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Song For A Summer Night
© 2016 by Mark Dennis
- One -
In The Meadow After Dark
“I know you won’t let me down...”
Icarus Whistler was the prodigal son of sensible birds.
Icarus Whistler was a fool. Boog Barrow spoke to him with the oily, resonating voice of a radio announcer, all full of bass and control. He smiled, his threat implicit, holding the tip of a pearly claw against the blue feathers dressing Icarus’s over-inflated chest. There was a glint in the moonlight and Icarus found himself silently counting teeth. Boog turned his claw with a flick of the wrist, directing its point beneath the bird’s chin, so sharp that breathless Icarus never felt it pierce his skin, ever so slightly.
“That’s right, Boog, give ‘em a little prick!”
Algernon Fess urged him on, giddy with violent expectations. Thin and unkempt, Algernon Fess was a long-haired black-and-white, full of nasty habits, whose tangled fur was the sort human hands were loath to stroke.
“H-hey, fellas, there’s no need for the rough stuff,” said Icarus, rolling his eyes downward and wincing as Boog pressed with his claw and a widening, sinister grin.
“What’s a nice kid like you doing out so late, anyway?” Boog asked. “You really ought to be in bed.” His look softened to one of mock concern. “You don’t look so... good.” He retracted his claw and patted Icarus roughly on the head, then released him. Icarus’s head wobbled as he breathed again.
Boog turned and sauntered away, hips swaying as each foot found its place in front of the other. He was a shaggy gold tabby, a lion in miniature, full of a lion’s murderous ability. Algernon stood up to follow, raking a single claw slowly across his own throat for Icarus to see. Icarus rubbed his neck with a trembling wing, sighing relief and watching as the cats melted into the shadows surrounding the moonlit meadow. The wind blew. Tall grass hissed as it waved back and forth. There was a rumble of thunder in the distance. Icarus looked down.
There was blood on his wing tip.
“No, not like that,” Peter said.
Peter Phye was bored. Standing in his room amid his many toys, Peter watched as a rabbit stared dumbly at him from a shelf. “Sit like this,” he said. “And watch.”
Peter propped his rabbit again and stepped back slowly.
His room was cluttered with toys everywhere, so many in fact that he barely found room for himself. There were cars and trucks, and interlocking building blocks, and spacemen and army men, and books and clothing. Worse yet, there were even old drinking cups with residue dried inside them, some spawning life in the form of furry black mold.
And the bed was messy, too.
The rabbit’s head fell forward, followed by the rest of his dingy white fluff, and he toppled to the floor. Peter picked him up and flung him at the mirror on his dresser, the button of his stuffed-rabbit nose striking the glass with a brittle click.
And with all he had, Peter had nothing better to do.
He knelt at his window to look out, elbows propped upon the painted wood sill. He put his face against the screen and blew through his nose.
“I’m bored,” he said with a nasal sigh.
Sighs, his father had told him, for good or bad, are punctuation marks in the story of life, and that life is a story which any child -- including, and, yes assuredly, even a child like Peter Phye -- should be able to enjoy with relative ease, what with its prose structured in simple, declarative sentences. One need only find the way to enjoy it. But surely, Peter thought, that didn’t mean a child’s life should be boring all the time, and yet it seemed that lately too many a sentence was punctuated at that very sill, in the very way he had just done.
It might take time for Peter to grasp the full measure of his father’s metaphor.
Birds twittered outside. The sill was dirty from the weight of his elbows over the course of many sighs, as well as from the occasional rainfall that found its way inside. August was thunderstorm season in Michigan. Peter rested his face in his hands and watched the shadows darkening the shade of green on the leaves outside, some of which twisted in an easy breeze. The day had been hot, the air still warm as it blew in gently on him through the window. Peter breathed in deeply. It carried the smell of fresh mown grass.
Not much of a yard out there, really more a woodland, with green things growing all around. A forest with a pond began within twenty of Peter’s twelve-year-old paces of an old cement porch that eased the transition off the back of the house. The porch was worn on the edges and where traffic was heaviest, and Peter often passed time working to dislodge stones with sticks that always proved too soft for the job. Mrs. Barrow, the lady who lived across the meadow, had marbles imbedded in the cement alongside her driveway. They were ordinary marbles, like the kind Peter already had so many of, but their being locked in stone made Peter want hers very badly. It was a generous idea, of sorts, with her never having any children of her own to be amused by it. She let Peter gouge at hers with sticks from time to time, though he had hinted once toward the use of a screwdriver or chisel or some such implement, and to which was met with a straightforward “no.”
Peter stepped back from the window and looked into the mirror on his dresser. The rabbit was there. He tossed it to the floor. Peter Phye was there, in the mirror, an ordinary boy, youngish looking even for his youngish age, with dark hair to crown his head like a bowl. He pushed it back, away from his eyes, and smiled a toothy smile, like his rabbit might. ...Though it wouldn’t likely be smiling now, even if it could. Peter picked him up and brushed at him remorsefully, then set him on the bed. He looked again at the mirror. The Peter there had a round face and thick cheeks, and he puffed his chest and tried to look serious, to see himself as anything but what he was so used to seeing.
How very ordinary, he thought. He let the air out with a slow, deflating hiss. He always saw himself as a child and couldn’t seem to change that.
Light was growing faint inside. Evening was quietly bundling color. Peter turned again to the window. Amber and orange shone through the trees, pyre for another dying day, and no cares for the morning; it was summer vacation.
What to do? thought Peter, and that was truly among his only concerns for some time now.
A cricket began chirping from somewhere nearby.
“I hear you,” Peter said, and turned to find him.
Peter dropped to his hands and knees.
A little louder now. There were plenty of places to hide. Peter groped in the waning daylight, and soon the entire woodland was alive with song, its many different melodies pouring in through the open window: buzzes and hums, music Peter had noticed before but never really heard. More than music, it was a symphony, held together by an undertone of chirps, and a solitary bullfrog, which went, gonk, gonk, gonk.
There was a rustle. A bird landed in the bush outside. Peter was too busy moving toys to notice. He felt around in near darkness under his dresser, finding both familiar and unfamiliar things. He hadn’t been bothering to look at all the things he felt, which was actually a bad way to conduct a search.
He figured he’d know a cricket when he felt one.
The bird in the bush outside watched for a second or two, then let out with a quirky, quick song of its own...
It was loud, being so close, and surprised Peter, who bumped his head on a drawer that was sticking out and had something odd snap between his fingers. There was the flutter of wings. Peter rubbed his head.
There was silence.
END OF EXCERPT