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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1218887-The-Boy-the-Book-and-the-Bridge-Ch-1
Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Horror/Scary · #1218887
Sometimes getting what you want is exactly what you don't want
The Boy, the Book, and the Bridge

By

Winged man
storyteller


Chapter 1


Russell Dean, twelve, propped his thin elbows on the small kitchen table and felt the sweat trickle down his back in little streams under his grimy pullover shirt. He tried to eat, but the canned ravioli did not appeal to him. It was too hot and Russell would rather not eat at all. After living in this cramped aluminum trailer for four years he knew that on a breezeless day like this, trying to get cool inside was impossible. Rain hadn't fallen for several months and the humidity was unbearable. School had only been out a few days and already summer loomed before him like a huge hole, a vast hot emptiness with nothing to do and no money to spend on the things he wanted.

Russell wished that he was back under the bridge, his favorite place in the world. The bridge, an old, old single-lane wooden structure spanning a ravine through which a railroad track ran, was a place of isolation and shadows and always a few degrees cooler. Nor had he ever seen any other kid near the bridge, except the time Jimmy Hubbs went with him. Jimmy hated the place, which pleased Russell who didn’t want to share it with him anyway. By choice, Russell spent many hours alone under the bridge. As dictator, he alone decided if an insect deserved to live or die in a spider web and answered to no one else. Here, at home, all he seemed to do was wait for his mother, either she was getting ready for work or she was asleep. There was nothing else to do except watch TV, but she complained that he watched it too much and wanted him to read a book once in a while. Russell wasn't interested in reading; he did enough in school.

What Russell wanted most was to move out of this tiny, worn-out trailer in Hubbs Trailer Park. He wished that he was rich enough to buy anything he wanted, then he wouldn't have to worry about good grades or listen to the other kids call him trailer trash.

Then he remembered his "magic", the chants. He hadn't been using them and they wouldn't work unless they were used properly. A classmate had mentioned that stepping on cracks in the sidewalk could cause him to fail a test. Though he really didn’t believe at the time, Russell avoided the cracks. He got an unexpectedly high score on the test and right then knew that he had stumbled onto the fact that there was a key to begin to make things go his way.

"A million dollars," he whispered, keeping the words in a group of three. "A million dollars. A million dollars."

The chant was designed to let Russell move away from Hubbs Trailer Court and have all the things he ever wanted. A million dollars might be beyond his imagining, but it would be enough for him to do only what he felt like doing. Getting a million dollars wouldn’t be impossible; his Aunt Hilda was supposed to have that much money. Russell didn’t remember Aunt Hilda or know how much money she really had because his mother refused to visit her at the nursing home. Mom hated Aunt Hilda so much that she wouldn’t even talk about her. Aunt Hilda was evil is all she would say.

Except his magic didn’t always work. When that happened, Russell assumed he had touched something the wrong way or spoke a forbidden word he didn’t know about. He could find no book on the subject in the school’s library to guide him, so he made up incantations. During school he kept to them religiously, especially before tests, but felt no piousness or sense of God in his feeble sorcery. He simply wanted to appease an unseen, unnamed force and coerce it into granting him his desires.

When he had finished the chant, and felt that the "magic" had worked, Russell opened his eyes and wiped the sweat from his forehead onto his shirt. He would not give up. He had stopped using chants at all since school ended and maybe that was the problem. Russell made a mental note to do things in four’s, his luckiest number. If that failed he would keep trying until he found the right combination, and he had lots of time to find it. But that would all change when he found the right spell.

The noises his mother made while dressing for work in her back bedroom passed easily through the thin walls of the trailer. Russell didn’t like it when she worked the overnight shift, though it meant a slight increase in her pay. Being alone when he went to sleep worried him. For protection against the monsters that roamed at night, he left all the lights on.

The door at the far end of the narrow hall opened and her small shadow moved toward him. Russell hurriedly divided cold ravioli into four parts and popped one section into his mouth. He chewed exactly four times and took exactly four quick sips of the warm milk to wash it down. Then he quickly stabbed another section.

Irene Dean, brushing lint from her skirt, entered the small kitchen. She stopped to check her appearance in the full-length mirror on the broom closet door and noticed Russell’s antics. She hoped that he wasn’t going to start acting in that crazy way again, speaking in phrases of just a few words, or touching objects three or fours times, like some obsessive-compulsive person. What was he trying to make happen this time? He seemed so full of superstitious nonsense that he reminded her of … Aunt Hilda. Irene worried about that, worried that her own son could grow up to be interested in the occult, talking to the dead and worshiping evil.

After four raviolis, Russell felt ready to try the magic. He asked the perpetual four word question; “Can we move, Ma?"

Irene stopped adjusting herself and sighed. The same tired old question that he knew the answer to as well as she did. Like his father, Russell refused to accept certain situations, or even try to understand why things were the way they were. Steven Dean had never been able to understand how his alcoholism affected his family or why his paycheck couldn’t feed his habit and them at the same time. Steven hadn’t shared dreams of owning their own house and a new car. He had been satisfied with any roof over their head and could ignore the cockroaches crawling on the unpainted walls; all he wanted was a tavern on the corner. Irene had once thought that he would change. After nine stormy years, she had realized the futility of the effort. Then Steven had gotten himself killed in an auto accident one rainy night. In the four years since his death, she still felt relief more that sorrow, but her circumstances hadn’t changed for the better. This trailer was undoubtedly the oldest and smallest among the thirty shabby trailers at Hubbs Trailer Park, but for $350 per month plus utilities, it was all she could afford, even with the new job as cashier at the all-night food store.

"Some day," she smiled.

"When will that be?"

"Not today," she wanted to move as much as he did, but had to be realistic – and so did he. "Like I always tell you, we will move as soon as we can afford to."

Russell hated every minute of the last four years of living here and the anger spilled out. "But you make more money now!"

"Not that much more."

"I hate it here! Know what the kids at school call this place? Cockroach Court!"

"Don’t start, Russell. It’s the best we can do. It’s better than nothing, isn’t it?"

"No."

"I can’t understand it. I’m doing the best I can, but you don’t seem to want to help at all. It isn’t as though you have nothing. Jimmy Hubbs is your friend isn’t he? Doesn’t he let you play with his toys? See, it isn’t as bad as you make it out to be."

"Jimmy is fat and stupid. And he doesn’t let me play with ALL his toys. Just the ones he doesn’t care about." Russell tossed his fork so it clanged loudly as it landed on the table. Didn’t she know that they played together only because they were shunned by all the other kids? Jimmy carried the stigma of the trailer court, too, because his parents owned it, though the Hubbs lived in the big house along the northern boundary.

"Won’t you ever let up?"

"Not until we move," he told her.

"What about …," she stopped. He wouldn’t listen anyway. "I’ve got to go now or I’ll be late for work."

Russell studied her as she took her purse from the chair opposite him. Her color was pale for her pure Italian heritage and her face was thin. Her brown eyes, set deep and darkly circled, always looked sad. He felt sorry for starting another argument about moving, but he wouldn’t say that to her. Besides, how would he know if the magic were working if he didn’t ask? And he wanted to move away from here so badly that he would do anything. Anything.

"Be good while I’m gone, Russy."

"Yeah. Sure."

"And don’t leave all the lights on when you go to bed, okay? We can’t afford another high electric bill this month. Just leave the one above the sink on. That should be enough light so that you won’t be afraid."

"If you say so," he told her, but he knew one small bulb wasn’t enough to light to keep away the monsters that roamed the world after dark.

Irene rummaged through her wallet and brought out a crumpled dollar bill. "For you. No special reason."

He accepted it without the least tingle of anticipation, even though Proctor’s Store was selling Snickers Bars at three for ninety cents. This was a bribe, a soothing of the hurt feeling to come; she was lousy to live with on the overnight shift.

"Thanks," he muttered.

Irene patted his arm and pushed open the wooden screen door.

Russell stayed at the table, listening to the battered red Nova grind itself to life. Then it backed out into the hard, dry gravel lane. The heat inside suddenly grew stifling, so he took the key from the nail on the door jam and draped it around his neck. The candy bars would do for tonight. He flipped the lock and stepped out, trying the handle before he shut the outer door.

In the distance a train whistle blew. The 8 o’clock freight was leaving Joliet, going south to somewhere far away. In a few minutes it would pass under the wooden bridge half a mile west. Russell pondered hustling down there to watch it rumble past.

The bridge was his retreat from this world. He loved to stand between the thick old square-cut support beams close to the tracks. There he could physically feel the power of the train, especially if he closed his eyes and allowed the rumble of the engine to course through his body as it passed. If Russell could have just one wish granted it would be to hop aboard one of those trains and never come back.

That thought made him smile as he walked toward Proctor’s Store, a half mile south of the trailer park, so he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around him. He hadn’t been aware and walked into trouble; Clyde Perkins loomed a mere five feet away, leaning against the telephone pole next Able White’s trailer. Russell knew that he had been caught, trapped like a careless fly in a spider’s web. He tightened his grip on the dollar in his hand.

Clyde Perkins was the bully of Hubbs Trailer Park and had, at fifteen, finally graduated from grade school. He stood 5’ 8” tall, but his true size came from his weight. His faded, threadbare jeans hung low on his hips, allowing his belly to flow over his belt, so his large navel was always showing. Clyde, called Jerky Perky behind his back, wore the mantle of bully arrogantly. He smoked cigarettes stolen from his parents and drank beer from the quart bottles after his father passed out. Clyde thought himself a predator, a hungry lion among sheep. The image of a cold, ruthless creature appealed greatly to him.

He didn’t have to hunt tonight; the Runt, staring at the road and muttering to himself like an idiot, had nearly walked into him – with what looked like money in his tiny paw.

"Where’re ya goin’, Runt?" Clyde asked, leaning over to look at the unhidden corner of the money.

Russell thrust his hand into his pocket. "Proctor’s. Gotta get some stuff for my ma."

"Sheeeit!" Clyde barked, unfolding his pudgy arms and stepping forward. "Yer old lady WORKS at a food store."

Russell’s leg muscles weakened.

"Tell ya what," Clyde continued, “We’ll go buy me a pack of smokes and I’ll be nice and give ya a couple."

"Don’t smoke." Russell said, edging backwards. He glanced around hoping to see an adult somewhere who might help him, but these people didn’t get involved. He began trembling and wished that he could change himself into an invincible creature, and then he could smash Jerky Perky into a bloody, broken pulp like on TV. Russell knew that strength was the only thing that Perky understood. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any strength. Then he remembered his magic. He should have been doing things in fours, but he’s forgotten. The candy bars were THREE, not FOUR, on sale, and that alone could break the spell.

"Gimme!" Clyde growled, waggling his fingers.

"N … no," Russell said, trying to think of things to do in fours to start the magic working again.

"I’ll pound yer ass into the ground, Runt. Make it easy on yerself."

"Leave me alone!" Russell was almost crying.

Seeing the fear, Clyde grabbed Russell’s shirt and shook him. "Gimme the money."

Russell realized that all was lost unless he could land an extremely lucky punch. His magic had to work, just this one time, so he blindly summoned all his strength for one magically powerful blow. It glanced ineffectively off Clyde’s shoulder and suddenly darkness engulfed him. He witnessed a dusk sprinkled liberally with glistening, drifting fire balloons of brilliant color. He felt the bite of gravel into his back. Then something large and grasping plunged into his front pocket and he heard footsteps moving quickly away.

Russell sat up slowly, numb everywhere at first. Slowly pain penetrated the barrier of shock and the area above his left ear began throbbing. He wasn’t crying, though he knew he could at any moment, and managed to get to his feet.

Abel White, 66 years old, bald, short and rail-thin, stepped around the front of his trailer, grinning. He’d seen what happened through his kitchen window. Life was survival of the strongest and cleverest and the Dean kid wouldn’t last long, in his opinion. No strength and no cunning equaled victim. The Runt should have surrendered the money and saved himself as ass-kicking.

White rocked back on the heels of his worn slippers, willing to give comfort only if it would help him bed the Runt’s skinny little mother. He hadn’t seen her with a man in the four years they’d lived here and he figured that she must have been getting horny by now. Yet, she snubbed him openly every time he tried to start a conversation in the wash house or mailroom. Even the usual women in Abel’s life were becoming a problem lately; they were charging him more for their services.

"What’cha look’n at?" Russell hated the old man and didn’t want him laughing about this.

"I seen what happened and I came to pull you outta the road so cars could get by."

"You saw what Jerky Perky did?"

"Yep. From my kitchen window." Abel said pointing his thumb toward the small window above them. "And, Runt, you ain’t got no punch. None a’ tall."

"You, … why didn’t you try to stop him?"

"Ain’t no skin off my ass he took yer money. I just come out to see if you was gonna lay there in the road till some car came by and run over ya."

"Screw you White!"

"Screw yer ma is what I’d like to do," White grinned.

Russell backed away and gave him the finger. "Screw yerself with this, ya old geek."

"Keep it up," White said, not moving. "And I’ll smack the other side of yer head."

Russell spun and stumbled toward his trailer. Then he remembered that no one was there to help and the tears flowed. Crying quietly, he walked past his empty trailer, wondering if Jimmy would help – if Jimmy’s mother would let him help.

"Hey, little boy," an unfamiliar voice called. "Hey, kid."

Russell kept going.

"I saw what happened. Come here and let me help you."

Russell slowed his pace as he heard her approaching, but he kept his head down and covered his face with his left hand. He didn’t want a stranger to see him crying.

"Let me see how bad it is," a soft voice asked.

A small hand gripped his shoulder, but Russell twisted away, muttering, “I’m okay."

"I bet you are. You seem pretty tough, but I want to look anyway," she stepped in front of him, blocking his path.

"No. Go away. You don’t care. Nobody here cares."

"Would I be standing here if I didn’t care?"

"Maybe you just came out to laugh, like old man White."

"I came out to help, but you won’t let me …," Her voice and tone were gentle and comforting. The grip on his shoulder was light, but firm. About her drifted the sweet scent of perfume.

"I don’t even know you." The words came out unevenly.

"My name is Brenda Jones. I just moved in. C’mon inside my trailer and I’ll take a look at the damage."

People constantly moved in and out of Hubbs Trailer Park, so Russell continually lived among strangers. This girl was the first to offer to help him. He looked up for the first time into eyes the same level as his. He guessed her to be about seventeen. She had short, very straight brown hair, dark brown eyes set in a plain, freckled face. Her young body was well formed.

"Who is that big kid?" she asked.

"His name is Clyde Perkins. We call him Jerky Perky. But not to his face."

"Is that why he hit you, because you called him that name?'

"No. He wanted my money for cigarettes, but I wouldn’t give it to him, so he beat me up and stole it."

Her hand went under his chin and turned his head. "How bad does it hurt?"

"Not too much," Russell said bravely. He felt almost under control, the tears had stopped and allowed himself to be led away.

As they stepped onto the large, cracked slab on which Brenda’s trailer was parked, Russell noticed an old rusted brown Ford station wagon in the short, gravel driveway. The cargo area overflowed with cardboard boxes and clothing.

"My Astrograph said that I would meet a new friend today," Brenda said, “So I guess that must be you."

"What said that?"

"An Astrograph. It’s a horoscope. Don’t you read your forecast in the newspaper?"

"No. Just the comics."

“I read those, too," Brenda tugged the screen door open. "But I like to know what the future is going to be. Don’t you?"

"I didn’t know that I could."

Except for scattered empty cardboard boxes, the trailer was neat and clean. A full-length mirror was attached to their broom closet, too, and he turned to study his reflection. He expected a swollen face with a huge purple bruise covering the left side as a badge of his bravery against the might of Jerky Perky. Nothing so dramatic was evident, not even a hint of a black eye was visible. He had only a red mark that was mostly covered by his hair. Over his shoulder he noticed Brenda running water over a cloth in the sink.

"Sit there," she indicated a chair beside a small wooden table. As he sat, she wiped away the smeared dirt on his face, and then held the cool cloth to the side of his head. After a minute she asked, “Feeling better?"

"Not yet," he told her, gladly accepting this attention and not wanting it to stop.

"It will in a few seconds." She refolded the cloth and replaced it on his face. "If you had read your forecast you might have avoided this injury."

"How?"

"Simple. When it’s bad, just don’t do what it says."

"But if it’s supposed to tell you what’s gonna happen, but you don’t do ….”

"It sounds confusing," Brenda said softly, “but it really is simple. When the Astrograph says that good things are going to happen, you let them. But you try to avoid the bad things. Or do something to change them. See, the stars don’t compel, they impel."

"Huh?"

"That means that the stars can’t control everything. Just the important stuff. The important things are left to you." She took the cloth away. "When were you born?"

"Halloween," he told her proudly.

"That makes you a Scorpio."

"A scorpion?"

"That’s the symbol; a scorpion. A Scorpio is … private. And perceptive. Likes monster shows and Halloween. They’re pretty smart, too."

"Oh, yeah," Russell said. Brenda seemed to know what she was talking about, because it sounded like him, all right. Especially the part about monster shows and Halloween, which was his favorite time of the year and not just because of his birthday. He liked to dress up really scary and collect candy from the big shots in Preston Hills, the subdivision across the old highway.

Russell leaned forward waiting for her to press the cool cloth against his face. His mother seldom treated any of his injuries this attentively.

"Try to find a copy of yesterday’s paper and read the forecast for a Scorpio. You’ll probably find it says something about trouble coming or something like that."

"In yesterday’s paper?"

"Yep. The forecasts come out one day early. That way you can know what to expect and can plan how to change things." Brenda went to the sink and ran more cold water on the cloth, and then she handed it to him. "Here. You hold it until you feel better. I’ve got to finish as much as I can before Mom gets back."

He held the cloth loosely against his temple, disappointed. He watched as she put canned goods in the lower cabinets. When she stooped, part of her pink panties peeked from beneath the line of her shorts, giving him a sudden tingle of excitement.

"How old are you?" he asked.

"Sixteen. How about you?"

"Thirteen," he lied. He wouldn’t be a teenager for four months, but twelve sounded like a baby’s age to him.

Brenda smiled at him. "You are my first friend here and first friends are always the best. Want some pop?"

"Sure." A can of pop was a treat he seldom got at home. Irene made and drank iced tea by the gallon, but expected him to drink milk or water.

Brenda opened the refrigerator door. "Can you drink a whole can?"

"Easy."

She pulled the tab and handed the fizzing can to him.

"Ain’t you gonna have one?"

"No, I have one already today. I have to be careful about my complexion. Too much pop makes me break out."

"I cold drink a whole six-pack. My mom don’t get nothin’ like this at the store. She says pop ain’t good for me. She buys big boxes of tea bags. She drinks a whole ocean of iced tea every day, by herself."

"Listen," Brenda said, “when Mom gets back, we’re going to get something to eat, and so, I’m afraid you’ll have to leave in a few minutes. Okay?"

"Sure," Russell said. "Say we got a whole can of ravioli’s at home. I could bring it here if you don’t wanna go out."

"Thanks, but we’ve got to get rid of a load of empty boxes anyway." She said, picking up a few more cans and returning to the cabinet.

"Where ya from, Brenda?"

"I was born in Portage, Indiana. We lived there until my real dad died."

"My Dad’s dead, too. Got killed in a car crash four years ago."

"Really? That’s when my real dad died, too," she said. "He was real nice. So much better than the other guy my Mom married. My real dad had a good job and made lots of money. This last guy, Arthur, could keep a job. He thought he was gonna be a big-time writer or something, so he wouldn’t get a job. He said that working full-time would interfere with his creativity. But he never sold any of the stuff he wrote. Mom had to go to work to pay the bills. Anyway he stole what was left of our money and ran off with some stupid girl hardly older than me. Mom came here to visit her cousin and managed to get a pretty good job as a waitress down town. That’s how I got here today. How about you?"

"About the same thing, except that my dad didn’t leave us no money. He just drank beer all the time."

"Sorry to hear that."

"It’s okay," Russell said, watching her bend over and getting another peek at her panties. He also noticed that, though she smiled, she kept glancing out the window. He wondered what she was looking for, and then it dawned on him. She wanted him to go, but was too polite to tell him to leave.

He stood and handed her the cloth. "Here. I gotta be going now."

"Okay," Brenda said, smiling again. "My Mom … well, she’s kinda suspicious of strangers and we’re new here. She’d like you just fine though."

"My mom’s like that, too," Russell sat the can on the table. "I’ll see ya some other time."

"Take it with you or it’ll just go to waste."

"Thanks," Russell picked up the can. He liked Brenda and really didn’t want to go, but he did.

Later, Russell sat under the small apple orchard in Jimmy Hubbs’ large back yard gazing up through the latticework of branches at the stars. Jimmy stood beside him, snapping twigs off the lowest branches.

"I wish I could fly there. Right to that one.” Russell said, pointing. "I wish I could go instantly to anywhere I look. Wouldn’t that be great?"

"Sure would," Jimmy muttered. He is a soft and pudgy kid with brown hair closely cropped because he doesn’t like to bother with grooming. Black-framed glasses with thick lenses perch on his small nose. Russell thinks that he looks like a baby pig. Like Russell he is an only child. Unlike Russell, he gets whatever he wants.

Russell scanned the dark sky quickly, hoping to spot a shooting star. He remembered Aunt Hilda telling him a long time ago that wishes made on shooting starts always came true. But he saw no flash, so no wish would be granted. "Wanna go to my trailer and watch TV?"

"Nope," Jimmy said, “If I wanted to watch TV I’d go in my room and watch my big color set. Why would I want to go to your place where it’s hot and you only got that small one." He wondered how stupid Russell thought him to be; besides he didn’t want Jerky Perky catching him tonight. Perky hated him more than anyone else, he knew, because his parents owned the trailer court. During the last two weeks of school, Jerky Perky had bullied and tormented him to tears every day. No, he would stay here in his own back yard, safe.

"Got any more ice?" Russell stood up.

"Do you really need it? Ma says it’s too hot to be wasting them."

"Well … it still hurts. And it feels swollen. But I guess I’ll be okay." A single clear plastic sandwich bag with 4 or 5 ice cubes had been all Helen Hubbs allowed Jimmy to contribute as care for the injury. They had melted quickly in the heat.

"Do you want to do something special tomorrow, Russ?" Jimmy asked, feeling a slight compassion toward Russell.

Russell thought for a moment. He wanted to do something that would give him the feeling of power. "Let’s go shooting pigeons at the quarry with yer new B-B gun."

Jimmy hated that. He hated the thought of killing a bird, even one as stupid as a pigeon. Most of all he hated the thought of the long walk to get to the stone quarry and back in the heat. Russell never hit anything anyway; he just pretended to be a great hunter or something. They could just set up a target in this big yard, and then he could go in for a can of pop when he got thirsty. But he had asked. "Well, I guess, but we gotta go first thing in the morning. Before it gets too hot."

"Agreed."

"Jimmy!" Helen Hubbs’ voice pierced the night air.

"Guess I gotta go in now."

"I gotta go home, too," Russell said sadly. He didn’t want to return to the emptiness of the hot trailer, but knew he wouldn’t get invited into Jimmy’s air-conditioned house. Helen Hubbs seldom allowed him to come inside; she didn’t like the people who rented her trailers.

"James Edward! Are you in the back yard?"

"Yes, Mommy! Me’n Russell are making plans for tomorrow."

I hope Jimmy doesn’t want to bring him in here, Helen thought, puzzled that nobody else wanted to play with her fine son. She encouraged Jimmy to make friends with some boys in Preston Hills, but it never worked out. She couldn’t understand why, they had as much money as anyone in those tract houses. Owning the trailer court shouldn’t stigmatize Jimmy, after all, they didn’t live in it. Her husband had blown their wedding money on a bad bargain. His get-rich-quick scheme for the property had almost made them poor. Last year her father had died and left her a considerable inheritance that Walter couldn’t touch. If he didn’t sell the place – or give it away – she and Jimmy would leave and move into a fancy house on the West Side of town. Walter could spend the rest of his life here, alone.

"You have to come in right now, Jimmy! Say goodbye to him," she shouted through the screen. Another long summer of that raggedy Dean kid hanging around made her wince.

"Gotta go in right now. See ya in the morning."

"Sure," Russell answered and walked away.

The lights were on in Brenda’s trailer and he heard the murmur of voices and stopped to listen. Russell knew it would be comfortable and friendly beyond the drawn curtains, but only stifling heat and emptiness awaited him. If he had a good excuse, maybe they’d let him come in for a while, but he couldn’t think of anything convincing. They had unpacking to do and he would just be in the way.

Suddenly, the door opened and Brenda stepped out. Russell was caught in the light.

"Oh! Hi," Brenda said, holding a plump plastic garbage bag. "You startled me."

"I was just on my way home," he gestured toward his trailer.

"How are you doing now? Still hurting?" she lifted the lid on the battered, galvanized can the Hubbs furnished.

"A little bit." he lied; he hadn’t felt any pain until she mentioned it, but he wanted her to think otherwise. Maybe she would invite him inside.

"My mom said that you need protection."

"How?"

"An amulet to wear."

"What’s an amulet?"

"It gives you protection against bad things happening to you. So that fat bully won’t pick on you anymore. She’ll make one for you if I ask her to. Want one?"

"Sure," he said, stepping toward her, hoping this was an invitation to follow her inside.

"Fine. I’ll ask her to get started as soon as possible," Brenda returned to the door. "Bye. I’ll probably see you tomorrow."

"Sure. See ya around." As he moved on, he wondered what an amulet really was. Like a suit of armor, he hoped. He would need protection that size against Jerky Perky.

Before going in, he checked the sky again for a shooting star. After the news went off, he watched an old Errol Flynn movie about Custer. He left all the lights on when he went to bed and dreamed of shooting Indians.

If you want to know what happens next, I invite you to my port to read the rest of the novel

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