Elsewhere Next Time

horrorhouse

They came down the road together, Authelet, Donovan, and Corinne, passing the house with a hundred cats, and carrying their books under their arms. None of them dressed appropriately for the cold. I watched them approaching from the bus stop, the boys grinning, Authelet slashing at the weeds in the drainage ditch with a stick, Corinne smoking, her hair still limp and wet from a morning shower.
We shivered in our denim jackets as we studied the graveyard situated across from the bus stop in the growing morning light. On our return home yesterday we discovered a new grave had been dug in our little historical cemetery, an unprecedented event. We contemplated that mound of fresh earth covered in morning frost. Corinne dropped her cigarette and mashed it under her heel.

“Hey! Let’s throw Corinne in the grave!” Authelet said, and all but Corinne could not imagine a better idea. Her large blue eyes widened, exaggerated by heavy application of eye-liner.

“No!” she howled as we seized her twisting wrists and pulled her toward the graveyard.
Three of us pulling one girl. Her plump ass hit the ground, her heels dug in against us. We dragged her through the sand, which was piled up on the edges of Maple Valley Road, her dragging behind plowing a wake. She screamed, and yanked at our wrist-bruising holds. Her feet kicked out from under her butt as we hauled her like a sled, bumping her off the road and into the weeds. She twisted and her arms crossed and she became much easier to drag as we backed toward the cemetery steps.

“Please! No! No! No!” she cried pathetically her voice loudly ricocheting around the early morning snooze. No house lights flicked on in the twilight, no grown-ups yelled from their porches to rescue her.
Her struggle made me warm. I didn’t want the game to end. But as we got her to the first of the granite steps of the little cemetery, Corinne wriggled her right arm free. The boys gave up, and so I reluctantly let her go as well. Her eyes met mine for a searching second. I shrugged.

“Baby,” someone said.
She reached up to me for a hand up, making it obvious with her expression that I owed her that, and I pulled her to her feet. Her momentary desperation shed like flicking away a sudden spider.

“No gettin’ her dumpy ass up these steps anyway,” Donovan muttered, chuckling.

“Fuck you, Donovan!” Corinne snarled. Boys were never addressed by their given names.

Authelet joined him, guffawing, “wudda baby!”

“Ow,” Corinne moaned, rubbing her wrists and slapping at the seat of her jeans with a pout, again aimed at me. I was the oldest. Without me the others wouldn’t have been able to move her.

“Let’s check it out!” Donovan yelled.

We scrambled up the steps into the unkempt graveyard, raised four feet from street level with granite blocks. To the back of it was a frozen swamp that burped and gurgled with the sounds of banjo frogs in the springtime. Some of the huge stone blocks had slid out of place. The little cemetery was slowly merging into the swamp and bull briers protected parts of it like natural barbed wire. We enjoyed imagining we could see coffins poking out back there.

The graves closest to the wetland were eighteenth century, and the gravestones—some of them sheets of slate covered in pale green lichens—aimed at unusual angles and were weather worn to unreadable. Some of them fell over long ago. People buried and forgotten. But now, at the front, this new grave gawped at us. We took turns spitting into the squared pit.

“Wicked,” Donovan said.

The headstone, which was already in place, was one of those dual headstones with the dead husband already cataloged in the hole next door. It had yet to be dedicated for the arrival of the wife.
Corinne stood boldly by us as we looked into the dark depth of the thing, the steep sides, the slick muck at the bottom, plant roots and fallen crickets.

“Wooo!” Authelet howled into the hole.

As the bus arrived we scrambled off the graveyard and rushed to board, hoping to secure coveted back seats.
We used Ouija boards, ate hot dogs and mac and cheese, and on Saturdays could watch the Creature Double Feature in the afternoons.

Back in the summer, Corinne had ridden her horse, bareback, to my house, rather surprising me as I poked at nothing in the front yard.

“What are you doing?” she asked from her perch, holding a handful of mane.

“Nothin’,” I replied honestly.

She slid off in her frayed cut-offs and dirty bare feet. We stood awkwardly while I stroked the big beast’s neck and he snuffled disinterestedly around, chewing the weeds. Corinne rode him without any of the usual horse-riding tack, no bridle, not even a halter. What caused him to behave for her?

“His name is Gold,” she said.

I nodded, noting that his overall, light brown coloration could be interpreted so.

She leaned close, “He’s named for my favorite kind of pot.” Her eyes were on mine, watching for my reaction to this revelation.

“Oh,” I replied, focusing on Gold’s weed-eating, trying not to look too carefully at Corinne’s pert cleavage
under her white, peasant blouse. A set of love-beads dangling on her chest teased.

I knew nothing of pot. My father had warned me that dope pushers got the death penalty in New York City. When I told kids this it seemed to embolden them. I didn’t tell this to Corinne, wanted her to imagine I was at least a little bit savvy. She stood near me, measured her height against me with her hand, seemed displeased.

“Colombian Gold,” She added with gravity, nodding, her feathered brown hair slipping down round her foundation-smoothed cheeks. Further actual feathers of blue and green dangled from her earrings.

Gold grabbed a thistle and seemed to relish it, minding not at all its needles, shaking it up and down as he chewed it absently.

I found Corinne stunning. She seemed untouched by nature or man. My legs were covered in bites and scratches from running through blackberry. I had a poison ivy rash on my ankle I’d scratched bloody. Her legs were perfect smoothness, her rubbery round thighs mesmerized me. My face burned as I studied her. I didn’t look directly at her big blue eyes which never seemed to blink or avert. I felt her waiting for me to meet them. I sweated in the sun, kept petting Gold, smelled that pleasant horse scent. Everywhere I patted him dust rose. Gold continued yanking on asters and deer grass and plantain. It was fascinating to watch him browse, his dexterous upper lip rolling about.

“How old are you?”

“Thirteen and three quarters,” I specified.

She pouted, “You’ll get your license before me.”

“That’s my car,” I bragged, pointing at Dad’s 72 VW Beetle. “Well, it will be when I get my license.”

“Lucky!” she said.

Some minutes passed as she watched me devoting to the horse.

“Well, I gotta go,” Corinne said finally, “help me up.”

“How’d you get on him?”

“I brought him over to the fence. You don’t have a fence. Help me up, OK?”

She pressed her toes onto my cupped hands, and I accidentally managed to get a good hold of her left butt cheek in the process of pushing her up. Then our eyes met for a moment. She didn’t say anything, didn’t even smile, just rode away, a serious hippy Indian.

Maple Valley, where our bus stop was central, was famous for ancient gunfighters, and tuberculosis inspired vampire legends. The Donovans said they had a ghost that went through the wall, where later it was revealed the original plans for the house showed there had been a door. I supposed the ghost was still living in the old house. The ghost had a ghost house.
Up the road a dirt trail that ran directly into the Audubon preserve was called Biscuit Hill Road and the story went that a revolutionary war wagon loaded down with vittles overturned there. I always pictured biscuits rolling down the hill. In the other direction, an old cracker-box shaped home had once been an inn and had housed American Revolutionary war hero General Lafayette for a time. We were told there was a gouge in the stone fireplace mantle where he had struck it with his sword in a fit of rage. It seemed a bad thing to do to a sword.

“If ya eat right before ya go ta bed you’ll have a nightmare of a demon sittin’ on ya chest,” said Authelet one morning as we sat on the graveyard revetment.

I didn’t believe it, though I didn’t test his theory, nor the theory that the black and metallic green, elongate insects we called “sewing needles”, that always fluttered near the streams, could, and more weirdly, would sew your lips shut.

We also believed that Teddy Wolfe, an older kid who lived up by the Kershaws, had been to Sockanosset training school and was shooting drugs. Donovan had led us to Wolfe’s tree fort one afternoon, and we had peeked in and it sure did look like there were syringes in there, a mess of them.

“I’ve put fifteen kids in the hospital,” Wolfe grinned, having met us on the road one day, and to make the point more stridently, pulled out his pocket knife and opened it up. It wasn’t a very special pocket knife, wasn’t a flip-knife, nor did it even have a particularly impressive blade.

“How old are you?” my brother asked him.

“Fifteen,” he said proudly.

“One kid for each year,” Donovan chirped brightly.

“Only fifteen?” I said, surprised. Why did we think he was so much older? No way he’d been to Sockanosset.
Then he put the point of the knife against my chest as we walked. I didn’t look at him, kept walking, pushed into it. I felt my face burn, why did he need to show off for me?

“Walk into it why don’t cha?” Wolfe laughed. “Not my fault if ya get stabbed!”
He added some pressure, I could feel the point through my jacket. I kept walking forward, and he suddenly gave up.

“I’ll be sixteen in two months!” he added happily.

Then a woman’s voice called, “Teddy!” He folded the knife and with a strange hopping motion, ran off in the direction of her voice.

We returned to our game of pulling up mare’s tails and hurling them, roots and all, like spears. Enjoying their
thud and the splash of dirt as they hit the road. It reminded us of the ape attack scene from Planet of the Apes.

“Ah-woo gah!” we cried, imitating the alarm from the movie and hurling our make-shift spears. Behind us the road was littered with dirt and elongate weeds.

Sometimes, in the summer, my younger brother and I would coax the Divine sisters, Chrissy and Kendra, into the rowboat with us. The Divine sisters matched our ages but went to Catholic school and we mostly only saw them during the summer, mostly at the stream.

“You’re not gonna sink it, right?” Chrissie asked earnestly. “I just wanna boat ride.”

“Naw, just a boat ride,” I said with a smile, lying directly into her striking dark eyes from my seat in the stern, Patrick grinning from the prow.

The fact that there were no oars in the boat didn’t seem to bother her. We waited while she stepped daintily into the boat and took the middle seat in her green one-piece. We pushed off shore with our victim, and once out in the middle of the stream we started rocking.

“No!” Chrissie screamed, her slender legs kicking at me.

“Woah, rough water!” we laughed and rocked harder with a kind of synchronized log-rolling exercise.
Waves of water began lapping the shore where Chrissie’s sister Kendra stood swatting at mosquitoes. Authelet and Donovan watched passively, their arms folded over their pale rib cages, this was old hat.

“Stop! Stop!” she cried.

“It’s outta control! We’re goin’ down!”

Water began sloshing over one side, then the other, and the rocking slowed as the boat got heavier, finally slicing sideways like an ice cream scoop and filling up at once like a bucket. Our weight pushed it against the crunchy gravel bottom. Chrissie sputtered in the water, and then swam to shore frog-style, thrilling me with her pretty, willing vulnerability.

Patrick and I raised the boat, rolling it bottom up, the stream being shallow enough to stand. We’d lift a side and let the air gasp into the overturned wooden hull. You could then go under it and talk, making a darkened little echo chamber where the sunlight played on the inside of the dome as it was reflected off the stream bed. Then we’d push the rowboat up onto the sand, flipping it and emptying out the water.

“OK who’s next?” I said as we readied the boat for a relaunch.

Kendra stepped up, “You guys won’t sink it, right?”

That same stream flowed all around the neighborhood and I occasionally followed it with a fly rod throughout its snaky meandering. It, in fact, once you by-passed the swamp behind the graveyard—where it vanished for a few acres—took you right behind Corinne’s house, where I never managed to spot her. Gold was in a small paddock there, swishing his tail, chewing on hay. I would mind my own business flicking around a dry fly version of a Muddler Minnow pattern (my dad’s favorite), generally catching creek chubs or fingerling brook trout, all the while doing my best to perceive any sign of Corinne. I had no lure for her, no special bait.

When we returned from school that day the grave had been filled, a pile of flowers in front of the stone and on the fresh dirt. We climbed the steps and stood around it. There’s a new dead person here, I thought, right here.

“Constance Mercy Barnett,” Donovan read.

“Born eighteen ninety-four, died nineteen seventy-six,” Authelet read.

“Eighty-two years,” I said in wonder. Was she “Connie” to her friends?
We were quiet a moment. A breeze kicked up and moved the last of the dead leaves on the trees.

“Wanna wrestle?” Corinne asked me, bumping her hip against me.

We trotted back down the cemetery steps and laid our books carefully aside. I grabbed her around the hips and pulled her down. She thrashed about wildly, her shoes flying off. The boys stood around us grinning as sand was kicked about and grass stained our jeans. Corinne wasn’t playing nice, pinched hard, tried to dig her nails in. I pushed her hands back, pinned them behind her on her side.

“Ow!” she cried.

“Say uncle!” I panted.

She refused, her lips pursed tightly as she breathed hard through her nose, her perfectly smooth nostrils flaring. I was aware of my boner pressing into her thigh, and her eyes were locked on mine, a little flicker of something in them. She knew. I got off her.

“Again!” she said, jumping to her stocking feet, her hands at the ready, crouching, hair mussed, her face pure, wide-open, pink.

I was done, my boner was impinging on me–a sturdy kid hard-on. “We can go again tomorrow, I gotta go.”

“Chicken!” she yelled as she picked up her shoes. And she kept yelling “Balsam’s chicken!” as she walked up Maple Valley, causing Donovan and Authelet to laugh heartily. I was going the other direction wondering if I could get my hands elsewhere next time.

One day Corinne and her friend Michelle came to the bus stop together dressed as mice. They wore remarkably short skirts, dark stockings, mouse ears and painted on whiskers. It was a display I could not fathom nor could I take my eyes off of them. Everything else about our lives was exactly the same except Corinne and her friend Michelle were suddenly provocative mice. There were no school spirit days that called for dressing as mice. There were no mascot mice for sporting events. I was unaware of any drama club production that required teenage beauties looking like Minnie Mouse. No one else seemed to much care about the girls as mice, but they inhabited my imaginings for months afterwards. What I would have given to be their cat.

Eventually, Corinne stopped coming to the bus stop, and soon quit school. We’d occasionally see her, hanging around with a high-schooler named Hargraves, riding around in his Duster, her eyes always reddened, a dumb grin filling her wide face. Colombian Gold.

“Hi, buuurn-ooouts!” Donovan waved, laughing as they went by.

“She’s pregnant,” he told us.

“She can’t hide it no more,” Authelet laughed.

And then she was gone. It was as if we’d tossed her into a bottomless grave or she’d passed through that wall where a door had once been.

One day, sinking the rowboat by myself, rolling it over and burping the air into it. I slid under to enjoy the small, private, sun-dappled space. After a few moments of floating like this, clinging to the overturned seat, Chrissie Divine suddenly popped up, causing me to bang my head in surprise. She sputtered, wiped her black hair out of her gleaming eyes and smiled. She waved her slender limbs, glowing under the water as though she’d been painted with radium.

“Neat!” she said, looking at the dancing light effects on the dome of the overturned hull.

“Uh huh,” I nodded.

And then, after a moment, “Do you like me?” I could hear her every breath, each consonant perfectly enunciated. I could hear the flick of her eyelashes. The way she said “me” warmed my abdomen and face.

I chuckled, huffing a bit, “Um.” I wanted to grab her, kiss her, swallow her whole, but I did nothing.

She frog-kicked herself closer, and I heard a cheer from outside our cozy space and something clunking solidly against the overturned hull. I touched the stream bed and raised the edge and saw Donovan and Authelet in their swimsuits laughing as they prepared to hurl another waterlogged branch, breaking the spell.

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