Originally appeared in Polluto Magazine, Volume 7, edited by Adam Lowe and Victoria Hooper, April 2012, ISBN 9781907133077. Visit Adam Lowe and Victoria Hooper and check out their books.
How Daphne Lost Her Hero
Sharon Kae Reamer
“Lash those sails or you'll be the first ones overboard.” She paced back and forth on the poop, white shirt billowing in the storm, hair flying like some mad medusa.
Men scrambled to carry out her commands. Loud cursing floated above the chaos whenever someone slipped on the wet planks.
She faced the sea. The sky continued to darken and waves crashed against the ship.
“What is it, Daphne?” He stood at the helm, his face half in shadow, and wore that look of wretchedness only he could conjure, the one that seemed to come from the depths of his soul.
“The end of everything,” Daphne said.
“You mean the ship or the storm?” He shoved hands in his pockets, hunching his shoulders.
“No, no, something, ach, Jimmy, I can't think when I'm wet.” She pushed back a matted strand of hair.
“The name's Elwood,” he said. “The helm's locked down.”
“Shit. We're completely screwed then.” The ship groaned, lifted out of the sea by...something.
They cried out as a massive fish-shaped dragon (or was it a dragon-shaped fish?) with pointy teeth and a snake's tongue reared up on the port side.
“Holy crap.” Daphne lunged back. It reeked of bilgewater and vomit mixed with decomposing rat.
“Exactly. Leviathan. And she wants to play.” Jimmy braced himself at the stern and moved in front of Daphne.
“Saving me from myself again?”
His shy smile got wiped away by the heaven-sized bucketload of water that the creature sloshed over the deck...
“Hey!” An overflowing roof gutter sloshed a bucketload of water onto Daphne's head. “Shit. What? Oh.” She clicked her keychain.
“Mama, helloooo, unlock the door.” Bryan banged his hand on the roof and dripped on the passenger's side.
They squelched into the car.
“I feel like the Thing from the Lake, you know, creepy, dripping slime,” Daphne said.
Bryan personified wetness at her and gave her a look. She fumbled the key into the ignition. She knew that look well; she had observed her son and her husband exchanging it often enough.
“Sorry. I got distracted.”
He laughed, a derisive bark that sounded strange coming from a child. Not a child, a teenager, she told herself. A transitory, even mythical being...the thought reminded her of something...
“We're – I'm not hurting anyone.”
“I didn't catch that, sweetie.”
“Other moms think about blueberry tarts and basketball schedules,” he burst out. “You live in your own world. It's like you don't even exist anymore. Why don't you try to be your real self for a change?”
She strangled the word sorry before she said it again. “I've just got a vivid—”
He cut her off. “Yeah, yeah, imagination instead of a brain.”
As Daphne weeded her garden, she discovered an entire posse of slugs munching her lettuce plants. She considered troweling them in half but couldn't bring herself to do it. The only thing more evil than live slugs was disemboweled ones. She stomped off in search of some pelleted death for the tiny monsters. Inside the dark, cool shed, shafts of light from the window streaked across the wall in front of her, and she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder...
“It's almost time, Daphne.”
She turned. Streaks of light from shuttered windows striped his face. His desperate look seemed to rake her face before he lowered his head. When he looked up again, he pushed his hat back with one finger, a toothpick in his mouth.
“Don't go, Jimmy.” She grabbed his arm, her skirts rustling against him. “Stay with me.”
“The name's Elwood. I've got to stand up to them or be branded a coward forever.” He nodded at her. “You, too, Daphne.”
She clutched the arm tighter, staring at her reflection in the barroom mirror. “I don't know what you mean.”
“I've got my demons,” he said and stood up straighter. “And you've got yours. Time to face 'em.”
Doors and windows slammed shut outside.
“Come on out, Jimmy. We're waitin' for ya.”
She recognized the voice of Horace Slugg, head of the notorious Slugg clan and an ace gunslinger. Jimmy didn't stand a chance.
“Wait,” she said. “You've always saved me before. Who would I be...”
He flashed her his patented look of anguish. “This is the only way to save you.” The doors swung back after he left.
A shot rang out and then another...
...door slammed somewhere in the house and sounded like a shot going off. Daphne jumped back, knocking slug pellets to the floor. They scattered at her feet.
“Earth to Daphne. Hello.” Graham prodded her shoulder with his finger.
She raised her chin at her husband- “I was just going to poison the slugs. They're criminals, they are.”
He shook his head at her as they bent to clean the mess. “Daphne, this can't go on forever. You need to decide if you want to join the real world or stay in your private one.”
“Why can't I live in both of them?”
“Because...we have a hard time getting through to the real you anymore.”
She spoke as soft as a cloud condensing. “He can. He does.”
Graham paused, unsure. “Where's that dustpan?” He clicked on the light switch...
...and made her look up. Daphne had been staring at her paws pressed together on her lap. She realized she had been talking and wriggled in her chair. A six-foot white rabbit wearing wire-rim spectacles sat behind the desk in front of her clicking his ballpoint closed. He had just finished writing in a small cloth-covered book.
Daphne spotted the syringe on his desk, business end aimed at her, and puffed out her cheeks. The nameplate on the desk read Dr. H. Pooka.
Their eyes met. She resisted the urge to scratch behind her ears. She flicked them once instead.
The doctor sat back in his chair. “Your relatives are concerned. An imaginary companion is one thing, but one that accompanies you every night to the pub is quite another.” Dr. Pooka's long ears twitched back at her. “What did you call it again? A human being?”
She swallowed hard. “We're friends,” she whispered.
“Look at it this way. An imaginary –- mythical -- being and countless bottles of cheap whiskey as your only friends? Anything has to be better than that.”
She thought longingly about a drink of whiskey. Maybe even two drinks. It would have been just the thing right then. “Jimmy and I never did anyone any harm.”
“Your condition is well documented in the annals. Rare, but it does happen from time to time. Some researchers have dubbed it myth devolution. You appear to be in the early stages...” Dr. Pooka prodded the syringe with his paw and caressed it with a furry thumb.
She closed her eyes and tried to remember her husband and her son, but the memory had already started to fade. If what he had told her was true, they would no longer exist. Or they would, but she wouldn't, at least to them. Daphne was confused.
“Then I won't have a husband named Graham or a son named Bryan?”
“No, I'm afraid they'll be gone as well.” He peered at her over the top of his spectacles.
His half-lidded look was hard for Daphne to decipher. She resisted the urge to bolt from the chair.
He continued: “As fascinating as your case is for me, I would prefer to help you.”
Daphne stared at him and fought to keep her nose and her left hind leg from twitching in panic.
“The real you is in there. You can meet her today,” the Pooka urged.
She looked around at the door, feeling the familiar hopelessness. She had learned that well from Jimmy. Maybe he was just make-believe. Did that matter? He had always been there when she needed him. He'd brought her back each time. But this time the door didn't open. No one was coming. She suspected he wouldn't be at the pub either, even if she did escape long enough to get down there.
Daphne thought about her husband and her son. Would they even remember her? She turned back around and blinked her eyes in surrender to the inevitable.
His name was Elwood and he wasn't going to save her ever again.
©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. This story may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.