by William J. Joel
The “flame” danced in her father’s hands.
“You can pet it, Megan,” said her father, moving the creature closer to her. Megan took a step back, a five-year old child’s instinct winning over curiosity. Her father laughed.
“I was the same way, once, when I was your age. Took me nearly a month before I’d touch one. Watch!” he said, holding the flame in one hand, and stroking it with his other hand. Megan took a step forward, to get a better look.
Her father smiled. “It’s not hot, even though they do look like fire. It’s actually their hair, as soft as the hair on any animal.” Megan’s father lifted the glowing creature to his cheeks. As his rubbed it against his beard, the flaming creature made a soft, buzzing sound.
“He’s purring,” said Megan’s father.
“Purring? Like a cat?” asked Megan.
Her father nodded. “Sort of. It’s telling us he likes to be petted. Do you want to …”
Megan took two quick steps back. Her father sighed.
“Megan?” he said. “The Bolite will not harm you. We’ve been living with them ever since they began to fall from the sky, a long, long time ago.”
Megan drew a circle in the dirt with her foot. “How look?” she asked, trying not to look at the creature.
“Hundreds and hundreds of years ago. All we know about how they started arriving is from records written by our ancestors. There’s no one alive, today, who remembers when it started.”
Megan took a few steps towards the creature. As she did, the Bolite’s hairs slowly reached towards her, waving at her.
“He’s saying, ‘Hello’!” giggled Megan. And before her father could say or do anything, Megan had rushed toward him and removed the creature from his hands.
“He’s cute!” said Megan, rubbing the Bolite against her face. “And his hair isn’t hot!”
Her father took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Told you,” he whispered.
But Megan did not hear him. She was too busy playing with the creature, who was “purring” louder than ever.
As her father watched, Megan began to toss the Bolite into the air, gently catching it when it came down. The creature’s sound changed to something that sounded like a young child’s laughter.
“He’s having fun!” said Megan.
“Just don’t drop him,” warned her father. “They can get hurt, just like you, if you accidently drop him.”
Megan laughed. “I won’t drop him,” she said, “and we’re having fun!”
Megan went on playing with the creature for several minutes. Then she stopped and gave her father her serious look. Her father’s eyebrows rose, waiting for the question he knew was coming.
Megan handed the Bolite back to her father. “Do they actually fall from the sky?” she asked.
Her father nodded. “Yes, Megan, they do. Once a year, Bolites speed through the air from somewhere in outer space. At first, people thought they were comets, or meteors, but they didn’t burn up as they fell. And before you ask, we don’t know why they don’t burn up.”
Megan laughed. “I wasn’t gonna ask,” she said.
Her father scrunched up his face. “Of course,” he said, knowing she would have.
Megan shook her head. “How come they don’t get hurt when they land?”
Her father rubbed his beard with his hand. “Well,” he said, “folks think that when the Bolites get close to the ground, the bright glow they create is actually a force field …”
“Four field?” asked Megan.
Her father laughed. “Force field,” he said, slowly. “They seem to wrap themselves with energy the protects them from getting hurt.”
Megan rubbed her chin as if she too had a beard. “I understand,” she said, trying to sound wise.
Her father kneeled in front of her. “Do you want to play with him some more?” he asked.
Megan began to bounce on her toes. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” she said. Then she stopped bouncing and added, “May I?”
Megan’s father placed the creature into her hands. Megan stroked the Bolite’s hair, watching it change colors from yellow to red to blue and back again.
“I’ve never seen that before,” said her father.
Megan smiled. “He’s just happy,” she said. Megan’s father nodded his head, trying to look wise.
All things are connected. That's the premise of what William J. Joel does. Each of Mr. Joel's interests informs each other. Mr. Joel has been teaching computer science since 1983 and has been a writer even longer. His works have appeared in Common Ground Review, DASH Literary Journal, and The Blend.
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