Earth Swallowed

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Craved Their Company

He returned to the boys probably five or six more times, recognizing their growing disinterest, growing a little disturbed with the rumbling but only for its potential to knock things off shelves and make his job harder, recognizing the apathy the boys felt for his peddling and tinkering, but on the seventh or eighth trip out he was carrying out a small blue cap gun and cowboy hat he’d 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 remember the gun hadn’t helped the people he liked pay any more attention to him.

He only remembered having been outside front he 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), 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. Soon enough.

And it’d started with the blue cap gun and the hat. With saving them in a toy trunk hoping he could find a better tool to attract them the nextt time. He’d been saving every since, hoarding, really, though he wouldn’t dare call it that aloud for the same reason an alcoholic tries his hardest never to appear drunk, a high-functioning hoarder, 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 — saved money and saved tools and saved trinkets and the stories behind them all — waiting for the perfect moment to show-and-tell good enough to persuade that in-crowd to welcome him into their fold. It really hadn’t been the toys, had it? It’d been the treasure the toys might bring: the people. Not thrones and crowns, but men. That they’d love him for what he could offer them. That they’d see him as valuable. He hung onto valuables to explain his worth and, ironically, they’d never gotten a chance to see him had they? Had he ever shown his heart to another person before? Is that why she’d divorced him?

Had he ever even told his boys how much he valued them?

How much he craved their company?

He took those toys 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. That was the gold. He looked up and wished he could join them. Instead of joining them, he asked them to join him in digging through one man’s junk.

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 drake. “No dad, it’ll eat us,” Ivan said. “Come up and help. Come out and protect us.”

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