The fearful six-year-old trembled as he looked down the alley's long, spooky corridor.
|The sun was going down and darkness was falling fast. The fearful six-year-old trembled as he looked down the alley’s long, spooky corridor because it was common knowledge that haints and dead people wandered in the alley after dark; at least that's what the big kids said.
Tall privet hedges bordered the alley, unkempt and strangled with wild honeysuckle whose tentacles created a canopy of leafy fingers above the corridor. The little boy imagined that those fingers were reaching down, ghost-like, to gather him up.
The floor of the narrow alley was covered with cinder ash from the neighborhood's coal-burning furnaces and seemed to snake ahead endlessly toward the dim, distant streetlight on 5th Avenue.
This was to be his test. He would walk the entire length of the alley in the dark...alone. He was going to show the older kids that he weren’t no sissy. They always teased him because he'd never walk down the alley at night. He’d tried to do it several times before, but would always lose his nerve and come running back like a scared rabbit.
But it was going to be different this time. This time, he had a secret weapon.
His homework for Sunday school was to memorize and be prepared to recite the 23rd Psalm. While tediously working his way through the verse, he was particularly impressed by the part that said, "Yea, though I walk through the alley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil." In his heart, he knew that the verse was a reference to the alley behind his apartment.
Pulling his little shoulders back, he set off into the gathering gloom, slowly, hesitantly and terrified. His feet made a crunch, crunch sound on the larger chunks of cinder ash as he muttered under his breath, "I shall fear no evil," crunch, crunch, "For thou art with me." Depending upon the verse to protect him, he tried not to think about the dead bodies which lurked in the alley after nightfall.
As he approached the canopy, there was a rustling sound deep within the privet; then, a moan. He continued walking. By this time he was halfway down the alley, farther than he had ever gone at night.
It was ink black. He brought his hand to his face and tried to see it, but he couldn't. What he did see were fleeting white flashes at the periphery of his vision. He mumbled, “Probably ‘em haints.”
Fear was slowly turning into panic and he was sorely tempted to turn around and high-tail it back to the safety of the apartment. But he had come this far...
There was more rustling in the hedges, louder this time. Suddenly, a shrill scream pierced the night. Actually it was two shrill screams: the tomcat's and his own.
As the aroused feline chased his girlfriend into the distance, the boy began rapid-fire stuttering, "The Lord is my shep shep shep hard....Yea yea yea though I wwwwalk through the alley...."
Then, he thought he could hear car noises. Now running, he stumbled from beneath the canopy to see the joyous sight of headlights. He'd made it to the end of the alley!
Sunday came and it was time for him to recite the full Psalm to his Sunday school class. Sunday school at Woodlawn Presbyterian Church was no social event; it was serious business.
When it was his turn to recite, he took a deep breath and began, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, he maketh me … he leads me.... Yea, though I walk through the alley of the shadow of death..." At this point, the other kids giggled.
A frowning and bifocaled Mrs. Steinbauer said, "Now Dickie, that's not exactly correct," "It's the 'valley' of the shadow; not the 'alley' of the shadow. Now begin again."
With crimson cheeks, he stuttered, "Teacher, if I would’ve knowed that yesterday, I’d never of gone through what I gone through last night."