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Guardian by Gregory Harvey
Over the last ten years escaping from the nursing home had only gotten easier for Thomas Palader. He figured it was purely because what once had been bold, even adventurous, was now a simple matter of routine. Nurse Harmaker left the building around seven in the morning, and Nurse Smith wouldn't arrive until around ten past. It was this ten minute gap in scheduling, on Saturday mornings only, that Thomas had been exploiting for the last ten years. Not that the lack of a nurse meant that he could just walk out of there, he still had a few of the other staff to contend with, but none of them had ever proven to be too observant.
This time, however, the front gate and its wacky-doo electronic lock system had presented a problem. They had changed the code from what it was last week. It only took Thomas a moment to guess however, and once he had punched in Nurse Smith's birthday he was home free. Free to go about his business. To go about his task.
He had first noticed the permanents shortly after his daughter's death in July, 1994. And ever since then, he had made it his responsibility to check on them every week without fail. Thomas really couldn't have explained why. It just felt as though it was something he was supposed to do. The objects, hardly noticeable, or indeed even worthy of notice by any ordinary person, were spread out over a couple of blocks in the suburb. Every Saturday, Thomas Palader escaped from the nursing home (yes, escaped) and went to check on the permanents.
Why did he call them "permanents"? Because they were! Thomas mused that there was not one force in the universe that could possibly destroy them. These objects had been created, most likely by human hands, and now could not be destroyed. Thomas loved to look upon the permanents, often spending half an hour staring at just one (usually the hubcap; somehow that one was special). When staring into them (not at them), Thomas felt as though he was on the verge of something. Something big. Something important. Something... purposeful. But he could never quite grasp what that was.
Thomas stepped out onto the lawn, which was delightfully green even in the extreme heat, and was faced with the same decision he had been faced with a thousand times before. Which direction, which permanent first? He could go west, along Zillmere Road, to view the child's shoe first... or south, along Hillcut Street, to view the spoon. As he often did, Thomas lifted his finger to the air. The wind was blowing westwards; Zillmere Road it was. Smiling, Thomas set off at once.
After about five minutes of hard walking, due to the heat, Thomas found himself nearing the location of the shoe. The child's shoe had always sat upon the side of the road, close to the gutter but not in it, in exactly the same position. The tip of it pointing northwards, shoelace undone.
Thomas walked along the footpath, paying no attention to the racket of the cars blistering by on the busy road, with eye only for the shoe. But as he moved further and further along the road, a sinking feeling began to creep into his heart.