A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks. Rhythmically taping a long gnarled stick, which had been surreptitiously shed of its leaves, along the railroad ties in pattern only detectable to him the boy chased away boredom with the grand adventure of his own thoughts. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his right hand clutching a worn and tattered hat adorned with a drawn on skull and crossbones. He carefully readjusted the stuffed parrot he had fastened to his shoulder with tape and wire.
The boy jammed the hat back onto his head before diving off the tracks holding his wooden stick like a scimitar.
"Arrr back you scurvy devils!" He said with vehemence to the trees in front of him. "I am the pirate Black John and I am requisitioning this here ship unless any of you are brave enough to stop me!"
The boy danced around swinging his sword with enough force to cause the air to whistle around it. He occasionally jabbed his sword at his imaginary foes then laughed mercilessly.
"Come on you scurvy dogs is that the best you have!" He taunted the quiet forest in front of him. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves but did nothing to relieve the stifling heat from the blazing sun of mid-afternoon.
The boy sighed out of boredom. Playing make believe was only fun for so long when you were alone. He was always alone. The child eyed the forest with curiosity. So many adventures, new adventures could be had in there.
However, his mother’s voice rang in his ears. He wasn’t allowed to play in the forest. The forest was so thick and dark it was too easy to get turned around, lost inside. He was supposed to stay within close enough distance to his house to hear her if she called for him. Those were the rules, simple and clear.
He peered back over his shoulder across the tracks to the back of the small, blue row house he lived in that shook every time the train went by. The boy looked up at the sun. Surely his mother wouldn’t need him anytime soon… though he could not remember how long he had been out playing. Surely he still had hours before she would call him in for dinner.
The boy nervously licked his lips glancing from the forest to his blue house. He wanted to go, to explore the great unknown. The child’s desire to see what was foreign to him far out reached the fear he had of getting in trouble. Without another glance behind he charged into the forest the gnarled stick leading the way.
He ran through the forest dodging tall and looming trees, leaped over fallen, dying branches. The wind in his hair, the coolness of shade on his skin all sang to him of freedom. Freed from the heat, freed from the rules, freed from the imminent boredom he whooped and hollered slapping trees with his sword as he ran past them, an unaffected smile on face.
The boy stopped as he came to a stop at the edge of a small, gentle, bubbling stream. He peered into the rippling water watching it tumble over the rocks in perfect harmony with the world around. The child sat on a thick mossy patch beneath a giant white tree with no bark close enough to still hear the stream as it flowed with no regard to time. He leaned his head against the trunk and closed his eyes.
Immediately he opened his eyes again. When his eyes were closed he saw his mother crying alone in her kitchen. He saw other things too. Bad things. Things he did not think about. He jerked the hat from his head, he did not want to be a pirate anymore. It seemed like he was always a pirate. The child thoughtfully looked around the forest trying to dismiss the bad images that had come to mind by choosing a new game to play. He mindlessly tapped the gnarled stick while thinking about what he could pretend next.
"What's that?" He heard a sharp gruff voice say from deep within the woods.
"What?" another equally gruff voice replied.
The boy scrambled to his feet and hid behind the tree. He peered around the edge looking for the source of the voices. On the other side of the creek he saw two men and a mangy looking dog approaching the creek. The men were both dirty and dressed in many ragged layers. Their skin was worn and weathered like a saddle. One had a snug fitting wool cap on and the other had dirty red hair that fell across his forehead into his eyes. They both had a mean, hard look to them.
"Must be nothing." Said the red headed man, but his eyes narrowed as he scanned the forest once more.
The boy stayed as still and as quiet as he could, hiding behind the tree barely peeking around wanting to see them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw he had left his hat on the other side of the tree.
The man with the hat dropped his cloth sack on the ground next to the creek then ungracefully plopped down next to it stretching his feet out in front of him. The red headed man squatted on the ground next to him like he was perched to attack anyone that came near. Now that they were closer the boy could see the man in the hat was much older than the red headed man. The child worried the red headed man would see his hat and come looking over here. He needed to get it back.
"I hate it here." growled the red headed man.
The man in the cap rolled his eyes. "Oh is poor Jonas scared of the big bad woods?" mockery dripping from each word he spoke.
Jonas stood up pacing back and forth like a panther. "It's strange here." he said stubbornly.
“There's nowhere else we can go. They will be looking for us.”
The red head shrugged his shoulders.
“Had you not shot that gas station worker…”The man with the cap trailed off as he pulled a bottle of amber colored liquid from his sack. He took a long swig grimacing as he pulled his mouth away from the bottle. He offered it to Jonas. "It will be a cold one tonight. Fall comes faster every year." he said.
"Ain’t that the truth, Burt." Jonas said taking the bottle from the old man so he could take his own equally long swig.
The child shifted uncomfortably. He wanted to leave, but he was scared. He was scared they would catch him. He was scared he would not see his mother again.
The boy watched and listened to the foul conversation the men were having, waiting for them to leave or settle down. He impatiently glanced to the sky to make sure the sun was still shining and his mother had not missed him yet, but the sky was turning pink and blue as it was beginning to set. Finally when the red headed man named Jonas sat down the boy decided to make a break for it. He darted forward and snatched up his hat then ran away as quickly as his legs would carry him.
He heard the dog start viciously barking behind him and footsteps which seemed to be catching him. He clutched the hat and ran as fast as he could through the forest. The parrot flew off his shoulder, but the child kept running. No longer with the since of freedom he originally had. He could hear the men shouting behind him and the dog barking, barking so loud it had to be chasing after him. The boy dodged trees, hurdled fallen branches too afraid to look behind him. He couldn’t see the way out of the forest and he was so tired. The boy felt something grabbing at his shoulder.
The sun was bright and high in the sky, the boy could not remember how long he had been outside. He started walking down the railroad tracks with a parrot on his shoulder.