“I got you now, you evil beast!” Jude bent low, lined his favorite tiger-eye shooter with one of the dozen or so multi-colored ducks surrounding the inner hole. The knees of his jeans already sported patches from the amount of time he spent on the ground playing his favorite game in the world - marbles. “You thought you could hide from Jude Singleton, but …”
He poked the end of his tongue out the side of his mouth, closed his left eye so his right could get a better view, and with his thumb and steady hand, he flicked the large gold and black-swirled marble toward its target. It shot across the dirt and gravel toward a small hole dug in the center of a large round ring, surrounded by several other smaller marbles. Jude held his breath and watched as his favorite shooter bounced, bobbled and weaved its way toward the center, knocking the nearest duck closer to the hole. He opened his closed eye and sat up as the red-swirly edged closer to the rim and slowed to an agonizing crawl.
Moving more sluggish than a snail, the marble seemed to have almost stopped. Jude raised his dirty hands, partially covered his face, but through the finger-slats kept his eyes peeled on the marble as it drew to a stop. His jaw dropped and Jude was about to let out a long line of exasperated expletives when the sparkling-red glass ball moved another micro-millimeter and teetered on the rim of the hole before finally dropping in. Jude jumped to his feet, arms and fists pumping the air in victory, as he continued his earlier phrase, “…no one gets away from the Marble Mutilator!”
“The Marble Mutilator, what’s that?”
Jude froze. Every muscle in his six-year old body tensed. He cut his eyes at the source of the voice that invaded his fantasy, and then his head followed. “That’s me. Who’re you?” His voice exuded a crass, irritated tone, but it didn’t match the feelings flooding his little body, or the strange thoughts coursing through his little mind. He little hands went to his hips and he turned to stand in front of this strange angelic creature he quickly identified as …a girl.
“I’m Tammy Greenleaf.” She smiled at him, revealing a small gap between her two front teeth. She looked past Jude at the small collection of colorful marbles still sitting in the dirt. “I like all your pretty marbles.”
Jude huffed. “Marbles ain’t pretty, and neither are girls!” He crossed his arms over his chest.
Tammy ignored his outburst, and though she wore a yellow-flowered sun dress, she dropped to her knees and surveyed the position of the marbles on the ground. She pointed to the gold and black-striped shooter Jude had just recently used. “That one’s the prettiest of them all. It reminds me of my cat, Leo.”
Jude plopped down next to her and quickly snatched up his favorite shooter. “I said marbles ain’t pretty. They don’t look like cats either!”
Cocking her head to the side and smiling at Jude, the sun light caught the green, gold and brown specks in her hazel eyes and reminded Jude of some of the beautiful colors he admired while studying his marbles. “Well, I think they’re pretty, and so are you.”
Eyes bulging, Jude blinked several times but found he couldn’t move. Without thinking, or even under his direct command or control, he held out his favorite tiger-striped shooter to Tammy. “Want my marble?”
Tammy looked at the marble, then back up at Jude before she leaned in and placed a soft, wet kiss on his cheek. He stopped breathing. He sat petrified as she reached out and took the offered gem. “Thank you,” she whispered.
A few seconds later, but what felt like an eternity to Jude, feeling returned to his body and his mind started to once again turn. He looked down at his empty hand and immediately felt despair. “Girls!” he grumbled under his breath through gritted teeth. “They should all be shipped to Mars.”
Jude shoved his hand in his pocket and pulled out another shooter. This time it was a solid white one he called Snowball. He bent down once more in the dirt and lined his shooter with his next target, but not before he cast a quick glance at the swing set to notice Tammy sitting there, her beautiful hair blowing in the wind, holding the tiger-eye up to the sun in admiration.