Short Story Middle Grade

FICTION: Grimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile by Paul Stansbury

“Waddya going to disappoint Mom with this year?” Shereen taunted Jackie with a high whiny voice. “Not some smelly perfume like last year, I hope.”

“Nah, I bet he’ll get her some more earrings that will turn her ears green like the year before,” chuckled Vernon. “They had to call Hazmat to get rid of those things.”

“Not so,” shouted Jackie, holding back hot tears. He could feel his cheeks turning bright crimson. All the while, Shereen and Vernon laughed as he grew more agitated. “She’s just waiting for something special to wear them with.”

“Just keep tellin’ yourself that,” Shereen said as she walked out of the room. “She never liked any of that junk you got her.” Vernon sniggered. Jackie balled up a fist and took a wild swipe at his older brother, who deftly dodged out of the way. The force of the errant punch caused Jackie to spin out of balance and with a helping shove from Vernon, he fell to the floor. He pounded his fists until they throbbed. Then he lay still letting tears trickle along his cheeks until they fell into the carpet.

“I’ll show you,” he sobbed, “I’ll get her the best present ever.”

“Good luck with that one loser,” Vernon called over his shoulder as he left.

jackieJackie lay on the floor until his tears had dried, then pushed himself up and went to his room. Pulling the bottom drawer of his battered, hand-me-down dresser open, he dug through clothes he hardly ever wore, until his hands reached an old shoe box. Taking it out, he sat down on the floor, legs crossed, the box in his lap. He tugged off the lid and rummaged through worn Matchbook cars, pebbles, green soldiers, and dog-eared baseball cards until his fingers touched the envelope that lay at the bottom. He yanked it out and shoved it in his pocket before returning the box to its spot at the back of the drawer.

Jackie gingerly stuck his head out into the hall to see who was about. The hall was clear, so he began to move toward the stairs. As his room was at the end of the hall, he would have to pass both Vernon and Shereen’s rooms. He breathed a sigh of relief as he discovered both doors were closed. As he tiptoed past Vernon’s door, the muffled sounds of Grand Theft Auto met his ears. These were soon replaced by the pulsing beat of Miley Cyrus trying to escape from Shereen’s room. Having safely negotiated what he believed to be the most dangerous portion of his trip, Jackie hopped down the stairs and made straight for the front door.

Jackie made a beeline for the road, which eventually ran into town. I’ll show them. I’ll find the perfect gift for Mom, even if I have to go to the ends of the earth to find it.  He had never gone into town on his own, but no one had ever said he couldn’t, so he had made up his mind to go. His mother would not get home from work until suppertime and he figured he would have no trouble finding the perfect gift and returning well before then.

A chill breeze made him sniffle as he trudged along the cracked pavement. The faint smell of smoke floated on the wind. Jackie could see it drifting up from the chimneys of the old houses that dotted the lane, grey against the blue sky. He came to a steep rise in the road. It cut through a narrow gap at the top. He trudged along until he reached the crest. The road sloped away into a broad, flat valley. Ahead, lay the town, roof tops gleaming red, green and black in the sunshine. Here and there, white plums spewing from exhaust vents shot upward, evaporating before they became clouds. He paused before he continued. It’ll be all downhill from here. I’ll find the perfect gift in no time.

Jackie had only gone a short distance down toward the town, when he spied a tiny building sitting back from the road. It was no bigger than the tool-shed behind his house. As he approached, he saw a man sitting on the building’s tiny porch. Above his head was a sign in gold letters on a black background which read:

Gimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile
Large Display
Of
Fancy Goods, Bibelots, Novelties,
Unusual Items, And Exotic Curiosities
The assortment is unsurpassed in variety and elegance having been
personally selected from throughout the universe for your consideration.
Very respectfully,
M. Gimcrack, Prop.
— ———– —-

Before Jackie could look away, the man stood up and tipped the top hat which crowned his head. He was dressed in a green velvet waistcoat and grey flannel trousers. His limbs were so thin, Jackie thought he resembled a daddy long legs spider. Then with a flourish of his right hand the man gestured toward the door. Jackie stood motionless.

“You have the look of a man on a mission, if I may be so bold, and of course I am or I would not have said so. Allow me to introduce myself,” the man said, bowing from the waist. “As you may have deduced from the sign, I am I. M. Gimcrack, proprietor of Gimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile. But, that is nothing you wouldn’t know if you can read, which I believe you can, as you have the look about you of someone who can read. Am I right?” Jackie stared at the man. “A simple nod will suffice,” the man said.

“Uh, yes,” Jackie finally managed to spit out.

“Very good then. You are in luck, as I just so happen to have an opening in the schedule to take you on a private tour of Gimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile featuring our Planet Earth Collection. As it clearly says on the sign ‘By Appointment Only’.

Jackie stared at the sign. “Where’s it say that?”

“Right there under ‘I. M. Gimcrack, Prop.’,” he said tracing a bony finger along what Jackie had thought was a line at the bottom of the sign, “plain as the nose on your face. Come, come, time is wasting. Never can tell when someone else will come along clamoring for a tour.”

“Doesn’t look big enough to hold all that stuff on the sign there.”

“Looks as well as words can be deceiving, what have you go to lose?”

“Well,” Jackie paused, considering Gimcrack’s question. “Mom said I shouldn’t talk with strangers, for one thing.”

“And right she is. But by now I can hardly be considered a stranger. Besides, how many strangers will you meet when you walk into one of those stores in town? If that is your concern, you might as well turn around right here.”

“Oh, I can’t do that, I’m looking for something. Something real special. I can’t go back without it.”

“My point exactly,” Gimcrack said opening the door. “Gimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile awaits.”

Jackie looked down the road toward the town which now looked a million miles away. He had already wasted valuable time talking with Gimcrack and he was worried he would not be able to get to town and back before his mother got home. “OK, but just a quick look,” he said, as he turned from the road up the short path to the Mercantile. Gimcrack held the door until Jackie reached the opening. He’s much smaller than he appears and so is the door. Taking a deep breath, he ducked his head and stepped inside.

To his amazement, a long hall stretched out before him. He quickly turned and stuck his head outside. Nothing on the outside had changed. He stepped back on the porch and walked to the edge of the building and looked around the corner. It looked no bigger than it had when he first saw it. Hesitantly, he returned to the opening. The bright outside light prevented him from seeing anything beyond the door. Slowly he poked his head into the shadows just inside. As soon as his eyes were past the doorway, he could see the long hallway.

“Everyone is thrown by that effect first time in,” Gimcrack giggled. “Come along.” Jackie’s eyes quickly adjusted once the door closed. “As the sign says Gimcrack’s has fancy goods, bibelots, novelties, unusual items, and exotic curiosities. Just what is it you are interested in?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll know it when I see it.”

“You appear to be a man of high standards if not clear on specifics. Well Gimcrack’s has something for everyone as I like to say. What if I take the liberty to show you some of our Planet Earth selection that I believe might be of interest to a person such as yourself? Perhaps that will help define and narrow the universe of possible items suitable to your requirements.”

“Sure.”

“Very good,” Gimcrack said, stopping in front of a bright green door. Jackie now found the light inside to be pleasantly bright, such so that he could make everything out quite clearly. A hint of cinnamon tickled his nose. “Perhaps something gastronomic would fill the bill,” Gimcrack offered as he pushed open the door.

“Gastro what?”

“Food,” Gimcrack chortled. “Food, glorious food – well you know how it goes.” He led Jackie onto a small balcony which overlooked an immense room. To their right stood a huge green orb. It rose ten to fifteen feet over their heads. “That my friend is the Big Apple. The uneducated believe the Big Apple to be red, but that is not the case. It is a variety of The Granny Smith and therefore green although it is yellow before it reaches maturity. You may recognize ‘The Big Apple’ as a nickname for New York City. It was first popularized in the 1920s by John J. Fitz Gerald, a sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph. He had visited the Mercantile and was so impressed with our massive Malus sylvestris he use the term to refer to his own city. The joke was on him though, because this specimen came from Australia.”

“How do you eat something like that?” Jackie asked.

mr grimcrack“Just like you would eat an elephant, one bite at a time,” Gimcrack winked. He pointed to the right. A large harvesting basket filled with grapes sat on a tall pedestal. “There is something a little smaller, but I wouldn’t recommend you pop one of those into your mouth. They are the Grapes of Wrath. Quite bitter. Never have I seen anyone swallow one. Despite my warnings, Steinbeck tried. He couldn’t get the pucker out of his lips until he finished the novel about the Depression he was working on.”

“Think I’ll pass,” Jackie said. “What’s all that brown stuff back there?” he said, pointing to the center of the room. “Looks like dirt.”

“On the contrary. Enjoyed by millions of people and Englishmen also. You’re looking at none other than all the tea in China. You couldn’t drink it all if you started today and didn’t quit until you were done and there would still be more.”

“Thanks all the same, and this stuff is really neat, but it’s not what I’m looking for,”

“Well, let’s move on then.” Gimcrack led Jackie out of the room and across the hall and though an orange door. Jackie thought he detected the sweet aroma of hay as they entered. “Perhaps fauna might better suit you.” They stepped out onto another balcony overlooking a cavernous room complete with a large lake. “Would something like this interest you?” he asked, nodding to the left, where a large barrel surrounded by trees stood on the lake shore. He took a long pole with a hook on one end from the wall. Reaching out from the balcony, he used it to lift the lid from the barrel. Immediately monkeys began to pop out. They jumped and rolled, climbed the trees and scampered all about. They chattered and screeched, turned somersaults. “As you may have guessed, this is the barrel of monkeys you have heard about. Quite a lively bunch. Lots of fun they say.”

“Yeah, they’re pretty neat, but I think a little too busy for what I am looking for.”

“Well, they’re not for everyone,” Gimcrack said, pulling a banana from his pocket. He took careful aim and threw it straight into the throat of the barrel, upon which all the monkeys dove straight back in. As soon as the last one disappeared, he dropped the lid back in place.

“If monkeys didn’t suit you, perhaps something a little quieter may interest you,” he said pointing to his right. There, on a small island, stood a handsome white horse.

“He’s a fine horse and all that, but there’s lots of horses around.”

“Watch.”

“Does he do tricks?”

“Patience, patience will be rewarded.” The man held his hand up to signal no more talk. They watched the horse for a few moments. Then, Jackie gasped as the horse turned a purple hue. “Patience,” Gimcrack whispered. The horse took a bite of hay from the bale on the ground at its feet while turning yellow. They watched until it had finished chewing, then the man pulled an apple, red this time, from his pocket and tossed it to the horse. Down the fruit went in one gulp as a rich crimson colour replaced the yellow. “That, sir, is the Horse of a Different Colour,” Gimcrack boasted. “George Cukor saw him and just had to have him for Wizard of Oz. Give him a carrot and he will turn orange. Oats result in polka dots.”

“He’s pretty and all that, but I think he’s just a little big for my purposes.”

“So size does matter.” Gimcrack mused as he looked over the edge of the balcony into black water that stretched out as far as the eye could see. He rubbed his chin with a long finger. He opened his mouth, then paused and rubbed his chin once more. “After careful deliberation, I suggest we don’t summon the Kraken. It can get very testy when disturbed. “

“The what?”

“Never mind, lots of arms, no legs, and one very, very large mouth. I only show it to serious collectors. Haven’t had a taker yet. Yes, best we leave it alone.” Gimcrack pushed open the door and stepped into the hall. Jackie followed quickly, not wanting to linger around the Kraken thing. “A different approach is in order. We know neither food nor zoology appeals to you. Add to that, things too busy, too big, or too testy. I know where we’ll go. It just happens to be across the hall. If we’re lucky we might just find what you’re looking for.”

Gimcrack put his arm around Jackie’s shoulder as they stepped across to a blue door. “Your turn,” he said, gesturing toward the door. It swung in freely as Jackie touched its smooth, cool surface. The balcony was bathed in pale blue light. Other than that, Jackie could see nothing in the black emptiness. “Beautiful, simply beautiful,” Gimcrack sighed.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t see nothin’,” Jackie said. “Can you turn on a light or somethin’?”

“We’re in luck. Look up.”

Jackie looked up. Above his head a sapphire moon floated in an endless star-filled night sky. “Wow.”

“After Bill Monroe saw that, he wrote Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

“Wow. This might be it.”

“Before we go any further, let me check something,” Gimcrack said, digging into the breast pocket of his waistcoat. He pulled out a tattered copy of Poor Richard’s Almanac and started to thumb through its yellowed pages. “This was one of Ben Franklin’s personal copies, you know,” he muttered as he ran a finger down the page. “Here it is. This is what I was looking for. Are you familiar with the expression ‘Once In A Blue Moon’?”

“Not really, what does it mean?”

“Simply put, The Blue Moon happens only rarely, once every two or three years.”

the twinkle“But it’s shining right now.”

“In the Mercantile, the blue moon shines all the time. In the world outside, however, it must follow other rules. If you choose The Blue Moon, you will only be able to enjoy its beauty rarely.”

“Oh, I don’t think that will serve my purpose. You see, I need the perfect gift,” Jackie said, hanging his head. “I thought The Blue Moon would be the perfect gift.”

“May I ask who this gift is for?”

“Mom. Shereen and Vernon said my gifts suck. They said Mom hated them. Don’t you see? I got to get the perfect gift. I can’t disappoint Mom again. I just can’t.”

“And just who are this Shereen and Vernon that they are such experts on gifts and privy to your mother’s thoughts?”

“My older sister and brother.”

“Candidates for the Nobel Prize no doubt. Never mind, I think I may have just the right thing for you, sir.”

“You sure got a lot of great things here in the Mercantile, but I don’t think any of them are right for me.”

“Giving up so easily?” Gimcrack chided. ‘Surely one who could risk a journey through the wilds to town can stick it out just a bit longer.”

“But it’s getting late, I got to be home soon, and there is way more stuff her than I could ever look at.”

“Just consider one more item. Small and easy to transport. Come with me.”

“OK.”

While he walked down the hall, Gimcrack began to speak. “When I asked, you said you were looking for something, something special. You did not say you were looking for a gift for your mother. ‘What we have here is failure to communicate’ or so the line goes. Something and a gift are very different things. Somethings are objects. Gifts are expressions of feeling. The importance of something is found in its composition – what it’s made of, its rarity and the like. The importance of a gift is found in the act of giving – a feeling shared between the giver and the recipient. Few gifts are perfect. They don’t need to be. Let it suffice to know a gift given with love is a wonderful gift.” He stopped in front of a plain white door at the far end of the hall. As he opened the it, Jackie expected to see another balcony. Instead, it was a small closet with a single shelf on which a tiny cardboard box sat.

“Open it,” Gimcrack said.

Jackie took the box and lifted the lid. He thought he saw a tiny glint of light. He tilted the box back and forth in his hand. Each time he moved the box, he saw a glint of light. “What is it?” he asked.

“The Twinkle In Her Eye.”

“What’s that?”

“A symbol. A symbol that tells you she has received a wonderful gift.”

“What do I do with it?”

“There is a card in an envelope on the shelf. Take them home with you and write to your mother, telling her how you feel about her. Tell her how much you love her, because it is obvious you do. Put the card in the envelope along with the contents of the box. Then give them to her with whatever gift you choose. When you see The Twinkle In Her Eye, you will know you have given her a wonderful gift. From then on, whenever something wonderful happens for her, you will see it. Your task is to make that happen as often as you can.”

“Gee, thanks Mr. Gimcrack. How much do I owe you?”

“All I ask is that you use what you have received wisely. Think you can do that?”

“Sure, it’s got to be easier than that Kraken thing.”

Gimcrack smiled. “Don’t forget, make it happen as often as you can.”

“I won’t.”

“We have reached the end of the hall as well as the allotted time for your visit.” Gimcrack opened the door. “Time for you to go home now.” Jackie stepped outside, expecting to be at the rear of the building. Instead, he found himself on the tiny porch looking ahead at the road. He looked back at Gimcrack who said, “Saves a lot of steps this way.”

“When can I come back?”

“Everyone who comes to Gimcrack’s Fantastic Galactic Mercantile gets what they need. Limit one to a customer.”

Jackie nodded and walked up the path to the road. He turned to say goodbye. But before he could say a word, the Mercantile shot straight up and disappeared through the clouds.

grimcracks-exit.jpeg

Illustrations by Robert Mclysaght

 -End –

 

Paul Stansbury

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Paul Stansbury is a life long native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion – Not Your Ordinary Stories and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections as well as a novelette:Little Green Men? His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky.

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