This story was written four years ago as part of a writing workshop, off the prompt to write something about an object: in this case, a marble. It was the first time I tried to write off that kind of prompt, and it changed my life. The story was good, but then I put it through the Discord Writing Workshop, and this week it placed third in a writing contest. Enjoy.
Nobody plays marbles anymore because they don’t know how much fun it is. Well it is fun, especially if you’re good at it, and I am good. I am very good. I play nearly every day at recess. That’s how I got the marble. You know, the marble. The one that made the school disappear. And almost me, too.
It was a Thursday, just like any other Thursday. We had a spelling test in the morning, and I did okay. I missed a couple words. I like reading, but spelling words is not much fun. It’s only slightly better than history. We did some math, and then we had lunch. My friends and I all eat like we’re starving so we can get out to the playground for some extra recess.
But today things didn’t go like that. Seth had the world’s most luscious brownie, and I didn’t have anything in my lunch to trade. I had to bribe him with a marble and promise “no keepsies” for two days. Then I dropped my brown bag into the milk puddle under the table, and the lunch monitor made me wipe it up even though I didn’t spill it. It took forever and stunk like my little brother’s feet.
By the time I got outside, Seth had drawn a circle with three other kids, and they were already shooting.
“Paul, you really said no keepsies?” Penny said. She’s in fifth grade, and she’s really smart, but she’s too small for sports. She found our marble game one day and asked if she could play. She took one of my aggies with her very first shot, and she’s been one of us ever since.
“There was a brownie involved,” I said.
Seth said, “And a mop and a lunch lady.”
“Oooooh,” the other kids said. It threw off Sandy, who was in the middle of his shot. His shooter went all the way through and missed everything. It rolled to a stop at my feet, and I reached down and picked it up. Well-used with tiny chips all over it, white glass. Sandy’s favorite.
“My turn,” I said, kneeling down and handing the shooter back to Sandy.
“You don’t have marbles in the game yet. You have to wait,” Penny said.
“It’s no keepsies,” I said, “so who cares? We only have another minute.,” I drew my shooter--some kids still call it a “taw”--from my velvet marble bag. My shooter is green. It’s a glassie a little bit bigger than a regular marble, and perfectly smooth. Chipped shooters don’t fly true.
There were eight marbles left in the ring. Since there were five of us, the ring was really big, farther across than I could reach. Two cat’s eyes lay next to each other, right in front of me. Just beyond them was a glassie--a sort of milky green one--that I knew belonged to Seth. There were two tri-colors way over on the other side, a couple inches apart. I’d never seen them before. I didn’t think I could hit them, unless I took some time, but since we weren’t playing keepsies it didn’t matter. I couldn’t keep them even if I knocked them out.
I shot for the easy ones, the cat’s eyes right in front of me. I knuckled down, put the shooter in the crook of my finger, and laid my thumb behind it. I sighted from up high, over the top of the ring. Some guys like to get down behind it and sight the shot like a rifle, but that’s not my way.
The taw fired out straight and true, skimming over the concrete, right at the place where it would knock the two cat’s-eyes together and send them out of the ring. But at the last second it veered and smacked into the one on the left, hitting it square and sending it shooting off between Seth and Sandy. It skittered over the pavement and disappeared into a crack next to the school.
“Nice shot, Paul,” Sandy said. “Brilliant. That was my marble, too.”
“Sorry. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t mean to hit it that hard.”
“I’ll get it,” Sandy said.
“No, that’s okay,” I said, picking up and pocketing my shooter. “It’s your shot. I’ll go get the marble. It’s just right here.”
But when I got to the place where it disappeared, it wasn’t. The noon sun shone right down into the crack, lighting it to the bottom. Except one place. It stayed in shadow, as if it was still night in one three-inch spot. That had to be where Sandy’s marble went.
I hesitated. A guy that goes around sticking his hand into dark cracks in the pavement can find that he’s a couple fingers short of a fist. So I poked one finger in, just a little. I couldn’t feel anything. A little farther. There. There was something, round and smooth.
If I put another finger in, I could get it, maybe. If I wedged the marble right…
Got it. Careful now. I didn’t have a good grip. A little more. Gently...
I eased it into the light and dropped it into my other hand.
“Sandy!” I called. He turned from the game, and I tossed the marble to him. He caught it and put it in his bag.
Just for kicks, because who knew what else might be down there, I reached my finger back into the crack before I straightened up to go back to the game.
There was something. Round and smooth, and gritty somehow. It felt like another marble, but one that had been there a long time. It was crusted in something. I dug a fingernail into the grit, but it skittered away before I could get it with two fingers at once. Where did it…ah. One finger on top, the other on the bottom--
The school disappeared.
The wall of the school was maybe two feet away from my face. Brick and concrete. Solid. And then it wasn’t there and I could see a hill, covered in grass, sloping down away from me toward a river.
A flash, and then the school was back. Just like that. One second I was looking at the wall, and the next second there was this meadow, and then the school reappeared.
I let go of the marble like it scalded me, and jerked my hand up out of the crack.
The other kids were still playing behind me. Third-graders laughed from over by the monkey bars, and some kids played football in the field. Nobody standing with their mouth open, staring. I reached over and touched the school. Hot bricks and rough concrete. I pushed on it. It didn’t move an inch.
Maybe I was seeing things. The heat getting to me. And if that was a marble down there, it would be an old one. Might be worth something.
This time I kept my eyes up, looking at my friends and the playground. I put my fingers back into the crack and found the marble again. I gripped it.
Of course not, silly. What did I think would happen? I mean, I dreamed about making the school disappear plenty of times. What kid hasn’t? But stuff like that doesn’t happen.
I eased the thing up out of the crack, just as I had with Sandy’s, and dropped it into my other palm.
It was a marble, all right, but not a modern one. Modern marbles are all made by machines now and they’re perfect. They’re smooth all around. Older ones, though, those were made by hand, and they weren’t perfectly round everywhere. There were sometimes very tiny rough spots on the top and bottom where the marble was cut loose from the rest of the glass.
I picked it up and tapped some of the dirt off. It was a glassie, but not totally clear. Kind of greyish glass with lots of little air bubbles in it. I rubbed it on my pants to clean it off, and held it up where I could see it better.
Crusted in dirt, it was surely an old marble, one of the oldest I’d ever seen. It looked like some of my dad’s. One side looked chipped. Sure enough, there was one of the cut points. And yes, there was one on the other side as well, making a top and bottom. I pinched the marble between my thumb and finger on the rough spots and held it up.
The playground disappeared.
This time it didn’t flicker and come back. One second the playground was there. Kids were having recess in the last couple minutes before class. The next they were all gone, and I was standing in the middle of an open field, on the edge of a grassy hill. A little grove of trees grew off to my left and the slope, this time behind me, led down to the river.
It was about noon, the same time as it was at school. But there wasn’t a building or another person in sight. I was totally alone, a light breeze cooling my face. I wiped sweat from my forehead, and when I did the marble slipped.
Just like that I was back in the playground again, standing where I had been, with my friends scooping their marbles into their bags and cinching them up tight.
Seth looked up at me, then did a double-take. “Hey, Paul, you okay?” he said, standing up..
“I don’t know. You didn’t see that?”
Seth looked around the playground, then back at me. “See what?”
“The hill. The meadow. The river.”
He spun around slowly. “I see a lot of blacktop, a big red school, and one weird dude standing like he might have had too much sun.”
The marble lay in the hollow of the palm of my hand. It looked like any other glassie, not as nice as most of them. Not the smoothest one, or the prettiest. But no other marble ever did things to my school when I picked it up.
The other kids were filing into the building. Time to go back to class. But I had to try it, just one more time. So I pinched the marble, top and bottom, like I had before.
Again, everything I knew disappeared. This time I was ready, and I could kind of see that the land the marble showed me wasn’t very different from the land I was standing on in the playground. The hill was still there, it just had a school on it. There wasn’t a river anymore, but there was a creek down the hill behind the houses across from the school. So it might be the same land. If I turned and looked at all of it. It might just be...
Everything went sideways and spun as something crashed into me from behind. The sky whirled crazily. I hit the ground and tasted dirt. The breath went out of me. I gasped, trying to get air. And the marble…I had no idea where the marble went.
To be continued...