Bobby sat on the damp ground, his back against the trunk of an elm tree. A few clouds cluttered the brilliant blue sky, but there was no wind to move them. The air was cool, but not yet cold. It was early November, and in that small mid-western countryside, the earth was preparing for winter.
He knew he should have taken a jacket when he left the house. His mother always worried over things like that, but it didn’t really matter. The only reason he would have taken one would have been to save her from worrying. But Bobby never really needed a sweater. Not anymore.
The wilted grass was losing its color as the days grew shorter and the nights grew colder. Bobby held his hand open over a patch of limp grass beside him, palm down. He could feel the warmth radiate from somewhere near his elbow and flow down into his fingers. His pale skin flushed with rosy color and he closed his eyes. He could feel the life in the grass beneath his hand and was surprised to discover that the impression he got from it was one of sleepiness. The grass and trees and all other plant-life were beginning to go into a state of hibernation in preparation for winter.
Drawing air in slowly through his nostrils, he focused on the sleepy feeling and began to nudge it into wakefulness. In his mind, he saw a bright warm sun and pictured the grass and trees around him in their full green summer splendor. He exhaled a breath which was warm enough to cause him to break into a sweat. When he opened his eyes, he saw the patch of grass beneath his hand had brightened and stood upright, tall and healthy and green as it had been in July. With a sigh, he dropped his hand into the thick green tuft of grass and ran his fingers through it, luxuriating in the way it caressed his hand.
It had been eight weeks since he had begun to notice that strange things were starting to happen around him. He had thought his brother Jimmy had been playing tricks on him at first. When the strange things continued, even when Jimmy was nowhere around, and when Jimmy failed to take credit for the pranks, Bobby reconsidered his theory. One time, in the middle of dinner, he had noticed that his tea glass was the only one on the table that had no ice in it. The tea was still cold from the recently melted ice, and the glass was covered in sweat indicating as much. But why had his ice melted so fast when everyone else’s had not? Another time, he had been shocked to find that his left-over pizza, which he had not heated in the microwave, seemed to be as fresh as it had been coming out of the oven. As the cheese stretched from his teeth to his plate, his eyes grew as round as saucers. That was when he realized that there was something a little super-natural about the oddities he had been experiencing.
Three whole weeks had passed since Bobby had discovered he could control the bizarre things that were going on. He noticed a correlation between something that was happening inside of him, and the odd things that happened around him.
At twelve, Bobby was the oldest of his siblings. His mother was raising him, his younger brother, and his baby sister by herself, and had been for nearly two years since his father had left. Now that he was nearly a teenager, Bobby had begun to feel the weight of his responsibilities as man of the house. He no longer waited for his dad to return, and no longer held out any hope of ever seeing him again. Instead, he had begun to feel animosity toward his absent father, and hoped he would never have to look him in the eye again. He could not forgive the man for leaving his mother, and would not excuse his absence from the life of his very young sister.
It was while his thoughts lingered on his anger at his father, after young Lily had fallen and cut her knee badly enough to require a trip to the doctor, that he had noticed the heat growing inside of him. It was not only a heat, but an energy, a strange, electric power that began in his gut and spread throughout his body. He had felt sweat beads forming around his hairline, and gone to the bathroom mirror to examine himself. He was startled to see that his freckled face had turned bright pink, as though he had been running, or had been badly embarrassed, and damp hair clung to his forehead. His hands were clamped tightly over the edges of the sink, and when he relaxed them, he noticed that there was an area of dampness around each one. The porcelain had fogged over from the heat he was generating. When he had looked back into the mirror is surprise, he saw that the mirror had begun to fog up as well.
That was when he started to spend his afternoons out by the small lake on the outskirts of town. It was a short ride on his bike, and provided enough privacy from his nosy brother that he could experiment with his new-found ability. Mostly all he could do was warm things up. He couldn’t heat anything to the point of burning, though he had tried with such gusto that he had given himself a headache. Then he started to find that when he “heated” any kind of plant life, he also restored a little of its life to it. It had started with a dead, shriveled, dry leaf that had fallen to the ground. He picked it up and focused on it, hoping to heat it enough to burn, or at least smoke a little. It was to his amazement that the leaf uncurled and stood straight and tall, it’s life and color returning until it was no longer brittle and brown, but green and supple. He had kept the leaf in his room, a curious token which never seemed to shrivel or die.
After three weeks of practice, he was a tad disappointed that he could do no more than revive a small tuft of grass no larger than his palm. He settled back against the tree, noticing for the first time that it was the only tree left in sight that had any leaves left on it. He grinned. Well, maybe he could do better than awaken a little grass. He closed his eyes again and imagined himself falling asleep and dreaming of sunny days, just to wake up to find that the area around him had returned to its summer-time glory. He smiled again, but when he opened his eyes, autumn was still in command.
He was warm. He knew he shouldn’t be warm, as the temperature was only in the fifties. He didn’t feel ill, or hot, just warmer than he felt he ought to. It did not worry him, or make him uncomfortable, but it gave him an idea.
Without a moment of hesitation, he began to remove his shoes and socks. He stood and removed his sweater as he approached to edge of the water. He knew that nobody had attempted swimming in this lake in over a month, and for good reason. He stepped into the water after removing his jeans. The lake water engulfed his small feet, lapping above his ankles. It was quite cold, and he could feel the smooth rocks beneath him. With a deep breath, Bobby focused his new energy on his feet, and the water around them lost its bite. Keeping in mind that there were fish and other living things in this lake, Bobby limited the heating of the water to just warm enough to bear, and used his energy to warm himself more than the water.
He waded out until he was nearly in up to his waist, and lowered his body into the frigid lake. A passerby that saw him might think the boy was in trouble, but at this part of the lake, this time of year, he knew that he was not in danger of being seen.
He lay back in the water, floating on his back and looking up at the sky. The clouds were still motionless, and the blue of the sky was deepening as the sun slowly approached the horizon. He would have to return home soon. His mother would no doubt be concerned when she found that his trousers were wet and he was without a jacket. He considered this for a while before reluctantly giving in and returning to shore to collect his clothes.
He would go home and reassure his mother of his good health. He was not sure when and how, or even if, he should tell her about what he could do. He was not even sure if his ability would ever improve, or if all he had was a really impressive parlor trick. Something told him that telling his mother would only worry her more. He did not relish the idea of adding to his mom’s stress, and decided he would keep it a secret for a while longer.
As the sun began to set, the wind finally picked up. Bobby finished dressing and slipped on his sneakers. As he picked up his bike, he shook out his hair, wondering how he would explain why it was wet. But it didn’t matter. By the time he got home, it was already dry.