A Scene Illuminating the Perils of Truancy

By B.W. Carter

So, yeah, this boy, he’s standing on his usual corner, right, watching traffic dissolve into the vast white wash of the sun. The day is loud as a concert and very bright. The boy is slouching against a streetlamp. Squinting into the beeping, belching exhaust-sweet bustle, he smokes his last cigarette.

Smoking, slouching, the boy performs grungy symphonic death-metal power-ballads in the packed stadium of his head.

In the still-life flash of one vague, imperceptible moment, he accomplishes a million feats and nothing at all. For this boy has severe cerebral ambition, yeah? Which hinges, every bit of it, upon his immobility. Most out there, call them the herd, cannot appreciate, much less reward, the significance of such an inconspicuous, randomly innocuous act as loitering during school hours to scoff at the world. Not staid, buttoned-up math tutors, for sure, nor dull entrenched history teachers. Nor certain conceited, canon-obsessed English profs either.

Thus, this boy standing on his usual corner, copping his last smoke, watching hostile traffic until it ebbs, he realizes that he is in fact a goddamned visionary. This boy’s a true legend, no doubt about it.

After a while a man walks up to him. The man is smoking a cigarette too — maybe his last. The cigarette smoke is particularly pungent and the man has strange eyes.

The boy’s gin-addled grandfather would’ve said he’d seen those eyes before, in the rime-crusted trenches of the Korean peninsula.

“Got a light?” the man asks.

The boy watches the man drag and inhale. The glowing cherry of his Lucky Strike is just another pinprick of burning color in the brilliance of the day. The boy motions in the general direction of an empty book of matches laid discarded at his feet.

“Nope,” he says.

The man sucks his teeth for a moment, staring into traffic. What is he thinking? He’s on to something, for sure — the boy recognizes cerebral ambition when he sees it.

Then suddenly the man growls, right, his eyes grow stranger, and his hands fly out of his pockets. There’s a click and the man punches the boy in the belly; quick, hard, thrice. Then, just as quickly, the man composes himself and continues along his way, nonchalant like, before the boy even has the chance to cry out.

The tableau is fleeting. The bright world resumes.

Our poor visionary exhales a gasp, a sigh, and sinks to the concrete. A froth of blood bubbles in a weak staccato of coughs. His shirt is slick and spongy above his belt. Some bastard nearby honks at an inconvenience. Somebody else has just heard a good one, for there’s a shriek of laughter.

Not our boy. In the space of a single vague, imperceptible moment, this legend in the making has become only another innocuous, seemingly incomprehensible act.

“Big words …” the boy mumbles to himself, thinking to himself that the English prof would be so impressed. Once he had been convinced such a vocabulary leads straight to a tie-strangled cubicle destiny.

Thinking to himself: It’s time for my guitar solo, this is it, wait!

But the stadium has fallen silent. The fans are leaking away.

Immobility, once altogether necessary for his legend, seems abruptly a less attractive stepping-stone to immortality. The stadium in his head falls silent, trickles empty.

The boy is reaching for his cigarette, still smoldering just out of reach, when the last diehard fit of clapping stops.

Then the coughing stops and so does his hand.

“… Shoulda stayed in school …”precedes the death rattle.

Bio: B. W. Carter spends his days administering child welfare programs from the confines of a tiny monochrome cubicle. He spends his nights in a slightly larger, slightly more colorful cubicle, waterboarding word counts with deranged glee. In addition to The Yard: Crime Blog, he’s been published at, or has work forthcoming in, Mystery Tribune, Flash Fiction Magazine, Tales to Terrify, and The Drabble, among others.

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Publishing Editor for The Yard: Crime Blog.

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