Precursor: A Short Story

Workday Challenge: Write a story in 40 minutes (aka the time it takes to encode this 30 minute video):

I was ten the first time that Marcus told me he was going to save the world when he grew up. Sitting up in the big elm tree in my dad’s backyard, Marcus told me he was going to help people because there was magic in him. He said he didn’t know what to do with it yet, but he could feel it, rolling around inside him like dried seeds inside a husk.

There was no tree house in that tree. My dad was a steelworker and was always too exhausted to build one, never got passed nailing a wobbly line of short wood planks into the trunk up to the crux, where the one wide trunk shot off into three smaller ones, smaller but still substantial. That crux was plenty big for Marcus and me, straddling the trunks and leaning back on our elbows, wrapping ourselves around the tree like it was our nest. Neither of us were very big at the time.

Marcus pulled a slender guppy-shaped leaf off a nearby twig, ripping it  with both hands into two elegant pieces like a sheet of paper. “Sal? Did you hear what I said? Sal, I’m gonna save the world! I know it now. I wasn’t sure before but now…now I know.” He placed the two halves of the leave on top of each other and ripped them again.

A piece of curling bark was jabbing into the back of my thigh. “How do you know it?”

Marcus spread his hands wide, letting what was now leaf confetti fall to the ground. “Because I saved Ms. Downer’s cat. It was coughing and hacking like crazy, and she was crying and going nuts and I went up to it and put a hand on it and it stopped coughing and just lied there for a second and then it go up and ran off like nothing had happened. It was dying and I saved it!”

My thigh was starting to go numb. I squirmed, prying at the offending bark. “That doesn’t mean anything, Marcus. Maybe it was just having a fit. It might have been fine anyway.”

Marcus furrowed his brow at me. His eyes darkened beyond their normal brown, almost to black. The bark under my thigh snaps.

Marcus pulled another leaf from the tree, this time using his fingernail as a scalpel. “I saved that cat. I don’t know how I did it, but I saved it. And when I grow up, I’m going to learn how to use it.” He presents his latest creation, a leaf stripped of all its leafiness but with it’s stem and vein system completely intact, a small flimsy skeleton.

The bark splintered, and now I can feel the shard that is left digging not just jabbing but digging into my thigh, possibly enough to draw blood. “Let’s go inside,” I said. I didn’t wait for his answer—as soon as my foot found a wobbly wooden step, I started to descend that tree. I was halfway down before I heard the rustling of Marcus finding his own footing.

My dad had left frozen pizza for dinner. We ate that in front of the TV, did our math homework, and then Marcus went home. I didn’t think about what he’d told me about the magic again…not until a few days later, when the news came that Mrs. Downer’s cat, apparently suffering from a sudden onset of uncontrollable hysteria, had run itself straight into the front wheel of a garbage truck.

cankerworm leaf

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