Short Story 8

Playing Possum



A boy sat in a sycamore tree staring down at the roots. He seemed to have no proclivity toward his position and generally possessed no physical attributes of distress or interest for how he came to be so high up. The sycamore tree was quite old and grew by itself at the top of a hill in the center of a wide valley. About two miles from this location there was a town more rural in nature and this town was the type to always have a level of cloud cover.


Not many people came up to the sycamore tree and even fewer noticed the boy, despite the fact that he had been sitting in it since it had been a sapling. Though he himself hadn’t changed, over the years the tree had done its best to grow around, beneath, and above him. That was the beauty of trees they weren’t often fettered by societal expectations of height and distance, though occasionally they were confined in cement or chopped down.


The boy and the sycamore tree stood, or sat in the boy’s case, peacefully atop the hill watching the town, the people, and the gentle growth of the world around them. It wasn’t difficult, and there were times where it was quite lovely, though no one would know it save the boy and the tree. Life moved on around them and neither the tree nor the boy took much notice.


One day a young girl traveled up from the town, she was running away from home. For what reason she would never say, for she knew very well it was unjustified. The sun was fading that early summer night and having walked two miles up the hill outside of town she grew tired of continuing forward, not having a thought of where the end of the road would be and took a seat at the bottom of the sycamore tree.


The hill was remote and lonely. No one owned the land as far as anyone was aware and no one really had a reason to come out this way. So, it was quite shocking for the girl when all at once she heard a boy’s voice say, “It’s late.”


Throwing herself away from the tree she looked up at him in horror, “Who are you?”


“No one really, and you?” He was calmly kicking his feet against a thick branch.


“That’s none of your business.” She scrambled to her feet grabbing her bag.


“Suit yourself.”


Hesitating, she glanced around the tree noticing no low branches or obvious foot holds, “Hey, how did you get up there?”


“Why’d you want to know?”


“Well, cause I thought I’d climb up.”


“That impossible.”


“Impossible! If it’s so impossible, then how’d you get up there?”


“The tree grew around me.”


“That’s a big fat lie.”


“Not at all.”


There was a moment of tension between the two, though only on her side really, the boy in the sycamore tree didn’t care. That was his practice, not caring, and he was good at it. He didn’t care about much.


She plopped on the ground when she realized there was nothing left to gain in continuing to stand, irritably playing with the latch on her backpack. The boy didn’t appear to much notice she could have stood on her head, and he wouldn’t have been impressed.


“You said it was getting dark.” She said at last.


“So, I did.”


“Well, don’t you have to go home?”


“I am home, I live in this tree.”


“Really then what do you eat?”


“I don’t eat.”


“I bet you don’t sleep or drink either.”


“I don’t.”


“You are full of lies aren’t you.”


“Why would I lie about where my home is? That sounds stupid.”


In a huff she turned away from him gazing back down the hill across the valley, to where the town began to glow. He father would be home soon. Her mother had gone to the city to visit her aunt, the only person who probably knew she was gone at this point was her older brother.


“So, why’d you leave?”


She glanced back at the boy, he wasn’t looking at her, but was staring beyond to the town.


“Because.”


“Because is an interesting reason, you should use that whenever you try to explain to someone how you became homeless. It might sound better though if you had no teeth.”


“Coming from a boy who lives in a tree, that’s rich.”


“Like chocolate cake I suppose.”


“How do you know chocolate cake is rich? According to you, you don’t eat.”


“There are somethings you just know. It is called intuition or maybe more so common sense.”


This last statement she didn’t know how to respond to. The truth was she and her brother had gotten into a terrible argument over something silly. She was hoping that running away would repay his unkindness, after all he had told her to get lost. When their father got home, she was sure he would be in ample trouble.


“It must be cold up there.”


“Not at all.”


She scooped her legs close to her body, a breeze passing over the hill running up the tree.


“You didn’t feel that at all?”


“Nope.”


“I don’t believe you.”


“It doesn’t matter if you do.”


She began to consider the situation as the world darkened and the wind grew chill. The game she was playing against her brother began to appear harsh and cruel. He had to be worried himself right now. Not only for his hide but for what had happened to her. Where she had run off to.


“Do you have a family?”


“The sycamore tree is my family.”


“That’s not a family.”


The boy shrugged.


“I have a mom, dad, and brother. My mom went to visit her sister, but my dad and brother are still here.” She began to pull at the grass growing tall around the base of the tree, “My auntie had a baby and my mom thought she would go down and help for a few days. She didn’t take me with her.” Tossing the grass, she had torn to shreds she tucked her arms around her legs, “My brother says it’s because I am still too little not to get under foot. Well won’t he feel silly when I never get under foot again, and it’s all his fault.”


“How is it his fault?”


“Because he made me run away.”


“Did he push you out your house?”


“No.”


“Did he tell you to leave?”


“Not in so many words.”


“Did he pack your things?”


“Well, no.”


“Then it sounds like it’s your fault.”


“What do you know?”


“Only what you told me. So far it seems like you got your feelings hurt and thought you would play a cruel game on your brother to get him in trouble and in that way get back at him.”


“What about what he did? What about what he said? I bet you didn’t think of that.”


“It’s one thing to get in trouble because of something you did, it’s a whole other thing to get in trouble because of something you didn’t do.”


“Didn’t he, do it? Would I be here right now if he didn’t? He probably doesn’t even care that I’m gone.”


“You would think so.”


“Wanda!”


A voice echoed up the hill before she could reply to the boy, it was huffy and out of breath. She stood staring down at the figure of her brother. He paused at the summit holding his side.


“Do you know how long I’ve been looking for you?”


“I don’t care.”


“Come on.”


“No, I don’t want to listen to you anymore.” She went to use the sycamore as a barrier between them.


“I’m sorry okay,” She stopped, “I was irritated, and I took it out on you,” He was standing composed, “It was a jerk thing to do, and I regret it. Will you forgive me and come back, please.”


“You’re only saying that, so dad won’t get mad.”


“Sure, that’s part of it, but I also don’t like you being mad at me in general. And I don’t like the idea of you running around by yourself. Forgive me, Wand, I’m sorry.”


The boy looked between the two witnessing a scene he had seen hundreds of times, some ending well, some ending poorly.


“You’re really sorry?”


“Very.”


“And you don’t want me to get lost?”


“Of course, not.”


“Then… I guess I can forgive you.” She took a step closer, “And I’m sorry too Bart, I shouldn’t have run away.”


“I guess we both made fools of ourselves.”

A sour smile, “I guess so.”


“Come on,” He extended his hand, “Let’s go home.”


She took it.


“Please don’t ever run away like that again, you scared me half to death.”


“Really?”


“Yeah, I kept thinking something terrible was going to happen to you.”


The boy watched them leave. Like a fruit pleased to remain on the tree forever, he leaned toward the heavy limb as a breeze dragged against him. Their bodies began to fade into the landscape, leaving the boy and his tree once again alone on the hill. The sycamore growing taller and the boy never growing ripe.



End



Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt: Playing Possum


Word Count:1545


©DecemberKnight 2022


Special thanks to Simon Wilkes from Unsplash for the use of the image!


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