For the second consecutive year, the Perspectives writing series presented a "Marathon" challenge in May. Instead of the usual single writing prompt for the month, Yuki Frost
's player put up a new topic every 5 days, along with a bonus topic for a grand total of seven. I missed out on all of the previous year's, but this time managed to bang out a story for each before the following topic went up. After realizing I'd done it unconsciously for the first two, I tacked on a personal challenge that surprisingly made it easier to get the ball rolling when I sat down to write: starting each story with the same sentence.
This was the first, a snapshot of the Androgyne as, as one friend put it, the "smug little shit" e's always been.
High Park, Kings Row. 1993.
"Ready or not, here I come!" cried the tow-headed youngster crouched in the stairwell leading down to the apartment building's laundry room. He paused a second, then scampered up the steps and looked around the wide courtyard. In the middle of it was a small park extending the length of the block to the street on the opposite side, with several trees, benches and rocks that would provide good hiding spots for the other children, but he scanned it only briefly and never ventured near it. He already knew none of the others would be hiding there, as all their parents warned them sternly on a daily basis about playing there.
Though most of them lived in one of the block's tenements or another, which wrapped around the park, their parents had made it clear to all of them that the park was not theirs to play in. It belonged to other elements of Kings Row: the Shadows, the homeless, the addicts and drunkards. The police patrolled it when they could, a few local masks would pass through from time to time, but there was always the danger of discarded needles and broken bottles even after the riff-raff had been scared off.
As the boy began to snoop through the nooks and crannies around the courtyard outside the park's wrought-iron fence in search of his friends, six stories above them all in one of the corner buildings, another child knelt on a battered old hand-me-down toy chest to peer out the window and watch the game unfold in rapt fascination. The 6-year-old's hair was an unruly mop of neon straw, a much more vivid blond than the boy playing seek. They wore forest green corduroy overalls over a pale pink shirt decorated with glittery yellow butterflies on the sleeves, and watched on in almost perfect stillness, grey eyes flicking around the courtyard to every supposedly secret hiding spot the players had chosen.
Behind the child, the bedroom door creaked a little further open and a man's voice probed affectionately, "You're missing Goofy, honey. Everything okay?"
The child gave a big shrug without looking away from the window; having only in the last year or so become conscious of the various uses of the otherwise instinctive gesture beyond expressing ignorance, the child liked to employ it whenever it seemed applicable. It still came with the innate exaggeration of a child mimicking its elders. "He's only funny because of the stupid sound, I already saw TaleSpin and Darkwing."
The father stepped in, wiping grime off of his hands with a dishrag since he'd just come from fixing the pipes beneath the kitchen sink, and walked through his child's scattered dolls, trucks, and storybooks over to the toy chest and sat, further tousling the bright yellow mop with his cleanest hand. The child smiled at him, or rather his reflection in the window, and fussed for a moment smoothing the disrupted hair before pressing up to the window again. Breath held for the moment spent reacquiring the seeker, the child released it as he came back into view by the neighboring building's trash can, lunging over it to tag a hidden girl crouched behind. The child grinned, "I knew he'd find her first."
Rudy Hess smiled and turned a bit more to look out the window and try to see what game of their many neighbors' children had seized his own's attention today. "Found a more interesting show, I see." His smile softened a little, and a note of encouragement entered his voice. "You know, Ani, any time you'd like to go play with the others, you just have to let me or your mother know. I bet it'd be a lot of fun."
Ani's grin flipped, though the ensuing frown was not severe. Hands cupped over eyes to shield them from the setting sun, Ani watched the seeking boy prowl suspiciously around an over-filled dumpster, following a false lead. The chunky tabby that lived in the next building had clawed its way into a trash bag which had been left beside it, only to dart off as the boy ran towards the rustle thinking it was one of his friends. "...but I like playing from here better," Ani murmured.
Rudy's brow furrowed. "Playing from here?"
Ani turned away from the window, the impish grin returning. "Nobody can hide from me up here. So, I always win."