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“What’s that you’ve got, Sprite?” a woman said, walking up behind the boy crawling about the ground, hands in the earth. She was quite lovely. Slender, but delicately curved as well, she had long, elegant hair that ran in streamlets all the way to her knees. Her warmest smile could sparkle like the sun. Startling, violet eyes peered from under a lock of hair that always fell over it.

“I’ve found a purple pebble!” The boy’s grin was crooked but enchanting as he held up his prize between thumb and forefinger for the stranger to see. That too-perfect shade of violet, too-smooth stone that seemed so right in his hand reflected its owned identical light into the woman’s eyes. She smiled and gave him a congratulatory whistle.

“Now that is a beauty, isn’t it? And just lying around here was it?"

“Yes ma’am, just under the bush there.” The boy pointed not three feet away with his free left hand to a rather thorny patch of brambles. The hand was bleeding. Even with the small bit trailing to pool at the bottom he didn’t seem to notice at all. It didn’t matter; he had his prize.

“So what’cha call it then?”

“Huh?”

“The pebble, Sprite! It has to have a proper name; else, it isn’t a proper thing at all now is it?” The woman smiled, patting his dust-blond head. “So what’s it gonna be?”

As the boy considered the question, two small furrows formed, one at the end of each brow. A Proper name, a Proper name. It was an effort. He was young, only just learnt to read real books. He hardly had much of a catalogue of the things, Proper names. The woman waited with the patience and deference due to a child trying to do something magical. “I’ll call her Sally.”

“Her?”

“Well if I dunno what she is how do I name her?”

The woman laughed and nodded. Her slender hand reached out, and closed the boy’s fingers around his Sally.

“There she is then. All yours. Your Sally!”

He’d always liked to collect things, any little bauble lying about: a broken toy with a story, or a Cracker Jack prize, an assortment of buttons, or a pile of sea-shells, anything at all. The pebble was something more though, something different.

It wasn’t just that he’d named it – that was just a result. Somehow, he knew this was important. Something was different about the pebble. The colour so perfect, so uniform. He knew, pebbles didn’t just come that way – something had to make them that way.

As he felt her weight in his hand, too heavy for such a small thing, he ghost-guessed this particularness, and something else. All those things made it more ‘his’ than any of the other treasures he’d found could be. Sally had a name. Sally belonged only to him; nobody else would ever know the name. He put her in the top-right pocket of his overalls.

“So, why are you out here all alone, Sprite?” The woman knelt down beside the boy, folding her arms at the wrists over her knees. Ignoring the fact her dress dragged along the grass and soft, floral pink would certainly be stained.

“Mum doesn’t like it when I play in the house.” He shrugged. His left hand fiddled with the pocket he’d put the pebble in.

“Oh?” she said, cocking her head slightly, “That’s a shame.”

“Not really. I don’t have to be so quiet out here and–”

“And?”

“And I can’t hear her when I play outside.”

The woman nodded. She understood. She pat his shoulder. “Outside is prettier anyway.”

The boy smiled his crooked smile and turned away. The swings behind him beckoned. Tall and gleaming in its coat of fine red paint, the swings were less than a year old and even the chains were still almost sterling and glorious. It was his favourite toy of all, but so much better with someone to give him a push.

“You wanna play with me, ma’am?”

“Why sure I could. For a while, I think.”

He ran gaily to his swing and jumped into it, not bothering to turn about until he was well back into the air – and away he went. He started slowly, just enjoying the feel of the breeze and the speed. It wasn’t quite like flying, but it was something else entirely from running. He was floating on air, able to swing his legs and feel all that pressure building on the way down, and then falling off on the way back up only to start it over again.

The woman stood behind him, just barely aiding his swing each time he came back to her. Really, she was more a limit than anything, making sure he never went further than a quarter above her waist. About as tall as he actually was, in fact.

The pebble in his pocket sparkled, mirroring their merriment.

“I want to go higher, Sally!” he said.

His legs pumped, propelling him ever higher into the air. To his very limits. Those particular limits, long legs notwithstanding, didn’t take him as high as he’d have liked, even with Sally falling back each time he went a bit higher. She never offered the push to send him over, but instead watched as he kept at it. He struggled for the new record, the new highest.

It wasn’t a few minutes later his face had already begun to darken, that sort of red that refuses to name itself. Is it healthy, or not? Maroon, vermilion, or scarlet? Some word nobody really knows, that sets the boundaries of safely pressing yourself, and overexertion. The woman was watching. She didn’t look worried anyway.

“Look how high I can go! Ready?”

“I’m ready, Sprite! Let’s see it! Come on!” Maybe just a bit of encouragement is all any little boy really needs. Because then came the record, just like that. The last little push, the last little grab. That one moment that pushed him over the edge, into new territory, into real space. The woman called out her excitement for him, clapping as he reached the crest of this new arc.

“Now that’s a swing, Sprite! Look how high you’ve gotten!”

Could anything ever make a child so proud as the praise and awe of an adult? Even a stranger. He looked down into his pocket smugly, to confirm that Sally knew how great he was too. Oh how she glittered, she certainly knew. Yes indeed.

From each trip back to the crest, he could see the whole of his yard. The brambles lining the fence far in front now, the solid stone walls of his house to the right – his mother would be in the kitchen now, making up a nice snack for him before she started on dinner. Or was it while she worked on dinner? It didn’t matter, dinner was at five either way, and snack time was still another half hour off. He had plenty of time, plenty of time to play yet. And look to the left there! Nobody knew about his secret place. He kept it all to himself, snug between two trees that were quite overgrown in the front. That was his fort, walled with wood and fence and leaves. There were yet more holes dug and covered in there, but they were different than the rest scattered about the yard. He put treasure into those holes.

It was like magic the way a small little thing would turn up in the dirt. He once found an old coin down there. He quite liked that one, Dad had told him it was pre-war. He wasn’t really sure what that meant, but it was nice and hefty in his hand and he liked the feel of it. Another time he found something that looked familiar, but it smelled something awful. It wasn’t because of anything particular about that second one that made him keep it. He didn’t like the way it smelled, or the way that mouth seemed to grin at him. He didn’t like the way he heard it mewling in the middle of the night sometimes – but he had to keep it. That’s all there really was to it, he had to; it was his.

“Hey, Sprite!” The boy turned around suddenly. The woman was still behind him, lovely hair floating about her shoulders in the breeze. What caught him though were her eyes. Her eyes were fantastic – hadn’t he noticed earlier? Violet and piercing, and they glittered too. Sally had distracted him, that’s what it was.

“Yes, Sally?”

Time froze for a moment. Sally’s lips curled back from her teeth, the hard pebbles of her eyes bright in the sun; she laughed without making a sound. You got it, Sprite. Then all went back, suddenly faster, like the second hand of watch when you’d suddenly look at it. Sprite tried to pretend it hadn’t happened.

“You going to hop off now or what? I’d like to play to, that’s what proper mates do!”

He couldn’t argue with that, sharing was certainly a good thing. Everyone said so, Dad said so. So with a quick nod he gave one last swing, all the way up, aim for that soft bit of grass right down the middle. There was that gust of power again, he went right up to the top; he was looking right into the sky then. The sun was just a big, yellowy, blindy thing. It hurt his eyes as he looked at it, until he was forced to close them. Not like Sally, she glowed with such delicacy, like a proper lady. But he couldn’t chicken-out, and couldn’t break his promise to get off either anyway. One last swing is just hopping off, two is stalling. That was the rule.

It had seemed so slow at first, coming off the seat, suddenly being in the air – moving, falling. He could feel his clothes flapping, slapping against his ankles and elbows. The way the horizon seemed to curve, the perspective of everything made him suddenly believe that the world really was round as he fell.

The stop was instant, too fast to think. He hit the ground square on his left hand. It was the only thing to hit when it did, everything came down after and on top of it. He heard some kind of pop, like the mortars at a fireworks show. Big flash and sparks, a loud noise – but that’s all it was. A burst of green and violet set against the dark of his eyelids.

Up until his last birthday, Sprite had been a bit of a brat; he could admit that. This wasn’t the first time he’d hurt himself falling off the swing, and if he’d call for her it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d cried a bone was broken. Mom wasn’t really mean or anything, but just lately she always seemed to have a headache. She’d tell him to go outside and play, and get angry if he made too much noise or called for her. The last time he’d called her because he was hurt had been just before his birthday.

He’d been rollerblading, trying to anyway, in the driveway. It’d been an early birthday present. Those little bits of rock in the drive looked like they were giant ramps off which to do amazing tricks. An over-zealous jump later, he was on the ground with a sprained ankle screaming that he’d broken it. Mom had been so mad. Dad didn’t even argue when she took the roller blades away. It was better not to bother her.

“Sally?” It was a whimper.

“Sprite?”

“Sally, it hurts!” He wasn’t bawling, he didn’t bawl anymore. Only brats did that. No, but even he had to admit he was crying a bit, and his voice was oddly quiet as he tried to hold all of that in. He very suddenly had the urge not to move at all. The ‘thing’ that had been his arm felt like it wouldn’t like it one bit if his weight left it for even a second.

“Oh my, Sprite!” She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled herself against the boy, pressing her warmth and presence against him. It was yet only a moment, what she really wanted was a look, she parted to allow for it. “Now, you need to let me see. Be brave and let me see alright?”

“Sally, it hurts,” the boy said again. He didn’t move.

“Sprite, come on now, I need to see!”

Reluctantly, the boy raised himself up on his good elbow to reveal what lie beneath. His left arm was definitely broken. About four inches from the wrist it jerked sharply down and then just above that, something jagged and white poked through the skin. It was only the tiniest bit of it, that sick-white unreality, but the realization that he was looking at his own bone frightened Sprite, very much. No more bravery. He threw up, right on the arm she was using to support him. Sally didn’t falter from him, she stayed perfectly still.

“Oh my, Sprite, you are so very brave. Look at you!” The woman smiled just a bright as she could manage for him. It was warm, her smile, perfect teeth all shining in her put-on good humour. A mercifully careful hand guided his good arm to cradle the other to his chest.

Keep it there, nice and safe for the time being. There was something wrong with that last. Had Sally’s lips moved? He tried to think about it, but there was a more pressing thought at hand.

“It hurts,” he said. Then sniffed hard to pull back the snot already clogging his nostrils. The tears didn’t stop, the pain was beyond that, only just in the realms of what he could cope with. If he were perfectly honest with himself, he probably couldn’t have, but that the pain was somehow unreal, distant from him in the same way. Pain of that kind didn’t happen to little boys, it was practically a dream.

“I wonder where you’d be safe, Sprite. . . .”

“Huh?” Dazed now.

“When a fox is wounded he goes to his den to rest. A place only he can find, where he’ll be safe. Where is your safe place?”

“There...” Half-focused eyes tried to fixate in the direction of his secret place, only a few yards away to the left then. Just behind the overgrowth, two trees managed to build all on their own. His little nook away from everything else. A weak body tried to move towards that place on its own, but was unwilling. Sprite felt himself fall back into Sally’s arms. In reality, he’d only managed to move maybe four inches from her.

“I don’t think you’ll get there by yourself, Sprite,” Sally said. She kissed his forehead. The skin was already clammy with cold sweat, and far too pale. It had to be shock. Barely resisting her worry, Sally braced him to move. “I’ll help you.”

Unsteady feet managed to plant themselves in the proper direction, and the two made their way, slowly, under the deep emerald brush. A heavy branch stuck out almost in the middle. Both the boy and the woman scratched against it; the boy forgot, the woman never knew.

It’s amazing how much bigger everything can get, in the right circumstance. When the two slipped into the brush they entered a tunnel, full and endless, leading to the secret place. It was daylight. When they arrived at last on the other side, or rather, the inside – all he saw was shrouded in darkness. He shivered, drawing a restrained whine of pain from him as it travelled down his injured arm. Then there they were, in the secret place. It was surrounded on all sides, a small barrow in brilliant leaves, wood and fencing. The floor had been cleared. The boy had been meticulous in doing so, it seemed. In equal spacing all around one could see little circles, like manhole covers, just slightly different colour than the surrounding earth. These were his treasures of course.

“We’re safe.” Not exactly a statement, but it wasn’t so much a question either.

“As foxes, my brave little Sprite.” She kissed his cheek, a little reward for being such a good, brave boy. He shivered again, and whimpered again. Pain was actually fading away then, becoming not only unreal, but even less urgent, less ‘there’ with each passing moment. Thinking grew ever more bothersome, not that he’d been particularly keen on it in the first place. He didn’t even like reading all that much. However, he did like that one story about the boy who went all around the countryside on a raft – tricking people just because he could. That was kinda funny, though Dad hadn’t been happy when he said so. But, it was just a book after-all. What was so bad about that?

“So what’s in these then?”

“All sorts of things...” he said, resting his head comfortably against her. He’d basically crawled into a fetal position in her lap.

“Well what about that one, just there? Third from the left and second back?”

The boy had to think about it for a bit, but remembered. “That’s my car collection. I got all sorts in that one.” He offered a proud smirk that she didn’t even need to see to know.

“Oh yeah? Got a Mercedes in that lot? Always fancied a Mercedes. Cute little things.”

“Yeah, got a silver one– ”

Another shiver went through him, and he closed his eyes that time. So very tired. Amazing, the very pain that by rights would keep you up at night, was putting him to bed on its own.

Her hand was so cold when she placed it, gingerly, at the point of his arm’s break. The worry-lines that spread over her were unexpected, unbelievable as they took over a face that had seemed timeless before then. Music filled the air, but it wasn’t music at all. So dulcet was the tone of Sally’s voice to Sprite’s ears from his place, halfway between the streams of consciousness and sleep.

“Have you thought about why I call you, Sprite?” she asked, “It’s very important you remember.”

Cerulean light emanated from the point between her hand and the boy’s wrist, forming a sort of bubble around the two of them. That music grew in volume, coming slightly more into focus. He could smell strawberries and honeydew, lemongrass and poppies all at once. A few god-rays slipped through the foliage into his den. Where are we? he thought, shifting himself up so that he could look about more clearly. His buried treasures were gone, and the grass beneath them was a soft, golden yellow when it had been a dirty green moments before. His heart beat faster within his chest, and some of the colour came back to his face.

“Klopf, Klopf.” Sally smiled, that glorious smile of hers that made the sun blush for shame. Pale fingers knocked on the earth once, twice. Sprite turned, and he saw her. What she had been moments before, it was still there, hovering around the edges; however, something else, something radiant was unveiling from beneath. There was a light, violet and piercing. The pebble in his pocket felt warm against his chest, even through his overalls.

Suddenly, his arm didn’t hurt anymore. He felt quite fine, better than he ever had in his young life in fact! And sounds, so many sounds had boiled up from under the veil around them. There was the music, of course, but birds chirping in counter-point too, and rustling among the leaves. A mouse bringing home his dinner. Then, the mewling. That sound he had heard so many times in his bedroom, late at night, when nothing else was to be heard. It was a cat, slinking through the underbrush up to them.

Sleek black fur, so soft against the palm of his hand as the cat rubbed up against him. The boy’s eyes lit up. At first, he only let it nuzzle him, purring happily, but then he actively returned the affection, petting it. It was his cat! Sebastian. That had been the fuss all along.

Sprite got up to his hands and knees, excited to explore this new, old world that had come to him. Sally’s hand slipped from his arm as he crawled back to the tunnel, now several yards away.

“Sprite!” she called to him, anxious as he turned back to her. Her teeth bit slightly into her lower lip. “If you go out there... If you do, you can’t ever come back.”

“You saw my place, share yours.”

She laughed, she couldn’t help it. One arm draped over her stomach, the other’s hand with fingers curled at her lips. It was bound to happen anyway, that she’d take him. She supposed, well, it was as good a time as any really. Always such a curious little sprite. She crawled over to join him, and the two went through the tunnel together and towards the new, old world. It was bound to happen anyway. A shared thought in unison.

“Snack time, kiddo!” Sprite’s father stepped out into the yard and wondered where that boy had gone to this time. He went back inside to phone the neighbors. Maybe he was at a friend’s house.

Two pebbles rest by the swings that swayed in the breeze, one violet, one blue, and melodious laughter joined the whispers of trees.



Written by Kiseruyoru
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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