Copyright (C) 2009-2024                       Short Story
dennisbabkin.com/mylongwayhome             About 19,600 Words



























                      MY LONG WAY HOME

                            by

                      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

rules again.


     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.











































                         Chapter Two


     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

here?" 


     "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

continue on.




                             #


     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

his mojo. 


     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

impressed. 


     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

laughter. 


     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

learn himself. 


     "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?"


     "Awesome!" 


     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

added. 


     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

conclusion. 




                             #


     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

personality. 


     "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

grâce. 


     "Why don't you bring it?" Vince was quick to throw back

at him. 


     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

say anything. 


     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,

what?" 


     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

chuckle. 


     "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

around. 


     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

on it. 


     "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.











































                        Chapter Three


     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

seemingly endless. 


     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

the horizon. 


     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

her dog. 


     "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

serious. 


     "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

victorious posture. 


     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

undergrowth. 


     "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

this? 


     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

find her. 


     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

happened. 


     "Did you see us at the old house?" I was probing my

luck. 


     "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

refuse.











































                        Chapter Four


     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

shortest route. 


     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

remembered something. 


     "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

set." 


     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." 


     "Why?" 


     "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

again." 


     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

behind us. 


     "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

shape inside. 


     "Thanks for the walk," she said while running back to

her door. 


     "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

now. 


     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

me." 


     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

flesh. 


     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

before? 


     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

yesterday." 


     "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

thing. 


     "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.





                           THE END










[top]

Copyright (C) 2006-2024 by dennisbabkin.com