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Placement: The Serial (Ep. 1) -- The Giving Tree

Welcome to Placement: The Serial, a work of fiction shared on this blog in multiple segments. Starting September 10, a new episode will be posted every Wednesday. If you enjoyed this episode and would like to read more, subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or follow on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Information on Douglas Schwartz's social media links can be found at the Checkered Scissors website.

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   Eight year old Mel ran as fast as he could away from the playground with the dinosaur toy clutched tightly in his hand. He dodged sticks and rocks as he ran. A dirt clod pegged his left elbow and broke apart on impact. He didn't know the bully's name — and wasn't about to stop to ask.
    "Stop it!" Mel yelled, "Leave me alone!"
    The bully slowed to pick up another stick and hurled it at Mel, nearly hitting him.
    "Give it back!" the bully yelled.
    "It's not yours! Go away!" Mel yelled.
    "I will when you give it back," the bully yelled. He hurled another dirt clod and grazed Mel's shoulder.
    "Leave me alone!" Mel cried.
    "You took it, and I want it back!"
    "I didn't take anything of yours!"
    Without thinking, Mel scurried up the nearest tree like a squirrel. His hands and feet propelled him up the trunk to the highest branches that could support him. Leafy twigs whipped his face as he climbed.
    The bully chased him to the base of the tree. Since he was larger than Mel, he stayed on the ground and continued to lob projectiles at his prey.
    A noise like bubble wrap popped somewhere above Mel. He turned away from the bully and twisted around to look for the source of the sound. With one hand tightly on the branch, he used the other hand which was still clutching the dinosaur toy to shield his eyes from the bright sun above. He spotted a rectangular silhouette in a branch above. Whatever the shadowy shape, it was within his reach. Mel pulled at a cardboard shoe box wedged within the tangle of branches above. The box didn't budge.
    "What is that?" the bully called.
    Mel ignored him. He slid the dinosaur toy into his front pocket for safe keeping, then reached up to the box. He snapped a couple of the smaller twigs holding the box in place. Giving it another tug, the box pulled free. Two symbols were drawn on the lid of the plain, white box. The more prominent symbol looked like an angel, while the other one was some kind of character from a foreign-looking alphabet.
    "What's in the box?" the bully called and slung a stone through the branches at Mel. The stone smacked him in the back, and then ricocheted into the base of his head. The one hand holding the box never let go, but the other hand, the one holding the branch, clutched his head out of instinct. Without a firm hold of the tree, that's when the world lost control and tumbled around him. There was a loud crack with a thud. The tree was okay, but not little Mel.
    Mel laid on the ground in fetal position cradling his broken arm. The shoe box popped open and exposed nothing inside. Losing interest in the dinosaur toy and not wanting the blame for breaking a younger boy's arm, the bully fled the scene.
   
    In the children's ward of the hospital, the doctor checked the setting of Mel's cast around his broken arm. His mom, Sarah, sat in a chair close by and chew at her fingernails with worry.
    Once everything checked out, the doctor said, "There you go, champ. Next time, leave the tree climbing to the monkeys."
    Mel grinned through the pain and said, "I will."
    Sarah looked down at her broken little boy with a sad expression. She said, "Why don't you have a seat in the waiting room? Mommy needs to talk with the doctor. Okay?"
    "Okay, Mom."
    Mel left the room. He navigated the halls and doorways towards the waiting room. Once there, he sat down at the end of a row of chairs. The two seats to his right were vacant. On his left side, there was a table with a stack of well-worn magazines and children's books, none of which interested him. Mel sighed and hugged his cast to his chest.
    Something popped and landed on the chair next to Mel. He looked down to see a padded envelope sitting in the chair. Nobody else was anywhere near him, so he couldn't figure out where it came from. To add to the strangeness, his name was printed on the envelope. No other writing was printed on the envelope — only his name.
    He struggled single-handedly to open it. Tipping the envelope sideways, he dumped the contents onto his lap: a postcard and a cellophane-wrapped, chocolate chip cookie — his favorite. The postcard's cover had a picture of a rooster riding a surf board with a cartoon speech bubble reading, "Cock-a-doodle dude!" On the back, there was a message that simply stated, "Sorry about the arm," which was accompanied by the same angel symbol as on the box lid and another foreign character.
    Mel put the cookie and the postcard back in the envelope. He pulled the plastic dinosaur toy out of his pocket. He remembered something drawn on the belly of the dinosaur, but didn't have time to have a good look at it with the bully chasing him. He just knew the dinosaur did not belong to the bully. Having a moment, he saw that someone had drawn the same angel figure and another character on the dinosaur. He had no idea what any of it meant, but felt as if the angels were communicating with him. They might not have protected him from the bully or prevented him from breaking his arm, but they definitely were thoughtful enough to send him gifts.
    "Ready to go?" asked Mom.
    Mel put the dinosaur into his pocket and said, "Yep."
    On the way to the car, Mom asked, "Where did you get that envelope, Mel?"
    Mel shrugged and said, "The waiting room. My guardian angel sent me a postcard and a cookie."
    "Such a vivid imagination you have," Mom said, ruffling his hair. "If the nurses gave you a cookie, you can have a little bit in the car, but not the whole thing. I don't want you spoiling your dinner."
    "Okay, Mom."

    Once they were both in the car and buckled up, Mom handed Mel the shoe box.
    "Thanks, Mom."
    "Mel, the next time you play treasure hunt at the park, please don't hide things up a tree."
    "Okay," Mel said. He never told her a bully chased him up a tree, only that he fell out of a tree.
    Mom continued to talk to Mel about dinner, his dad working late, and other things. He wasn't listening. His mind drifted into a daydream about angels and who might have sent him gifts. He wasn't sure if he believed in angels. Who did send him these things? The Easter Bunny? No. He never understood that one. Santa Claus? He definitely sends stuff, but only at Christmas. Angles? Maybe, but it didn't seem likely. He didn’t go to church. Shouldn’t the angels only send stuff to kids who go to church? If not angels, then who sent it?
    Mel pulled his dinosaur out of his pocket and placed it in the box. Before adding the envelope to the box, he took out the cookie. He broke off two small pieces: one for his mom, and a bigger piece for himself. He handed the bit of cookie to his mom. She had stopped talking, but appreciated Mel sharing his cookie. Mel wrapped up the rest of the cookie and tucked it into the box. He replaced the lid on the box and held it on his lap. His finger traced the curved lines of the angelic symbol on the lid.

    Thirty years later, Mel pulled the last item from the shelf in his closet — an old shoe box. He hadn't seen the box or its contents for several years. The cookie was long gone, but he collected several other things inside the box. Before packing the shoe box into one of the larger packing crates, Mel traced the symbol of the angel with his finger as he did many times throughout the years. He looked at the foreign symbol on the box. The letter D crossed his mind. The memory of why the letter D was relevant refused to click.
    "Mel? Mel, honey? Are you doing okay?"
    Snapped out of his memories by his mom calling from the other room, Mel sighed and looked around his empty room.
    "Just packing the last load," he called.
    He sighed again and balanced the box on a packing crate that contained a few of his old board games, some yearbooks, and several toys and books. It was the last of his stuff at his mom's house. The room was empty and no longer his own. Soon, even the house where he grew up would no longer his mom’s, only a memory of the curious things that had happened.
Tags: amreading, amwriting, douglas schwartz, placement, serialized fiction
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