Whom he may devour
A short story by D. F. Wharton
The mysterious ball rolled slowly up the grassy slope and around the shrubs and other objects which would have otherwise been obstructions in its path. It was as if the ball had eyes and was creeping quietly upon its prey. The ball continued onto a sidewalk and began to gain speed, as a lion before pouncing, and struck the man’s foot.
Byron Peters stood looking at all the bird dung freshly splattered all over his car and then at the pigeons congregated above, jolly and defecating over his vehicle, and he couldn’t help but think they looked at him and secretly mocked, jeered even, out of the corner of their collective eyes. It seemed like a great many powerlines had come together for the purpose of a pigeon congregation directly above his vehicle. He was indeed angry. He had just taken his car through the wash.
Overcome with anger and stress, Byron shouted at the pigeons: “What are you looking at!” The pigeons became more interested in him, like he might toss some bread for them to gobble up. Then they could return to their post and defecate on his car some more. Then a strange thing happened, but he hardly noticed because he was so angry. It was a bump against his foot. He looked down and there was a mysterious ball. He looked at the ball and then up at the pigeons. He knew what he was going to do. “Not today,” he said, returning their villainous gaze. He reached down and picked up the mysterious ball. The ball fit in his hand with a customized wonder, its weight feeling deadly and swift. “You want a piece of me?” he yelled. Then he heaved the ball at the birds. The ball soared into the air but did not hit a single pigeon.
Henry Draper was running drugs for Randy. Randy West was twenty years old. Henry was fourteen. Randy knew he shouldn’t be using Henry like this but fuck it—that’s the game. “You know where you going, right?” said Randy.
“Yeah,” said Henry.
“You ridin’ that bicycle again?” asked Randy.
“The jakes stopped Mike for not having a helmet.”
“I ain’t wearin’ no fuckin’ helmet.”
“It would be stupid to get busted for not having a helmet on while riding a bike,” said Randy.
“They don’t bust you, man, they just give you a warning or somethin’.”
“Henry,” said Randy, “you are black. No helmet is just a reason to stop you in order to take a look at what’s in your backpack.”
“Look, take the package and drop it off, but if you’re gonna ride a bike, get a helmet. The less chances the better.”
On the way, Henry heard somebody yell something from across the street. He looked over and saw a man looking angrily into the sky. Was he yelling at birds? “White people,” he muttered to himself and continued riding. Seconds later Henry felt a sharp and blinding pain on the top of his head. A mysterious ball cracked into Henry’s skull and bounced off. Henry instinctively let the handle bars of his bike go and reach for his head. His front wheel turned off the sidewalk and into oncoming traffic. He did not see the car that smashed into him.
“Nothing is going to happen,” said Kevin.
“I don’t know,” said Melody. “The roads are very dangerous and there are so many cops.”
“Come on,” said Kevin. “You gonna be scared your whole life? Live in fear of the street traffic boogie man, the fucking pigs? Fuck the police.”
“I don’t know. What do they do to fifteen years old’s driving a stolen car?” said Melody.
“I’m sixteen,” said Kevin proudly. “I’ll be riding shotgun. You have nothing to worry about. I’ve done it so many times before. It’s fun. Why do you think it’s called a joyride? Don’t be a little chicken. Besides we’ll have the car returned and parked with keys snuck back to where they were before George gets back. He never locks his apartment door.”
“Maybe we’ll get the keys back but there’s no way we’ll be able park the car in the same spot,” said Melody.
“Close by,” said Kevin. “We’ll park it close by. The man is in his seventies. He’s not going to remember exactly where he parked. He’ll hit the lock button and listen for the sound. He’ll find it.”
“But what if I get into an accident? What if I hit somebody?”
“You think somebody will jump in front of the car while you’re driving?” said Kevin. “You think somebody is going to just ride their bike into oncoming traffic?”
“Ok, ok,” said Melody, “Let’s do this.”
Melody got in the car and Kevin got in the passenger seat. Melody drove off. It was very exciting. Two teenagers driving and listening to the radio in a stolen car and living on top of the world. It wasn’t like they were stealing it anyway. It was just a joyride.
Kevin had just said, “See, it’s not so bad,” when a black kid on a bicycle with a backpack and blood all over his face and hands, wearing no helmet, cut onto the street in front of them. His hands were on his head and he looked the picture of insanity. Melody did not have time to react. She slammed on the breaks but it was after she slammed into the kid on the bike. Melody sat frozen. Kevin said, “Come on!” as he scrambled out of the car. But Melody’s eyes were fastened to a mysterious ball bouncing across the street. She watched the ball bounce on to the side walk past a man standing by a car covered in bird dung. He was also watching the mysterious ball. The ball bounced on and into the hands of an ordinary man dressed in casual wears. He tipped his hat to both Byron and Melody, grinned appallingly, and went on his way.
He looked like an ordinary man, but he was the devil. He was, of course, after statesman and religious figureheads, but he liked to get a piece of the everyday fellow all the same. He was walking about, as a lion, seeking whom he may devour. How could he get the ball rolling for some quick fun, orchestrate a little tragedy? He was tossing a mysterious ball in his hand, as though it were an activity that helped him think. He heard a steel gate being rolled down over a storefront window. He turned to see Byron Peters lock the gate and storm away, briefcase in hand. Old Byron had been falsifying documents and the heat was on him. The devil knew about good ol’ Byron, alright. Byron was sweating bullets. He watched Byron walk over to his car and take out is frustrations on some pidgins. The devil stopped tossing the mysterious ball for a moment and pondered deeply. “It just might work,” he whispered. He brought the mysterious ball back a little and rolled it forward.
The mysterious ball rolled slowly up the grassy slope and around the shrubs and other objects which would have otherwise been an obstruction in its path. It was as if the ball had eyes and was creeping quietly upon its prey. The ball continued onto a sidewalk and began to gain speed, as a lion before pouncing, and struck the man’s foot.