Free Extreme Fiction

The Fastest Boy Alive

    I've kept a green stone in my pocket for twenty-five years. It's not an emerald or torquoise. I've never seen a shade of green quite like it. I've grown accustomed to rolling the stone around in my left hand while I read or walk. It's smooth and small and feels warm after I work it with my fingers for awhile.
    It was my cousin Ken's stone originally. My father left for his job at Simm's shipyard one morning and sent a postcard from Kansas City asking for a divorce exactly one month later. My two brothers, my two sisters, and I were farmed out to various relatives for the summer. I found myself sharing a bedroom, even a bed, with Ken, a single bed built into the wall making it very hard to change the sheets. I got used to the feel of grit against my skin and the scent of stale, human sweat as I slept.
    June is not generally a warm month in Seatrailia. Ken and I spent most of our time in his bedroom reading Hardy Boy novels and comic books. I don't know where Ken got the stone, but every night, at the stroke of midnight, if we were awake, he would hold the stone next to his bedroom window and chant, as the Green Lantern had to chant every twenty-four hours to recharge his power ring: On brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, Green Lantern's light!
    Ken and I did combat evil that summer. Larry from down the street showed us a beat-up, cheap flashlight. "I got this and a pack of smokes from the glove compartment of Carolyn Conklin's Ford." He told us how he always checked through the unlocked cars while on his early morning paper route. 
    Ken and I snuck into Larry's basement through a window in broad daylight while Larry was away at little league and his father was upstairs watching baseball on television. We stole the flashlight back and left it on Carolyn Conklin's back porch along with fifty cents out of Ken's own pocket for another pack of cigarettes.   
    Ken was my real hero, a worldly eleven-years-old to my nine. His blonde hair was cut short to the scalp with a cowlick over his right eyebrow. He never ate and was always thin. There were no girls in Ken's life outside of his two sisters, and he never talked about having a girl friend or about sex. He had the kind of eyes that stared through things rather than at them, and I thought that he was very handsome. I felt that I was a Robin to his Batman.
    When summer finally did come it came hard and stuck for two months, unusual for the Pacific Northwest, eighty degree weather every day. Ken's mother, my aunt, filled a wading pool large enough for a dozen children to wade shin deep in. More often than not, dinner was served from a bar-be-que in the back yard.
    Still there were the comic books. Ken and I drew our own superheroes, then told each other tales of their exploits. I named my hero the Whispering Wolf, a cloud that saved children from their unfit parents. The Whispering Wolf performed his magic in strict private. No person made of flesh ever saw the Whispering Wolf or knew he existed. Ken's hero was Millennium Boy, who could make anything grow old or anyone become young with a mere touch of his finger, including himself, a thousand-year-old man cloaked in the body of an eleven-year-old boy.  
    Ken's family kept rabbits in the garage, and one of Ken's chores was to feed the rabbits and keep their cages clean. One Sunday, we walked to The Ponds Theater and paid thirty-five cents apiece to see a triple feature and an hour's worth of cartoons. We found our seats and sat down at twelve noon and stumbled out of the theater, bleary eyed and starving, seven and a half hours later. The last movie was Dr.No, the first James Bond movie I'd ever seen. We both loved it. On the way home we hid from passing cars by diving in bushes or over hedges. We pretended to blow up neighboring houses with hand grenades that were really just clots of dirt.
    The steps at the rear of Ken's house had rotted away. We took running leaps and grabbed for the screen door handle to pull ourselves up onto the back porch. Ken's father, my uncle, met us there. He whipped Ken with a belt as thin as a telephone cord for not cleaning the rabbit cage before we left.   
    By September, the water in the wading pool had evaporated from shin deep to ankle deep, water that smelled like plastic and seemed thicker somehow. Cousins of Ken's that weren't cousins of mine splashed in what was left of the water in the family-sized pool. Ken whispered in my ear, "Have you noticed how much faster the twins have been moving since when we first got here?" 
    I shook my head. No, as a matter of fact,  I hadn't. 
    "It's almost like it's the water that's doing it. You know,  I wouldn't be surprised if the chemical composition of that water is like water nowhere else on Earth, a one in a billion thing."
    I liked that. Ken was right. The water in that wading pool was truly unique. "What are you saying, Ken? Are you saying that if you doused yourself with that water you could swim faster, maybe even run faster than normal?" We both knew what we were really talking about. We were talking about the water making us as swift as the super-hero Flash, the fastest man alive, who was so quick he could run up and down the sides of skyscrapers or the length of the Pacific Ocean without his feet ever sinking once.
    "No, I'm not saying that," Ken whispered. "That's impossible."
    "Nothing's impossible."
    "Okay then, let's say highly unlikely.
    "But not impossible. It could be that it happens all the time only no one has ever noticed it before."
    Ken didn't say anything for a long time. He watched his cousins splash in the ankle-deep water, their movements growing more frantic with every second. Finally, he said, "I'll douse myself with the water, then see if I can run across the wading pool without sinking. If that works, we'll go to Lake Rainier to see if I can run across the water there."
    "Then it's my turn," I said.
    Ken filled a beach ball with pool water, then poured the water over his head.
    "Feel funny?" I whispered.
    "No, but that doesn't mean anything."
    Ken waited several minutes, took several deep breaths, then ran with all his might across the wading pool. His feet sank with every step. He waited five minutes, then tried again with the same results.
    I said, "Maybe the water didn't have a chance to really sink in. Why don't you paddle around in the pool awhile? Maybe that'll help."
    Ken looked at the beach ball in his hand, then threw it as far away from himself as he could. "No, that's not it."
    My mother and stepfather picked me up in his green '59 Chev' four days later, and I went back with my family to live.  
    I saw Ken twice after that. In October of the following year, my aunt stopped by the house for a minute to talk to my mother. I visited with Ken while he waited in the car with a newly-purchased chemistry set on his lap. "Yeah," Ken told me. "I do two paper routes a day, clear two hundred bucks a month." The following spring, I saw Ken waiting at a bus stop, and I talked to him until the bus came. He was now a worldly thirteen to my eleven. He wore a loose-fitting shirt that showed off a medallion on his hairless chest. He looked at every girl that passed in a way that embarrassed me. He laughed openly at my favorite pair of skin tight canary yellow corduroys. I meant to see Ken more than I did. I did.
    Two years later after the summer I spent with Ken and his family, on the second of July, my mother called me out of the back yard where I was midway through reading the second book of Issac Asimov's Foundation series. There was an unusual silence in the room, in spite of the fact that the television was on. My step-father stared out the front picture window and smoked a cigarette. The room was thick with cigarette smoke. Mom was in the process of pulling curlers out of her hair. She was already in her waitress uniform.
    "What's up, Mom?"
    She took a fierce drag from her own cigarette.
    "Ken's dead," my stepfather told me.
    "Ken who?" That was a reflex action. They couldn't have been talking about any other Ken besides my cousin.
    "Ken Kaven."
    "Oh." I felt something like a dark, hot wind rush by. "How?"
    "We don't know yet, a boating accident of some kind. Evan just called. He said he'd call us back later when he got more news." I eventually found out that the steering went out in a speedboat Ken rode in. The boat torpedoed the face of a cliff. Ken's chest was crushed against the steering wheel. Until his final second, Ken fought to save his own life and the lives of the others in the boat.
    I finished the rest of Foundation and Empire, then watched Johnny Carson, then tried to sleep on the sofa. I fell into the gray-tinged haze between consciousness and unconsciousness, then felt a physical sensation like I'd never known before. I felt like I was sinking out of my own body into the sofa.
    I didn't cry over Ken's death at first, and felt guilty that I didn't. On the night of the Fourth, I thought of the time Ken showed me his secret shoe-box where all of his private and most personal things were kept. I felt so proud. Ken would never have shown me that box unless he trusted me and considered me his equal. The memory made me cry, a few tears at least, while the fireworks bloomed and snapped over Lake Emerald, and I felt relieved that I was finally able to do so.
    The sensation of drifting free from myself, of phasing out, swept over me several times, always just as I was about to fall asleep. Sometimes the dreams paralyzed me. A hissing shrill whined in my ears, like a tape played backwards, and what felt like waves of energy flowed over my heart. Sometimes strange dreams followed, other times not. I never told a soul about those odd nights after Ken died.
    Mom and I visited Ken's parents to offer our condolences, and I wandered into Ken's room while the adults sat deep in their easy chairs and talked about anything but Ken. In Ken's closet there were over a dozen empty shoe-boxes on the floor piled up on top of each other pyramid-style. It was the concept of the forest among the trees put to use. Ken's secret shoe-box was the second one to the right on the bottom row.
    I figured Ken either had it on him when he died, which meant that I would never see it again, or else, and this is what I hoped, he came to feel that he'd outgrown it and, rather than throw it away, just popped it into the shoe-box and forgot about it.
    It was there, in the box, the stone that used to be held in the moonlight while a comic book rhyme was recited, the stone a shade of green found nowhere else on Earth, a one in a billion thing, my constant reminder of the super-heroes of my past, both imaginary and real, both living and gone forever.       
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