Sunday, March 27, 2011

Away He Run - a family tale of modern magic

For Sample Sunday this week, I give you a short story I published a long time ago in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine. It's in the collection I just published: "The Bellhound, Four Tales of Modern Magic."

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Away He Run
by Camille LaGuire

TOM HATED RAIN. The cold, wet rattle of it muffled the sound of his parents’ voices. He crouched on the top step and listened.

“Tom?” called Dad. “Come on, Tom. It’s time to go!”

They were putting on their rain coats, and neither had looked up yet. They had not seen him, but they would look up at any moment. If they saw him, he would have to come. He felt the old panic begin. He’d been wrong to put off thinking about it. Now he couldn’t think at all. He just wanted to run.

His mother turned, about to look up. He scrambled around the corner and pressed his back against the wall. Her voice came to him softly from the bottom of the steps.

“George,” she was saying. “He just ran away.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Dad. “Not again.”

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. The fourth step creaked. Tom pulled open the linen closet and slipped in backwards, not quite pulling it shut behind him. He did not want the sound of the click to give him away.

“Tom?” His father was halfway up the stairs. “I thought you were over this.”

“George, wait. Maybe...he doesn’t like the treatments.”

“Who would?”

“Maybe we should postpone the appointment....”


His father’s voice was near and loud. Tom cringed into the sheets. He wished he could flatten himself to nothing, slip under the sheets and never be found.

“He can hear us,” said Mom.

“I’m sorry.” Dad’s voice was quieter, but there was still an edge to it. “I just don’t want to have to go through this again. It’s the last appointment.” Mom was silent, and after a pause, Dad continued. “Dr. Minas is right, and we’ve got to make a man out of him....”

“He’s young yet.”

“Not all that young, and he’s getting older all the time. Look, I’ll check out the bedrooms, you watch the stairs.”

“Let’s both just sit here and wait for him to come out.”

“He’s not going to come out.”

“Yes he will. Come on. Sit down. It calms him to hear our voices.”

Dad let out an exasperated sigh, and neither made a sound for several seconds. Tom leaned ever so slowly to see through the crack. Mom was sitting on the top step, facing down. Dad was leaning on the railing with an air of dejection.

“He hasn’t done this for three visits,” he said softly.

“He just couldn’t take it anymore, George. It must be very painful.”

“You think so?”

“Honestly, George!” said Mom, looking at him sharply. “How insensitive can you be? Of course it hurts. Why would he act this way if it didn’t hurt? Tom, honey? Tom, I’ve got your Mr. Mouse. He’ll be there and so will we. Tom?”

She was looking in the wrong direction, calling for him down the hall toward his bedroom. Her lilting voice cracked as she held up the cuddly gray mouse. Tom felt a sudden coldness. If he was to be a man, he would not want a toy like that anymore.

“I wish we’d never started this,” said Dad, to himself. Mom turned to him angrily.

“Well, I don’t!”

Now they were going to fight. Right in front of him. And he was trapped in this closet. He half rose up from the sheets, looking for a place to go.

“How could you say that? Don’t you love him?”

“I was thinking of him when I said it.” Dad’s footsteps moved down the hall, away from both of them. “I’m going to look for him.”

Tom felt that jittery panic. Now he was going to be trapped in that car in the middle of a cold angry fight. He had to get further away, to the attic.

Dad would be looking under the beds by now. Mom never chased him. She would be watching the stairs anyway, maybe sulking. She wouldn’t even see him if he didn’t make noise. He pushed the door open slowly. She was looking the other way, sitting on the step, leaning forward. He carefully set one foot down, and then the other.

She suddenly sat up, throwing her head back with one sharp shuddering sob. Tom jumped. Mom turned and saw him. She tried to smile. A little crooked half smile.

“Tom? Oh, Tom.” She rolled to her knees. Tom turned and dashed for the attic ladder. “George! He’s here!”

Dad came out of the bedroom. Tom glanced down to see him stop, helpless anger on his face.

“Christ, Janice, you know shouting scares him.”

“What about your shouting?”

Tom slammed the trapdoor shut and sat on it. Their voices were muffled. Were they arguing? Sometimes they shouted but got over it. And sometimes, even when they talked normally, they just got worse.

He wanted to get higher, further, not just out of sight, out of reach. He looked at the trunks and boxes. There was a tall wardrobe by the window. He could climb the curtains to get to the top of it. That was stupid. The rod couldn’t hold his weight, and what kind of a hiding place was it anyway?

He tried to be reasonable, but the voices below had stopped, and he could hear the ladder creak. He looked out the window. The rain blurred the view of the backyard. It was a gable window, and though he could not get down, he could get onto the roof.

He pushed up the window. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, but it was cold. He hesitated. The trapdoor behind him moved. He scrambled out, ignoring the dirty water and crawled up to sit beside the gable.

It was only a second before he heard the window open further. He started to sidle up higher.

“No, Tom. I won’t chase you!” said Dad. Tom could see his fingers wrapped around the corner of the gable. Then his father’s face appeared, strained and already wet, as he leaned out to see the boy. “I promise I won’t come any further.”

Tom stopped. The drizzle was getting through his clothes and hair now, and besides, he believed his father. Tom hugged himself and crouched where he was. Dad waited a moment.

“Are you all right now?”


Dad let out a small sigh of relief. “Will you come down now?”

Tom did not answer.

“What’s wrong?”

“I....” Tom didn’t know how to say what was wrong. “I’ll change.”

“But it’s a good change.”

“I can’t remember how to purr!” Tom shouted and shook the water off his hands. He wanted to hiss and spit. Dad looked like he had been hit in the face with a cold bucket of water. He swallowed, and opened his mouth to reply, but at first no sound came out. He shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Tom.” He said it so quietly that Tom calmed down. “I never would have started this if I had known what we were putting you through. It’s just that...we wanted a child so badly, and you were such a sweet little lost kitten. When Dr. Minas said she could change you.... Do you really hate being a human?”

“That’s not it,” said Tom. “It’s better to be a human. Really. But this time... I’ll forget everything, won’t I?”

“No, Tom. Of course you won’t forget everything.”

“What kind of cat was I, then? Why can’t I remember that?”

“You were brown tabby kitten, with green gold eyes. You were only three weeks old. That’s why you don’t remember.”

Tom wiped his hand over his fine brown hair. It was still the greyish-brown color of a cat.

“Will my eyes still be green gold?”

“Yes. You’ll still be you. You’ll just loose some of your wilder urges. You won’t be so mean to Jimmy Stimpson.”

“I won’t ever be mean to him again. I...I didn’t know better. I know now.”

“But if you were fully human, it wouldn’t be a matter of what you know. You wouldn’t have to fight it.”

“And I won’t like to play with Mr. Mouse anymore.”

“Of course you will.”

“You sure?”

“You’ll play with him more. You’ll know how to love him, the way your mother and I love you.”

Tom shook the water off his hands and fidgeted. “But how do you know I love you when I can’t purr?”

Dad laughed. “Humans have other ways of purring,” he said. “Maybe you can’t see that until you are fully human.”

“I know you love me,” he admitted.

“That’s right,” said Dad. “So come on down now.”

Tom started to move, but froze when he looked down at the roof, sloping away to the backyard so far down.

“I can’t”

“Come on. You got up there. You can get down.”

“I’m scared.”

“Turn around and come backwards. That’s it.”

Tom slowly backed down the roof. Dad slipped an arm around his waist when he got close enough and pulled him in. Mom was waiting right behind him. As soon as Tom was inside, she grabbed him and hugged him.

“That’s a purr,” said Dad. Mom looked puzzled, so he explained. “Humans purr in lots of ways.”

“Oh,” she said, “Like laughing. Maybe after this you’ll be able to laugh.” She looked down at Tom with an expression of pained hope.

While Tom changed into dry clothes, Mom and Dad kept whispering and signaling to each other. The fight was over, and they were trying to discuss something behind his back. He batted at Mr. Mouse while he waited for them.

“Tom,” said his Mom all of a sudden. “You don’t have to go through with this. We could keep the appointment just to ask questions, or maybe we just won’t go at all. What do you think?”

Tom looked down at the stuffed animal in his lap. The black plastic eyes stared back. He wrapped his arms around the mouse and squeezed, resisting the urge to kick and bite its ears. Like Mom hugs me, he thought, and he tried to remember what it was like to purr.

It almost felt right.

“Let’s just go and do it,” he said. He wanted his purr back, even if it had to be a laugh instead.

* * * * *

Tomorrow, I'll tell you more about where this story came from in the Story Notes post.

The Bellhound, Four Tales of Modern Magic is available for 99 cents, in multiple ebook formats at Smashwords, as well as at for Kindle. Coming soon to Barnes and Noble, the Apple iBookstore and other e-retailers.


Megs said...

This one makes you think. I like it somehow. It tweaks me inside.

Marian Allen said...

Love it! They would only let me "Like" it at Amazon, so I did. Bought it, too!

Us MZB alumni have to stick together. lol!

Marian Allen

A.M. Kuska said...

lol, that's pretty good. I'll check back for B&N.

The Daring Novelist said...

Megs and A.M. Kuska: thanks for reading! (Smashwords says their premium distribution is going faster now, so it should only be a few weeks to get to B&N. I hope.)

Marian: Funny that we both picked MZB stories for Sample Sunday this week. I read your sample and was intrigued, so I picked it up.