OF FISH AND PARENTS
Jonah hardly touched his cereal the next morning. He just sat there and stared at it, almost willing it to start performing synchronized acrobatics in the milk. Maybe, if he stared just a little harder. . .
“Last night still gotcha down?” his mom said, sitting down next to him.
Jonah just nodded. Reaching over, Jacqueline wrapped her arm around his shoulders.
“Your father loves you,” she said. “Very, very much. You know that, right?”
Jonah nodded again. He sat in silence a moment longer, and then he said, “Why do you guys not want me to play with my friends anymore?”
“Lots of parents tell their sons that they can’t play with a particular person anymore,” Jacqueline replied. “Sometimes it’s because the person they’re playing with is a troublemaker. Or getting into drugs. Or introducing him to the wrong crowd. And sometimes it’s because his friends aren’t real.”
“How do you know they’re not real?” Jonah asked. “They seem real to me. Why does no one believe me?”
“Because facts are different from fairy tales,” Jacqueline said. “And the fact is, salmon don’t live in puddles.”
Jonah sighed. “Do I really have to stop talking to him? To all of them?”
His mom patted Jonah’s shoulder. “It’s for the best, Love. I promise you.”
. . .
Jonah walked out between the puddles and plopped down at the edge of Stuart’s. Stuart bobbed his head out of the water and gave him the salmon equivalent of a genial smile.
“Jonah!” Stuart exclaimed. “What a pleasant surprise! How are you this morning?”
“Not too good, Stuart,” Jonah said. “I don’t think I can come see you anymore. My parents don’t think you’re real, and they were really angry when I told them about you. They say I need to play more with other boys. So I guess I mainly came to say goodbye.”
“Oh,” Stuart said, the joy in his voice draining like water down a tub. “Well, thank you for telling me, Jonah. I must say, I’m sorry our friendship is being put to an end before it had a chance to begin, but it is very important for you to obey your parents. How long can you stay?”
“I dunno,” Jonah said, shrugging. “I guess I should go play sports or something.”
“All right. Thank you once more for your candor, Jonah. Perhaps we will meet again in the future.”
“I s’pose I’ll go then,” Jonah said. “Bye, Stuart. I’m sorry I won’t be able to help you get rid of the monster in the puddle with you. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you, too, Jonah,” Stuart said. “It was a pleasure to know you, even if our time was brief. Goodbye.”
Jonah nodded, stood, and walked slowly away, his gaze on the ground and his shoulders sagged. As he reached the back door he turned and looked once more out at the puddles. Then, sighing, he disappeared into the house.
. . .
The day had crawled by like a slow, sluggish, sad sloth. Jonah had fitfully tossed and turned the afternoon away, throwing himself on the couch, then in front of the TV, then up to his room. At one point, because he had nothing else to do, Jonah listened in on a phone conversation his mom was having.
“He really is trying, Wayland,” Jacqueline said. “I’m very proud of him. Yes, I think that would be a nice treat, if we can afford it. Mmhmm. You know, that rainstorm really did some damage in the backyard. We might want to take a look at it when you get home tonight. It’s a mess. Oh, really? Wonderful! I’ll tell Jonah. All right. Love you. Talk to you soon.”
Jacqueline set the phone down, and yelled, “Jonah! Your father’s coming home early tonight! We’re going to go out for dinner!”
Thinking quickly, Jonah tiptoed back to the living room so that it didn’t sound like he had been listening in.
“Jonah! Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, Mom!” Jonah yelled, plopping down on the couch. “Okay!”
Jonah picked up a book, turned it over in his hands, and then opened the cover. He sighed. Then he tossed the book back down on the couch. “I’m going to go play outside,” Jonah shouted.
“Well, be back before five! We don’t want to make your father come home early for nothing! And stay out of the back yard! It’s a disaster!”
“Okay,” Jonah said. Then he tugged on his shoes and a lightweight coat and trudged out the front door.
. . .
Jonah turned right out of his driveway and meandered down the street. He kicked at fallen branches and stomped through mud puddles. The tall evergreens swayed and whistled around him as the wind whipped their branches into frenzy. Not all of the activity in the trees was caused by the breeze, though.
“Hi, Calisto,” Jonah said as the harpy landed on his neighbor’s lawn off to his right.
“Good day, Jonah,” Calisto replied, her wide, muscular wings flexing as her talons dug into the grass and soil. Her beautiful face, framed in wavy black hair, smiled to reveal glittering, jagged row upon row of teeth. “Where do you head on this fine afternoon? Fishing? Taking care of the local bully problem?”
“I can’t talk to you anymore,” Jonah said, his head sinking. “I’m sorry.”
“Whatever do you mean?” Calisto said. “You speak to me right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Jonah said. “I can’t.” Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he hunched his shoulders and walked on.
“Jonah?” Calisto said. Jonah didn’t look back.
. . .
Finally, in the distance across the park, Jonah could see the sports field coming into view. Jonah sighed. Well, here he was. Maybe now he’d be a normal kid and make his dad proud for once. Yippee.
Jonah watched the baseball game through the wire fence as he approached, his heart dragging in the dead grass and dirt with his feet. He had to try this. For his parents. Walking around the chain link and silver poles, Jonah sat on a cold bleacher and watched some more.
They wouldn’t want him. He knew that, deep in is gut. And he didn’t really want them, either. So, after he had sat there for five minutes, he was shocked to hear a boy call “Hey, kid! We’re short one! You wanna play?”
“Um, uh, I guess I could,” Jonah said.
“Can you catch good?” another of the boys said.
“Sure, I suppose.”
“Okay. You’re the third baseman.”
Standing, Jonah jerkily made his way over to the third base. Huh. He hadn’t expected this.
“What’s your name, kid?” the first boy said.
“I’m Robby. It’s good to meet you, Jonah.”
In no time Jonah was getting good. And he was having fun. He played until he was bone-aching exhausted, and then he played more. The other boys seemed tireless, and more than happy to keep going. Furthermore, despite his initial feelings, Jonah didn’t think they were just pretending to be nice to him. They really wanted to be his friends. Jonah was. . . happy.
Skidding around the bases, Jonah touched home plate again.
“Yes!” he cried. “Score!”
“Way to go, Jonah!” said Jake, the second boy.
“Dangit!” Eric, a boy from the other team, said with a laugh. “I almost had you that time!”
Jonah laughed, too. “Sheesh!” Wiping his forehead with the back of his hand, he swallowed down air in deep gulps. “I think I’m going to sit out a while, guys. I’m exhausted.”
“Okay,” Robby said. “Go for it.”
Jonah slunk over to the bleachers and collapsed on the lowest one. Too tired to move, he watched his new friends continue to play nonstop around and around the bases.
“Hey, guys?” Jonah said. “What time is it?”
Robby looked at his watch while running to third base. “Six-thirty!”
Jonah’s eyes lunged halfway out of his skull. “Oh man! Are you serious? We’ve been playing that long? I have to get home! My parents are going to be furious!”
“Don’t worry about it, Jonah,” Jake said, warming up for his swing. “Your parents aren’t there, anyway.”
Jonah frowned. “What do you mean?”
“They went out to see the puddles,” Robby said. “But then they stepped into a deep one on accident. Now the demon has them.”
“WHAT?” Jonah screamed, lunging aright. “What demon?”
“The one that was in the puddle with Stuart. Hey, relax, Jonah. There’s nothing you can do now. Just stay and keep playing with us.”
“NO!” Jonah cried. Turning, he ran from the baseball field as quickly as his legs would take him, his gaze wild, his blood turning to sleet in his veins.
“It was nice to meet you, Jonah!” Jake said, his voice growing faint. Jonah dared a glance back, and saw that the boys were all fading out of existence, becoming vapors, wisps, and then nothing. Choking back a moan, he tried to force the tears to stay in his eyes.
Jonah tore up street after street, fire singing his lungs and needles stitching his sides. Finally he saw his house sprawled in the distance. It was dark. Dead. NO!
Bursting through his front door, Jonah cried out at the top of his lungs. “MOM! DAD!” There was no answer. Running through the house, Jonah opened the backdoor and rushed out into his backyard. Skirting the edges of the puddles, he made his way toward the center of the yard.
“STUART!” he said. “Stuart, where are you?”
There was something lying on the path between the puddles up ahead. It spasmed sporadically, its tail lurching into the air before flopping back down to the earth. Jonah fell to his knees beside the dying salmon.
“Stuart! Stuart, what’s going on?” he said, touching Stuart’s rainbow-silver scales.
“Help. . . Jonah. . .” Stuart gasped. “Water. . .”
Grabbing Stuart up in his arms, Jonah tensed to throw him back into his puddle.
“No!” Stuart said. “N-not there.”
“Where?” Jonah said, whipping his head left and right.
“Not. . . a. . . puddle.”
“Okay, Stuart,” Jonah said, turning towards the house. “Don’t worry. I’ll fix you.” Running inside, Jonah headed straight for the nearest bathroom.
That’s it for this week! Let me know what you think so far. I’d love to hear your comments. And, if you do like it, be sure to share it so others can get hooked! =)