Tracy walked up to her sister’s front door and let herself in. Tim vaulted down the stairs shouting, “Aunt Tracy! Aunt Tracy!”
He grabbed her in a hug. Tracy’s sister stepped into the hallway grinning from ear-to-ear.
“You know, Tim, you’re to be good for Aunt Tracy today,” Beth said. “It’s just a short trip to OSU to drop off your cousin’s laptop, and then Tracy is taking you shopping for some new clothes for your birthday yesterday.”
“I know I know.”
“Don’t be running off or nothing!” Beth said.
“I’ll be good!” Tim cried and began running around the room with his arms out like an airplane.
“He’ll be fine,” Tracy said. “I’m going to do what grandmother did to us at his age.”
“What are you going to do to me?” Tim asked; his arms dropping down as he stood still.
Beth looked at Tracy with a wicked grin. “Good, make sure you get the money. You know how they can be. I want my cut.”
“You’ll get your share, sister of mine.”
Tim looked to his mother and then back at his aunt.
Tracy grabbed Tim’s ten-year-old hand and pulled him out of the house. “Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!”
Tim and Tracy ran to her vintage black Corvette convertible and climbed inside. Tracy gunned the machine to life and started speeding down the road.
“We’re getting at least one video game for my birthday along with clothes, right?” Tim asked.
Tracy laughed violently. “I have bad news for you.”
Tracy plotted her next move with methodological precision. “You’ve heard of the gypsies in school, haven’t you?”
“They are tribal nomads traveling the earth moving from place to place. They are originally from India, but they migrated through Europe and to North America.”
“Oh,” Tim said.
“They live in camps and have a rich heritage.”
“After we drop off the laptop at your cousins, we’ll stop and get clothes as promised, and then we’ll stop at a gypsy camp, and I’m selling you to them.”
“What?” Tim asked.
“It’s time we sold you to the gypsies, so you can start earning your keep harvesting in the fields and rooting out weeds.”
“You are not!”
“Harvesting the Jalapeno and Habanero peppers will be the worst of it for you. The spicy oil gets on your hands, and the smell makes your eyes water. Most people can’t help but rub their eyes, and that makes them burn even worse.”
“Your mother and I were both sold to gypsies as slave labor when we were ten. Parents get one hundred dollars for every year of life of the child. You’re worth a cool grand. Your mother and I stole from travelers and merchants in order to make enough to buy our way out of slavery. You’re a bright kid. I’m sure you can do the same.”
“You did not!”
Tim’s eyes were wide, and he very slowly started shaking his head back and forth.
“It’s not all bad. They’ll feed you well, and they are great cooks.”
Neither said anything for miles and miles as highway raced past them. They parked at OSU and Tracy fished the laptop out of the trunk. They rode the elevator up 16 floors to Jen’s dorm room and knocked. It took a moment before she answered, but when she did, her eyes lit up brilliantly when she saw the laptop. “Oh, mom. Thank you SO much. I can’t believe I forgot my laptop.”
Tracy nodded. “This is why I wanted you to go to school close to home, my dear.”
Jen knelt down to Tim and poked him in the stomach. He giggled.
“And this one is ten now, prime time to sell him off,” Jen said.
Tim cocked his head to the side, mouth gaping wide. His eyes shifted left and right between aunt and cousin.
“Yes, we were thinking the same thing,” Tracy said.
“You’re not going to sell me!”
Jen rolled her eyes. “It isn’t that bad, Tim. You’ll find ingenious ways to make money with the gypsies, and if you scrimp and save, you’ll be able to buy your freedom. And food, oh my god, the food is so good.”
“We have to go,” Tracy said. “We’re buying him his work clothes today.”
“Yes, he’ll need good strong jeans and thick cotton or wool shirts. And boots, those are essential. Oh, and get him a good knife. I was so glad grandma packed a sturdy knife with my things.”
“He’s kind of clumsy. He might cut himself.”
Tim stared at Jen.
“Yes, all boys are clumsy,” Jen said, “but he’ll need a knife for sure.”
“What am I going to need a knife for?”
“To fight off bandits and thieves, Tim,” Tracy said.
“Enjoy school, Jen. I’ll see you at thanksgiving.”
“Thanks again, Mom.”
Tim seemed rather distracted, so Tracy grabbed his hand and pulled him along to the elevators. They made it back to the Corvette, and they headed south on the interstate.
“You know, after you’ve been with the gypsies,” Tracy said. “They’ll likely teach you how to put a gypsy curse on someone.”
“Gypsy curses are quite powerful. I’ve seen a man with a gypsy curse lose his leg over it.”
“A thief once broke into an old gypsy’s house and stole her life savings. The old woman put such a strong curse on him that they had to amputate below the knee. They call him Pegleg now.”
Tim didn’t say anything, but he seemed lost in thought. The flea market signs started to appear by the side of the road. Tracy pulled the vehicle into a parking space, and they started wandering around. Tracy had Tim try on blue jeans and thick cotton shirts. They purchased a number of articles. Tim carried the bags while Tracy searched the aisles of the flea market moving from booth to booth. Tim trailed behind her burdened by the heavy clothes and work boots. She finally stopped at the booth of a knife seller and began to examine each item with hell-bent eyes.
“There, that one,” she said, “with the bone handle, curved blade, and leather sheath.”
“That’s a nice knife,” the merchant said. “It’s a discontinued model, so it’s on sale.”
“You’re getting me a knife?” Tim asked.
“Jen was right. You’re going to need one.”
Tim whimpered a little quite quietly.
“Selling him to the gypsies, eh?” The seller asked.
“That’s right,” Tracy said. “I want you to throw in a whetstone and oil.”
Tracy paid the thirty-two dollars and stuffed the knife into one of the bags of clothes. The look on Tim’s face was utterly priceless.
“Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!” Tracy said.
Tim didn’t move.
Tracy grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him along to the car. Once they were moving again, Tracy said, “You’re going to behave when we get to the gypsy camp? You’re not going to make a fuss or run away? I’ll have to take less than a full thousand for you if you give them trouble.”
Tim didn’t say anything.
“You don’t want to give them trouble, Tim. You’re always giving your mother trouble, and that’s no good. You don’t want to mess with the gypsies.”
Tim started to cry. “Please don’t sell me! I’ll be good!”
Tracy laughed and pushed the accelerator down on the Corvette.
Tim tried to wipe the tears out of his eyes, but there were entirely too many.
“We’re not going to sell you,” Tracy said.
“Yes. I was just teasing you. The knife you can keep since your father says you’re old enough.”
“You tricked me!”
“And you got a new knife out of the deal.”
“You shouldn’t trick me like that!”
Tracy smiled as the hand painted sign saying “Gypsy Camp” loomed in the distance. She took the exit and steered the car in the direction the signs pointed.