David sat on a bed, happy in his experiments. He tried not to wake his father as he poured over an ancient book of science. A diagram instructed him to place handfuls of straw and dead spiders into a box and close it. Shake gently and wait—he opened the box, and white mice appeared: pink noses, red eyes, bristling whiskers. David said it's not possible, and the mice began to die so that rats took their place by threes. David consulted his book of science.

3 MICE = 1 RAT

That made sense in a book, but these creatures lived. They gnashed yellow-white teeth. They scratched at the box to escape, and their bodies were warm and wet inside. David tried to hush them, but the smell of rat urine woke his father.

“Get out of here, you little—!”

David’s head hurt in the daylight. He fled to the old pond down back where he found the waters neglected and ill. Big animals died here, carcasses steaming with the fog of decay where primordial things grew. A giant oak tree rose from the muck. David saw that at least the frogs were alive. One of them sat motionless with his arms folded and his back turned. David wanted the frog’s attention, so he pulled up his courage like a warm jacket and tapped the old lungfish on his bony shoulder.

“What now, boy?” the old frog grumbled.

“I came outside to play. Do you want to play with me?”

The old frog didn’t answer, just raised a bloody hand and gestured toward a nearby hole in the ground. It was an abandoned well gone bitter and black, and David headed over to see what the matter was. He found four turtles there, swimming on their backs in the muck amid the slimy leaves. The turtles snapped at his fingers when he reached for them. Flat white teeth crowded their lips, and David returned sadly to the old frog with insight.

“One of the turtles bit you. Didn’t it?”

“Yeah-hup,” the old frog said, and David knew how that must’ve felt. Painful, but with a sort of shame mixed in. He made a point to stand close to the old frog but very still. Dusk electrified his eyes, his skin. His fingertips tingled. These moments mattered to him: a little like sharing but too much like asking.

May I sit with you?

May I shoulder the burden?

May I please have a slice of your people pie?

Death and decay pumped into his lungs. It oozed into his pores and filled his head like a toilet bowl. He looked back at his old house on the hill and realized, All that shit trickles down here…septic infusion poisons our pond.

“Fuck ’em,” David said like a big boy now. He referred to the turtles and to the imaginary eels too, and he settled beside the old frog to divide this ancient feeling. They watched the oak tree grow. Even in darkness, its leaves were lustrous.

"Septic Infusion"
Copyright: © 2010 Bryan Lindenberger
Bryan Lindenberger's stories have appeared in over 300 books and magazines including Zodiac Fantastic, Fantastic Worlds, New Writings in the Fantastic and many others. New stories are forthcoming in the Clash of Steel: Demon anthology, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and Mirror Dance. He has written historical and spiritual articles for consumer magazines and am editor/publisher of Symphonie’s Gift, a digital ’zine that began in 1996: http://www.bryanbergmedia.net/symphonies_gift.html.


  1. Strangely formulaic writing, and very enjoyable. "3 mice= 1 rat". I'm sure that there are some carefully laid metaphors here and I will ponder this for a while. Very nice read.

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