In his room, Timmy Gray was playing with an array of little plastic men. Football pennants were aligned succinctly on the walls. A bed with a quilt of lambs and oranges, a dresser and a toychest, and a television on the desk along with schoolbooks... "Citizenship", "Animals We Use". On the floor was heaped a mound of driveway gravel, supporting the multitude of little plastic men... Indians and pirates, knights and Nazis. Besieged, on the upper reaches of the gravel mountain, were a dozen milk-white plastic Presidents, each stiffly mounted on a tiny, square pedestal bearing their names, and the dates of their birth and death.
Howard rapped upon the side of the door as he entered.
"Nice room," he observed. "And those are... interesting subjects that you take."
"Those?" For a fleeting moment, Timmy seemed confused. A white plastic President slipped from his fingers and knocked over several buccaneers in its descent. "Oh... our social studies teacher at the Modern School says that we don't have to read the book, just the review at the end of the chapter. What we have to do is watch TV and report on the commercials. Mr. Morris says that television commercials are the most important thing since gunpowder. I don't understand, but we get tested - and I usually get at least a "B", sometimes, even, an "A"..."
"Yes, I'm very sure," said Howard, "and it's important to do just what your teachers say. Well, well, well." He put his hand in his pockets. "Timmy, there's a question me and Betty... er, my wife and I would like to..."
"Yes," Betty jumped the gun. "Were you playing?"
"Unh uh," Timmy grunted. "With my little men. Most of them are climbing up this mountain. And the ones who get above the others, they roll marbles down." He picked up a marble and a President to demonstrate. "That was Lincoln, Timmy said, as the marble found its target. "Now, he's dead."
"Just the way that he is in real life," Howard observed.
"When the others make it up the mountain," Betty asked, "what happens?"
"Then they kill each other," Timmy stated. "All those little men."
"But that's not possible," argued Howard. "If they are fighting, they have to be divided into sides. One team wins, the other loses. That's the way it goes."
"Not the way I make the rules." There was a menace, poorly hidden, in the boy's reply and he reached over and knocked a white President from the mountain; Howard couldn't see who it was. "They're my men, and my rules. Everybody dead!"
"Well that's uh... that," said Betty, making an effort to change the subject. "And is that your telephone?"
Like the Presidents, the phone was white and shiny, but seemed to possess an artificial quality that inspired Howard to walk over to the desk and take a closer look. He scraped a fingernail across the receiver and tasted it. The telephone was made of sugar.
"Now," said Timmy, with a hint of Waldonesian impatience, "what can I do you for?"
Betty took a flyer. "You have got to help. "There's something that is making the people downstairs sick."
"Is that like throw-up sick?" Timmy questioned.
"Not that kind," Howard said. "More like the kind of sick where people say the bad things that they're usually thinking. And bang into things, and wear masks."
"And make noise," Betty added.
"Sort of..." said Howard, lamely. He put his hands back in his pockets.
"Alright," Timmy said and pushed the rest of the Presidents off the mountain, leaving it a pure and empty, gravel place. "But I think we ought to keep down. I don't believe your friends would like it if they caught us spying."
"He's right," Betty determined.
So the Slacks, on their hands and knees, followed Timmy... crawling out the door and into the hall, slithering on their bellies towards the balcony and peeking through the slats of the rail down upon a vista of scabrous wonder.
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