Julia wandered the shops within the strip mall, eyes narrowed in concentration. Young mothers were rushing about, hauling young, screaming children behind them by thin, frail wrists. She watched as one child cried, fat tears spilling down his too-red cheeks. A small girl screamed and raged, shouting at her parents who were too busy arguing with some unknown entity on the other end of their phones.
Julia’s gaze shifted to the list in her hand, the uppermost right corner having only three characters inked into it: 5PM. She checked her watch; it was ten-past-three. She had nearly two hours to find a gift and get home to wrap it. She carded a hand through her hair, suddenly very tired but grimly determined. As she made her way into another toyshop, Avery’s young voice echoed in her head with startling clarity.
“I can ask for anything?” The bedridden child peered up at her with wide, unfocused green eyes. Julia leaned in, tweaking the child’s nose with a fond smile. The little girl tilted her head to the side, thinning hair curling around her face as she seemed to think with a light, uncertain smile. After a moment, Avery nodded to herself. “If I can have anything I want, then I want a Hatchimal.”
Julia blinked. “Why do you want a Hatchimal?”
Avery smiled, then. It was an honest smile, something so light and pure. The single action alone seemed to push away the darkness of the hospital room, casting away the lingering sense of helplessness Avery suffered under. Julia’s heart clenched, her mind replaying the nine years they had together in perfect focus.
A thin, small hand grabbed hers.
Julia looked into this child’s eyes, enraptured by the light as Avery said, “I want to hold an egg and fell the life inside. I want to see something free itself from the darkness it was born into, to find the light even if I only see it for one day. That’s why I want a Hatchimal, ma.”
Thinking back to that moment, the two of them resting in the hospital and reading what few books they could get their hands on, Julia knew she had to do this. She eyed the list in her hands, the groceries already checked off. Those were in her car. Only one item wasn’t crossed off: Hatchimal.
Julia couldn’t find one. The stores didn’t seem to carry them and, if they did, the outdated machines seemed unable to read her credit cards. She’d already gone through three toy stores, dozens of shops and malls. Now she was here, in Sunset Valley, hoping to find the one thing her daughter, her one and only child, wanted. She would find it. She had to.
She pursued the rows of shelves and aisles, fingers grazing over plastic covers showing off expensive toys. Julia passed them over, eyes scanning dozens of names and brands with little success. She had made her way to the last aisle when a man approached her, friendly smile in place as he said, “Is there anything I can help you find?”
Julia looked this man over, assessing him from top to bottom. She met his gaze again. He inclined his head, a silent offer to go on. Exhaling, Julia said, “My daughter’s, she’s in the hospital. Her birthday’s coming up and she told me she wanted a Hatchimal. I was hoping there’d be one here but I’m starting to think there aren’t.”
“You’d be correct,” the shopkeeper’s eyes were sad, a shadow seemingly falling into his eyes as he stepped up beside her. His gaze swept over the shelves as he continued, “We did have one, but the last of our stock was bought about a week ago. I could special order one for you if you’d like?”
“When would it get in?”
“In about three weeks.”
Julia shook her head. “That’s not soon enough. I’ll just have to keep looking.”
Her fingers brushed over the clear, plastic covers to the other toys. She could buy one of these for Avery, she knew. Then her daughter’s words came to mind, softly spoken with a distant look in her eyes as if she could see something Julia had no hope of witnessing. It was moments like that, when she remembered her daughter’s words, Julia would turn and leave with the sole purpose of finding the elusive, hard-to-find Hatchimal.
She made her way out of the shop, tired and hungry. Another glance at her clock showed her time was up. Again. Julia made her way to her car and drove to the station, handing the keys to the agent whom she rented the car from. It was fifteen-after-seven. The train wouldn’t arrive for another hour and forty-five minutes.
She unloaded the trunk and placed the goods in a backpack she kept with her. She hefted that onto her back before making her way into the subway, the distant screech of wheels on the tracks making her skin crawl with unease. On the underside of the city, the darkness seemed to have a life of its own. As she passed into its embrace, the heat from the city seemed to vanish. Julia shivered as she drew her coat tight around her body.
She sat on the seat, content to wait for as long as needed. She eyed the list in her hand, the crossed-out items resting in bags next to her feet. Only one didn’t have a bold line cutting through it. Julia’s eyes closed for a moment, body slumping as she murmured, “I guess I’ll have to try again in a few days.”
“Try again, you say?” Julia’s head snapped up as the soft voice cut through the silence.
Julia’s head snapped up as the soft voice cut through the silence. She turned to look, her eyes widening as an old man hobbled out of the shadows blanketing the entrance to one of many tunnels. She sat upright, grip tightening on one of the straps of her backpack as he grinned. Gleaming, too-white teeth cut through the shadows.
“Did you lose something?”
“No,” Julia pressed her lips into a thin line. As he neared, she had a sinking feeling he wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. She stood, her attention trained on this man as she continued, “I was shopping and I didn’t find the gift I was looking for.”
“Perhaps I can help,” the old man crept closer, his hunched back throwing dark shadows over the bald planes of his head. The long rags he wore brushed against the ground, bandaged hands waving through the air as he continued, “We could consider this one of the few good deeds I can have to my name before I leave this life on this broken, sick planet we call home. I’m certain I can get you something you really want.”
“My daughter was clear on what she wanted,” Julia hugged her purse closer to her side, gaze continuously darting between the man and the distant, blinding light inching its way down the tracks. She looked over towards this old beggar as she said, “Unless you happen to have a Hatchimal in your possession, we have nothing to discuss.”
“What I have is better than a toy in an egg,” the old man hobbled closer, bandaged feet kicking up dirt. He stopped directly next to her, hunched body towering over her in an impressive display of height and size. Julia swallowed, something catching in her throat as dull, hazy grey eyes peer into her. “Your daughter wants a real creature, not some toy stuffed with gears. I have something that will hold her attention. Something magic.”
Julia’s interest was peaked. “What might this thing be?”
“Interested now, are we?” the old man gestured her to follow him into the dark tunnel he had come from, his body swaying with every step he took. Julia hesitated for a moment, worried her bottom lip between off-white teeth. Then she followed, her gaze glued to his back as he said, “If your daughter wants an egg with a real creature in it, then I have the thing you want. It’ll bring so much excitement, Julia, that’ll it leave her breathless.
“How do you know my name?”
Her question was answered with an echoing laugh, the sound haunting in the flickering hues of darkness. It wasn’t long until he was easing open a door to what once could have been a storage room, candles cemented to flat surfaces on old platforms nailed to the walls. He knelt next to the cot pressed in the corner of the room, his attention on a crake covered in blankets, as he said, “Do I know your name? Maybe I do. Come, kneel. I will show you a legacy thought to be lost to time.”
Julia crouched next to him, eyes on the crate as bony hands carefully pulled apart the many layers. His hands moved with the ease of practice, carefully unfolding the crate that was wrapped in countless layers of blankets and massive, dirtied handkerchiefs.
Before her eyes, a massive, oblong structure was slowly revealed. It was an egg. Julia leaned in a tad closer, gaze roaming over the soft, dark amber color before shifting to the many vine-like protrusions encircling it. Those raised, jutting marks had a metallic look to them. It looked like the earth itself had tried to keep it buried in some unknown place, a part of her mind whispered. Her gaze shifted to the old man as he pulled it out of the crate, cradling it in his arms as he turned to her.
Her gaze shifted to the old man as he pulled it out of the crate, cradling it in his arms as he turned to her. This old man, he held her gaze as he held out the large egg. When she did not immediately reach out to grab it, he grinned that too-white smile of his.
“This, Miss Julia, is exactly what your daughter wants.”
“And what, exactly, is that thing you have there?”
His eyes gleamed in the darkness. “A new life.”