“Morrow restores part of his tower!” Sean said.
“He can’t do that.”
“Yes, he can!”
The towers clashed and broke. The rubble was lifted by each sorcerer’s magic and flung at the remaining bits of his opponent’s tower. Morrow’s foundation crumbled. His tower was smaller than Elden’s.
Elden wanted to help Morrow, but Elden also wanted to protect the people he loved. He was unsure of what exactly had happened, but he knew revenge was wrong. Elden was also conflicted. Had their roles been reversed, Elden wasn’t sure he would be so different.
Elden was my sorcerer. He fought for the good of the realm. Sean’s sorcerer was named Morrow, a wicked man in need of help. He had seen pain more than Elden could ever understand. An unknown attacker had tried to take Morrow’s life. The assassin escaped, only succeeding in blinding Morrow in one of his eyes. Morrow’s study of magical arts was to return his sight to gain the revenge he craved. The assassin had been close to Morrow. That much, Elden was sure of.
Our sorcerers summoned Mega Block towers that burst from the ground and flew, circling each other, a tornado of destruction that no one could get through. The towers clashed. In this magical realm, this wasn’t uncommon. It’s carpeted plains and thundering mountains of waiting chairs had been plagued by evil before but was always thwarted by those who stood in the name of goodness.
Morrow’s magic picked up a piece of rubble and threw it particularly hard, so that it bounced off the wall of the tornado, cracking against the waiting room wall and leaving a dent.
“Hey!” Sean’s dad said. “Hey, what are you guys doing? Behave or I’ll –” His eyes drifted to the dent in the wall. “Aw, shit. That’s it. Where the hell you think you’re going?”
Sean tried to duck out of the way like our cat did when it didn’t want to be picked up, but his dad was faster. I pretended not to see and started to put the Mega Blocks away. Something cracked against the floor. It sounded like when the Mega Block had hit the wall. Sean came over and helped after his dad was done. I picked up more than Sean did because he was moving slowly.
Eventually, Sean’s mom came out, and Sean’s dad hugged her, which was nice. I liked that their hugging took all the anger out of Sean’s dad. But on the way back to their house, his dad said he was going to take me home instead of letting me stay the night. Sean argued with him, but I didn’t say anything, hoping it would look like I wanted to be polite and not talk back to his parents.
I didn’t know what was wrong with Sean’s mom. Only that it was serious. And Sean wanted me to spend the night at his house. I didn’t want to. When I stepped into that house, I felt like I was walking in on something that only his parents should know, like I didn’t belong somehow.
The next week, Sean asked me to stay over again. He always wanted me to stay at his place. I had more stuff: Legos, video games, cable, HBO. Except I never invited Sean to stay over. Every time I thought about it, I didn’t, because I thought that somehow what was wrong with his house would get into mine.
“Have you talked to your parents?” he asked as we walked toward our separating place: a dirt lot near the lumber yard where I turned toward the houses with actual lawns and trim around the windows and Sean made for the trailer park over on Third street.
“Not yet.” I was still toying with the idea of telling Sean my parents wouldn’t let me stay at his house that weekend.
“Are you going to talk to them about it when you get home?”
“Yeah, I’ll see what they say.”
“I can’t believe my dad didn’t let you stay last weekend.”
“Yeah, it was a bunch of bullshit.”
I flashed a glance at Sean. “Bunch of bullshit” was my new favorite phrase. I used it every chance I got, and I liked seeing the reactions of people. I liked Sean’s reaction in particular. For someone whose dad swore as much as he did, Sean sure didn’t seem eager to start.
“You shouldn’t say that,” he said.
He must have been feeling particularly virtuous that day.
Up ahead, a bird’s nest lay at the base of a tree. It was still in one piece, a hollow bowl of twigs, dirt and small scraps of paper. Inside the nest was a small blue egg, perhaps the size of a gumdrop. I walked ahead of Sean, who was still talking about his dad and picked it up.
Sean’s footsteps followed me off the sidewalk. The soft thud of steps ended uncomfortably close behind me. When he reached over my shoulder, I dipped away.
“What’s that?” said Sean.
“It’s a bird egg,” I said as if it were obvious. Which it was.
“Let me see.”
“Don’t break it,” I said, holding it out.
He snatched it and dashed toward home. I was on his heels in a matter of moments.
“What are you doing?” I asked, nearly running beside him.
“I’m taking it home,” he said.
“The hell you are.”
He stopped and looked over his shoulder at me.
“Why not?” he said. “I found it.”
“That’s a bunch of . . . .” but I stopped. I held my hand out. “Let me see it again real quick.”
Sean wasn’t the brightest. He held the egg out almost on instinct.
I pulled the same move he had, snatching the egg and power walking toward the separating place. It was only a couple blocks past the highway.
“Hey,” Sean said. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’ve got a heat lamp at home for the egg, and you don’t,” I said, “You can come over and see it anytime.”
I thought he might be happy I invited him over.
The highway ran through the middle of town. Cars passed by on both sides of the road. I stopped to look both ways and felt Sean close behind me again. I turned my back to the traffic.
“I found that egg,” Sean said.
“That’s a bunch of bullshit. I saw it first. You didn’t do shit.” I was mad, but I found the new swear phrase enticing. I filed away didn’t do shit for later use.
Sean winced at the swears. His face was red. The traffic zoomed behind me. The egg cradled in a gentle fist behind my back, like a rock I could use to defend myself.
“But I want it.”
I looked at him. “Sorry, but no.”
Sean had a way of making me mad at him while also making me feel bad for him like he could never catch a break and that was why he acted the way he did.
He threw up his hands, and I braced myself, closing my eyes, praying there wasn’t a car coming.
Traffic whirred behind me. Blood thumped in my ears.
When I opened my eyes, Sean wasn’t near me. His arms were curled like a strong man showing off his muscles. His hands were clenched into fists. He lifted his leg and stomped on the sidewalk.
I looked behind me, scared. I wasn’t sure what to do. Sean had gotten into moods before, like when he’d thrown the Mega Blocks too hard the week before because he was losing another game–but not like this. There wasn’t any traffic, and I could cross easily. With one last glance at Sean, who lifted his foot and brought it down on-
“Hey,” I said, readjusting my balance to walk back to him.
Sean ground his foot against the crack in the cement where an anthill had been. Small black ants ran around his foot in confused panic as Sean twisted his shoe, tearing their home apart.
Sean looked up. “What, Wayne?”
“Stop it. Those ants didn’t do anything.”
“Then give me the egg.”
Sean’s foot rose again. I looked at the egg in my hand. A hairline crack ran down the side that I hadn’t noticed before. Was it about to hatch in my hand? I waited, listening to Sean grind his foot into another anthill. It didn’t hatch, and I started to wonder…
“You cracked it,” I said. A car flew by behind me. Its slipstream made my eyes water.
Sean’s foot burst up over another unsuspecting ant population.
“Stop!” I shouted.
There was a moment’s hesitation before his foot rose even higher and dug the anthill into oblivion.
“I said stop!”
Sean flinched away from me. I felt sorry for him. Here he was destroying ant hills because it was all he could do. Because I wouldn’t give him the egg.
“Are you going to give me the egg?” he said.
“Why would I?”
Sean searched for another ant hill.
“Don’t,” I said.
I realized I was standing on top of one of the hills he smashed. Crazed ants ran around my foot. I imagined them gazing up at me and thinking that I had done it. They shouted things up at me. You monster! What did we do?
Sean was staring at me. I wasn’t sure at first why he was blurry or when I had started crying.
“Here,” I said, holding out the egg.
Sean hesitated as if I was the one who couldn’t be trusted to act normal.
He walked forward and held out his palm, and I set the egg in it, turning it so that the crack didn’t show.
Sean smiled at me. “Thanks, Wayne. I’ll take good care of it. I’ve got a desk lamp at home that will work. Maybe when you come over tonight, we can get stuff set up for it.”
“Yeah,” I said, turning back toward the road. We waited for a semi to pass, its draft so fierce, it shook me hard enough I felt something crack inside. Sean was incapable of taking care of anything, and I was. It wasn’t fair.
We crossed the street, walking side by side in silence until we came to the separating place.
“Don’t forget to ask your parents about tonight,” Sean said.
I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t see Sean that weekend. I avoided him at school which worked surprisingly well. I stayed to talk to the teacher for a while each day so Sean would start walking home before I did.
Weeks later, I couldn’t avoid him anymore. We walked home together one last time, and at our separating place, I asked Sean about the egg.
I wanted to hurt him. I wanted to go to school and tell everyone about what I saw in the hospital. I wanted to tell everyone what Sean’s dad did to him, how pathetic it made him. I imagined standing up in the cafeteria, in front of everyone and screaming so they could hear about the life Sean had, about the person he was. I wanted to hurt him more than I wanted anything.
But all I did was turn around and walk away.
Cody Chesmore is a recent graduate of the M.A. program in English at the University of Northern Iowa. He currently resides in New Hampton, IA, with his cat, whom he is rather upset with as she can neither read nor edit his work.