Tom Bentson is tired of moving every few months. He just wants to get a little job to make some money. Then he can rent his own place when his uncles move on.
But when his family asks him to help out with a little hustle, Tom knows he’s in for some shady business. Fortunately for him, Tom makes some new friends and finds a way to make the money he is looking for.
Until he meets his new friend’s crazy neighbor. Then things might not turn out so well for him.
Mystery abounds in this little city, and Tom just may have something to do with it. However, only time will tell.
Meantime, read Scorpion Sparks and meet Tom in this short read of 10,000 words that teens and adults can read in a single sitting.
Start reading Chapter 1 – Strange Dreams now >>>
Tom awoke with a start. The third time he had the same dream this week. He took a deep breath in the darkness to calm his rapidly beating heart. He raised his hands to his head to make sure it was still in place. It was. But the dream seemed so real. He had felt the dark creatures that pursued him slicing off his head in the dream. Biting and tearing at his flesh as he fell to the ground. But that’s all it was he assured himself. Just a dream.
He rolled over and tucked his head deeper into the pillow. Continuing to breathe deeply so he could fall back asleep. Shoved his hands back under the covers. They were glowing again. He could see them through the sheets. He jerked them back out and looked at them closely. There it was. It had happened before. But the glow wasn’t as strong. Not like this. It had been lighter. Barely visible. He had brushed it off as a reflection of the night light in his room.
But under the sheets. No way. This was different. He sat up quickly and shook himself briefly. Looked at his hands again. Fingers splayed wide. He squeezed them open and closed. Wiggled his fingers around. His hands looked normal. It didn’t seem to be a dream.
So, he ran some reality checks. Pinched his nose and tried to breathe. Nope. Most likely awake. He stood up and jumped twice. Gravity pulled him right back down. Definitely awake. But just to make sure he did one more. Finally, Tom glanced around the room to see the cover of a book. Made note of the title and looked away. Then glanced back. It hadn’t changed, and he could read it normally. This was definitely no dream.
His hands were still glowing softly, but already a bit dimmer than a few moments before. Tom reached over and flipped off the nightlight. He could see the glow clearly now. It was soft, but definitely there. He ran his hands over the sheets and pillow. Lighting them up. Throwing soft shadows against the wall.
Tom sucked in his breath sharply and dove under the covers. What was this? What was going on with him? Images from the last horror movie he had watched flashed through his mind. A young girl with stigmata. Light shining from her eyes and mouth. Was he possessed by some demon? Would he need an exorcism? He shuddered and mentally decided to stop watching those kinds of movies.
He closed his eyes tightly and tried to go back to sleep, but it was impossible. Not with his heart beating so rapidly and his breathing so shallow. Tom was way too tense. So, he stretched his arms and legs. Trying to relax. He consciously slowed his breathing down and took deeper breaths.
Sleep evaded him, and images of the dream continued to flash before his eyes. Slowly, bits of the dream came back as he began to remember what had happened.
First, a great bird had flown in from the North. A dark rider seated upon its back like he remembered from the old Atari joust game his uncles liked to play. It circled around him flying about fifty feet over his head.
Then he heard the sounds of hounds braying as if they were on a fresh trail. Tom had begun running. His heart pounding. His breath ragged. Fear clutching his throat. Soon, he saw the hounds bursting out from the underbrush. Their dark masters close behind them. He tried to run faster, but his legs refused to cooperate.
Tom’s legs were made a running motion, but his body barely moved from the location he was in. Then the hounds were tearing at his legs. Only they were no longer dogs but large reptilian creatures. Tom saw the smile of a large, gray being as it raised its sword and brought it down across his throat.
And that was when he had awoken with a gasp.
Tom lay there a few moments longer. Mulling the images over in his mind. Trying to understand them. Trying to make sense of what they meant. But nothing came to mind. He had no reference for these images even though he was a heavy dreamer and often wrote his dreams down in his journal. But never had he dreamt anything even remotely similar to this. He made a mental note to look up these dream symbols online in the morning.
Glancing down at his hands, Tom noticed that his hands had stopped glowing. That was a relief. The last thing he needed was to wake up in the morning glowing blue like a smurf. He smiled at the thought and drifted back to sleep.
Continue Reading Chapter 2 – Running Late >>>
Tom woke up and looked at his alarm clock glowing softly. He snuggled his head deeper into the pillow and tried to remember what he had been dreaming just then. Suddenly, his eyes jerked open, and he was wide awake. Tom realized he was late for school. His alarm hadn’t gone off.
He leaped out of bed and jerked out the same pair of jeans that he had been wearing yesterday. No time to take a shower this morning. He always took a shower in the mornings before school. Not taking one made him feel sticky and stinky for the rest of the day.
There was a pile of folded clothes on his desk with a red t-shirt on top. Marshmallow washed and folded his clothes, but never put them away. She said that was his responsibility. Not that he ever did. Usually, he just tossed them on the floor behind the bed where she wouldn’t see him and get after him.
He slipped the red shirt on over his head and slid the rest of the pile of clothing under the bed. Tom turned to look in the mirror to check his hair. It was almost too low after the growth spurt he had experienced that, and he had to duck to see the top of his head.
The thick blond hair surrounding the cowlick at the back of his head stuck out in all directions. He tried to smooth them down with his hand, but they stubbornly shot back up. He tried the brush, but that didn’t make them any more obedient.
Tom grabbed a towel and flipped it over his back so he wouldn’t get his shirt wet while wetting his hair in the sink. He dried it out and brushed at them again. It looked a little better, but a few unruly, rebel strands refused to comply with his demands. So, he splashed a few more handfuls of water from the sink on the crown of his head. This time they all stayed in place.
He sighed with relief. Tom had run out of hair gel two weeks ago, and Marshmallow told him they didn’t have the money to waste on frivolous stuff like that this month.
Tom walked back into his bedroom and slipped on his old blue sneakers. They were loose enough to slip on and off without having to untie the laces. Then he gave himself one final glance in the mirror before heading out the door.
He paused to admire himself. Tom liked the way he looked now. The summer had been kind to him. And the hard, physical labor he did for his neighbors to make some extra cash definitely seemed to improve his strength and the overall build of his body.
Tom flexed his muscles and pulled up the sleeve on his right arm to check out his bicep. Certainly not bodybuilder quality yet. None of the girls at his school would swoon over him, but it was enough for him to be pleased. It was a good start for a seventeen-year-old young man.
His jaw had squared out quite a bit. And his nose seemed longer and straighter than ever before. Tom grinned at himself one last time in the mirror before grabbing his backpack and heading for the door.
He raced down the steps to the kitchen, preparing to get after Marshmallow and chew her out for not waking him up earlier. He had his little script planned out by the time he walked into the room, but no one was around.
“Marshmallow? Pops? Uncle David? Anybody around?”
Tom wondered where everyone had disappeared to. This wasn’t normal. Usually, the kitchen was a bustle of activity as Marshmallow made breakfast. Then they all sat around the kitchen table till about ten.
“A bunch of losers,” he thought to himself.
Tom walked over to the shabby-looking old pantry to grab some cereal. There was only one box. And it was empty.
He growled and crushed the box in his hand. So, much for grabbing a quick bite before heading to school. He opened the cabinet door under the sink and tossed the cereal box into the wastebasket. Then slammed the door shut angrily.
The worn-out, old thing popped off its hinges and clattered to the floor at his feet. Tom jerked his foot back before it landed, barely missing his toes.
The corner of the laminate chipped off and particles of wood scattered across the floor.
“Great! Just what I needed,” Tom muttered.
He grabbed the door and shoved it back into place. It slid back in easily and didn’t look too bad. You couldn’t even tell that it had chipped from the outside. Tom breathed a sigh of relief and swept up the mess before any of his uncles got a chance to see it.
Not that they would really care. The house was rented. And they probably wouldn’t live here more than a couple of months before moving off to another city. But whoever saw it would probably yell at him and then go tell everyone else.
Then they would perform what they felt was their moral duty by giving him some long lecture about the importance of caring for our belongings and being good stewards of what we’ve been given.
Not like they really cared much for the things they had. But that was beside the point. They would act like it was the most important thing they had.
Tom looked back in the pantry for something else to eat. But it was bare, and so was the fridge when he looked in there. Not even an apple or yogurt that he could eat on the run.
He pulled out his wallet and counted how much money he had. Fourteen dollars from the last job he had mowing lawns just a few weeks ago before they moved here to Walden.
Suddenly, a hand reached out from behind him and snatched the wad of cash from Tom’s hand. It startled him because he hadn’t even heard anyone enter the room. Tom leaped forward trying to hang on to his money, but it didn’t do any good.
“Oh, C’mon, Uncle Torvald. No fair. Give me back my money.”
“I always tell you that you gotta watch your back. Protect what’s yours. If you don’t do it, nobody else will. Consider this a lesson.”
Uncle Torvald peeled off several bills and shoved them into his pocket. Then pushed back a strand of long blond hair out of his face before handing five dollars back to Tom.
“What’s this?” Tom screeched. “It’s my money. I worked for it. And I need it to buy some breakfast.”
“Five dollars is enough for a meal on your way to school. Besides, I’ve got to scrounge up enough money to pay the light bill. It’s for a good cause. You wanna have the lights on when you come home this afternoon. Don’t you?”
Tom knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue. Worse, he’d probably get slapped if he complained about it. He glared at his uncle who stood there smiling back with a wicked gloat in his eyes.
Torvald reached out to put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a shove. Tom wanted to use one of the Aikido moves he had been training to use his uncle’s force against him and swing his face around into the fridge door. It wouldn’t be too hard. His uncle wasn’t in very good shape, and the drugs and alcohol didn’t help much either.
But he refrained from doing anything rash. Tom just moved with the flow of energy and let the push turn him on his heels. Not having much resistance threw Torvald off balance, and he barely managed to catch himself before crashing into the fridge anyway. Tom didn’t wait to hear his uncle’s threats.
Besides, if he stuck around, Torvald would have seen the smirk on his face and would want to smite it out of him.
So, he grabbed his backpack and headed for the front door.
Continue Reading Chapter 3 – Family Pow Wow >>>
A movement at the back of the house caught Tom’s eye, and he paused to take a closer look. He could see Pops sitting outside on the patio. He couldn’t see anyone else’s face, but he knew there were people out there. Pops looked angry and was talking heatedly. Tom couldn’t hear what he was saying because the glass door was closed tightly.
He wanted to talk with Marshmallow before he left, but was already late. Tom weighed his options. He wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to get caught in the middle of some endless family debate. But he decided to go out back anyway if only to check in and let them know he was leaving.
Tom slid the door open quietly. Pops stopped speaking, and everyone looked in his direction. It took Pops a few seconds to compose himself. He took several deep breaths while Tom looked around the room at each of his uncles and his cousin, Christian. His eyes circled the room and landed on Marshmallow to the side of the door. Her face buried in a bunch of pillows as if she were crying. He pursed his lips and took a deep breath.
“Sorry,” he mouthed quietly toward Pops. “Didn’t mean to interrupt anything. I woke up late and missed breakfast. I’m gonna hit the road and head to school.”
Pops had composed himself and smiled broadly.
“Sure, Tom. Have a good day. You didn’t miss breakfast though. We were just having a little family pow-wow here and didn’t even get around to cooking anything. Did you find something to eat?
Tom shook his head and backed out the door to slide it shut. He wasn’t sure what they were talking about in there, but it sure didn’t look like anything he wanted to be a part of.
Pops stood up and pulled some cash out of his pocket. He extended it toward Tom.
“Here. Grab yourself something to eat on the way or at the school cafeteria later.”
Tom looked at him strangely. Something must really be off today. Pops never gave him money for anything. His eyes ran around the room again briefly studying each face before landing back on Pops short, dark hair and his large, crooked nose. Pops still had that same goofy smile on his face.
Before Tom could say anything, Uncle Torvald shoved him roughly to the side with his shoulder as he barged into the room. He smirked at Tom as he grabbed the twenty dollars out of Pops hands.
“Hey,” Tom and Pops both hollered simultaneously.
Pops reached out and jerked the money back away from Torvald.
“I already gave Tom five dollars. He don’t need it. Besides, I got to scrounge up the money to pay the light bill.” Torvald whined.
“The light bill has been paid already. You’d just waste it on booze. Besides, this is an advance on something I need Tom to do for me.” Pops growled.
Tom’s heart sank. He didn’t know what it meant exactly, but it didn’t sound good. He knew his uncles didn’t hold down regular jobs. They mostly lived off welfare checks, food stamps and random gigs that took place late at night. Tom never tried to figure out what they did, but he was pretty sure that he didn’t want any part of it.
The worst part was that he had always wanted to fit in and be accepted by them. But they had always treated him like a kid. Mostly they just ignored him. He had tried to wiggle his way in once or twice when he was younger and a lot more naive. They always brushed him off though.
Lately, he had sensed like they were eyeing him differently. Sizing him for something, and he didn’t like the looks of it. He wasn’t so sure that he wanted to be a part of whatever it was that they were up to. Especially now that he had started mowing lawns over the summer and had begun making his own money. He didn’t feel so dependent on their goodwill.
“No, thanks. I’m good. I got a bit of money here. And I just came out here to let you guys know not to worry about me if I’m late getting back from school. I’m going to look for a job and fill out some applications and stuff.” Tom muttered before turning to leave.
Pops came running up behind him as Tom walked down the hall toward the door.
“Hey. Wait up! What was that all about? You gonna turn down free money?”
Tom snorted, “Free money. Huh? Look I appreciate it. I really do. But it’s time I man up around here and start pulling my own weight. I’m not a kid anymore.”
“Sure, Tom. I understand and appreciate that. And you’re right. You are big for your age. It’s time your uncles and I let you be a part of things. It’s just hard seeing you as anything other than the little toddler that we all give piggyback rides to years ago. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. I think I’ve got the perfect initiation ritual for you. If you do well, it will help your uncles see that you’re grown up and big enough to be a part of what we do. And you can make some really good money at it.”
“Sure, Pops,” Tom replied slowly. “We can talk about it tonight after I get back from school. I’ll be happy do anything for the family as long as it doesn’t involve killing people or selling drugs.”
Pops grinned. “No, of course, it’s nothing like that, kid. But it is urgent, so I’m just gonna lay it on the line. I might not be here when you get back from school. I’ve got to head out of town with your uncles. We won’t get back till late. Then we’ll need your help down at the museum.”
Tom looked at him incredulously. “At the museum? Late? I didn’t know you guys had taken an interest in art and history all of a sudden.”
“Yeah, well. You know, people take up new hobbies and interests all the time. Right?” Pops said with a shrug.
“And I’m the smallest of the bunch, so I get to crawl through the air vents to pick out a picture for your new collection,” Tom said with a scow. “And since I’m a minor, it won’t be such a serious charge.”
A horrified look crossed Pops face. But it was gone as quick as it had come and Pops started to laugh.
“No, Tom. Of course not. Well, yes, we do our share of shady stuff. So, I’m not surprised to think that. But no, you won’t be doing anything illegal per se.”
“Per se? Huh?” Tom definitely like the sound of that. “So, what is it then?”
Tom glanced at his phone to check the time. He was late for his first class already. It would silly to rush off now. Best to hear Pops out and then ask him to sign a note explaining his tardiness.
“Why don’ t you fill me in on the details now then? I’m already late for class anyway. And what’s going on in there. Why is Marshmallow crying?” Tom asked softly lowering his voice at the end.
“We lost one of our biggest clients. Well, they would have been our biggest client. It’s why we came to this town. They promised us some good money. We thought this would be the time that we really made something of ourselves. You know we haven’ been doing well financially. Things have been tight and all. We thought this was our lucky break. But unfortunately, we just got word that our client is, um, didn’t make it through the night.”
“You mean he got what he deserved and was killed?” Tom asked quietly.
Pops shuffled his feet nervously as he hemmed and hawed about it. “We’re not sure on all the details yet. So, I can’t give you any specifics. But it sounds like there was some sort of misunderstanding with someone who didn’t see eye to eye with him.”
“So, what do you want me to do?” Tom asked.
“We just need you to keep an eye on the museum for anyone suspicious going in or out after hours.”
“It closes at 5:30 p.m. if I’m not mistaken,” Tom muttered. “I won’t have much time to look for a job after class.”
“Yeah, but I can give you some money for it,” Pops mumbled back.
“I don’t want your money. I can do it to help the family. But all I have to do is keep an eye on the museum after hours. Till what time. And what am I looking for?”
“Torvald will be down to relieve you at midnight. We should be back well before then. But if you can hold down the fort till then, it would be really nice. We’ve got to bring back a delivery for the museum. But we can’t hand it over till the morning. Hence the keeping an eye on the museum. I can’t tell you much more than that because there is a lot that even I don’t know. And even if I did, the less you know, the better for you if things go south.”
Tom pondered the information Pops had given him. He was no dummy. There was no way Pops would have him do something unnecessary as an excuse to give him some money. Tom sensed that whatever they were going to do was a little shady if not outright illegal. But it must be serious if Pops was asking for his help. So, he nodded in agreement.
“Sure, Pops. I’ll be happy to do that for you. But why are you going to do this if your client is dead?”
Pops smiled in relief.
“Thanks, I thought about leaving Christian here, but we could really use the extra hand. I appreciate it. Don’t worry. Everything is going to be alright. We’ll get paid. There are others who work with him who still want the delivery made.”
“So, then why does everyone have a long face in there?” Tom asked while nodding his chin in the direction of the patio behind Pops at the other end of the hall.
“Oh, the client was someone that Marshmallow knew really well back in the day. She took the news pretty hard. And it made us all realize how serious this thing is that we’ve gotten ourselves into. None of us saw this coming.”
Continue Reading Chapter 4 – Dream Come True >>>
Tom ambled along slowly down the sidewalk to school. He really didn’t feel like going to class anymore. Not after what Pops had just told him. Tom had a bad feeling about this thing that was going down tonight and wanted to take another look at the Walden Museum of History & Art ahead of time.
And he especially didn’t want to go to school now that he wouldn’t have time to hunt for a job after class. He could play hooky for the day and ask Tom for another note excusing his absence tomorrow.
But the museum was close to his school, and he was still hungry. So Tom continued walking in that direction while looking for a place to get a cheap bite to eat. He stopped at a couple of local mom and pop shops along the way to see if they were hiring.
The last shopkeeper all but threw him out of the building.
“Get lost, kid. Go back to school, kid. I might hire you on the weekends, but come look me up after school hours. I ain’t hiring no loser dropout.” he shouted after him.
Tom sighed and didn’t even bother to try to explain to the old man that he hadn’t dropped out, even though he had to admit that was what it had seemed like since it wasn’t even 9:00 a.m. yet.
The young lad almost gave up asking anywhere else. But Tom finally worked up the courage to stop at a few more potential shops along the way making sure to explain his need for a job after school hours so they would know that he hadn’t dropped out yet. They were polite but told him that they didn’t need any extra help at the moment.
Tom was close to the museum and remembered that there was a McDonald’s around the side of the building. His growling stomach reminded him that it was still empty and demanded to be filled. Tom decided to head straight there and fill out an online application using the free wi-fi while he was eating.
It wasn’t his first choice for work. But a job was a job, and he wouldn’t complain about it as long as they paid real money. It couldn’t be too hard to get a job there. Seriously, if he couldn’t get a job at McDonald’s and prove himself there, then he didn’t deserve to work anywhere. It was an honest wage and hold him over until he could find something that paid better.
Secretly, Tom hoped that he could make enough to get out on his own soon. He would soon be eighteen and could stay behind when his family moved on to the next city. Tom felt giddy with excitement over that thought.
Being able to settle down in one place for longer than three months would be a life-long dream come true for Tom. He had recalled the names at least thirty cities in four different countries that he had lived in over the years. And that didn’t count the ones he couldn’t remember as a child or even the ones they hadn’t spent more than three days in.
Yes, it was time for Tom Bentsen to settle down and create some roots for himself. Pops and Marshmallow could leave Walden and go wherever they wanted after this. But Tom crossed his fingers and hoped that he would have enough time to make some money and build up a little nest egg for a rainy day. Maybe find someone to room with and split the rent. He could start applying for local college credits to make sure he was accepted before he even graduated high school.
Tom smiled and looked up at the beautiful morning sky. He had barely even noticed the deep blue background behind the billowing white cumulus clouds that floated majestically through the air high above him. He breathed deeply of the fresh air that wafted off the lush lawn and garden flowers that surrounded the museum grounds when he rounded the final corner.
The Walden Museum of History & Art was a work of art in itself. A long row of steps led the way to the four towering columns that supported the museum. Three large doors led the way into the building even though it wouldn’t be open to the general public for another hour.
Tom paused to admire the large red and yellow flags that were unfurled and hung down the entire length of the walls. The whole building looked like something that may have been ripped straight from a medieval kingdom in some distant realm.
“You here to apply for one of the high school internships too? They aren’t open yet.” a voice boomed out behind him.
Tom spun around to see another young fellow with thick, black hair and small, beady eyes that didn’t look to be much older than himself standing behind a hot dog cart.
“Oh, hey. No. Well, that’s not why I came. But I am looking for a job. Do they pay anything? I’m still in school so it would have to be after hours. I haven’t dropped out of school.” he said uncertainly between the memory of the old shopkeeper chewing him out for quitting school and the realization that the young man in front of him probably was a high school drop out.
Tom winced as he said it. The dark-haired boy smiled easily and waved it off.
“No judgments. Life is what it is, and a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I’m Lucas, by the way. Would you like a hot dog, Tom?”
His stomach growled loudly, and Tom nodded quickly hoping it wasn’t loud enough for Lucas to hear at that distance. He suddenly realized the other boy knew his name and grew suspicious.
“How do you know my name?” he asked when he reached for the hot dog.
“We have a few classes together. You’re the new kid. I was there the day you introduced yourself to the class Friday before last.”
Tom nodded as he chewed on his hot dog and digested the information.
“So, what are you doing out here during school hours?”
Lucas smiled and shrugged. ” Like I said. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Gotta find a way to make ends meet. At the end of the month, I have to work more to pay the bills.”
“You live alone? Where are your parents?” Tom asked.
He wiped his hands on a white paper napkin and pulled out his five dollar bill. Lucas waved it off.
“Nope, first one is on the house. But I’ll sell you another one if you want it. As for parents, I don’t know. They abandoned me along with the other kids around here about twelve years ago. Alan found me and took me in. He was a hot dog cart guy back in the day. Taught me everything there is to know about hot dogs. But he got a new job and travels a lot. He’s pretty much only here in the winter. So, I use it to make a little cash.”
Lucas handed Tom another hot dog and coke with a bag of chips. Then took the five dollars from him.
“Teachers don’t complain about you missing class?” Tom asked through another mouthful of hot dog.
“Nah, I grew up here. Most of them know my story and feel sorry for me. They take it easy on me. Besides, I hook them up with extra hot dogs and stuff at events. It’s a win-win situation.” Lucas said with another one of those easy grins.
“And you said you along with the other kids around here? What’s that all about?”
“Nobody knows, but the official story is that about fifty kids just showed up in different places around town the same night Alan found me. Most of them got rounded up and shipped off to the orphanage. It was a dark, cold, snowy night. Alan almost ran me over. Said I was wandering around in the middle of the street. Alan grew up in an orphanage himself and felt sorry for me. So, he promised to let me stay with him if I was willing to help him sell hot dogs.”
“Like a child slave!” Tom asked incredulously.
“No, it’s not like that. Not as bad as it sounds. He was just giving me a choice. I had to tag along with him of course because he didn’t have a babysitter for me. But he’s always been real nice and treated me right. Once I was old enough to stay home by myself, he would let me if I wanted. But I hated being alone, and I loved counting Alan’s money. Now, I run the ‘family’ business.” Lucas said with air quotes around the word family.
“Sorry to hear that,” Tom muttered unsure of what else to say. “Don’t you miss your family?”
Lucas shrugged his shoulders.
“Can’t say that I do. I honestly don’t remember anything about them. Alan’s guess is that I was about four or five when he found me. He adopted me and said that my birthday was January seventeenth, the day he found me. So, I guess I turned out alright. Anyway, enough about me. What’s your story? What are you looking for a job for? To buy a new car?”
Now it was Tom’s turn to shrug.
“Not much to tell, other than the fact that we move a lot. I live with my mom and her four brothers. And one of my uncle’s sons. He’s alright, but Christian is a bit older than me and thinks he’s better than I am. We move like four times a year. I’m sick of moving. I need to make some money and find a place to stay, so I don’t have to leave with them in a few months.”
Lucas grinned and handed Tom another hot dog. Tom shook his head and was embarrassed to say that he didn’t have any more money on him.
“Oh, c’mon. Take it,” Lucas insisted. ” I can tell that you’re still hungry. It’s on the house. Besides, if you don’t find another job, look me up again. You can help me out with the hot dog cart. When you get the hang of the ropes, I have an extra cart in the garage at home. You can run it and pay me a cut of the profits.”
Tom smiled gratefully. It sounded about as exciting as working at McDonald’s but did have the advantage of being able to choose his own hours.
“Thanks,” he replied. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Hey. Don’t mention it. I can always use an extra hand this time of year, and you’ll help me make more money. You’ll be the one doing me a favor. If it works out, I can talk to Alan about letting you have the extra room in his house. He never uses it, and probably won’t even charge you rent if you’re helping me with the hot dog carts.”
Tom’s eyes lit up at the thought of making his own money and a place to stay when Marshmallow and Pops left town. Sure, he would miss them. But it’s not like it was about time for him to leave home anyway. He’d soon be headed off to college anyway. Now, he just needed to find a way to tell them nicely and help them to see it was a good thing for all of them without Marshmallow going into a tizzy over it.
“That would be great,” Tom said excitedly.
Lucas smiled and nodded as he turned to wrap up a couple of hot dogs for a customer. After the man left, Lucas turned back to Tom and explained several important things like how the business worked, how to make the meanest hot dogs in Walden, how to upsell the customers more food.
Tom found it interesting that Lucas always gave his customers the first item they asked for free.
“Don’t worry,” Lucas said when he caught Tom’s dubious looks. “We actually make a lot more by giving a customer something free. Alan’s tested it over the years, and his tests consistently show that we make 40% more profit when we give them the first thing they request free. It surprises them and causes them to trust us. Then they open their wallets and practically let us take the money out and count it ourselves.
Continue Reading Chapter 5 – Lucky Stars >>>
After a good hour or so of training, Lucas had explained almost everything he thought Tom needed to know to make a great hot dog salesman. By that time, the museum had opened, and Tom remembered that he had initially come down here to take a look at the museum before keeping guard tonight. Something that he had forgotten in the excitement of having gotten a job and found a place to stay when his family moved on.
“Sure,” Lucas said. “Feel free to take a look around. Things won’t really pick up here till about 11:30. I’ll be fine till then.”
Tom wandered off into the museum and mosied around for a good forty-five minutes. He didn’t stop to look at the exhibits. He was mostly focused on the bigger picture of getting the lay of the land and understanding how each section of the museum was laid out.
He started off by studying a map at the main entrance and then doing a quick walkthrough to see how it actually looked from the inside. He paused at the end of each exhibit while he studied the map once more. By time he made the rounds and arrived back at the beginning of the museum, Tom felt he had mastered the nuances of the floor plan and could run through it without getting lost or turned around.
“Is everything okay there, sir?” a large, burly guard asked.
Tom thought he sounded somewhat suspicious and jumped when he heard the man’s voice.
“What? Sorry. I’m…” Tom stammered.
“Can I help you find something specific?” the guard asked.
“Oh, no. Sorry. You just spooked me. I was concentrated here. No. I’m helping out the hot dog guy out front, and he gave me a break. So, I’m just getting an overview of the museum now. That way I can come back later and focus on the most interesting exhibits. I mean they’re all interesting, but I mean the ones that grab my attention.”
Tom realized that he would sound even more suspicious and stupid the longer he stood there stammering like that. So, he decided to change tactics and ask a question to let the guard talk.
“What’s the most interesting exhibit around here?” he asked the guard.
“You mean which one do I like? Or which exhibit do people spend the most time on?”
Tom shrugged. “Both. I’ll have to check them both out.”
“Hmm. It’s a good question. I notice most people tend to concentrate down that wing.”
“Let me guess. The Chinese firearms. That’s always been a member favorite. It’s gained a lot of attention recently. And also the new Egyptian mummy that came in last week.” the guard said with a shake of his head.
“You don’t like it? Art asked.
The guard shook his head. “I don’t like being around the dead. Especially, not with the legends that surround it. I’ve heard noises around here at night. I’m sure there are ghosts.”
Tom wanted to roll his eyes and snicker but refrained. He had read about the legend of the mummy on one of the fliers he had received at the door. But it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. Tom didn’t imagine it would take much to scare this superstitious old man.
“What about you though?” Tom asked trying to change the topic. “You haven’t told me which one you like personally.”
Tom looked up into the man’s face because the guard was at least three inches taller than him. The guard’s face softened as he twisted to point down in the opposite direction.
“The Empyrean chamber. It’s a small room down that way that most people miss or just don’t pay much attention to. The crowd usually heads off in that direction, and by time they circle back around to the Empyrean chamber they are too tired to check it out.”
“What do you like about it?” Tom asked.
“It’s local history. Made right here in Walden. Maybe that’s why people pass it over. They come here to see something foreign and exotic. You know how it is. But back in their homeland, these aren’t any more special than our own history and art.” the burly guard said as his face glowed with pride.
“So, what’s in this Empyrean Chamber?” Tom asked.
The guard looked around over his shoulder before leaning in closer and answering quietly in a hushed voice, “It’s our own Area 51.”
Tom wanted to roll his eyes again. Next time, he would make sure to get advice about which exhibits to see from someone who wasn’t a crazy, old nutcase like this.
“Yep, it started back when I was just a kid. We always had tales of strange creatures and beings roaming around these parts. And it all came to a head back twelve years ago. The city was overrun with at least fifty alien children. The ones they picked up and were accounted for. They say it happened in other cities as well.”
The part about kids getting picked up twelve years ago caught Tom’s attention. But he discarded the man’s theory behind it. Seriously, who believed in that kind of stuff anyway nowadays. Surely there had to be a logical explanation for it. The old guard looked like he was getting ready to go into a long, boring spiel about the events that Tom probably didn’t want to hear, and it already 11:30.
“Hey, I need to get back out there to help Lucas with lunch. I don’t want to be fired for showing up late my first day.” Tom interrupted him.
The guard had just taken a deep breath to launch into his speech when Tom cut him off. The old guard let it back out slowly with a loud sigh. His face looked crestfallen.
“You’re just like all the rest of them. You don’t care about our local history here either.”
Tom felt terrible for letting the old man down.
“Say, why don’t you come out and grab a hot dog later on. The first one is on me. Then you can give me the low down on what you think happened that night. Okay.”
Tom figured he would regret the inviting the old man out there. He would probably get his ear chewed off before the afternoon was over. But it did seem to cheer the guard up.
He looked down at the floorplan of the museum once more on his map and then glanced down the hall in the direction the guard had indicated. Tom trotted back out the front door of the lobby and into the bright sunlight.
It looked like he had shown up at just the right time to make Lucas realize how much help he could be. The hot dog cart was getting slammed. There were at least twenty people lined up for hot dogs.
Tom trotted down the steps and passed between the two massive fountains of flowing water on each side. He could see the relief flood Lucas’ face when Tom showed up. Neither said a word. Tom just jumped right in and started taking orders at the other end of the hot dog cart.
They didn’t have much time to talk after that till almost two p.m. Tom finally sighed with relief when things seemed to slow down.
“What was that? Is it always like this?” Tom gasped.
Lucas grinned. “That was a good day, my friend. It’s not normally like that. It must be because of the new Egyptian mummy everyone wants to see. It’s been bringing the people out in droves.”
“I guess,” Tom muttered. “If that were a good day, I’d hate to see a bad day.”
“Bad days are boring,” Lucas said. “I much prefer the busy days like this. Besides, we’ve sold almost everything and made more than I expected. Let’s wrap up and head on home.”
“What? It’s not even two yet. You should stay and sell more hot dogs,” Tom said in exasperation. “We’re on a roll here.”
Lucas chuckled and shook his head.
“Nope. I enjoy my free time. I just want enough to pay my bills. I’m a happy man. I don’t need a lot of money. There will be more of it tomorrow.” Lucas said as he started to close down the hot dog cart.
Tom just shook his head and kept on serving the rest of the hot dogs to those who came over to the cart. He didn’t understand this Lucas guy. Once he learned the ropes and Lucas gave him his own hot dog cart to run, he would stay out here selling hot dogs as long as there were customers to buy them.
Lucas waited until Tom had served the last hot dog before taking the umbrella down. Then he peeled off several bills and slapped them on the cart in front of Tom.
“What’s this?” Tom asked curiously.
“Your wages for the day,” Lucas replied.
Tom’s eyes bulged, and his finger shook as he picked up the money.
“It’s fifty dollars,” he stammered. “I didn’t even work three full hours.”
Lucas grinned and deepened his voice while saying, “You deserve it, son. I liked your hustle. Keep it up, and there will be a lot more where that came from,” in his best Italian accent.
“Thanks,” Tom said, his face beaming with a huge grin.
He shoved the fifty dollars deep into his pocket and wondered what he should buy with it first. Immediately he chided himself mentally for spending any of it. He would find a safe place to store it in his bedroom and save every penny he made until Marshmallow and Pops decided it was time to pull up and leave town again.
Only this time, he wouldn’t go with them. He would use the money to support himself, and that meant saving it for a rainy day. And knowing his family the way he did, he figured it would come sooner than later.
Continue Reading Chapter 6 – Cryptic Creeps >>>
Tom took one last look back at the museum as they left. He hadn’t seen the old guard come out of the museum. It must not have been his break time yet or else the guard didn’t like hot dogs. But even if he didn’t, Tom was sure he would have come out to at least talk about his conspiracy theory.
He tried to remember the old man’s name. What was it again? Logan? Or Rogan. Something along those lines. He decided to help push the hot dog cart and accompany Lucas back to his house. It was only a few blocks away. Then he could come back to the museum.
First, he wanted to get Lucas’ input on what really went down that night he showed up in town twelve years ago, but he wasn’t quite sure how to approach the topic without making it sound like he was directly asking about the artifacts in the museum.
Tom wondered if all of this didn’t have something to do with what Pops and his uncles were going to do tonight at the museum. He seriously doubted that they would wait till morning to ‘deliver’ whatever it was they had gone to pick up.
Tom was no dummy and knew how his uncles operated. He had grown up hearing them laugh at the fast ones they had pulled on his cousin Christian. He pretended like he didn’t care, but Tom was soaking up everything they said like a sponge.
If he had to guess, Tom figured that Uncle Torvald would come to relieve him from watch duty. Then as soon as they thought he was gone, they would do whatever it was they planned to do. Most likely steal some artifact from one of the exhibits.
And even though he didn’t have anyone to bet against, Tom would have wagered ten to one that it would be something from the Empyrean Chamber.
If that was the case, he definitely didn’t want to say anything that would make Lucas or the old guard suspicious of him or his uncles. Not that he didn’t care if his uncles got in trouble, especially Uncle Torvald. He could care less if Torvald rotted in the Walden County Jailhouse. But that would simply delay the group leaving the city so he could get out on his own.
He felt a twinge of nervousness at the idea of being on his own but soothed those feelings by telling himself that if Lucas could survive in Walden on his own, then he could as well.
After walking the few blocks in silence, Tom finally spoke up as he pushed the hot dog cart up the driveway.
“So, what do you think the deal is with you and all those kids showing up here all those years ago? Do you remember anything before that?”
Lucas grinned. “I wondered when you were going to bring that up again. Everyone always asks me that.”
Tom felt relieved that Lucas didn’t think it was a strange question.
“I really don’t remember anything before that night. Honestly, I don’t even remember that night itself. Sometimes I have strange dreams that I think may be flashbacks. I see circles of blue light. I see people running in all directions. I hear their screams. But that’s about it.” Lucas said.
“So, nobody knows where these children came from or why they showed up that night?” Tom mused.
“I’m sure someone does somewhere, but they aren’t telling,” Luke said with a wry grin as he opened the gate for Tom to push the hotdog cart into the garage.
Lucas led Tom into the house and gave him the grand tour of all three bedrooms.
“This is where you can stay if Alan will let. I sure hope he does because you’ll definitely be a big help selling hotdogs.”
“And you live here all by yourself without any adult supervision?” Tom asked incredulously. “You are so lucky.”
“It has its perks,” Lucas said with a shrug. “But it gets lonely when Alan isn’t around and keeping up the house sure does take a lot of time. Especially cooking.”
“At least you always have plenty of hot dogs around to eat when you get hungry.”
Lucas made a face and stuck out his tongue as he said, “Not really. You get tired of eating them real fast. It’s always nice to cook up a decent meal when I have time, and there are other people around. I hate cooking just for myself.”
They tossed their jackets and backpacks on one of the beds and then went out to the living room to play some video games. Tom had just flung himself down on the couch when there was a loud banging at the door. Lucas didn’t look like he was going to get up to answer it.
“You want me to see who it is?” Tom asked
Lucas waved him off and shook his head vigorously. “No way. It’s my nosy neighbor, Mr. Richards. He is a retired old vet and the self-appointed neighborhood watch guard on duty 24 hours. He takes it upon himself to check up on me and make up stories about me to pass along to Alan. He hates me, and he’s always trying to get me in trouble. If you open the door and let him in, he’ll hang around all night.”
“Sounds like my Uncle Torvald. He’s always trying to get me in trouble. No matter what I do it’s never good enough for him.”
The banging grew louder on the door as Mr. Richards intensified his knocks. It sounded like he was beating on the door with both hands and was trying to knock it in.
“I know you’re in there, Lucas. I saw you bring the stranger with you. I want to know who it is to make sure everything is on the up and up.”
Lucas just rolled his eyes and kept on playing.
“If you don’t open up right now, son, so I know everything is all right in there, I’m going to have to call Alan and let him know it’s going on.”
The sound of the banging had Tom a little worried, but it didn’t seem to bother Lucas in the slightest. So, he concentrated on the game and tried to ignore the noise.
“Don’t worry,” Lucas said. “Alan won’t listen to him. He says that Mr. Richards is an ornery old cuss that’s always been in his business as long as he can remember. Interestingly enough, Alan says that he moved in next door right about the same time I as I came to town. So blames me for having brought Mr. Richards along into his life as well.”
“Still, that’s kinda creepy having a guy banging on your door like that. It sounds like he’s going to pound the door in.” Tom muttered under his breath as he tried to make a leap across the chasm in the videogame. He kept looking over her shoulder every time the banging started up again, half expecting the old man to come crashing through at any moment.
The banging and yelling continued on for about 15 minutes. The loudness and intensity eventually began to lower as the old man tired. Finally, he gave up completely, and the boys were peace once again to concentrate on the videogame.
After that Tom didn’t talk much as he was too focused on trying to keep up with Lucas who was much better obviously since it was his game. He wanted to know more about these empyrean children but didn’t want to pressure Lucas talking about his past. There would be plenty of time for that over the coming days as they worked together and deepened their friendship.
Pops called a little before the Walden Museum of History and Art’s closing time.
“Hey, Tom. It’s almost time. You got that thing covered for me. Can you be my eyes and ears till I get there?” Pops asked.
“Sure. Of course” Tom mumbled. “I told you I would.”
He was kicking himself for losing track of time and not having gone back down to the museum again to take a closer look at the Empyrean Chamber.
“Good. Because I’m counting on you. We got what we needed, and we are already on our way back. So, we should be there early.”
“What am I looking for? Anything specific that I should watch for? And what do I do if I see it?
“Just make sure nobody goes in around after closing time. Specifically large vehicles that could be used to transport valuable museum exhibits. If so call me immediately, and I will alert the proper authorities. Other than that just send me a message every 15 minutes letting me know that everything is okay. And I’ll make sure you eat the best breakfast of your life tomorrow morning before school.”
Tom jumped up and grabbed his backpack to leave. Lucas wanted to know where he was headed and offered to go with him. Tom considered it, but then graciously declined because he wasn’t sure what Pops would think about that. He decided it would be better not to take his new friend along.
As soon as he opened the door, Tom saw Lucas’ nos,y old neighbor on the other side of the yard mowing his lawn. The man turned off the lawnmower and came stomping over in their direction with an angry scowl on his face.
“Go on,” Lucas muttered under his breath. “I’ll take care of this. Hey, Mr. Richards.”
Tom jumped off the edge of the porch and walked quickly down the driveway to the street expecting Mr. Richards would walk to Lucas. But instead, the bald-headed, old man with his pants hitched up too high, switch directions and began to angle towards him picking up his pace to match Tom’s.
His heart sank, and Tom slowed down before he reached the point where their paths would cross. Mr. Richards stood in front of him with the same angry scowl Tom had imagined on his face when he was banging on the door. The man had picked up a rake on his way across the yard, and he held it threateningly across the front of his body.
Tom stood still. Uncertain about what to do since he didn’t know what the old man wanted. He heard Lucas coming up behind him, but never took his eyes off of Mr. Richards and his bright red rake.
The setting sun glinted off the top of Mr. Richards baldhead. The old man squinted his eyes as he looked Tom over from head to foot. He cocked his head to the side pensively and bit his bottom lip as if trying to make up his mind about the boy.
“It’s okay, Mr. Richards. He’s a friend of mine and is going to be helping me with the hot dog business.” Lucas said still several steps away.
The old man smiled wickedly still squinting his eyes almost completely shut before saying, “You’re one of them. Aren’t you? I can sense it. What’s your plan and what you come for?”
His fingers wrapped tighter around the handle of the rake. Tom could see his knuckles growing whiter by the second. He was relieved when Lucas finally reached their little standoff and stepped in front of him.
“No, Mr. Richards,” Lucas said getting his face right up close to the old man’s. “Tom lives with his mom and pops down the road a ways. And they’re not even from around here. So, you’re going to have to go practice your conspiracy theories on someone else.”
“He can’t hide it. I know what you all look like. I can tell. You don’t fool me. I’ve got my eye on you, and I’m going to figure out what you all are up to. I am your worst nightmare.” Mr. Richard said without ever taking his eyes off me completely ignoring Lucas.
Tom shifted nervously from one foot to the other. Trying to decide whether to stick around or make a break for it. Lucas grabbed onto the rake with his left hand and gently pushed the old man’s shoulder back towards his yard with the other.
“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Richards. You are on to us in almost caught us. We were over here planning how to take over the world this afternoon. Would you like to join us as one of our evil minions?” Lucas said, trying to make the old man laugh.
Mr. Richards had been resisting for a moment but shifted nervously when Lucas said that. Then he followed through on Lucas’s movement and began walking back towards his yard. He paused when he reached the divider between the two yards and turned to look back at me with the glowering look in his eye. Pointed to wrinkled old fingers toward his eyes and then out towards me. It would’ve been funny if I knew he wasn’t so serious.
After he crossed the line into his yard, Lucas walked back over to me.
“You okay? ” he asked walking me the rest of the way down the drive.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Tom said. “But you shouldn’t say that kind of stuff to him. He’s crazy, and it looks like he takes everything you say literally.”
Lucas laughed off my concerns. “It’s okay. Mr. Richards is just a harmless old man who wouldn’t hurt a flea. I’ve known him all my life he’s always been like that. You better hurry up or your uncle is going to be upset you for running late.”
Tom grimaced as he looked at the time and realized Lucas was right. Only two minutes left before the Museum closed. He spun around on his heel and took off at a brisk pace down the street toward the museum. He counted the trees around him to ground himself in reality to keep the worry of some thoughts about Mr. Richards out of his mind.
He took a deep breath of fresh, clean air to clear his thoughts and then breathed out everything that was bothering him just like pops and taught him.
Enough of worrying about old Mr. Richards and his crazy conspiracy theories. Right now he had a job to do for pops, and he wanted to make the old man proud of him. As much is the despised his uncles disagreed with the way his family lived, deep down Tom had always dreamed of one day doing something great for them earning their respect to feel like he was completely accepted in the family.