“Ummmmph!” Skinner groaned to power heave the cinderblock at the shed’s boarded-up window. The block bounced back. He repositioned his tail to get better leverage and tried again. The wood cracked.
If I get caught breaking in here, my mom will be soooooo mad.
He looked around first, and then pulled on the jagged boards. An opening big enough for him to climb through was created.
Ain’t no turning back now.
The shed was in his backyard, next to a dirt alley seldom used, and on a weedy lawn with trees that hadn’t been pruned for decades. Nobody was likely to notice his criminal behavior. Skinner removed window-glass shards and peered into the shed.
There’s gotta be something in there worth stealing.
He stood on the cinderblock and pulled himself through the window. Inside the shed, it took five Earth minutes for his four eyes to adjust their irises. He found a dust-covered toy train set with tracks mounted to sheets of plywood screwed onto sawhorse legs, and hundreds of tools that might have been shiny when new – too many screwdrivers for him to count.
Jackpot! Whew, it stinks in here -- mold, mildew, or something.
Skinner grabbed an object, stood on a rickety chair, and pushed himself back out through the window. The next day, he tried to sell a miniature red caboose to the first person that he met on the street corner.
"What is it?” the prospective customer asked.
Skinner shrugged and took the caboose home. After supper, he went back to the shed and again climbed through the window. He hooked the caboose up to its train. When the connection was made, the building vibrated and a picture fell off the wall. Skinner hung the picture back where it belonged, too.
Holy crap! That’s a girl!
The dust settled and he was face-to-face with the owner of the property that he had violated: a girl with stringy, brown hair and whose big, blue eyes followed him step-by-step around the shed. “Lacy Dawn” was penned in cursive at the bottom of the photograph.
She's kinda pretty, except for those eyes. Whoever saw blue eyes before? It's weird.
Skinner spit on the picture glass and wiped with the bottom of his tee shirt, but when that proved inadequate, he rushed home for a wet rag. Back inside the shed, he took Lacy Dawn’s picture off the wall, carefully cleaned it, and stared into the human eyes of an ultra-white face surrounded by a bright green aura that spread with decreased intensity to the inside edge of the picture frame.
I’m in love.
He detailed the frame’s ornamental grooves and the corners of the glass with the rag and his talons. Afterward, Lacy Dawn looked as good as new. Skinner re-hung the picture. For an hour, he watched her and she watched him from different angles as the planet’s suns set.
She loves me too. I can tell, but I'd better get home before I get in big trouble. It'll be dark soon.
Outside the shed, Skinner pushed the halves of the busted window boards into original positions to conceal his invasion and to protect Lacy Dawn’s privacy. He visited her every day, but didn't steal any more of her property. A week later, while passing ball in the back yard, Skinner told his cousin about all the stuff that he’d found in the shed.
"It’s called a train. I learned about them in school,” Davi said. “They’re used on planets that have higher gravity than Achaia, the ones where ground transportation is practical. Trains wouldn’t work here. Let’s get an electrical cord and see if that one still runs.”
Lacy Dawn's monitoring system kicked in and refocused the shed’s surveillance cameras onto Davi. The system measured ethical intent based on an individual's synoptic activity level. Davi had been placed by the system on the terrorist watch list.
“I don’t know if we should mess with the train," Skinner said. "She might not like it.”
“Who might not like it, my mom or yours?” Davi asked. “If we sell some of the stuff from inside the shed, bring home money, and we don’t get in trouble for doing it, there ain’t no mom in the world that will ask any questions. It’s the end of the month. We're out of food until we get our commodities and that's over a week away.”
“Lacy Dawn might not want us to start the train. Besides, we ain’t got no extension cord.”
“You know, the girl that I told you about – the one who owns the train.”
“Why would she care? It’s just a picture and the real Lacy Dawn is probably dead by now, anyway. That's an old picture. There’s a cord at the hover craft repair shop down the alley.”
Davi walked to the shed, pulled back a busted board, and looked inside. "I can't see crap. Let's steal a light too."
"Okay, I guess,” Skinner said.
What if I help Davi and then Lacy Dawn don’t like me anymore?
At dusk, the end of the workday at the personal transport repair station, Skinner and Davi walked a half-block to a wood-framed garage. Its doors had been chained shut. Davi pulled to separate them. Skinner squeezed through the crack – the same as he’d done a hundred times before to steal leftover lunches from the shop’s refrigerator. This time, when he left the shop, he dragged out an electrical extension cord with a light attached to its end.
I worked up a sweat -- hope I don’t stink. Lacy Dawn wouldn’t like it.
The boys plugged the cord into an outlet in the house and threw the other end into the shed. Before climbing through the window, Skinner plopped onto the weedy lawn and took a few deep breaths to rid his lungs of the chemicals that he'd breathed at the garage.
I ain’t doing nothin’ bad anymore, ever. This is the last time. One way or another, you always have to pay for it. Please don't be mad at me Lacy Dawn.
"I ain’t stealing, lying, cheating, or nothing wrong ever again, for my whole life, ever, never!” Skinner screamed.
The shed's monitoring system filed a report of Skinner's promises to Universal Governance which immediately assessed the veracity of the statements and sent its findings to the Human Resources Department.
“Be quiet before we get caught,” Davi admonished.
“Hold on a minute. I need to brush my teeth.”
"Why? A picture can’t smell bad breath.”
Skinner ran home and Davi waited by the shed.
“How do you expect us to ever get ahead if we don’t steal?” Davi challenged the newfound morality when Skinner returned.
“I went to church last week and learned a lot of stuff that made sense. It ain’t right to steal. There’s even an old rock that proves it.”
“You’ve never been inside a church,” Davi challenged.
“I have too, lots of times. I just never told anybody about it because, well, it’s kinda embarrassing in a way. Besides, Lacy Dawn is going to help me pass the fourth grade. She told me so with her eyes and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
"If she was real, she’d dump you even if you passed the seventh. You ain't got no money. That’s what girls like. C’mon, we need to get busy, quick. Do you want the Government to come back and take us kids away again because our families ain’t got no food?” Davi asked.
“Naw, the last time those foster parents didn’t care about us kids. I guess you’re right. They just wanted the money for keeping us there. Okay, we’ll go in the shed to find stuff to sell, but you’ve got to be nice to Lacy Dawn,” Skinner said.
“I thought you weren’t going to steal anymore.”
“I was just hoping.”
The shed's monitoring system updated its report about Skinner’s behavior to Universal Governance. The boys went home because it was almost dark.
Lack of parental supervision after the suns went down justified governmental intrusion into family integrity. The next morning, eight kids ate a flour gravy and biscuits breakfast. Their moms had been abandoned by the children's four fathers. As a self-imposed punishment for losing their husbands, the mothers had not made breakfast plates for themselves. Skinner noticed and insisted that the last of the family's food be shared fair and square with everybody.
Davi gave Skinner a dirty look as he scooped some gravy into his mother's bowl.
“What you said about that picture was scary,” Davi whispered to Skinner from the other side of the kitchen table.
“Lacy Dawn ain’t scary. She’s beautiful.”
"Do you have a crush on a girl at school?" Skinner's mother asked the entire family.
"Yes, he does," the younger siblings and cousins agreed. "But, I think he only likes her because she shares some of her lunch with him," the youngest clarified.
The mothers finished their plates, and went around the table to kiss and hug their children. “I love you,” was said a zillion times back and forth.
“Women should be able to work on Achaia,” Davi’s mother said to all the kids. “That way, we could support you guys. Sorry that I got hooked up with bad daddies.”
“Everybody messes up sometimes, Mommy,” one of her children said.
“Just keep your big mouth shut,” Davi’s mother whispered to him, her oldest child. “We’ve already got enough problems without you putting ideas in the kids' heads, like about stealing and getting over on people like it was all an accident.”
The volume of the mother’s voice increased, and its tone hardened.
“I'm not trying to bring up a bunch of convicts. I want them to know right from wrong -- you too. The next time you get locked up, Davi, I might just leave you there to teach you a lesson!”
"I'm sorry, Mom," he whispered back.
"And, that's another thing," she continued in an even louder voice. "Apologies just don't cut it anymore."
"You just apologized about running Dad off," Davi countered.
His mother knocked the legs out from under Davi's chair with her tail. The other children scooted their chairs away from the table, moved to the walls of the kitchen, and watched the redundant scene with smiles on their faces.
After Davi got up, he and Skinner went to the shed. Davi had plugged the extension cord back into the outlet on the way. They looked inside the shed. This time, the interior glowed green, so the electrical light was needless. The green light didn’t escape through the multiple cracks of the wooden outbuilding. It was contained within the structure.
“Did you see my girlfriend?” Skinner asked, and pushed Davi aside to exchange places. “Would you like to meet her? She must be home.”
"Why do you think she's in there?"
"Because that's the exact same color green her picture frame held in. Lacy Dawn must have gotten out of the picture."
"If you’ve got a girlfriend like her, sorry, but I ain’t going in there no matter what. I’d rather eat the pet lizard in the cage on the guy's yard down the street. You know the one I’m talking about. It would make a great dinner! It’s huge and there would be enough food for us all to get full, including our moms this time.”
“You couldn’t kill it,” Skinner said.
Davi pulled a long kitchen knife from under his shirt and waved it to the world.
“Dude, I know we’re desperate, but you’re starting to lose it. Put that thing back in the sink to be washed before you hurt yourself. Lacy Dawn will help us. Would you like to come to our wedding one of these days?” Skinner asked and climbed into the shed.
Lacy Dawn's aura tinted everything. It soaked into Skinner's skin, into his soul. He kissed the picture of Lacy Dawn, plugged the train set into the extension cord, and the train circled faster as the friction from lack of usage was diminished. The aura got increasingly brighter until all objects within the interior of the shed glowed so green that no other color could compete.
Davi had run home. He threw the knife into the kitchen sink on his way to a window, looked out at the shed, and, since nothing looked unusual, he ran back. “Are you okay?” he screamed.
“Are you okay?” Lacy Dawn asked Skinner.
"Are you okay?” Davi yelled again and beat on the shed’s exterior wall.
"I think so,” Skinner answered Lacy Dawn. “Where am I?”
“Not so fast with the questions, young man,” she said.
“I’m no good at saying things the right way, so here goes. I love you, Lacy Dawn.”
“Boys are so silly,” she responded, but stroked her hair into place.
Robert Eggleton has served as a children's advocate in an impoverished state for over forty years. Locally, he is best known for his nonfiction about children’s programs and issues, much of which was published by the West Virginia Supreme Court where he worked from 1982 through 1997. Today, he is a retired children's psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia, where he specialized in helping victims cope with and overcome maltreatment and other mental health concerns. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel. Its release followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn Adventures in magazines. Robert recommends the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.