Copyright (C) 2009-2023 Short Story
dennisbabkin.com/mylongwayhome About 19,600 Words
MY LONG WAY HOME
Dennis A. Babkin
I am a city dweller. I lived my entire life in a
concrete jungle. You know, the place where buildings cover
the sun and where one has to go to a park to see the trees,
the place where there are so many people that once you see
someone, it is certainly guaranteed that you will never meet
them again. Many folks like places like that, my parents
certainly do. But, I'm different. I just don't enjoy it as
much as others do, like my neighbor and a school lunch
inspiration Franky, he loves those big places. He talks all
the time about hitting museums, being at some fancy reception
where every guy has to wear a monkey suit, or going to an
opera house. His parents of course make him do all that. My
mom likes that stuff too. Don't you think sometimes that all
grown-ups have to do the same things whether they like it, or
not? But, never mind. I remember one day my parents dragged
me out to one of those operas. Well folks, I don't know how
can someone enjoy watching strange half-nude men jumping on
stage wearing tight leggings and singing in voices that I
can't even call without a smile on my face? Or even singing
in languages that no one understands. I was sitting there,
watching people. I mean not those on stage, but the ones
staring at them. I couldn't grasp a word that they were
saying but all those folks around me looked like they did. I
think I gawked around so much that a lady sitting next to me
stopped watching the men in leggings and turned my way. I was
so embarrassed and didn't know what to say that I ended up
asking her what were the guys on stage saying. It seemed to
me like the only logical thing to ask someone in a place like
that. Right? She was a strange character herself. She looked
at me, then smiled and said that their voices don't matter to
her, and that it all comes from performance and from the
heart. I don't think I got it, even though I pretended like I
did. I still don't, by the way.
Don't we all have moments when someone tries to tell us
something that they think is very smart and we just don't
understand it however hard we try to strain ourselves, we
just can't figure it out, but in the end we still say that we
get it? I can never muster enough courage to tell someone
what I really think. Mom once told me that it is rude to
offend people with something you may think about them and
sometimes it's better not to say certain things. I don't
know, why not? But it must have been one of those grown-up
We all are different. I sure have lived in the sea of
people myself and saw quite a few of them. Since early age my
parents taught me how to read the city, how to get around if
I'm lost, how to yell "Fire" if you're in trouble because all
the neighbors won't care if you call anything else. I grew up
among cabbies, concierges, doormen, maitre-d's, subway,
express elevators, condos and high-rises. All that was
ingrained in me since childhood. It has always been like
that. I didn't have any friends though, I had acquaintances --
you know, people that call you when they need you. They were
everywhere around me, from school to playground, to my
immediate relatives. I thought I was happy, content with this
bustling world of the Big, but still something was missing,
something that I couldn't imagine I may find later in life.
My dad's parents are from the country. Their town has as
many people as probably lived in a couple of city blocks
around me. I didn't know much about them, my mom always joked
when she referred to them and to the part of the country that
they were from, and I learned to repeat her words. My dad
seemed to be very happy to have gotten out of that place too.
For the first few years I've never seen my grandparents at
all. It's a strange feeling when you learn about something
that you thought never existed.
It all began a couple of years ago with a visit of my
grandma and grandpa to see us and -- as my mom later put it --
to help her and dad to take a better care of me. I'm not sure
what she actually meant -- I wasn't a problem child, she told
me that herself, but that again could have been one of those
moments and you folks know by now how reluctant I am to
confront people in situations I don't understand, plus that
was my mom, so I dropped the subject.
I thought that grandpa was a very funny man. He doesn't
accept anything that's associated with the city. I mean not
even an elevator. I think he hasn't seen one until the age of
24 according to my dad, although I still believe he was
telling a tall tale, like all those stories about tooth
fairies that grown-ups make up to fool kids. But the grandpa
wasn't a fool himself. I think he went to one of those Korean
wars and won a medal for saving a guy from his platoon. I
don't think that they give medals to fools in the army. So he
and grandma came over one day and took me to stay at their
place. I was very reluctant at first. I thought, "Why do I
need to go see yet another city? What would be different?" My
parents also acted quite strange at the time. My mother
always told me that they will never let me be taken away, but
this time I just didn't feel like she was all into keeping me
there at all. Was it one of those grown-up moments as well?
It sure didn't help my feelings either. I really couldn't
tell what was wrong with them. Back then I didn't want to go
anywhere but back to my room, or maybe run away and spend
some time with Franky listening to his brother's stories, or
playing video games, or maybe even throwing a ball with the
kids downstairs. I'd go with anything but that pesky trip.
But, it sounded like I had no choice.
Our journey didn't start very well either. For some
strange reason my grandpa -- the war hero and the guy that,
according to many accounts of his own, once flew as a copilot
in a helicopter -- couldn't take his car to pick me up for
this trip. I just didn't get it. Why would they enjoy sitting
for hours in a smelly cramped seat of a Greyhound bus instead
of driving in a comfort of a car. I asked him that during our
long coach ride and he told me something about tall
buildings, bridges and traffic lights. I'm not sure that he
understood my initial question though and I dropped it.
My first encounter with the country life was quite
traumatic. Right off the bat I stepped in a puddle of mud,
which by some strange coincidence happened to be almost right
at the bus stop where we arrived. I was so tired too that I
didn't even care to complain to my grandparents. I remember
they laughed though and told me that I should be OK in a
couple of days. Then there was that rooster that lived right
in their yard and contrary to my beliefs about house pets
wasn't feeling itself as one and was constantly trying to
show me who the real owner of the yard was. I had no idea
that a bird so much smaller than me could have so much more
courage. In other words I lost yet another battle, which
added insult to injury in the process of my acclimatization
to this alien life.
I'm not sure if I should tell you that later the same
day I managed to break my grandpa's barn door by not
following the strict rules of locking the latch and instead
letting it fly on the wind, then later upturning my grandma's
flower pot and spilling its putrid rainwater all over the
porch floor. Shall I add stepping into a pile of cow manure,
which to my amazement didn't look and smell like anything I
saw on the Discovery Channel? Or eventually finding out to my
chagrin that their cable system had only eleven channels
aired through something they called "rabbit ears" that had no
viable connection to the network programs I used to watch
religiously. So, as you can see, things definitely didn't get
off on the right foot for me.
But any rainy day will have to end. And that started to
materialize for me on the day three. It began from a ride on
my grandpa's quad, a small all-terrain machine capable of
traversing the most incredible depths of dirt and grass, I
was learning new words too, you know. I never rode one of
those machines in my life and the grandpa had not only let me
ride it, he allowed me to drive it as well. At the time it
sounded unbelievable, almost as if I teleported to some other
world. I should admit that things have never been more easy
for me. When we got to the middle of an opening in the woods
the grandpa stopped, got off the quad and said, "Hey, Sammy,
want to try it for yourself now?" I couldn't believe what I
heard. I could only envision my mom's face if she was there.
Back in the city she didn't even let me ride in the front
seat of a car with them, and now that. I was dumbfounded and
of course I couldn't resist. I pretended like I knew what I
was doing but my grandpa, being a smart war hero, of course
figured it out pretty quickly and showed me the correct way
to do it. I thought I learned it vicariously from watching
him, I still had some of my mom's flaunt, you know, but he
was very nice to prove me wrong. And driving it wasn't that
hard either. I thought to myself, "Why other people make
things sound so much more difficult?" I truly didn't know the
answer to it.
The ride itself was so trouble-free that I couldn't
believe my eyes that I was driving this machine, for the
first time, from the first try and all by myself. It wasn't a
big deal either. I always thought that driving a car, or any
mechanism in that matter, was a very complicated process
involving pushing and pulling the unmanageable number of
levers and cranks. I don't know where I got it from? Maybe
because my dad wasn't mechanical by nature. Don't get me
wrong, he is a very busy person working days and nights on
some very complex banking system, but when he usually gets a
rare moment, free from his job, he takes me and mom to go out
and spend some time at a fancy restaurant where he almost
always seems to meet someone he knows. Or, sometimes during a
better day we would drive to a suburban house and have a
barbecue with a family of someone my dad knew from work. So
as you see, I wasn't involved into doing much myself and
watching other people gave me this impression that machines
and me don't really mix.
Operating my very first quad, all by myself and doing it
so effortlessly made me very proud. I felt liberated and
somewhat important. I wasn't a helpless little kid anymore,
someone who made everyone afraid that I would fall, get lost
or be hurt by some unknown circumstance. I was free, and I
could feel it in the air around me. I did a couple of loops
on the dirt track left by some previous rider and then pulled
up to see the beaming face of my grandfather. He chuckled and
said, "Hey, no worries. You will be like the rest of us in a
couple of days." I really liked hearing that since for the
first time in my life someone actually trusted me, relied on
me and wasn't worried that I may not do things right. I think
that's when I first fell in love with that small place my
grandparents call home.
Since first immersion into the country life my following
experience with it was nothing but sheer fun. Of course I had
to go back to my parents a few days later, but that first
excursion left me with an indelible impression for the rest
of the year. It changed me completely. I didn't want to slog
in the daily drudgery of the city life anymore and all my
thoughts now on were focused on that little part of the world
that made my life take such a dramatic turn.
Every time Franky, or anybody else told me about a high
class reception party at their parents home, or brought up a
cool uncle that drives a fancy Caddy that they adored so
much, or even a Yankees game they went to, now I could always
counteract it with my personal accounts of breath-taking bike
rides, long elk hunting trips with my grandpa, insane catfish
noodling coupled with a seemingly endless frolicking under
the summer sun along with my newly acquired friends and
unforgettable experiences that were yet to come.
I am quite a social guy so finding friends was never an
issue for me. During the second stay my grandparents
introduced me to their neighbor's kid Richard. I think he was
somewhat handicapped or something, and I was told to be easy
on him. I was trying to find out why but my grandpa didn't
feel like expanding more than he already did, and the grandma
could only say that Richard spent most of his time on their
backyard due to some physical affliction and that was the
reason why he hadn't caught-up with the rest of the kids. The
first time I saw the guy he was very shy but it didn't take
long, we hit it off and he started opening up for me. Later
that first day he showed me his collection of baseball cards,
which to my knowledge was nothing even close to what Franky's
brother had, but I didn't say anything to him, still
remembering my grandfolks and their request not to traumatize
the poor fellow. I showed Richard my technique of pitching a
ball and we threw it back and forth for a little while. I
couldn't say that he was a quick learner, say, if you compare
him to Palitano kids that always used to hang out with Franky
and me and pick up everything we did and say in no time,
Richard was way behind on his learning curve, but nonetheless
I could still very well enjoy his company.
After a while I learned that Richard was pretty good at
most of the house chores his folks regularly asked him to
help with. I was truly impressed with his diligence and a
sincere willingness to dedicate a good portion of his day to
that. He seemed like a very good-natured but naive kid to me.
Where I come from, how many boys our age would do all that
stuff simply for fun?
The next day I dedicated to showing Richard a couple
more tricks to spiff up his life. That kid was really nice to
me and I couldn't simply pass off on showing him how to be a
normal kid -- he surely deserved to be one. I started off by
approaching him and saying, "Hey, Rich, what do kids call you
"Richard," he put it like if I was a school teacher
asking him that.
"They don't call you Rich, or Rickster, or something?"
"Nope." He was as plain as a church bread.
"Strange," I thought to myself. Kids always give each
other weird names. But maybe Richard was different. Somehow I
didn't want to pursue my quest to find a good sounding name
for him anymore. The way it came off his own lips was very
unique to me, something that didn't need any correction. But
I wasn't giving up. He was my first and only friend at the
time and I wanted to help. I made a pledge to myself to
Having met this shy, home-schooled boy Richard started
off my plunge into this new world of summer fun, at the same
time straying me from the course I was once on. If someone
believes in parallels and associations they can draw one now,
but for me things always happened in the most spontaneous and
unpredictable way possible. It began one day when I was still
pursuing my aspirations to change Richard, when I managed to
convince him to risk it all and go beyond the safety
boundaries of his parents' yard. I think I told him about a
fishing spot I knew on the lake near us and he was mighty
interested to check it out with me. At the time it was one of
those uneventful mornings when minutes were stretching slowly
into hours and no one had any idea that something cool was
about to happen.
I was at the lake skipping rocks across the surface,
teaching Richard how to throw a good ten-flipper, when I
heard someone in the back, "What are you doing retards?"
"Hey, watch it!" I snapped back instinctively. It
actually came off way too harsh for my liking but once out I
couldn't do anything about it. The guy in front of us darted
a quick look at me. He was a much hipper version of my
current companion, a bit shorter and stockier though, wearing
rugged jeans and a ball cap tilted to the side like some of
my classmates did imitating the hip-hop artists.
The guy was obviously taken aback by my quick remark. He
snapped his fingers in an Elvis-like fashion, and threw it
back at me, "What are you doing with this rainman?"
People say that human relationships can be as hard as
stone and once established can last forever, well, it
certainly didn't apply to me in this situation. I don't know
why, but sometimes a single phrase, an off-the-cuff remark
could put a dint on my flawless perception, it could make me
change my mind about something or someone in a second.
Richard was nice and everything, but just one comment from
this hip new kid was enough to drive a wedge into my
previously benign intentions to change him, somehow I
couldn't concentrate on him however hard I tried. How could I
pretend to help him if my mind was somewhere else? Like a
moth seeing a new flash of light, I was distracted.
That is how I met Vincent. Oh boy, he hated that name.
He preferred Vince instead. Well, I should better say, he
went with Vince, period. I think he liked it so much because
that was also the name of one of his cinematic heros from the
Tarantino's gangster classic. I think he watched that movie
for a hundred times, for he would always quote a passage from
it. At times it will drive me nuts, especially since I wasn't
well versed in that type of fiction. To be honest with you, I
didn't even know who Tarantino was before meeting Vince. But
as always in my life, I didn't have enough guts to admit it
when he first presented me with his gift of recital. I dumbly
looked at him and said, "Wow, that was rad!" Later on Vince
will involuntarily give me more details about the characters
and the plot he was quoting from, letting me better follow
But long before that, way before we became best buds, he
was just a kid snarking at me in the presence of my
impressionable companion. Vince was always like that. He
liked putting everyone on the spot and he never apologized.
Never for anything. Even if it was entirely his fault, like
if he accidentally smacked someone in the back of a head, he
would never say he's sorry. He had his own way of handling it
-- when he noticed it, he'd smile and then lightning fast
turn to someone else in a group and say, "Billy, watch it!"
That would always produce a good laughter and make him almost
certainly get away with it. At first I was kind of annoyed
and opposed to it but then I started to like it so much that
I was even catching myself using it too.
I didn't know much about him and the only thing obvious
to me was that Vince had a tough childhood. I believe his dad
left his mother and him when he was just a little child. He
never referred to it himself, and thus I had to glean all the
details from the bits of conversation between my grandparents
and his's mother. He always had childhood stories about his
dad though. Vince also had an older brother that didn't live
with them. If I may paraphrase him, he was as God for Vince,
and even though I've never seen that guy in my life I also
started to believe that Vince's brother was able to overcome
almost any difficulty and pull off pretty much anything. When
something was way too much for Vince to handle himself, he'd
always throw in a standard one, "My brother did it." I was
In despite of all his impressive qualities Vince didn't
have any good manners. He'd burp and belch right in your face
and then make fun of it in his usual fashion that with time
kind of made it OK with me as well. Ever since the early age
he began working out and pumping muscles. He liked to flaunt
it too by wearing tight T-shirts that would show off his
biceps. He was an athletic kid in general who, to my
amazement, could eat like a fat man. I was always fascinated
to know where did all that food that he gorged on go?
At the time I met Vince he had another friend named
Alex. They were an odd match. Alex was tall and lanky, the
whole head-length over Vince. I think he also had a lousy
vision since he always wore those giant glasses, you know,
the kind that looked like one could study bugs with in your
biology class at school. He was hard at hearing as well. It
made it so funny when Vince poked fun at him in his usual
style and Alex would totally ignore it, or as I think of it
now, wouldn't hear it and continue on with his thoughts.
Vince would always play along and make a fool of him with his
follow-up derisive remarks, that would always crack everyone
up and leave Alex guessing for the reason of everyone's
When Vince confronted Richard and me at the lake our
interaction didn't last longer than a minute. All I could
remember was that Vince grabbed the rock and tossed it across
the lake. To my dismay it skipped a perfect ten or more times
-- something that I was trying to achieve and boast about in
front of Richard. Vince was good at things like that. He then
smirked and went on to talk to some other kid.
Our true encounter happened later. I was line fishing at
the lake when I heard some commotion on the side. It drew my
curiosity to Vince and a couple of other kids trying to solve
some obvious dilemma. I didn't pay much attention to them at
first, or maybe my fishing sounded more interesting for me at
the time. Then, out of nowhere, Vince approached me first and
I heard, "Hey, do you want to shoot an owl nest?"
"Sure." It sounded instantaneously more attractive than
the prospect of lonely fishing.
"Do you know how to catch an owl?"
"Yeah, sure." It was one of those moments again. How
would I know how to catch an owl? I don't think I've ever
seen one up close before that day, but again my inner self
didn't let me confess in my owl-catching inefficiency.
The rest of the group gathered around us. It was a mix
of ragamuffin kids of different ages. I could tell that Vince
was a definite leader of the pack. He pointed at the woods
not far from the lake and said, "It's that way. I think
there're couple big ones in it."
One of the kids in the group looked up at Vince and
apparently once again expressed his apprehension about the
whole idea of catching a predatory bird. Vince dismissed him
with his assertive, "Oh, come on. Go home then."
"They might have sharp claws," I naively warned them.
"How do you catch it then?" Vince was truly impressed
with my supposed knowledge of avian anatomy and was eager to
"I don't know," I started, quickly going over the
possibilities in my head. "Maybe we can get a bag and wrap it
up in it?"
I couldn't believe Vince didn't think about it. It might
have very well been that my decisiveness and assertiveness
right at that moment gave him his first confidence in me and
doomed their future relationship with Alex. I didn't catch it
then, all I could think at the time was that my dry spell of
solitary line fishing by the lake was coming to an end.
"Do you want to go help us? What are you doing here
anyway? Fishing?" Vince smirked at my makeshift fishing pole
and the lack of fish I got. "Fishing is for old people", he
How could this kid keep changing my life with his one
line statements? That last comment, by the way, pretty much
did it for me with fishing. I don't think I ever went back to
it again. I quickly rolled up my stuff and tossed it in the
tall grass for safe-keeping, and said, "I'm Sam, by the way."
"Vince." He game me his hand. He then turned around and
introduced me to some of the kids that were there with him.
The first one he pointed at was Alex, as I noticed myself, a
cultured and very polite guy. I liked him right off the bat.
As I told you before he was hard at hearing and most of the
time he had to guess what others were saying.
Then there was Billy, the local kid that lived there
year around. He was a tough shot too, desperate for money. He
could do really crazy stuff for just a buck or so, stuff like
chewing up an earth worm, or gobbling up his own booger. In
most cases it consisted of consuming something gross or
applying it to his clothes. It's not that he had any fancy
clothes either, nothing that Vince, or later I would sport. I
don't think he could differentiate the value of currency, why
else would he do it for a buck or a couple of coins then?
Billy was what my mom would call a bumpkin kid. I never knew
what that meant until I met him. He was a good-natured person
though, a constant target of Vince's one-liners. I don't
think that Billy had any parents there with him since the
only person he always talked about was his grandmother,
although later I was able to learn through other people that
Billy had a father that he hardly knew since he was in jail
for something heinous he had committed a long time ago.
When we began marching on toward the nest, Vince briefly
introduced me to Steve, a shy but smart kid that always
seemed to be on-his-own that never talked much; and then Bob
Lee. Don't ask me why I knew his full name. Maybe because it
was easy to remember, or maybe it was his first name? I don't
know. It sounded kind of strange in the beginning, but later
on I got used to it so much that I couldn't even consider
omitting the Lee part. He was a nice kid that followed pretty
much anything we'd tell him to do. He also looked like a
Charlie Brown cartoon character and I couldn't stop thinking
about it at first when I saw him.
At some moment Vince switched away from his introduction
and let me know that the rest of the crowd should not be of
any importance for me. It was interesting to watch, since
there were about five other kids that trailed along with us.
Most of them were too young for Vince to care, was my final
That day I pretty much met most of my immediate friends
that I will hang out with, that later on will also make up
our own little gang. I think Vince started calling it like
that and I was very much inclined to accepted it. But how
wouldn't I? It was obvious from the get-go that Vince was the
leader of the pack and that his previous confidant Alex was
not up to the task to be on the top with him. Instinctively I
was the next one to try such an honorable position. I was
ecstatic about it. That was the first time in my life that I
wasn't just listening and admiring someone else's story, I
was making my own. I wasn't left sitting on the bench or
manning the left field, I was directly in the game, in the
very core of it. My acquaintances didn't have to make up
stories of why they didn't call me up for a fun time, they
were waiting for me to join for the fun time to begin. That
was a big difference that was changing who I was before.
My ascent to the level of Vince began during yet another
one of our adventures. This one didn't fizzle out like the
one about shooting an owl nest. But come on, how could we
know that the nest itself was about forty feet in the air,
perched on a limbless tree that even Vince with his athletic
abilities couldn't climb on. But true to say, we were close
and dedicated a good portion of our day to drawing an owl's
attention, in which we succeeded, making an owl family fly
away, never to return. We learned our lesson.
One evening Vince, Billy, Bob Lee and I were hanging out
at the lake, aimlessly throwing rocks into the water and
telling each other funny stories, basically nothing I would
care to remember now. I then noticed Steve, the quiet guy,
walking along with some new kid. Steve didn't hang out with
us or contributed much, but this time, not even knowing it,
he was ready to deliver. Something odd immediately drew my
attention to Steve's companion. His body shape was not like
of a normal kid, it looked very weird. He was short, his arms
and legs were surprisingly stubby. He wore a strange robe
that made him look like a little troll to me. I wasn't as
quick as Vince at funny stuff, but this one was an epiphany.
"Who's the troll?" I threw out at Steve, immediately
catching the gang's approval.
"He is not a troll," retorted Steve.
"We don't hang out with children," Vince added. It
clearly embarrassed the little fellow but he didn't say
anything. Steve instead decided to stand up for him again,
"This is my cousin Mikie. He's visiting for awhile."
It turned out that Mikie was the same age as we were, if
not older. He had some strange disease that made his bones
stop growing. "He looks little but he is not," declared
Steve. It sure didn't help to vindicate Mikie's size though.
"So you'll be Little Mikie," I quipped without even
thinking. That seemed to have found a quick green-light from
Vince and the other folks. It also has become the first time
that I've ever given someone a nick name. I was very proud of
it and was trying to use it every time I was addressing him.
It turned out that Little Mikie was staying there with
his dad, a logger that was recently commissioned to this neck
of the woods. He seemed to be an honest and open guy that
didn't want to, or simply couldn't hide his unusually simple
"Top log", yelled Vince, dispelling the atmosphere and
referring to one of the two spruce culls left by loggers at
the lake that have found its only suitable application for us
to hang out on. The position of the logs on the ground and
the amount of the cleared space on them made it barely enough
room for just some of us. We all darted toward the coveted
top seats, ending up with Vince and myself taking the top
spots and Billy, Steve and Bob Lee getting the bottom. Little
Mikie on the other hand was left behind unaware of our code
game and walked up to us way too late to claim any seats.
"Hey, so your dad is a logger?" Lunged Vince without
even letting Little Mikie to get his bearings.
"Yes he is." Little Mikie didn't mind.
"He has an ax, don't he?" How can Vince come up with
those witty lines was beyond me.
"Yeah." Mikie just couldn't see Vince's ploy. The rest
of us got the gist and secretly prepared for Vince's coup de
"Why don't you bring it?" Vince was quick to throw back
Little Mikie hesitated for a split second and, to our
mutual surprise, plainly replied, "OK".
Vince gave me a look of, "Hey, how much more gullible
can this kid be?" And I got the point. We all were so excited
with the anticipation of the new fun event, although none of
us really knew at the time why we needed an ax from this kid.
Nonetheless, we still went on with Vince's plan.
We needed a short walk to get to Little Mikie's house,
during which Vince continued picturesquely snapping fingers
in his peculiar swagger as he walked. I was always fascinated
to see him do that but could never repeat it myself. When we
got to the house, Little Mikie went in without any egging
from our side, and appeared back carrying a giant splitter ax
in his hands. I couldn't believe our luck. This kid was
really going with it. I thought at the moment, "His dad will
be so mad when he learns about it." But of course, I didn't
Having our new toy we ran back to our usual spot by the
lake. Little Mikie was late to claim the prize spot on the
logs again due to the fact that he was left with the
obligation to carry his dad's ax. Once we started hammering
him, we just couldn't let him go. While being back on the
pedestal, Vince was relentless, "Hey, do you know what
Indians do with axes like that?"
Billy was really intrigued with the possibilities, "No,
Vince got off his seat and took the ax out of Little
Mikie's hands. He then swiveled around to face one of the
massive trees standing at a short distance, swung it wide and
launched the unsuspecting splitter into the tree trunk. The
ax gracefully spun in the air during its short flight and
landed deep in the cellulose with a peculiar thunk. I
couldn't believe Vince's success at this. We all gasped.
Vince had this truly useful quality to succeed in many
ways by simply winging it. I don't know how exactly he did
it, but he always came out on top of things. Like with this
ax, I could bet my left arm that he had never tossed axes
before in his life but he still went on and winged it. If the
ax didn't land squarely in the tree he'd probably issue one
of his standard one-liners and we all would end up cracking
up laughing at it. If he was lucky to pull it off, he'd
simply relish in the glory of the moment. That was Vince and
how he did things. The rest of us, on the other hand,
secretly wanted to get our hands on a piece of his success.
"Like a clockwork," was the only thing he said
triumphantly while going back to his seat.
I was the next one to try my luck at it. I quickly ran
to the tree and pried the ax out of the trunk. While going
back to the spot from where Vince tossed his glory shot, I
realized how heavy the ax really was. But I didn't care. The
adrenaline was already rushing up my system and I was ready
for it. Without wasting a beat and feeling the eyes of the
rest of the gang already trained on me, I did a wide swing
with my right arm and let the ax fly fast in the direction of
the tree. Well, if I was to guess whether Vince had done the
ax tossing before, I'd maybe say that he saw someone else
doing it, in my case though, I don't think I ever saw an ax
like that, let alone thrown one into anything. As the result
of this obvious misapplication, coupled with the amount of
force I put into it, the ax did a strange tumbling motion in
the air and struck hard against the wood. But, instead of
thrusting into it the ax rattled and twisted, and flew off
into the grass with a jarring sound.
By then I was pretty good at employing Vince's tactic.
"Dude, your ax sucks!" Was my version to relieve the total
failure of my attempt. It worked. Our posse bursted in
laughter and I glanced at Vince to receive his approving
"You didn't throw it right," said Little Mikie, totally
misreading it, while running to retrieve the ax.
"Hey, don't hurt yourself," was my response, that once
again amused the audience. By then Little Mikie fetched the
ax back and was in position to throw it himself. I looked at
him and then back at my crowd. The ax was half the size of
the little fellow. We again bursted in laughter.
"I saw my dad doing this." Little Mikie was genuinely at
it, "He told me that you have to hold the handle three
quarters away from the blade."
There was no way someone his size could gracefully throw
such an oversized ax. But he wasn't giving up. He put both
hands at the imaginary three-quarter mark on the handle,
arched backwards as much as he could and pitched the poor
tool into the direction of the tree. Obviously such a futile
attempt to achieve the impossible resulted in the most
hilarious blunder for all of us around. Even Steve was
rolling on the ground when the ax landed short on the grass
and smacked the bottom of the tree while still tumbling
Vince just couldn't pass on it, he quickly brought the
ax back, while still choking with laughter, grabbed it as
lamely as he could with both hands and chucked it up high
into the air. This time the ax hit something else in the tree
canopy and ricocheted on to the ground.
It was now time for the rest of our posse to get a swing
at it. They all did it at least once trying to come up with a
more ridiculous throw one after another. All this time Little
Mikie was trying to explain that for his size it would be
almost impossible to throw this ax and that he was simply
showing us how to do it. But the more he tried the more it
provoked us to do stupid stuff with him and his ax.
"This is the spot you need to aim at", he said while
trying to touch the trunk with his index finger, that
unfortunately was way too high for his height. It made him
tip-toe and stretch out in a funny way that again made such a
good spectacle. I realized that it was my turn to capitalize
"Hold on, show it to me again," I was there to jab.
Little Mikie sincerely proceeded to reach out for the coveted
target according to my evil request.
"OK. Let me try," I said while Mikie was still holding
his hand on the tree. As I come to think about it now, I'd
never do it again, but how often do we think with our
hindsight? Sometimes we just do stupid stuff that we come up
with at a blink of an eye and then simply go with it, without
realizing the consequences. Somehow at that moment I thought
that tossing a heavy wood splitting ax into a tree with a
person standing next to it would be the most hilarious act of
comedy ever. Or maybe, as my dad puts it, I just didn't think
well enough before actually doing it. Sometimes it happens
for me and I greatly regret it later.
I quickly swung the ax over my shoulder and let it go in
the direction of the tree. I think by then I could see it fly
in a slow motion, and at the same time sense the quiet shroud
descending on everything and everyone around me, this was one
of those surreal moments that can stretch out for eternity
when indeed lasting for a split second. The ax was flying
perfectly toward the target, at first I couldn't believe how
good I did it. The human reflexes kicked in and Little Mikie
realized the peril of his location. He darted away from the
tree, but for some strange reason, decided to run along the
trajectory of the approaching lethal object. I could see his
back moving farther away as I watched the graceful roll of
the ax. All I could hope for at that moment was for my luck
to stay with me, and for the first time in my life to let me
achieve a perfect throw, with an ax firmly lodging in the
wood. Only that could save me from killing a man.
But my luck wasn't with me. At least not at that moment.
Who would expect someone to execute a perfect throw after
just a few initial tries? I could see the ax slowly diverting
to the side and hitting the trunk at a glancing blow. The
splitting chips made it slow down a bit but not enough to
compensate for my original force. It produced an ominous
"shtuck", that made Little Mikie spin around to face the ax
in its residual flight toward him. True to say, that the
impact with the tree bark had slowed it down and changed its
trajectory toward the ground. But it was still not enough to
make it miss Little Mikie.
In yet one more of his awkward positions, obviously
trying to curl up to cushion the blow, Little Mikie caught
the ax with his crotch. Yes guys, you heard me. It didn't
make any sound, as I was afraid it would. It landed quite
softly, to be honest with you. At first I couldn't see
whether it got stuck in Little Mikie or not, since he quickly
doubled over and fell on the ground. We all froze in a tense
moment of silence.
But then, Little Mikie was the first one to give me the
biggest relief of my life. He shuffled, turned and started to
get up slowly to his feet. To my incredible satisfaction the
ax was nowhere to be seen. I knew that if it wasn't sticking
out in his crotch, I was saved.
Vince was the next one to react. He quickly looked at
me. I don't think I ever saw such an expression on Vince's
face. It read, "Wow, dude. Even I couldn't pull it off." He
ran up to Little Mikie and looked him over.
"Still have your junk?"
"I guess so." Little Mikie was rubbing his nether
region. "That was a good throw."
We all bursted in roar and I couldn't believe my luck. I
could clearly feel the sweat beading up on my forehead. I
quickly wiped it off, having decided appropriately so that it
wouldn't be a good time to show my weaker side. While
standing there, in the aftershock of my deed, I unmistakably
felt the eyes of deference and worship from the kids around
me, maybe everyone except Vince, who was busy on the side
convincing Little Mikie to pull down his pants in one more
humiliating act to show us a long red welt left by the ax.
Since that incident my popularity among local kids had
skyrocketed to even higher levels than Vince's. The story
traveled fast around all the neighbors and would even come
back to me in its slightly altered version from some young
brother of a cousin of someone I knew. Vince would always
catch up on it with his remark, "Yeah, we almost wasted that
kid." But personally, I don't think I liked the very moment
of anticipation of whether the ax would split Little Mikie in
half, or not. Even though it lasted a second, and gave me
this story to tell, it was still tough to bear. Matter of
fact, it often came back to haunt me in occasional nightmare,
but on the other hand I truly enjoyed the fame I had achieved
with it, and, as a result, I never admitted to anyone about
the horror I experienced during the throw itself.
The story I want to tell you began on a hot summer day,
one of those days when you can feel the heat early in the
morning right when you wake up, long before the sun rises up
to the zenith at noon. It was the day with a pure blue sky
and Vince knew that the day was apt for many fun things
ahead. We started off by assembling our morning gang and
headed out to a remote lake for a dip. First it took so long
for two of us to call up everyone. Billy was helping to milk
his grandma's cow and shouted out from the barn that he'd
join us later. We knew that he'd follow up on it and thus let
him be. We then went on to Steve's house and were confronted
by his mother that told us that it's too early and Steve was
still in bed. We didn't buy such bull and let her leave to do
her business, after which Vince and I proceeded to whistle
and throw pebbles at Steve's window. Steve eventually opened
it up, all sleepy, rubbing his eyes.
"Wake up, sleeping beauty," shouted Vince.
"Yeah, I'll be right out," declared Steve. It took him
about ten more minutes to fulfil his promise, which almost
made Vince to start throwing stuff at his house again.
"Damn, what took you so long?" Was my comment when Steve
eventually sauntered out nibbling on an apple.
"I had to finish my breakfast," he confessed. "My mom
gets upset if I go without it."
"Dude, all the good spots will be taken again if you
keep munching on that stuff." Vince was right, the lake we
were heading out to was a popular destination among the local
residents. Of course, it wasn't that great if you take into
account the indoor pools, chlorinated water, life-guards and
my mom's constant precautions about water-borne bacteria, but
who needs to tell her? Coupled with endless fun of playing
the tag game in the murky lake among a dozen cool kids, or
competing for the longest underwater dive, or enjoying the
evening bon fire, even the muddy water and occasional silty
bottom weren't enough to even call it a nuisance.
It took us a little while to dispatch Steve to pick up
Bob Lee and his newly arrived brother, as well as go to meet
up with a couple of new kids we saw at the lake the day
before. We were truly trying to get the strongest team
together to show off for the rival gang from a nearby town,
that also frequented the same lake, that we were no slouches.
We kind of succeeded with our goal by showing up almost
ten strong. The downside of such advantage was the missed
opportunity to take the best spots at a small sandy beach on
the lake. Soon enough we got over our loss and were deep in
the fun of playing the tag game, first among ourselves, and
later with the kids from the neighboring town.
The morning went through like a second. Soon enough
Steve crawled out on the shore and checked his watch.
"Come on, get back in the water. We keep losing without
you," I shouted at him.
He shook his head and declared, "I gotta go. My mom says
I have to be back for lunch."
It was the beginning of the end. Bob Lee's brother
bailed out because of some lame excuse, then the new kids
said that they needed to go back too. This all made me mad. I
don't know why, it was just a game anyway, but maybe because
we were losing to the worst losers around, I felt so bad.
Those guys we played against couldn't even dive well and
would constantly bob up to the surface giving out their
position and letting someone on our team to tag them without
an effort. But our weak spot was in numbers. As soon as our
guys began getting out, the most dedicated of us -- Vince, me
and Billy -- could not sustain the pressure of two or three
rival kids constantly watching each one of us. I started
making stupid mistakes and soon enough it was over. We lost.
On the way back I couldn't speak at all. I was that mad.
Even Vince tried to cheer me up but I still didn't care to
concede our defeat. Besides that, I couldn't believe that we
had lost most of our gang to some stupid lunch time call from
parents and we were coming back to town only in the company
of two loyal guys still remaining.
The sun was hitting us hard at the time we were
approaching town. We trudged along the main paved road and
soon reached the opening from the woods where Little Mikie's
house stood. By then I managed to forget about our previous
encounter with the kid. It took just a little nudging for my
sun parched brain to revive the whole hilarity of the ax
incident. It looked like Little Mikie was not far from home
either, and the presence of his bike lying in an awkward heap
next to his house was a sure sign of it.
"Hey, Little Mikie, you wouldn't try to catch an ax with
your crotch next time, would you?" I yelled out when I saw
him coming out from the side of the house. He smiled and our
small posse roared with guttural laughter once again at the
memory of the kid's previous misadventure.
"Bring something bigger this time," I was relentless.
"Does your dad have a chain saw?" The fun with this kid was
We continued on, still laughing and mulling over the
possibilities of other sharp and dangerous objects that we
could make Little Mikie catch for us. Someone said, "I don't
doubt he'd show up with a chain saw tonight." That was enough
to keep us rolling with the revived stamina back to our homes
to get a much needed rest and food before we could go on with
the remainder of our busy summer day.
After a short break, and to everyone's delight, we were
able to reconvene at our usual spot at the local lake with
more than a dozen new kids already playing in the rays of the
hot summer sun. Following some unspoken rule, we knew that
this lake was unmistakably ours and that no rival gang could
come even close to vying for it. That meant that all the
newcomers to the lake will have to reckon with our presence
and our ultimate authority. After my hasty lunch I could
definitely sense that while walking there, feeling important.
Vince and Billy were already at the lake teaching a
mixed group of younger boys and girls how to pull the card
tricks. "What we got here?" I was ready to show off my
position right from the get-go.
"We're waiting for Steve and Bob Lee to go check on the
old Haunted house," said Billy while throwing the Queen of
Hearts on a makeshift table in an evident victorious gesture.
"Wow! Where is that?" Exclaimed one of the new kids,
leading the rest of them to switch their attention to a
better prospect rather than losing to Vince and Billy.
"Ah, nothing for you children," barked Vince, while
landing his own winning card on their rickety gambling table
and then sweeping up all the antes of candies and small
change with his both hands. The younger kids didn't care at
that point, due to a much entertaining activity looming on
I was surprised to learn about the Haunted House myself
and needed clarification, "I thought they leveled it off a
long time ago?"
"No, this is the one with the old wrinkly lady living
there day and night. Vince saw her yesterday." Billy pointed
at the direction of the house, "She was carrying a dead cat."
Almost everyone in our group gasped. It clearly meant
that the old wrinkly lady was a witch. "So what are we going
to do?" I couldn't contain my interest.
"There are too many ears here," snapped Vince, giving me
a clear signal to shut up. I obliged, Billy did too. Then we
tried to change the subject to no avail. Our extended gang
didn't care to know anything but more about the old Haunted
House. Soon enough almost everyone at the lake was aware of
our plans and we could do nothing about it. I'm not sure
though that Vince really didn't want anyone to know, since
his face would light up with invisible glow every time we
learned about some new kid being interested to go with us to
check on the house. He'd respond though with his misleading,
"What are you talking about?"
Sometimes certain events in life are led by a pure joy
of endless surprises, but most often than not they are mixed
with a less desirable but inevitable run-ins with reality.
Somehow those pure evil spoons of tar in the saccharine jar
of fun bubble up only when you least expect them. That's what
happened when we were marching down the road, full of
anticipation and excitement of Vince's fresh idea. By that
time we weren't alone, and it seemed like all the kids in
town were under our control. Our group was so large that it
even drew attention from grown-ups. That was the undesirable
part of our success and as soon as we were passing by my
grandparents' house I heard my grandma calling me out. First
I thought it was my imagination, or the kid's name who was
called wasn't me, but soon I heard the unmistakable, "Sammy!"
Oh boy, I hated that name.
It turned out that my grandmother's friend Mrs. Strauss
had come over to chat and brought their little granddaughter
with her. My grandma, remembering my previous success of
dragging their neighbor's kid Richard out of their yard for
the first time in a century, which evidently his both parents
failed to do, decided to try one more experiment of baby
sitting up her sleeve. I truly don't know why grown-ups think
that kids can like one another simply by being of a much
younger age then them? That was obviously my grandma's idea.
"This is Samantha", said my grandma at the sign of a
young girl running up to us. I couldn't believe my
misfortune, "A girl, with the same name as mine!" Samantha
stopped a few feet away from me. I was obviously three to
four years older, much bigger and taller in size, and had
nothing in common with this little girl. What did my grandma
think I'd do with her?
"Hey, this is Sammy", blurted out Mrs. Strauss. I swear
to God, that if my grandma said it I'd turn around and simply
leave, I was that ticked off, but because those words came
out from a stranger I was able to contain myself. She shifted
her attention to me, "I have to leave for a while. Can you
play with her for an hour or so and then you both can come
over to check out our new puppies."
The Lab puppies! How could I forget about it? I
remembered now my grandma telling me something about her
friend breeding dogs and that she could give us a pup. I
should admit that the last word in Mrs. Strauss's sentence
made the whole request to have an utterly different sense for
me. Now on, her visit and the presence of this pesky little
child was not that bad at all. Since an early age I always
wanted to have a dog but my mom and dad were adamantly
against it. They were saying something about furniture, us
living in a condo and the responsibilities of walking the dog
but I already knew all that. Some of my friends back in the
city had dogs as well and their parents didn't have any of
those issues. But the more I argued, the further away my
dream was escaping from me.
I addressed it again at a chance conversation with my
grandma, who mentioned a breeder lady for me. I didn't hope
for anything, still recalling my futile attempts to sway my
parents, I just sighed and said that it'd be nice for me to
have one of those pups, for which my grandma responded with
an inquisitive, "Why not?" I wasn't sure that I was hearing
her right at first. Later on the prospect of having my own
dog, even if not for long and just for the time of my stay in
the grandparents' house was so overwhelming that I couldn't
sleep for days. To make things even better, the breed of the
pups was Labrador Retriever, the exact same type of dog that
Vince kept telling me about. I'd kill two birds with one
stone if I could ever get my hands on one of those pups.
So I went with the initially troublesome plan of baby
sitting this little girl. We agreed that I would walk her
home in a couple of hours, by which time Mrs. Strauss should
be back herself. She didn't clarify specifically what would
happen then, but the grandma's tone suggested that my dream
of getting a dog may well come true at that time. I was
hoping for confirmation from Mrs. Strauss and kept staring at
her, but she didn't get my sign and instead told my grandma,
"It's so hot today. I'll drive him home when he gets there."
That was not exactly what I was hoping for but the ride
in an air-conditioned automobile sounded like fun and I
accepted her offer. Nonetheless I was quite ecstatic at this
turn of events. I might get a dog tonight! Now the fact of
approaching our gang with a little girl in tow was not that
terrifying at all.
I headed out with little Samantha following me behind.
There was another pleasant surprise walking along us - their
dog Amber, the mother of a pup I may get later tonight. I was
so excited to boast about it to Vince that I literally forgot
about Samantha walking alongside me. "Where are we going,
Sammy?" She was quick to remind me.
That alone threw a bucket of cold water over my glowing
fervor. I stopped and squatted down in front of her. "Listen,
my name is Sam. Remember that. I'm not gonna tell you twice."
She was somewhat shocked to see my changed tone once we
left the confines of my grandparents' house, but decided not
to argue with a seemingly older and stronger boy. We went for
another hundred yards or so, and I could already see the
commotion and excitement surrounding the area of the old
Haunted House, when Samantha decided to let me know about her
presence once again, "I don't want to go there."
Without stopping I blurted out, "We're going to check
the haunted house. Ever seen one?" She didn't answer, but I
could tell that my intentions to pique her interest and the
fact that she could see several other girls already being
involved in the boisterous activity in the distance, did pay
off and she reluctantly continued on to trail behind me.
The scene of the fun consisted of a group of at least
fifteen kids attentively listening to Vince's commands and
instructions of how to make the witch lady come out of the
house. I don't know why he chose that in particular, but I
wasn't in position to challenge him. Instead, I joined the
crowd, completely losing sight of my previous companion and
"Where did you go, man? We're about to flush the old hag
out," was Vince's acknowledgement of my arrival.
"My grandma called me. What's the plan?"
Vince proceeded explaining the intricacies of his plan,
consisted of throwing various objects into the yard
surrounded by an overgrown wooden fence. The difficulty of
the plan was that none of us could clearly see what was
happening on the other side and thus be aware of the
impending danger of discovery. Vince pointed at a bunch of
rocks caked in the road mud and we began extricating and
tossing them at the house. But none of our projectiles
actually reached anything and we dropped the idea. Next came
a plethora of new suggestions from the members of the crowd
and we spent a good deal of time sneaking around the fence
trying to find hidden passages, trap doors and underground
tunnels. Billy threw in his idea, that he truly believed in
and repeated for us on a couple of previous occasions, that
the witch has troll servants that come out at night to kidnap
and torture little children, and if so there should be some
ways for them to leave the perimeter of the Haunted House. At
that moment I happened to look at the rest of the kids, they
were all huddled together, completely petrified by the
realization of Billy's statement. Suddenly I noticed familiar
shape in the crowd, I looked closer. Holy cow, it was Little
Mikie. How did he get here? He was listening too, the mask of
fear written all over his face. I knew the Gods were on my
side and I couldn't pass on such opportunity.
"How about we throw Little Mikie in to investigate," I
broke the ominous silence. "He has to stand up to his name."
"Yeah, good thinking," chuckled Vince instantaneously
liking the idea.
"I heard of little ninjas fighting in the enemy
territory," I was quick to add while walking toward the
center of the crowd. Bob Lee and Billy began imitating the
little shadow warriors and everyone erupted in laughter.
Surprisingly Little Mikie was laughing himself too.
"I don't think I can jump over that fence," he said when
the roar subsided. I looked at Vince. The kid was totally
"Oh, don't worry, pal. We can give you a lift," I said
while showing with my right foot a swift motion of a kick.
The crowd liked it again and Billy ran up to Little Mikie and
pulled him out to the center. It seemed like only then
something clicked inside Little Mikie's head and he realized
the doom of his position. He began slowly backing off and
away from Vince and me. Vince didn't want to mess with my
show and did nothing except laughing hard and snapping his
fingers on the right hand in his usual fashion.
I quickly realized that it was my moment to shine, and
that I was already too deep in it to back out or let Little
Mikie go. So, I walked up and pulled him closer into the
middle of our circle. I felt some resistance, which was
incomparable with my strength, I knew I could handle him.
Little Mikie was seriously in trouble, even he got it,
so he tried everything possible to get out of it, "Guys,
seriously, I can't do it. I have a Paget's disease."
"What disease?" I couldn't contain my smile.
"That's when your bones can break during stress," Mikie
was trying to reason with me, but it was too late. There was
no way out for neither of us, our crowd and posse was
involved in the process and we couldn't stop it at that.
"How about the little flying man disease?" I put at
Little Mikie's expense. At that moment I knew that I had to
do something, it felt like it couldn't continue with a verbal
exchange alone. I clearly felt my dominance and I went on
with it. While Little Mikie was looking down in an attempt to
not antagonize me in a greater degree, I sprung forward and
landed with my both fists on his shoulders. This caused him
to fly back and land in the dust under someone's feet. My
posse cheered immediately and I flung my arms up in a
Little Mikie rose up from the ground and said, "OK. I'll
do it." Right then, all the planning done by Vince before
went straight down the drain, we had a new and improved idea
for entertainment. As a single swarm of locust we headed down
to an overgrown fence separating the old Haunted House from
the rest of the world. Our posse kept a close eye on Little
Mikie, not giving him a chance to escape. Some little kids in
the group were saying that it was too scary for them to go
any closer, but we were too busy to listen to anyone.
The fence area itself was covered by a tangled mass of
prickly shoots of wild brier and nettles, which made walking
through quite uncomfortable. Only the most stoic of us had to
go all the way to the fence, but without saying any spoken
words, we had a plan even before we started. Right when going
got worse, I jumped behind Little Mikie and pushed him
forward. This made his body lunge toward the fence and
through the tangled mass on the ground. He screamed in pain
but then braced himself with the anticipation of the worst to
come. I liked the idea of using him as our battering ram and
I pushed him again. At that point I could see that he was
almost ready to cry. Deep inside I was hoping for that, since
it would definitely halt our sinister plan, but Little Mikie
wasn't going to give me such an opportunity.
"I don't know what's on the other side," he pleaded with
a shaking voice.
"That's the whole point of reconnaissance, stupid," I
was there to come back. He was breathing heavily and might
have been at the brink, thus I didn't dare to push him again.
I sensed that he may well blow up right then and go
ballistic, I was actually afraid of him doing that, and was
thinking to myself, "What if he pushes me back. I don't want
to cut my ankles as he did." My strategy worked.
"No, guys, seriously I don't wanna go. What if she has a
dog?" Little Mikie wasn't giving up. "I can get hurt." I
could see his face contorting in the fight with tears.
"Yeah, she can also put a spell on you and you'll die as
a little troll," Vince was quick to jump in.
"Time to go, Little Mikie," I put mercilessly while
lowering myself down to grab his legs to push him up the
fence. Soon enough Vince and Billy were at my side, helping
me to lift him up.
"No! Noooo! Don't do it! Guys, please!"
We were almost at the top of the fence with our goal,
when something fell out of the Little Mikie's shorts pocket
and landed on my face. I instinctively released my grip, as
did Vince. Billy himself could not support the weight of our
prey and Little Mikie tumbled down on the ground into the
depth of thorny crawlies.
"Damn! What the hell is that?" I said while cursing the
cuts on my legs, as well as picking up the mysterious object.
To my amazement I was holding a small fluffy, stuffed
elephant attached to a key chain. I showed it to our posse
and we all bursted in laughter. This kid was an endless
treasure trove of goofs and surprises.
"Give it back," his tone was different. "It's my lucky
charm," Little Mikie was not a victim anymore, out of nowhere
he has become a fighter. Me, I couldn't stop laughing right
in his face. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he mustered what was
left of his strength and pushed me hard in the chest, that
almost made me fall back. I was able to regain my footing,
thanks to Vince, who smacked him in the head that made Little
Mikie turn around and give me time to get out of the thorny
"Look at you little lucky charm", I yelled out while
grabbing Little Mikie's torso and lifting him up off the
ground. His sudden attack gave me a burst of energy and I
couldn't resist, I couldn't leave this dirty deed undone. My
loyal posse grabbed him as well and we briskly pushed him up
to our goal. At the same time, all the commotion apparently
attracted attention on the other side, we could hear someone
shuffling through the overgrown yard. This urged us to act
quickly since none of us really knew what kind of a peril was
awaiting beyond this fence -- it may very well be that the
lady was a true witch, capable of casting a spell on anyone
of us unlucky enough to come across her way.
Little Mikie's body reached the top of the fence, at
which point all of us let him go. For a mere second it looked
like he was hanging in the air. We could clearly see that he
was crying uncontrollably, all curled up and not looking in
the direction of the house. "It'd be quite funny if he gets
stuck up there," I thought to myself. But it didn't happen.
Little Mikie made a sudden move and his body couldn't defy
gravity any longer. His face distorted in fear of a sudden
fall backwards, and he disappeared from the top of the fence.
What followed was a cushioned thump on the other side, then
silence. For a little while it sounded like nothing happened.
Then suddenly, we heard the weirdest voice ever, hoarse
and raspy, jarring on the wind and crawling under our skin,
apparently coming from an old lady running toward the fence
in sight of our human projectile. We exploded in panic and
bursted in every direction possible. Billy ran right through
the prickly growth as if it wasn't there, Vince and I managed
to get a clearer path. I could also hear Little Mikie
screaming, "Ahhhh!" while running for his life along the
other side of the fence.
Our newly formed gang disintegrated in a second. Most of
the kids beelined toward the safety of the town, while Vince,
Billy and I ran toward the lake. I don't remember how fast I
actually ran, I don't think I remember anything that happened
on the way there. The earliest moment of safety that I can
recall was me catching breath in a bend-over posture holding
my knees. I must have done 20 miles-an-hour while escaping
the clutches of the witch to get so winded. Vince looked at
me from the same position and we exploded in laughter.
The day went on and we continued to enjoy it to the
fullest. "How can someone be in any other place than this?" I
was thinking to myself. It was inconceivable for me that if
not for my grandparents, I might still be rotting in the
boredom of our condo city life. Could I ask for more fun than
In the company of our usual gang we went on to greet
Steve who was right about to arrive from some trip he had to
take with his parents earlier that day. I swear that this kid
never participated in the most adventurous activities of our
summer. He told us earlier that we could borrow his tennis
rackets and before our previous run-in with the powers of the
underworld, it sounded like a lot of fun. To be honest with
you though, none us knew how to play tennis. By being a city
boy I felt the most obligation to know about it, but it soon
materialized that I knew nothing about the game of tennis,
and all that was apparent to me, was an approximate goal of
the game -- to hit a ball from one field to another. Vince
and Billy, in turn, knew much less than I did.
When Steve showed up with the two tennis rackets, and
after a quick lowdown into our latest adventure, we were
quick to adapt to this new game. None of us could serve the
ball, let alone hit it back in a graceful manner, thus we
opted to strike it our way pretending that the rackets were
bats and the tennis ball was a high flying curve ball. It was
hilarious. Vince managed to drive it straight back at Billy
and almost hit him in the chest, and I somehow struck it with
the side of the racket making it zigzag away into the ditch.
The fun continued well into the evening until we
eventually lost the ball in a neighbor's yard and none of us
wanted to go asking for it back. Vince came up with the idea
of using little stones instead but that sounded painful in
case someone was unfortunate enough to catch it with their
body, thus we dropped it. He tried himself to launch a couple
of pebbles into the lake by throwing them up like a volley
ball, swinging the racket wide and hitting a pebble with his
full force. It was a blast at first and we attempted to do it
too until Steve's dad came out and yelled at us for ruining
the tennis rackets. That put an end to it.
The day was coming to a close and the setting sun made
us feel quite weary after all of our daily escapades. I bid
farewell to Vince and to the rest of the gang, and was ready
to retire back to my place when it struck me, "Samantha!"
"Where the heck was that girl?" I tried to think where
was the last place that I saw her. I couldn't remember. I
knew for sure that she went with me to the Haunted House, but
did she stay there? Did she see me harassing Little Mikie? It
wouldn't be good if she told her mother about it, that in
turn would report it to my grandma. But still the most
appalling thoughts of them all was, "Where is that girl?" I
looked around. None of my friends were there to address the
issue or to mull it over with me. Shall I go talk to Vince?
No way. He doesn't need to know that I was left to baby-sit
this little girl. Now again it sounded too embarrassing for
anyone to learn, but what shall I do? I couldn't go back
home. My grandma would most certainly ask how did it go with
Samantha, plus what about the pup? Damn! I couldn't miss out
on such an opportunity. But what if Samantha was in danger?
She was just a little child and wouldn't find the way back
home. Moreover, she lived on the other side of town and it
wasn't easy to get there. Wait. She might have run home when
the old witch came out to yell at us. But how could I know? I
couldn't just go home and pretend that she is OK. I needed to
Hating the idea I headed out away from home, toward the
place I knew the younger kids could play at. It took me about
half an hour to get there and I realized that it was too late
for any little kid to be playing outside away from home. I
was desperate. I thought about maybe going to talk to Steve
but that would present me with a prospect of facing Little
Mikie and I didn't want to do it all by myself. I was ready
to go back home and confess.
Right at my house I was playing back any possible
scenario of what I shall tell my grandma to lessen the blow
and what would happen then, nothing sounded good. I was
anticipating being grounded for sure for the good part of the
next week, coupled with the possible discovery of what we've
done at the Haunted House. I couldn't believe that such a
good day could've ended like that. And then I heard, "Sammy."
For the first time the sound of this name made me jump with
joy. This was Samantha. It was unmistakably her voice even
though I couldn't see her well in the rapidly spreading dusk.
I ran toward the voice and found her and a couple of neighbor
girls playing Hop Scotch.
"Where have you been?" I demanded of her, being
absolutely relieved to have found her myself.
"I played with Katie and Mary," she said as if nothing
"Did you see us at the old house?" I was probing my
"No. I went with Katie and Mary."
I was the happiest kid in town again. She didn't see us,
she can't rat us out to her mother. How much better can this
evening end? There was only one thing I needed to do before I
could call it a day.
"Hey, Samantha, it's time for you to go home", I said
grabbing her hand and giving this little girl no chance to
There were only two ways I could take Samantha home, and
to be honest with you, I loathed both of them. The long one
through the main drag might have taken us about half an hour
to traverse, which coupled with approaching darkness did not
look promising to me. The second one, the short path through
the creek, an old bridge and the dell would set me back about
fifteen minutes one way. I glanced at Samantha and she didn't
look like she could take half an hour walk through the night
town. I didn't myself, to tell you the truth. Besides that I
couldn't risk making this girl mad and antagonize my future
relationship with a breeder lady. Then I saw someone else,
who could be on my team as well. Their dog Amber was wiggling
its tail and darting back and forth between us. "She should
be a good protection," I thought to myself and picked the
We were walking past silent houses unperturbed by our
daily fatigue, playing with Amber by tossing and letting her
catch and bring us back a stick. Samantha showed me the way
she normally does it, that made the dog fawn and tremble with
excitement. That really fascinated me. How can dogs be so
much into fetching sticks? In my mind I was rehearsing what I
would teach my own dog and how I will play with it. Then I
"Hey, Samantha. Can you keep a secret?" I began.
"Yes," she was visibly excited with my question and
stopped concentrating on the dog.
"Well, you have to promise me something."
"What? What is it?" She was genuinely excited.
"You liked playing with those girls today, didn't you?"
I said while improvising on the go and hoping for the best.
So far I've been lucky with it.
"Yeah. They said, they can let me use their stroller
Things couldn't be going better for me, "Well then, you
and I have to keep our walk now a secret because if your mom
or my grandmother find out they will not let you play with
those girls anymore."
"Well, just trust me on this one."
She drooped her chin and looked like she was ready to
cry, I forgot how quickly young children can get upset. I had
to react fast, "But if you tell your mom that my grandmother
dropped you off instead of me, she'd let you play with them
Eureka! This little girl's face spread out in a wide
smile and I knew I had a partner in this collusion. I felt
good knowing that I was slowly digging myself out of this
predicament, the stupid result of my previous forgetfulness.
We walked on in silence for a little while. At first I
didn't pay any attention to it, while still relishing in my
ingenuity and brilliance in convincing this child to carry on
my plan, but then I started noticing it too. Samantha was
obviously quieter now, walking next to my side, so close that
it felt like she was about to grab my hand. I quickly looked
around. The street lights were already on, illuminating the
town we left behind. I could still see the lonely path in
front of us for another hundred yards or so, but the
visibility was diminishing rather fast. "It's getting dark so
quickly," I thought to myself. I also knew that by no means I
shall show fear for this girl. The worst thing that could
happen to us here is if she loses her cool, goes bunkers and
starts crying and acting foolish like I saw many children do.
What would I do with her then? I didn't know how to handle a
child? I've never baby-sat anyone. My previous plea with her
seemed to have worked so far, she was on my side, but what if
she gets scared and changes her mind? What if she decides not
to go with my plan and tells her mom about our nightly walk
home. I'm sure her mother wouldn't like us doing that. That
would also be really bad if she starts crying now, right in
the middle of this freaky place, right next to the Haunted
House. I froze inside. The old Haunted House!
It was so good that Samantha wasn't holding my hand
because, I swear, I could feel my goose bumps popping out
like long needles all over my body. Suddenly the pleasant
summer breeze I enjoyed by the lake turned into a cold
chilling wind on my skin. I winced. Samantha and I were
walking right past the old Haunted House. How could I not
think about it before? Stupid! The path across the dell lay
right through this horrible place. I thought to myself in
disgust, "Why do they not level it down? I'd certainly do so
if I was a grown-up." I looked ahead. The road in front of us
was edging closer and closer to the same fence that we used
to fool around during the day, but now it felt totally
different, it was scary. I used to make fun of little kids,
being afraid of the boogeyman, but now walking with this
breathless little girl, in a thick dusk, so close to the
Haunted House made me feel it too, the needles deep inside.
Something caught my attention on the right in the
direction of the house. "Don't look," I screamed to myself
inside. "You can't show that you're scared," said foreboding
voice. But it didn't work, that something on the right held
my attention in a vice grip and I couldn't resist. Oh my God!
There was a light on the porch. I swiftly turned my head back
onto the road, that was leading us closer to the fence and a
thick overgrown brush around it. But, wait, I think I saw
something else. I looked back. Oh, no! It was an old woman
standing on the porch. The paralyzing dagger of realization,
"It must have been the witch lady" stabbed me in the heart. I
looked away. I knew she was watching us. It was so quiet and,
of course, our steps and the sound of the dog plodding along
made the only sound for her to hear. "What shall I do?" Was
the first terrifying thought furnished by my mind. I didn't
know the answer to it. I picked up the pace, then slowed
down. I couldn't let this little girl sense my fear. I was so
glad it was dark and she couldn't see my face, I bet it
wouldn't be encouraging for her at all. I couldn't let this
girl see me now. I looked at Samantha and she looked back at
me. I thought to myself, "Oh no, not here." It now felt OK
with me if she cried at any other moment, at any place she
wanted to, later on the road, right in front of her mom, but
please not here, not next to this old Haunted House. I looked
again in the direction of the porch, and for a quick moment
caught a glimpse of the old witch staring straight at us
before proximity to the fence cut off my view. I whipped my
gaze back on the road.
"Sammy, is this the Haunted House?" Was something I
didn't want to hear.
"Don't talk to me now, stupid girl," I thought to myself
and instead picked up the pace. There was only about couple
hundred feet of this demonic fence left in front of us. I
knew that we had to make it through fast before anything
worse can happen. I realized that I was squeezing Samantha's
hand but I didn't care and she went with it too, it felt for
a moment that she could read my thoughts.
"No, it's just a house. Keep walking. It's getting
late," I managed to say when I felt that the dangerous part
of the path next to the fence was behind. I didn't dare to
look back, I knew that my words carried out like the whistle
in the morning breeze and the witch was listening and looking
"Are you afraid of darkness?" Samantha was unrelenting.
"No. Of course not," I gave her my standard answer,
trying not to show the tremble in my voice.
"Me, neither." At least I knew she was a good trooper.
I caught a glimpse of Amber wagging its tail and not
showing any signs of concern at all. It gave me some
confidence that the witch was not on our tail. "The dog would
certainly know," was a consoling thought. That realization
indeed helped me quite a bit, as well as knowing that the
Haunted House was well behind us. Now what lied ahead was a
wooded area of a dell but that wasn't bad at all in contrast
to what we just had to go through a mere moment ago. I could
still see bluish silhouettes of tree trunks and the path
ahead of us that, in despite of a quickly spreading night,
didn't daunt me that bad.
We walked on, holding each other's hands. I didn't mind
it at all, to the contrary I even liked holding another human
being's hand even though that person was just a little girl.
After all this could've saved us before. Isn't it funny how
our thinking changes by day? I should admit that Samantha
acted very brave back then by the Haunted House. I couldn't
believe that she didn't freak out, but maybe she thought that
being there with a bigger boy was safe enough for a child
like herself. I wish I felt that way. What made matters worse
was how unafraid she acted now and even dared to ask, "Do you
think ghosts are real?"
"I don't know. Why are you asking?" I acted surprised.
"I think I saw one," she was there to torture me. I
didn't say anything. Vince always used to say that ghosts are
for children, but Vince wasn't here. I mulled it over. I
remembered my own encounter with paranormal back in the city,
when being just a little kid I was getting ready to fall
asleep in my bed when I heard this really loud crack above my
head. I remember it as vividly as if it happened yesterday. I
jumped off the bed and ran straight into my parents' bedroom,
screaming like a headless chicken. Back then my mom and dad
spent a good deal of time trying to console me, but I still
never got the answer to, "What was there that scared the
living hell out of me?" And now I knew that it was coming
back to haunt me.
In this dark valley Samantha with her own childish but
nonetheless spooky stuff was no help for me at all. Right
then another thought crossed my mind, a thought that it
sucked to be a grown-up and be in charge of things. I wish
there was someone for me too, someone who could say that it's
OK, that I'm going to be all right. Why was it only Samantha
who was getting those kinds of words from me in this scary
forest? I felt left out.
We came out of the woods. The orange glow of street
lights on Samantha's road made it look totally safe and
secure for me. I glanced back at the dark wall of the woods
we just emerged from and realized how incredibly lucky I am,
there was nothing in this world that would make me go back
through that old Haunted House pass again.
It turned out Samantha's house was not far away from the
path either. She herself was all giddy and happy again. I
felt excited too, knowing that my little plan to trick
everyone into believing that I followed up on my promise
would eventually succeed. We approached her front lawn. The
lights in the house were on and I could clearly see someone's
"Thanks for the walk," she said while running back to
"Don't forget about our secret," I was quick to remind
her. She looked back at me and nodded in acceptance. I knew
that she would follow up on it. The only thing left was my
turn to make it believable, and that required for no one
inside her house to see me being around. I darted toward the
bush on the side of the road and ducked into it. From my new
vantage point I could see Samantha opening the unlocked door
and squeezing into the house. I waited. I could see the light
turning on upstairs, which meant that she probably went to
her bedroom. Just to be sure I had to wait some more.
I think I sat there, in my perfect hideout, for at least
ten minutes. Nothing unusual happened. I was glad. There was
only one last part of my plan that had to be done, something
that I hadn't given a second thought to -- that was me,
getting back home. Right when that fleeting thought was
zipping through my mind, I glanced at the black iceberg of
the forest, and it hit me. How am I going to get back? In the
haste of my brilliance to concoct the plan to vindicate
Samantha's long absence, I totally forgot about a crucial
part of the original plan, that Samantha's mother was
supposed to drive me home. And what about the pups? My head
was spinning. How could I not think about it. A torrent of
thoughts invaded my head, I couldn't think straight. What
shall I do?
Like a black avalanche of impending disaster, the wall
of heavy thoughts crashed down on me. I was petrified, my
mind was paralyzed. I was darting from one thought to another
and none of them made sense to me. Then the realization that
I will not get a puppy tonight sank in on top of already
unbearable weight of the situation. Suddenly after a
triumphant victory I was ready to burst in tears. And things
weren't getting better with time. I looked around. The night
has fallen in, and the blackest darkness has already shrouded
the town. I knew I was safe here on this short lonely stretch
of the road but not out there where the light of the street
lamps was hitting and disappearing into the wall of night.
Somehow the disappointment of not getting a dog tonight
didn't matter anymore and seemed like a paltry nonsense.
Then, a glimmer of hope struck me from within. The
grandma must be getting worried by now, and she should've
certainly sent out grandpa to look for me in his big station
wagon. The murmur of its giant V-8 engine and the usual cozy
swelter of the summer heat inside made me feel so warm and
comfy that I cracked a wide smile. I started looking at one
end of the road, where the help could come from, the stretch
escaping into the darkness, waiting for the familiar sound.
But none came. Slowly I looked in the opposite direction. The
ominous Dead End sign was standing in a stark yellow contrast
to the backdrop of the woods, Samantha and I came out so
heroically just a few moments ago. The cold shiver ran
through my spine again. "My grandma thinks that Mrs. Strauss
will drop me off herself. She probably thinks that I'm still
at their house picking a puppy," was the cold voice inside my
head. "No one will come looking for me."
My eyes started to fill up with tears, I could not
control it. And then another disaster, "What if someone finds
me here, on the other side of town, alone, crying like a
little girl?" The thought of that happening made me cringe,
even more than the whipping of the chilly air. "I couldn't
stay here," said the voice inside. "I have to go and get back
home. I have to be a man."
I walked out from the safety of the bush I was hiding
in. It wasn't bad under the warm glow of this light. I looked
in the direction of the Dead End sign. No, I couldn't go
there. Not to the Haunted House again, been there, done that!
I then glanced in the other direction. The paved road was
barely visible past the shimmer of street lights I was
standing under. That route was way too long, I chose against
it before, but now I was banking on it.
I barely started walking along the road, leading into
town, when suddenly a flicker of several distant headlights
hit my eyes. They were approaching fast. It hit me like a ton
of bricks -- I needed to get off the road, quickly. My only
viable option was the ditch on the side. I bolted toward it
and slid into its grassy bank, just in time to notice the
headlights slicing the top. There were several of them,
riders on bikes, I could easily tell by peculiar sounds of
their motors. I also knew that I couldn't lie in this ditch
any longer. I was out in the open for them to see, I needed
to run for safety. I was pretty good at escaping unnoticed,
Vince and I prided ourselves at doing so. We tried it many
times on people we knew and almost always managed to pull it
off undiscovered. But that was during the day, I've never
tried it at night. Now it was too late though to deliberate,
I had to act. I darted toward the undergrowth, farther back
to where I came from. I tried to stay low, so much low in
fact, that I was skimming the water surface as I ran, there
was no time to care about wet feet.
I was breathing heavily by the time I reached safety. I
lay quiet for a while probing the air. They didn't see me,
but I could now see them. It was a group of teenagers,
sixteen years old or so, on bikes, talking loud among each
other while keeping their bikes running. "Fast move, Sam," I
was admiring myself. No one knows what could happen after an
encounter with that crowd. Those were the most dangerous
kids. They were almost grown-ups. Come on, they had their own
bikes and could stay up that late all by themselves. Vince
could deal with them better than me. I remember couple times
before, kids that age hailed us and Vince was the one who
handled the situation. It was easy for him since he had a
brother as old as they. I didn't. For me those older kids
were much more intimidating than if I ran into a rival gang
from the nearby town, thus I lay there quiet.
I don't know how long it took them to get over their
business. My leg started to tingle and I knew that I couldn't
stay motionless for any longer. To my delight I heard a man's
voice piercing through the night, "Get out of here punks.
People need to sleep here."
It did the trick. The kids quickly jumped on their bikes
and zipped passed me, back to the same road they came from.
It became quiet again. I could feel the smell of tobacco in
the air, and although I couldn't see them, I knew that there
were two grown-up men standing not far from my hideout. They
didn't talk as loud as the biker kids before, but I could
hear distinct syllables of their hushed conversation. I
stayed put, mulling over the possibilities of my retreat. I
knew that going along the paved road, through town would not
be as simple as I originally thought. The biker kids might
have just relocated to some other spot down the road and it
was too dangerous for me to go that way.
Suddenly, after shifting my foot to relieve the pressure
off of it, I slipped on the branch that I was apparently
standing on. It made a distinctive crackling sound. In a
split-second decision I knew that I've given out my position
and I needed to move. I dashed alongside the bush and jumped
into an area that I thought was safer.
"What was that?" Gasped one man. "Must be a coyote,"
speculated another. "Need to shoot that son-of-a-bitch," was
as clear as day to me.
To my horror I realized that in a haste of my decision I
jumped even closer to them. That was it. I was revealed. In a
flash flood of thoughts that ran through my head at the time
I could discern the two. One logically stated that I should
come out and present myself as a human being, lost, needing
some directions home. But another sinister thought, clearly
showed that these two strange men, trigger-happy to shoot
anything they could hear in the bush, were not someone to
seek help from. Besides that, what if they knew someone from
our gang, they could easily be some kid's fathers, what if
they spread out a rumor that I was found alone at night, in
the dirt, shaking life a leaf? That would be the end of my
reputation. Vince and everyone else would laugh every time
they see me. No, I couldn't come out. Instead, I bolted
through the thick underbrush in the direction where I
initially came from. I didn't care about my raucous retreat,
all my previous training of stealthy escape with Vince was
thrown out of the window, I was lumbering through snapping
twigs like a fleeing giant. In the back, I could clearly hear
men whistling and stomping their feet.
I can't say how long I ran. Maybe for ten minutes, maybe
more? You could never tell in a stressful situation like
that. I knew one thing though, that I had to get out of there
fast. Knowing the nature of guns, and remembering what my
grandpa once told me, I had to be as far away from those two
as possible, the buck shot dissipates and the bullet loses
its velocity with distance. It mattered life and death to me
Suddenly I ran out into an opening. I slipped on the mud
and fell on the ground after trying to slow down. I then
quickly got up and ran back into the bush, and listened. It
was quiet again. I didn't hear any gun shots and the two men
seemed to have let me go. I noticed the lights on the right.
That was the end of the street where I walked Samantha, what
seemed like a long time ago. I saw the back of the Dead End
sign and realized that in my hasty retreat I did a circle
around Samantha's house, and I was back in the same wooded
area where we came from. My instincts were also telling me
that I couldn't stay here any longer. If those men charged
along this path, searching for me, I'd have nowhere to run
except back into the same underbrush, which will cut off any
possible escape route and make it a matter of time for them
to corner me. I couldn't let it happen.
Fueled by adrenaline and by ineradicable instinct to
live I ran down the path, back into the woods that brought me
here in the first place. Once in a while I would glance back
to make sure that no one was following me and eventually I
was certain that I had escaped. I slowed down to catch my
breath. Only then I realized that my lungs were burning as if
I gulped down a gallon of fire. I doubled over gasping for
air. One by one, my body parts started to let me know about
themselves. First my ankles and knees began to tingle, then
itch, and then burn in an unmistakable sensation of thousand
whip lashes. I remembered that my previous run-in with the
wild brier at the Haunted House could've given a start to it.
Then my head began pounding like an oversized water balloon,
ready to burst at the seams. I could see colors changing in
front of me while slowly morphing back into darkness. To say
I was desperate was to say the least. I didn't know what move
I should take next. A thought crossed my mind that if someone
told me that I'd be going through this nightmare a couple of
hours ago, I would laugh in their face. But here I was,
standing in the middle of the woods, bleeding and gasping for
air. I looked down to see what kind of damage I sustained,
but to my dismay I couldn't see my legs. It was that dark. My
mind was playing tricks on me too, making me believe that I
was bleeding profusely from my ankles. Then another thought.
"What time is it?" I truly couldn't tell. It felt like
the middle of the night. But how could I know? I stood up
straight and tried to look around. The silhouettes of ghostly
tree trunks were all around me. I couldn't see them but I
knew that they were there. It was so weird, I've never been
in a darkness like that, I never felt this before. I was
straining my eyes to focus on something familiar, something
that could calm me down, something that would give me a
stimulus to fight on, but all I could see was the bluish haze
of the ghastly forest around. Then came the sound, the
howling above that was scary enough to propel a grown-up into
hysterical running, but coupled with the clashing and
thumping that was coming from every direction happened to be
the most terrifying cacophony I ever heard in my life. I
didn't know what to do.
I bursted into running, feeling more whip lashes and
beating taken by my legs. I didn't care, I had to escape this
terrorizing sensation of fear, I couldn't stay where I was. I
ran and then I ran some more. This horror didn't stop, it was
all around me, I couldn't escape it. I thought to myself,
"Only my legs could carry me away now, only they could save
Over time I started to recognize more shapes in the
darkness, I could see further ahead and it calmed me down. I
stopped. My temples were throbbing, the throat was clogged
with something sticky and I tried to cough it out. I spat but
the gooey feeling didn't go away. Instead, a more burning
sensation than before took over my throat and descended all
the way down to my lungs. I couldn't stop spitting out what
seemed like giant clumps of goo. The howling had subsided and
my rational side was trying to tell me that it was probably
wind, but again in a split second rush all of my composure
was swept away -- I could recognize the shape in a distance.
The unmistakable aura of the abominable fence could leave no
other guess than the old Haunted House that lay right in
front of me. In an icy river of relived horror, an imagine of
Billy came to mind telling us, what seemed like a mere
instance ago, about the witch and her helper trolls that come
out at night to hunt for kids, then the picture of the witch
herself sprung up in mind, standing in a faint light of her
rickety porch. I saw it for a mere second but now it felt
like it was engraved in my mind and I couldn't get it out. I
looked at the house and the light on her porch was out. "She
must be gone. Witches go out at night," told me the helper
voice in my head. In a split second, I could feel something
behind me. Oh no, someone is very close, I heard the
unequivocal branch snap.
I took off running in an only logical direction for me
at the time -- away from the house, and deeper into the
woods. I knew I heard someone. Someone or something was
sneaking behind me. I was no fool. How could I forget about
the witch? Of course, she remembered about our prank at her
house and now she sent out her trolls to catch me. She must
have done it long before I recognized the trap. I looked
back. For a mere second the image of my pursuer shifted
between the tree trunks on the backdrop of the far-away gray
sky. I was about to scream, yell for help, do something to
stay alive. The image of mom calmly telling me to yell "Fire"
in case I was in trouble came flying through my mind. I kept
pushing on, fighting my way through whips of angry twigs.
Then the most horrific caricature of the troll that I once
saw in a magazine, a giant green gnarly beast with long curly
claws, dressed in Victorian suit opened up in front of me,
served obediently by my willing mind. I couldn't bear this
anymore. "Ahhhhhh!" is what came out of me instead of "Fire",
my only rational plea for help at the time. I yelled at the
top of my lungs but it sounded so quiet, so hushed to me,
something alike a squeal of an ant in a giant ant-hill of a
forest. At the same time my legs gave in and time slowed down
to a crawl. I could feel in slow-motion, how I began tumbling
down into the foliage, rolling like a wretched ball of human
I'm not exactly sure what was happening for the next few
short moments, at least I'm hoping that they were short. I
regained my senses, lying face down in what smelled like muck
and leaves. My mind was quick to bring me up-to-date to this
perilous situation, but my body didn't want to listen to it,
instead it was keeping me flat on the cold ground, face down
in this late summer compost. At first I kind of liked it,
everything around me had become quiet again, but then slowly,
my muscles started to thaw out and listen to me. I managed to
roll to my side. I was still mortified to look back at where
I came from, feeling for sure, that the ugly troll that
chased me all the way was standing at the rim of the ditch I
fell into. I couldn't bear with it. I just couldn't. I
lowered my face and buried it in the leaves. It felt so warm,
so safe to me. The uncontrollable flood of tears poured down
my face, the urge I never felt before took over my body. I
began weeping like a girl, first silently panting and
whimpering to myself, and then outright bawling like a small
child that was hurt. I didn't care about others and what
they'd say if they saw me like this, I just couldn't bear
with it any longer. I had enough!
I'm not really clear now about all the details of this
less-than-manly moment in my life, all I can tell is that the
more I cried the better I felt afterwards. That strange
process that young kids and wimpy girls engage in so often
wasn't that bad after all. I tried to shift my hand that was
getting tingly and involuntarily landed it in my shorts
pocket. "What is it?" Said the same voice inside. I quickly
pulled my hand out. It felt so different, not like anything
I'd normally have in my pockets. For a moment I forgot about
the troll, the stalking witch and the chase, and rolled over
to examine my find better. I couldn't think of anything that
felt so good, the only way to find out was to send my hand
back in again. With a great caution, I did just that and
slowly pulled it out. I smiled. I was holding a well crumpled
but still intact shape of a stuffed elephant on a key chain.
The image of Little Mikie immediately came to mind. I must
have stuck his lucky charm into my pocket when we were
pushing him over the witch's fence. I smiled again. There was
something indelibly warm and comforting about that elephant.
I brought it up to my face and twirled it around. Vince came
to mind, "What a dumb idea to carry this toy all the time?"
I rolled over to my back and looked up at the tree tops.
I could see clusters of bright stars on the cloudless sky
between them. The wind rumbled through, making them brush
against each other. My previous rational thoughts were coming
back to me. I brought up this dusty toy, still resting in my
fist. "You're not scared, are you?" I smiled. The leaves up
above and behind my silent companion were brushing against
each other, the thicker branches were striking like a bunch
of drum-sticks. It now felt so simple, so obvious. I kept
watching this aerial spectacle. How could I not guess it
I scooted up on the pile of leaves that I collected with
my mad tumble and looked around. All I could see were trees
waving on the wind that looked so peaceful, so serene. I
instantly remembered my grandpa saying, "To better navigate
through the dark, you need to shut your eyes and rely on your
other senses." Hearing was of them and I decided to try it.
To my amazement, what sounded like the most illogical idea at
the time, was the best advice ever. I could distinctly hear,
as clear as day, the rustling of the trees and clicking of
branches hitting against one another. I opened my eyed and
got up to my feet. I felt so stupid. I was still holding the
plush elephant and I looked at it again.
"Little Mikie," said the voice, startling me. He was so
brave against the odds, against so many of us. The terrible
feeling of realization sank in, "He was all alone when we
pushed him over that fence. I had his lucky charm." How could
I do this to him? I shook in disgust of what I've done. I
couldn't even begin to comprehend what was going through his
mind back then. How cruel could I be to him? He was the only
one who knew, the only one who was so genuine and open to me.
I had to change it. Suddenly the rush of warm water doused
the cold of my soul and I felt an urge of something
important, something undone ahead of me.
I looked in the direction of the town and could clearly
see the lights poking through the tree trunks on the other
side of the lake. I looked back at my past nemesis that
brought me here. It wasn't there. Instead, the army of docile
trees were the only companions I had in the dark. "How
stupid," was the comment inside. It made me smile, "No one
should ever know about this." Evidently in my mad dash across
the woods I managed to cover a good distance to be that far
and so close to the lake. I smiled again at my physical feat
of athleticism and hurried up toward town. A myriad of fresh
thoughts were channeling though my head while I was walking
through this playful forest. I couldn't believe that I was
acting like a mad man.
"What would Vince do in my shoes?" Came to mind first,
and I stopped. Somehow it felt that Vince and his opinion had
absolutely nothing to do with my life anymore. "Who cares
about him? Who cares what would Vince do? He is not here. He
is soundly asleep in his bed," sprung back at me with a force
of realization of something deeper, something I haven't
discovered before this insane moment in the woods. I mulled
it over once again. "Who cares what Vince does?" Was echoing
though my mind, and I liked it.
The morning after my escapade came at a price. Unlike my
naive beliefs, Mrs. Strauss didn't just simply wait for her
daughter to come home in the middle of the night, she called
my grandma instead and they both went out to look for us.
When I brought her home, Samantha quickly broke up under the
pressure of her parents and laid out our secret plan, that
prompted a phone call to my grandparents. After that call,
they went several times to look for me but obviously failed
to check in the least plausible place of all -- in the woods.
I, in turn, didn't tell anyone about my long way home, well,
anyone except you. I told to the rest of the folks that cuts
and bruises on my ankles and knees, that, by the way, weren't
as bad as I thought they were that night, were caused by our
fooling around at the old lady's house, which, incidentally,
was a well-known fact the morning after, carried around by a
swarm of little kids that witnessed it with us.
Of course, by morning I was grounded. It wasn't that my
dirty, torn clothes didn't agree with my grandma, or that my
decision to walk little Samantha home through the dark forest
was a bad one, or that my grandparents were upset having
spent a good deal of time driving around town in search of
me, what mattered is that I lied to them, I was carried away
by the useless pursuit of something that wasn't worth a penny
for me now. I knew it so well too, I felt it deep inside.
Still I had to ask grandma to allow me to do one last thing
before I could take my punishment, she silently agreed.
I walked outside and headed straight away from the lake.
Vince and Billy were already there and could well see me
approaching them. To their amazement I strolled right past
them. Vince hollered at me but his efforts fell on deaf ears.
I believe they tried to follow me and maybe to catch up with
me, but I didn't care. I had my goal in front of me and
that's what mattered to me most.
I walked fast through already parching morning sun on a
skillet of a dirt road for what felt like eternity, until
eventually I could see familiar bicycle heap in sight. It was
his driveway, the poor fellow must have been as sore as me
from our yesterday's misadventures to leave his bike exposed
like that. An older man came out from the side of the house
and, having seen me staring in his direction, yelled out,
"Mike is not coming out today. He did his share of running
"Yes, I know," I said quietly. The poor Mike must have
been grounded for something that wasn't even his fault.
"Wow, that's a gnarly gash," said Vince, while looking
me over from behind. I have totally forgotten about his
presence. My mood changed. I turned around to see him in the
usual act, accompanied by our stooge Billy. I didn't say a
"We heard you were grounded for yesterday. What happened
to you?" Billy was as blunt as always. I couldn't believe how
quickly news traveled in this part of the world. His
grandmother must have done her run before we actually woke up
this morning. I didn't want to deal with these clowns.
Instead, I looked away and approached Mike's bicycle. My
followers couldn't read my intentions and ran up to me in
anticipation of another prank. I pulled out a stuffed cozy
elephant from the safety of my pocket and gently laid it down
on the bike's seat. I paused and then looked at Vince and
Billy's impish faces. There was something very wrong about it
all, and I couldn't resist it anymore. I grabbed Vince by the
collar of his shirt and pulled him near, "Don't touch this
kid." I was as calm and resolute as they go.
And then, I left. I don't think anyone followed me, nor
I cared to know. That summer day, an episode of facing myself
in the most challenging of moments in the kid's life lay
ground to what has later become my journey through life.
Since then I didn't think much about it, nor that I cared to
change anything that has happened, I simply relished in
realization that something important has taken place in my
life, something major that definitely made an impression,
something that made me feel strong, not in a physical sense
but deep inside, I knew that I wasn't that person who
couldn't see the forest for the trees, I could now see it
all, I was a new person.
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