Charlie knew that if he didn’t clear out The Shed, all his precious cargo would get swept up in the massacre, that auction of cheap trinkets, the moment his dad – his boys’ grandfather – sold the place. His boys didn’t yet understand the importance of all these trinkets, but they would, right? They’d need all of Charlie’s resources soon, wouldn’t they? He’d make sure they’d need his stuff… or at least he really wanted to try to make sure.
He doubted they cared.
“The Shed” was this two-story shop up in the front and a rambling mess of warehouse rooms out back. It looked like the first few levels of a poorly designed shipping vessel. Its silver sides were not made of true silver but rather that wavy sheet metal you see often on the roofs of… well… sheds. This siding had been hand-painted with chrome spray paint. Cases of chrome spray paint.
Up front, the off-kilter cubby holes and the single slab of oak that made up the front desk would suit the kind of trendy craft shops you find in New York City these days, but not in Salem. There in Salem, Illinois these cubby holes were the remains of a hardware store that had predated ACE and R.P. Lumber and Rural King ®.
This was not the first time Charlie had cleaned The Shed – for years he had stored keepsakes and spare car parts from his hodge-podge car repair business inside the backrooms of The Shed and for that same span of time his parents had been goading him into periodic reorderings of his “work flow,” though his “work flow” involved more take-what-you-can-and-give-nothin-back than the average businesswoman’s productivity management app.
He had left his boys up near the front on the north side.
Up Near the Front on the North Side, there were a half-dozen acres separating The Shed from the abandoned fuel station to the north. Some wooden train ties partitioned the area into various grassy or gravelly sections and these sections of the back lot would play host to random bathtubs, aluminum sheets, copper wires, and appliances – particularly old GE washers for whatever reason. On that side of The Shed, Charlie had long ago constructed a two-story scaffolding he had once climbed in order to tidy up the paint on the outside of the second story. Out of sheer survival he had once camped in this same bare upper story after the divorce. But he had never finished the paint job even long after he’d moved out of the upper part of the front store of The Shed, and so the scaffolding remained like fish bones on that creekbank that weaves through the domestic backyards of the town. There, up near the front on the north side atop the bones of his abandoned paint job, his boys played.
He went out to check. “You alright boys?”
They didn’t answer, but he watched them swing. Ivan (seven) and Bennet (five) both climbing and swinging and darting along the ins-and-outs of the metal bars.
They stopped dead on the scaffolding, both having heard the change in his tone. “Yeah dad?” Ivan asked.
“Are you doing okay, I said?”
“Yup,” Bennet said. “Sand worm.” He pointed down.
“Sand worm?” Charlie asked.
“There’s a sand worm," Bennet said. "Under the ground."
“Uh huh,” Charlie said.
“And we can’t touch the ground or it’ll get us,” Ivan added, “swallow us whole.”
“Uh huh,” Charlie said. “Well stay off the ground, I reckon you’d better. I’ll be inside.” And he fulfilled his own prophecy.
Inside, a dozen years’s accumulations burdened him with the weight of memory – dark talismans of time. There sat the old Coca-Cola sign he’d nicked off a vendor in the seventies only to turn it into a circular bobsled for the boys. In the corner stood a large pile of aluminum vent fittings that he’d scavenged off of a series of construction sites back when Lakedale was nothing but a bunch of spec houses. One of the cubbies on the fourth row above his head held a collection of one hundred fifty-seven hot wheels and matchbox cars from his childhood, all rusted.
He wandered through the storefront door (which was hard to open for the crusty rain gear stuck under the jamb) and made his way into the back rooms, passing a large stack of unopened cans of Miller from the 1950s. The hall of trinkets continued winding and he worked hard, but during this stacking and sorting and occasional discarding he mostly just reminisced.
When he came to something he really enjoyed – like the license plate off of his old black hot rod (there was an old Polaroid of the truck glued on the back), he went out front to show the boys. They took mild interest and then returned to their rickety, makeshift jungle gym, shouting, “Get off the dirt, Dad! Them earth drakes’ll swallow your man pieces whole!”
He’d flag his hand up at them in some half-hearted acknowledgement and move from the concrete front porch back inside to delve into his hoard in search of God knows what. The old set of rubbers brought back his could-have-beens from high school. The stacks of ancient oilcans brought back would-have-beens from graduation. The baseball glove brought back shouldn’t-have-starteds from childhood. All of it present. All of it impotent. All of it shrouded in this vague, subjunctive loss.
He returned to the boys probably five or six more times, recognizing their growing disinterest and apathy for his peddling and tinkering, but on the seventh or eight trip out, he was carrying out a small blue cap gun and cowboy hat he had worn to a Halloween party as a little boy. The party had been filled with young boys, the fruits of whose imaginations had manifested in costume and game – a roomful of Robin Hoods and King Tuts and Albert Einsteins. Charlie in his cowboy outfit had tried to start a game of tag or hide-and-shoot or something to that effect – he couldn’t quite remember.
He only remembered having been ousted from the group through a growing series of mocks, having slinked away slowly as they made fun of his clothes and their obvious hand-made nature (his mother was a damn fine sewer, by the way), of his sissy little weapon and his crappy cowboy accent. Like many of the boys on the fringe, Charlie had simply been a few minutes too late to the gathering of the in-crowd and once enough had assembled to identify themselves as a group, it had grown harder and harder for him to break his way in. This continued as they grew up through the grades and fueled a swelling obsession in Charlie to prove his worthiness as someone in the know, someone with the inside connections, someone who had the right tool for the right job. Everyone would need him and his resources… soon.
And it had started with the blue cap gun and the hat. With saving them in a toy trunk. He’d been saving ever since, waiting to be called on to come and play, come and play, waiting for anyone to ask for his help. He knew there was someone out there who’d want to spend some time with him and so he saved and saved waiting for that in-crowd to welcome him into their fold. He took those toys, as said before, on his seventh or eighth trip to the storefront and outside in hopes to share both with Bennet and Ivan, to let them make their own games with his resources. Maybe they would enjoy it more. Maybe they would redeem the toys. Maybe this time praise really would come from the mouths of babes, praise for his contribution.
But Bennet and Ivan would not come down. They were busy trying to stay off the ground away from their sand worm/dirt wyrm/earth dragon. “No, dad, it’ll eat us,” Ivan said. “Come up and help.”
“I said come here. Come.” He searched for some lame excuse. “I need your help boys, come on.”
“Dad, we can’t, “ said Bennet. “We can’t, it'll—”
“Boys, get down here right now.” And he watched them move from fear to fear as they double-checked the earth and then, convinced of Charlie’s impending wrath, climbed down from the scaffolding to the north side of the open lot beside The Shed.
There they began walking across the crunch of gravel and the swishing of unmowed grass tufts.
Halfway on their journey from the rusted steel scaffolding to the concrete front porch where Charlie stood, the ground broke from some massive puncture wound and a mouth like the hole in a subway line and a body like some great leathered train following that gaping mouth came up before the boys. The earth drake swallowed both Bennet and Ivan in a moment and disappeared by the next moment into the sod, leaving behind a cavernous wound in the world. And no boys.
It was minutes before Charlie moved again and when he did, he threw that crappy cap pistol through the glass of the front door and into the inner dark of his dusty treasures.
© 2015 Lancelot Schaubert
cover photo by Erich Ferdinand, protected through a CC BY 2.0 license (creative commons, attribution)