THE CONJURINGS OF JESSICA WRIGHT • by Dustin Adams

Mother and I are allowed to visit Grandmother because her magical conjurings increase when we’re around. I wonder if she knows her reality is a lie, that she’s a prisoner, sequestered away in an underground bunker. She may not, considering she lives in a replica of my childhood home. She’d been staying with us when military men barged in and took her. She liked it there, so here we are.

Today, my dress smells like rhododendron petals because I know the scent will cause Grandmother to conjure at least one giant bush in her room. Let’s see her captors deal with that! They’ll probably mulch it and toss it out with all her apple pies. Hundreds of them. Too many for these military men to continue bringing home.

But my plan backfires gloriously when Grandmother conjures something new, something impossible, and quite possibly exactly what the Suit Man has been waiting for.

“Harold, dear?” Grandmother says, looking past us, first with a blank look, then with focus.

Mother stares down at me, knowing that somehow this is my fault, but a voice from behind halts her silent admonition.

“Mildred?”

We turn as one to find a young man in an old-fashioned, tan military uniform. I recognize my grandfather from our old, sepia-toned photographs.

I imagine Grandmother’s captors scrambling behind the one way mirror.

“What’s happening?” He doesn’t seem to see Mother and I. Instead, he stumbles toward Grandmother sitting up in bed with open arms, IV tubes dangling like gossamer wings.

“Oh, Harold. I was thinking about our first date. Do you remember the mountains of Pennsylvania?”

“The rhododendrons were in full bloom.” Grandfather stops by her bed and studies her wrinkled, ancient face. “You’re so beautiful.”

The door behind us bursts open and three armed men in uniforms barge in.

That’s when I scream.

“No,” Grandmother says and the men disappear.

Mother clutches my shoulders and I’m shoved through the pocket of air where men had stood only a moment ago. Grandmother conjures, she doesn’t destroy. She can’t. Or couldn’t. I don’t know.

“Wait,” comes a croak from behind, and the open doorway before us becomes a solid, white wall. We’re trapped.

Mother turns, and I hear her plead. “Oma, please. She’s just a little girl.”

Normally I would protest the little girl comment, but I nod in agreement. I don’t want to disappear like the men.

“Are they…” My young grandfather starts.

“Yes. Our daughter and granddaughter.”

I realize this young version of my grandfather wouldn’t know us. He died before mother was born. I’d only ever seen pictures and heard stories.

He approaches and my fear dissipates with each cautious step. He bends to one knee before me, cups my cheeks in his hands and we stare for a time into each other’s familial eyes.

Mother touches his arm, drawing his attention and he stands, pauses, and then throws his arms around her.

I turn to see Grandmother standing beside her bed, holding her IV pole for balance, smiling, tears twinkling on her cheeks.

“My daughter,” Grandfather says to Mother.

She sniffles and whispers to me, “Thank you.”

“Grandmother,” I say amidst the joy. “Where are the three men?”

The front door opens and the Suit Man enters. He’s here every day, all the time. He calls himself my father.

Grandmother says, “Oh, it’s good to see you both together again.” Then Mother and Grandfather disappear. My heart springboards into my throat and my ears pound. The room melts to become four cement walls with a cot in the corner, a metal sink, and a toilet without a lid. Underground bunker.

Grandmother is still smiling at me, arm poised like she’s holding the IV pole that is no longer there.

“I need to rest,” she says and vanishes.

I’m certain I will disappear like the others. I squeeze my eyes so tight they sting. In the blackness, tiny stars dart across my empty, blank vision.

I’m concentrating on remaining tethered to reality when I hear Father’s voice. “Jessica?”

I open my eyes and I’m home again, only, there’s the steel toilet jutting out of the front door. Everything is off kilter just a little. Morphed, like when a face becomes another face in a movie.

Father kneels and stares intently at me. “Jessica, sweetie, try to return the men.”

I no longer smell the rhododendrons. “Where are they?” I ask.

“I don’t know. But if you can find them, you can find your–”

He falls short of saying, ‘Mother’.

I stare at Grandmother’s empty bed. It’s easier to deny and to blame than it is to face reality. I’m the one sending people away. I don’t know how or why, but I think the puzzle pieces are all within this room.

“I’ll try… dad.” I say, admitting that much. At least he’s still here, and I hope he stays.

From behind me, Grandmother says, “Come have a slice of apple pie, dear.”

I back away from Father and the scent of freshly baked apples and cinnamon fills my mind. I’m back, safe within my childhood home.

“Please,” he begs. “Jessie. I’m trying to help–”

“Three military men sent away. Three military men back today.” They appear all at once. Pop, pop, pop in bursts of golden stardust, like all of my conjures.

I pull up a chair next to Grandmother and wheel her dinner tray over my lap. Pop. A triangle of steaming pie appears on a ceramic plate before me. Pop. A taper candle appears between us and Grandmother’s wrinkled face smiles in the flickering, orange light.

“We’ll try again tomorrow, Jessie,” the Suit Man says. I hear a set of retreating footsteps, then a door closes.

“Have I ever told you about the day I met your grandfather?” Grandmother asks.

“Yes, but tell me again,” I say, and take a giant bite of imaginary apple pie.


Dustin Adams’ stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, and forthcoming in Dimension6. He’s a multiple finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and has served as an editorial assistant right here at Every Day Fiction.


If you want to keep EDF around, Patreon is the answer.

Rate this story:
 average 3.3 stars • 3 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I’d better read this again when I get back from the pub. I got a bit lost.

    • Inn Attheridge
      So Paul, Back from the Pub yet?....what do you think about the story today?
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Actually, yesterday was a religious holiday and the pubs were closed. Alas, I'm a meat and two veg person when I read a short story. With all its adornments, 'surreal' never really grabs me, especially if I have to re-read. I therefore remain a bit lost.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    I’d better read this again when I get back from the pub. I got a bit lost.

    • Inn Attheridge
      So Paul, Back from the Pub yet?....what do you think about the story today?
      • Paul A. Freeman
        Actually, yesterday was a religious holiday and the pubs were closed. Alas, I'm a meat and two veg person when I read a short story. With all its adornments, 'surreal' never really grabs me, especially if I have to re-read. I therefore remain a bit lost.
  • History52

    Stunning. I believe this is my favorite story of yours yet, Mr. Adams. 🙂 Tension, emotion, twists, and vivid imagery. This little wunderkind of a story will stay with a good while. Well done.

  • History52

    Stunning. I believe this is my favorite story of yours yet, Mr. Adams. 🙂 Tension, emotion, twists, and vivid imagery. This little wunderkind of a story will stay with me a good while. Well done.

  • S Conroy

    Have to confess I’m hoping other commenters will come up with interpretations. Very nice writing, but I’m feeling a bit dull/lost. Vaguely wonder if the little girl has been traumatised, lost her mother (extremely speculative, based on father not being able to speak mother’s name). The military men are psychiatric personnel?? Is the grandmother real?

  • S Conroy

    Have to confess I’m hoping other commenters will come up with interpretations. Some very nice writing, but I’m feeling a bit dull/lost. Vaguely wonder if the little girl has been traumatised, lost her mother (extremely speculative, based on father not being able to speak mother’s name). The military men are psychiatric personnel along with her father?? Is the grandmother alive or just a memory?

  • @History52: Thank you for the kind words! (You’ve read a bunch of mine, so I’m excited that you like this one.)

    @S Conroy: There is some surreality to this because the narrator is mentally unstable. She’s been sequestered, and reacts by creating a world where she’s not responsible for making her mother disappear. A safe, old memory; a grandmother stuck abed, apple pies, and her grandfather, conjured from a picture of an old photograph.

    This story shows one of her brief periods of lucidity.

    She unclouds enough for Suit Man to become her father, but she degrades, and he becomes merely Suit Man again. The room, the grandmother, and the apple pies return.

    Her father says they’ll try again tomorrow, because he knows she’s slipped back into whatever dementia has beset her.

    • MPmcgurty
      This is obviously only my opinion, but when a reader expresses a desire for "other commenters (to) come up with interpretations", the author should refrain from explaining his story. Half the fun is discussing interpretations of stories.
      • S Conroy
        Oh. I'm fine with the author chiming in on this. It's probably the best interpretation after all! :-)
        • MPmcgurty
          As I said, it's just my opinion. ;)
      • I debated, yes or no, and chose to because of the surreal tag. (Sorry if I spoiled some of the fun.) I've got two more in the accepted queue, and will remain hands off on those. :D
        • MPmcgurty
          Thanks. For the record, I do like it when the author finally comments. Looking forward to more of your stuff here.
          • S Conroy
            I think I see what your saying now - that you'd prefer if the author didn't demystify things in the beginning and let the readers see how much they can work out first. The downside is having to wait till the day is over. There's definitely an upside though in that it can give an idea (to the author too) how much is actually 'gettable' by the average combined readership. If I were the author and only one person 'got' it, that would be enough. If no-one had a clue, I'd think of changing it a little.
          • MPmcgurty
            Yes. Also, if I enjoy a story enough, especially if speculative or surreal, I don't necessarily want the author to tell me what he or she intended. Of course, the author has every right to explain, but I'm just asking for some time to ponder it and maybe discuss it.
          • S Conroy
            Yeh, I see that. I tend to come from the other side and feel pleased when the author bothers to give feedback. In an ideal world we get both. :-)
          • MPmcgurty
            hahaha
    • S Conroy
      Thanks a lot. I think I did get most of it after all. I think a few more - not in the face -clues on the fact that she's responsible for her mum's disappearance would be useful.
  • @History52: Thank you for the kind words! (You’ve read a bunch of mine, so I’m excited that you like this one.)

    @S Conroy: There is some surreality to this because the narrator is mentally unstable. She’s been sequestered, and reacts by creating a world where she’s not responsible for making her mother disappear. A safe, old memory; a grandmother stuck abed, apple pies, and her grandfather, conjured from a picture of an old photograph.

    This story shows one of her brief periods of lucidity.

    She unclouds enough for Suit Man to become her father, but she degrades, and he becomes merely Suit Man again. The room, the grandmother, and the apple pies return.

    Her father says they’ll try again tomorrow, because he knows she’s slipped back into whatever dementia has beset her.

    • MPmcgurty
      This is obviously only my opinion, but when a reader expresses a desire for "other commenters (to) come up with interpretations", the author should refrain from explaining his story. Half the fun is discussing interpretations of stories.
      • S Conroy
        Oh. I'm more than happy for the author to chime in. It's probably the best interpretation after all! :-)
        • MPmcgurty
          As I said, it's just my opinion. ;)
      • I debated, yes or no, and chose to because of the surreal tag. (Sorry if I spoiled some of the fun.) I've got two more in the accepted queue, and will remain hands off on those. :D
        • MPmcgurty
          Thanks. For the record, I do like it when the author finally comments. Looking forward to more of your stuff here.
          • S Conroy
            I think I see what you're saying now - that you'd prefer if the author didn't demystify things in the beginning and let the readers see how much they can work out first. The downside is having to wait till the day is over. There's definitely an upside though in that it can give an idea (to the author too) how much is actually 'gettable' by the average combined readership. If I were the author and only one person 'got' it, that would be enough. If no-one had a clue, I'd think of changing it a little.
          • MPmcgurty
            Yes. Also, if I enjoy a story enough, especially if speculative or surreal, I don't necessarily want the author to tell me what he or she intended. Of course, the author has every right to explain, but I'm just asking for some time to ponder it and maybe discuss it.
          • S Conroy
            Maybe I should confess here that I've even asked poets to explain their poetry. It hasn't always gone down well...
          • MPmcgurty
            hahaha
    • S Conroy
      Thanks a lot. I think I did get most of it after all. I think a few more - not in the face -clues on the fact that she's responsible for her mum's disappearance would be useful.
  • MPmcgurty

    This started out well, in fact, as well as I’ve seen stories here begin. It has suspense and made me immediately curious and eager to have the twist I was expecting revealed to me. However, it became too ambitious and packed too much action into the middle. I feel the same surreal texture could have been managed in a shorter, less hectic way. The last several paragraphs are quite nice.

  • MPmcgurty

    This started out well, in fact, as well as I’ve seen stories here begin. It has suspense and made me immediately curious and eager to have the twist I was expecting revealed to me. However, it became too ambitious and packed too much action into the middle. I feel the same surreal texture could have been managed in a shorter, less hectic way. The last several paragraphs are quite nice.

  • Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

    Great story with a great twist.

  • Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

    Great story with a great twist.

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  • Rebecca Birch

    Enjoyed, Dustin. Nicely done!

  • Rebecca Birch

    Enjoyed, Dustin. Nicely done!

  • Inn Attheridge

    I, at first, read this story fast, devouring every word too quickly reading on to the next sentence and to learn of the fate of Jessica Wright. Toooo…. fast! With the second reading I slowed it down and actually imagined an old B&W “Twilight Zone” type 30 Min. TV show, with modern special effects & even, “commercial free” programming….and I LIKE IT, A LOT! Keep it up Dustin Adams! With every story you “conjure” up, they get better and better!

  • Inn Attheridge

    I, at first, read this story fast, devouring every word too quickly reading on to the next sentence and to learn of the fate of Jessica Wright. Toooo…. fast! With the second reading I slowed it down and actually imagined an old B&W “Twilight Zone” type 30 Min. TV show, with modern special effects & even, “commercial free” programming….and I LIKE IT, A LOT! Keep it up Dustin Adams! With every story you “conjure” up, they get better and better!

  • Chinwillow

    Some very good writing here….but I have no clue as to what I just read. I’m with you Paul, Putting a little Irish in my morning coffee…lol

  • Chinwillow

    Some very good writing here….but I have no clue as to what I just read. I’m with you Paul, Putting a little Irish in my morning coffee…lol

  • Like many writers I’m an avid solver of word (and other) puzzles, however, I like to keep reading and puzzle solving as two discrete activities. That said, the only comment I can make on this story is that I can’t make one.

  • Like many writers I’m an avid solver of word (and other) puzzles, however, I like to keep reading and puzzle solving as two discrete activities. That said, the only comment I can make on this story is that I can’t make one.

  • I read the comments, including Dustin’s, before commenting. I really wasn’t sure what to say about this story. I still don’t think I quite understand it but that’s OK.

    If this was one of her lucid moments, what’s with all the conjuring and environmental manipulation? She doesn’t seem too lucid to me if she continues to make things appear and disappear.

    So if I understand Dustin’s comments correctly (and I may not), she’s in a mental hospital or a psyche ward, and her father appears to be a doctor of some kind who’s trying to get his little girl back.

    I’d really like to read the rest of this novel, if there is one. I think there should be if there isn’t. Excellent writing, suspenseful, interesting and very entertaining. Great job here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Scott. I thought for sure after your first paragraph that a blast was coming my way. :D Glad you liked this after all. Here's what I'm thinking. (Oh, he's doing it again!) Ahem. Jessica is deep underground in a military facility. Naturally, when she started making things appear and disappear, most notably her mother, she was sequestered away. Her father is allowed to stay because they feel like he may be the only one who can "bring her back" aka - under control. But he just wants his family back. Without getting into the whole, army-as-villian bit, suffice to say she's getting worse, and yet also stronger. A writer friend suggested I could have stretched this to 6-8k. A novel you say? Hmm. ;)
      • S Conroy
        Personally, I think longer would be better. The confusing thing is that she's both mentally unstable and gifted with powers. If it were only the mentally unstable bit, then that would be an interesting reveal in itself. Combined with the real magical powers within such limited wordcout makes it very difficult to understand - I mean even at the end - what is 'real' magic and what is part of her unstable world. I figure this confusion in a longer story could really be an asset and used to build up mystery and tension. Here, for me at least - clearly not for all the readers - it's too much of a good thing. Eitherways it was intriguing and well-written and worth the effort trying to understand it.
      • Thanks Dustin! That's a great explanation and I like the story even more now. And yes, I think this has all the makings of a much longer story or even a novel. I'll be first in line to read it. :)
  • I read the comments, including Dustin’s, before commenting. I really wasn’t sure what to say about this story. I still don’t think I quite understand it but that’s OK.

    If this was one of her lucid moments, what’s with all the conjuring and environmental manipulation? She doesn’t seem too lucid to me if she continues to make things appear and disappear.

    So if I understand Dustin’s comments correctly (and I may not), she’s in a mental hospital or a psyche ward, and her father appears to be a doctor of some kind who’s trying to get his little girl back.

    I’d really like to read the rest of this novel, if there is one. I think there should be if there isn’t. Excellent writing, suspenseful, interesting and very entertaining. Great job here. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for reading, Scott. I thought for sure after your first paragraph that a blast was coming my way. :D Glad you liked this after all. Here's what I'm thinking. (Oh, he's doing it again!) Ahem. Jessica is deep underground in a military facility. Naturally, when she started making things appear and disappear, most notably her mother, she was sequestered away. Her father is allowed to stay because they feel like he may be the only one who can "bring her back" aka - under control. But he just wants his family back. Without getting into the whole, army-as-villian bit, suffice to say she's getting worse, and yet also stronger. A writer friend suggested I could have stretched this to 6-8k. A novel you say? Hmm. ;)
      • S Conroy
        Personally, I think longer would be better. The confusing thing is that she's both mentally unstable and gifted with powers. If it were only the mentally unstable bit, then that would be an interesting reveal in itself. Combined with the real magical powers within such limited wordcout makes it very difficult to understand - I mean even at the end - what is 'real' magic and what is part of her unstable world. I figure this confusion in a longer story could really be an asset and used to build up mystery and tension. Here, for me at least - clearly not for all the readers - it's too much of a good thing. Eitherways it was intriguing and well-written and worth the effort trying to understand it.
      • Thanks Dustin! That's a great explanation and I like the story even more now. And yes, I think this has all the makings of a much longer story or even a novel. I'll be first in line to read it. :)
  • Fi Michell

    I loved the surrealism in this, Dustin, and I’m glad you dropped by to explain it after I’d read it. I thought you stayed beautifully within the character’s POV, and this really felt like it might be a part of something larger.

  • Fi Michell

    I loved the surrealism in this, Dustin, and I’m glad you dropped by to explain it after I’d read it. I thought you stayed beautifully within the character’s POV, and this really felt like it might be a part of something larger.

  • I think this story keeps me on my toes.

  • I think this story keeps me on my toes.

  • Dale Carothers

    I like how the slow creep of un-reality leads us to a brief moment of clarity, and how the ending leaves you feeling a bit off-kilter. The sharp prose grounds the story, making the surreal feel real.

  • Dale Carothers

    I like how the slow creep of un-reality leads us to a brief moment of clarity, and how the ending leaves you feeling a bit off-kilter. The sharp prose grounds the story, making the surreal feel real.

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