The Late Mr. Folsom's Luminosity Shop
by Megan Lee Beals
Oren learned of Mr. Folsom's passing when the Notice for Peaceful Death shot through
the polished brass slot above his desk. The notice carried the cerulean tag of Necessary Eviction
and a simple note scrawled on the back: A painting in the Luminosity Shop has recently awakened
to sentience in the absence of Mr. Folsom, and it has claimed his shop as its rightful inheritance.
Oren glanced to the other clerks at their desks and held the papers close to his face to hide
the tears gathering in his eyes. He worried that the grief he felt might seem presumptuous for the
junior-most clerk at the firm of Honeydew & Smith. He only knew the man for his luminariums:
the self-contained ecosystems of bioluminescent sea creatures that lit the great homes and greater
city buildings that could afford his work.
The greatest of these was the reception hall of the Ministry of the Unknown.
Oren's father took him to the unveiling of the MU's luminarium almost ten years ago. The
reception hall was a vaulted glass building thirty feet high. Mats of algae glowed under the glass
floors. Its ceilings swam with cuttlefish and moon jellies and a pair of star-eyed sharks.
"The ecology is so finely tuned that it can support higher predators," explained the leather-tough and bespectacled Mr. Folsom. While the MU's illustrious directors presented his work as a
symbol of their might, Mr. Folsom walked Oren through the scaffolding. The life inside the
luminarium would last until oil and candle wax were no longer remembered, and the only magic
present in his work was the impeccable balance of the larger world, scaled perfectly to fit inside its
On paper, the Ministry of the Unknown bought the luminarium to "keep our glorious
agents forever ablaze in the light of truth, as they worked to unravel the networks of dangerous
magic that plague the world beyond our city walls." To Oren, Mr. Folsom explained that they
bought his work to study at their leisure, searching for some evidence of that dangerous magic the
MU was sworn to fight. They believed no mundane art could create such wonders.
They found nothing in ten years of study. But now that a painting came alive inside Mr.
Folsom's shop, the MU would dig up his corpse just to bury him again.
Oren typed an eviction notice, sealed it, and dashed down the stairs to nab one of the
firm's bicycles before all the new ones were taken.
Mr. Folsom's Luminosity Shop was in the Docktown Quarter. The majority was built on
piers, but the city expanded onto houseboats and rafts as the population grew.
Oren rode his bike through the busy wooden streets, bumping along over salt-pitted
boards until he came to the end of the last pier. The Luminosity Shop was a pillar of scrubbed
stone and arched windows of heavy glass. Among the Ministry buildings it would look a hovel,
but in Docktown it was a miniature palace. Oren knew the man had enough money to buy a place
on the hill, far away from mermaid song and stinking fish, but it seemed Mr. Folsom was more
comfortable atop the dangerous ocean from which he made his living.
Oren stowed his bike underneath the shop's creaking wooden sign, cut to resemble a
jellyfish. He knocked on the door--a courtesy to the painting more than a request for
entrance--then turned the doorknob and found it unlocked.
"Hello?" called Oren. He entered the shop and was met with the comforting glow of Mr.
Folsom's luminariums. The floor was lit from below; cool blue bioluminescence shone between the
slats of the heavy wooden beams. Folsom kept his sea creatures stored underneath the building
where they could be kept in their native home until he found use for them behind glass.
Mr. Folsom had made most of his money on custom jobs for the people on the hill. His
shop was filled with personal projects that rarely sold to Docktown's modest clientele. Among
these was Oren's favorite: an ancient brass diving helmet with a moon jelly for a face. Oren picked
his careful way through the fragile luminariums to peer at the moon jelly that drifted serenely
inside its miniature world.
"I know you."
Oren clutched the letter to his chest and whirled around to find the source of the voice.
"You stare at that diving helmet every other week, but you never buy anything."
The painting hung behind the cash machine, a portrait of a young woman, hung as if she
stood at the desk. He'd seen it before, the skin like watered milk, the blue-white hair pulled back
in tiny braids like tentacles of the jellyfish that swam around him. The eyes in the painting were
cut away to allow a small tank of some brilliant blue fish to glow and shift as though it really
watched the counter, but as he stepped forward the eyes followed him with more interest than any
glowing fish could fathom.
It was wild magic: Prohibited within city limits for the safety of its citizens. The Ministry
of the Unknown's official literature recommended Manners as one's best defense. Oren held out
his notice and tried not to shake.
"G-good afternoon. I'm h-here on behalf of the firm of Honeydew & Smith, and of their
client, the Ministry of the Unknown."
"I'm not squatting," said the painting. Her eyes flicked over him, sizing him up. "Why are
you working with the Ministry? You were always so nice to my dad."
Oren drew in his last breath, closed his eyes, but the painting did not unleash any magical
world ending fury.
"Oh, stop. Last week I poisoned six of their agents when they tried to dismantle my shop,
but if they're sending a clerk, then I'm willing to play by their rules. Look on the desk. Next to the
cash register." Her eyes flicked down to a stack of papers, official documents of ownership,
property taxes paid, all signed by the late Mr. Octavius Folsom, cosigned with the initials F. L. F.
"Florence," she said while Oren marveled at her intricate annotations. The last page was an index
to every law referenced or tangentially applicable.
"These are beautiful," whispered Oren.
The painting laughed at him. "How does a man of beauty fall in with the Ministry of the
Oren stammered. He worked for his father who worked for the firm who worked for the
Ministry and whatever they willed. "I'm only a servant," he muttered.
"Wearing that suit? You're a clerk, not a servant. A clerk can choose whom he serves."
Oren put down the painting's papers. "These won't hold off the Ministry for long. There's
no proof that you're related to him."
The eyes in the painting flicked low, milk-white lids closed over glowing blue eyes, and a
face shifted down just behind the painting. Oren reached, touched the cool brush strokes of a
yellow summer dress and knew that nothing lived inside the painting but someone lived behind.
The glow beneath the floorboards moved and Oren pulled away before he did something
impulsive, like stick his finger in her eye.
"I can't prove it. All the records I have are what I kept myself. I couldn't very well have
written down my birth, Mr. . . ."
"Oren. Call me Oren." He wondered how she intended to keep this facade as a painting
while referring to birth, to taking records. "May I see what you kept?" he asked, hoping for a
glimpse of the glowing girl who made poetry of property taxes.
"You may not, Oren. It wouldn't help. But perhaps I could hire you to find some way of
proving my claim."
Oren shrugged. "Why don't you look into city records yourself?"
She laughed at him again. Her eyes drifted close to the back of the painting and opened
wide to mock him. "Because I'm a painting, silly. You may as well ask a mermaid to leave the
He sighed and grabbed the papers, leaving the eviction notice on her counter. "I work for
my father. It's a conflict of interest."
"It isn't," she said. "I'm not hiring Honeydew & Smith. I want you to look into my father's
affairs. Any fight with the Ministry will be my own." She drifted back from the painting and the
glow underneath his feet shifted. The hairs on his neck rose, not in fear of Florence Folsom, but of
the great step he might take away from his father. "I can pay you, Oren. It's your choice whom
Oren left the Luminosity Shop to present his father's firm with the painting's reply. Her
work was sound, and even without proof of her relation to the late Octavius Folsom, the shop
itself was immune to outsider meddling until the end of the month. It gave Oren another week to
substantiate Florence's claim.
He spent three days searching through the records for Mr. Folsom. The man was tried
twice in the last ten years for illegal sorcery, each time prosecuted by Mr. Smith of Honeydew &.
The man argued that the luminariums must be "so full of vile magics that even our own director of
the Ministry of the Unknown could not detect them," and lost his case to two of the most
impeccably stacked juries.
The records contained a single mention of a daughter born one month and one day before
Oren's own birthday. It named her Florence Leilani Folsom, mother's name unknown. The mother
disappeared with the baby the very night she was born, but Octavius thought the courts ought to
know, just in case. Oren was repulsed by the obvious disinterest of the city's clerk, implied
through smudged letters and sentences that lacked identified subjects, but the document was
notarized and it gave precedence to Florence's claim.
Oren brought the document to the Luminosity Shop in the wee hours when the algae on
her sign still glowed a dim green, but Florence only frowned behind the painting and sent his silly
head off to show the firm.
"I know I'm his daughter, Oren! They're the ones who need proof!"
So Oren ran back to show his father. Honeydew's eyes grew wide and Mr. Smith's
gleamed to match his shining teeth as he thanked the boy.
"He's going to be something when he makes partner, Honeydew," said Mr. Smith all
elbows and broad smile and satisfied laugh. "We may not have Folsom on magic, but that's
eighteen years of misfiled taxes!"
Oren shook before his father's massive desk in anger and despair. The fines alone could
buy everything in the Luminosity Shop and the back taxes would buy the building.
"That's just the way it works, Oren," said his father, and Oren hung his head in shame.
The case against the Folsoms built rapidly; a pet project of Mr. Smith's that all fell into
place with the misfiled daughter. Oren snuck out of his father's house late enough that he would
not draw notice and took a bike to Docktown. The wooden jellyfish shone like a beacon and he
came to the salt gray door like it was home. Oren opened the unlocked door and silently crossed
the threshold into the brilliant light of luminariums at midnight.
He whispered for Florence, then louder, but she did not answer and he did not see any
light through the planks so he followed their lines to the private door that closed off the small
"Florence?" He turned the knob, and opened it into her room.
The floor was missing. Cabinets with sealed glass doors reflected the dark waves that
lapped against exposed pilings. Enough floor remained against the right wall to act as a desk full
of measuring instruments and glass housings for luminariums.
At the far end, Florence slept in a hammock that dipped down into the sea. Her milk-white
face floated at the surface, and down into the pitch-black waters he saw a deep blue glow through
her chest and arms.
She was a mermaid. He'd never seen one before, but no one in the city could escape the
noise of their exploits. They drove ships into rocks with their voices and poisoned men drawn in
by their glow. Some part of him dredged up images of teeth and mutilated limbs and the countless
sailors lost at sea, but this was Florence. He could not tear away from her luminosity as he calmly
walked down into the water.
Florence's eyes opened and the rest of the water lit up with her tendrils. She stung him,
and her venom shot up into his heart and sent screaming fire through every nerve. He fell as
Florence shouted his name.
Oren woke in a pool of water on the floor of The Luminosity Shop with the mermaid
hanging over him. She chewed an opalescent finger and brushed the braid of venomous hair-like
tendrils away from her face and his skin.
"Don't be afraid," she begged him, stammering, "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Oren twisted up from the ground, groggy but living, and pushed himself away from where
she held herself on the floor. Her lower half, the moon jelly source of her light and venom, hung
behind her to drift down into the water under the shop. She wore a sopping wet nightshirt that
muted the light in her torso and arms, and she gave him a nervous smile with translucent lips
closed to obscure her needle teeth.
"I keep an antidote with me for the venom," she said. "You'll be okay, just really thirsty
for a few days. You startled me. The door said private. . . Oren?"
He looked back to her eyes, and remembered why he came. "How long was I out?"
"A couple minutes."
He nodded. A mermaid. She was confined to the waters below her father's shop. "Are you
really Mr. Folsom's daughter?"
"His bioluminescent studies took him deep into mermaid territory. He never told me how
he escaped with all his limbs, but I know he rescued me when I was abandoned. My mother left
me when she found out I couldn't sing."
"But you've never lived in the city."
Florence frowned at him; the glow dimmed. "I can't even make it up the stairs to clean out
"This is perfect!"
Her eyes narrowed and she moved away, but he reached for her and took her clammy
hands in his own. "You're not a citizen, Florence. We're saved!" His elation went unmatched, and
Oren bowed his head. "I am very sorry for the loss of your father, but this means we can fight
Smith in court. With the proper paperwork we are practically untouchable!"
She lifted herself higher on her arms. "We?" she asked.
Oren's ears grew hot. "If you'll have me as advocate."
She grinned at him and pulled him low to kiss him on the cheek. He held his breath, but
her lips did not sting. She let him go with an anxious grin and then they set to work.
The hour was still early, and they only had five more to get her case in order. Between
Florence's impeccable records and Oren's life inside the law offices of Honeydew & Smith, they
finished in one. Neither could think of going to bed, so they sat under the light of the luminariums
to sip brandy and share in the intricacies of bureaucracy and biospheres until the sun came up.
Oren, in his rumpled suit, greeted his father and the honorable Mr. Smith at the door. He
led them to the private office where Ms. Florence Leilani Folsom waited, dressed in her father's
best suit coat and tie. She smiled sweetly, presented her documentation, and offered to bring the
case to court, so long as they could provide a suitable tank of water for the defense to speak in
person. Mr. Honeydew held his furious partner's quaking shoulder and begged him to let the good
Ms. Folsom apply for citizenship in peace.
"This will ruin me, Oren," said his father quietly after Smith was pressed out the door.
"The Ministry of the Unknown is our biggest client. They will not employ an enemy." The words
hung between them.
"I'll quit," said Oren. "I was only a clerk."
Honeydew polished his glasses, fidgeting as he did in court when he didn't know what to
say. "You were a fine clerk, son." He held out his hand. "It will be an honor to see you in court."
Oren hugged his father and wished him a safe journey up the hill.
Florence dipped into the water to bring Oren an envelope from her room; his fee for
squaring her father's affairs and double that for saving her shop. He thumbed through the bills and
took out a few, then turned the envelope back to her.
"If I may, I'd like to rent out your father's apartment. Docktown needs its own advocate."
"I can't help you clean it," she said. Oren had fetched the tie for her that morning.
He nodded, took out a few more bills, and stuck the rest in her suit coat pocket. "For
renovations, and my time spent cleaning," he said.
"I think you deserve signing bonus. A luminarium?"
Oren eyed the diving helmet, but Florence was already across the room digging through
notebooks to find a clean page. She floated back over to him and started sketching at his feet.
"You'll need a sign to advertise if you're going to work here," she said. "We'll put it up in
the second story window, so the whole of Docktown can see." He watched her jot down the
specifications for a tank filled with glittering algae, painted over so only the letters would shine
through. "What should it say?"
Oren thought for a moment, then wrote:
Taxes Filed: Reasonable Rates
Unusual Circumstance Always Welcome