Most of you have realized how my most recent short stories relate to survival of the fittest and being abandoned in the wilderness. All three stories were based on a writing prompt I was given in a workshop to define the true nature of the Japanese proverb 弱肉強食（じゃくにくきょうしょく）Translating each character this reads “weak meat, strong eat”, in other words “survival of the fittest”.
That’s going to change soon since this isn’t my normal style of writing.
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A SIMPLETON’S STONE
By: Katya Szewczuk
This is a story about a stone.
Above the tallest, most romantic hills of a prairie there nestled a little, lonely house. It had a broken, dingy roof and a chimney that coughed out black puffs of smoke. When the sun blanketed its light upon the cloudless skies, the house’s red bricks felt as though they could melt.
The house was dusty and always smelt like chicken-pot-pie. Its furniture was wooden, faded and old, the pipes were rusty and the kitchen faucet had been loose and dripping. White lace hung over the dirty windows, and a flickering lamp lay upon a wobbly table. The walls were boarded with wood, and the floors, carpeted by an off-white throw rug.
Within the quiet house the sounds of a ‘ticking’ clock struck noon, and cast a spell. The mischievous sounds of running shoes loped, and a swelled laughter swarmed the living room and filled it with a ringing joy.
Six boys wrestled on the carpet and dirtied it with their muddy sneakers. Their shirts were sullied with grass-stains and their cheeks filthy with mud. They punched and scratched at each other’s chests, laughed and kicked at the ground. A boy with specs opened a can of soda pop and scratched at his little bulging belly.
“Hey, hey, look!” he shouted, “I’m a drunk, ol’ man!”
The five others laughed.
One boy with fair hair and pale, freckled skin kicked off his sneakers and hopped onto the couch next to the boy with the specs.
“Newt you ain’t somthin’. Yer pa was a drunk with a beer belly. That what yo’ gonna be?”
The boy named Newt frowned and fixed his dirty specs.
“Least my name ain’t Lindsey!” he said.
“Girl! Girl!” a burly boy with towy, black hair shouted.
“Shut up, Bernie!” Lindsey cried.
His face disappeared underneath a blush of humiliation and he punched beefy Bernie in the chest.
“You’re all bein’ idiots,” a boy with black hair and piercing blue eyes said.
“What’do’yo know Caine?” Newt said, “We’s all know you’se stupid.”
Caine crossed his legs and sat between the three boys. He leaned against a dirty table filled with empty soda pop cans, candy wrappers and a box of cards. Shuffling the cards, he brushed back his dark hair and laughed.
“I ain’t stupid yo’ pissant, I jus’ don’t wanna learn is all,” he said.
“But learnin’ is important!” the littlest boy said.
His hair was as curly and kinky as a lion’s mane. His eyes were brown, his skin was burnt, his lips were chapped and his body was small as a mustard seed. His name was Austin.
The last boy, who was shy and mute, was called Brady. He always wore a baseball hat to hide his eyes and never looked up at the other boys. He was bullied by every one of them, except Caine.
Touching the cards on the table Brady picked up the six of hearts. Noticing his interest in the card, Newt laughed hard.
“Brady wanna play a game?” he said, “Oh wait, he don’t speak!”
“Shut up yo’ wussy!” Caine shouted.
He looked at Brady and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Yo’ wanna play Brady?” he asked.
“Man I don’t know why yo’ bother!” Bernie said.
“Yeah man, he doesn’t even talk. We should dump ‘im,” Austin added.
Newt and Lindsey agreed and exchanged casual looks.
Caine ignored the boys’ scornful remarks and tossed several cards round the table. He was tough and cool and never broke a sweat. Austin had always said Caine was the leader of the group because of his patience. He was runaway. When his grandfather had died he remembered he told him to just keep on running and running until he found someplace safe to hide.
Newt lit a cigarette, munched on the butt-end, and put another behind his ear, pursing his lips and pretending to be grown-up. He always wanted to be someone the others looked up to, but always nose-dived for the worse, just like his drunk father who sent him away.
Lindsey was the opposite. He was unpopular to hog the attention, bluntly spoke his mind, and was humiliated when someone teased him about his name. His parents had wanted a baby girl, but instead they had a boy. They gave him away when their friends and family questioned why their son was called ‘Lindsey’.
Bernie was a rock. When things got tough he stood his ground and made everything better. Even when his parents abandoned him he always found a way to survive.
Austin was burnt and abused by his uncle so he stowed away on a boat, found the prairie and became the first to live in the brick house with Caine. He’d been the crook of the group. He pickpocketed traveling merchants’ hardworking dough, swiped their goods and even stole their food. All of the boys depended on Austin, even Newt.
No one knew the story of Brady’s past. He just showed up at their doorstep one day, hungry, dirty and mute. Newt wanted to leave him out in the forest for the red-eyed beasts to devour, but Caine hadn’t allowed it. So he welcomed the mute boy, cleaned him up and fed him a meal.
The boys were together for three years. Lindsey was thirteen, Newt was twelve and one quarter, Bernie was twelve, Brady was eleven and one half, Caine was eleven and Austin was ten. They played card games, snacked on stolen goods, smoked cigarettes, listened to ballgames on a portable radio and never slept on empty stomachs. They were happy living on their own without any rules to follow or chores to do. Their time at the brick house was innocent and fun.
* * *
When the witching hours crept over the prairie and the moon was full in the night sky, Caine tossed and turned in his sleep. He stirred and saw Brady twiddling his thumbs and watching him.
“Can’t sleep either?” Caine whispered.
Brady shook his head.
Going beside the mute boy, Caine laughed.
“Bernie sure does snore loud, don’t he?”
Brady fixed his baseball cap and looked away calmly.
Caine frowned and then realized the red, sharp stone in Brady’s hand.
“Hey what’s that?” he wondered.
Like he was praying on rosary beads, Brady shied away and clutched the stone.
“You can tell me,” Caine said.
Turning around and looking Caine straight in the eyes, Brady smiled. He took off his cap, scratched his bushy, black hair and pulled out a little note. It read:
I AM A WISHING STONE.
I WILL GIVE A FAMILY TO WHOEVER HOLDS ME.
“You believe in that?”
“It ain’t true,” Caine said, “We already gots a family.”
Shaking his head and pulling his dirty sheets back over his body, Caine closed his eyes and fell fast asleep.
* * *
The next morning Caine woke up to the sounds of uproar. He heard Newt screaming and saw Austin crouched and fumbling.
“Newt man, what’re yo’ doin’?” Bernie said.
“He said I was nothin’! He said we’s all a’gonna be nothin’ when we grow up!”
The children looked at Austin and saw he cusped his bloody, stale nose.
Caine went to him and frowned.
“What’re you talking ‘bout Austin?”
Austin was staggered and couldn’t speak.
“He said we’re gonna grow up to be savages!” Newt cried.
“He did say somethin’ like that,” Lindsey said.
“But why?” Caine questioned.
“We don’t have parents!” Austin finally said, “We don’t know nothin’!”
“We have each other,” Caine said.
“We ain’t gonna grow old togetha’! We ain’t gonna be old men on canes livin’ in a small house,” Austin cried.
“Why not?” Bernie questioned.
“’Cause it ain’t right!”
The children thought and looked round the room.
“We’s need ta get parents!” Austin said, “Without them we’s nothin’!”
Lindsey started to cry and wiped his snot on his sleeve.
“We can’t find any!” he howled.
Bernie tugged on Lindsey’s blonde hair and snarled.
“Shut up man! Shut up!”
“Yeah!” Newt said, “We don’t need nobody!”
Caine stomped his feet and looked into Austin’s unsettled, hard eyes. He was about to speak to him fluently when he saw Brady rummaging in the corner.
“What’s mute-boy up to?” Newt wondered.
Curious as infants, the boys swarmed around Brady and looked over his shoulders.
“What’s he got in his hand?” Lindsey said.
“What’d yo’ got Brady?” Bernie asked.
Squishing their faces closer to Brady, the boys tripped over their laces and waited. When Brady held out the red, little stone they were awed.
“What’s that?” Lindsey questioned.
Newt pushed passed the others and said, “Give me that!”
Snatching the stone, Newt fixed his foggy specs and wiped his runny nose.
“Looks like rock-candy,” Bernie said.
“It ain’t rock-candy!” Newt shouted.
“Then what is it poindexter?” asked Austin.
Observing the stone, Newt’s round, thick specs fell on the bridge of his button nose. He licked his dry lips and thought.
“Dunno,” he said.
Tossing the stone over to Bernie he looked back at Brady.
“What’s th’ deal mute-boy?”
“Knock it off man!” Caine demanded.
Newt shook his head.
“Don’t tell me what to do, I’m in charge!”
“Yo’ ain’t in charge man,” said Austin, “If anyone’s in charge it’s ought ‘a be Caine.”
“Yeah. Caine!” Lindsey called.
Bernie nodded and tossed the stone into the air.
“Yo’ know ‘bout this thing Caine?” he asked.
Caine looked at Brady and then at burly Bernie.
“Ya do?” the boys said together.
Caine nodded and continued, “Brady said it was a special stone.”
“Brady said?” Newt questioned, “Heck man if Brady said somethin’ that is a special stone.”
Newt’s slur exploded into a bellyache of laughter while the boys danced round like little things of gold at sunset.
“Ain’t funny man,” Caine said.
“Sure is funny, seein’ yo’ stick up for a mute-boy,” Newt said.
Then Austin said:
“C’mon just tell us ‘bout the stone.”
“Yeah c’mon man!” Bernie shouted excitedly.
He tossed the stone over to Caine and Caine caught it in his clumsy hands. The boys were impatient.
“Brady didn’t say it, but a note said that this stone will give a family to whoever holds it. It’s magical.”
Silence swelled over the room and the boys sat down becoming Caine’s quiet assembly of admirers.
“But it ain’t true.”
Brady scrambled behind him and waved the same crinkled note in front of the muster of boys. This time something else was written in black ink.
“What’s it say?” Newt cried out.
Caine took the note and read it with screwy eyes. It read:
TAKE ME TO MY HOME IN THE WOODS,
PASSED THE RIVERBED, IN THE CAVE,
AND I WILL GIVE YOU A HOME IN RETURN.
When Caine hadn’t said anything the boys wrestled for the note and tore it in two. Newt was the first to read it, then Bernie, Lindsey and finally Austin. They stood silent for a moment watching the swaying shadows build up under their feet.
“Yo’ don’t believe in it right?” Caine wondered.
The boys contemplated.
Lindsey agreed and Bernie too.
Brady, who hung his stout body over the tattered sofa, laughed at the boys.
Newt frowned at him and advanced.
“How ‘bout yo’ tell me what’s so funny mute-boy?”
“Leave ‘im alone Newt,” Caine said.
Newt looked at Caine and then at the stone in his hands. He took it and fixed his crooked specs. The boys watched him carefully.
“What’re’yo doin’ man?” Bernie questioned.
Newt started laughing and pushed a handful of hairs away from his sweaty forehead.
“I’m a’gonna take this here thing back to th’ forest an’ get myself a home,” he said.
“That ain’t fair! What ‘bout us?”
“Ain’t my problem.”
Soon Newt reached the door and was about to leave when suddenly Bernie blocked him.
“Move, yo’ wussy!” Newt cried.
Bernie shook his head and pushed Newt to the ground.
“We’s wanna home too,” Bernie said.
“Yeah! Ain’t fair if you get one and we don’t,” Lindsey acknowledged.
Caine watched this and was about to say something when Newt threw a fit.
“I’m goin’ to th’ forest!”
“Then we’s goin’ with yo’,” Bernie said.
“Th’ note said only one will get a home.”
Newt laughed and trekked out the door with Bernie and Lindsey.
When the boys disappeared under the peachy, blushing sky, Caine shouted after them and kicked at the ground.
“What’s wrong with them?” he said.
“They’re only thinkin’ ‘bout themselves.”
* * *
Come nightfall the boys still hadn’t returned. Caine watched the window from time to time hoping little heads would be creeping out from the forest, but only fireflies grasped his eyes.
The forest was placid during the night, like fresh dew dripping from a shady reed in a pond. The sounds of creeping creatures were dim, but the crackling of a burning campfire was not. Newt, Bernie and Lindsey were filled with mud and sweat, hair plastered to their foreheads, mouths dry and bellies empty.
When the fire had gone out and the mist and mugginess of morning made Newt stir, he abandoned the boys and clambered amidst the tangled up vines and creepers.
There was only one cave found in the forest and it was as deep as a smelly, dark pit. Newt followed the riverbed until he spotted the gushing waterfall. He smelt the wetness in the air and the moss growing on the moist, shinny pillars.
Wiping his specs on his baggy, black sweatshirt Newt took a shortcut passed the riverbed. He skipped upon the mossy pillars and followed the rapids passed the scar, when suddenly he’d lost his footing and dropped the stone into the water. Swallowing deep puffs of air, he dove into the river, caught the stone but couldn’t catch another breath. He’d drowned.
The stone– a tricky thing–floated back towards the camp and was fished out by Bernie who cussed and spat. He knew Newt had deserted them and hated him for it. Though when the boys saw Newt’s limp, white body floating upon a burping bog, they were horror-struck.
Lindsey followed close behind the burly boy and was cautious with every step. He fidgeted and jumped when the forest’s creatures and insects began to stir. Then he screamed when a flock of black birds rustled from the treetops.
“Shut up yo’ girl!” Bernie shouted.
He thrust his fist into Lindsey’s gut and watched him stumble to the ground.
“What a girl yo’ are,” he spat, “So ‘fraid of everythin’.”
“Shut up,” Lindsey mumbled, “I don’t wanna end up like Newt!”
Bernie laughed hard.
“Yer parents should’ve kept yo’. You’se already a girl.”
Lindsey’s eyes welled with tears and he hid his freckled face in shame. When he looked up he saw the stone glimmering in Bernie’s hand, glistening against his tan skin. Bernie began to walk away and galloped passed the riverbed.
“Where’re yo’ goin’?” Lindsey asked.
“To get myself a family!”
Lindsey ran after Bernie but was bullied by him even further. Bernie had become a ruthless savage. Showing off his crooked teeth like a rabid mongrel, his eyes were bloodshot and his jaw snapped shut. The sight of poor, dead Newt had haunted him. He’d been eaten by fear.
When Lindsey couldn’t take this hounding any longer, he picked up a heavy rock and pelted it across Bernie’s head. Bernie crashed to the hard, wet ground and lay there in a pool of red, hot blood. Thick junk oozed out from his skull, and his eyes rolled back and turned pure white.
For a moment Lindsey envied Bernie’s golden body and snarled taking the stone. When he realized what he’d done, he covered Bernie’s body and took off as quick as a hare. He ran and ran until he bumped into Austin and fell into a pile of thick muck.
The two stared wide eyed at each other but stopped when Lindsey ran back into the forest and tripped over his laces.
Austin hunted after him, pushing through the creepers and calling for Lindsey. He stepped from the interwoven creepers and saw the frightened boy hanging from a cliff.
“Help!” Lindsey cried, “Help me!”
Austin went to him and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Austin, please help me!”
He watched the boy sway like a flag. He saw the dirt and rocks beneath him beginning to crumble. ‘Crick…crack…’ Austin was stupefied. Then he saw the stone.
“I want a family too,” he whispered.
Taking the stone, Austin watched Lindsey fall to his death, and saw his body split in half by the pillars. He cried but wiped his tears and returned home.
* * *
Austin hid the stone from Caine and Brady after he’d told them about the other boys’ deaths. When night came he couldn’t sleep because he was too anxious to find the cave and giggled into his palms. So jumping out of bed, Austin ran out into the forest.
An hour had passed, and soon Austin began to get tired. He checked his watch. It was 11:00 PM. Down the thicket roads and passed a rickety bridge there was glowing, yellow light, which melted the buggy air. Curiously, Austin thought he found the cave, but instead stumbled upon a forest fire. He died when his lungs filled with smoke and his body burned to a crisp.
Caine went on a search the next morning to find Austin and bring him home, but what he found made fear crawl under his skin. He saw Austin’s body covered with black soot. The sight of him burned into his soul like a witch’s curse. He cried for hours and buried the boy with leaves and dirt. He hadn’t left the forest until he found the stone and tried to crumble it into dust.
Brady stood behind Caine then, and laughed so hard it startled the birds nestled in the trees. Caine went to Brady, slapped him and pushed him to the ground.
“Why’re yo’ laughing yo’ wussy?” he cried.
Brady stood, wiped the dirt off of his white shirt and looked at Caine shyly.
“They’re all dead!” he cheered, “Dead as rats!”
Caine was flabbergasted. He jumped on top of Brady and started throwing punches into his stomach. Biting, scratching, snarling, spitting, he hadn’t stopped until Brady started laughing again.
“Wussy!” Caine cried, “Yo’ can talk!”
He grabbed the stone and held it in front of Brady’s eyes. Brady’s laugher howled and hurt his sides.
“They all fell for it!” he shouted, “Brady wins the game!”
“Game?” Caine questioned.
“They picked on me and smashed me up,” he began, “I wan’ned to give ‘um a taste of their own medicine.”
Caine started to beat the ground with his fists and cried into the dirt. He coughed and choked on his tears.
“You’re sick,” he whispered, “A monster–”
“Now we can be a family again,” Brady said.
Caine pushed him away and ran as fast as he could. He got tangled by the creepers and tumbled down rocky crags, but hadn’t stopped. He heard Brady crying for him as loud as tempest blew the waves of an ocean upon the shore, but hadn’t turned back. He ran and ran just like his grandfather had told him to do.
Three days had passed. Caine roasted in the sun and almost melted like wax. The sun slashed over his face when his screwy eyes peered beyond the undergrowth of trees. He licked his dry lips. He was injured from tip to toe and his stomach growled. His hair was matted, dirt smeared his cheeks and he was in desperate need of a bath. He was pathetic.
Limping back into the forest Caine felt guilty that he’d run away from poor, little Brady. How was he? What was he doing? Now that he was all alone he probably couldn’t play any card games or light a cigarette. Laughing, Caine reached the tallest, most romantic hills of the prairie and took in a deep breath. Though, once he passed the creepers and the broken stumps of trees he started to cry.
Smoldering in black billows of smoke, the brick house had burned down. The bricks had been smashed. The windows were shattered. The furniture was broken into one thousand pieces. All but fifty-two cards and a little boy crushed beneath the rubble and soot had been seen from the tallest hills of the prairie.
Caine ran to the burning debris and ripped Brady from beneath it. Stroking the dead boy’s face and cradling him like a tot, he shouted to the heavens and cried for the loss of his dear friends.
Suddenly, when Caine opened his eyes there sat the little red stone like the bumps on a log. He stared at it, getting sucked in and lost from its vibrant, crimson color and domineering power. Then from afar he heard a mousy-like scream and saw two figures creeping closer and closer. When the figures appeared into the light, he noticed it was a man and woman. The man hoisted Caine up and took him by the hand.
“What’re yo’ doin’ out here, boy?” he asked, “Your folks must be worried sick ‘bout yo’.”
Caine looked down at Brady’s bloody, burnt body and then up at the man.
“I don’t got no folks,” he said.
The man looked behind him and the woman smiled gently.
“How ‘bout yo’ come with us then? Out here’s no place for lil’ kid.”
Caine was dirty, hungry and tired. He listened to the ‘crackling’ sounds of the fire behind him and looked wearily at the stone.
“Can yo’ bury my friend?” he asked.
The man nodded, buried Brady and then looked at the ugly, dirty boy.
“Welcome to th’ family,” he said.
Caine smiled uprightly, took the man’s hand and never looked back.