By Roger Greene
As soon as the school bus drops Sissy and me at the mailboxes where our county road meets the two-lane highway, it turns off its lights and roars away grinding gears. Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I knock a rock loose so that I can have something to kick on the half-mile walk to our farmhouse. My untied shoes are scuffing in the gravel after my first clumsy kick when my sister begins her update. “Did you know what that jerk Peter did today?” Sissy asks like a sixth-grade boy would care about third grade little-girl drama.
“Huh uh,” I say and give my rock another kick that sends it flying.
“He said that Delores said that I said that she was mean which I didn’t and so then she was mad at me and I didn’t know why and I asked her and she said…”
“What was that?” I interrupt her and stop scuffing my feet.
“What?” she asks.
Even though I swear someone called, I’m looking around and seeing no one. “Nothing,” I shrug and we start walking again.
“Anyway,” Sissy resumes, “I think he was trying to get us to be mad at each other. You know that gross, awful, Joshua that I don’t like?”
“Uh huh,” I kind of answer because I pretty much lost track of what she was saying after, ‘Delores.’ I’m mostly looking over at the windbreak of orange, red and yellow trees on the north side of the road where I’d seen deer bedded down in the fallen leaves yesterday. All I’ve been thinking about today is hunting. This is me and Dad’s big weekend to go to the woods and get our deer.
Still thinking I care, Sissy continues, “So now both me and Delores think Josh is behind the whole thing because…”
Sissy stops talking and I stop scuffing. This time we both heard it and now we’re looking at the windbreak because that’s definitely where the voice came from.
“Who’s there?” I yell back and there’s no answer.
“Hello?” Sissy echoes.
Birds are flicking around and eating like normal so I yell, “What do you want?” and still there isn’t an answer. Someone’s playing a trick that isn’t funny so I start shuffling along and Sissy continues, “So now Peter’s trying to be super nice and…”
We both stop. “Who’s over there?” I demand to know while my eyes scan the trees. “You better come out and quit messing with us.” I’m starting to get annoyed so I walk over and pick up my rock and heave it into the trees. It hits a tree trunk and all the birds take off. Now Sissy’s standing behind me and her eyes are getting kind of wide because she gets scared real easy. Someone over there might think they’re funny but this feels creepy to me. Turning to Sissy and trying to sound like I just want to do something fun, I ask, “You want to race home?”
Even if she can’t quit looking at the trees, she nods her head. Our Great Pyrenees, Pony Boy and our Sheppard, Soda Pop will meet us halfway like they always do. Mess with us then, funny guy. With Sissy sprinting toward home and me half-heartedly jogging along beside her, we leave behind the asshole in the trees that thinks he’s funny.
Dad finished the harvest this week so tonight’s going to be special. This weekend is basically better than Christmas because tomorrow when me and Dad go hunting, Mom and Sissy are going to go to the big city to stay in a fancy B’n’B and have high-tea and shop for frilly clothes and other lame shit. Although dinner was a royal pig-out, it is nothing compared to what we’re going to cram into our mouths while we all lay on the couch under blankets and watch movies for half the night. Can you say; popcorn, ice cream, root beer floats, cookies and pie? Oh yeah.
Soda Pop and Pony Boy are outside making a ruckus while me and Sissy are clearing the table and mom’s loading the dishwasher. Dad always goes out on the porch after dinner to fart and pick his teeth. That’s okay since Dad weighs two-fifty and could accidentally blow-up the house if one of his farts ever ignited. Tonight he’s out there yelling, “Pony Boy! Soda Pop! Shut the hell up!” but the dogs just keep barking. I’m thinking they’ve treed a ‘coon and are about to have their own pig-out.
We’re cleaning up really fast, so in ten minutes time the television is on and the DVD is paused. Mom and Sissy are already snuggled under a blanket, I’m bringing in the popcorn, Dad is turning off the lights and the dogs have finally quit their damn barking. This is gonna be great. Dad’s walking to the sofa when we hear, “Hey,” shouted somewhere outside. Dad looks at us kind of funny because we told him about what happened walking home. He goes to the front door, opens it, and steps out on the porch. “Yeah,” he hollers in his big voice. “Who’s there?”
Me and Sissy are looking at each other when Dad comes back in. Mom looks a little worried. But Dad just closes the door. Then for the second time as he starts toward us someone yells, “Hey.” He gives mom a look and she pulls the blanket off of her and Sissy. She gets up and stands there looking back at him kind of strange.
“Go lock the doors,” he says, then goes to the gun rack to get his shotgun.
Mom heads for the kitchen while he goes to the front door cocking his gun. In a second he’s out on the porch yelling, “Who’s out there? Who’s out there? Here Pony Boy! Here Soda Pop! Come! Come on boys!” Normally the dogs would be on the porch in two seconds flat, but tonight when we need ‘em, they aren’t. Now Sissy’s eyes are wide and I’m getting a little freaked-out myself. A minute later, Dad comes back in, looks around and says, “Where’s Mom?”
She was only going to lock the kitchen door so I run in there to get her. I find the back door wide open and the breeze blowing the curtains. I’m just looking at it and getting scared when Dad walks in. Just then somewhere in the blackness outside the back door someone calls, “Hey.”
Dad grabs my shoulder and pulls me around. When he looks me in the eye, his eyes are looking kind of wild. “Take your sister, go upstairs and lock yourselves in the bathroom. Don’t come out until I tell you to.”
When he starts walking toward the door, I run into the living room, then divert to the gun rack and grab my .22. “Come on, Sissy,” I say running to the couch and holding out my free hand. “Dad wants you to go potty before we get started.”
“I’m not a baby,” she’s arguing when I grab her hand and pull her along. “Why do you have your gun?” she asks as I’m yanking her up the steps.
We’re hiding in the bathroom and listening to Dad calling for Mom outside when all of a sudden, we hear the shotgun blast. My heart is pounding and Sissy’s starting to cry. It’s real quiet both inside and out when we hear the back door close. “It’s okay,” I assure my sister. “He found her. Prob’ly had to scare off coyotes. A couple minutes later we hear the movie start. Things are back to normal. Whew, that was weird. Dad said to wait for him but I’m thinking he forgot about us. “You stay here,” I tell Sissy as I’m unlocking the door. “I’m gonna go make sure everything’s okay.” She still wants to cry but she sniffs and nods. “Lock the door when I leave and only open it for me.” She’s nodding again when I step into the hall, pull the door closed behind me and she locks it. Drawing near the staircase I can see the flicker of the television on the dark walls. “Dad? Mom? Can we come out? Dad?” Why aren’t they answering? They have to be down there, so I crouch down real low, sit on the top step and lift my gun through the balusters just in case I have to take out a boogey man. I’m looking real hard in the darkness when I hear the bathroom door unlock and creak open. When I turn toward the shaft of light starting to fill the hall, I whisper really loud, “Stay in there, Sissy! I told you, don’t come out and lock the door.”
The door stays where it is. There are no shadows moving in the light coming from it so now she’s probably hiding in the tub. Stupid little sisters never do what they’re told. Shaking my head, I turn again to look down toward the television. No one’s there. The bathroom door hasn’t moved. “Sissy? Sissy? You okay?” The door stays where it is and there’s no answer.
“Mom. Dad. Is anyone here?” I yell as loud as I can. Then when no one answers, I’m screaming, “Someone answer me!”
“Hey,” a voice says from inside the bathroom.
I take off running down the steps, unlock the front door, run across the porch, jump off the steps and dash for the pickup. Opening the door, I toss my rifle in, jump in, slam the door and hit the lock button. The key’s always in the ignition, so I turn it and the F-350 fires up.
I’m putting it in gear when a hot breath on the back of my neck whispers, “Hey.”