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Thunder Pie | Freeborn Man

Novella / Part 1

The boy opened his eyes to the bright streaky sun and closed them quick again. Birds were singing in the treetops and bugs were buzzing his face. In these woods near a mostly dry creek, a crow guard sat watching the boy from its perch above everything in a dead oak. The child was an unknown, his face not registering in the long line of memory the bird possessed. The crow guard focused its blank gaze into the boy’s eyes, attempting to draw forward any sign of who he was or where he’d come from, but it was no use. There was no recollection at all. No face matches to a distant cousin. No recognition of some long past smile. The bird watched as the boy sighed and laid flat down there in a slash of green. His eyes remained closed. His chest rose and settled in slight display, each of his breaths a solid witness confirming his life.

His body, to the crow in the tree, appeared reasonably stout. He was thickish and not pale. He didn’t appear wounded or sick. The bird tilted its head slightly to the left, towards the setting sun hill. In its black reflective eyes there was a master’s painting of a child sprawled out like this one was, a Renaissance rendering of a contented lad and the summer unfolding. Timelessness abounds with the forest unstirred by breeze. Soon, another crow appeared upon the branch beside the watcher. It too cocked its head toward the west, a kind of homage to the mystery before them both. The sun, of course, was revered, and because of that, as well as because of many other interesting things, the sinking sun’s path was always, in the mind’s of crows, to be noted.

Both birds were perfectly balanced. Peering at this creature down in the wildflowers near a tangle of vine, it was after some time that the boy opened his eyes again, squinting tightly, so that he might keep the hard light at bay.

Without any sign or warning, the boy came to life.

“Splahhhhh!” he hollered, his lips spitting into the sky as he wiped his mouth with the side of his hand. He was sat up now, leaning back on his other arm.

“Dreadful bad! Oh awful dreadful bastards!” he cried. “Rotten piss bugs!”

The crows perked up, grew even more curious.

“Pthhhhck!” The boy hummed his lips to rid them of the insect that had been trying to get in his mouth. “Be damned! Burn in hell you infested demons!”

All singing birds fell silent now. The whole world seemed suddenly interested in what was unfolding here in this little woods off the corner of a farmer’s field. Here in the country, the presence of this stranger child was being noted. As such, word spread as word does and before long shy rabbits carried the message to nosy squirrels. There’s a boy child in the way of the gulch.

Groggy deer bedded in thickets were stirred up by the wave of gossip. Excitement rolled with the pace of fire and before long, every groundhog and raccoon within a mile in any direction was being told about the boy over in the gulch farm woods. An old woman put a hot pie on her windowsill just as a red fox tore through her barn, demanding to the chickens that they pay attention to this news at hand. Dogs were howling and baying and weeping to be set free upon the land. They stretched their ropes if they were in them. If they were loose, they set out for the place they’d been told of.

Long down the ridge, along the road, the dust of the billionth summer day in the history of the world was being kicked up into the sky by something massive and moving. A murky cloud rose like smoke from fire. Below it on the ground, an army was coming. The boy was expecting them but the rest were not. The crows moved their eyes from the boy on the ground to the distant dust cloud and then back to the child again.

The boy was wiping his face now with an open palm. He licked at his lips, purposefully, as if he was cleaning them some more, and then, in one thrusting action, he rose to his feet and began to stretch out his arms by reaching them skyward.

In the distance, the faintest sounds were becoming true. A far off singing, a barely perceptible river’s roar, slight alarm lit the boy’s eyes when he noticed it. He scratched the back of his neck which was red with sun and welted by mosquito bites. Another sigh and he spoke one last time to the forest, to the the woods, to these couple of birds, some might say. Or maybe it was to the distant murmur of his own unknown legend: bustling in the ditches by the lanes: earthy channels where the unseemliest muskrats moved freely, untested, unseen, at once, towards the yawps of the crows and all that they meant.

“I’m moving on!,” the boy yelled.

“You seen me, yes, but now you’ll see me no more, you mad old backwood fools!”

At that moment, a turkey stepped up out of the creek bed as if summoned by the longing of the child’s speak.

“I see you old turkey!,” the boy exclaimed, laughter spreading through his face. “I see you trying to come away with me, but it’s no use.” He giggled. “You tough old hen.”

He slapped his side then as the sun piped down into the woods/ falling cosmically through slats in the treetops/ the whispering light/ this barely conscious sense of earth whipping around the sun.

“Dumb old turkey bird,” the boy spoke to no one. “I won’t take no turkey friend along with me where I’m headed.”

The tree crows’ eyes were so dark then, so very fixed upon the boy.

The boy took half an apple out of his pants pocket, licked it slowly with his tongue, and carefully rolled it towards the turkey in the place she stood a few yards away. The child was beaming, two deep dimples showing. His hair was mousy string and he flung it’s length out of his eyes so that he could gauge the scene a bit better.

“I’m going to fight in the war,” the boy boasted, not shyly.

“No you’re not,” the turkey replied to him, flatly, with a matronly tone.

The boy stood grinning at the bird’s sleek bronze figure a moment, his face flush with genuine wonder. He shook his head in mock disbelief. He put his hands on his hips and he tipped his head to the west side of the land. It appeared for an instant or two, that this boy was actually quite old, but then time passed and he was a boy once more.

“Oh yes I am. I am indeed, Old Turk,” the boy smiled.

The turkey scratched the leaves in front of her with her foot, looked away.

“Off to fight in the big bad battles,” he said.

His eyes gravitated towards the sunny treetops.

“And you’ll be talking about me forever.”

The turkey ignored the boy.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattling around his noggin.