There once was a too-small boy who lived in a too-large house. In order to keep this house, with its attendant cars, pool, gardens, and, of course, the staff it took to maintain a home so large, the boy’s father was always away at work. His mother kept busy making friends so that the too-large house was never empty, and spent her afternoons lunching, drinking iced tea, and other things mothers are known for.
So it was that the too-small boy was often left alone in the house. And although he had many toys and could play hide-and-seek (by himself, of course) among the suits of armour in the east wing or sail his radio-controlled ships across the pool in a miniature regatta, the boy was lonesome. Over time his parents began to forget for whom they were buying these toys, and at last forgot the too-small boy entirely.
In turn, the boy forgot the sensation of a mother’s touch, the warmth of a hug or the moist softness of a kiss on the cheek. He forgot how these felt, yes, yet he knew there was something missing in this too-large house filled with too many things.
So the too-small boy donned his warmest sweater, left the too-large house, and went to make his own way in the much larger world.
Beyond the house lay a town, and beyond that, a city. These the boy skirted, so small as to be invisible, stealing food when he was hungry and making a bed where he could find someplace warm and dry.
After many long days and cold nights, the boy came to a wood. And though the wood was vast, the boy found himself feeling suddenly larger as he ventured among the ancient poplars, marching alongside the darting grey squirrels and songbirds who made it their home.
As the boy made his way through the wood, he hummed a tune to himself, swinging his arms in time, and eventually the words came:
These two arms,
covered in yarn,
for a place to belong.
And when the boy looked down at those very arms, he found that the rough knit of his woollen sleeves had picked up bits of the forest here and there: a tuft of moss, an acorn cap, a scrap of birch bark, a seed pod like a tiny canoe.
These he plucked gently from his sleeve, and carried them through the forest, cupping his hands around these things which had found a home with him. And in time, the words to the song changed.
In these hands,
in these hands,
the makings of
a too-small man.
The boy began to notice new parts in the forest: a twig in the shape of a body, with arms and legs; a pale gourd for a head; a chipmunk pelt for a coat, tied with a long bit of grass, like a belt. Moss became hair and a beard, seeds for eyes, acorn caps for ears, and an acorn nut nose.
And thus the small boy now had a small man.
In these arms,
I hold a friend
We’ll journey long
to find world’s end.
The small man only stared back at the boy, silent as the wood from which he was made. The boy didn’t mind, only clutched his new friend to his thin chest, and continued on.
The trees changed from poplar and fir to palm and pomegranate, and one night past dark the boy reached the forest’s edge. Beyond, there was only blackness; greater than all the too-big forests and too-big houses in all the world. He had journeyed long and was tired, and so the boy lay down at the brink of that unknown gulf, his arms wrapped around the small man of the woods, and slept.
During the night, a pomegranate fell from the tree above and rolled to a stop alongside the boy. The fruit wiggled, as though alive, and a small green face poked out from a hole in its skin.
The inchworm stretched and pulled itself from the fruit, dropping to the ground near the small man. Inching its way along, the worm came to rest on the small man’s gourd face, and there it curled up and went to sleep, just below the acorn nut nose.
The boy slept on, but held the small man tighter as he dreamt.
In the morning the small man was gone, and the boy wept silent, bitter tears at the loss of his friend. When he could cry no more, he roused himself and ventured beyond the edge of the forest to find he had come to the ocean.
Anchored just off shore was a small boat bobbing in the waves. It was just his size.
“Boy! I say, boy!”
The boy, unused to being addressed, looked down the white sand beach to see a man standing at a campfire, smiling through a shaggy beard and waving.
The man was a head taller than the boy—who no longer felt small—and had mismatched eyes and lopsided ears, but a kindly face. Despite the warmth of the day he wore a fur vest, belted at the waist, and a long brown garment like a skirt that covered his legs. He was cooking breakfast in an iron pan.
“Come now, boy, I’ve made ye gull eggs and fish,” said the man.
The boy ate up his breakfast and the man asked if he’d like to go fishing. The boy had never been fishing, but knew it was something boys did with their fathers. His father hadn’t liked fishing.
“Yes,” the boy answered, and the funny man smiled a great, crooked smile.
And so they set sail in a boat just their size, in search of fish. The man taught the boy how to fish, how to read the sun to learn the time of day, and said they could use the boat to sail wherever the boy wished.
When the sun fell beneath the horizon and the boy grew too tired to keep his eyes open, he lay his head against the man’s shoulder and fell asleep. The man put a reedy arm around the boy and squeezed him close, and together they rocked in the gentle waves, under the stars.
With these arms I will protect you
In these arms I’ll watch you grow,
By my word I’ll never leave you
Side by side we’ll always go.
And so it came to be that man and boy lived a big life together, travelling the wide world, and never again was the boy forgotten or alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Emma McMorran studied Japanese at The University of Texas and is a class facilitator for the online writer’s workshop LitReactor. Her work has appeared in Parable Press, Circa Review, Devilfish Quarterly, and Mixitini Matrix, and she was a finalist in the Lascaux Review Flash Challenge 2014 with “The Cure”. She enjoys reading Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury, and lives in Minneapolis with her husband and pets.