The legendary quest to the grocery store--there perhaps existed no task more tedious than that during the summers of our youth. I suppose therein loosely lies the inspiration for this piece, "A Regular Day." Could something unexpected happen during what seems like the most mundane task in all the world?
A Regular Day
Jon strode languidly down the cracked and ancient pavement. The summer air was stifling, and he could feel sweat dampening his chest beneath his polo shirt. Despite being in the overarching shade of the trees along the walkway, he could still feel the immense heat of the afternoon sun pressing on his head. He swiped at the beads of moisture on his forehead with the heel of his hand, finding himself in desperate need for a cold bottle of water. He gazed down the quiet walkway and saw the familiar bulk of the grocery store in the distance. The slip of paper in his clammy hand had crumbled into a wrinkly ball; he often checked to make sure he still had it.
The rapid slapping of shoes on the concrete made him glance around. The sight of the little boy approaching him made Jon want to roll his eyes. "Is it much further, Jonnie?" the kid asked. Jon inwardly recoiled at the nickname.
"Can you see the store, Mark?" Jon said, gesturing irritably toward the looming white building down the length of the sidewalk. "It's right there."
Mark quickened his pace so that he walked at Jon's side. "It's really hot out here," he commented. His shirt was plastered against his chest from sweat. He made exaggerated panting sounds, lolling his tongue up and down like a dog. Jon made no reply. He felt a tug on his pant leg and looked to see Mark peering up at him. "Did you hear me?" he asked in a shrill voice.
"Yes, I heard you! What am I even supposed to do about it being hot outside?" Jon snapped, wrenching his leg free. "You could have just stayed home, you know. Mom didn't make you come." Mark crossed his arms defiantly.
"I can do what I want," he shot back. For a few blessed moments, the pair were silent, at least until there came Mark's inane inquiry, "What're we buying?" When Jon didn't answer, Mark made a clumsy lunge for the paper in his brother's hand. Jon swung it clear, laughing as Mark's fingers swiped on empty air.
"Want to try again?" Jon teased, waving the crumbled paper over Mark's head. A challenging look flashed in the little boy's eyes, but before he could make another leap for it, a flurry of hoarse barking sounded through the still air. Jon glanced up and jumped at the sight of a lean, shadowy mass of darkness barreling toward them. Black wisps rose from it like vapors, shifting about with every leap and bound. Despite the sun's brightness, Jon could still see the sinister gleam in its glowing red eyes.
"Shoot, it's the Roydmans' Guardian!" Jon screeched, turning to run. He aimed for the trees, but not before noticing Mark was nowhere beside him. He glanced around and saw the boy staring transfixed at the approaching figure. Jon raced back and wrapped a long arm around his brother's torso, hauling him up onto his shoulder. "You're not making this easy, you know!" He knew he wouldn't make it far with Mark's weight hauling him down, but he had to try.
"Put me down!" came Mark's scream. Jon dashed for the treeline and found himself climbing a steep slope. The Guardian's barking grew ever closer. He almost imagined the red pain of its bite in his thigh, and the image made him fight harder to reach the slope's crest. Wriggling and thrashing, Mark managed to throw Jon clear to the side. They both fell hard upon the dirt and twigs.
A cold blaze of frustration pulsed through Jon's desperation. "W-what are you doing?" he demanded, struggling to find his feet. There was no more time; the amorphous shape was upon them. Without thinking, Jon thrust his body forward, putting himself between the lithe, slavering creature and his little brother. He closed his eyes and braced himself.
When next Jon opened a wary eye, he saw Mark on his knees, excitedly rubbing a big dog's belly. Its tongue flapped about happily, its tail wagging with enough enthusiasm to send up sprays of dirt.
"Pax…?" Jon echoed, still not quite comprehending.
Mark glanced up, eyes bright with laughter. "Yeah, Pax, short for Paxtonius. Have you never met him in his calm state?" He playfully tugged the dog's paws. "You should've seen your face, Jonnie! You were so scared!" Now Mark's peals of laughter filled the air, replacing the terrifying snarls Jon had heard earlier. He stood up shakily and dusted himself off to mask his embarrassment.
"Well, of course, I've never seen him like that!" Jon huffed, blinking uncertainly at the docile animal whining at his brother's knees. "You know Guardians almost exclusively keep to their Shadow states. You think that slobbering thing could keep away a Reaper?"
Mark grinned smugly. "But those only come out at night anyway, and Guardians don't even attack regular people." He sighed and leaned onto Pax's bulky form, shying away from the dog's licks. "I kind of wish we had a Guardian, too. That way Dad wouldn't have to work so hard…"
Jon felt his heart tighten. "We don't need a stupid Guardian," he muttered.
The little boy turned a thoughtful look on his older brother before bouncing up onto his feet. Pax rose with him and offered a final lick before loping off toward home; Jon thought he could see the first black tendrils of the Shadow returning, enveloping the dog's shape.
"You're right, we don't need a Guardian," Mark said, watching the dog go. "After all, you can protect me! It was kind of cool, how you tried to block Pax…" Jon's face burned at his brother's words. He loudly cleared his throat, training his gaze on his shoes.
"Well, whatever. I couldn't let you get mauled." He strode back toward the sidewalk, and Mark quietly came to his side. "Let's hurry on. We've still got a job to do," Jon said. He reached into his pocket and fished out the crumpled grocery list, thankfully unharmed from the struggle. He handed the list to his brother. "Keep that safe until we get there, alright? I'm counting on you."
Mark beamed, studying the worn paper in his hands with awe in his eyes. "You got it!"