Cold Harbor: 04

Two Lines to Elsewhere

Nobody noticed that Sticks was missing. He didn’t say much and his figure was small and somewhat insubstantial; as a result, most of the children accidentally tripped over him rather than greeting him. The phrase “watch out for Sticks” was often spoken to someone slipping out of bed at night to retrieve or deposit something. Tholamew once tried to name him “picayune,” though everyone agreed that the word was much too long and complicated.

Before the rain began that day Sticks had taken an interest in the others’ game of marbles. Rather than watching their shots, he noticed that a couple of thin lines left in the dirt of the playing area converged at its edge. Where they joined a small branch lay. He followed its length and found that its far end lay in a long rut in the nearby road. At the end of the rut was a thick piece of string. Following that, he was taken around the side of the building and to a laundry pole. He looked back at the others, none of whom seemed to notice his wandering.

The string led up the pole, and he followed it with his eyes to the other pole. At the bottom of the far pole curled a snake. The snake noticed Sticks the moment that the boy noticed the snake, and it uncurled and began to slither away. While not fond of snakes, Sticks followed it at a distance to see where it meant to go.

Eventually it slid under a mass of dry pine needles at the base of a tall, dead pine tree. Sticks paused for a moment, looked up, then looked back down and noticed that the long shadow of the tree pointed behind him. He turned.

The shadow ended at the bottom of a wall. He was by now on the opposite side of the building from the game of marbles. As he looked over the bottom of the wall he saw a great many lines where boards met at various angles. One thing stood out: there was a scratch in the already flecked paint that began low and traveled up diagonally until it reached the frame of a window.

Thin, light blue lengths of fabric occasionally appeared from inside the window. Sticks hopped up and caught the windowsill, then tried feebly to pull himself up. His arms pulled but weren’t enough to move his paltry weight upward. His feet kicked and skidded across the wall, causing a small shower of dried paint to fall to the ground beneath him.

After a short struggle one of his feet caught on a board that had been nailed at a poor angle, allowing him to get himsef up and into the window. He realized after his head was inside and momentum began to carry him forward that he had no idea what lay in the room and how to control his eventual landing. He reached out to try to catch something, causing him to slide forward quicker and tumble onto the hard floor.

He awoke to the sounds of pouring rain. Above him stood an elderly man holding a mop, wearing black suspenders, a white shirt, and thick brown pants. The old man’s face was marked by lines, the most pronounced above his brow and extending from the sides of his long nose to around the sides of his seemingly lipless mouth. Baldness had claimed most of his head long before, and a shallow length of white hair followed the sides of his head. The old man had a slight hunch to his shoulders and nodded subtlely as he stared down at the boy.

“Papa?” Sticks said. The old man was familiar, in a way. He was a custodian that some of the children had seen before, usually engaged in some menial task. Though he bore no relation to any of them, the few children to actually speak with him instinctively called him Papa. The old man continued to nod.

“Had a fall,” Papa said. “Best be careful. Fall too hard,” he said, tapping a knuckle against his forehead and shaking his head. “Won’t stand up.” He let his arms fall to his sides, his left hand only barely holding onto his mop. He turned and began to shuffle away.

“Wait, wait Papa,” Sticks said, still laying on the floor. “I found lines outside.”

“Where’d they take you?” Papa answered, only turning his eyes to the boy.

“All around, I went all around.”

“Did you find what you needed?”

“I wasn’t looking for anything.”

“How’d you find the lines if you weren’t looking for something?” Papa’s voice was stern, but not angry.

“I…I wanted to see where they went,” Sticks said. His eyes began to water.

“They came here,” said the old man, tapping the handle of his mop against a wall as he started to leave Sticks’ view. “They always come here.”

“Wait, wait,” Sticks said weakly. He felt very tired and his eyes began to close.

“Best stay careful,” he heard.

It was some time before Jay, out for something Bones wanted, tripped over Sticks again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *