An Orphan and the Metal Man
"No! I said I hate this life, and this stupid store!"
"Jonah! Please, son, don't-"
"I told you dad. I don't want to be an inventor like you. I want to be an astronaut, and right now they're hiring new graduates."
"But we're almost done. Just a few more hours spent and you'll see my say in this matter."
"Arghhh! This. Stupid. MACHINE!"
"Dad… I-I, I'm so sorry."
"Dad, I-I didn't mean to."
Saint Christopher's Orphanage for Children. A nasty place if you ask me. It's pretty insulting how they named the place after a saint when they do things a saint wouldn't do. The orphanage was just like any other orphanage, with decent food, decent beds, a rundown building, and a meet up for nuns. But unlike other orphanages, the nuns in the Saint Christopher's Orphanage for Children were the worst. It wasn't just their ugly appearances,, or the putrid odor that followed them like a ghastly ghost; it was their abnormally strict attitudes. Make one wrong mistake and you'll get whipped, starved, or worst, get locked in the iron maiden. Up until a month ago that was where I lived, but that all changed when I met Gramps…
"Heath, Miss Hunchback is asleep, time for phase 2," Jacob, my best friend informed us. There were approximately six of us all huddled around a stack of crates on the side of the Orphanage. We had successfully sneaked out of the boy's dorm, and now all we had to do was to get past the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the gate of hell, then we would taste freedom.
"Alright! you all know the plan, once we get out, we go to the abandoned warehouse down at Stinky Jack's Shack," motioning for them to follow, we crept close by the brick wall that surrounded the orphanage, hiding among the shadows.
Once we neared the steeled bar gates, we came upon the guard shack. Peeking inside I see Miss Hunchback's sleeping figure. She was indeed fast asleep just like Jacob had said. She was sprawled back on her chair but her body was tilted slightly forward, due to her back, hence the name, 'Miss Hunchback.' On the desk in front of her was a rosary, to appear more 'holy' I guess, and a glass of water? I presumed it was water; it was hard to tell due to the dark but it might've been alcohol. Next to it was a whip that she used on kids who behaved 'badly', which was her most prized possession.
"She's asleep alright, now time for phase 3. Ed, it's your time to shine, show us whatcha got," Ed was probably the youngest among the six of us but he was the best when it came to picking locks.
"Yes sir!" he saluted
"Come on! I told you to stop calling me that," I chastised him.
Backing up from the guard shack we hid behind the bushes as we watched Ed do his job. All he needed was a paperclip and a thick needle and boom, one point for Ed and zero for Mr lock. This was how we were able to get extra food whenever we were hungry. Just get Ed to pick the lock and bam, starve no more! We never got caught once, so I expected it to be the same as today, just this time we weren't trying to get more food, we were trying to get out. Since we had been planning this escape for a month now I had expected nothing to go wrong. But of course, fate had something else in store for us. After just a minute the light from the guard shack opened and at the same time Ed cried out in dismay.
Henry the boy with a sailor's mouth quickly shouted a curse and at the same time, we all sucked in quick breaths. Luckily Miss Hunchback hadn't heard us, but now there was a chance she would catch us if she decided to walk around. Although it didn't seem like she was going to come out anytime soon, we still had to assume the worst. So I told William to go ahead and make sure Ed was alright.
"Ed! Psst, hey! Are you good?" I heard him call out.
Although I didn't hear Ed's reply, assuming from William's relaxed expression everything was alright, "He just dropped the paperclip," William informed us.
Now we were back on track, and in just a few more minutes we were about to be free. The feeling of being free from this place was making everyone anxious. After today we wouldn't have to suffer anymore. Although I hadn't really thought about what I would do once we got out, it was better than staying another day in this cursed place. We didn't know how many seconds went by but after a few minutes Ed suddenly appeared behind us, scaring us half to death.
"Screw you, Ed! And your-" Henry whispered, before getting cut off.
"I could've died before I was free. Are you insane!?" Michael chided Ed, smacking him across the head.
"Hey, HEY! Shut it, someones coming!" Jacob whispered loudly, covering Ed and Henry's mouth's, muffling them.
True enough someone was coming towards us. We stayed there hunched behind the bushes peeking, waiting anxiously for whoever it was. The person was only a few feet away from us but due to the way the lantern was handled we couldn't see their face. Soon enough the person started to wave the lantern around, enlightening the area around us. Michael suddenly pulled Henry down, then moments later the light illuminated the spot where he was previously at. If it weren't for Michael then we would've been all caught.
"Hey what'd you do that for?!"
"Dummy if I hadn't pulled you, we would've been all exposed!"
"Who do you think it is?" asked Ed.
"Could it be Miss Hunchback?" answered Henry.
"It could, since the light from the guard shack opened," Jacob muttered, at the same time a manly yawn came from the person, "Or not."
"Crap! It's Mr. Ward."
Mr. Ward was the only male adult in the orphanage. Although most orphanages around here were only run by nuns, our orphanage had Mr. Ward. Mr. Ward was an ex-policeman that was fired for the severe assault of a prisoner. Proving that Saint Christopher's Orphanage for Children was not so saintly after all. He was one of the worst adults in the whole orphanage, just before Miss Mad-Eye, the head nun.
"What now?!" Ed asked, panic in his tone.
"We run," Michael blankly said.
Of course, I deeply agreed with Michael. There wasn't really anything else to do except make a run for it. But the others didn't seem to agree as they stared dumbfounded at Michael.
"For one smart guy you sure are dumb," Henry said.
"Are you crazy! Mr. Ward is an ex-policeman, not to mention he was a star runner back in his high school years!" Ed added.
"You actually believe those tales, pipsqueak?" Henry asked Ed in disbelief as he bonked him on the head.
"Hey! That hurts, plus I'm taking your side so just deal with it."
"Michael's right. We need to make a run for it, but we can also make a diversion." Jacob said as he took command of the situation.
"Then it's decided, Michael, get ready to lead them out of here. Will, it's time to practice those pitching skills."
As Will and I crept through the shrubbery we gathered the different stones on the ground, making sure to make as little noise as possible. Once we had gathered a decent amount of stones we took aim and threw them at the orphanage windows. It was like killing two birds with one stone.
'CRASH!' the sound of stone hitting glass resonated throughout the whole orphanage.
I wasn't that good at aiming so most of my throws were hitting the orphanage walls but Will was striking gold; every single aim was true. The distraction was a success, as we saw Mr. Ward start to yell and head towards the orphanage to access the damage. Alright, time to get back. Once we got back the others were already gone so we pursued them and came upon the slightly open gate. Slipping through we ran out on the streets, the sound of our feet hitting the cement filling the empty night. We were finally free.
We ran as fast as we could but as soon as the ghastly sight of the orphanage disappeared from our view we slowed down. All we had to do now was make our way to the abandoned warehouse. After a few more minutes of walking, we finally arrived at our destination. The warehouse was indeed abandoned, its wooden walls were rotting, its roof was falling apart and the windows were smashed. Making it the best place for a temporary home until the six of us got back on our feet.
Making our way towards the back of the warehouse, Will began to climb on top of a barrel and onto the stone wall that was connected to the warehouse, kinda like a fence. With our backs against the rotting wooden walls of the warehouse, we began to move. About halfway we came upon a busted open window. Careful not to touch the shattered glass that was still attached, we stepped inside. We were inside the warehouse now, standing on an unstable second-floor platform.
"Took you guys long enough," a voice said from the darkness, "Catch," suddenly out of nowhere an apple came flying towards my face. Although the target was my head, it instead got caught by my hand.
Wiping the apple using the hem of my shirt I took a bite out of it; the savory juice filling my dry mouth. After taking another bite a light appeared from down below; lightning the figures of Jacob, Ed, Henry, and Michael all sitting around a lantern. After coming down from the platform we sat around the lantern, none of us speaking for a while. We were finally out of the sad excuse for an orphanage, but I guess everyone else realized what I had on my mind, 'What now?'
"We're finally out," Ed uttered in shock, breaking the ice.
"Yeah, we don't have to worry about Miss Hunchback, Mr. Ward, Miss Stinky Mc Smeller, Miss Banshee, and Miss Mad-Eye," Will agreed.
"Aye," we all replied.
"Man, if you guys weren't such wussy's I wouldn't have followed your plan and just beat them all up on my own!" Henry accused.
"Oh shut up!" Jacob scoffed, as well as the rest of us.
"Exactly! You basically agreed as soon as you heard about our plans, meaning, you were afraid to face them in the first place," Ed pointed out and by the look on Henry's face, Ed shouldn't have said that.
"What did you say? Beef head!" growled Henry, flexing his meaty hands.
"You heard me!" Ed jeered, not backing down.
It was like David and Goliath all over again. But before the fight could escalate any further Michael stood up and addressed the situation that was imprinted on our minds.
"Stop! Stop, stop! It's not the time to fight, so settle down Goliath, and David, you better go pray and hope you'll still be King," Michael declared.
"He's right," I told them both.
"Thank you, as you can see, right now we need to figure out how to earn money to get by until we turn 18. Right now we only have enough rations until the end of this week. If we don't find a job and start earning money we will starve and die." Michael concluded.
"We also can't stay here forever," Jacob added.
"So what now?" Will asked.
"We sleep, then tomorrow we find ourselves some jobs," I told them all, grabbing a nearby sack of potatoes, using it as a pillow. Following my lead, everyone else got comfy and started to fall asleep. Soon enough, the snores came, filling the empty warehouse and exiting out into the night.
"This tastes like horse crap!" someone yelled, waking me instantly. The sun shined through the crevices in the wall, blinding my eyes. Raising my arm up to block the sun I sat up and saw that Michael had started to cook breakfast; using a pot that we had stolen and a wooden spoon.
"So what's for breakfast," I asked as I approached them.
Jacob came up beside me, yawning, "Well it definitely smells nice."
"Oh don't let the smell deceive you. This is worse than the food at the orphanage," Ed warned us, as he sat atop a crate staring hesitantly at his bowl.
Grabbing a bowl from Michael I leaned against a wooden pole and began to eat, "Well, it definitely has a unique taste," I said, in hopes of Michael taking it as a compliment, "So, where's Henry and Will?"
"Henry went off to look for work at the fishery, said that his two babies can help him find a job," Michael said, flexing his muscles trying but poorly imitating Henry, "And Will's still asleep," he nodded towards the second platform.
"Well, it's good that Henry has already started. We need all the money we can get if we want to survive," although kids weren't supposed to work, it wasn't that uncommon to find kids working anyways. Despite the fact that we weren't 18 yet, you only needed to look 18 to get a job, well, not really, but it helps. Michael was the oldest out of the six of us, he was 17. The rest of us 16, except Ed, who was just 12. Although you'd think we could just wait until we were 18 to leave the orphanage, we couldn't stand it.
Finishing the bowl, I placed it back onto the crate Michael had used as a table, "Well, I guess I should get going as well," climbing the ladder to the second floor I exited through the window and jumped down, 'Time to find a job,' I told myself. Soon enough the peaceful atmosphere of the warehouse disappeared and the honking of cars filled my ears. The streets were crowded as usual as people tried to get to their jobs. It was like a double-edged blade, the crowded streets helped me hide from any pursuers and at the same time it delayed my efforts to find a job.
It was around 10 in the afternoon when the streets became less crowded, and by 12 the streets were deserted. With the exception of those begging on the sides or the people whose jobs required them to move around. Although I had been looking for a job for the last 4 hours it seemed that my luck had all been spent on the escape. I had tried the fishery down by the docks, but they claimed that my build wasn't compatible with the job; it was the same with the bricklayers as well. Even though I showed them that I could carry a decent amount of bricks. Then I came upon a woodshop, it seemed fun to carve stuff out of wood so I tried my luck again, but sadly the carpenter wasn't looking for an apprentice at the moment.
Sitting down on the steps of a local library, I pondered on what I was supposed to do. That was when I struck gold. There, sitting on a red wagon was a stack of newspapers, these probably belonged to a kid but hey, if he can afford a wagon then he won't mind me using these newspapers for money, and so here I am, standing in the hot sun, trying to sell some newspapers. "Newspapers! seven cents! Get your newspapers here now!" I called out. In the end I managed to sell four newspapers, earning me a total of 28 cents.
The sun had begun to set when I decided to end it for today. In the end I managed to sell 10 newspapers, earning me a total of .70 cents. Enough to buy us food for a day or two, maybe more if we can ration them out. As I walked back to the warehouse the sun had set completely, and the moon rose up, taking its shift for tonight. Stores had begun to close as well, the only form of light lightning the streets being the lamps. Except for this small building… It was intriguing, the store was a simple one, unlike the others that massed main street. Inside were loads of unique stuff, ranging from flying ships to wooden soldiers that walked around, and loads of other unknown stuff. Was it a toy store? By the looks of it you wouldn't think of it as one, but these things looked interesting. Looking up I saw a sign saying, "Leo's Nick Nacks N' Stuff."
I wanted to find out more about this stuff so I walked inside, making a bell ring. Inside was even more interesting, the shelves were lined with more different unique toys. There was even an actual train that blew smoke and made choo choo noises. There was no one at the cash register so I decided to proceed, but cautiously, as I wasn't sure if the store was closed.
"Squeak! Squeak!" a sound came from behind me, then suddenly a mouse went running through my legs and into the door behind the cash register.
"We're closed," a gruff voice spoke from behind the door.
I didn't answer in hopes of buying more time to browse the many interesting nick-nacks. It went quiet for a while as I crept around gazing at all the nick nacks that were littered among the shelves and counters, until…
"Brat, didn't I tell you we were closed?" The man who spoke from before was suddenly behind me, with his arms crossed and a stern glare searing into my eyes.
"I-I was just really amazed at all these toys," I uttered weakly. The man was old, that was the first thing that you'll notice; with his tired eyes and the few strands of black hair that curled along with his white hair. But for an old man he was quite large; he had a stocky build, not as huge as the men down by the harbor, but around there. His hands as he went to pick up the mouse, that I just noticed had a metal flap on its back, were huge and calloused. It was to be assured if he worked with metal, but the way he delicately picked up the mouse was surprising for someone with hands that looked second to none then Bruno Sammartino.
"Well, we're closed. So get out, NOW!" his gruff voice, as if it was parched, commanded once more.
I didn't want to leave. These things interested me and I wanted to know more about them. Seeing that I wasn't going to move he stepped forward and gripped my shoulder and began to drag me to the door.
"Wa-Wait! Can I work for you?! Please?! I can do anything, I can sweep, clean the windows, or even lift. I can do many things!" I desperately begged. But it didn't stop him from continuing.
"Please! I really need a job, or else my friends and I won't last. We're just orphans sir! Please!" I begged once more, sadly we were at the door already and as he opened it he said four words, "8:00, don't be late," then the door slammed in my face, the bell ringing once more.
"I did it, I got a job!" I said in disbelief. Lifting myself up I brushed the dirt off my trousers and began the trudge back home. But this time I had a burning fire in my heart.
Night came and just like yesterday we were all sitting around the lantern. None of us daring to speak for fear of not knowing if the person had good news or bad news to tell. The branches of the tree that were outside the front raked across the none shattered windows. Creating a sense of dread, adding to the fear that withholds our circle. It seemed like no one was going to speak anytime, sensing this, Michael stood breaking the ice just like Ed had done before.
"I got a job at a restaurant," he announced, as he sat back done.
"A restaurant? Who would hire a trash cook like you?" Henry smirked.
"Hey, at least he can learn to cook better," Ed said, coming to Michael's aid.
"Shut up Rat! I bet you couldn't even get a job with your physique, not to mention your ratlike features," Henry retorted.
"Big oof, I did get a job. You're looking at the brand new door boy at that brand new hotel by Laner's St," Ed announced proudly.
"Well it's looking good so far. Michael and Ed both got jobs, so that means food won't be a problem for now anymore," I claimed, taking control of the situation before it could escalate further.
"I got a job as well," Henry added.
"Nice, so far three of us have found jobs. What about you guys?"
"No luck today, sorry guys." William sighed.
"Same goes for me as well," Jacob added.
"That's alright, four of us have jobs so that's enough to get us by," I assured, "Now let's go to sleep, and tomorrow let's all do our best."
Tomorrow came fast and just like yesterday Henry was gone as soon as I woke up. Michael informed me that work at the docks started very early so Henry had to leave at the first sign of light. It made me think that even though Henry was a big meathead, he was also very caring of those around him. Unlike before though, William, who previously slept till noon yesterday, was now up and about, ready to leave to find a job. Jacob was also beside him, also ready to look for a job. Bearing farewell to them I went to sit at our make-shift kitchen; where Michael was busy preparing breakfast for the three of us.
"What about you Michael? What time do you need to go to work?"
"Can you keep a secret Heath?" he asked me, an unsure tone in his voice.
"Yeah, of course."
"I'm not actually working at the restaurant as a chef," he told me, "I'm working as a dishwasher."
I couldn't help it but I laughed for the first time after a while, causing him to look at me fearfully, "I kinda figured Michael," I told him, "I mean, you're just 17. Plus, they wouldn't just make someone they hired a chef right away, you'll have to work your way up the ranks."
Realization replaced the fearful look on his face, "I'm so dumb," he said shaking his head.
"No, you are not Michael. You're the oldest among all of us and the smartest. When we need help you're there, when we need someone to cook for us, you're there," I said, adding the last part as a joke.
We both laughed at the last part, the tension and unease disappearing and in the progress, we woke Ed, who forgot that he had work…
"Oh no! What time is it?! What time?!" he asked both of us frantically.
"Uh-um, I guess around 8:00?" Michael replied.
"8:00!?" Ed and I both yelled.
"Crap I'm late!" I yelled, clutching the strands of my hair.
"Preach brother!" Ed said, as he hurried to dress up.
I followed his lead and began to throw on some clean clothes. Along with trying to finish my buttered bread. Who knew it was hard trying to pull your pants up with one hand. Finally getting my pants up, Ed and I made our way to the newly made door that Jacob had made quickly saying goodbye over our shoulders. We ran down the street until Ed told me that he was to head down another street and so we split and went off to our destinations.
"I'm sorry!" I went to yell, but right in front of me there was nothing, 'Huh?! I thought he said to come at eight o'clock. But why does the store look closed?'
The store was dark, its lights were closed and the sign by the window wasn't flipped to inform those that the store was open. It was also rather dusty inside as if no one had thought to sweep. But there was light coming from the door behind the counter; seeping through the crevices of the wooden frame. Gathering the courage, I went to the door and knocked three times. I waited for a while in the silence, waiting to see if someone was going to answer. Sensing that no one was, I went to knock again, this time a bit louder. The door swung open, and in place of the door was the old man from before, and he didn't look happy, well, he didn't actually look unhappy at the same time.
"U-uh, um, I'm so sorry that I'm late. It's just that-" I tried to explain, but he cut me off.
"The store's not going to open by itself, and if that's the case, we won't get any customers, and if that happens…" he drawled.
"Yes sir!" I answered.
First I opened the lights, its yellow shine lighting the store so that I can see more clearly at what I was working with here. As well as hoping that the bright light can remove the sense of awkwardness in the store. The old man thrust a dusting stick at me as I turned back and so I began to dust the many nick-nacks around the store. As well as the shelves and counters, making sure that they look neat and tidy. Then I took the broom that the man suddenly had in his hands, before he could thrust it at me again, and began to sweep the dust out of the store and into the streets. Looking back I hear something hitting the window and I see that the sign has been flipped, "Guess it's time."
It wasn't as busy as a bakery, or as lively as a marketplace. But we still had customers come by. Some purchased the many wares that the old man-made, others just went by to simply browse. Just as I had done the previous day, although they probably had money, unlike me. The old man wasn't talkative, that's what I had noticed. He would simply say the proper things someone behind a cashier would say. He was also very commanding, it was as if he had never had someone work with him. He told me to wrap the products or reposition an item on the shelf that he acclaimed was, "moved," or sweep the floor, saying that dust had gathered.
It was around 11 when he unhooked the sign from the window and hung another that said, "Lunch break, be back around 12," then he left the cashier and went back into his room, totally forgetting about me in the process. I didn't know what to do so I just sat in the corner and from time to time checked around the store to see if anything needed fixing. An hour passed and the old man came out of his room, not noticing me sitting in the corner, but when he did, he seemed surprised. But that disappeared in a matter of seconds and he unhung the sign and rehung the other sign.
The afternoon went on just like this morning. With him ordering me around to sweep or check up on an item. By then I was pretty worn out. All this walking and sweeping had started making my legs and arms ache. I wanted to go back and sleep on those itchy haystacks and dream with my head slumped on top of a sack of not hard potatoes. I guess my wish was granted because the old man flipped the sign and began to close down the shop. He closed the blinds and checked the cash register before turning to me. He didn't say anything for a while before turning and nodding to himself. I guess it was time for me to head back home.
"You did good," I heard him say, as I went to leave.
"Uh-oh, thank you," I replied, but as soon as I turned he wasn't there anymore, 'I guess he's a ninja as well.'
"Pile it all in boys. Don't leave a single penny, got it?"
It had been a week now since we had escaped from the orphanage from hell. We were doing good in terms of health and comfort, but our supplies had started to run out. After a week of working at our prospective jobs, Michael had called us around our table and told us to throw in all of our earnings. So that we could see what we could buy, and how much we had.
Although Jacob and Will had found jobs, they had just started, so to speak, they hadn't earned a dime. Meaning we didn't have that much to spend. But it was enough to buy food for 2 weeks if we could ration it. Once Jacob and Will start to earn their wage we would be set to start saving our money in hopes of investing in our futures. I hadn't thought that far yet but we had a plan. One, find jobs and earn cash, check, two, save up enough money to buy food, check. But what was three? What were we, a bunch of kids, going to do after we had a steady amount of money. Do we buy a house to permanently live in, do we continue to live in this warehouse, or do we use the money to get a better education? In hopes of finding better work. Honestly, it was too much to think of, so instead, we settled on just trying to save as much money as we can and just see where it will take us.
After working for a week under the old man, he began to open up more. He became more talkative and started to show more emotion, instead of the tired faraway look that was always on his face. But he still commanded me like there was no tomorrow. So I took it upon myself to just do the things before he can tell me to. Imagine the surprised look on his face when I started to do that. He had also asked for my name. Which was surprising considering he didn't even mention his own when I had told him mine. So I just settled on calling him Old man, which he actually didn't complain about.
"Alright, we got about enough to buy us food for two weeks, maybe two weeks and a half if we can ration the food properly," Michael told us, but his gaze was directed at Henry.
"What!? I'm a growing boy, so sue me," he said, flexing his muscles.
"So what are we going to do after we start saving more money?" Ed asked the question that was on my mind, and on Michael's, considering the look he made.
Michael was the oldest among us and even though I was the leader of the jail escape, we mostly turned to him, for advice. It was a heavy burden for someone as young as Michael, to be caring for five kids, and I could see that. "Let's just continue saving up and just focus on that," I said in Michael's place, "Plus it's getting late, we should get to sleep, and with that, the matter was closed… for now.
"Hey Old Man! I just finished sweeping, dusting, wiping the windows, rearranging the products and counting the change, 30-mins early; what should I do?"
"Come in here and help me carry these downstairs."
"Yes sir," I said, going into the door that stood behind the counter that dared me to peek in ever since I had first started working 7 days ago.
Inside was a small room, but it had room for a cot on the right side of the wall with a desk facing a window that was situated in the middle of the north wall. The desk was littered with paper and metal trinkets of all shapes and sizes. Beside the desk was a bookshelf that was half-filled with books and half-filled with metal contraptions. Surprisingly, the metal contraptions had taken the spot of over a dozen books which were now stacked on the floor beside the bookshelf. The old man was lifting three boxes that were behind the door, leaving two boxes for me to carry. I took the first one and followed him downstairs, into the basement where countless other boxes littered the whole room. Then I went back up for the last one. This box, unlike the others, wasn't taped shut and so I could see what was inside.
"Hey, this is a nutcracker!" I exclaimed.
Looking more closely inside the box I saw more nutcrackers'. These would be perfect to be put up for display since December was coming, meaning Christmas was coming as well. "Hey, why don't we put these nutcrackers up for display? It's almost Christmas so it's sure to be a hit," I asked, but the old man was nowhere to be seen.
"Get up here, these products need to be wrapped."
'What the heck? When did he get up there?'
Upstairs was pretty lively as people browsed the wares and purchased them. The old man was by the register a pile of stuff on the table behind him all ready to be wrapped up and given to their new homes. "What about the nutcrackers? Shouldn't we put them up for display as well?" I asked him once more, but once again he ignored me.
The next day I went downstairs to see the nutcrackers again. Maybe they weren't working, but if that was the case, why didn't the old man just say so? But why did the old man leave when I mentioned the nutcrackers, let alone ignore me? I opened the box that had housed the nutcrackers and examined them closely. There seemed to be nothing wrong, and when I turned the metal piece on their back they walked properly. It was actually pretty satisfying watching them walk that I even started to roleplay with them. I lined up a bunch of the nutcrackers and cranked them all. Then I watched them march together in sync like a bunch of soldiers. After one point they began to drop one by one, but one kept going, until it disappeared under a chair and fell.
When I went to retrieve the nutcracker I noticed that the chair had something on it. Something that was oddly shaped like a man. I was scared, my heart was beating, and sweat was dripping down my forehead. Reaching forward I pulled the cover off the thing, "What. The. Hell," those were the words that came out of my mouth. Under the cover was a… human? It wasn't exactly a human, but it looked like one, but instead it had metal skin and parts of it were missing; like a left arm, and a left leg. Was this one of the old man's inventions? The cover didn't just hide a metal man, it also hid a desk with a piece of paper that was wedged under the metal man's hand.
While observing the metal man more closely I noticed a small latch on its back. Pulling the latch down I was prepared to see what sort of amazing thing this invention could do. But it did nothing. Was this another failed invention as well? If it was, maybe I could fix it. Then the old man won't be upset anymore; It might even cheer him up forever. I covered the metal man up again and took one of the nutcrackers home. Maybe if I could learn how something like the nutcracker worked, I could get an idea of what was wrong with the metal man.
Everyone was sound asleep, all in their own different dream worlds, except for me. I had just taken apart the nutcracker's back piece and was prepared to check the insides. But, I wasn't prepared for what awaited me inside its small body. It was like a maze of tiny metal gears of all shapes and sizes. It amazed and scared me at the same time; it was amazing how the old man was able to create a dozen of these nutcrackers, but it was scary of how complicated it looked. How was I supposed to cheer up the old man, if I didn't even understand a small invention like this one? My enthusiasm slowly began to disappear… until I remembered the old man, and how sad he was when I mentioned Christmas and the nutcrackers.
"I can do this, It'll only take me one month… and a half, and Christmas is in two, so I'll have more than enough time," I said to myself, "Ok, let's do this!"
"Huh? Did you say something Heath?" someone uttered in their sleep.
Looking around I spotted Henry, one eye open, the other barely an inch, "Go back to sleep Henry, there's nothing wrong."
"Aww, I hate fish," he said, before falling back onto his potato pillow, "Ow."
It has been two weeks now since we had escaped the orphanage and all I can say is that we've been doing great. Ever since Jacob and Will started to get their wages our rations have gone up and money isn't much of a worry for us anymore. So we've been thinking of our next course of action. Henry suggested that we keep on working and save up to buy the warehouse, so we could live here permanently; It was a smart idea so I agreed. Ed said that he didn't want to be a door boy anymore and had shyly asked us that he wanted to go to school. Which wasn't much of a problem and since Ed was still basically a kid he needed it much more than us. Everyone had a lot of ideas and most of them were great. But I guess hearing all of these ideas made Michael anxious. He was the oldest and he was about to turn 18 soon and I guess the burden of taking care of five kids was getting to him once more. So I proposed that we follow Henry's idea; save up money, and once Michael turns 18, we'll buy the warehouse and turn it into our own home, permanently. Which everyone agreed too, and it also helped Michael a lot. Since now, he wasn't the only one that was going to take care of us. Now we were all going to pitch in to look out for everyone's backs.
That wasn't the only good news. The issue regarding the metal man was going alright. Ever since the old man caught me watching him repair the mouse from the first time I ever met him. He began to teach me more about the toys he made using metal contraptions. Ever since then, whenever we had lunch he would teach me. In doing so I now had a better understanding on how the nutcrackers worked. I also began to sneak into the basement a lot more. While sketching the metal man and all the gears and metal rods that were inside him.
It's been four weeks now and Ed has just started school. He's a month late but the principal was ok with it. We used a bit of the money we saved up to buy him a new pair of clothes; along with a backpack. Actually, the backpack was found on the street. But Michael stitched it up and cleaned it nicely, now it looks brand new! Semi… Ed was really happy when we presented him with his school clothes and his backpack. Although only five of us were only going to be working from now on, we were happy that we were able to grant Ed education.
Regarding my job at the store, the old man's daily lessons helped me a lot. I learned a lot of new things and whenever I did it made me crave for more. It also helped with the metal man in the basement. I had begun to start repairing the metal man when the old man taught me how he created a walking metal dog. Which reminded me about the metal man and his fingers. After I had observed the metal man for days I noticed that he wasn't supposed to walk; he was supposed to move his fingers. But why did he have a piece of paper?
"To draw!" I yelled.
"Heath! You alright!?" Jacob came running to me, a worried expression on his face.
"It's alright Jacob. I just solved something."
"What'd you solve?"
"What the metal man's figures are supposed to do!"
"Anddd, what exactly is it supposed to do?"
"Draw! Now hurry, get back, I need to figure out how I can make him draw."
The metal man was supposed to draw something, but what? The next day I went back down to the basement and this time I took a closer look at the paper. In between the metal man's fingers was a pencil, it had drawn a semi-circle before it stopped. 'I guess it's supposed to draw a circle?' I thought to myself. Since the metal man was supposed to draw, I began to observe the gears and the metal rods that stretched from its fingers and began to work from there. That night I observed the sketch that I had taken, but according to what the old man had taught me, everything seemed to be ok with the hands. The next day I traced the metal rods that came from the fingers. Maybe there was a problem with the gears that it was connected to. This time I observed the arm and the shoulder. It was a really complex system. This time I did spot a few problems, the gears were clunked together and were scratching the other gears, preventing the fingers from moving.
It took me two weeks to fix the problem with the gears in the shoulder blades. Because I was too blind to notice how rusted a few of the gears were. This time it was going to work. I flipped the latch, this time I was ready to see something happen. But just like before, nothing did. "Oh, come ON! What's wrong now?!" I checked the arm, the fingers, the gears that I had just fixed and in the end I was stumped. It was November and the fingers hadn't even moved once. Maybe there was a problem with the main panel that was attached to the back of the metal man. Opening it… I fainted.
"Ohhh, that's good!"
"I'm too young…"
"Stop being a baby, remember, You're. A. Mouse."
It's been 8 weeks since we started living by ourselves. Eight weeks where we didn't live in terror. Ed was doing great in school and Michael was promoted from dishwasher to junior chef. Will's employers had found out he was an orphan, and in doing so they found out about us. Since then they began to give Will the bread that was leftover from the day, BOOM! Daily rations from now on.
It has also been eight weeks since I fainted. When I had opened the panel that day I was met with a horrific sight; the gears were all jumbled up, the metal rods were rusted and bent, the rods themselves weren't even connected to the shoulders. Which in turn, didn't matter if the rods in the fingers were connected to the shoulders. I wasn't even done yet and Christmas was nearing. The old man had also begun to suspect me and since then my time has been limited.
"'Tis been 11 weeks since we escaped that damn orphanage!" Henry announced.
"Yeah!" we all agreed with him.
"Art thou excited?! 'Tis only two weeks till Christmas!"
We were all sitting around the crate in our makeshift lounge. Everything was going great, we had food, we were healthy, and we were all excited for Christmas. But I was still working on the freaking metal man that I have now dubbed Tin. But Tin wasn't cooperating with me and it was only two more weeks before Christmas. Everything was riding on stupid Tin to work. If he didn't work then my plan of cheering up the old man would go to waste. That's why I decided to go overdrive mode.
The next day I went an hour early and snuck in using a key the old man made me two weeks ago. Ever since he started to notice me coming earlier than before. Snoring sounds came from the old man's room, so I was good to go. I was almost done with the Tin, but I still had a little ways to go. The rusted metal rods were replaced and the missing gears were provided. All I needed to do was put them together and make sure everything worked. So I spent the next hour getting to work.
The warehouse was a sight to behold! Red and green streamers littered the entirety of the second floor. A tree that Henry had gotten from a fisher was planted in the middle of the warehouse; gold and silver Christmas ornaments littered the tree, along with paper cut out gingerbread men that Ed made in school. Jacob had fixed most of the rotten wall of the warehouse so that no cold December wind could come in. Creating a very warm Christmas atmosphere. Michael's cooking also contributed to the very Christmas atmosphere. He had cooked a lot of food, more food than we ever saw in the orphanage. We also had cake! Will's employer, Mrs. Nancy had given Will a freshly baked cake. This was truly a Christmas party.
"Guys, I just want to say that… it's been an awesome three months. And, becoming friends with you all was the best choice I ever made," Henry announced shyly. Which was acceptable, since Henry had a lot of pride. And that was what we loved about him.
"Or the only good choice you ever made," Ed had to whisper.
"Hey, hey! I just want to say, I love you guys. You're all like family to me, actually, you are my family. My real. Family," Will said before Henry could retaliate.
"Whoa, Will actually spoke two whole sentences," Jacob said in astonishment. "I'm just messing with you Will. I love you too man," he added before putting his arm over Will's shoulder and hugging him.
"Well?" Ed said.
"Well, what?" I asked him.
"Ed wants a group hug, now come on guys," Michael answered as he motioned for all of us to come together.
"Wha- What, wai-" Ed tried to say, but he was soon engulfed in our group hug.
"Now let's eat!" Henry yelled.
I didn't have work tomorrow but I had to go to show the old man the final product of all my hard work. The guys were fast asleep, the party last night had gone on until midnight. The streets were empty as well since it was Christmas day. So it was pretty easy getting to the store. Once I got there I opened the door and went downstairs not bothering to check if the old man was asleep. It was best if he heard me coming down here so that I wouldn't have to beg him to come down. Since he probably wouldn't, because of all the stuff down here. I had barely finished Tin, but the moment I was finished I felt... satisfaction. I just couldn't believe I had fixed an invention and a huge one at that.
"Heath? What are you doing here?" I heard the old man coming downstairs.
"Hey, Gramps. I have something to show you," I told him, suddenly feeling very uncertain.
Once he saw what I was standing beside, his stare became cold and his voice very icy, "What are you doing with that?" he asked me, his gentle voice that over the weeks I worked here suddenly disappeared.
"I-I fixed it," I stuttered out.
"No, you didn't."
'How did he know if I fixed it or not?' All my confidence disappeared, with those three words. Was all my work in vain? Was my relationship with the old man reduced back to zero?... Did I just ruin everything?... No, I did this to cheer him up and I was going to cheer him up no matter what.
"Leave," he said sadly. I didn't move, but he did and he began to walk up the stairs.
"Wait!" I yelled to him and I quickly pulled down the latch. You could've heard a pin drop in the silence that followed. All of my hard work and soul was poured into fixing this broken invention… But all I got back was the silence that filled the basement when no one was present.
"How?.." I whispered softly before I felt my knees buckle and then the next thing I knew I fell to the hard cold floor. That was when I felt the first tears begin to fall. They fell like how all my hopes for this invention to work fell.
"I did everything."
"What went wrong?" I asked myself again and again, in hopes of stopping these damned tears.
I felt a gentle hand on my back, "It's ok, lad. This invention was never supposed to work."
Maybe the old man was right. I looked up once more at Tin the metal man. He was destined to be a failed invention forever… Wait! There! I couldn't see it clearly but right there in the center of all the gears and metal rods was a keyhole. Standing up I looked at the old man, and just like that, I saw a flash of gold. It was the necklace he always wore, that was the key. I grabbed the necklace, which incited a "hey" from the old man and pulled the necklace out. It was dull, but that wasn't what mattered. In my hands was a key, a key small enough to fit into the keyhole. I pulled the key off of the string and with one motion.
"Tick, tick, tick tick tick."
First, it was the gears, they began to spin. Next were the metal rods that were connected to the gears. They began to move and pull, and then… the fingers began to move. It was like a peek into heaven. The metal man began to move its right arm and started to draw. Its movements were swift and at times clunky. Its drawing wasn't taking any shape or form, but soon enough it started to become clearer and clearer. In the end, what was left on the paper was a picture of the moon with an astronaut standing proud and tall with his flag.
"Merry Christmas… Gramps."
"Merry Christmas lad"