As he got closer he could see that it was a boy, maybe 8 years old standing near his car. He must have seen Mike approaching yet he made no move to retreat or even acknowledge his approach for that matter. He could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing up, something seemed off about this kid.
“Hey kid”, he called out when he was less than 20 feet away, “can I help you?”
The boy was gazing intently at the sky. Without looking down or away he replied, “no Mike, I’m just fine thank you.”
Shocked, Mike Valentine could only respond,” how do you know my name?”
“It’s not important”, the little boy replied, still not moving his gaze from the sky. Mike looked in the direction of the boy’s gaze and all he could see was the setting sun.
“What are you looking at like that, kid. You’re kinda creeping me out.”
The boy, without shifting his gaze, said, “I’m looking at the sky. Do you ever just look up at the sky? It’s quite beautiful actually. The clouds, the birds. The sun, the moon. Did you ever look at the top a tall tree and just wonder what it’s like to be a bird looking down?”
“That’s a lot of questions kid. And yes, I suppose I have. Well, I know that I used to.” Mike was reminded that he was talking to a stranger, an unaccompanied minor at that. “Are you lost? It is getting dark.”
“No, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
Stunned and at a loss for his next move, Mike leaned against his car to stretch his legs and assess the situation. It was more than just a little odd. He studied the boy. His clothes looked like they were from another generation. His hair looked like the “bowl cuts” his mom used to give him. It then occurred that the boy must have parents looking for him. But he sure didn’t seem scared or lost, he looked oddly comfortable.
He decided to play the quiet game and see who made the next move. He continued to stretch his tired body. Minutes passed and the boy said nothing. Mike was tempted to leave but his curiosity instincts were piqued and instead walked over and stood next to the boy. ‘Ok”, he said, “I give, what are you looking at?”
“Í told you, I’m looking at the sky. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?”
“Yes”, Mike replied. “We’ve established that. But you haven’t looked away once. Aren’t you bored looking at the same thing?”
Without hesitation, the boy shot back. “Bored? That’s what kids today are. Always need to be occupied and entertained. Not me.”
Kids today! The statement resonated with Mike. Did he just say that!
“Aren’t you part of ‘kid’s today’?” There was something really strange about this kid. He was tempted to end this and take off. His phone had rung two more times since he got to his car and he knew that every ignored call was throwing logs on the shit bonfire that awaited him at home. In spite of this, he remained glued to his spot.
“Let’s just say that I’m here, but I don’t belong here” the boy deftly replied.
“Then where do you belong?” Mike replied, despite feeling that he was better off not asking.
“A different time”, the boy exclaimed as he lowered his fixed gaze for the first time, turned his head and stared directly at Mike. Mike felt as if he was staring directly through him. Spooked but insanely curious, Mike pressed further.
“OK, what time do you mean?”
“I asked you if you ever looked up at the sky a few minutes ago. I asked because I wonder if you looked up once during your walk. Did you even notice what a beautiful evening it is?.” He studied Mike’s face.
He then continued, “I asked you if you ever wondered what it was like to look down from a high tree. You had no answer. Why is that?”
“Because I don’t know who you are, where you’re from and how you know my damn name!” Mike Valentine was getting angry. He almost felt bad about raising his voice to the young, albeit creepy kid.
Unfazed, the boy continued. “I asked you about the trees because from the height of the tall tree you must look small. We all do. Minor. Insignificant. Yet all you are focusing on right now is how big your problems are.” He paused.
“See, the world is bigger than the size of the screen of your phone or laptop. If you looked around you would see that. But you need the phone and the computer to make money. To buy stuff, stuff that you will put in your house. The one you don’t want to go home to. That stuff will further take your attention away from a beautiful day. It’s just stuff, but it’s ruining you.”
Mike was beside himself. What the hell is this kid talking about? “How do you know this?!”
The boy sat down in the grass Indian style. “Did you ever sit just like this? Playing with Matchbox cars in the dirt until your mother called you? You hated to go home, right? Just like now. But then it was because you were having fun. That’s not why you don’t want to go home now, is it Mike?” His tone was less inquisitive and slightly sarcastic.
The matter-of-fact look on this kids friggin’ face was killing Mike. He was looking right through him again. Yet he had no reply.
The boy continued. He was on his back now. “Did you ever lie on your back like this for hours looking at the sky? Wondering about the clouds, the stars at night. The possibility of a Heaven. About God. Do you think about God Mike?”
“Not as much as I should.” Mike was powerless to question the utterly bizarre nature of this conversation.
The boy was standing now. “You used to be a happy kid, right? Lots of friends. You knew where they were without Facebook. You would look for the yard with all the bikes in the yard. Your mom knew where you were because you called from a phone in that house, a phone mounted to a wall, right? A phone that you didn’t feel the need to have in your hand all the time. The streetlight was your curfew, or maybe you were close enough to home to hear your mother call you.” He paused and looked at his feet.
“It’s not too late, Mike”, He continued. “There’s still time to be that happy kid again. Look up, look around. Chase butterflies, smell the flowers. Find happiness like you used to. Remember the view of the bird, to him you are small. Look down on your problems as the bird looks down at you. Small, insignificant. It will work out.” With that the boy turned and began to walk away.
Mike Valentine, who had been at a complete loss for words for what seemed like forever, finally blurted out what he had wanted to ask all along.
“Kid, How do you know this? I mean me. I mean, this is impossible! How can you possibly know all of these things about my childhood? Is this mere speculation or a theory of yours? Do you think or do you know all of this!”
The boy, turning as he walked, said, “I know it. Think about where we’ve met before”. He then winked at Mike and continued walking. For the first time, Mike Valentine noticed that the boy had an old-fashioned Slingshot in his back pocket.
He used to have one just like it!
He looked down at the ground, he then gazed to the night sky. It really was a beautiful evening. I’m going to get into a brawl when I get home. I may be out of a job tomorrow. I’d have to get two promotions just to be a broke asshole. But I do have this beautiful evening.
The kid was right about that much.
He got in his car and turned the engine on. He bathed in the AC and observed that he felt a little better. Despite the Episode of the Twilight Zone he just starred in. The conversation played out over and over in his head. The kid was weird, but in a non-threatening way. And he looked vaguely familiar. Shaking his head in disbelief, or to make sure he was indeed awake and conscious, he put the car in gear.
It suddenly occurred to him that he had some old school pictures to go home and look at.
He pulled out of the parking lot and headed home.