“Dust and Puddles” by Jamie Lozada-McBride

Written by plumtree

Topics: 2021-22 School Year, Complete Archive (2012-2020)

Henry looked out the window. Through the broken glass, he saw the same sight that he had seen yesterday, and the day before, and as far back as he could remember.  He was gazing upon the place he lived, a place that, to his knowledge, was completely empty except for him.

Well, it wasn’t really empty. It was full of things, like a cracked and uneven road, with vibrant plants peeking out from the crevasses. It had cars that were strewn across the road in strange places, and houses and buildings that were covered in ivy and moss. All except his, of course. It was a strange yet somehow pretty sight, like scattered puzzle pieces waiting to be made into something beautiful.

It was Tuesday, which was Shopping Day. The nine-year-old sighed and rolled out of his bed, staring at the old clock by his bed. It said that it was 11:27 and 33 seconds, but then again, it had always said that it was 11:27 and 33 seconds. He took off his pajamas and got dressed for the day, donning clothes that were mostly too small for him by now. Maybe he could find new clothes today. He went downstairs and ate his breakfast of long-expired cereal, which, come to think of it, tasted exactly the same as fresh cereal. Then he picked up his bag, opened the door, and walked outside.

He cheerfully skipped across the broken streets. Sometimes, when it had rained, there were puddles near the cracks in the road. He longed to find one and jump in it, but alas, no puddles today. He searched for a store, looking for bright signs, as stores were usually near bright signs. Or at least signs that used to be bright; most of them had long since faded or become obstructed by dirt and dust.

Then he found one! Henry hoped there were still things there; many of the stores had been empty for a long time.

Fortunately, this one wasn’t empty. Amid the overturned shelves and broken tiles on the floor, there were a few brightly colored boxes. Food! Henry dashed through the open doorway, careful not to step on any glass shards.

He had long since outgrown his shoes, so his feet were not safe from the perils on the ground. While his soles had toughened from years of walking barefoot, Henry would occasionally step on something sharp and then have to get home without using his injured foot. Whenever he got home after this, he would bandage the foot and rest for a few days, waiting for it to heal. Once his foot had recovered completely, he would celebrate by rewarding himself in some way, usually by going to one store filled with boxes and boxes of toys. Henry only ever took one box per visit, though, and tried to keep his visits infrequent, so as to not quickly run out of toys. Sometimes, when he was bored with a toy, he might even put it back, wait for it to accumulate novelty, and then take it out again.

Henry walked out of the food store with two boxes of tasty things called “Granola Bars”. He only ever took as much as he needed, in case anyone else needed any. He hadn’t seen anyone else in years, of course, but he liked to imagine that somewhere, out there, there was someone like him, someone who also lived by themself and liked to walk around and find things. He wished he could meet them, ask them how they were doing, talk to them about the world. Every so often, he would practice for the day he would meet that person, rehearse what he would say, set aside certain toys or books as gifts for that person. But it had been a while, and that person hadn’t come yet, so Henry sometimes took out the presents every now and then. He tried to stop, but the temptation proved too much, and he would pull the gifts out anyway, play with them and read them, and finally put them back neatly in their boxes. He wanted them to be just like new when he gave them to the person.

Boxes in tow, Henry walked home.

He was just a few blocks away from his house when his ears were seized by a sudden observation. He thought he heard…a rustling sound. No, a padding, crunching sound–Footsteps! Henry whirled around, dropped the boxes of granola bars, and ran towards the sound. He thought he saw something, someone, in the distance, and–

The gifts! In his excitement, he had nearly forgotten about the gifts he had ready for the person. After a moment’s hesitation, he turned back to his house and dashed towards it, flying through the front door and dashing upstairs. Most of the important rooms were upstairs. One was his bedroom. One was his reading room, full of books and magazines he had collected from libraries and stores. Another room was the room he played in, littered with his toys. And the last room down the hall was full of the gifts he had collected and preserved for the person he would meet. He barreled into the room, staring at the vast array of books, toys, and assorted odds and ends that Henry happened to find interesting. Knowing that he couldn’t carry them all at once, he decided to take one book that he liked a lot to the person. I’ll give them the rest later, he decided.

He ran back out the house and towards the place he had been when he heard the rustling sound. Even though it was a short distance, he was out of breath by the time he arrived. The divine power he obtained while retrieving the book had all but left him now, displaced with transient exhaustion.

He couldn’t see anyone, though. He heard the crunchy rustle again, and a small animal emerged from a bush, looked around, and scurried away.

For a second, Henry was distracted by the animal. Then he looked down and laughed, because he had just realized that he had left his boxes of granola bars right there in the road. He glanced up from the boxes and looked around again. Still nobody.

He suddenly felt sad. I must have scared the person away by running towards them! Of course! They probably weren’t used to people, not any more than he was. He considered calling out to the person, but realized that that would just frighten them more. Maybe I should just wait for them to come. Yes, that was what he would do.

So Henry patiently sat down and stayed where he was. He opened one box of granola bars, unwrapped a bar, and began munching on it as he opened up the book. Nobody was coming yet, but that was okay. He had plenty of time to wait.



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