The sun shifts and the shadows retreat. Katen sits on the ground, back against the shed, eyes closed. The summer rays pour over her. Daydreams drift in and out of focus. She opens her eyes, squints, and smiles. “I could just stay here soaking in the sun all day,” she says aloud. “I could play Frisbee again . . ”
Her eyes flutter closed.
Prickly heat spreads across Katen’s face and legs.
“Or I could surf the cool waves of the internet while everything else bakes outside. Or I could bake. Fake bake. Shake ‘N’ Bake,” she sing-songs.
Katen giggles, and snaps back to full wakefulness. She stands, stretches, and picks up her Frisbee. She spins it in the air, and it slowly floats to the ground.
A slight movement at the corner of the shed. Low and dark and plodding. It’s a turtle, small and brown. It lumbers around the corner, and Katen follows. She stoops and places her hand against its shell. It’s hot. The sun is directly overhead now, and the heat is stifling.
“Don’t know where you came from, but you’re gonna fry if you stay here.”
She scans the yard. It’s bare except for the cobblestone walkway and wrought-iron fence.
“You’re lost. But don’t worry. I like turtles.”
She lowers a finger in front of the turtle’s head. It charges, jaws snapping.
“Yikes!” She curls her fingers around the sides of the turtle and lifts it onto her overturned Frisbee.
Katen carries the hot turtle in her Frisbee through the side yard and beyond the fence. Pausing at the sidewalk, she studies the house across the street. A thicket juts from the middle of the unmowed lawn.
“You’re lucky you’re a snapping turtle. If you were friendlier, you’d be my pet.” She crosses the street, walks through the tall grass, and steps into the thicket. She’s just about to slide the turtle out of the Frisbee when the door to the house opens.
“Hi! What ya doin’?”
Katen jumps and turns. A tiny Speedo-ed man- about three feet tall- stands in the doorway. Katen stifles a giggle.
“Nothing. I’m, uh . . just getting my Frisbee. It landed over here.”
An equally tiny woman in a bikini steps out from behind the man. “Yer not gettin’ yer Frisbee. Yer plantin’ a turtle, aren’t ya?” she says.
“Ah . . well, yes. It needs shade. But I can put it somewhere else. Sorry.” Katen turns and walks out of the thicket. “I didn’t mean to bother you. It’s just that . . I like turtles.”
“Don’t be silly. Come in. We like turtles too. We’ve been waitin’ fer our next turtle,” the man says.
Katen stops at the sidewalk. The heat is dizzying. The Frisbee suddenly feels heavy. The turtle seems bigger. And now its shell is iridescent green in the full sun. She turns and faces the tiny couple. They raise a couple of steaming coffee mugs in the air and nod.
“Nothin’ like hot coffee ta cool ya off,” they say in unison.
She blinks hard and shakes her head.
“Dreaming. I have to be dreaming,” Katen mutters to herself.
“Come in, dear, out o’ the heat. We’ll take care o’ the turtle.”
Katen giggles. “Okay.” She walks to the doorway and feels the breeze of a fan drift across the threshold. Stepping inside, her foot lands on a doll’s head, and it goes skidding across the room, ricocheting against dozens of other doll heads. Katen cradles the Frisbee and turtle against her chest.
“Oh, don’t mind those, dear,” the man says. “It’s just that we’re runnin’ out o’ room. Our soul shell drawer is packed full. We put the overflow in boxes, but then we ran out o’ boxes. So we jus’ let the soul shells stay where they lay.”
The woman pats Katen’s thigh. “Have a seat in front o’ the fan.”
“I’ll pour ya some coffee,” the man says.
“Hold it. I know this is a dream- but just out of curiosity, how is hot coffee supposed to cool me off?”
“The heat warms ya from the inside out,” the woman says. “Makes ya sweat. Sit in front o’ the fan and the sweat ‘vaporates. It’s science, dear.”
Katen puts the Frisbee and turtle on the floor, and sits on a pillow in front of the fan. The turtle’s shell is brown again. She tips the Frisbee, and it scampers across the room and behind an overflowing box of doll heads. The man disappears down the hall.
She looks at the woman’s face, studying the dwarfin features.
“I’m not dreaming . . this is real. Right?” Katen frowns.
“Dreamin’? Yer not dreamin’, dear. How could I be talkin’ to ya if ya were?” The woman smiles.
The dwarf man returns with Katen’s coffee and sits next to the woman.
“So why haven’t you introduced yourselves? Or asked me my name?” Katen says.
The man shrugs. “We figure it’s polite to let the turtle-bringer do the introducing.”
“Turtle-bringer? People normally bring you turtles?” Katen’s voice rises as she jumps to her feet. “And what’s with all these doll heads?”
“They’re ta populate the next world. Shells o’ the souls o’ the future bodies. An’ ya came just in time with yer turtle. We thought we might have ta pitch some o’ these boxes inta the yard, an’ leave those souls behind.”
The woman stands and retrieves the turtle, opens a latch in the middle of the floor, and drops it in. She closes the latch. The room shifts and lurches, and the three of them are knocked flat on the floor as the house rockets skyward.
“Dream or no dream, this is too weird. I’m outta here!” Katen struggles to her feet and lunges at the door.
“Wait, the world’s not ready yet!” the woman screams.
Katen flings open the door and leaps out into space. As she falls, she sees turtles all the way down . .
Creepy? Funny? Boring? Let me know below!