A Stone Heart: Chapter One
Thank you for joining us for this serialized story. I’ll be posting one chapter every week until it’s done. This hasn’t been professionally edited, so keep that mind!
A Stone Heart by Parker Williams
I sat at the small table, dozens of bottles, tubes, stoppers, stirring rods, and more sitting in front of me, as I mixed my latest concoction. Without a doubt, this one would be the best yet. Across from me sat my best friend, Huey Daystar. We were at opposite ends of the cool scale, with me being small, twink-like, and queer as a three dollar bill, as my gran used to say. Huey, on the other hand, was big, sort of like a mountain—all six foot eight of him. His body wasn’t ripped or buff, it was just…big. When I met him at the tender age of six, he stood guard over me while I played with a doll that I’d brought to show and tell. The other guys laughed and said some words I didn’t understand. Huey did, though. He snarled at them, and they stepped back.
“Who’re you?” I’d demanded.
“Huey Daystar,” came the reply and a brilliant smile.
“I’m Dex Alexaskis,” I told him, giving him the name my parents taught me. Being who they were, they’d never had a last name. I thought being Dex, like Cher or Madonna, would be cool, but apparently not.
“I know. Play with your toy,” he said, as he reached out to ruffle my hair. “I’ll make them stay away.”
I liked him. I smiled up at him, and he smiled back.
And every day since then, Huey did his best to make the bad guys ‘stay away’. I owed him so fucking much, and I knew that nothing I ever did would repay him for how he’d protected me my whole life. When I turned twelve and realized I was gay, I went gay all the way. I changed my hair to a powder blue and had it done up in a sharp point—think of me as a troll doll—and wore bright clothes with outrageous patterns. Huey would grin when he saw me, and assure me that the current outfit was his favorite.
No one dared say a word to me when Huey was around. Most of them were smart enough to leave me alone when he wasn’t. Greg Abernathy was one of those who weren’t. He made it his mission in life to make me cry—which I never did—and tried on more than one occasion to poison Huey’s mind against me. He’d whisper things like, “do you want everyone to think you’re a faglike him?” It was just loud enough for me to hear, which I’m certain was the reason he did it. Huey would have none of it. He knew I heard, so he got up, wrapped an arm around my shoulder, and led me from the lunchroom, telling me to ignore them.
Which I did. At least until one day, I was in the bathroom doing my best to get rid of what the cafeteria lady laughingly referred to as a burrito. The door swung open and slammed against the wall. There stood Greg and his buddies in all their Neanderthal glory. They were silent as they surrounded me, which was even creepier than if they had said anything at all. I stood there, arms crossed over my chest, and glared at him.
“What do you want?”
He lashed out, his hand striking me across the cheek. “We don’t like fags in our school.”
The other two murmured their agreement and drew in closer. After that, it was kind of a blur. I remember fists. Lots of fists. There might have been a few kicks in there too, though that wasn’t really clear in my mind. I was curled on the floor, my arms wrapped around my knees, trying to focus and move beyond the pain, when the door banged open, cracking against the tiled wall.
“Oh, shit,” whispered Steve Cramer. “Dude, look at him.”
I peered up and my eyes went wide. I thought I had seen every one of Huey’s expressions, but the one on display that day would have made a grown man wet himself. I swore Huey’s eyes flashed red as he stomped toward my abusers.
The three tried to get by Huey, but it was a lost cause. He grabbed them in his arms and held them tight.
“Close your eyes,” he growled, as he glared down at me.
I shut them tight, but that didn’t stop the cries of pain as sounds of flesh striking flesh filled the small room. After several minutes, the room grew deathly still. Arms encircled me and lifted me from the cold tile floor.
“Keep ‘em closed, Dex. You don’t need to see this.”
He carried me from the bathroom and out the door of the school. He cradled me to his chest, as he murmured soothing words. When he got to my house, he rapped hard on the door. My mom opened it, and she gasped.
She took me from Huey, who stood silently, arms crossed over his massive chest. Once I gave him a smile, he returned it with a smart nod, then strode away. Mom kept me home for a few days, during which she was on the phone with the school board, demanding to know what actions were going to be taken against the guys who’d hurt me. They’d scoffed, and told her that all three boys had to go to the hospital, and that there were concussions and contusions and broken bones. Apparently, Huey had worked them over a little too much.
In the end, Mom said she was going to homeschool me. I said no way in hell would I allow that to happen. I was notgoing to knuckle under to some asshole kids. Most everyone else was cool, and the few who weren’t didn’t matter.
“Dex, listen to me. You could have seriously hurt those boys, and you know it. If it wasn’t for Huey—”
I suppose this is as good a place as any to hit pause. While Huey had muscles, I had something more that made me a greater danger to bullies than Huey’d ever be. Magic. I mean, it was part of me, even if it hadn’t manifested yet. Still, my mother railed at me constantly, reminding me my control needed to be tight, my focus razor sharp. If even so much as a stray thought escaped, I could have immolated Greg and company into nothing more than a pile of ash or strangled them with vines.
At least if my full powers ever kicked in. Usually by now, we—we being people with magic—would be in full possession of their abilities. Me? I could do a few small things, but nothing like Mom or Dad.
“I still think you’d be safer if you went to Markwith’s School.”
The Markwith School, otherwise known as the Academy, had existed for centuries to train magic users how to best control their power. They’d been after my folks to send me there since before I was born. My parents went there after they left their homes and moved to the city. Both were graduates of the Academy, and they swore by the teaching methods. The problem? Mom and Dad weren’t ever supposed to get together. There were rules that forbid the mingling of magic types and, worse still, bearing offspring who would inherit bits of both parent’s types. They called it wild magic, since there wasn’t any way to predict what form their children’s spells would take.
My mom was a dryad, or a tree nymph. She was a weaver of nature magic. Need a little rain in your garden? Mom was the one to call. Need lightning to smite your enemies? Yeah, she could do that too. And Mom was wicked powerful. We’d once been traveling in California when the ground rumbled as a huge earthquake tore through the area, threatening the town we were in. Mom got out of the car and shoved her hands in the dirt, pleading with the earth to be calm. And goddamn if it didn’t listen to her.
Dad, on the other hand… He was an elemental mage. Need a twelve-foot tall earth golem to terrorize your enemies? How about an air elemental which could shoot lightning bolts? Dad had you covered. Between my folks, they could control most of the forces of nature. They moved to the city because it dampened their abilities. Without direct contact with the soil, they weren’t much stronger than, oh, let’s say David Copperfield. A few parlor tricks, but nothing big.
Me? I was the sum of both of their abilities, and that scared a lot of people in the magical world. The thing of it was, I had little interest in learning much beyond my parent’s limited magics, such as what I was doing now with Huey.
Speaking of which, it would be a good idea to focus on the here and now. I whispered an action, and what had been crystal clear a moment ago, now took on a sapphire hue, which slowly changed to a brilliant ruby shade.
“You’re not really going to drink that, are you?”
I turned to Huey and gave him the best smile I could manage without breaking into a fit of giggles. “No, you are.”
He blanched, his thick cheeks turning an interesting shade of crimson. “What? No way in hell, Dex. How many times have you given me something and it turned out to be grosser than gross? No way am I drinking that…” He rolled his hand. “…concoction.”
But we both knew he would. Huey would do anything I asked of him, because he loved me. He had since we met in first grade, and now, twenty years later, he was fierce with everyone but me. With me, Huey was gentle, kind, and considerate. He never once had a harsh word for me—not including the times he spat out my newest creation and dubbed it vile and gross—and he never once raised his hand to me.
“Why can’t you trust me?” I batted my big blue eyes at him, and he sighed. I’d won, and it hadn’t even taken two minutes, a new record.
“The last time I ‘trusted you’,” he said, adding in the air quotes for emphasis, “I ended up with warts on my tongue. My tongue, Dex! Do you know how awkward that was to explain to the doctor?”
Fine, I’d added a bit too much toadstool and wormwort to the last one. It wasn’t like this was an exact science, and all discovery required some risks.
“They cleared up. Eventually. So it’s all good.”
I held up the beaker, blew a warm, gentle breath over it, and gave the liquid inside a swirl. The ruby softened, becoming a light purple.
Huey frowned, then reached up and brushed his choppy blond hair from his eyes. “I really don’t want to do this, Dex.”
“But you’re going to like this one, I promise.”
“You say that every time and I, like an idiot, agree. Then within a few minutes, I regret that decision something fierce because I get things like the aforementioned wart.”
I loved it when Huey used words like aforementioned. Of the two of us, he was the smart one—except when it came to saying yes to everything I asked of him—and he could have the world by the balls easily. For some reason, he stayed with me. We lived together, even. Not as lovers, but that was okay. Being around Huey made me feel good.
“What do you think of this color?” I asked, swirling the liquid again. The light purple became like a blue cotton candy, soft and silky.
“I thought so too.” I put the beaker down and ran a hand over my hair, doing one of my favorite tricks. As I slid my hand over my head, the soft white hair I usually had—thanks Mom and Dad for that—dyed to the blue currently in the beaker. It was a simple process of moving eumelanin and pheomelanin around, making my hair darker or lighter to suit my whims. I turned, flipped my head, and smiled.
Huey’s eyes softened. “You’re beautiful. The hair goes with your sapphire eyes.”
I flounced back to the table and took a seat again. Huey sat there, gazing at me.
He shook his head. “I can’t be over how pretty you are. You’re like… like a butterfly, you know? You’ve got this vibrancy to you, and the colors….”
My cheeks heated at the praise. Huey could say the simplest compliment, and it would make my head swim. “You’re pretty beautiful yourself, you know.”
“Me?” he squeaked, which was funny, considering how deep his voice was. “I’m just a big guy. I’m not pretty or anything like you.”
Oh, if only Huey could see himself like I did. Where some people looked at him and saw this scary creature, I saw the gentleness in his smile. His eyes were the strangest color. Dark gray with flecks of white thrown in. They reminded me of granite; hard and unyielding, but with a beauty all their own. I could easily get lost in Huey, but that would be awkward for both of us.
Or at least that’s what I told myself.
The truth was, I had it bad for Huey. For years, I thought it was because he was always there for me, but then I stopped looking at him as my protector, and started seeing him as my friend, and that made all the difference in the world.
Huey was scary to anyone who didn’t know him. He’d always been big, but as he got older, and hit that growth spurt, he became enormous. His arms were massive, his chest wide and strong, his legs thick as tree trunks. I swear, he was carved from solid stone. Yet there was a soft, yielding side to him when he was with me. He would sit quietly for hours while I played music on a grass whistle, or when I encouraged the animals to sit and talk with us at night, even if I needed to translate so Huey could understand. That didn’t matter to Huey, he was just happy spending time with me. He was the big, strong, silent type unless we were alone. Then it was like he let his hair down, and could have fun.
I tapped the beaker with a glass rod, and smiled at the ting that echoed in my room. The liquid rippled, then changed once more to a subtle shade of nothing. Yep, the water I’d started with once again looked like the original.
“Okay, taste time.”
Huey’s lower lip jutted out. “Don’t make me do this.”
I laughed as I slid the drink across the table. “You know you want to.” When he didn’t smile, I drew back. “Don’t you?”
“A wart. On my tongue. If I wanted that, I would have licked the toad again.”
His dour expression morphed into a silly grin as he grabbed the beaker and drained it in one go. As soon as he placed it down on the table, I put the beaker aside and studied his face. His eyes went wide.
“Oh. My. God.”
My heart seized. “What’s wrong?”
“That’s….wow. The best one ever. I love it.” He stuck out his tongue. “No warts, right?”
I breathed a sigh of relief a moment before I burst into laughter.
“Will you ever explain to me why you feel the need to make your own sodas?”
“Because the ones from the store are nothing but sugar or some shitty sugar substitute. When you have parents like mine, you learn that nature provides the most amazing things. Most people rarely find uses for them beyond making money. I can make things for us that are good and all natural, without the side effects of traditional sodas.”
His gaze stayed locked on my face. “Thank you for sharing with me. I know you could have others who—”
“You finish that sentence, and we’re going to throw down.”
He smirked. “And what will you do? Cuddle me to death?”
The thought of cuddling—or more aptly, being cuddled—by Huey was something I often dreamed about. It was sad that he never thought of me like that.
“I might…” Shit. “I might send a storm to wipe you off the map!”
Truth to tell, I had very little access to my magic. My parents told me I’d eventually gain my full abilities, and they’d be formidable. To date, I could mix soda and change my hair color. Whee.
Huey snickered. “Ooh, that’s a good one. Let’s try that.”
Bastard. He knew that I needed to keep control of my powers, because otherwise I’d be classified as a danger, and that wouldn’t end well for me. The powers-that-be took a dim view of someone with magical abilities that couldn’t be controlled. They were sent away, and from what my parents told me, asking where was never a good idea.
See, the magical community was very…. Oh, what’s the word I’m looking for? Paranoid. Mixing of the magical races was a bad thing. Humans discovering we exist? Worse bad thing. They didn’t understand—or maybe willfully ignored—the fact that humans weren’t this horrible disease that infested the earth. Some, like Huey, were kind, considerate, and cared for others. And he didn’t give a damn about magic.
When he wasn’t being a royal pain in the ass.
I reached up and toyed with my hair. “I’m not sure if I like this color.”
Another brush of my hand, and it was maroon. Nah, not that either. Aquamarine. Nope, that one didn’t thrill me at all. Jet black? Very goth, but no.
“What are you doing?” He gazed at me, his amusement obvious. “You know you’re going to look incredible, no matter what color you pick.”
“But I’ve done them all to death. I’m bored.”
I stuck my lip out. Huey reached up and grabbed it, giving it a gentle tug.
“Then why not try something you’ve never done before? What about rainbow hair? Y’know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that.”
Oh, wow. That would look amazing. I brushed my fingers through my hair, adjusting the length so it was longer on the top, and had an appearance of being shaved on the sides. Then I focused on each individual strand, making some blue, some red, a little copper, one section was bright yellow, another was green. When I finished, I turned to Huey. I expected him to laugh, but he reached out and stroked his fingers through my hair.
“It’s beautiful. I wish…” He shook his head. “Never mind.”
“No, tell me. What do you wish?”
“I wish I could look like you. I see the way other people look at you. They’re in awe of you. When you walk down the street, they’re drawn to you. When I’m with you, no one sees me, because you’re too pretty not to notice.”
In the twenty-plus years I’d known Huey, he never spoke with such pain in his voice.
“I’m sorry.” I laced our fingers together. “I mean…”
He gave me a sad smile. “Don’t be sorry for me. I get to see you whenever I want, so feel sorry for them, because they only get to catch a glimpse of your perfection.”
God, Huey had the soul of a poet, even if he wasn’t aware of it. I just wished I knew a way it could be mine.