I watch inquisitively as the boy runs out of the house. His mud brown eyes leak a mixture of water, lipids, sodium, glucose, and some other substances. In his arms, he grips a package wrapped in old paper. He stops running, now a distance away. He turns back to the house. His breath is fast but slows, nearly halting. The wind blows through his hair, similarly colored to his eye, carrying its scent. Familiar, peculiar of a child, can not quite place...Ah, yes. I think as I see the glimmer of orange light. Kerosene.
The little house, that little old house of sticks, home to only memories, born to the flame of love dies to another. Passion set the little house ablaze, again and again…
I am not the only witness of said spectacle. The boy, brown of eyes, brown of hair, can do nothing, nothing but stare...Then he makes a sound. A short sound it was. Then it was followed by another. And another. A sniff? Then a choke. He falls to his knees, doing nothing, then he screams. It is a gut-wrenching scream, delivered with enough force to make me flinch. It was a long, loud, scream, but all that lives must die.
Slowly, he quiets, then he chokes again. Then once more his...rage? Love? Hate? Sorrow? It burst forth, tearing through the night in a massive display of emotion, long pent up.
So much passion in one so young. Why? Has he suffered too?
Once again it dies and once again it returns. His cry, louder than the last, which was louder than its predecessor, shatters any semblance of the peace, quiet, and serenity that most who come here, so far from others, seek. This sound, the sound that the boy of mud emitted, is same to none I have ever heard. The tragedy in every tone, the mournful nature, this I find hard to be human, but alas it has all happened before, and there shall be many more.
At last, his cry, so strong, so powerful, comes to an end, the fire inside of him, unlike that of the house, dwindles.
All is silent, all is still, all is waiting until…
With a final wave of passion, the boy of mud gets to his feet. He is unsteady, his sneaker-clad feet barely catching himself as he stumbles. He takes a breath, gaining grip below his feet. He lifts his head, closing his eyes, taking in the all too familiar scents of the river, the mud, and the great maple tree. A scent is missing, that of homemade apple pie. That of cinnamon and happy days and reasons why he wouldn’t leave this place. In its stead is that of smoke and kerosene, not that he longed to be.
He clenches his fist.
“Why?” he cries out. “Why did it have to be like that? Why did you do it? Why did I? I HATE YOU! I hate you! I hate me,” he finishes, his voice hoarse.
I look down at the boy. He has fallen again, his arms wrapped around his knees, rocking slightly as he sobs.
I sigh, dropping down next to him. He does not acknowledge me. He just sits there rocking to the lullaby of the wind, and crickets, and river too, as he sobs gently.
At first, we say nothing, just sit, him, his sobs becoming whimpers and me watching the flames lick away at the bones of what used to be hope. It will always remain home to passion.
When the Sun’s light nearly pierces the sky I turn. I turn to him, the boy of mud, and snot, and kerosene. I turn to what was once a boy of innocence, and joy, and apple pie. I place my arm on his still shaking shoulder and I say...I say as he looks at me, his mud-brown eyes wide in the early light. I say, “I miss it too”.
He stares at me, seemingly unsure of what to think.
“You do?” he asks at that moment possessing the innocence of someone half his age.
“I do,” I reply, smiling at the boy.
“What did you do?” he asks, mud eyes scanning me head to toe.
“I-” I pause, hesitating. This boy is… I just...He…
He stares at me expectantly, with hope he did not know he had. I did not.
“I set myself free,” I say finally. “Free from that which held me…”
“You are like me,” he says. It is not a question, I know. I still nod.
He scans me once again, taking in clothing that even in its day was rather plain, skin that was tanned by much time spent playing in the sun, and both hair and eyes that shimmer in the early rays.
“Can you help me?” he asks. “Can you help me be free?”.
“Are you sure?”.
I know the answer without having to ask. I can tell by the determination in those mud brown eyes, that if I do not help him then he shall find a way without my aid. It saddens me to think of what could have been. This boy was beauty and light, but he could not take the blight.
“I’m sure,” he says with as much confidence as I did.
“Positive?” I beg without begging. You still have a chance, boy. You can do what I was not brave enough to.
He nods once more.
“What does it take?”.
I turn to where the Sun is just beginning to peek out from behind the horizon, then turning back to him, I extend my hand.
This time it is he who falters.
“Now?” he asks timidly.
I look down at where the sunlight streams through me. I tilt my head.
He nods, understanding, taking my extended hand.
Together, that dawn, we walked away as two free souls, unbound by our pasts.
When morning comes, and some distant neighbor makes an early, concerned, call about a plume of smoke on the property, a few local volunteers, acting as the local firefighters, will come to the scene. They will be too late of course. The fire has long since been over. Of the house that once smelled of apple pie and cinnamon, joy and love. Of that house which was home to passion, they will find nothing, but ash. They will search the ash, hoping upon hoping that none slept their last night on one of its two beds. They had nothing to worry about. The family that had been built under that roof was gone. Broken…
They turn back, ready to leave when they see it. A boy up on a hill overlooking the ashes. They call up to the boy but receive no reply. They begin to murmur, feeling the onset of dread. Eventually, two volunteer to move closer. Each step they take is filled with apprehension. “You don’t think?” One says to the other. He does, but he will not say it. They are viewers of a movie that has played out many times before and will continue in the future. At the crest, they find a child, a boy with hair and eyes, not that they can see his eyes, of mud lying peacefully on his back as if having fallen asleep in the Sun. For all, they know that is exactly what happened, but the two, they both know deep inside them, that this boy will never wake.
They pay no mind to the package that lays near him. If they did they would have found a book, bound in leather. Had they opened said book they would have found photos. Photos upon photos of the perfect little family. A man with a charming smile, a woman with a fresh-baked pie, and a boy of mud enjoying one of the last true bits of happiness in his life.
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Hi Abigail, This story screams magic to me and I’m dying to read more. I felt that this story was directly addressing some intense themes which was interesting to me. I thought that it was a tragic story that answered the prompt very well. I was curious as to why the narrator was waiting to intervene which is why towards the end I thought it could fit well as a prologue to a larger fantasy piece. It definitely seemed to be setting up something bigger. NICE JOB!