Troy was late for school. His alarm clock hadn’t gone off and luckily, he’d woken up only a half hour later than usual.
The wind felt cold as he hurried outside and down the front stairs of the Manhattan apartment.
He walked a few paces when his eyes fell on a dark bird. He paused. The bird was huge. He stared at it for several seconds. For some reason, it bothered him. Then he saw why.
The bird had unusual bright, red eyes.
Troy swallowed loudly. The last thing he needed was a peck in the head by an angry bird. He gave the bird one last, long look before he began the walk to the subway station.
In his right hand he clutched a bat. He had borrowed it from his buddy Vince for a pickup game over the weekend. He squeezed the bat reassuringly as he trudged along the sidewalk.
When Troy reached the stairs that descended down into the subway, he glanced again over his shoulder, just to reassure himself that the bird wasn’t following him.
His heart sank. It had flown to the top of a lamp post down the street. He could tell it was the same one by its cruel, red eyes.
Where had the bird come from? It was at least twice the size of a pigeon. He had never seen birds that big in the city before in all the years he’d lived here.
Troy squeezed the handle of the bat and shifted his backpack to his other shoulder.
The bird now seemed to be studying the bat.
Troy lifted the bat and pointed the end of it at the dark bird. “Stop following me,” he told it, glaring.
The bird probably wouldn’t understand him anyway, but it creeped him out just the same to see it sitting there watching him. Almost as if it was planning something.
Troy took a deep breath and headed down into the subway. He approached the ticket booth and gave the window a hard, loud knock with the end of his bat.
The ticket man was startled out of his daydream, and nearly emptied the contents of his coffee across the dimly lit counter. “Whoa, there – just a minute!” He groped the countertop frantically for his glasses. Finding them to the left of his elbow, he snatched them up and settled them onto his nose.
His face relaxed and he smiled when he recognized Troy, the kid who often greeted him on his way to school.
“Hi, Mr. Rames,” Troy called. His voice was somewhat muffled by the window.
Mr. Rames smiled as he pushed his coffee cup away from the newspaper on the counter.
“Hello to you, Troy Knightly,” he replied.
“Mr. Rames, just so you know, you won’t be seeing me around after this week.”
“Oh?” replied the ticket man.
Troy shrugged his shoulders. “I’m moving to Florida – taking the bus to this small town called Camberland. My grandfather lives there.”
“Well that’ll be a big change for you,” Mr. Rames said.
He took a swig from his coffee cup. The liquid was colder than he’d hoped. He put the cup down with a sigh. Hearing that the boy was leaving made him sort of sad. He liked this kid. Which was odd since he didn’t like most kids at all – they were too noisy, too messy, and too rambunctious for him.
“You better be taking that nice mom of yours with you,” the ticket man said.
Troy laughed. “Don’t worry, Mr. Rames. It was her idea. In fact, she’s in Florida right now, getting me registered at my new school.”
A tin soda can clattered noisily down the steps from the street above. The wind had apparently picked up.
“You got yourself a good mom, Troy,” Mr. Rames said as he leaned back on his stool.
“Yeah, I know,” Troy said. “My mom won’t officially move to Florida until she finishes out the lease on our apartment, so I won’t see her for a couple months. She’ll be back up here next week, though, right when I head down to Florida.
Troy shifted from one foot to the other. “But guess what, Mr. Rames?”
The ticket man shrugged his shoulders.
Troy grinned. “Today’s my birthday!”
Mr. Rames adjusted his glasses and scratched at his thin beard. “Well I’ll be darn. Happy birthday, kid! How young are you?”
Troy gave him another wide grin. “I’m fifteen.” Troy shoved the bat under his arm and held up his hands to display the index finger of his right hand, and all five fingers on his left.
Mr. Rames laughed. “A one and a five does make fifteen,” he chuckled.
Troy smiled as he tucked a lock of short brown hair behind his ear.
“You get anything good for your birthday?” the ticket man asked.
“Yep. My mom made me a batch of vanilla and chocolate frosted cupcakes before she left,” Troy said.
Troy looked down and pointed to a chocolate stain on his t-shirt. “I had half a cupcake for breakfast this morning...but I guess my shirt got the other half.”
The ticket man laughed.
Troy glanced at the clock on the wall. “Well, I guess I’d better get going,” Troy said. “Subway should be here soon.”
Mr. Rames nodded. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you, Troy – it really has. I’m sure the folks in your new Florida town will be happy to get a nice kid like you.”
He winked at Troy knowingly. “You say ‘hi’ to your mom and grandfather for me, ok?” Mr. Rames added. “And if you ever come back to the city, you know where to find me.”
Troy waved at him with his bat. “Thanks, Mr. Rames,” he said.
Troy then turned and made his way towards the tall gated turnstile.
Mr. Rames watched Troy silently as he swiped his card at the gate, and pushing through, disappeared down the platform.
The ticket man sighed. “Good kid,” he murmured to himself as he shifted his stool closer to the counter.
He rested his elbows on the newspaper in front of him but couldn’t bring himself to read the front page article. Instead he fell into another daydream.
“What in the blazes?” Mr. Rames choked out.