This one has the religious elements that are apparent in my earlier short stories. Not much of it is really tied to the author, but more to the kid’s reaction to death, and how it seems to be increasing in his life, compressed into a short period of time. He doesn’t know how to react to it. It’s got a deus ex machina sort of ending. It isn’t very clear.

The flat stone skipped three times on the water. The contest was simple: to see who could skip a rock the best. The problem presented itself when it came time to judge. Thomas had thrown the rocks more times over the clear water of the lake, but Jonathan’s stones had sailed closer to the stand of oaks on the far bank. Okay, it was a pond really, but Jonathan liked to think of it as a lake. The bullfrogs were big enough for that.

Thomas’s rock gracefully skipped four times. “Hah!” he said.

Jonathan pointed to where his rock had sunk beneath the surface. “Mine went further.”

“Which are we going for, skips or distance?”

Jonathan shrugged. “Don’t know. You figure it out.” Now Thomas would spend some time thinking over this, because he liked to fancy himself as fair. As Thomas thought, Jonathan settled himself under a tree, drawing with a stick on a dirt patch. After a moment, he look up from the dirt at the deep-in-thought Thomas.

“Thomas,” he said. The judge paid no attention. “Thomas,” he said again, a bit louder. Finally, “Thomas!”

“What?!” said Thomas as he jumped.

“There’s a tick on your leg.”

“What?” A different what. This time it was more disbelief than startledness.

Jonathan pointed. “A tick. On your leg.”

Thomas looked, let out another interesting yelp, and bolted for the restaurant his family owned: Rainbow’s End, which was now near defunct because the tourists had yet to start arriving. Jonathan followed at an amble.

In the restaurant, he watched Thomas’s mother pull the small brown tick, probably a deer tick, out of Thomas’s leg. She handed Jonathan the tweezers with the tick, and he washed it down the sink, detachedly watching it as it spiraled down the drain.

Thomas came into the kitchen behind him,

“Do bugs know when they die?” Jonathan asked him.

Thomas shrugged, his face bland. “How should I know that?”

“I don’t know. I was just wondering.”

“You’re weird,” Thomas said, rubbing the spot on his leg where the tick had been. The tiny round mark was swelling a bit, like a mosquito bite. The rubbing had wiped away the tiny drop of blood that had formed where the bite had been. “Let’s go get a snack.”

“Do you think they feel pain?”

Thomas rolled his eyes and sighed. “Leave it alone already.”

This time Jonathan shrugged. “Fine.”

When Jonathan came home, his mother was waiting for him in the kitchen. She had the look on her face that told him he was in trouble, before she even spoke.

“You forgot something in your room,” she said.

Jonathan remembered then, running up the stairs to his room. He and Thomas had collected some of the green algae that grew in the pond, where they liked to catch the crayfish. They’d put it in plastic baggies, and Jonathan had meant to put his in the sun this morning, which meant him moving the algae from where he had put it the evening before: in a shoebox on his bookcase. He tentatively took off the lid, trying to peek inside before the light reached the recesses of the box. Seeing nothing, he opened the box fully and reached in for the bag.

The algae was still there, but he wasn’t sure if he could rightfully call it algae anymore. It had turned completely black, like the deep black of pond on a cloudy day. He kept his fingers on the edges of the top, holding it away from him as if it were radioactive, which it very well could’ve been.

“Jonathan!” his mother called, startling him, and of course making him drop the bag onto the old hardwood floor. The black liquefied contents splattered outward, sending out its smell along with the liquid. Jonathan reeled from it. “What?” he called back weakly.

“You’re cleaning up that mess,” his mother said from the doorway, whatever she was going to say forgotten.

“Fine,” he said, holding his nose. “Fine.” He’d have to tell Thomas tomorrow. He was sure they could use this black algae for something interesting. Green algae had just moved down on the interest ladder. It never occurred to him that the blackness of the algae signaled its death. Only the bright colors of death could catch the attention of a child.

The tinny-sounding crash woke him late in the night. His immediate reaction was to throw the quilt over his head and listen, trembling and breathing hard, to the silence that followed. When no other noise made itself known, Jonathan put his covers down and surveyed the dark room, searching out the source of the noise. It came from the hamster cage. Jonathan leapt out of his bed, careful to keep his feet well away from under the bed.

It had been the hamsters. He’d gotten them three weeks ago, cute fuzzy gray animals.

But they bit. They bit hard.

So he’d left them alone, all three of them, just looking, never touching. He looked then, turning on the lamp and making his way over to the cage, peering inside as his eyes tried to adjust to the soft light.

A loud squeak sounded from the cage, followed by a thump and a small squeak; then nothing. Trembling again, Jonathan rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then took a good look inside. With a sharp intake of breath, he stumbled back, tripped over his bed, and fell into it. From there he scrambled under the protection of his covers, only poking his nose out for air.

There had been blood, and blackness, and one hamster left standing in the middle of the other two bodies, his eyes wide, a spot of red on his forehead.

In the morning, the lamp was still on, its light washed out by the warm sun from the windows. After rising from his bed, he took an old shirt from one of his drawers and threw it over the cage, unwilling to look at the hamsters again, either the dead ones or the live one. He knew the deaths were his fault, and the guilt covered him the same as the shirt darkened the cage.

Before going to meet Thomas, Jonathan threw a handful of seeds into the cage, still unwilling to look inside. But the image from the night before still burned in him, the black soot filling his body.

Thomas and Jonathan fished off the dock, Thomas grinning and kicking at the water, Jonathan sullen and morose, barely even moving his pole.

“Can I come over and see your hamsters?” Thomas asked.

The darkness shifted in Jonathan, welling up. He hadn’t even paid them attention or pet them, but was it his fault that they bit? But he’d just pet them, played with them, or even given them some kind of attention, they wouldn’t have turned on each other, leaving the one with the red mark.


He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the blanket of guilt. “What?”

“Can I?”

He couldn’t even see them now, or bear to look at them. He’d killed them. “I–” then he got a bite on his hook. Thomas shouted and jumped up as Jonathan fought with the fish on the end of his line. He had to stand for leverage, and alternately stepped from the third of sunlit dock to the shade from the oak tree hanging over the dock. Finally he gained footing under the tree and reeled in the fish. Thomas stood at the end of the dock, eagerly waiting to see the fish. It had to be a big one.

It was. Using the clear fishing line, Jonathan lifted the large perch onto the dark dock. Then he saw the line of blood down the perch’s side, and the hook protruding from the edge of the fish’s eye socket, a spot of blood pooling near it. Like the hamster last night.

Jonathan fell back and tripped on an uneven board, scraping his elbow. He got up and ran back to Rainbow’s End. In the building, goosebumps raised on his forearms, and the difference in light momentarily blinded him. He gone from the painfully bright outside to the comforting dim inside. He sat at a table next to a wide window overlooking the field and the pond. Thomas was left on the dock to deal with the situation. Jonathan stared at the tablecloth, staring and looking at nothing else, his mouth twitching intermittently, his thoughts on the hamsters and the blackness and the blood.

Soft shuffling footsteps came up beside the table, then the body accompanying them sat itself in the chair across from Jonathan. The eyes bored into the top of his head. They stayed there for an agonizingly long time.

He obliged the other person, sighed, and looked up. He wanted to be left alone to sort this out, to give up to the guilt. Registering his shock, he blinked once: it was Mrs. Peters that sat across from him.

“What are you doing here?” he asked. Mrs. Peters lived next door to Thomas.

“Thomas got me. He told me what happened.”


Her fist was on the table, holding something inside of it. She showed it to him briefly: he saw the glint of silver. “Walk with me,” she said. “I know you feel bad.”

Confused, he stood and walked with her anyway. Mrs. Peters was nice. Maybe she knew about the blackness. He followed her to the dock and they sat under the oak. There, she showed him what she held in her hand: a Miraculous Medallion. His mother wore one, but he never knew why. Then Mrs. Peters told him what she knew of the blackness, and the forgiveness she’d found in Christ, and what happened when you repented and accepted His forgiveness.

She didn’t prompt him. In fact, he interrupted her when she took a breath. “I’m sorry,” he said, knowing that he was, knowing that he no longer had to suffer from the blood and the darkness. “I’m sorry, sorry.”

She smiled at him and his words. She stood and led him to the edge of the dock, into the sunlight. There, on the edge of the water where he had seen the stone skip three times and the blood in the fish’s eye, she took his hand and dropped the medal into it, then closed his fingers around it. As he looked at his closed fist, she walked off the dock, and toward her home.

The medal felt warm. The warmth rose up through his hand and arm, his shoulder and his neck, finally reaching his face, where he broke into a wide smile, full of light. His face was wet and he didn’t care. He waved good-bye to Mrs. Peter with his left hand, the medal clasped in his right, feeling the warm light bathing him from above.