“Quinn, guess what we found?” my mom said. She closed the fridge to look at me. I shrugged. I was home for the summer and I didn’t land an internship, which meant ice cream, lunches with old friends, and lying on the couch flicking through TV channels.
“Your rock,” my mom said.
“Your boulder! Don’t you remember? You used to sit and stare at it for hours when you were, oh, three or four. You had an imaginary friend who lived on it, remember? What was his name…”
I shook my head.
“We found it down by the streambed. I don’t know how we didn’t stumble across it all these years,” she said.
“I doubt I’ll be able to recognise it,” I said.
“You never know,” she answered.
Shrugging, I turned back to the living room.
I flopped on the couch and flicked through channels. I wondered what Anna was doing. There had been something between us at the end of the school year, but summers were long. Maybe she had found a guy in Maine, an old high-school crush.
After a couple minutes I got up and stared out the glass back door. We had a chicken coop and a low fence dividing our property from the nature preserve. Because I had nothing better to do, I put on shoes and went looking for my rock. Penny clucked at me as I went over the fence.
The smell of the park was familiar, the smell of dirt and idle summers. I passed by the place where I had once built a fort with friends, laying long branches against a Y-tree. Bracken hedged into the walkway, vying for open sunlit space. There was poison ivy in the weeds, too, waxy in the sunlight.
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find when I came to the streambed. Maybe I thought I’d have to hunt around a little to find the right rock. Or there would be no rock at all.
There was a rock, though, by the water. It was flat and round. Sitting on the rock was a creature. It was humanoid, but massive, eye level with me even though it was sitting cross-legged. Its body was hairy and its legs ended in hooves. The face was wrinkly and dirty, with a mopey mouth full of large, blunt teeth.
I stared at the creature and its eyes lit up.
“You’re back!” it said in a thick voice.
“Hello,” I said uncertainly.
After a moment of silence, I added, “What’s your name?” His mouth turned down and his eyes became large and watery.
“You don’t remember? You’ve forgot me, haven’t you,” he said. He sniffled and rubbed his nose with a huge calloused hand.
“I’m sorry,” I said. I wondered in a detached sort of way if I should be acting more surprised.
“Why didn’t you come back?” the creature whined.
“I was in college,” I said. I realized that wasn’t entirely accurate because this rock had been here long before that, while I was in middle school and kindergarten. The creature sniffled again. His thick upper lip quivered above crooked teeth. I wondered if he could stand, if he could leave the rock.
“You really don’t remember my name?” he asked. I shook my head and he let out a sound that was half sob and half snort.
He said, “It’s Quinn.”
“Oh,” I said. “I ought to have remembered that. Seeing as it’s my name too.”
He looked up at me and blinked. “No,” he said.
“It is, yeah.”
“No, it isn’t!” he repeated, agitated. I stepped back as he kicked his hooves on the rock and his face scrunched up, holding in tears.
“Okay, okay,” I said. He reminded me of my little cousin Teddy who threw temper tantrums at family gatherings.
“You said it was only for a little bit,” said the creature, “You said it was a game.”
“I don’t remember what I said,” I told him.
The monster pouted at me with big eyes and quivering lips. It took him a couple seconds before he choked out, “I want to switch back. You told me it was only for a little while.”
I stared at him. He whimpered, hugging himself with his hairy arms.
“Please,” he said, “You said it would only be for a little bit and it’s been a really long time.”
I took a step back.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. He whimpered again.
“It’s so lonely here. You said we would switch back. You said it was only a game…”
“I don’t know what I said!” I shouted, “I was four!”
He shrunk back as if slapped. He stared at me, and that ugly, fat upper lip kept quivering.
“You promised,” he whispered, and a memory tugged at the back of my mind.
I turned and ran. I heard him howl as I raced through the trees, almost tripping on branches. I ran through patches of poison ivy, not caring, trying not to think. I thought of my friends instead, I thought of my parents.
I burst into the clearing behind our house and scrambled over the fence, breathing hard. I went inside and flopped on the couch, shaking and breathing heavily. There was an ad for Dawn dish soap on the TV. I heard my mom in the kitchen, clicking at her mac.
Quinn. That was my name. That was my only name.
I lay there until my breathing slowed. Until my heart stopped pounding against my ribcage. And then I lay there still and stared at the fan turning slowly on the ceiling.
It was only a game…
After some length of time I got up and made my way into the kitchen. My mom glanced at me.
“Did you find your rock, Quinn?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said as calmly as I could. “I don’t remember it. It’s just a rock.”
Quinn Theobald is a two-time winner of the Heermans-McCalmon Award for stage plays. He has studied writing at Cornell University and published short stories in a university magazine. His little brothers have always been his most devoted audience.