Blue balloons bounce in a field of wheat. Church bells toll in the town beyond. The lone white church and its spearfish steeple is from where they clang melodiously, like a chant, a heavy metal chant…
The boy was grinding the tip of his blue ball-point pen into the white lined paper of a notebook. The sheet was ripping, splattering, tossing dust into the air. He was angry because he was tired of being locked up in his room on the second floor of the blue farmhouse on a hill overlooking a meadow and beyond the meadow the tips of the town. The dark rooftops, the verdant treetops, the spearfish steeple of a white church.
The boy went to the lone window of his room when he heard the bells toll. A sheet of blue balloons waltzed across the spring sky. Something was happening but he did not know if it was good or bad. Then down below he saw, running through the yard, his mother, his father, his younger sister. Where were they going in such a hurry? He tried to open the window, but it was nailed shut. He turned and took up his desk chair in his hands and smashed it into the glass. His mother turned to look when she heard it, but only once. She had a sheen of terror about her. She kept running.
The boy cried out, “What about me!?”
Then the bomb hit. A blooming blue wild mushroom leapt skyward on the horizon like in a nightmare. The sun turned purple. Trees bent. The house shook and the boy stumbled backward. He fell, hit his head, and went to sleep.
When the boy woke the world was silent except for a voice down in the front yard. He could hear it clearly through the broken window. Someone talking to the ground.
“There’s just such an abundance of things. There are just so many things. Why do we have so many things… but our hearts are empty.”
The boy got up off the floor and went to the broken window. He looked out onto a creation that was now winter, but the color of the snow wasn’t pure white like it used to be… Now there was a tinge of blue to it. All of it.
And there was a hunched man puttering about the yard and muttering at the ground. Something soft and disturbing.
“Are you lost?” the boy called out.
The man’s head snapped in various directions as he searched for the source of the voice.
“Up here,” the boy yelled.
The man finally locked onto him. “What are you doing in there, boy?”
“I live here. What are you doing in my yard?”
The man turned away and mumbled some more to himself before answering. “I’m digging for gold. Don’t you know everyone wants gold? Why just look around at the world now. Look what they’ve done to it. All they cared about was the gold. And they didn’t even know where it really came from.”
The boy hadn’t fully paid attention to him because his eyes had latched onto the vision before him. The full scope of the blue-tainted snow that covered most everything. The smoke drifting up from the town like ballet. The spearfish steeple of the church scorched and cracked. The bells were silent. The trees across the whole of the landscape now stripped bare of everything they once wore. From where he stood, it looked like an abstract forest of burnt bones.
“What happened?” the boy murmured to himself, and then louder to the man below him, “Have you seen my family?”
The man took a double-take. “Family? Boy, there aren’t any more families. The Greedsters took care of that. The war maniacs put an end to that. The bullet lovers decided that. Love turned upside down demolished all of that.”
“Who are you?” the boy wanted to know.
The man made a ‘hmmpfhhh’ sort of noise. “And what do you plan on doing with my good name and valuable identity?”
“Nothing. I just want to know what it is. Don’t you want to know what mine is?”
The man looked up at him, turned away, and then looked back up at him. “I don’t know that I want to know. Are you good or are you of the devilish persuasion.”
The boy frowned as he thought about it. “I don’t know if I am either one… Or maybe I’m both.”
“How old are you?” the man wanted to know.
“I’m 12. At least, I feel like I am. How old are you?”
“Doesn’t matter anymore. Age is just restlessness etched in the air. We just wait for the calendar to spin. We wait and do nothing. Lives once had meaning.”
“Well, then at least tell me what year you were born in?”
The man raised a hand and wagged a finger up at him. “Ahhh… I see your wayward divinity at play. You’re trying to trick me into telling you… My age. Let’s just say I’m old enough to always be smarter than you.” He laughed, then he clutched himself and shivered.
“You should come inside. Come inside and unlock my bedroom door and I’ll come out and build a fire and make you some tea. Do you like tea?”
“A boy of 12 who makes tea?”
“Yes. I’m different. That’s why they locked me up.”
Once freed from his room by the stranger, the boy went to work boiling water by means of magic thoughts. He willed his young muscles to load wood from the lean-to out back into the black iron stove and set it alight. The house soon warmed, and the tea soon steamed in two fragile cups. They sat across from each other at a table and sipped and stared.
The man was run down, his floppy coat and underclothes were torn and dirty. The shoes on his feet had holes in them. His hair and face were unruly.
“How have you survived?” the boy wanted to know. “How have you lived through whatever happened out there?”
“Oh this?” he gestured toward his appearance. “This is the culmination of a very hard life, young man. A very bleak life. A life made more bleak by the ways of so many wicked, wicked men… And women… And even children.”
The boy smiled at him. The man was pitiful yet spirited. Almost comical in a sad clown sort of way. “I want to know who you are. I want to know your name and how you came about to being in my front yard yammering on like you were doing. I think I have a right to that. I want to know what’s going on. I was kept isolated for so long.”
The man stared at him grimly for a moment. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, boy. The end. I don’t know how I got here. I just ended up here. There’s nowhere else to go except wherever you can go.” His voice had a scratchy overtone to it. He raised himself up a bit and stretched a hand across the table. “The name’s Algernon Wasp. And before you doubt me… Don’t. It’s true. And I like it.”
The boy smiled again and took his hand and shook it. His skin was cold and rough. “I like it, too,” he said. “I’m Tacitus Cornwall, and this is my house.”
Algernon sat back and squinted at the boy as if to study him on a deeper level. “You’re not really 12, are you?”
“I was once,” Tacitus answered. “I’m just not sure if it was a day ago, or a thousand days ago.”
TO BE CONTINUED