By A.J.

The children had come in late that morning to tell them about the big smooth stone they found playing out in the yard — smooth like a massive chicken egg ready to hatch. It was soft and cold and almost felt like paper folded too many times and smeared with mud, and about the same color, with an enchanting sense of age to it. But it was so big they couldn’t pull it out, and the dirt around it was hard and pressed and anyways they had no shovels, not even the silly little plastic ones they used to have for the sandbox. The kids had lost those.

Stones weren’t much more interesting than dirt but the kids kept talking about it with an odd fervor, and before dinner they dragged their father and uncle out of the house to come look at it. It was a Sunday afternoon which is a good time to humor small children, and when they saw the smooth section of the exposed stone they felt the same inexplicable interest and joined the children in a happy and irresistible digging around until the alabaster surface of it wobbled and Uncle Hal could spread his big hand over the top of the curve and grasp firmly along a latitude and have a wide grip to pull up with. He did this while the children dug around and picked the dirt from the expanding horizon of the curved surface, while his brother, the children’s father, walked off to have a smoke and cover up the new stench in the air.

They did this until the dirt broke and Hal came up off his knees with unexpected speed and was on his back and had the stone in both hands and could see it was oddly shaped, with two good pits packed with dirt and a few more holes between those great pits and the top of the stone traced a long pleasant curvature until at the bottom below the pits where it ended in an indescribable and disgusting emptiness, a void not meant to be seen, and the stone was not a stone and Hal felt his stomach turn inside out.

Then one of the children found another piece which had been tucked under the stone and shaped like a small curved visor, but a visor with teeth, and held it for Hal to see and Hal saw the jaw and looked back at the not-stone in his hands and saw the space where the jaw should be and he felt the back of his own skull bounce on the dirt behind him and his eyes rolled up to his head as the children cackled and laughed at him. The desiccated head fell to his side and collided with a real stone on the ground and split apart and the egg hatched not to life but to the stench of death which had been preserved and fermented in the cranium like an awful clay jug. His brother came jogging back from his smoking spot and began to shout for help while the children giggled giddily still considering it good play, and were better for it.