The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
The old man lived in a house by the water near the Sound on a property adjacent to my middle school. His neighbors called him a recluse. Some said he was mad, others said he was disfigured. The kids at my school said he was a vampire.
When I asked my father about the old man, all he said was that the man must be in his late-eighties or early-nineties. This, my father said, was all he knew about the old man. The old man was a mystery. He’d become the subject of many spooky stories at the middle school; urban legends, rumors, whispered by students and teachers alike.
The old man’s family had been among the first settlers to the Island. My father recounted stories he’d learned from his grandfather, about the first settlers: they were farmers who lived in small houses and toiled hard during the farming season. Eventually, he said, when farming had become too costly, the farmers had sold their land and homes to people from the nearby city. The city dwellers had bought the land and cottages to use as summer homes, to get away from the suffocating heat of the metropolis. Folks, my father recalled, arrived in June with their sons, daughters, wives, mothers-in-law, and left at the beginning of August. They had a gay old time on the beach and woods.
The woods, back then, my father said, were thick with deer and birds, possums and squirrels. He said he even shot a squirrel, when his father let him use the rifle he kept in the attic. My father also told me that the road leading to the old man’s house was not the double-yellow pavement-job we see today, that it was a dirt road, back then.
I see the the old man’s house when I walk to school everyday, it stands a stone-throw-away from the road that leads to the middle school. There is a path that runs diagonally from the school to the main road, it is often used by some of us kids as a short-cut to the school. From that vantage point, the old man’s house looks like it’s being swallowed by nature. It’s a mess! Weeds and ivy cover most of the front yard. The sloping roof is patchy-black from mold and mildew growing out of every crack and crevice.
When the school’s dismissal bell rings, my friends and I gather near the old man’s house and take turns flinging pebbles at the windows, trying to break the remaining glass squares that haven’t been shattered. We’d do this hoping to bring the old man out in the open, to satisfy our curiosity.
Our curiosity remained unsatisfied. The old man never came out of the house, not even when one of my pebbles cracked one of his window panes. Weeks later, the glass on the window had not been replaced; the black hole the stone had made, appeared to stare at us like a glass eye as we walked past the house.
No one knew the old man. My friends’ families were too new to the area to know anything about him. The majority of them had moved fairly recently to the neighborhood, after houses in the last potato farms were built by developers. One by one, houses sprouted on the potato fields. First, houses with one-car garage, then houses with two-car garages, then finally, MacMansions with three car garages and Olympic size pools. There had been such a rush to build more houses, that eventually, no field was green or free from construction.
My folks never liked those giant houses. My mom said they were ‘cookie cutter,’ and had no charm or personality. My father lamented the fact that too many trees had been cut down to make room for those obscenities. I thought that they were cool, especially those with a pool, where I attended many a birthday party.
Our house was small. It was a cottage. It’s facade was covered with weathered wood-shingles on the outside, and yellow-ochre wooden floors matching the walls on the inside. Our home was surrounded by trees; not a lot of trees, but enough to shield us from the noise from nearby traffic, and enough to be a chore to rake their fallen leaves in Autumn. I hated raking the leaves, but loved climbing trees. I also enjoyed watching the birds building their nests on branches hanging over our yard.
My mom told tales about the farmers who had owned our house. She said her parents bought the house from them when the potato farming business dwindled. They’d bought their home before developers speculated with the land to build the houses for well-to-do families moving to the suburbs.
Our house was one of the few old cottages still standing. But the old man’s Saltbox was the last of its kind.
One afternoon after school, as my friends and I walked past the old man’s house, one of us made a dare. I don’t remember if it was Tony or Julian who made the dare. I think it was Julian. Yes, in fact, it was Julian Morris. He was the type of kid who dared anyone to top anything he did, knowing full well that he’d be the winner in the end. His parents owned the largest house on Mulberry Road, with the largest pool, the biggest yard, and a four-car garage designed to look like stables. His mother and father were both doctors.
Anyhow, Julian made the dare.
The dare sounded simple at face value, but scary, I thought. Julian said he‘d give his entire month’s allowance, his entire allowance! to the one of us who’d dare to venture into the old man’s house at night. Not stay the entire night, or anything like that, he said, just go into the old man’s yard and plant a pink flamingo on his yard. That was it. That was his dare. Go into the old man’s front yard after midnight, and plant a tacky pink flamingo from the Dollar store on his yard.
Julian’s allowance was more money than any of us would get after months of doing chores. One-hundred dollars! A freaking fortune! I thought. One-hundred bucks, for he who had the guts to sneak into the old man’s lawn at night, and plant a tacky pink flamingo in the middle of the yard. It sounded easy. The difficult part, though, was the ‘after midnight” clause.
Tony, Julian, Robert, and I, had been kneeling behind some bushes near the path that led to the old man’s house. The path was long and narrow, covered with pebbles from the nearby Sound beach. The Sound’s beaches were rocky, covered with pebbles. My parents had told me that it had been customary for folks to pave their driveways with the pebbles from the beach because they were abundant and free. For us, the pebbles were good ammunition. We had fistfuls of pebbles which we gathered from the path, to fling at the old man’s windows.
I kept thinking about Julian’s dare and his tempting reward.
I’d had my eye on a brand new racing bike, a ten-speed, with bright and shiny chrome handles. I knew my parents were not going to spring the money for it, so this was the only way I could actually get it. This is my chance! I thought. I was about to volunteer to be the one to take the dare, when Tony Murray blurted out: “No problem! The loot is mine!” he said. My heart sank to my feet ( even though I was hesitant to volunteer because I was terrified of the old man.)
Tony stood up and looked in the direction of the old man’s house defiantly. Using his hand as a visor to shield his eyes from the setting sun, he stared at the silhouetted house, then he knelt down in a hurry.
I glared at him with anger, envy and admiration.
Tony turned his head towards Julian, then slowly lowered it while he muttered hesitantly: “Ah.. on second thought.... I think I better not.” Tony’s bravura had only lasted a few minutes.
Julian looked at Tony and mockingly shouted: “Chicken!”
We tried to follow suit, but we couldn’t. If Tony wasn’t going to do it, it meant that one of us had to take the dare, and if none of us did, then, we all were chicken. Tony made some apologetic references to his having been grounded by his parents for having spent the night at his girlfriend’s house without permission, and if he got out of the house, and got caught, it would be summer school for him. He was not ready to endure that kind of punishment.
My heart was racing. This was my opportunity to jump in. I wanted to take the dare, but it was plain and simple: I was scared. I’d heard the rumors about the old man. About how he’d killed his entire family and buried them in his backyard, about being a vampire, and tales about how he ate kids for breakfast! I shivered when I looked at the old man’s house in the distance.
The sun behind the house was sliding down on the horizon, casting a long shadow that had been slowly creeping towards us. The two large oaks behind the yard stood like menacing specters, guarding the house. The moans and groans of branches, swaying with the wind, spewed to me a warning: “take heed, be ware; take heed, be ware.”
Julian continued peppering us with taunting words: “You’re all chicken” “Chickens,” he said, between the clucking noises.
“I’M GOING TO DO IT!” shouted Julian Morris.
“I’m going to show you chickens how it is done!” said Julian, with a reproachful tone. “I’m going to show you bastards how it’s done. You girly-girls, I’m gonna show you what it’s like to actually have balls!” He muttered. “You sissy boys will have to cough up your allowances to ME when I’m done!”
Julian’s declaration kicked me in the stomach. I felt sick. I felt bad. I wished I’d had the courage to speak up and volunteer to take the dare, but I was too afraid. I guess, in a way, Julian saved me from embarrassment.
I, indeed, was chicken.
The next day, after school, we met Julian at the edge of the path near the old man’s house. Julian had brought with him a bright pink flamingo, the size of a small dog. It was pink! Bright pink, and smelled of cheap plastic. It was fitted with a long metal rod that ended in a very sharp point. The rod had been designed to be dug into the ground to prop up the ugly pink bird.
The plan was set. Julian would sneak into the yard of the old man’s house after midnight, and plant the pink flamingo on the front yard of the house. The next morning, we’d all meet at the same spot, and handover our meager allowances to Julian.
I spent most of the night tossing, turning, and going to pee. I had taken my allowance money from the sock drawer and spread it on my bed, as if to say one last good bye to it. I was nervous for Julian, but I hoped, bitterly, that the old man would lay Julian Morris to waste.
It must have been past-midnight when I heard loud noises come in through my window. Sounded like possums-in-heat fighting. I’d heard them fight before. Their shrieking was disturbing. My father had warned me about these critters.
On a moonless night, like tonight, I had shone my flashlight at the source of the horrible noises. The beam from the flashlight caught the face of one of the possums and froze him. The animal’s distorted face showed red eyes glowing, blood dripping from its fangs. That was the last time I let curiosity take the best of me. So, needles to say, when I heard the noises coming in through my window, I ignored them, and managed to fall asleep.
The blast of music from the alarm clock woke me up at six-in-the-morning.
I had fallen asleep with my allowance money spread on the covers.
I gathered the entangled bills and stuffed them in my back pack.
Good bye racing bike! I thought.
My father was already up. He told me he had witnessed some commotion on his way back from the convenience store where he’d gone to get milk for his coffee. He said he’d seen two Sheriff’s cruisers parked near the path to the old man’s house. The store clerk had mentioned to him something about the old man’s yard.
Holy crap! I thought. Julian must have been caught by the old man and called the cops! Oh no! We’re all screwed! I thought. I knew Julian was a fink, he’ll name the lot of us. Oh no!, Oh shit! What would I tell to parents!
I dressed quickly and left the house. Didn’t tell my father anything about the dare. I walked up the main road instead of taking the short cut to the school. When I got close to the old man’s house, I saw the blue and red emergency lights atop the Sheriff’s cruisers still flickering; painting the trees, bushes and broken windows of the old man’s house with colors. I stood still watching from the distance. I waited for Tony, Robert, Julian, but none of them showed up.
I went back to my house. When I walked in, I found my father sitting, cradling a cup of hot coffee with his hands, resting his elbows on the dining table. He seemed mesmerized by the crackling sounds coming from the portable radio. When I tried to say something, he shushed me abruptly:
Shhhh! Listen, he said.
I felt my eyes bulge out of my head. The voice on the radio sounded menacing, accusatory, talking directly to me:
“WJMU just learned that two bodies have been found in the property of Old man Telford, of 21 Juniper Street. Telford, a so-called recluse, has been found dead inside his house. According to authorities, the ninety-year-old man had been dead for least a year. Sheriff’s deputies had found his mummified body in the house, still sitting on a armchair in front of his television set. the cause is still under investigation.”
My legs were trembling. The steely words from the radio vibrated on the kitchen table and filled the room with their accusatory tone:
“According to sources, Telford’s body had been found inside the house, when Sheriff’s deputies arrived at his property to investigate the report of a ‘body’ on the front yard of the house”
My father stared straight into his cup, watching the steam from his coffee meandering out of the liquid. He listened with his eyes, and ears, and brain, to the shaky voice of a witness who recounted what she’d seen on the old man’s yard before calling the authorities:
“The boy’s face, I tell you, like a horror movie, frozen with fear! His hands spread like claws digging the dirt, trying to get away from something. I tell you, really weird! Totally weird! I tell you. Oh, and that freaky pink flamingo, dug into the ground through the boys trousers! Weird, really weird, I tell you.”
My ears burned, my stomach churned, my feet began to sweat, as the radio’s web of words weaved a noose around my throat:
“Authorities have not released the name of the victim, but sources say it’s Julian Morris, a thirteen-year-old resident of Mulberry Road....”
”...stay tuned for more, after a word from our local sponsors.”
© Oswaldo Jimenez June 2013
Lawrence Frost ( Larry to you ) was the only child in a household where love and responsibility had always gotten along very well. He’d been born under the sign of Aquarius to an upper-middle-class family who had provided him with the right education which had buoyed him to success.
Arthur Kimball was not Audrey’s type. She knew it. He was half her height, and twice her age.
Pay attention when I talk to you man! You must do exactly as I say! Exactly as I say! You hear me man? Do exactly as I say!
T.C. heard the monologue drifting through the wind. The words had no meaning to him, they failed to alleviate the despair and solitude he felt in his heart.