THE JUNKYARD BUDDY
The next day in the morning when the sun rose in the sky, its warm beams gently caressed my face into a very pleasant awakening.
I wasn’t sleeping anymore, but I wasn’t completely awake either. I just wanted to lie in the bed and enjoy the pleasant moment while it lasted.
When I opened my eyes I felt a little confused. I remember falling asleep in that rusty old wrecked car by the fire. How did I get in his bed remains a mystery to me. Though I’m pretty sure I’m not a sleepwalker. Maybe he has put me to sleep in his bed? Maybe he’s not as bad as he seems? Maybe he’s a good person after all.
I realized that I couldn’t be walking around just in my underwear. I had to find some clothes. Maybe I can find something around here?
Without much effort I got myself a ‘brand new’ T-shirt. It wasn’t as clean as the one I wore at the science facility, but it would have to do.
I walked around searching for a pair of trousers. After I spent a long time rummaging through the piles of rubbish I stopped at some kind of a metal cube.
I pulled open its rusty door and guess what I have found. A pair of jeans! They had the most unpleasant smell, but hopefully it would go away once they were dry.
Now that I was properly dressed I decided to look for the man. I walked around the place three times, but he was nowhere to be found.
I looked up at the car stuck on the top of the tallest pile. It looked really scary yesterday night, but now that I’ve seen in the daylight it didn’t look creepy at all. It was split in half, stuck on the pile of old crumpled things people didn’t need anymore. In a way it made me feel sad.
I remembered about the entrance to the abandoned mines that I discovered yesterday. I know I wanted to ask about it first, but the man wasn’t here so I decided to give a closer look.
“Where do ya think you’re goin’? You don’t wanna come near that haunted place, kid!”
My heart skipped a beat when he called at me. I turned around and there he was standing by the fire.
“I have searched all over for you!”
“I’ve been here all the time. You just didn’t see me. Now listen to me very carefully. I don’t wanna see ya near that place, I don’t wanna hear ya askin’bout that place, I don’t wanna see ya lookin’ at it. That place is cursed.”
“That’s exactly what I need!” I laughed and ran towards the mines.
“Come back! That’s an order!” the man called at me, but no matter what he said I wouldn’t move. I wanted him to come here and tell me about the haunted mines.
“You’re really gettin’ on my nerves, boy! This is what I get for lettin’ ya sleep in my bed, huh?”
I knew he would eventually come. If what he said was really true then I wouldn’t have to hide anymore. I could live in the mines, out of everybody’s sight!
“Why do ya kids always gotta do the opposite of what you’re told?”
“Because we’re kids and that’s what kids do.”
“You might got a point.”
“So, will you tell me about the mines now?”
“I’ve already told ya. This place is cursed. Aren’t you supposed to be scared?”
“Let’s put it this way. If you don’t tell me the story I am going to grant you the honor of being the first person I’ll curse once I regain my powers. Now, how does that sound?”
“Are you tryin’ to scare me, boy?”
“No. I am just threatening you.”
“Alright, alright. Whatever you say. Just don’t turn me into a frog or somethin’.”
“Don’t give me ideas. You could regret it.”
“Ugh… If I tell you, will ya gimme peace?”
“Yep. Eternal peace.”
“You sound kinda creepy, but fine then. I’ll tell ya the story…”
“So, many years ago when Lucky Palms was just a little desert town called Snake’s Canyon and was inhabited mainly by some poor folk and outcasts of the society, one of the locals found a precious gem on a walk through the valley. The century-long hunt for the rare stone began. They searched every place of the valley until finally one day the luck smiled at one young man who discovered this very cave we stand before. Back then, the cave was abundant with this gem. It was everywhere you looked. The guy who made the great discovery began employin’ workers to gather the gems for him. As the time went by and there were fewer and fewer precious stones lyin’ around, he began to employ miners and basically turned the cave into a mine. As the miners were gettin’ deeper and deeper into the cave, eventually they came out on the other side and founded a little settlement called Arcadia.”
“Do you think it still exists? Arcadia?”
“I dunno. Maybe. Anyway, as I was sayin’… This settlement proved to be very time-efficient as the miners needed ’round an hour to get to the mines before the founding of Arcadia. Now it only took ’em a couple of minutes. However, like in all the good stories with a tragic end, one day Snake’s Canyon was struck by an earthquake that turned the whole town into dust. Boom! All the people – the self proclaimed owner of the cave included – died in that natural disaster and ’cause the cave was a maze of artificial tunnels and passages the workers made over the years, it didn’t resist and collapsed as well. Those miners who weren’t lucky to die the moment the cave collapsed remained trapped inside and slowly starved to death. It must have been really dreadful.”
“Don’t tell me about it. I have starved to death myself.”
“Oh, right. Sorry ’bout that, pal.”
“Don’t be. I’m alive.”
“Uh… yeah… Well, the legend says that the ghosts of those miners who starved to death roam ’round the mines and bring death upon everyone who ventures into the depths of the cave. Now that I told ya the story, promise me that you won’t go searchin’ for the minin’ settlement.”
“Do I look like someone who is going to keep a promise?” I asked him as I watched his helpless face. Poor man. He was probably really worried about me.
“Come, let me show ya how I get rich.”
“Rich? No offense, but you don’t look rich.”
“Just shut up already and follow me.”
“So, your way of getting rich consists of digging through these piles of rubbish all day?”
“And sellin’ metal scrap for money. Yep, that’s exactly what I do. Fun, huh?”
“Well, I hope there are also other ways to earn money in this world. Like farming or dragon taming,” I smiled and handed a rusty metal tube I found over to him.
“Dragon tamin’? Wake up, kiddo! This is no fairy tale where ya ride on a dragon’s back!”
“Are you saying that the dragons are extinct?!” I panicked.
“Extinct? They have never existed!” the man laughed at me.
“That’s a lie! I’ve tamed dozens of dragons back in the Dragon Valley!” I protested.
“The place where all the Dragon people come from, of course.”
“You’ve got really a great imagination, kid. That should be useful for school. Speakin’ of which, shouldn’t ya be there now?” he asked me as if nothing happened and observed the tube I found.
“Why? I already know everything.”
“Great, but rather don’t speak ’bout dragons to anyone.”
“Why not? Nobody likes them?”
“Never mind. Just no more dragons.”
I didn’t really understand what was the problem with dragons. They are normal animals just like any other. This man is such an ignorant.
One of the following days he decided to show me another of his ways to get rich. I was a little afraid when he told me we would have to leave the safety of this place and walk all the way to town, but he promised to keep me safe so I agreed and off we went.
“Do ya see that well across the road?” the man asked me when we sat down on a bench in a park.
“Local folks believe it can grant you a wish if you toss a coin in there.”
“Are you saying it is a magic well that grants wishes?”
“Nah. It’s just a trick to make people believe they’re gonna get rich if they keep on throwin’ the real dough away.”
“Yeah. Like money, ya know?”
“The cool thing is that people like me and you can actually get rich by pickin’ the coins out of the well. Now, that’s the real deal.”
“No! I’m not like you! I’m not a thief!” I protested as I stood up from the bench.
“Oh really? And what ’bout your clothes, huh? Where did ya get those?”
“I… well, it’s not that I stole them. I just really needed some clothes. Plus it was all there, free for taking.”
“Exactly! Free for takin’. Just like the coins over there in that well.”
He might be right. I am a thief. I took something that wasn’t mine and I didn’t feel guilty for doing so. However, as I turned around and looked at the well the idea of stealing coins felt somehow different than picking up some dirty clothes from a pile of rubbish.
“Yo, kiddo, sit down. That’s a police car!” he called at me and pulled me back on the bench. “We can’t get busted.”
“Yeah. The police can shove you in their car just because you look suspicious to them… Like you look you’re up to somethin’.”
“But aren’t we just talking?”
“I know, I know,” he said and moved closer to me. “But ya never know who’s listenin’.”
“How can they hear us if they’re inside the car, driving away from us?”
“They have their techniques.”
“No, rather like bugs.”
“Yeah. They can bug anyplace they want and listen to us speak. This very bench we’re sittin’ on right now could be bugged. Or this lamp.”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think I understand.”
“Ya know… conceal a miniature microphone in a place or object such as a telephone in order to monitor or record someone’s conversations.”
“Microphone. Telephone. Monitor. What is that?”
“You really aren’t from ’round here, are ya, boy?”
“I told you already.”
“Fine fine, whatever. So hey listen, now I’m gonna go over there and grab some coins and uh… you just sit here and watch, okay?”
So just like that I became the witness of crime. If I had known what he was up to I wouldn’t have probably agreed to come.
The whole argument about bugs and phones and telephones didn’t really make me feel at ease either. I didn’t even realize how vulnerable I was at this very moment.
I’m all alone in a town I don’t know, with police driving around in their cars probably listening to what I say. What if they’re friends with the mad scientists? And who is this guy? Is he trying to lure me down the wrong path to becoming a juvenile delinquent? Is he planning on using me to steal money for him? Is this the real reason why he’s letting me sleep in his bed and why he’s worrying about me? Am I unconsciously becoming his victim? Maybe I should run away while I still can. Now or never!
Oh no! He’s coming back!
“Everything alright, kiddo? Ya look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”
“No, everything’s fine,” I smiled at him.
“So, here’s the plan. I think it’s a little too risky for you to start stealin’ in the daylight. It’s better if we wait past sunset when the streets get dark.”
I knew it! He wants me to steal for him!
“The water in the well ain’t too deep, ya shall be able to reach the bottom. You’ll notice there is plenty of coin lyin’ around the well. It’s all fake. The real deal is inside the well. That’s what you wanna get your lil’ hands on.”
For a moment there I really wanted to tell him I wasn’t going to steal for him, but then an idea came to my mind. On the first night he sends me to steal the coins from the well, I’ll simply run away. It should work. All I need to do is gain his trust.
“You’ll wait in the park until the clock on the town hall strikes midnight. That’s when both clock hands are pointing at the number twelve. That’s when the police patrol officers end their work shift.”
“It usually takes ’round ten minutes to the next group of cops before they are back on track. Let’s make that seven minutes for you, just to be sure you won’t get busted.”
“You’ll follow the same path I showed you the other day. You’ll approach the town hall from the back. Be careful, because there’s the police station facin’ the park behind the town hall. The park is well lit at night so make sure to stay in the shadow. You should be able to pass unseen.”
“At any cost avoid running into a police officer! Two of them are usually having a midnight snack in their car parked right in front of the school. That’s on the opposite side of the park, right next to the public library.”
“Remember, a kid wandering ’round town at that hour is a high suspect. Plus your clothes and no shoes don’t really help ya much. Just sayin’.”
“If you make it past the library, you’re in a relatively safe zone. So wait until the clock strikes midnight and get the most ya can outta your seven minutes. Good luck, kiddo.”
As I stood by the well and observed my reflection in the water I knew I wasn’t looking at the face of a thief. I just couldn’t steal the coins from the well. Some people threw them in there with hopes of finally finding true love, getting blessed with a child or even simply being good at what they do for what I know. I didn’t know these people, but no matter what I just couldn’t steal their dreams.
I was really mad at myself for putting my freedom at stake. I looked around, making sure there were no police officers nearby. It was now or never. This was my only chance to run away from him. All I had to do was run and never stop.
So I ran. Again.
I ran as fast as my tired legs would take me.
I didn’t even know where I was going, but it was too late when I realized that I have just ran past the police station. I deeply hoped they haven’t seen me.
The fear of having been possibly seen made me run even faster. When I thought I was far enough to slow down and catch my breath I accidentally slipped on something.
As soon as I rose back to my feet I have discovered what it was. A cute little blue lizard!
“Oh, I’m so sorry little guy, I didn’t want to hurt you!”
“Better watch your steps next time!” the creature squealed at me. I was so shocked that I almost dropped him on the ground.
Wait, this cannot be, I thought to myself when I remembered about my ability to talk to dragons. But this wasn’t a dragon, it was just a lizard. Maybe they are very distant cousins?
“Can you understand what I say?” I asked the lizard.
“Of course I can. Why shouldn’t I?”
“Not everybody can talk to you, right? I mean, not everybody can understand what you’re saying.”
“Well, you are by far the first human I can socialize with. Don’t tell my friends, but they’re seriously driving me crazy with their small talk. It’s a pleasant change to finally talk to someone who doesn’t have a brain of the size of a peanut. My name is Frank, but friends call me Frankie. Nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to meet you, too, Frankie. I’m Huang. No, actually… my name is Nathan.”
“So are you Nathan or Huang?”
“Well… I guess both.”
“Alrighty. So, tell me Nathan Huang, where is it you are headed?”
“Actually, I have no idea.”
“You looked very determined about your destination before you stepped on my back. I might even add that you were in a big rush. Did you run away from home?”
“I don’t have a home.”
“Oh, no! Poor child! Are you an orphan?”
“It’s a really long story…”
“Well, I have time.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you my story if you first take some place safe where I can spend the night.”
“Alrighty then. So, the place you’re looking for is straight ahead and to the right up the hill.”
“What is this place, Frankie?”
“I don’t know, just a place where I hang out with my friends sometime. Don’t worry, I’ve never seen anyone there this late at night.”
“Great. That’s exactly the kind of place I need to be tonight.”
I carried my lizard friend with me to the place he told me about. As we approached closer and I saw the rows of tombstones I knew exactly where we were going.
I’ve never been afraid of the dark, nor have I ever seen a ghost in my whole past lifetime. I know there were people that had the ability to see the spirits, but as far as I know I wasn’t one of them. There’s no need to be afraid.
As I walked through the gate I’ve noticed a tall, cloaked figure standing on a pedestal in the middle of the graveyard. Why would anyone stand on a pedestal in the middle of a graveyard so late at night?
“There’s nobody here except of you and me, my child,” a female voice spoke behind my back.
I mustered all my courage and turned around. Holy Dragon! So I am one of them! “Mother?”