AN: Whew, after reading Scarecrow: Year One, I had this floating around inside my head. There's a scene where a young Jonathan gets beaten up by bullies and I just wondered what would have happened after that incident if I introduced some freaky coincidence. Wrote this just now, late at night in one go. So if there are any mistakes you know why….
Of Strange Meetings.
His side throbbed painfully where they had kicked him. He listened to their taunts fading away as the bullies disappeared around the corner of the old school building. For a few moments he just breathed in the musty smell of the dirt. Cross-eyed he followed an earthworm as it made its way through the muddy leaves, inches away from his nose.
The worm disappeared into the ground and the moment of weird serenity passed. With a soft groan he pushed himself up on his knees and brushed off his hands and jacket. His tussled hair left small streaks of dirt on his cheeks and he briefly looked up when several crows took flight from the school roof with some ruckus, perhaps startled when he had gotten to his feet.
The caws of the crows disappeared like the taunts of the bullies, leaving him with only the sound of tree leaves shifting in the small breeze and a feeling of desolation. He looked around and grabbed his backpack from the ground, searching and collecting his scattered belongings; pens and notebooks. Not to his surprise he found the bullies had stolen his lunch money.
"Ulysses, huh?" The sing-songy voice came from behind him.
Jonathan twirled around on the spot. Up on the grassy ridge overlooking the school's playground stood a young boy casually leaning against the tree. The same tree Jonathan had been reading under moments before the bullies had so rudely disturbed him. He eyed the newcomer warily, his hands clenched and his posture stiffened in a natural fight of flight response.
The young boy looked up from the books he was holding; Ulysses and a collection of Edgar Allan Poe poems and stories. His black hair partially obscured his eyes as a soft smile played across his face.
"Tough reading for boys our age, adults would make us believe." The boy said and pushed himself from the tree. In one smooth movement his squatted down near the edge of the ridge, dangling the books from his right hand in front of Jonathan.
"I see you left off on a good part, too."
Jonathan eyed the book carefully, his eyes shifting from it to the boy's face. The boy was about the same age as him, and just as tall and slender. He wore a short, stuffy green jacket above his discoloured jeans, greased with grass marks at the knees. A bag hung over his shoulder, also faded as if the boy had had it for many years. Jonathan didn't know him, he was sure he'd never seen him in school and he was wary of strangers. Wary of non-strangers for that matter as well.
He generally trusted no one, he had no reason to.
The boy sighed. "I don't bite."
A few more seconds passed before Jonathan reached out and took the books from the boy. He brushed off some dust before putting them into his backpack with the rest of his belongings. The boy just observed him with some interest.
It got on Jonathan's nerves.
"What's your name?" The boy asked, but Jonathan ignored the question.
"What do you want?"
The boy shrugged. "Nothing. Just saw those guys picking on you and was curious as to why."
"They don't need no reason. They just do."
"Yeah, I figured."
The boy sat down upon the grass, his feet dangling from the ledge as he took out two apples from his shoulder bag. He threw one with an elegant arc to Jonathan, who caught it with some surprise. The boy took a bite out of the other one and let himself fall back on the soft grass.
Jonathan stared at the apple and then back at the boy, slightly confused. His feet still dangled from the ledge as he stared up at the sky, munching his apple. A moment of uneasiness came when Jonathan didn't know what to do and a silence settled between them. Several seconds passed.
"What has no wings yet flies, cries yet has no eyes?"
The boy's arm appeared, his finger pointing straight up to the sky. Jonathan followed it with his eyes.
"A cloud." The boy announced.
"A riddle?" Jonathan sat down beside the boy, staring at the soft, wispy white forms as they slowly drifted across the clear blue sky before slowly taking a small bite out of his apple. The boy didn't react and Jonathan let his guard down a little. At least now he didn't have to worry about lunch.
"I find that Riddles are a good way to pass the time."
Jonathan mused over this. "Don't they get boring after a while? One answer and you're done."
"Riddles can have many answers you know, the original answer doesn't necessarily have to be the correct one. You can improvise your way out of any riddle."
Jonathan eyed the boy uncertainly, who looked back at him with a smug smile. "Surely that's not fair?"
The boy's eyes flared. "Fair? What's fair. Those bullies aren't fair and life isn't fair, I figured that out a long time ago." He answered, raising his eyebrows. His tone was smooth but Jonathan noticed the boy's hands clenching, as if the notion of fairness angered him.
"No, what matters is that you can think on your feet. Some people may be tougher, meaner or bigger but when you can improvise your way out of a situation, you've got an advantage."
"But riddles? They aren't going to help much are they?"
The boy waved his hand dismissively as he got up. "They're just a way of, you know, keeping people busy." He laughed, a short playful laugh that sounded genuine to Jonathan, something which surprised him. Then the boy looked towards him, his hands digging into his jacket pockets as his blue eyes pierced Jonathan's.
"Or a way to judge if someone's quick to think on their feet. Potential danger there."
Jonathan felt uncomfortable under the scrutinizing look. A part of him was feeling like he was being unfairly judged, but he was curious as well. "How?"
"Par exemple! How is a raven like a writing desk?" The boy cried happily, as if waiting for the moment to ask more riddles.
Jonathan bit his lip apprehensively, annoyance flaring up inside of him. "That's not fair!"
The boy's eyebrow shot up. "And why might that be?"
"Everyone knows that one! It doesn't have an answer!"
"Really?" The boy asked, as he twirled around the tree, one hand touching the rough bark. "It doesn't have an answer you say?"
Jonathan felt even more uneasy, suddenly wondering if he remembered incorrectly and he had just made a fool of himself.
"I say you just never tried. The book doesn't give an answer so you naturally assume there isn't one."
"Well, is there?" Jonathan asked, a bit more aggressively than he had wanted to, but the boy really got on his nerves.
"Of course." The boy smiled.
"I don't believe you."
The boy waved a hand dismissively. "Because there is a 'b' in both and an 'n' in neither."
Jonathan pushed himself up from the ground. "That's not a real answer!"
The boy smiled more widely now. "How about… because they both have inky quills?"
Jonathan hesitated at this answer, surprised the boy had managed to think of more than one answer. Yet, the answer still felt a bit off for him.
"Or," The boy began and kneeled down once again, patting Jonathan's backpack. Jonathan followed the boy's hand and looked at the poetry books in his bag. "Because Poe wrote on both."
Jonathan blinked and the boy smile changed to a more friendly one.
"That's my personal favourite. Thought you'd appreciate it." He got up on both feet and stretched, before looking at the old watch on his wrist. He tutted at the time and sighed briefly.
"I better get going. My dad doesn't have a sense of humour."
At the same time the school bell rang, announcing that lunch hour was over. The boy looked over at the school building and nodded towards it.
"Guess you've got to get going as well." He turned around and started down the other side of the ridge.
Jonathan felt a sudden urge to stop him. "Wait!"
The boy turned around, walking lazily backwards, a inquisitive look on his face.
The boy's face broke into a smile.
"Edward." He called back. "But don't bother remembering it. I'm just visiting my grandma, I don't live here." And with a little wave he turned around again, disappearing beyond the ridge.
Jonathan stared at where he had vanished before turning around and sauntering towards the menacing school building. Before he entered through the front door he twisted to look at the tree. The strange meeting had left him with a feeling of tranquillity and a small sense of sadness. He breathed out steadily.
"Bye Edward, hope we'll meet each other again one day."
:) I hope you enjoyed this.