Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Part 10: Boundaries
Aunt Jenna called the Sheriff's Office the next day, but the call was short and no one came by the house. Andrew tried to ask her who Mr. Pender was, but every time she changed the subject. Eventually he stopped asking. Soon Andrew had enough on his hands with the upcoming Counting Ceremony to worry about some mysterious man. By Saturday, he was completely forgotten.
* * *
The Day of the Counting Ceremony seemed like any normal summer day at the farm. The sun came up early as usual, stinging his eyes, first awakening to the red inside of his eyelids before rolling on his side and opening them, staring at the pile of clothes on the floor. He sniffed deeply.
Aunt Jenna was in the kitchen, making breakfast. He could pretend to sleep for another hour or so, she had miraculously offered to let him sleep in today since he had been working so hard, but he found it hard to sleep when he still had so many questions. He threw back the covers and dragged himself out of bed.
As he shambled in the smells made him ravenous, a bead of drool slipping out of the corner of his mouth. Fluffy Pancakes, fried eggs, bacon and oatmeal; Aunt Jenna could make all these things taste like delicacies, and he found himself savoring each bite, sucking every morsel off his fork with his tongue.
"You're welcome," she said as she sat down next to him with a mug of steeping tea and a cup of yogurt.
He paused in shoveling down his food to mumble a thank-you and she just smiled.
"Andrew, I hope you know how proud I am of you. You've been working so hard the last few days."
A blush rose on his cheeks. He was never the kind to work hard at anything. He struggled a lot in school. It wasn't that he made trouble or anything, he was quiet. Mostly he liked to daydream too much. Most days he'd rather have been at home playing his video games.
He managed what he hoped was a polite nod as he finished the last of his eggs, gulping down pulpy orange juice that always tickled his throat.
Surprisingly he hadn't thought much of his life back home since he had received his "gift," other than a fleeting image here or there of something that reminded him of something else, like we all often remember home when we least expect it. He hadn't even missed his video games as much as he usually did.
"What do I have to do today?" He asked before he crunched on a forkful of hashbrowns.
"No more chores. Just the Ceremony."
"Yeah, but what do I need to do for it?" A bit of hashbrowns sprayed out. Did she always have to be so mysterious with everything Gulariss-related? It wasn't like there was anyone around to listen. Ever since that man came she had been very quiet about such things.
"You'll know what to do."
He knew arguing the point that he had no idea what it was even about would only make her irritated, so he changed the subject, "Do I have to wear that robe? I think I'm allergic to it."
She laughed. "Oh dear heart, it's just wool. You're not allergic to it, it's just a bit itchy naturally. Regardless, it's also tradition. Even if you were allergic, which you aren't," she emphasized, "you don't have to wear it for very long."
"It smells like moth balls."
"I should hope so, you don't want to wear something that's moth-eaten."
He sighed. "When is it?"
"Sunset. So, 'til then, you can take the day off. All I ask is you be back before then."
"Can I go to the Den?"
"Why not? You haven't let me go since the first time I went."
"Andrew I told you, they have their own duties to fulfill. You'll see them all tonight."
Even so, he hoped the Ceremony wouldn't last all night or anything. Andrew just wanted to get it over with, whatever it was. He couldn't help feel apprehensive about it as well. What if he did something wrong? Couldn't she at least tell him what to do? Even just a hint? How was he supposed to do well at something he had never even heard of? It wasn't fair. He gobbled down the rest of his food too quickly, eager to get outside. He knew exactly where he wanted to go: his favorite spot on the farm since he was five.
"Andrew, are you listening?"
Oops, she had been talking to him. He looked up.
"What are your boundaries?" It was that motherly tone again. This was so unnecessary. He wasn't five anymore and he certainly wasn't dumb enough to wander out into the middle of Farm Road 22 or climb on the farm equipment or anything like that.
Regardless, he parroted it back like a jump-rope song, "North to the Lake, South to the Creek, East to the Stonewall, West to the Street."
She nodded. "Alright. Leave your dishes in the sink and you can go."
He did so and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek as he always did each morning. "Bye, Aunt Jenna."
Her hand brushed through his hair as he slipped through her fingers, "I love you, Andrew." He was out the back door a second later as she called, "Be safe!"
Aunt Jenna leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes and sipping her tea. She could hear each footstep as he ran around the house, gaining speed. She could almost hear his heartbeat in his chest. He was just like her sister: a free-spirit at heart; a child of the forest. Soon she lost her true sight of him.
A shudder passed through her. She looked out the window. Everything looked peaceful, the sun brightening, but she knew better. She could sense something dark moving quickly around the furthest edge of the farm. It must have been watching, waiting for him to leave the house. Hurrying to the porch she called out his name. A sudden wind smothered her voice. Yes, whatever it was had stopped just short of the boundary line. She started to run, but stopped halfway to the edge of the woods. No, what was she thinking? She couldn't possibly catch up to him. She would have to trust to the Boundaries.
So long as he stayed within them, nothing could hurt him.
* * *
Every child has a place that overflows with their own powerful magic: imagination. For Andrew his place was: Fort Andrew, as he called it since early childhood. Located south-east from the farmhouse, in the outer acres of the farm, it was far enough that he couldn't be heard from the farm itself, but well within the boundaries of the wide creek and the long stone wall that ran along the eastern edge of the family property. Perfect for playing the wild games of pretend in a world where only his rules reigned.
On his way toward Fort Andrew, he walked along the top of the stonewall, arms out for balance as needed. He fell so much when he was younger, but now he was getting quite good and could almost close his eyes for fifteen thrilling seconds as he walked forwards like a blindfolded tight-rope walker.
"Andrew's going for the record!" he announced, shooting for sixteen seconds.
"Hey! Watch out for the loose rock!"
Andrew opened his eyes and looked down just as he slipped on a stone that had come loose from the wall, rocking back onto his other leg to keep himself from falling with the large stone as it slid free of its ancient mortar. He had been more startled by the sudden voice than the near fall. He looked to his left, spotting a boy watching him. Andrew quickly hopped down to his side of the wall, avoiding eye contact with him, unsure what to say since he had practically made a fool of himself.
"What's your name? I'm Tom-John, but everybody calls me TJ." At least this kid wasn't laughing at him.
"Andrew," he replied, "What are you doing out here?"
"Going fishing down at Peddler's Creek. What's it look like, genius?" The red-headed boy thrust forward the fishing pole he had been carrying and a metal bucket. The boy was certainly dressed for it, wearing rubber boots, rolled-up overalls over a t-shirt with pockets filled with a long bobber and a few shiny lures, their tiny hooks gleaming in the sunlight.
"What're you doing way out here?" TJ asked.
"I live here!"
TJ laughed. "Sure you do, and I live in a tree."
"I don't live right here, I'm staying with my Aunt Jenna for the summer. Her farm's up there," he pointed vaguely behind him.
"Thought you looked like a city boy."
Was it that obvious? He stared down at his video game shirt, his worn basketball sneakers and dark denim jeans. He felt more embarrassed. "That's okay," the boy continued, "I like city folk. You don't have to be ashamed or nothing. You like fishin, Andrew?" He came forward to the wall and set his bucket there.
"Yeah," Andrew said, shifting to his other foot. He still felt out of place. The boy seemed nice, but he felt a little ill for some reason. Maybe he had wolfed down his breakfast too fast.
"Wanna join me? Gotta a ton of nightcrawlers, see?" He tipped the bucket enough to show Andrew all the worms slithering around the bottom. "Plenty for both of us."
"But I don't have a pole..."
"Shoot! I could whip you up one real quick. Just need a big stick and I got extra line too," he dug a flat plastic spool out of his front pocket. "Whaddya say? I don't got anybody else to hang out with. Not a lot of kids around here, you know?"
Andrew nodded. He knew the feeling.
TJ picked up his bucket, "C'mon!" He waved for him to jump the wall.
Andrew hesitated. No. He couldn't. It was a boundary. He'd never crossed the wall before. Stood on it and played on it, but crossed it? Never.
"I'm not supposed to cross the wall," Andrew explained.
"Aw don't worry, I bet she just doesn't want you to get lost, that's all. We aren't going far, just to the Creek. It's just down--"
"I know where it's at," Andrew said, a little more indignant than he meant.
"Then what's the problem if you know where it is?"
"Well...um..." He couldn't really cross the boundary, could he?
"How bout this? We won't lose sight of the wall. Nothing wrong with bending the rules a little."
"I don't know..." What was the boundary protecting him from anyway? It was just a low stone wall. Anything could easily leap over it. Even he could.
"C'mon! You're old enough to take care of yourself, yeah?"
"Look I can't stand around waiting. You coming or not?"
They were still technically on the edge of the farm. What did a few feet matter? It wasn't like he was wandering off. Aunt Jenna just wanted him to be safe and he was. Plus he was with someone, so it was okay. Besides, she'll be happy that he met a boy his age in the neighborhood. He didn't even know there were any kids his age nearby. The prospect made him excited. He loved the farm, but it was usually pretty lonely with no one his age to play with. Maybe he and TJ could be friends.
He looked up again to see TJ already heading on his way.
"TJ! Wait up! I'm coming!"
Andrew vaulted over the wall and never looked back.
To Be Continued