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Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Secret World of Childern: Rites of Initiation

When I was young I would often stay with my father's parents on weekends and during the summer. They lived near the beach in a two story three apartment flat tucked behind a bar and restaurant that was owned by a German matriarch named Bertha. She was an amazing woman with the physical and mental strength and energy of ten men. She made her own sauerkraut in huge ceramic vats and would try to marry me off to her granddaughter though we were both only twelve.

My best friend was one of Bertha's grandsons. John was a clever sharp tongued prankster with an air of detached superiority for those who did not meet his standards of intelligence and quickness. John won the leadership of the pack of boys who lived in the neighborhood by his sheer force of personality and fast talking. He always had a new scheme to break the summer boredom that would creep in sometime in July.

When I first met him we sized each other up and decided we could hang out together. One day while we were returning from taking practice shots at empty bottles with out BB-guns John pointed at something in front of us. There we saw a strange object on the ground half hidden near the walk to my grandparent's place. I picked it up and discovered it was an old bleached out bone wrapped in paper. I removed the paper, unrolled it and saw something was written on it. In a shaky uneven hand were the words "I know where you live kid and you are going to die!"

I showed the tattered piece of paper to John. He looked at me with a wide eyed amazed stare, that turned to shock at what he read. He looked at me with concern and said, "Oh no! not again! I thought the police caught him last year. There was a crazed killer named Gus Johnson who kidnapped and killed three kids last summer. He stole their eyes when he was through. They caught him in the old abandoned slaughterhouse out in the woods about a half mile from here. The police searched the slaughterhouse and discovered that he had been staying there. This was where he took the missing kids to kill them it was said that they found the eyes in a pickle jar on a shelf. There were rumors that they did not recover all of the eyes, some say he was eating them like they were pickled eggs in the bar."

I looked at John with much skepticism and told him that I wanted to go there to see if there was any sign he had returned. I would not tell him that I thought he was full of BS until I found out if there was really an old abandoned slaughterhouse deep in the woods. John nervously agreed to show it to me as long as we stayed quiet and on guard in case we needed to escape from a madman bent on turning us both into dinner.

We set off down the path that led to the clay pit. Then we turned east and began to wind our way through the woods. We walked for what seemed like an hour. Then after skirting spiny thickets of blackberry bushes the object of our search came into view. There it was, buried deep in the brooding woods. We silently approached an old weather beaten wooden building overgrown with vines and shrouded by young oak saplings. The ground was littered with old animal bones and rusted parts of broken farm machinery.

John took the lead and crept up to an old set of double doors that hung askew on their hinges. We peered into the gloomy ramshackle interior of the place. bones were strewn across the dirty wooden floor. A block and tackle hung from a beam the chain swinging in the breeze. On a wall were old knives and an old axe was buried into an old wooden chopping block. In the far corner was a pile of dirty rags that looked like someone had been using as bedding.

Silently we looked around, shocked and stunned by the scene around us. John looked startled and grabbed my arm. "Keep quiet... Did you hear that?" he whispered. " What did you hear?" I whispered back. the fear rising inside as I expected to see Gus crash through the woods and surprise us both inside his lair. John froze and then said in a low voice filled with fear. "Quick he's coming! Run!"

We ran for our lives, jumping ditches and streams, painfully crashing through berry bushes until we were out of the woods. We did not stop running till we collapsed breathlessly in the basement recreation room in John's basement. Secure in our stronghold we began to plan on how we should handle the return of Mad Gus, the eyeball eater. We plotted different ways of catching him so we could collect the reward. Our war counsel lasted until it was time for me to get back to my grandparent's home.

The next morning I awoke and had breakfast with my grandparents. John and I had decided it was our problem and we had to solve it by without the aid of adults. After spending a while making small talk with my grandparents I headed off to see John. I opened the door to the apartment and there on the deck laying next to the door was another bone wrapped in dirty scorched and tattered paper.

I hid the bone under my shirt and quickly slipped past John's mother on my way to the basement. John was nervously waiting for me to arrive. "Man am I glad to see you. When I got up and went outside this morning There was a bone with a note around it sitting in the grass by the steps.. I read it but had to throw it away in case my mother found it. He's after me too." he said quietly, looking to make sure nobody heard what we had to say.

As soon as I pulled the bone I had found out from under my shirt John gaped and stood back. I unrolled the note from the bone. This time there was a picture from an old newspaper that had been crudely torn out and glued to the paper. The eyes of the person in the picture had been burned out leaving charred sockets, on the note it said in the same crazy tilted printing. "I saw you two messing around my place yesterday, and I am going to do this to you tonight. See you soon. xxx Gus"

We hurriedly gathered up the bone and note and stealthily disposed of it. While we were gathering our wits John told me that tonight he was going out of town with his parents to visit family in Illinois. I would have to protect myself by staying indoors. I would stand guard, keep the door locked tonight and not let anyone into the house.

I made it home before darkness fell and secured the door. I kept a poker face while eating supper. I helped with the dishes and then played three handed cut-throat pinochle with my grandparents till they were ready for bed. I got out a new model airplane kit I had bought a few days before and began to trim and glue the parts together as I waited for them to fall asleep.

Around eleven that night I heard a thump of something tossed at the door. I turned on the porch light and scanned the lawn with a flashlight. There was nobody at the door and I took a chance by opening the door. I looked around and then down. Laying at my feet was a bone with a note on it. I grabbed it and quietly closed and relocked the door behind me. I listened to hear if I had woke anyone. the snoring from the bedroom told me that they had not heard a thing.

I took the bone into the bathroom and locked the door. Unwrapping it I read the final message. "Tonight at midnight prepare to meet your doom. I will get you and then your little buddy is next!" I left the bathroom and hid the bone and note in the garbage can. Then I prepared to make my last stand.

I went into the kitchen and dug in the knife drawer till I found a large sturdy homemade knife that had once been a lawnmower blade. I set it on the stove next to the door so I could grab it with my right hand when the moment came. I practiced the motion of opening the door with my left hand while grabbing the knife in my right until I was satisfied that I had it right. then I returned to the dining room and waited while watching "The Wolfman" on a local late night show called Shock Theater hosted by a television ghoul named Marvin and his undead rock band the Deadbeats.

I kept one eye on the television, one on the clock as I sat at the table. I grabbed a snack and went to the bathroom. getting killed by a psycho was something I would risk, crapping my pants in the face of danger would not. The minutes crawled by slowly, until the clock read 11:59 pm. I breathed deep and quietly stepped into the kitchen.

Suddenly I heard movement outside moving closer to the building. The sound of slow lumbering footsteps climbing the stairs to the door I stood waiting behind. one hand on the knob, one hand on the handle of a foot long knife. I listened as the plodding journey ended inches away. The silence was broken by three loud sharp raps on the door.

I threw open the door and confronted the monster that had come in the night to claim me. I prepared to strike with all my strength at the heart of the beast only to see one of my grandfather's drinking cronies from the bar out front standing there as he drunkenly weaved from side to side. I slid the knife onto the stove top so he did not see it in the semidarkness and asked what on Earth was he doing beating on the door at this time of night.

He looked confused and asked where my grandfather was, and why he had sent John over to the bar to tell him my grandfather wanted to see him right away. I told him that he must be mistaken, because my grand folks had gone to bed a couple hours ago. He scratched his head and turned to leave. As he staggered away mumbling something about damn kids I heard the muffled sound of laughter around the yard. One at a time the local boys popped up and cheered.

I went downstairs into the yard and walked up to John. I looked him in the eye and told him that he had almost got old Charlie killed. John laughed and said welcome to the club I passed the bravery test unlike poor gutless Butchy who was doomed from that day forward to be a pack animal for all of us to use. I laughed and punched John in the arm as hard as I could and told him no hard feelings. We shook hands. That was the night I took my place as a honored member of the Boy's Tribe.

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