THE WEIRD LITTLE GIRL • by Carl Steiger

Bella Codreanu came into my kindergarten in the middle of the school year. She’s a weird-looking girl who wears peasant dresses and scuffed black shoes to school, and has her dark hair braided in pigtails. If she knew any English at all that first morning, she didn’t speak any of it. But she did say “Goodbye, Miss Johnson” to me at the end of the day, and picked up the language quickly in the days that followed.

“My daughter is very smart!” her father had exclaimed to me when he came to enroll her in school. “She will learn English very fast! I am going to only speaking English to her at home.” He was a heavy man and looked far too old to be a kindergartener’s father. He walked with a cane, and one shoe had a high platform. He wore a suit that looked very old and greasy.

I really didn’t like him. He wasn’t interested in anything I had to say about the curriculum, but he did have a lot to say about his own importance. “I was very rich before I come to America. I lost my rich when I come, but I will be rich again soon.”

Benson is a tiny town. How he thinks he can get rich here, I can’t imagine.

Bella’s father was right about her — she is learning English quickly. But the things she says are so strange sometimes.

One afternoon the children were drawing pictures of their homes and families. “Very good, Bella,” I said when I stopped to admire her work. “Is that your little brother?”

“Yeah. He’s a baby.”

“His teeth aren’t really that pointy, are they?”

“He bites a lot.”

“Your mother’s hair is so long.”

“Yeah. Like Rapunzel. She’s pretty. Miss Johnson, people who don’t have heads don’t look like people. They just look dead.”

That was a non sequitur, to say the least. “Don’t draw dead people, Bella,” was all I could manage. “Just draw your family.”

I wonder how she lives at home. Bella brings money to school every day and buys lunch in the cafeteria. She eats ravenously, and I sat next to her yesterday and asked why she eats so fast.

“I like school food,” she said. “It’s good!”

“Do you have good food at home?” I asked. “What do you eat at home?”

“We eat beans.”

“What else do you eat?”

“Just beans. Daddy says only beans are good to eat, so we have to eat beans.”

“Bella, you can’t just eat beans.”

“Yes, we can. They’re special beans.”

“Well, what kind of beans are those?”

“I forget. Daddy knows. But they’re special.”

I let it drop, and Bella resumed wolfing down her pizza.

***

I guess she’s being no weirder than usual, but I’ve become worried anyway. When a kid talks about people without heads, draws babies with fangs and says she subsists on nothing but magic beans at home, something is a little off. Today is Saturday, and when I go for a walk this morning, I go out of my way to pass by Bella’s address. I was prepared to see an Addams Family style house, but it’s nothing special. Small, but it looks nice enough from across the street.

The front door opens just as I am directly across from the house. Bella and her mother emerge. Her mother, wearing some kind of a gypsy dress, is pushing a baby carriage. Bella has seen me and calls me over. I am nervous, but I cross the street.

Bella’s mother doesn’t speak English. She wears her black hair in a single enormous braid hanging down her back. Her dark, bloodshot eyes are sunk deep in her wrinkled, warty face. She looks just like a witch. She’s a perfect match for her husband, but I don’t know how she can be the mother of Bella and the infant in the carriage.

She seems twitchy. Now she’s looking at me, now she’s turned her head to look off in some other direction.

She says something to Bella, who tells me I am invited inside. The living room smells of tobacco and mildew, and is furnished with cheap chairs and a sofa. A bright oriental rug is spread over the drab carpeting and covers most of the floor. Strange icons hang on the wall. There is no TV.

Bella’s mother gestures for me to sit on the sofa. The baby crawls on the floor, and I can smell that he needs a new diaper. I don’t notice any fangs. Bella and I sit and chat. Her mother has left the room, but now comes back to serve me tea and cookies.

Bella translates as I try to make small talk with her mother. I feel so very sleepy.

***

Thunk thunk thunk. The sound awakens me, but I can’t open my eyes yet. I feel kind of sick. My head is throbbing. I’m curled on my side in a fetal ball. My arms and legs are cramped, and I try to stretch, but I seem to be stuck in a small space.

Thunk thunk thunk. When I can open my eyes, I see the bars of the wicker cage that holds me. The cage rests on a floor of cracked and stained vinyl tiles. My side aches where the sticks press into my ribs beneath me. My wrists and ankles are tightly bound by cords, and a strip of heavy tape covers my mouth. Something is definitely off, and not just a little.

Thunk thunk thunk. I know that sound. It’s a kitchen knife hitting a cutting board. I smell fresh cilantro.

Now I hear a new sound — the clatter of a small person running across the floor. Bella’s black shoes and white socks appear before me.

“Miss Johnson!” she says. “I remember now! Daddy says we only eat human beans!”


Carl Steiger lives at a slight, but noticeable, angle to reality.


Rate this story:
 average 3.8 stars • 6 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Avalina Kreska

    ‘Something is definitely off, and not just a little.’ No shit!!!”

  • Avalina Kreska

    ‘Something is definitely off, and not just a little.’ No shit!!!”

  • Pete Wood

    Don’t go in the house!
    Will people ever learn?
    Nice.

  • Pete Wood

    Don’t go in the house!
    Will people ever learn?
    Nice.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Pricelessly clueless protagonist. Five stars for you.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Pricelessly clueless protagonist. Five stars for you.

  • Pete Wood

    If people spent more time watching old horror movies on tv and less time reading, tragedies like this would never happen.

    • Cranky Steven

      Lol!

  • Pete Wood

    If people spent more time watching old horror movies on tv and less time reading, tragedies like this would never happen.

    • Cranky Steven

      Lol!

  • joanna b.

    five stars from me, too. i love being so surprised at the end of a flash.

  • joanna b.

    five stars from me, too. i love being so surprised at the end of a flash.

  • Cranky Steven

    Four stars! Human beans with cilantro! Mmmmmm, sounds yummy! Got to go hunting now! Bye!

  • Cranky Steven

    Four stars! Human beans with cilantro! Mmmmmm, sounds yummy! Got to go hunting now! Bye!

  • D McMillan

    I have taught some strange pupils but never be tempted to home visit 🙂 I enjoyed this story

  • D McMillan

    I have taught some strange pupils but never be tempted to home visit 🙂 I enjoyed this story

  • Chris Antenen

    Wow – quite a swift shift. Excellent construction and pace. Had to give it a 5.

  • Chris Antenen

    Wow – quite a swift shift. Excellent construction and pace. Had to give it a 5.

  • TheKesser

    Absolutely loved it!

  • TheKesser

    Absolutely loved it!

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Nice story, though I did feel like the twist at the end was a little strained.

  • Gerald_Warfield

    Nice story, though I did feel like the twist at the end was a little strained.

  • Gengis Bob

    An interesting story . . . until the end. I was hoping for something a little less predictably extreme, perhaps on the quirkier side of the spectrum..

    • Carl Steiger

      Thanks for the comment, Gengis. Too bad you couldn’t have reviewed it beforehand. Now an alternate ending has occurred to me that might have done the trick, and even let me use that awful pun. Well, live and learn.

      • Olivia Berrier

        I loved the ‘awful pun,’ actually 🙂

  • Genghis Bob

    An interesting story . . . until the end. I was hoping for something a little less predictably extreme, perhaps on the quirkier side of the spectrum..

    • Carl Steiger

      Thanks for the comment, Gengis. Too bad you couldn’t have reviewed it beforehand. Now an alternate ending has occurred to me that might have done the trick, and even let me use that awful pun. Well, live and learn.

      • Olivia Berrier

        I loved the ‘awful pun,’ actually 🙂

  • DrSuzanne Conboy-Hill

    Ach, heading for a five there till that last line!

  • Ach, heading for a five there till that last line!

  • terrytvgal

    LOL!! wonderful … I’m not sure whether to be pleased or embarrassed that the end was a complete surprise. Five stars for a fine little tale that got me in a good mood on this hot and sticky Friday afternoon. Thanks, Carl.

  • terrytvgal

    LOL!! wonderful … I’m not sure whether to be pleased or embarrassed that the end was a complete surprise. Five stars for a fine little tale that got me in a good mood on this hot and sticky Friday afternoon. Thanks, Carl.

  • Edward Beach

    Tell you what, I thought as a story this was good, but that punchline ending really pulled the rug from under it and left the whole thing feeling like a joke. Which is a shame, because writing comedy doesn’t have to mean writing jokes. 3 stars.

    I really liked the “don’t draw dead people, just draw your family” line. That built up the comedy tension really nicely with its implicit suggestion that Bella’s family were dead (or undead) which was hinted at from the start by the Romanian surname.

    You probably could have got away without making such an explicit reference to the mother being a witch, maybe if she’d walked out of the house followed by a black cat that would have been enough alongside her pallid complexion and warty face. I just felt that was a bit flat-footed.

    I found the tense of this piece unnecessarily complicated. It’s present tense, but then keeps referring back from the present into the past tense, so you have this feeling of performing mental gymnastics at times.

    Honestly though, I did like it. A fun story!

    • Carl Steiger

      Thanks for the comments, Edward! I knew that the pun would be controversial, but unfortunately I had the pun, plus the line about people with no heads, before I had a story. (Listening to small children talking is an endless source of weirdness.)

      As for the tense, I was attempting to show that Saturday is the present, and what led up to it was in the past. You weren’t the only one who had trouble with it, so it looks like I wasn’t entirely successful.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I thought it was perfectly clear that tense changes delineated past and present action.

        And something I admire in your writing is the lightness with which you present wordplay (as in “Quiet”). For this reader, this story was entirely successful.

      • MP McGurty

        The tense was clear to this reader in case you’re taking a poll. 🙂

  • Edward Beach

    Tell you what, I thought as a story this was good, but that punchline ending really pulled the rug from under it and left the whole thing feeling like a joke. Which is a shame, because writing comedy doesn’t have to mean writing jokes. 3 stars.

    I really liked the “don’t draw dead people, just draw your family” line. That built up the comedy tension really nicely with its implicit suggestion that Bella’s family were dead (or undead) which was hinted at from the start by the Romanian surname.

    You probably could have got away without making such an explicit reference to the mother being a witch, maybe if she’d walked out of the house followed by a black cat that would have been enough alongside her pallid complexion and warty face. I just felt that was a bit flat-footed.

    I found the tense of this piece unnecessarily complicated. It’s present tense, but then keeps referring back from the present into the past tense, so you have this feeling of performing mental gymnastics at times.

    Honestly though, I did like it. A fun story!

    • Carl Steiger

      Thanks for the comments, Edward! I knew that the pun would be controversial, but unfortunately I had the pun, plus the line about people with no heads, before I had a story. (Listening to small children talking is an endless source of weirdness.)

      As for the tense, I was attempting to show that Saturday is the present, and what led up to it was in the past. You weren’t the only one who had trouble with it, so it looks like I wasn’t entirely successful.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

        I thought it was perfectly clear that tense changes delineated past and present action.

        And something I admire in your writing is the lightness with which you present wordplay (as in “Quiet”). For this reader, this story was entirely successful.

      • MP McGurty

        The tense was clear to this reader in case you’re taking a poll. 🙂

  • I thought this story was okay, but as I was reading it I thought of it more as a “comedy” rather than “horror” considering how dumb the protagonist is and her utter cluelessness toward obvious horror tropes. Some of the understatements that she makes are humorous, but what killed the story for me was the ending. The story could have been a little better if you had just cut that last paragraph.

  • I thought this story was okay, but as I was reading it I thought of it more as a “comedy” rather than “horror” considering how dumb the protagonist is and her utter cluelessness toward obvious horror tropes. Some of the understatements that she makes are humorous, but what killed the story for me was the ending. The story could have been a little better if you had just cut that last paragraph.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Fun read, but it seems a shame to waste a 1,000 words, however well written, on a pun.

  • Kendall Furlong

    Fun read, but it seems a shame to waste a 1,000 words, however well written, on a pun.

  • Sarah Russell

    Have to agree with Edward, about the pun, but especially about the tense changes. I wanted to scream, “Pick a tense! Any tense!”

  • Sarah Russell

    Have to agree with Edward, about the pun, but especially about the tense changes. I wanted to scream, “Pick a tense! Any tense!”

  • MP McGurty

    While I agree with some others that the last line ended what was a terrific, creepy tale with a joke, I still gave it 5 stars because it was stylishly perfect. I don’t think you should lose the pun, but perhaps find a way to deliver it with less of a punchline feel. Really nice story, Carl.

  • MP McGurty

    While I agree with some others that the last line ended what was a terrific, creepy tale with a joke, I still gave it 5 stars because it was stylishly perfect. I don’t think you should lose the pun, but perhaps find a way to deliver it with less of a punchline feel. Really nice story, Carl.

  • Samantha

    Just loved it! The pun was excellent!

  • Samantha

    Just loved it! The pun was excellent!

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  • Toyin

    Wow. Really wasn’t expecting the teacher to be on the menu…Good writing