“Fuck this, he’s the stupid one, he’s the useless one!”
Marco slammed the door, as a loud voice kept yelling unintelligible words, words that couldn’t be grasped, but whose sound could be understood by anyone, in any language.
As the distance grew and the voice faded, the boiling anger in his chest started to hurt him, betraying him, because he was keeping it in store for the bitter man back at the cottage, who clearly wanted him out of his life, but couldn’t bring himself to abandon him.
Marco believed this inability to act on his real feelings wasn’t a matter of decency, but plainly a fear of rejection, it was a small town and single parents were frowned upon, let alone one who abandons his teenage kid.
-“If he isn’t bold enough to leave, or kick me out, I will leave instead, I’ll find something, I’m old enough to make some money on my own.” He murmured as he hastened his pace and clenched his fists.
But he knew better than this, he was a good student with top grades, and he also had a very detailed plan for his life. Deep inside he knew this rejection, this constant reproach was his curse to bear, his price to pay. If he just managed to hold on for a couple more years he would go to college, miles away from the home that wasn’t a home any longer, but barely a shelter for the homeless; that is, himself.
But he walked, he used to walk. More and more, his weekends were becoming lonely walks, talking to himself and building fantasies. In these day dreams he became smarter than anyone else, he became wealthy and successful, he could see himself returning to town driving a car like no one in that miserable place has ever seen, and buying the biggest farms, just to let every crop wither, every animal die, and not a single soul would be able to do anything about it for he was now the owner and master of that stinky place.
-“Imagine the old man, making up excuses, ashamed, trying to explain why his son is such a disgrace, such a ruthless bastard”.
As time passed, the anger slowly evaporated, and when he was far from everything, he would let the pain take over and cry where no one could see him. He would just sit and cry by the creek because once he did, he felt like he was able to make it through another week.
Those tears, he thought, were like scales in his eyes that blinded him and wouldn’t let him see things for what they were; for it was only after dropping them on the grass that he would start noticing the small things he knew he would miss once he departed for his new life: the colorful birds chirping, singing and dancing like the ancient ancestors summoning the rain; the flowers enduring the wind, never defeated by it, and the wild hares who seemed to always be plotting schemes just like he did during his lonesome afternoons.
But this time, something was different. After the blinding tears came out, it felt like the air cleared and all that surrounded him, even nature’s ongoing celebration had stopped and became solemn, and silent. This made him feel uneasy, but also moved him into action, so he started walking further than usual.
After a few minutes, he approached the abandoned mine, a ghostly place that served as a natural boundary with the closest village; none of the other kids in town liked being there, but then again, it felt like a better place to be than back home.
Something red was moving, actually flapping, near the entrance to the mine; this wasn’t an animal or a plant, it was something entirely different, something that was put there by someone, something with a purpose. He felt like going back to the creek, but couldn’t ignore the mesmerizing object, agitated by the wind.
Taking a deep breath, the slender teen drew near and crouched to look closely: it was a flag. A flag! From every single possibility of what could be found in that place, he found a small, red flag playfully moving, planted in the middle of nowhere.
This time he really felt like running away; was he being observed? Was this a prank? A snare? He looked around him, his heart was pumping faster: not a single soul. Even nature seemed mute, expectant, holding its sounds and motions, waiting for him to dig.
He couldn’t run away, he’d made it all this way to make this discovery, he had to see it through. Besides, there was not much else to do and this was far more entertaining than doing his usual pencil drawings, sitting by the creek.
Using a piece of wood he found, he started digging; at first sight, it didn’t seem like the pole was too long, but to his surprise, it wasn’t easy to pull it out. As he dug deeper, he saw something resembling a piece of cardboard; he took it out and dusted it off, it had something written on it:
“How did you find me? Keep digging and ”
The sentence was incomplete. He could now hear his own heart pumping, he dug faster, as if all he wanted was for the unexpected trial to end, and leave that place to take cover in his usual thoughts and the drawings in his notebook.
Two feet deeper, he felt the pole start to loosen a bit.
-“Almost there, maybe 1 foot deeper”.
Then, a new piece of cardboard appeared:
“we can play a game, after all this digging it makes sense to have some fun. Hi, my “.
Again, the sentence was left unfinished.
He needed to stop to take a break; his fingernails were filthy as were his clothes, he wasn’t prepared for this amount of work, with nothing but a piece of wood, and his fingers were already injured. It didn’t matter, he was almost done.
He shivered at the thought that once he was able to remove the flag, a new piece of cardboard will complete the unfinished introduction.
But he wasn’t prepared, no one could have ever been prepared for what was at the other end of the pole: a human hand, a skeleton hand the size of a 10-year-old, was tightly gripping the pole. Marco fell on his back, as he pulled the whole thing out of the dirt.
-“What the a-actual fuck?
Is… is this…?”
It was. Inside the bony fist, there was another piece of cardboard, the final one (he expected):
“name’s Armand, I’m dead.
But I guess you figured that out already. This was “Capture the flag” when you’re ready to play “Tag” enter the mine. I promise if you play, I will tell you why you’re playing with a dead kid, how cool is that? Hi-five!”
As he read the last line, the hand opened.
Marco would have screamed with all his might, but what came out instead was a gasp; he couldn’t utter a sound. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t close his eyes to stop seeing, nor could he release his new friend’s hand. He couldn’t make sense of anything, he could barely begin moving his legs to try and stand up.
But in the midst of all those things he couldn’t do, there was only one very clear thought in his mind, one thing he could do, the very thing he couldn’t avoid:
“I need to get back home, bring the flashlight, and enter the mine”.