“No lie? It’ll make all my wishes come true?” the boy asked, turning the white stone over in his trembling hands. When he looked up again, the silver-haired man had vanished, leaving him alone in the darkening woods.
“Mister?” he called. Night sounds pressed in and panic wrapped its icy tentacles around his stiffening body. “Mister?” The boy dumped the chunk of marble into his duffel bag and snatched up his books. Hiding out in the woods had been a last resort—he’d really had no choice. He didn’t think the bully from school would chase him this far into the forest, but if he did—
A branch cracked. A frog chirruped. Something swished through the ferns, brushing his pant leg. The boy bolted, adrenaline carrying him out of the woods and into the unsettled night.
“Morning, Mom.” Daren Lloyd Jensen skidded across the dining room floor in his socks and plopped down at the breakfast table across from his little sister, Karen.
“You’re up early today, too, huh?” Daren’s mom removed a steaming pot from the stove and brought it to the table. She dumped a baseball-sized wad of oatmeal into his bowl. “Don’t tell me you’ve caught your sister’s insomnia.”
“Naw, I just couldn’t sleep anymore. I had a wicked cool dream last night.” He sprinkled a snowstorm of sugar over the pasty cereal. “Besides, I can’t wait for Show-n-Tell.”
His mother’s forehead crinkled. Her smile drooped. “You had another one of those dreams again? … You okay?”
Daren nodded, stabbing the oatmeal with a spoon.
“They aren’t real. You know that, right?”
“Because if you can’t tell the difference, then you’re staying home from school today. I don’t want to get another call from your principal—”
“No way, Mom. I’m not missing today’s Show-n-Tell.” Daren shook his head.
His mom tapped the side of the pot with her long fingernails. “Okay,” she finally said, “but mind your imagination today. Please?”
With a sigh she returned to the kitchen.
He didn’t mind the vivid dreams, but his parents and the folks at school considered them troublesome because he was notorious for mixing them up with reality. “Overactive imagination,” the school nurse had said. Regardless, Daren enjoyed the dreams—they gave him good Show-n-Tell material when he was in a pinch. Today, though, he was not in a pinch.
This morning he had something even better to show and tell, something real. And maybe, just maybe, the other kids in Mrs. Hoary’s third grade class would stop teasing him about his skinny legs and curly hair. Instead, they would show him some respect and listen to what he had to say. The silver-haired man had told him the stone would help.
But you must remember, he’d said as he handed Daren the chunk of marble. Try as you might, you cannot wish another person’s thoughts to be one with your own. Thoughts make the person, and stubborn thoughts lead to stubborn people. You must show them to change them.
Today he would show them for sure.
Something hit Daren in the forehead. He scowled. One of his sister’s oatmeal-covered raisins slip down his nose and dropped into his lap.
“Don’t get in trouble again,” Karen scolded. “‘Cuz when you’re rotten, you put Mom and Dad in a real bad mood.”
He flicked the raisin off his pants and made a face at his sister. The little snot ignored him. That is, until he slid an orange and white shoebox onto the table.
“What’s that?” she asked, straightening up.
Daren shrugged. “What’s it look like, stupid? It’s a shoebox.”
“But what’s in it?”
Karen squinted. “C’mon, you dork, tell me!”
Daren swept his eyes around the dining room and settled them back on his sister. “Promise not to tell Mom?”
She nodded vigorously and leaned in.
“Okay. It’s a cut-off human head I found rolling around in your closet—”
“Mom!” she bellowed. “Daren’s lying again!”
Daren displayed a half-chewed mouthful of oatmeal.
“Oh gross,” she yelled. “And he’s being—”
“Shut up,” he said. “Or I’ll turn you into a sightless, yellow Amazon frog. With zits.” His threat hushed his sister in mid-tattle; she closed her mouth with a pop. “You don’t want to be turned into a frog, do you? Especially a gnarly, yellow one.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Are you sure?”
“No,” she said, dropping her eyes. “Uh-uhn.”
Karen slid off her chair and shuffled into the kitchen. “I don’t feel too good, Mama,” she pouted.
Daren snickered. He sucked down the rest of the oatmeal and chased it with a big glass of orange juice. After grabbing his nifty Evel Knievel lunchbox from the fridge, he grabbed his duffel bag, scooped up the shoebox and zipped out the front door before his mom could smack him for not brushing his teeth. He was on his way to Show-n-Tell and nothing could stop his rise to fame, glory and acceptance.
Show-n-Tell—the high point of the day, and the only reason he came to school at all. Yep, if only they’d do away with reading, writing, social studies, math, science, and gym, the rest of the day would be perfect.
Daren tossed his duffel bag and lunch pail into the coat rack outside his homeroom. He tried the classroom door. Locked. “Dang it,” he said, voice echoing down the empty hallway. Mr. Williams, the janitor, hadn’t come around yet to open the rooms. He sat on the floor in front of the coat rack and rested the shoebox in his lap. It felt like a present waiting to be opened. He hooked a finger under the lid, pulled up—
“Hi, twerp,” boomed a voice from far above. It wasn’t God. No, it was just the opposite. Daren snapped the lid shut and clutched the box to his chest.
Two untied Keds, worn and frayed, stopped three feet away. Daren looked up. And up and up … past the sneakers … past the mustard-yellow corduroys with holes in the knees … past the faded blue T-shirt … past the thick neck … and up into the two cold, black eyes of Roy “Tree Trunk” Parker, East Meadows Elementary School’s resident bully.
“You know the rules,” the tormenter snarled. His lips tightened into a menacing grin. His right eyelid twitched once, twice. “Hand it over, twerp.”
A gurgle rose from Daren’s throat. He couldn’t move. A small group of kids stopped fifty feet down the hallway. They didn’t come any closer. They never did. He hated this daily ritual, hated himself for putting up with it and, above all, hated the shameful waste of human flesh towering over him, threatening to stomp him like an ant if he didn’t submit.
“Never mind,” Tree Trunk said, stretching out an arm the size of an Easter ham. “I’ll help myself.” He plucked Daren’s Evel Knievel lunch pail from the coat rack, flung it open and rooted through it like a hog sniffing for truffles.
“Egg salad again?” he snorted. “Tell your Mom you want liverwurst tomorrow. With brown mustard and a pickle.” He squished the plastic bag containing the sandwich into his pants pocket. “Got it, twerp?”
Daren didn’t answer.
“Didn’t you hear me, twerp?” Tree Trunk slammed Daren’s lunch pail against a coat hook, smashing a deep dent into Evel’s triumphant face.
The bully threw the misshapen lunchbox on the floor and kicked it down the hall. It slid past the growing crowd of students and banged into the wall behind them. “Liverwurst. With brown mustard and a pickle. Capiche?”
“Yes,” Daren squeaked. “I got it.”
“Good. Now what’s that?” Tree Trunk pointed to the shoebox. Daren squeezed it tighter.
“None of your business,” he muttered.
Tree Trunk winced. “Wrong-o, twerp,” he said, reaching for the box. “Everything’s my business around here.”
“No.” The word just spilled out. Daren’s bowels turned to liquid, his face ignited and his fingertips went numb. He stared into Tree Trunk’s face, fixing his gaze on the twitching right eye. Daren held his breath and made a wish. The weight inside the shoebox shifted, clunking to one side. Tree Trunk hesitated and his foul grimace shrank to an O of surprise. The bully stepped backward.
“No, no, no!” he cried. “I’ll kill you, Jensen. I’ll kill you!”
A gasp swept through the growing circle of classmates as Tree Trunk’s eye exploded into jackhammer convulsions. His look of surprise collapsed to horror, and his lungs bellowed a gut-wrenching scream. The bully stumbled, turned away from his prey, burst through the ringside crowd, and rumbled down the hall, crying—really crying.
The circle of students drifted apart with little more than a murmur of disbelief.
Yeah, believe it, Daren wanted to say. Believe it all. Despite the knot in his stomach and his trembling hands, he felt good. Great, in fact. Show-n-Tell would be excellent today. No doubt about that. He stood up just as Mr. Williams arrived at the door and unlocked it. Daren retrieved his smashed lunch pail, returned to his homeroom and sat down at his desk with the shoebox in his lap.
Copyright ©2015 by David C. Hughes