One Fine Saturday Morning
Copyright 2017 by S. Thomas Kaza
All Rights Reserved
Jack reached out with the rake and dragged a few more brown and yellow leaves into the small pile he was gathering in front of him. He was just starting to break a sweat in the cool Autumn air. And after raking the small pile into a much bigger pile, he decided to take a break. Why knock himself out on a Saturday? He already did that five days a week at his job. He leaned his rake against the trunk of the maple tree that towered over the middle of his yard and walked over to his sitting stone.
The sitting stone was a weathered rock about the size of a propane gas tank laid on its side. Jack always thought it looked like a giant pebble, because it was smooth all around as if it had spent its life in a river. How it came to be in the middle of his backyard, he did not know. It was there when he bought the house. And the previous owners told him it was there when they first moved in. Although Jack doubted it had been there very long before that, he always imagined some old Native American hundreds of years before, maybe a Potawatomi or a Wyandot, stopping to rest on this stone when they passed this way.
He sat down on the stone and wiped a few drops of sweat from his brow. It was a beautiful day. The sky was blue. The air was cool. Most of the colorful leaves had fallen from the trees, but there were a few still clingging to the branches, waiting for their final moment to flutter down to the earth. The grass was still green and would probably need to be cut once more before Winter. Slowly he looked out over his yard. It was quiet back here away from the road, out of sight of the neighbour’s houses. He had just noticed that his shed would probably need a coat of paint next year, when out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw something move in the window of the shed.
He stared at the window. It was about two feet by two feet with red shutters on each side. Had he seen something in the window a moment before? Or was it just a bird that had been sitting on the window sill and suddenly took to flight? Jack looked away for a moment along the tree line behind the shed, but he did not see any birds there. He looked back at the shed and noticed that the bolt he used to keep the shed doors closed and from blowing open in the wind was not in place. It was hanging by the string attached to it. He stood up.
Did he forget to put the bolt back in place the last time he went into the shed? He couldn’t remember. Or was it one of the kids? He never locked the shed. He only kept old plant pots, chicken wire, and a couple of sawhorses in the shed, things of little value that he figured nobody would bother to steal anyways. Maybe his wife had gone into the shed earlier in the week when she washed out some of the planters she used for her flowers. He looked up toward the house and saw the planters still leaning against the wall where she placed them to dry. Then he looked back at the shed. He suddenly had a strange feeling.
Jack walked over to get his rake. He took it into his hands and started raking the ground while moving slowly toward the front of the shed. He looked up several times, pretending to be watching something in the distance, but from the corners of his eyes he was looking at the shed. He kept moving in this way, slowly raking and taking a few steps at a time toward the front of the shed until he moved out of sight of the shed window. Now he walked back up to his house, looking back over his shoulders several times. Out front a car drove by on the road.
Jack leaned his rake against the side of the house and slipped into the side door. His wife and kids were gone for the morning, so the house was empty. He quickly closed and locked the door behind him. Then he hurried down the hall into the den. There was a window in the back of the den behind the couch. It looked out over his yard. Jack approached the window slowly. As he did the shed came into view. He stayed back from the window, back in the shadows of the room, so that nobody outside could see him there. And he watched the shed, wondering what he should do next.
Was he being silly? Had he really seen something move in the shed window? The more he thought about it, the more he started to think it was his imagination. But the more he thought about it, the more he started to think that he had also heard something move in the shed. Did he? Yes, he did. He started to become pretty sure about that. Something had moved. A mouse? A squirrel? No, it sounded more like a floorboard creaking. A floorboard creaking like when somebody stepped on it.
Just then the shed door opened a little. Jack froze. A head popped out, then disappeared back into the shed. It was only for a second, but Jack could swear he had seen a man’s face peek out from behind the doors of the shed. He looked at the time. It was 8:49 am. He had been out in the yard raking leaves for less than thirty minutes. His mind started racing. Who was it? One of his kids? No, he reminded himself that they had gone with their mother. He had seen them get into the car and waved good-bye. One of the neighbour kids? Maybe. But what were they doing? Playing hide-n-seek? No, kids didn’t do that anymore.
Jack noticed his laptop on the table. While keeping his eyes on the shed, he walked over, opened it up, and turned it on. Quickly he typed in his password and waited while it loaded. A minute later he was googling “manhunts in michigan”. His heart jumped when he saw there was a criminal on the run at that very moment. But reading a little further he found that he was far to the north. Good. Next he went over to the neighbourhood website where people mostly reported old furniture they were trying to sell or recommendations for a good plumber. But sometimes his neighbours posted reports on break-ins. He perused all the comments going back one week, but found nothing.
What to do next? Call the police? No, that would look silly if there was some simple explanation. And he kept telling himself there had to be a simple explanation. But his imagination kept offering up darker possibilities. He told himself he should go out and confront whoever it was hiding in his shed. He told himself he was just being a coward hiding in his house. But what if the man in his shed was armed. Jack did not own a gun. He had a baseball bat. A lot of good that would do against a gun. But his neighbour, Tom, had a gun. In fact, he remembered him saying that he owned several guns. Jack picked up the phone and called Tom.
As the phone on the other end rang, Jack composed himself and tried to decide what to say. “I think there’s a strange man hiding in my shed…… can you….. do you mind coming over….. with your gun?”
Nobody answered and a message started playing that prompted Jack to leave a simple message to call him back. He hung up. Now what to do? He went over and got the baseball bat leaning against the wall near the side door. He decided that this would have to do. He was about to go outside again, when he thought of something. He hurried down the hall to the kitchen and took out one of the knives they used for cooking. It had a wide, six-inch blade and a black handle. Jack slid the blade into his back pocket. He walked back to the side door and unlocked it.
As innocently as he could carrying a baseball bat and with the handle of a knife sticking out of his pocket, he went back outside. He considered taking the rake again to make it appear he was only raking leaves, but decided he needed both hands to hold the baseball bat. He started down the driveway and into his yard. A leaf crunched under his foot. He walked down across the lawn toward his shed. Now the beautiful day he had been enjoying turned ominous. The sun had disappeared behind some clouds. A chill breeze brushed across his brow. The shed seemed to have become a creature, crouched and waiting for him to get close enough to pounce.
Ten yards from the shed the door opened and a young man stepped out. They looked at each other. Jack realized the young man could not have been much older than eighteen or nineteen. He had black curly hair and wore a hoodie and jeans.
“Are you Celeste’s dad?” he asked.
“Are you Celeste’s dad?” he repeated, “She told me to wait here.”
Then it dawned on Jack. Celeste was the name of his neighbour’s daughter.
“No,” Jack said, suddenly feeling very relieved and foolish to be carrying a baseball bat, “she lives next door.”
“Oh! I’m sorry!” the young man said, “This isn’t her house? I thought it was hers.” He started walking, slowly at first, across the yard and toward the street. He eyed the bat Jack was holding as they passed.
“I’m just putting this away,” Jack said. But he turned to make sure the young man didn’t see the knife in his back pocket.
“I’m really sorry!” the young man said again, “I didn’t touch anything.”
“It’s okay,” Jack said.
He walked over to the shed and looked inside. It didn’t appear as if anything had been moved. It seemed as if the young man had simply been using his shed as a place to wait as he said. He set the bat down on the inside of the shed. Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. Jack tried to spin around and step back at the same time. Instead he stumbled into the shed.
“Whoa!” a familar voice said.
Jack looked up. It was his neighbour, Tom.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you.” He reached out and Jack grabbed his hand. “You okay?” Tom asked, pulling Jack back on his feet.
Jack nodded, feeling a little embarassed. “Yeah, I was just….. well, yeah, I’m okay.”
“I got your message on the phone, then I saw you out in the yard,” Tom said, “Thought I’d come over to see what you wanted…..”
Jack pointed at the young man who by now had reached his driveway.
“Who’s that?” Tom asked.
“I don’t know,” Jack said, “He knows the Maynors. Said he was waiting for Celeste.”
“In your shed?” Tom asked.
Jack shrugged his shoulders and closed the doors. He slide the bolt into place. “He apologized. Said he made a mistake.”
The two of them started walking back toward the house after the young man. Tom eyed the knife handle in Jack’s back pocket.
“What were you going to do with that?”
“No idea. Just thought it’d be better to have it than not.”
Tom shook his head. “It’d be better if you had a gun.”
“You’re probably right,” Jack admitted.
By the time they reached the house, the young man was already at the road. They heard the front door of the Maynor’s house next door slam and saw Celeste walking across the Maynor’s front lawn toward the young man. She was wearing plaid pajama bottoms, a green sweatshirt, and an angry look on her face.
“What are you doing here?!” she shouted at the young man.
He mumbled something which they could not hear.
“That was last night, you idiot!” the girl said.
The young man said something which they couldn’t hear, and Celeste lowered her voice and said something back.
“Young love,” Tom sighed with a sarcastic grin, “Well, I got to run to the store.”
Jack shook his hand and thanked him for stopping by. Then Tom left.
Jack stood in his driveway next to his sidedoor watching Celeste and the young man. She was now waving her arms. Jack had known the Maynors for over ten years. He had watched Celeste grow up. As far as he could tell, she did nothing around their house. Never saw her out in the yard helping. Never even saw her help carry groceries in when her mother returned from shopping. He had heard she did not do well in school. He wondered what that young man would even see in her.
Now Celeste turned and stormed back to her house. The young man looked after her, started to say something, then stopped. Jack wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw the young man’s shoulders slump in a sigh. It reminded him of an experience he had when he was a young man, a moment when a girl turned and walked away from him. He felt the young man’s loneliness. He tasted the bitterness of the moment, and he felt sorry for him.
A part of him suddenly felt like calling the young man over. Patting him on the back. Maybe giving him some advice like “there are other fish in the sea”. He would have liked it if somebody did that to him when he was young. He remembered he could have used that encouragement. Jack watched as the young man turned and started trudging slowly up the street. He felt bad for him. But a yawn forced its way on Jack. He did not bother to cover his mouth. His eyes felt tired. His back was a little sore from raking. He stretched and realized he was a little sleepy. With his family out this would be the best time for a nap. He took one more look after the young man, thought once more about calling after him, then shook his head. Too bad. But his couch was calling him.