Genre: Fiction Adventure 51,796,words, YA & Adult: Chapters 1–5 of 11
Where Others Never Played
By Francis G. Truglio
Canarsie Brooklyn, 1957: Below the desert-like surface of Canarsie’s long–abandoned landfill, decomposing garbage smoldered. When conditions were right, eerie whiffs of rancid smoke would rise from the ground and drift about like ghostly-fiends. Fourteen-year-old John Tugg thought them the landfill’s guardians. They were his Keepers of The Dump, the protectors of its hidden treasures.
Standing on the sidewalk between Sue and her brother Walter, John stared at the Dump. “Hey, the smoke demons are about. Perhaps they don’t want us to enter?”
Sue turned to leave, “That’s fine with me.”
John faked a laugh. “Hey, I was only kidding.”
“I wasn’t. Let’s go somewhere else today. Those things give me the creeps.” She gritted her teeth and sighed. “Besides, I’m not in the mood to be worrying about rats, dog packs, and weird Ole Man Rusty.”
“Then go home.” John waved a dismissing hand, looked at Walt, and said, “We’re going treasure hunting, right?”
Walt nodded. “Indeed, and I feel lucky today.”
Sue frowned as she patted her pockets for slingshot stones
Chapter 1: A Frigid Rescue
I yawned and forced my eyes to focus on my bedside clock, 7:45. Holy crap! I flung the covers off. “Mom, I’m late! Why didn’t you wake me?”
From the kitchen, Mom shouted, “Go back to sleep, John; the schools are closed. You have a snow-day.”
Oh, it’s just a snow day. A what? I jumped to my feet and dashed to the window. Hot damn, it looks like a blizzard. We’re going to have fun today. What the hell? I shook my head as I watched Old Man Rusty trudging through the snow with his backpack full. That ole guy’s crazy he should be home, wherever that is and not headed for the dump. I turned away. If only he wasn’t so darn creepy, I’d go help him.
In a fraction of the time, it took me to dress for school, I was out of my room and scrambling down the stairs. Halfway down, I slipped. “Oh damn…” I landed on my ass and butt-bounced to the bottom. My eyes widened as I looked up. Before I could stand or shout, no, mom snapped a rolled up dishcloth at me. “Yikes!” I rubbed my leg. “That hurt more than my bottom. Why the heck did you do that?”
Mom glared, “Because it sounded like you broke your fool neck. You gave me quite a fright.”
“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“I’m tired of telling you to take it easy on the steps. From now on, no more telling; nope, whenever I hear you charge down those steps,” She spun her towel into a rope. “You’re going feel this again! You got that?”
“I hope so; now get up and go wash your hands.
Moments later, I entered the kitchen. “Did dad go to work already?”
“No, he’s still in bed. Let him sleep.”
“Good, we won’t have to worry about him making it to the office in this.”
“Not really.” Mom frowned. “He got laid off again and this month the bills are—oh, never mind.”
Crap, I can’t ask for a toboggan now, but I know where to find one. “Mom, I could help—” No, don’t tell her. “I um…”
She placed my breakfast in front of me. “You were going to say something, dear?”
“Um, oh yeah, I could make some money shoveling snow.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Not in this neighborhood. Most everyone will shovel their own. Don’t fret about it; we’ll get by.”
I wanted to tell her when the snow melts, I was going to hunt my butt off in the Dump to find something to sell, but she’s not too fond of me going there. A truck rumbling by our house got our attention. We looked to the window.
“Idiots!” Mom growled as she stared at two boys holding onto to the rear bumper of the truck on the snow-covered road. She turned to me with her eyebrows drawn down and said, “Don’t even think about doing something like that!”
“I won’t. That’s dangerous.” I hid a smile. And a lot of fun. “The older boys do that stuff, we won’t.” Not today.
“Older, huh?” Her head tilted and she pinched her chin. “They looked your age to me.”
“The one with the red hood and black scarf was James. He’s almost 16.”
“And what kind of trouble will you be getting to today,” Mom said as she took my empty plate.
“None, we’ll be good.”
With stern eyes, she said, “If you three get into another fight with Robert and his friends, well…”
“But he started the last one; always does.”
“Doctor Hoffermen is a nice man. I don’t want to hear from him again about you fighting with his son.” Mom turned away to get something from the pantry.
“I know he is, but his son is as mean as he is big; a damn bully.” I then mumbled. “He’s a spoiled brat and an assho—”
“What was that?”
Lucky for me, there was a knock at the door. “That must be Walt and his sister, sorry, have to go now. I grabbed my coat and headed toward the door. “See you later.”
“Come home if it gets colder. Don’t come back shivering with blue lips.”
“I won’t. Bye.” I closed the door and before I had a chance to turn round, Sue and Walt pelted me with snowballs. “Hey, not fair.”
“We know.” Sue laughed as she threw another.
I grabbed a handful of snow, I said, “One more and I’ll stuff this down your shirt.” Sue dropped her snowballs.
“So,” Walter looked at us. “What are we going to do?”
“Let’s get our gear. I know where we can find a toboggan.” I turned away.
“Not the one from last month, that thing’s useless.” Sue bit her upper lip. “Besides, I don’t want to go there today.” She glanced around at the heavy snowfall. “We won’t be able to tell where we are, and who knows what’s out there? We could get lost.”
Although they never attacked us, Sue’s words brought to mind the Dump’s stray dogs that often roamed in packs. I was almost ready to agree when Walter nudged me. “We have our weapons. We’ll be fine. You’re not going to chicken out like a girl, are you?”
“Well…no, but—” I moved closer and whispered, “Rusty was headed for the dump earlier. We don’t want him appearing from nowhere.”
“No way, he’s not out in this.” Walt glanced at the ground. “Where are his foot prints?”
I looked back. “Gone, like our will be soon.”
“All right then.” Walter began to walk away. “Let;s go explore.”
Sue and I frowned as we reached for our war sticks leaning against the house. They were just pointed spears with bicycle handgrips in the center and decorated with an assortment of feathers, seagull, crow, and pigeon. My spear was special. It also had a few of the seldom-seen marsh hawk feathers. I patted my pocket to make sure I had stones for my slingshot. By the bulge in one of Sue’s pockets, she had plenty. We headed off.
Ten minutes later, with the snow coming down like quarters and nickels, my house disappeared from view. Our footprints stretched behind us for a short distance before vanishing. “Hey, Walt, we’re in a blizzard.”
“Yeah, cool huh?”
I grumbled, “No, it’s more like crazy.”
To our left, a large willow tree came into view and to the right was the entrance to the Dump, our strange little world. On a clear day, the tops of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings poked into sky beyond the vast dump and distant buildings.
Walter looked me and said, “Shall we?”
I nodded and said, “Let’s get going.”
“Into what?” Sue grumbled. “We can’t see where we’re going. We’re going to fall into a ravine or break through the ice. We won’t be able to tell if we’re walking on the ground or on one of the frozen ponds. This is stupid; I can’t tell where the heck we are. We should go home.”
Walt shook his head. “Don’t be silly; John and I can’t get lost out here no matter the weather. Tell her.”
I shrugged, “Well…”
Walt said, Besides, I know this place like my bedroom.”
Sue rolled her eyes. “Splendid, He’s not sure and you, well, can never find anything in that mess you call your bedroom.” She took a bag of table scraps from her pocket, mostly pork chop bones and dumped them upon the snow-covered ground. “Crap, they’ll be frozen and cover before the dogs find them.”
“I’m afraid you’re right Sis.” Walt turned to me, “Let’s go. I have a feeling this will be a day to remember.”
“That’s what worries me.” Sue grumble to me, “I can see it now, the day we got lost in a snowstorm in a place where others never go.”
I faked a laugh.
A short distance into the old abandoned landfill, Walter stopped and pointed at the snow-covered ground. “Wow, a big rat left these tracks.”
“No shit, damn.” Hoping to catch a glimpse at the creature, my eyes followed the rat’s footprints. “Um… Walt, what are those?” A few steps forward revealed an assortment of dog tracks. Most were small or average size, a few were quite large.
Sue gasped, “They’re fresh; they were just here! We’d better go home.” She tugged at her brother’s arm.
“Stop that,” Walter said, pushing her hand away. “Calm down, they’re following the rat. They won’t bother us if we go this way.” He pointed left.
Sue gritted her teeth. “Oh, you know that for a fact, huh?”
“Yes, the tracks are quite clear.” Walter drew lines in the snow with his stick. “See how they follow the rat.”
Sue’s face wore doubt, and I wasn’t all that convinced either, but said, “Yeah, he’s probably right.”
“Let’s go; the winding ravine is this way,” Walter said as he turned to led the way.
I nodded. “I remember seeing an old sled or two the last time we were there.”
Walt and I walked away, unaware that Sue wasn’t following. I looked over my shoulder and found Sue where we left her watching us. She was starting to fade from view into the falling snow. I yelled, “What are you doing?”
Sue looked at the dog tracks and yelled, “I’m coming.”
Moments later, I held my gloved hand out and caught a few huge snowflakes. “Gee… it’s getting heavier. We may be home from school for a week; hey, hey.”
Walt said, “That’s fine with me.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Sue grumbled, “and where’s that ravine? Shouldn’t we be there by now?”
Walt said, “We are, it’s right over there.”
I said, “Indeed. Come on, Sue,”
Sue stared into the ditch-like entrance of the winding ravine. Yes, we gave them names. She said, “I don’t know about this. The snow is making it hard to see. It’s going to be scary down there.”
Walter sneered at her. “Are you coming or what?”
Sue shivered at the icy and frequent gusts. I said, “Come on, at least we’ll be out of the wind down there.” She didn’t move.
As he began to descend the ditch-like path, Walt looked back at his sister, “You’re going to be scared, cold, and alone up there. Down here with us, you’ll just be scared.”
She frowned but followed. “I wonder what Mom would say about you leaving me out here alone?”
“Yeah well, if you say anything, you can forget about ever going anywhere with us again. Remember, you wanted to come with me this morning.”
“I know, but I never expected us to go here, not today!”
“Well, guess what.” Walter laughed.
“Be quiet.” Sue shook her head.
We searched for old sleds amid the layers of trash that were the walls of the ravine. While keeping a wary eye on the rim above, Sue said, “I hope they don’t appear up there; above us.”
“Who?” I pretended not to know.
I moved closer; took her hand in mine and said, “Don’t worry. We’re all right down here. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Sue looked at me and grinned. “You won’t?”
“Nope. Not ever.” My face felt warm. I must have blushed.
“Hey!” Walter shouted and pointed. “Check out the size of the toboggan up there.” Even with only half of it sticking out the hillside, it was big. Perfect for the three of us, if we could get it free. Walter climbed and reached for the toboggan. He pulled hard, but it didn’t move.
I said, “Forget it, Walt. It’s in too deep. You’ll never get it free.”
“I won’t if you just stand there, John.”
Sue and I looked at each other. We sighed, and maybe more to prove him wrong than to help, we climbed toward him. Despite our efforts, the toboggan didn’t budge.
Breathing heavily, Sue said, “See, it’s too deep we’ll never get it- Hey, what was that?”
“What was what?” I asked.
“I can’t hear anything but the wind.” John looked at me.”
“It’s not the wind. There it is again.” She said, “Can’t you hear them?”
Walter said, “Who?”
“The dogs, I hear dogs barking.” She began to climb to the surface.
“Where are you going, Sis?”
“To see what’s happing up there.” Reaching the top, but still staying on the side of the ravine to stay out of sight and below the cold gust, Sue turned round and said, “Come up here. You can hear them better from here. Oh, no….”
“Now what?” I scampered towards her.
“I can hear a duck too. They’re barking at a duck.”
I listened intently to the wind then said, “I think you’re right. I can hear them now.”
Stepping to the surface, Sue stood and looked down at us, “Come on, we have to do something. They’ll kill it.”
I scoffed, “No we don’t,”
“Dang, before she wanted to go home; now she wants to confront the dogs. My sister is crazy.”
“I’m not.” Sue added, “Besides, they’re just abandoned pets.”
“Once yes, but not now,” I said. “Now they’re a half-starved hungry pack.”
The distant barking and quacking of the duck became more frantic. Sue walked towards the sound, “Are you two coming?”
I looked at Walter. We rolled our eyes.
He grumbled, “Yeah, we’re coming, but I’m leading.”
“Good.” Sue nodded.
As we walked through the blinding snow I listened to dogs and wondered aloud, “Why do people do that, leave a dog as though it were just…garbage?”
Sue said, “Because some people are stupid and mean.”
Walter glanced back at us, “I could never throw a pet out of a car and speed off. That’s so cruel.”
We agreed and then a short distance later, Walt said, “Hey, they’re getting louder. We should see them any minute.”
For reasons unknown, the dogs fell quiet. “What the heck?” I said as I wondered if it was a good thing or not?
“Where’d they go?” Sue looked at me.
I lied, “I have no idea?” Could be they’re just waiting to ambush us.
Walter said, “They probably went into the Bean. That’s why we can’t them over the wind.”
“Are we near the Bean?” Sue asked.
“Yes, very.” Walt nodded. Seconds later, he pointed at a half-buried tangle of heavy wire. “It should be just ahead.”
Sure enough, the rim of the Bean soon became visible. We stood at the edge and looked down at the frozen bean-shaped pond twenty feet below the surface of the landfill.
“Oh, my!” Sue looked at a quacking mallard drake sitting on the ice. “The poor thing must have fallen asleep last night before the pond froze and got stuck.”
I said, “Are you sure? It doesn’t seem to be struggling.”
“Why else would it stay with the dogs so close?”
“She does have a point;,” Walt said, “but then, the dogs don’t seem like they want to chance the ice.”
“Yeah, he’s safe from them out there,” I said. “They’re not going to—” I gasped when one of the bigger, and perhaps, hungrier dogs carefully stepped onto the snow-covered ice.
Walt said, “We’ve seen that big one before.”
I nodded as Sue said, “Yes we have.”
With paws sliding every which on the ice, the black dog crept toward the duck. “Darn you Blackie.” Sue put a stone in her slingshot; aimed and said, “I’m sorry, but you’re not going to kill that duck. Go find a rat to eat.”
The marble-sized stone flew from the slingshot and hit the dog on his rump. It let out a loud yelp, lost its footing and dropped. It vainly tried to stand; only to drop again with all four legs sprawled about. With ribs showing from hunger and those frail skinny legs thrashing about it was painful to watch. I recalled how Robert and his friends tormented an injured cat last summer until we took it from them. They would have found the black dog’s plight hysterical. I hated that kid, still do.
When I saw tears gathering in Sue’s blue eyes, I moved closer. I didn’t know why then; just felt like I had to do something. I placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t feel so bad; he’ll be fine soon.”
She sniffled. “Easy for you to say, it wasn’t your stone that hurt him.”
I handed her my handkerchief to wipe her eyes, smiled and said, “Look it’s up again.” The black stray looked up at Sue with its large yellow eyes and growled. It glanced at the mallard and slowly moved off the ice.
“Good he’s leaving. We can—” Sue gasped.
With its head low and ears back, it turned toward us snarling.
Sue whispered, “The last time we saw him, he wagged his tail at us, now look at him.”
“Well, you left him food that day; today, you deprived him of it.” I put a hand on Sue’s arm and urged her to back away. “Pt another stone id your slingshot, just on case.”
Walt said, “To hell with just in case. Let’s let him and his pack buddies feel the sting of our slingshots, and then run.”
“No!” Sue frowned. “Besides, we can’t out run them.”
“She’s right,” I said. “And if we run from a few of them, the whole pack give chase also.”
The dog was still growling and now halfway to us. I took aim as did Walt.”
Sue crouched and said, “Wait.” Sue quickly made a few snowballs. “Let me try these first.”
A hard-packed snowball it hit the dog on its nose. It stopped and shook its head.
“Wow, he didn’t like that much. Throw another.” Walt said.
She did and hit him again as we watched with slingshots drawn. Her next throw was as good her last. It turned tail and descended. Walt and I sighed.
Sue said, “I’m glad we didn’t have to hurt him again.”
Walt and I agreed. The black dog joined his pack a short distance away. I said,
“Good. We can get back to what we were doing.” Walt and I turned to leave.
“Come back here; your sled hurting can wait.” Sue stammered. “We first have to rescue that duck from the ice. We can’t just leave it there to die.”
“And what about them?” Walt looked the not-distant-enough dog pack. “Who’s going to keep them away while we’re helping your duck?”
Turning towards Sue and I said, “Your brother’s right; they could be on us pretty quick.”
Sue glanced at the dogs, then the duck and said, “I think they’re afraid of us now. We just need to stay aware. Heck, look at them; half still have collars. They’re just abandoned pets, no?”
Walt said, “Not anymore.”
“Those abandoned pets are desperate, Sue.” I grimaced. “We better keep a real close eye on them, Oh, and hey, when did you get so darn brave?”
“I’m not. I’m scared too, but I think we’ll sleep better tonight if we don’t have to worry about that dumb duck.”
“I suppose.” I shrugged.
“Not me,” Walt said. “That won’t keep me awake.”
“Would too, liar,” Sue said. “I remember how awful you felt when your stupid little turtle went missing.”
“That was different and it wasn’t stupid.”
“Oh really? Well, I’m going to rescue it with or without you.”
“Your sister is nuts.”
We followed her down the incline toward the pond. The lower we went, the more they barked. Sue started yelling, throwing snowballs at them. Walt and I lobbed a few also. The more timid dogs began to run off. A moment and more snowballs after which, Fang and the black one also join the pack on the other side of the pond.
Standing near the edge of the pond, Sue twisted her lips. “How are we going to free him?”
The ice-bound duck quacked at us with tail feathers wagging. “Look, I think it knows we came to help,” Sue said. She kneaded her chin and looked around for something to use. Pointing at something sticking out of the snow, she said, “There, that old door. We can slide it onto the ice so we don’t fall through.”
“Oh, you think, huh?” Walter said.
“Most certainly if you help.”
Walt hesitated; then followed me as I said, “I bet it’s frozen in good. We’ll never get it out.”
“If you think we can’t, we won’t.” Sue complained. “You have to think positive.”
I shrugged and said, “All right, I’m thinking positive and I positively think we can’t free it.”
Walt laughed as Sue reached down and grabbed an end of the door. She pulled as hard as she could, but it didn’t budge an inch. “Are you two going to help me or what?”
Walt and I grimaced and glanced at the distant dogs. Walt said, “We’ll give it a try, but it looks really buried.”
With the three of us straining hard, Sue shouted, “It’s coming free.”
Grasping it from another angle, and on the count-of-three, we pulled again.
“There, I knew we could do it,” Sue shouted as it came free toppling us over. We carried the door over to the pond and slid it onto the ice. With what appeared to be bewilderment, the duck bobbed its head and quacked at us. Sue knelt down and was about to crawl out onto the door when Walter pulled her back, “Get off of that thing before you fall through the ice.”
“Then what did we get it for?”
He helped her to her feet and said, “I’ll free your dumb duck.”
“But I’m lighter than you. You’ll surely fall through.”
“Perhaps, but I’m also a lot taller than you, and I’ll be able to get out of the water quicker; besides, if I fall through and go home wet and frozen, Mom won’t be near as mad at me as she will if I bring you home like that. You’re going to owe me for this one.”
Sue frowned, “I suppose.”
Walter carefully crawled onto the door. The three of us cringed at the sound of the ice creaking and cracking under the door. Lying on his stomach, Walter looked at the duck some eight feet beyond his reach and said, “This is not going to work.”
With her war stick, Sue pushed the door, and along with it her brother, further out onto the ice.
Walter shouted, “What are you doing, Sis?”
“Helping,” Sue said. “Can you reach him now?”
“You’re crazy,” Walter grumbled as he looked at the duck. The ice complained louder. Walt’s outstretched fingers tried to grab the duck, but it was still beyond reach. Sue pushed him out further, which brought more cracking and groaning sounds from below.
I said, “That’s it, no further.”
Quack, quack. The duck seemed to warn Walter.
Walt slowly reached out. “I think I can get to him now. Oh no”
We heard a loud grown from the ice. Our eyes darted about looking for cracks; we found none. The snow hid them from view and he knew it. Staring at the duck he said, “Look I’m going to give this one last try. If you give me a hard time, I will leave you here.”
Quack, quack. Tail feathers fluttered.
As Walt’s fingers neared the duck, it began to quack frantically. Then to our amazement, it flapped its wings and simply flew out of the ice with no effort at all, leaving a little pool of water where it had been. As Walt watched the duck circle above, he shouted, “Stupid duck, you weren’t even stuck in the ice.”
Walt lay there for a moment shaking his head. I saw his eyes widen as we heard and I’m sure, he felt the ice below him begin to break up.
Walt yelled, “Get me off the ice now!”
“Oh dear,” Sue said. “I didn’t think about getting you back when I pushed you.”
Walter grumbled, “Oh shit, I’m screwed now,” as he slowly pushed himself backward. Although it took seconds, for him it must have seemed like forever. Now standing, Walter dusted the snow from his chest and legs. He looked at his sister, “Are you happy now?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know it was just sitting there. I really thought it was stuck. Besides, you two thought the same.”
“I suppose,” I said.
“Can you believe that?” Walt said as we watched duck flying in circles over the dogs quacking.
A moment later, the duck flew off into the falling snow. I laughed. “That’s one crazy duck. He should be down south this time of year.”
Walter grunted, “No, we’re the strange ones, out here, messing around on thin ice.”
Sue sighed. “Perhaps, but our intentions were good.”
I put a hand on her shoulder, “Yes, they were.”
Above the valley again, we found ourselves exposed to the wind. Walt grumbled, “Damn, it’s cold up here.”
Her teeth chattering, Sue said, “Can I hide from the wind behind you, John?” Sue got behind me, close behind me.
“Here, take my scarf.”
She smiled and quickly wrapped it round her neck. Her eyes widened and she pointed a shaky finger. “Oh boy, we may have company soon.”
I said, “Turn around, Walt, the dogs leaving the Bean.”
We watched them move toward us. With Fang leading, they turned away and disappeared into the whiteness.
Walter said, “It looks like they’re going to the ravine of smoke. That’s probably where they spend their nights. It’s always warmer down there,”
Sue nodded, “I suppose.”
Up from the valley with the pond, the wind cut through our gloves and heavy coats like icy knives. The snow was still quite heavy. With teeth chattering, I said, “I don’t know about you two, but I’m freezing. How about we go home and warm up?”
Sue snapped, “Like right now. Besides, the snow is going to be around for days. We can come back and find sleds when it stops; when we can see where we are.”
“Yeah, let’s get going, Sis.”
I have to admit, Walter was right about that day being one to remember.
Chapter 2: Mister Rusty
It was a sunny day in June as a light breeze rustled the leaves of our favorite tree. We were up in the branches of a huge willow watching the world go by, well… our small part of it anyway. To my right, I watched the breeze play with Sue’s long blonde hair. She turned, and said, “Stop doing that.”
“Staring at me like I’m a lost puppy.”
Walt laughed. “Ah, but he likes you.”
“No, I don’t.” I winked at her.
“You don’t?” Sue forced a frown. “Well, it’s no matter to me.” Her lips twisted as she tried not to grin.
“Well, a little perhaps; close friends and like that.”
“Just friends, huh. Then why did you try to kiss last week?”
“When—oh yeah, at my birthday party. I thought you it was your idea, you know, a birthday kiss.”
“Well, just because you’re 15 now, don’t mean you can just go kiss someone. She grinned.
“Knock it off you two,” Walt said.
I changed topics. “I know you two like Christmas more, but not me. June 30, today, the first day of summer vacation, it just can’t get any better. Think about it, we have the whole summer before us.”
“Indeed.” Sue watched a leaf she dropped float to the ground.
Mister Taylor had one of the last farms in Brooklyn and he kept his goat Buckie tied to the willow. As Walt waved a leafy branch at Buckie, he said, “This year has to be different; we can’t waste the first two weeks doing nothing. We need to think of something to do or a place to go now, today.”
Leaning against the tree trunk with her legs straddling a thick limb, Sue said, “Oh, I don’t know; having nothing needing my attention, especially homework is kind of neat.” She glanced at Walt teasing Buckie. “And you wonder why he always wants to butt us?”
“That has nothing to do with it. He’s just territorial, and we’re in his tree.”
“Then give it to him. If Mister Taylor knew how you teased him, he’d probably chase us away.”
Walt waved her words away, “I doubt if he cares, but if it will shut you up—” He dropped the branch.
Watching Buckie below, I said, “So what are we going to do today?”
Walter bit his thumbnail. “Don’t know yet. You got any ideas?”
I shrugged. “Well, my dad got laid-off; we could scour one of the ravines.” I yawned. “But then, I’m not in the mood to do much digging today.”
Sue said, “Me either.” Her attention turned to the street. She squinted. “Who is that?”
I said, “Can’t tell, too many leaves. I hope it’s Robert.”
Walt said, “Why?”
“So I can drop something on his damn head. The bastard made me get a C in history. Telling Teach I was looking at his test paper, and she believed him.”
Walt leaned towards me. “I told you before she’s rich, went to Harvard and thinks we’re trash. No way was she going to believe you over a doctor’s kid.”
“Yeah…I suppose.” I peered through the branches and leaves . “Damn, I still can’t tell if it’s Robert.”
Walt stood and moved his hand towards his fly. “I’m going to ready in case it is. I’ve been holding back this piss for a while.”
“Wow, that’s the best idea you’ve ever you had.” Muffling my laughter, I stood and said, “I think I can squeeze out some yellow rain for that a-hole. Sue, best you turn away.” Walt and I unzipped.
A moment later, we heard a man humming and a squeaky bicycle chain. I pulled branches aside. “Aw crap, it’s not Robert. It’s creepy Ole Man Rusty.”
“Good,” Sue said. “Now pull your zippers up before something ugly happens.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Walt reached for his zipper. “Oh no!” He couldn’t hold back any longer and turned right not to piss on Rusty.
“Hey, aim that thing elsewhere!” I moved just in time.
“My brother has—” her hand muffled her laughter. “My brother has a control problem.”
“Like hell I do!” He pulled his zipper up. “And we’re– it’s, not ugly?”
I looked below through the willow’s dense foliage at Rusty’s bike. “I don’t think that rusting old ride of his is going to last much longer.”
Walt, “Naw… he can’t pedal fast enough to wear it out.”
Sue poked Walt in the ribs, “Like you’ll be doing better when you’re his age? He must be in his nineties.”
“Poke me again and you’ll be lucky to see your twenties.”
“Hey, play nice you two.” I laughed. “Ninety, no way, he’s in his seventies or eighties at most.”
Walt held a finger to his lips. “Not so loud, he might hear us.”
I whispered, “Maybe he just looks older. My Dad said my uncle James got older looking real quick after his wife died.”
Rusty’s humming grew louder and then stopped. He lowered his kickstand with a spine-chilling squeak. We watched him snap a branch from the tree. Waving the leafy branch, Rusty said. “Come say hello?”
Sue said, “What the hell? He trotted right over to him as if he were a dog. I can’t count the times I tried to be nice to that goat, only to have him try to butt me. Go figure?”
I rested a hand on Sue’s shoulder. “Don’t let it bother you, Sweetie; most people like you, even if goats don’t?”
“Ha, ha.” Sue frowned. “Very funny.”
Rusty patted the goat’s head and without looking up, said, “I have to be on my way now. Oh, and don’t let them bother you too much.”
As Rusty peddled across the street, I scratched my chin. “Dang, how’d he know?”
“I suppose he heard us whispering.” Sue said, “There he goes, off into the dump again.”
“He must use it as a shortcut. Nobody could live out there, right?” Walt turned towards me.
“I wouldn’t think so; no houses or even a shack out there.”
A short while later and with Rusty a good distance away, Sue said, “Hey, I know what we can do today.”
Walt said, “What?”
“We can follow Rusty, see where he lives.”
I said, “Yeah, why not?”
Walt agreed, “Come on, let’s do it.” He snapped a handful of leafy branches off. “Go, I’ll keep him busy with these.”
Sue and I worked our way lower. I dropped to the ground first; held my hands up and said, “Hurry, before he sees me or eats his fill.
“Catch me,” Sue grinned. To my surprise, instead of dropping as I expected, she threw herself at me. Sue slammed into me and wrapped her arms round. “You’re my hero.”
I don’t how, but I managed to remain upright. “And you’re crazy. Now let go of me and run.”
Running as fast as I could, I heard Sue yell from behind, “Oh…my ankle. Wait, John, help me.”
Damn, now what? I turned round. “What happened, why are you limping?”
Sue moaned. “I twisted my ankle. Come help me before that damn goat sees me; faster please.”
I running back to Sue I saw Walt still up in the tree the holding branches for Bucky. He shook his head at us shouted, “Hurry it up.”
Reaching Sue, I put her arm over my shoulder and my hand round her waist. “Did you break it?”
“I don’t know? I maybe I just twisted it?”
“Keep your weight off it. Just hold onto me and hop.”
When we stopped beyond the reach of the goat’s rope, I felt Sue’s hand move from my shoulder and her fingers in my hair. What the heck? “Stop that.” I let go of her and stepped back.
Sue grinned, “Stop what?”
“That touchy feely stuff, that’s what.”
“Oh that,” Sue laughed as we watched Walt drop Bucky more branches. He moved to another limb, descended to the ground and ran toward us. Busy with his willow leaves, the goat ignored him.
Walt said to Sue, “Are you alright, do we need to take you home?”
Sue put weight on her right ankle. She walked a few steps. “I think it’s fine now.”
I nodded, “So now it’s the other ankle?”
“Oh, crap,” She mumbled.
Walt laughed. “She played you good.”
Rusty crossed the street and entered the landfill. I waited a few minutes. “OK, he’s far enough away; I think we can follow him now.”
Walt said, “But let’s not get too close.”
Sue stared at Rusty and said, “It won’t matter. I’ve never seen him look back. Have you?”
I said, “No, I don’t think I have; he just keeps pedaling at that slow pace of his.”
Walt smiled. “If we’re quiet enough, we can get right behind him.”
“That won’t be very polite,” Sue frowned. “I know I would not want anyone following me.”
“She’s right,” I said. “Maybe we should let him get further away.”
A strong scent made my nose twitch as the ground-hugging smoke drifting toward us. I said, “We may see fire trucks today. The ground’s burning good over there.”
Sue twisted her lips and then said, “I still don’t understand how dirt can burn?”
I moved closer to her. “It’s not the dirt burning, it’s the garbage buried deep below.”
“But if it’s buried, who lit it?”
“No one, it has something to do with the decaying garbage making heat, I think?”
Walt said, “Yeah that, and the weight of it. You’ll learn about it this fall.”
“Whatever?” Sue shrugged.
Twenty minutes later, with our tree a distant dot, Sue said, “We’ve never been around here; have we? We’re quite far from our side.”
Walt looked around, “You’re right. I think we’d remember what with it looking like Death Valley.”
The breeze changed direction taking the smoke with it. I gasped. He’s gone, but where? He was right there a minute ago in the smoke.”
“Oh my, he must’ve fallen,” Sue eyes scanned the vast nothingness, “had a heart attack or something.”
Walt said, “I don’t see him or his bike on the ground and we should. It’s too barren and flat not to see him.”
Sue bit her upper lip. “Rusty is giving me the creeps. He knew we were watching without looking up and now he just disappears. Maybe we should go home.”
Walt grumbled, “Now, when it’s getting interesting? No way, I want to know where he went. Come on, he has to be out here somewhere.” Walt started to walk faster. Sue and I followed.
The wind changed direction again taking the smoke to us. Sue put her hand over her mouth and nose. “Oh my God, it smells terrible. I’m getting out of here. Damn, it’s making my eyes burn.” She starting running as fast as the poor visibility allowed. Before I could say a word, she vanished. I shouted, “Where are you?”
“I’m over here.”
I turned to my left. “Where’s here?”
“Here, hurry! Come quick.”
The urgency of her voice sent a chill up my spine. “Shout again.”
When Walt and I emerged from the smoke, we found Sue standing at the rim of a hidden and huge valley. Joining her she said, “Wow, I would never have thought.” We gazed upon a lush green valley.
I pointed. “Look, over there, under those trees. Is that a cabin?”
Walt squinted. “I think it is. We should see it better from over there.” He turned and began to walk along the rim. Sue and I followed.
Walt stopped. “Yeah, it’s a cabin and it looks quite old.”
A trace of smoke drifted up from a pipe on the roof. I said, “Looks as if someone’s home.”
Sue said, “Hey, look over there, is that—yes it’s Rusty’s bike under that oak.”
Walt said, “Now we know where he lives.”
Two goats appeared from under another tree. Nodding, Sue said, “Now I know why Bucky likes him; he’s a goat-person.”
I glanced across the pond and said, “Dang, there’s a rusty ole car over there behind that bush.”
“That’s odd, a driveway to nowhere.” Sue scratched her head. “They trapped him in. I guess he wouldn’t sell the City his land.”
I said, “I suppose.”
“I can’t imagine him living here when they were still dumping.” Walt rubbed his nose.
“It must have smelled awful,”
“Yuck, it must have been like living in a garbage can.” I pretended to barf. “To endure that for who knows how many years, he had to have a damn good reason.”
Walt said, “Indeed.”
From the hillside in front of us, a black cat with white paws appeared. It walked over to Sue, rubbed its head and side against her leg and started to purr. “Hello!” Sue scratched its head and asked, “You belong to Rusty, don’t you?”
I said, “He sure is friendly.” Something caught my eye. “Hey, look over there.” I pointed to a bicycle frame half-buried in the hillside. “Is that a Schwinn?”
Walt stood, “It sure is and it looks good from here.”
“What a find. My frame is ready to break any day.” I rushed off to find a good spot to descend.
Looking below from the rim as I descended towards the frame, Walt said, “It’s very steep, this isn’t going to be easy.”
“I don’t care, I want that frame.”
Walt said, “Be careful!”
“You’re going to get hurt.” Sue said, “Don’t.”
“I’ll be careful.” With my butt dragging on the ground, I crept and slid lower on the steep incline.
Sue nudged her brother, “We should help him.”
“Not yet.” Walt winced as he watched me descend. “If he can’t get it free, I’ll go help.”
Reaching the bike, I tried to pull it free. “Damn, it’s in there.” It didn’t budge an inch.
Walt said, “It’s a Schwinn; pull harder.”
“I know, and it’s in great shape.” Schwinn must’ve used good paint. I moved a few boards that were protruding out of the hillside out of my way; and yanked at the frame again. I glanced up at Walt, “It doesn’t want to come free.”
“Try again, and if you can’t get it to budge, I’ll come help.”
I inhaled deep, grabbed it and pulled with everything I had.
Crack- Something snapped. The frame came free, and I tumbled backward still clinging onto my prize. “O…ouch, oh!” I groaned, as I bounced off a large rock and then crashed through the remains of a sofa. A small shed below came into view. “Oh shit!” I slammed back first upon the shed’s tin roof with a thunderous crash. The impact knocked the air from my lungs. Like a fish out of water, I gulped and whizzed desperately.
“Are you hurt?” Walt yelled as Sue scrambled downward.
I caught half a breath, but not enough to answer.
Where’s that barking dog? God, it sounds big. Is it tied? I took another, deeper breath. Stay calm you can— what the hell? The tin under me began to sag. Oh my God! It let go and in that instant, everything went into slow motion. The frightful darkness of the shed enveloped me as the sky above became smaller, distant. Where’s the bottom?
Bang- The tin hit the frame that was now on my chest and then slid across my arm like a knife. Oh crap, it cut me. The cloud of dust made it difficult to see but did nothing to lessen the dog’s barking. Damn, I can hardly move. What’s this crap on me? What the hell; how did my leg get so entangled?
Her voice crackled with fear. “Ja, John, are you hurt?”
Able to breathe again, I tried to answer Sue, only to find myself coughing from the dust.
“Damn you, John; answer me.” Sue watched Walt struggled to reach the shed. “Hurry, he must be hurt.”
Walt grumbled, “I’m moving as fast as I– oops…” Walt toppled onto his side, “Oh shit!” He dropped five or six feet; grabbed a rotting 2×4 jutting from the hillside. It immediately snapped. He continued to tumble and cartwheel downward. Walt grabbed for a small bush and took hold. He came to a twisting stop next to the shed. After catching his breath, he looked into the shed, saw only dust and said, “John, you still in there; are you hurt?”
“I’m here. I think I’m OK, but I can’t get up, something’s got me pinned.”
Sue’s descent caused a few rocks to come free. They cascaded downward taking more stones with them. When they rumbled onto the shed, Walt turned and held his hand. “He’s OK. Stay put before you bring the whole darn hillside down.”
“Just stay there, please.”
Sue grumbled something and squatted.
Walt stepped carefully from the hillside onto the roof of the shed. With the dust now somewhat settled; he looked in, “Wow, you’re a sight. At least you still have the frame.” Walt eyed a coil of rope near my hand and pointed. “Can you throw that to me?”
Damn, my arm hurts. I looked at Walt. “I don’t know?” With dread for what I might see, I held my breath and looked at my right arm. Sure enough, I saw blood, a lot of blood. “Holy crap! Walt, can you see this?” I held my arm up.
Walt’s jaw dropped. “Damn, John, that looks bad.”
“Quiet, don’t let Sue hear you.”
Hang in there; I’ll go round to the door.”
“No. Wait, you’re going to get bitten and the door may have a lock. Let me see if I can free my other hand and give the rope a try.” I tried to pull it free. “Crap, It’s pinned;. I’ll have to use my right arm, cut or not.
“Yeah sure, you can do it.” Walt’s tone and eyes said otherwise.
I reached for the rope and inhaled. Ignore the pain. “One, two, three.” I heaved it as hard as I could, which wasn’t very much and screamed, “Oh shit.” My eyes closed and I bit my lip trying to divert the pain.
“You can do it. Try again.” Walt hung lower into the shed, extended his hand as far as he could and said, “This should make it easier for you.”
The rope was now more distant from me. I reached for it. Damn, this hurts, just a little more, there! My fingertips walked it into my hand. I let the pain subside. “On three, Ready?”
“What, say again?” Walt cupped an ear with his hand, “I didn’t hear ya over that damn dog.”
I said, “On three, ready?”
I took in another deep breath. Shit, he best get this one. I exhaled and said, “On, one, two, three oh God.” The pain made my eyes close.
“No damn way.” My eyes opened,
Walt smiled and with rope in hand said, “Yes, way. Be back in a second; have to go tie this to a bush.”
A moment later, a coil of rope unwound as it fell into the shed. Walt appeared above, grabbed the rope and lowered himself into the shed.
“Careful, watch where you step; we don’t need us both hurt.”
Walt looked at my bloody arm and winced. “Sis is going to freak out when she sees that.”
“And my Mom.”
“Maybe we can—” Walt paused, “Did you hear a door hinge squeak?”
“Crap, we need to get out of here.”
“I wish that dog would shut the hell up!” Walt whispered. “Damn, we only wanted to see where he lived; not find out how crazy he might be.”
“Good God.” I winced, “Could be he’s some kind of psycho nut. Been hiding out in that cabin no one knows bout for…who-knows how many years?” I swallowed hard, “I bet that’s why he stayed; figured no one would come looking around here for him. This is a great place for an ax murder or gangster to disappear.”
“Keep your voice down and that wild imagination to yourself.”
Rusty grumbled, “Where’s my pickaxe?”
I gasped. “Wild imagination, huh?”
Walt sunk into a corner.
“There it is. Go on, Killer, lead me to our intruder.”
The dog’s barking grew louder. Holding our breath, Walt and I made eye contact and then looked toward the shed’s door. Snarls and scratching sounds came from the other side. I whispered, “Go away Killer. Get out of here.” The dog barked louder. Shit.
Rusty pushed Killer aside and said, “Let me have a look before you charge in and kill it. I may want to let this one escape.”
Kill it? Oh crap, if the dog doesn’t, he surely will kill me when he sees what I did to his roof. I trembled as we listen to the sound of keys jingling. I tried to free myself, but the pain was too intense. My eyes filled with tears; yet I remained silent. Not a whimper left my lips. I watched Walt pull some planks in front of him and reach for his slingshot.
I shivered when I heard Rusty say, “Bout time, I knew it was on this ring.” We then heard a lock click open and the door latch clink.
Rusty’s knurly fingers crept round the door as it inched opened. The sun was behind him when the door opened blinding us. Jaw agape with fright; I shuddered at the sight of the dark silhouette before me holding a pickaxe. I shouted, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Please don’t hurt us. I didn’t mean to wreck your shed, Mister!”
“My Lord, child, what in the hell—” He raised his ax.
“Don’t,” I screamed and closed my eyes.
From above Rusty heard Sue yell, “Get away from them.” Pointing her spear at him, she said, “I never miss. Now back away.”
“Calm down, young lady. I’m not going to hurt him—” Rusty saw Walt, “I mean them.”
His eyes upon Walt, Rusty said, “Are you two hurt?”
Holding his drawn slingshot, Walt’s voice cracked when he said, “I’m not, but he is.”
“Then put that thing down and help me. Damn, he’s bleeding. What the hell were you two thinking? There’s nothing in here worth getting hurt over or stealing.”
“We’re not thieves, Sir. It as was an accident, that’s all.” Walt lowered his slingshot. “And we’ll fix the damage. We’ll try anyway.”
Still poised to throw her spear, Sue shouted, “Get away from them now, Mister.”
Rusty stared at her a few seconds and said, “Young Lady, one of your friends is hurt. He’s bleeding. Put that thing down and get over here.”
“Oh my God, John’s bleeding,” She lowered her spear, looked about for way down and frowned.
“Climb back up and come around that way.” Rusty pointed at the narrow path.
I couldn’t take my eyes from the dog’s flared nostrils and drooling fangs as it poked its head about the shed. It’s a Goddamn wolf. The dog growled. “Um, Mister, your dog?”
“Be quiet.” He smacked his dog on top of its head. Shoved it away and said, “No worry, he only attacks when told. command.”
Great, he trained him to kill.
“Be still child, while we get this junk off you. We don’t need anything else falling.” He lifted something and threw it from the shed. “Move Killer; get out.”
Walt’s head appear from behind Rusty. “Does your back or neck hurt any, can you feel your legs?”
“My neck and legs feel fine, I’m just stuck. Though my arm hurts like a bitch, um, sorry about the curse.” I looked at my arm and said, “My Mom’s going to kill me when she sees this.”
“That won’t happen.”
Why, are you planning to kill me first? I wanted to jump to my feet and run.
“I can get the rest of this off of him, wait outside so can have more room to move about, please.”
Walt said, “It is kind of tight in here.”
No, stay, I wanted to yell.
Rusty moved more debris off me. He glanced at my wound again and said, “It may not be that bad; small cuts can sometimes bleed a lot. We’ll see in a bit. What’s your name, son?”
“John.” I winced and sniffled; the cut was throbbing. “I didn’t mean to wreck your shed.”
“Well, I should hope not, else you’d be an idiot. You can tell me how you ended up in this mess later.” Rusty moved closer, very close; stopped and stared at me as though there were something wrong with my face. He mumbled, “Same eyes, hair color, and maybe the same damn wit?”
Whose eyes? Shit, he’s getting freaky again. “Did you say something; are you alright, Mister? You don’t seem quite…”
Rusty’s brows drew downward and his eyes cut into me like knives. He said, “Hush your mouth and stop pretending.” He turned away, grabbed a board and flung it out of the shed through the huge hole in the roof that was my doing.
Pretending what? Oh frack, he’s going to lose it any minute now.
“There, your damn leg’s free. Can you stand?”
“I suppose; in a second.” I stretched my leg and moved it about. As I stood, Rusty said, “How’s the neck, still fine; anything feel numb or whatever?”
“My pride’s a mess, otherwise…”
“You’re rather witty for one so young.”
“Not really, I did fall into your shed.”
“More wit, huh?” Rusty’s eyes appeared cold; his face angry. “You think yourself some kind of smart-ass, don’t ya?”
Oh shit, he is a wacko! “Um, no, I didn’t mean it to sound that way.”
“So you say.” He picked up that damn pickaxe again and then reached down to helped me up. I backed away and closed my eyes.
“Why do I frighten you?”
Because you’re a psycho. When Rusty sighed, I opened my eyes and saw him kneading his chin. He looked at me and said, “Sorry, I suppose I have been acting a bit strange.”
The anger I had seen in his eyes moments ago faded to a distant gaze. Rusty’s leathery face was now heavy with sadness or perhaps guilt. He sighed again and said, “Thing is, John, you reminded me of my friend Mark in many ways. He drowned out there.” Rusty looked in the direction of Jamaica bay, “Some thought it my fault.”
Some? I dared not to ask whom or why. I just bit my tongue and tried to hide my fear. As Rusty helped me get outside, I looked back. Damn, I busted it up real good.
Rusty said, “Let’s get you inside and bandage this up.”
I looked down nervously as his dog sniffed at my pant leg; his wet nose brushed my hand.
“Don’t worry, Killer won’t bite you; he’s just checking you out.”
Rusty’s white wolf-like dog nudged my hand. The feel of one its long canines made me cringed. “Stop pestering the boy. Get; go sit somewhere.” With his head low and tail still, the dog obeyed.
Sue said, “Aw… I think you broke his heart.”
“He’ll be fine.” Rusty opened the cabin. He gestured for us to enter. “Go sit at the table, John; while I fetch my first aid kit.”
I whispered to Walt, “Now he’s, Mister Nice. I think he’s one of those people with two people in them; one good, one evil.”
“Put that wild imagination of yours on a shelf. He seems like a nice man to me.”
“Now, sure, but you didn’t see or hear him when you left the shed. He drowned his best friend.”
Walt stared at me with skeptical eyes, “That’s sounds really nuts. Did you land headfirst when you fell? Be quiet before he hears you.”
Great, Walt thinks I’m the crazy one.
Sue pulled one of the three chairs at his little round table out for me. “Thanks.” I sat and, like Walt and Sue, found my eyes wandering around Rusty’s strange home. Most of the walls were cluttered with objects, many of which I had never seen before. I poked Walt, motioned with my eyes toward a grouping of odd and nasty looking knives on a wall. I whispered, “Nice guys don’t collect those things.”
“My granddad collects swords and old guns and you like him.” Walt walked over to a handheld instrument. He picked it up carefully and said, “What do you suppose this is?”
“That’s a sextant. Be careful, it’s delicate.” Rusty answered as he returned from the bathroom carrying his first aid kit. Placing it on the table, he opened the lid and removed a brown bottle. Then some gaze and bandages. He looked at Sue and said, “Grab that dish towel and put it under his arm please.”
I lifted my arm. Sue slid the towel under it as she gawked at my long cut, which went halfway round my arm near my elbow. She said, “That looks nasty; still bleeding some too.”
“It’s long, but thankfully, not deep.” Rusty’s eyes found mine, “Now, this might sting a little.” Opening the bottle, he asked, “Are you ready?”
“Um…” I stared at his brown bottle.
“Young lady, would you mind helping me?”
“Not at all,” Sue stepped closer.
“When I tell you, pour it slowly on his cut. Apparently, the sight of blood does not upset you.”
“As long as it’s not mine.”
Rusty grinned, “Me too.”
With his left hand, he then held my arm gently yet firmly still and with his right, he held a gauze pad. “All right you can pour now. That’s good, just like that.”
My eyes widened, I held my breath and gritted my teeth as the liquid stung and Rusty wiped dirt from the cut. As terrible as the pain was, I didn’t cry. I couldn’t, not with Sue standing right there; had to stay brave and look strong.
“That should do it.”
“Hold this clean gauze like this while I wrap it,” Rusty said to Sue.
I winced, “Ouch! Not so tight.”
“Sorry…” Sue lifted the gauze a little.
“There, it’s done.” Rusty leaned back. “You can stop gritting your teeth now.”
“I wasn’t gritting my teeth.”
“Nothing to be embarrassed about, most people would have yelled and cried like all heck.” He pretended not to notice the tears in my eyes.
With his eyes stern, Rusty’s tilted his head, “You still have to see a doctor today.”
“A doctor? I don’t need to see a doctor. You did a good job, it’ll be fine.”
“Maybe, and maybe not,” he shook a finger. “That was a dirty cut and it could get infected or worse. You need a tetanus shot.”
“A what kind of shot? Nope, I don’t need any shots.”
Strumming his fingers on the table Rusty stared at me. “You most certainly do, young man.”
“What’s teta, tetanis anyway?”
“It’s pronounced, tetanus and all you need to know is it can kill you.”
“You’re just making that up so I’ll tell my parents and go to the doctor. I’m not going to die from a little cut. Well, maybe it’s not that little, but…”
Walt leaned towards me, “Remember when my Dad got cut bad last month? He went and got a shot. Maybe you should listen to the man.”
Sue shook her head. “You’re getting that shot.”
I exhaled long and loud. “All right, I’ll tell my mom, but my parents don’t have money for doctors.”
Rusty said, “If your folks need money for the doctor let me know.”
I didn’t know what to make of his offer and just nodded and said, “Thanks.”
Sue said, “I’ll go with you to the doctor. You can hold my hand when he sticks you.”
“Yeah, you’d like to watch that, huh.”
Sue faked a grin.
Rusty closed his first aid kit, “You have some good friends, John.”
“Oh, she’s is not worried; she just wants to see me get stuck with a needle, that’s all.”
Rusty, glanced at Sue. “But, I suspect she’s also very worried. The way she rushed to your side ready to do me harm. She cares a lot about what happens to you.” He looked at Walt. “As does–”
Sue said, “My brother’s name is Walter and I’m Sue Ann, but you can call me Sue.”
“We’re the Three Dump Kids. Well, that’s what they call us in school and we stick together,” Walt said.
“Dump Kids and that doesn’t bother you?”
Sue shrugged, “Well maybe sometimes; depending on who said it. But then we do live near it and heck, look where we are now.”
“This is our place,” I grinned. “They can keep their nice boring playgrounds on the other side of the avenue. This is where the adventure is, right?”
Sue and Walt nodded.
Rusty moved toward a faded but comfortable-looking chair. He plopped his tall lanky body into it and leaned back. With a yawn, he placed his feet on a nearby crate and looked at me. “John, what made you decide to jump through the roof of my shed?”
“Decide?” I looked at him, “I fell. I was trying to get a half-buried bike frame out of the hillside when I slipped and fell.”
“Wow, did he ever; head over heels!” Walt laughed.
Rusty laughed. “Ah, that’s why I didn’t remember seeing that frame in the shed before. Do you still want it?”
I shrugged, “Um, I guess so.”
“Then take it with you. I have no use for it.”
“But aren’t you mad about your shed?”
Rusty waved a dismissing hand, “I don’t care about that old shed. It had nothing but junk in it anyway.”
“Gee thanks, Mister Rusty.”
I cringed and not knowing what to say, I turned towards Sue.
“Sorry, he meant no disrespect. That’s what we call you. Um, well…we didn’t know your real name, still don’t, and you ride a rusty bike.”
Rusty nodded, “I suppose that makes sense, kind of?”
Walt asked, “What is your name, Mister?”
Sue squeaked, “Say again, please?”
Rusty grinned. “I could, but it won’t help. You’ll never say it right; beside I like Mister Rusty; got a nice ring to it. Yeah, just call me that.”
Sue looked closely at a group of old photos thumbtacked to a wall, she pointed at one. “Is this soldier you? Were you in the army, Sir?”
Sadness took the gleam from his eyes, he stared blankly for a moment before saying, “That’s not me; it’s my son. He was killed in the war.”
Sue gasped. “Sorry, I asked.”
She looked at a photo of Rusty with his son and a woman. “She’s very pretty, is she your wife?”
Rusty sighed. “She was, lost her too.”
“Damn, I shouldn’t have asked; sorry.”
“No harm done, dear.”
An uncomfortable silence fell upon the room. Rusty’s eyes seemed distant and sad as mine were drawn to a faded photo in a silver frame on the wall. Rusty yawn again; his eyes closed and I quietly moved toward the photo. That has to be Mark and Rusty on that pier. They look so close, best friends, maybe. He couldn’t have let Mark drown intentionally, could he? Damn, if I don’t look like Mark’s twin. Not wanting Rusty to see me looking at it, should he open his eyes, I returned to my seat.
A long moment later, Walt said, “Maybe we should go now.”
“Yeah, we’ve imposed on you long enough.” I stood. “Thanks for the bandage and not getting angry.”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Sue said, “Yes, we should leave, before we awaken another bad memory.”
Straining to stand, Rusty groaned and said, “Nonsense, you haven’t imposed.” He grinned at me, “I haven’t had anyone drop in on me in ages.” He chuckled. “Been nice to hear young voices round here again.” Turning toward Sue, he said, “My Dear, those were not bad memories.” Rusty raised his brows a little, “They’re just a little sad, but I would rather have them than not.”
My face sheepish, I said to Rusty, “I think I owe you an apology, Sir.”
“I told you not to worry about the shed. I’ve been expecting it to fall of its own accord soon anyway. ”
“Um… it’s not about the shed.” My face must have been red with embarrassment when I added, “We’ve often watched you peddle slowly by and, well…we kind of made fun of you and your squeaky old bike. I guess we thought you a bit strange. And before, in the shed, I was scared of you and your dog.”
“Indeed and well you should have been.” An evil grin appeared on Rusty’s lips and his eyes became narrow and angry, like an angry cat. Still think I’m the crazy one, Walt?
The man was a frightful sight. He grumbled, “I am the strange one from the forbidden land, best you stay wary. Go now. Be gone from here while you still can; go now run.”
We looked at each other, nodded and were about to dash out of his cabin and valley when we heard him laugh and say, “I got ya good; use to do a little acting way back when.
I gave him a look and said, “Acting, is that what you call scaring the crap out of us?”
“Damn, I didn’t think I would do that good of a job.” He sighed. “Sorry; there’s just never anyone round to entertain and the group I belonged to, well they folded years ago.”
Sue then Walt and I started to clap. She said, “Bravo. Well done; you certainly fooled me.”
Was it an act, or just his other side? “I scratched my chin, “Why aren’t you in the movies?”
“That’s a story for another day.”
Sue said, “If you loved to act, and you must, you’re too good at it not to; why all the pictures of bridges inside? Where are the movie posters or whatever?”
“That was very perceptive of you, dear. The acting was just a fun thing I did now and then. I was an engineer; designed and built bridges all over the world.”
Walt said, “Wow, no kidding?”
“Yup.” Rusty went back into the shed. A moment later, he came out with the frame in hand. He tried to turn the handlebars, but could not. “Looks like the bearings are all rusted up.” Rusty chucked it back into the shed. “It’s useless.”
I said, “But, but, we can fix it. My dad can fix anything.”
“Why bother him when I have a better one over there.” Rusty went over to a tarp covering something that was leaning against his cabin. We followed. He grabbed the trap, smiled at me, gave it a yank and revealed an almost new looking Schwinn. He said, “Take this one instead.”
My jaw dropped. “Um, oh, wow. If only I could.”
“No, if, it’s yours.”
“But I can’t.”
“Sure you can. I don’t need it.”
Staring at the Schwinn and then Rusty’s old bike, Sue asked, “Why don’t you use it? It’s in a lot better shape than yours.”
“I know and that’s exactly why I can’t. The last time I took a nice bike to the Avenue, it was stolen by some kids while I was in the market; had to carry my groceries all the way home. No, I don’t need it. You use it, John.”
Walt said, “The bike they stole, was it a red Sears?”
“Yes, it was. You know who has it, don’t you?
Walt shrugged, “Was the kid that took it a big redhead?”
“He was, had four friends with him.” He sighed. “I was too old and slow to do much about it.”
Walt looked at me and said, “But we’re not, are we, John?”
“Nope,” I looked at Rusty, “and that redhead was Robert, the Doc’s kid.”
Sue said, “Great, now he steals from old people; bullying girls and kids isn’t enough.”
“One way or another, we’ll get your bike back.” Walt agreed with me.
Rusty snapped, “No you won’t.”
“But I must, you don’t understand… I can’t take charity. My Dad won’t allow it. He’ll just make me bring your Schwinn back.” I grinned, “If we get your Sears back-”
“Forget it; I forbid you to even try. Do not show up with it, I won’t accept it. I’d rather you earn it; work for it, John.”
Rusty rubbed his forehead a few seconds; then said, “I know, I need someone to feed my animals next month. Yeah, that’s something you can do.”
I glanced at Killer. “I suppose I can do that.”
Sue said, “Are you going away?”
“I’ll be in the hospital for a little while.”
Sue gasped, “Oh my, are you going to be all right?”
“Certainly,” he waved his hand, “it’s nothing; just a little operation.”
We fell silent.
“Don’t look so glum, I’ll be fine, really. Well, John, do we have a deal; you going to feed my animals?”
“I guess, but it doesn’t seem like a fair deal for you. You could sell it; it’s valuable.”
“I value my animals a lot more than that Schwinn.”
“I can understand that,” Sue said. “Oh, I saw a friendly cat before. Is it yours too?”
“Glad you asked. That’s Stinky. He’ll be part of the deal too and so will…” Rusty’s eyes scanned the valley, and he shouted, “Daffy come. Where is that crazy duck?”
From above and behind us, we heard wings flutter. A mallard quacked and landed nearby. Killer growled at it. Ignoring the dog, it waddled over to Killer’s food dish.
I shook my head, “You again! Now I know why you didn’t fly south last winter.”
“You guys know each other?” Rusty looked perplexed.
Sue laughed. “Yeah, we met him in February’s snowstorm.”
Walt said, “We’ll have to tell you about it someday.”
“Please do.” Rusty turned to me, “John, come over here and shake on it; make it official.”
His hand felt very cold, like ice; made me wonder if I was right about him the first time. As we shook, I forced a smile and said, “Thanks for everything, Mister.” With Walt pushing my Schwinn, we headed for home.
Chapter 3: Making a Witch
A few days later, on our third visit to Rusty’s, we found him outside working on a strange contraption. Wondering what he was up to, I stared into his valley and just watched for a while. “We’re not going to figure it out.” Sue started down the path. “Come on; let’s go ask him what it is.”
Walt and I followed her. Nearing the bottom of the path, Walt shouted, “What are you building?”
Rusty turned, and said, “A rain catcher. Walt, before you come any closer, would you and John bring—” 2 jets from Floyd Bennet Field thundered toward us. Rusty held his words.
Walt and I waved as they drew closer. One of the pilots dipped a wing at us before they headed out over the bay.
I shouted, “Wow, that was an F9F Panther, and he saw us.”
“That was neat.” Rusty said, “You do know your planes, John.”
“He should. We see them a lot round here.” Walt said, “I think you were going to ask me something a moment ago, Mister Rusty?
“Yes, I was.” Rusty pointed. “Would you and John grab that sheet of tin over there and bring it here, please?”
“Sure,” Walt said.
As we picked it up, Rusty said, “Be careful with it, sheet metal can cut you.”
“I know.” I glanced at the scab on my arm. “What do you want us to do with it?”
He took it from us, placed on a frame of boards, and said, “Hold it here while I nail it?”
While we held it for him, I watched Sue walk around Rusty’s device. She studied the device’s many panels, barrels and pipes. “Why do you need to catch rain when you have a well and a pond?”
Rusty rolled his eyes. “You can’t drink from the pond, it just looks like fresh water, but it’s not. It’s salt water; seeps up from the bay.”
She nodded toward his hand-pumped well. “What about that?”
“Nope, too many chemicals down deep now.” He scrunched his face and stuck his tongue out. “It has a nasty taste and an odor. I guess something finally seeped into the water table. That was good tasting water too.”
“Bummer.” Sue frowned.
“Yeah.” Rusty nodded. “How about you kids help me put these gutters in place to direct the rain into the barrels?” He looked at the clear sky and grumbled, “Not that I expect rain anytime soon.”
I said, “When will need me to feed your flock or whatever?”
Rusty shrugged, “Not sure yet, they keep changing the day for my operation. Hopefully soon; don’t like all this waiting.”
“Yeah, I’d just want to get it over with, too.” I looked Rusty in the eye, “You never said what kind of operation.”
“Nope and don’t worry. It just not something I care to talk about.”
I sighed. Which means it’s dangerous.
Twenty minutes later, his rain-catcher was ready to go. I scratched my head and said, “It should work.”
“No doubt,” Walt said.
“What are you going to do for water now?” Sue said, “It doesn’t rain much this time of year, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.” Rusty shrugged.
Sue smiled, “You’re more than welcome to bring a bucket and fill it at our house.”
“Mine too,” I said.
“I’ve been getting water at the park fountain, but I think I’ll take you up on that offer, Sue. You live a heck of a lot closer.”
One of Rusty’s goats nudged Walt for some attention. He scratched its head and asked, “Mister Rusty, how big was your farm before they dumped on it?”
Rusty laughed. “Dumped on it, yeah, that’s what they did all right, but it was never a farm, though we did have a vegetable garden. It had a great view of the bay and a little pier.” Rusty grinned. “I loved to fish back then, especially for snapper blues. Mm, Gramps would fry them up nice and crispy.”
I said, “You can still do that. We like to cane-pole fish for baby bluefish, and Boston mackerel.”
“ Oh really.” Rusty smacked his lips. “The next time you go, catch some for me, OK?”
Walt said, “We will when they return to the bay around August.”
Walt thought for a moment. “If it wasn’t a farm, why the goats?”
Rusty’s grin disappeared. Sadness stole the sparkle from his eyes leaving him with a distant gaze. He said, “The goats were Erin’s, my wife’s. She loved animals, all kinds,” he shrugged, “even snakes. Heck, we had lots more when Erin was … Yeah, the place was a zoo. It was great.” A slight grin appeared. “There were always lots of kids around too.”
Sue said, “Sounds like you had something real special back then.”
Rusty frowned, “Back then, indeed, but like my Erin, those days are long gone.” He glanced at Walt still petting the goat. “Nobody wants to send a child into a dump to pet a goat. Sometimes I hate this place.”
Walt and I fell silent. Sue twirled a lock of her hair and then said, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but why do you stay?”
Rusty pinched his chin. “My grandfather built that cabin. My family has lived here for over a hundred years. Sometimes when I sit in my rocker over there, I can make the dump go away; just choose not to see it. Yeah, I know it sounds crazy. Anyway, you can’t simply get up and leave memories behind; they’re a part of you.”
I nodded. Some of which you hope others will never learn of perhaps?
Sue stopped twirling her hair. “That didn’t sound crazy to me,” Sue smiled at him.
“I do that a lot.” I said, “Think about a place or whatever, and I’m there. Trouble is, I have a tendency to do the same thing in school and get in trouble for daydreaming,”
“Yeah, he does.” Sue giggled.
Walt walked towards Rusty. “Didn’t you say once, you would tell us about those bridges you built?”
“I believe you’re correct.” Rusty waved his hand. “Come inside and I’ll show you some photos.”
Rusty groaned. “Damn arthritis,” as he reached for a photo album on a high shelf. We gathered round as he placed it on the table. Rusty sat, opened it and placed his finger on a photo. “This little one was my first bridge. It still stands today in Ohio.” He skimmed over a few pages and then said, “This one is my favorite.”
“Wow.” My eyes widened, “You built some really big bridges.”
“I had a lil help.”
Walt laughed. “I suppose you did. Where is that one?”
“You’ve been all over the world, huh.” Sue stared at another photo with Erin and Rusty standing in front the same bridge. “Did you always take your family with you?”
Rusty paused a moment and then said, “As often as I could.”
Mister Rusty turned the remaining pages without making comments. By the look on Walt’s face, he regretted asking him about the bridges. Hoping to cheer up everyone, I said, “I bet you could help us build a boat we’ve been thinking about. Yeah, I know you can. You can build anything.”
Walt and Sue’s eyes widened. We had never talked about doing such.
Walt said, “What are you—” Feeling Sue’s elbow in his ribs, Walt’s head snapped round toward her.
Sue whispered, “Hush.”
“What kind of boat?” Rusty said with his eyes opened wider.
My mind went blank for a moment. Thankfully, Sue came to my aid with, “A sailboat. We want to build a sailboat.”
“I think maybe you three are a tad young to be out in the bay.”
Sue tilted her head at Rusty, “What’s a tad?”
“An old term for small, probably derived, um, came from the word tadpole.”
Walt said, “Oh we won’t use it out deep, just in the marshy shallows.”
Rusty thought for a moment and then said, “I suppose I could. You do realize it will take quite a while to build a fit craft, perhaps most of your summer vacation.”
Sue mumbled, “That won’t do.”
Seeing the glum looks on our faces, Rusty thought for a moment and then said, “How about building an ice boat instead? It would be a lot easier.”
“I suppose,” Walt shrugged, “but it’s June, and…um— Thanks anyway for the offer.”
“Yes, thanks.” I kneaded my chin for a minute or two, and then said, “We do want to build something, but I doubt if we could stay with one thing that long without losing interest.”
“John’s right,” Walt paused. “Three, maybe four days at best. After that, we’d be looking for something elsewhere.”
Sue nodded, “I guess we don’t have much patience.”
Rusty smiled, “Most people your age don’t.”
“Does it really have to take that long?” I smiled, “We built a monster racer in a day.”
Rusty’s head tilted tone side; he looked at me from the corner of his eye. “You built a what?”
“A downhill racer,” Sue chuckled, “with six wheels.”
Walt said, “We made three fun runs down Church lane hill, but it kind of fell apart on the fourth.”
Rusty shook a scolding finger, “See, had you spent a little more time on it—” he tilted his head again. “You get out what you put into things.”
“I suppose,” I said. “Um, couldn’t we just build something simple with a sail?”
Sue blurted, “Yes, and with wheels, so we can use it now.”
Rusty thought for a moment and then said, “If you can find everything and work hard, maybe, just maybe, in three days you can build some kind of land-sailing craft that will last a while.”
“A Land-Sailer.” Sue’s eyes glistened. “That sounds perfect.”
Walt held his right hand and thumb up. “Yup, we can build that it in three or four days.”
I nodded and whispered to Walt, “He’s smiling again.”
Rusty handed Walt the photo album from the table. “Put this back please.” He then turned toward me. “John, please bring me some of that paper over there.”
We sat around the table and watched him scribble and then cross off four designs. His fifth drawing brought a smile to his lips. “This is what you want.”
Sue stared at the drawing. “It looks simple enough, we can find the wood and wheels in the dump, but where are we going to get a sail?”
Rusty beamed, “Mister Improvise will provide.”
“Who?” Sue asked.
“It’s not a who, it’s a what.” Rusty smiled. “To improvise is to make-do with something else; use a jar for a cup or an old tablecloth for a sail.”
“Oh.” Sue nodded.
“We’ve seen lots of those in the dump,” I said. “Oh! I just had a thought, come winter we could take the wheels off and use sled runners.”
Walt stood and said, “I’m sold. Let’s get to finding what we’ll need.”
As we walked towards the door, Sue said, “I saw some nice carriage wheels in the ravine near the Bean.”
“I saw them too,” Walt added.
Rusty scrunched his face, “The Bean?”
Sue said, “That’s what we call the big pond near Flatbush Avenue.”
“Oh,” Rusty nodded, “and hey, I have something you can use for a mast and I’ve got plenty of rope too, so you don’t need to look for those things.”
“Thanks!” Walt said, “I guess we’ll get the wheels first and probably just take them home. It’ll be near dinnertime soon. We’ll see you tomorrow, bye.”
Rusty waved good-bye, “You three be careful out there,”
“We will,” Sue said.
Later, we found the wheels Sue had remembered, but they were too weak for our boat. After much searching, I spotted an old carriage. It was tattered, mangled and had one bent wheel. I said, “Hey, check this one out.”
“You can’t be serious?” Walt squinted, “Even from here I can tell it’s useless.”
“Yeah, it’s beat-up, but it has three good wheels and that’s all we need.”
“Beat up, heck,” Walt laughed. “It looks like a truck ran it over. Though back then, maybe a team of horses.”
“And you find that funny?” Sue glared at Walt. “A baby may have been in it.”
Walt cringed. “Damn Sis, I didn’t think about that possibility.”
Sue looked at me. “Is there any blood on it?’
I looked it over, “No, I don’t see any.”
Sue said, “Look inside.”
I tugged at the crushed shade hood until it open. Crap, bloodstains. She’s going to freak out.
“Well?” Sue shouted.
I lied, “Um, no, I don’t see any.”
Walt said, “I’ll help you get the wheels off.”
Shit, we don’t want them now. They’ll probably bring us bad luck. With Walt almost upon me, I forced the shade cover down.
Walt said, “They’re not much to look at, but they turn and they do look strong. They’ll do fine.”
Before I could think of a reason for us not to take them, Walt had two off. Maybe the child survived. Yeah, could’ve, maybe? I glanced at the half-crushed and twisted baby carriage and frowned. No way in hell.
Walt dropped the three wheels into our wagon, “Let’s go, I’m getting hungry.”
Before we could cross the street and exit the Dump, we waited for a truck to pass. When it did, Sue looked up the avenue and gasped, “Hurry, Robert and his friends are coming.”
Walt and I turned round. He said, “Yeah, it’s them, but I’m not hurrying for that jerk.”
Drawing closer, Robert shouted, “Hey look, it’s the Dump-Dwellers and their queen.” With his friends following, he peddled his red Sears bike in circles around us.
“Get lost, Rob,” Walt said.
Robert frowned, his bushy eyebrows lowered as his lips twisted. “What kind of garbage are you collecting today, John?”
“It’s not garbage.”
He laughed. “Maybe not to you, but it sure is to the rest of the world.”
“What are you doing down here? Are you too stupid to find your way home or something?” Walt said.
“We were following an odor. You know, trying to find where the bad smell was coming from, and…well…”
“Very funny,” Walt said.
Robert circled around us a few more times. He stopped his bike near Sue and said, “Hey guys, I’ve found the source. It’s coming from their queen, she reeks.”
Sue took her spear from the carriage and said, “I don’t smell.”
Robert sniffed the air and then his own shirt, “Well it’s certainly not me.”
“You had better shut your mouth,” Sue warned.
“Good idea, I might taste that awful odor if I keep it open,” Robert laughed.
Walt stopped pulling the carriage. “Get lost before I make you eat those words.”
Robert went back to peddling circles round Sue and said, “Oh, we’re leaving, we can only stand the smell around here for so long. Come on guys, let’s go home. I need some fresh air.” Robert broke from his circling to head home. He glanced back and said, “I’m going to send you a present, Sue. Watch your mailbox. There’ll be a bar of soap in it soon.”
Sue’s face turned red as I reached for my slingshot. She shouted, “Keep your stupid soap, and while you’re at it, take this.” Sue threw her spear at Robert. It missed his leg by inches and went halfway through the spokes of his back wheel, jammed it. Robert went over the handlebars of the red Sears.
Robert looked at Sue, “You slutty lil bitch.” He got up slow and removed her spear from his spokes. “You’re going to be sorry you did that, Trash Queen.”
No, she won’t!
Snap- Rob broke Sue’s spear across his knee. With the longer half in hand, he walked toward her.
Sue looked him in the eye, “You better stay away from me.” Sue took her slingshot from her back pocket.
With his slingshot drawn, Walt said, “Take another step towards my sister and I’ll put a lump on your head that will last a year!”
When one of Rob’s friends peddled toward his side, I aim at his head, “You want a lump too, Tim?” He turned round.
Walt said, “Get back on your bike and get out of here while you still can ride.”
I said, “No, just leave it there. We’ll return it to the old man you stole it from.”
“No damn way, it’s my bike and I’m leaving on it.”
. “Oh, let him take it,” Sue grinned. “I’d rather see the look on his face when we bring Mister Rusty to speak with his dad.”
Robert glanced at the red bike and threw the broken spear to the ground. As he walked away he said, “I’ll see you in school, when you don’t have those slingshots with you.”
Walt said, “We’ll be there.”
Robert and his friends left.
Sue turned to me in tears and said, “I really don’t smell, do I?”
I placed my hand on her shoulder. “Well, you do, um, can—” I smiled. “Make roses jealous.”
“Aw, that was sweet.” Sue sniffled. “And silly.”
Chapter 4: Riding a Witch
Early that next morning, we returned to Rusty’s valley with his red Sears bike. I said, “Good morning, Mister Rusty.”
He smiled, but seeing Walt with his bike, he said, “I told you guys not to take it back.” Rusty stared at us. “Hmm, no black eyes or bruises.”
I said, “We didn’t force Robert to give it back, well, not with our fist. We talked, um, reasoned with him.” With our slingshots.
“I can just imagine. Put it over there, you can give me the details later.”
Crap, he wants details. Maybe he’ll forget to ask. I watched Rusty walk toward our land-sailor.
Walt said, “What ya think, did we do a good enough job?”
“Seems so.” Rusty tilted his head to one side then the other. “All function, not much form.”
“Is that bad?” Sue asked.
Rusty laughed. “No. It just means that it’s functional. It will work, but it’s just not that nice to look at, though it is interesting.”
“Oh.” Sue said.
I glanced at the trees and said, “There won’t be much wind this late in the day.”
Rusty nodded. “Yup, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”
Walt sighed, “At least it’s done.”
Rusty waved a finger, “Almost, you guys forgot something important.”
Sue twirled that lock of hair again. “OK, we give up. What did we forget, Mister Rusty?”
“It may not be a boat, but it is a ship of some sort, and ships need names.”
“A name, huh?” Sue kept twirling.
“Fang,” I said.
“Fang!” Walt snapped. “After that nasty old dog, no way.”
Sue grimaced. “Whatever made you think of that?”
“It reminds me of him, kind of nasty and beat looking.”
Sue said, “I don’t care if it does, it won’t be Fang.”
“Oh, I have a good one,” Walt smiled.
“And it is?” Rusty asked.
“Last night I saw a picture of a sailboat in a book. It was called the Sea Witch. We could use that name.”
“That’s much better, but not quite right,” Sue said.
“How about,” I said with a grin, “The Dump Witch.”
“Yeah, I can live with that one.” Sue nodded.
Walt said, “It’s settled.”
I turned to Rusty. “Thanks for all the help, Mister. Well see you in the morning, time for us to head for home.
At dinner, my Dad said, “What have been up to today, John?”
I eagerly rambled on about the Witch.
“Sounds like fun.”
Anxious to ride our creation, we were at Rusty’s before eight the next morning. Sue grabbed a rag to wipe dew from our craft and gasped at what Rusty had done. “Gee thanks, that looks really neat.”
Up front, Rusty had mounted a board with the words The Dump Witch painted on it in fancy white script.
“Yeah, thanks. That looks great.” I said.
Walt smiled. “It sure does.”
A breeze made our tablecloth sail flap loudly. I turned toward Rusty and said, “So how do we make it go?”
“Good question. Well, first off, who’s going to steer it?
“I am,” three voices said.
“That won’t work.” Rusty knelt and picked something up. He turned his back to us for a few seconds and then turned round with an outstretched fist and said, “I’ve got three blades of grass in my hand. Two are the same length and one is not. Whoever gets the odd one wins. Since I believe in ladies-first, come try your luck, dear.”
Sue stepped toward him. She rolled her upper lip over her teeth and stared at the three tips of grass poking from Rusty’s fist. She touched the left one and then pulled it from his hand.
Walt drew the next blade and it was longer. “It looks like it’s up to you, John.”
Nuts, I can’t win. Mine is going to match either Sue’s or Walt’s.
Rusty said, “Well, John?”
I pulled that last blade of grass and looked at Sue.
“Yippee. The helm is mine.” Sue shouted. “I get to hold the tiller first.”
Walt said, “And you better do a good job of it. Don’t crash it, John and I want a shot at it too.”
Smiling broadly, Sue sat near the back and placed her hand on the long tiller handle.
“Ha, ha, like you’re going to do better?”
Walt turned toward me, “Do want you want to trim the sail or do the leaning first?”
I went over to the right side of the Witch, grabbed the rope connected to the boom and sat. “I’ll trim.”
Sue said, “Are we ready?”
I looked up at Rusty standing nearby. “I don’t have the slightest idea about what we’re supposed to do. We don’t know a thing about sailing.”
“For one thing, it’s your job to keep the sail taut, full of wind.”
“I’ll try my best.”
Rusty looked at Sue, “Just hold keep the wind in the sail. Don’t try to sail dead into it.”
I said, “Somehow I don’t think it’s as easy as you make it sound.”
Rusty grinned. “That’s what makes it so much fun. It will take you three a while to get good at it. You have to become a crew, an efficient team. When you do, well, that’s when the real fun will begin.”
After listening carefully to more sailing instructions, I said, “I think we understand how it works, though I’m not too comfortable with not having any brakes.”
“That’s why you have to plan ahead. Remember, just let the sail go slack and it will slow down.” Rusty grinned. “Eventually.”
“One more thing, you need to choose a Captain. Every ship has to have a captain,” Rusty said. “So, who’s it going to be?”
Sue said, “I have an idea, after we each take a turn steering, we’ll decide who steers best.”
Rusty shook his head.
“What’s wrong with my idea?”
“The Captain doesn’t have to be the one at the helm.” He faced Walt. “I’d make your position the Captain’s chair. Take turns at it. See who’se best at what and like Sue said, then decide.”
I said, “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
Walt and Sue agreed.
Rusty looked at Walt, saluted and said, “Ready to shove-off, Captain?”
“Indeed, Sir.” Walt pointed ahead, looked at Sue and said, “Steer for the marsh… um… Lieutenant.”
“Put some wind in our sail, Seaman John.
I pulled on the rope and shouted, “Wind in the sail, Sir.”
Our blue and white tablecloth billowed. We moved a little and stopped. Sue moaned, “Our sail is too darn small.”
Rusty walked toward us. “Don’t be so quick to give up. Get out and give it a push. It probably just needs a little help to get going.”
I tied the boom in place with a slipknot and then stood.
Walt said, “Stay with the Helm, Sis. Are ya ready John?”
I placed a hand on the mast. “Yup.”
“Now,” Walt said.
Within seconds, I shouted, “I can’t keep up. We need to get on before Sue sails away without us, Captain.”
Sue yelled, “Get on already.”
I jumped onto my seat as did Walt.
Walt yelled as we gained speed, “Wow, it works!”
Though a ways back, I could still see Rusty’s smiling face. We waved at each other.
“This is awesome,” Sue said as the Witch dashed across the dump.
Holding the boom-line tight, I said, “We’re going to ride this thing every day, to heck with our bikes!”
With the drop-off to the marsh coming up quick, Walt shouted, “Port, Sis.”
“Left, Sis. Port is left.”
“Hey, I thought I was a lieutenant.”
“Whatever just do it before it’s too late.”
Sue pushed the tiller hard to her right turning our ship sharply to the left, too sharply.
“Not so hard,” Walt screamed as he leaned over the left side as far as he could.
My eyes riveted on our spinning and off-the-ground left wheel. Damn wheels are cursed. I yelled, “Oh shit, hang on, we’re going to capsize.” The left wheel climbed higher, the Witch teetered on the brink.
“No, we’re not!” Sue yanked back on the tiller.
The Witch slammed back down with bone-jarring harshness. Walt almost fell off, turned to Sue and said, “Damn, Sis, you almost got us killed.”
“Not me. You should have said left and not port. You should have ordered John to let go of the sail too, you’re no captain.”
Dang, she sure told him. I almost laughed, but instead said, “Sorry, Sue, I should have let go.”
“No problem,” Sue smiled at me. “I’ll try to be smoother with the tiller.” She then gently pushed the tiller bringing us about in a wide turn.
“Now you’ve got it,” I said.
“I’m going to be good at this, you just watch.”
“Heads down.” I let the boom swing to the other side, but it didn’t help. We continued to slow down.
Walt pointed. “Take us that way, Sis. Remember, Rusty said we can’t go directly into the wind, we have to zig-zag.”
An hour and many exciting runs later, I said, “Damn, we’ve got it down good now.”
With Sue in the Captain’s seat, we approached Rusty. She shouted, “Let out the sail.”
Walt allowed it to flap freely. A moment later, we rolled to a stop not far from Rusty. Sue stood and said, “Captain Rusty, the ship is yours, Sir. It’s your turn to be Captain.”
“No, that’s all right. Besides, I’m too heavy.”
“Nonsense, you’re skinny. Come on and take it for a run. Without you, we wouldn’t have thought to make it. Go, take my place,” She walked away from the Witch.
“Skinny or not, I’m still bigger than two of you.”
I stood. “OK then, go with Walt. Sue and I will wait.”
“Naw, you guys go have fun.”
Sue put her hands on her hips. “I think he can’t do it. I think he only knows how to instruct others. She turned to Walt, “What was that saying Dad likes to use, those who can do, and those who can’t…whatever.”
“Teach,” Rusty grinned. “I can do more than teach.” He walked over, sat, and took hold of the tiller. “I’m going to be the Captain and you best do exactly as I order with that sail.”
“Yes, Sir.” Walt saluted.
“And while you’re at it, you might want to hang on real good.”
Sue laughed and nudged me. “Let’s give them a push.”
We gave them a good long push. As they gained speed, I heard Rusty shout, “Pull that sail in more and hold it there.”
When Walt complied, we saw the Witch lean way over. It was carrying the left wheel high in the air. “They’re going to turn over!” Sue gasped.
With the wind carrying Rusty’s voice to us, we heard, “Hold onto that line and lean into it. More.” Walt and Rusty leaned to one side to keep the Witch from toppling over as they raced swiftly across the dump on two wheels.
“Wow, Sue, we never went that fast before, did we?”
“I doubt it.”
Sue took my hand in hers. “If only we could stretch today into a month or two.”
I felt her head on my shoulder. “Why not a year, or a lifetime?”
The breeze tossed Sue’s hair about tickling my face and neck. Still zipping along, I watched Walt and Rusty draw closer.
Sue whispered, “A lifetime, really?”
I turned my head, looked into her eyes and smiled. “Would be neat, huh.” I kissed her forehead.
“Yahoo…” We heard Rusty shout like a little kid as they flew by us. I said, “I wonder how many years it’s been since he’s had that much fun?”
Sue sniffled and then mumbled, “A lot.”
I turned to see her face and finding tears in her eyes, I said, “What’s wrong?”
“Not a thing.” Sue smiled, “Everything is just fine.”
I pulled my handkerchief out and wiped her eyes. “No more tears.” I kissed her forehead again. “I just hate to see you in tears.”
“What?” I said.
“You’ve been holding my hand,” Sue squeezed mine, “and well, you kissed me twice. Do you…”
“Do I, what?”
“Do you want to be my boyfriend, a couple?”
I entwined my fingers with hers. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
The Witch rolled to a stop nearby and Sue clapped. I said, “Well done, Admiral Rusty.”
“What about me?”
“Yeah, you too.” Sue clapped for her brother.
“You guys were really moving out there!” I said.
Rusty’s face looked pale as he said, “That was fun.”
“You don’t look right.” Sue asked, “Are you OK?”
“I’ll,” Rusty mumbled, “I’ll be… fine in a minute.”
I walked closer. “You don’t look too good. Do you need a doctor or something?”
“No, just a little rest. Old people get tired quick.”
“You’re not that old,” Sue said.
“Thank you, dear.” He faked a grin,
I watched the color return to Rusty’s face as he sat on the Witch. Getting up slowly he said, “I’m going inside. If I don’t fall asleep, I’ll come out and watch you guys again.”
Sue took his arm and asked, “Do you want me to walk with you to the house?”
“That’s sweet of you, but it won’t be necessary. I’ll be fine.” He smiled at her.
“Maybe, but I’m going to do it just the same.”
We followed Sue and Rusty toward and down the path to his door. Before going inside, he waved at us. When his door closed, I said, “He didn’t look all right to me.”
“Yeah, what’s up?” Walt said. “Did he say what was wrong?”
“I asked, but he would only say that they were going to fix the problem soon.”
“Should we leave him alone?” I stared at Sue.
“He said it happens often, and he seemed a little better when we got to the house. I think he’s asleep already.”
“Let’s ride some more and then check on him.” I said, “It’s your turn at the tiller, Walt.”
Using our willow as a reference point, Walt brought us close to the road.
“Look!” Sue shouted. “It’s Robert and his dumb friends. Let’s show them a thing or two. Steer us out into the street.”
“The street?” Walt snapped.
“I’m the Captain and that’s an order! Besides, there aren’t any cars around.”
We shot from the dump onto Glenwood road and zoomed toward Robert and his friends. I said, “Look at them gawk.”
Robert stared in disbelief as we sailed by him.
“Come about. Let’s go back,” Sue shouted.
Walt turned us around as I shoved the boom to the other side. The Witch slowed, then catching the stiff breeze, off it went along the smoothed blacktop. We smiled as we raced passed Robert again.
Nuts. I said, “We’ve got company.” I nodded toward a police car as it turned the corner.
“More sail,” Sue shouted.
I pulled hard on the rope. Our left wheel lifted. “Holy crap, we’re going like all hell now.”
“Yeah, and it’s too fast.” Sue cringed.
“What the frack, are they kidding?” Walt yelled when the police car turned almost sideways to block the street.
“Oh shit, they best get out of our way,” I shouted. Patrol car 76’s doors opened wide. “No, don’t get out.” Both cops did and one waved his arms for us to stop. “What are we going to do?”
Sue yelled, “We’re too close and fast to stop now. I think we can fit by on their right.”
I shouted, “She’s right, just wave as we go by.”
“But they’re cops!” Walt yelled.
Our left wheel lifted high and climbed higher when I fed the sail more wind. I yelled, “Sorry,” as our wheel forced one cop to slam his door shut and jump clear.
Sue shouted and waved, “Hi, officers. Bye, officers.”
“Wait, stop!” The policeman the on right shouted.
“We can’t.” Walt lied as he yanked on the tiller taking us back into the dump.
The other policeman shook his head and watched us escape.
Glancing back, I said, “It looks like they want to talk to Robert.”
“More like, he wants to speak with them, tell them who we are and where we live.” I grumbled, “We’re going to catch hell later.”
“For what?” Sue said. “I doubt if we broke any laws.”
I said, “We were going fast, maybe too fast?”
Sue laughed. “Doesn’t matter; motor vehicle laws don’t apply to us.”
“Ha, you have a point, Lawyer, Susan.”
Walt shrugged. “If he does tell, we’ll just have to tell them about the red Sears.”
“He won’t dare tell,” I said.
“We can worry about that when we get home,” Sue said, “We need to check on Rusty.”
Walt said, “Let’s.” He pulled on the tiller to turn us west into the setting Sun and toward Rusty’s valley.
Minutes later, Sue squinted. “Is that a person on the ground?”
I stared at the silhouette. “Could be?”
Sue shouted, “Oh my God, it’s Rusty!”
I let the sail slacken. Walt and I dragged our feet. The Witch stopped and we ran to Rusty.
Sue said, “I knew we shouldn’t have left you.”
Squatting on the ground, Rusty slowly lifted his head and said at a whisper. “I’m fine. I just wanted to see how you guys were doing. The way I showed off before, got me thinking, you might get hurt trying to copy what we did. It was stupid of me. You’re not ready to go that fast yet.”
Sue knelt in front of him and said, “Leaving the house instead of resting was stupid. And we can run with only two wheels on the ground.”
“I know. I saw.”
“Are you ready to go back to the house now?” I asked.
“In a moment.”
We gave him that minute and a few more, but he still didn’t look good.
“I think maybe we should get you a doctor,” Sue said.
“No, no, I’m fine.”
“You keep saying that, but you don’t look fine. You look like shit.”
“You can’t even stand,” Sue stared.
Rusty looked up with a frown and slowly stood. “There, I’m standing. It’s almost dinnertime; your folks are going to worry soon. Go home. I’m fine. I just need to go lay down.” He took a step, wobbled a little, and then, to my horror, his eyes rolled back into his head. He collapsed.
Sue screamed, “Oh my, God! Oh my God, he’s dead.”
“Calm down, we mustn’t panic,” Walt said.
“Is he dead?” Sue cried.
Walt slightly shrugged his shoulder as we I looked at Rusty lying like a crumpled heap of laundry.
I felt Sue pull the handkerchief from my pocket. She wiped her eyes and said, “John, please…um…”
Hiding my dread, I nodded, took a breath and knelt. My shaking hand came to rest on Rusty’s chest. Crap. It felt nothing. I think he’s dead.
Say something, John.”
Not wanting Sue to see the tears my eyes I mumbled, “He’s gone.”
She gasped. “No, he can’t be; are you sure? Listen to his heart.”
Shit, I don’t want to hear that kind of silence.
I cringed and put my ear to Rusty’s chest. Was that a heartbeat— just then, the two Panthers roared overhead again.
“Well?” Walt said.
I pointed at the jets. “I can’t tell yet.” I covered my other ear, heard a faint heartbeat and air whispering in his lungs. “He’s alive.” I jumped to my feet and ran towards Rusty’s house while shouting, “You two stay with him. I’m going to get help.”
Walt yelled, “There’s no phone.”
“I know.” Reaching Rusty’s house, I grabbed my Schwinn, and raced for home, ignoring every bump. Damn, this is taking too long, have to peddle faster. Tires screeched, a horn blared and the driver of Dodge yelled, “You idiot, I could have killed you.”
I gasped and said, “Hey, Mister—” Before I could ask him for help, he sped away. “Thanks, asshole.” I continued to my house.
Moments later, I let my precious bike drop and flung our door open with a bang. “Mom, Dad where are you? Come quick, hurry.”
They rushed into the kitchen. “What’s wrong?”
“Mister Rusty’s very sick. I think he’s going to die. He needs to get to a hospital now.”
Dad picked up the phone and dialed. He spoke to someone and turned toward me. “They want to know his address.”
“Address, he doesn’t have an address. Have them meet me in front of the Dump.
“Where, they want something more specific, John.”
“Glenwood road and 81st street, and then I’ll show them the way.”
After repeating that, my father said, “An ambulance is on its way. It should be there in a little while.”
Mom hugged me and said, “I wish I could tell you your friend is going to fine, but I just don’t know. He’s in God’s hands now.”
“I know.” I broke the hug and wiped my tears. “I have to go now.”
Mom opened the door. “Don’t give up hope. Living out there, alone and without power and whatnot, he has to be pretty tough.”
“I suppose.” I picked up my bike.
My dad stepped outside, looked at the open hood of his car, and said, “Wait, let me drive you. It should only take me a minute or two put the disturber cap back on.
“Sorry, have to go. Besides, it might not start. You can take us to the hospital later.”
Nearing the entrance to the dump, I grumbled aloud, “Where are they?” I sat on my bike for a moment or two and then started to pace nervously about. Where’s that damn ambulance?
I heard from behind, Robert said, “What are you doing?”
“Where’s Walt and Sue?” Robert’s friend Tim peddled past me, “Did they dump you?”
“Is it possible?” Robert laughed. “Can a dump dweller, be dumped?”
“Look, idiot, I don’t have time for your stupid crap, get lost.”
“Idiot, stupid crap, huh?” Robert stopped in front of me. “For someone alone, you have more balls than brains.”
“Just knock it off a-hole.” I gritted my teeth and held my breath. I’m going punch you in the mouth any minute. I exhaled, looked toward the dump, and said, “There’s a man out there in a bad way, maybe even dying. I need to show the ambulance driver where he is, whenever they get here.”
“Dying…” Robert opened a square of bubble gum. He stuffed it into his mouth and before chewing, said, “Sounds like bull crap to me.”
Tim said, “What man?”
“The old man who was the red Sears owner.” I turned toward Robert. “Yeah, that one.”
“Him, you’re worried about him?” Robert laughed. “No one will miss that dirty ole bum. Just let the old bum die.”
Tim said, “What?”
Robert said, “Look, Bill and Mike are coming. When they get here, we’ll take John with us.”
Tim stared. “Where?”
“Away,” Robert grinned. “So he can’t tell the rescue people where to find their bum.”
Tim’s jaw dropped.
Sorry, Mom, but I just have to. I reached out with my left hand and pulled Robert half off his bike. “I’m not going to let you kill him.” I punched Robert square in the face, right between his eyes. He fell backward onto the blacktop. Within seconds, his face was covered with blood.
“You broke my nose.”
I kicked his bike over onto his legs.
“You’re crazy. My dads going have you arrested.” Robert looked up at Tim. “Do something, hit him.”
Tim backed away. “No way, I don’t want anything to do with you. Shit, Rob, you want us kill that old man.” Tim peddled toward the other two boys, stopped them, and pointed at me. While I couldn’t hear Tim’s words, it was obvious by their faces what he was saying. I heard a siren wail. It’s about time. I turned round. Damn. Patrol car 76 rolled to a stop next to us.
The passenger, Officer O’Brian said, “What’s going on here?”
“He hit me for no reason, broke my damn nose. Arrest him.” With blood dripping from his nose, Robert stood.
The officer got out of their patrol car, handed Robert some gaze pads and said, “Hold this to it.”
O’Brian said, “Well, did you hit him?”
“Yeah, but I had to, he was going to get Mister Rusty killed.”
“Liar.” Robert said.
An ambulance turned onto our street. I said, “Took them long enough. They’re for Mister Rusty. Asked them when they stop, you’ll see, Officer.”
Robert said, “No, they’re going to take me to the hospital.”
“Like hell they are.” I snapped and then said to O’Brian, “Ask his friend Tim why I hit him.”
The ambulance pulled up and the driver said, “Who’s John and where’s the old man?”
“I’m John.” I got on my bike, motioned toward the dump, and said, “Here’s out there. Follow me.”
O’Brian grabbed my arm. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Please let go of me. He’s going to die if hasn’t already—” I swallowed and wiped my eyes. “Please.”
The ambulance driver said, “O’Brian, do what you want with the boy later. We need him more now.”
O’Brian released my arm. “Go show them where your friend is.”
“Thanks.” I jumped on my bike and raced away.
Fifty yards into the dump, I heard someone shout, “Wait, come back here.” I turned around and was horrified to see the ambulance stopped just a few yards into the dump and its driver waving for me to return. What the hell? I raced back and yelled, “What are you doing here when a man is dying out there!”
“I’m sorry,” the driver said, “but we can’t follow you. Not into that part of it, too many deep ruts for this vehicle. Even if we don’t get stuck, we’ll most likely get a flat tire in no time at all.”
My jaw dropped. “But—”
“Don’t worry, we sent for a firetruck. They’ll go get him.”
“No! That’ll take too long. He’ll be dead by then.”
O’Brian said, “Calm down, son, they have no choice.”
“If it were a cop out there dying, they would chance it.”
O’Brian did not reply.
“I’ll watch for ruts and nails. Please, Sir.” I said, “We ride our bikes out there all the time and we never get any flat tires.” I stared at the ambulance driver. “If he dies, it’ll be your fault.”
“So what if he does.” From behind us, Robert grumbled, “They need to take me to the hospital. Nobody cares about that old bum.”
O’Brian took one look at me, grabbed Robert and shoved him into the car. “Stay there and keep your mouth shut.”
Robert said, “My father golfs with your captain, he’s going to hear about this.”
“You can count on it.” O’Brian slammed the door.
Had I not been so angry and worried about Rusty, the sight of Robert in that police car would have made me smile, instead, I stared at the ambulance driver.
“Look, kid,” he sighed, “we’d really like to go get him, but we can’t chance a flat. It will take us longer to get him to the hospital if we have to change a tire. Besides, we could get sent to a more urgent call elsewhere, and we don’t want to be fixing a flat if that happens.”
“More urgent, what could be more urgent than a man dying?”
He grimaced, turned round, and opened the ambulance rear door. Both men reached inside and pulled a wheeled stretcher out. The other rescue guy removed an oxygen bottle and mask from the vehicle.
I grumbled, “By the time he gets here, you probably won’t need that, he’ll be dead.”
O’Brian put a hand on my shoulder and led me away. “Take it easy John, they’re just doing their job. They want to— what the hell?” O’Brian turned me around. “Look, your buddies are headed this way. That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen with a sail.”
“I suppose it is.” I stared at the Witch. What are they doing, why did they leave him alone? Oh my, God, he’s dead. Tears flooded my eyes. It became difficult to see.
O’Brian said, “It looks like they’re bringing him here.”
What? I wiped my eyes and, saw Rusty lying on the left side of the Witch. “Holy crap, you’re right.” I then heard O’Brian say, “Chasing ambulances again, Jen?”
“As always.” From behind me, a tall lady with gray hair stepped into view. She had a Canarsie Currier newspaper badge on her blouse. She asked, “What’s happening here, O’Bee?” The reporter looked into the patrol car’s mirror and fixed her hair. She pulled a notepad from a pocket. “Got a story here, I hope?”
“You would do better to ask this young man. He can tell you more.”
“Well, young man?” Holding her pen to a pad, she stared at me.
“Well, what, Mam?”
“What happened to that man and who is he?” She held a finger up. “What’s your name, child?”
“Sorry, I meant to say, ‘young man.’ Or would you prefer Sir?’”
“My name is John and his name is Mister Rusty— um, no it’s not.” I exhaled, “Sorry but, I cannot pronounce his real name, Mam.”
“That’s OK, John, just spell it instead.” She held her pen ready.
You’re kidding, right? I tilted my head. “Da?”
“No problem, I’ll find out later.” She wrote something in her pad, looked left and said, “I think we have a story, Phil. Take some pictures.”
Phil pointed his camera at me.
Click- A blinding flash left me seeing spots. “Damn, Mister, the Sun’s still up why did waste a flashbulb?”
“The photo will come out better.” He pointed it at the Witch and took a few more as it came to a stop.
The two men from the ambulance rushed to Rusty’s side. Sue and Walt got out of their way.
Jennifer, the news reporter said, “Tell me about—”
“Can’t now, have to go. Sorry.” I turned and walked briskly toward Sue and Walt.
Jen’s high heels slowed her stride. “Slow down, please.” She glanced at Phil and said, “Take more pictures!”
I reached Sue, hugged her tight, and whispered into her ear, “Is he alive?”
She sniffled. “He was when we left.”
I again whispered, “I tried, but they wouldn’t drive into the dump.”
Sue stepped back, “That’s what we thought.”
I leaned toward her, kissed her on the lips, and said, “You, you, um…” Wow, her lips are soft and… Damn, that was neat. I just stood there staring.
Sue said, “You were saying?”
“Um… oh yeah, you did well; I’m proud of you.”
“It was Walt’s idea, I just helped.”
“I’m still proud of you.”
Walt pulled us apart. “Where’s my kiss?”
Sue brows lowered, she grumbled. “I think you should save your humor for another time.”
Walt said, “I was just trying help, make light of the situation.”
“Look.” Sue said, “They’re putting him on the stretcher.”
They strapped Rusty down and lifted the stretcher until its wheels dropped and locked. Popping buttons, the driver pulled Rusty’s shirt open. Holy crap. I gasped at the sight of two round scars. “Are those old bullet wounds?”
Walt swallowed deep. “That’s what they look like to me, but I’m no expert.”
“You can’t say those came from my wild imagination.”
Walt stared for a moment. “They still don’t make him a gangster or whatever.”
Sue said, “Maybe he was a spy.”
“Yeah, one of ours.” Walt snapped.
“I hope you guys are right.”
The driver put a stethoscope to Rusty’s chest and listened, as the other man felt for Rusty’s pulse. Seconds later, he said, “56.”
Sue squeezed my hand, “Is 56 normal?”
Having no clue, I lied, “Yeah, I think so?”
We watch the man put a cuff on Rusty’s arm to get Rusty’s blood pressure, he said, “95 over 70.”
Sue gripped my hand tighter again. I said, “Sorry, I don’t know if 95 over 70s good or bad?”
Noting my bloody knuckles as I wipe perspiration for from my forehead, Walt grabbed my hand. “How did you get that?”
What the hell. “I didn’t know I was bleeding.”
Sue said, “How?”
“Um, it ran into Robert’s face.” I motioned toward the police car.
Walt gasped at the sight of Rob’s bloody face. “Holy crap, ya nailed him good.”
“Why?” Sue asked.
“Tell ya later.” I motioned with my eyes toward the news cameraman as he pointed his camera at the back seat of the patrol and snapped Robert’s photo. With the breeze now coming from the dump, the reporter held a handkerchief to her nose as she spoke with Officer O’Brian. It doesn’t smell that bad, lady.
Sue said, “Are you in trouble for hitting him?”
“Maybe a little, but he’s in a lot more.”
Rusty’s stretcher slid into the ambulance. With the siren blaring, they drove off as the reporter walked toward us. “You three are heroes. Can I have your full names please?”
“Heroes? Our names, what for?” Walt stared.
“For the news story, I’m going to submit to my paper.” She grinned.
Walt shrugged. “But we didn’t do anything to get our pictures in the paper, Mam.”
“Oh, I beg to differ that point, young man. You three did quite a lot.”
I looked at Walt and Sue and then said, “Mam, we don’t care about that, we have to go to the hospital now.”
“Yeah, we have to find out about Rusty,” Walt said. We started to walk away.
The reporter scoffed, “It’s rude to turn your back on someone.”
We stopped, turned round and I said, “But we need to go.”
“Just give me a moment more, please.”
“Maybe you don’t care about seeing your names and faces in the paper, but I’m sure it would make your parents proud. So, why don’t you do it for them? It won’t take but a minute, and if you give me that, we’ll drive you three to the hospital.”
I glanced at Walt, shrugged, and said, “What do you want us to do?”
“Just go stand in front of that sailing thing of yours. Give me your names, and tell me about your friend Mister—”
“Mister Rusty,” Sue said.
I raised my hand. “One moment please.” I moved us away from the reporter.
I whispered to Walt and Sue, “We can’t tell her where he lives. We still don’t know how he got those bullet wounds.” I frowned. “I don’t think he’d want the world to know where he lives or maybe, even that he’s alive? Let’s just tell her he wanders the dump.”
“You want us to lie?” Sue’s fingers sought a lock of hair. “I don’t know if I can do that,” She twisted her lips.
I sighed. “For Rusty’s sake, we must. Look, if she asks you something and you don’t want to answer, let me and— forget that, I have a better idea.”
Her face perplexed, the reporter stared as we stepped toward her. I said, “Mam, you can ask any question you like, except where he lives.”
She scratched her chin and looked out at the flat barren dump. “Oh my, he actually lives out there, but where? There are no houses or buildings.” She pulled at the photographer’s arm, “Could he live underground?”
She looked me in the eye, “Your Mister Rusty lives underground, in a cave or whatever, huh?”
I sighed. “He does live below the surface, where exactly I cannot say.”
Ha, that was not a lie.
The reporter said, “You three are something special. I hope your Mister Rusty knows how loyal you are.”
After asking a few other questions, she said, “Thanks, now go pose in front of your… Witch please.”
When the cameraman focused his lens, Sue grabbed my hand and leaned her head against my shoulder.
Click- another flash bulb was spent and now the three of us were seeing spots.
“Do you want that ride to the hospital?” The lady asked.
I said, “No thanks, Mam. My folks will take us.”
“It was a pleasure you three.” She shook our hands. “I hope your friend makes it.”
Chapter 5: Help from Above
Sunday morning arrived windy and cold. Standing behind Sue, a gust made me shiver. I reach out, raised Sue’s coat collar and wrapped my scarf round it. “Damn, it’s cold for the first week of December.”
“Thanks,” Sue said as we looked at the ice on Jamaica Bay from the dump.
I said, “I’ll bet we could go like hell on that ice. We have to find some runners for the Witch.”
Walt nodded. “It does look smooth.”
“You two are crazy. We’ll fall through and drown.”
I pulled her closer to me. “Now we might, but in a few weeks, it should be plenty thick enough.”
She grumbled, “Aren’t there like warm spots out there, where the ice never gets thick?”
“I think people just say that to keep us off the ice,” Walt said.
“Or maybe they have good reasons. Well, I’m not going out there on the Witch, I can tell you that now; nope, no way.”
I said, “No worry, sweetie, I would never put you in danger.”
“But then, we have different ideas of what’s dangerous and what’s not.”
Walt and I laughed. He said, “But you will ride with us in the Dump when it snows again.”
“If the Witch will work on runners, sure, why not?”
I said, “All right then, let’s go find some old sleds.”
“Look.” Sue pointed towards Floyd Bennett field and a helicopter taking off from the other side of the bay.
“That’s a Coast Guard chopper,” Walt said.
“You can’t tell from here. It could be a Navy one,” Sue said.
“The Navy choppers are blue. That one is yellow. It’s a Coast Guard chopper for sure.”
“Whatever, let’s go.”
Walt said, “Wait, it looks like it’s coming this way.”
With its massive front piston engine and high cockpit, to me, the oncoming chopper looked like two giant dragonflies; one in the sky and another reflecting on the slick ice below.
The drone of the engine grew, as did the sound of its rotors. “Damn, it’s loud.” Sue said, “Why do they make that annoying sound; airplanes don’t?”
Walt laughed. “Because the rotor tips are moving so fast they’re breaking the sound barrier. You’re hearing one sonic boom after another.”
“Oh, of course, makes sense.” Sue smirked. “I suppose you know what kind it is too.”
With his eyes steadfast upon it, Walt grinned. “Yup, it’s an H-34, a Sirkorsky H-34 Seahorse; big huh?”
“Yeah, and it’s too damn loud.” Sue covered her hears as it roared over the beach towards us throwing snow and whatnot into the air with its rotor wash.
“Ouch!” Ice crystals and sand began to pelt my face.
The H-34 turned away taking its downdraft storm with it. Walt grumbled. “Rats, I wanted it to fly right over us.”
Sue shouted, “Wave, wave to them!”
We did and to my surprise, they waved back. The pilot circled around us and then headed back out over the bay.
“That was so cool,” I said.
“I’m going to fly one of those things. Yeah, I’m going to join the Coast Guard and fly rescue choppers,” Walt nodded.
I said, “Women don’t do that, do they?”.
“If they don’t then I’m going to be the first.”
I smiled, “I wouldn’t put it beyond your reach.”
Watching the now distant chopper, Walt said, “What do you want to do when you grow up, John?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I think I might want to be an engineer like Rusty. You know, build things, or maybe design helicopters.”
Walt laughed. “Yeah, you design em, and we’ll fly em.”
I said, “Are you ready to find some runners now, Walt?”
Later that morning, and halfway through a ravine, I found our first broken-up old sled half-buried by years of layers near the bottom of the ravine. “Down this deep it has to be very old. Well, are you going to lend me a hand?”
Walt wiped his nose, put his handkerchief away and said, “Hold your dang horses, I’m coming.”
As we pulled it yanked out, an old metal toy came free with it. I picked up the toy car and said, “They sure made a lot of these things back then.”
“Yeah, they do seem to be everywhere,” Walt said. “Do you want it?”
“Not really, you?”
I tossed it aside. When we looked at the sled, Walt said, “This is useless,” and dropped it to the ground.
“Hey, over here!” We heard Sue shout from a short distance away.
“Did you find something?” I yelled.
“Yes, some good runners. They’re rusted, but straight.”
With our runners in hand, we headed for Rusty’s valley.
As we neared Rusty’s door, Sue said, “Let’s be quiet, he may be sleeping.”
“I’m not sleeping, come on in,” we heard from a window.
Upon our entering, we found Rusty seated near a partly open window. He appeared pale; his eyes heavy and half-open.
I said, “You don’t look very good. How are you feeling?”
“Well, thanks for the compliment, John.” Rusty yawned. “I just woke up. I’m fine. What are you three up to today?” He rolled his head about his shoulders and yawned again.
“They’re contagious.” I laughed as Rusty’s yawn fled to Sue.
Walt said to Rusty, “Why do think we’re up to something?”
“Because you always are.”
I grinned. “I guess you have a point. How are you feeling?”
“A little stronger than yesterday, can’t ask for more than that. Oh, and before I forget, tell your Mom thanks for the cake. It was great. Heck, your folks are great.”
“They like you too,” I said.
“All right,” he glanced at each of us, “what are you looking to build now?”
With a perplexed look on her face, Sue said, “How could you possibly know that?”
Rusty laughed. “I’m an engineer. I have my ways. Some call it magic.”
“Magic, ha,” Sue smirked. “That’s a just word people use when they can’t explain something.”
“That was an excellent answer, young lady.”
“My sister is very smart. Now tell us how you want to—”
“Hush.” Rusty interrupted Walt. “Don’t tell me, I’ll tell you.” He looked around the room and then pointed to a shelf. “Walt, hand me that green book up there, please.”
Walt gave him a thick book. Rusty fanned through the pages. “Ah, yes.” He stopped on a page and smiled.
“Can I see that?” I asked.
“Nope.” Holding the page with a finger, he snapped the book closed and sat there grinning.
Sue asked, “Well?”
He kneaded his chin with his left hand. “Today, hum, today you want to rename the Dump Witch.”
“We do?” Walt asked.
“Uh-huh. You want to call it the Ice Witch. You’re going to take her wheels off and set her up for the winter. Yes, I would bet that’s exactly what you’re up to,” Rusty grinned.
Walter looked dumbfounded. “Well, yeah we do, but how the hell could you possibly learn that by looking at a book?”
“He used magic,” I grinned. “And I know how he did it.”
“Oh, then, do tell us, John.”
Sue said, “Yes, how did he know?”
“Well, he simply assumed, we did talk about putting runners on the witch last summer.”
Walter nodded, “It does make sense, but how did could he know we’d want to start on it today, John?”
Clueless, I simply shook my head and shrugged.
“Actually,” Rusty smiled broadly, “ I didn’t. You assumed I did.” Rusty laughed.
“Then why the book?” I asked.
“Because the answer is in it.”
Sue stepped towards him and held her hand out. “Can I have a look?”
“Certainly,” Rusty handed her the book.
We gathered around Sue and looked at the page. It had pictures with technical information about mirrors. Walt said, “You figured it out with mirrors, but how?”
“Not mirrors, just one,” he glanced at a window.
I saw a small mirror resting on the ledge and said, “You saw us coming down the trail. You saw Walt put the sled runners down.”
Walt and I watched Sue use his mirror to look up the trail, I whispered, “He must have been a really funny guy before he lost his family.”
Walt nodded, “No doubt.”
Moments later, Walt asked me, “Do you want to start on it now or tomorrow?”
“I’m a bit tired to hang round with you. Would you mind working on it over there where I can watch?” He looked out his window.
“No problem,” Sue paused and then asked, “If you’re tired and want to sleep, it can wait. We wouldn’t want to keep you up.”
“I’m tired, not sleepy. Go work on the Witch.”
It didn’t take us long to get the wheels off the Witch, but getting the runners on, now that was a pain. When I put my hammer down to think about how I was going to do something, Whittie grabbed it and ran off. I yelled, “Hey, give it back.”
Rusty shouted, “Good luck getting it back from that thief.” He laughed.
Eventually, I got it back, but not before he made me look dumb trying to catch him. With Whittie behaving himself and Rusty making suggestions from his window, we finished before we had to leave. The three of us stood there admiring our work and the Witch’s new look.
Rusty said. “You need one more thing.”
Sue sighed. “Yeah, we need snow,”
“We’re supposed to get some tonight.” I said, “Maybe a lot.”
Sue walked towards the window and said, “You seem to be perkier and in a better mood now.”
“You guys are the best therapy.”
“Yes, I don’t think about my aches and pains when you’re around.”
“Hey,” Walt said, “we forgot to tell you about the helicopter.”
“I thought I heard one nearby.”
A little later, after telling him about the chopper and Walt wanting to fly them, we were ready to leave. With her hand on the doorknob, Sue said, “If it snows and the schools are closed, we’ll see you in the morning. If not, maybe after school.”
“Whenever,” Rusty smiled.
Before hitting the sack that night, I looked at the moon. It had a halo around it. Great, looks like we’re in for some snow tonight. We’ll get to ride the Witch Monday.
The moon myth proved wrong; not a flake fell that night or the next. Ah, but Wednesday it snowed all night. Upon leaving my house, I stepped into the perfect snow, perfect for skiing, soft powder. I frowned. Damn, the Witch’s narrow runners are just going to sink into this. Still, it’s better than no snow.
Later, at Rusty’s place, the Witch defied the wind. I said, “It’s hopeless, we need skis, not runners.”
Sue got off and said, “Maybe if we give it a good shove first, then jump on?
Walt and I shrugged. I said, “We may as well. It’s worth a try.”
Taking hold of it, we pulled and ran alongside. “Hot damn,” I yelled. “It’s working. Get ready to jump on.”
A moment later, Walt shouted, “Now, get on.”
We did, and the Witch came to a quick stop. “Ah, crap.” I leaned back against the mast and let the sail flutter free.
As we pulled the Witch back into Rusty’s valley, the gray skies gave way to the sun. Rusty said, “Don’t worry, tomorrow it will work.”
“You’re just trying to cheer us up,” Sue said.
“Nope, you’ll see; tomorrow, you’ll be able to ride it all day.”
Sue stared at him. “You know something we don’t?”
“Whatever,” Sue shook her head.
The next morning it was much colder and very windy. I looked out my window and saw a layer of ice on the snow. The snow that had melted yesterday formed an icy crust over the soft snow below. I thought, He knew that was going to happen.
With something to sail the Witch on, we were at Rusty’s valley early. Slipping and sliding our way down his path, I said, “We’re going to have a hard time getting the Witch out of the valley.”
“We’ll just get a long rope and pull it up,” Sue said.
“Good idea,” I gave her a ‘thumbs-up.’
“Look,” Sue pointed, “Rusty cleaned the Witch off.”
Nearing his house, Rusty came out. Sue said, “You shouldn’t have done that, we could have cleaned the snow off.”
“I know, but I had nothing to do.”
Wham! “Hey!” I shouted as Whittie came from nowhere and knocked me over. He barked and jumped around me. “Hey, what’s with you?”
Rusty laughed. “He loves the snow makes him crazy.”
“Whittie!” Walt yelled. When the dog turned round, Walt lofted a snowball. With a bound that would make a bullfrog envious, Whittie leapt and caught it.
“Bring it here,” Walt held his hand out, “come on…” Whittie shook his head spun round a few times, eyed Walt and devoured the snowball. “I didn’t tell you to eat it.” Walt shook his head.
Rusty waved a scolding finger as Walt made another snowball and said, “Don’t throw too many.”
“Will they make him sick?” Sue asked.
“No, they’ll make me tired, because I’ll have to keep getting up to let him out later.”
Sue looked confused. I said, “Snowballs are water and he’ll…”
“Oh, I get it.”
A few snowballs later, Rusty said, “Whittie, go lay down.” With head and tail lower, he complied.
“Let’s get it up the path,” I said. I hope it works better today.
Despite our slipping, sliding and falls, we managed to get the Witch to the surface. “Don’t head out yet. Wait for me.” Rusty shouted from in front of his house, “I’m coming; I want to watch.”
Walt said, “He’s going to fall.”
Her hands on her hips and eyes stern, Sue said, “What are you two waiting for; go help him.”
Reaching Rusty’s side, I said, “The path is really slick, are you sure you want to chance it?”
“I’ll be fine as long as I don’t fall.”
“And if you do?” Walt asked.
Rusty shrugged, “If I do, it will hurt… a lot.”
I grimaced and grabbed Rusty’s left arm. Walt took hold of his right and we started up the path. “This is foolish, you’re going to fall.”
“Naw… I have confidence in you two.”
Walt said wide-eyed, “But we don’t. Let’s take you back to the house.”
“No, I want to see it work as much as you two. Relax; we’re doing fine, we’ll be—” Rusty’s right foot went sideways. He toppled into Walt and shouted, “Oh shit!”
“No, don’t.” With my grip firm, I was able kept him upright, until Walt lost his footing. Rusty landed upon Walt; in a heap, both slid a few yards down the path.”
As they came to a stop, I shouted, “Are you alright?”
Rusty laughed, “Yeah, I’m fine, Walt made a good pillow.” He looked at Walt, “You’re OK, right?”
“I will be when you get your elbow out of my stomach.” Walt grumbled, “Thanks.”
“Sorry about that; here let me help you up.”
Walt waved Rusty’s hand away. “Thanks, but no thanks. Best I do it myself.”
We came close to falling a few more times, but we somehow managed to get him to the surface. “See, I knew you could do it.”
“A huh.” Walt moaned.
“Oh, you’ll be fine, Walt.” Rusty patted him on his back. “Go, show me what she can do on snow.”
Sue grabbed the tiller and Walt sat on the Captain’s seat. When I looked at Walt he said, “Push off and take in the sail.”
I pulled the rope and wrapped it tight around my wrist. The sail snapped full and loud in the wind. We shoved her forward and jumped on. “Wow, it’s working,” I shouted as we gain speed. I glanced back and saw Rusty wearing a big smile.
“The Witch don’t like soft snow, but she loves it when it’s icy.” Walt said, “Hot damn this it’s perfect now.”
“Not quite,” Sue grumbled, “it doesn’t want to steer like it did with wheels.”
“Can you control it?” I asked.
“Hope so.” Sue shrugged, “Here goes, hang on.” She pulled the tiller towards her to turn the Witch left. Our craft headed the tiller nicely and even gained speed as it made a smooth turn to the left. Sue shook her head. “Wew, I didn’t think it was going to— oh damn.” The Witch skidded sideways and lean to one side. “We’re going to flip over.” Sue yelled at me, “Let go of the sail.”
I set the sail free before Sue’s words left her lips. With the sail fluttering free, our momentum lessened but remained fast. What the hell? We hurtled towards a rough bumpy area strewn with clumps of ice and frozen debris. “Oh shit, hang on.” Catching a runner on something, the Witch whipped round a few times. “What the heck are you doing, Sue.” We were now sliding across the icy snow backwards.
Struggling with the tiller, Sue snapped, “Shut up, John, I’m trying.”
As she kept us in a strait, though-backwards line, I said, “Sorry; I didn’t mean to yell at you.” She frowned.
Walt laughed. “Holy cow, that was wild.”
Sue said, “We can’t go that fast again and we need to make wider turns.”
Having made a wide turn, we headed back towards Rusty and stopped. He said, “That was exciting to watch, maybe a bit too much.” Rusty laughed.
“Yes, it was.” I nodded. “Let me walk you back to the house.”
Thirty minutes later, it was my turn at the tiller. Thump, the wind filled our sail as I scanned our surroundings for less bumpy areas. A glossy patch of distant snow brought a smile to my lips. I pointed. “It’s a long ways off, but let’s check over there out.”
Walt and Sue nodded and we were off.
A curious laughing gull appeared above. I said, “Sorry bird, but we have nothing for you.” It turned away. Savoring the moment, I closed my eyes and listened to the wind rumbling in our sail as our runners squeaked like fingernails drawn across a chalkboard.
Sue shouted, “Hey idiot, open your eyes; watch where you’re going.”
I opened my eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”
“John, John where the hell are you taking us?” Walt yelled.
Oh crap, now I did it. Ahead of our speeding craft the steep drop-off to the beach grew closer. I shoved the tiller to the right.
“John, it’s not going to respond.” Sue shouted, “We’re going too fast again.”
“Don’t worry, it will.” I hope. To my relief it did. The Witch’s left runner lifted, but it didn’t turn much. Oh, frack.
Walt yelled, “Turn us away already!”
“I’m trying. I’m trying.”
“Let the sail out,” Sue shouted at Walt.
“I can’t get the knot untied!”
“The, I got tired of holding it, knot, Sis; that one.” Walt kept struggling with it.
I said, “Um, hey guys, we’re almost at the drop-off. I can’t complete the turn in time and we can’t fly off the drop-off sideways. Hang on!” I pointed us at the beach.
Walt screamed, “Are you crazy?”
“We don’t have any choice.”
Her eyes fixed on the vast and thin-ice covered bay, Sue yelled, “No, don’t!”
Oh my God! I hooked my leg under the seat and held onto the tiller with both hands. The Witch reached the line of sand dunes. Up we went like a catapulted jet. Oh, shit—”
An eerie silence ensued, followed by a long time-defining laugh of a herring gull that appeared to my left. The beautiful gray and white bird was almost motionless. I reached to touch it. It saw my fingers and banked away. To my right, Sue was fixated on the view of the ground dropping away and the glossy slick ice of the beach below. Her face was awash with dread, and her voice met my ears slurred. “We’re going to die.”
A few seconds later, the frozen sand rushed to greet us, I cringed. Dropping more than ten feet, we hit hard and shot onto and across the beach. I pulled the tiller towards me. “Yes, yes!” We started to turn away from the bay. “Wow, that was close.”
“Too close.” Sue’s face was white from fear. “Get that damn knot undone.”
“I’ve almost got it.”
Now, what? The wind changed direction, turning the Witch back towards the bay. Sue yelled, “What the hell are you doing?”
I gritted my teeth. “It’s not me. It’s the wind and the ice. She won’t turn.” Damn, even without those wheels, this thing is still cursed.
His fingers half-frozen and the knot still tight, Walt said, “We need to jump off.”
Hearing and feeling something, I glanced back. Oh, my God. A trail of cracking ice was chasing us. I shouted, “Wait! Don’t jump! It’s too late, you’ll fall through.”
Sue got ready to leap. “I’m jumping before we go any further.”
“Oh no, you’re not.” Walt grabbed her arm.
“Make it turn already,” I yelled at the tiller. “Please, please.” My pleading went for naught, we continued away from the beach out onto the thinner ice of the bay.
‘Ja… John.” I heard Sue’s voice crackle with fear, turned and saw the dread in her blue eyes. I said, “Hey, don’t worry, we can’t die today.”
“Why the hell not?” She bit her upper lip.
“Umm… cause we haven’t finished school or married yet.”
“Finished school, married?” Sue shook her head. “Nice try; now get us back so we can.”
Walt’s eyebrows lowered, he shook a finger at me and said, “You best do two things, John.” He stared into my eyes.
“Yeah, I know, get this thing to turn round and put us on the beach.”
Walt leaned towards me and said for my ears only, “Married huh, take care with what you tell her. Best friend or not I won’t let you break her heart.”
“I won’t; can’t, just wanted to let her know how much I love her… in case we— “Holy shit!” A crack in the ice shot past to or right. From somewhere I found the courage to look back. Our wake of cracking and breaking ice was gaining on us like evil fingers it kept reaching for us. Sue’s right, we’re going to drown.
“I’ve got it!” Walt yelled. “The knot’s undone.”
“No, Walt, don’t!” I turned round just as he let go of it. The wind spilled from our sail. The Witch began to shed speed forthwith. I shouted at Walt, “Grab that damn rope. We can’t stop now; catch the wind.” I stared in helpless terror as the cracks moved closer.
“Get the line, before we fall through.” Sue cried at Walt. She reached out and grabbed my hand. “I don’t want to drown.”
Before I could say anything, we heard a loud thump as the sail went taut again. Walt held onto the rope and we started to gain speed. We were soon distancing ourselves from the cracks. A few moments later, Walt pointed and said, “Since you can’t get us to turn around, can you get us to that island over there?”
I looked at the tiny and far away sandbar-of-an island, glanced at Sue’s tear-covered face and lied, “No problem.”
Could it be? My ears received a familiar, but distant sound; the wop, wop, wop of rotor blades. My head snapped, I yelled, “Look, look.”
Walt said, “It’s that Coast Guard helicopter.” He smiled. “We’re be OK, Sis. They’ll come… What the f— where are they going? Wave your arms; we need them to see us. Shit, they’re turning away. No, don’t, come back.”
Hell, even if we get there, we’re screwed now. We’ll freeze come nightfall. I remained intent on getting us to the island.
Thank God. I watched as the big yellow H-34 turned round and from a distance, followed us. Walt said, “When we get to the island we’re going to get a chopper ride back to the beach.”
“I hope you’re right.”
“No need for worry, Sis, they won’t leave us out here.”
“Walt’s right, our troubles are over, we can—” Our sail began to flutter and slacken. “Now what?”
Sue gasped. “Over huh? Bite your tongue.”
Our sail fell limp. I snapped round toward Walt.
“Don’t look at me.” He yanked on the rope, the boom swung free. “Wind’s gone.”
“Tell me again, John,” Sue sniffled, “how it is that we’re not going to die today?”
“Calm down.” I tried to look confident. “They’ll pluck us from the water if we go in.”
Walt said, “Yeah, and like the movie last night, it’s always woman and children to life boats first.”
With the Witch losing momentum fast, Sue glanced at the chopper. “Maybe, if they can get here in time and—” A loud cracking sound to our right cut her words short.
With no wind, we were helpless and could do nothing more than stare at the ice as it started to break up around us. I pulled Sue close to me. “If we go in, don’t give up. Keep swimming—” What the hell is that?
A giant shadow slithered over us. Her eyes closed, Sue squeezed my hand, and with trembling lips, said, “Stones swim better than me. What the—” The sudden roar of a huge nine-cylinder engine and the wop, wop, wopping sound of the H-34s rotor blades interrupted. Sue’s long hair whipped about her face in the helicopter’s strong downwash. It was also pelting us with ice and frigid water.
Our sail snapped taut with a thunderous report and almost knocked Walt overboard. He screamed, “Hang on,” As the Witch bolted forward; shoving us ahead of the breaking ice. In just seconds, we were going incredibly fast and directly toward the safety of that sandbar of an island.
Holding the tiller, I didn’t need to look back see how close the H-34 was, I could feel it and see its shadow. Damn, I hope we built this thing strong enough.
The snow-covered sand dunes grew larger quick as we neared the beach. The rotors blasted snow, sand and all manner of debris up in every direction. I reached for and covered Sue’s eyes. “Close your eyes.”
With the Witch sliding on the beach, the chopper banked away taking its downwash created storm with it. We bumped to a stop against a dune. I stood and helped Sue up. Along with Walt, Sue and I climbed the dune to watch the H-34 land a short distance away. I sighed and sat on a long driftwood log. “I’m exhausted.”
“Me too, make room.” Sue slid her butt against mine.
“I think one more ass can fit on that log.” Walt shoved us to one side.
A moment later, the helicopter’s large side door slid open. Walt said, “Look, they’re getting out.” Two of the H-34s three-man crew hopped to the ground and started walking towards us.
I said, “Wow, holy crap.”
Sue said, “What are you crapping about now?”
“Oh, just the fact that a helicopter landed for us dump bums.”
Walt grinned. “Yeah, how about that?”
I looked at Sue, tilted my head, smiled, and said, “See, I knew we would be alright, we weren’t in any real danger.”
Sue grimaced. “Bullshit, we were too and you, well, you were just as scared as us.” She wrapped her arms round my neck and whispered, “But thanks for acting so brave.”
“Acting?” I looked her in the eye. “What’s a guy have to do to be your hero?”
She sniffled. “Well, I suppose he’ll just have to be you.”
“Huh, so I was your hero?”
Sue smiled and held me tighter.
Walt grumbled, “What about me, I didn’t panic. I just couldn’t get that darn knot untied. I was brave, wasn’t I?”
I said, “My dad often says ‘only fools and liars claim to be brave when one’s life is on the line.’ But, I suppose we were brave enough today.”
We stood as one of the two men came up to us and said, “Are you kids OK?”
I looked up at the tall man and hoist operator. “Yeah, we’re fine. Thanks for saving our butts, Sir.”
“You’re welcome.” He looked us over. “You guys are a bit wet. Let’s get you out of the cold and into our bird.”
As we walked toward the H-34, the other man, the copilot, put a hand on my shoulder. “You three are lucky to be alive. Whatever made you think the ice would hold you?”
I said, “Oh, we never thought it would. We were blown out there because I wasn’t paying enough attention; it was my fault.”
“I’ll say,” Walt grumbled.
Sue put her hand on my arm, looked at Walt, and said, “Maybe he did mess up a little, but he still got us here. Oh, and hey, it wasn’t, John’s fault entirely; what about that knot of yours?”
Walt exhaled, long and loud. “You’re right, Sis. I deserve a share of the blame.” Walt’s eyes became somewhat distant as he stared at the man as though he were looking into a mirror. It was then that I knew he would indeed, as he had said, Join the Coast Guard and fly rescue choppers someday.
The copilot said, “Do you three do this kind of thing often—” He gasped, then shouted to the other crew members, “Hey guys, we have VIPs here.”
Sue whispered to me, “What’s a VIP?”
“A Very Important Person or people.”
“And that’s us?”
Nearing the chopper, the sound from the slow rotating rotor blades grew louder as they whooshed round.
We watched the H-34’s side door slide open fully, and the hoist operator helped Walter aboard. The man shouted, “Lieutenant, Sir, which VIPs are they?”
“They’re the three kids from the newspaper; the ones that saved the old man’s life out in the dump.”
The man grabbed Sue’s hand, pulled her aboard and said, “So you’re Canarsie’s three heroes.”
Sue said, “I guess, but we don’t feel like heroes. We were just helping a friend.”
Walt and I nodded.
With the Copilot now also aboard, the hoist operator closed and latched the side door. The H-34’s pilot turned round and said,
“Welcome to our club.”
I said, “What club, Sir?
He said, “The Search & Rescue club.”
Walt said, “But, we didn’t need to search for Mister Rusty.”
The pilot said, “Nonetheless, you three managed to get him out of the dump and to help. You saved a life, and in my book,” He turned round, looked at me and Sue and then stared Walt in the eye and said, “you’re one of us now. So what do you think about that son?”
Walt just sat there dumbfounded with a stupid grin on his face.
Sue looked at the hoist operator seated next to Walt and said, “Can I ask you something, Sir?”
“Um, do you think, we could maybe, um…”
“Ask, I won’t bite you.”
“Can we bring the Witch, our ice boat back with us?”
He glanced at the witch. “I suppose we could try, but that’s for the Captain to decide.” The man tapped the pilot on his shoulder, “Sir, they want us to bring that thing back with us. What do you think?”
The pilot turned round with a frown on his face and scolded, “I think not; you three were lucky today, next time…”
“We’ll stay far from the beach; ride it the Dump only, promise.” Walt said, “We’ll take the runners off and put the wheels back on.”
“Yeah and never ride it when there’s snow on the ground,” I said.
The three men looked at each other. They whispered something. “Do not make me regret this.” The pilot nodded at the hoist operator, “Tie it on, Rog.”
“Yes, Sir.” He slid the side door open again.
We felt the cold air again. I shivered and said to Sue, “Damn, I was just starting to feel warm again.”
A few moments later, Rog, whom we later learned was Petty Officer Roger Shoups, climbed aboard and said, “It will lift off with us, but I can’t promise it will make it to the other side in one piece.”
Sue said, “Even if it doesn’t, thanks.”
The flight across the bay was exciting, but too short, especially for Walt. As the pilot brought the chopper down, I told the pilot about Walt’s desire to do what he does.
The man looked at Walt and the gleam in his eyes and said, “Get good grades in school and never let anyone talk you out of your dream.”
“I won’t. How long did it— Holy shit!”
Not far from Rusty’s place the H-34 dropped from the sky like a stone and settled with a thump on the ground. The rapid descent almost made me barf. Dang, you could have warned us or at least brought it down slower.
Walt smiled at me. “Wow, that was neat.”
“Not quite,” I mumbled and looked at Sue. Her face was pale from our eye-opening landing.
Sue whispered, “He landed like that on purpose, huh?”
Squeak, bang- The hoist operator slid the chopper’s side door open and jumped to the ground. He looked back at the Witch. “Oops. Sorry guys, not much left of your ride. Looks like the mast and… well, most of it didn’t make it.”
I got out, glanced at the remnants of the Witch, and said, “No problem, we can make another.”
The pilot said, “I guess our rotor-wash was too much for it.”
Sue smiled. “Oh, that’s alright, thanks for trying.”
We waved as they lifted off and watched them fly away. Walt looked at us and said, “You know we can’t tell anyone about this.”
“But—” Sue frowned.
“He’s right. I don’t want to think about what my Mom and Dad would say, or worse do, if I told them what happened today.
Sue said, “But Rusty will want to know what happened to the Witch. Can’t we at least tell him?”
“If he promises not to tell anyone,” Walt sighed.
Such it was, we had one heck of an adventure, but could not speak of it to our parents for years.