By Emily Rosedo
He had been gliding through a field of flowers, brushing the gentle foliage and parting his lips to say hello to the cool hillside air greeting him. It had been a peaceful morning and he had just finished picking lavenders and prodding the water bugs down the riverbend. His grandmother, Eleanor, had baked a cabbage pie with fresh ingredients from the garden that had ripened just this week, contrary to the terrible harvest last season grumbled Grandma El. She called over to Elliot to hurry before the pie became cold. He huffed through the moist forest, recently doused with rain a storm had carried over just hours ago. Perspiration clung to his back and neck as nettles and grass nipped at his ankles. He pulled the brightly painted metal patio chair out to sit but Grandma El swatted his hands away and told him to wash his hands, refusing to believe that she had raised a boy so ill-mannered and that if he wanted to be surrounded by such filth to get a job down in the coal mines or oil rigs like Mr. Burgen down the street, who had recently gotten arrested for tax evasion and was swept away by the government and transported to a prison in Albania according to Ms. Lau, who organizes the yearly church functions. Elliot simply complied because how else could he possibly act in this situation.
He returned and set the table with the fancy kind of dollar-store silverware and antique china that his grandmother had stolen when she had worked at a retail store in her 20s, which wasn’t the reason she was fired but a decision that she had made only after the fact just to spite her manager who had a potbelly and a bald personality. During the meal, Grandma El mentioned to the boy that she had signed him up for an academy in the city and that only this way would he have the best education and opportunities for his future, as well as decreasing the likelihood of becoming Burgen 2.0, hauling rocks through snow storms with chains around his ankles, serving five years in prison just for saving enough money to buy his cheating wife a new car to run away with the supervisor of the coal mine he worked in.
Elliot flipped the table over, shattering the stolen china and sending the pie flying across the garden and into the neighbor’s yard for their small, half blind Yorkshire terrier to clean up. He stomped up to his room in the attic, painted pink by his parents as they were expecting twin girls but were misinformed by the doctor, who had actually come into work hungover and $50,000 richer that day from a wild night out. Elliot had lived with his grandmother all his life. What was wrong with his current school, he questioned. He had just recently made friends this junior year. Ever since his science teacher, revealed to be an escaped felon charged for arson and possession of drugs, was captured and detained, the school’s overall satisfaction rating had gone from a 4 to a solid 6.5; there had been 0.5 points deducted from a recent incident involving a freshmen with braces, the school lunch lady, and indecent exposure. He was comfortable here, in this small middle-lower-class hillside village, population of 999; Old Man Bern had just passed away yesterday from a rowing accident, rest his soul. The city was large and filled with empty people. Sending him to the academy would be ten times worse than Albanian prison.
He heard a knock at his door and the wrinkly old face of Grandma El popped out. She had spent most of her life in this very town, aspiring to move to the city and become the richest cabbage vendor. However, things did not go as planned as she became pregnant with the daughter of a seasonal German migrant worker whose presence eventually became nonexistent by the time her daughter was born. And so, she settled for retail sales and the occasional obscure trade. Fast forward 24 years and a tragic car crash later, and all she’s left with is her 3-year-old grandson: blonde haired, blued eyed, and with a mild peanut allergy. But he had been the most beautiful, special human being she had ever seen, and she was determined to keep him safe, even if it meant sending him away. She sat next to the Elliot, holding out plated pie she had saved from the carnage out back and handed the distraught boy a slice. She explained that the academy was the most highly regarded educational institution in the nation and cultivated the minds of several renowned academics, at least that’s what it said on the pamphlet. He would get to see her on holidays.
Elliot dully poked the pie and stared at the bits of grass stuck in the crust. He had lived with Grandma El and known her all his life. He didn’t need to go to some fancy, prestigious school filled with snobs and robot professors fabricated at high tech government facilities. He wasn’t planning on becoming a doctor or lawyer, or a transformative and revolutionary public figure anytime soon. He simply had to run away. Anything was better than attending a stuffy private school with filled with a rich history of pompous aristocrats and sketchy government funding. He set aside the pie and buried himself over his green flower-patterned comforter. Grandma El sighed and decided that the boy needed some space for the time being but warned him that the school would come to pick him up by the end of the weekend at noon. She closed the bedroom door and four heart beats passed, Elliot sprung from under the sheets and immediately began packing. He threw whatever inside the worn leather bag. He glanced at his pet bearded dragon, Leopold, and took his cage before sneaking out of his bedroom window. It was night fall by the time he began walking the streets. He figured that he would camp out in the woods until Sunday night, which would be just enough time for the academy to give up looking for him.
He had been walking for hours, the hard leather of his boots beginning to blister his feet. He hadn’t thought of food or water, so he made a pit stop at FLOUNDER’S FISH AND GROCER’S EMPORIUM: FISH, FISH, AND MORE FISH. The jingle of the bell signaled his entry. It was a sizable store, the majority of it being a fish market, as indicated by the name. In a small, dimly lit corner of the store was a regular aisle filled with dairy, snacks, and women’s hygienic products only. Elliot made his way towards the aisle, occasionally eyeing the fishmonger at the register. The six-foot-tall burly, ginger haired man gripped a hook in his gloved hand and eyed Elliot suspiciously. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the man’s intimidating demeanor or his suspiciously left pink eye. Elliot grabbed a few chips and cookies and made his way to the register. The man scanned his items and gruffly asked for $8.47, hand expectantly out. Elliot dug through his pockets and fished out a dollar and three mints. He counted them carefully and handed them to the fishmonger. The man slammed his hand down, crushing the mints. He pointed to the amount on the register and stuck out his palm again, forcefully this time. Elliot hadn’t realized how expensive the food was. Suddenly a T.V. hanging from the ceiling blasted the tune of the evening news and a picture of Elliot himself popped up on screen. The puffy news reporter sported a bright orange suit and issued a missing person report: BOY NAMED ELLIOT MISSING NOW FOR MORE THAN 10 HOURS. BLONDE HAIR, BUE EYED, AND LAST SEEN NEAR THE EDGE OF TOWN. IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION REGARDING HIS WHEREABOUTS PLEASE CONTACT POLICE AT…
Elliot looked back to the fishmonger, who was now reaching for the landline. Elliot leaped over the counter and grabbed the phone, struggling to keep the man from calling the authorities. He frantically explained that he couldn’t, under any circumstances, go back to his house before noon because then the academy would kidnap him and he would become the lame manager at some run-of-the-mill corporation that sells knifes or bubble wrap, or something. The man replied with a few curses in what Elliot assumed to be Scandinavian. He gave up on the phone and snatched the food, making a mad dash towards the door. Amidst this daring escape he realized just how much of an impersonal world he lived in today. He had never done this sort of thing before. Was he a criminal now? If he had a criminal record then surely, the academy wouldn’t admit him. He sprinted into the woods, hearing the fishmonger shouting behind him and the distant wails of police sirens. The crunching of the leaves beneath his feet and his ragged breathing were all that he heard in the dead of night.
After running for some time, he sat against a tree and took out his pocket watch. Two o’clock in the morning it read. Elliot let out an exasperated sigh. He only had to wait nine more hours until he was clear of his horrible fate. He dug through the dirt, freshly wet from the shower the day before. He unearthed a handful of worms and fed them to Leopold. His mother would tell him to do whatever made him happy. His father would simply laugh and Grandma El would curse him out for his stupidity. Elliot smiled at this and he knew that it wasn’t a matter of personal preference but that he was meant to be here. In the city there lived the revolutionaries and stupid, wealthy goons who live only to serve others. He’s read in the newspaper how the inner city is swamped with politics, debt, pollution, and the like. Leopold glanced questioningly at Elliot, suggesting that he just turn back and go to the academy before his Grandmother dies of cardiac arrest. Elliot figured that Grandma El was making this decision as a result of early onset dementia but maybe not after all. It was too soon to tell. Leopold ate another worm, explaining how of course not you idiot, that woman still has enough mentality and youth to brawl with the fishmonger. Even if you do end up attending the academy, you’d only have a year and a half left of that place. Then, back home you go, getting a job at Leaky’s Diner and spending the rest of your life in complete mediocrity. Perhaps finding an average girl and having undistinguished children. Then dying of who knows what and being buried with a tombstone without an epitaph.
Elliot agreed with Leopold, concluding that if he must surrender by noon, to fulfill Leopold’s wonderful plan. In the blink of an eye the sun was high above the trees and Elliot could still hear police sirens. It was quite lame how the police station was using all of their resources just to find a teenage boy, mostly because nothing ever happens in this town.
Grandma El had waited, seated at the front porch after calling the authorities and having a rather pleasant conversation with the young policeman they had sent, who had only been on the job for a week. The disappearance of her grandson had been the most eventful case since his induction, so he was only prompted to act accordingly, bombarding the elderly woman with questions until evening. When had she last seen him? After pie. Description? A nice and troubled young man with a full heart and half a brain. Any idea of where he might be? He’s walking up to the house right now actually. What? Yes, just turn around and look!
The policeman whirled around to see a boy who was probably closer to his own age, carrying a bag stuffed with clothes and a lizard? The boy had what looked like crumbs of food around his mouth and clothes, but let’s not forget about the sweat and grime from a full night’s sleep on the forest floor. The boy approached Grandma El with his head hung low and mumbled a few apologetic words. The elder swiftly gave him a good smack on the head and pulled his ear along into the house. The policeman followed suit and sat comfortably in a chair, taking note of the odd relationship between grandparent and grandchild, as well as the odd interior floral pattern of the walls and the strange amount of taxidermized animals in the living room.
Grandma El, although relieved about Elliot’s relatively safe return, berated and scolded the boy for giving her a near heart attack and that she only has so many years left to live, not wanting to spend the rest of her days worrying about him when it should be the other way around. It was almost noon and the school representative were bound to be here any minute. The elder rushed Elliot into what the policeman assumed was a washroom and she swiftly exited with clothes and bags in hand. Only ten minutes had passed when the distant honk of a car horn was heard from the driveway. The boy rushed out, fitting one leg into his trousers and using his left hand to comb his hair. He trudged to the car with his grandmother in tow, carrying a large leather suitcase overflowing with a multitude of trinkets and clothing. The policeman assisted the lady in hauling the bags into the cab, closing the trunk with a metal cathunk!
The representative of the academy was a thin-lipped woman, whose dark bun made her eyebrows even more arched and her expression all the more severe. Her wrinkles were prominent, but they did not seem to age in the same way that the elder vigorously shaking her hand had aged. The representative, introduced as Cecilia, wore a plum suit with a lion pendant. Its eyes were a fierce red and its jaw angled wide, seeming to have been petrified and reduced to decorative jewelry. Cecilia stood in perfect posture with a straight neck, heels together, and hands behind her back. She was of a sickly pale-green complexion and her dark eyes scanned the family of two, her painted lips downturned in mild disappointment as if to say, this one will take quite a bit of work to reform. But it isn’t anything I haven’t handled before. She explained that the academy was a prestigious institution, that it was a privilege to even be accepted. The establishment does not permit inappropriate or rambunctious behavior. The curriculum is meant to build the brightest minds in the country and any student that focuses on subjects apart from arithmetic, literature, and the sciences will be swiftly punished.
Grandma El hugged her grandson tightly and whispered a few encouraging words to him. The woman, Cecilia, escorted Elliot into the cab. The policeman caught the sight of a particular lizard wiggling underneath Elliot’s shirt. With one last wave goodbye, the car sped down the gravel road towards the city. The policeman and Grandma El both stood in silence until she invited the young man in for some cabbage pie. He gladly accepted.
A year had passed, and everything was still the same, except for a suspicious increase in security at the nearby fisher’s emporium. It was a Tuesday afternoon and Grandma El had just finished harvesting some vegetables from her garden. The carrots seemed especially orange today and the strawberries were a particular blood red. It was shortly after when the elder was seated in front of the television that news of the first attack spread. There was a war happening in the city. Grandma El wept. A letter carrying the death of Elliot would arrive three days later.