Author's Note: This is the most interesting way I could think to write about the game Hometown Story, and my disappointment in it.
"Here comes old man Hubbard," I say to Scarecrow. "He once got a fish bone caught in his throat, but managed to dislodge it by swallowing a clump o' rice." Scarecrow immediately perks up, a smile stitched across his sack of a face.
I'm pretty sure it's a he, at least.
"That sounds amazing!" Scarecrow responds. He waves to the creaky old man. Bent forward, gripping his walking stick as if it were a lifeline, the elderly fellow blinks a couple of times, nearly extinguished light coming to life as he spots us. I let out a sigh, the soft clumping of the walking stick in the dirt growing louder with each wobbly step.
"Afternoon, boys," Hubbard coughs out, a bit of spittle running down his chin. "Let me tell you the most amazin' thing." I sigh, getting comfortable as I lean back into the sturdy pole that comprises most of Scarecrow's body.
"This one time," he begins, a finger waving in the cool spring air. His gums smack as his mouth works, as if chewing some invisible tobaccy. "This one time, y'see, I was eatin' some fish." I nod, as I've always nodded, as I nodded two weeks ago when he told me the story for the third time.
"Y'see, this one time I was eatin' some fish," Hubbard continues, slurping some excess spittle back up. "An' one of its bones got caught in me throat!" I nod apathetically as Scarecrow leans forward, wide-eyed — well, sort of wide-eyed. He has buttons for eyes, you see. "So I think to myself, 'Hubbard,' I says, 'Hubbard, now what'chu gonna do?'
"Well I'll tell you," he says, lifting the walking stick up to point it at me. Of course, it never makes it so high, as Hubbard immediately stumbles without the support, plunking it right back into the dirt path. "I tell you, I said to myself 'I'll keep eatin' anyway.' So's I grab a clump full of some rice, chew it, and swallow it. And guess you what?"
Scarecrow leans forward even further, oblivious to the fact that I just told him this story in twenty-one swift words.
"That clump o' rice dropped right onto that fish bone and dislodged it!" Hubbard laughs his coughy laugh and kicks with his not-as-bad-as-the-other leg. "Let that teach ya somethin', boys!"
Scarecrow waves goodbye as Hubbard continues onward to the errand he no doubt forgot he was running.
"What a wonderful story," Scarecrow sighs. "I wish I could run a shop like you and hear all these stories." I shake my head vigorously, almost as if I were trying to shake off a dog that had latched onto me.
"Goodness, no," I grunt. "This town is so boring, Scarecrow. It's almost like a village of pod people. I wouldn't be surprised if all of these folk were automatons." Scarecrow taps on his straw-stuffed chin for a moment. I already know the question.
"An automaton is like a robot," I sigh. "A machine designed to behave like a human, but running on cold logic. There is no soul or heart." Scarecrow taps at his chin again.
"Do you think I'm an automaton?" he asks me. I shake my head.
"No, pal," I sigh once more. "You have spirit, desire, and you say a lot of different things. You're definitely not an automaton. Everyone else, though?"
I stand, groaning, my bones crying out at this sudden change of positioning and posture. My eyes drift upward to the sun, noting how much further it has fallen. When I left the shop it was roughly noon time, but now the sun's barely above the tree line.
"Going back to work?" Scarecrow asks me, almost singing the question. He is forever an optimist, so amazed by the world outside of this spot in which he's been forever planted. I've a mind to pull him free and hoist him over my shoulder, leaving this dreary town and taking him on the adventure he longs for.
"Yeah," I sigh again — sighing way too often, I imagine. Am I truly so exasperated? "There's probably a line of customers standing there right now, fish and herbs and apples in hand, just waiting for me to return and ring them up."
"Aren't you afraid someone will steal something?" Scarecrow's brow furrows in concern.
I shake my head. "Nope. No one here steals. They just come in and tell you the same stories every day." My eyes glaze over, I'm sure, as I stare forward into nothing in particular. "Little Bobby forgot what he was coming in for. Miss Edna is trying to eat only healthy foods, or so she proclaims before snagging a cherry cheesecake. Bitty Betty is so proud to be out shopping for the twenty-third day in a row, and Thomas is certain his wife is having another girls' night out."
I can practically hear the smile spread on Scarecrow's face. He thinks it all sounds wonderful. Not many come around to his neck of the woods, and even fewer strike up a conversation with him. So anything new sounds amazing.
"I'll tell you all about it sometime," I say with a smile, waving him goodbye. There is no sincerity to my smile, no real happiness or contentment, but Scarecrow can't tell. He just gleefully grins back and waves enthusiastically.
I, on the other hand, turn and walk towards the store that I stock every day with items I buy from the merchant, or from other townsfolk. Maybe today someone will come in and ask me to carry a particular item. Maybe I'll sell most of my stock. Yet I cannot help but think my presence means little in this town. I feel unnecessary, as if I could just not open my store on any given day and things would be no different. No satisfaction, no sense of accomplishment, and yet the constant feeling that something is missing.
Oh, look, it's Old Man Hubbard standing in front of my store, telling his tale once again of that fish bone caught in his throat.