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Hugo remained where he landed – on top of the screen he broke down after diving into Old Man Semos’ living room. The harsh landing knocked the baseball out of his hand, and Old Man Semos had picked it up.
Hugo pushed himself up to his feet. The giant hound continued to bark ferociously as Hugo wondered what would happen next.
Old Man Semos wore a a big straw hat, and he chewed on a long piece of grass. A rifle lay in his lap, and Hugo had no doubt he’d used it before.
“What you doing over here, son? Some people get killed for trespassing.”
Hugo gulped. “I’m not afraid of you.”
Old Man Semos turned the rifle barrel and aimed it at Hugo. He squinted one eye, and locked in on his target.
“Pow!” He said.
Hugo flinched and took a quick step back. Old Man Semos laughed outrageously, then set the rifle aside. “Sure look scared,” he said.
“Give me my ball, sir.”
“What do I get?”
Hugo cautiously approached Old Man Semos. “Nothing.”
“Then I can’t give it to you!” shouted Semos. He grabbed the rifle and aimed it at Hugo again.
“Please sir, that baseball is the last thing my dad left me!”
“Your dad?” Semos lowered the gun, and arched an eyebrow as he stared at the ceiling. “Your name wouldn’t happen to be Hugo, now would it?”
Hugo kept his eyes locked on that baseball. Semos was holding it in his hand still, which was at his hip and level with Hugo’s eyes. One quick snatch and he could have it.
“No,” said Hugo.
“What is it?”
“Pudgy?” Semos said, staring curiously back at the boy. “You sure? Can’t imagine any real folks would be dumb enough to name their kid that.”
Hugo’s eyes went wide. “I swear it’s my name.”
“Well, that’s too bad then,” said Semos, before sitting down and tossing the ball up and down in the air. Hugo watched it rise and fall. Semos continued.
“Cause if you were a little boy named Hugo, I might just be able to tell exactly what happened to your dad.”
Hugo stopped tracking the baseball, and looked back at Semos. “What happened to Hugo’s dad?”
Old Man Semos grinned. “He left town altogether. His boy will never see him again, not for the rest of his life.”
Hugo’s heart sank. He knew his dad had left, but hearing he was gone for good made nothing easier. He turned around, then started walking away with his head down. “You can keep the baseball,” he said on his way out.
“Funny thing about that boy Hugo, though,” said Old Man Semos.
Hugo stopped at the doorway, and turned around. Semos tossed him the baseball and he caught it.
“I heard his pops telling people, right before he left, about that boy. Said he’s got an arm like you wouldn’t believe, and so much potential he has no doubt that his kid’s going to be someone special someday.”
“So why did he leave then?”
Semos grinned. “Well, Hugo’s father felt it wouldn’t be fair to the other boys if he stuck around to raise him. Said the only way he could possibly imagine his kid not succeeding, is if all the odds are stacked against him. Says no boy is tough enough to make himself into a man.”
“He said that?”
Hugo tossed the ball up, then caught it. “Huh.” He started toward the backyard again.
“Oh, and Hugo?” said Old Man Semos.
“As long as you don’t run, my dog isn’t going to chase you.”
Hugo nodded, then walked back through the yard. He squeezed through the fence, ball in hand, and found all the other kids waiting for him on the other side.
“Woah, he did it!” said Pudgy. “We thought you were dog food.”
“Way to go, Hugo,” said Measles, before tossing a friendly punch at Hugo’s shoulder. His reach wasn’t long enough so his elbow straightened and jammed instead. “Ow.”
Hugo smiled as he walked, tossing the ball in his hand as he did. The rest of the kids followed after him.
“What are we gonna do now?” said Measles.
Hugo looked around. He spotted an old, abandoned house way out in the distance. “Betcha I can hit that house.”
“From here?” said Pudgy, before laughing hysterically. “I’d like to see you try, straw man! Ten bucks says you can’t even throw it halfway.”
“I thought your mom gave you that money because you said you needed a better plunger?” said Measles.
“Shut-up Measles,” said Pudgy.
Hugo smirked, then whirled his arm around and let the ball fly.
- Thomas M. Watt