American Chimera – 13.4

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“So when you go to see Dani, you’ll notice her cephalothorax is a bit distended on one end. That’s from the injections and the extra growth of her exoskeleton.”

The interrogator chuckled. “I’d say it’s more an ‘if’ than a ‘when.'”

“You’re the only person I know of that can travel from our prisons to hers. You have to make sure it’s a when. I don’t know your Dr. Smith, but he has to be cruel if he’s used biosafety and science as an excuse to keep Dani from her friends and parents. Even if it’s only a few times, I need you to assure Dani that we’re all thinking about her.”

The interrogator let go of Dr. Worthington’s hand. “You think she’s Brett and Janie’s actual child, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“That’s ludicrous. And why would you support that? You know what they were. You knew they were poor lunatics, the exact kind of people the government wouldn’t want raising a child.”

Dr. Worthington leaned in close to the interrogator. “I had two children. They each had two children. All of it with no oversight, no chance of involuntary sterilization. I lived a life you can’t even imagine, a life filled with sugar and beef and butter and wine.” She pointed to the door. “But I know what votes I had to cast. My generation knew that sterilization would be unpopular, but it had to happen or none of us would be here now. So hate us and hate our hypocrisy for as long as you want, but none of that will change my past. None of that will change the fact that you are suffering for choices you couldn’t have made. None of that will change the fact that Dani exists and is here now, imprisoned.”

The interrogator stood, her face dour. “I do what I have to do. If I were to treat this specimen like an accident child as you do, this country would be lost.” She crossed her arms. “So I’ll do what I have to. I’ll deal with the mess your generation left this world in.”

“Help me back down?”

The interrogator turned away from Dr. Worthington and left.

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Reading List – July 2020

This is my third of four Indie Book Months in 2020!

Through the Nethergate – Roberta Cheadle

41umochifzlRoberta Cheadle announced the publication of her paranormal novel on her blog, and I was instantly stoked. I like a lot of what she posts on her blog, and I know her research is spot-on fantastic. I have been looking forward to reading this for quite a while now, so let’s hop in!

Amazon LinkThough Cheadle has made other purchase options available

From Ashes to Magic – Various, Edited by Mikki Noble

48430321._sy475_

I follow Ari Meghlen on Twitter and WordPress, and she announced that she was taking part of this series. It’s about various magical creatures and creative interpretations of their lives, struggles, existences, and relationships, and I thought that would be a great way to get introduced to a lot of authors! Haven’t tried a “various authors” short story collection yet!

Amazon Link

The Gate – D.L. Cross

45946171Sometimes, I’ll surf around Twitter and look at books people have up for sale. This one attracted my attention because it’s a science fiction novel that contains archaeology, promises twists, and seems like it will probably have a humorous element to it. I’m excited to see if I chose something well!

Amazon Link

The Leftovers: Something from YOU?

Do you have a published book and a method of purchasing it that isn’t sketch as hell?  I filled my slots this year using Twitter, but I’m always looking for new indie books to review. I buy books I review because I don’t want to be beholden to anyone.

See my old reviews here

American Chimera – 13.3

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“I told you before that I don’t know what she is, but…you’re right, in a way. I think her mind is human, or at least human enough. Her cranial cavity isn’t growing correctly given her brain size.”

“Can we…is there anything we can do?”

I nodded. “Yeah. There are things we can try.”

I actually didn’t have a clue. It was at this point, when I realized I was trying not to let them know I couldn’t save their daughter, that I stopped being jealous of doctors that worked on humans. Oh, hell, that would be the worst.

Brett nodded. “What we gonna do?”

“I have to do a couple more studies,” I said. “We’re going to need to run some metabolic and hormonal tests, and it’s…it’s going to be a lot of them. We don’t know what she is, so I’m going to have to run the gamut. After we figure out what growth hormones she produces, I should be able to order a cocktail to inject near her brain immediately after she sheds her next exoskeleton. It’ll force the soft, new flesh to grow more than normal. If we do this every time she molts, we should be able to control it.”

Brett held his little spider close. “Any side effects?”

“I don’t know.” I leaned forward, putting a lot more weight on my arms than I can manage now. “Everything we do with Dani is uncharted territory. The only way I could make better decisions is if we knew what she was – but that would require me asking for help from an agency. Is that what you want?”

He shook his head. “No. Keep this quiet. I git the sneakin’ spicion that Uncle Sam won’t take kindly to us raisin’ this little girl. Not that I think the gov’ment’s involved or anythin,’ since we definitely didn’t just steal her. Nothin’ classified or anything, not that we know of.”

I moved some of the images into Dani’s electronic folders. This was the first time I knew for sure that Dani was supposed to be government property. I looked at some of the wrinkles and liver spots on my hands. I didn’t have that long left to live, not the way the environment was falling apart and disposable plastics were disappearing. A lifetime of excess and luxury was catching up to me.

And to Dani.

My wrinkles and spots and failing health made me part of the generation that had made Janie and Brett sterile, that had failed to stop the temperatures from rising. I can blame my parents and grandparents as much as I want, but they’re long dead now and there’s no point. Assuming time goes on, you’ll understand one day. Your generation will do things to irrepably change the lives of those younger than you, and they won’t like your decisions no matter what they are, no matter if they’re all that stands between the planet and total destruction.

“I’ll help you. It’s going to be expensive, but I’ll put you on a payment plan. There’s no point in making you pay for a child’s medical care when no one else on the planet has to.” I typed into the records system a few notes and made another appointment. “Bring her back in a couple weeks and we’ll do the complete workup. I’ll formulate the first therapy, and we’ll try it. If we don’t, well…I fear the alternative is worse than the possible side effects from the treatments.”

Brett nodded. “How can I thank you, Dr. Worthington?”

“Keep your job. Do right by this girl you’ve adopted. No one else with kids is going to slack off.”

“I’m not sure I wanna go to college.”

I let my shoulders down. “That’s up to you. But one of you should try – they have scholarships just for sterilized people.”

He wrinkled his nose. “Yeah.” Dani wrapped a few legs around his neck. “I’ll see you in a couple weeks then, Doc.”

I nodded and saw him off.

He paid his bill in full.

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American Chimera – 13.2

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Spiders go through something called a molt. It’s like growing pains, like how your very bones hurt when you’re actively getting bigger, but more violent, explosive, and energetically expensive.

During her first few months of life, Dani molted several times. Given the rates I saw her growing, I decided the little girl was going to live at least as long as a tarantula, probably longer, and reach a size I couldn’t predict. I charted her as accurately as I could, tried to maintain constant interaction with the Huffmans, and still my predictions seemed entirely guesswork.

Toward the end of her first year, the Huffmans called me with concerns about her molt. Ever since a few days after she’d shed her previous exoskeleton, she’d been holding her head with her claws and keeping her eyes closed. They theorized that she had a headache. I had them bring her in.

“Dada?” she asked.

I’d heard it a few times. I’d heard her say Mama, Daddy, and a few other things. I knew that she was progressing like a human baby more than a spider or even a monkey.

“Was Janie sick today?” I asked.

He shook his head. “’Mergency at work. You wouldn’t b’lieve how many folks think Bojangles robots got money in ’em – I mean, how long’s it been since people’d carry cash?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. A while.”

“And yet they think it’s a smart idea to crawl up the cookin’ hole to find money. So Janie’s gone downtown to cut sommun outta the box.”

“That’s insane. Though, I suppose I should be proud of her – and you, really – for holding a job for a year. Didn’t expect it, to tell you the truth.” I stroked the spider’s smooth back and wondered if she’d ever develop urticating hairs (hint: she didn’t). When I touched the top of her head, she’d grimace and flail her eight legs. “Brett…I know I’ve said it before, but I’m still not sure what she is. I don’t-”

“She’s a little girl,” Brett said. He pointed at her and waggled his thick, calloused finger. “Ain’t you ’eard what she just said? That’s my name. Dada. And here – lookit – came in the mail recently.” He fumbled in his phone until he pulled up a copy of an official document. “See? Social security card. Bona-fide human.”

“Oh good lord.”

“It’s even legal an’ everthin. Had some illegals help me figger it out, though.”

I put a palm to my forehead. “Whatever. I don’t know what’s going on with your legal situation, and I don’t rightly care. Do you want to pay for an MRI?”

“You think it’ll hep ’er, doc?”

“I’ve got no better idea. Her head’s hurting, and I’d see a break in the exoskeleton if that were the problem.”

He nodded. “Then yeah. I got the cash, so I reckon we ort’ta figger this out. Whadda I do?”

I swaddled the blanket around her a little. “Pick her up and follow me.”

MRI machines are amazing now. They’re incredibly inexpensive. When I just started out in veterinary medicine, it took a room full of scientists and equipment just to run one, so most animal MRIs were done at veterinary schools or some of the biggest, most expensive hospitals. Now even po-dunk country doctors like me could just have one in a back room. I shuffled down the hallway and opened the door to the room, then instructed Brett to sit her in the ring openeing.

I’d never had a patient so…patient before. Calm. Trainable. At that moment, I felt insanely jealous of doctors practicing on humans. They had such an unfair advantage.

Brett helped hold her still while I operated the machine, and in about fifteen minutes I had an image before me. He picked her up at my direction and brought her over to the screen. While he bounced her in effort to make her happy, I pointed at the place on the screen I wanted him to look.

“The problem is obvious,” I said. “If you look here, you’ll see that the brain is growing about as you’d want in a human of her age. The problem is that the exoskeleton is growing for a spider of her weight – and that doesn’t match up.”

Brett sucked in a breath and held it.

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American Chimera – 13.1

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Dr. Worthington’s eyes blinked a few times when her cell unexpectedly opened. “Lord, you nearly gave me a stroke. I didn’t expect visitors at this hour – assuming time’s still ticking out there.” She reached out a withered, old hand. “Help me sit up.”

The interrogator let the door shut and lock behind her, then walked over to the feeble old woman. She offered a hand and picked Dr. Worthington up from the soft trap. “Would you like me to place a pillow behind you? For your back?”

“That would be nice.” She groaned with relief when she leaned back against the feather-filled cotton. “Oh, Lord, sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better to have just died when my husband did.”

The interrogator took a seat on the foot of Dr. Worthington’s bed. Her nose twitched as she sniffed the room. “Why?”

“Should be obvious. The world’s going to hell in a handbasket, and nothing I or my friends or even my generation did can stop it.” She coughed a bit after she breathed in. “Now. I’m glad you’ve come to visit an old woman in her death chambers, but I’m sure you’re looking for something else out of me.” The doctor leaned forward a bit, then back when she realized it was hard to hold the position. “And why haven’t you taken me to the interrogation room this time? Why visit?”

The interrogator looked to her own feet and intertwined her fingers. “Records indicate you’re not in the best of health, and our living conditions aren’t improving that. The guards suggested I come here to question you today.”

“Hmph. Now I know you’re lying.”

“Will my lying change anything?”

“Depends.”

“I’ve learned from Dr. Smith, the resident scientist here and foremost expert on Chimeras such as Dani Huffman, that your medical notes have been invaluable. He told me something about, uh, ‘cranial treatments’ that you’ve done. I was wondering if you could tell me more about those.”

Dr. Worthington closed her eyes a moment. “I know what you’re talking about. I couldn’t tell you exact formulations, and most of the medical documentation’s already in my logs. I don’t think there’s anything more definitive I can tell you.”

The interrogator’s face turned directly to Dr. Worthington. She placed a dark hand on top of Dr. Worthington’s pale white. “I was allowed to see the male chimeras. They’re little more than animals, but the stories I’ve heard from Dani’s parents, friends, and teachers have all indicated she’s more than a pet or a killing machine. I’m on the training docket to visit with Dani eventually, but I need assurance, doctor. I need assurance that I shouldn’t be afraid, that what’s inside her exoskeleton is something human.”

Though hidden beneath mounds of wrinkles, Dr. Worthington beamed a gummy smile. “I’m not sure if you’re trying to play psychological games with me. You’re wilier than you want people to think. I’m too old for your crap, though.” She clutched the interrogator’s hand. “So listen, and listen well, because Dani deserves better than what you’ve given her. She deserves better than what you’ve given me.”

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American Chimera – 12.2

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Hurriedly, Dallin brought her back to the gowning room where all the used cloth was placed in one bin and the neoprene gloves in another. The interrogator held the precious fruit delicately in her hands and followed Dallin’s instructions outside, into the hallway.

She pinched the fruit by the bottom and held it up for examination. It was short, yellow, and not like the ones she’d seen in pictures, but it was certainly a banana.

“Go on. Eat it.”

The interrogator’s hands shook. “Eat it?”

“Sure. What else are we going to do with it? There’s no research going on with the tree. No point in saving the ripe ones. In fact, most of us get completely sick of bananas and banana bread by the end of the fruiting season. You enjoy this.”

The interrogator gulped and pulled on the stem. She peeled it down the sides. “You’re sure it’s ok?”

“Oh yeah.”

The fruit inside was a pastel yellow, soft, unmarred by disease or bruising. The interrogator took a bite and chewed it, relishing in the delight. She leaned against the wall and chewed the fruit slowly.

Dallin leaned forward, eyeing her. “Are you ok?”

“This…this is the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.”

“You’re acting like you’ve never eaten one before.”

“I haven’t, not that I can remember. I was probably around 10 when they went completely extinct.”

Dallin’s eyes widened. “Really? That’s…oh my, I…I hadn’t realized. I’m sorry.”

The interrogator took another bite and closed her eyes. “No. Don’t be sorry.” Her hands shivered. “You’re saving this for when the world can handle it again. That’s…that’s amazing.”

“Oh. Ok!” He easily unpeeled his fruit and took a bite of it. “So, what was it you wanted? I am so sorry for getting you off on such a tangent. And those sperm are probably dead by now…well, still have a couple hundred more samples to sort, so nothing lost!”

The interrogator’s eyes returned to her banana as she peeled down a bit more of the skin. She chewed what was in her mouth and blinked wistfully at the couple bites that remained.

Dr. Smith remained quiet for a moment, then cleared his throat. “Well?” He waited a little longer. “You said you had something to ask from me. I’m glad you liked the banana, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you came to see me about.”

Her attention shifted, the usual serious glare returning to her face. “Oh…oh, yes.” She stood, carefully ensuring her banana didn’t fall. “I’ve uncovered some rather disturbing information regarding specimen 803. I need to speak with her.”

Dallin shook his head and leaned against the wall. After attempting to sit, his knees cracked and he altered his course. “Well, that’s certainly…something. It’s not easy to just let you in there. You’ll need training, and there’s the potential you’ll need a size of suit we don’t have. Just give me the questions, and I’ll send along her answers.”

The interrogator finished the banana and folded the peel into her palm. “No, I need to be there. I need to see her, hear her answers myself. Part of interrogation is being able to take advantage of a moment of weakness when it comes along, and I can’t trust you to do that. I have time to go through training, though. There’s no indication my job will end as long as her parents and Stacy Ellington live.”

Dallin turned his face away from her. “It’s rough. It’s like BSL 5 – except you’re the incredibly contagious disease and she’s the…the thing that can get the disease. You’ll need approvals from my boss and the CIA and the NIH’s IBC, and you’ll have to get on the BUA, and-”

“I can do all that,” the interrogator assured. She stood from the floor and winced when she put a hand to her left knee. “I got you those notes from Dr. Worthington and convinced my superiors to let you have a copy of the relevant interrogations. If you help me gain access to Dani, I’ll consider us more than even, Dallin.”

Dallin sighed, shifted the glasses on his face, and crossed his arms. “I didn’t ask you that as a form of payment. I just wanted us to work together.”

“And that’s why I’m asking you to help me get access to Dani.” The interrogator took a step closer to him. “If you’ve examined Dani, you know as well as I do that she’s perfectly capable of talking. You know that she can think, that she isn’t the same as those males you showed me. None of the testimonies I’ve heard about her could be possible if she weren’t at least of moderate intelligence. So why can’t I interview her? What would she tell me?”

“It’s…It’s not that I don’t want you to talk with her, it’s just that…oh, it’ll just be such a bureaucratic pain.” He threw his hands in the air, the banana pointing upward with surrender. “But you know, you’re right. We work in the same building, and this is for the good of the nation. I’ll start the edocs and send you the parts you’ll need to fill out. Let me know when you get the online trainings done, and we’ll begin the Tyvek training in person.”

The interrogator nodded and offered a hand to shake. “Thank you, Dr. Smith. Er, Dallin.”

Dallin gave a warm shake in return. “I really hope you get what you want from her.”

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American Chimera – 12.1

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The interrogator entered the laboratory, startling Dallin Smith enough that he turned a dial further than he’d wanted. “Oh, golly gee willikers, you scared me!” He removed an old earbud from his ear and placed it in a lab coat pocket.

The interogator closed the door quietly behind her. “Sorry to interrupt your work, Dr. Smith. I’ve conducted several interviews today, and I decided to bring you a few more transcripts concerning specimen 803. I don’t think you’ll get much out of them, but perhaps I missed something.” She opened her tablet and sent the data.

Dr. Smith turned his attention back to his holographic screens and turned his dials once more. “Thank you so much for all your help. I really appreciate it, you know, but you don’t need to come see me in person. Sweet of you, but unnecessary. And call me Dallin.”

The interrogator folded her tablet into her stylus and stowed it in a pocket. “I probably wouldn’t have, normally, but…Dr. Smi – er, Dallin, I have a request that you can help me with.”

“Well, seeing how much you’ve brought me, I can’t help but be in your debt! Dr. Worthington’s notes alone have been an absolute trove. She didn’t do everything like I would have, but her treatments for cranial expansion problems? Sheer genius. I know exactly the genes we’ll need to update for that. Working on finding the best sperm candidates to CRISPR-up!”

“Yes, Dallin.”

The good doctor summoned another screen and turned it such that the interrogator could see the output from the microscope’s camera. Tiny sperm cells flitted around on the slide, in and out of the field of view. “Look there. That one’s a strong little bug. Let me capture…”

A mechanical tube inserted into the picture and plucked out one of the flitting creatures. A vacuum sound, clicks of mechanisms and microfluidic chambers, and whirring motors sounded from behind a curtained area of the room. Dallin patted the top of his desk. “I’ll have to go through a few more, but I have time to take a break. Plenty more specimens to collect from, after all.” He stood from his spinny chair and walked around to approach the interrogator more closely. “What can I do for you? Would you like a banana?”

The interrogator’s eyes opened widely. “What?”

“You don’t know?” Dallin put a fatherly hand on the back of her shoulders and pointed her to a room labeled ‘gowning.’ “Then you have to come this way. Oh, it’s very exciting. Put on those booties and the breathing mask – can’t have you messing up the atmosphere in there.” He opened a door, entered, and pointed to a set of protective gear in a cubby.

Following the doctor’s motions, the interrogator placed the autoclaved linens over her shoes and the gas mask over her face. A hairnet went over her kinky hair, and a freshly steamed coat over her body. Finally, the doctor gave her a pair of cotton gloves to go underneath some ancient neoprene. “What are we doing?”

Dr. Smith placed the gas mask over his own face, but his eyes still showed the wrinkles of a smile behind his goggles. “This facility hasn’t been a human prison for very long. Why, you’ve seen how closely the cells of your prisoners match the cages of our males. This facility has mostly been about genetic research, and that includes this.” He put his own gloved hand on the door handle, waiting for the computer to give him the green light to push.

The interrogator gasped when she saw the tree inside, heavy with bunches of long, green fruits. The greenhouse room was lit by LEDs with a natural wavelength temperature to them. The air was clear and clean, heavy with humidity the rest of the desert facility was devoid of.

Dallin walked to a nearby table and opened a bin. “This plant is a giant waste of the nation’s resources put toward bringing back bananas. Scientists from Purdue and Urbana-Champagne came up with this tree, but not even it can withstand the current environmental challenges of our planet. I was told to plant it anyway, and they haven’t cut off ouI extra water yet, so…here we are! And, what’s more, they weren’t merely working on the Cavendish – they decided to go big or go home.” He took a couple yellow fruits, fruits that looked like fat fingers, out of the green container. “This is Gros Michel.”

The interrogator accepted one of his fruity gifts and stared at it. She shook her head. “What do I do with it?”

“Why, bring it outside! To the hallway! Then we’ll eat them, of course.”

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American Chimera – 11.4

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The interrogator looked up from her pad. “So you allowed Dani Huffman to attend kindergarten because you felt insulted. You felt your values were being questioned, so you worked to prove Mr. and Mrs. Huffman wrong.”

Mrs. Rogers crumpled up on her chair. “I felt like I was evil enough for the KKK to call me bad. Even that day, when I talked to my wife and thought about what I’d done, I couldn’t blame poor Dani. The mind inside that spider’s body wasn’t an animal, and I had treated it as if it were. My wife suggested I make sure Dani was physically safe for other children to be around before making a final decision. When I was able to prove to myself that Dani had about as much strength and a lot more self control than a normal five year old, I resolved to integrate her into my classroom successfully.” She cleared her throat. “That’s why I made my first unit be about…bugs and spiders.”

“And most of the kids accepted it?”

“Most. Once Stacy Ellington decided it was ok, everyone else fell into line.”

The interrogator nodded her head. “Stacy Ellington…she’s still best friends with Dani.” She cleared her throat. “One more thing – you said something about a flag in the window. Could you tell me about that again?”

“The confederate flag?”

“Yes. That one.”

“Well…” Mrs. Rogers wiped her nose. “The flag was a battle flag. It was the popular one, the…umm…sorry, ma’am, but the racist one. I don’t want to be offensive or anything, seeing as you’re…a…um…person of color.”

“And you’re sure that was what was in the window?”

“Yes. But please, don’t hold it against Dani. I was scared when I went to see her, and you’ll be scared too, especially now that she’s even bigger. Don’t think she’s racist. Don’t think she’ll hate people of color just because of her parents’ flag.”

The interrogator wrote something down on her tablet. She stood and motioned for Mrs. Rogers to get up as well. “Thank you for your time. I’ll let the powers that be know how helpful you’ve been.”

“Don’t make me go back to that cell,” Mrs. Rogers begged. “It’s so lonely.”

“You’ll only be there a little while longer.” The interrogator showed her to the door. “Once again, thank you so much for your help.”

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American Chimera – 11.3

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I’m not sure what Dani did next – I was busy trying to claw my eyes out or something like that – but I don’t think her actions were important. I don’t think she did anything exciting.

When I calmed down, I noticed that she was sitting prettily on the sofa next to me. Her mother, who’d also come out of the little bedroom, sat in a recliner. “Now Dani, what did we say about meetin’ new people?”

“Not to be so excited, Mommy.”

“Now ’pologize to this nice lady.” This ‘Mommy’ person reached to the third glass of tea and took a swig.

My heart was pounding. My head was still spinning from hyperventilation, and I assume I was shaking.

The spider, however, rubbed a couple of its creepy-crawly legs together and tilted its many eyes to the floor. “I’m sorry I ran up on you so fast, Mrs. Rogers. I’m just really excited to go to school. Want to see me do the ABC? I can count everything. I can draw you a horse!”

I stammered, unable to respond. This thing was…speaking? At the time, I hadn’t heard of the chimeras. I didn’t know if she were a monster, an alien, or something else. I just knew that I was scared.

Janie put her sweet tea back down. “That was very good, Dani. Now, Mrs. Rogers – we’re very pleased you’ve come ’round to visit us ’n make sure our Dani’s gonna do good at school. I reckon you know our main worry, by now.”

Janie looked pretty clean cut. She was well-built, and her blonde hair was put up in a neat braid. “How…what is she? How did you get her a social security number?!”

“I’m a spider girl!” Dani said excitedly. “A B C D E F G-”

“Gettin’ the card was easy,” Brett spoke up, drowning out the alphabet song that was ongoing in the background. “I asked my Mexican boss how he got all those illegals in, and he gave me the name of his immigration lawyer. Paid that man and got ’er a social security card in no time.”

I shook off the casual racism in Brett’s statement. “I can’t do this. I can’t allow a giant spider into my classroom. Is she safe? Even if she won’t hurt another student, what are my other kids going to think?” I stood and grabbed my bag. “The other parents aren’t going to stand for this, and I guarantee they’re able to pay to fight your…your pet getting into a classroom with their children!”

The little spider suddenly stopped singing her alphabet, stopping somewhere around Q or R. Her legs skittered around on the sofa. “I’ll be good at making friends. I already got it planned.” Her voice quivered, as if uncertain. “My best friend is going to be nice. We’ll play baseball and soccer together, and we’ll eat lunch at the same table at school. Don’t worry! I have it all planned.”

I sobbed, scared of the creature sitting on the sofa near me. I stumbled to my feet and tried to leave, but my legs were about as stable as jelly. I fell. “This isn’t happening – this isn’t real. It’s a dream, a nightmare!”

While I cried, the spider curled up tight on her sofa and bawled as well. Janie moved over to sit with the scary thing, and she cooed parentally and hugged it tight.

“Why is teacher being mean to me, Mommy?”

“’Cause she don’t know you, sweetie,” Janie answered.

“And she’s a damn Yank,” Brett added. He picked up my tea and swished the glass, showing off how little I’d consumed.

Janie turned Dani’s face back to her. “We told you time and time again that you’re very, very different. We love you, and a lot of people will love you, Dani, but people just don’t like different. ’Member how long it took Mamaw and Papaw to learn to like you? To play hide and go seek?”

The spider nodded.

“When you go to school, it’s going to be like that. Teacher’s prob’ly right – the other kids’ll be real scared of you. And you know why?”

“Because…because I’m special. I’m a spider girl.”

Janie nodded. “But Mommy and Daddy will always love you, no matter what, no matter if teacher never understands.” She turned her gaze to look at me. “You’re gonna let ’er into your class, Mrs. Rogers. We got ’er registered, she’s had every vaccine you could think of and then some, I’m headin’ off to college myself this fall, and she wants to go to school too. I’ll do ever’thin in my power to help make it easier, but you’re gonna do what you’re supposed to. That clear?”

“M-monster!” I waggled my finger at Dani. “That’s not a child!”

“My God, woman, are you blind? Deaf?” Brett asked. He offered me a hand and picked me up from the ground. “If it wasn’t for the fact that we need yeh, I’d kick yer sorry ass out of here. Poor Dani’s been excited ’bout yeh comin’ to visit for near ’bout three weeks, and yeh just roll ’round on our floor, discriminatin’ ’gainst her.”

I breathed heavily, thinking about the confederate flag in their window. I thought about the racist comments I’d already heard Brett say. He thought I was the one being disciminatory? That blatantly racist asshole thought I was the one in the wrong?

Something clicked in my brain. I didn’t know exactly how to handle it at the time, so I handed over the welcome packet and goodie bag to Brett. “Here. I can’t handle this right now. I’ll call you back and reschedule a time to meet. Give me some time to process all this, that’s all.”

Before they had opportunity to protest or say another word, I hugged my purse tight to my chest and ran out of there.

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American Chimera – 11.2

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Most children go to preschool. That’s the way it is anymore – almost every genetically eligible family needs two incomes, and good ones at that, to be approved for parental license in the first place. Since Kindergarten teachers do home visits prior to school admission, I was surprised to find a name that hadn’t been on the preschool’s list. I expected her to belong to an obscenely rich family who could afford to keep one parent at home.

As I drove deeper into the woods, though, I soon realized I was wrong. Either these parents were extremely reclusive rich people, or they were…gulp…

Brett and Janie Huffman.

Their house was tucked away in a holler, a small valley that runs up the side of the mountain and is often accompanied by a creek. It was a tiny thing, and the outside was decorated in what one could classify as ‘white trash chic.’ Their yard had a sink and a toilet filled with pansies and easter lillies, and a confederate flag hung in one of their windows.

I gulped. This was an accident child.

Unfortunately, accident children still got social security numbers, and public school teachers still had to accomodate for them. I tried to remind myself that it would be ok, that I could handle a kid from the lower classes. I walked up the front porch – wooden – and knocked on the door.

Brett, his hair slicked back and his face freshly shaven, stuck his head out the door. “Y-you the teacher lady, miss ma’am? Mrs. Rogers, ma’am?” He wrung his hands nervously and dripped with nervous sweat.

I grumbled politely and wiped my shoes off on their doormat. The inside of the house looked tidy enough, even if it were very small. I offered the gruff looking character my hand. “Yes. You are Brett Huffman, I presume? Daenerys Huffman’s father?”

“Yes, ma’am. Oh – please, sorry to leave you outside like that. Come in – you want some water? Sweet tea?”

I walked in through the open door and kept my bag close to my side. “I’m just here to meet Daenerys and her parents before she comes to school next year. You know, get her comfortable. Is she around?”

“Yeah, she’s crawlin’ ’round here somewhere. Janie – my wife, Dani’s mom – is probly makin’ sure she’s wearin’ clothes. Ain’t much of one for clothes, that girl.”

“Some children aren’t. Usually being with other children helps. I take it she hasn’t been around many others her age, since she has no preschool records.”

Though I hadn’t asked for it, Mr. Huffman got some ice out of the freezer and poured three glasses full of a deep, rich tea. He handed me one of them, sat down with his own, and left the third on a coaster. “Preschool and stuff is privatized nonsense. Janie just took ’er to work fixin’ Bojangles robots ’stead of rottin’ ’er brain with Yankee propaganda. Fact, Dani gets to see interestin’ stuff like when Janie has to use thermite to rescue people stuck in the robots. Public school ain’t like preschool; by law you’ve gotta take ’er, and we gotta send ’er.”

Thermite? Rescue poor schmucks stuck inside a biscuit robot? “Is something wrong with Daenerys? Is there a reason you don’t want to send her to-”

A door flung open and a giant spider ran out.

“Teacher! You gon’ be my teacher?”

I screamed, horrified, and backed up on the couch.

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