4 out of 4 stars
Review by Scerakor
What I liked most about this book, however, is that after a few chapters pass, the genius of this story comes out in droves. Like an onion, once you rip off the outer layer that is the simple childhood game, you are rewarded with layer after layer of sub-text. There is the (still light-hearted) suggestion that this group of kids not only “invented” the game of tag, but in the process of doing so, also “invented” many other childhood games we know and love. There is the witty banter between the naïvety of the old man and the sassy, but not exactly wrong, little Lizzie. This banter reeks of a battle between the super-ego and the id. There is a dark and foreboding layer that outlines how low humanity can stoop simply by imposing rule after rule upon its occupants. This layer is eerily redolent of books like Animal Farm or, even more so, Lord of the Flies. Finally, there is also that silent warning layer that screams how difficult (if not impossible) it is to pull out the deeply rooted traditions, prejudices, conventions, and preconceptions that are littered throughout our society. It shows how, despite being pestilential to our very existence, it is extremely difficult to change how we think and feel once we have an idea in our head and are willing to fight for it. – OnlineBookClub.org
Top 25 list for 2016.
Everyone needs a Little Lizzy & old man friend. – Tony Parsons
A Good Read Indeed! – Amazon Customer
Available for purchase at
The old man shuffled his way to the foot of the great hill where sat a smooth boulder, protruding from the ground. He arrived every day, at precisely at 7:01, with the precision of a German engineer, as if he’d just disembarked from a bus or a train somewhere around the hill, and taken only the time needed to waddle over to the rock, and sit in the indentation worn into it by his butt over the years. He’d become a slave to this routine over the years, sitting there, on rock at the foot of a burnt out hill, undisturbed by the people who passed him as they moved about their day. They probably didn’t even notice him, seeing as they had other priorities to possess their time.
The man remembered a time, long ago, when the hill possessed the highest peak in the town. If a person climbed to the top of it, he could look down and take it in at a glance. But progress had seized the town, and large buildings soon grew to obscure the view, until the hill served as no more than the outline for the roundabout, designed to take busy people to their busy places. If any of them ever took the time away from their busy pace, how many of them would wonder how this old man found his way across that busy street to sit on his rock?
The current aesthetic labeled the hill an eyesore, an abomination, best residing on the other side of the tracks. If any of the fools ever put forth the effort, they’d march up to their representatives in the city hall and demand that the
representatives move it to the place where it actually belonged. No doubt those representatives would get right on the task, filing injunctions, posting notices, and writing bills about the town’s eyesore. And still the hill would remain as the busy people rushed their way through the roundabout towards their destination, never considering the state of the hill’s dilapidation. The representatives did, however, get around to putting a chain-linked fence around the hill with imposing ropes of razor sharp barbed wire on top, to keep out all the busy people who never wanted to go in in the first place. The fence marked, to all who cared to notice, the speed of “progress”.
After all these years, the hill remained. Nothing would grow on it. No one would walk on it. Not even the birds would feign to fly over the flimsy, metal barrier to land upon the hill’s desecrated domain. No one else seemed to even care about it but the old man, and he cared enough to visit it on a daily basis. So often had he visited the hill that he’d almost became a permanent addition to it. Except for the fact his clothes would change from day to day, people might have mistaken him for a statue.
He sat on the rock leaning heavily on the cane he carried with him, craning to get a better look at the nothingness the hill had to offer. What had begun as a mild interest in the hill had grown to such an obsession, that he would often squint his eyes at it, as if hoping to read the words somehow typed into the typography. His bald head protruded from his shirt collar so much that an onlooker might mistake him for a turtle, taking its first trembling steps onto the sands of some foreign beach, if, that is, they stopped long enough to notice. He thought he might need to find a place to rest his weary head, or it would fall from his body. Instead it came to lie on the gnarled and knobby hands he’d wrapped around the handle of his sturdy oak cane.
Day in and day out he sat, fearing any change in his routine, until Little Lizzy showed up to change that routine for him, having found her way across the traffic to the burnt-out oasis of the hill. Her blonde curls bounced giddily as she skipped her way over to where the old man sat on his rock. She wore a pink dress barely long enough to cover her chubby knees. She carried a box in her hands, about the size of a Bible, which she brandished with extreme importance.
The old man watched as Little Lizzy made her way around the fence line to approach him. When she noticed him, she stopped and stared at the sight, as if she found it hard to believe another soul had found his way over to this parcel of land. She dropped the box in her hands and it disappeared in the shadow of the rock. Because items not in the immediate view of children are seldom remembered, the box remained there as she slowly walked towards the ancient anomaly.
The old man sat there, unmoving. Little Lizzy approached with caution, as if she feared chasing him away by her approach.
First, she waved at him from a safe distance; the old man did not move.
Then, she skipped into the old man’s peripheral view and tilted her head; still, the old man did not move.
Finally, she took a spot in-between the old man and the object of his attention. She grabbed the sides of her fluffy skirt and twisted it right and then left, wearing a pouty expression on her face. At last she said, “Hi.”
The old man responded, “Go away.”
She took a step closer and said, “My name’s Lizzy.”
“Go away, Lizzy.”
Little Lizzy looked at the old man closely, then turned her head to follow his gaze. “Whatchya looking at?”
“Right now? A little girl who won’t go away.”
Still Lizzy was not deterred. She ignored the slight and went on with her questioning. “What were you looking at before that?”
The old man lifted his head from his crooked hands, and looked at Little Lizzy with renewed interest. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”
Lizzy also ignored the man’s attempt to change the subject. “Are you looking at that hill?” she asked.
The old man finally gave into the girl’s interrogation. “Yes, I’m looking at the hill. Now, go away.”
“Why would you want to spend all day looking at that hill? It’s sure an ugly hill. Not even weeds grow on it. It is probably the most worthless plot of land in the whole town.”
The words of the young child enraged the old man. He stood up from his seat and used his cane to point at the hill. “How dare you call Arbella Hill a worthless plot of land? If it wasn’t for that hill, this town would never have existed. It’s thanks to that hill that you see all this around you.”
“Why? Why? WHY?”
Little Lizzy looked at the exasperated old man as if wondering why her question would illicit such a response. “Yes,” she said, undeterred. “Why?”
The old man considered Little Lizzy’s question with a new respect. He placed his sturdy oak cane back on the ground, and snuggled back into his groove in the rock. “Well, that requires a complicated answer, little girl.”
Lizzy’s eyes brightened up. “Does it involve a story?”
“Yes, and what a story it is!”
Lizzy took this as an invitation. She sat down Indian style on a soft patch of grass in front of the rock, smoothed her skirt out, and rested her chin in the crag of her fists.
The old man’s eyes grew foggy, as if looking at a faraway place. He cleared his throat and began.
“This place once looked quite different than it does today…”
Back then, roads didn’t exist. Big buildings didn’t block out the blue sky. Even the cars didn’t hurry off to the places where cars hurry off to. Tall trees circled the expanse of the field. Of course, a few stray trees here and there offered their shade to those in need on sunny days, and shelter to those in need on rainy days. Arbella Hill stood over there, the steep sides of it also covered with trees. On the top of it stood the mightiest of all trees, a proud oak. And, of course, this rock I’m sitting on sat right here.
Back in the day, we didn’t call the hill Arbella; that name came later. We only called the hill, “The Hill”, just as we called the rock, “The Rock” and each individual tree, a tree. We didn’t spend a lot of time naming things back in those days. We had more important things to do. We had a big field.
I couldn’t tell you where everybody came from, but we came, none the less. We all wandered out of the woods and across the horizon, drawn by this majestic mound. It stood above everything else on the plain, rivaled by no other formation in its beauty. On it, assorted fruit trees and tall pines pointed their peaks towards the heavens, wondrous wildflowers blossomed, rearing their heads to the world, animals scurried under the protection of the hill, peeking their happy heads out whenever they saw fit. If they ever noticed us looking at them, they would dart back into the shadows. They didn’t know they had nothing to worry about because we cared about them as much as they cared about us. We had many more exciting things to do, besides.
We ran. Not to or from a specific place—doing something like that didn’t interest us much. We ran more for the why, rather than the where.
What was the why, you ask? Well, why not?
But just imagine a huge field stretched out before you, soft and supple grass growing just tall enough to tickle your toes as the drops of dew danced upon your bare feet, the subtle sun warming you as you wind your way through the maze of dandelions. And if ever its heat gets too hot, the shade of a nearby tree is there to comfort you. If you’d rather continue on your run, the wind was there to blow a refreshing breeze your way. As far as we were concerned, the field had been created just for our pleasure, and we took every opportunity to partake in that gift.
As was the case with the hill, the rock, and the trees, we didn’t bother with each other’s names. We didn’t even bother to acknowledge each other’s presence. We weren’t very social at that time—running occupied most of our time.
We didn’t care about speed or direction—some of us sprinted from one end of the field to the other; some of us twirled in circles, arms outstretched; some of us darted this way and that; and some just meandered from place to place, spending more time taking in our surroundings than those who surrounded us. It probably helped to get it all started, I guess.
The first uproar was caused by two kids of opposite natures. I later learned that their names were Tommy and Franklin, but I just knew them as the Fat Kid and the Focused Kid.
Tommy ran with purpose. He focused directly on where he wanted to run and when he got there, he turned right around to focus on getting back.
Franklin didn’t run so much as meander all about the place. His head constantly turning to observe the world around him, darting from place to place, to stoop down to look at a wildflower, or up to the sky to watch an eagle fly. Rarely was his head in what he was supposed to be doing down on the field.
As in all other aspects of life, when you have two opposites such as Tommy and Franklin, they are destined to clash, and clash, they did.
Franklin backed into Tommy one hot Thursday afternoon, too busy watching a wild turkey dart across the field while trying to get out of its way, running backwards, not really looking where he was going. Tommy, on the other hand, was so focused on where his run was taking him that he didn’t see Franklin coming. Franklin weighed more than Tommy, and it was he who took the tumble and landed flat on his butt.
Tommy wasn’t much of an orator at that early age, but of course none of us were. Later, Tommy would become the great speaker you may have heard about, but on that fateful day, he looked at where he’d landed in that big field of grass, and said the only thing he could in that situation: “I’s It.”
Rather, that’s what Franklin thought he’d said, for even though Tommy talked as if he’d marbles in his mouth, he wasn’t one to practice such bad grammar. He also didn’t back away from a confrontation, particularly one spurring from an intrusion concerning his right to run.
Tommy stood up, and walked over to where Franklin was standing. Franklin tried to stammer out an apology, but was unable to articulate the thought before Tommy pushed him, and Franklin landed on his butt.
Franklin could not believe Tommy capable of performing such an act of anger. He looked up at his antagonist, hoping for an apology he knew wouldn’t come. Instead, Tommy responded with a retort that would endure in the cannon of our consciousness for all eternity.
“You’s It!” he said.
“And that’s where it came from.”
“That’s where what came from?”
“Why, Tag, of course, Sarah.”
“Whatever. Tag started that day.”
“Didn’t I just ask that?”
“I can’t believe that you haven’t heard of Tag.”
“I can’t believe you were there to see the beginning of this so-called Tag and you still can’t tell me what it is.”
“It’s a game.”
“And the object of this game is to push each other over?”
“No! You’re not listening to what I’m saying”
“I am. You said all they did was to push each other over, so they would sit.”
“It was a little more complicated than that.”
“It doesn’t sound that complicated. I push you down and say, ‘You sit,’ then you push me down and say, ‘You sit,’ and apparently, if I get really tired I can sit down and say, ‘I sit.’ It sounds more boring than complicated to me. Maybe you should have called it Sit instead.”
“We called the game Tag.”
“Well, I like Sit.”
“Well, that’s just stupid.”
“Like calling a game Tag when all you do is sit isn’t?”
“No, you don’t understand the game.”
“What don’t I understand? I mean look. I sit. You sit. We all sit. It sounds like a game my mom would make up when it’s her Special Juice Time.”
“The game had rules.”
“Like how to sit?”
“No! Just…listen, okay?”
“Okay, but this had better get interesting quick because skipping sounds a lot more exciting than this story does.”