Chapter 7: Invisible Fortress

Somehow Lem survived his first 36 months. How he loved his mother’s singing. Sometimes Evanor would sing the lullabies she remembered from her childhood. Sometimes she would make up the words as she went along and sometimes she’s hum melodies. Evanor sang when she fed Lem and sang when she dressed him and bathed him. Little Lem’s blue eyes would widen to swallow her whole and he’d smile for all he was worth. Evanor’s and Thort’s hearts would melt just to talk about how he smiled as though that were the only thing that made their dismal life worth living.

One evening Thort came home with a cloth bag under his arm. Lem looked up at his father expectantly. Thort laid the bag on the wooden table by the door and swooped down on Lem picking him up high in the air and lowering him gently for a fatherly kiss. Lem’s eyes averted to the bag on the table. Evanor asked Thort what was in the bag. Thort said it was a surprise. Lem leaned toward the bag with his thin arms pointing to the bag. “Very well,” Thort said in a mock gruff voice. He set Lem down on the floor and handed the bag gently to Lem. Lem’s eye’s widened. He looked into the bag and pulled out a long bow with a ribbon of drac hairs stretched between the two ends of the bow. Lem pulled out the fiddle from the bag. He looked from the fiddle to the bow and back to the fiddle. Lem turned the fiddle over and looked at the strings of drac hairs stretched tautly over the bridge. There were thicker strings and thinner strings. He looked at the tuning pegs. The body of the fiddle was made of skagwood. Lem felt the smooth wood against his blue cheeks. He closed his eyes and smiled.

Thort asked Lem, “Aren’t you gonna try to play it?” Thort picked up the fiddle and scratched the bow across the fiddle strings. Lem closed his eyes and covered his ears with his hands.

“There goes a month’s wages,” Thort sulked under his breath.

Evanor said, “I think he likes it very much … He just doesn’t like it when you play it. Let’s hang it on the wall where Lem can see it.”

Thort got a hammer and pounded some pegs into the wall. He hanged the fiddle and bow on the wall. When he finished, Lem closed his eyes and smiled. “I guess Lem’s smile was worth a month’s wages,” Thort said to Evanor and kissed her.

A couple months later, Evanor found a job as a seamstress at a local clothes factory. Her wages would help with their expenses but, best of all, there was a communal day-care near the factory where she could leave Lem while she worked. Evanor laid out Lem’s clothes and he dressed himself. She took hold of his hand and they walked all the way to the day-care. She opened the gate for Lem and they walked up the flagstone path to the door. Evanor peeked in through the doorway. She saw the children playing and the toys strewn over the floor. In the corner sat an obese woman whose age was impossible to ascertain. She was smoking a thick cigar and reading a newspaper. The fat woman looked beadily over the open newspaper and through the cigar smoke at Evanor and that little blue devil by her side, sizing them up and down. “Well, are you coming in or ain’t you?” she asked Evanor coldly. “Don’t make much matter to me, one way or the other.” The children looked at Lem and back at each other smirking. Evanor recognized Dorka’s child, Sangor, playing with a group of children and thought maybe it wouldn’t be so bad for Lem after all.

“His name is Lem. He’s a good little boy and …” Evanor answered hopefully. “Don’t much care what the little devil’s name is, do I?” the fat woman said. “As long as he keeps to himself and don’t cause no trouble, we’ll get along just fine.” She’d thought about telling Evanor to take her little devil and get out of her house, but she needed the money. In any case, there’d be hell to pay when the other parents found out there was a blue devil playing with their children. She’d think about that later.

“Please ma’am,” Evanor pleaded, “he’s a good little boy and I’ll be back for him before the other mothers come to collect their children.” She led him over to a corner where the blocks were. She bent down to kiss Lem and whispered in his ear that she would come back for him as soon as she could. Lem watched Evanor as she turned away from him and walked to the door. She didn’t want Lem to see the tears in her eyes.

The door closed and Lem was alone without his parents for the first time in his short life. He looked expectantly at the children playing near him. He listened to them talk to each other and learned the rules of their games which they made up as they went along. He waited for them to invite him into their games. He smiled when they smiled, but they weren’t smiling at him. When they did notice him, they usually made mean faces and jeered at him threateningly. Lem quickly stopped smiling.

He looked at the blocks in the box by the wall. They were soft and oversized. He smiled at the blocks. At least they didn’t jeer back at him. He picked one up out of the box and laid it on the floor. He picked up another and laid it down beside the first. Lem picked up another block and another, laying them down so that they encircled him. Then he put a layer of blocks on top of the first blocks. Lem built another layer of blocks on the first two layers. The other children, including Sangor, were watching Lem building this strange fortress of blocks higher and higher, until they couldn’t see Lem inside.

Lem sat quietly inside his fortress and ate the sandwich his mother had prepared for him. He hummed a lullaby to himself and felt safe inside.

Sangor whispered something to his friends and they laughed at what he had said. Sangor got up and walked over to Lem’s fortress. While looking at his friends to make sure they were watching, he pushed against the fortress slowly until the blocks tumbled down on top of Lem. One of the blocks had a sharp corner which cut Lem’s upper lip as it grazed past him. The cut stung a little and he licked the salty trickle of blue blood.

Sangor skipped back to his group of friends in triumphant syncopation. The fat woman squinted through the smoke of her cigar at the hateful blue child. He won’t last long here, she harrumphed to herself.

Lem stood up amid the tumbled blocks. He collected the blocks and put them back in the box by the wall. Lem turned to look at Sangor and his friends. Unable to read them he looked at the fat woman smoking a cigar, reading her newspaper. She was as unreadable as the children. Lem turned back to the box of blocks and reached in with both hands and pulled out apparently nothing at all. His two hands seemed to be pressed against a big invisible block. Lem laid it on the floor carefully. He picked up another invisible block and laid it down beside the first. Lem picked up another and another, laying them down around him. He laid a layer of invisible blocks on top of the first one. Lem built another layer on the first two layers. The other children, including Sangor, were watching Lem building this apparently invisible fortress of blocks higher and higher. When he had finished, he sat on the floor inside of it.

Sangor got up and walked over to Lem’s invisible fortress. He looked at his friends to make sure they were watching and pushed against the fortress walls slowly until he lost his balance. Sangor nearly fell on Lem but Lem moved so quickly that the other children could not believe their eyes. One moment Lem was sitting next to Sangor’s knees and the next moment Lem was standing near the box by the wall. Sangor fell on the floor and hurt his knee. The other children laughed and Sangor blushed with anger. He rose quickly and lunged at Lem, but suddenly Lem was standing in the other corner. Sangor ran at Lem and began to flail at him with his fists but he never made contact with Lem. The children laughed again. Sangor walked back to his friends, jerking his thumb up and back at Lem, saying look at that scared blue baby.

Good to her word Evanor arrived before the other mothers. She saw Lem sitting by himself silently and her heart was pierced. She went straight to Lem without asking the vile woman how Lem’s day had been. Evanor took Lem’s hand and they walked past her. “Don’t bother bringing him back tomorrow,” the fat woman said. “He’s a trouble maker, that one. One of the kids over there got hurt because of him and there’ll be hell to pay when his parents find out.” She tossed back her head and exhaled a flume of cigar smoke. Her hand flinched with a desire to smack the blue devil, to teach him a thing or two about his betters, but she realized she was too old and slow to do so.

At the door, Evanor turned to say, “Lem’s not a mean child. I’m sure you were all perfectly evil to him.” They walked through the door without waiting for a response.

The next morning at the mine Javid made sure he was working in the same part of the shaft as Thort. “You keep your kid away from my Sangor,” Javid told Thort, “if you know what’s good for you.”

Thort’s anger rose in his throat. “Lem was minding his own business,” he said. “It’s your boy who caused all the trouble!”

“That ain’t what the old lady told Dorka,” Javid raised his voice.

“Well, she’s lying!” Thort said.

“Who are you calling a liar, you whoreson?” Javid shot back.

Thort’s fist came from nowhere and hit Javid squarely on his jaw. Javid licked blood from his cheek and smiled at Thort crazy-like. He plowed into Thort, knocking him to the hard ground. Javid was on top of Thort pummeling his face, while Thort tried to turn over and lift himself up where he’d have advantage on Javid. The other miners gathered around to see the fight and size up the fighters. They shouted encouragement to Javid and taunts to Thort. Thort twisted his body around so that Javid was pummeling his back and neck instead of his face. Slowly Thort rose up to his feet and Javid slid away. Thort punched Javid in the stomach lifting him off the ground slightly.

One of the miners shouted, “Hey, the assistant manager’s coming!” The other miners pulled Thort and Javid apart but Javid wriggled loose and kicked Thort in the groin.

“Who started it?” the assistant manager asked, looking at Thort, Javid, and the rest of the miners.

One of the miners said he saw Thort take a swing at Javid first. The others nodded in agreement. Neither Javid nor Thort said anything.

The assistant manager turned to Thort and said, “If you cause any more trouble, I’ll kick you out of the mine myself!”

 

Mike Stone

Raanana, Israel

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Filed under Prose, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Stories and Novels

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