Love children especially, for they too are sinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our hearts and, as it were, to guide us.
— Fyodor Dostoevsky
Timmy stood in front of the Cheetos bag with a sad look on his face. It was Friday, his favorite day, because his mom usually gave him a dollar to buy his favorite snack (in the whole wide world!) after school on his way home.
But today was different, because a mean, big kid by the name of Bully McFartface (he didn’t call him that to his face, or he would be in big trouble with Billy) had taken his dollar from him. Bully told Timmy that because he was in second grade, while Timmy was in first, that Timmy had to give him his dollar. Timmy was told that he would be able to get dollars from first graders when he was in second grade.
It was not fair, but since Bully was bigger and scary looking, he had reached into his pocket and given him his Cheetos dollar.
Timmy knew that because he had given Bully his dollar, he was not going to be able to buy his favorite snack. But on his way home, he decided to walk into the deli to take a look. He wished that his mom would magically appear and give him another Cheetos dollar, but he had a feeling that that would not happen.
Timmy remembered that sometimes his mom would reach into her pocket to pull out a bunch of dollars whenever she gave him money for Cheetos or ice cream. Timmy stood in front of the Cheetos bag, reaching into his small pockets to see if he could do the same.
He flipped his pockets inside out, only to find dust bunnies floating to the ground. He felt the same way as he did when Bully snatched the dollar out of his hand. He felt a tightening feeling in his chest and an overpowering pressure under his eyes.
Suddenly, an idea came to him. What if he took the Cheetos, walked to the back of the store, hid the bag underneath his shirt, and walked out? He had seen bigger kids (much bigger than Bully!) do this sometimes in the past. The bigger kids never got in trouble with the man in the front, so he thought he would be safe to do it too.
Timmy had a weird feeling about taking the Cheetos without giving the man in the front a dollar, but he really wanted to eat his snack. He felt like the Cheetah was speaking to him, telling him to take him out of the store with him. Timmy licked his lips, and he decided he would do it.
As soon as Timmy had finished his secret conversation with Chester the Cheetah, a scruffy looking man (he looked a little older and much dirtier than Timmy’s father) walked in and stood looking at Timmy for a few seconds.
Timmy glanced up and froze. It was Mr. Bum that was always sitting in front of the store!
Whenever Timmy and his mother walked by the deli and saw the bum, she had told him to listen to his teachers and do his homework or he would end up like Mr. Bum. Timmy always hid his face in his mother’s skirt whenever he passed by Mr. Bum, but as he walked away he always took a quick peek at him.
His clothes were ripped and droopy, as if he was wearing his father’s clothes. He always wore the same exact clothes too, as if he didn’t have a closet filled with different colored shirts, pants, and socks like Timmy. Timmy always wondered why Mr. Bum never changed or showered, but he also didn’t like to get changed or shower most days so he felt like he understood him a little.
Mr. Bum had always kept his head down whenever they passed, so this was the first time that they had made eye contact.
Mr. Bum’s hair was long, dirty, and messy, but through the strands of his hair his eyes stood out. His eyes reminded Timmy of snake eyes, like the ones he had seen at the zoo behind the glass. Timmy felt his whole body shiver as those cold and dark eyes met his.
Everything about Mr. Bum was terrifying.
Timmy was scared, so in his panic he grabbed the Cheetos bag and ran to the back of the deli. He was able to hide behind a corner, where Mr. Bum and the man in the front couldn’t see him. It was exciting but scary, like Hide and Seek.
His heart was beating quickly and his hands were shaking, but he was able to lift his shirt and put the bag halfway inside his pants and his shirt. This way, his belly wouldn’t look like it had a bag of Cheetos underneath.
Timmy looked down at his stomach to make sure that his belly didn’t look too big, and was ready to walk out. Just as he turned the corner, he saw Mr. Bum standing in his way. Timmy froze and slowly looked up at him. His legs started to shake and he suddenly felt like he needed to pee. When he found that Mr. Bum was staring at him, he immediately looked down to the floor.
Mr. Bum stood silently and looked down at Timmy’s stomach, which was bulging out noticeably. He was holding an open cup that had steam coming out of it. He knelt down and poked him in his stomach, which made a crinkling sound.
Terrified and in the brink of tears, Timmy could not say anything. He wanted to scream, cry, and run, but his legs felt like rocks. He stood quietly with his eyes still looking at the floor, holding back his tears with all his strength.
“Take it out.”
Timmy slowly lifted his shirt and revealed the Cheetos bag. Mr. Bum took the bag, pinching it with his fingers that also held his cup, and grabbed Timmy’s arm with his other hand.
“Come with me.”
Mr. Bum started to lead him to the front of the store.
Timmy began to feel his chest tighten once again because now he was definitely going to get into trouble by the man in the front and his mother and father. He was also scared that Mr. Bum was grabbing him by his arm and he did not know if Mr. Bum was going to hurt him or not let him go home. But since Mr. Bum was bigger and stronger than him, he didn’t think he could fight back.
Mr. Bum dragged Timmy to the man in the front. The man in the front was busy looking at his phone, but when he saw Mr. Bum and Timmy approach he looked at them with bored and tired eyes. Timmy trembled as he watched Mr. Bum put the Cheetos and cup on the table.
Scary thoughts popped up within Timmy’s head as he stood with Mr. Bum. Was Mr. Bum going to tell on him and get him into trouble? Was he going to take him away from his mother? Was he going to end up like Mr. Bum, who his mother had told not to look at or talk to?
He could not hold his tears any longer, and began to sob uncontrollably. He felt himself being dragged along somewhere, but he had no sense of direction or time since he was blinded by his tears and overcome with powerful emotions.
He had never been through such a torrent of emotions, and was now overwhelmed by the crashing tide. He cried with abandon, feeling lost and ashamed. He felt like throwing up and through his hiccups and sobs he felt his chest heaving. Most of all, he missed his mother, because she was always able to make him feel better whenever he cried.
While Timmy was busy crying, Mr. Bum’s hand had released his arm. He had only taken Timmy a few steps out of the store, onto his mat where he usually sat begging for money.
Mr. Bum stood uncomfortably, not knowing how to console the child. He began to fear that someone would report him to the police, thinking that he was abusing or kidnapping the child.
Not knowing what to do, he began to awkwardly pat the child’s back. He had always seen mothers do this to their crying kids, but since he had never received one he wasn’t entirely sure if it would work.
Timmy, feeling the familiar and comforting back pats, began to calm down. His crying turned into fragmented moaning and sniffling, and eventually he felt that there were no more tears left. As he slowly regained his vision, he saw through his teary eyes the face of the Cheetah he loved so much looking back at him.
In complete surprise and momentary joy, he stopped crying. He looked up at Mr. Bum, who was looking away while handing Timmy his Cheetos. Timmy slowly grabbed the bag and stood there with tears and snot dribbling down his eyes and nose.
“That was my last dollar, kid. Hope it tastes as good as booze, cuz that’s what I just lost.”
- I realize the GIF of Chester Cheetah doing a line of crushed Cheetos juxtaposed to a solemn and thoughtful quote from Dostoevsky is a tiny bit weird.
- The conception of this story began with a thought: it’d be interesting to think about the genesis of moral conflict. What is the thought process of a child when he/she first contemplates whether to break a moral rule set by their parents? What happens if the child is never taught certain moral rules because their parents taught moral rules only when they observed the child engaging in a certain behavior? If Timmy’s parents never saw him engaging in any behavior that resembled “taking something from another person that is not his”, would Timmy have ever had the chance to know that his behavior/thought was “bad”?
- I tried to imagine the story through a child’s lens, which is why I refrained from using decorative “adult” language. However, when Timmy is crying I resorted to using “adult” words that may have suspended disbelief: He had never been through such a torrent of emotions, and was now overwhelmed by the crashing tide. He cried with abandon, feeling lost and ashamed. I couldn’t think of a way to emphasize the strong emotions that Timmy felt, but I wanted to try to grasp the feeling that a child might experience when confronted with a multitude of negative emotions all at once. I thought it was necessary to highlight the strength of emotional turmoil at this moment, so I chose to override the consistent theme of the child narrator. Maybe I’ll get around to fixing it but if it doesn’t stick out for too many people then ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- Initially, after Timmy starts crying in the store, I was going to insert Mr. Bum putting two dollars on the counter and leading Timmy out of the store. But if the subversion of expectation was revealed too soon, and worse, from a character that we have not been following and are not invested in, that would mean that the story’s conflict would be resolved before we get to the ending line, which deflates the climax and answers the question prematurely — “What was the bum going to do with little Timmy?” The surprise needs to come from Timmy’s perspective, since we are following the story through his eyes, but since his vision was impaired by his tears, the only perspective that we could see events unfold as an audience is from Mr. Bum. But I do realize that once Mr. Bum fears that he will be misunderstood by other people who see the crying child next to him, the assumption of bad intention goes out the window and the reveal still comes from Mr. Bum’s perspective. Shit. This part will need a bit of editing, but for now ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- I think suspense could further be built by creating a more sinister picture of Mr. Bum when he is first introduced. To a child who has been told by his mother, the person who he trusts most, that this man is to be avoided at all cost, his perception of the man should be shrouded in darkness and terrifying.
- From Timmy’s perspective, Mr. Bum has a name because his mother had called him a “Bum”. Likewise, the cashier is known as the “man in the front” because his mother calls him that. I was thinking that I could name him Mr. Catsheer in order to depict Timmy’s basic ability of imitating his mother’s enunciation, but thought that “man in the front” was more plausible since I’m going off the presumption that children like words that are easier to say. There is also the fact that parents may choose to refer to things in simple and familiar terms so that the child may understand what they are referring to more easily. For example, a fork, spoon, and knife could be grouped as “utensils”, but for the child to understand that the word “utensils” is a group of multiple objects, they must first come to understand the three individual objects. If there are four unidentified terms that must be explained, and one of them is the grouping of three unidentified terms, wouldn’t you explain it bottom up rather than top down?
- From Mr. Bum’s perspective, he only knows Timmy as “the child” since he doesn’t know his name. This must be kept consistent throughout the plot, because Mr. Bum should not be able to refer to Timmy by name.