A short piece sort-of connected to a longer-term project. One of those small ideas that bit me and wouldn’t let go.
People who put boxes on high shelves never account for the ingenuity of children.
The scrape of metal on wooden floorboards. The ladder shakes dangerously as he mounts it, but calms quickly enough; he lets out a breath, looks at the clock on the wall next to him.
2.05. She’ll be back soon.
His prize lies before him, on the shelf above the wardrobe, and it almost seems brighter than the rest of the room. He reaches desperately, tongue on his lips in concentration; a misstep, a stretch too far, and it comes crashing to the floor. Along, unfortunately, with the ladder… and him.
A clatter of metal striking the floor – twice – and a shrill cry. He hits the floor suddenly and painfully, the air knocked out of his lungs. Blinking back the tears of surprised pain, he looks to his side, and…
Something glints in the sunlight next to his desk, and it isn’t the ladder. Sucking in a shocked breath, he crawls over to it – through the items now scattered all over his mother’s bedroom floor – and manages laboriously to sit up, still breathing heavily.
He cautiously takes hold of the hilt, feels careful engravings on the leather. He frowns, mouthing what he feels; two letters.
His father’s initials. His father had a sword? He thought only the h…
He drops it as though it burns him, the sound shattering the room’s hazy silence. Just a mistake, he tells himself, and turns over a small piece of paper close to him, reading the handwriting of his father – neat, even when hastily scribbled.
This one looks like that, a sentence catching his eye.
They said it would be over by Summer’s end. I’m unsure. It feels like it will never be over…
He remembers the gaunt, pale, mud-and-blood-splattered soldiers limping into the town centre, some of them having to collapse on the benches just to not stand. His mother had hushed his questioning mouth and hurried him away; he thinks he saw tears in her eyes, but can’t be certain. She refused to speak of it afterwards.
His eyes widen, and then they dart to another sentence.
You must tell him. There is no choice in the matter.
Must be wrong. Must be wrong.
He hastily releases the letter, watching it flutter to the ground; then, eyes blurring, he reaches for the first scrap of paper he can find, bringing it to him for reassurance that this is wrong…
A photograph. An old one, of a beach. His mother, hair blowing in the wind and a spot of ice cream on her lips, laughing. Next to her…
He recognises the eyes of the man with an arm round her, gazing at her like he’s just found paradise. The eyes are the same as his, the smile’s the same…
He raises a shaking hand to the photograph, barely able to see it now, tears coursing down shame-burned cheeks. He sits in the scattered wreckage of a life he has never known, cursing the box and all its contents.
Human. His father was human.