Bowler Hats

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Holding his mother's hand, seven year old Eric Kays stared up excitedly towards Mr. May's Toy Emporium. It was his birthday, and the only wish he made to his mother that year was that she let him pick out a toy from the best place in the city. Mr. May's Toy Emporium was better than Toys 'R Us, and it was bigger than any other toy store. Built like a cylinder, the inside wrapped around a giant T-Rex made out of legos, with ramps going up each floor instead of stairs. Eric had never been to Mr. May's before, but he was excited to see what was in store.

As he and his mother walked into the Emporium, Eric's eyes widened with surprise at the T-Rex in the center of the store that shone in the golden red-blue rays that came from the stained glass windows surrounding the top of the building. He tightened his grip around his mother's hand, and she squeezed back in response. Just as he was going to ask his mother how they'd built the giant dinosaur, they were approached by a withered old man with grey hair, and a spring in his step . He wore a blue vest designed with stars and planets over a white dress-shirt, and khaki pants ending in untied black dress shoes. His hair was wild and untidy, sticking out in some places and tucked down neatly in others like Einstein's, only Mr. May didn't have a mustache. And on top of his wild, dry hair sat a black bowler hat that 'like the rest of his outfit' tipped crookedly and looked like it was about to fall off. The man smiled slyly as he approached Eric, and he held out his hand to greet the woman that was grasping the boy so closely.

Welcome to my Toy Emporium!' said Mr. May.

'Oh, you must be the owner! I'm Melissa, very nice to meet you, Mr. May. This is my son Eric. We came here to get him a gift for his birthday.' she replied, letting go of her son to formally greet the owner of the Emporium, but her left hand remained on Eric's shoulder. The only times Eric was allowed to be free of his mother's grasp was in the house and at the park, but he hoped that maybe she would let him roam the toy store on his birthday.

'Ah, well hello there, Eric.' said Mr. May as he kneeled down to Eric's height level, as all adults tend to do with children. 'Would you like a lollipop? We make them right here at the store. The best one you'll ever taste, I promise!' Mr. May reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a six inch lollipop stick with a bowler hat shaped candy at the tip. But Eric didn't want to grab it without his mother's permission; he was always taught to never take candy from strangers.

'It's okay, hon.' his mother said. 'This is the nicest man in the city. He wouldn't hurt you.'
Eric smiled wide and grabbed the sucker from Mr. May in delight, thanking him quietly under his breath before he put the bowler hat in his mouth.

'I saw you looking at Teddy, do you like him?' asked Mr. May, gesturing towards the giant T-Rex in the middle of the store.

'Yeah!' replied Eric briefly before he put the sucker back in his mouth.

'I built him all on my own, you know. It's the reason I had this place built like a circle with all that space in the middle. Took me three years but I finally did it. And at the very tip top you can see a bowler hat on him too. I love bowler hats. Do you want to know why?'
Eric nodded, but Melissa didn't want to hear it.

'Mr. May, I would love to hear the story but I'm afraid I only have a limited time to get Eric his birthday gift before I'm needed at the school for a fund-raiser.'
It was then that Mr. May realized that Melissa Kays was one of those mothers. 'Yes, yes. I understand completely. Better get started then.'
But before he stood back up he looked at Eric with that same sly smile and said 'There's a whole adventure waiting for you, Eric. Don't be afraid to really interact with the toys!' And with that he stood up, tipped his hat to Melissa and walked towards another family that just walked into the store.

A half hour later, while Eric was looking at one of the sock-puppet theaters, Melissa had the need to use the restroom. She thought about taking Eric with her, but Eric had expressed his wishes to not go into the girl's bathroom with his mother since he turned six.

'Eric,' she started as he was putting down one of the sock-puppets. 'I need to go to the lady's room. Can you wait here for me and not go anywhere?' Eric nodded. 'Good, good. Just wait here, I'll only be a little bit.' She tussled his hair and smiled before she walked in the direction of the restrooms. Eric was on the third floor and from here he could look out above the balcony to see the just under Teddy's chin, and he suddenly felt a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach. It didn't hurt, it felt more like his stomach felt emptier than the rest of his body, and within seconds the feeling started spreading up his chest and down his legs, moving throughout his entire body until he didn't feel anything at all again, but when he moved he felt as light as a feather. Eric turned around to see if his mother was back from the bathroom yet and he was greeted by a number of socks, standing up right by his feet and staring at him.

'Hi, hi hi, hi hi Eric! You're new here aren't you!?' said one of the socks in the center of the group. This sock had red curly yarn for hair with blue button eyes and a pipe-cleaner mouth.

'Whoa!' exclaimed Eric. He'd never seen talking socks before. 'You're...you're talking!'

'Well, duh, dummy! I can't use sign language now can I? I'm Trotty. This here is Bowler, Airla, Suzy, and Dirt!' Several hellos and hiyas came from the group of socks around Eric's feet.

'Um, hi guys.' said Eric. 'How can you all be talking?' he asked.

'You know those lollipops Mr. May gives out?' replied Trotty.

'Yeah.'
'Well, there's a special ingredient that allows you kids to see the real magic in the toy store! He never gives any to the big kids or the grown-ups, but the small kids always have more fun here after a lollipop.'

'Wow!' replied Eric, looking around the store. He hadn't noticed it before, but everything seemed more alive than when it did when he first walked in. The stuffed animal dogs by the elevator were barking and playing with each other, the paper airplanes were flying forever without dropping, the bouncy balls seems like they'd never stop bouncing, and Teddy seemed to be moving his head around ,but Eric wasn't high enough to see the bowler hat.

Eric turned around to talk to the socks again, but instead he saw his mom coming out of the bathroom and and the socks were nowhere to be seen. Before his mother came to get a hold of him Eric went running around the area trying to find the socks. There were giggles and shushes coming from all around, and Eric realized that all the toys were trying to be quiet for some reason. The airplanes were on the floor, the bouncy-balls stopped bouncing, and the stuffed animal Dalmatians were inanimate again, but Eric could still hear them panting. He checked the puppet theater and found nothing but red lint, he checked by the Dalmatians but the socks were nowhere in sight. The last place Eric tried to look was behind a three foot tall clown marionette that sat next to the puppet theatre, smiling like the way Mr. May did when Eric walked in. As he moved closer to the clown he caught a view of the red bowler hat that it was wearing, identical to Mr. May's, except it was red not black. In fact, if Eric didn't know any better he would have thought that the marionette was Mr. May, but it was impossible. He turned the clown and checked all around it for the sock-puppets but found nothing, frowning in frustration. The clown frowned back, and Eric turned around to run but his mother was right behind him.

'Ready to go up another floor?' asked his mother, smiling the way she always did towards her son.
But Eric didn't want to go up yet, he wanted to stay and find sock puppets. As he looked up at the floor above, he saw Teddy's chin move again, and for some reason Eric thought that if he could be alone and get to the top of the store, maybe Teddy would talk to him. And if Teddy talked to him maybe he could get the his help finding the sock puppets, and maybe he would even help Eric pick out a new toy.

'Eric? You okay?' Melissa asked. She had that worried tone in her voice, the one that was usually followed with some excuse to get Eric home.

'Yeah, mom! I'm great! Can we go up higher? I want to see Teddy!' he replied with a huge grin on his face, the one he knew his mom couldn't resist. He was going to see Teddy and talk to him, and he didn't care if he needed to run away from his mom for a few minutes to do it.





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