Eight Foot By Eight Foot Square
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Laser"
Originally featured on 12-14-2009
As part of our series "The Future Was Now"

A blood red pebble the size of a nail head sits in the grass between the rows where I planted summer squash. When I turned ten, for my birthday present Mom and Dad gave me ownership of an eight foot by eight foot square of soil in the garden and let me plant whatever I wanted. Last year I planted tomatoes but they didn’t grow because I didn’t tend to them right. This time I’m doing it right. I don’t know why there’s a pebble here that looks like that. I don’t pick it up. My sister Kali yells my name. I look in her direction. She’s just being stupid. I look back to the blood red pebble and can’t find it.

 

I get bored in the middle of the day when there’s nothing to do and no music. I dig a shallow hole in the dirt, prick my finger with a thumbtack and let one drop of blood fall in the middle of the hole then pack the dirt back on top of it. I’m curious if it will grow into anything. Like a miniature person with blood red pebbles for eyes whose mouth forms no expressions and who’s fluent in two hundred languages. And never sleeps.

 

Dad is arguing with the man he hired to install a picket fence around our garden. I think it’s about price. I can’t hear them speaking, but from my hiding spot under the house I can tell that my dad is spitting while he talks, as he only does when he’s angry. Nobody knows about my hideout under the house, except for Danny and Seth. We get there by crawling through the hole in the garage wall. We play space commandos.

 

Kali never gets bored. Sometimes when I lie awake and pretend to be asleep, I hear her talking softly. I don’t think she has a telephone; Mom and Dad would kill her if she did and they found out. Kali likes to do grownup things, like get her ears pierced and put on makeup, and she’s been begging for her own phone, she wants it badder than she wants her own bedroom. Maybe she’s dreaming out loud and thinks she’s talking on a phone, I don’t know. It sounds like she’s talking to someone, though, and it doesn’t sound like Kali. She doesn’t laugh at the same things Kali would laugh at, when she talks by herself at night. She sleeps in the bottom bunk. I got the top bunk because I like it.

 

Danny gets to be Captain Herdball. Seth is Princess Gwyneth. Seth has to play a girl because it was his fault Danny’s bicycle got stolen last summer when Seth was borrowing it and left it in front of the pool to buy a candy bar, and we won’t forgive Seth until we’re fourteen. Until then, Seth gets to be Princess Gwyneth. I’m Lord Vernal. The three of us crawl briskly under the porch to man the battle station when Seth screams and scurries onto his back, slamming his head on the wooden cross-member. His scream is tangled up with other frenzied chirping sounds. Two rodent like things with whip-like tails retreat from Seth and disappear. They’re the reason Dad’s building a fence around the garden.

 

My arms are shaking a little bit all through dinner. It’s like a refrigerator when you press your face right up close to it and listen, that’s what my arms feel like. Mom asks me what’s spooking me. I say nothing. Mom moves her elbows out in front of her, the way she always does when she’s about to ask hard questions, and Dad says let the boy eat. At night I’m already sort of asleep and I hear Kali talking, louder than usual, breathing quickly, and then a scream. I jump down from my bunk and spin around the bedroom. I look at her but she’s not in the bed. I hear Kali screaming. I can’t find her. In her bed all I see is a thousand blood red pebbles the size of nail heads piled on top of the covers.

 

Mom and Dad’s rushed footsteps clobber down the hallway, drowning the scream. I want to tell them I’m Lord Vernal, I can handle this, but then I’d slip and tell them about our fort under the house, and they’d kill me if they knew that.

 

My sister and I used to be best friends, we used to play hide and seek under the house—and sometimes at the pond—and got in trouble for it. She never goes under the house anymore, because she wants to be older, but she didn’t sound older when she was screaming. She has a square of the garden that’s the same size as mine. She grows flowers. I don’t care much about flowers. I can’t sleep.

 

Keep closing my eyes and seeing pebbles, piles of them moving slowly making me dizzy and I hear Kali’s scream like an echo, still can’t sleep.

 

I go under the house with a flashlight, look for the pebbles. I wonder if my summer squash is growing.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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