I first saw the orphan boy out of the corner of my eye. I mean, I’ve seen him lots of times before, but never this close. Sometimes I watch him weaving and darting through crowds in the park. Sometimes I see him standing quietly at a street corner near my school, as if he was waiting for me to head home. Sometimes I gape as I see him running carelessly down the highway, arms outstretched, feeling the cool night wind whipping his scrawny cheeks and his unkempt black hair.
I didn't really know anything about him, aside from this. And nobody does, I think. Everyone just assumed he was an orphan, because no parent in their right mind would let their kid wander around like that all day. Besides, no one has ever seen him talk to anyone, not even to other kids his age.
But today, he’s heading right for me as I sat reading at a bus stop bench. I'm not sure if I should greet him, or if I should just continue with my book. His gaunt frame, no more than 8 years old, bounced uncontrollably as he covered the last few feet. His red-and-white striped sleeveless shirt was smudged and two sizes too big. His black shorts had rough stitches and patches in several places. On his face was a smile that, for some reason, made my hair bristle.
“Hey, play with me!”
It was the first time I heard him talk. I closed the book, as he jumped up and down in front of me.
“Play with me!”
“I… don’t want to!” That was the farthest thing from how I thought our conversation would go!
Then at that, he lunged forward and grabbed my book. I froze as he effortlessly tore it away from my hands, and dashed away to the gathering dusk.
I tried to follow. The book was on loan from the city library, so I can’t afford to lose it! And it was as if the boy knew this, too. He glanced back at me with a wicked smile as he rounded the corner of the block. The rows of colorful stores and neat apartment fronts flashed by, as we both sped along the sidewalks. After about five minutes, I felt like our chase had taken us from one side of the city to the other.
Finally, my legs gave way and I tottered over to lean on the trunk of a nearby acacia. It seems the boy had led me to the far corner of the city park. Around us, families were rolling up their picnic mats and heading home, pursued by hawkers desperate to close the day with a little profit. As my chest heaved, I felt the tall, unkempt grass sending a mild itch up my calf. Several paces in front of me, the boy had also stopped.
“Hey, don’t stop yet. We’re almost there!”
“Almost… what?!”, I breathed through my pounding heartbeat. I tried so hard not to curse him at this point. And how the heck is he not even tired?
The orphan boy smiled, and pointed a finger. Behind him, about a hundred feet away, was a dilapidated chain link fence. A coiled length of barbed wire snaked along its top, and faded signs hung at regular intervals on its face. They simply read:
DANGER: TIME SHAFT. Government property. Trespassers will be prosecuted.
Beyond the fence were several rows of towering granite pillars. They stood like otherworldly giants, blocking the rays of the setting sun. The pillars supported a steeply spiraling concrete ramp, massive in scale and reaching up to the heavens, until it disappeared against the softly sailing clouds. On the lower end of this ramp was an opening in the ground, set against the green grass and brown earth. The opening led to another ramp, this time descending into the dark reaches of the earth.
Before I could utter another word, the boy took off like a bullet and dashed through an opening in the fence. On impulse, I followed suit.
Every nerve in my body was screaming for me to stop as I followed his steps. Every possible scenario of what will happen next — none of them good — flashed through my mind. I watched as my feet sped towards the gaping hole in the ground. For a second, I thought I saw a bright light flash from the hole. It looked for all the world like the midday sun, slightly dimmed as a fluffy white cloud eclipsed it. Was that... heaven? Still, my legs continued to move.
A few seconds later, my sneakers touched down on hard concrete. I had reached the ramp. But I lost my balance against the shock and the sudden slope, and gravity seized the chance to propel me forward.
In front of me, I can hear the boy’s shrill voice scream in joy and excitement.
When I realized what was happening, it was already too late.
Comments (0)See all