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The Dreaming Jewels
By Theodore Sturgeon
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust
All rights reserved.
THEY CAUGHT THE KID DOING SOMETHING disgusting out under the bleachers at the high-school stadium, and he was sent home from the grammar school across the street. He was eight years old then. He'd been doing it for years.
In a way it was a pity. He was a nice kid, a nice-looking kid too, though not particularly outstanding. There were other kids, and teachers, who liked him a little bit, and some who disliked him a little bit; but everyone jumped on him when it got around. His name was Horty—Horton, that is—Bluett. Naturally he caught blazes when he got home.
He opened the door as quietly as he could, but they heard him, and hauled him front and center into the living room where he stood flushing, with his head down, one sock around his ankle, and his arms full of books and a catcher's mitt. He was a good catcher, for an eight-year-old. He said, "I was—"
"We know," said Armand Bluett. Armand was a bony individual with a small mustache and cold wet eyes. He clapped his hands to his forehead and then threw up his arms. "My God, boy, what in Heaven's name made you do a filthy thing like that?" Armand Bluett was not a religious man, but he always talked like that when he clapped his hands to his head, which he did quite often.
Horty did not answer. Mrs. Bluett, whose name was Tonta, sighed and asked for a highball. She did not smoke, and needed a substitute for the smoker's thoughtful match-lit pause when she was at a loss for words. She was so seldom at a loss for words that a fifth of rye lasted her six weeks. She and Armand were not Horton's parents. Horton's parents were upstairs, but the Bluetts did not know it. Horton was allowed to call Armand and Tonta by their first names.
"Might I ask," said Armand icily, "how long you have had this nauseating habit? Or was it an experiment?"
Horty knew they weren't going to make it easy on him. There was the same puckered expression on Armand's face as when he tasted wine and found it unexpectedly good.
"I don't do it much," Horty said, and waited.
"May the Lord have mercy on us for our generosity in taking in this little swine," said Armand, clapping his hands to his head again. Horty let his breath out. Now that was over with. Armand said it every time he was angry. He marched out to mix Tonta a highball.
"Why did you do it, Horty?" Tonta's voice was more gentle only because her vocal cords were more gently shaped than her husband's. Her face showed the same implacable cold.
"Well, I—just felt like it, I guess." Horty put his books and catcher's mitt down on the footstool.
Tonta turned her face away from him and made an unspellable, retching syllable. Armand strode back in, bearing a tinkling glass.
"Never heard anything like it in my life," he said scornfully. "I suppose it's all over the school?" I guess so.
"The children? The teachers too, no doubt. But of course. Anyone say anything to you?"
"Just Dr. Pell." He was the principal. "He said—said they could ..."
Horty had been through it once. Why, why go through it all again? "He said the school could get along without f-filthy savages."
"I can understand how he felt," Tonta put in, smugly.
"And what about the other kids? They say anything?"
"Hecky brought me some worms. And Jimmy called me Sticky-tongue." And Kay Hallowell had laughed, but he didn't mention that.
"Sticky-tongue. Not bad, that, for a kid. Ant-eater." Again the hand clapped against the brow. "My God, what am I going to do if Mr. Anderson greets me with 'Hi Sticky-tongue!' Monday morning? This will be all over town, sure as God made little apples." He fixed Horty with the sharp wet points of his gaze. "And do you plan to take up bug-eating as a profession?"
"They weren't bugs," Horty said diffidently and with accuracy. "They were ants. The little brown kind."
Tonta choked on her highball. "Spare us the details."
"My God," Armand said again, "what'll he grow up as?" He mentioned two possibilities. Horty understood one of them. The other made even the knowledgeable Tonta jump. "Get out of here."
Horty went to the stairs while Armand thumped down exasperatedly beside Tonta. "I've had mine," he said. "I'm full up to here. That brat's been the symbol of failure to me ever since I laid eyes on his dirty face. This place isn't big enough—Horton!"
"Come back here and take your garbage with you. I don't want to be reminded that you're in the house."
Horty came back slowly, staying out of Armand Bluett's reach, picked up his books and the catcher's mitt, dropped a pencil-box—at which Armand my-Godded again—picked it up, almost dropped the mitt, and finally fled up the stairs.
"The sins of the stepfathers," said Armand, "are visited on the stepfathers, even unto the thirty-fourth irritation. What have I done to deserve this?"
Tonta swirled her drink, keeping her eyes on it and her lips pursed appreciatively as she did so. There had been a time when she disagreed with Armand. Later, there was a time when she disagreed and said nothing. All that had been too wearing. Now she kept an appreciative exterior and let it soak in as deeply as it would. Life was so much less trouble that way.
Once in his room, Horty sank down on the edge of the bed with his arms still full of his books. He did not close the door because there was none, due to Armand's conviction that privacy was harmful for youngsters. He did not turn on the light because he knew everything in the room, knew it with his eyes closed. There was little enough. Bed, dresser, closet with a cracked cheval glass. A child's desk, practically a toy, that he had long outgrown. In the closet were three oiled-silk dress-covers stuffed full of Tonta's unused clothes, which left almost no space for his.
None of this was really his. If there had been a smaller room, he would have been shoved into it. There were two guest bedrooms on this floor, and another above, and they almost never had guests. The clothes he wore weren't his; they were concessions to something Armand called "my position in this town"; rags would have done if it weren't for that.
He rose, the act making him conscious of the clutter he still clutched in his arms. He put it down on the bed. The mitt was his, though. He'd bought it for seventy-five cents from the Salvation Army store. He got the money by hanging around Dempledorff's market and carrying packages for people, a dime a trip. He had thought Armand would be pleased; he was always talking about resourcefulness and earning ability. But he had forbidden Horty ever to do that again. "My God! People will think we are paupers!" So the mitt was all he had to show for the episode.
All he had in the world—except, of course, Junky.
He looked, through the half-open closet door, at the top shelf and its clutter of Christmas-tree lights (the Christmas tree was outside the house, where the neighbors could see— never inside), old ribbons, a lampshade, and—Junky.
He pulled the oversized chair away from the undersized desk and carried it—if he had dragged it, Armand would have been up the stairs two at a time to see what he was up to, and if it was fun, would have forbidden it—and set it down carefully in the closet doorway. Standing on it, he felt behind the leftovers on the shelf until he found the hard square bulk of Junky. He drew it out, a cube of wood, gaudily painted and badly chipped, and carried it to the desk.
Junky was the kind of toy so well-known, so well-worn, that it was not necessary to see it frequently, or touch it often, to know that it was there. Horty was a foundling—found in a park one late fall evening, with only a receiving blanket tucked about him. He had acquired Junky while he was at the Home, and when he had been chosen by Armand as an adoptee (during Armand's campaign for City Counsellor, which he lost, but which he thought would be helped along if it were known he had adopted a "poor little homeless waif") Junky was part of the bargain.
Horty put Junky softly on the desk and touched a worn stud at the side. Violently at first, then with rusted-spring hesitancy, and at last defiantly, Junky emerged, a jack-in-the-box, a refugee from a more gentle generation. He was a Punch, with a chipped hooked nose which all but met his upturned, pointed chin. In the gulch between these stretched a knowing smile.
But all Junky's personality—and all his value to Horty—was in his eyes. They seemed to have been cut, or molded, blunt-faceted, from some leaded glass which gave them a strange, complex glitter, even in the dimmest room. Time and again Horty had been certain that those eyes had a radiance of their own, though he could never quite be sure.
He murmured, "Hi, Junky."
The jack-in-the-box nodded with dignity, and Horty reached and caught its smooth chin. "Junky, let's get away from here. Nobody wants us. Maybe we wouldn't get anything to eat, and maybe we'd be cold, but gee ... Think of it, Junky. Not being scared when we hear his key in the lock, and never sitting at dinner while he asks questions until we have to lie, and—and all like that." He did not have to explain himself to Junky.
He let the chin go, and the grinning head bobbed up and down, and then nodded slowly, thoughtfully.
"They shouldn't 'a been like that about the ants," Horty confided. "I didn't drag nobuddy to see. Went off by myself. But that stinky Hecky, he's been watching me. An' then he sneaked off and got Mr. Carter. That was no way to do, now was it, Junky?" He tapped the head on the side of its hooked nose, and it shook its head agreeably. "I hate a sneak."
"You mean me, no doubt," said Armand Bluett from the doorway.
Horty didn't move, and for a long instant his heart didn't either. He half crouched, half cowered behind the desk, not turning toward the doorway.
"What are you doing?"
Armand belted him across the cheek and ear. Horty whimpered, once, and bit his lip. Armand said, "Don't lie. You are obviously doing something. You were talking to yourself, a sure sign of a degenerating mind. What's this—oh. Oh yes, the baby toy that came with you. Your estate. It's as repulsive as you are." He took it from the desk, dropped it on the floor, wiped his hand on the side of his trousers, and carefully stepped on Junky's head.
Horty shrieked as if it were his own head which was being crushed, and leapt at Armand. So unexpected was the attack that the man was bowled right off his feet. He fell heavily and painfully against the bedpost, grabbed at it and missed, and went to the floor. He sat there for a moment grunting and blinking, and then his little eyes narrowed and fixed themselves on the trembling Horty. "Mmm—hm!" said Armand in a tone of great satisfaction, and rose. "You should be exterminated." He grasped the slack of Horty's shirt and struck him. As he spoke, he hit the boy's face, back and forth, back and forth, by way of punctuation. "Homicidal, that's what you are. I was going to. Send you away. To a school. But it isn't safe. The police will. Take care of you. They have a place. For juvenile delinquents. Filthy little. Pervert."
He rushed the sodden child across the room and jammed him into the closet. "This will keep you safe until the police get here," he panted, and slammed the door. The hinge side of it caught three fingers of Horty's left hand.
At the boy's shriek of very real agony Armand snapped the door open again. "No use in your yelling. You—My God! What a mess. Now I suppose I'll have to get a doctor. There's no end—absolutely no end to the trouble you cause. Tonta!" He ran out and down the stairs. "Tonta!"
"That young devil stuck his hand in the door. Did it on purpose, to excite sympathy. Bleeding like a stuck pig. You know what he did? He struck me. He attacked me, Tonta! It's not safe to have him in the house!"
"You poor darling! Did he hurt you?"
"A wonder he didn't kill me. I'm going to call the police."
"I'd better go up while you're phoning," said Tonta. She wet her lips.
But when she reached the room, Horty was gone. There was a lot of excitement for a while after that. At first Armand wanted to get his hands on Horty for his own purposes, and then he began to be afraid of what people might say if the boy gave his own garbled version of the incident. Then a day went by, and a week, and a month, and it was safe to look to heaven and say mysteriously, "He's in safe hands now, the poor little tyke," and people could answer, "I understand ..." Everyone knew he was not Armand's child, anyway.
But Armand Bluett tucked one idea snugly away in the corner of his mind. That was to look out, in the future, for any young man with three fingers missing from his left hand.CHAPTER 2
THE HALLOWELLS LIVED AT THE EDGE of town, in a house that had only one thing wrong with it; it was at the intersection where the State Highway angled into the end of Main Street, so that the traffic roared night and day past both the front and back gates.
The Hallowell's taffy-headed daughter, Kay, was as full of social consciousness as only a seven-year-old can be. She had been asked to empty the trash, and as usual she opened the back gate a crack and peeped out at the highway, to see if anyone she knew would catch her at the menial task.
He shrank into the fog-swirled shadows of the traffic-light standard.
"Horton Bluett, I see you."
"Kay ..." He came to her, staying close to the fence. "Listen, don't tell nobody you saw me, huh?"
"But wh—oh. You're running away!" she blurted, noticing the parcel tucked under his arm. "Horty—are you sick?" He was white, strained. "Did you hurt your hand?"
"Some." He held his left wrist with his right hand, tightly. His left hand was wrapped in two or three handkerchiefs. "They was going to get the police. I got out the window onto the shed roof and hid there all afternoon. They was lookin' all over the street and everywhere. You won't tell?"
"I won't tell. What's in the package?"
If she had demanded it, grabbed at it, he would probably never have seen her again. Instead she said, "Please, Horty."
"You can look." Without releasing his wrist, he turned so she could pull the package out from under his arm. She opened it—it was a paper bag—and took out the hideous broken face of Junky. Junky's eyes glittered at her, and she squeaked. "What is it?"
"It's Junky. I had him since before I was born. Armand, he stepped on it."
"Is that why you're running away?"
"Kay! What are you doing out there?"
"Coming, Mother! Horty, I got to go. Horty, are you coming back?"
"Gee" ... that mister Bluett, he's so mean ..."
"Kay Hallowell! Come in this instant. It's raining!"
"Yes, Mother! Horty, I wannit to tell you. I shouldn'ta laughed at you today. Hecky brought you the worms, and I thought it was a joke, thass all. I didn't know you really did eat ants. Gee ... I et some shoe-polish once. That's nothin'."
Horty held out his elbow and she carefully put the package under it. He said, as if he had just thought of it—and indeed he had—"I will come back, Kay. Someday."
"'Bye, Horty." And she was gone, a flash of taffy hair, yellow dress, a bit of lace, changed before his eyes to a closed gate in a board fence and the sound of dwindling quick footsteps.
Horton Bluett stood in the dark drizzle, cold, but with heat in his ruined hand and another heat in his throat. This he swallowed, with difficulty, and, looking up, saw the broad inviting tailgate of a truck which was stopped for the traffic light. He ran to it, tossed his small bundle on it, and squirmed up, clawing with his right hand, trying to keep his left out of trouble. The truck lurched forward; Horty scrabbled wildly to stay on. The package with Junky in it began to slide back toward him, past him; he caught at it, losing his own grip, and began to slip.
Suddenly there was a blur of movement from inside the truck, and a flare of terrible pain as his smashed hand was caught in a powerful grip. He came very close to fainting; when he could see again he was lying on his back on the jolting floor of the truck, holding his wrist again, expressing his anguish in squeezed-out tears and little, difficult grunts.
Excerpted from The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon. Copyright © 1978 the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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