Broken Stone

This story was written in response to a writing prompt on r/writingprompts.

The writing prompt was:

You’re bored at lunchtime during school. You pick up a rock and throw it, and instead of falling back to the ground, it keeps flying until you can’t see it anymore

Broken Stone

5th January 2020

You push away the tree branch but you’ve miscalculated and it whips back into your face. You pause and sigh. You used to able to slip through these trees with your school uniform on and not leave a trace on them. 

“I’m going for a new year’s day walk”, you told your wife. She shrugged. You had on your new hiking jacket she got you for Christmas. She thought you were simply going to try it out like a over-excited dork. 

5th January 1999

“Come on,” says Kelly. “Everyone is there.” 

It’s half way through lunch-break. Whatever it is that Kelly is trying to drag you out to see, you don’t think you will make it back for class.

“What’s there?” you ask him.

“I can’t tell you, you won’t believe it.” 

“It’s a pile of porn magazines?” 

“No,” Kelly laughs, not like that. This is something unbelievable, you gotta see it.

“If it’s not a trick then it can wait until school is over.”

“Stop being a swot. You’re 15 and you’ve never been in trouble. So what if you’re late back from lunch once, they’re not going to expel you.”

5th January 2020

You turn off your phone as you get closer. Those are the rules. You carry on pushing through the woods. You see a slight depression under a familiar tree to your left. Twenty-three years ago you dug a hole under that tree, coated it with carpet that you stole out of the skips behind the carpet factory and created a roof out of pallets you found in a mothballed warehouse. A den. 

You built dozens of dens, tree-houses, bases and other things when you were a teenager. When they were complete, all you did was chill out in them with friends and talk. You have no idea why you are your friends were so driven to build these things every summer. After a few weeks they would be burned out or ripped down by someone. You always assumed it was one of the older kids.

5th January 1999

Kelly doesn’t take you that far. The school road connects to a main road that links the village you live in with the local town. Opposite the junction is a cemetery and behind that there are rolling hills covered in woods. 

You’re familiar with the woods but you’re wearing a new Nike coat that you got for Christmas. You’re confident in your ability to dodge and weave between the branches. It’s just the ground that is making you anxious. While it is dry today, the floor of the woods is inconsistent. Bits of bog, bits of frozen firmness. “If my shoes get muddy, you’re cleaning them before I get home Kelly, my mum is gonna kill me, she said I have to look after these.” 

“Why do you have to look after fake Kickers?” Kelly says, teasing me. 

“You’re cleaning them.” 

“Whatever it’ll be worth it.” 

5th January 2020

You stop a few times when nothing looks familiar. Have you lost your sense of direction or have the woods changed. It’s getting harder every year.

There are none of the landmarks that used to be there. In this wood there used be a rope swing made from blue plastic rope, a rock behind which a stash of worn pornographic magazines were stored, the remains of an ambitions but never completed tree-house and lots and lots of tracks on the floor from the constant footfall from kids taking short-cuts or exploring. Now there is nothing. Even the den you dug four feet into the ground is just an outline in the mud. 

5th January 1999

Kelly takes you to a clearing in the woods where there is a brick square above an old filled-in well. There are four others from your year group there and an older kid who you don’t really know. 

“This is my brother,” says AJ, pointing to the older kid. You nod at him. “He found it.”  

“Found what?”

Kelly hands you a stone and says,” Stand on the old well and throw the stone up as hard as you can.” 

“Why?” 

“Just do it.” 

To refuse such a benign request would really make you look like a pussy and it would somehow be used to reduced your already low social standing. But the fact that the request is so benign makes you suspicious that it’s a prank. But they’d be stupid to try something when you have stone in your hand. 

“Why are there no other stones on the ground?” you ask. 

5th January 2020

With a few more whips to the face and almost tearing your jacket on a thorn, you finally find your way to the clearing. You’re not the first one there, there are four others. 

“Where’s your older brother, AJ?” you ask. You know them all by name and by much more now. 

“He died in a motorcycle accident in April,” he says with no determinable emotion. You wonder if he’s still on ketamine. 

“Shit, AJ. Why didn’t you say anything?” 

He shrugs, “It’s the rules. We meet once a year and that’s it. No talking in between.” 

“I know, but…” 

“It’s the rules,” says Kelly. 

“Did you know?” you ask. 

“It doesn’t matter,” says Kelly. 

“What’s wrong with you?” you ask. 

“He doesn’t think it will work with five of us,” says Bennie. Kelly turns away, avoiding the group’s eyes. 

5th January 1999

You stand on the old well, “Just throw it up?” you ask. 

“Yeah. As hard as you can,” says Kelly.  

You bend your knees and fling the stone up with two hands. You follow the stone with your eyes. It passes the tops of the trees. It keeps rising until it is out of sight. 

The laughing of the other kids pulls you out of your daze. “It’s sick isn’t it?” says Kelly. “We’ve done it like six times now. It’s so sick.” 

“When is it going to come back down?”

“It doesn’t.”

You look at the ground around your feet but there is nothing unusual. 

“You did something to the rock,” you say. They all laugh. That’s when you get nicknamed Broken Stone. It’s not that bad as nicknames go, so you don’t fight it. 

5th January 2020

“It’s not gonna work,” says Kelly. “It needs all of us.” 

“Of course it is gonna work,” says Bennie. “The first time we found it we weren’t all there.” 

“No,” says Kelly, “It only works on one day. It doesn’t work without all six of us. It didn’t work when we brought someone else that time.” 

“Did anyone bring rocks?” After a couple of years we’d used up all the rocks and had to bring our own. 

“I brought this,” says Bennie. Its an erotic paperback I wrote and self-published a few years ago. The others laugh. “Don’t be offended, Broken Stone. Wherever this stuff flies to, maybe they want something to read. Think about it, we’ve only been sending them bricks.”

“So, who’s throwing it?” asks Kelly. 

5th January 1999

You get back to class late. The teacher grills you and you don’t really have an excuse. You simply admit you were off the school grounds and take the detention. Who cares? 

Detention is chill and the teacher spends most of the time out of the room. You and Kelly spend all of the half-an-hour asking each other if it really happened. 

You feel like you are at the start of something meaningful, the start of a beautiful secret, is this what adulthood feels like? 

5th January 2020

The stone goes up a few meters and comes back down. The crack it makes marks the start of a worried silence. 

“Let me try again,” says AJ. He tries three times before Kelly tells him to stop. 

Everyone is quiet for a long time, avoiding eye contact, staring at the rocks and the paperback on the ground. In the twenty-one years that the six of you have been returning to this spot, none of you have come up with any sort of coherent theory for what was happening here. Nor have you figured out any use for it. It seems like a bit of waste in retrospect. And now it is seemingly gone. No trace because you agreed not to take photos or videos. 

You’re already wondering if it was real, or if it was just some Mandala Effect trick that you were misremembering as a group. This magic secret is over, and with it the last relic of your childhood. You’re 35 years old now and the beautiful, lighthearted secret is gone. You realise that when you first found this strange phenomenon, it wasn’t the first step into adulthood, but the last foot left hanging in childhood. 

“What did you get for you house in the end, Kelly?” asks Bennie, after you don’t know how long.

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