Excerpt

No one is chas­ing him, but the Glass boy’s heart still pounds as he runs through the woods, soles of his can­vas sneak­ers slap­ping the soft earth. When he reaches the other side of the for­est, he stops abruptly, removes his sneak­ers, steps onto a blan­ket of bright green grass. For a moment, he crouches to catch his breath, watches as a pair of pale cab­bage moths flut­ter up from a dead stump. He hears a bird chirp­ing, the branches moan­ing as they lift and fall in the breeze. The sun over­head is hot, and he closes his eyes, pulls a lung­ful of sweet air in through his nos­trils. Heaven, he thinks. This sliver of land just before the water is my pri­vate heaven.

Putting his hand to his fore­head, he scans the woods, the vis­i­ble length of the stream. He is alone, and he scam­pers to the edge, lays down on his stom­ach. Slides his arm over the grassy lip, and as his fin­gers wig­gle through drown­ing roots, a hand­ful of wait­ing tad­poles skit­ter and hide. He feels around. And for a moment, when he finds noth­ing, his heart strikes so loudly in his ears, the sounds of the stream and bird and creak­ing trees sink. But then his hand knocks it. Hard and slip­pery. It’s there. Grunt­ing, he pulls the pickle jar from the water, heavy with the rock weight­ing it down. He notes it is intact, no

rust on the lid, no evi­dence of water dam­age to the trea­sure inside. No sign that some­one else has touched it.

After he dries the jar in his t-shirt, he looks around once again. Yes, yes. He is alone. Then he sits cross-legged on the grass, pinches the jar between his bare thighs, twists the lid with both hands. Even though he had washed the jar in hot suds, the faintest smell of vine­gar still tweaks his nose. His breath is shal­low as he reaches in, removes his tiny trea­sure. So valu­able, but bought for only a hand­ful of change.

He hauls a hand­ker­chief from his pocket, blan­kets the rot­ting stump, exam­ines each item before lay­ing it down. Too much, now, to see every­thing at once. To have it all exposed, reck­lessly, where a gust could arrive with­out warn­ing, pil­fer a piece of his per­fect puz­zle, carry it off to some­one who might destroy it. Hands shak­ing, he scoops them up, clutches them to his chest. Imag­ines, for a moment, they hear his blood mov­ing through his veins.

Time folds, an hour dis­solves, and the boy won­ders if he might be missed. If the man might ques­tion his absence. He places the items in the jar, seals it. One last glimpse, his eyes, wide open, pressed to the heavy glass.

He is dizzy when he stands, and he nearly drops the jar on a flat rock. Even though he is still hold­ing it close to his breast­bone, he can­not help but see it smashed, a spray of glass, his col­lec­tion scat­tered. The very thought makes his legs weak, and he does not trust them. Scrawny legs, even though he eats like a gan­net. He shuf­fles, care­fully, places the

jar back into the stream, under­neath the over­hang of unkempt grass. The tad­poles are there again, graz­ing his knuck­les with their quiv­er­ing tails. Want­ing him to stay and play. But he stands, whis­pers, Not now, not now.

He searches the woods for blink­ing eyes, lis­tens for foot steps or hol­ler­ing. He stares at the sky, expect­ing to see the man’s shocked face press­ing down through the clouds. He knows the man is every­where. An almost God. With the swoop of an axe, he has wit­nessed the man choos­ing between life and death. Wit­nessed it more than once. Head of a piglet fly­ing in one direc­tion, pink body in the other. Tiny hooves on stick legs twitch­ing, still try­ing to run away.

But there is noth­ing. Noth­ing, yet. And he coils his excite­ment and guilt, like a greasy spring, presses it down, locks the trap door inside his mind. He stuffs his feet into his sneak­ers, stiff fab­ric heel flat­tened, and for a good dis­tance, he walks back­wards through the woods. Gaz­ing at the spot where his secret is guarded. And he tells him­self, as he watches the rip­pling water, that no one will ever know. No one will ever find them. No one will ever get hurt. Then he turns, runs towards home. Towards the farm. Towards his life with the man.

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As soon as the cloud of mud set­tles to the bot­tom, the tad­poles push through the water, and tap the glass. They are chil­dren still, barely limbs to stand on. Eyes like black beads, they see what’s inside the pickle jar, and don’t know to look away.

 

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