Copyright 2017 By S. Thomas Kaza
All Rights Reserved
“You sure about this, Billy?”
Billy Wilson stopped and turned around to face the boy behind him on the trail. He did his best to look down at the smaller boy with a deep frown the way his older brother always did to him. He looked the boy over from his coal black hair, down his thin neck and bony shoulders, and further down at his dirty overalls with a brown patch over the knee. He looked right down to the boy’s barefeet. Then he shook his head in disappointment.
Under this scrutiny the smaller boy became uncomfortable. His name was Charlie Rook. And he knew better than to anger Billy Wilson.
“I mean, you sure we came the right way?”
Billy Wilson spit to the side of the trail without taking his eyes off of Charlie. “Sure as a pig in a poke,” he said
A third boy, Eddie, who was tall and skinny with dark eyes and uncombed hair, came up behind them on the trail. “That don’t mean nothing,” he said.
Billy crossed his arms and stood blocking the path.
Charlie looked up nervously at the bigger boy. “Aw come on, Billy,” he said, “I didn’t mean nothing by it.”
“I hope not,” Billy said before uncrossing his arms. Finally he turned and started again down the darkening trail.
They walked on without a word. After a few moments the crickets in the woods around them started chirping again, hiding the soft sound of the their bare feet padding on the dirt trail. Several times mosquitos buzzed in their ears. They swatted them away. Finally they came to the edge of the woods. Billy stopped.
“Well, here we are!” he announced.
Charlie came up to stand beside him. Eddie a little further back.
“Where is it?” Charlie asked.
Billy pointed across the open field in front of them. Nothing grew in that field now. It was empty. But it looked like it had been plowed that Spring.
“I don’t see nothing,” Eddie said.
But Billy and Charlie had already started across the field. Eddie hurried after them, stepping over the dusty furrows. In the sky above the stars were coming out. He looked up between each step, hoping to catch sight of a shooting star. But nothing moved, nothing twinkled in the firmament above them. It felt as if the universe had come to a standstill. Eddie wanted to ponder this, but he had to catch up with the other two boys. They were already nearing the rickety, wood rail fence that ran around the abandoned house.
“Well, there it is,” Billy said proudly. “Told you so.”
“You sure nobody lives there.?” Charlie asked.
“Nope. My pa told me a fella from the bank said the family moved out a couple weeks ago.”
Charlie giggled and hitched up his pants. “You sure done good this time, Billy, he said, “I gonna get myself a big one and smash it right through one of them front windows.”
“I got first dibs!” Billy shouted, “I found it!”
Both boys squatted down and started feeling around on the ground for rocks.
“Why’d they move out?” Eddie asked. He stood staring at the house. It looked familar to him. He wondered if he had been there before.
But the other two boys didn’t reply. They kept filling their hands with the rocks they found on the ground.
“Wait,” Eddie said, “ain’t this the place where that boy died?”
He suddenly had a feeling that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to break the windows of a house where a boy had died recently.
Charlie stood up, his hands full of rocks. “I’m ready.”
Billy stood up next to him. “Let’s go.”
Both boys ran around to the front of the house.
“Ain’t you afraid of ghosts?” Eddie called after them.
But Billy and Charlie were already taking up positions in front of the house. Billy was telling Charlie he would throw first.
Eddie looked at the front of the house which was about to come under attack by a barrage of rocks and stones. It was a simple little one-story house with a wooden door and a little window on each side. The kind of house that many farmers in the area lived in. The kind of ….. Eddie froze. There was a boy standing in the doorway of the house, a boy about their age. He was looking at Billy and Charlie, watching them.
Eddie tried to holler something, but the words wouldn’t form in his mouth. Instead he sucked in a gasp of air as he watched Billy throw the first rock. It was too dark to see the flight of the rock, but he heard it thud against the front of the house. It had missed the window. Eddie now watched in horror as the strange boy stepped out of the doorway and started down the path to the road where Billy and Charlie were standing.
“Run!” Eddie shouted.
But Billy and Charlie laughed.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Billy said.
“Yeah,” Charlie added, “they’s just stories.”
The boys threw more rocks. Eddie heard one hit the front window. He heard the glass break and fall to the wooden floor inside the house. Billy laughed. Charlie cheered. And Eddie felt a rage rise up in him. He clenched his fists and shook. For a moment he thought he might explode.
Somebody shook Eddie. He opened his eyes and sat up. The room around him came into focus. He was in his bed. His ma was over by the stove cooking. His pa was sitting back down at the one small table in the center of the room. He started pulling on his boots.
“Git yourself something to eat,” his pa said, “I’m gonna need your help.”
Eddie’s mother turned, saw he was throwing off his blanket. She lifted an iron skilled off the stove with two hands, carried it to the table in the middle of the room where his pa sat, and set it there to cool. Eddie saw the steam rising out of the pan. He could hear the bacon stil sizzling. He could smell it. It smelled better than he ever remembered it smelling before. His Ma walked over to him.
“Eddie,” she said in a quiet voice, “Sheriff came around this morning while you were still sleeping. He asked if you’d seen that Hamlin boy. His ma and pa are worried sick. He didn’t come home last night. They was wondering if you know anything….”
Eddie looked up at his mother. Last night? Where was he last night? He tried to remember. Didn’t he go somewhere with Billy?
“Did Billy Hamlin tell you he was going to do something.”
“Something?” Eddie asked.
“Something like run away.”
Eddie shook his head. But he did remember something. Something about a house. And rocks. Yeah, Billy told him and Charlie Rook. He said that a fella from the bank had said a family moved out of a house across the highway.
“Leave the boy alone,” his pa said, “He don’t know nothing.”
“But the sheriff said he’d come back to talk to him later.”
Eddie’s pa waved his hand in front of him. “Let it sit for now. We got work to do.”
“But there’s a boy missing.”
Eddie’s pa frowned. “He’ll probably turn up the next town over. Went to see some girl he had his eyes on. You know what the young ones are like nowadays.”
Ma went back across the room to the stove. She lifted the kettle off the floor onto the hot stove, and it started rattling.
Eddie shook his head. He felt light-headed. He tried again, but he couldn’t remember what happened last night. He stood up and stretched. He smiled thinking how good it felt after a night’s sleep. He reached into his pocket for his knife and something stabbed his hand. Wincing he pulled his hand back ou t of his pocket. He saw that it was bleeding. The palm was cut. It hurt.
“Oww!” he said.
His mother looked over and saw how he was holding his hand. She hung the towel she had used to move the hot kettle.
“Eddie!” She cried, hurrying over to him, “You alright?”
Standing next to him, she took his hand gently in hers. Eddie looked up at her. He noticed the way a lock of her hair dangled over the lines on her forehead. She looked at him. There was something in her eyes. Something he hadn’t seen before. It made him feel warm.
“It’s bleeding. How’d you cut it?”
Eddie looked at his mother’s nose, the way it stuck out. He thought how sometimes noses, when you really looked at them, looked kind of funny. Then he looked at her ears. He could see the little holes where she sometimes wore her earings, the ones his pa had given her on her birthday when he was just a baby. But he wondered how he knew that since it happened back before he had any memories.
He looked up.
“How’d you cut it?” his ma was asking him
Carefully he reached into his pocket with his other hand and pulled out a piece of glass. It was long and flat on one end, coming to a point at the other end. His mother carefully took it from him.
“Why was that in your pocket?”
Eddie shook his head, then shrugged his shoulders. “I….. I don’t know.”
Still holding Eddie’s hand, she placed the shard of glass on the windowsill. “Go out and wash all the blood away. I’ll fix you a bandage.”
Eddie did not want his ma to let his hand go. He did not want her to move away from him. It felt so good to have her close to him. But she turned and moved back to the table, where she started forking out the bacon from the pan. Eddie looked over at his pa. Noticed the concerned look in his eyes. “Go on now, son,” he said, “wash that cut out.”
Eddie did not want to leave his parents. He wanted to stay there with them a little longer. But he knew when his father said something, he meant it. He walked out the door to the side of the house.
The sun was out. He felt its warmth on his skin. He walked over to the pump and started working it up and down. It squeaked and clanked as he pumped it until water began gushing out. Then he held his cut hand under the water. It was cold, but the water quickly washed the blood away. He noticed something glint in the light. Lifting his hand out from under the gushing water, he examined it closer.
Blood began seeping from the cut into the wet creases of his hand. He brushed back a small flap of skin and found a tiny sliver of glass. Carefully he pulled it out of his hand. As he did Eddlie felt all the feeling he had for the day, all the joy for being alive, for wanting to eat his breakfast and work alongside his pa, for wanting to be close to his mother, everything rushed out of him at once. It left him feeling empty as if nothing mattered at all.
Lifting his chin, Eddie looked up at the sky. The sun was still bright, but he did not need to wince when he looked at it. He also noticed he did not feel its warmth on his skin anymore. He did not feel the pain of the cut on his hand. He raised his hand to his face and found there was no cut, no blood. His hand was whole and uninjured.
While none of what was happening surprised him, he wondered what it all meant. He thought he would ask his pa. He turned and walked back to the front of his house. The door was open. But then he saw it was just hanging on one of its hinges. He hadn’t noticed when he went out before. They would have to fix that. He stepped into the house. Beneath his feet the floorboards didn’t creak as he put his weight on them. He wondered when his pa had fixed them. He looked around the room. The stove was there, but the table and the beds were gone. He did not see his ma and pa inside, but there was a man standing by the side window. Looking at him from behind, Eddie thought the man looked like a preacher. But when he turned, Eddie saw that his shirt was unbuttoned and open at the chest. And he had a scraggly beard. He looked at Eddie.
“How was it?” he asked.
Eddie shook his head. “Where are my ma and pa?”
The man smiled. “It’ll come back,” he said, “Just wait a moment.”
Eddie walked over near the strange man, not feeling the least bit apprehensive. He felt he knew him from somewhere, that he was an uncle or some other relation. Although he couldn’t place him. Eddie looked out the window the man had been looking out. Outside he could see the dirt poor yard where he used to entertain himself as a child with sticks, and bricks, and old broken tools for toys.
“I used to play there,” he said.
The man looked down at Eddie. “And?”
Then it came to him. Eddie remembered now.
The boy had come out of the house when Billy threw the rock that broke the window. The boy had come out to tell Billy and Charlie to leave his house alone. But Billy couldn’t see the boy. Neither could Charlie. They threw rocks until they broke all the windows in the little house. The boy had shouted at them. He screamed at them to go away. He threatened them that they would be in big trouble when his ma and pa came back. After Billy and Charlie finished, they left. And the boy sat down on the ground to cry. He cried because he did not understand why he was alone and what happened to his ma and pa.
“They’re not coming back for me? Are they?” Eddie asked the man.
“I told you,” the man said, ” You can see them. You can even remember what it was like. But you can’t go back.”
Eddie nodded. He noticed a long shard of glass on the window sill. He picked it up and looked at it. As he turned it in his hand, it reflected the empty room behind him. But he could not see his own face in the reflection on the glass.