The day was warm, and from every corner of the city park, boiled over the sound of children playing. Every few seconds a mother’s voice would call one or more of them to order, and a father’s instructions would bring a kite higher, an RC car farther, a monkey bar closer. Everyone was happy. Everyone but Shawn.
Shawn was, in fact, terrified. He had just regained consciousness, and found himself sprawled on the green bordering a basketball court; not next to it, thank goodness, but hidden by long weeds that would be mowed the following day. The weeds had, until that moment, kept him hidden from the children; but, upon coming into wakefulness, he had erected his body into a sitting position, and as he rubbed his eyes and looked around to try to figure out where he was, a couple of children shrieked with glee as they spotted him.
“Look! A runt!” shouted one, the curly-haired one with demon-black eyes.
“Grab it!” cried out his friend, a redhead with freckles that mapped hell on his face. “Grab it before it disappears!”
They were upon Shawn as he tried to get up, his feet unsteady on the long ropy weeds that his naked feet hardly flattened. He was dizzy, and called out a woman’s name. She left me here, he remembered suddenly, and the clean awareness of the previous night hit him harder than the child that grabbed his arm, and tugged at it hard enough to send him sprawling on the mantle of grass again.
“Fight me, runt! Fight! Fight! Put up your ducks!”
“It’s dukes, stupid!”
“I don’t care. Grab his other arm.”
“I don’t want to touch it. My mommy says they have germs.”
“Who made you these clothes, runt?” The boy tugged at Shawn’s salmon-colored shirt. Shawn tried to fight off the giant’s pull, but there was nothing he could do to keep that delicate fabric in one piece.
“George! Let go of that runt! Put it down!” George’s father glared at the boy from some distance away, thinking of the cost of replacing another runt to a hysterical owner. Those things were expensive, and his little George had a talent for breaking them. Sweet Georgie boy waited to see if his father would look down at his cell phone again, the way he always did. When he didn’t, he reluctantly let go of Shawn, and ran away. He forgot him the next second.
Shawn swooned from the force of being released, and fell on the ever-bending bed of weeds. His eyesight had cleared up considerably, and he could focus on everything around him, but all he did was rub his arm where that evil boy had grabbed him, and look down at the remnants of his shirt. He discarded them. All he wore now were his only pair of jeans. She left me here, he thought again. She drugged me, and left me here to die. Shawn wanted to sit there and cry, and maybe die. He would definitely die if he was still outdoors when the sun set. His eyes filled with tears that blurred the image of a woman at a distance. A woman staring at him. He looked away, and made to rub his face, sweeping his tears dry instead. When he looked again, her gaze had travelled back to a book on the grass in front of her.
He sat there for a moment, looking at her. She was beautiful, and alone. She was resting on her stomach, graceful arms supporting her at the elbows, legs bent at the knees, feet like the tops of cherry willows, swaying in the wind, pink toes flexing gently. Maybe they kept time with the words she was reading. She looked kind. He had to try his luck. Otherwise, he’d be dead come morning. He made up his mind, and got up again. Thinking of what to say, he slapped his backside clean, and wiped away invisible dust from his arms. He cleared his throat, even though she was still some fifty of his feet away from her. He began to shorten the distance.
She looked up from her book, and realized he was coming closer. Her eyes opened wider with alarm. She shook her head. No, her mouth said. No. He ignored that, and swallowed hard. She was prettier than he had initially thought. Her eyes were huge, and brown. And… angry. Her luscious lips had come together tightly.
“Please,” he said. Before he could say another word, she cut him off. “Go away. Go back to your owner.”
“Please, I can’t. I don’t have an owner. She abandoned me.” At that, Brown Eyes looked shocked for a moment. Then she shook her head. “Not my problem. You probably did something to deserve it.”
“I didn’t. She just… got bored.”
“I don’t want to hear it. Go away. I’m not supposed to talk to disenfranchised runts.”
“I know… but… please. Please, help me. My name is Sh-”
“Don’t you dare tell me your name. Don’t do it. Don’t lasso me with your wiles.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t. I’m just… afraid. Afraid of tonight. I have nowhere to go.”
“Shit. Shit. Go away. I can’t help you. I don’t like you, you little monsters! I’m afraid of you. I hear things about you!”
Shawn saw an opening. “Yeah, well, they are all true.”
Brown Eyes looked at him with horror. She began to recoil. Shawn rushed to undo his mistake. “The powers! I mean. The healing powers. The mysteries of premonition! The…” he struggled to make himself sound interesting. So interesting she’d have no choice but to be interested. “The… magic. The powers and magic of… card reading!”
“What? Cards? Wait, can you really heal? What can you heal?”
Shawn sighed mysteriously, and smiled. He gave her a little shrug. He was happy to see her horror had been replaced with cautious fascination.
“Look… I can’t help you. I really can’t. By law, I’m supposed to leave you to die. I don’t want any trouble. What? What are you doing?”
Shawn was no longer playacting mysterious. His mind latched on to hers, and he saw a memory. A painful memory. He was frozen in place. He saw her as a child, killing small creatures. The memories haunted her; made her feel sick with remorse. He could help. He would help her, even if she did nothing for him. He began to move closer.
“What are you doing? Stop! Don’t do that!”
“Shh. Hold still. I’m not going to hurt you.” Shawn moved closer, and closer, his feet as slow as snails, his hands slightly in front of him, as though readying to grab the bridles of a skittish horse. His voice lowered to a whisper.
“Shh, giant woman. Let me show you what I do.”
Unbelievably, she let him. Her book forgotten, her fear put aside for the moment, she let him approach her, and he reached up with his arms, until he touched her lips. She felt his tiny fingers on the thick of her mouth, mapping the corners, fitting into the line in between, until she parted them slightly.
“Breathe out for me, giant woman,” he whispered. She felt something move inside her heart. Leap up, then begin to crawl out. An ache. “Wait…”
“Shh… let go of it. Breathe.”
She did. She let a gust of air fan his body, and as she watched his hair blow around his head, the something that had been moving inside of her, exploded out. Her heart pounded hard at that, but it felt lighter. Shawn released her, and took a step back. His eyes were still glued to her. He nodded once, to himself.
“How- what did you do?”
He shrugged. “I helped.”
She wanted to laugh at him, but didn’t. She didn’t because she felt helped. She felt lighter. She didn’t know how yet, and she wouldn’t realize how until she remembered her childhood sins again, and without pain. But now she could only smile at him.
“Yes. You did. You helped.”
He sighed, and cast the final die, played for fate. He smiled at her, and began to walk away.
“Wait! Don’t- don’t go yet.”
“I have to, giant woman. I have to find shelter.”
“You know there’s no shelter at night. Not for your kind.”
She looked at him. She looked at him forever. She didn’t blink at all when she told him her name.
“Finish the spell, little healer. Tell me your name. Tell me your name and be mine forever.”
And he did.