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The Word by Yuna

This short story was re-published with permission from the author. This was first published as one of the Honorable Mentions of January 2024 Flash Contest # 63: Write a Story Based on an Unexpected Response to a "Would You Rather" Question on stonesoup.com





Before she died, my mum told me that there was this one word in the world that would shape all life. That would bring eternal happiness to a person. I’d asked her what this word was, and she smiled and said, “With the heart you have, my son, you’ll find out for yourself.”

Ever since, I’ve been pondering what the word might be. Fortune? Kindness? Life? They didn’t feel right, though.

However, I was going to find it. For my mum, of course.

My name, by the way, is Cole Schneider. I was going to find the word soon enough, I know it.

At recess today, I noticed Owen Cunningham. Honestly, I always noticed him. Every day, my friends and I. He had tattered, dirty clothes, meant for the summer and not the biting cold of winter. His shoes were taped and his skin was

smudged with soot. I avoided him. He made me uneasy, gave me a tingling down my spine. Not like I was avoiding him for being poor, it’s just...my friends would never forgive me if I did. I don’t know why I want their approval, though. It’s probably more involved with me also being unwealthy, not as much as Owen, but enough to share a room with my dad and a kitchen and have only one tiny bathroom. A feeling churned in my mind that Owen lived on the streets. I shook the horrible thought out of my mind, and continued with my day.

When the day ended, I walked with my friends Alan and Victor back home. walked the dull, concrete streets with them, leading each one into their spacious, lavish homes and walked to the corner of Blakely street to what many called

the “Hobo Alley.” It was really just Rothbury Court, yet the rich Charles Veiimer Rothbury it was named after did not seem to fit the actual street itself. Torn and tattered sleeping bags littered the streets, with dirty people lying in them,

each holding a sign reading, Please spare change. The five-dollar bill in my pocket felt warm as I ignored each and every one of them. Although I did feel slightly guilty, I just told myself, You’re also a little bit poor, Cole. You know you’re buying yourself a burger with that money. Yet it still didn’t feel right.

The buildings were all made of crumbling brick and wearing cement. There was a pharmacy and dollar store at the very end of the block, but the security guards there didn’t really like the homeless hanging around the large glass panes

and polished stone. So there was no one but a family, moderately rich, there.

I lived in a walk up apartment owned by Lady García, a hispanic woman who lived near ‘Richbrit’ or Purton Place, and by the name, you can probably tell that rich people reside there. No doorman or anything, but Lady García was quite fond of us and had hired a watchman upon our arrival. His name was Donovan Stüber, a kindly but gruff German man with a thick accent and a big Doberman named Kanonier, translating to Gunner.

“Good afternoon, Donovan,” I said, flickering a smile.

Donovan cleared his throat.

“Az to you, Cole. Your Zad iz upstairz. He expectz you,” Donovan said in his German accent.

I gave Kanonier a rub on the back and headed upstairs.

The building was far cleaner on the inside, with two chairs in the corner and masterpieces on the wall. The stairs were coated with a soft, embroidered carpet that led all the way upstairs, to my apartment on the third floor. I ran up

the stairs, each step a soft thud. Then I knocked on our third floor door and went inside.

Dad was on the bed. After all, we only had one room to share. His messed up brown hair and his square glasses were clearly visible. He was on his Ipad, a sixth generation model, doing something he wouldn’t tell me.

“Du bist hier. You’re here,” He spoke in German.

“Yes, Dad.”

“Tun Sie, was Sie tun müssen. Do what you need to do.”

I opened my backpack and began my homework. Then, for some reason, I peered out the window. I saw Owen, trudging the streets with a woman, his mother. They were walking home, past the row of sleeping bags to a place on

the edge of Rothbury Court: a park bench with their possessions. I watched as the day went on: how Owen and his mother ate moldy slices of Swiss cheese, ham, and mushy grapes. I watched how they swatted mice and flies from their clothes. I saw how Owen did his homework by using dirt to write. A pang of guilt washed over me as I continued. Night fell, sooner then I knew it, and Owen put a cardboard piece on top of him as a blanket. Then he was sleeping.

“Zeit fürs Bett. Time for bed,” Dad said, ignoring the fact that I’d been staring at the window for hours.

So I did. I hopped into our bed and pondered and pondered about Owen and then the word. Were they connected somehow? I did not know. Finally, I drifted off to sleep.

I had a dream that night. I know it was in my mind, but it felt... real. I was in a long white chamber, made of marble. It was empty, and did not have a ceiling. I tried stepping to see if it was really a dream. I could. I walked along the chamber, unsure of the purpose of the dream, when a voice said behind me, “I’ll begin when you’re not so distracted, Mr. Schneider.”

I turned. Standing before me was an old and seemingly wise man, wearing a long, white cloak and robe, with a golden trim. He had a wispy white beard and lengthy white hair, and sewn into the back of his cloak were the Alpha and

Omega symbols. God’s symbol, I thought.

“Who are you?” I asked.

He chuckled.

“Who do you think I am, young boy?”

I thought for a moment, then said, “The Lord? God?”

The Lord nodded.

“I rarely visit dreams, boy, unless they’re crucial and need to be attended to. I forbid myself to go down to Earth and speak with humans, as it offends many, so I believe I must join you in your dream. You will not lie, boy.”

I solemnly nodded.

“Why have you come?”

“I have merely come to ask one question: Would you rather have all the riches you’d ever imagined, or help the poor boy and his mother who live on your block?”

The question was hard to answer. I wanted more. I wanted to live in a manor. Yet... Owen had nothing. He had too much struggle to go through. I remembered what I saw in the day, how every day went for him. While pondering, it came to me. The word came to me.

“I’d rather help Owen, Lord.”

He smiled and vanished while saying, “I knew you had that place in your heart.”

The pang of guilt was gone.

When I went to school the next day, I saw Owen in a fresh, new jacket and thick, warm pants. He now wore boots and his face was clean. He smiled at me. I smiled back. I no longer thought either of us were ‘poor’ or needed more. The thought of just that made me so happy.

You were wondering what the word was, right? I think you can guess. The word is thankfulness.





 

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