I Hold the Stick

by Jeff Strand

I wipe my perspiring hands on my pants, not wanting to get sweat on the stick. The stick is the source of my power, and I want it kept immaculate. Perhaps it does not look especially impressive, as it is nothing more than a wooden rod, exactly forty inches tall, and approximately the diameter of a quarter. But the Guests know its purpose, and to look into my eyes is to realize that there can be no argument.

I watch the Guests with a mixture of disdain and anticipation. They walk past me, sweltering in the savage heat, filled with desire to satisfy a thirst that must go unquenched for much longer than they expect, and then only at a great cost. Many of them have excitement in their eyes, believing their journey to be near its completion.

But I know the truth.

I stand in front of the Great Deception, the false cathedral. The entrance seems to lead into a cave of treasures, with sparkling jewels adorning the walls, but once the Guests have crossed the threshold they will find that the path they follow is but half-over.

That is, if I allow them to pass.

I continue watching the Guests, desperately seeking out those unworthy to proceed. Though I know it is not true, to me the stick seems to glow with an almost otherworldly white light. I have not been able to use my power all day, and am almost desperate for release.

Then I see one. She will not reach me for another ten minutes, but I am certain she is unworthy. She yawns sleepily, as do many of the unworthy at this point in their journey. I guess her age to be six. Her father, thin and bearded, also appears weary.

The Guests proceed forward. I wait, never removing my gaze from the child.

She will not pass. I am certain of it.

I want to grin, but control myself, as I have done so many other times.

By the time they reach me, I am clutching the stick so tightly that my hand aches. I stare directly into the girl's eyes and place the stick next to her.

She is unworthy. In fact, the stick exceeds her height by a full inch.

"I'm sorry," I say, keeping my ecstatic giggle in check. "You're not tall enough to go on The Hidden Treasure Ride. You can exit through the door to your left."

"What?" the girl's father exclaims, his eyes flaring with fury. "We've been waiting forty-five minutes!"

I regard the man with disgust. "The sign at the beginning of the line clearly states that you must be as tall as Pirate Pete to ride. You should have checked."

"But...but...can't you just let us through this one time?"

I love the pleading. I shake my head slowly. "If she isn't as tall as my stick, she can't ride. It's as simple as that. Please use the exit to your left. You're holding up the line."

The man starts to say something else, then curses loudly and drags his daughter through the exit. Now I allow myself to smile.

The Guests continue moving past. Those who witnessed the exchange have varied reactions. Some smile as well, some give me dirty looks, and some whisper uncomfortably amongst themselves.

But they all know who has the power.

They know who holds the stick.

This story originally appeared in the Absinthe Literary Review.

2002 by Jeff Strand. All rights reserved.