Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The book of the magic emerald

A picture says a thousand words. Write them.
Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a critique about this picture. Write something about this picture.
Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
The small boy snuck closer to the abandoned house. It was dark and cold and any child his age should have been at home and asleep at this hour. But he was the kind of child who noticed too much, at least according to the adults who knew him. He had noticed that the abandoned house was no longer abandoned some days ago and he had been determined to check it out.
The tall man with the dark hair and the permanently sour expression had been very careful not to announce his presence. Whatever stores he had were enough for the moment. He found fresh water in the well and he kept away from the villagers.
The boy saw him dig for some roots in what used to be the garden and trim the leaves from a large leafy plant with his knife. The boy thought that stuff was poisonous but the man didn’t die; at least he was still alive the next day assuming he ate the leaves. The boy’s mother was not good with the garden. The leaves looked smaller in the soup the man cooked, but still recognisably the same.
The child followed him for days. Once, he thought the man knew he was there. A twig cracked under his foot and the noise was much louder than he wanted it to be but the man didn’t react to the sound.
“You are following me,” he said that night when the child was watching him stoke the fire he had made in the sooty fireplace.
He didn’t try to deny it, just sidled closer to the fire.
The man studied him over the brim of his tea cup. “What’s your name?”
He shook his head mutely.
“Huh... fair enough.” He sipped his tea. “I will call you shadow,” he said. “You’ve been following me for days.” He dug in his bag until he found a second cup. “Tea, Shadow?”
The boy nodded and sat carefully; not too close to the fire or the man. It should be safe to drink from the same pot of tea. He took the man’s cup instead of the new one he filled.
The man chuckled but didn’t object.
They sat and drank together. The man passed him a bowl of soup. He sniffed suspiciously at the contents but the man was already eating it and he had seen it served from the same pot; his hunger eventually pushed him to try it. He held his bowl out for seconds.
“Not so fast, little shadow. I require payment.”
The boy frowned at him.
“Books. Seen any?”
The boy raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t know what a book is?”
A head shake.
“I bet you have missed too many days of school.”
Head shake. “No school,” he said.
“No school?”
“Teacher died.”
“Oh, I am sorry.” He refilled the boy’s soup. “Education is the thing that helps you get out of a village like this.”
The boy looked intrigued.
“Which is why I need a book. But not just any book, a particular one.” A pause. “You’re really sure you haven’t seen any?”
The boy gave a noncommittal shrug.
“Is there a person who keeps the books?”
“The teacher’s wife. She took them.”
“Ah.” So he did know what a book was. The man’s shoulders looked tense, but the child did not notice that. “Does she still live in the town?” he asked, trying not to seem too eager.
A small nod.
“You can show me later.”
An even smaller nod.
“Once I have the book, I will leave town.”
The child looked the question.
“I promise. I have no reason to stay.”
His eyes narrowed as he thought about the answer.
“Eat your soup,” the man suggested, refilling his own bowl.
When they had both drained the pot the man yawned and looked as if he was going to sleep. The boy poked him in the leg.
“Yes, you’re right. We should go now.” He stood and stretched. “Come on.” Then he stopped. “Which house was it?”
“Near the school.”
“Makes sense.” He brushed off his trousers as he stood. “The school is near the river, right?”
A nod.
“I noticed the large area of bare ground around it. Was it a playground?”
They started to walk. The man kept up a conversation now that the child was talking a little more. He asked what kind of games did they play. Who usually won them? Those kind of questions and they reached the school without incident.
The man stopped with his hand on the gate.
The boy waited.
“Sorry... It’s been a little while since I’ve been to school.” He grinned at the boy. “But they all look the same.” Looking at the building, he added, “You wouldn’t know that, of course.” He took a breath and stepped into the yard. “Let’s check the school first. Now where were the books?”
The child showed him. He looked through them all and seemed disappointed when he did not find what he was looking for.
“Looks like we need to talk to the widow.” A pause. “I wanted to avoid her.”
The boy looked up at him.
“I’m not good talking to people.” A pregnant pause. “You’re not people.”
A snort.
The boy pushed at him to go around the side of the house. It took him a little while to understand. He heard them talking. The woman saying she didn’t know what he wanted with the books, and then the boy suggesting she make tea for them. When she had gone, he held the books up until the man pointed at one. It had a dark cover with white writing on it. It looked more decorative than the others to the boy, but he could not read more than a few letters. This book was different, even he knew that.
He handed it to him out the window; shutting it quickly when she poked her head back in to ask if he wanted bread and butter to eat.
When the boy turned back he could see through the window. The man held the book and let it fall open. His face was serious and he muttered something under his breath. The green light shot out of the book and lit up the man’s face.
The book was definitely different.
The child looked worried during tea. He itched and fidgeted as he ate the bread. He clearly regretted asking for it now. The woman knew children and she let him go before he got too agitated.
He ran back to the abandoned house and exhaled in relief when he saw the man waiting for him. His bag was already packed and the fire tamped so that it would die down. “I wanted to ask you something,” the man said. “Would you like to come with me?”
“It won’t be easy. Sometimes I don’t eat every day.”
The child shrugged. He was thin enough that perhaps he didn’t eat every day, either. He pointed at the book.
“I could teach you to read. If you wanted.”
He nodded quickly.
“It might take longer to read this language, but I think you are smart.” Another nod. “Okay.” He stood. “So what do I call you? My name is Jean.”
“Shadow,” said the boy.
© AM Gray 2014

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