Young Cash Brandon was a different sort of boy, in several different sorts of ways. For one thing, he was a very dark boy, both in coloring and in temperament, and prone to long silences. His dark brown hair was liable to cover his eyes or his ears or both if not pushed back with a hurried hand, and although he wore plenty of red shirts and white socks he was bound to be described as the “boy in black” by anyone familiar with his appearance.
Another difference between Cash and the other four year olds of the neighborhood was that Cash had learned to read at a young age, and had an astonishing vocabulary for a pre-schooler. When his father came back from a long sales trip for example, young Cash might say “Hello Father, I trust you had a fulfilling junket this last fortnight, mother and I have missed you terribly.” And so on.
One day, Cash and his mother were home as usual in their modest story and a half home when his mother made the mistake of asking what he was coloring. Now coloring was one of Cash’s favorite things in the world to do, and he took it deadly serious. Cash would gather his coloring books and crayons, bring them to an otherwise clear area, and proceed to color the pictures with a slow and steady hand for hours at a time. One of the world’s great colorists, Cash never colored outside the lines. What he did do was think carefully about his subjects, and what colors they deserved to be. You or I or other children his age would color flamingoes pink, dolphins grey, and penguins black and white, but not young master Cash. He would color a giraffe green with purple spots, and when questioned would ask in return “Doesn’t this particular giraffe deserve to be green with purple spots? After all, he is the one who drove the rogue elephant away with his ultrasonic horn emissions.” And so on.
So when the boy responded to his mother’s inquiry, she was prepared for an odd answer, yet not prepared enough. “It’s a picture of a yellow dragon being pulled by a blue van,” said Cash. “Well that’s an odd picture to find in a coloring book,” exclaimed his mother. “I suppose they’ll be making you color pictures of minotaurs eating popsicles next! What’s the name of that coloring book, anyway?” “It’s my Changeling Coloring Book, mother,” said Cash. “It’s my favorite.”
An hour went by as young Cash worked on his picture, and his mother busied herself with folding laundry, feeding the cat and blogging on her computer about where to find the best grocery coupons. When Cash was finished working on his picture, he very carefully tore the page out along the perforations, walked it over to the refrigerator, and hung it up with the help of several colorful letter magnets.
“I’m going upstairs to take a nap now, mother,” Cash called as he walked by the combination guest bedroom and office where his mother was clacking away at a keyboard. “Love you,” called his mother. “Love you,” called Cash.
Something tugged at the corners of Janene’s mind (for this was the mother’s name, you see) and she couldn’t quite place what it could be. Then it hit her, she would like to see what the picture of the yellow dragon being pulled by a blue van looked like, for it sounded passing strange to find the mythological beast juxtaposed with such a practical cargo transport, and also the name of the coloring book still echoed in her mind. “The Changeling Coloring Book,” Janene mused. “Now what could that possibly mean?”
As she entered the dining room, she looked toward the refrigerator and was immediately able to locate the most recent picture to make the fridge. Cash had rearranged the other half dozen or so pictures to make room for the new one and in so doing had created a dramatic focal point for his newest creation. “Did he do that on purpose?” mumbled his mother. Then she stopped short as she saw the picture itself. She held her breath for a long moment, and then let out a guffaw. “Oh my god that is so like me to be freaked out by a stupid picture from a kids coloring book. Ha! If only Lucius could see me now.”
The picture was indeed yellow and blue as advertised, but it actually portrayed a man pulling a wagon, pretty standard coloring book fare. Cash had apparently decided that the man deserved to be blue, and the wagon deserved to be yellow, and the picture was as perfectly colored as could be, with long even strokes all within the lines, as always.
As Janene stood and looked at the picture, she began to think about the tension of being home alone with Cash most every day while her husband was out whooping it up on the road. Sure, he always came home with new stories to tell and books for Cash to read, and sometimes a magic trick picked up from the locals at some small town bar, but it was hard to be alone for two to three weeks at a time, and emails and voicemails just didn’t cut it. “What the…” Janene started to say, then nearly lost her balance but caught herself. The wagon had wings. It was a yellow wagon, and now it had grown wings. And the wings were still growing.
Staring in horrified fascination, Janene saw the picture slowly moving its fields of color into new yet related shapes as the wagon stretched out, grew bigger, and somehow became a dragon tethered by a chain to a large blue man. Next the man flexed his muscles like a bodybuilder, dropped on all fours and hunched into an automotive posture as his limbs became wheels, his teeth the grill, and his torso the body of a large blue van.
Janene was drawn again to the dragon, she could see the pain in the creature’s eyes as they bulged from the pressure of the metal collar squeezed around its neck. Pain, and a promise of revenge. The blue van was moving very quickly, and she was not sure if it was in malice or fear that the van accelerated. If only the van would just slow down!
“Hi Mom,” said Cash from behind her. Janene yelped, and spun around twice quickly to see first her son, then the picture as it had been, the yellow wagon and the blue man. “I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking about you and father. I know he misses you lots, and he wants to be here with us. He’s a good man, he doesn’t deserve to be blue anymore. I think I’m going to draw a picture of you two next. Freehand. And happy. Okay? Mother, what’s wrong?”
Janene shook with silent sobs and a lone tear rushed hotly down the left side of her face. “Sweetie, I want you to give me that coloring book, and I’m going to rip it into shreds, and we are never going to mention it again, now where is that Changeling Coloring Book?”
Cash looked up at his mother with patience beyond his years and replied, “Mother, they’re all changeling coloring books when I color in them. That’s why I deserve to be black.”
And things were never quite the same.
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