What the Old Man Did 2

March 17, 2012

I saw no one that morning. K was not beside me and the three kids who lived in the boathouse were gone. At first I was not alarmed. After all, this kind of thing had happened before. Sleep late and miss out on breakfast. I put the sleeping bag away. It was time to make a trip to town for another one. Winter was only a few months away and the fallen leaves covered the old cracked asphalt of the midway. As I walked toward our current food hangout I didn’t hear the usual banter of the other inhabitants of our “park.”

I figured they had decided to move. There were still many untouched food caches around. K thought there was enough food here to last us for another ten years. Of course the more perishable stuff was long gone. Even before we came here, most of that had either spoiled or been eaten by scavenging animals or other humans. I walked to two other spots but found nothing. I started calling for K, not too loudly at first, but finally yelling at the top of my lungs for a minute or so. Nothing.

I had the nervous feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when suddenly things seem off-kilter. Something was wrong. This had never happened before. I began to run through the park, looking for any signs that either the group had been there or perhaps . . . something else. I didn’t want to think about that. After an hour of running, I finally sat down near the ferris wheel. Dirt and leaves were thick on the old weathered seats. I saw no one. In my head, I felt alternate bouts of fear, depression, self loathing and fear again. Back of it all was a deeper dread. Had it come?

Unbidden, thoughts of long-ago times floated up from the anesthesia of forgetfulness.

“Gary! ! I want you down here now!” I heard my mother’s voice from the basement.
Sirens were blaring downtown. I grabbed my six-shooter and fled down the two flights of stairs to the basement.
“Gary, hurry! Help me with the door!”
I grasped the large bar on the steel sliding door and pulled. It started to slid shut. Over the last foot of its trajectory I saw my mother was still on the outside, making no move to cross the threshold. I frantically looked at her face and saw it. Her eyes. The whiteness there. The same as dad’s army buddy two months ago when he came to visit us and tell us how dad died. She smiled at me as the door slammed home, the interior lights of the shelter automatically coming on. I screamed her name but she had already turned her back and was slowly, methodically, climbing the stairs to the main floor of the house.

I had fallen asleep on the bench. It was nearly dark. I got up and hurried back to the water ride where K and I had lived. Past tense. The same feelings that rushed through me when my mother had walked away that day returned in force. Already a plan formed. I would wait a few days, but not out in the open. Maybe up in the artificial jungle trees. See if they came back. See if they came back like Mr. Johnson did.

Mr. Johnson. Four days after my mother left, our neighbor Mr. Johnson came down the basement steps. Slowly. Almost like some kind of robot. The lights were off and I could not see him well. But he gradually made his way over to the steel door. I saw his face. I shrank from the memory.

That’s stupid, I thought. Quit worrying about that. It was over long ago.

A week after Mr. Johnson’s appearance, the door automatically unlocked and slid open, waking me from the sleep of utter boredom and loneliness. At first I didn’t dare exit the little safe-room. But all was silent and deep shade. I slowly stuck my head out, looking around to see if something was there.

I’ve never liked basements, ever since my parents had moved me and my two brothers to the small house in the cul-du-sac. The basement had tiny windows. It was the only place available for us to sleep. My brothers left after a few years, they were my mother’s sons, not my fathers and they were more than 10 years my senior. So I was alone in that canyon of darkness at night. I used to wake up at 2 or 3 am, covers kicked off, in the pitch black. Fearful fantasies made me awkward in reaching for the bedside lamp.

Mr. Johnson was lying on the floor near the water heater. His face and eyes were sunken. I whispered his name. “Mr. Johnson.” I’d never seen a dead person before except at a funeral. This looked nothing like that. Just then there was a noise upstairs. Instinctively (does a ten-year-old have instincts?) I called out, “Mom?” The noise stopped. Then it slowly moved toward the basement door. For some reason I abruptly felt frightened. I turned and entered my prison and pressed the button marked close.

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