The first hour after the school day ended was my favorite. Both of my parents worked so I’d have the whole house to myself to watch cartoons, sneak snacks, and put off homework. I raced home on my bike along the same route every day. Schoolyard, up Greeden, over to Maplewood, down Magnolia, and then across to Dover before turning on to my street. Only took about ten minutes on my best days.
Sometimes, Donny would hang on to the back of my seat and roll along on his skateboard behind me since he lived off Dover. Mostly, though, I went to and from school on my own. It was considered safe back then.
It was a chilly November afternoon. I had just turned ten a few weeks before. It had earned me a new seven speed Schwinn with handlebar brakes that I couldn’t show off enough. I rode that thing as slow as I could across the elementary parking lot, making sure the other kids could get a real good look at my ride. I kept up the leisurely pace even after I’d made it to the sidewalk. Normally I wouldn’t have wasted that precious TV time, but I was so proud and felt so cool.
As I pedaled lazily up Greeden, I noticed a boy standing at the edge of one of the yards. I didn’t recognize him, which was odd because I was sure I knew every other kid in the neighborhood. He was small, first or second grade sized, I figured with all the worldly wisdom being in fifth grade granted me. His head was bowed so that the brim of his oversized cap hung over his face. His shoulders were rising and falling with quiet sobs.
I rolled to a stop in front of him.
“Hey,” I said.
He sniffled without looking up.
He shook his head once.
I frowned. This kid was weird, but maybe that was because he was shy or scared. He had to be new to the area, after all. “You lost?”
“Well, do you remember anything about where you live?”
“It’s a blue house,” he said so quietly that I almost didn’t hear him.
“Ok,” I scanned the street for a blue house. “Do you know what street it’s on?”
He’d gone quiet again and I sighed.
“Could I go with you?” He asked.
“Like, to my house?”
“Yeah,” he lifted his head to look up at me. “I’d like that.”
At the sight of his face, I reeled back so hard that I almost fell off my bike. He smiled, and it might have been a cute expression, except for the gaping black holes where his eyes should have been.
“Take me home,” he said sweetly.
The small boy-thing launched himself at me. I’d righted myself enough to push off against the ground and pedaled harder than I ever had before. I glanced over my shoulder once to see that he was chasing me. The sound of my heart thudding in my chest and the slap of sneakers on concrete filled my ears. I hunched low over my handlebars and pumped my legs as hard and as fast as they’d go.
The sneakers gradually began to fade, and by the time I skidded onto Dover, they’d stopped completely.
Somewhere along the way, I’d managed to lose him.
When I got home, I dropped my bike in the yard and ran inside, slamming and locking the door behind me. I stayed huddled up under my bedroom window, carefully searching for signs that the boy had followed me, until my mom’s minivan pulled into the driveway.
She didn’t believe me when I told her about the eyeless kid. Dad didn’t either. They were more disappointed that I’d left my brand new bike lying in the grass and thought the boy was an excuse for my laziness.
“If you don’t take care of it, you can’t keep it,” Dad warned over dinner.
“I swear, there was this kid and —”
“Have you been watching X-Files again? You know that show gives you nightmares,” Mom said.
I glared down at my plate, smooshing my mashed potatoes with my fork in frustration. Mom set her own silverware down and sat back in her chair. I could feel her watching me.
“Not going to eat? You love potatoes.”
“Not hungry,” I grumbled.
“You’re really upset about this, huh?”
“There was a kid.”
Dad sighed. “Alright, alright, maybe there was. Could he have just been wearing sunglasses? Or maybe he had a deformity or something.”
“He had no eyes!” I insisted heatedly. “And he chased me!”
“Ok, Derek,” Dad said more gently than before. “Do you want to hang out at school until your mom or I can pick you up?”
I weighed my options: risk a run in with the scary boy-thing, or wait around school for an hour, bored out of my skull.
“Is it ok if I take Charleston home instead?”
“It’s a bit longer,” Mom said, her brow lining with worry. “And it’s a busier street.”
“I’ll be fine! It’s only a few more minutes.”
“What do you think, Bill?” Mom looked at Dad.
He shrugged. “I don’t think it’ll be any more unsafe than going the other way. Just stick to sidewalks and don’t talk to strangers.”
He didn’t have to worry about that. After that day, I wasn’t sure I’d ever want to talk to someone I didn’t know already again.
When it came time to leave school the next day, I raced out to the bike rack with my friend, Donny. We were caught up in a conversation about what we were going to do for Thanksgiving break the next week. I auto-piloted toward the exit with him riding his skateboard and hanging on to my bike seat.
“Aw crap,” he said as I pedaled us through a crosswalk. “I forgot my science binder.”
“Want me to go back with you?”
“Nah, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
It wasn’t until he’d gone and I was sitting halfway down Greeden that I remembered the boy-thing. I gripped my handlebars and considered turning around, but there was no little kid on the side of the road that day. Maplewood was likewise empty. There was also no kid on Magnolia. Just a woman jogging in a bright pink and blue windbreaker and earmuffs. At that distance, it looked like Mrs. Weaver, just one of the neighborhood ladies. I bit my lip, kicked off, and rode forward.
As I passed Mrs. Weaver, she lifted a hand to wave and smiled.
“Nice day,” she said cheerfully.
I started to nod, barely lifting my eyes to meet hers as I rode by.
She stared back through empty, dark sockets. Her smile never wavered, even as I yelped and almost lost control of my bike.
“I’m feeling a bit tired,” she had turned and was coming toward me. “Won’t you take me home?”
I screamed. She swiped at me, her painted pink nails catching my jacket sleeve.
“Take me home!”
There was a brief struggle. She was breathing heavily, almost in a growl, and I was still shouting. I’d never hit a girl, or anyone else for that matter, before, but I hauled back with every bit of strength I had and slammed my fist into her gut. It seemed to distract her a little more than anything and I tore my arm away, leaving a jagged rip in my jacket. I kicked her away from me over and over until I had enough room to speed away.
The Mrs. Weaver-thing chased me longer than the boy-thing had. I managed to get away by taking a number of side streets and cutting through yards.
I hid my jacket from my parents in the back of my bedroom closet that night. I had a long, pink scratch up my arm, but I hid that, too, under a sweater. After their reaction to the boy, I didn’t know how to tell them about Mrs. Weaver. I was sure they wouldn’t believe me.
After dinner, while we were sitting in front of the TV, the phone rang from the kitchen. Mom got up to answer it. She didn’t come back until our show was almost over. When she sat down, her face was pale and concerned.
“Hon? You ok?” Dad asked.
“Yes. Well, no. That was Stacey Paluo. You know, Greg’s wife? She said there are cops all over their street. Apparently…” She paused and suppressed a shudder. “Lance Weaver and his two kids were killed in their home. They can’t find Caitlin.”
Dad muted the TV and sat upright. “What? That’s awful!”
“Stacey said the last time anyone remembers seeing her is yesterday, when she was out for her afternoon jog. Her next door neighbor said he drove by her talking to some kid, but after that, nothing.”
Mom and Dad’s conversation became background noise. I felt like I’d been blanketed in ice. Mrs. Weaver had taken that boy-thing home. I was sure of it. How had she not noticed his missing eyes? What had he done to her? I opened my mouth to tell my parents about what had happened that day, but nothing came out. I was too tongue tied with fear. They were so busy with their conversation, they didn’t even notice me trying to speak.
I barely slept that night. I kept my covers pulled up over my head, afraid that if I pulled them down, I’d find Mrs. Weaver and the boy-thing standing over me, smiling sweetly. Empty, black holes in the place of their eyes.
The next morning, my alarm clock wasn’t enough to wake me after I’d finally dozed off. Mom burst in, already dressed with her purse swinging from one arm. She shook me awake, had enough time to apologize and say she thought I was up already, and run out to avoid being late for work. Dad had already left. I dragged myself out of bed, pulled on the nearest clothes, and trudged down the steps o grab some pop tarts.
Fifteen minutes later, I was wheeling my bike out of the garage and heading to school.
The intersection of my street and Dover was coming up. A pair were standing beneath the street sign, facing me. At first, I thought it was a mother and son waiting for the bus. My sleep-fogged Brain almost didn’t register the oversized cap on the boy or the bright pink windbreaker, now stained with spots of red.
Mrs. Weaver waved to me.
“Nice day,” she called brightly.
“Can we go home now?” The little boy-thing asked.
A terrified squeal clawed its way out of my constricted throat. They’d started to walk before I had even turned back toward home. By the time I’d gotten to full speed, they were running after me. I leapt the curb, raced between a pair of houses, almost wiped out when I came out on the next street over. Still, they were chasing me, their footsteps pounding against the pavement, and I didn’t have time to slow down.
I wanted to go home. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t risk them getting into my house and having the same thing that happened to the Weavers happen to my family!
So I did the only thing I could think of.
I leapt off my bike, letting it crash to the ground behind me, and ran to the nearest house. I pounded on the front door, rang the bell, shouted for help, all the while very aware that they were getting closer.
An elderly man opened it.
He cried out when I pushed passed him and ran inside. I stumbled through the living room and found my way to the kitchen while he yelled angrily after me.
I was fumbling with the deadbolt on the back door when I heard Mrs. Weaver’s sugar-sweet voice.
“Is this your home?”
“Yes! What in the hell is going o—” The old man’s demand was cut off by a sharp, horrified gasp.
The front door slammed shut as I wrenched open the back.
“Get out of my house!” I heard the man shout, followed by the giggle of the little boy-thing.
I’d taken the boy-thing home. Not my home, but a home. I hoped it would be good enough.
I clapped my hands over my ears and ran from the house, sobbing and silently begging for forgiveness I knew I didn’t deserve.