By Tracey Squaire
Copyright 2017 Tracey Squaire
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The faint light peeking from the edge of the dawning sky was the only light James had to see by as he packed his duffel bag in his dark room. He didn’t make a noise as he gathered supplies: a bit of rope, a bag of chips, a pocket knife he had taken from his grandpa’s garage, a bottle of water, a pair of gloves, and some other things. He was worried that he was forgetting something important. He wouldn’t be able to come back home for it if he was, but he needed to get going before the morning got too late.
Once he was done packing everything he could think to bring with him, he was ready. He could hear his grandma already awake and moving around in the kitchen, and he could smell the pungent scent of his grandpa’s dark coffee brewing, the smell wafting through the air. He knew they wouldn’t be able hear him moving around from the kitchen, so he wasn’t worried about being caught escaping. He swung his bag onto his back, opened his window, and began to climb down the house, using the uneven bricks of the old wall as hand holds and being extra careful in the weak light. This wasn’t James’ first time sneaking out, and he was careful to quietly climb down and away from the kitchen window that looked out into the backyard. He knew exactly where he had to stand in the backyard to avoid being seen from that window.
Once he had made it to ground, he was sure he had gotten away clean. That is until he saw his grandpa leaning against the side of the house with a cigarette hanging from his lips, smoke trailing up past his face. James froze, still crouched from jumping down, and his grandpa froze too. They stared at each other for a moment, both looking guilty and panicked at being caught doing something neither of them were supposed to be doing, but then James’ grandpa remembered that he was the adult, and his face smoothed as he put his cigarette out against the old brick wall.
“Whatcha up to, boy?” he asked calmly.
James swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. He avoided his grandpa’s gaze, instead looking down at the dew dampened grass. “Goin’ out,” James said.
His grandpa stared him down, and, though he couldn’t see them, James could feel the weight of those disapproving eyes on him. “You know your grandma ain’t gonna like that.”
James said nothing for a moment, then he looked his grandpa in the eye seriously and said, “I’m goin’ to that house.”
His grandpa’s eyes widened and turned from disapproval to worry in an instant. “James-” James bolted, not staying around to hear what his grandpa had to say. He ran across the backyard and to the fence that separated his yard from the barely tamed woods beyond it. He didn’t even stop when he reached the fence but just used his momentum to get a hold on the fence and propel himself over it. “James!” his grandpa yelled.
He ignored the call, quickly finding and following the trail he and his friends had made into the woods over the years.
He made his way to the Dragon Pit. That was what he and his friends had, after weeks of arguing and voting, named the base they had built for themselves in the woods. The Pit held a lot of their supplies, including almost all their weapons. James was going there just to grab his own club. He would need it for what he had to do today.
At the Pit, everything looked as it always had. Several chairs and a table that had been scavenged from the dump stood to one side under a makeshift awning the boys had attached to some of the surrounding trees. The dirt in the Pit was all carefully packed down, and there was even plywood in some places acting as makeshift flooring.
The place seemed so normal to James that he expected the other boys to run out from the woods and take their places there. It was almost as though the events of last week hadn’t even occurred, disrupting their heretofore happy existence. It was as though Tony could walk in at in moment with the other boys and talk shit to them all like he always did.
Hints of Tony were scattered around the Pit. The shells of the sunflower seeds the boy always brought for everyone lay scattered on the ground. The fanciest of the chairs that had been pillaged from the dump was one Tony always sat in, and it sat on its side. And there on the big tree that had been uprooted and blown over in a storm a few years back was Tony’s name carved deep within the bark of the tree. Tony Erikson, it read. Other members of the gang had carved their names around his, but Tony had been the first to carve his there. “So those Fourwheelers don’t forget who this place belongs to,” Tony had said. The other boys all agreed. James traced the carved names and thought back to the events of last week when the Fourwheelers had jumped the youngest member of their group, Cob.
The boy had come running toward the Pit yelling for help.
Everyone was standing ready, weapons in hand, when Cob was far enough into the clearing to be seen. The boy stopped running once he was safely in the Pit among his friends and caught his breath.
“What’s going on, Cob?” Tony demanded.
“Fourwheelers caught me down by Tin Creek,” the boy gasped out. “Wasn’t expectin’ ‘em to be there.”
“Tin Creek?” asked Coal, his tone almost as angry as the hot red of his face that he was named after. “What the hell were you doin’ in Fourwheeler territory?”
Cob’s face burned red as he met the accusatory gazes of the other boys.
“I-I. There was shit on my shoe … I was just cleanin’ my shoe in the water.” Cob could see that none of the boys believed his excuse.
“Lemme see your shoe, then,” someone said.
James knew what Cob had really been doing at the creek. They all knew, but he said nothing. He didn’t want to argue with any of the others.
Cob’s red face got angry. “Whatcha gettin’ at? You think I’m lyin’?”
“Oh, come on,” Coal said. “We all know why you were really there.”
“We don’t have time for this!” Cob shouted. “The Fourwheelers are on their way!” There was silence for a moment at his words, then everyone was yelling all at once.
“You led ‘em here?!”
“You damn idiot!”
“You shoulda stayed away from the creek!”
“I was just cleanin’ my shoe!”
“You’re a lyin’ sack of shit!”
The noise went on for a few moments before Tony made himself heard above the commotion. “That’s enough!” he yelled. It took a moment, but all the boys yielded to the older boy’s authority and shut up, though their anger didn’t disappear.
“Now, you all know we don’t have time for this. The Fourwheelers could be watching us right now. James, give me your club and go up the storm tree to watch out for them. The rest of you, get ready for a fight. Five bucks to anyone who gets a hit in on Tommy Johnson’s pretty mug.” The boys all livened up and jumped to do what Tony had told them to do.
James had hesitated a moment before handing over his weapon. Tony would be more valuable in a fight than he would be, but the club was his favorite weapon so far with its sturdy grip made from electric tape his grandpa had given him to prevent splinters and its curved, heavy end. He had known Tony would be careful with the weapon, but he also knew how rough their fights with the Fourwheelers could get. That’s how Tony had lost his own weapon.
James shook his head as he came out of his memory of the fight. The Fourwheelers had no chance against them when they were on their own turf, so they had been quickly beaten and chased away. They had all escaped on their ATVs, and some of the boys had chased behind them on their bikes, throwing insults at the defeated attackers. That hadn’t been the last time the boys had seen them that week, but James didn’t have time to sit in the Pit thinking about the past. He had work to do.
He left the pit, heading toward the creek. The trees down this way were way more overgrown, and there was not a clear path from their base down to the creek, so James had to go slowly if he wanted to get there without being covered in scratches. The trees here were so overgrown because the boys tried to avoid that area the creek was in: it was Fourwheeler territory. Their ATVs could traverse the rocky terrain there far better than the group’s bikes could. The water in the creek wasn’t very deep, but it was wide, and the rocks were slippery. It was always dangerous to try crossing the creek, especially after a hard rainfall. The safest way to cross was to go across the old bridge that James was heading toward. Of course, the creek itself was actually the border to the Fourwheelers’ territory, so once the bridge was crossed, one suffered the consequences of being in their territory uninvited. They patrolled their territory often, so it was hard to get over the bridge when they were around.
James hadn’t been with his friends the first time they had trespassed on Fourwheeler territory, but he had seen the boys who had come back drenched in so much red that they looked as though they had been shot with real bullets instead of paintballs. They had all been laughed at by the boys who hadn’t suffered, but the incident had been a warning to them all to stay away. And they generally did all stay away.
Only, James was sure that Cob had been caught by the Fourwheelers while trying to cross the bridge.
James knew that the boys went out to Fourwheeler territory sometimes, and he knew why they went. It was the reason Cob had been out by the creek when the Fourwheelers jumped him. All the boys knew about the thin metal pipe that poked up from the ground in the middle of the old, abandoned house the Fourwheelers had claimed as their base. They also knew to stay away; not only was it dangerous to go into the middle of an enemy’s base alone, but Tony had claimed the pipe, dubbed Slayer, for himself after he had lost his last weapon. Not that it even mattered. None of the boys, not even Tony, had been able to pull the rod up in the rare moments they had gotten that far into Fourwheeler land. James had never tried to pull it out himself; he had never seen the point. But he would try it today. He would get it out. He had to. For Tony.
It was early in the morning still, and he wasn’t really expecting any of the other kids from his neighborhood to be awake yet, let alone out in the woods with barely any sunlight to see by, especially not after the events of last week. Even still, he was on high alert.
James eventually found his way to the bridge. The sun shone from a corner of the sky, peeking through the trees and illuminating the gurgling water of the creek and the decrepit old bridge. On each side of the bride sat a dirt road that had been worn down from years of use and then overgrown from years of abandonment. The outline of the road could clearly be seen, but in most place, it was worse off than the never been tamed woods, except on the Fourwheeler side of the bridge. They had obviously cleared away much of the overgrowth to allow their machines passage.
James stood hidden inside the trees at the edge of the woods, watching the other side of the creek for movement. After a few minutes of there being nothing to see, James continued to the bridge, hesitating briefly before actually stepping foot on the warped wood.
James hated this bridge. It was old, but had been haphazardly patched up with random pieces of wood. The entire thing creaked with every step, and James felt a pit in his stomach thinking about how the Fourwheelers rode their ATVs across this bridge with little thought on whether it would collapse or not.
James thought back to last week, the day after Cob had led the Fourwheelers to their defeat at the Pit.
“Dragon” Tony had said. James was immediately on guard. No one used the nickname he had been given. Everyone, including James, thought it was a joke, only said ironically, but Tony was the exception to the rule. As always. Tony used the nickname, but only when he had some crazy plan in mind that he wanted James to do with him,
“Yeah, Tony?” James asked cautiously. He trusted Tony, but he was always cautious when it came to the older boy’s plans.
“How come you haven’t tried for Slayer like everyone else?” James was surprised at the question. Most of the other boys had snuck to the old, abandoned house and tried to pull the lead pipe up from its concrete home, despite Tony’s orders to leave it. The boys all thought of Slayer as a sort of Excalibur, which James thought was just stupid, and he said as much to Tony.
“What’s the point? It’s just a dumb pipe.”
Tony laughed. “No one else thinks it’s dumb.”
“That’s ‘cause they ain’t thinkin’ about what happens after they get the thing. It’s not like we’re gonna hit anybody with it.”
Another laugh from Tony. “True,” he said. Then his amused look changed to a thoughtful one. “Wanna go to the house?”
“Heck no,” James said. “I don’t wanna look like Cob did after he came runnin’ back from there.” He avoided looking at the older boy. He really didn’t want to go to there, but he knew he would go anyway. He always did what Tony asked him to do, even if it meant following him into enemy territory.
“Come on, Dragon. If they give us any trouble, you’ll just breathe fire on them.”
“I dunno, Tony,” James said, ignoring the joke and trying one last time to get out of the stupid plan.
“Dragon” Tony said. James swallowed, but he finally looked at Tony. The boy had a cocky smile on his face.
“Alright,” James sighed defeatedly. “We’ll go.” James had a lump in his throat as he said it.
Tony just nodded. “Good. Let’s go now.”
They had gone immediately and crossed the same bridge James had just crossed. Tony hadn’t even stopped to check for the Fourwheelers. He had strolled right across the bridge confidently. “What are the gonna do if they see me?” Tony said when James had asked about his recklessness. “I can outrun their ATVs and go places their stupid machines can’t.”
“There ain’t nothing wrong with their legs, though. They can still go after you.”
“Us.” Tony looked at James seriously as he said this.
“Yeah,” James said, equally as serious. “They can still come after US.”
As James recalled the memory, he felt a lump in his throat as though the lump from that day was echoing through time to choke him again. He wished he had been strong enough to refuse Tony that day, but he knew that he couldn’t say no to Tony. People rarely said no to him.
If I’d said no, maybe Tony wouldn’ta gone there at all, James thought as the stepped off the bridge, deep in thought. Maybe he woulda gone there anyway and still gotten hurt. James felt a surge of guilt at his next thought. Or maybe he woulda been better off if I hadn’t have gone with him.
James kept walking, following the wheel tracks in the dirt road to the old house the Fourwheelers used as their base. The old house where he and Tony had gone to the week before. The sun was steadily rising in the sky, and James’ stomach growled, furious at him for skipping out on his grandma’s breakfast. He stopped for a moment to get his chips and water out of his bag, and he ate while he walked.
The walk to the Fourwheeler base was long since the path had been cleared only enough for the ATVs to get by, and the rising sun had quickly began draining James’ energy. He had drank all of his water, and he wished he had filled the bottle up at the creek before getting too far away from it.
He was also dragging his feet as he thought about how much he didn’t really want to go to that place again. Even before what happened last week occurred, James had a deep distrust of the house after his grandpa had told him a story about the old World War II vet who used to live there. “Even when I was a boy, we knew to stay away from that house. When that old man was alive, he chased away people who trespassed by firing a shot of his rifle in the air,” his grandpa had said. “The next shot woulda been in your chest. At least, that was what my daddy used to say to keep me away from there. I believed it, too. Even after that mean, old bastard died, people would hear warnin’ shots every time they went by the place. Like he was still scarin’ people off his property from the grave.”
The stories had stuck with James. His grandpa often told further stories of kids in his neighborhood having been hurt in or around the area, and those stories had been enough to keep James safely away from that place, despite the fact that James never truly believed that there was anything to fear from an old house. He hadn’t believed that until he had seen for himself what had happened to Tony.
So, he made his way to that place again, trying, and failing, to keep memories of the past week from keeping him away. Soon, James could see the house’s roof peeking up from the tops of the trees, and the sight made his chest tighten in fear.
He no longer needed the wheel tracked road to lead him to his destination, and he didn’t want to be so easily seen on the road in case there were any Fourwheelers around. He left the road and pushed his way through the trees that had grown around the structure. He still wasn’t taking any chances with the Fourwheelers being around.
He was soon close enough to the house to see it in all its decrepit glory. James saw no traces of the Fourwheelers, so he continued forward. The sun was bright enough to expose every little detail of the place but was still low enough in the sky for the house to cast a daunting shadow on the world.
It was three stories tall, and its weather-beaten walls had a sort of Antebellum beauty that even James with his dislike for the place could see under all the layers of dirt and ivy that had built up over the years. The plantation house’s beauty was even further tarnished by the overgrown magnolia that had blown over into the side of it and exposed the first and second floor of the place to the outside world.
Now that he was standing in front of it, he did not want to enter. He considered forgetting the whole thing and turning away. If he left now, no one would even know he had come. His grandpa would be upset, but he could just say that he hadn’t gone inside. These thoughts flew through James’ mind as he stood staring at the house, but then he thought about Tony again. Even the thought of Tony almost wasn’t enough to make James walk in, but he did it anyway.
The large wooden front door hung off its hinges and sat to the side of the doorway, so James was able to walk right in. The inside was much like the outside: beautiful underneath years of grime and destruction. There was a grand staircase leading to the second floor, but part of it had collapsed in the middle. All the walls inside had been broken down, either by the Fourwheelers or someone else, leaving the whole place open except for the many support beams throughout.Each step James took into the house made his chest tighten, and the hot, stagnant air inside smelled of mildew, making him feel as though he would suffocate. Mixed in with the smell of mildew was a sickeningly sweet, sharp coppery smell. The combination of scents made James gag, and he almost threw up the little food he had eaten.
He walked to where he knew the coppery smell was emanating from. It was no wonder so many of the boys thought of Slayer as though it were a sword of prophecy like Excalibur. The iron pipe sat in the middle of the house as though the building itself had been constructed around it. The end of it had been broken off, leaving the sharp jagged metal exposed, and the only thing marring the magnificence of Slayer was the brown, flaky dried blood that caked it and the concrete around it. Light from the hole in the outerwall streamed in and shone on it, making the thing look almost like a fiendish holy relic.
The relic leaned to one side. It was looser in than ground than it had been the week before; James hoped it was loose enough to be freed from the concrete. He wasted no more time wondering and went to find out. He put his club on the ground beside him, took his bag off his back, and pulled gloves from inside. He put on the gloves and walked to the pipe. The smell grew stronger as he approached, and James was sure he would throw up at any moment. He stood to the side of Slayer, away from the exposed jagged edge and away from the side where it leaned.
He took hold of Slayer below the sharp edges, and his leather gloves creaked as he pulled back. His muscles strained as he pulled, and he felt Slayer shift just a little. Just as he felt the pipe giving way, he heard the roaring engine of an approaching ATV. He hesitated a moment as panic streamed through him but continued pulling. Along with panic came a jolt of adrenaline, and he used that adrenaline to make one more sharp pull, allowing Slayer to snap free and making James fall back onto the grime covered ground.
He was stunned for a moment after the fall but quickly scrambled to his feet. By the time he was standing again, the Fourwheeler was standing in the door, anger replacing the look of surprise on his face. “You fucking dragon shit. You’re gonna regret coming back here.”
James was frozen in silence for a moment as he was faced with the boy’s anger, but he didn’t stay that way for long. He refused to be intimidated by the Fourwheeler, despite the fact that the other boy was obviously both bigger and stronger. “I dare you to try it, Tommy. I ain’t scared of you.” And he wasn’t. Not after last week.
“You’re a fuckin’ idiot if you ain’t scared,” Tommy snarled.
“You’re the idiot for thinkin’ anybody would be scared of a piece of shit like you, especially without your gang around to protect you.” Despite his talk, James was a bit nervous. Not because he was afraid of Tommy, but rather because he had dropped Slayer in his fall, and his club lay a few feet away from him toward the direction of Tommy. He knew that Tommy Johnson didn’t need a weapon to really mess someone up.
“I don’t need anyone else here to teach you a lesson.” As Tommy stepped forward, James turned and searched for Slayer. He saw it close by and turned fully to pick it up. His hands wrapped around Slayer right has he felt a blow on his back. He turned quickly, swinging Slayer.
He tried not to hit Tommy too hard, but he heard the blunt thud as metal hit flesh, and when Tommy hit the floor, the boy screamed and clutched his arm. James was afraid for a moment that he had seriously hurt the other boy, and the screams took him back to the previous week when another boy had been laying on the same floor screaming.
Tony and James had made the trip from the bridge to the old house quickly. Tony knew exactly where to go, which James was glad about. He had never been to the part of the woods before. He hadn’t even known that there was a cleared path here.
When they were close enough to the base to see the top of it over the top of the trees, Tony stopped them. “None of them are usually around at this time of day, but we should be sure before going in.” He led them into some trees that surrounded the house. Once Tony saw that no one was around, he walked on, James trailing behind him nervously.
“Are you sure about this, Tony?” James asked. Tony didn’t answer but continued into the doorway.
“There it is,” Tony said quietly, gesturing with his arm as though revealing some grand thing. The room was a mess and smelled of mildew. The wooden floors were warped and uneven as Tony led James farther inside until the two of them stood in front of Slayer. Slayer was nothing much to James’ eyes. He thought seeing it would change his mind and make him think like the others, but standing in front of it did nothing but reassure him that everyone else was crazy for caring so much about a rusty old pipe.
“Well, what do you think?”
James swallowed. He didn’t want to disappoint Tony. “Well, it looks cool.”
Tony laughed. “Come off it, James. I know you still think it’s dumb. Don’t worry. I think the thing is pretty stupid too.”
James was surprised. “Why’d you tell everybody it was yours then?”
“I just wanted to see if they would listen. Everyone always tells me I’m their leader, so I thought I’d test that.”
James shook his head at that, but he laughed too. Tony always surprised him. “Why did we really come here? Was gettin’ me to come here another of your leader tests?”
“Not exactly.” Tony walked around the room and James watched.
James was annoyed at the non-answer and wished Tony would just tell him. Before he could say anything more, the sound of roaring engines and laughing boys reached their ears.
“Shit,” said Tony.
“I thought you said they don’t come here at this time!”
Tony didn’t reply, but he pulled James to the staircase. “Come on. We have to hide.”
“Are you crazy?!”
Tony shushed him and ran up the dry rotted staircase. James followed behind, if only because he didn’t know what else to do. He was scared that at any moment the stairs would collapse, but it didn’t.
Tony had entered a room by the time James was finally off the stairs. He ran to where the boy sat on the ground in the room, being careful to stay away from the huge hole that sat in the middle of the room.
“What’re we gonna do, Tony?” James whispered.
“Calm down, James. We’ll just hang up here until they leave.” Tony was equally as quiet as James was, but other than that, the boy didn’t seem concerned about their predicament.
“You want me to calm down when a group of our enemies are downstairs right now?” James was breathing heavily. Tony put a hand on his arm, and James seemed to calm down a bit when he did it.
“I do this all the time, James. Now chill. Come here.” Tony lay on his stomach and quietly crawled over to the hole. James followed him and saw that the hole gave a view into the room down below. The Fourwheelers had come into the house and seemed to be looking for something.
“I swear I saw them come this way,” one of them was saying.
“Well, where are they then?” said Tommy Johnson. The boy stood looking around the room as the rest of the boys searched the house. Tommy looked up right after Tony and James had backed away from the hole. James looked at Tony, silently asking if Tommy had seen them.
“I dunno, maybe they left or-”
“Search upstairs.” Tommy ordered. A couple of the boys stopped their search and walked to the stairs. Tony stood up, but James grabbed him by the arm.
“What are you doing?!” He whispered panickedly.
“Come on, Dragon. Show me how brave you are.” James felt his chest tighten.
“No! I’m not doing this.” The pounding of feet on the stairs was washed away by the pounding of blood in James’ ears. Tony grabbed James’ arm.
“Stop calling me that!” James yelled as he yanked his arm out of Tony’s grip and pushed the boy away in his panic. Tony fell backward onto the ground, and as he did, the weak, dry rotted wood of the floor gave way, extending the hole in the floor and sending Tony plunging down to the first floor. The first sound James heard was a thud then the sound of yelling from the boys below, and finally an animalist scream of pain filled the air, drowning James’ ears.
James dropped to his knees to look down to the first floor. When he saw blood drenching the floor, his stomach turned over. He didn’t know one body could hold some much blood. His head felt light, and he sat back on his legs as the yelling of the boys grew more frenzied, and the screaming below stopped.
James snapped out of the unpleasant memory after what seemed hours but had really only been seconds. He watched Tommy move his arm around for a moment and saw that the injury was nothing. Tommy would be fine. He walked away from the injured Fourwheeler and quickly gathered his things into his bag while keeping an eye on Tommy. The boy was trying to make his way to his feet with one good arm as James was leaving.
Outside of the door, James saw Tommy’s ATV parked nearby. As he was running past it, he stopped to use the sharp end of Slayer to stab two of the ATV’s wheels. He escaped into the forest, hearing Tommy yelling obscenities and promises of future retaliation behind him.
It didn’t take James nearly as long to leave Fourwheeler territory as it had to get in it. The only stop he made was at the stream to drink his fill of water, fill his bottle, and trade Slayer for his club. The pipe almost didn’t fit inside his duffle bag, but he made do.
He continued to listen for the roar of engines behind him, fearing that at any moment, Tommy would come upon him with the rest of his gang to get revenge. It never happened, but still he felt on edge. As he got closer to his base, therefore, closer to the path that would lead him home, he began to hear a voice in the woods. He tensed, thinking it was the Fourwheelers, but quickly realized the voice belonged to his grandpa. He relaxed and walked to where the voice was coming from.
When James was close enough to see his grandpa through the foliage, he began to feel guilty. He had left that morning with no warning, and all his grandpa knew was that he had gone to a place where something bad had recently happened to another boy. James could hear the worry in his grandpa’s voice as he called James’ name, and he stepped out from the trees so the old man could see him.
Instead of the anger James expected to see when his grandpa set eyes on him, the man’s face showed nothing but relief. He walked up to James with his long, sure strides and pulled the boy into a hug.
“You’re in a shitload of trouble, boy,” his grandpa said. Despite the loving tone the words were said in, he knew his grandpa meant it.
“Sorry, grandpa. I had to go there.” James looked him in the eye so his grandpa could see how serious he was. The man nodded.
“Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t. Don’t matter now. Come on. Your grandma is waitin’ for us. She’s gonna be pissed ‘cause you ain’t got time to clean yourself up before we leave.”
What his grandpa said was true. He had barely set foot inside his home before he was hearing a mouthful from his grandma. He felt thoroughly shamed as she scrubbed the dirt from his face and forced a clean shirt into his hands to change. His grandpa, having changed into cleaner and nicer clothes, was waiting outside in the running car, and James and his grandma soon joined him. Both carried containers of food, and the smells wafting from the containers made James’ stomach growl. James also carried his duffle bag, despite his grandma’s protests to leave it home.
“Don’t you dare drop that food, and don’t try to sneak any of it either. You shoulda been there for breakfast,” his grandma said as they climbed into the car. James knew she was right, so he said nothing in response. He soon lost his appetite, anyway, as the car got closer and closer to Tony’s house which was only a few streets over. The ride didn’t last nearly long enough for James who was nervous about seeing Tony’s family. He hadn’t seen any of them since before the accident, and he didn’t know what to say to them.
James’ grandpa found a parking spot, though it was hard because of all the other cars parked on the street in front of the Erikson home. James hesitated when his grandma and grandpa got out of the car and started walking to the door. His grandpa stopped halfway there to look at him, and James sighed, picked up his bag and the food, and quickly caught up with them.
The door was already being pulled opened by a haggard looking Mrs. Erikson. James’ grandma exchanged hugs and greetings with Tony’s mother and his grandpa a handshake with Tony’s father. James stood awkwardly and tensely to the side, eyes searching the living room. There were a lot of people inside. A lot of Tony’s friends and their parents. A few of the boys from the pit were there, and some of them gave James dirty looks. He ignored them and turned to go into the kitchen to put down the food his grandma had made. Before he could even take a step, he heard someone in the living room call his name.
Mrs. Erikson took the food from his hands when he made to ignore the call and shooed him into the living room. James gathered his courage and walked into the living room. Tony lay on the couch, his leg, in a cast now, lay on several pillows so that it was raised above him. He was surrounded by people all waiting their turn to sign his cast.
“Come here, Dragon.” Some of the others laughed at the name, but Tony glared at them. Some of the people made room as James walked to stand by Tony’s side. Until this moment, James had been afraid that Tony hated him for what had happened at the Fourwheeler base, but hearing that familiar nickname and seeing the genuine happiness to see James on Tony’s face washed away any fears he might have had. Despite sensing that others were upset with him for Tony’s fall, all that mattered to James was that Tony didn’t blame him.
“Hey, Dragon. Are you gonna sign my cast or what?” James laughed in relief.
“I’ve got somethin’ better,” he said as he put his duffel on the floor. The gasps of surprise and praise from the other boys as he pulled Slayer out of the bag made James swell with pride. Tony’s face conveyed both shock and surprise. “Dude! I can’t believe you went back there for this. It’s even got my blood on it still.” The boys laughed.
“What is that?” Tony’s mom yelled.
“James!” His grandpa exclaimed.
James gave his grandpa a sheepish look, but not even the knowledge that he was in a lot of trouble could wipe the smile from James’ face as he watched Tony argue with his mom about keeping the pipe that had so severely injured his leg.
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About the author:
Tracey Squaire is a writer and editor with experience working on multiple literary magazines, serving as a co-editor and critic for incoming works. Tracey has also been published in multiple literary magazines such as The Kilgore Review and The Emerald Coast Review. When she’s not writing her own stories or editing the work of other’s, she is likely cooking, reading, or running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Read Tracey’s Shakespir interview here:
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