Chapter 7 - The Poor Little Rich Boy


October, 1977


It's three weeks from the night of the dream. Three weeks from the comic book that somehow escaped it to steal my sleep for the rest of that night and for many other nights to come.

Despite the magical urging of Richie Rich, I've found it impossible to go back to The Thing.

I've approached it from every possible angle, sat and stared at the mulberry bushes for hours at a time from the safety of the old, rusty swing set that still clings to our back yard. But no matter how hard I try to convince myself, no matter how I will my legs to move toward it, I can never seem to make it back through the bushes and into the Clubhouse to explore it any further.

I know it's still in there. I can see its yellow glow. I can hear its low vibration. I feel it's constant gentle pull when I feed the dog, when I rake the leaves, when I take out the trash, when I mow the lawn.

When I go to bed, it lights up my window from it's lair behind the garage, casting crazy shadows on my walls that dance along with the music beneath my pillow.

Every day I'm sure it will be discovered by someone else, and that it will finally be somebody else's problem, and I can simply go on with my life, but nobody else ever seems to notice. No one but me. It's mine, whether I like it or not.

In the morning, I can convince myself that it's all just been a dream, but when I walk out the door I can feel it floating in the distance, it's glow burrowing into my chest like a kitten curling up under the covers at night. Its claws digging deeper into my heart with each jittery beat as reality closes in on me for another long day.

The pages of Richie Rich Meets Timmy Time are nearly transparent now from the countless times I've read it in a desperate search for clues, But there's nothing there. Nothing I can find. No convenient explanation or instruction manual to follow. Just a stupid little story about a space war with green time-traveling robots and Timmy's efforts to save his human ship from certain doom and destruction.

And that one dogeared page with its warning of a "strange visitor" from 2019.

Old news except for the two additional digits on the date.

This morning, like every morning, as I make my way through the cool autumn air, I travel an extra block south before turning back eastward toward the school so as to avoid the risk of walking by Keith's house.

Keith is a constant worry. An almost welcome worry compared to that of The Thing. He seems to have long forgotten my accidental burst of racism, but I don't dare take the chance of reminding him. He's big. He's fast. And the mere thought of a fight fills me with the certainty that I would never in a million years survive the first punch.

My eyes focus on the ground as I walk, and my mind still races two blocks ahead of me.

I make my way slowly up the final hill toward school, cracking a whip I've salvaged from a weeping willow early that morning.

*snap*

The willow branch is frayed at the end, but the snap is still satisfying. It focuses my mind. But not enough.

*snap*

I hear the bird-like screeches from the elementary playground ahead and to my right, now. I hear the honks, and blasting car stereos of the high school kids to my left. I aim for the middle. To the doors in between. Too young still to fit in with the big kids, but too old to go back to the playground.

Trapped between two worlds with my whipping willow and my terrifying portal through time.

*snap*

I reach the top of the hill.

*snap*

I breathe the cool air.

*snap*

I try as hard as I can to calm myself for another day of school.

*snap*

*snap*

"Hey."

*snap*

Stop.

The whip hangs from my hand. I look around, but there's no one near me. My stomach does a slow, gurgling roll.

Is it her?

Should I run?

Maybe she'll finally tell me what's going on.

Maybe...

I turn slowly in place, dragging the willow branch around me. Drawing a circle around my feet on the dusty street below.  I stop, paralyzed by indecision, but I finally manage one word.

"Hello?"

I sound like a parrot with a box of crackers stuck in its throat. I try again.

"Hello?"

I clear my throat and brace for the response.

There's rustling in the trees above me. Something's up there. My breath catches in my chest. But before I can look - or scream, or run, or hide - a human-sized something drops from the sky like a rock and kicks up a cloud of dust as it lands mere inches from my face. My brain requests a scream, but my throat only delivers a strangled squeal as my hands fly upward and my ass lands on the ground behind me.

"Sorry."

It's a boy. Younger than me. I recognize him, but I've never spoken to him. He's wearing brand new jeans, expensive sneakers, and an old white t-shirt on which he's apparently written in black marker the word "Idiots" surrounded by a circle and pierced with a diagonal slash.

"OK," I say.

"I'm Dill."

He waits for a response.

"Oh."

"It's not short for 'Dillon.' Like Gunsmoke? It's from a book. You've probably never read it."

He waits.

"OK."

"I hate it."

"OK."

"But it's my name."

"OK."

He hesitates, then digs something from the pocket of his jeans. He offers it to me in one sweaty, dust-covered fist.

"Here," he says. And waits.

"Uh, what? What's that?" I ask. Visions of the woman and her scorched strip of newspaper make my heart skip a beat.

"It's for you," he says, and pushes it closer to my face.

"What? What is it? Why?"

He looks down for a moment, then back at me. His eyes lock with mine. They're determined. He takes a deep breath and drops a crumpled dollar bill at my feet as the school bell rings in the distance.

"I'll give you a dollar a week," he says, "if you'll be my friend,"

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