“Why aren’t we going in the car-thing again?”
Bowman’s voice, close to Jacob’s ear thanks to the sprite’s cautious perch on his shoulder, rang clear with skepticism. In response, Jacob smirked and shrugged his shoulder just enough to bob the tiny sprite up and down once. “I thought you were tired of the car after the drive all the way here,” he pointed out.
Bowman’s tiny boots shifted as he flinched to keep his balance. Once certain he wouldn’t fall, one leafy wing slapped Jacob’s neck. “I was,” he insisted. “But if we’re going somewhere outside, I’d rather not be seen, and you can’t run fast enough to keep me out of sight.”
“It’s true,” Jacob lamented. “But I’m not planning on running there. Lemme just show you.”
He considered that fair warning for the front door of the house to open up. Jacob stepped onto the small front porch and paused to assess the world outside. A slight breeze cooled off the warm day, and only a few clouds drifted around overhead. The tidy lawns of the neighborhood, some littered with kids’ toys, grew verdant and green and so much more restrained than the plant life of Bowman’s home forest.
Jacob had been personally scolded for that, of course. As though he personally had made lawns so common.
Before Bowman could start up another lecture about the square patches of grass and over-pruned trees, Jacob stepped around the side of the house where his bicycle waited.
“What is that thing?” Bowman blurted again, though he had settled himself among the folds of Jacob’s hood. “It looks like it fell apart.”
A laugh spilled out of Jacob as he grabbed the bike from its lean against the house. “It’s a bicycle. It’s faster than walking and not as big and clunky as taking the car.”
He could practically feel the tiny glare of Bowman’s eyes narrowing skeptically. “You can ride around on this?”
“Sure, dude. Check it out if you want, but once we get going you’ll have to hide out in my hood like we planned.”
An indignant little scoff preceded the fluttering of Bowman’s wings. Jacob flinched his head to the side to avoid getting slapped too much, but Bowman was quick. A flash of green swooped down to land on the bike seat.
At four inches tall and dressed in the earthy greens and browns of the forest, Bowman couldn’t look more out of place on the faux-leather of the bicycle seat. His hands on his hips, he turned so he could observe first the handlebars of the human contraption, and then the back perch for a bag. He wandered to the edge to frown over the side at the pedals and spokes, forming an opinion that Jacob expected to hear soon enough.
“There’s no way those thin metal bits actually hold up a human,” Bowman pointed out, waving a hand and a wing at the front tire. “Can’t you bend those with just your hands, giant?”
Jacob shrugged and nudged at the spokes of the tire with his boot. “I mean, probably? But they don’t bend when I get on the bike. I’m pretty sure there’s something about how it’s made that makes sure I’m not putting all my weight on one spot.”
Bowman frowned as skeptically as ever and opened his wings to hop down onto the crossbar. Amazingly, he kept his balance on the rounded silver metal, and squatted down to get an even closer look at the rest of the frame. “If you say so, Jacob. What are all these bits on the bottom of the seat?”
“Huh? Oh, those are so I can adjust the height of the seat if I need to. So if someone shorter wanted to ride the bike they’d still be able to reach the ground.”
As expected, he weathered another glare for that. Bowman never forgave Jacob for being tall even for a human. “Of course even your spindly machine is too big for other giants,” he complained. “What else?”
Jacob smirked and refrained from listing the many things in his everyday life that didn’t match his height, from doorways to showers to kitchen counters; the human world, with all its strange sights and baffling machines, wasn’t made with people Jacob’s size in mind, no matter what Bowman said.
He offered Bowman a hand. Ferrying the sprite back to his shoulder, he dismissed the concern. It would be an amusing story for later. “Not much I can do about it, dude,” he said, pausing to give Bowman ample time to take his perch again. “Get yourself situated. I don’t want you falling out on the way there.”
“I won’t fall!” Ever the contrarian, Bowman took the last word before sidling along Jacob’s shoulder. Keeping his balance was tricky, so Jacob tried to stay as still as he could, not even moving his shoulders in time with his breathing. A small tug of fabric later told him that Bowman had safely hopped into the hood of his jacket, squirming around to settle himself comfortably. In lieu of calling out, Bowman pointedly kicked at Jacob’s back, right between the shoulders.
It was a strange arrangement, but it would work. Bowman stayed hidden and Jacob didn’t have to worry about someone noticing a small, strange shape in his pocket.
Jacob led the bike onto the lawn before hopping onto the seat. He paused in case Bowman would have something to say about riding around in his hood. Luckily, the would-be hammock of fabric seemed to pass inspection. Jacob kicked off the grass, and they were off.
Then Bowman shouted something, but the wind snatched his voice away without Jacob knowing what he said. With no frantic struggles in the hoodie and no panicked yells from behind his head, Jacob continued down the street on his way to his goal. Bowman might complain about the less than smooth ride, but he would probably forgive it. Probably.
He coasted past familiar houses and cars with a new perspective. Everything around him, easily taken for granted by the humans living there, made up an alien landscape for Bowman.
Hopefully the park a few blocks over would offer some familiarity.
It wasn’t a long ride, and during that time he only saw one other person walking their dog on the other side of the street. As he reached the park, no one was around yet. Jacob chained up his bike near the first marker of the trail that wound through the area. “Almost there,” he promised. From the looks of things, no one else had come to the park that day. Angling towards the nature trail, Jacob double checked his assumption.
“I think you can peek now, if you want to.”
The tiny weight in Jacob’s hood squirmed. A few mumbled sprite curses followed until Bowman actually managed to hoist himself up to the edge. “–blasted heavy?!” He wasn’t a skilled climber by any standard, so Jacob was impressed that he’d freed himself without help.
“What was that?” Jacob teased as Bowman scrambled up to his shoulder. “Wanna just use my pocket next time?”
“Pray to a rock!” Bowman’s wings rustled once he had his footing again. “What’s…”
Jacob wished he could see the look on Bowman’s face as the complaints tapered off. With a smirk, he took a branch in the trail that would give the play area and its cluster of gazebos a wide berth. “Whatcha think, Bowman? Wanna try the nature trail?”
A wing twitched against his neck. “Nature trail?” Bowman echoed skeptically. “What are those colorful things over there? Do humans live there?” Thankfully, his curiosity didn’t carry him right off the safety of Jacob’s shoulder.
“Those are–” Jacob chuckled despite himself. “No, those are for kids to play on. They can climb and run around on them.”
“Why are they so bright? They stand out even more than most human stuff!”
Jacob might have shrugged, but let a thoughtful hum convey it instead. “I think it just makes the kids happy. Colorful things are fun, I guess.”
“Hmm.” Bowman accepted the answer without arguing, which Jacob counted as a win. “Do you play around on things like that?”
“Nah. They’re made for little kids and I don’t want to scare anyone off. I did when I was little, though.”
Bowman barked out a quiet laugh. “Right. When you were a little giant.” His wings rustled again. “I can’t picture it.”
Jacob sighed and this time did shrug his shoulder. “Just gonna have to take my word for it, then. I had to do a lot of growing to get so giant.”
Bowman scoffed and finally hopped from his perch to glide ahead of Jacob. The thicker growth of trees on the nature trail opened up before them, and suddenly Bowman fit right in with their surroundings. He alighted on a thin branch and Jacob paused to hear his question. “So this is your nature trail?”
“Yep. No over-pruned trees or square lawns past this point. And we have it all to ourselves.” Jacob settled his hands in his hoodie pocket and thanked his luck. Bowman needed a chance to fly, and couldn’t safely do it in the backyard at home. “So, What’s the verdict?”
“Verdict? I don’t know. It’s better than the trees near your dwelling. There’s actual blasted foliage here.” Bowman gestured a wing at the undergrowth trying to claim the stones of the pathway.
“Yeah! I like walking out here, ” Jacob agreed. He put action to words and continued the trek, with Bowman fluttering to a new branch to follow. “Closest thing to a forest I have nearby.”
Bowman snickered. “Oh, I’m sorry for that. Sounds rough.”
“Take pity on me,” Jacob lamented. “All the work it takes to go see a real forest. You saw how long we were in the car.”
Bowman scoffed. “With a machine that fast, you earn no pity at all, human.”
The further they went into the secluded cluster of trees, the clearer it became that no one else was around to spot Bowman. Thus emboldened, the sprite banked into the air to dart about in the canopy, brushing his wings against leaves as he went. It wasn’t quite the same as Wellwood. Here, the trees stood farther apart, especially close to the trail. Fewer wild flowers grew on the ground, and the calls of birds were subdued. In the distance, cars rumbling on the road broke any illusion of being away from everything.
Bowman drifted closer as Jacob stopped on a bridge overlooking a creek. Algae wavered in the current, not quite hiding the cement creek bed that gave it away as man-made.
“How do humans make those stones so… smooth? “Bowman asked as he landed on the railing. “lt’s bizarre.”
Jacob shrugged. “I don’t know exactly how it works, but that’s cement. It’s actually a mix of this sort of glue stuff with a lot of tiny rocks and grains of sand. I think.”
Bowman shot him an incredulous look. “Sand? And it won’t wash away?”
“Dude, you’re watching it not wash away, ” Jacob teased. To counter Bowman’s glare, he had a real answer ready. “I think the water does wear it down, but it’s slow. So this creek will probably last a while, unless someone wants to tear it up.”
“Why, ” Bowman began with the air of someone who already decided he didn’t like the answer, “would someone want to tear it up?!”
Jacob smirked. “I don’t speak for all humans, Bowman. People change parks so they can build other things sometimes.”
Leafy green wings flared open. Jacob started walking again, noting Bowman’s agitation. Sure enough, as he took flight, Bowman voiced a familiar lament. “You humans. Always trying to move things around instead of just building where it makes sense.”
“You sprites, looking for problems in everything us humans do,” Jacob shot back. He reached up as if trying to grab Bowman right out of the air, though he moved far too slow to really manage it. It was little more than a wave in Bowman’s direction.
Bowman countered easily by leaning into a quick spiral around Jacob’s outstretched arm. His back came within an inch of the jacket sleeve, belying Bowman’s control over his movement in the air. No other sprite in Wellwood could match his skill. Not with his constant practice.
“Watch it, giant!” Bowman’s scolding, sharp as usual, came with a cocky grin. He kicked Jacob’s arm. “Don’t make me think I need to bop you!”
“You’ll come up with a reason no matter how careful I am,” Jacob said. “Hanging out with you, I might as well bop myself to save time.”
Bowman snickered. He made one more wide circle around Jacob, then swooped closer. Tiny boots alighted on top of Jacob’s head. Up there, Bowman’s teasing declaration was impossible to miss. “It would save me a lot of trouble, too. Keeping you in line is exhausting.”
Jacob thought about nodding to upset Bowman’s balance, but instead opted to reach up to the small weight perched on his head. Before Bowman could flare his wings, Jacob’s hand closed carefully around him. Ever mindful of the fragile wings, Jacob gathered up the small sprite and moved his hand into view. To no surprise, Bowman had a glare ready for him. “Hey! What’s this for?!”
Jacob grinned. He could try to fake an innocent look, but that would require holding back his amusement. “Well you said this was exhausting, so I figured I could help you out by carrying you for the rest of the walk. Seems only fair, since I cause you so much trouble.”
Bowman scowled. Jacob hadn’t left him any way not to take the bait. “That’s not what I meant and you know it! Leggo!”
He squirmed, but Jacob had already loosened his grip. Teasing was one thing, but he didn’t actually want to trap Bowman. He tilted his hand to give him a platform in case he needed to regain balance. “Oh, my bad, dude. Here ya go.”
Bowman rolled over, one wing flaring open irritably, and pushed to a stand on Jacob’s palm. A tiny kick connected with Jacob’s thumb. “Blasted giant. You think you’re so funny.”
“I think I’m pretty hilarious,” Jacob said. “You mean you don’t?! You’re a tough crowd, man.”
“There’s just one of me,” Bowman snipped. It wasn’t the first time a figure of speech sailed over his head, and it likely wasn’t the last. He never let it slow down his snarking. “But no. You’re not as good at jokes as you think. Bothersome giant!” He punctuated his verdict with a flap of his wings and darted off of Jacob’s palm.
Jacob grinned again. “Okay, fair. I bother you as much as I can. Can’t help it. At least you’re never bored with your favorite human around right?”
This time Bowman laughed as he swooped upwards. “Never bored. That’s one way to put it.”