The Rock

“What are you doin’?”

“You must …ungh… be joking.”

“No. I want to know.”

“What …ungh… does it look like?”

“Pushin’ a rock.”

“Very …ungh… good. Must have …ungh… a brain after all.”

“But why?”

“Listen you …ungh… stupid bird. You …ungh… know damn well why. You ask me …ungh… every day.”

“And you have yet to give me an answer.”

“So why should …ungh… today be any different?”

“You put a lot of effort into this.”

“…ungh…”

“If you’re goin’ to ignore me, I’ll just talk to myself.”

“Please …ungh… don’t.”

“Then answer my question.”

“Why does there …ungh… have to be a …ungh… point?”

“Everythin’s got a point. Nobody does nothin’ without a reason.”

“Okay …ungh… what’s the point …ungh… of you coming here every …ungh… day to ask me?”

“Curiosity.”

“Bull. That’s …ungh… for cats. You’re a crow.”

“Hmmm…”

“See? No …ungh… point.”

“Fine. ‘Cause it’s my job. And it seems to bother you.”

“There. That wasn’t …ungh… so hard, was it?”

“Your turn, rock boy.”

“Just… a… little… more.”

“Tell me!”

“You’re going to want to move.”

“Tell… awww!”

“I told you to move.”

“It’s all the way back at the bottom.”

“I know.”

“Every day?”

“You know already that it is.”

“So why?”

“Follow me. I can’t stand still for long.”

“Huh?”

“The ground burns my feet if I don’t keep moving. That’s one reason, I guess. Pushing the rock cools the ground and keeps me from staying in one place.”

“Why not just sit on the rock? Keep you off the ground.”

“I did, once. But the rock just got hot, too. So I can’t do that for long.”

“And you can’t just walk around…?”

“I told you. Moving the rock keeps the ground cool.”

“Sounds pretty awful to me.”

“That’s what they think, too. That’s why they put me here.”

“But you don’t think it’s awful?”

“No.”

“But why not? It’s the same thin’ over and over.”

“I suppose I could give you the reasons they expect. I’m scheming my hopeless escape. Or maybe I’m deluded enough to think it won’t go back down again some day. But the truth is simpler. I don’t think it’s awful because they want me to think that it is. Stubbornness and spite. So long as I’m happy with myself, my task, their punishment is meaningless.”

“I’m going to have to tell them this.”

“I know.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I know.”

“But if they believe you, they’ll do somethin’ else to you.”

“I know.”

“Then why tell me?”

“Every day, you have the same task, with the same result. You come here and ask me the same inane questions. You think you’re free. But you’re chained here as much as I am, stuck with the same routine. The only difference is you think you’re free, and I know I’m not. If they don’t believe you, I can continue with my appointed task and spite them by not crumbling under the boredom. If they do believe you, they’ll try something else, and the boredom is alleviated by change, if only briefly. Either way, I win. And you’re still stuck.”

“Hmmm…”

“Well, here is my rock. I assume I’ll see you tomorrow.”

A Walk in the Park

The leaves had changed colors but not yet fallen, and a chill in the air hinted at the winter to come without yet being uncomfortable. It was a perfect evening for a walk in the park.

Maybe it was too late for some, or perhaps they were too busy, but for whatever reason, she seemed to have the park to herself. The solitude provided a chance to listen to the leaves rustling in response to the whisper of the wind. She followed the path and enjoyed the moments as they came and went.

The thundering of hooves bearing down on her finally broke the spell. Surprised, she turned to see someone in a full suit of armor riding a large white horse and headed straight for her. Out of foolishness or fear, she didn’t move to avoid being run over, but the rider slowed to a stop mere feet from her. A hand reached up and lifted the visor of the helmet. A young man, perhaps a bit weathered but eyes bright as the midday sky, looked down at her.

“Excuse me, m’lady. Might you be the one I seek?”

She’d heard better accents at the renaissance festival; still, she tried not to giggle. “I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are. I doubt I could be the one you are looking for.”

“And yet, yours is the description I was given. May I inquire after your name?”

“You may inquire, but I’m not in the habit of giving out my name to strangers in the park. Especially ones dressed in armor and riding horses.” Did she see him nod as though he expected her answer? The metal helm made it difficult to tell.

“Very well. Will you accompany me, then? We have far to go, and not much time.”

“Wait. I won’t tell you my name, but you expect me to just go with you to… wherever? I don’t even know who you are!”

“That is easily remedied. I am a knight of the realm, Sir Gallad. A war is being fought. I was sent to bring you back so that you might aid us.”

If it was a lie, it was a poor one. Who would fall for such a story? And to what end, but abduction and worse? No, more likely, he believed what he was saying. All of which meant that he was crazy and probably dangerous in a different way. She needed to tread carefully.

“What could I possibly do to help in a war? I have no experience with such things.”

“I do not know. I know only that I was sent to find you. My instructions were quite clear.”

“Well, if you’re really a knight, don’t you have rules against taking a woman against her will?”

For the first time he seemed uncertain, nervous. “Yes…”

“Good. I’m not going, so just head back to wherever you came from.”

He looked crestfallen. “But without you, we cannot win.”

“You will simply have to try. I can’t help.”

He stared at her for a long moment, perhaps wondering how to plead his case. “Very well.” He turned the horse, to ride back the way he’d come.

The look of resignation she’d seen on his face caused her some pangs of guilt. She stopped him. “Wait. Take this.” She unwrapped the thin, light blue scarf from around her neck and held it up to him. “Perhaps this will give you inspiration to win.” It likely would be taken from him when he was caught and sent back to whatever mental hospital he’d broken out of. But he smiled.

“Thank you, m’lady. It may be that this will be enough.”

She nodded and watched him ride away for a moment. Then she began walking quickly towards home. She looked back to see which direction he was headed so that she could pass the information along to the police, but he was gone. Though there was no place to hide a horse in the wide open park, he was nowhere to be seen. The horse must have been faster than she realized.

Back home, she called the police. Surely others had seen the rider, and the police would be looking for him. But they weren’t. And no one seemed to know anything about any missing mental patient.

Talking to a Bottle

An ice cube clinked against the glass. He poured some whiskey on it, screwed the cap back on the bottle and looked across the table. “What do you want to know?”

The other gave him a confused look. “That’s an odd way to begin a conversation.”

“This is your conversation. I just agreed to it, not to start it.”

The other shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I just thought we should talk.”

He swirled the ice around for several seconds before taking a sip. The whiskey burned his throat; it was comforting. “I got that. You want to talk. But about what?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No. I don’t know what you want to talk about.”

“It’s been three months! You go to work, do what you have to, and nothing more. You never go out. You haven’t really talked to anyone. Your friends are worried about you.”

“Why are they worried?”

“Because you aren’t acting like yourself.”

“Who am I acting like?”

“I… I don’t know. A stranger?” Irritation came through just a bit. “You just seem to be lost, and we want to help you.”

He finished the glass in one big gulp and poured another. “So three months is the limit?”

“What do you mean?”

“Three months is how long I’m allowed to grieve before I have to be okay again? Or at least get help?”

“No… That’s not… We aren’t saying you shouldn’t grieve. But after three months, we are worried you are just cutting yourself off from everyone who cares.”

“Yeah. Okay.” More burn, more comfort. “But you don’t know what I’m feeling. You don’t know what it’s like to live through this.”

“That’s true. I don’t. Partly because I’ve never experienced it myself.” A long pause passed. “But it’s also partly because you won’t tell me.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Anything! It doesn’t matter. Yell, cry, rant, share whatever you want. I’m not here to tell you how to feel. I’m just here to help share your burden, to listen, to do whatever. Just be here.”

Another sip. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to. Say whatever you want to. There’s no right or wrong.”

“So not saying anything is okay? Not talking to you is okay, right?”

“Dammit. You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Ah. So the only wrong response is not to have one? Got it.”

“Why do you do this?”

“Do what?”

“Use verbal sparring to push everyone away.”

“Is that what I’m doing?”

The other slammed his palm down. “Look, if you don’t want me here, just say so. I’m trying to help.”

He put the glass down; it was empty again. “I thought I had made that clear. I don’t want you here.”

“Fine. I’m your friend; I’m trying to be anyway.” The other stood up and walked to the door, turning around at the threshold. “If you change your mind, if you want to talk, you know how to reach me. You still have friends.”

The door clicked shut. He picked up the bottle to pour another glass. The ice cube had melted away completely, though. He stood, walked to the freezer, and took out another.