Empty_Hotel_4

By breakfast, Jack’s outlook was improving. Getting showered and dressed had helped him wake up and forget the dream. His mom cooked a feast and Jack ate everything set before him.

“So what’s on the plan today, Bub?” his mom asked.

“I gotta get everything ready — Ben will be here at noon,” Jack said through a mouthful of food.

“I heard about that. Stephen’s coming too?”

“Not yet, he’s he’s gonna come later," replied Jack.

"Good. That should be good for him."

"Uh-huh," Jack said. He was hardly listening.

When he had scraped the last of the egg from the plate to his mouth, Jack jumped up and carried his dishes to the sink. With one hand, he started to clean his plate.

"Never mind that, I'll take care of it," his mom said as she shooed him away.

 

 

**********

 

When Ben arrived, Jack was methodically taking inventory of the camping gear in the garage. He set down the camping chair and walked over to the car.

"Hey," said Jack.

"Hey yourself" replied Ben. "Pretty sling you got." Ben nodded to Jack's purple soft-cast.

"Three weeks — does that suck?"

Leaning in Ben said softly: "You're the expert, you tell me."

“Very funny,” said Jack.

“Was the hospital awful? I hate the hospital,” said Ben.

“Jeez, get over it,” said Jack. “You were there like five years ago.”

The boys paused their conversation as Jack’s mom came out of the house to greet the visitors: "Sheri, hi!" she said to Ben's mom, just getting out of the car.

"C'mon, let's go around back," Jack said to Ben.

In the back yard they started to plan their first day.

"Let's go over to the store. Get supplies," suggested Jack.

"Man, we got all day to do that. Let's go check out the local talent first," replied Ben.

"What do you mean?"

“You live in the neighborhood of hotties, and you don't even know it. Open your eyes my friend, don't you get out?" said Ben.

"You're obsessed!" exclaimed Jack.

"So what? Who isn't?"

"I don't even think anyone around here is home. Don't those rich kids all go away to fancy camps and stuff?"

"Clearly not all of us do."

Jack's neighborhood had plenty of kids his age, but they all went to private school, as Ben did. Jack knew very few of his neighbors, but Ben knew most of them.

"Well what are we going to do, just knock on doors?" asked Jack.

"No, we just hang and see who's looking."

"Just hang? Where?" asked Jack.

"Chill, my man, chill. Let's go hit the street."

"Can we at least bring some money? In case we end up in the vicinity of a store?"

"Roger that,” said Ben, and led Jack back around to the front of the house.

 

 

**********

 

Out front, the boys found their mothers saying goodbye. Ben’s mom was younger and shorter than Jack’s mom. They stood close to each other. Jack and Ben couldn’t hear what they were saying. Sheri returned to a normal tone of voice as she broke away and moved towards her car.

"I'll talk to you soon, let me know if you need a break," Ben's mom said as she climbed back into her car.

"Don't worry, they take care of themselves,” said Kate, Jack's mom.

"You're wonderful — thanks again!" said Sheri. "Come give me a kiss, Ben," his mom beckoned him.

Ben kissed his mom on the cheek. "Bye! See you soon," he called over his shoulder. Sheri shrugged at Kate and backed out of the driveway. Jack and Ben started down the street towards the more densely-packed houses.

"Be back soon, Mom. Going to the store,” said Jack.

“Are you two outdoorsmen going to eat a civilized dinner tonight?” Jack’s mom asked.

“No, we’re going to cook outside.”

“There’ll be extra, just in case,” said Jack’s mom as she turned to go inside.

Jack caught up with Ben who had started to wander down the street, with his hands thrust deep into his pockets. When Ben’s mom had driven away, and Kate had closed the front door, Ben stopped and turned to Jack.

“You gotta stop walking like a townie and get a little strut going, Jacky,” said Ben.

“Do you even hear what you sound like anymore?” asked Jack very seriously. “It’s like one of those teen reality shows with you around.”

Ben shot back a quick hurt look and then saw that Jack was close to cracking up.

“You’re such a dork,” said Ben. “No wonder you don’t know anything about the ladies.”

“Shortcut!” yelled Jack as he took off running through an empty lot between two houses. Ben quickly caught him as Jack cradled his sore arm. They continued along a narrow path through a strip of woods that made a lush barrier between the back yards of the neighborhood. They were just deep enough in the woods so that they could barely see the houses they passed. Ben and Jack crept noiselessly and spied on the neighbors.

The path followed a creek for a few hundred yards and the boys spent nearly an hour looking for frogs and fish in the shallow water. When the path passed into a dark area they sat in the underbrush looking through the trees at a very large house.

The house was an odd combination of styles — brick and clapboards, balconies and dormers. It was tan, with off-white shutters. The yard between them and the house was perfect. Neither boy could have described why the house looked out of place and ostentatious, but they both sensed that it was.

“That place is a mansion,” said Jack.

“I don’t know, it’s not that big,” replied Ben.

“Who do you think lives there?”

“Hmm, well, probably Heather Brecker and her family, I’m guessing,” said Ben.

“Heather Breck-what?” asked Jack. “Where exactly are you getting your information?”

“Mostly from her.” Ben pointed at a girl their age who was reclining on wicker chair near the house.

“Oh. Duh.”

“C’mon,” said Ben as he started towards the house.

“Wait, what?”

“Hey Heather,” called Ben. Heather sat up, shaded her eyes, and squinted.

“Ben Palmer? What are you doing here?” asked Heather.

“Me? I’m just hanging out with Jack.” Ben cocked his thumb over his shoulder. “You know Jack Randolph? He lives down the street.

Heather glanced past Ben to Jack who was just struggling out of the woods and starting across the yard. Jack had a vine stuck in his hair and was trying to untangle himself.

“Never met him,” said Heather and turned back to Ben. “You guys shouldn’t be sneaking around through those woods. My dad gets pretty mad when he sees boys trespassing back there.”

“Hey, who’s trespassing? We’re just going to the store,” said Ben. “Besides, Jack’s dad owns all of these woods behind here.”

“I seriously doubt that,” said Heather. “I have to go in now. I have gymnastics in an hour.”

Heather turned away and strode back to the patio doors on the back of her house. Ben turned and intercepted Jack just as he was catching up. When they had taken a few steps back towards the woods Ben leaned in and whispered to Jack: “Isn’t she hot?”

“Who? The mean one?” asked Jack.

Ben punched Jack lightly on this shoulder.

“Ow — watch that shit!”

They looked at each other, laughed, and trotted off back into the woods.

 

 

 

**********

 

After spending most of the afternoon meandering through the neighborhood, Ben and Jack finally reached Christy’s, a convenience store about a mile away from Jack’s house. Jack hadn't been there on his own in a while, since before Gabe had disappeared. Back then, Christy's marked the limit of how far Jack could travel alone.

Back before Jack and Ben were toddlers, Christy's was also a gas station. It still had an island, but no longer had pumps. The boys arrived from the back and hopped the low fence. Inside, they found the typical convenience store offerings: chips, soda, beer, small boxes and cans of this and that. Everything was more expensive than the IGA down in Thomkinsville, but not as bad as the chain stores that specialized in lottery tickets and cigarettes. A string of Christmas bells announced their arrival.

A fifty-ish woman behind the counter greeted them as they entered: “Hi boys!”

“Hi,” said Jack. He and Ben turned left and headed back to the refrigerator cases along the back of the store.

“Hey, we forgot money,” hissed Jack.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Ben as he pointed to his back pocket. “I got it covered.”

Jack wrinkled his brow and paused. Ben always had better toys and clothes, but Jack usually brought the cash.

“What about these?” Ben was holding up a box of Twinkies.

“Yuck! You know I can’t stand those things.”

“They’re good for you — put hair on your chest,” taunted Ben.

“You can keep it,” shrugged Jack. “We better get stuff for tomorrow morning too.”

The boys collected everything they would need for their campground dinner and breakfast and headed up to the front of the store loaded with supplies.

“Wow, stocking up?” asked the woman behind the counter. She recognized Jack from being from the neighborhood. Her name tag identified her as “Sally.”

“We’re running away,” smiled Ben.

“Oh! In that case, you’re not going to get very far,” she said.

“We’ll be back when we get hungry again.” Ben was never afraid to banter with adults, Jack looked on with admiration. He had always been shy around Sally.

Sally finished ringing them up — “Today is going to cost you fifteen-sixty-seven, we’ll see about tomorrow.”

Ben reached for his wallet and carefully fished out a bill. He slid a one hundred dollar bill across the counter. Jack looked on with wide eyes. Sally reached for it and paused with her hand in mid-air.

“You got anything smaller, big spender?” her tone was no longer as jovial.

Ben turned red and hastily drew back the bill.

“Um, yeah, I think so.”

A few seconds later he pushed a twenty across the counter.

“Sorry.”

“No harm done,” replied Sally. “If you need to break that hundred, Bill is here until noon. He doesn’t like me to take anything above a fifty.”

“Thanks, Sally,” said Ben, still looking down.

Sally gave Ben his change and he shoved it into his front pocket. She collected the groceries and handed each of them a bag.

“Enjoy those burgers,” said Sally as they headed out the door.

As they walked through the parking lot, Jack looked sideways at Ben, wondering if he should ask about the money. Ben seemed to know what he wanted to ask.

“My dad only had hundreds,” said Ben and then paused. “I wanted to break it so I would have smaller bills. My mom only gave me one twenty.”

 

 

 

**********

 

“I hereby dub this the first official hamburger of the summer!” Ben said as he pulled a charred lump of beef from his stick.

Jack clapped his right hand against his leg with approval: “Bravo! Well done, well done! Here, take a bun for that.”

"Burgers are awesome over a fire. They should always cook them like this," said Ben.

Jack hunched down a little and squinted through the bushes so he could spy at the house. Their campsite was on the edge of the woods, just about thirty yards from the back door. They had a tall maple and some thick bushes to give their campsite some privacy.

"Looks like my parents are having chicken again," said Jack. 

"You can't see that from there," said Ben.

Jack laughed. He balanced his burger on his knee so he could get some chips and poke the fire with his stick.

“So what do you want to do tomorrow?” Jack asked through a mouthful of chips.

“Whatever the day brings, Jacky,” replied Ben. “Oh, I know — we should go hunting.”

“Nothing’s in season. Besides, you’ve never killed anything.”

“Man… It was just an idea. You don’t have to freak out about it,” replied Ben. He tied a plastic grocery bag on the end of his hamburger stick and waved it over the flames, until it caught. “What about fishing then?”

"You're burning that bag," said Jack. "I like mine rare."

"You're just pissed because I thought of it first," said Ben. "First official garbage torch!" he exclaimed, waving the stick over his head. 

The boys laughed.

"Seriously," said Ben. "What about fishing?"

“We’re not going to catch anything around here,” said Jack. “We could hike over to the old quarry. There’s no fish there, but it’s only a couple miles, and we can go swimming.”

“I’ll go over there, but I don’t know about swimming. It’s probably still pretty cold,” said Ben. He smiled — “Maybe we should drop by Heather’s on the way.”

“What’s with you and that girl?” asked Jack. “She’s barely hot, and she’s a total bitch.”

“Whatever. Someday you’ll understand.”

“Yeah. You know? That’s true,” said Jack as he looked up to night sky. “Eventually, I’ll grow up. But you know what? You’ll still be mostly retarded.”

A piece of meat bounced off of Jack’s forehead. “Hey!” yelled Jack. “Don’t waste it.”

Jack stood up and started collecting trash while he was still chewing on his last bite of hamburger. 

The boys finished their dinner, cleaned up their site, and hoisted the cooler with the remaining food up into a tree. They built up the fire and stretched out as close as they could comfortably get. The night was damp and cool for June, and the warmth was welcome.

At the edge of the neighborhood, the house was isolated enough that they boys had very little sound or light pollution to contend with. The woods at their back began to come alive with the sounds of the night. They were both accustomed to camping and paid no attention to the routine noises. They didn’t last long in the warmth of the fire before they began to fall asleep.

 

 

 

**********

 

Jack awoke in the night and held himself perfectly still. He felt there was something right outside the tent and he didn’t want it to know he was awake. He remained clenched in fear for several minutes before he began to speculate as to why he had woken up. Still convinced that he was being scrutinized, he began to think about Gabe Vigue. He wondered how long a little kid could have survived alone in the woods. Was it possible that Gabe was outside his tent? Jack’s eyes were well adjusted to the dim moonlight filtering through the tent, and he could see that Ben was deep asleep.

Jack slowly reached out with his foot until it hit Ben’s sleeping bag. He nudged Ben’s leg. No response. Jack pushed harder — right into Ben’s kneecap. Something brushed the front of the tent. Jack pulled back and gave Ben a swift kick.

“Hey — what are you doing?” slurred Ben.

“Shh,” said Jack in a barely audible whisper. “There’s something out there.”

Ben sat up, rubbed his eyes, and then sat very still for several seconds. “Nothing,” Ben said as he flopped back down. Ben appeared to be back asleep within moments.

Jack waited and waited. He could barely let himself breathe as he listened for any sound. Jack’s head was still, but his eyes darted around the tent, looking for any shadow. He began to feel eyes on his back. As noiselessly as he could muster, Jack turned his head around to see the wall of the tent behind him. As he guessed, there was the outline of a small person silhouetted on the side of the tent.

Jack wanted to whisper to Ben, but he couldn’t seem to figure out how to make any sounds with his useless mouth. Finally the shape moved and brushed lightly on the side of the tent again. When he couldn’t follow the shape anymore, Jack turned back to Ben. He was surprised to see Ben’s eyes wide open, although he was still breathing deep and slow, as if he were asleep.

“Did you see that?” whispered Jack.

Ben nodded and mouthed “Yes.”

They sat looking at each other without speaking for an eternity.

 

 

 

**********

 

In the morning, Jack didn’t even think about the night’s visitor until he exited the tent. The cooler of food they had carefully lifted into the tree was lying on it’s side a dozen yards from the tent. What remained of their food was strewn about their site. Jack followed the rope from the cooler back to the big maple tree. The rope ended with a frayed end, as if it had been gnawed through. Jack picked up the garbage while Ben remained asleep in the tent.

Jack took the bag of trash into the garage, and met his mom on his way to the bathroom.

“How is roughing it treating you?” she asked.

“Great! Everything is perfect,” he replied.

“Your dad wanted me to remind you that you had an agreement about keeping a clean campground,” she chided. “He said there was a bit of a mess this morning?”

“I’m sorry. It’s all cleaned up now. Don’t worry — it won’t happen again. I guess we were just a little excited last night.”

His mom studied his face. Jack looked away and then continued to the bathroom.

“Don’t forget about dinner on Friday, and you have to take a shower at least every other day.”

“Okay. I remember,” Jack called as he walked away.

 

 

 

**********

 

The boys ate a quick meal of Pop Tarts and half a carton of chocolate milk. The milk had a puncture in its side and leaked as they drank. They organized their site, put on their hiking gear, and decided to head for the quarry. They talked only of the mechanics of the trip — no idle conversation, or discussion of the previous night’s events.

Jack was able to navigate them out of the neighborhood through vacant lots and undeveloped strips of woods. Although they passed close to several houses, they ignored the buildings and pretended they were in the wilderness — far away from civilization. Where the path was ill-defined, they took time to cut back brush and make it passable. They dragged thick branches to lay across the creek to make rudimentary bridges where they needed to cross. In places where the path split, they back-tracked and stomped down the wrong path to throw off imagined stalkers.

After a couple of miles, their path broke out of the woods and followed a power-line cut. Central Maine Power had cut a neat strip through the woods about fifty yards wide. The path they followed meandered through this strip, back-and-forth, under the power lines. Their pace increased as they didn’t have to do any maintenance on the trail.

“Hold up — I think it’s around here,” said Jack.

“What’s around here?”

“There’s a little side trail that goes over to the quarry. I think it’s right around here,” replied Jack.

“Is that it?” Ben pointed back down the trail a few yards.

There was a small break in the blueberry bushes that looked like it was once a path.

“Could be. Let’s find out,” said Jack.

They followed the modest path back into the woods where it soon petered out.

“I don’t think this is anything,” said Jack.

“Boy, you give up too easy — look,” pointed Ben.

Following Ben’s outstretched arm Jack saw what Ben saw: there was a tiny amount of sunlight coming from between the trees.

“Try to keep up,” said Ben as he worked his way through the woods.

When navigating the close branches Jack was at a significant disadvantage with only one working arm. He ducked and dodged, trying to to keep up with Ben. Overhead they could see blue sky between the branches, suggesting a clearing up ahead. At their level, even Ben had a hard time pushing through the dense underbrush.

“Hey, I think I… Whoa!” yelled Ben.

Jack saw Ben overbalanced and disappearing quickly through a gap in the thick bushes. He recognized the scene — it felt like he was watching himself from behind as he fell from the garage loft. All that was left of Ben was his legs at waist-height, and they were slipping away. Jack threw himself forward and grabbed for Ben’s shoe. He knew that if the quarry were on the other side of this bush, Ben could be falling into a deep pit.

Jack managed to get a handful of shoe, with his fingers hooked in next to Ben’s ankle, but Ben’s momentum carried them both forward. Digging in his knees, Jack stopped himself and Ben’s shoe popped off in his hand.

“Ben!” Jack screamed as he thrust his face through the bushes.

“Hey, what are you thinking?” asked Ben — inches from his face.

“Oh man, I thought you fell.”

“I was going to, until you stole my shoe,” replied Ben.

Ben helped Jack through the bushes where he could see that they were on the lip of a small sand pit. Ben grabbed his shoe from Jack and sat down to put it back on.

“I think there’s a path over there,” Ben nodded towards the far side of the pit.

They made their way around the sand and found a four-wheeler path that led through a brief stretch of woods before opening up to a large dug-out area. They carefully slid down the side, to the bottom of the quarry. Four-wheeler tracks all around them suggested the pit had heavy recreational use now. They explored the different areas and worked their way around to a flat rock next to a big pool of water. The water was a strange shade of blue-green.

Protected from the wind, it was quickly becoming very hot on the rock. The boys took off their shoes and socks and dangled their feet in the cool water. They balled up their shirts, and leaned back on the hot rock, using their shirts as pillows as they laid in the sun.

“Do you come over here much?” asked Ben.

“Nope, not very often. My friend Mark showed it to me one time. His dad used to work for the sand and gravel place.”

“Jeez, I’d be down here all the time, this place is neat,” said Ben.

“Well we haven’t really had the chance. I mean, I’ve only lived here a couple of years, and that stuff with that Vigue kid. I couldn’t even leave the house for like two months,” said Jack.

“Yeah, I know what you mean. I had to go everywhere with my brother. Doesn’t that kid live right near you?”

“Well, he did. Just a couple houses away,” replied Jack. “My dad used to do some stuff with his dad, but not anymore. Now that guy is really angry all the time.”

“How old is he — the kid I mean?” asked Ben.

“I don’t know, maybe six or something. He was just a little kid,” Jack said and paused, then asked “Hey, what do you think got into our food last night?”

“You know, I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and I think there’s only one answer… The ghost of Gabe Vigue,” Ben laughed.

“Yeah, real funny,” said Jack.

“Wow, lighten up already.”

“Seriously though — that was something big that took down that cooler,” said Jack.

“Probably just a raccoon or something,” replied Ben.

“Have you ever heard of a raccoon figuring out how to break into a food stash hung fifteen feet up?” asked Jack. “How did it know to chew that rope?”

“We’re not talking about any old raccoon here, dude. If you haven’t noticed, that’s one nice neighborhood you live in. You probably have some well-educated animals patrolling those yards,” joked Ben.

They laid in the sun for several minutes without talking.

“You know, I’m starting to get hungry — maybe we should get out moving,” said Ben.

“Yeah, let’s get wet first,” replied Jack.

They deemed the water too cold for full immersion, but decided to dip their heads and splashed around a bit before heading back to the path. On the way out of the pit they found a proper trail back to the power lines and marked it with their swiss army knives — peeling a small amount of bark from selected trees.

The trip back was significantly shorter than their trip out. They made it back to the house a little after noon.

 

 

**********

 

Their raided cooler didn’t hold much in the way of appealing lunch material, so they relented and decided to visit the kitchen. Inside, Jack’s mom was doing laundry.

“There you are — Jack, can I talk to you for a minute?” asked Jack’s mom.

“Just a minute, mom, we’re making sandwiches,” replied Jack.

“Now, Bub,” she said. His mom directed him into the laundry room while Ben busied himself with his sandwich and pretended to ignore the conversation.

“Jack, do you remember the conditions you agreed to when we said you could camp out this summer?” she asked Jack. Her voice was gentle, but her face stern.

“Yes, we had to keep a clean site, no fires after ten, dinner with the family twice a week,” Jack slowed, “um, shower every other day.”

His mom cut him off — “And you’ll check in if you’re leaving the property? Ring a bell?”

“Oh yeah, check in.”

“Where’d you go this morning?”

“Oh, I’m sorry — we didn’t even think of it. We went to the power lines,” said Jack.

“Jack! You need to check with me before wandering off like that — that is not acceptable.”

“Yes, mom.”

“Okay, yes, but I need to know you’ve gotten the message,” she said.

“Yes, I got it,” he replied.

“Just to be sure — you’ll stay here the rest of the day. You’ll have your shower today, and then you’ll have dinner with us tonight.”

“Okay,” said Jack. He looked at his feet — there was no use arguing with his mom.

“It’s not the end of the world — you can put your stuff away in the rec-room while you’re here. Then you won’t have to worry about that for the rest of the summer.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, then,” she said. “Go eat your sandwich.”

He started to leave, and she called him back. “Jack, one other thing — I put fresh sheets on the guest bed. Tell Ben he can sleep there tonight.”

“We have to sleep inside? Aw, mom!” Jack whined.

“Just tonight. You can go back to your camp tomorrow.”

“Alright,” he moaned.

He returned to the kitchen with his shoulders slumped. Ben had a mouthful of sandwich. He looked at Jack and raised his eyebrows.

“I got in trouble because we went for hike without letting her know. We have to stay here tonight,” Jack said.

Ben swallowed. “Big deal — just one night, right?” he said and picked up his sandwich again. “I miss TV anyway.”

They both laughed.

 

 

 

**********

 

After eating and getting cleaned up, the boys spent a couple hours in the basement rec-room. Jack knew the minimum amount of effort he would have to show to get his mom’s approval that he had attempted to clean up his stuff. Ben spent most of the time laying on the couch and reading a bicycle magazine he had found.

When they were finished downstairs, they headed up to Jack’s room. They played video games, watched TV, and talked until they were completely bored. Eventually they invented a game where they shot rubber bands at each other until one of them got hurt. After pausing for a few minutes they would be back to shooting.

“So what’s your dad doing this summer?” asked Jack.

“He’s representing some tribe suing California,” said Ben.

“Huh. For what?”

“Who knows. Ow! You got me right in the eye,” said Ben. They both laughed as Ben rubbed his eye.

They said simultaneously — “It’s only fun and games if someone gets hit in the eye.” That had been their mantra the summer before last.

“Remember the forbidden race?” asked Jack.

“I remember who still holds the world record,” bragged Ben.

They had invented a race in Ben’s basement during a week of rain, two summers before. It had involved rolling an office chair through all the rooms of the basement while gripping the arm rests. The floor was tile and they reached improbable speeds — pushing off against walls and furniture. The race had become “The Forbidden Race” when Ben had knocked over a bookshelf. A crash of books had summoned Ben’s mother who had banned the game. After that they had to race very quietly, and only when they were sure she wouldn’t hear.

For Jack, that had been the last fun week that summer. The following weekend Stephen had shown up. Stephen was the son of friends of Ben’s parents. Apparently, they had played together when they were four, so the parents all assumed that the kids should still be best friends. Jack considered himself Ben’s only legitimate best friend and resented the intrusion.

To make things worse, Stephen felt the need to brag about everything and devise ways to drive a wedge between Jack and Ben.

“Dinner time,” Jack’s mom called from downstairs.

The boys raced down the stairs.

 

 

 

**********

 

Jack thought his dad would be angry, but dinner went very well. His dad gave him only a little bit of a hard time to enforce his mom’s punishment. It seemed that all was forgiven. After dinner they all watched TV in the family room and then the boys went back up to Jack’s room.

Soon after it began to get dark outside, Jack realized that they had left some food improperly stowed at their campsite. Getting permission from Jack’s parents, Jack and Ben headed out in the dusk to collect their food. When they were almost finished, Ben looked up at the trees.

“Look at that,” Ben pointed to a blue flashing in the leaves overhead.

“Cops,” said Jack. Their eyes followed the light back to its source a few doors down.

The boys dropped their food at the back door and crept around the side of the house to get a better look. Down the block and across a side street, four police cruisers were parked around Mr. Anderson’s house. He was an older man who lived next to the Vigues. Jack crept a bit closer in time to see the police leading Mr. Anderson out of his house and towards a police car.

The Vigues came out of their house and looked on for a moment before Mr. Vigue ran towards his handcuffed neighbor.

“You sick fuck — I’ll kill you,” Mr. Vigue screamed as he ran towards Mr. Anderson. Police quickly restrained Mr. Vigue and attempted to lead him back to his own house. Other officers were setting up yellow tape around Anderson’s house and a state police vehicle, a big van, pulled up in front.

Ben came up behind, and Jack nearly jumped over the bush he was hiding behind.

“What are they doing? What did that guy do?” asked Ben.

“That was Mr. Anderson they’re driving off with. The mad guy was Mr. Vigue — Gabe’s dad,” replied Jack.

“You think that was about Gabe? Wow, must have been,” said Ben.

“I don’t know. Could be,” said Jack. He couldn’t take his eyes off the white-suited police donning gear from the big van. Three of them, with coveralls and masks made their way with big white cases towards Anderson’s house.

“Totally cool,” said Ben.

“Okay boys, back inside.” They both jumped at the sound of Jack’s father.

“Jeez Dad, you scared us to death!” said Jack.

“Just go up to your room, and quit sneaking around.”

“Okay, but why did they take away Mr. Anderson?” asked Jack.

“I don’t know, son, but I’m sure the police have the matter under control,” said his father.

Jack and Ben went back around the house, grabbed their food, and went back in the house. Back upstairs, they stretched out on Jack’s bed and watched through the side window. They could see the Vigue house — every light was on and several figures moved around inside. They couldn’t get a clear look at Anderson’s place though — it was dark in comparison with all the bright lights from Vigue’s house and the police cars.

“I bet he did it,” said Ben. “Snatched that kid. Well at least they caught him.”

“Yeah,” said Jack. He turned away from the window and grabbed one of his puzzle books from his nightstand. Ben continued to look out the window as Jack concentrated on a crossword.

 

 

 

**********

 

In the morning, Jack paused on his way to the bathroom. He could hear his parents talking in the kitchen so he crept down a few stairs to listen to their conversation.

“Jones said they had the blood team in there,” said his dad.

“So they think Bill had Gabe back at his house?” asked his mom.

“I guess so. They showed up at Vigues at the same time. Had a psychologist talking to Andy while they led Anderson out. Guess they knew he has a temper.”

“Can they do that?” she asked. “He hasn’t been convicted of anything yet.”

“Who knows. Andy Vigue has a lot of relatives who are cops, maybe they gave him special treatment or something.”

“I just can’t believe Bill would do something like that. He was the sweetest guy,” said his mom.

Jack crept back upstairs to catch Ben up on what he had heard.

 

 

 

**********

 

Later that day Ben and Jack were allowed to return back to their freedom of camping out. They were subdued though — they couldn’t shake the implications of what they had seen the night before. The reality of what had happened to Gabe Vigue, or what had likely happened to Gabe Vigue, was fresh in their minds. What had been a fairly light subject at the quarry the previous day had a new gravity.

Ben tossed out a couple of half-hearted ideas for activities, but nothing captured their imagination. They spent a while trying to devise a way to guarantee their cooler would be out of harm’s way, but in the end decided it would be easier to just store it in the basement at night. They both knew this was a lame concession; it destroyed the spirit of being independent from the house.

Jack suggested they rig up a tarp over the tent in case it started raining and that sparked a review of the entire campsite. They evaluated the likelihood that their tent was going to “swamp out” and debated moving it uphill. But there was no motivation to undertake that amount of effort. Their mode of living had moved from adventure to chore. By evening they were downright dejected and they decided to see what Jack’s mom had for dinner. Jack’s parents had a sense of why the boys had given up on camping, and encouraged Ben and Jack to return to the tent for the night. They were up late, talking and looking at the shadows the moonlight cast against the walls of the tent.

“So you think he got him?” asked Jack. Ben knew what he was talking about.

“They have to have some proof to show up and take him away like that,” replied Ben. “They must have something.”

“My mom talks to that guy all the time. He always seemed so nice.”

“You never know about people,” said Ben. “I heard my dad talking about this guy one time, he murdered a whole family and everyone thought he was the best guy in the world. He had all this money, and a perfect job, but he just snapped. Like nothing, then he killed a bunch of people and nobody could believe it.”

“Stop talking about it. You’re freaking me out,” said Jack.

“Yeah, but they got him — your neighbor, I mean,” replied Ben. “So what’s to worry about?”

“I guess,” Jack said and paused. “But if he could do that, somebody else could be the same way. Do you think people are born that way?”

“Nah, it doesn’t work like that,” said Ben. “Something bad has to happen. And the odds are crazy that you would have two of those guys in the same area. You ever heard of two sets of guys running around killing people in the same town? No way.”

“I guess,” said Jack.

“That’s weird that it was right down the block like that,” said Ben. “When I heard about it I knew it was over this way, but I didn’t think it would be right there.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” said Jack.

“Good point. Did I tell you what my dad’s new girlfriend said?” asked Ben.

“You didn’t even mention he had a new girlfriend — what happened to Ms. Broyhill?” asked Jack. Ben’s father always insisted that adults be called mister or Ms. He had dated Ms. Broyhill for six years, but the boys still called her Ms.

“He never said, but my brother thinks she was sleeping around.”

“Wow!” said Jack.

“Yeah, she was okay, but she was always making all that crazy food that nobody could eat,” said Ben. “She would make us eat snails, and dandelion greens, and then meat for desert.”

“Get outta here,” said Jack.

“Seriously, she got really weird with food. I’m sorta glad she’s gone even though I only had to see her once a week,” admitted Ben. Jack held his tongue — he despised Ms. Broyhill, but had never said as much to Ben.

“I think you’ve got the only together parents I know around here,” said Ben.

“Yeah, that’s true,” said Jack. “But they fight sometimes.”

“Not like other parents,” said Ben. “Trust me, your parents are like totally perfect for each other.”

“I bet.”

“Really,” said Ben.

Eventually their conversation trailed off and Jack felt very settled. He was starting to have a real sense that he was lucky to have the summer and his best friend. Each time he saw Ben he could tell they had less and less in common, but they could still share a summer.

 

 

 

**********

 

A week and a half passed and Jack and Ben established a solid routine. They would go on pre-approved walks each day, go for food every two days, make their own meals, and submit to the mandatory dinners and hygiene enforced by Jack’s parents. The weather was mostly good and on the one really rainy day they caught a ride to the mall with the big movie theaters. As Jack showed more responsibility, his parents became more apt to bend the rules and allow the boys to go on longer hikes. Working through Jack’s book on survival techniques and they practiced foraging for edible plants and making rudimentary tools.

One day they managed to kill a small squirrel with a deadfall made of sticks and big rock. They imagined that they would eat their kill to prove their ability to live off the land, but the dead squirrel was pitiful and unappealing. Ben ended up digging a small, respectful grave for the rodent and they interred it while apologizing.

Aside from their rainy day, each day was warmer than the last. At the apex of this heat wave they would go early to the quarry and spend the morning in and out of the water. A hand-lettered message on a rock read “Swim at your own risk.” but Ben was able to wipe away the “y.” They talked about everything from what high school would be like to what kind of car they would drive when they were adults. Ben wanted to get a new German convertible, and Jack preferred the idea of a restored muscle-car.

On any subject, after about twenty minutes of debate they would both relent and take the other’s position. Soon they would each be defending the position they had previously considered “retarded.” This mechanism allowed them to express strong opinions and know they could reconcile quickly and completely.

Their perfect summer routine ended early one afternoon on a Tuesday.

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