(9th in this challenge)
Before Colton could chase it into the dining room, the swan had already passed the entry way, soaring up the staircase. Through the railing he saw it circle the empty family room area then jet to one hallway of closed doors, then to the other until it soared down the back staircase leading to the kitchen. Colton ran to the bottom of that staircase, pausing in the swan’s line of path. The swan angled toward the ceiling to avoid him, shadows exposing the crinkled bends in all of the pieces and yet allowing him to believe those crinkles were the depths in feathers. It turned at the neck mid-air, unmistakably alive, eyes afire. The beak sprang open and it let out one insulting noise at him before colliding into the ceiling fan, scattering throughout the living room. Colton hurried, collected the pieces from the couches, from the book shelves, and from beneath the breakfast table, those eyes still fixed on him when he closed his own. A grin took over his face.
What could he set life to next?
He still had half a sheet of paper unused, so he set aside the swan bits and built a simple frog. The lighter waited near a four quart pot, turned over on a towel the night before beside the sink to dry. He checked the clock. His mom would return soon. He didn’t want to be chasing a frog when she arrived and be questioned about this truth, this magic. So he placed the paper body into the pot, lit it, and closed the glass lid on top. Smoke fogged the interior, escaping through the pot’s steam hole. Through the fog, Colton spied the orange swell right before the pot jutted toward him. It jutted again and again. He lifted the lid only enough to release the rest of the smoke. It nearly watered his eyes. The frog hopped once into the lid, its shape so real, perfect papery-white, that Colton popped back, could imagine the cold slimed frog feet spring boarding from his chest. The frog hopped into the lid again, too hard, and its body unfolded. Jutting ceased. He reached for the lighter, wanting more, but the garage door sounded. He dumped the paper onto the counter, replaced the pot onto the tile, and sprayed air freshener.
“Mmmm—smells so sweet in here,” his mother said with a smile. She kissed him as she passed, plunked a cloth grocery bag onto the table. “Steaks! Can you start chopping onions, please?”
Later on, as he chewed dinner, he wondered how the flame worked on steaks, on meat in general. If I cooked the meat in a grill and lit the charcoal and wood chips with the lighter, would the piece come alive? He giggled at the thought of his steak moving like some hybrid of a tongue and snake.
“Hmmm?” his mom asked, focus still on a file she read while eating. He dismissed the idea. Both the swan and frog had died (if that’s the word) once they had lost pieces or their structure. So lighting one portion of an animal would be a waste of flame. He thought, would a whole chicken come alive? But why would he want a chicken carcass running around? What would he do with it? Lead it to a rode? He giggled at the thought.
“What?” His mother glanced up. He shook his head and smiled. “You silly boy.”
The next day after school, he made simple origami men of different styles, some two-dimensional with paper from A+ graded quizzes he’d been handed back, the rest from the swan parts. Then as he’d planed all day, he placed each in the pot, lit them all with one hand motion, and closed the lid. He stepped back.
As smoke streamed out of the steam hole of the lid, the pot rattled as if boiling. He approached. The men began to punch up the lid. One stuck its head out of an opening made, rattled its head when the lid landed on him until the others lifted the lid enough to free him. He glided onto the counter. Colton had planned for this, though, as if he’d seen this happen in life or in video demonstration. He’d surround the pot with long-forgotten sticky pads from the pantry. As the men escaped, one helping the other, they landed in different positions onto the pads. Two rode them like magic carpets to the floor. One on the floor wiggled its limbs at him, stuck prostrate to the pad. As Colton bent and peeled it upright, its eyes glared orange, an action that scared Colton so that he ripped its body, quieting the eyes. Another used its arms to paddle itself across the marble. Hearing the garage door open, Colton panicked, grabbed that one and then the others as he found them, and ripped them all up, their eyes screaming orange just before. His mother remained in the garage long enough (perhaps talking on her phone) for him to transform the kitchen into looking even cleaner than it had that morning.
Into the night and over the entire weekend, Colton studied how to build a larger origami boy. He’d need to make tens of thousands of the triangular pieces to interconnect. He’d need paper but not from his mother, who’d only wonder and pry. He began sitting in the back rows of his sixth grade classes instead of at the front, as near those teacher’s classroom supplies as possible. Most did not lock them away, just left them in their packages easy enough for him to steal and slip into his backpack.
His writing teacher stopped him at the end of class on afternoon.
“You’re not planning to become one of those kids are you, A+ Colton?” He thought she’d caught him stealing. “You know, that’s where the trouble-makers sit. I just don’t want you to be influenced by them.” He smiled, told her not to worry. And she really didn’t need to. He’d been so focused on stealing paper, making sure that head stayed turned away from him, that he really couldn’t remember what anyone he’d sat near looked like.
Every spare moment (after homework and study time), he’d cut each sheet of paper into thirty-two pieces and fold. Though quickly an expert, Colton folded for a month before he’d amassed all of the pieces he’d calculated needing. Over the next weeks, he dedicated his spare time in the cooling attic, a kitchen timer clicking away the moments of work time before his mother returned. The timer was cartoonish, a round body on two bulbous feet. He fantasized about lighting it on fire, joking with himself that he’d always be able to hear where it had gone.
When the holiday season began, his mom needed to work longer hours, providing him the extra work time. At five-foot-ten, the boy was just an inch taller than Colton’s last growth spurt had lengthened him. He admired this higher inch. During this time period, his mom would ask him if he was keeping up with his origami and he’d just lift up his flip book, the hobby he always returned to, and she’d frown and smile in one at him and return to her reading, probably brainstorming new hobbies he might love. By late October, even though the boy looked like a featureless mannequin, Colton could no longer wait. The day he planned to light the boy, he fidgeted in his front row seats all day, out of character for him but he looked no different than all of the other students eagerly anticipating the day’s end and the weekend’s beginning.
On his run home, nighttime already seemed to arrive as storm clouds grew over. As soon as he unlocked the door, he began his plan. He called his mother to ask when he should begin dinner in order to learn when she expected to arrive. He stuffed a prepared sandwich in his mouth as he raced to the attic. Thunder fueled him. The attic was darker than ever but he couldn’t be bothered to switch on the light. He retrieved the lighter (which he always carried now) from his front pocket and could barely keep it in his hand. He’d found an antique metal tray to stand the boy in and a metal coat rack to keep it from leaning upon any flammable surface. He cranked the timer, wanting to know how long lifelessness became life, and lit the boy’s feet.
The lines of flame rose achingly slow. Minutes dragged before the legs grayed (but they held their structure). When the two lines joined, the hollow torso grayed faster, an orange glow swelling within. Colton lit the hands and the top of the head. All of the lines joined at the chest. A firework of yellow burst within. The boy rose, little orange dashes that he could believe were eyes observing him. It stood still, did not stretch as Colton did when he awoke (and this was a kind of awaking). But observing was the best word for the action. Colton wished he’d drawn eyes on the boy, built a nose and mouth. He wanted to clearly understand what face the boy was communicating. As the minutes passed, timer still clicking, Colton so desired to see a face that he bent down to his backpack to find a marker.
At that moment, the boy ran for the door. Colton didn’t think it would or could open the door, but it did, and he chased after it. It ran with a crinkling nose, centered in the hallway as if it could see itself relative to walls and avoid them. It began down the stairs as if it could see them, as if it knew the distance to each and knew not to overstep. Colton found the back door opened when he curved around to last of the stair steps. Leaves fled in from the storm outside, drawing muddy lines on the floor. The sprinklers on, gushing up at the rain, and the boy was running slower than before toward the back gate that opened on the rear drive and the alleyway. But all of the water shrank the boy. It paused and moaned with the voice of a man. It took its next step onto the hose left strewn across the yard toward the rosebushes, and fell back. The rain had strengthened all of the paper pieces. The boy was mostly whole, except for his right arm, detached in one piece, laying a small gap beside. Colton lifted the boy up, no light pouring from it.
If he had eyes, he would’ve seen me and wouldn’t have run, Colton thought as he dragged the boy back to the attic, thought as he turned in his bed later that night. His room was the room nearest the attic stairway and he thought that he could hear the small fan he’d left directed on the boy in order to dry him, thought that he could sense the boy’s eye slits observing him as he fell backward into sleep.
The next morning, Saturday, his mom was leaving for a baby shower. It would be a long drive and she wouldn’t be back until near midnight. He didn’t have to go but “will you have enough to keep you entertained? I don’t want to leave you bored.” But he didn’t have to speak to reassure her that he had plans. She hugged him, called him “my A+ boy”, and left. Colton grabbed his laptop and hurried for the attic once he heard the garage door close down.
Prepared as he was to see the figure, the silhouette of the boy in the window still gave Colton goose bumps. Water had compacted it to a more human-like form. What if he could talk? Would he be able to speak? Referencing images of an actor who played a perfect orphan on TV, Colton spent an hour building a nose and forming puckered lips in order to create a small cave of a mouth. He cut a tongue from red construction paper and inserted it within. He attached leaves of yellow construction paper to the head for hair. Then, with a large, sky-blue marker, he gave the boy large cat eyes that seemed to animate as he glued yellow eyebrows above them. As the boy became more human-like in appearance, a sense of responsibility arose with Colton. What would he do if the boy were hungry or felt naked? And if, with a face, the boy became too real and maybe became a friend, would Colton be able to disconnect the arm or another part again, and, in a sense kill the boy, if only during the time his mom was home? And if he couldn’t do that, if the boy stayed alive, would the boy want to live here? How would that occur? Or what if (and Colton’s quieted at the upcoming thought) the boy wanted to leave?
A ban of afternoon light crossed over the boys eyes. There brightness didn’t calm Colton at all. They seemed impatient. Colton hesitated. What would he do if the boy wanted to run again? He closed the door and locked both the deadbolt and the chain. If the boy could unlock the door, though, surely he could unlock it also. Colton thought of tying the boy’s hands together but he didn’t want the boy constrained. But he didn’t want the boy to leave. So he folded and stretched his own fingers, discerned the success he had turning the lock and pulling off the chain with his hands in different positions. Only with his hand in a fist, thumb underneath his fingers, could he not twist the nob. So he glued the boy’s fingers together, thumb tucked in glue beneath them. The pinkie wouldn’t stay down though. Colton joked to himself about the boy punching him but the consequence would be the boy turning back to lifeless origami. Ha! He scoffed at that happening as he ate a sandwich and waited for the fan to dry the glue. But the joking returned Colton to his original question: what if the boy wanted to leave, run away again? Would both of them having eyes, noses, mouths, and tongues persuade the boy in any way not to run? He looked into the boy’s eyes, the blue still sparkling just above the downward moving band of light. He consciously projected a kindness in them. It was the only way he could continue what he’d set out to do.
When the fingers had dried and seemed secure, Colton propped the arm onto his shoulder and began to attach it with new pieces and a line of glue. He held the two as one until he was satisfied that enough time had passed for them to dry, mere minutes. He could’ve waited the same long amount of time as he had for the hands to dry but he wanted the boy alive too much to wait.
With the arm still propped up on his shoulder, he bent down, and lit the feet, then the knees, then the waist, left hand, left elbow, chin, and, finally, the entire length of the right arm from shoulder to elbow. The lines rushed downward and upward, crossing one another, turning the body into a darker gray. The body fell in shadow. The torso did not lit fully as before, but the heart glowed for a moment as the last of the light edged toward Colton’s shoulder, and his own pulse raged. Not sure if he’d be burned, he lifted the arm up until the fingers charred, eyes fixed on the boy’s face. He expected the arm to feel powdery, but it still felt like very strong paper. The scent of glue fumes increased. Then the body turned white and the blue eyes glared at him. A blue outline of eyelids that Colton hadn’t drawn blinked over the eyes. The tongue licked the lip, a shhh of paper sliding across paper. The boy’s arm curled around Colton’s neck.
“You,” the boy rasped. It pinched Colton’s ear between its pinky and other fingers. Colton froze. “You, you, you,” it repeated, standing, leaning over Colton, the body crackling all over. The pinky of the boy’s other hand scratched down Colton’s arm into his palm. “You are not my master.” The boy pinched the lighter from Colton’s hand, lifted it to his face, and somehow sparked it.
“No, don’t!” Colton yelled, still frozen by his own panic. He pleaded with the boy again, innocent flame full of potential between them. Colton assumed the boy would set one of them on fire or, worse.
“You are not anyone’s master,” the boy repeated. Then it tossed the lighter into its mouth and closed its lips. Instantly, its body rippled with a molten-like flame color then char. It outstretched its arms, eyes still fixed on Colton. He watched the molten flame rush toward the blue eyes but the boy yelled, flames spewing from his mouth, yelled to the point of glowing yellow. Colton stepped back and looked away. A little league baseball bat leaned against the wall behind him, and Colton lifted it and swung. The pieces of the boy scattered, and the smell of smoke washed over him. The boy was gone but the pieces piled around had not returned to white; they remained charred.
Colton stumped on the pieces in clumps, crying. He continued crying when all seemed calm, when he’d found all of the pieces. They disintegrated as he collected them into a dust pan. With each sweep, he searched for the lighter.
Later that night, he searched, moving box stacks, lifting furniture even on the other side of the room. The next day, while his mom was running errands he searched, and periodically over the weekend, and over the next years until eventually other tasks and hobbies distracted him. He began high school, shed the anti-social nature that everyone said he’d had, became a part of few cliques that bolstered him into a sort of popularity but he always felt distant from them. He’d almost forgotten about the boy as years passed, only recalling it in dreams (but it was a man then). First the eyes seemed illustrated with fixed emotion and then they ignited into a blue that Colton perceived as burning him in the face. He’d lost his passion for origami instantly after that forgotten afternoon, lost his passion for one thing after the other, throughout middle school, high school, and college. He was twenty-four when his mom moved to another state for a better paying job. She wanted to take as little as possible with her, so asked Colton to pick what he wanted from the attic before she had a huge sale. The boxes, if they weren’t from relatives he’d barely heard of, much less known, contained his belongings.
He paused when he found a box marked “Colton’s Artwork”. It had paper chains, sketch books, a few of his first origami creations (hadn’t he given those to his mom?), and, among many other possessions, his flip book. He preferred to open it from the end, watching the rapid pages from the last page where a small stick-figured boy rose from lying down and began to race forward. The boy jumped into a boat and rowed across a scribbled lake to an island, ran up a mountain, jumped from the hill, soared through the air, into a plane which landed into a field through which the boy ran until he jumped again, this time into the arms of a taller stick-figured man—his father (there was no other man he could be). For the last moments, as the pages stacked, the son hopped from his father’s arms and held his hand. They shrank on the pages into a growing half circle of sun. Colton dropped it back into the box onto several other flip books like it. That caused a piece of paper to flutter from the box. Colton caught it and recognized the origami creases before he’d uncrinkled it.
A pair of blue eyes glared at him.
“You, you, you,” he heard, as if rasped that moment into his ear. “You are not my master.”
Controlling a tremble, Colton reached down for the flip book again, opened it to the first few pages, and inserted the eyes deep within.
“No,”he answered aloud with a soft forgotten voice, losing control over the tremble. “You misunderstood.”
This took me over all of yesterday (much shorter drabbles to come), and I enjoyed that. I was a little paranoid, made sure to write near my mom and also email it to friends and my dad before scheduling it this morning because I really really like it and wanted witnesses just in case someone out there didn’t want to give me author credit.
I’ve been watching ‘Teen Wolf’ on a marathon. Colton Haynes plays Jackon on the show who may be an over-achiever, striving for perfection, because he’s adopted and because he’s giving in to that sinking feeling that maybe he wasn’t good enough for his biological parents to want him (opinion of another character). I just imagined his most melancholy and enraged faces on the Origami Boy and recognized part of that character element in Colton, the character of this story. I’m friends with both of my parents but I’m not even in the lives of some of my older half-siblings. We didn’t grow up together but I’ve wanted more than my Facebook friend requests accepted. That is what it is.