M. C. St. john
Even after all the dreams she has had, Virginia is numb when she sees the boy in the garden. He stands inside the plot, his fingers hooked on the chickenwire fence.
His head is misshapen and the color of a russett potato. Tufts of dry hair sprout in odd places. Over a dozen eyes scattered across his lumpy face. They are beady and black. No two of them blinks at the same time.
“I’ve had dreams,” she says, “very strange ones. I was digging in the dark, trying to get somewhere. I was breathing heavy, because digging is hard. I was in labor. You know what the crazy thing is?”
A low, fawning grunt comes from his chest. He wants to know.
“I heard all these men above me. I could hear their voices from their ugly little holes, telling me it was for the best, that these things happen for a reason, it was meant to be.”
Resting in the crook of her arm is a wicker garden basket. She looks like a grown-up Red Riding Hood in house slippers and sweatpants. Now she reaches inside it. The pruning shears are at the bottom.
The boy’s gray fingers slip from the chickenwire. He grunts again, excited. It’s fun to watch Virginia snip away at his cage.
“They were wrong,” she says. “I kept digging deeper to get away from them. They’d ruined everything, told me I was nothing, to give up, but I would dig to find what I needed to show them. Do you know what I found?”
Snip goes the last wire.
“I found you.”
Trembling, he takes a step towards her, then with more confidence, more eagerness. He steps outside, leaving the ragged hole in the dirt behind him.
“Look at you.”
She holds him. The skin is cold, thick, and rinded. But he isn’t hollow inside. He’s solid. Real. Tears come to her eyes. “You are everything I dreamed you to be.”
He grunts once more, this time from effort. A fissure opens, zigzags across his face. Wet dirt falls from his lips. Across that wide, ruined mouth are teeth—chips of rock and bone, sharp things that refuse to be buried.
His own voice surprises him. But not the word he spoke. That word comes from love.
“That’s right,” Virginia says, kissing his cheek. “Those men are hiding in town, but you can find them if you remember my dreams. How about starting at Joe’s Pub? It’ll be closing time soon, and Joe’s parking lot doesn’t have good lighting. You can play hide and seek with the barflies. Won’t that be fun?”
He nods. More dirt falls. His teeth are longer than she realizes.
“Yes, it will. Now go on. I want you back home before dawn.”
She watches him slip through the backyard gate and creep down the road. Before she knows it, her boy has blended in with the shadows. The town lay at the end of that road, a handful of embers in the surrounding dark country.
Virginia stands there and savors the fullness she feels in her body. A satisfaction that comes from reaping something that had been hard sown.
“That’s my boy,” she says, and turns back to the house for a few hours of sleep.
M.C. St. John is a Chicago writer. He is the author of the short story collection Other Music. His work has been published in Aphelion, Coffin Bell, J.J. Outre Review, Quail Bell Magazine, Tangled Tree Publishing, and Transmundane Press.