“I can move that sword with my mind,” the boy Martin says, his chin almost nestled down into his collarbone. He and I and my younger brother Brome are standing out on the back patio. It’s winter and the tropical rains are due to start soon. Everything is grey and we all have our hands shoved deep into our jacket pockets.
I look over at Brome, rocking back and forth on his heels, swinging the sword in his hands listlessly. “Brome,” I say. “You’re going to knock over a flower pot. Brome.”
He stops swinging it but still holds it gripping with both hands, sticking it straight up in the air like a flagpole. “Who cares if you can,” he says.
The boy, Martin, shrugs. It looks like he has no neck, his black scarf wrapped so tightly around him. All around us the wind blows and the geraniums rustles and the air starts to smell like wet metal.
I’d first met him shortly after he’d moved onto the farm. I was bent over by the fence, pulling up weeds to feed the rabbits when I heard a rustling noise behind me. I looked up and saw a black stooped shape stepping neatly over the rusty brown barbed wire.
“Hello,” he said nonchalantly, his hands deep in his pockets, his back so rigid and straight I recoiled from him slightly. He was the first person I’d ever met with yellow eyes. “What are you doing?”
I wordlessly held up the thick bundle of weeds in my hand. I was better at finding the right kind to pick than Brome, who would get impatient and pull up strands of grass or seedless weeds that I knew the rabbits would find bitter or tasteless or in the worst case scenario send them into dying convulsions that would shake the wooden rabbit hutch and turn their fur yellow.
“My name’s Martin,” he said, “and I’m living in the portable…”–indicating it with a jerk of his elbow–“…over there.”
I said nothing, just slowly backed away until I was far away enough that I could turn around without the weeds brushing the stiff bones of his elbows.
But he’d kept coming over. Today he came over to see Brome and I, to see the sword. “You’ve got to see it,” Brome had told him.
“Who does it belong to again?” Martin asks as he helps me pull basil leaves from the bush. I put them in the ziplock plastic baggy I keep attached to my jeans with a long elastic band. They will be good in the bright red spaghetti sauce for the dinner tonight we would eat with out hands. It’s important to know which ones aren’t affected by radiation.
“Me,” Brome says, raising it up in the air a little higher. His skinny little foot slips over the edge of his beach sandal and he nearly stumbles but catches himself at the last second.
“No one,” I correct him, snapping the ziplock bag shut by pressing it tightly with my fingers. “We found it in the farmer’s house, when we moved in.”
“In the yard!” Brome shouts. “We found it in the yard!”
I raise and lower my shoulders to my ears wordlessly. “Maybe it belonged to a grown-up,” Martin says, and Brome starts to laugh as I bend over to examine the yellow stains on the mint bush.
There were only kids living in the portables now, which is what we called the squat collection of square houses clustered on the edge of the field. They were always coming and going, coming and going–arriving with their heavy backpacks or pulling their metal wagons filled with canned food, wearing their bright orange radiation suits, their breath clouding up the see-through plastic across their faces. They were always amazed to see Brome and I walking out of the big white house to greet them, raising our hands in a hello that was both friendly yet tired. “How is this place not affected?”they would ask, shaking their sweaty heads like wet dogs as they pulled the masks from their faces, and I would shrug and look at the grey sky while Brome rambled on about the randomness of geographic positions, wind patterns that blew away fallout, the importance of valleys, things that I knew he had read on the crumpled torn out yellowing page of an encyclopedia we’d found at the bottom of a glass jar in the kitchen cupboard.
That was what had taken me aback about Martin. He had greeted me instead of the other way round, in that low gravely voice of his like he was steadily saying the first word of a spell.
* (The prompt for this from my writing class was “A land where only 12 year olds can perform magic.”)