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  • Tom Folske

Bad Compensation

Oswald Erickson and his nine-year-old granddaughter Cynthia were cruising down the main road of the small town of DeSantis, population: 400, in Oswald’s big, mud-covered pick-up truck. 

“Alright Cynthia. I think today is the day,” Oswald told his granddaughter.

“What do you mean Grandpa?” Cynthia asked curiously.

“What have you been curious about since you first heard about it?”

It only took Cynthia half a second to realize what her grandfather was talking about, and when she did, she burst with joy and excitement, so much so that she was to the point of squealing and giggling in her revelry.

“I thought you’d be excited,” Oswald said, pleased at her enjoyment.

Oswald took a right onto Angelea Street. As soon as they started to get a little way away from town, the buildings and houses slowly disappeared, quickly replaced by trees and forest. Cynthia’s boisterous joy was replaced by quiet anticipation. Oswald stared pensively at the road as he drove, also not speaking. It had been a very long time since he had been up this way.

After about twelve minutes of driving, the trees started to clear and wide-open fields appeared on both sides of the truck. Cynthia began chewing on her fingernails and fidgeting anxiously. She could tell they were close to their destination, simply by the smile forming on her grandfather’s face.

A few moments later, a huge mansion on the top of monstrous hill came into view. Oswald drove on until they were close enough to see the building clearly before he pulled over onto the side of the road and turned off his vehicle.

“This is it?” Cynthia whispered, too stunned to use her normal volume.

“This is it.” 

“Tell me the story, Grandpa. Please. You promised.”

Oswald exhaled deeply, then paused for a very long time. Just when Cynthia was about to pipe up, he began to speak.

“It all started a long time ago, before you were born, even before your daddy was born.” 

Cynthia stared intently at her grandfather as he spoke. 

“I was just a boy, right around the age you are now. There was another boy in my class, his name was Billy Icarus. Billy was my best friend; he was also the most unique kid in school. See, Billy had wings.”

Cynthia was utterly entranced by her grandfather’s words.

“It was very sad what happened with Billy. In truth, I personally loved Billy’s wings. Heck, everyone, even Jo Haggart, Billy’s crush, loved his wings, everyone except for Billy loved them. Instead, Billy absolutely loathed his wings. He thought they were big and cumbersome, and he hated how they made him so different than everyone else, especially Jo. He always talked about getting rid of them somehow. I told him he was crazy, that I would love to have wings, but he seemed dead set on his hatred of them.

“It was Billy’s tenth birthday, and I was getting ready for the party when the phone rang. I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but I suddenly had a very bad feeling in my gut. My mom, your great grandma, picked up the receiver and I instantly saw in her reactions that something bad had happened, and I knew it had happened to Billy. I was right. My mother went on to tell me that Billy was in the hospital. He cut off his wings and had suffered a massive amount of blood loss. The doctors said he might not make it. I was shocked and frightened. I was in a trance when I finished getting dressed, and then, instead of going to a party, we went to the hospital.

“Once we got to the hospital, we waited for six hours for the doctors to tell us that Billy was going to survive. It was another two days until they actually let me see him. I went into his room to find him lying on his stomach with his head facing the door. He had two big, bandaged stumps protruding from his back. He smiled for a second when he realized it was me, then his face turned grim and melancholy.

“I walked up to Billy’s bed, looking down at the ground until I was right next to him. 

 “I miss them. I want to fly again,” Billy said in a slurred, medicated voice.

“I squeezed his hand gently before he passed out again from the medication,” Oswald said, before pausing again, a tear swelling up in the corner of his eye.

“Why did he do it grandpa?” Cynthia asked.

“Come outside,” Oswald told the girl as he stepped out of the vehicle and stood in front of the hood, looking longingly up at the house.

“What happened next?” Cynthia asked, equally interested and impatient.

“Well, after Billy got out of the hospital, he just wasn’t the same. He was always sad, he hardly ate anything, and he always wanted to be alone, no matter how hard we tried to socialize with him. Not even Jo could get through to him. He was wasting away without his wings. That was when I came up with the idea to start a fund-raiser.”

“Fundraiser?” Cynthia whispered, not realizing she was doing so.

“Me and Jo started collecting money for a fund to get Billy a new set of wings. I knew it was a fool’s errand, but we had to do something, we couldn’t just stand there and watch. Little did we know the true generosity of the town of DeSantis. We had only set up three donation bins: one at Robert’s Burgers, one at the Pump N’ Bump, and one at the school. Amazingly, it only took two weeks to gather the large sum of money needed for the procedure. Other people in town had obviously noticed Billy’s dismay as well, because there were a lot of hundred-dollar bills, the first ones I had ever seen in my entire life. 

“With help from my mother, we sent away for surgeon and a set of prosthetic wings, modeled to look and function just as Billy’s old wings had. The surgeon was a specialist in such operations and successfully attached Billy’s wings in just a few hours. Billy was happy again, at least for a little while,” Oswald took another deep breath, seeming to pause again. 

“Grandpa!” Cynthia said through clenched teeth.

“I’m getting there,” Oswald replied. “Well, it turns out that plastic surgeon went back to the big city, where he had come from, and told everyone about the boy in DeSantis with his wings on his back. People came from all over America to see the boy with wings. It was horrible. Everyone was a stranger and many of the new people were rude. Then, one day, something terrible happened yet again. Jo Haggart was walking home from a friend’s house when she was mugged and beaten up by four men she had never seen before. They stole four dollars she had on her. Jo died in the hospital later that night.”

Oswald stopped for a moment of silence. 

Tears ran down Cynthia’s eyes, though she didn’t make a sound.

Oswald had to regain his composure for a few moments before he could go on. 

“After that, Billy became a recluse. He blamed himself for Jo’s death. He moved with his family to the mansion at the top of the hill and has lived there ever since. His parents died about thirty years back. I went to their funerals. That was the last time I saw Billy. He has been out here all alone ever since,” Oswald told Cynthia as tears freely rolled down his cheek.

“Poor Billy,” Cynthia replied. “Can we go up there and visit him? You can’t just tell me a story like that and then just turn around and go home. He must be so lonely up there. You said he was your best friend.”

Oswald looked up at Billy Icarus’s home with longing and nostalgia. “We just might have to do that Cynthia…”

About Tom Folske:

Tom Folske lives in Minnesota with his wife, four kids, and three black cats. He is just finishing up with his BA in creative writing, and has been passionately either finishing older work, or creating new pieces to publish over the past year. A writer since the age of 12, Tom has had over 20 stories published by multiple publishers, with new work to be featured in upcoming anthologies or magazines by Jersey Pines Ink, Theaker's Quarterly Fiction, Celticfrog Publishing, Critical Blast Publishing, Haute Dish Literary Magazine, and House of Loki Press.

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