A boy lived with his father and mother in the woods far from the city. There was a lake nearby, deep and clear, and when it was cloudy the lake shown silver like slick, wet metal. The boy and his father would play by the lake then, throwing sticks and skipping stones like the lake wasn’t made of water at all. They always searched for the most perfect skipping stone—balanced, round and smooth and flat, but not too flat, with just enough heft to throw hard—but they never seemed to find the most perfect stone. They always had to come back.
One day they found an oblong, strangely jagged rock, but it was dark black and flecked with bits of crystal like a piece of shattered night sky. Before the boy could throw it, his father began to cough, and they had to return home.
His father’s cough turned violent, body coiled and uncoiled with convulsions. And quickly, too quickly, the boy’s father died. The boy took to walking around the lake where they used to play, skipping stones and throwing sticks, and though he couldn’t explain why, he carried the jagged stone with him. He waited for a perfect day to be rid of it, when the lake shown like a silver coin, and the stone began to grow heavy in his pocket.
He grew tired of carrying the increasingly heavy stone. The next time the clouds rolled in and the lake shown silver, he pulled his arm back to send it skipping, or most likely to sputter and sink because of its odd shape. But as he drew his arm back low and parallel to the water, he noticed an odd reflection on the surface of the lake. He put the heavy stone back in his pocket and rushed to the reflection. It was his father’s face. In his excitement and haste, the boy splashed in the shallows and the reflection dissolved into murky water.
He waited and waited, but his father’s face didn’t return. The boy went home and told his mother. She told him he couldn’t have seen his father’s face. She told him that his father was among the stars now, another pinpoint of light in the southern sky. When she said it, she didn’t look at him, as if she wanted to hide the truth her face would tell. She told him speak of it no more.
But the boy knew what he had seen. He obeyed his mother and did not speak of it, but he returned to the lake day after day. He walked the shore, careful not to skip any stones or disturb the water, lest he ripple away his father’s face.
After many days, the boy grew angry; angry with the clouds for not coming, angry with his mother for not believing, angry with the stone for the way it prodded him. He went to the shore again to throw it in. He wasn’t even going to bother with skipping it, but as he reared back, he spotted a glimmer. This time, even in his anger, he was prepared. He had stashed a basin in the tall grass near the shore. With it, he scooped up his father’s face. Rushing back to the house, he set the basin in the kitchen. He called for his mother, but before she could see the reflection, it disappeared. The boy looked around. The light in their house was all wrong. Too dim, too stale. The reflection couldn’t last. His mother shook her head and walked away to be with her silent thoughts.
Now that it had happened twice, the boy returned to the lake day after day, waiting to glimpse his father’s face again. But that day didn’t come, and his mother was forced to move them away into the city. She said they had to start again. She said they must try. His mother didn’t cry when she said this, and her back, which had been bent, straightened. Her eyes, then, reminded the boy of his mother’s eyes before his father had died, and he thought it strange that a person could remind you of themselves.
The day they were set to leave, the boy returned to the lake. The sun was too bright, wind ruffled the surface, and the boy knew there would be no reflection. He pulled the stone out of his pocket. It hadn’t grown smooth as he’d carried it, and it was still too jagged and heavy to skip well. The boy hadn’t grown so much that he could now bear its weight, but maybe someday he would. Even still, he could not be rid of it, that jagged rock that looked like a piece of a shattered sky.
And quickly, but not too quickly, the boy left the lake, the sharpness of the rock prodding his leg. He walked slowly to bear the pain, but still he walked.
Evan James Sheldon‘s work has appeared most recently in Ghost Parachute, Metaphorosis, and New Plains Review. He is a Senior Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com.