I’m nine years old. It is summer and the weather alternates between scorching hot and almost bearably hot. It never rains here in the summer. It only bakes. Dad makes us mow the grass on our two and a half acres with either the push mower, for the front yards, or the riding lawn mower, for the fields. The front lawns must always be kept short but the grass in the fields is allowed to grow a little longer before we cut it down.
The evergreens lining the fence between our field and our neighbor’s field are tall; maybe thirty feet, maybe a thousand feet. The lower branches of them offer the perfect hiding place when the grass grows tall. It is like a pocket between the bottoms of the branches with the tall, thick, grass becoming a wall against the outside world when you sit here in the cool shade.
It is perfect for hiding from chores, mom, annoying kids whose parents have come over to visit my family, and all the troubles that plague a nine year old; like figuring out whether I love or hate the girl with the blonde hair from church.
I have a bamboo floor mat that I put under the branches. I sit on it in the shade and read books that my mom lets me borrow from the library whenever I can. Sometimes, I bring a snack out while I read, a few slices of turkey bacon, some crackers, dry cereal, just something to munch on that is small enough to fit into a plastic sandwich bag.
There is a little breeze today and it feels good as I lay on my stomach on the mat and read a new book that I just borrowed yesterday. I feel a little guilty because it is a kids’ book with stories about witches and goblins. Mom and Dad would both not approve but didn’t see it when I borrowed a stack of books. I am not normally interested in books like this but somehow couldn’t resist getting it when I saw the cover. The pictures on it are both scary and charming and I can’t wait to see what is inside.
The first story is about a witch that chops up a family and eats them. The little boy is the last to be caught by the witch and when he screams in the story, I swear I can hear his voice clearly as though he were being killed next door. The witch cuts off and throws his arms into the pot she uses for cooking. I cringe and lose my appetite. I set the plastic bag of cheerios on the ground. I’m afraid and hurry through the rest of the story.
I move on to the next story which has a picture of a strange looking, black star inside a circle at the top of the first page. It is about a brother and sister who wander through a door they were not supposed to open. When they step through the door and close it behind them, the door disappears and they are inside a forest which is dark and dead, as though a fire made its way through this place not long ago. The boy loses his sister and can hear her calling for him, though her voice changes into something that sounds like his sister and an old man at the same time. He yells for her and runs around looking for traces of his sister. Her voice echoes and sounds farther away now. It slowly turns into a chuckle which grows louder and louder until it’s all he can hear in his head and then it screams. It is a long, piercing scream and it is inside his head and he will never get out of this place and he is alone. All alone. There is no one else.
I feel the breeze turn a little colder as I keep reading. A cloud moves in front of the sun and although it is a summer afternoon, I feel a little chill on the back of my neck. I glance up quickly from my book and see the tall grass waving in the wind. But, it isn’t the cheerful scene that it was earlier in the day. It looks a little lonelier now. I do not see my brothers or hear my mom calling for me. I wonder if they too walked through a door to nowhere.
I flip the page and hope that the next story will not be as scary as the first two. It’s got to be a happier one or at least one that kids are supposed to read.
A man drives his truck slowly down the road. It is the type of truck you see in small towns. It is a brown Chevy with a white camper shell covering the truck bed. As it rolls down the road, a small cloud of dust follows it, rising from the ground and the truck tires. Children playing in their yards stop to stare at him. He smiles at them. His black hair is slicked back and he wears dark sun glasses and a black scarf around his neck. He stops once in a while in front of houses and talks with them. They always walk right up to his truck when he calls them over. Sometimes he points at one or two of them and they climb obediently into the truck bed, closing the camper shell door behind them.
I am at the bottom of the first page of the story of the man in the brown truck and I do not want to turn the page. I’m afraid for the children. There are two lines of writing in pencil at the bottom of the page and I cannot read it. It looks like a foreign language except that there are symbols mixed in with the letters. Somehow, the symbols and letters grow blacker as though instead of a pencil, a permanent marker was used to write these strange lines. My hands are gripping the book tightly and I have to tell myself to let go of it so I can wipe the sweat off of my forehead. The cloud that blocked out the sun earlier has been joined by other gray clouds. This is unusual, crazy, because it was hot outside and now it is cool and this is Redding, California, and summers are never cool here. I think I hear something behind me but I do not turn around. Instead, I pick up the book again and turn the page.
The truck drives away from the neighborhood. It drives up a narrow, dirt road many miles from the place where the children live. The children are in the back of the truck. They are huddled together and frightened but do not say anything. They must obey the man or he will hurt them and then hurt their families. The brown Chevy with the white camper shell stops in front of a small house which looks as though no one lives there. The man opens the camper shell and wiggles his finger at the children. One by one, they climb down and stand in the dirt, looking at him. He looks each of them up and down, one by one and smiles. He says nothing but they know he wants them to go into the house and they do not want to go. It will hurt. They will hurt. They do not look at each other. He leads the way and opens the door. It creaks and they feel something on their backs, gently them pushing into the dark house.
After the last child has entered the house, the man stands at the door, moves his head to look around the yard, and takes off his sun glasses before turning to go in. His eyes are not there. His eye sockets are empty.
As I look at the page in the book, I hear rustling behind me and a whisper. It’s grown harder to read because the sky has grown darker. I have barely noticed because I have been in the story. I hear the whisper again and I am afraid to move; afraid to put the book down. I am frozen in place.
A shadow falls next to me and I am up. I feel something grab the back of my t-shirt but I jump and run faster than I have ever run. I run across the field and vaguely hear thunder. The wind has picked up but I barely notice it. I vault the fence between our field and the front yards. No nine year old has ever run like I am running. A rain drop hits my face and bursts. I barely feel it because I am almost at the door of our house. I open the door and slam it behind me. My mom yells at me from the kitchen to close the door quietly and I feel relief. It’s raining now and the book is outside. It is under the branches of the hiding place that I will hardly ever use again. It is raining and that is crazy because this is Redding, California and it is always hot in the summer here and it never rains.