My boots squelched as they pushed his silk Hermes scarf into the slush behind the patch of mushrooms by the oak tree. He grabbed a fistful of my short, bristly hair, and wrenched my head toward the broken bark of the tree trunk. The rough bark scraped against my cheeks, making them burn red. I pushed back against the ground and pulled him toward me by the scarf still hanging by the frayed collar of his mud-splattered suit. His head crashed into my chest, knocking the wind out of me as I hit the ground. A bony hand reached for the book tucked under my armpit, so I shrugged it off and rolled out from underneath the boy.
He stood up groggily and steadied himself against the tree but I was on my feet before him, and kicked the back of his knee, making him flop into the puddle, scattering scummy water across his red tie and pointed chin.
“No, it’s not yours,” I said between rushed breaths.
He put an arm under his shoulder and propped his head up with his forearm. I was about to kick him down again when he rolled over to lay face up in the puddle. His hair-gel mixed with the water, making dilapidated, rainbow colored halos around his head as the filtered sunlight struck the murky puddle. He looked at me down the bridge of his nose, and smiled, revealing a perfect set of reddened teeth.
“You haven’t figured it out yet, have you?” he said. “You looked smarter than that, but I guess that’s just the cover.” Something changed as he said that; maybe his eyebrows became a little narrower, and more pointed, perhaps his shoulders broadened, or his cheekbones rose. I barely knew him but these changes made me hug the book a little closer to my side and keep my eyes fixed on him.
He brought his hands to the center of his body, and fumbled around for the buttons of his coat, found there was only one left, buttoned it, and pushed his hands through the puddle and against the slime underneath. He brought a soiled leather shoe into the puddle and rose, water dripping off his coattails, as he puffed his coat and spit the redness of his teeth to the side.
I put another hand on the book. “Don’t come any closer. I said we could share it, there’s enough in there for the both of us.”
He raised his eyebrows and nodded pensively. “True.” He began walking toward me in a gait that was very different from the one he’d had before. His legs were straighter, his chest and chin higher, and his feet landed firmly on the ground leaving prints, and parting every patch of grass down the center. “True. You haven’t learned the way this world works yet. Granted, I only figured it out a moment ago myself, but still, how regrettable.”
I ducked and tried to tackle him, hoping to surprise him before he reached me. I dug a foot into the ground, stopping inches from the puddle. “You’ve gotten faster.”
“You have no idea,” he said, his voice far closer than I’d expected. I turned around just in time to see his fist cover my field of vision. I fell back, face burning, head muddled with pain, and heard my feet sloshing through the water. I brought a hand to my face, and felt a tug beneath my arm as something slid out. I flailed to try and grab it but failed.
There was no splash so I turned, and saw Demetrius standing behind me with the book in his hands, and face inches from mine. I lurched sideways as his leg swept mine, and crashed just beside the pond, hitting the damp earth with a thud. Pain shot through my head as my body refused to budge, becoming just another blob of color in my swimming field of vision.
“You messed up,” said Demetrius’ voice.
“How?” I asked with a raspy breath.
“You were inside the House of Wisdom as long as I was, I presume, yet you didn’t figure out how this new world works. You’re either incompetent or incredibly unlucky.”
He continued in his smug voice, “So it was incompetence after all.”
I coughed and felt the wind blowing past the tears in my clothes; it was sharp but not malicious. The sunlight was almost completely hidden by the clouds and canopy, like layers of blankets over a sick child.
“Wisdom loves me, the warrior,” he said as I saw his blurry figure walk into the darkness of the forest, taking the House with him.
My limbs stayed stuck to the ground like iron rods, darkness encroached upon the edges of my vision, and my head began to float away. I managed to curse with the last of my strength, “God damn it.”
After a moment, there came a chuckle. “You haven’t even figured that out yet either? God is dead, in body, and on paper.”
My consciousness slipped.
- Nobody Knows Me
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