The sun warmed his skin. Made him feel hot. A little sweaty, too. A dry breeze ruffled his hair. Michael started rocking back and forth on his toes at the curb’s edge, but then stopped really quick when he wondered if that made him look just like Pat, that kid in his Special English Class who sat and rocked and picked his nose. He didn’t want to look like that. No way. Instead he squeezed and rubbed his hands harder until he felt this tiny pin-prick of pain flash really hot on the back of his hand.
“Ouch. OW.” He looked down at his hands. Saw red streaks on the back of one where he’d scratched himself. He did that sometimes. When he got worried or nervous or even scared, he scratched the backs of his hands or even his wrists. Sometimes until they bled, like now. Didn’t know why. Just did. His OT teacher (occupational therapy teacher, who taught him Life and Self-Management Skills), had tried to get him to stop but so far no good. Not matter what they taught him he still scratched himself when worried or scared.
Like now. Not scared, really, but a little worried. Maybe sad, too. Worried because Mom wasn’t here yet, like she said she would. She’d promised to be here by 3:15. He glanced at his square Tranformers watch – a rectangle little Boom Box that unfolded into a a little toy robot named Soundwave – and read 3:20. Mom wasn’t really late, so he wasn’t really worried. Just a little late, so a little worried.
He scratched his palm harder. Winced. Gasped a little, too... but he kept scratching, until he felt another sharp prick and then his finger slipped on something wet across the back of his hand.
He looked down again. Saw three little bright smears on the back of his hand. Oh, Geez. Now he’d done it. He’d bleeded himself. Bad. Mom would be Grumpy. Maybe even Mad.
He made fists and stuck them into his pockets. Maybe that would stop him from scratching them. Hoped so. Guess he was more than a little worried. Maybe because he felt so sad, too.
Because no more Vicks.
No more Vicks because Vicks was a senior and graduating and going to college and wouldn’t be around to help him out over the summer like she usually did. And he felt really sad about that. He did lots of things over the summer. He loved living in the country because he could do tons of stuff during summer.
He went on walks in the woods out behind the house (but never across the road on Old Man Kretzmer’s land because it was Private Property and Old Man Kretztmer was a Crazy Old Drunk) and he never got lost ever, remembered how to get everywhere he’d ever been. He liked to build forts and dams in the creek behind the house with rocks and branches and of course he still had Quadratic Equations whenever he wanted, though Mom made him play outside during at least three hours a day, because it Just Wasn’t Healthy for him to sit inside all through a bright sunny summer day.
The best part of summers had been Vicks coming over right before lunch every day and reading books to him for an hour or two, but not books like they read in school – though he really loved those too – but really neat books written by people teachers never talked about, ever. Like Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Brian Keene and some spooky dead guy named Lovecraft (who with a name like that Mike had thought probably wrote dumb kissy-face stories but he’d been TOTALLY wrong). Vicks had read a book by the King guy about a killer clown that was really a monster but was also really the Fear that everyone hides deep inside, and while most of the book was pretty scary – and REALLY GOOD - he hadn’t thought the big spider thing at the end had been all that scary, for some reason.
Vicks had also read a story about a kid named Holden who Mike really liked because apparently Holden hated fake people which Mike really hated too, plus Holden seemed to talk and think a lot like him, but instead of doing Quadratic Equations this Holden kid liked to tell stories about himself that maybe weren’t all that true except for maybe that story about his friend Jane (who kept all her kinged checkers in the Back Row, which seemed pretty smart because he did that too and nobody ever beat him, ever) and that girl in the green dress that Holden had wanted to give money to kiss him (though Mike hadn’t really understood that part) but made him sad instead.
Mike squeezed his fists tighter in his pockets. The fresh scratches on the back of his hand itched and burned. He worried just a little more.
He wouldn’t get any stories this summer. Vicks had to work a Real Job to help pay for college because Mom couldn’t pay her much to come over and read to him. Mike was going to miss Vicks. What would he do this summer during those two hours Vicks usually read to him? Build more forts? Extra Quadratic Equations, maybe even sneak across the road onto Old Man Kretzmer’s land where he wasn’t supposed to go?
He sighed. Missed Vicks already. Felt sad she wouldn’t be around, worried about who would read to him no. Maybe no one. And who would help him in school? Some girl named Jenna had helped him today and was supposed to help him next year too, but she’d treated him like a little baby and didn’t talk to him at all, just looked at all the other boys and smiled and flipped her hair really weird around them. After he’d finished doing Quadratic Equations today, she’d just left him here with a ‘Bye’ and skipped over to talk with a bunch of boys at the front of the school, acting all silly and strange and smiling like she was a little girl or something. Vicks would’ve stayed and talked with him, Vicks would’ve...
Something cold passed through him. He shivered. Swallowed. Felt real strange. Like a wet, slimy blanket had been tossed on him. His skin got all goose-bumpy and his stomach turned sour and icky. Something was coming...
(from the drift)
He yanked his hands from his pockets. Shivered again. Hugged himself. Rubbed his arms. Tried to get warm. Suddenly it didn’t feel like June. Felt more like Fall. Hallo’een, even. He looked to the entrance of the school parking lot as something...
A beat-up black truck. Driving slowly. No, crawling...
(like an animal ready to pounce, like Jabberwocky)
...into the parking lot. Coasting, looking...
(for something to eat)
Mike’s stomach swirled. Legs trembled, felt all stringy and gummy. He remembered, now. A couple days ago when Vicks said goodbye and her mean bigger brother drove up in his beat-up black truck and got mad because Mike hugged Vicks and pushed him to the ground and...
Hurt him. Vicks’ mean big brother...
...had pushed him to the ground and hurt him. Scared him, too. So bad he’d peed his pants, even.
He swallowed. Mouth tasted funny. A little like puke. He stared at the beat-up black truck as it rolled past the football field and pulled even with the school’s entrance, not too far away now. It slowed. Shifted into park.
Not Vicks. She wasn’t in school today. Went on a visit to the school she wanted to go to next year. So if the big black truck with Vicks’ mean big brother...
...wasn’t waiting for her, who was it waiting for?
His eyes widened.
Belly twisted and squeezed. He had to pee. REALLY bad.
Vicks’ mean big brother was waiting for him.
Mike shuffled back from the curb. Hugged himself tighter. Too much. Too much to handle. Mom wasn’t here yet she was late and he was all alone because the new girl Jenna left him to talk with boys and Vicks’ big bad mean brother...
...was sitting there in his beat-up black truck waiting for him and like someone peeling an orange or onion Mike thought he saw something inside the truck underneath, something that wasn’t Vicks’ big bad mean brother but something worse, something big and black and ugly scary, the thing that hides under everyone’s bed and in their closets and basements and bad dreams and it sat inside that big beat-up truck with Vicks’ mean brother, waiting and waiting and waiting...
The big black truck shivered. Something inside thunked.
The engine grumbled.
And it rolled towards him.