I found this boy famished on the side of the road, with dirt smudges across his face. The boy looked like he was thirteen or maybe fifteen years of age.— He didn’t speak much. We rode the lonesome road and let the asphalt take its time. Fourteen minutes had passed.
‘Riley’ the boy stared ahead.
‘Is that your name?’ I asked with my deep voice.— He didn’t answer. I presumed Riley was the boy’s name.
‘John’ I replied. There was a glimpse from the boy, but his look soon returned to the road as he noticed me looking back.
We passed the fields that had once burned, a story I’d rather forget. Blazing flames surrounded me. I focused on the road, pushing down the horrid memory. I observed the sounds of the cerulean plastic wrapper that said Corn Cookie. I had given it to the boy to eat, and he was fiddling with the empty wrapper. A few crumbs had fallen on the chair, which was too big for the boy, who looked like he was eleven now, sitting in it. The exact age my boy was. Scorching wheat, and a shout for help. I didn’t know which way to go; the blaze was everywhere.
The boy, Riley, said something but I was lost in thought.
‘Sorry, I didn’t catch that.’ I said, suppressing the memory again.
‘Can we stop here?’ the boy repeated. I looked around and saw trees, and when the reason crossed my mind, I stepped on the brakes.
The kid opened the door, jumped out of the truck, and walked into the wall of trees worry-free. I kept seated and turned on the radio, which may be why it has been so quiet the entire ride. Jazz burst into the room, yet static, my wife and I danced. She held little Christopher, who stood on her feet while she moved them up and down, and danced around.
I had to look twice at the time, 16:47. a half hour had passed since the kid left for the forest. I felt a strange ominous feeling, and I went looking for him. Riley’s probably fine and just playing with some branches. But before I could confirm this, I had to know where he was.
‘Kid, stop hiding’
Dad! Christopher came running down the stairs with an airplane of wood he made. The propeller spun. He looked at me with his big brown eyes, ‘Do you wanna play?’
I heard rustling and looked around and walked toward the sound. It could’ve been a wolf or other wild animal, but I had a hunch it was Riley. As I made my way through the branches—which left a tear in my jacket.
I took my jacket off the coat rack and ran after Christopher.
I saw Riley sitting on a fallen tree, fidgeting with a piece of fabric. When he saw me looking, he hid it in the pocket of his coat. Riley stared at me with big eyes, almost scared.
Laughter was switched to cries for help. Smoke glitched to flames in a second. I tried to find little Christopher and eventually, I saw his big brown eyes looking at me through the scorching wheat.
Shaking the memory, I sat down beside him. It was silent for a minute. Then I started talking, ‘You remind me of little Christopher.’ After the kid looked puzzled, I explained, ‘He’s my son,’ I paused. ‘was my son,’ a moment of silence hit again. Riley was curious and asked, ‘what happened?’ I took a moment to gather the courage to tell. In the forest, cricketly quiet, we sat there on a fallen tree, though it might have been sawed down and left there, for people like us, to sit on and tell a story.
‘Little Christopher, … he loved stories, especially the ones where the hero could fly. That’s why he built airplanes of wood and throw them into the sky. And he would run along with them, pretending to be a plane too,’ I chuckled. ‘He was my little hero.’ I looked up; it was getting darker.
‘Then I lost him to a fire; it hadn’t rained in a month and the field of wheat was as dry as a bone. At first, I saw black smoke rising in the distance. I couldn’t find Christopher or the plane. He couldn’t have gotten far, I thought. But the fire spread fast, and within ten minutes, all I could see was blazes of red.’ I looked at Riley; he had taken the piece of fabric out of his coat. And even though he was staring at it, I could tell he was listening. I took a breath and continued.
‘Little Christopher and his big brown eyes cannot be lost to history, I have to keep him alive through stories, as soon I will be erased too.’ I placed my hand on my heart.
‘We were happy, my wife and I, and little Christoper. We danced through the night while Jazz music played. I miss them every day.’ Riley was now looking at me, and I observed his brown eyes. A lot like little Christopher, I thought. Then Riley’s brown eyes returned to the piece of cloth he was holding, it was checkered and looked like it was a piece from a sport coat.
‘This was my dad’s, I miss him too.’ Riley said softly, then his voice broke. I didn’t know whether to hug the kid, he was crying now. In the blink of an eye, Riley launched himself into my arms. At first, I didn’t know what to do, then I comforted him. It was exactly like hugging Christopher, I thought of him again, and I let out a tear for the first time in a decade.
When Riley let go of my arms with puffy eyes and flushed cheeks, he wiped his tears with the back of his hands and put the crinkled piece of cloth back in his pocket. Then he looked at the stars. I looked up too. And I don’t know if it was destiny, but we saw a shooting star that night.
I felt something in my pocket that I had carried with me since the fire, since Christoper’s story ended, but never faded; It was the propeller from one of the wooden planes he built. I spun it around between my fingers. I saw Riley shivering, so I offered him my jacket. his hands hid in the large sleeves and the corner of his mouth pointed upward, almost like he was smiling.
I held the propeller in my hand. ‘I want you to have this, it belonged to Christopher,’ I softly laid it down in the kid’s hand, which had traveled its way out of the sleeve. Riley looked at it in awe.
‘I promise to keep it safe. Always,’ he said while looking at me once more with his curious brown eyes.
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Wow, such an evocative and sad story of loss, seen through the interactions with the narrator and Riley. Well done!