I squatted in the dirt and pressed my finger into it. I took a quick look around, hoping no one was watching me. No one else knew about the pictures I saw in my head, and if they did, they wouldn't understand why I wanted to make them real, or how badly. Even I didn't know why I wanted them to exist somewhere other than in my mind. I only knew that I wanted, needed, them to.
Using my finger, I made a five-pointed star. Sometimes, the pictures were simple like that, of only one object or person. Other times, they were complex, depicting vast landscapes and bizarre worlds I'd only ever seen in dreams. It was a great shame no one but me could ever know about them.
"Dylan! What are you doing?"
"Nothing, Father." I stood up, erasing the star with my foot.
"Well, do something, then! I didn't raise my only son to be a lazy good-for-nothing!" He glared at me. "At least, I hope I didn't!"
He frightened me sometimes. "Y-you didn't, Father. All my chores are done. I didn't have anything to do."
Father seemed disappointed. "Oh. Very well, then. Go find something to do."
Easier said than done. "I will."
I walked toward the hedge that bordered our land. "I'm going to the village," I called over my shoulder.
"Fine. Be home in time for dinner."
I wandered through the gate and down the road, unsure whether I wanted to go to the village or not. I'd said I was going there, but did that mean I had to? What I really wanted to do was find a tree to sit under, but there weren't any in sight. It was a hot day, and sweat ran down the back of my neck, making me long for shade even more.
Finally, I spotted a tree by the side of the road. It wasn't very tall, but it cast just enough shade for one person. I sat beneath it and re-formed the star in the dust. I wanted to make more of the pictures, but I didn't know how. Most of them were in color and far too beautiful for me to use my finger.
I knew the word "beautiful" was used to describe people, not things, but there was no other way I could describe some of the pictures. They had dazzled me for as long as I could remember. I wanted other people to have a chance to see them. Unfortunately, it didn't look like I would ever be able to do that. I'd once confided in my mother about them when I was small. She'd gotten very upset and told me never to make any of the pictures or even speak of them to anyone, that it could be dangerous if I did. I didn't see how wanting to make something beautiful could be dangerous, but I'd obeyed her. Partially, anyway. I drew three lines next to the star, turning it into a shooting star.
I stared at it, then got up. Might as well visit the village, since I couldn't think of anything else to do. It was always so boring around here. I'd never been outside this particular section of our Nation, or even visited the Capital. But I knew I'd travel there soon.
The village's name was Oakleaf, and it wasn't very impressive; just a small cluster of buildings huddled around a central square, like travelers at a campfire. It was where children like me went to school and adults went to do business and socialize. I never looked forward to going here, whether going to school or accompanying my father on Market Day, but now that I was here alone, with no one telling me what to do, it didn't seem so bad.
As I passed a large man in a straw hat, he tripped over a loose stone in the road and dropped the sack he was carrying. I caught it just before it hit the ground.
"My thanks to you, laddie," the man said as he straightened up. "That sack's full of flour. If you hadn't caught it, it would've burst open and made an awful mess." He pushed his hat back, revealing a pair of eyes as blue as the sky. "The name's Baker, Archie Baker. What's your name, son?"
"Dylan. You're welcome." I looked at my shoes. I wasn't used to talking with strangers.
"Dylan, is it? How old are you?"
Archie chuckled. He had a nice chuckle. "Don't call me sir, or Mr. Baker, for that matter. Archie will do just fine. Now, about you. Not turned eighteen yet? Not taken the Test yet?"
"No…Archie." It felt strange, calling a grownup by his first name, but if that was what Archie wanted, I would do it. "I will in two months."
"Well, happy birthday in advance and the best of luck to you, then, young man." Archie took the sack back from me. I was glad. Even by farm standards, that thing was heavy! "I'd best be on my way. I've taken up residence in the old building down there, the one with the green door. Feel free to stop in and see me anytime. I'm here most days."
"Thank you, Archie. I will."
Archie winked at me. "You're most welcome, after saving my flour. Goodbye for now, Dylan. Again, good luck on the Test!" He strolled off down the road, whistling cheerfully.
I stood there like a dead tree, too tongue-tied to even call goodbye, utterly perplexed. Except for my parents, that was the longest anyone had ever talked to me at one time. Surprisingly, I'd kind of enjoyed it. Maybe I wasn't really as shy as I thought. Maybe they had the problem, not me.
The sun had begun to set. Dinner would be ready soon. Time for me to go home. As I left the lights of Oakleaf behind, one thought bounced around in my mind like a fly on a windowpane, unsettling me. Archie had wished me good luck on the Test. That in and of itself was fine; it had been a kind thing for him to say. He couldn't have known how much I was dreading it.