The small figure squatting in the playground tube cross-section opposite him didn’t look like any other boy Robbie had ever met. He wasn’t even sure it was real, alive, not a toy. He had seen toys and dolls that looked like it, a little. He knew other people’s skin wasn’t supposed to be grey-blue. But it was dressed like him, like a five year old, even if its t-shirt and shorts looked really grimy. It needed a bath. And clean clothes. That’s what mom would have said.
“What’s your name?” he tried, getting into a more comfortable position on the curved yellow plastic.
“I don’t know,” the figure said, cocking its head, staring with its big green eyes . Its voice was strange too, like it was speaking with water in its mouth. “What’s yours?”
“Robbie,” Robbie said amiably. “Do you need a name? Do you want me to give you one?”
“Maybe,” the figure failed to decide, then sat up straight. “What would you like to call me?”
“I don’t know,” Robbie replied. He’d named lots of things, but nothing that ever talked back to him. “How about Gummy?”
“Gummy sounds fine,” Gummy said then added, “I like you.”
“I like you too,” Robbie replied.
“I like your ears,” Gummy added turning his gaze to the side of Robbie’s head.
“Okay,” Robbie said, self-consciously rubbing his left ear.
To be fair, he did seem to have good ears. They heard things pretty well, and they only really got in the way when his mother was helping to wash his face or his hair. He preferred to do that now. He was five after all. And his mother was too rough when she bathed him.
Gummy didn’t seem to have ears, or anything like them. He had things the side of his head that could be ears. They were in the right place, but they were just things like plants maybe, the green or white things, broccoli, cauliflower or the beans his mother tried to make him eat that tasted like dirt.
“I want your ears,” Gummy said. “I will trade you for them.”
Robbie wasn’t sure about that. It would have to be a pretty good trade. They were his ears after all. It wasn’t like he had another pair.
“What would you trade?” Robbie wanted to know.
“How about this?” offered Gummy.
Gummy reached out a rather spindly hand with long scrawny fingers and revealed a shiny multi-faceted stone. Well, Robbie had a good stone collection. Pretty though it was, it wasn’t worth his ears.
“No,” he said. “It’ll have to be better than that.”
Robbie had cousins and they traded things all the time. He was confident he could do better.
“How about this,” Gummy offered.
It was a glowing stick, that Gummy hand held up, which shot bright sparkles out of one end.
But Robbie was well informed about glow sticks. They weren’t all that special. Practically at every birthday party he attended, there were glow sticks.
“Nope,” Robbie told Gummy. “Try better.”
Gummy grumbled for a while, and then finally pulled out a small black box that seemed to move about in his spindly-handed grip, as though it wanted to escape.
“This,” Gummy said, then smiled.
Robbie was intrigued at the box squirmed like it wanted out from between Gummy’s long fingers.
“What is it?” he asked, seeing the top of the box open a bit and something glowing white emerge. “What’s inside it?”
“Chaos,” Gummy told him.
* * *
Justine remembered answering the emergency call at 3:21 PM – right after getting her afternoon coffee.
“Hello, my name’s Justine,” she replied. “What’s your emergency?”
“My boy!” a woman was wailing. “My boy has been mutilated!”
“What’s your name ma’am,” Justine said, suddenly alert.
“Jenny,” the woman said. “Jenny Beckwith. You have to send an ambulance.”
“Where are you?” Justine said.
“The Waterton Street Playground.” Jenny sounded like she was crying. “They are gone! Gone!”
“What are gone?” Justine asked.
“His ears!” Jenny cried out over the line. “It took his ears. My son’s ears!”
Justine pressed the paramedic response key and typed in the location.
“Somebody cut off your son’s ears,” she asked.
“No, they are missing!” Jenny said. “Like he never had any at all!”