The Stick

Carrying a purple canvas shopping bag — walking, because, you know, fitness and environment — was harder than he’d expected. He was almost home, but…whew.

He’d purchased more than planned. He’d gone for chips and a sandwich from the Safeway deli, but he’d added Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches, a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and a small bag of pistachio nuts, thinking he deserved these things, and the fare would be an excellent accompaniment to watching Game of Thrones.

Chastising himself because he always bought too much — no, not always, but frequently — no, not frequently, but probably fifty percent of the time — did that sound right? — was fifty percent considered frequently? — he set his bag down for a breather and wiped sweat from his face. Damn hotter than expected, damn hotter than seventy-seven. Felt more like eighty, even down here by the rushing creek, in the shade of the trees by Aqua, one of his favorite pubs.

His Apple watch — an indulgent birthday present to himself — confirmed his impression that he was right about the temperature. With a final deep breath and the stern order, “Press on with pride,” he bent for the bag and saw the stick.

The stick was on the dark grass beside the pitted, gray sidewalk. It seemed like an unusual stick even as it looked just like a stick.

He picked it up. Lacking bark, it was white, about an inch in diameter, although it was tapered, and seven inches long. It wasn’t perfectly straight, but close, and had three nubs where other branches once grew, but was sanded smooth.

Imagination fueled speculation about the stick’s uses. Although shorter and thicker than a conductor’s baton, he pretended he was conducting the Pittsburgh Symphony performing the Star Wars Theme Song, snapping the stick briskly left to right.

A loud crack broke his fantasy. While he processed that sound, a ripping noise followed. The pub, Indian restaurant above it, pizza place beside it, and creek disappeared, leaving a pulsing yellowish-white — ocher, perhaps — space in their place.

The strip was like piece of paper had been torn from the world. He gawked in appreciation and astonishment. The rushing creek ended at the tear, but then continued on the other end.

What the hell? Horror jumping through him, he confirmed that no witnesses were around, then gaped at the stick with the realization that the stick had probably caused this, and then began plotting his escape from this fiasco. He was afraid to try to use the stick to fix this mess. He’d probably just make it —

“Ahem.” The sound shook his core. Jumping and looking around, he saw no one, and then spotted a squirrel. Its dark eyes were narrowed in a way that he’d never seen in a squirrel. It was holding out one paw.

“I believe you have something that belongs to me,” the squirrel said. “Give it.”

Its voice reminded him of Patrick Warburton’s deep tones. “This?” he said. “The stick?”

The squirrel waved its black paw. “What else, numb nuts? It’s a wand, and it’s mine. Give it over before you do more damage.”

“How do I know this is yours?”

“Give it.” The squirrel’s voice rolled through the area like thunder.

Quaking, the man bent down and held out the stick with a trembling hand. “Sorry. I just found it lying there. I was just — ”

“Blah, blah, blah.” Snatching the wand out of his hand, the squirrel turned and flicked it, repairing the tear with another ripping sound. Giving him a side-glance, the squirrel said, “Idiot,” and then disappeared.

The man took a long breath. After a moment, he picked up his bag. “Press on with pride.” The best thing to do would be to go home, have a beer, watch Game of Thrones, and forget any of this ever happened.

Sure. Like he could ever forget this.

 

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