The Magic Gumball Machine, Part I

By Wil Forbis

Hey true believers! Below this erudite introduction is the first ever Acid Logic serialized novella. I have to confess to being something of novice of the serialization process, so I'm going to ask for your patience with my attempts at this venture upfront. I have no idea how many issues this will run over, though my goal is to actually finish up the novella by the end of the year. (Update - Ha! What a joke that turned out to be.) I'll also forewarn you, perhaps foolishly, that the names of some of the characters, places, etc. may change as the story moves along, but I'll be sure to update previous sections where necessary and pass word along to you, the loyal reader. Ideally, by reading this piece, you will not only be entertained but gain keen insight into the animal cunning of the creative process.

You may be saying, "This title sounds like some sort of fruity Hans Christian Anderson fable! What is 'The Magic Gumball Machine' about?" To retain the literary integrity of the story, I feel I can't say much, but I assure you that upon completion of the full tale you will agree that it is perfectly in tune with the sensibilities of Acid Logic.

I thank you in advance for your readership.

Tom Humphries put a coin in the Wurlitzer jukebox and carefully punched in the button combination for the song he wanted. He watched as the 45 record was mechanically unsheathed from its perch and lowered into the bowels of the machine. He heard some clicking followed by the sounds of the turntable rotating and then the song began to play. Tom hummed along and felt a certain sway added to his step. The tune was  a sweet little number from an era that seemed long past, and it was one of his favorites.

Once the music started playing, the interior of the ice cream shop livened up a bit. The recently waxed checkerboard floor shone a bit brighter. The neon glow of the sign above the counter advertising "Milkshakes and Ice Cream Floats" flickered in time with the song. Even though it was near closing time and no one else was in the shop, the music made the room feel like it was filled with old friends. Tom smiled.

Tom needed a bit of comfort tonight because he was troubled man. But he was also the type who tried not to let his troubles interfere with his daily doings, so he picked up a broom and began sweeping. "No sense worrying about something you can't fix," Tom's mother had often said, and as everyone knows, mothers are seldom wrong. At this particular moment, there was little Tom could do about his concerns, so he tried hard to ignore them.

As many customers had commented, it was hard not to notice how well Tom fit into the surroundings of "The Good Ship Lollipop,' the ice-cream shop he'd run for thirty-five years. He was what everybody thought a "nice old man" should look like. Tom always had a grin to go with his handlebar moustache and full head of white, bushy hair. On every day but Sunday he wore a white cooking smock over one of his several pairs of jeans and identical button up short sleeve shirts. He wasn't there to make a fashion statement; he was there to make ice cream. Tom viewed the "The Good Ship Lollipop" a bit like a real vessel and saw himself as the onboard chef. He spent the day serving up hearty desserts from behind the counter to his crew: the ever steady influx of children, teenagers and adults who lounged on the stools next to the counter or the row of booths that ran along the back wall. It didn't matter if the ship never went anywhere. Tom was quite happy to stay where he was.

By the time the song on jukebox tune stopped playing, Tom had swept up the main area and was willing to calling it day. He didn't officially close until 9:00 PM, fifteen minutes away, but customers seldom came in this late on a Thursday. It was raining hard outside, and Tom was anxious to get back to the little apartment he rented three blocks down the street. He wanted to make sure he was there to comfort his birds in case any lightning went off, as was not uncommon in these parts. So Tom gathered up his knapsack, made sure the door to the freezer room was closed, and turned off the lights. Then he walked to the glass door at the front of the store and opened it. He peered out into the night. It was dark, wet and cold. He flipped his "Open" sign over and shut the door. Durn, he thought, when he realized held left the keys he needed to lock the door on the counter. He had an ever so brief mental debate as to whether he should actually go back inside, but quickly gave up the thought. Nobody was going to steal three buckets of Almond Chocolate and numerous the dessert makers.

Suddenly, a bright bolt of lightning lit up the sky and the ground underneath, and Tom tensed. "Bruuuhummmmm!" replied the thunder a few seconds later. It hadn't been the lightning that had shaken Tom, but what he'd seen when it flashed. A man had been standing out in the road, no more than six feet away. After the lightning vanished, Tom squinted his eyes to try and make the figure out in the dark. "Hello?" he called out. "Is somebody there?"

Before the stranger could respond, the night sky was once again illuminated by electricity. The man was now two feet closer and striding towards Tom. The figure stopped. "Hello," he said. "Are you closed?"

"Well, not officially," said Tom. "But I was just about to be. Don't get many people this time of night."

"I'm sorry," said the man. "I broke down about a mile down the road. Is it at all possible that I could come in and use your phone? I just need to call the headquarters for my territory and they'll send someone right down to pick me up."

Again, Tom thought, Durn. His birds had doubtless already started in with a bout of nervous chattering. But he couldn't just leave this man out in the cold. "Sure," Tom replied. "Come on in, I'll turn on the lights and give you a chance to dry off." The man followed Tom into the shop.

Once they were both inside and the lights were turned on, Tom was able to get a good look at the stranger. He was wearing a long dark overcoat from which protruded an expensive pair of slacks and fancy shoes, albeit, covered in mud. The man removed his hat to reveal a mostly bald scalp with a drenched combover. He appeared to be in his mid forties and had a bashful air to him. He stooped a bit slightly, though he still seemed taller than Tom who himself came in at 5'10. On the man's face was a nervous smile that did little to hide his discomfort. He seemed to be some kind of businessman, a banker or investor, probably feeling out of place in a small town ice cream shop. Tom knew the type. They'd managed to master the trivialities of mercantilism but hadn't ever quite figured how to be comfortable around their fellow man, especially when they needed a favor. But Tom didn't begrudge them - everyone had their place in the world.

"Pay phone's over there," Tom motioned. "Right next to the rest rooms."

"Th-Thank you," the man stammered. He reached over to a napkin dispenser on the counter and plucked out half its contents. He then used them to try and dry himself off. When he caught Tom staring it him with and expression of half befuddlement, half amusement, the stranger gave a nervous laugh and asked, "Could you be kind enough to tell me where I am?"

"Honey Bluff," Tom replied. "You're on the section of Route 15 that runs right through town."

"Honey Bluff," the man repeated. "Route 15. Thank you." He walked over to the pay phone.

Tom went behind the counter to busy himself, and pricked his ears when he heard the jingle of change falling down the coin slot and the barest murmurs of the man's muted conversation. Within two minutes the stranger was off the phone. "All taken care of," he said. "They'll be here in half and hour."

"Delsburgh's the nearest town," Tom said. "It's at least an hour from here. Where these friends of yours coming from?"

"Oh, they're not friends," the man replied. "They can't be, I have to work with them." He gave a little laugh. "We've got an office near Delsburgh. But also close to here. Fortunately I hadn't gotten far."

"Broken down, huh?" said Tom. "That's a damn shame, especially in this weather. Steven Belmont, he's just up the street, he's got a repair shop. He can fix up most any thing that moves. You should stop on by and see him tomorrow."

"Thanks, thanks for the tip," the man said, sitting down on one of the stools by the counter. "Maybe I'll do that."  

Tom couldn't help notice that the man was slurring his words and seemed a little unsteady on the stool. And his skin looked an unhealthy shade of green. "You have some sort of accident?" he queried.

"No, no," the man replied. "Engine just died. I'm not much of a car man, couldn't tell you what it was. I'm sure a mechanic will be able to fix it up." He looked about, seeming a bit eager to change the subject. "This is a nice place you got here. All yours?"

"For thirty-five years," Tom said proudly. "I grew up right around here, but left to join the army. Saw the world and all that. But I never saw anywhere I liked as much as here, so once I got out I came right back. I saved up some money, bought this place from the owner and been trying to do the best I can since."

"Excellent," the man replied. "Ice cream man, huh? I don't know if I could do that."

"How's that?" Tom asked.

"Too much of a sweet tooth," the man said, tapping his molars. "I'd eat away all my profits."

"Ha, not me. I'm the perfect person for the job. I had an accident in the army. Got knocked unconscious and when I woke up they couldn't find a durn thing wrong with me except I could no longer taste a thing."

"That's terrible," exclaimed the man.

"Oh, you get used to it," said Tom. "I figured since I can't taste it I might as well eat healthy. Plenty of vegetables. Peas and carrots. I don't feel a day over forty."

"Peas, oh my," the man said. "I've always thought they looked like tiny Martian brains. I could never stand them."

"Well, I don't know much about Martian brains," Tom said with a chuckle. "But I do know my way around a chocolate milkshake. Care for me to mix one up?"

"Chocolate! Oh boy! That's my favorite."

Tom set to work making the shake. The man got up and slowly walked around the restaurant, getting a feel for it. "This really is a great place you have here. Very homey. But you know what you need? A gumball machine!"

"Mmmm, I had one for awhile," Tom replied. "But no one seemed too interested. After some yummy ice cream, who wants a gumball? Something about the tastes just don't seem to go together. So I retired the durn thing."

"Don't go together?" the man said, astonished. "Why I've never met a little boy who didn't think every moment was the right time for a tasty gumball."

"Don't know what to tell you, mister. I put it out there, no one was buying, so I gave up."

"Nonsense," the man replies. "Let me ask you this - where in the store did you place your machine?"

"Right over there, next to the hat rack." Tom gestured to a long pole that was just off to the left of the entrance of the shop.

"Now, see, that just won't do at all. How can anyone notice it over there? Picture this: You put it right here -  next to the cash register. Every time someone cashes out they'll notice it, and it'll get them thinking how they can use some of that change you just gave them to buy a nice tasty gumball!"

"Here you go," Tom said, handing the man his chocolate milkshake. "I'm starting to think you sell gumball machines."

"Not at all. I sell magic." The man paused. "In the form of candy distribution devices. These machines are proven moneymakers! Take a look at this brochure."

Inside, Tom groaned. He'd almost able to put back what had been troubling him all evening, but now it came rushing forward. The man pulled a slick, multi color presentation from his overcoat and placed it on the counter. 

"This baby ain't your garden variety gumball machine, my friend" the man excitedly stated. "This is the Hearst Castle of gumball machines. Pure elegance, class and luxury."

"I appreciate the offer," Tom countered. "But I'm afraid I'm not interested. How's your chocolate shake?"

"Excellent," the man said, though he'd yet to take a sip. "Look at the workmanship here. Notice the chrome bindings. Let me tell you, every time I see one of these beauties I think they should be in a museum."

Tom paused to take just a brief glance at the brochure. It was true - these were not ordinary gumball machines. They looked about three times bigger than average, and had a very attractive red and gold chrome chassis. They were nice, very nice. And, no doubt, expensive. "Listen, friend, "Tom began.

"Hold on," the man said, hurriedly finishing up a giant sip from the shake. "I know what you're going to say. 'You can't afford it.' But I like you, sir. And when I like somebody, I want to help them out. That's why I can set you up with a monthly credit payment that you won't even notice. You can pay it out with the quarters you pull out of the machine."

"Hah!" Tom let out a forceful laugh.

"Friend, I'm not making this up. These beautiful creatures pull in money like magnets. You will not."

"Excuse me," Tom said, raising his voice, and breaking into the man's sales pitch. He paused for a second, trying to put what he wanted to say into words. As always, the truth was the best way to go. "Look sir, he began. "I don't doubt that what you have there is a Grade A, top-o-the line, spendoriffic gumball machine. But you're not listening to me. I don't want to buy it. I can't buy it."

"I understand." the man interjected.

"I don't think you do!" Tom raised his voice again. "You pointed out how nice this place is, didn't you sir? And you're right, it is nice. It's a great place that I've run for 35 years. And I've been paying it off the whole time. I'm just two years away from making it all mine. But. I've had some. troubles. Money. Everyone around here, you ask anyone, they love the shop. But I'm just not pulling in the kind of cash I need. I'm on real shaky ground mister. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. But I know that buying a brand new gold plated gumball machine ain't gonna help matters."

"I see." said the man.

"Good. I'm glad you see."

The man retrieved his brochure from the counter. "I would never want to sell something to somebody who didn't want what I was offering."

"That's a sound philosophy," replied Tom.

"And that's why. that's why I'd be willing to let you try the gumball machine for thirty days at no charge! I guarantee you will make enough profit off it it'll be more than worth your while. Otherwise I come in and take it right back. You have nothing to lose."

"I know I can't taste too well," said Tom. "I'm beginning to think you can't hear too well. Mister, I don't even know if this shop is going to be here in thirty days. There's no way in the fiery pits of heck I'm going to buy your machine. Do you follow me?"

The man took a breath. He looked hurt. "Yes, yes I do. I'm sorry. I didn't understand the levity of your situation. Perhaps I got a little carried away."

Tom walked from inside the counter. He didn't want the man to notice that he was shaking. "I've got a few things to straighten out in the storeroom. I 'spect your friends will be around shortly."

"Right," the man replied. "They should be here soon."

Tom turned to walk into the back of the shop. "Wait," the man said. "How much do I owe you for the milkshake?"

Tom was caught off guard. He smiled. "Don't worry about that."

"No," the man replied. "I want to help."

"Trust me, mister," Tom said. "The price of a milkshake one way or the other ain't gonna do much for me. You've had a troublesome night with your car breaking down and all. It's on the house."

"Thank you," the man said. "And thank you for letting me use the phone."

"No problem at all," Tom said. "Now as I was saying, I've got a few things to do in the back. You just stay put until your friends get here."

"Of course."

Tom walked through the swinging door that went to the storeroom. He didn't really have much to do there so he busied himself breaking down some old cardboard shipping boxes. Then a thought occurred to him. "Mister?" he called out. "Your friends know you broke down right near Highway 54, don't they? A lot of people think they have to take Route 15 which is a whole 'nuther ten miles or so. They just added it last year and it's been saving a lot of people a lot of time."

There was no reply. Tom walked out to the customer area. The man was gone. On the counter, next to the empty milkshake glass, lay a ten dollar bill and the brochure he's been trying to get Tom to read. Tom quickly walked to the door and went outside. It was still raining and he saw neither man nor car down the road. Puzzled, Tom went back inside. Then he looked up at the clock. It was 10:15. Tom knew his birds would be wondering where he was, so for the second time that night he packed up. This time, he locked the door on the way out.

"Mr. Humphries, look what we got!" Young Timmy Thompson burst into the "Good Ship Lollipop," on a sunny Friday morning. He was leading a trio of other boys and excitedly waving something in his 10 year old hands. He plunked their trophy down on the counter. It was a large frog, not uncommon to the marshes that surrounded Honey Bluff. The creature made a rabbit and hopped about the counter.

"Well, I'll be," said Tom. "That's the biggest croaker I've ever seen around these parts since I was about your age." In truth, the frog was medium sized, at best, but Tom didn't want to spoil the lad's excitement.

"We caught it out near Old Man Finlander's property," said Leroy, one of Timmy's accomplices. "And guess what else we saw!"

"Baby dinosaurs!" interrupted Timmy. "A bunch of them. They were swimming around in the water really fast."

"Dinosaurs, eh?' replied Tom, guessing the boys we're referring to the Spotter lizards that often nested in the area. "We'll I'll be. When I was a boy they taught us that all dinosaurs were what they called "extinct," meaning they didn't live no more. But I guess teachers don't know everything."

"Do you think they're going to grow up, Uncle Tom?" asked Timmy. "Do you think they'll get big and then stomp all over our town?"

"Anything's possible. Fortunately one of my best friends happens to be a professional dinosaur catcher. If we see them coming, I'll give him a call."

"Maybe you should call him now," said Bartholomew, the shyest of Timmy's friends. "Just to be safe."

"Yeah," said Timmy. "Maybe we can get a reward for stray dinosaurs."

Tom just laughed and began work on four ice cream cones for the boys. They were in the shop so often he didn't even have to ask what their favorite flavors were.

"My goodness," sounded a matronly voice from the entrance of the shop. "Timmy Thompson, you know you're not supposed to let pets sit on the counter." A large women in her late 30's with a protruding and pregnant belly hefted herself to the counter and sat down. She looked sternly at the boy's amphibious friend.

"Sorry, Mrs. Dalwood," Timmy said and quickly pocketed the frog.

"Really, Mr. Humphries, you should know better than to let strange creatures hop about your counter. Well, Timmy and his friends excluded of course. What if that frog fell in the blender? We could all be drinking frog milkshakes for weeks and never know it."

"You're right as ever, Tricia," Tom apologized. "Let me make it up to you with a lovely ice cream sundae for a lovely lady."

"That sounds delicious, Mr. Humphries," Tricia Dalwood replied. "Don't forget the pickle on top."

"What would happen if we drank frog milkshakes?" Bartholomew asked.

"I imagine it couldn't be too healthy," Tom replied. "Frogs are filled to the brim with all sorts of strange things. They eat insects you know, and you are what you eat."

"Only Frenchmen eat frogs," Mrs. Dalwood added. "And we all know they're a peculiar lot."

Having served both Mrs. Dalwood and the boys, Tom turned his attention to a few of his less talkative customers who needed refills of their sodas. Morning was a good time for the store. It wasn't as crowded as it would be later in the afternoon when the local schoolhouse let out, but it was busy pace. It kept Tom's mind of his money problems, which was what he needed.

Tom had arrived home the previous night to an angry scolding from his birds. They were irate that he'd left them to brave the lightning and thunder alone and demanded and extra serving of pumpkin seed. Tom had helped himself to some potato stew he'd had brewing, with a side of asparagus. Then he'd pulled out a box of his mother's belongings. He'd been through it a few times already, but he wanted to know of there was something he might be able to pawn or sell down in Delsburgh. He'd come across some of her old letters, letters she'd written to her sisters around when Tom was growing up in Honey Bluff. He'd fallen asleep in a comfortable chair, thinking about happier times.

The next morning, Tom had woken up and hurried in to open up the shop. One of his first customers had been Sheriff Hewly. Tom was eager to see him, and asked him whether he knew anything about a car that might've broken down up the road. The Sheriff hadn't seen anything like that, even though he'd just driven 20 miles up that road an hour previous, pursuing a call to get Farmer MaGarrigle's cow out of a ditch. Tom told him about the salesman that had arrived that before.  Hewly looked at the brochure and commented, "I'm familiar with Loeher Distribution, they've got a warehouse about 70 miles from here. But I don't know anything about one of their boys breaking down. Maybe they sent out a truck last night."

"With all the rain?" asked Tom. "Why not wait for the clear of day?"

You got me," said Hewly. "But I'll say this. That's a sweetheart of a gumball machine." The Sheriff then got up carry on with his day of maintaining law and order. A few minutes later, Timmy and his gang arrived.

"Special Delivery" a voice called out, while Tom was fulfilling Mrs. Dalwood's request for a second pickle.  Everyone in the shop looked up to see a tall deliveryman wheeling a large brown package in on a dolly. He rolled it up to the cashier, set it down on the ground and said, "Where do you want it?"

"What it is it, Mr. Humphries?" Timmy asked. "Is it Christmas presents?"

"I don't know, Timmy." replied Tom. He walked round the counter and came up to the box. It was about four feet high and three wide, with nothing on the packaging to indicate what was inside. He looked at the deliveryman. "Are you sure this is for me?"

"Oh poo, you're right," the man said. "This is for the other 'Good Ship Lollipop' in Honey Bluff. Silly me." Tom caught the sarcastic edge to the man's voice.

"Hmmm, well I guess where you have it is good enough." Tom said. As the deliveryman left Tom thought he heard him muttering something about 'backwards hick towns.'

"Open it up, Mr. Humphries," Timmy exclaimed, doing a little dance around the box. "Let's see what's inside."

"All right," replied Tom. "But I have to warn you, August is too early for Christmas presents. It's probably some ice cream equipment, though I don't recall ordering anything recently" Tom was not a stupid man, and in his gut he had a suspicion as to what the box contained.

Tom got a sharp box cutter from a drawer underneath the cash register and cut the corners of the cardboard packaging. With a little work, the material stripped away and the box's contents were revealed. Tom's heart sank. Underneath a swath of plastic wrapping was a fancy and expensive looking gumball machine, filled to the brim with gumballs. "Oh, criminy," he muttered.

"A gumball machine?" said Mrs. Dalwood, sitting on her perch. "I thought you gave up on those."

"I did," replied Tom. "It's from this durned salesman who was here last night. I told him I didn't want it but."

"Wow," said Timmy, gazing at the apparatus. "It's pretty. Take of the wrapper, Uncle Tom."

"I can't, Timmy. This is a mistake. I didn't actually order the gumball machine. It has to be returned to the sender."

"But can't we at least look at it, Mr. Humphries," piped up Skeeter, the fourth of Timmy's group. "It's all shiney."

"It is pretty nice," said  Jack Browder, the town accountant who'd stopped in for a root beer float. "Usually these things aren't much to look at, but this one should be in a."

"Museum," Tom finished the sentence for him. "So I've been told. But I can't aff. I just don't need a gumball machine. Besides, who wants to eat a gumball after having a hearty ice cream sandwich?"

"Come on, Uncle Tom," Timmy pleaded. "At least take the plastic off."

"Well.." Tom wavered. "All right, I suppose there's no harm in removing the wrapper." He unbound the plastic and pulled it off the machine. Then he stood back.

The machine was indeed a site to behold. Considerably larger than your average gumball dispenser, its shape was that of a large globe supported by a tubular mount that rose from the floor. The upper half of the globe was made of clear glass while the bottom was a shiny red metal. Across its face was the title, "The Magic Gumball Machine!" written in a festive font. A yellow metallic ring ran along the equator of the globe and was covered with detailed artwork in the theme of magic: occult gurus, rabbits in hats, that sort of thing. The stand that supported the machine was made of round glass with the occasional metallic reinforcement ring. Inside the tube was a long red metal slide that spiraled from the bottom of the globe to a small latched door at the base of the apparatus. Presumably, the gumballs rolled down this slide and came out at the bottom.

The gumballs that stocked the machine were almost as striking as the device itself. Unlike your average gumballs, which tended to all one color, these candies were covered with splashes of several different hues. On top of that, they had tiny flecks of gold and silver that made it look as if they were worth far more that the quarter apiece the machine requested.

"Well, there we go," said Tom. "It's definitely an eyeful. But I need to wrap it back up again and send this back its proper owner. This here is an ice cream shop, not a candy museum."

"Wait," said Timmy. "Can I have gumball?"

Tom hadn't anticipated the requested. "What? Oh. no, I'm afraid not, Timmy. If we use the machine they might assume I'm buying it and I just can't do that right now."

"Please, Mr. Humphries," Timmy replied. "Pleeassseeeee?"

"Come on, Tom," said Bill Stanly, another regular patron. It ain't gonna hurt to get one gumball. Besides, I'd like to see one up close. They sure are queer lookin'."

"I dunno," replied Tom. "Now isn't a good time for me to."

"Oh, goodness, just let the boy have a gumball, Tom." Mrs. Dalwood scolded. "Let's at least see if they're any good."

"All right, all right," Tom relented, while reaching into his pants pockets. "One gumball. Here's a quarter, Timmy."

Timmy took the coin from Tom's hand and eagerly walked up to the machine. He had to look hard to find the coin slot as the ornate design obscured some of its functionality. He slipped the coin in and listened as it chimed off the bowels of the contraption. Then Timmy stepped back, cupping his hands around the flap from which the gumball would exit. Everyone else watched the clear top of the machine to see if the other gumballs would jostle as one of their cousins made its escape. There was no movement. One second went by. Two. Three.

"What a ripoff!" said Timmy. "It ate my quarter!" Tom felt a tinge of relief.

Suddenly the machine came to life. A series of un-noticed lights that ran the circumference of the machine started flashing in alternating colors of red, white and blue. A happy little song came forth, sounding just like an old fashioned music box. There was a click and then the sound of a ball rolling. A gumball appeared, rolling down the miniature slide that traversed the mount of the machine. It landed at the bottom and Timmy retrieved it from the door. Then he popped it into his mouth and gave it a few chews. A curious look came over his face.

"How is it?" asked someone from the small crowd of customers that had gathered near the front of the store.

"It's yummy," said Timmy. "It's the best gumball ever!"

"Can we try, can we try?" rang Leroy, Bartholomew and Skeeter in unison.

Tom's sighed. He really didn't want to use the gumball machine, but he knew it would be unfair to let only Timmy have one. He handed out three more quarters to the boys. Each of them walked up to the machine and put their coin in. Each time, the machine came to life with lights and song. Each time the child watched expectantly as the gumball traveled down the device's clear stem and landed at the bottom. Each time the boys reported that it was the greatest gumball ever.

"My goodness," Mrs. Dalwood said. "I haven't had a gumball since I was a little girl, but I do believe I'm going to try one of these magic gumballs." She handed a coin to Bill Stanley. "Mr. Stanley, would you be so kind as to obtain a gumball for a woman with child."

"Under one condition, fair lady" said Mr. Stanley. "That I get one for myself!" He pulled a coin out of his own pocket and retrieved two gumballs from the machine.

"Tom, you've got to keep this machine," said Jack Browder, who was in the quickly forming line to get a gumball. "You'll make a fortune."

"Yeah, Uncle Tom," added Timmy. "Tell us you're going to keep the machine. Pleeasseee."

"Well," said Tom. "I guess the man did say I could try it for thirty days. We can see how it goes."

"Yaaaay!" squealed the boys. "We can have gumballs everyday of the week!"

An hour later, the morning crowd had moved on and Tom walked over to the cash register. He thumbed through the bills he garnered and couldn't deny the popularity of his business. It was the same amount he'd expected, the same amount he'd learned to expect from being in this business for 35 years. But it wasn't enough. He still needed to come up with a plan, or else the the town of Honey Bluff was going to have to look elsewhere for root beer floats, ice cream sundaes, milkshakes, and now, gumballs.

Tom looked over at the gumball machine, which was now perched exactly where the salesman had recommended - by the cash register. Despite the fact that it seemed as if everyone in the store had purchased at least one gumball, it was still filled to the top with colorful bounty. The machine was a nice extra, Tom figured, but no one had ever made a fortune off gumballs.

Click here for Part II


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