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Final Staff

Stacey Janssen

Managing Editor:
Dave Noonan


  • Mishell Baker
  • Bluejack
  • Amy Goldschlager
  • Emily Lupton
  • R. K. MacPherson
  • Scott James Magner
  • Robin Shantz

Copy Editors

  • Sarah L. Edwards
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Sherry D. Ramsey
  • Rena Saimoto
  • Paula Stiles


  • Marti McKenna
  • Bridget McKenna


  • Geb Brown

Publisher: Bluejack

robert eggleton

I've written my first novel (for the promo, please see: Since I don't know anybody in the business to ask to write a blurb, I emailed a lot of folks who had published something scifi. I'd love to have a review to promote my novel. Following is a sample. I can send the manuscript on request. Thanks,

Bob Eggleton

A Lacy Dawn Adventure ©



Robert Eggleton

1104 Garvin Avenue

Charleston, WV 25302


Contemporary Adult Science Fiction / Fantasy

407 Pages

99,594 Words

Cozy in Cardboard

Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school. She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.

Nothing’s more important than an education.

The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother's new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before. Her father brought it home for her to play in.

The nicest thing he's ever done.

Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off. She lived in the next house up the hollow. Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities. Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.

All she needs is a little motivation.

Before they crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped a corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, "The place of all things possible -- especially you passing the fifth grade so we'll be together in the sixth."

Please concentrate, Faith. Try this one.


"A, R, M,…A…D, I, L, D, O," Faith demonstrated her intellect.

"That's weak. This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points. Come on."

"It’s red …,” Faith said.

Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.

I’ll trick her -- an out-of-sequence word she can't turn into a punch line.

“…and way bigger than my daddy’s pee pee. My oldest sister told me what it’s for, but I already knew from when I watched daddy do her. They didn’t know I was hid in the closet. It was scary.”

“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away.”

“One time, my mommy made so much noise that I woke up in the middle of the night. She’s louder than my sister. Then, all of a sudden she stopped. I guess the batteries went dead ‘cause she tiptoed into my room and took the ones out of my Walkman. They were dead too.”

“Let’s get back to studying.”

My mommy don't like sex. It's just her job and she told me so.

Faith turned her open spelling book over, which saved its page, and rolled onto her side. Lacy Dawn did the same and snuggled her back against the paper wall. Face to face -- a foot of smoothness between -- they took a break. The outside was outside.

At their parents’ insistence, each wore play clothing - unisex hand-me-downs that didn’t fit as well as school clothing. They’d been careful not to get muddy before crawling into the box. They’d not played in the creek and both were cleaner than the usual evening. The clubhouse floor remained an open invitation to anybody who had the opportunity to consider relief from daily stressors.

"How'd you get so smart, Lacy Dawn? Your parents are dumb asses just like mine."

"You ain't no dumb ass and you're going to pass the fifth grade."

"Big deal -- I'm still fat and ugly," Faith said.

"I'm doing the best I can. I figure by the time I turn eleven I can fix that too. For now, just concentrate on passing and don't become special education. I need you. You're my best friend."

"Ain't no other girls our age close in the hollow. That's the only reason you like me. Watch out. There's a pincher bug crawling in."

Lacy Dawn sat almost upright because there was not quite enough headroom in the refrigerator box. She scooted the bug out the opening. The clubhouse door faced downhill -- the best choice since nothing natural was flat in the hollow. If it had sloped uphill, too much blood in the brain would have been detrimental to studying spelling or any other higher calling like changing Faith's future. Faith watched the bug attempt re-entry, picked it up, and threw it a yard away into the grass. It didn't get hurt. Lacy Dawn smiled her approval. The new clubhouse was a sacred place where nothing was supposed to hurt.

"Daddy said I can use the tarp whenever he finishes the overhaul on the car in the driveway. That way, our clubhouse will last a long time," Lacy Dawn said.

"Chewy, chewy tootsie roll. Everything in this hollow rots, especially the people. You know that."

"We ain't rotten,” Lacy Dawn gestured with open palms. “There are a lot of good things here -- like all the beautiful flowers. Just focus on your spelling and I'll fix everything else. This time I want a 100% and a good letter to your mommy."

"She won't read it," Faith said.

"Yes she will. She loves you and it'll make her feel good. Besides, she has to or the teacher will call Welfare. Your daddy would be investigated -- unless you do decide to become special education. That's how parents get out of it. The kid lets them off the hook by deciding to become a SPED. Then there ain't nothing Welfare can do about it because the kid is the problem and not the parents."

"I ain't got no problems," Faith said.

"Then pass this spelling test."

"I thought if I messed up long enough, eventually somebody would help me out. I just need a place to live where people don't argue all the time. That ain't much."

"Maybe you are a SPED. There's always an argument in a family. Pass the test you retard," Lacy Dawn opened her spelling book.

Faith flipped her book over too, rolled onto her stomach and looked at the spelling words. Lacy Dawn handed her the flashlight because it was getting dark and grinned when Faith’s lips started moving as she memorized. Faith noticed and clamped her lips shut between thumb and index finger.

This is boring. I learned all these words last year.

"Don't use up the batteries or daddy will know I took it," Lacy Dawn said.

"Alright -- I'll pass the quiz, but just 'cause you told me to. This is a gamble and you'd better come through if it backfires. Ain't nothing wrong with being a SPED. The work is easier and the teacher lets you do puzzles."

"You're my best friend," Lacy Dawn closed the book.

They rolled back on their sides to enjoy the smoothness. The cricket chorus echoed throughout the hollow and the frogs peeped. An ant attempted entry but changed its direction before either rescued it. Unnoticed, Lacy Dawn's father threw the tarp over the box and slid in the trouble light. It was still on and hot. The bulb burned Lacy Dawn's calf.

He didn't mean to hurt me -- the second nicest thing he's ever done.

"Test?" Lacy Dawn announced with the better light and called off, "Poverty."

"I love you," Faith responded.

"Me too, but spell the word."

"P is for poor. O is for oranges from the Salvation Army Christmas basket. V is for varicose veins that Mommy has from getting pregnant every year. E is for everybody messes up sometimes -- sorry. R is for I'm always right about everything except when you tell me I'm wrong -- like now. T is for it’s too late for me to pass no matter what we do and Y is for you know it too."

"Faith, it's almost dark! Go home before your mommy worries," Lacy Dawn's mother yelled from the front porch and stepped back into the house to finish supper. The engine of the VW in the driveway cranked but wouldn't start. It turned slower as its battery died, too.

Faith slid out of the box with her spelling book in-hand. She farted from the effort. A clean breeze away, she squished a mosquito that had landed on her elbow and watched Lacy Dawn hold her breath as she scooted out of the clubhouse, pinching her nose with fingers of one hand, holding the trouble light with the other, and pushing her spelling book forward with her knees. The moon was almost full. There would be plenty of light to watch Faith walk up the gravel road. Outside the clubhouse, they stood face to face and ready to hug. It lasted a lightning bug statement until adult intrusion.

"Give it back. This thing won't start," Lacy Dawn’s father grabbed the trouble light out of her hand.

"All we ever have is beans for supper. Sorry about the fart."

"Don't complain. Complaining is like sitting in a rocking chair. You can get lots of motion but you ain't going anywhere," Lacy Dawn said.

"Why didn't you tell me that last year?” Faith asked. “I've wasted a lot of time."

"I just now figured it out. Sorry."

"Some savior you are. I put my whole life in your hands. I'll pass tomorrow's spelling quiz and everything. But you, my best friend who’s supposed to fix the world just now tell me that complaining won't work and will probably get me switched."

"You're complaining again."

"Oh yeah," Faith said.

"Before you go home, I need to tell you something."

To avoid Lacy Dawn's father working in the driveway, Faith slid down the bank to the dirt road. Her butt became too muddy to re-enter the clubhouse regardless of need. Lacy Dawn stayed in the yard, pulled the tarp taut over the cardboard, and waited for Faith to respond.

"I don't need no more encouragement. I'll pass the spelling quiz tomorrow just for you, but I may miss armadillo for fun. Our teacher deserves it," Faith said.

"That joke's too childish. She won't laugh. Besides, dildos are serious business since she ain't got no husband no more. Make 100%. That's what I want."

"Okay. See you tomorrow." Faith took a step up the road.

"Wait. I want to tell you something. I've got another best friend. That's how I got so smart. He teaches me stuff."

"A boy? You've got a boyfriend?"

"Not exactly," Lacy Dawn put a finger over her lips to silence Faith. Her father was hooking up a battery charger. She slid down the bank, too.

He probably couldn’t hear us, but why take the chance.

A minute later, hand in hand, they walked the road toward Faith's house.

"Did you let him see your panties?" Faith asked.

"No. I ain't got no good pair. Besides, he don't like me that way. He's like a friend who's a teacher -- not a boyfriend. I just wanted you to know that I get extra help learning stuff."

"Where's he live?"

Lacy Dawn pointed to the sky with her free hand.

"Jesus is everybody's friend," Faith said.

"It ain't Jesus, you moron," Lacy Dawn turned around to walk home. “His name’s DotCom and….” Her mother watched from the middle of the road until both children were safe.


Faith got 100% on her spelling quiz the next day, plus the entire bonus points possible. But, she had added a footnote for the word, armadillo: “…also spelled dildo and available at…."

After she graded the tests, the teacher dialed the phone in the classroom that everyone had been told was for emergency use only and held the receiver away from her ear. The classroom was a former teacher lounge on the second story of the school building and the only one with a telephone. It had been converted after subsequent floods had caused mold to grow in several classrooms on the first floor. The recorded message of the Department of Health and Human Resources was heard by the first six rows back. She hung up on the answering machine before a human picked up. Therefore, no other official found out that a ten year old knew where to buy a sex toy. The teacher left the classroom. After returning, she got her purse out of the second desk drawer down on the left and put a folded piece of paper inside. Lacy Dawn frowned at Faith.

That was a copy of your spelling quiz.

The teacher got up, walked between rows in her classroom, and announced student scores as she passed out the graded quizzes. When she got to Faith, she patted her on the back and yelled, “A+.” “Thank you,” she whispered. The other kids clapped because it was the first time that Faith had ever passed anything. Recess was next.

"Don't lean on the fence or you'll get rust stains on your school clothes," Faith said to Lacy Dawn.

"I'm so proud of you. A hundred percent just like you told me you'd get."

"Then why do I feel so pissed off? When I did bad, at least I had somebody else to blame. Now I ain't got nobody to hurt because all the kids clapped. It sucks."

"You're complaining again," Lacy Dawn said.

Designated to be consolidated, little was put into the school’s maintenance except to reduce liability. The playground had a chain link fence with vines growing through the diagonals, squeaky swings so loud that everyone on recess had to holler, and two teeter-totters with splinters that targeted fresh butt. Only one improvement had been added during the last three years of consolidation controversy. Pieces of shredded car tires were put under the monkey bars to cushion falls.

During recess, the teachers smoked cigarettes behind the corner of the brick school building. It was a designated smoking spot so that students wouldn't be exposed to bad influence. Consequently, the playground was without adult supervision.

"Why do you want to feel angry so often?" Lacy Dawn asked Faith.

"Why not?"

"It messes up your digestion and gives you the farts."

"I like to fart -- silent and deadly."

"I've noticed," Lacy Dawn moved toward the gang hanging out under the monkey bars. They were older kids who lived on the hard road and who had parents that had been employed before the coal mine shut down. They still thought they had money.

"My dad got a call about a job in Cleveland. What do you think, Lacy Dawn? Your mommy was born there. Is it cool? Will I meet Eminem?" the tallest kid asked.

"Does your daddy still hit your mommy when he gets drunk?” Lacy Dawn asked.

"Sometimes, but what's that got to do with Cleveland?"


The tall kid grabbed the monkey bars and went to its end. His tip-toes touched the shredded tires. It was easier because the ground was several inches higher than before the shreds had been laid. Nobody acknowledged the achievement and all awaited his response.

"When we get to Cleveland, I'll stand up to him. I promise."

"You'd better or she'll know," Faith pointed at Lacy Dawn.

"I know," the tall kid sat on the rung that had broken off his front tooth two grades before.

"Why'd you tell him that?" Lacy Dawn whispered in Faith's ear. "I ain't got that kind of magic yet and you know it. I can only see inside people when they’re right in front of me. Cleveland’s a long way off."

Faith shrugged.

"My mom and dad don't ever hit me. Sometimes, I wish they would. I do stuff so they will, but it don't ever work," the next tallest kid in line for therapy disclosed.

"Parents use different styles of redirection. Yours use guilt." Lacy Dawn said.

"Yeah, I cut myself once. See. It helped a little, but I would really appreciate a switch every now and then."

"Don't fetish. Relax -- you're a good kid and your parents want switched, too. It's not your daddy's fault that the mine shut down. He feels guilty about not being a good provider and gets rid of it by giving it to you," Lacy Dawn kissed the scar on the kid's arm above the bottom of his shirt sleeve.

The crowd went, "Oooh…" when the scar seemed to fade.

"You're a good doctor, Lacy Dawn."

"Next," a kid who lay on top of the monkey bars above the gang said.

"Give me your shit. But, don't you ever say anything bad about Faith ever again. I'll vex you into eternity. You've been giving her a hard time since the first grade, Ronny. It ain't fair."

"Sorry. I'm just so sad all the time. I take it out on anybody that will react and she's an easy target--fat and ugly."

"Next year, she'll be hot. She'll give you a hard-on that won't go down for days. You'll regret every mean thing you ever said to her."

Faith moved into position to punch his exposed belly.

"I already regret everything," Ronny said.

"Your parents thought if they taught you how to predict consequences of your behavior you would exercise self-control. You learned it too good and now you go over and over every little detail. Before you do something mean, just take a few slow, deep breaths and you won't hit anybody anymore. Then, you will have less regret. When you stop being mean, I'll help you fix your depression. But, if you ever say one mean thing about Faith again, I'll let her kick your ass like it's never been before."

"My mommy don't do nothing but watch soaps," a girl in the second said.

"Mine too," three smaller children gathered for wisdom.

Cigarette smoke formed a cloud that floated from around the corner of the building. Only one female teacher still had a husband and he had been jailed for manufacturing meth after their house caught on fire. It was another tidbit of conversation during an extra-long recess disallowed by the State Board of Education. Recess was the most productive part of the school day because of Lacy Dawn's magic way of helping others.

"I wish I had a husband," the only male teacher employed by the school yelled. It was loud enough for the kids to hear above the squeaky swings.

“There goes Mr. I’m Gay again,” a boy said.

“He’s so boring,” another said. The crowd nodded.

"I wish I could fix my own family," Lacy Dawn whispered to Faith.

"It's a kid's job to help her parents and any kid who don't ain't much of a kid and maybe don't even deserve to live!" Faith yelled louder than Mr. I’m Gay. It was her daily speech to classmates.

The school bell rang to return to the classrooms. Another fifteen minutes was left before compliance was expected. Several kids gathered tighter around the monkey bars to try to get attention from Lacy Dawn. The healthier ones played more or less organized dodge and kick ball games in opposite corners of the playground.

Like the center on a football team’s front line, Faith tried to look mean by grimacing and folding her arms. It was a body guard-like role so the others used her as an avenue to Lacy Dawn by lining up. A first grader pulled down her shorts to show a blue bruise on her butt. Faith rolled her eyes and turned away. A fourth grader opened his mouth and pointed inside but Faith didn't look. A girl in the fifth who sat beside her in class pointed to her crotch. Tears streamed. Faith winced for a moment but screened her out by turning her head.

Not today, Britney. Lacy Dawn only has so much magic at any given time. She needs to recharge. Everybody has issues and tissues. You can be first tomorrow.

A fight broke out in the far corner of the playground. The games stopped and the kids rushed for the better entertainment. Lacy Dawn and Faith followed to get a good place to watch. The teachers saw the action and either returned to the building or gathered behind the crowd to bet on the winner.

"She called my mommy a ho," a second grader with a bloody nose accused a sixth grader and swung air.

"But she is. My daddy told me. I didn't mean to make you mad," the sixth grader tried to maintain a distance by stepping back. "I'm sorry. I don't even know what it means."

"A ho is a person who has a lot of indiscriminant sex," the smartest girl in school except for Lacy Dawn said to show off. She put on her headphones and walked toward the school to prepare for the next spelling bee which would include the word, “indiscriminate.”

Faith picked up the dodge ball and beaned her in the back of the head.


“Around the bend, roundabend, roundabendroundabendroundabend…,” Lacy Dawn chanted in just the right way to make it happen. She walked out the back door, floated across the porch, and glided up the dirt path toward DotCom’s ship. A year older, her magic had matured.

From under the porch, the family mutt watched the girl pass the trash pile and the barrel used for burning. Her father's truck door slammed. The sound echoed off the hillsides. She stopped at the edge of the Woods and leaned on one of the three big trees which kept watch over the path to Roundabend.

I hope Daddy's leaving.

“If you won’t shoot him, at least get us the hell out of this hollow,” Lacy Dawn said to the maple tree as if it was her mother.

“When we got married, your father promised to teach me how to drive just as soon as I was old enough,” the maple tree quoted in reply.

Lacy Dawn hugged the tree.

That's just the way Mommy always says it.

She crouched in a shadow to watch down the hillside. Ragweed waved, bees buzzed, and birds flew, but the pick-up truck stayed put in the gravel driveway beside the house.

Daddy's tricked me before.

“Yesterday, I was so stupid,” she said to the walnut tree a few yards uphill. "I stood right there in plain sight on the path -- easy pickings."

“No shit,” the walnut tree said loud enough to be heard by the entire Woods.

“It hurt bad. I ain’t got no thick bark like you.”

“It’s getting thicker," the tree complimented.

“I hope so.” Lacy Dawn said.

“After you got switched, Lacy Dawn, your father dragged you home and threw you to the ground by the back porch,” Walnut began the session.

“You think I don’t remember last night?” she asked.

“Your mother had locked herself inside the truck cab so he broke out all of its windows with a lug wrench. She begged him to stop while you watched. What’s a lug?”

“Stop! Daddy, PLEASE stop it! Switch me again. Here! I’m right here!” Lacy Dawn relived the incident with her eyes squeezed shut.

I’ve got to save Mommy, again and again -- in real life, in my dreams, should have yesterday, and right here and now. If I’d distracted him last night, maybe she could have run away. If he kills me, maybe they will put him in jail and she’ll be safe.

“Asshole!” Lacy Dawn's mother yelled at the truck from the kitchen through an open window. She turned up the radio to cover Lacy Dawn’s screams from the hillside.

I’m the mommy.

From the path, Lacy Dawn listened. From the kitchen, Jenny also listened as the truck’s engine cranked but didn't start. Its door opened and pieces of glass fell from the cab floor. Lacy Dawn's father walked to the front of the truck, kicked the grill, and lifted the hood. It caused the second new dent in the last two days.

“He grabbed your mother’s right ankle and pulled her out of the truck,” the walnut tree continued the session.

“It 'bout knocked her out. It probably didn’t even hurt that bad when she got switched,” Lacy Dawn said.

“You counted the strikes out loud so he wouldn’t lose track,” the tree maintained focus on the incident.

“Ten, but he didn’t stop like he was supposed to. Eleven!”

Why didn’t you help her, DotCom?

Lacy Dawn slumped on the walnut tree and wiped sweat from her brow. Her long, stringy brown hair stuck to her face. At her grandmother's insistence, it had never been cut. Now ten years old, it snagged on anything, including Walnut's bark. She used the bottom half of her hand-me-down Bratz tee shirt to dry her face and worked her hair loose from the bark snags.

Daddy didn't hear me or he’d be getting a switch. I hope he leaves.

“Walnuts always remember but never warn,” she said to the oak tree on the other side of the path.

“It was just a switch,” the oak tree said.

Lacy Dawn sat, rubbed a scar on her ankle and looked down the hillside again. The truck was still there with its hood up. Her mother turned on the back porch light. It was a bare bulb in a white porcelain fixture that dangled by its wires. A loose piece of dirty yellow vinyl siding flapped in a wind stronger than a moment before and a loose piece of roof tin banged. Otherwise, the scene had not changed.

"It was sixteen strikes," the oak tree said.

Lacy Dawn winced.

That's the most switches he ever made me watch.

“It was just another lesson from Mama -- like how to string beans or can tomatoes,” she bit a tangle from her hair and cleaned a thumbnail with a little stick.

I should’ve waited until Daddy was gone to leave the house.

Lacy Dawn took in and exhaled a slow deep breath. It was a relaxation exercise taught during gym class at school by the woman from the mental health place. Moonlight turned the tree leaves olive.

“After Mommy got switched, Brownie came out from under the back porch and licked my face. That’s when he got his too. Daddy tricked us when he slammed the truck door like he was leaving,” Lacy Dawn said to the maple tree and moved to the other side of the path to slump on the oak tree. Its bark was less rough so her hair didn't snag, but its roots were above the surface and there was no soft spot to sit on.

I hope Daddy never gets a good muffler on that truck.

“Fifty dollars is a lot of money,” she said to the oak tree.

“They doubled the price for a legal vehicle inspection from $7.50 to $15.”

“How do you know? You’re a tree.”

“What’s a dollars?” Oak asked.

“It’s made of paper and you can buy things with it,” Lacy Dawn said.

“Eat shit,” the oak tree said.

I wish her the best of all nutrients.

"Thanks. You guys have been a big help."

As long as Daddy can buy an inspection sticker from his friend at the junkyard, he'll never spend good money for a muffler and I'll always hear it when he goes up the hill. That's what I'll listen for -- the bad muffler and not the door slam. It's much safer. This was a good session.

Lacy Dawn stood, turned around, and faced up the hill toward Roundabend. Trees, brush, rock, and weeds shared the moonlight. Once wide enough for a tractor, the now neglected footpath curved out of sight. The top meadows had turned to hay, but when that was not harvested, it turned to weed.

"What should I do? Go home or go visit DotCom’s ship?" she asked the entire Woods.

"Ask your dead girlfriend. She hangs out around here all the time," every tree within range chorused.

Faith had been murdered by her father during a rage the year before. He had used a switch so fat that it could’ve hit home runs at the World Series. Faith’s mother had watched without intervention. Afterward, her father changed underwear because what he’d worn during the incident was full of cum.

“It’s a kid’s job to help her parents and any kid who don’t ain’t much of a kid and maybe don’t even deserve to live,” the walnut tree quoted Faith.

Lacy Dawn hugged Walnut.

That sounds just like her. She said the exact same thing every recess at school for three years.

“I told you a hundred times you tree. Stop quoting me or I’ll get inside you,” Faith said from within a boulder beside the path.

“Shut up. You’re still on restriction you eavesdropper,” Lacy Dawn said.

“For what?” Faith asked.

“You hit that girl on the head with a dodge ball on purpose. It made her cry.”

“Shelly’s a bitch. I’m glad she lost the spelling bee.”

“You hate everybody,” Lacy Dawn said.


“So you’re on restriction -- that’s what.”

“But that happened before Daddy killed me,” Faith plead.

“You’re still on restriction.”

"When my mommy got beat up, I helped my daddy too. It was a big part of my job," Faith said. “It’s your job too and don’t ever forget it or you’ll be sorry or worse.”

“I’m trying not to hate him,” Lacy Dawn peered around the oak tree. The hood was still open on the pick-up. Her father was standing on the bumper and leaning over halfway into the engine compartment. Moths circled around his trouble light.

“But, you never told me how to help my parents,” she said to the boulder.

It didn’t answer. Faith had moved on to occupy another inanimate. Lacy Dawn did the relaxation exercise she’d learned at school.

Faith learned how to help parents from her older brother. He quit and made it her turn. But I ain't got no brother to teach me how.

“You'd better help them good or I’ll beat you up,” the walnut tree quoted Faith's brother.

Lacy Dawn massaged her butt and sat back down.

Maybe I should ask Faith’s brother? No, he'd want too much.

"I'm too young to barter with a man," she said to the walnut tree.

I hope I'll always be too young.

“Nothing's free, Lacy Dawn,” the oak tree said.

“Eat shit,” she said.

“No problem,” the tree agreed.

Lacy Dawn looked down the path. A dog face shined in the moonlight. It was on the ground between two loose pieces of porch underpinning. “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree” blared from the radio in the kitchen and seeped into everything within proximity.

“One time, Faith's brother stole my Frisbee. He wouldn’t give it back until Daddy hollered at him,” Lacy Dawn said.

"I've never heard this story," the walnut tree said.

"He gave it back right away when Daddy yelled at him.”

Nobody messes with my daddy.

"Tell me how to help my parents. That’s what I told Faith's brother after I got a good grip on my Frisbee," she said.

Oak listened and waited to evaluate her performance.

“He said to eat shit. No problem, I said back just like you taught me."

“Good job. I didn’t see it. If you'd been in range, I would've had Walnut launch a nut at his ugly shaved head. I supervise the ammunition supply for such noble purposes,” the oak tree said.

"It'll take more than a walnut to protect my mommy."

If I sense danger, I've got to go home to help.

“I wish I had a mommy to protect,” the maple tree said.

“Me too, me too, me too, me too, me too…” the entire Woods reacted. It included wishes by some trees Lacy Dawn had never met, much less hugged.

Dew had made her clothes and everything else moist. She wiped off the small twigs that stuck to her palms on the fronts of her cutoffs -- the only clean spots left.

I hope I can visit DotCom tonight. Maybe he can teach me how to heal my parents. Besides, I need to feel safe for at least a minute.

"DotCom's name sounds like a third grade internet class," Lacy Dawn said to the oak tree.

"He taught you how to help your mother stop bleeding, who to call if she was unconscious, what determined whether or not to fix supper, and when to study your spelling even if you didn’t need to in order to calm things down," the tree said. "What's an internet?"

“You can bandage dysfunctional family dynamics by doing homework or washing dishes as if everything is functional,” the walnut tree quoted DotCom.

“Don't piss me off, Walnut."

“You can impact a family crisis, Honey, by engaging in healthful routine,” the maple tree continued to quote. "DotCom sure talks funny."

"And he goes on and on to explain. Sometimes a lesson plan about my family problems lasts for days," Lacy Dawn said.

DotCom don't understand humans but I sure do love him anyway.

She stood up, straightened, and pushed her back against the oak tree to measure her height. She was an inch taller since the last measure but was still three inches short from the “I'm Five Feet Tall” gash she'd made in the bark.

"Just act like you want your daddy's goodnight kiss and everything will be okay," the walnut tree said. "Do you want to role play a kiss?"

“It’s a symbolic gesture of male dominance,” the oak tree said.

"He mainly wants me and mommy to kiss his ass."

I hate the kiss way more after studying the human psychology lessons that DotCom plugged me into last week.

She looked down the hillside again. A butt crack appeared when her father leaned further into the engine compartment. Brownie, her dog, snuck from underneath the back porch and slipped through a slit in the bottom half of the kitchen's screen door. His tail was between his legs.

Daddy, just go away, far way, and never come back.

“Night, Honey,” the walnut tree imitated her father.

“Night, Daddy,” Lacy Dawn pulled the butcher knife from her belt and jabbed it into the tree. "It bent. Damn, it's stuck. I didn't mean to hurt you, Walnut."

"It's okay. Your father will think you still carry it," the tree said.

“I love you, Faith. I love you, DotCom. I love you, Walnut. I love you, Maple. I love you, Oak,” Lacy Dawn took a muddy step down the path toward her house, stopped, and picked the safest route home.

I've got lots of best friends – a whole woods full.

"Thanks for the present. I need a little iron," Walnut said.

“I love you more because I’m bigger,” Faith said from everywhere.

"Alright, you're off restriction," Lacy Dawn said.

The Magic of the Schoolgirl

There was no safe route home. She stopped to further consider. "If Daddy don’t leave soon, I’d better sneak back home on my hands and knees through the weeds. I’ve got school tomorrow," Lacy Dawn said to the oak tree.

DotCom said he was training me for a real important job. I need the work, but school has to come first.

The truck engine raced, idled, and raced…. Clinks and clunks of metal tools placed hard on fenders interrupted nature’ song. The trouble light went out, came back on, and then went out. Twenty seconds later it came back on.

Shit. He’s working on it some more. This could last all night.

"He shut the hood, Honey," the maple tree said.

"Now, he'll test drive it up and down the hollow," Lacy Dawn said.

She walked to the other side of the path and sat down with her back on the walnut tree. Headlights came on and she moved a leg to get a tighter shield. Weed tops were illuminated and gravel crunched when the truck backed out of the driveway.

Maybe I can still visit DotCom for a few minutes. It’s not that late.

"School is serious business," she said.

On school days, rain or shine, fair or deep snow, Lacy Dawn glided up the path to Roundabend to catch the bus at the top of the hill. She had perfect attendance.

"I've never even been late to catch the bus."

"So?" Faith moved to inhabit a closer rock.

“You learn a lot more from DotCom than you'll ever learn in that school,” the oak tree said.

“That ain’t it you hardwood. If I don’t do good in school, my mommy will think she did a bad job raising me up. It ain't no good report card if it has absences on it. Even if I already know all the stuff they teach at school, it’s still top priority. I told you that a million times. I’ll wait a few more minutes, but if Daddy don’t leave for good soon, I’m going home. I’ve got school tomorrow.”

She adjusted her weight to the left. An almost full moon dominated the 60 watts from the back porch. The truck headlights became distant and faded.

My butt's numb again.

"Mr. Kiser don’t talk to any of the kids on the school bus," the maple tree said.

"How'd you know that?" Lacy Dawn asked.

"You told us this story before. What's a bus?"

"He says hello and goodbye. The only other time he says anything is when a kid messes up," the walnut tree said. "What's a messes?"

“Straighten up or I'll call your mom. I don’t want to lose my job,” the oak tree quoted. "What's a job?"

"The kids know to be good when he says that stuff. It's hard it to find work. They'd all get switched for a week if he got fired," Lacy Dawn answered.

I’m going to buy mommy a brand new washing machine when DotCom hires me.

Headlights passed the house and went down the hollow. The cross on top of the church made its statement. The rumble of the exhaust was overcome by the radio in the kitchen: “Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing….”

"When my dog got rabies, Daddy shot him," Faith said. "It's not fair that dogs get killed just because they get sick."

"What's that got to do with school?" Lacy Dawn asked.

"Nothing, except I told everybody at school about it."

"That 'coon was on my limb just before it went after her dog," the walnut tree said.

"I saw it," the oak said.

"I saw it, too," the maple said. "It was sad. Let's talk about it."

"Okay, we'll talk about Faith's dog," Lacy Dawn agreed.

"I don't want to talk about him,” Faith said. “It'll make me cry. Besides you guys, he's the only one who ever really loved me."

The headlights passed the house and went up the gravel road out of the hollow. Crunch and rumble diminished until the frog peeps took back over. Van Morrison sang “Brown Eyed Girl” in the background.

"I'm going home. It's getting late," Lacy Dawn said.

"Sorry it didn't work out," the maple tree said.

"Don't blame yourself because he worked on his truck tonight," the walnut said.

Lacy Dawn got up, massaged her butt, and stretched. The back of her cutoffs became more stained than the front. Her mother's silhouetted face stared out of the kitchen window at darkness speckled with lightening bugs.

"I'll walk home. Mommy likes to see muddy shoes. She don't understand when they ain't. Besides, it's a sin to waste good magic," Lacy Dawn said.

DotCom taught me that there’s a finite amount of everything in the universe.

"Wait. Your father made a left towards Tom's place," the oak tree said.

She wiggled the butcher knife in Walnut, pulled, and fell backward to the ground.

It's stuck good.

"Your father slammed the truck door twice in Tom's driveway," the walnut tree said. Lacy Dawn nodded.

I've got a few minutes before bedtime.

"Roundabend, roundabend, roundabend…" she chanted, elevated above the ground’s surface, and glided toward DotCom's ship.

Daddy might be trying a new trick.

"He used to be a good man, used to be a good man, used to be good…” Lacy Dawn chanted, reversed direction, and sped back down the path toward her house. She stopped the exercise and her feet hit the ground.

"Girlfriend, I'm soooo jealous," the maple tree said.

"You don't know whether you're coming or going,” Faith said. “Where'd you get those good words?"

"In the first grade, DotCom told me to make up a phrase to use in an emergency in case I needed to go home quick. I didn’t have to think about it. ‘He used to be a good man’ are words that helped Mommy and Grandma a lot of times. DotCom made them stronger and I practiced until they worked real good.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about him until after I got killed?”

“I tried to. I told you I got extra help learning stuff when we had our clubhouse. You said he was Jesus and I got pissed off. He’s a lot more powerful than Jesus.”

Daddy burned my clubhouse.

The relationship between Lacy Dawn and DotCom was slow to develop. He was prohibited from leaving his ship if there was any risk of discovery. It was always a possibility. And, until preschool, she was under her mother’s strict supervision most of the time. The two had communicated through the broken radio in her bedroom. Both learned a lot. Once Lacy Dawn was allowed to go into the Woods to play alone with Brownie, the relationship blossomed. She visited DotCom’s ship every day where plug-in lessons on all subjects were required.

“Your mother can transcend pain by surrealistic disassociation,” the walnut tree quoted DotCom. "Sorry, I don't know what that means."

Lacy Dawn yawned.

I've got to go home.

She scratched a mosquito bite on her calf, another on her already skinned right knee, and pressed her thumb to a switch cut on her shin that had started bleeding again. She peed beside the path, told her friends to be quiet, and listened for the truck.

"There's a big difference between a pretend and a real-life escape from a dangerous situation," Lacy Dawn said after it was okay to talk again.

"Correct," the oak tree said.

How would escape feel?

"My mommy never says the words you used," Faith said.

"Maybe that's why you're dead. My mommy's told me that Daddy used to be a good man for as long as I can remember. She whispers it to me every time we're alone."

"My daddy ain't no good," Faith said.

"It still helps. I say the magic words everyplace. There could be danger anyplace."

I should be asleep by now.

"I'm already dead. Your timing sucks," Faith left the conversation.

"My bad. Anyway, this visit to DotCom is different," Lacy Dawn said to the maple tree. "I couldn’t wait to be sure that Daddy wouldn't catch me when I left the house."

If Maple don't understand nobody will.

"Go with your feelings, Honey Child."

Lacy Dawn hugged the tree again.

There has to be a lot more magic in the words than I know about.

"I want a family where everybody loves each other…nobody gets hit… a new couch… a television that gets more than two channels… Brownie comes out to play even when Daddy's home…so I don’t care about the truck's muffler… Mommy learns how to drive and goes to nursing school like she always wanted to… Daddy stops smoking so much pot, finds a job and still gets his VA check…Brownie gets a rabies shot so I don’t have to worry all the time about him getting into a fight with a ‘coon…a real Barbie instead of a fake one…a pretty ashtray in the living room instead of that beer can …Mommy gets her teeth fixed…and, Daddy never blames me again for all the family’s problems."

"That's a lot of magic for just words," the walnut tree said.

Lacy Dawn nodded agreement, sat down, leaned back, and waited to make sure that her father wasn't trying a new trick to catch her. She had left the house while he was home and without his permission.

I deserve to be disciplined.

Gnats circled in front of her face. She freed an ant from her elbow, took off her tennis shoes, wrung the sweat out of her socks, and put them back on.

But, I'm too exhausted to volunteer to be switched tonight unless he can’t sleep and goes after Mommy .

"My magic words came from Grandma," Lacy Dawn said.

"I wish I knew my grandma," the maple tree said.

"Me too, me too, me too…," echoed through the Woods until the attention span of the softwoods forgot the topic.

"Mommy got the words from her mommy who got them from her mommy. They've been around for a long time before that. I found out in Head Start when I went to Grandma’s funeral. I heard my aunts talk about what Grandma used to say every time she had a chance and to anybody who would listen."

“He’s a good person on the inside, honest," the walnut tree said.

"How'd you know that?" Lacy Dawn asked.

"You’ve told us this story before."

"Mommy changed the words to fit Daddy. He's bad inside and out."

Grandma always believed the best about everybody and so does DotCom.

"Your grandmother was wrong most of the time about humans," the maple tree said. “So is DotCom.”

"Maybe, but that's when I first believed in the words and their magic power. I believe in them even if Grandma is dead and wrong."

"It's been five minutes and no truck sound," the oak tree said.

Daddy's bound to be gone for the evening. But, I'd better walk up the path real slow so I can listen for his truck just in case.

"See you guys in a few," Lacy Dawn stepped over the sewer pipe which had fed the creek from the house that burned down before she could remember. She stepped on a sandy bank where she used to play. Brownie barked once. It was an encouragement from the edge of the shorter weeds they called the back yard. It got darker.

“Good boy,” she yelled down the path.

Brownie waited in the yard and would stay until the pickup came down the hill toward the house. Then, he'd start barking nonstop, loud and often. It was his warning of a menace returning. Every now and then, Brownie was too busy to warn.

“I love you,” she yelled.

I know about the ham hock Mommy used in the beans for supper.

Brownie barked one more time.

I love you too, but I'm just a dog.

"One time, Daddy came home right after leaving," Lacy Dawn said to a softwood beside the path on her way Roundabend to DotCom's ship.

"And?" the tree asked.

"Brownie saved me, kind of. Except, when Daddy got home he went straight to bed and cried himself to sleep."

I didn't need to hide that night but why take the chance?

"What were you saying?" the softwood asked.

“The vicinity is under surveillance. It is monitored. I have installed an implant to assist Brownie function as an early warning system. The optimal system for this application is one that supplements Brownie’s protective tendencies and skills. It will be most effective when Brownie is fully trained. Using him as a warning system will blend into the natural environment,” an oak tree quoted DotCom.

You sound just like your cousin, Oak.

Almost at DotCom's ship, the path was narrower. The moonlight was more obscured by denser forest and the bank to the creek was much steeper. The porch light from her house was no longer visible, but “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher could be heard if she listened closely.

“All systems are go,” Lacy Dawn said. It was a phrase borrowed from fifth grade science class.

I hope my return home don't meet the same fate as Challenger.

Lacy Dawn visited with DotCom. She got home before her father and for twenty seconds watched her mother pretend to be asleep. The evening cooled down. She fed Brownie and placed the leftovers in the refrigerator.

Daddy loves pinto beans and cornbread.

In the bathroom, Lacy Dawn washed with a rag. It was a piece of last year's Pooh top. She brushed her teeth and went back into her parent's bedroom to project love to her mother by soft touch.

It's been a beautiful evening. We didn't get switched.

A kiss-on-the-side-of-the-head later, she pulled a quilt over her mother's shoulders and left the bedroom. She unscrewed the bulb to turn off the living room light. Bugs had invaded through the screen-less open windows.

Why'd I think there’d be something special about a visit with DotCom tonight? It wasn't worth the risk of slipping out the back door while Daddy was still home. He didn’t teach me nothing about fixing my parents. Maybe I should ask Faith’s brother.

Lacy Dawn went into her own bedroom, took off her clothes, and threw them into the too dirty to wear again pile. She put on her extra large Hulk Hogan tee shirt that she had been lucky enough to find at Goodwill and lay down.

I'll dream about a new couch in the living room. No more dreams about being too late to help Mommy stop the bleeding.

“One of these days, I’m going to ask how you got such a stupid name, DotCom,” she said to the surveillance camera and fell asleep.

The End of Perfect School Attendance

Despite the same bad dream, Lacy Dawn slept well. The next morning, she was up early, got 100% on a math test at school, and nobody got beat up.

The world's a better place.

That evening, her father came home late, went straight to bed, and cried himself to sleep. It took two hours, kept her awake long past bedtime, and the next morning she didn't wake up on time for school. It was the first time since Head Start that she'd missed.

At 9:00 a.m., her parents were still asleep. She tiptoed to the back porch and lay down to talk to her dog. “What would DotCom do if he was me?” she asked Brownie through a crack in the floor boards. “I bet he’s never missed one day of work in his whole life, and that’s a real long time.”

He's taught me so much -- plugged me into libraries. I’ve learned a lot but I don’t know how to deal with this. Maybe….