A. Jarrell Hayes
Copyright 2016 by A. Jarrell Hayes
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Originally appearing on ZouchMagazine.com:
“A Boy and His Magic Pebble”
“Confession is Good for the Soul”
“When Pigs Fly”
A Boy and His Magic Pebble
There once was a boy who found a magic pebble. Whenever he threw it, the boy would travel wherever the pebble landed. The boy delighted in his new toy. He used it to sneak behind his mother to snatch cookies from the kitchen. He would slide it in the space between the bathroom door and the floor to scare his kid sister while she bathed.
When the boy’s mother scolded him for misbehaving, he would huff and puff, stomp his feet and shout that he was going to use his magic pebble to travel someplace far, far away, where his mother and sister could not follow.
One day, the boy went gamboling along the edge of the lake, tossing his magic pebble into the air and catching it. He giggled each time he caught it, for his body vibrated and tingled as it quantum shifted. He tossed his magic pebble high, higher than ever before, and as it came down, the boy didn’t catch it cleanly. The magic pebble slipped from his fingers and dropped into the lake, where it sunk down to the sandy bottom.
The boy followed his magic pebble.
When the boy did not come home for dinner, his mother did not find it surprising. She believed her son had made good his threat to use his magic pebble to travel to a place far, far away where she could not follow.
Confession is Good for the Soul
The last time I went into a church, it was to confess. Father Albert asked me my sins, and I told him that I lusted for my neighbor’s wife; how I coveted her, imagining her eyes gleaming when she sees me, her bosom heaving and beckoning me from underneath her low-cut top.
After cleansing my conscious, I asked the father of his sins, my curiosity getting the best of me. No, that’s not it. I didn’t feel comfortable exposing the deepest, darkest parts of my inner-self without the recipient reciprocating.
Father Albert was a good sport and he indulged my inquisitiveness. Father Albert admitted the sin he struggled with most was the sin of pride. He heard all the sins of the townspeople, the demons lurking in their souls, but they knew nothing of his transgressions and faults. He said he judged his flock, for their sins were not his—their deeds more vile and disturbing than the thoughts he never acted upon. Every Sunday he stood at the podium and gazed down upon his flock, his heart filled with contempt towards those poor, wretched souls. In his eyes, each and every one of his congregation was going straight to Hell—that is, if it was his decision. The things he heard, the thoughts and deeds confided to him, were perverse and boarded on the edge of legality.
He grunted and then chuckled after this last part, as if to dismiss it as some sort of sick joke. He said it was odd speaking so freely and candidly with me. Although he confessed to his fellow priests and bishop, his admissions to them were frivolous or mundane—he had spoken curtly with an unexpected visitor, failed to help someone recover goods spilled from a dropped bag (something that he claimed “nagged at my conscious”). These were never his most damning sins. Why would he expose himself to his peers and potential rivals? They could use this information against him to thwart his advancement. Truly confessing to his superior could hinder his chances at promotion.
Father Albert concluded that with me, a mere parishioner, he could be honest. What could I do with his true thoughts? Nothing. People will always believe clergy over layman.
He was right. Although I knew he judged his flock—wrongly or justly, only God can say—I could do nothing against it. My two options were to continue going to church and biting my tongue when he preached about forgiveness and non-judgment or leave his flock. That was the last time I ever stepped into a church.
A couple of years ago, while waiting for the bus, I met a man who changed my life. I didn’t anticipate the impact he’d have on my life when we met for those brief minutes. But here’s what happened.
It was a misty and humid day, still hot after a recent drizzle. The bench at the bus stop was still covered in beads of water. I was too tired to stand and since I didn’t want to get my pants wet, I sat how I normally do when there isn’t a seat available. I squatted low, my buttocks resting on the back of my calves and heels of my shoes.
While sitting thusly, a grungy grey man with wild mattered kinks for hair and a tattered beard walked towards me. Upon closer inspection, I could make out the shredded state of his clothes; the scent of urine permeated from his body. This was a homeless man. I reflexively recoiled as he walked past.
Unexpectedly, the man stopped, not more than two feet from me. He turned to me and said, “Mister, have you ever been to Korea?”
I blinked twice; hesitant to answer. From my earlier experiences, engaging with homeless people can lead to drawn out conversations I much rather had avoided. However, his inquiry was quirky and odd; have I ever been to Korea? Is that the type of question one greets strangers with now? Is this a smart way to begin a discussion you’d eventually steer to a request for a hand-out? Was this man mentally deranged? Why would he think I’ve ever been to Korea; I certainly don’t look like the typical Korean.
“Er, I’m sorry,” he said when I failed to respond. “It’s just . . . . The way you’re sitting is how the folks sit over there. I served in the Korean War and saw it often. I saw and did a lot over there.” He paused, his eyes wells of nostalgia. “I met my wife there.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” I offered meekly, forgetting my determination to ignore this vagabond. I almost slapped myself; I knew exactly what was coming next.
This homeless man took my audible response as permission to continue talking. And talk he did. He recounted his time in Korea, focusing less on the killing and more on the culture and people, especially his wife, now dead for five years. His wife’s death was when his troubles snowballed, at least according to him.
Despair and grief consumed him, and he, in turn, consumed fermented spirits to appease his soul. He became a drunkard. Lost his job, his apartment, his possessions; everything but the skin on his back. He’d been without a domicile for over four years – life hit him hard and swift. He roamed the street; scrounged for food in restaurant dumpsters and ate under bridges. He slept wherever his body succumbed to fatigue and malnutrition, but preferred bus and train station benches to the ones at the park.
I listened to his tale without interrupting. I absorbed his life; taking it all in and jotting mental notes. The bus I was waiting on pulled up and, as I stood in preparation of boarding it, the homeless wrapped up his tale by asking if I had a dollar or some change to spare. I did not.
He dropped his head and shuffled along as the bus doors opened as if a magic gate to whisk me away from his decrepit life to my comparatively much better one.
I thought of this sad man and his gripping story on my bus ride home. Once at my apartment, I took to my computer and typed. I wrote this man’s testimony – adding my own embellishments and meat to flesh it out – in a spurt of writing fury that I’d never experience before. Six weeks later, I had written the first draft of my first novel.
Another couple of weeks of edits and re-writes later, I felt it was ready to show to my friend, an editor at a popular magazine. She fell in love with, what she called, an “authentic yawn about love, war and loss.” She introduced me to an agent, who agreed to represent my work. Then the bidding war between publishing houses began. When the dust settled, I signed a five-figure book contract that included a hefty advance.
I was on cloud nine. I had transmuted a stranger’s misfortune into gold. I was some sort of literary Rumpelstiltskin.
Unfortunately my novel flopped. It sold a few thousand copies, but by publishing standards my debut book was a bust. Stores returned unsold copies left and right, and eventually ate through my large advance like acid. I went from virtual unknown to media darling to literary (and literal) failure in a short span of time.
It was during this period of ego deflation that I returned to the bus stop where I met that loquacious stranger. I sat there, squatting as buses came and went, and waited for the Korean War vet to reemerge.
Resting on my heels in my back pocket was half of what remained of my advance, wrapped tightly in a rubber band. If the homeless man asks me for a dollar, this time I have a few hundred of them for him.
My life sucks. I’m 30 years old and working a dead-end retail job for minimum wage. I rent a tiny room in a house I share with 3 other sweaty guys. I hate my friends and the perfect lives they brag about every Friday night when we hang out at the local bar.
Since last year, I began noticing that whenever I experienced misfortune, one of my friends had positive news. My grandmother died the same time Pete got engaged. The company I worked at as a software engineer went bankrupt, while Jan got promoted at his job. My cat ran away; Chris bought a new car.
That’s when I realized fortune must be a zero-sum equation. There’s only so much good luck to share among all 7 billion people in the world. At our next Friday night hang out, I’ll pretend I have to get up early Saturday morning and leave before the others. Then I’ll slash the front-right tire on each of my friends’ cars. Let’s see how much happiness this brings me.
When Pigs Fly
As a kid, whenever I asked Mom for something out of this world – like a new bike or video game console — her favorite reply was “Sure, when pigs fly.”
When I was 5, I painted a mural of the zoo on the hallway wall while she napped. I showed her masterpiece once she woke. My eyes were bright with the praise I expected to receive. Instead, she cuffed me on the back of the head and told me to scrub my “graffiti” off her walls.
Tears welled up in me, but I choked them down with raw anger and snapped back, “One day I’m going to be a famous artist and you’re going to wish you had kept this drawling on the wall, because it’s gonna be worth a million bucks!”
She guffawed and spewed, “Sure, when pigs fly!” before her backhand slap sent my mind spinning.
Three years later, Dad went to the store to get some milk and eggs and didn’t return for two days. I asked Mom when he would come home. She took a swig from a vodka bottle, wiped the dribble with the back of her hand, stared at me with dead eyes and chuckled, “Your daddy will be back when pigs fly.”
Mom got heavier into drinking as the years progressed. When I would come home from high school, she would be sprawled out on the couch in a drunken sleep, empty bottles and flasks on the shag carpet around her, threads of vomit clinging helplessly on her chin. Before I did my homework, I would clean up around her and wipe her face. Then I’d fix myself a snack to eat while I did my homework or sit in my room and draw until she woke.
Before I left home for art college, I expressed to Mom my concerns about her drinking. I feared it would be the death of her. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. “The day drinking kills me is the day pigs fly!”
In my first semester, the instructor assigned a project to create functional art. Inspired by my mother’s words, I crafted a giant kite shaped like a pig. The pig was canary pink, sprouted swan wings on its side and flashed a knowing smirk. Proud, I took my pig kite out to the park and gave it a test flight.
I held it aloft and my kite flitted about in a dizzying aerial ballet. It spun about like a sausage dervish at first. Then I got the hang of it and was able to hold it steadily and guide it in a simple waving pattern. That’s when I heard clapping and a resounding voice clamor, “Bravo!”
I turned to see who had spoken and saw an older gentleman approach me. He inquired about my kite. I told him I designed it. He was impressed, and explained that he was the owner of a toy manufacturing company and that he was looking for fresh minds to work in product development. He offered me a job with a yearly salary three times more than what Mom made. I accepted the position on the spot.
Ecstatic, I called up my friends and we went to the bar to celebrate my good fortune. I returned home late. I checked my voicemail; I had two messages. Both were from numbers I didn’t recognize.
The first one, I knew the man’s voice as soon as I heard it, although it had been 10 years since I last heard from him, I knew it was my dad. There were tears in his voice as he begged me to call him back; he wanted to explain his disappearance and attempt to make amends.
I couldn’t believe it. After a decade apart, Dad hadn’t forgotten about me. He wanted to return to my life. Could this day get any better?
I saved Dad’s message and listened to the next one. It was from a doctor, at the hospital back home. While I was out partying, Mother had died from severe and sudden kidney failure, brought on by years of heavy drinking.
I Am Sound
They said I could not exist here. That the space between planets, stars and other celestial bodies is a vacuum. They were wrong. I am a pulse. I vibrate. I can join with a speeding element; let it absorb me into its electron carapace.
What’s stopping me from snaring a passing particle; hitch a ride to another galaxy? The darkness of the universe is a fluid mass full of atoms with which I can mesh. I caress the curves of bits of dark matter; they love me back and carry me with them.
Take me. Take me to unreachable worlds. I hear there is a planet where it rains diamonds. I want to rat-ta-tat-tat against that wealth of precipitation.
I am a wave of energy searching for a drum. I strike a drum and become sound!
My beat was first kneaded from a drum in Nigeria. I jet-streamed over ocean waves to Brazil; bounced to Barbados; struck Florida at its toe; whipped through Georgia like a hurricane; rattled over to New York and Toronto before bounding up to the ionosphere. And then past it.
A comet carried me beyond the asteroid belt. I ping-ponged between asteroids the size of small moons; moving closer to Jupiter. Gravity from this gas behemoth flung me out of the solar system.
My rhythm hasn’t died. My song still plays. I continue to echo the love spoken from that lone drum. I carry my people’s voice and plea into the ears of their celestial ancestors. Whatever your drum beats, the rhythm resounds for eternity.
I am music. I am story. I am a pulse. I am vibration. All I need is a drum to strike to become sound.
The day had been colder than usual when he arrived on my doorstep. I was sitting in the living room reading Hemingway while drinking tea and could see him from out the front window. His body was so lengthy that it appeared misshapen. His dark grey sweatshirt hung loosely on his frame; the hood pulled up and tied closely to his head. His kept his head down as he wrung my doorbell, by which I was already walking to the door to receive him, albeit skeptically. I hadn’t seen him around the neighborhood; there wasn’t a kid as skinny as him on this block of two-car-garage houses. I thought he could be some beggar child, a waif straight from a Charles Dickens novel. I opened the door, against my better judgement, and the child lifted his head to greet me.
That’s when I noticed his eyes: twin bleak black holes on his face. They looked like the dark, lifeless beads used as eyes on stuffed toys. But his eyes weren’t lifeless; they were filled with a malevolent presence. I felt tendrils of fear and disgust emanate from him, and I nearly vomited on the doorknob. Who was this kid, and why did he make me feel so uncomfortable?
His eyes weren’t his only physical characteristics I found off-putting. His skin was pale and sickly looking—almost the color of a green traffic signal. He definitely wasn’t from my neighborhood. Where did he come from? And how did he get over the security gate and avoid the patrol guards?
Even if he terrified me, he was a kid. No older than fourteen by the look of him. Maybe he was in trouble? Perhaps he came here to visit a friend, but got lost or forgot to call his parents to tell them he was not at home. Whatever brought him to my doorstep, I had to find out if I could help him. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
I slammed the door in the child’s (?) face. In my panic, all the decades of proper home training I endured evaporated from my body. I don’t regret my actions. I had to be careful; I couldn’t risk opening my abode to a total stranger to come in and rob me—or worse.
“Hello. How can I help you?” I spoke loud enough so he could hear me on the door’s other side.
“I’m lost. Hungry. Please help.” His voice sounded like white noise, and I didn’t see his lips move as he talked.
“Sorry, I can’t help.” I did my best to keep my voice from shaking as the boy’s evil teddy bear eyes bore into me. “Try another house,” I added as I backed away. I immediately regretted saying that; I had put my friends and neighbors in jeopardy.
“Please help. Hungry. Lost.” The boy repeated this as if some sort of mantra. I did my best to ignore him and returned to my sitting chair, rejoining my conversation with A Farewell to Arms.
“Hungry. Please help. Lost.” The child droned on robotically, incessantly.
I turned my head to the window, hoping not to find him vandalizing my property or trampling through my peonies. But the eerie boy stood at the same spot on the porch, repeating that he was lost and hungry and needed help. It was rather pathetic. Maybe he was some foreign kid with a limited English vocabulary.
I clasped my hands over my ears and prayed the boy would go away. I blinked, and the boy’s visage was pressed against my window. His eyes bulged, his mouth opened, flashing two rows of needle-like teeth. He hissed at me, banged a hand against my window. I shut my eyes and curled into a ball in my reading chair, afraid he might burst through. I opened my eyes a split second later, and the boy had vanished.
I ran to the door, opened it and got onto my porch. I peered around the block as far as I could see from my vantage point. I wasn’t going to leave my porch searching for this child. I didn’t see him anywhere.
I returned to my chair and my book. I was ready to put that horrifying event behind me. Even Hemingway’s magnificent prose could not stifle the boy’s braying in my head. My hands shook. I dropped the book, placed my hands to my ears and slunk deeper into my chair. I wish I could have been enveloped completely within the soft Corinthian leather.
I stayed that way—eyes closed, breathing heavy—for some time; maybe half an hour. Eventually the boy’s voice faded away. It never left me entirely; on a lonely night I can still hear the boy calling, “lost, hungry, help” in my head. I tremble every time.
About the Author
A. Jarrell Hayes is the author of over a dozen books of fiction, fantasy and poetry (as A. J. Hayes). His work has appeared in over 20 publications online and in print. He designs t-shirts, buttons and other merchandise for writers & readers. For more info, visit his website at .
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