Halloween and Other Seasons

By Al Sarrantonio

Copyright 2010 By Al Sarrantonio


Kate, Rich and Emma


By Al Sarrantonio

It was a summer day that was all of summer. Dry heat rose from the cracks in the sidewalks, brushing the brown grass that grew there as it shimmered by. There was a hush in the stilted air, high and hanging, the sun like a burnt coin frozen in the pale and cloudless sky, the trees still, green leaves dried and baked, panting for a breeze.

Rotating window fans moved hot air from outside to inside. Newspapers rustled on kitchen tables, their pages waving until the artificial breeze moved on, then settling hot and desultory back into unread place. The breakfast plates sat unstacked, forgotten; lunch plates with uneaten lunch—curling pumpernickel, wilted lettuce, an inkblot of mustard dry as paper—sat nearby. Morning coffee milled in two mugs, still tepid from the afternoon warmth.

“My Gosh, Mabel, has it ever been this hot before?” George Meadows said from his easy chair; he sat arranged like a man who had eaten a great meal, with his shirt and trousers loosened, but only against the heat.

His wife Mabel, prostrate on the nearby couch, the faded sunflowers of her house dress clashing and merging in a wilted riot with the worn daisies of the sofa print, tried to say something but failed. Her right hand continued to weakly fan herself with its magazine and she tried again.

“Hot as it’s…ever been,” she managed to get out in a croak, and then closed her eyes and ears, discouraging further comment.

“Yep,” George managed to answer before closing his own eyes. He couldn’t resist, he never could, getting the last word in. He rallied to add, even though Mabel was already perfectly aware: “Man on the radio said it might get hotter still.”

~ * ~

Three twelve-year-old boys hated Summer.

They hadn’t always. At one time, Summer had belonged to them. From the first day of school letting out, until the dreaded bell sounded again, they had ruled summer as if they owned it. There had been baseball and bad tennis, and miniature golf and marbles in the hot dust. There had been butterfly hunts with orange black monarchs big as pterodactyls and just as difficult to catch. Trips to the secret pond with jars, and pond water drops under Lem’s microscope to watch the amoebas within. And their own swimming, from dawn to dusk some days, emerging at the end waterlogged beings, raisin boys, to dry and unwilt in the setting sun. And Monk’s telescope at night, the fat dry cold moon sliding across the eyepiece like a pockmarked balloon; Saturn hanging silent and majestic with its golden split ring. Backyard campouts, the walls of Shep’s pup tent lit from within not with fireflies but with the flashlights of boys with comic books, the smell of Sterno and pancake batter the next morning, the metal taste of warm water in boy scout canteens.

Summer had been their time—the time away from schoolbooks and parents’ waggling fingers, the time to be boys. And this year it had started the same—the banishment of black-and-white marble notebooks, pencils thrown under beds spearing dust bunnies, school clothes in the backs of closets.

And out with the baseball glove! Oiled, smelling like new wet leather, sneakers that smelled of dirt, short pants, the dewy morning giving way to a fresh hot feeling and late afternoon thunderstorms scattering the ballplayers with warm wet drops big as knuckles and the temperature dropping and making them shiver. And swimming, and more swimming, and more swimming still, and the cool-warm nights, the sharp cold taste of ice cream, of a bottle of cola drawn from an iced bucket, of a hot dog steaming, hiding under hot sauerkraut. A drive-in movie in Uncle Jed’s pickup truck: two hiding under the tarp until they were in.

Morning noon and night it was summer.

Real summer.



…began to change.

It was Shep who noticed it first: in the dangerous tree-house on a mid-August afternoon. They had finished trading baseball cards, arguing over how many cards (always doubles!) to attach to bicycle spokes to make them clack and were halfway through another argument about who was prettier, Margaret O’Hearn or Angie Bernstein, when Shep’s head went up and he sniffed, just like a hound dog might. His leg, swinging through one of the hut’s many floor holes, pendulumed to a frozen stop.

“What’s wrong?” Lem asked, and Monk looked up from his new copy of Vault of Horror with a frown.

“Turn off your brain, Shep,” Monk growled. “It’s summer.”

“Just because you don’t want to talk about girls or leg hair or b.o.—” Lem began, but he stopped dead at the look on Shep’s face.

“Something’s different,” Shep said, and he still held that pointer-at-a-bird look.

Lem tried to laugh, but stopped abruptly, a hiccup of seriousness at the look in Shep’s eyes.

A whisper: “What do you mean: different?”

Shep spoke without breaking his concentration. “Don’t you feel it?”

Monk shook his head with finality and went back to his comic, but Lem’s face had taken on a worried look.

Shep was never wrong about these kinds of things.

“I…don’t feel anything…” Lem offered mildly.

Idly, still scanning his Vault of Horror, Monk kicked out his sneaker and caught Lem on the shin. A scatter of orange infield dust, dislodged from the sculpted sole, trickled down the other boy’s bare leg.

“You feel that, Lemnick?”

“Be quiet—” Shep said abruptly, and it was not a request.

The other two boys were silent—and now Monk sat up, his butt easily finding the structure’s largest hole, which they inevitably called “the crapper.”

Something like a faint hiss, something like the eerie castanet sound cicadas make, passed by his ears and brushed him on one cheek, but there was not so much as a breeze in the early hot afternoon.

“What was—”

“It’s getting hotter,” Shep said simply.

“Maybe it’s because of Hell Cave,” Monk laughed, but nobody joined him.

~ * ~

That afternoon it was too hot to swim. It stayed that way the next three days. They abandoned the tree- house, leaving it’s lopsided openwork collection of mismatched boards and tattooed, badly nailed orange crates, and moved into Monk’s cellar, which was damp but cool.

Вы читаете Halloween and Other Seasons
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату