Every Wednesday, I’m posting a short, 1000-word prequel to one of the eleven stories in If You Need Me I’ll Be Over There, which comes out June 1. This one?s a prequel to the second story in the collection, ?Karl Friedrich Gauss?, originally published in Hobart.
Hobart actually once published another prequel of sorts, as a web-extra to promote the release of their Games Issue, which “KFG” was a part of. You can read “Owen Morris’s Other Creativity Games (To Date)” here.
Just because it was summer didn?t mean I didn?t have anything to read or read up on, but because after dinner I was told to ?take a break from being you? I found myself walking all alone along the cul-de-sac?which, I learned, just last week, is French for sackbottom. I passed eight houses on Sunset Court, three of which were the same model as ours but mirror-imaged, with bedrooms to the left as you got to the top of the stairs, not to the right, and though I?d never been inside any of these houses I felt that were I ever to walk through it would be like starring in a horror film where I was the first victim, and the last. It was almost seven. At the bottom of the sack the neighbor kids sat in a circle, James?s kickball rolling from one kid to another. It was James and Annie and Michelle and Jerrica and David and Bryan and Xander. ?Owen,? Michelle said. ?Owen!?
There was still a lot of light out. It was just a few days past Fathers? Day.
Everyone stood when I got there, like an audience. ?We want to play kickball but we?re an odd number,? Michelle said. And I said, ?You certainly are.? And I laughed but nobody joined me. Michelle wanted to pick teams and called herself team captain.
?Let?s just do boys versus girls,? Bryan said. ?You guys take Owen.? Then he laughed and everyone joined him.
The problem with sports, I knew, was that they had no creativity, and nobody learned anything from them. Sports were only about other people?s bodies, which made them elitist and unfair, because while I?ve worked hard to strengthen my mind and learn all I could I was cursed, Papa told me, with ?your mommy?s little pixie body.? I ran slow and kicked soft. In team sports I got blamed for any disappointments, so that evening I pointed out we could split between those of us living on the east side of Sunset and those of us living on the west, which by my calculations would even up the teams in both ability and sportsmanship. Xander and Bryan, for instance, could only be on the same team if everyone enjoyed noisy aggression and being called buttwipe a lot.
I volunteered as pitcher, because even I could roll a ball across a blacktop. I took my place on the manhole cover at the center of the sackbottom and I turned to face my teammates, and in the spirit of taking a break from being me I took a risk. I said, ?Okay, team, let?s call ourselves the Wonderlanders!? I had just finished reading Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland that afternoon, and I suppose I was still taken with the place. I felt that I could be the White Rabbit, keeping everyone always on task.
I pitched to James and he got on third. I pitched to Jerrica and she got on third and James got home. Then I was supposed to pitch to Annie but Annie?s dad drove home from work and we all had to move out of the way. He stepped out of the car, which was long and shiny and black, and his tie was loosened from his collar, and everyone on the unnamed team started begging him to kick, because Mr. Flowers was the biggest of all the dads but Papa, and he could kick very, very hard. He set his briefcase by the car and jogged over to the homeplate driveway and I told myself, Just get this over with and it will be too dark to play and you can go home and read in Dad?s big leather chair.
I pitched it and he kicked it and the ball flew like an angry comet at my face. I shut my eyes and felt the punch of it on my nose and then the crack of my head on the blacktop.
I had a fantasy. I was lying on the floor of an enormous garage, and over me towered shelves full of large labeled boxes. It was dim in there, with faraway bulbs, as though this were a cave filled with choreographed fireflies. I looked to my left and a box on the bottommost shelf read HOW TO BUY CLOTHING THAT NOBODY NOTICES, and to my right I found WHAT PUBERTY IS AND WHEN IT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU AND WHAT WILL HAPPEN. I got up and started walking down the aisle. There was SOLVING ANY RUBIK?S CUBE and EVERY CITY?S DISTANCE FROM OMAHA and UNCOOL ERASER SHAPES and even HOW TO BE GOOD AT KICKBALL (KICKING). This, I could see, was a great start, but where would I find HOW TO BE GOOD AT KICKBALL (PITCHING)? Or (CATCHING) even? Why weren?t these boxes directly adjacent? The shelves stretched in straight lines to a single point far in the darkness. I turned around and same. I ran down the aisle until I found a break and then I cut across looking left and right and reading labels as fast as I could, and at one point I even found a ladder and climbed higher than I?d ever be brave enough to climb in waking life, but no matter where I turned I never saw a box labeled HOW TO FIND THE BOX YOU?RE LOOKING FOR.
When I snapped out of it I didn?t have a choice in the matter and my stupid body started to cry. Everyone crowded above me like tall trees. Mr. Flowers was kneeling and holding a handkerchief to my nose, which must have been bleeding because I could taste in the back of my throat that flavor, like butter and a bucket of nails, that I always tasted when I worked a finger too far up a nostril. I didn?t want to make a noise, because I wanted instantly to be unseeable, but I could hear myself wailing, and every time I choked or took a breath there was a tall tree saying ?You?re all right? or ?It?s okay,? as if they knew something I never would. I knew that summer was a different land I slowly fell into every June, where boys and girls who?d said things one way at school started saying them a different way, and where little babies could turn like that into snorting pigs. Our cul-de-sac wasn?t an unsafe place, but it was an unsure one. Tricksy. Mr. Flowers was there, with my blood on his handkerchief, and everybody?s face faced mine, and I could tell they only wanted as much as they could get before the sun went down and we all got called indoors.
?Owen,? Mr. Flowers said. ?I?m so sorry. Are you all right??
I was sniffling and then I made myself stop.
?I?m all thumbs,? I said, and like that everybody laughed.
You can pre-order If You Need Me I?ll Be Over There here.