Nathan's Laserium: Thumb

This is an old story, if it even really stands up as a story. No real conflict or anything.
But, you know, speaking of hitch-hiking. It's from sometime in 2006.




Billy was bored. He sat in the backseat of his parents’ car, watching the endless boreal forest zip by outside. The trees weren’t tall enough to be spooky, and the green wasn’t bright enough to be pretty. Just lots and lots of trees, all the same. They hadn’t seen any animals since yesterday. On the seat beside him was a discarded Game Boy with all the games he had beaten several times over. He sighed, but didn’t bother to ask if they were there yet. He knew they still had a long way to go.
“What the heck is that?” asked Mom in the front seat. Dad turned down the music, as he always did when Mom pointed out something to look at. Billy straightened out of his slouch to catch a look, too. “Whoa!” he said. Dad’s jaw just dropped a little. Mom said matter-of-factly, “It’s a giant! And he’s hitch-hiking!”
Up ahead there stood a very, very large man. A giant. He was wearing a jean jacket and had a leather backpack slung on one shoulder. Dark hair and a few days’ growth of whiskers on his face. With his right arm extended, thumb up, he looked just like a university student trying to hitch a ride, except that he was over 300 feet tall.
“Can we pick him up, Dad?” The question snapped Dad out of his shock.
“Of course not, Billy. There’s no room in the car for someone that big. And he might be dangerous.”
“Oh come on, dear. I’m sure he’s a very nice young fellow. If he was dangerous, I think he could just step on us and be done with it. I say we pull over and talk to him at least. Maybe he’s hungry.” Mom’s logic concerning the potential danger of the giant seemed irrefutable, and Dad also knew that it would be useless to point out that they had nothing that could possibly satisfy the hunger of a giant, so he decided to pull over.
“Yay!” Billy cheered.
The giant courteously knelt down to talk into Mom’s unrolled window. “Thanks for pulling over! Where you folks headed?”
Dad was about to say something evasive and non-committal, but Mom cut him off. “We’re heading home to Fernie- that’s where Grandma lives. School’s out for the summer and Jim and I are both teachers up in Yellowknife, so we have a couple of months of holiday. How about you?” Billy sat wide-eyed in the backseat, hardly listening to Mom’s rambling answer. He was studying the giant’s big blue eyes and scruffy hair. He couldn’t believe how cool this was.
“I’m going to Giants’ Stadium in New York to try out for the team. Nah, just kidding! I’m heading to the Rockies myself. Do some camping.” The giant was enthusiastic but polite, and he didn’t want to assume anything.
“Well,” Mom said, “we’d love to have you join us, but you’re, you know, a little big . . .”
The giant laughed. “Well, this is sort of reverse hitch-hiking- I’ll give you a lift in exchange for helping me get to where I’m going- maps and signs are a little small for my eyes to read without a microscope or magnifying glass or something.”
Dad made a choking noise, and Billy said his hundredth “Wow” and Mom giggled and said “Sure! Give us a lift!”
So the giant very gently picked up the car, being careful not to press too hard and dent the sheet metal. He placed it on his palm, holding it like a waiter holding a tray. Billy’s stomach did a little flip as they rose straight up nearly 300 feet. For the first time the potentially scary things about this situation were making themselves clear to him.
“Comfy?” asked the giant. Mom gave a little nod. “Alright then, let’s go!” And the giant started walking down the highway, strolling at nearly the same speed as the posted limit.
“Hi little fella,” said the Giant, talking to Billy. “My name’s Grant, but people just call me Thumb. What’s your name?”
Billy was determined not to be scared, but his stomach was still a little grumpy from the sudden disruptions, so he was inclined to be less charitable than a few minutes ago. “It’s not ‘little fella’, that’s for sure.”
“Billy!” said Mom, “Be polite to our guest.”
Billy’s initial sense of wonder was quickly turning into sullenness. But Thumb was amicable and good with kids. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Billy. Everyone is a ‘little fella’ to me, even your Dad!”
Billy inwardly thought this was very funny, but wasn’t ready to reconcile just yet. He looked at Thumb suspiciously, and asked “Aren’t you scared of bears?”
“Scared I’ll step on one and squish it.”
“Have you ever squished a bear?”
“No. Have you?”
Billy couldn’t stifle his giggle. “No, silly!” he said. Then, “You don’t eat bears do you?”
“Nah, I eat sandwiches that my mum made me before I left. Want one?”
The thought of Billy eating a giant sandwich was too much. He started laughing out loud, unable to help himself. Mom joined him, and Thumb smiled. Even Dad was coming around- a process aided by the fact that his fuel efficiency had just improved considerably.
Soon an easy and comfortable conversation kept the travelers occupied as Thumb’s giant strides ate up the miles. Dad helped Thumb stay on the right highway, reading the signs for him and telling him to take this or that exit. Once there was a bridge spanning a ravine, and Thumb let the car and its occupants down so they could drive across while Thumb went down into the valley, crossed the river, and climbed back up on the other side. Everyone stretched and then they were back on the road.
“Mr. Thumb?” said Billy. “Do you know any good stories? About giants?”
“Sure, I know tons of stories. You probably know lots of them, like about Paul Bunyan and Jack and the Beanstalk and all that. But did you ever hear of a giant named Pan Gu?”
“Pangoo? No, I never heard of him. Who’s he?”
“In the olden days, in China, before they built the Great Wall, they used to believe that the world was created by Pan Gu. At the beginning of time, they say that everything was nothing, or maybe, nothing was all there was. Anyways, the only thing that existed was a big egg. Inside this egg lived Pan Gu, and he lived there for, like, 18,000 years. And then one day he got annoyed with being inside that egg so he smashed it open with a huge axe he had.”
“Rarrghh!” said Billy, imagining he was Pan Gu.
“Yeah, exactly. So now Pan Gu was free of the egg, but there still wasn’t anything for him to do, except hold the sky up so it wouldn’t crash back on the ground. He did this for another18,000 years! Till one day he keeled over dead.”
“Blargh!” said Billy, and he pretended to be dead in the backseat of his parents’ car, eyes screwed shut and tongue lolling out of his mouth. Mom laughed.
“So what happened was, Pan Gu’s body became the world- all the mountains and rivers and lakes and stuff. That’s what the Chinese used to think, anyways.”
“Did you know Pan Gu? Was he your Dad?” Billy asked.
“Nah, that was a little before my time. It was even before your Dad’s time!”
“Hey!” said Dad, but he had enjoyed the story too, and was happy to be included. “Have you ever been to China, Mr. Thumb?”
“No, but I’ve always wanted to go. I’d love to hike the length of the Great Wall, you know? If I was allowed. They’d probably want to make sure I didn’t kick any of it over. But even more than that, I want to go Antarctica. I always thought it would be cool to go to the exact South Pole and do a handstand.”
“Like Atlas!” Dad thought this was very funny. But Billy didn’t get it, and asked, “Who’s Atlas?”
As Thumb told the story, Mom looked over at Dad and smiled. It had been a very pleasant drive so far. At one point Thumb saw a big bull moose that was wading in a lake, and they stopped to watch it for a while. “I love animals,” said Thumb. The moose wasn’t concerned about the giant’s presence, but eventually it wandered away and they continued on.
It was starting to get dark and soon they would need to stop at a restaurant for something to eat, and then think about finding a campground for the night.
During a lull, Billy said, “Mom, when I grow up can I go with Mr. Thumb to the Antartika?”
“Antarctica.” Mom corrected. “And if it was alright with Mr. Thumb I don’t see why not. But you better start saving up your allowance now! It’s pretty expensive to go there, and you can’t exactly hitch-hike.”
Billy yawned and said, “Okay.” Thumb winked at Mom.
Dad said, “Well, Mr. Thumb, we’re glad we picked you up, but you can drop us off at this little town here so we can go in and get some supper.”
“Awww Dad!” said Billy, but Thumb nodded and let them down, so delicately the shocks didn’t even bounce.
“It was nice meeting you all! Have fun visiting your Grandma.”
“Wait, Mr. Thumb!” said Billy. “I didn’t know there was any such thing as giants . . .”
Thumb looked at him, and grinned. “There are giants in the world, Billy," he said,"And other things too.” With a wave, Thumb turned and walked away. Billy waved back, watching until Thumb was out of sight.

- Nathan Waddell