STUMPED • by Harold N. Walters

“Let me out,” the boy cried.

If he heard the boy, Old Harry ignored him. Stooped, Old Harry leaned on his booga-stick, a cane he’d whittled from a gnarly length of witch hazel when he’d felt the first bites of arthritis in his knees, when he’d accepted that the limber legs of youth were gone.

“Please, let me out,” the boy pleaded.

Old Harry’s rheumy eyes lingered on the moldering stump that had caused him to stop at what he believed used to be the edge of the meadow of the boyhood home he was seeking after a lifetime’s absence. Lichens capped the stump, mimicking Old Harry’s grey thatch. He wondered about the fate of the maple that once towered above the stump’s roots.

“That’s my tree,” the boy claimed.

Old Harry brushed feebly at a late season wasp circling his head. As if irritated not only by the annoying wasp, but also by something vague–an elusive memory, perhaps–he whacked the stump with his booga-stick. Both wooden objects flinched.

“Stop that,” the boy said. “Don’t hurt the tree.”

Old Harry cocked his head and listened. Was that a voice? He listened more intently. Was that a boy’s voice calling?

“Yes,” said the boy. “It’s me you hear. Let me out so I can climb the tree and play in its branches again.”

Old Harry shook his head to dispel the voice. Now I’m hearing voices, he thought. I’ll soon be losing my foolish old mind.

“No,” the boy said. “It’s me, old man. Why won’t you let me out? You used to love climbing the tree. You’d say you wanted to be up where the birds roost.”

Old Harry shook his head vigorously, like a dog shedding water. He hitched up his bedraggled, baggy-arsed jeans and like a matador executing an exhausted bull, thrust his booga-stick deeply into the stump’s shoulder.

“No,” the boy yelled. “Stop that! If you let me out I’ll show you we can still climb to the sky.”

Old Harry wiped his booga-stick on the cuff of his jeans and turned away from the stump. It was just an old stump. He was probably in the wrong spot anyway. Likely, the meadow was farther west. Surely the maple’s stump would be rotted after sixty years.

Leaning so heavily on his booga-stick that its point pierced the earth, Old Harry shuffled away, his sneakers whispering among fallen autumn leaves.

Without forewarning, an annihilating pain stabbed Old Harry’s head. He slapped it with his free hand, as he’d done to the wasp.

“I’ll break out then!” the boy said.

Old Harry’s pain increased. His knees buckled and, both hands sliding down the booga-stick he grasped for support, Old Harry collapsed completely. Baffled, he heard the boy’s voice fade.

Old Harry didn’t see the revitalizing drops of heart’s blood seeping from the stump. Neither did he see the spectral boy scrambling among the maple’s ethereal branches.

Harold N. Walters lives in Newfoundland, the only Canadian Province with its own time zone. How cool is that!?

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