Continued from: Earworm: Part 18 — The Game
The tide of spectators leaving the game now flowed to the parking lot. William walked in the opposite direction, strolling past the high school, across the soccer field, past the track. He cut through the baseball diamond, kicking the rubber edge of the pitcher’s mound and running his fingers along the chain-link backstop. He then ducked into the woods that bordered the school’s property. Here, he felt protected. Supposedly, one of the paths in these woods, he wasn’t sure which path, led to his neighborhood. He was told to stay away from the thick woods further north. But these woods he now traveled in weren’t known for disappearances, like Parson’s Woods were, and so he decided that should he come to a diverge in direction, he’d simply do what Robert Frost suggested and hope for the best.
As he wandered along the path, he watched the leaves die their slow deaths. Some yellowing and blooming with scarlet blotches, others, the deep red of dried blood. A soft breeze rocked the bows, shaking leaves free to flutter to the ground, lost and forgotten. They grasped at William’s shoes, screaming pleas in rustling whispers as if begging him to save them. William’s thoughts wandered back to the football game with its celebrating fans, and he imagined sitting in the stands with them, cheering along with Hope’s cheers. But then his heart dropped as he imagined everyone stopping those cheers and turning to look at him, as if asking, Who the Hell’s this guy? And then the answering murmurs of, That’s the Dey boy.
But did it really matter if he was the Dey boy or not? He had escaped his scandal-ridden past while living in New Hampshire. And he was still a high school misfit there.
Why was it that people like Hope and Joel seemed to fit in everywhere, and William fit in nowhere?
William heard distant voices drifting on the wind. At first, William thought it was just the leaves’ rustling or the trees’ swaying, but then he realized that it was, in fact, two distinct voices, sounding dire and urgent.
“C’mon, men.” It was a child’s voice pretending to be the gruff voice of a man.
“Fall back. Fall back. We’ll never take them,” said a higher voice. The voice of someone pretending to yell by talking quieter.
The voices were followed by the fabricated sounds of war and death and dismemberment.
Out of curiosity, and judging there to be no danger from the youngness of the voices, William followed the sounds of vocally pronounced sword clashes and shield crashes.
“The ring. We must protect the ring,” the gruff voice called.
Through gaps between trees, William spotted the source of the voice, all the voices for that matter, for it was only one person. Among the trees was a boy of about twelve jumping and thrusting and slashing with a long, thin stick. He was petite in a girlish way, his hair so blond it appeared white. Every time he swung the stick, he vocally created a sound of metal striking metal, and then he’d thrust, making the sound of some pitiful creature meeting its demise.
“Kill the orcs.” the boy screamed, swinging the stick with fury and zeal until his eyes fell onto William.
The two stared at one another, the boy’s pale eyes regarding William as if he was an orc incarnate.
“What are you doing?” William said.
“N-n-n-no-nothing,” the boy said.
“Is it just you out here?” William said, glancing around the woods.
The boy’s eyes became uneasy, his body taking on the posture of a rabbit frozen between hiding and running away. “Y-ye-yes,” he said.
“But I heard someone else’s voice,” William said.
“No, th-th-that was j-j-just me,” the boy said, his eyes swimming in tears as he choked on the words.
“But the person I heard didn’t stutter,” William said.
The boy responded with a shrug—a practiced gesture, obviously intended to end conversations.
William said, “What are you playing, The Lord of the Rings?”
The boy nodded, still standing like a rabbit about to flee.
“You like Tolkien?” William said.
The boy responded with his practiced gesture, tears still welling in his eyes.
“Did you read the books, or just watch the movies?” William said.
The boy paused a moment, as if still contemplating whether or not to run away, but finally he stammered, “B-b-b-both.”
“Did you read all the books?” William said in an interrogating manner.
The boy nodded.
William said, “Even the Silmarillian?”
A smile broke onto the boy’s face as if William struck conversation oil, the boy’s obvious joy in the subject bubbling out of him. “Y-y-y-yeah,” he said.
“Who were you pretending to be, Aragorn?”
The boy shrugged. “I w-w-was all of th-them.”
“Well, not Gandolf the Grey,” William bellowed in a low, imposing voice, raising his arms and making rumbling, thunder noises. A childlike grin crossed his face, feeling foreign to him.
The boy’s smile broadened as he held up the stick, saying, “I, Aragorn, p-p-pledge my sword to y-y-you, Gandolf.”
William lowered his arms, his scowl returning like a hurricane after the eye. “I don’t play kid games for losers,” William said.
The boy winced as if an orc’s arrow found its mark, and he lowered his stick, swinging it at the fallen leaves.
William looked the boy up and down, saying, “You live around here?”
The boy glanced at William, distrust again in his eyes. “Y-yeah.”
William picked up a stick and, like the boy, he swung it at the leaves. “You come out here a lot?” he said, not raising his eyes from the leaves.
He sensed rather than saw the boy’s nod.
“You always play Lord of the Rings?”
The boy flinched his shoulders, not looking up from the leaves. “I p-p-play other things t-t-too.”
“Like what?” William leaned against a tree and watched a leaf float to the ground.
“St-st-star Wars and the E-e-ex Men.”
“You like comics?” William said, raising his eyebrows.
“I saw the m-m-movies.” The boy spit out the words as if they were the bitter pulp of fruit. “Most of the t-t-t-time, I m-m-m-make stuff up.”
“That’s what I do,” William said. “When I was your age,” he added defensively. “I used to make stuff up in the woods behind my old house.”
“New Hampshire,” William said, taking a hefty cut with his stick and exploding the leaves into a scattering flurry. “What’s your name?”
“D-D-David,” the boy said.
William took another swing at the ground and glanced at the different trees.
David watched William in an expectant manner, then said, “What’s your n-n…”
“Are you in high sc-sc-sc-school?”
“Do you p-p-p-pl-play sports?”
“Nah. I was gonna go out for football, but I didn’t feel like it,” William said. He took a swing at another pile of leaves, but missed them.
The boy nodded. A long, uncomfortable silence followed as the two boys glanced at the trees and leaves, and the sky peaking through the branches above. “Well, b-b-b-bye,” David said, offering a tentative wave and turning to walk away.
“What grade are you in?” William said.
The boy turned back, saying, “S-s-ixth.”
Another long silence followed.
“I’m g-g-g-g-onna go,” David said with another wave.
“See ya later,” William said with a casual wave of his own.
David turned and walked away, tapping the stick before him like a blind man using a cane. He glanced back once, and then continued on his way.
William tossed his own stick aside and continued home.
Continued in: Earworm: Part 20 — Not So Sweet Remembrances