“How much are they worth?” I wonder, eyes transfixed upon the jewel tones glinting inside the cloth bag he’s got beside him. He shrugs and pours the sack into my hands, a cascade of opalescent blues and fuliginous reds flecked with violet and virid green, by turn cool and flushed with heat, a hundred spheres awash in color and a quiet hum.
“How do we play?” I ask, cupping the iridescent tumult with my fingers pressed together. The hum crescendoes softly, and we can hear now a myriad of tones and melodies emanating from my hands, all of them at once distinct and harmonious; burgundy groans of cello, scintillating chimes and tintinnabulations, a thrum of weary guitar strings woven with a rhythm like bare feet on a wooden floor.
“Place them on the ground,” he says. I crouch low, letting the cosmic spheres roll onto the concrete, guarding them from each edge and crack as they disperse, heedless, in all directions. The hum becomes shrill, a nervous whine like a delirious hive swarm. I want to pick them back up and cradle them in my palms, my arm extended towards the furthest globe, but his foot comes down on my hand with a dull thrack.
He stoops down, elbows on his knees, and contemplates the nascent constellation. The flavescent orange is two centimeters from the grass, the rose-gold orb is lodged in a crack, the caliginous indigo right under his thumb. The shrill buzz rises to a shriek, an infinitesimal aural pierce before he flicks the indigo full-force into the crimson, then the azuline ball, and then a cacophony of ricochet and shatter, the marbles charged with kinetic chaos and cracking upon impact. The sidewalk glitters with prismatic shards and the last dozen spheres.
“Your turn,” he grunts, budging a little so that I can strike with the same force. The high whine has receded enough so that I can hear him muttering about angles and trajectories, where to send the next exquisite bullet.
I shoot the closest sphere straight into the grass, away from the remaining marbles quivering on the sidewalk, where it nestles between waifs of green and brown. He looks at the frangible orb unharmed in the sod, and bends down so we’re eye to eye. A muscle is jumping in his jaw, and his exhale carries a scent of acrid rot. “That’s not how this works, honey.”
He turns back to the game and scrutinizes the marbles, stare fixed on the rose-gold still resting in the crack. His index fires an opaline ball in its direction, but miscalculates the angle, and it sails right into a vermillon, and again the pellets fly into wild entropy, a scream emitting from each sphere as they splinter into decimated millions.
The last ball the marble strikes is an obsidian black bead, nearly white where the sun shines upon it. I see his eyes flash as the ball approaches the piceous target, and the scream this time is not a feeble intimation but a terrible howl of fear, and I watch his face contort with primal terror. The obsidian bursts like all of the others. Stygian shards litter the concrete, and as the pieces skitter and settle I watch him writhe and crumble, his body becoming like the nacreous sand before my feet.
There’s one marble left now, an aurulent blush of glass farthest from where he had stood. Fingers no longer trembling, I reach to pick it up, and stride away from the glimmering swath of grit and shards. A solitary hum unwinds into the air as I walk with my hand wrapped around my pearl.