The Book of the Three


There we were the three of us out on the wide lake. Up he came. Just this wild-headed light brown ghost of a boy. Color of pale mud. Hard to say what he was or where he came from. But there he was anyhow. We thought we would pay him no attention. Put him out of our mind. That is just what we did. At first. We paid him no attention. He was out of our mind. We just cast and cast out into the wide lake. Our boat drifted like a boat will do. It was the morning time but it was already hot. We just fished until it was almost noon and the sun hurt our eyes and burned our nothing-shaped noses. We were boys. We said to each other that we would row back to the bank. Yes, let’s row back to the bank. That is when we took another notice of him. He was still out there, on the silty shoreline. He hunched close to the ground in a catcher’s stance. He was playing in the mud. Why, we did not know. Then he picked up a stone and skipped it seven times. He picked up another with his other hand and slung it all the way over the other bank. Into the still trees. Our voices carried out across the water: How old are you? Where did you come from? He ran off and we followed him but he vanished in a breath. Just as he had appeared. The others would not believe us. You are telling tales, they said. No one can throw it so far. No one can run so fast. Not through the thick woods out by the lake. But it was true and soon enough they would see it for themselves. Our team was sorry. Some of us could catch but not hit. Some of us could hit but not catch. Not a one of us could throw hard. Gary Lester’s team was the best team. Billy Feeble’s team was the next best team. Both those teams had their way with us. They sent us chasing mean line drives all the afternoon. We could not hit what they pitched. Most of the other teams had their way with us too. Something like it anyway. We were in the cellar. Bottom of the heap. We three decided. We need a ringer, we said. The others did not disagree. Go get us a ringer, they said. We spent days combing the woods. We went without fishing. It was an unlucky time. We found nothing but the tall, still trees. Then one of us said, Why not check the holler? It’s on the Temple’s, we said. There aint no ghost child on the Temple’s. Where else, then? So we tried the holler. It was cooler down there. A little bit. It felt good. It put us in good spirits. Down we went. Sometimes we slipped on the forest floor. We kept on. At the bottom there was a hut. It’s a witch’s house, we said. Should we run? Yes, let’s run. This is no good. But one of us shushed the rest. He crept up to the window. He peeked in. Do you want to get us cooked up in a big black pot? we asked. He did not listen but kept peeking. We crept up ourselves. We did not want to but we had to because there was one of us being braver than the rest. It was like the television only darker with less going on. There was a man inside with no shirt. He had a thick book spread out on his lap. He was sitting in a simple chair. He looked like a dirty moviestar. He got up and we ducked down. We stayed down a long time. We got up the nerve to look again. It was still dark inside. There was that simple chair. The book was spread out on the seat. There was no man. We ran like hell. That was the first day.