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Earth Swallowed

Earth Swallowed

 

 

 

by

 

Lancelot Schaubert

 

copyright © 2017

 

For Heath.

 

And Kevin Bacon.

 

 

 

 

 

If he didn’t clear out The Shed, all his precious collection would get swept up in the massacre, that auction of cheap trinkets, the moment his dad sold the place. His boys played in front. They didn’t yet understand the importance of all his trinkets, but they would, right? They’d need all of Charlie’s resources soon, now wouldn’t they, in case something awful happened. The ground rumbled. Yes, in case something awful happened. He’d make sure they’d know exactly what they got in his will and what it meant. Or at least he really wanted to try and make sure they knew and needed.

 

He doubted they cared.

 

“The Shed” was this two-story shop up in the front and a rambling mess of warehouse rooms in the back. It looked like the first few levels of a poorly designed cargo ship. Its silver sides were not made of true silver but rather that wavy sheet metal you see on the roofs of… well… sheds. This siding had been hand-painted with chrome spray paint. Cases of chrome spray paint. It had hingelatches and padlocks all over the swinging and sliding doors all down the sides, and old factory crosshatch single pane windows, and the storefront had one of those easily shatterable glass doors that nominally protected his treasures. He’d need to change that door.

 

Up front, behind that glass door, 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, Illinois. There, these kind of cubby holes were the remains of a hardware store that had predated ACE and R.P. Lumber and Rural King way back in ancient history, when Tulsa Rig and Reel had kept contracts with Texaco Oil. Or maybe earlier, who knew?

 

This was not the first time Charlie had cleaned The Shed while the boys played. For years he had stored his keepsakes and spare parts from his hodgepodge car repair business in the back rooms, And for that same span of time his parents had been goading him into periodic reordering of his “work flow,” though his “work flow” involved more take-what-you-can-and-give-nothing-back than the average businesswoman’s productivity management app. He turned on his old CB radio and let it fish for channels. One of them picked up a sort of squishy, chewing, flailing noise. It reminded of how a can of earthworms sounded the first time he’d put his ear to it as a kid: a little too burrowy.

 

He cleaned and sorted, leaving his boys to play 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. Wooden train ties laid out on the ground cut the area into various grassy or gravelly sections that played host to random bathtubs, aluminum sheets, copper wires, and appliances — particularly old GE washers for some reason. On that side of The Shed, Charlie had long ago constructed a two-story scaffolding he’d once climbed in order to tidy up the paint on the outside of the second story. Out of sheer survival he’d also camped in that same bare upper story for four months after the divorce. But he’d never finished the paint job, even long after he’d moved out of The Shed, so the scaffolding remained like fish bones on a riverbank that wove through domestic backyards before the heat of the sun and its toil’d scorched it dry. There, up near the front on the north side atop the bones of his abandoned paint job, that’s where his boys played.

 

He went out to check on his greatest treasures. “You alright boys?”

 

They didn’t answer, but he watched them, Ivan (seven) and Bennet (five), climbing and swinging and darting along the ins-and-outs of the metal bars. The ground shook some more.

 

“Boys?”

 

They stopped dead on the scaffolding, both having heard the change in tone. “Yeah dad?” Ivan asked.

 

“Are you doing okay I said?”

 

“Yup.” Bennet pointed at the earth. “Sand worm.”

 

“Sand worm?” Charlie asked.

 

“There’s a sand worm under the ground,” Bennet said.

 

“Uh huh.”

 

“There is, though.” Bennet let go to put his fists on his hipbones, lost his balance up two stories, almost fell, and then grabbed the bars at the last second.

 

“Good grief, be careful. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

 

“Well come out an’ play then,” Bennet said.

 

“I gotta work on my buried treasure. Want to help me dig?”

 

The boys looked at one another.

 

“You know the rumbling’s from the train tracks, right?”

 

“Not on Saturday,” Bennet said. “Sand worm. I told you.”

 

He remembered having once had that kind of imagination, that made such things real. Though it was Saturday.

 

“And we can’t touch the ground or it’ll get us,” Ivan added, “swallow us whole like Jonah when he didn’t want to do what God made him for to do.”

 

“Uh huh,” Charlie said. “Well, stay off the ground I reckon you’d better. I’ll be in.”

 

Inside, a dozen years’ 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 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. They’d be gems if they were still in their cases, but even worn and rusted they were too good to throw away. Too many memories attached.

 

He wandered through the storefront door (which was hard to open for the crust rain gear stuck under the jamb) and made his way back 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 1962 Chevy Short Bed Stepside, 284 bored out to a 292 V8, three-quarter cam with eleven-to-one pistons (there was an old Polaroid of the truck glued to the back) — he went out front to show its remnants 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 snorted.

 

The ground rumbled.

 

He’d flag up his hand 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 pack 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 sense of loss, the loss of the hypothetical. What if he hadn’t been left out?

 

He returned to the boys probably five or six more times, recognizing their growing disinterest, growing a little disturbed with the rumbling that might 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. Surely they’d love that.

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 made the people he liked pay any more attention to him.

 

He only remembered having been on the outside of the group and slinking away slowly as they made fun of his clothes and their obvious hand-made nature (his mother was a damn fine seamstress), 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 join the gathering in-crowd. Once enough had assembled to identify themselves as a group, it had grown harder and harder for him to break his way in.

This isolation continued as they grew 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. He put them away in his toy trunk hoping he could find a better tool to attract them the next time. And here they still were, along with all the stuff he’d been saving ever 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. He was 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 show-and-tell moment 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 who would love him for what he could offer them.

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 he could 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.

 

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.”

 

“I said come here.” He searched for some lame excuse to make them come to him just like he wanted everyone else to. “I need your help with… something, boys, come on.”

 

“Dad, we can’t,” said Bennet.

 

“Get down here right now!”

 

And he watched them move from fear to fear as they double-checked the earth and the raised lose dirt on it. Had they been digging? Convinced of his impending wrath, they climbed down from he 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 unmoved grass tufts.

 

Halfway on their journey from the rusted steel scaffolding to the concrete front porch where Charlie stood, that raised loose dirt on the ground broke like a massive puncture wound, and a mouth like the hole in a subway line followed by a body like some great leathered train came up before the boys.

The drake under the earth swallowed both Bennet and Ivan in a moment, swallowed his greatest treasures, and then disappeared by the next moment into the sod, leaving behind a cavernous wound in the world.

 

It was minutes before Charlie moved and when he did, he threw that junky cap pistol through the glass of the front door and into the inner dark of his the dust and rust and crusty rubbers he’d treasured.

 

For free tips, tricks, tools, and tales go to lanceschaubert.org and sign up for the mailing list.

 

Also by Lancelot:

Novelettes and Short Stories:

• The Blimps of Venus

• Wombrovers

• Wilderness

• Carry Cannons By Our Sides

• When Timbers Start

 

Nonfiction and Poetry:

• Writing Rules: Revised

• Inconveniences Rightly Considered

 

Photonovels:

• Cold Brewed

• The Joplin Undercurrent

 

 


Earth Swallowed

A blue-collar hoarder sorts through the treasures of his lost past while his kids play on the scaffolding outside. He keeps ignoring the tremors in both the memories and the present. :: PRAISE FOR LANCELOT SCHAUBERT :: “Schaubert’s words have an immediacy, a potency, an intimacy that grab the reader by the collar and say ‘Listen, this is important!’ Probing the bones and gristle of humanity, his subjects challenge, but also offer insights into redemption if only we will stop and pay attention.” — Erika Robuck, National Bestselling Author of Hemingway’s Girl “Loved this story because Lance wrote about people who don't get written about enough and he did it with humor, compassion, and heart.” — Brian Slatterly, author of Lost Everything and editor of The New Haven Review “I’m such a fan of Lance Schaubert's work. His unique view of things and his life-wisdom enriches all he does. We're lucky to count him among our contributors.” — Therese Walsh, author of The Moon Sisters and Editorial Director of Writer Unboxed "Lancelot Schaubert exhibits his talents in many forms from poetic verse to lyrical prose to musical compositions, all the while infusing them with charisma, passion, and wit. A true creative, Schaubert is one to watch in the literary world." —Heather Webb, author of Rodin's Lover & Becoming Josephine “Lance Schaubert writes with conviction but without the cliché and bluster of the propaganda that is so common in this age of blogs and tweets. Here is a real practitioner of the craft who has the patience to pay attention. May his tribe increase!” — Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, author of Common Prayer and The Awakening of Hope “Lancelot was the kind of student every writing teacher hopes to have in her class: attentive, thoughtful, a bit quirky, and innovative. Since his time in my classroom, he has continued to impress me. He ‘sees,’ and his essays, poetry, and fiction are full of details that enable his audience to see. Bravo, Lance.” — Jackina Stark, author of Things Worth Remembering and Tender Grace “[He writes] characters with distinctive personalities, multi-layered, and unpredictable. [They have] natural voices, succinct and unique to each character.” — The Missouri Scriptwriting Fellowship "Schaubert's narratives are emotionally stirring with both a vulnerable sensibility and rawness to them. They take you on a journey full of open wounds, intimate successes and personal delights. His words have a calmness, a natural ease but the meaning is always commanding and dynamic." — Natalie Gee, Brooklyn Film Festival

  • ISBN: 9781370445028
  • Author: Lancelot Schaubert
  • Published: 2017-09-18 18:35:09
  • Words: 2159
Earth Swallowed Earth Swallowed