From The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
A tiny voice asked, “Is he the one?”
The two spheres of light throbbed in sympathy. Archie slept on as he always did: still and quiet in a sleep-fortress as dense as a neutron star.
“It is he, truly he. After so long, the boy of great destiny.”
Archie did not stir, did not wake with eyelids fluttering to exclaim at the sight of two stray stars in his room. He dreamed of ships in cold water. He dreamed of eternal July and endless ball games. His dreams were as flat and thinly etched as the wallpaper in the hallway, never changing, never varying.
The next morning Archie ate a square meal and trotted off to school. He was neither late nor early. As he walked, he tossed a ball that hit the sides of the buildings he passed. Ka-thunk. The greengrocer’s. Ka-thunk. The hardware store. Ka-thunk. The boutique.
A sudden light caught his eye. It was light very much like the first stab of sun over the horizon, only it stayed, circling around Archie’s head.
“Archie,” it whispered.
“Archie,” the sphere said, “be not afraid. You are a boy of great destiny.”
Archie said, “okay,” and kept on with his ball. Ka-thunk.
“It may seem a terrible weight at first, but you must be brave. The whole world is counting on you.”
“Yeah,” Archie said, “no thanks.”
The sphere bobbed along as if caught in an eddy. “No thanks?”
“I don’t want no destiny.” Archie swiped at his nose with a crusty sleeve. “Go ahead and take it somewhere else.”
The sphere whizzed to a point very near his face. “I don’t understand. You’re refusing destiny?”
Archie underhanded the ball, bouncing it off the front of the florist and rattling the big bay window. “Never asked for it, don’t want it, won’t take it.”
“You don’t want to do great things?”
“You don’t want to see things no one else has seen? Go places no one else has traveled? Reach beyond the unknown to grasp your fate?”
“Eh.” Archie shrugged. “I don’t care.”
Tinting to a disturbed shade of yellow, the sphere sped off.
Archie shook his head and sighed.
“Here,” Archie said without looking up from his exercise book. The margins were clean and un-doodled. He wrote down some last-minute problems as the teacher rounded out the roll call. A stray bit of light caught his eye. Was it the sun reflected off Teddy Crandall’s wristwatch? No, the sphere was back again.
“I must apologize for being so short with you earlier,” it said in a voice only he could hear, “I have been away from mortals so long I cannot remember all the old niceties. You were in shock this morning, unable to accept the call.”
Archie shook his head.
“Fear, then. Panic.”
“I’m not afraid,” Archie whispered, “I just don’t want any part of it.”
“Archie, were you saying something?” The teacher paused in the middle of an equation.
Archie shook his head. With one hand he took up his trusty ticonderoga pencil and scribbled out: I don’t want any destiny.
“But Archie, it’s not all responsibility and judgement. There are nicer aspects to it. You’ll be able to live more than any other child in your grade, or even the whole country.”
I live enough already, thanks.
“Think of it Archie, you may never find total fulfillment if you don’t answer the call. Imagine if you realize, many years down the line, what you have missed out on by declining.”
I can think of worse things.
“You don’t have any adventure in your spirit? No thirst for exploration?”
I get enough of that in comic books.
The sphere pulsed. “I see. I must think on this. I will return another time.”
While collecting fraction worksheets, the teacher spotted the writing on his scratch paper with a frown.
“Poetry,” Archie said.
Archie said goodbye to Billy and Teddy and Mark and Jim and walked home, baseball in his hand, coat pulled snugly around him. He resumed his game of tossing the ball, ka-thunk, into the side of every building he passed. The mullioned windows of the antique store caught his eye with a sharp sliver of light. No, it was the sphere again.
“I watched you today, Archie,” it said in a voice that was like the rubbing of a wet fingertip against glass. “I watched you do your schoolwork and play with your friends and eat your food. I have never seen a boy as average as you, Archie. You’re really telling me all this is enough for you?”
“Sure,” Archie said. Ka-thunk. The barbershop. “Always has been.”
“Ah, but will it always be?” The sphere wheedled into the first opening it saw.
“Who cares? My mom would say ‘that’s a future question.’” Ka-thunk. Patty’s Diner.
The sphere looped around his head like a miniature orbiting sun. “No one’s ever refused the call, Archie. There’s no telling what will happen to you once you step outside the circle of its prediction. You may face a decline for the rest of your life.”
“Hey, if it happens, it happens.”
“You don’t expect great things for yourself?”
“I expect to get as much as I put in.”
The sphere’s light dimmed and brightened slowly, pulsing with a rolling heat. It took a very long time to speak.
“Tell me,” it said, “If, many years from now, you were homeless and living life hand-to-mouth, would that be equal in your eyes to a life lived successfully?”
“Sure.” Archie shrugged. Ka-thunk. The tavern. He was nearly home. There was a stiff breeze rolling off the wharf that ruffled his auburn hair.
“I’m afraid I don’t see how you’ve come to that conclusion.”
Archie caught the ball. “You don’t get it. Once I say yes to you, I stop getting a say in anything I do. Doesn’t matter how you snazz it up, a cage is a cage. If I’m lying in a ditch fifty years from now, at least I’ll know I put myself there.”
The sphere dimmed until it was nearly out. “I see. You sadden me, but I finally understand. Goodbye, Archibald Smith. We will not meet again.”
“Bye,” Archie said curtly. As the light strobed out a final time, Archie tucked his baseball under one arm and shook his head.
“Worse than those fairies from last week,” he muttered.