Category Archives: Fantasy

Fiction – Gilding the Dandelion

By Marissa K. Lingen

The monster was available by appointment only.

Liza had made her appointment a week in advance, and by the time she stood on the monster’s porch twisting her fingers, she had talked herself into the request she meant to make.

The porch light was blotted out, and she looked up with a little squeak.  “Are—are you the—”

“I’m her assistant, Ivor,” said the man who answered the door.  “You’ll know her when you see her.  Come in.”

He looked like enough of a monster to Liza, tall and stoop-shouldered, with a face that leaned to the left.  “All right,” she said, and he let her past him, into the house.

The entire house smelled of metals—silver and iron, some, but mostly gold.  Under the metallic scent of the gold, Liza could smell something like molding cornbread.  The hall was bare, with the same golden wood planks on the walls and the floor.  The bare floors were meticulously cleaned, with not a spot on the finish.

“It’s a very nice place,” Liza murmured.

Ivor grinned.  His grin leaned to the right.  “Not what you expected, is it?  I keep it clean here.  She likes it that way.”

Liza had not expected the monster to be a woman.  If it was even human—she hadn’t expected the monster to be female at all.

They entered the living room.  It was dominated by a dark brick fireplace and a wide bench with a broad-shouldered figure hunched over it.  The figure turned, and Liza steeled herself not to gasp as if she was in some horror movie.  She gasped anyway, and then wished she hadn’t:  the sick, sweet-sour scent of molding cornbread was overpowering.

The monster wore a stylized golden mask, and the mask was not smiling.

As Liza adjusted to the light and had the chance to look closer, she could see that none of the monster’s skin was visible.  She was entirely covered in gold armor, some of it rigid and some, such as the fingers, made with such detailed flexibility that Liza couldn’t help but admire it.

“Did you make your fingers yourself?” she blurted, and then, “Are you the—?”

“I’m the monster,” said the monster in a level alto.  “Although I prefer to think of myself as the Goldsmith.”

“W-whatever you want,” said Liza.

“You have heard of my rules?”

“You will make something beautiful to keep,” Liza recited, “and it will destroy one person for me.”

The Goldsmith nodded.  “One adult person.”

“As long as you’re—”

Adult,” said the Goldsmith firmly.  “Are we clear on that?”

“Yes.”

“Who would you like me to remove from your life?” asked the Goldsmith, with an ostentatiously patient sigh.

“My brother Benji.”

“No children!” said the Goldsmith.

“He’s not!  He’s twenty-five.  But he’s…well, you’ll see.”

“Why do you want to get rid of him?” asked the henchman Ivor from the doorway.

The Goldsmith turned her impassive gaze upon him but said nothing.  She looked back at Liza.

“I—I don’t want him.  The things he can do aren’t right, they’re creepy, and the things he can’t do are worse.  But I have to have him anyway, there’s nowhere else that will—I need out, I need—”

“We don’t require an answer to that question,” said the Goldsmith after she’d let Liza flounder for a moment.  “Ivor was overstepping his bounds.  I’ll need to meet this brother before I can do the piece.  Do you want him dead, or merely destroyed?”

“Dead,” said Liza immediately.  “If he wasn’t dead, I’d still have to take care of him.”

The Goldsmith inclined her head.  “Possibly.  All right.”

“I’ll bring him in tomorrow.”

“That’s fine.”  The Goldsmith turned her masked face back to her workbench, and Ivor escorted Liza out.

When he came back, he said to the Goldsmith, “There’s something wrong there.”

“I know.”

“Are you going to do it anyway?”

“I don’t turn away work.”

Ivor shook his head.  “I don’t like it.”

She didn’t answer, and he spent much of the evening scrubbing things and pouting.  The Goldsmith finally gave in and joined him in the kitchen, where he was polishing silver they had not used in months and had no plans to use.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” said the Goldsmith.

“Then don’t.”

“I have to work.”

“I know,” said Ivor, rubbing at a bit of tarnish in the scrollwork of a knife handle.

“Can’t you just trust me?”

“I trust you.”

“Well, good,” said the Goldsmith.

“Was that all?”

The Goldsmith sighed.  “Yes.  That’s all.”

*     *     *     *     *

When Liza returned, Ivor was waiting at the keyhole and popped out the minute her knuckles hit the door.

“This is Benji,” said Liza, glancing around her and pulling her brother inside with a little jerk.  “Benji, this is Ivor.”

Benji was almost as tall as Ivor himself, but he slanted neither to the right nor to the left.  Instead, he seemed to have a somewhat internal pitch; the look in his eyes was bright and clear, but focused just beyond Ivor.  “Like Igor?” he said eagerly.

Liza rolled her eyes.  Ivor looked at him carefully, shutting the door behind them.  “Almost.  But not quite.”

“Do you make things come to life, like with the monster?”

“Life and death are her job.  I dust and mop.”

“Why?” said Benji.

Liza hissed at him.  “Benji, don’t be rude.”  She turned to Ivor.  “I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s not rude,” said Ivor.  “She took me in when I had nowhere else to go, and I help her when she needs it.”

Benji nodded wisely.  “Liza helps me when I need it.”

Ivor gave Liza one of his long looks.  “I’m sure she does.”  Liza had the good grace to squirm.

Benji got to the living room first and stopped, his jaw agape, while Ivor and Liza maneuvered around him into the room.

The Goldsmith looked from Liza to her brother and back again.  “I don’t do children,” she said, so quietly that Liza had to strain to hear.

“He’s not a child.”  Liza’s voice got louder as if to compensate.  “He’s twenty-five.”

Benji smiled sweetly at the Goldsmith.  “You’re so pretty.”

The Goldsmith’s metal face was impassive, but there was an unwilling smile in her voice:  “I made myself.”

“Could you make me, too?”

Liza looked at her triumphantly.

“I could,” said the Goldsmith.

“Well, then,” said Liza in a high voice.  “It’s all settled.”  She snapped the clasp of her purse open and brandished a faux snakeskin wallet at the Goldsmith.  “How much do we owe you?”

“Ivor,” said the Goldsmith.

Ivor retrieved the wallet nimbly from between Liza’s fingers and extracted most of the contents before handing it back.  She tried to rub it unobtrusively on her skirt before replacing it in her bag, but he saw.

“Come back in a week,” said the Goldsmith.  She turned to her workbench just as dismissively as the time before.

“A week?  But I—”

“A week.”  The Goldsmith didn’t look back at her, and Liza took Benji by the shoulder and steered him out before Ivor could do it.

*     *     *     *     *

Ivor did not mind being kept from escorting Benji to the door.  He was staring after them in interest.  “He retrieves things,” said Ivor.

The Goldsmith brushed dust from the tiniest corners of her work surface with a fine-haired brush.  “I heard that.”

“He doesn’t know what he does.”

She polished her loupe with a fine chamois cloth.  “I heard that, too.”

“What are we going to do about it?”

“You,” said the Goldsmith, “are going to make dinner.  Something curried, I think.”

“Something curried,” muttered Ivor.  “If you do this job, what’s the difference between—”

The Goldsmith straightened her shoulders.  “There is no difference between me and the other monsters.  I’ve told you that before.”

“But the others—you’ve always had standards for—”

“No difference.”  The Goldsmith looked at her bench pensively.  “Something curried.  With lentils on the side, please.”

Ivor served her macaroni and cheese from a box and banged the plate down to emphasize the point.  The monster’s mask allowed for not even the slightest hint of a smile or frown, but by then Ivor knew that she didn’t care; she was in the middle of the work.

When it was finished, it lit the darkened living room, even into the corners of the fireplace.  Some of its golden glow spread into the golden wood of the hallway.  Ivor, forgetting his pique just a bit, polished and scrubbed to make sure the place was fit for it.

It was a dandelion, modeled in soft gold to an exquisite perfection of rumpled petals.  The root system was exposed, as though the flower had been pulled from someone’s lawn before being gilded.  It was a weed, and perfect.

“Benji has to wait in the dining room,” the Goldsmith ordered Ivor.  “Tell her that when they come.”

*     *     *     *     *

Benji and Liza were on time, as Ivor and the Goldsmith both knew they would be.  Scowling, Ivor relayed the instruction.  Benji settled himself at the dining room table, and Ivor handed him a few sheets of paper and a pen, the only drawing implements they had in the house.  “Keep yourself busy,” he said gruffly.

Benji’s smile worked on the room like the dandelion itself.  “Thank you.”

“Mind-your-manners-don’t-make-a-fuss,” Liza rattled off automatically.

When she saw the dandelion on the table, she gasped and reached out for it instinctively.  “Go ahead,” said the monster.  “It’s yours.  I made it for you.  No one can take it away from you.”

Liza picked it up, holding the dangling roots in her hand.  “I never would have imagined it would be like this.  You said it would be a thing of beauty, but—”

“You didn’t believe me.”

Liza nodded eagerly.  “And I should have, seeing your face like this, but—oh, this is beyond what I could have imagined.”

“I know.”

The flower shifted, as though a draft had blown it, but it was too heavy to be tossed about on chance winds, and the room was still.  “Is it animated?” asked Liza delightedly.  “Oh, I should come back when I don’t have anybody to—”  She remembered Benji’s near proximity and bit off the last word.

“No one ever does,” said the monster sadly.

“It looks like it’s going to seed!”  Liza was right:  the golden petals were tapering, forming themselves into a globe of perfect golden spores.

“Hold very still,” said the Goldsmith.  “It knows you.”

Liza let out a little shriek.

“Hold still,” the monster commanded.

And then it seemed she couldn’t do anything else—the roots were soft gold, not steel, not stabbing in any way, and yet they penetrated the skin of her hand, and her blood started to flow.

“Is this—for the spell?” Liza asked.

The Goldsmith nodded.  Then she leaned over and blew on the golden dandelion.

Some of the spores escaped into the room, to lie harmless on the wooden floor, but most of them hit Liza full in the face.  Her shriek was cut off as the spores buried their golden points in her face, her neck, and her hands.  Her flesh dissolved around them, their softness forcing her bone to yield.

The Goldsmith made herself watch.  When it was all over and there was nothing but a pile of bloodied gold fragments on the floor, she said aloud.  “Never children.  Not any kind of children.  Remember that.”

She called Ivor in to clean up the bits of gold.

Benji was still waiting in the dining room.  “Where’s Liza?”

“Liza—went away,” said the Goldsmith.  “She won’t be back.”

“That’s too bad,” said Benji.  “Liza took care of me.  I like it here.”

“Can someone take you home?” asked the Goldsmith.  Ivor appeared in the doorway from the living room, shaking his head.  Benji shook his head, too; they all knew that there was no one.

“Where should I sleep?” asked Benji.

“You can’t stay here with me,” said the Goldsmith.

Benji smiled sweetly.  “I could.  Liza went away.”

“I made Liza go away.  Do you understand?”  The Goldsmith searched his face.  “Sometimes I make people go away.  I don’t want you around for that.”

“It’s all right,” said Benji.  “Sometimes I make people come back.”

Ivor looked at the Goldsmith hopefully.  “Sometimes it would be nice if people came back.”

“Not when I’ve made them go away!” said the Goldsmith.  “Oh no.  I want no part of seeing that.  I still have—”

“You still have many scruples,” said Ivor.

“And that’s one.”

“Not the people she made go away,” Ivor told Benji.  “Just people, okay?”

“Okay,” said Benji.  He wandered away into the kitchen, and the Goldsmith could hear him opening and closing cabinet doors, carefully.  She picked up his drawing paper and examined it:  a butterfly, a masked woman, a cheerful campfire.

“Now look what you’ve done.”

Ivor shrugged.  “Better you and me than Liza.”

The Goldsmith sighed.  “Yeah.  Better than Liza.  But that’s not saying much.”

“It’s what we’ve got.”

“I should have turned her away.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Ivor, listening to the Benji’s finger tinging on a wine glass.  “He might make a good assistant’s assistant.”

The Goldsmith turned back to her monster’s appointment book, glad that no one could see the slight smile under her mask.

In the living room, through the fireplace bricks, the tiny golden dandelion seeds were beginning to sprout.

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