The bus lumbered into a rest stop where another bus driver waited to take over for the first. the troupe got off briefly, stretching and yawning into a little parlor where a fat woman in blue was doling out greasy pancakes to sleepy travelers by the fistful. They found a booth near the back and settled in, waiting patiently for their turn to pay and eat.
"I think I'll do the next one," Parker said, idly lifting a carafe of water and tilting it over his glass. The others nodded sleepily and one of them produced the die. He dropped it on the table and nodded politely to the two staring up at him. "Hmm, one about children?" he asked.
"No, mate. One for children or something," Gordon said. Mali smiled at Gordon's attempt at patience.
"Gotcha. I suppose I could tell one from my childhood if that is ok?"
The others said it was fine and Parker wrapped his arms about himself, fending off the chilly inside of the early morning stop in order to begin.
When I was a young man my father used to tell me stories in order to teach me things. Parables, sort of. Like the ones that Jesus used to tell except not from Jesus.
One particular story was about a child named John who did not see to his father's wishes but sought only for himself. You see, John was not a bad child. He played nicely with other children, never smoked anything, took any illegal drugs, drank any illegal drinks, and was always very polite to the old women on the street. Yet when it came to his father he would hardly ever do the things that he was asked. If his mother asked him to clean his room he would do it on the spot. If she asked him to cut the lawn or eat his vegetables he would do them above and beyond, mowing twice over the wide green expanse or hating two heaping plates of leafy greens. If his father asked, however, he would turn up his nose and pout, ignoring his father or hoping that if he whined for long enough his father would just forget about it and do it himself.
Years went on this way with his father asking politely for things to be done and John crying over them, refusing his station. Finally the man had had enough.
"Young boy," He said sternly, hands on his hips, "bad things happen to those who do not heed their parents."
"But I do heed my mother," John replied, smiling to his mother across their kitchen table.
"But the word of the father is the key to the door that your mother opens, and grave things come to those who are willing to walk through doors without the key,"
John nodded as though he understood, only half listening to his father, and then kissed his mother for their meal and went outside to play.
The next morning John was asked by his father to cut the lawn, but he would not. He was asked to take care of the dishes, but he refused. He was asked to see to the leaves, but he was too busy playing with his toys. All day and into the night his father asked for things that were never done, and John went to sleep satisfied that doing only half of what was necessary was going to keep him safe.
As he lay tucked under the covers a man appeared at his window, his face hooded against the evening storm by a green rain slicker. He tapped the window with an evilly hooked sickle and smiled at John with jagged white teeth. John called out to his father.
"Help me, father!" He implored, but his father only sighed from the next room.
The man at the window tapped again with the sickle on the rain wet window.
"Help me, father, please!" He exclaimed again, but his father did not come.
The man in the rain slicker started to pry under the window with his sickle, bending to the work of loosening the jamb and lifting the heavy pane. John was coiled in fear on his bed.
"Please he is almost inside," He called out but his father never answered.
The man's sickle slid under the window and lifted it. He propped the cruelly bent item under the heavy frame and climbed soundlessly, one heavy boot at a time, into the boy's room splashing rainwater onto his toys and carpet. They say that when his mother went to wake the boy in the morning all that she found were scraps of his body left behind by the devil who came to collect him. They say there was a trail of blood that ran from his bed, across his spaceship comforter and to a spot on the floor that, no matter how many times it was cleaned and left alone, remained too hot to touch with the naked hand. The end.
The troupe sat helplessly over their pancakes, staring at Parker as the butter and syrup below them slowly congealed.
"What the fuck?" Gordon managed, spitting bits of toast on to the table.
"Your dad told you that?" Mali wondered.
"Certainly, I'm kind of surprised that you guys haven't heard it before. It's a classic,"
"A kid who doesn't do every chore his father wants is dragged to bloody hell by a sickle wielding madman, and you want to label it a classic? Keats is a classic, mate. Bloody fucking Shakespeare and that is a classic. Your dad is just mentally insane."
Parker looked around the table for help but only found sheepish or horrific expressions. He mumbled to himself and stuffed pancakes in his mouth, hopeful that he could get some sleep on the bus and that daylight was coming.