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Big Red

It started out small—a red speck hardly noticed on the Harlem sidewalk. Maybe it drifted down from the heavens. Maybe a bird scavenged it from Central Park. Maybe it grew from a crack in the concrete. However it came to be, passers-by stepped over it without a glance, caught up in their phones, smokes, or whatever Facebook joke their friend just read. Those of us who lived in the Kingdom had other things to worry about.

When it started to grow, slowly creeping above the bottom of a windowsill, its color shifting from red to brown to green like a mood ring, Grandma Peck peeked out and huffed. “Jim. Go see what’s out there blocking my view.”

Her husband of fifty years squinted and said it was probably nothing, but Grandma Peck insisted. He poked his head out and gave the red ball—now encroaching on their doorstep too—a quick tap with his foot. “Ain’t moving, Jane. Maybe one of the youngins can budge it.”

But the youngins couldn’t budge it either, no matter how many passing kids Jim asked. He even offered a reward of five dollars to the one who could move it, and the challenge soon became a game throughout the neighborhood as the ball continued to grow, still shifting colors as though deciding what skin suited it best, perhaps trying to fit in. We prodded one another. “Like ‘calibur,” we said as the ball began to press against a tin overhang, its shell-like compacted elastic bands, or the yolk of a hard-boiled egg. “First one to move it will be king of the Kingdom.”

But no one could, no matter how hard they pressed, soft-soled sneakers melting into the August sidewalk. We gathered ‘round it, hid in its shade, passed vapes as twilight fell, debating its strangeness, wondering what aliens might be hiding inside. For once, we had something to keep us out of the alleys, away from the street corners and corner stores that offered an easy score. This would be our new status symbol, our way to prove ourselves. We strategized. We tried talking to it, learning its secrets. It stayed reticent, though, despite our prying. We only ever noticed one response with our human senses—whenever our palms rested against its surface, it would pulse softly, a soft, strong scarlet suffusing the area, slowly retreating to brown or blue when we pulled our hands away.

It soon became a village hangout, so to speak, and although Grandma Peck still complained that it blocked her view, she brought lemonade and cookies for the kids who congregated, patting the heads of the younger ones, nodding sagely to those of us old enough to recognize her approval so rarely offered, especially in the Kingdom. She even nodded to the ball, Big Red as we’d come to call it. “You do good,” she said. “Whatever it is you are.”

And yet, like any good thing, it couldn’t last. City officials took notice, maybe pressured by whatever government agency monitors the occult. Men in suits came to photograph Big Red, and city maintenance crews soon followed. Citing the sidewalk obstruction as a hazard, especially as it pressed against the brick wall of Grandma Peck’s home, coveralled workers pushed, pulled, leveraged with pry bars and shovels to little effect. Grandma Peck shooed them away, and it worked for a time as the crews all scratched their heads. Until they returned with great construction machines, despite our protests with signs that said, “SAVE BIG RED!”

We surrounded the Caterpillar and John Deere behemoths until the police pulled us away and cordoned off the area. Grandma Peck became a prisoner in her own home for “safety,” and we soon drifted back to the streets as demolition crews drilled holes in Big Red, fastened hooks and looped chains. Its color faded, losing its vibrant luster, never red anymore but dull brown, then black. Only a few of us stayed until the end, when the chain tightened, taut, and with a great grinding screech, ripped Big Red from the sidewalk, taking a block of concrete with it. They loaded Big Red onto a flatbed, hauled it away. And just like that, what had become a neighborhood landmark was gone, leaving only a legend and a white square of new cement in its place.

AJ graduated from Seton Hall University with a Master’s in Creative Writing after receiving his Bachelor’s in English and Philosophy. His work appears in Permafrost Magazine (Finalist, 2017 New Alchemy Contest) and The Lindenwood Review (Honorable Mention, Issue 8 First Chapter Contest) along with fiction sales to A Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (an upcoming ZNB anthology), Breath & Shadow, and Bards & Sages Quarterly. He currently serves on the editorial staff of Flash Fiction Online, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, and Metaphorosis Magazine.

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