Dray is slumped at the edge of his desk, doodling. It’s Saturday again. Another business studies class. 4 low level Japanese students talking about their companies in broken English. No matter what he does, it’s always boring. You’d think, you’re the teacher of a class, it’s going to be interesting. You’d think, you’re the teacher, you shouldn’t be the one falling asleep.
But it happens. He spends longer every time, planning, brings in CDs, newspapers, games, but somehow it always comes down to this. Just, dull.
Dray’s eyes creep shut. His classroom has always been too warm. The fan just pumps in hot air from the study room next door. The windows won’t open, fire regulations. Crazy. He fights the urge, but soon enough his head is against the wall and the soft mutter of Japanese accented English sends him to sleep.
Image from here.
He wakes up and the classroom is empty. He blinks. No students. He wonders if the class has ended, if they just kept on talking right through, left him snoozing on his desk, and edged out the door, closing it behind them.
He looks across his homework wall, barren white space mostly filled out with multi-colored English assignments, maps and cartoons and schedules and advertisements, and takes in the clock. It says 5:00. Only halfway through the lesson, they must be on a break.
He shakes his head, rubs the sleep from his eyes. He’s going to catch serious hassle from the manager for this. They’ll be back in a minute, and on their tails she’ll come riding in, imperious and smiley, mention she wants to talk to him after class. She’ll bow to the students, add ‘have a good lesson’, as if she didn’t know the meaning of saying that in front of a teacher who just fell asleep in class, and short-skirt-step her way outta there. He shuffles papers around on the desk behind him, delaying the moment, then gets up, opens the door.
The corridor outside is filled with an eerie white light. It glints weirdly off the yellow and pink post-it notes stuck to the student goals sheet on the wall. He looks left and right, but the corridor is empty, spaces washed out and bleak with the sanitized white light.
A sudden scream shatters the stillness. Dray freezes, watches flurried movement whip by the end of the corridor, something huge and black, the blurred shape of a stick-limbed body stampeding for the exit. He sees the manager tossed over its shoulder, and her panicked eyes pick out Dray for a second. Then she is gone. He hears her cry of “HELP!” echo back down through the lobby. There is a crash as the outer door flies from its hinges and slams into the coffee machine. He hears the crunch of glass and the slosh of liquid. Then he starts running.
He vaults the lobby coffee spill, darts out the door, and stops so fast he almost falls. He cannot believe his eyes. He is outside the school, he should be in the corridor, but there is no corridor, there is only a white void, white in every direction as far as he can see. Behind him the lobby door stands open, but there is no school around it. No posters or umbrella stand or pamphlet rack, only white.
He shakes off the shock, scans the alien landscape for sign of the manager and sees her still thrashing faintly in the stick man’s grip, fading into the distance. He starts to sprint but feels no sensation of motion, no wind in his hair, no ground beneath his feet, and soon the black stick scrawl runs out of sight, swallowed up in a cotton wool world, and even the raucous wails of the manager die to nothing.
He sprints on blindly for as long as he can, until he’s wheezing, exhausted, and totally lost. He drops to his knees and punches the floor, feeling nothing. He turns his head and searches out the school behind him, but there’s only horizon-less white, endless and empty. He looks down at his feet, judges the angle, then reverses it. Sighs. Starts to jog slowly back along his path.
It feels longer, going back. When he finally sees color, it is way off in the distance, far to his right, and he changes direction, jogs on.
Coming back to the school is like coming back to a memory. Everything is washing out of life. The doorway is expanding and filled with white light. Inside the lobby the coffee spill has been leached of color and aroma. The red and black checkered floor is muddling to gray. The fish tank sat on the reception desk is sloshing with dead fish, the air pump silent in the corner, and there is only a de-tuned ‘fzzt’ coming from the stereo system.
He runs back to his classroom, sees the same thing. The window frame has dissolved completely and light gushes in like a flooding river, cutting a swath into the opposite wall and his giant map of the world, blurring countries and oceans into dim mush. He rounds the table and rifles the second drawer of his desk, pulls out his mobile phone, flicks it open. The screen lights up for a second, then sputters out in a blink of red.
He grabs his Jeep bag and starts to cram it full of whatever junk he can find. Pens and pencils, his Sprint workbooks, stacks of paper from the filing cabinet, Yen coins, department store discount cards from his wallet, all the holiday souvenirs from past students lined up on his window shelf. As he’s picking magnets off the whiteboard, that’s when he hears the voice.
“Hey there!” it calls, piping and tiny, and Dray spins, searching it out.
“Yeah you!” it peeps. “Down here, on the table.”
Dray’s eyes sweep the table and see the lesson plan for his business studies class, fading now on a dull piece of yellow paper, all of his penciled notes leaking off the page, all except a little stick man drawn in the corner. He is tiny, barely room in his off-circular face for a smiley mouth, with no hair, no fingers or toes, no joints and no clothes. A man in 8 strokes.
“Yes!” squeaks the little man, cheerful, big grin spreading over his tiny face. “You got me.”
Dray blinks, rubs his eyes, then blinks again. The stick man is still there, waving at him with one stumpy hand. “Name’s Bob,” he calls cheerfully. “And you are?”
Dray looks round the classroom, back down at the stick man.
“That’s right, over here,” encourages the stick man. “Name’s Bob, what’s yours.”
“Um,” says Dray. “Dray.”
“Nice to meet you Dray. Wanna play a game?”
“I don’t know,” says the little man, hopping from foot to foot happily. “Tag? You know how to play tag?”
“What’s going on?”
“Tag’s a great game, I love it.”
“Who are you?”
“Bob, now, you wanna be it or shall I?”
“Hold it,” says Dray. “Look, I’m a bit confused.”
The little man waves his hands dismissively and starts to caper round the piece of paper. “That’s fine,” he peeps, “it’s an easy game, we just chase each other around, it’s loads of fun!”
“No, I mean this place, what’s happening?”
“This place is boring!” cries the little man. “White white white, but it’s OK now, we can play tag, and tag is fun!”
“No,” says Dray. “I can’t, I have to find my friend.”
“More friends?” asks the little man, his eyes wide with excitement. “We could play jump rope with more friends!”
“But she’s gone, something took her and I couldn’t catch it.”
The little man snorts. “Course not, that’ll be the giant. How’re you gonna outrun a giant?”
“You know him?”
“Pshaw,” says the little man, “everyone knows him. Big fella, all in black, got weird hands, you can’t miss him.”
“Can you help me find him?”
“Can you catch me?”
The little man grins, jumps up and down a few times, then starts sprinting round the page calling “tag tag tag!”
“Where is she?” asks Dray, but the little man only blows him a raspberry. Dray sighs, looks up as if to check no-one is looking, then pokes at the little man’s tumbling form. His fingers touch paper, but the little man runs on anyway. He pokes again, calls “tag”, but the little man keeps going, giggling. Dray begins to feel embarrassed. He pulls a pencil from his bag, its octagonal shape dimming into a thin brown tube in the white light, and draws a quick box round the little man.
The little man runs slam straight into the wall of the box. He stops giggling, turns, and runs 3 steps right into the other wall. He jumps, and he squats, but he can’t get out. Dray watches in fascination. Eventually he sits down in the middle of his new cell and starts to cry.
“Huh?” says Dray. “Don’t so that.”
“I can’t help it,” wails the little man, his pointy shoulders hunching up and down like a fly buzzing its wings. “I’m a prisoner!”
“No you’re not,” says Dray, “This is just how I play tag. Now will you help me?”
The little man looks up at him with his sad little eyes, and Dray feels bad. He feels like he’s just kicked a puppy. “Alright,” says the little man, snuffling. “I’m sorry. I won’t play anymore. I was just so bored, and lonely, and I saw you, and I was so happy!” He breaks down into wild sobbing. “I’m bad. I’m a bad stick man.” He starts to bang his head against the wall of his box cell. It makes a tinny CHOK-ing sound. Dray watches and feels guilty. CHOK CHOK CHOK.
“Stop it,” says Dray. “Don’t do that.”
The little man stops, turns to him, and hangs his head. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I’m stupid. I’m so stupid. Rub me out. Please. End it for me.”
Dray glances over at the blocky white eraser. Compared to the little man, it is immense. It is a 3-story building. It is death. “Don’t talk like that,” says Dray, feeling worse. “I’m sorry I put you in a box, OK? Look, I’ll get rid of it.”
He takes up the eraser and lifts it to the box. The little man screams. “Close your eyes,” says Dray gently. “Hide against the wall.” The little man glowers at him, then blinks his eyes shut to flat lines, huddling up against the wall. Dray can see his arms trembling.
He cuts the box in half with one stroke. The little man opens his eyes, looks out of the box, and a huge grin spreads over his face. “YES!” he cries, and sprints out, starts turning cartwheels all over the place, crying “FREEDOM!” as he goes.
Dray smiles, waits as the stick man comes to a dizzy halt, resting on the bottom of the page, his eyes turned to spirals and confusion lines jutting like stalks of cress from his head, then asks “So where is she?”
“In the palace of joy!” cries the stick man, jumps to his feet (stumps, anyhow), and sprints gamely across the page. “I can take you there, it’ll be fun!” He tries to vault the paper’s edge, but only bounces off.
“Ah,” says Dray. “Problem.”
“I wanna go!” cries the little man, jumping up and down with excitement. “Let’s go!”
“Hang on,” says Dray, “let me try something,” and picks up the sheet of paper, little man jumping up and down happily, and walks out of the school with it. He sets it down on the white nothing where the welcome mat should be.
“Now try,” he says, pointing at the edge of the page. “Jump really high.”
“Alright!” says the little man, pacing out a lengthy run-up. He sprints, jumps up from the page, and tumbles free and onto the white.
“HOORAY!” he cries, and starts capering on the ground by Dray’s feet. “HURRAH! THREE CHEERS FOR ME!”
“Good job,” says Dray, and feels some pride at the achievement. “Well done. Now, wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.” The little man scarcely notices him leave.
Dray grabs his bulging Jeep bag from the classroom, stuffs goal sheets plucked from the corridor wall into the last few nooks of space, and runs back out into the white, where the little man is standing before him proudly.
“Watch this,” he pipes. “It’s really neat.” Then he disappears. There’s a faint popping sound, like a tiny bubble bursting. Dray looks around, but sees no sign of the little man.
“Wow,” says Dray. “Great.”
The little man pops back into sight, beaming. “Neat, isn’t it?” he asks.
“How’d you do that?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “I just twist like this-” pop, invisible, voice disembodied”-and I’m gone.”
“That is neat,” says Dray, speaking to nothing. “Maybe because you’re only two dimensional?”
Pop. “Maybe,” says the stickman. Pop.
Pop. “I know.” Pop.
Pop. “Let’s go then,” says the little man impatiently. Dray shakes his head. The little man makes an engine revving noise, then takes off in a blur of tangled lines. Dray falls into step behind him.
The little man sets a near impossible pace. His little legs spin like Catherine wheels as he darts from left to right, zigzagging wildly. Dray starts dropping items from his bag behind him, watching the dim color of the school door thinning into the distance, marking out their path.
“You sure you know where you’re going?” he calls ahead to the little man, who pops faintly out of existence leaving Dray standing alone. A second later he pops back, grinning, and points boldly almost directly back along their trail.
“This way!” he cries.
“That’s back to the school,” says Dray, but the little man shakes his head resolutely.
“No!” he cries. “This is definitely the right way!” and races off. Dray looks around, totally lost, smiles at his predicament, then follows.
He is setting down the last few pieces of junk, two orange gel pens, when he hears the scream. He recognizes it immediately.
The little man stops, looks up at Dray.
“There she is,” he says breathily. “Phew. Can we go home now?”
“Home?” asks Dray. “Not yet. We have to get her.”
“Get her?” asks the little man, mouth wide open in shock. “You never said anything about getting her!”
“Well, you know,” says Dray, taken back by the little man’s strong reaction. “That’s the point of a rescue, isn’t it?”
“Rescue!” wails the little man, distress lines radiating from his head. “I thought it was just find and seek! You can’t save her! He’s got her now.”
“The other one, I told you, giant with funny hands. He’ll never let her go. That’s what he does.”
“What is he, just a big stick man?” says Dray, sounding more confident than he feels. “No big deal.”
“No no no,” says the little man, furrowing his brows. “You don’t understand. He’s different. He’s a monster. He’s been here longer than either of us.”
Dray shrugs, feels cruel doing it. “I haven’t got any choice.”
The little man looks at the floor.
“Please,” he says in a voice quiet even for him. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me alone again.”
“I’m sorry,” says Dray. “I have to.”
The little man winks back a tear. “OK then,” he says, “I understand, bye bye,” and turns to follow the trail back to the school.
Dray watches him go, then hears another scream and tears off at a sprint following it. Within 5 paces he hits an invisible wall. Slams his forehead and knee, bounces off and hits the deck. A door opens from nowhere and red light pours out. Something dark and massive steps clear. Dray’s eyes blow wide open and his jaw falls slack.
It is a giant jagged stick man. He is grinning a giant jagged grin. He is easily 8 feet tall, drawn in thick scratchy lines, all jagged edges and angles. He is a child’s Crayola scrawl, magnified. His left hand has 5 fingers and a thumb as long and sharp as a sword. His right has 7 fingers, each narrowing to daggers at the end. His eyes are small black dots, eyebrows slanted in menacingly above. His teeth are broken glass crammed into black gums.
“No way,” says Dray, putting a hand out before him reflexively.
The giant jagged stick man speaks, spreading his arms wide. “WELCOME TO THE PALACE OF JOY,” he booms, his voice the rough sound of nails on a chalkboard, scratching through Dray’s brain. Then he begins to laugh, staccato barks from his lip-less mouth.
Dray gulps. “Who are you?” he asks, high waver in his voice.
“OLDER THAN TIME,” booms the giant, “AND SICK OF IT ALL.”
“Where’s the manager?”
“WITH ME. SHE ENTERTAINS ME.”
“Let her go,” says Dray, the command sounding feeble in the empty white, set next to the giant jagged stick man’s massive boom.
“NO. I TIRE OF THE VOID. SHE IS COLOR.”
“She isn’t yours.”
The giant twists his head. “ISN’T SHE?”
There is another scream. Dray’s eyes lock on the giant jagged stick man’s grin. Then he charges.
The giant disappears. Dray runs right through where he was. Stops, puzzled, and something explodes against his back. He sprawls through the air, thuds into the invisible white wall headfirst. The wind bursts from his body and he drops to the floor, his back stinging. He sees the giant jagged stick man reach up and lick its 7 fingered dagger hand. Blood drips from the tips. The fire begins to burn in Dray.
He lurches to his feet, unsteady, and charges again.
The giant stays visible this time, swats at him with his sword finger, but Dray ducks beneath it and rugby tackles the giant’s midriff. He feels the ridged contours of its body dig into his shoulder and neck. He squeezes as hard as he can, links his arms round the giant’s oaken black body, its jagged skin tearing at his clothes like splintered bark, and drives it forward through the white.
The giant lets out an “OOMPH.” Dray squeezes harder. He feels stabbing blows rain down in his back, charges faster, and knocks the giant off balance, comes crashing down on top of nothing. The giant has flicked out from underneath.
Dray rolls quickly, sees the giant looming above him, holding its sword finger before it and ready to strike. “WELCOME TO ETERNAL JOY,” it whispers, boomy voice lowered and grating. Dray feels sudden nausea. It raises its sword finger high.
There is a little pop, the tinny cry of “hurrah!” and Bob the little man sails out of nothing. He lands on the giant’s head and spins into a cartoon whirl of action, flickering in and out of existence, popping wildly, raining tiny blows on the giant’s mountainous nose and eyes and lips. The giant tries to swat him, batting at his face, but the little man is too fast, so the giant starts to flicker himself, in and out of the dimensions, faster and faster, until there is nothing but a faint blur where they both should be. The little man’s single form fades to a charcoal wash of clouded movement round the giant’s transparent head. At last they both vanish completely.
Dray is left alone again. He reaches a hand to his back, feels the pulsing warmth, and it comes back slick with blood. He rolls over, sees the puddle he’s lying in, and thinks he might bleed to death.
There’s a sudden BANG and the giant is back. His eyes are tiny dots and bleeding. His sword finger is broken. But he is smiling. There is something in his hand, a mess of lines. He tosses it on the ground, stomps on it, then kicks it over to Dray.
It is the little man. He is broken. His eyes are X’s. He is dead. Dray feels like he wants to scream and throw up at the same time. He does neither. The giant speaks. “ETERNITY WILL BE SLOW,” he booms, and starts towards Dray, hobbling. One of his legs is splintered, a line cracking it down the middle as if the paper it was drawn on was cut and spread apart.
Dray gets to his feet, scrabbles in the bag still hanging round his neck for his address book, tears free a page, and staggers over to the last gel pen. Picks it up, draws a quick circle with a line through on the little flap of paper, then shakes it loose. The circle slips free, and he snatches it from the air. The giant stops and watches him.
“This is a grenade,” says Dray, pretty sure that he’s bluffing. “I pull this pin, we both die.”
“I NEVER DIE,” booms the giant.
“Alright,” says Dray, pulls the single line through the circle, then tosses it at the giant jagged stick man’s feet, who calmly watches it roll to a stop by his cracked foot. Dray notices the line is already knitting together. The sword finger is reconnecting to the hand.
“YOU WILL JOIN ME SOON,” booms the giant. Then the grenade explodes. There is a flash of fire and Dray is thrown from his feet by the hot blast. He struggles to rise, sees the giant jagged stick man still standing though thinned and cracked, and turns to run.
“ETERNITY AWAITS,” calls the giant, his voice soft and distant. Dray does not turn to look. He is weak already, and thinks he might be dying. He picks up the trail, fading now, flashing along its length like an airport landing strip as the pieces of junk wink out of existence.
By the time the door’s dim contours emerge from the white, there is nothing left of the trail. Wisps of color which fade like noon-shadows. The school is pastel. It is bleaching out. The doorway is almost as wide as the lobby, and the white is rushing in to fill out the space. The red and black checks on the floor have muddled to an off-white cream. The shraplets of glass from the broken coffee jug are specks of glinting sand. The coffee stain is gone.
He is weak. He wants to collapse on the bench and wake up back in his business studies class, boring students around him, but he doesn’t. He staggers down the corridor, fearful that at any minute his hands will pass right through the gossamer walls. He throws open the cellophane door to the advertising room and picks up a once heavy roll of poster paper, now whittled down to 20 or 30 tracing paper sheets, a roll of tape and a box of colored pens.
In the lobby he lays out 10 sheets edge to edge and tapes them together, begins to draw. He draws a giant stick man, filling out the paper. He makes him thick and wide and strong. He gives him fingers and thumbs, and a smile. He uses up the green pen on him. When he’s done, he drags the huge poster out into the white, and waits.
The green giant begins to move. He blinks his saucer eyes. He flexes his jointed fingers. Then he climbs up out of the paper, stands tall, and looks down at Dray. Dray’s eyes are swimming and he can barely concentrate on the green giant before him.
“Help me,” he says weakly. “Please.”
The green man nods.
Dray collapses on his side. Before his eyes close he sees the green man dragging the paper back into the lobby, picking out a new pen, and starting to draw.
“He’s awake!” cries a voice. Vivid colors surround Dray. Giant stick men. Red and blue and purple giant stick men all around him.
“Hey,” he says, voice a croaky whisper the giant stick men have to lean in to hear. “How’s it going?”
“We’re ready,” says the green man. “I`m Mr. Green.”
Dray coughs. Blood spatters up and onto the white.
“Ah, man,” he mumbles.
A pink man holds out a tissue and wipes Dray’s mouth. “My name`s Mr. Pink,” he says.
Dray nods. “I’m in no shape for this,” he says.
“We’re here to help,” says Mr. Green.
“I can’t ask you to-”
“We’re here to help,” repeats Mr. Green, cutting him off, voice soft but strong. “It’s why we came. Just tell us what to do.”
Dray looks around the group. Every eye is on him.
“Thanks,” he says, figures vague and blurring before him. “Thanks, guys.”
The giant jagged stick man is leaning over the manager in her display case cage and blowing happy bubbles through his broken mirror mouth when the first volley hits his palace of joy. The palace shakes and he falls to his knees. The manager’s pale face lights up, and she starts screaming again. The giant jagged stick man leaps to his feet, slaps the gag back over her mouth, and runs off to the ramparts to check.
He looks out on a rainbow army.
There is a purple tank with a red cannon and violet treads rumbling towards him. There is a brown helicopter with yellow blades buzzing in the air. There are red and yellow men on blue and purple motorbikes roaring round his palace. As he watches, a hot-pink missile is loaded into the tank’s cannon and launched with a fiery red BOOM and flash of firework color. The missile arcs through the air and crashes into his palace wall. It explodes with a deafening BOOOOOOM and a shower of orange-gold sparks.
He cannot believe what he is seeing, and there, propped up in a Day-Glo green Jeep with red and yellow flame trails up the bonnet, sits the other one, the one that threw the grenade.
The giant jagged stick man runs back into his palace as another shell rains in. He watches a hole burst through the white of his palace wall in disbelief. He panics. He yanks the manager from the display cage and holds her before him, dagger fingers at her throat, waiting for them to breach the door.
A hole appears in the ceiling, and he looks up into a giant pink face, a stick man leaning over the controls of his helicopter.
“I got him!” cries Mr. Pink, yelling back to the others. “He’s here!”
The tank bursts through the wall in a shower of white dust. Slabs of invisible brick and mortar crash onto the palace’s bone mosaic floor. The tank’s lid pops open and a turquoise face springs up. “What ho, you psychopath,” says Mr. Turquoise pleasantly.
The tank rotates on its treads and brings down another huge section of palace wall. Plaster rains and thunders down. The men on motorcycles flash in through the gap, and the Jeep pulls up at the edge. The colored men dismount and approach.
“THAT’S ENOUGH,” booms the giant jagged stick man, his dagger fingers pressing in close to the manager’s skin, drawing bright beads of blood against her shock whitened flesh. “CLOSER AND SHE DIES!”
“Now that’s no way to talk to the good guys,” says Mr. Turquoise, jumping up and out of the tank. “Is it, Mr. Orange?”
Mr. Orange pops out of nowhere, right next to the giant jagged stick man, his hand already clutching the daggers, and tugs them clear. Mr. Royal Blue appears at the other side and pulls the manager free.
“It certainly isn’t, Mr. Turquoise,” says Mr. Orange, smiling. “And in the presence of a lady!”
The other stick men pile in. They hold the giant jagged stick man down as he tries to flail free, blistering in and out of the dimensions. He roars in anger and pain, thrashes madly, curses them all, but all that stops when he sees Dray approaching, and he sees what Dray is carrying.
It’s a single piece of A4 paper. It has four lines drawn in simple gray pencil strokes. He lays it down before the giant jagged stick man and says two words.
The giant jagged stick man goes berserk. He turns into a frenzied whirlwind of stick body strokes, spiraling inside a tightening knot of color. Dray can see Mr. Green hanging on, and Mr. Turquoise, and Mr. Pink, whirling like bright fence-posts in a hurricane. They bring the giant jagged stick man to a halt, and he stands before the paper. Dray says it again.
The colored stick men let go. The giant jagged stick man looks around, sees no pity in their faces, and turns back to Dray.
“I can’t help it,” he says, gravelly voice weak and pathetic. “I was made this way.” He holds up his hands. The freshly broken sword finger sways on a thin black tendril. The daggers are coated in blood.
“No one drew your choices for you,” says Dray, steady. “You made those yourself.”
A big limpid tear swells in the giant jagged stick man’s pinhole black eyes. “I didn’t want to be a monster,” he says, voice that of a whining child.
Dray shakes his head. Points at the manager. “She didn’t want to be stolen. The little man didn’t want to die. But did you listen to them?”
The tear falls down the giant jagged stick man’s face. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m sorry, I’ll be good, please, let me go.”
Dray looks round at the colored men. He sees them all, bleeding and torn in places. He sees the manager, white and terrified, and he sees the palace, and he sees the faces of his stick men, looking to him. “Get in,” he says, and points to the box.
The giant jagged stick man grimaces, then lunges for Dray, his dagger hand poised, but Dray is faster. He snatches up the paper and holds it before him like a shield. The giant jagged stick man is sucked inside, shrinking until he’s nothing but a child’s scrawl batting around noisily in a box. Dray folds up the paper, and gives it to Mr. Green.
“Hang onto this,” he says. Mr. Green nods.
“Are you OK?” he asks the manager. She steps into his arms and kisses him full on the lips.
“I’m OK now,” she says, pulling back, and Dray blushes.
“Alright then,” he says, grinning like a fool, her hand finding its way into his. He looks round at the stick men. “Thanks guys,” he says. They smile down on him. He takes another piece of paper from his pocket and lays it down on the floor. Four lines with a small circle and a word, HOME.
He kneels beside it, reaches in, turns the handle, and opens it up. Color flashes out, and he looks down on himself, dozing at his desk with 4 students spread around him. Mr. Green rests his gentle arm on Dray’s shoulder.
“Whenever you need us,” he says, image blurring as Dray’s eyes swamp with happy sad tears. Dray nods, looks around one final time at his army of stick men, then steps through the door home, manager by his side.
The lesson ends with him blearily pointing to the door. The students file out. He’s pretty sure they didn’t notice. They were busy enough describing the unique selling points of their companies not to notice.
As he clears up his desk, readying for the next class, he notices his piece of yellow planning paper, all the words restored. In the corner lies the little man. Frozen. His eyes are still X’s and his smile has fallen flat. His limbs are a tangle of twisted lines. There are smudges of red around him.
Dray takes up a pencil and draws a grave over the little man’s body. He colors it in black, and the little man’s figure dissolves under the line strokes of the earth. He sets a head stone in back of it, with these words written in tiny little letters.
A LITTLE MAN OF GREAT COURAGE
5:00 – 5:30
Then he draws a statue next to the grave. It is the little man again, frozen in action, flying through the air to save his friend. He adds some flowers, daffodils and roses, and a few sprigs of grass. He imagines the flowers all have notes from the colored men, describing Bob the little man’s life and deeds in great and glowing detail. He doesn’t need to write it for them. He sets down the pencil and smiles.
“Dray-sensei!” calls the manager from down the corridor, and for a second he wonders what would happen if he walked right up and kissed her, in front of the students. He chuckles. He wonders if he will, someday. Then he gets up, drops the scribble-filled lesson plan into the trash, and goes to see what she wants.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]