The Life and Times of June Parker-Jones

Submitted into Contest #146 in response to: Write about a character discovering a surprising strength in either themself or another.... view prompt

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Fiction Thriller

“Did you know,” said the girl, “ that octopi can unscrew the lids from jars?”


“No, I didn’t,” I replied, even though I did. “Where did you hear that?”


“I just read it.”


“Oh.”, I said.


“It says here that a human brain has eighty-five billion, five hundred million more brain cells than an octopus brain. Brain cell is another word for neuron.”


“It is.”


Her eyes narrowed. “You know the word neurons but you don’t know about octopi opening jars?”, she asked.


“On second thought, maybe I have heard that somewhere before.” 


Interesting.


I cleared my throat and tugged at the cord of my lanyard uncomfortably. Her narrowed eyes were magnified by the thick, red plastic rimmed lenses of her glasses and she was chewing on the inside of her lip dubiously.


I crossed the lounge and opened the refrigerator. Inside was a quarter of a jar of salsa, various forgotten beverages, and a second sandwich--lovingly packed by my girlfriend that morning and placed aside for my drive home.


“I can’t really offer you any snacks,” I said. “We’re cleaned out--end of the year and all. Would you like a chocolate milk? Seal’s still on it.”


“I’m lactose intolerant.”


“Of course you are.” I muttered. I opened the cabinet beside the refrigerator and found two packs of biscuits and a box of ginger tea. I offered the biscuits, but she refused those as well.


“There’s a big meal waiting for me at home.” she said.


“Yeah? Your Mum making it?” Maybe that was why she hadn’t come to collect her daughter--maybe she was planning a big meal and lost track of time. Happens to the best of us, I thought.


“No. She’s not.”


“Your Dad, then?”


“No. My Aunt Shirley.”


I opened one of the biscuit packets and munched on a peanut butter one. It was stale and crumbly.


“Will you have to wait here until Aunt Shirley comes to get me?” she asked.


I nodded.


“She might be a while.”


A while. I nearly laughed out loud. School was over at two every day and now it was half-past four. The sun was starting to set. We were far past a while.


“Is she from around here?” I asked.


“No. She’s from Hartenberg. Have you ever heard of it?”


“No, June, I haven’t.”


“Aren’t you a geography teacher?” she asked.


I shifted a little in my chair.


“It’s a very old place.” she said. “And very far away.”


“Well, that’s nice she could come visit.”


“She’s not coming to visit” June said, as if it were obvious. “She’s coming to bless me.”


She said it as if it were something to be proud of, so I said, “Congratulations.”


“Thank you.”


“A blessing—what does that entail exactly?”


 I wondered if June’s family were religious. I’d never heard anything particularly zealotinous about her parents, but then I’d never heard anything to the contrary. People spoke about the Parker-Jones’ as if they were nice, normal people, which made it all the more troubling that their daughter wasn’t the sort of child who made friends easily. She was far more intelligent than the rest of the fifth graders and much more awkward. Very stoic too, like she was always trying very hard to appear composed and mindful. 


She looked that way now, as she removed her finger from page two hundred and forty-three of “Marine Life: An Exploration in Six Parts” and replaced it with a bright blue bookmark with a picture of Spiderman on it.


“Did you know,” she said, “that magic is real.”


“No. I didn’t.” 


She looked so grave and important, frighteningly so, and I knew that I couldn’t laugh. June was so studious and scientific, so steeped in seriousness, that my own solemnity seemed mandatory. The last thing I wanted to do was squash this little glimmer of childish creativity that she was entrusting me with.


“It is.” she continued, “Very real. But it’s not like it is in books.”


“No? Do you like books with magic in?”


“Not usually. They aren’t very factual. I’m writing my own story about magic. A compendium.”


“Do you know enough about magic for a compendium?”


“Several.”


I tried another biscuit. It was worse than the first one.


“Do you know about checks and balances?” she asked.


“In governments?”


“In nature.”


“Yes, of course.”


“Ninety-seven percent of the atoms in humans are also found in stars. When people are born with a higher concentration of those atoms, they are more likely to have a magical potential.”


“How do you know if you have the potential?”


“Checks and balances.”


I blinked. “How do you mean?”


“Well…” she trailed off, then took a deep breath. “Atoms have to balance. We’re balancing each others atoms right now. Because we’re balanced we’re equal. By removing atoms from one side of the balance, your own become more prominent. And if the atoms you’ve removed are concentrated, then you add them to your own and you get stronger.”


She paused as if to see whether I was following or not. Something in the way she said ‘removed’ made my stomach ache. 


“Yeah?” I asked.


She nodded.


“Who told you that?”


“Aunt Shirley. She has the gift.” she whispered.


Really?


“Mmhm. And so do I.” she whispered, softer still.


Okay, I thought, I see, it’s a game--a harmless fantasy that she enacts with this Aunt of hers. Charming.


“And this removing peoples’ atoms, how do you do that?” I ventured jovially, from the comforting embrace of adult reasoning.


“You kill them.”


“Oh.”


I felt my stomach turning again.


“If you pick the right person, no one ever knows they’re missing. Once you’ve killed your first person your power grows exponentially, but it runs out eventually and then you need to find some more atoms to remove.”


“And…has your Aunt Shirley…removed atoms?”


“Of course she has. Otherwise she would’ve died back in the fourteenth century. She tells the story about her first time with lots and lots of details. You should ask her about it when she comes to get me.”


“Now, June…you do know that’s not real. Right? That’s a game.”


“No. It isn’t.”


“But it must be-”


“Why?” she asked solemnly, “Why must it be?”


“Because…people can’t just go around killing other people. People would start to notice if lots of people were going missing.”


June reopened her copy of “Marine Life: An Exploration in Six Parts” and buried herself in the chapter titled The Bivavle Family.


“One hundred and seventy thousand people are reported missing every year in the UK.” she muttered. “Doctors, lawyers...mothers…fathers…teachers. They just…disappear.”


Just for a moment, I felt my heart leap into my throat.


“What happens? When you remove your first atoms?”


“First, you kill them. Then you ingest them. But before you do--you have to celebrate the kill. You have to be blessed. Then you can feast. Tonight, I get to feast."


“I think I ought to ring your Mother.” I stammered.


She stared blankly as I reached for the receiver on the wall. She slowly and evenly recited her phone number, and I hit the keys with shaking fingers, knowing in my soul that no one was going to pick up.



May 16, 2022 00:50

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1 comment

Paul Wilhite
16:45 May 23, 2022

Wow! very creative blend of science and horror. I like the idea of energy exchange in nature it conjures my old chemistry classes (the horror) very nice job.

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