Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Key, Chapter 26

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 26

     We all hesitated in a moment of indecisiveness and then we heard the rumble.  It was distinctly thunder and it was drawing nearer.

     “That’s rain coming!  We don’t have time go back the way we came.  We have to go this way.  It’s much shorter,” insisted Jack.

     It thundered again, a little louder time.  I didn’t even give a second thought to the mud on my new sneakers.   My gut told me to trust my cousin.  Maybe blood really was thicker than friendship.  I wordlessly headed in Jack’s direction, and Emily followed me without objections.  Even she seemed content with being led. 

     Jack popped out on the farm road first.  It is a dirt road that Farmer Richter uses to run his tractor on.  My mother learned to drive on that road and she says that is where she will teach me to drive, too.  I could see the sunlight hit Jack and I watched his head quickly turn from to the left, then the right, then back to the left again, surveying for Fangs. 

     I was admiring Jack for his bravery until I came up next to him a few seconds later, with Emily by my side.  Jack was standing with his legs spread slightly wider than a usual stance, with his arm bent at the elbow and his forearm protruding out in front of him, similar to Emily’s Kung Fu Fighter stance.  Jack must have been watching Emily by the creek.  He held the opened pocket knife in his hand.

     “Jack!  You better put that away.  What if you trip or something?” I scolded.

     “Oh, yeah.  I forgot I had it out,” Jack lied, snapping the blade closed and putting it back in his pocket.

     “See if you can get a signal now,” said Emily.  Little did she know that I had been pressing the “retry” button with my thumb the entire time we were walking.   I tried t again to no avail. 

     “Still nothing,” I said.  “But if we start heading toward the road, we aren’t far from home.  We can make a run for it and should be able to make it back before it starts raining.”

     The three of us headed south on the farm road at a slight jog.  My backpack bounced along on my back.  I could feel wetness on the back of my shirt and knew that the water bottle cap must have loosened a bit and was beginning to leak.  A drink did sound good right now, but I didn’t want to stop and take the time to get it out.  My hands were already busy hitting resend.

     Suddenly Emily veered off to the left into the orchard and stopped along an apple tree.  She jumped up a few times vertically in the air, reaching for a branch.  On the third try she caught hold of one and pulled the branch down to her eye level.  She plucked an apple from it and shoved it in her pocket.

     “Emily!  What are you doing?” screamed Jack.  “That’s stealing!”

     “I’m not stealing,” said Emily.  “I’m getting ammo in case we have a run in with Fangs.”  She thus plucked another apple and shoved it in her other pocket.

     “Well don’t pick the ones from the tree then,” I said to her.  “Those are the ones Farmer Richter sells at his fruit stand.  Get the ones off of the ground with the bruises or the rotten spots.  He makes cider out of those.”

     Emily shrugged, and her eyes darted toward the ground.  She picked one up, surveyed it and said, “This one’s not too bad,” paused a second and took a big bite.  “ITchs Gwood” she said with a mouthful of apple, “Thweet anh sahwhrr ah a schame tihum,” pointing out the sweet-tart taste of the Cortlands.
    Jack stared at Emily in disbelief and said, “Do you know you just ate an unwashed apple?  Are you aware of the bacteria that could be on that thing?”

     Although he was repulsed by the lack of cleanliness, Jack seemed to think this was a good idea too, because he headed into the orchard to pick up some fallen apples for his pockets “just in case”. 

     The wind was really picking up now and I was feeling the worry of the approaching storm.  “Come on guys, let’s go!” I yelled. 

     “Go get some ammo, Ellen!  Here, I’ll hold your phone,” said Emily as she approached me with swollen pockets still grinding the fleshy apple between her molars.

     There was no way around it.  I had to do what they wanted or it would take all the longer.  I handed Emily my phone, dashed into the orchard, and picked up an apple from the ground.  I shoved it in my pocket, and ran back out into the wind. 

     Running against the wind was hard.  It always amazes me how powerful an invisible force like the wind can be.  It was blowing in gusts now and Jack was still under the tree looking for the perfect trajectory—not too big, not too small, not too rotted so that it would smush upon impact.  

     He was hunched over when the strong breeze knocked an apple loose from a brach and it fell right onto the back of his neck.  “Ow!”Jack yelled.  He straightened himself up and looked upwards to where the apple had fallen from.

     “Move it Isaac Newton!” I yelled over another boom of thunder.  “Let’s try to make it out to the main road.  We’ll be fine once we get there.”

     From my best guess we appeared to be about a half a mile back from the main road.  At a light jog, it should just take us less than five minutes to reach it.  If the storm hit sooner rather than later, we could always seek refuge from one of my neighbors and call for a ride home from there.  I was glad we went with Jack’s idea.  It really was the best.

     We made good time, trotting along.   I was beginning to break a sweat from the jog, but there was a drop in temperature and when the wind blew across my body I actually shivered from the cold.

     Jack ran a little bit ahead of Emily and I, proving to himself that boys were betterfasterstronger than girls.  Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks.  

     I slowed up behind him, then was rammed from behind from Emily who wasn’t paying attention.  This caused a domino effect—Emily running into me and me running into Jack creating one big body pile.  If we were a sandwich, I’d be the peanut butter.

     “Stop you idiots!” Jack hissed.  “FANGS!”

     Out between the apple trees near the road we spotted him.  He was trotting along in circles with his ears pricked up sniffing the air.  Frangs was a medium sized dog, not as imposing looking as his name made him out to be.  His brindle brown fur held tight to his muscular frame.

     “Do you think he smells us,” whispered Emily.

     “That or the storm,” said Jack.  “Let’s hide.”

     The three of us moved back to the tree line and ducked behind some tall grass and weeds.  We could see Fangs but he couldn’t see us, safely hidden away. 

     “Oh no!  Where’s my phone?” I exclaimed a bit too loud.

     “SHHHHH!” the pair admonished in unison.  “I got it,” said Emily.  “You handed it to me back there.”

    I wanted that phone back in my hands.  It was my lifeline.  I needed to call home and call home now.  “Give….it ……… Em…………….a---choo!”

     The sneeze was a powerful one that came out of nowhere.  It was the kind of sneeze that you have no warning for.  Mother Eloise calls them atomic sneezes.  She warns that if you don’t shut your eyes for those kind of sneezes your eyes will pop out of their sockets.  I get tempted to try to sneeze with my eyes open every now and again, but I always chicken out at the last second and shut them.  I guess I really am a chicken at heart. 

     My mother is all too familiar with atomic sneezes.  They happen to her too, in the fall when her allergies act up, a plague from her childhood that she never has outgrown.  I looked around to find my trigger.  There it was right in front of me. We sought refuge in a patch of the most dreaded allergen to sufferers in the Great Lakes region, Goldenrod, commonly known as ragweed.

     Goldenrod was the big, tall, beautiful golden colored weed that blooms in September wreaking havoc on allergy sufferers in our area.  It gives those sensitive to it runny noses, itchy-red eyes, and a tickle cough that nags at night.  The pollen blew from the plant in strong winds. 

     Mom took me out to a field of Golden rod once in the car.  We had the windows rolled up, and she pulled the car over to the side of the road.  “Watch,” she said.  When the wind blew, big clouds of yellow could be seen flying through the air.  “Breathe that in and you’ll be wheezing for a week,” she said.  

     I got clubbed from both sides for my atomic sneeze.  Jack punched me in the left arm and Emily smacked my right forearm.  I made a face at them and pointed to the goldenrod.  I gave them the thumbs up sign and dug in my pack.  

     I emerged with fast acting allergy medicine.  I kept it in there for softball season when I played in the outfield.  There is nothing worse than a sneezing attack when you are an outfielder.  It’s hard to fish out a hidden hankie when you have a glove on your hand. 

     I stifled two more sneezes while picking that tablet out of its sealed bubble.  I popped it in my mouth and let it melt on my tongue.  I really wanted to wash it down with the rest of that water, but I didn’t want to take the time or make any extra noise.   

     As the pill began to melt, I could feel my eyes watering and start to itch.   A minute or two more without an intervention would leave me wheezing, short of breath, and in need of my inhaler that we kept in the kitchen cupboard for emergencies.  But with some help from emergency medicine, in a minute or two my symptoms would subside.  That would help me until I could get to the doctor for good spinal alignment.

     “What should we do, Jack?” I whispered.

     “I think we should just wait here a minute.  Let’s see if he goes home if it starts to rain.  You never see Fangs hanging by the road in bad weather.”

     “Oh, shoot!” said Emily.  Jack and I turned to look at her.

     “Still no signal?” I whispered.

     “No, I lost my ball again on this pinball game on your phone.  It is a wicked good game.  I got to download this ap when I get home.”

     “Emily!  You nit wit!  You were supposed to be trying for home!  I hardly have any battery left!”  I yapped as quietly as I could, returning her forearm slap but more lightly than she slapped me.  Emily is a wimp.

     “Ouch,  Ellen!  You don’t have to punch me over it!” she yelled, not lowering her voice one bit.

     This noise from our little whisper war was enough to alert Fangs to our presence.  He turned in our direction, planted all fours in a strong stance, and put his nose to the air.  His ears were pricked up and his tail was pointed straight and not wagging. There was no doubt about it now, Fangs knew we were there.

     My heart started beating faster and my mouth got extra dry.  All I could taste was the leftover medicine on my tongue and I wished I had just one quick gulp to wash it away with, but I couldn’t chance the movement.  All three of us were frozen still like statues.

     Boom, boom, boom, boom.  

     We heard it like a heartbeat coming from the east.  Within seconds more sounds followed, the rush of the wheels over the pavement, the splash of the puddle at the side of the road.  A car was coming, and seemed to be approaching quickly.  

     Within seconds we were able to see the vehicle, too.  I recognized it right away.  It was our teenaged neighbor from down the road, Justice.  He was in a rusted out, white pickup truck with the gun rack in the back.  My mother always thought it was funny how he was named Justice and broke more laws than any kid in a twenty mile radius from us.

     I overheard my mom say once that Justice was a good kid, but he got naughty when his parents began focusing on other things and not him.  Naughty turned quickly to no good during the summer of his parents’ divorce a few years back.  The problem with Justice was that he was smart, if being smart was ever a problem.  I know he was because he once was part of my mother’s program at school.
     After his parents split up, Justice was too cool for school and his grades suffered.  Since then, he turned to a small time petty thief and vandal.  He was clever enough to figure out ways to break the law, and crafty enough to lie his way out of trouble if it ever caught up with him.  “He should be a lawyer,” my mother always said.

     Now that Justice had his driver’s license, he always drove too fast down our road.  My parents and nearly every other person who lived on our road shook their fingers at him when he drove by.  Justice pretended like he couldn’t see them, but we knew he could.  That kid was sharp and he didn’t miss a trick or an opportunity to play one on someone.  He left black tire marks at the corner stop sign from screeching to a sudden stop, then laying rubber as he peeled out.  

     My grandparents were so concerned about the safety of their grandchildren that they called his Mama to complain and to ask him to please be more alert and drive more slowly, especially past our houses.  Justice’s Mama always apologized and said she’d give him a talking to, but we all knew that the days of her control over him were long over. 

    Since Mama couldn’t put enough pressure on her son to behave and his no good daddy was nowhere to be found, she must have told Justice who complained about him.  Instead of Justice stopping by to issue an apology to those whom he offended, it tripped off a silent war between Justice and my family.  Justice would slow down if he saw us outside, and drive by slow enough for us to see his sneer.  

    Suddenly,  empty fast food bags, candy bar wrappers, and beer cans found their way mysteriously into our front yard.  I know it was him because I was in my tree house once when I saw him whip something out of the window.  Our birdhouse was stolen from the front tree and my Mother was convinced it was Justice’s doing.  All the beer from my grandpa’s garage refrigerator was stolen once—except one.  That was how I was sure it was Justice because he toyed with people like that.  It would be one thing to break into a garage and steal all of something, but to leave just one beer there was like saying, “look at what you lost.”

     Thump, Thump, Thump, Thump.  

     The bass of the music grew louder.  I think if I would have acted like the Indians used to and put my ear to the earth, I could have felt the vibrations of his truck.

     Fangs also was keenly aware of the truck’s approach as well.  He turned his attention away from our hiding place and faced the road.  He crouched down into his low position, flattening his ears and straightening his tail.  He was ready for the tire pounce.

     The truck rattled and roared down the road, paying no mind to the cracks and potholes.  We could see that Justice had his windows down and his elbow was resting out of it while he had one hand on top of the steering wheel. 

     Fangs was further down the orchard than he usually was when he chased cars at the end of Farmer Richter’s driveway.  All the frequent travelers down my road knew about Fangs’ taste for tire, and began watching for him on the approach to their property.  Everyone except for Justice that is because he paid no mind to anyone besides himself.

     Fangs took off in the same direction as the truck, almost trying to get a head start so he could be up to full speed by the time the truck was even with him.   I don’t know if it was because Justice was way high up in his truck and Fangs was so low that he didn’t see him, or if Justice did see Fangs and just didn’t care.   No matter though, because the outcome was inevitable---Fangs bounced off that tire, yelped, and rolled into the ditch.  Justice kept right on going and never looked back. 

     “Fangs!”  all three of us yelled in unison.  We stood and revealed ourselves from our hiding place.   We waited to see if Fangs would emerge from the ditch, but he didn’t.  All that could be heard was the fading thump of Justice’s base and the rumble of thunder. 

     “Oh my gosh, poor Fangs!” I said in a panic, running in the direction of the ditch.

     “Ellen, wait, be careful….” I could hear Jack calling to me as I sprinted ahead of my partners.  I suddenly possessed more athletic ability than both of my companions.

     I couldn’t tell if the water in my eyes was from a reaction to Goldenrod, tears of frustration from being in this terrible situation, or out of sympathy for a hurting farm dog.  I could taste the salt seeping into the corners of my mouth.  I was parched and really needed some water.  I felt like I couldn’t go one minute more without a drink.  Maybe water was The Key To All Things. 

     God must have heard my thoughts because he sent me some moisture in the form of rain.  First the droplets were big and far apart.  Within seconds they began to fall in sheets just like last night.  The brunt of the storm had fallen upon us.  The thunder rolled,  a bolt of lightning flashed, and then I heard it, the WWWAAAAHHHHHH of Grandma’s air horn.  

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