Written by Phillip Morris
Strongman is strong, Kicker is a steam-powered horse that can fly, and Lucy imagines things. Strongman is really a boy about to be ten, Kicker is only real because Lucy imagined him up, and Lucy really is just a nine-year-old girl. Strongman’s real name is Jake, Kicker’s real name doesn’t exist, and Lucy’s real name is Lucy.
Jake and Lucy are orphans. Kicker is, by definition of being a figment of Lucy’s imagination, an orphan as well. They are troubled children that try not to cause too much trouble. But they are runaways from their foster home so by definition their life is trouble.
Jake’s parents might not be dead. They might just be in big jail far away, he tells himself that often. When they went to jail they often went together because when they sold drugs they did so together. That meant that Jake was often left alone. He would be sent to his treehouse, that’s only a wooden platform, whenever anyone came over so no one knew he was alive besides his parents. Not the methheads or the cops, at least not until they broke in looking for drugs and caught him stealing food respectively. They each found out why Jake called himself Strongman. Though the cops had the benefit of having a taser.
For bureaucratic reasons, Jake had to spend the three-day weekend in jail where he was forced to be a strong man among grown men. Afterward he was sent to a foster home too full of kids.
Lucy’s parents are dead. She knows this for sure because she imagined her Dad burning to death one night while he was in bed with her mom. Afterward she too was sent to the foster home too full of kids.
Jake, Lucy, and Kicker now live in Jake’s parents’ house on a hill, outside of town, overlooking the undesirable buildings that lower property values, like the county jail. Well, Jake and Lucy live in the house, Kicker lives outside where there’s all the grass he can eat and a big tree he can sleep under.
Lucy could imagine her and Jake in a bigger house but jake was afraid his parents wouldn’t come home if they couldn’t recognize it. Lucy is happy enough to imagine the house has a big blue pool on the lawn that matches the house.
When they need food, imagined food won’t do. Lucy forgets what they ate at some point and the food disappears before it’s digested. Kicker used to disappear too, but after the fire, he became Lucy’s best friend in the world. That means that even when he isn’t on her mind he’s in her heart.
Instead of imagining food, Lucy imagines she and Jake are grown-ups and takes Jake out grocery shopping or to restaurants around town. She pays with the money she imagines is in her purse. That money she usually remembers long enough for it to safely disappear into the bank. Sometimes she forgets sooner, but that hardly ever happens.
Unfortunately, it happens enough that the cops track down the counterfeiters. When they get to the small blue house on the hill they only find Jake and Lucy. Kicker wasn’t imagined to be very brave and runs into the hills whenever strangers come, leaving only a trail of steam from the stacks on his shoulders.
Jake tells the cops that his parents aren’t home which would be enough for the cops to leave them alone for a while, but one of the cops, for personal reasons, happens to pay attention to the missing kid bulletins and recognizes Lucy as being reported missing from the foster home. The cop would’ve recognized Jake too if the foster home’s owner cared about the boys as much as he did the girls, and bothered to report Jake missing too.
Jake doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks who Lucy is and says she’s his friend. Lucy doesn’t think to lie when the cop asks her name.
Jake is strong enough to stop the cops, but Lucy doesn’t want him to hurt good people and she goes along peacefully.
For bureaucratic reasons, Lucy has to wait in jail until the foster home’s owner can get her. The cops at least let her wait in the yard because neither the male nor female inmates are out there.
Lucy sits at the table in the yard and looks up at the hills. She can see the blue that’s Jake’s house and the pool and the tree beside it. She imagines he’s inside pacing, angry, wondering how to get her out.
Kicker’s back though he’s not much help because he only ever wants to run away from trouble.
Lucy imagines Jake going to the pool to relax but finds the water’s all gone. In rage and frustration, Jake rips off the ladder and breaks it into its constituent poles. The last pole in his hand, to his surprise, is no longer just a pole but a telescope. He uses it to spy Lucy sitting at the table in the yard of the jail waving at him. Then she points up. Above Jake is his treehouse which he goes inside of and when he looks out to Lucy again this time she’s making a throwing motion. Jake looks around for something to throw though he doesn’t know why or how it would help. Lucy imagines he figures out what to throw when he finds the spear with a long, long length of chain with the other end wrapped around the tree.
That spear plunges deep into the ground in front of Lucy. The loud thud of its impact gets the attention of everyone in the jail. The cops yell at her as she grabs onto the chain and tugs it twice, in the universal signal that she’s ready. Jake yanks the chain back with all his strength. The chain flies into the treehouse hard and fast. It tears up the tree as each link hits and suddenly he’s afraid of what will happen to Lucy when she comes in.
Thankfully Lucy imagines Jake stands ready to gently catch her.
Police cars are speeding up the hill with their sirens blaring, but Kicker has learned to be brave and doesn’t run away. At least not until Lucy and Jake are safely on his back. Then he kicks off the ground and into the sky.
Phillip Morris is a Californian living in Rotterdam. When he’s not writing dry instructions booklets, he’s likely writing colorful short fiction. When he tweets it’s @lephillipmorris.