The Nightstick

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Christy Writes

A disillusioned and unloved old man simply known as the "Bench Sitter" finds an enchanted nightstick near his bench and wishes to be young and to have a name. Unbeknownst to him, however, the wand grants his wish but there is catch--he is given a cursed name belonging to a young man who had long ago wished himself to be an old man so as to die sooner--and the Bench Sitter may yet meet himself coming and going.


The Nightstick

by L.E. Belle

Etcetera and Sir Bellicose, that was all that it amounted to. An immeasurable time consumed in lackadaisical bench sitting, fistfuls of foot shuffling, and professional woolgathering. That and little else could be said of The Bench Sitter who had etched out for himself a hollowing in the deep neck of the woods, as he had said. A connoisseur of idle conjecture? Surely not. For there was more to meet the eye. He had as his only friends a colonial looking glass, a poor refuge from time and memory, and a warped and warbling bench, nothing more than a footing to a drove of blustery and ageless pines.

The Bench Sitter, as he was addressed, dressed in no stately fashion but donned the attire of a drifter, dusted by the earthy hues of dirt and foxholes, and sported a coiffure like a windswept canyon. He was old; he was. Older than the impassive and hoarfrost hewn pines that shadowed his hollow in the woods. His eyes trailed with crevices of wrinkled age like rings unfolding from the remnant of an oak. His eyes were steel and grey, cold and wandering like the detached wolf haunting the wintered woods. His lips were tight and fastened, sealed as through by a twice-sewn thread that had no beginning and neither an end. His eyes held a secret, a bewitching musing that revealed itself only when he leaned into his bench, hiding his frostbitten hands in his worn over pockets and set about to tilt his head upward to the sky, entranced in thought-thinking.

“Why must I be cursed without a name,” said he, “when all the fools about me walk about like lighted bullets, proud and furious, as though their roots were better than mine?” He arose from his bench and charged to the top of the bluff, whereby he could consider the city that lay beyond the haunted woods. “The Bench Sitter! What idiocy! What senselessness! I haven’t a name at all. I must be more than this. I must have a name, a face, a place to belong to. Am I but a hardscrabble? An unrewarding footprint to be walked over. How can one be so grave of age and remember neither his name nor his past?” The Bench Sitter mused over his predicament, regretting the day life had dealt him such a thrawn of poor luck. At last, he arrived at the verdict that he was a cantankerous old man in need of rescue.

As he trotted back down from the darkening hill to return to his bench for the night, he tripped over a gnarled branch that lay at the foot of the steep hill. He went battling to the ground, his hand stretching across the cool, emerald grass. He writhed his chilled fingertips across an object, sleek and narrow, like a wand. It tinkled like a chime or the clink of a tin cup against a silver spoon. He rolled over on his stomach, stretching his fingers over the gossamer rod. He brought the object to his gaze, eyeing the pale and simplistic design of the unexpected curiosity.

He upstarted diffidently at a rustling that came whispering from the hedgerows. The Bench Sitter nearly lost his composure at the sight of two seemingly disembodied hands waving from behind a mirror that sat lopsided in the shadows of the pines. “Come thither, my sweet friend. I have a little wisdom to be given to you. You shan’t worry about me. I know all about the sleek object behind your back!” a sound broke from behind the mirror as the two hands beckoned the old man closer.

“This entire situation is perfectly ridiculous! Pity, I’ve lost my mind. Surely that must be it,” the Bench Sitter drew closer, nodding his head in disbelief. As he approached, he took note that his reflection did not emerge in the mirror. Instead, the reflection remained fixated on the blustered trail that disappeared through the woods into the dark groves of oaks and pines.

“I have got an eye, haven’t I, my friend? Trickery is not my name. I shan’t play any nasty games. The nightstick you have once was mine, but it is as useless to me as the fire to the sea. Shall I help an old beggar with naught friend nor nemesis? Aye, ‘tis true, my sweet friend. I know the riddle of the nightstick. You are hideous, an unsightly sight to see indeed. Old and gray like druid stones, crevices in the mountainsides. Aye, ‘tis delight, ‘tis delight most bright. The nightstick may grant your fondest wish, but only once, mi-dear,” the hands pointed a willowy finger to the nightstick which the Bench Sitter now held visibly to the apparition. “I am called Sir Sire-Sir-Syre, say these words but thrice and the nightstick shall grant your fondest wish: pithy, prithee, pith! And with that, the illusion turned inside out and vanished as if swallowed by the wind.

The old man turned his head from side to side to ensure no one was watching him from the dark hedges of the woods. He shambled to the bench, slowly easing himself back against the creaking, rotted wood. What I wouldn’t give to be young, sweet, and fetching. Perhaps then I could have a friend, or a wife to love, or a place to call home. A place far from these disheveled woods of shambling dreams and broken illusions. The Bench Sitter gathered all the strength he had left and stood on top of the bench. The old planks shuddered beneath his worn-over heels. “Pithy, prithee, pith! I wish to have a name, any name and a face to match!” the old man bellowed, holding the nightstick to the crescent moonlight. A bluster of wind swept across the piney hills, nearly fainting the old man, and a bolt of threaded lightning struck the nightstick sending a blue halo of light all about the Bench Sitter. Laid breathlessly against the ground, the blue aura danced across his fading form like St. Elmo's fire. The windswept the old man beneath the hedges casting his body in darkness. One pale hand fell forward into the moonlight, and the nightstick rolled out from his fingers and down the hill into the deep, dark woods.

Hours passed from dusk to midnight and then to dawn. A pair of feet, nearly gliding on their tiptoes, danced towards the shadows, retrieving the nightstick. The Bench Sitter was no longer. A delightful young man pressed a kiss to the inanimate object. “Midge. My name is Midge. Oh, what a sweet, lovely name,” the young man giggled shyly at his parallel image left behind in the puddles of rain. The grey whorls were replaced by a tawny flaxen field. The crevices had fled, leaving behind soft, warm sunshine, innocent and untouched. The bearded eyes plagued by sorrow danced now in a cascade of sapphire, captivating, wide-eyed, and full of wonder and curiosity like a newborn lamb. Unsure of what to do with his new form, Midge hugged himself excitedly, falling into the grass and rolling down the hill like a spinning top let loose. “Someone, please love Midge!” he begged to the earthen realm. but only the wind answered him back in a defiant “no.”

“My name is Midge. Someone, please love Midge. Be my friend. I want a friend,” Midge echoed about as he sat with his legs folded over in the center of the grass, confused and wandering at his lonely condition. He titled his head sideways at the sight of the nightstick beside his foot. “You can help me find my friend. You can help me find my love,” Midge ordered the wand. Midge retrieved his yellow shoes, another curiosity that followed him now, placing them on his delicate, narrow feet. Midge soon discovered there were many uses to be had from the nightstick. He dipped one finger into the water and found himself on the other side, beneath the water and looking up. Or he traced the words of his book with the nightstick, and the words read themselves aloud in his own gentle and murmuring voice. As delightful as these curiosities were for the new-sprung lamb, he remained alone and longing for that which he simply felt but could not see. A garble of words fought to escape his heart, but he knew not how to express them. He longed to pick flowers, give kisses, cuddle to a warm embrace, but to whom he did not know. He gathered his nightstick, and disguising himself in a grey woolen cape, he stole across the nightscape toward the lighted town beyond the haunted bluffs.

The blue light that before had transformed him reappeared, and in the middle of the halo appeared a young man with motionless features. “Where are you headed, Midge?” the voice echoed on the hollows of wind from a face half in the shadows and half in the moonlight. Join me, Midge dear, I will carry you to the city,” the man extended his hand to Midge, who scaled the truck, settling in beside his traveling companion.

“Be my friend. Love me!” Midge implored the stranger, resting his chin on the shoulders of the static figure beside him.

“I am only here but a moment,” the man answered back. He put his arm around Midge’s trembling shoulders. “Do not be afraid, Midge. Nothing will hurt you. The nightstick shall see to that,” the stranger placed a reassuring kiss on Midge’s brow. Midge smiled up at him, curling into a ball like a cat. “You must go now, Midge. I shall not be far away,” the man eerily drove away, swathed in a ring of blinding light until it disappeared down the winding road back toward the haunted bluffs.

Midge wiped his tears with the back of his hand. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a group of men arranged around a campfire. Three little red tents dotted the dry campground. Cluelessly, Midge skipped toward the inviting flicker. The men, four altogether, frowned at him disbelievingly. The oldest man in the group, perhaps in his thirties, named Invitar, glanced over the spirited sprout of sunshine that bounded into their camp. All the men burst out in laughter at the sight of Midge’s brassy yellow shoes.

“Boy, wherever didja find those wallies?” Invitar let out a bark of laughter. Oblivious to their laughter, Midge giggled back, allowing a boyish grin to shine through. He latched onto Invitar, grabbing his hand like a feral creature searching for guidance.

“I like you. Will you be my friend? I want to be friends. We can pick flowers, an’ fly kites on the bluffs, an’ go cloud looking!” Midge’s face beamed a cherry blush as he released a plethora of breathless words.

Invitar pushed the young man onto the ground in disgust. “I don’t like ya an’ I don’t wanna be yer friend. Go back to whatever petal blossom ya fell off! I can have anyone for a friend. Lookit me. I’m pretty hot stuff around here. Yer just a bad run a luck. That’s what ‘Midge’ is meanin’ an’ all. Bad luck! Good fer nuthin’ curse is what it is. Git the picture, chick?” Invitar kicked dust in the boy’s face and then spit on his tousled hair. “Let’s git going, boys. Time’s a waistin’. Let’s whistle up the wind!” Invitar ordered the men who grabbed their hunting gear and headed toward the woods to prey on unsuspecting night creatures.

Midge tried to fight back the tears, but at last, they spilled out. He beat his fists angrily on the blowy dust, kicking his legs at the unforgiving ground. The naïve young man collapsed in a heap. He made several desperate attempts to befriend Invitar, who seemed to the clueless boy a strong man who had a great many friends and admirers. But as such, he was incapable of befriending the timid boy. At last, driven by a great annoyance, Invitar grabbed Midge by the seat of his britches and threw him out of the camp.

Midge landed face-first into the thistly-brush; his face flushed with burn marks. The nightstick flew out of his pocket, landing in front of him on the ground. Invitar rambled coolly towards the boy. He teased the affection-starved boy by nudging Midge’s forehead with his nose, and when Midge attempted to hug Invitar in return, the pitiless fellow dumped a bucket of mud water over the boy’s head. All the men gathered round Midge and shouted insults and curses at him, well-rehearsed in the line that he was ‘bad luck’ and ‘country-fresh’ and ‘cherry.’

Midge had never before considered violence as a means of personal gratification, but he had started to give it prominence. He wanted to get back at Invitar for the way he had treated him. After all, Midge only wanted a friend. Why had the hunter acted so heartlessly towards him? A feral spark lighted his ghosted eyes. He smiled pleasantly as a Machiavellian thought entered his notions. Midge coyly twirled the wand in his hand, whistling a foreboding carnival tune. His yellow shoes danced towards the shadowed edges of the campground. He skipped off toward the canyon, his shadow trotting after him like a surreal reflection. Midge’s mischievous whistling could be heard all over the canyon.

Invitar eyed the boy hopping over the chasms as he lit up a cigarette, the wispy smoke encircling his brows like a prairie fire. He leaned into a gnarly tree, placing his hands on his hips and looking the boy up one side and down the other. He chuckled a haughty laugh and flung his cigarette into the campfire. That prissy weasel won’t be back, he thought.

Once the men had drifted to sleep, Midge tiptoed through the trees like the hoot of an owl. He signaled and wielded at the latent figures with his nightstick. “Pithy, prithee, pith! And into a pit!” Midge tittered in delight as a well unfolded and down, down went the men, Invitar cursing the loudest. Midge skipped gleefully away, ignoring the heated bellows of the entrapped campers. He covered his hands in kisses, grateful at least for the nightstick if he could have no friends to speak of.

The adulation, however, was short-lived and Midge was greeted once again by the feeling of desperate loneliness and longing. Midge lowered himself to a pond, and in the reflection, he once again saw the haunted features of that old man, The Bench Sitter. Still lonely, forever searching for love and belonging. A grey and white photograph drifted across the waters, toutled about by the rippling waves without warning. It was the image of a beautiful lady, her head wretchedly pressed against the pages of a music book, her body stooped over a Victorian piano. But why did she wear the white cuffet on her head? She bore a look of shame upon her brows. “I can be her friend. She needs a friend too! Look at how lonely her face is!” Midge yearned, and off he went to the book-masters so as to ascertain the name of the graven lady.

“Nay, nay, son. You don’t want to mix yourself up with the likes of her. She bears an accursed name because her husband bore an accursed name first,” the book-master warned.

Midge set up straight, aroused with curiosity. He titled his head in confusion. The book-master noticed Midge’s moisty eyes and determined to act quickly.

“Ah, I see, young one. You have not yet heard the tale of the sorrows of Bethsaida, Lass Bess, they called her. She took a young bridegroom, his name it was Midge. Since the days of Old Salem, he and his family were cursed with the name ‘Midge.’ She inherited that dreadful curse, so they say, Ah, the scourges that visited her household. The fever stole all her beautiful hair, like an auburn wind it was. She took to wearing the disgraceful cuffet. If this was not enough to drive her to malady, her husband met bad fortune and he sold her piano. Miss Bess was never any good without her music, ah but how she loved that unlucky Midge. Such tragedy he swore he would put an end to. I heard tale that he wished to be an old man, and so he did, and we have never seen him in these parts again. That good Bess loved her husband so, and she died of a broken heart when he disappeared,” Midge had already begun to wander away before the book-master finished his yarn. He dropped to his knees, sobbing a stream of uncontrollable tears at the summit of the haunted bluffs. In the puddles, he could see again the old man staring back. Nothing had changed. Midge had simply met himself coming and going.

He cursed that mirror, Sir-Sire-Sir-Syre. He cursed the truck that carried him into the campgrounds. He cursed the nightstick. He cursed the Bench Sitter. On the other side of the puddle, the old man reached out one trembling finger to sweet Midge. The fawnish man reached back with his soft, narrow fingers. When he touched the old man, the nightstick vanished, and so too did both the men.

Alone at the top of the haunted bluffs, there lie two benches now, both empty. At the half of the moon, in the dim-lit shadows of the night, it is said that you can hear two voices whistling. But there is no one there save the tales about a man no one is sure ever existed at all. And a pair of yellow shoes kicked to the side of the brambles.

And only the nightstick knows for certain, wherever it has now wandered off to.



Submitted: January 28, 2021

© Copyright 2021 L.E. Belle. All rights reserved.

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Christy Writes

This is such a creative, interesting story. I've never read anything like it. I'm wondering, did you write the story first and find the pictures second or vice versa? And how did you come up with expressions like "Sir-Sire-Sir-Syre" and "pithy, prithee, pith"?
I love your storytelling, this was a very entertaining read.

Wed, May 12th, 2021 6:48pm

Author
Reply

Thanks for the lovely comment, Christy. It was quite flattering :)
Actually, I came across the pictures first. I spend a good deal of time looking at photography. Many of my stories and poems are inspired by photos and music (especially music). As for the expressions, that's just part of my personality and mind, I suppose. I've always felt like my mind is always wandering through a surreal landscape and rows of storybooks. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Wed, May 12th, 2021 1:52pm

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