Jodi slammed her shoes into the soft grass and pumped her slender arms with her palms open. She was going to make it this time. Stretching to the limit, Jodi jumped and tried to catch the speeding football, but it jammed into her hand at high speed, causing her to yelp and shake her stung palm.
“Damn you Mike, I told you not to throw it that hard.”
“It’s not my fault you’re a girl,” Mike snorted, squinting in the bright sun. It was cooking his amber skin with a growing hue of red.
“You’re doing it hard on purpose, just stop it, okay? I’m done now,” Jodi said, leaving the football on the ground and stomping toward the shade of the immense cottonwood tree that lie behind her. It was her favorite tree to climb in the summer, but it was far too hot today.
Every moment reminded Jodi that high school was about to start in two days. It was surprising how fast the summer had flown by.
Jacob stood up from the grass and gave Jodi a wink as he jogged to the football, scooping it in his big hands and tossing it smoothly to Mike.
“You’re an asshole, Mike,” Jacob said, grinning like a wolf at Jodi.
Jodi felt a flush whenever Jacob looked at her like that. She watched shyly from a distance as Mike caught the football and threw it back to Jacob.
“You know if you like her, you really shouldn’t do stuff like that to her,” Jacob said quietly. He was out of range for Jodi to hear, but close enough for Mike. The football slid into the crook of Jacob’s elbow like it was magnetized.
“I don’t like her like that.” The wide-eyed look of denial on Mike’s face wasn’t even half convincing.
“Sure you don’t,” Jacob said, spreading another wide grin. He tossed the football again.
“I think you like her because you’re always talking about her,” Mike huffed angrily, scooping the ball out of the air with both hands. He quickly threw the ball back like a bullet at Jacob’s chest.
“Maybe I do,” Jacob yelled, letting the ball slam into his sternum with a slightly painful whack. Jacob wolf-grinned at Jodi again to let her know everything was fine. She was watching them closely under the sparkling green leaves of the enormous cottonwood tree.
“So what, you gonna ask her out now? She’ll tell you no,” Mike snorted disgustedly. Jacob knew Mike liked Jodi but was unable to tell her because of stubborn pride. Instead of treating her like a proper young woman, Mike resorted to playground flirtation which basically meant “I hurt you and you cry because you like me.” Jacob threw the ball back to Mike in a swift curve that was easy to catch.
Jodi had changed from a skinny girl to a beautiful young woman in just a few short years. She had cute brown freckles that added to the sweetness of her dimpled smile. Her long red hair reflected in the bright sunshine beneath the rustling cottonwood tree. Mike saw Jacob staring at Jodi again and threw the football back with a sly grin creeping on his face.
“Jodi and Jacob sitting in a tree!” Mike yelled. The ball soared high into the air and dropped directly at Jacob.
“Shut up Mike,” Jacob said, cutting him off with an angry stare. Mike looked away toward the hot sun, forcing himself not to smile. Jacob caught the ball without even looking up and instead was looking at Jodi again. She sat cross legged, peeling blades of grass and trying to whistle through them. She wasn’t a skinny little girl on a playground, anymore. She was definitely a very attractive young woman now.
Jodi had always been cute but puberty had given her a delightful set of breasts and a fresh new attitude. During middle school, she had grown accustomed to flirting and dressing in ways that made her appear older and more beautiful. Jacob liked her, but not enough to ever hurt Mike or ruin their friendship.
“Why would you care if I ask her out, if you don’t like her?” Jacob questioned, smiling in the bright sunshine and squinting as he tossed the ball back to Mike. Mike ran forward and caught the ball, rushing past Jacob to get closer to Jodi.
Jacob knew what Mike was going to do and it made him angry. Jacob started running to catch up with Mike.
“I guess I don’t care whether you like her or not. Hey Jodi! Heads up!” Mike torpedoed the ball at Jodi, much too hard and thankfully, too high. Jodi ducked and covered without looking to see where the ball was going.
The football smacked through the leaves and into the tree with a thump. Something grunted and fell from the branch with the football. Jodi jumped to her feet to investigate as Jacob and Mike ran up to have a look for themselves.
At first glance it appeared to be a small boy clothed in rags. Soon Jacob could see wrinkles and moles on the ancient, leathery face. Two crooked yellow buck teeth stuck from his black gums and a small wisp of brown hair was tufted over his angled ears.
Upon closer inspection, the rags appeared to be an embroidered brown robe tied at the waist and secured by a small gold chain. The little man’s fingers had black nails that curled around the chubby fingertips like small hooves. He wore tiny moccasins that were laced with brown leather and embroidered in much the same way as the simple robe.
Whatever the weird little man was doing in the tree, he was now unconscious on the ground before them, breathing raggedly.
“What do we do?” Jodi asked, shrugging her shoulders and looking at Jacob.
“See if he has any money,” Mike said playfully. No one laughed. “Sorry, maybe we should get help?”
“He’s just knocked out, he’ll wake up in a minute and we’ll see if he’s okay. What the hell is he? Some kind of midget? Or maybe a dwarf?” Jacob asked, standing with his big hands on his hips and towering his shadow over the little man in the grass.
“Whats the difference? He’s obviously some bum freak that was watching us. Let’s get out of here before he wakes up and decides to pay us back for kicking his ass,” Mike said, scooping up the football and tossing it into the air.
Jodi stepped back, ready to run home with the guys. Jacob saw fear in her crystal blue eyes. He wanted to hold her hand and assure her that everything was fine.
The little man groaned in pain and his eyes rolled into focus. The eyes had slits like a cat, surrounded by deep blue irises and a milky haze that covered the cornea. Jacob could tell the funky little guy was very old.
“Hi there, mister, we’re sorry the football knocked you out of the tree. What were you doing up there?” Jacob asked, watching the little man intently. The deep blue eyes stared at Jacob with glacial cold, studying his actions and mannerisms with calculated efficiency.
“Do you understand what I am saying?”
No response, the little man just lie there not moving, staring hard at Jacob without blinking.
“He doesn’t speak English, lets leave the strange bastard and go home,” Mike said. Jodi was already backing away step by step.
“I speak.” The little man croaked, coughing spittle and rolling to his leather-clad feet. Mike and Jodi stepped to listen behind Jacob, who stood ready to punt the abnormal creature if it became fierce.
The cold, intense blue eyes watched Jacob closely.
“What’s your name, I’m Jacob. This is Jodi, and Mike,” Jacob said, pointing to his friends.
“Okay Conor, why were you in the tree?” Jodi asked.
“My home. I fell.”
“What are you, some kind of midget that lives in trees?” Mike asked. He was immediately socked in the shoulder by Jodi.
“Did he say he’s an imp? Imps aren’t real, are they? You hit like a girl, Jodi!” Mike hissed, rubbing his arm.
“Well I guess I don’t know, look at him,” said Jacob. “He’s obviously some kind of disabled person, so what does it matter?”
“You. Wish.” Conor pointed his curved black nail at Jodi and glared at her with his feral blue gaze.
“Huh? Wish? You wish what?” Jodi asked, clutching her hands to her chest and raising an eyebrow. Jacob looked at Mike in confusion.
“You. Wish. Pay.” The imp pointed at Jodi again.
“I don’t understand,” Jodi said.
“I think he wants you to wish for something, is this a joke? What is he a fucking leprechaun?” Mike laughed out loud. Conor did not smile.
“Well, why would he want me to wish for something? What does he mean when he says pay?” Jodi asked.
“You. Wish.” Conor’s gravel voice crackled as he broke into a fierce coughing fit. Spasms rocked his little frame. Jodi wanted to go home and forget this weird experience altogether, but she decided to humor the boys, just for fun.
“Okay, I’ll make a wish. I wish to be the hottest girl in the world!” Jodi giggled. Mike snorted and Jacob poked him in the ribs.
“Pay,” Conor wheezed, motioning Jodi close to him as he regained composure. She was afraid and it took a long moment before she was within range to hear the imp.
Jacob couldn’t hear what was whispered into Jodi’s ear as she hovered just out of range of Conor’s stubby little fingers. His thin, leathery lips pulled tight over his black gums and rotting buck teeth as he spoke.
Jodi nodded her head at Conor and stepped back next to Jacob.
Conor’s deep blue gaze settled on Jacob and his crooked index finger pointed with it’s unnatural nail. “You. Wish.”
Jacob had everything he could want out of life, or so he thought, so he simply said the first thing that came into his mind.
“I wish for immortality.”
Conor’s eyes lit with an almost imperceptible internal flame that quickly subsided. Jacob thought he had imagined it, but he could also swear the imp had almost smiled.
“Pay,” croaked the imp, motioning Jacob forward. Jacob bent at the waist and cocked his ear toward Conor. The imp stretched his little arms forward and whispered quietly with his gray tongue slithering dryly like a snake. He wheezed through each word with obvious weakness.
“Steal an earring.” Conor coughed up spittle onto the ground and retched furiously for several moments. When the fit subsided, Jacob listened as Conor told him to steal an earring and then throw it through the second floor window of a home across town. It seemed so pointless, not to mention crazy, but Jacob nodded in agreement anyway, unwilling to back down in front of Jodi.
Conor turned his feral gaze to Mike, who did not need to be told to wish.
“I want ten million dollars, you crazy little midget imp. I want it in fifties, twenties, and tens, under my bed, when I get home.”
Jacob watched as Mike happily agreed to whatever Conor asked him to do. Smiling broadly, Mike ran over to Jodi and Jacob where they stood. They watched Conor begin to slowly limp away.
“Bye, Conor,” Jodi said, waving at the imp enthusiastically. She was a little confused. She felt very excited about being the hottest girl in the world, even though she knew it wasn’t going to happen. She wondered if it could happen, and shivered uncontrollably. Nagging the back of her mind, Jodi’s intuition told her that the little man was just really crazy.
Conor turned and looked at Jodi impassively with his oceanic eyes. He didn’t smile or wave, just stared at her creepily before turning around and disappearing behind the big cottonwood tree.
“Wait a second, Conor! I forgot to ask, where do I put it?” Mike shouted and ran around the tree, appearing alone on the other side. Mike stared dazedly at Jacob and Jodi. “He’s gone! Where the hell did he go!”
“What?” Jacob followed Mike around the tree, then around again for another look.
“He’s right, Conor’s gone.” They stared up into the tree, expecting to see Conor staring down with his cold blue eyes. The tree was empty.
“Conor!” Jodi called. Silence. The light breeze rustled the lush green leaves of the tree around them. “That was really fucking weird, guys.”
“No shit,” Mike said, shuffling his feet in the grass and holding his hand to his Miami Dolphins cap. He looked up into the heights of the giant tree, the football resting in the crook of his arm.
“What did he ask you to do?” Jacob asked Jodi.
“He wants me to steal a bottle of whiskey, you?”
“He wants me to steal an earring, what about you Mike?” Jacob asked.
“Steal a sign. What the fuck huh? Who cares as long as I get the money! What a crazy little shit!” Mike exclaimed.
“Let’s get the hell out of here, its getting late anyways,” Jacob said anxiously, glancing at the fading afternoon sun. Where had the time gone?
“Yeah I need to go home. My dad is on leave for a few weeks, so I have to clean up the house before his plane comes in. I’ll see you guys!” Jodi called out as she jogged away, waving and running steadily faster across the park toward her house.
Jacob thought Jodi looked beautiful as she ran toward the sunset with her flaming hair whipping across her bared shoulders. Her hips seemed so full of bounce, and so did her chest. Jacob smiled uncontrollably. Mike was staring at Jodi as well, smiling his best goodbye grin.
“Bye Jodi!” They exclaimed together, glancing at one another and heading in the direction of their neighboring homes. They ran most of the way because Mike was excited about checking under his bed.
Jacob’s house came up first on the long winding dirt road and he waved goodnight to Mike as he sprinted the last hundred feet to his house up the driveway.
Jacob stopped on the porch and laughed as Mike tripped over a rock in the road and landed in the bushes, cursing wildly as he looked for the missing football. Mike saw Jacob laughing at him and flipped him a middle finger when he found the ball, dashing around the bend to his own house.
Jacob went in through the front door and saw his mother reading in the living room. He kissed her cheek and took the stairs two at a time to his room, switching on his computer and checking his emails.
Jacob was getting rid of the junk mail when his cell phone rang. The display showed it was Mike, probably ready to bitch about how the little imp was full of shit. Jacob tapped the call button to answer it in mid-ring.
“Holy shit dude, it’s really fucking here! All of it!”