bedsheets.

Other times he’d just be mumbling. Still agitated, but at least not shouting the house down. Sometimes I’d talk back to him, hoping to calm him down. The one word volleys we’d toss back and forth gradually became longer dialogues. I heard names I recognised from books that had been mine that now lived on his side of the room. Dr Seuss, Hans Christian Anderson, The Brothers Grimm, Philip Pullman – yeah, a bit heavily stacked on the male writers, but I’m just telling you what we had to hand. The little guy had clearly been affected by these stories and yeah, let’s face it, a lot of them were scary to start with, even before his embellishments.

It started getting really weird the night when he got up for a glass of water. The light from the landing woke me up. I wondered whether to get out of bed and check on him, make sure he wasn’t about to sleepwalk off the balcony or something. But he came back and we both drifted off back to sleep. I don’t know how long for, but when I woke up he was babbling. Eyes wide open. Holding out his hands to touch things only he could see. This wasn’t the usual sleep talking. I whipped my journal out from under the mattress and started taking notes.

I asked him about it the next day when I was getting us both ready for school (the ‘rents must’ve been a big bender that week). Turns out he’d just taken a glass of water that had been sitting on the coffee table. More convenient than going to the kitchen sink.

“Dude, just…no.” I looked up from tying his shoelaces to roll my eyes at him.

“Why Lenny? What’s wrong?”

How to explain to your younger brother that the parents he idolises are part-time junkies? Liable to leave their illicit substances all over the house but especially the coffee table, where they’d end up sitting around on heavily stained cushions with an even heavier rotation of peculiar guests.

There’d been something in the water that night.

That evening I remembered the notes I’d scrawled and read them over. Piecing together the scraps that had infiltrated from Cam’s otherworldly psychedelic tour, there was some actual entertaining stuff there. I half-forgot these were my little bro’s hallucinations and became invested in the stories. I decided I would try writing more down. Fleshing them out.

I slept lightly for a few weeks, trying to train myself to be alert to his stutters and mumbles. But nothing he came out with was on a par with that fateful night with the glass of enhanced H2O. The remaining empty pages of my journal waited expectantly.

One night I went looking around the living room for my geography textbook. It had been reappropriated as a coaster for a tankard of someone’s leftover cloudy cider. As I looked at the surrounding detritus, I knew what had to be done.

 “Have you brushed your teeth, Cam?”

“Yes, Lenny,” he cried from our room.

“Good work,” I called back, dropping a tab into a glass of water, bracing myself for it to froth over in kaleidoscopic colours, feeling like the world’s worst mad scientist. It didn’t, and I wasn’t. I took it to my brother.

“Got you something,” I said.

He looked up, face shining, expecting a toy or something he’d need to brush his teeth again after. I had to hide a smile when I saw his disappointment. 

“So you save yourself a trip in the night,” I explained, putting it down by him. “Actually, why don’t you have a couple of glugs before bed? S’good to keep hydrated, y’know. Stops ya getting pimples as well.” I pointed at the one on the side of my nose which he’d been ragging me about. I flared my nostrils. “Watch out! Volcano’s about to burst!”

He squealed and burrowed under his covers. But he poked a hand out. “Okay, gimme.”

I watched him drink. And waited, pen in hand.

Back in 2021, I hear myself winding down the end of my patented spiel. Mind and body both fully back in the book shop I’ve already forgotten the name of. Wavy glasses guy is nodding intensely, probably not having taken in anything I’ve said because he’s so excited he’s had his little bask in my limelight. Now Jerome is saying something, probably reiterating what I’ve just said, to show the audience how in tune he is with me. What great rapport.

I had to ask for the next question to be repeated. I was busy thinking I should really pay my brother a visit. He’s only about a half hour drive away from this town. Yes. Cam may have forgotten there’s a face attached to that name that sends him cheques once a month.

* * *

It’s strange, this: walking alongside my brother, hearing his feet crunching leaves, instead of hearing him pacing around the department marked WRITER’S ROOM in my mind. Hearing his voice, slow, monotonous, like cassettes used to sound when the batteries in your stereo were dying, instead of the cartoonish frenzy I conjure when I flip back through my notebooks mining our past conversations for more ideas. With what I’m paying, I guess they’ve got him on the good meds here. Collect royalties, pass Night Nurse, straight to horse tranquilisers. We’ve been walking around a square patch of lawn for a while now so my mind has gone to board games. I’m not sure who’s winning and who’s the loser.

“That’s my friend,” Cam says.

“Is he now?” I’m doing that voice you do when you’re visiting your great-grandmother who can’t always remember who you are and you’re treading carefully because she’s holding the butter knife. Cam’s pointing at a guy who looks like a cross between Santa and Marlon Brando (in his later years). A fairy godfather?

“Uh-uh. I tell him stuff.”

“That’s…that’s cool,” I say. “I’m glad you’ve made a pal in here.” I go to pat Cam on the shoulder but he flinches, only slightly, so instead I brush an imaginary insect off my own shoulder.

We’re coming up closer to the fairy godfather now, who appears to be deep in conversation with a tree. It’s our, what, tenth lap of this square and I’m still nursing a slight headache from raiding the hotel minibar late last night after signing about a hundred books. I pray I don’t have to make conversation with the snowy-haired gent. At least I know Cam’s triggers. I don’t know if the fairy godfather would take a “nice weather we’re having” as a sign to start playing Zeus.

To my relief, they just wave at each other and FG carries on conversing with the tree.

I do a few more laps with Cam until I make a play of noticing my watch and oh wow would you look at the time. He accepts my handshake as I leave. His nails are ragged. I remember telling him off when we were kids for biting his nails. Parenting when I should have been brothering. I choke down the tennis ball that’s suddenly grown in my throat.

Later on, in another nondescript hotel room, I dream. My dreams are usually mentionable for being non-existent. I call it my writer’s refuge. My mind is buzzing with stories all day so no wonder it prefers being a blank canvas at night. But this time I dream of walking with Cam. Only it’s not leaves we’re crunching. I look down and it’s a sea of skulls. Skulls belonging to all the people Cam could have become. And there’s ol’ FG, laughing, tears running down his ruddy cheeks, holding on to one of the branches of the tree. I walk over to the tree, wondering what’s so funny. I must have in on this joke.

As I get closer, the tree splinters, knotholes burst open and all the fae folk come tumbling out. Goblins and pixies and nymphs, oh my. There’s even a unicorn galloping down through the mists at the top of the tree. The birds have heard, and they want words. Tiny fairies heave off their bluebell bedclothes and together shine their light on me.

The fairy godfather notices me and I worry he’s about to bust a gut laughing. Then his nose is two inches from mine, flecking me with spittle as he tells me

THE FAE FOLK WILL HAVE THEIR REVENGE.

April 09, 2021 19:26

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4 comments

Graham Kinross
15:08 Dec 29, 2021

He drugged his brother for story ideas? Ouch. That’s a messed up family.

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Karen Mc Dermott
18:06 Dec 29, 2021

And this is why I never win a competition. Haha! I'd forgotten I'd even written this, thanks for reading and commenting :)

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Graham Kinross
21:58 Dec 29, 2021

No problem. It was good. Yeah I wish the winners of the competitions weren’t always the uplifting stories but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

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Rose Quartz
22:26 Apr 19, 2021

👍

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