The Make-Believe Night of Johnny Finn

by The Jotter

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In riven night and sullen day, the world we make arrives to stay, to believe enough is to live within to reach too far is original sin. - The Ballad of Johnny Finn
In retrospect Johnny should have sat this one out. He was, however, just a kid at the time, though like all kids at this age he thought himself grown-up. Had he not already kissed a woman? (Sue Lynn, two years ago, when she was 14, at the freshman dance when the lights were down.) Had he not already drank a beer? (Budweiser, out of a plastic cup, just a couple months ago, when Rick's parents were out of town for the night, entrusting house and hearth – and liquor cabinet – to Rick.) He'd also shown his composure and wit in breaking up a fight between Eddie and Steve last year. Indeed, in his mind, he was able to handle it all. Just bring it. Sure, he hadn't voted, yet. But that would be soon, since the voting age had changed to 18 only a few years before. He was ready for the world! However, John's dog knew he was not yet ready for the world's full adventures, as dogs are much more clever in these judgments than humans still wet behind the ears are. If Salinger, John's four-pawed guardian, had known his plans for the night, he would have clamped his canine teeth down on John's ass and pulled him back and given him a what-for. Alas, John did not share his plans with his dog. A price that seemed to be increasingly paid as John grew up (and made mistakes) increasingly more. There used to be a sharing between Salinger and John that no longer occurred except on those nights when John was unsuccessful at breaking into a new group of friends. Salinger always knew how to make those nights better, as he and John would become some pair of secret agents, tracking super spies in the neighborhood that only they could see, slipping from shadow to shadow with other-worldly skill. So it was that tonight, while Salinger slept in front of the television set (a full 25 inches of color that even had a remote) John set out as the evening sun was going behind the treetops of the city. The tree canopy was surprisingly full in John's neighborhood, tall elms and oak, lifting their dark arms high over the houses in the city, mixing with the white arms of a birch here and there, the strong arms dancing in

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the evening breezes, gently shaking green fingers that held fistfuls of leaves. Some of the leaves were small, some large, some had that dark blue tinge to them, especially in the evening. Others were bright emerald green and practically vibrated in the last rays of the sun with color and chlorophyll. John believed that the trees, if you were lucky, were sentient and stood watch over your house. He felt if you watched them long enough, which he did from his window some evenings, Salinger at his side with the sharper eyes, that you would notice many a hidden thing about the trees (well, who in their right mind would pick trigonometry homework over watching the trees and the neighborhood right out there? His desk, as it turns out, should not have been in front of his bedroom window, something Salinger pointed out but which no one would listen to). In retrospect John should have probably sat a lot of things out. There was the time when as a ten year old he pitched in at Luke's (a best friend) farm to do some digging, and brought the shovel down, accidentally, of course, on his scalp, causing a vicious amount of blood to drip on his once-white shirt as his parents drove down the driveway to pick him up. Of course, John's mom was more stoic than John who, once he became aware of the blood, sort of threw down the shovel and started crying, before it was taken care of with the sort of expediency only mothers tending to children can display. More to the point and less innocent, there was the time last month when going to the movies that he drank a bit too much Southern Comfort in preparation to watch Apocalypse Now (once he had a taste of the Devil's Drink, he was, in his mind, an instant pro), and the movie screen started to lose focus and spin on him, causing him to run to the bathroom up a dark aisle. Thank heavens this was before the modern movie-plex was constructed. At least the bathroom was right by the theater-room itself so it was out one door, in another, and “to the sink, man” where he ran quite a bit of cold water in the sink and on his face, before breaking up and laughing at himself in the mirror. Walking out, he nodded at the theater usher (really, dude, nasty uniform, he thought to himself) before heading back in to the show, equanimity restored. But the point being (no matter your morals on these sorts of things), John had a developing history of not sitting still and staying where he was when he should have. Well, history teaches us nothing, and

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shouldas and what-nots are for cowards and completed-far-too-soon-and-sort-of-boring stories. Which brings us to the night that John is walking out of his house with a brilliant idea to meet two girls of his age at the beach, a bit of weed in his sock, and an eye on a great night. Brilliance is hard, sometimes, to understand – especially, in the rear-view mirror. Brilliance, however, is what John hoped to experience tonight in order to impress those two girls. So it was that John set out for the beach that evening, the sun dropping behind the city treeline, casting shadows on those people moving about in the gentle summer evening air. The temperature was very nice, in the 70's, and John wore worn jeans and a T-shirt from a Supertramp concert he had recently attended. His shoes were old shoes that he wore last year in track and field, with a sole still good for light adventure, which probably wasn't a big deal for dealing with sand, although he would have to walk a little bit on some big boulders that the city dumped down there to retard shore erosion, especially from the winter waves and wind. There was a song in John's head as he walked the 10 blocks to the beach, where his “appointed rendezvous” (a phrase the newly grown-up John loved to say in his head even though John knew Salinger was tired of hearing it) was to occur. He hummed the song as he walked, all the world in his hip pocket as far as he was concerned, with what wasn't in his hip pocket passing by in his periphery vision: the stone and brick houses, not tiny, but not the big suburban kind being built past the county road these days. These were well-tended houses, with flowers bordering the pathways, lawns with only a few dandelions, shrubs that didn't crowd out the windows, and grass even edged from the sidewalk. All very nice and tidy and clean lines. A few denizens of the houses he passed on that 10-block walk were out, sweeping the sidewalks of nature's debris, or sitting on the stoop with a lemonade or cigarette or some other sign to signal that commercial life was done for the day and now was the time to lean against a railing and watch the residential life play itself out before sleep settled on all. It was normal to sit and watch, mesmerized by the couple hours of peace given over to folk as an extra perk with the paycheck. In front of Mrs. Anderson's house (her husband died in Vietnam a few years ago, and she loved the neighborhood kids) there was a game of kick-the-can being played by some of the neighborhood

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kids...the 12 and 13 year-olds...John knew a few. He waved, but didn't join in. He shook his head, not surprised at what he saw as the game went along, for Joey Portnoy was already safe at home. The kid was sneaky and fast and usually did win. Some kids just have natural luck, John thought. With the sounds of kick-the-can fading behind him, he had to cross Main Street and waited at the stoplight, doing his best not to be seen. It wasn't that he was afraid, or shouldn't be seen, or was shy. He just kept to that practice as a matter of principle, to try and blend in to the background, to not have to explain his movements to anyone, least of all to his parents who would always seem to hear from their own friends, “Oh, we saw Johnny at so-and-so place”. Well that was society in those days. People knew people. Anyhow, not that that was a problem, it was, well, inefficient to have to spend his time that way, explaining and elaborating. In his heart, when the lights were out and he was under the bed covers, he knew, in the back of his mind, that he was already too good at elaborating. When the light changed to allow pedestrian traffic to cross, John crossed with a crisp walk, and once he was to the other side, he continued humming, this time “Gonna Raise Hell” by Cheap Trick. He had but two blocks to the path down the embankment, and made those blocks pass fast...the last line of houses being just a bit bigger, just a tad fancier, than the other houses John had walked past. Still stone, but bigger rooms, bigger windows, and a great view. Without pausing, John pressed through a couple bushes...the path wasn't marked but the well-worn dirt demarcation showed it to anyone who cared to look that a lot of people used that path. Families during the day, lovers and teens once the sun had set. John carefully wound his way down the path and onto the boulders where there was just enough light from the evening to navigate. The boulders were huge – two, three, four feet in circumference. John hopped across them showing evidence of some practice at the feat. In truth there was some unvoiced trust that a storm hadn't shifted something in the rocks, but the path was well-used and safe. Well, in truth, Johnny didn't think about things like that, period. Once past the boulders, he was on hard packed dirt and sand that supported scrub bush, brush that was very woody with leaves that were small and rugged. He walked along this for a few minutes until a particularly thick section presented itself. If his luck held, another group wouldn't be occupying this section of the beach tonight. It was a perfect little place, and the one he had given to the girls as “the

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appointed rendezvous.” He sort of held his breath as he approached the close-together brush, listening for the sound of others, whether it be laughing, whispering, (god forbid) moaning...anything or something. There was nothing, however, and he pushed through the brush, again, rather clearly marked with a dirt path, and looked in. He smiled. No one was here. Tonight would be perfect! He settled in, his butt on a fallen log, and pulled in a deep breath of air, looking at his watch. The hour hand was pushing close but was still in front of the nine by about ten minutes or so. The girls would be there by nine or shortly after. He thought about smoking before they showed up, but didn't want to start on his own. Instead, he marveled at the scents in the air. Sure, some of the scents weren't great, such as an occasional waft of dead fish. But he could smell the water, the trees around him; it just smelled different and he liked it. He thought a bit about these new friends of his. Not girlfriends...just friends. Still, he enjoyed their attention as females though his mind had not caught up with his body in the motivations for that attention. And here, without other jokers (particularly male jokers) around to compete with, he might finally be able to shine like he felt he could. He always had felt more comfortable in small groups. In larger groups there always seemed to be at least two conversations going, sometimes more, and he found himself drifting between the conversations, never in either one fully, and so he drifted out of all conversations and eventually drifted out of the group, in this case perhaps even if his body hadn't caught up with his mind in those situations. A snap of something like a twig brought him out of his reverie. He listened intently, but heard nothing more over the gentle frustrations of the breeze which felt as if it had more to do before the sun completely disappeared for the day. The sun had in fact set, leaving behind just the gray of evening's moving into night, and replaced by the stark white of the moon rising over the dark lake, giving a bright sheen to the surface of all on this cloudless night. He enjoyed looking over the lake, one of the Great Lakes, through the trees. The sound of waves hitting the shore was irregular, although if his science teacher was correct, there was a greater pattern there than you would see in a short time period. Well, Mr. Burns was always reading something new. Still, he thought, better save that thought for later. “There you are!” Karen exclaimed, poking her head through the overhang of the trees and scrub. She

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giggled and came in, as it were, to the hiding spot. She was all tan skin and long straight blonde hair against a baby-blue t-shirt, of average height but more than average beauty in John's mind. She was followed by Mary, darker hair that curled at the shoulders, framing a face that was not as open as Karen's, and wearing a red t-shirt. Equally as cute as Karen, John noticed for the first time. “Hey Karen! Mary! Welcome to the place of the appointed rendezvous!” “Are we late? Mary took forever getting out of her house.” A look between Mary and Karen showed some disagreement over either the truth of this or the need to share it. “It wasn't my fault,” Mary objected. “My mom had things for me to do. She always does. I can't stand it.” “Oh, you're right on time!” John assured them. He didn't know the time but didn't care. What was important to him was what he didn't see: any other people. They had come alone, as they said they would. “There's a log and flat rock to sit on...or the loose dirt and sand is kind of soft here. Make yourself at home in the abode of the smokers three.” They took the flat rock, Mary pulling her knees up to her chest. “This is nice here, John! Do you come down here a lot?” “Not a lot...maybe once or twice a month. Sometimes others have this prime spot, however. So yer forced to find a different place, a nook or cranny elsewhere, where you can enjoy the lake, the moon, get some time AND privacy, you know?” Karen looked around. “This spot looks best though, hidden here.” She looked then at John. “So we going to get this show on the road? We're wasting daylight!” John nodded, whether or not that could be seen in the weak light and all the shadows. “I assume you mean this.” He pulled his pants leg up and reached in his sock, pulling out a baggie. “We are indeed ready.”

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He unrolled the baggie and opened the flap, reached in to pull out a good amount, and stuffed it in a pipe which he had pulled from his other sock. Fishing out a lighter from his pocket he offered the lighter and loaded pipe to Karen. “Do you want the honors?” His smile hoped to match the effortless flash of hers, though he had no illusions. Boys just didn't smile like girls. “Well, I AM an honorable girl, so why not?” She giggled, taking the pipe, and put it to her lips. A couple of lighter flicks later she had a flame to the dried plant in the pipe and took in a full lungful of smoke. She pursed her lips, holding her breath, and held the pipe to Mary. “Here you go...” she squawked, aware that some small amount of the smoke had escaped her lips. John thought to himself that only in a girl like Karen could such a squawk sound so alluring. She would be the femme fatale in any spy story, most certainly. As Mary inhaled, Karen exhaled a big rush of air. “Smooth stuff.” Mary, although still inhaling, nodded, the pipe's ember light bobbing up and down in the darkness of the hidden space, then it came near to John in the air, a floating glow, and John grabbed it and put the mouthpiece to his mouth. He was in heaven to put his lips where theirs had been. A subtle thing, perhaps, but a thing which he treasured nonetheless. John silently raised the pipe to the moon, then, bringing it back to his mouth, took a deep inhale, coughing once, and re-inhaling, he passed the pipe back to Karen. He exhaled through his nose. “That's the stuff.” He smiled to himself as the pipe passed around a couple more times. As the buzz started to kick in, John smiled and said, “after smoking a bit more of that, hanging out here and relaxing, you want to take a hike up the beach, see the rich people's houses from the ocean side?” Mary: “Can we do that? Isn't that trespassing?” Karen: “Shut up, Mary. Don't be such a worrier. Live a bit. But where's this ocean you speak of?” John (at nearly the same time as Karen): “Can't own the lake or the beach.” Then to Karen “The great lake may as well be an ocean, you know.”

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Karen (at nearly the same time as John saying “beach”): “We're going. This is going to be an adventure. I haven't had one for awhile. Much needed for the spirit, right Johnny?” John (smiling a bit too broadly, but unable to stop it): “Oh yeah...adventure. Much needed. Hey, you ever smoke with Bill,...um...Youmas? Bill Youmas? Quiet, tall guy, really long hair?” He paused, both girls said 'no' and John continued, “Well, he's a trip. Guy reads Castenada...you know, the anthropologist who supposedly runs into Mexican Indian shamans...Yaquis, I think. Anyhow, the guy's deep...loves to think. It's quiet smoking with him, but big thoughts, always. And fun.” Karen: “Like what? Give us a big thought of his!” Mary: (nothing, staring at the moon above the treelimbs) John, frowning: “A big thought. Of Bill's. You know his mom calls him William all the time? Not just when she's mad at him. Just in regular day to day stuff. She's kinda cool. Anyhow...hmmm. Well, Bill... Karen: “William...” John: “...Yes, William, heheh...William thinks that there are other dimensions, all around us. He read a physics book that talked about it, I guess. But...um, William, he thinks that these dimensions are sort of folded around us, like, within reach, you know?” John put his hand out and grabbed the air. Karen laughed. “Just reach your arm out, you would find a fold where another dimension exists. But William thinks, the physics didn't go into this, obviously, but William does. He thinks that if we knew how to grab that fold, we could pull back the cover on that other dimension, see it, reach into it. Only he says we probably shouldn't...like your arm might shrivel up or something if you reach into it. But worse, he thinks that the things that live in these other dimensions, they know how to get into OUR world. And they DO get into our world. We mistake them for ghosts or whatever.” Karen: “No shit! He thinks that?”

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Mary: “Weird.” John: “Yeah, that's the stuff he talks about when you smoke with him. And sometimes, like in that movie Apocalypse Now that is out...you see it?..” Mary: “I did!! Weird.” Karen: “It was weird!” John: “So like the reporter living with the Colonel that lost his mind and is living in the jungle...sometimes when you are with William, you feel like the reporter. Like, 'The Man' has these beautiful and deep thoughts and they blow your mind thinking about them. William can be the man. Without the nasty killing people thing, of course.” Karen: “Sounds like it. Oh...you going to load up another bowl there? I don't think this is working.” Mary: “She's kidding, she likes to say that all the time.” Karen: “So! I still want another bowl! Johnny, load one up, please!” John, noticing the Johnny appellation, was on top of the loading right away, smiling to himself. Yes, this was working out quite well. Quite well, indeed. The moon shone on them now, as it had risen high and was able to peer over the scrub and trees, and was vertical over them. John, as he packed the bowl, looked at the girls. Mary was watching him. Intently. He smiled at her and she smiled back. They giggled. Karen cut in with “what's funny?” and Johnny looked over at her. She was sitting still, now the one with her head bent way back to look straight up at the moon. He broke out laughing. “What's funny?” Karen repeated and then Mary broke out laughing and when she took the bowl from John, their hands touched and they looked at each other again. Johnny noticed her eyes were very bright, very deep, very...something beyond his ability to

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imagine. Johnny noticed he couldn't look away very easily but he felt he had to for some reason. The second bowl was smoked, dumped, and they spent some more time lounging against the backs of trees, sitting, telling stories, admitting things they hated, who they secretly couldn't stand at school, and sometimes pausing to listen to the lake's waves hit the shores. “That's awesome” said Karen after one listening pause revealed a rather large crash of water on sand. John nodded, sneaking a look at Mary, whom he noticed was sneaking a look back. She spoke up. “Who's that author you're all about lately, John?” John continued looking at her. “Author? Lately? You mean Algernon Blackwood?” Still looking straight up, Karen asked “Who?” “Algernon Blackwood. He...” “What kind of a name is that?” Smiling, John continued., “...an older name, European. Not sure of the country. He wrote these awesome stories...novellas, some. Like the movie The Cat People, that was based on his story. But my favorite was a story called The Willows. Anyhow, he sort of believed that since in real life we never get full answers to why some things happen – take why some one breaks up with you, or something you see in the distance or through a window you are passing by – well, stories should happen like that too. The reader shouldn't get all the answers. Because in real life you don't get all the answers.” Karen mmmphed. “Doesn't sound very satisfying.” “On the one hand,” Johnny nodded, “I agree. But on the other hand, it's very intriguing and seems much more realistic.” Piping in, Mary said, “Sometimes the answers we get aren't satisfying anyhow. I have a much better

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ending in my head, sometimes.” “Right!” Johnny jumped in, excited. “So if you can't have a satisfying answer, let the mind make up what is satisfying as much as it can, and revel in the mystery of what isn't revealed!” “You guys are full of it.” Karen was looking at Johnny and Mary. “Oh my god!” “What?” “What?” Laughing, Karen shook her head. “Never mind. If you can't see it now, you will shortly.” Mary shot Karen a look, but Johnny frowned, shrugging his shoulders. Girls were a mystery, still. After some small talk, the three of them decided to have a 'nightcap' and then they were ready for the adventure Johnny had promised. Johnny held out his hand to help Mary stand up, which she accepted, at which point Karen laughed out loud. “Do you want a hand, too, Karen?” John asked. “Aren't you just a shining knight in armor? No thanks. It's nice of you, really. But I'm good.” Another giggle ensued. With that the three were walking along the water's edge, where the sand is the hardest and the walking the easiest. They looked south and saw the curve of the land forming the harbor of their city. The lights were like jewels in the night, and the breeze-driven movement of tree-limbs made the lights appear to twinkle as the limbs moved first into and then out of the path of vision. The fresh air was invigorating, and the threesome even skipped a few steps, until John tripped and fell. Quick to the rescue, Karen and Mary both extended a hand. “Helping the knight back? I like it!” With that they fell into a bit of a dream-like silence, walking along the water, dodging the wave that came a bit higher on shore than others, watching the retreat of the wave, and the bubbles left on the

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sand in the moonlight. The sounds of the city at this hour (and in this year, when things still shut down for the night) were not much. An occasional motorcycle engine could be heard, and since they were now moving in the back of people's houses, they could hear an occasional snippet of conversation through a window or from people in their backyards. Once in a while, some night-bird called out, seeking a mate, seeking a meal, seeking whatever they were bound by law to seek. Beyond that, it was only the sound of the lake, the sound of the breeze, and the sound of their passage. Soon, however, they stopped. The sandy part of the beach was ending, and the erosion-resistant boulders were more common now. However, what made them stop was a wall two yards away. Cement, it rose from the beach and the yard was built up to extend into and over the lake, only it was enclosed by this cement-guardian of a wall. There was no going around it unless you swam, and that looked dangerous, especially in the moonlight. “Now what do we do?” The first one to speak was Mary. No one looked away from the wall. “I think there's a way.” This was, perhaps, one of the moments that John should have taken to back out of, to stop and think not of spies and shadows, and definitely not to think of impressing girls this way, on this night, where too much was already perfect. However, he forged ahead, talking to his shoulder so his voice would carry in back of him. “Getting across the boulders is easy, as you know. I have been this far before. And you can easily reach the wall. There's a ledge...big enough for your toes and not hard to pull yourself up to. And there's a rail, very easy to grab and hold once you are up. So the plan is,” as he stopped and turned to look at them finally (taken momentarily by how cute they were), and trying to take in whether they were buying into his plan. “I'll boost you up to the wall, then you help me up, and we tip-toe around the yard that juts out over the lake. At least see what this rich jerk who builds out onto the beach has in his yard that's so important to build out like this, and then see what's on the other side.” He paused...but no one said anything. “Are you in?” “I'm in!” Karen would always agree to things, John was learning. “I don't know.”

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“C'mon Mary. All you have to do is slide your feet across the concrete lip there...it looks solid, it looks dry...and keep your hands on the railing. Won't take us but ten minutes, I bet!” “Yeah, Mary let's do it,” Karen agreed. “Only, Johnny, you go first. You want to boost us only so you can grab my ass. If anyone does the grabbing, it's me.” “Fine, I'm good with that!” Smiling, as wide as ten of his smiles put together, John set out across the final boulders. “C'mon!” John was first up on the ledge, and scooted over to make room for Karen and Mary, reaching down to help each up, Mary last but somehow landing in the middle of Karen and John. “That wasn't so bad,” she whispered, looking at John, her eyes making John stop all thinking momentarily. He recovered, wondering what was going on with him. The three of them then turned around in the darkness, and held fast to the railing with both hands. They began to scoot farther out on the ledge, moving first their right feet, then their left feet, repeating this time and time again, never crossing their legs, and being careful to slide their hands so they never lost contact with the railing. John took in a deep breath, fairly often, as he was able to smell Mary's perfume just over the other scents on the night air. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at her hair in the wind, thinking of how the silky hair would feel in his hand, or against his face. Below them they could hear the waves smashing against the concrete wall and the rocks in front of the wall. It wasn't ocean-size crashes, despite John's habit of thinking of the lake as an ocean, but there were still some decent sounding hits. The sounds were hypnotic, rhythmic, and covered other small sounds of the night. John had to remind himself to concentrate a couple of times, especially as he was in the lead on the ledge. The moon was over them, and would have highlighted them to anyone looking out, their bodies silhouetted against the surface sheen of the lake far beyond, if not the dark black of the sky. Because of the night, the sound of the waves, the fact it was night, and that they were crawling along someone's backyard, they didn't speak much, though the adventure was beginning to toss their minds like the wind tossed their hair.

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Getting to the corner of the ledge, John's foot pushed past the ledge into air...the very 'thin-air' that is spoken of now and then...and his knee buckled and he gave a small yelp before he recovered his balance and composure. “Sorry about that!” he hissed, hoping that his composure-factor didn't just take an irreparable hit with Mary...and Karen, too, he thought to himself. It was Karen who responded. “Shit, John...you scared me! Watch it...plus, I don't want the owner of this place turning on some yard light and siccing his dogs on us!” “Sorry already! Just be glad I found it first and not you!” “It's okay, John. Karen's just being difficult. She's good at that.” “Mary! You're such a liar!” “Okay...okay...look, whatever, I'm back on the ledge and around the corner. Just be careful and don't make the same mistake I did, okay?” John watched the girls come around the corner as he moved along the ledge. “Everyone good?” “Nope, I fell into the water.” “Karen!” “Well, it was a rather obvious question. Just kidding, John. Lead on, Mr. Knight!” They continued across the ledge, sometimes stealing a look at the house now. It was large, with many windows...but not much more was discernible in the night. The yard appeared to have a swimming pool, fancy lawn furniture, some lawn statues, and plenty of flower pots. It was the sort of yard that probably saw many parties, both adult and kid. The kind of yard John didn't see much of, now that he thought of it, except from this sort of vantage point, sneaking along a fence. “Anyone ever been to this house before? For a party or anything?” John asked, figuring some talk

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would further push his near-fall out of the minds of everyone. “Not me. I don't know who lives here.” “Me neither.” “I just thought that maybe someone had...” pause: John stopped his sideways walking and Mary bumped into him. “What is it, John?” His voice lowered some, but still loud enough over the waves: “Did you two see anything move in the yard? Like...one of those statues? Or is THAT a person?” It was quiet as all three stared, trying to find the statue that John thought had moved. The wind blew hair into their eyes now which made the task of looking into the yard very difficult. The sound of the water hitting the rocks and the wall made it impossible to listen for anything though they all tried to listen. Clouds began to cover the moon, and then uncover it, causing problems to see anything or at least see it continuously. “Oh my god!” It was Mary, whispering urgently. “Th...there IS something moving. Maybe we should crouch down and not be so obvious.” They all took the advice, bending down below the black of rail, shadows themselves against the night hanging over the lake behind them. “What did you see? And where?” John was whispering without taking his eyes off the yard. The breeze shifted directions and became cooler. “It was movement. Someone's in there. It was near the lawn furniture. Look...maybe we should creep back and get off this ledge. I don't want to go any further, anyway. Can we go back?” “Sure...I mean, if that makes you more comfortable, Mary.” Breathing in deeply, John began to feel

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some responsibility for them being out there on the ledge. “I'd actually like to go back, too. I'm getting a weird vibe from this place suddenly. And if we have to bail, it's a long way down, guys.” Returning her gaze from the lake below, Karen scanned the yard intensely. “Okay...we should stay crouching though. I'm going to start back.” It was slower going back, moving while trying to stay below the railing so they didn't stand out. The strain on the legs from being bent so deep and moving sideways started to add up. John kept an eye on the yard, swearing he saw movement now and then, getting closer, but he couldn't swear to it and kept his suspicions to himself. Goosebumps started to rise on his arms. Still, he kept one eye on the ledge, which he could barely make out, with the other eye on the yard. They were coming close to the corner, finally, and John began to think he could relax a bit. Suddenly, however, the girls froze. “What is...” John's question was shushed down right away. He tensed, then he heard it. Barking, from inside the yard somewhere,...or maybe the house. Hard to tell, but yes, it was most likely the house. The girls double-timed it around the corner. John was about to follow when suddenly he heard something else. A voice. He searched the yard, but didn't make out anyone and looked at the girls through the corner of the railing but they were continuing to scuttle on the ledge to safety. Was it a voice? John strained to hear, and swore he heard murmuring of some sort, but he couldn't make out the words. The timbre of the voice, however, was cold, distant, and malevolent on the wind, all the more so for the surety of its quiet. John imagined that the thing giving itself voice was so sure of itself it felt no need to shout or hurry, it was singing its way to the harm it intended. That, John thought to himself, is what he was reminded of and it froze him. Suddenly, movement caught the eyes of all three and the girls stopped, too, now. A shadow rose smoothly and effortlessly from the ground about 15 feet away, rising to a height of 7 feet or so. It was as if smoke rose from the ground, filling out as it rose, and like all smoke from a campfire, sought out those sitting around the perimeter. Karen muttered something which John could not hear as the shadow-smoke formed into the shape of a man. The face was impenetrable, dark in the dark of the night, and the moon did not cast its light onto the form. The only light suddenly was where the eyes were supposed to be, and those were faint whites of some sliding orbs. Whatever or whoever it was,

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however, did not look at them but rather through them. John could see the girls start moving again on the ledge and then looked at the shadow. The girl's movement had caught its eye, as well. The thing's head shifted and looked at the girls, craning its neck towards them, creating an effect as the head seemed to move toward them far longer than a human neck should allow. John thought it looked like it would become a giraffe, although one that was menacing. The girls now froze and the shadow extended and slid towards them, without sound, without movement other than to expand towards them. To John he saw the thing glide slowly, not seeming to be touching the ground. The sound of a strong wind, as before a storm striking, began to grow, although the breeze on John's face did not increase any. “Move!” It was Karen yelling at Mary, as Karen was starting to move sideways on the ledge onceagain, racing as much as she could toward the beach and the impression of safety. Mary, however, held fast to the railing and was pushing back with her arms to get her face as far away from the approaching shadow as she could, pushing her arched back and head over the lake and the rocks below. The shadow was almost on her. John's mind raced, knowing he should do something, but not able to form any coherent thoughts. The shadow, all the while in slow motion and all the more vicious for its lack of speed, was almost on Mary. “No!!!” she finally screamed. A growling could be heard now, though no mouth could be seen in the shadow. Suddenly, there was loud barking and a dog appeared out of nowhere, barking and dashing between Mary and the shadow. As the dog injected sudden energy and apparition into the night, Mary flinched and her grip on the railing failed. She started to cartwheel backwards off the ledge, empty space and then the wet boulders below awaiting her, in succession. Karen quickly reached and grabbed an arm, jerking Mary to a halt and slamming her against the concrete wall beneath Karen. Mary's form, feet first, stretched out below her, while both her hands had reflexively gripped Karen's right arm. “It's okay Mary!” Karen yelled, with effort. “Look below you...”

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Mary did. It was then she noticed it was only about another three feet down to the rocks from the bottom of her feet. “I can't hold you too much longer...” Mary was already slipping down her arm. She looked at John, who was still around the corner, and staring into the yard. Karen looked quickly into the yard and saw only the dog, a Welsh Corgie, turning its back on empty air and looking at Karen with what appeared to be a satisfied grin on its face. She looked back down at her friend. “Mary, I think if you drop down from here you'll be okay.” Mary looked down, nodded, and noted the rocks below her. With a whimper, she released Karen's arm and dropped. “OW!” John was now rounding the corner and making his way fast over to where Mary had been. “Are you okay?” He looked down at Mary, sitting on a boulder and rubbing her right ankle. “I think so...my ankle hurts...a little.” John continued scrabbling down the ledge and was right behind Karen who had also resumed moving down the ledge to the beach. Looking back into the yard, they noticed the dog was still sitting and watching them, with triangular ears perked up, mouth open and panting. They made it to the spot that they had first come up and John held Karen's arm as she dropped to the ground. John nodded at the dog, then looked down. He jumped down and followed Karen to the boulder that Mary was still sitting on and where she continued to rub her ankle. “It isn't broken, is it?” John asked. “No...but help me up, please.” John went to her immediately and Karen frowned. John put his arm around her and under her left shoulder and lifted up at the same time that Mary pushed up with her left leg. She leaned on John while she put weight on the right ankle. “It's not too bad.” She smiled at John and together they walked back over the boulders to the beach, joined by Karen who was frowning. John relinquished his arm from under Mary's shoulder and the three of them slowly began their walk

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back. At first, they didn't talk. After a couple minutes, however, talk was needed. “What was that thing?” Karen broke the silence. “Was there something there or did we imagine it?” “I think there was something there.” John didn't look at the girls when he said this. Karen looked at John, though. “What did you see? Why did you stop moving?” John shrugged his shoulders, for all the good it did in the minimal light on the beach. “I didn't know whether to try and distract it, or stay where I was, it was just...I never imagined such a thing.” The girls couldn't see the watery eyes that he struggled to keep out of sight. If it wasn't other boys his age with more confidence to show their wit, it was shadows rising from the ground to freeze his day-dream valor in his uncomprehending mind. With a bit softer voice, Karen asked, “Did you see what the dog did to get rid of the thing, at least?” “No...it was a blur, it was too dark, just suddenly, the dog lurched into the shadow, and then the shadow thing was gone.” He looked back, the suggestion of the thing causing him to make sure they weren't followed. Mary kept quiet and the other two didn't press her for her memory, both remembering that whatever it was had aimed for her. Silence seemed a reward and calming as they walked, allowing their nerves to settle and for them to run through whatever thoughts they had privately. For John, he couldn't stop worrying a bit that by his not being there to help Mary, she could have hurt herself worse. He hoped that by her accepting his assistance and walking next to him that she was not holding a grudge, however. The small, quick squish of shoe sole on wet sand was all that could be heard as they made their way to the part of the beach they had come from. It was not long, however, before they reached the path at the foot of the street by which John had traveled down to the beach originally. Evidently, the girls had come this same way. John turned to his companions, Mary with her arms crossed in front of her chest,

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tightly, as if she were beginning to get cold. Karen had her hands on her hips, her long, straight hair whipped by the breeze. Looking up, then back at the girls, John fumbled for words and an acceptable end to the evening he had planned. “Well, it WAS an adventure. I didn't mean for it to be so freaky, though.” As with all things when time passes, the most obvious answer – that something really happened – began to seem less plausible, even just in the light of the moon. Suddenly laughing, Karen said, “You smoked too much, my friend.” She pushed him hard on his right shoulder. “Shit, it was scary at the moment, but our minds played tricks on us. We got all excited over a stupid dog and some shadows. The dog scared us as much as anything and it wasn't even a big one at that!” Mary nodded, smiling, but said nothing. Karen continued, “You know, it wasn't like one of your books, John. It was just a freaky night and our minds built it up more than it was. No one got hurt...” John wasn't giving up so easily, however. “I don't know...I mean, it was there. Something was there. Mary saw it!” He looked at Mary, hugging herself. She didn't, however, support or deny John's look for agreement, so John changed the subject. “Is your ankle okay?” “It's fine, I think. It's not hurting now anyways.” “Good! I am so glad!” Mary finally smiled. “I think we should get going, though. You know my Mom.” She looked at Karen as she said this, who even in the moonlight could be seen rolling her eyes. “We'll see you later, okay, John?” As she said this, she reached out her right hand and touched John on his left forearm. John smiled, tension releasing. “Yeah, yeah, that would be great. I'd really like that.” He looked at Karen. “See you later, huh?” “Don't be a moron, John. Of course!” She slugged him on his shoulder, giggling, and moved up the trail to the street, blonde hair wrapping around her face until she tucked it behind her ear. Mary looked

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at John, and their eyes held briefly, then Mary smiled again and looked away, before following Karen. John watched, a grin breaking out on his face, and then yelled, “Hey, maybe we give that wall another shot sometime? Next week? We need to make it around that yard, it's really neat along the shore after that. I promise! And we shouldn't let a small dog scare us so much next time!” Karen and Mary stopped and looked back and down at John. Karen yelled, “If you think you have the guts! Boys are such gluttons for embarrassment!” She smiled and looked at Mary, still looking at John. “Let's go, puppy.” Mary waved at John, smiling, then hurried to catch up to Karen, putting a hand out here and there to steady her ascent up the path. John turned to the lake, and walked closer to the waves. He stopped suddenly, seeing a shape. His heart raced. Squinting into the dark, and being still, he tried to determine the shape that was there in the waves. He was ready to see a thing from the ancient deep, an elder god with many limbs and deep wisdom in its eyes, or even a mermaid to give him advice on love. He shook his head and let out a breath as he saw it was just a log making its way to shore in the back and forth of waves. Sighing and vowing that he had to stop reading so much fantasy and day-dreaming on it, John turned on his heels and ran up the trail to the street, suddenly full of energy and determination, and more than anything, hoping to catch sight of Mary walking with Karen down the sidewalk, to see Mary's hair shine and shake, to see the way she walked, to see – most importantly - if she looked backwards. His legs pumped wildly up the dirt trail and he crested the hill, and without stopping continued all the way to the street. Keeping his eyes forward and looking down the street, under the streetlamps, looking for any sign of Mary he began his own walk home at a fast pace, coming to the first street rapidly, but always keeping his eyes far down the sidewalk, watching from one streetlamp's cone of light to the next. He saw two shapes moving into the streetlight a couple blocks away and his heart leapt, for as he placed his foot into the street he was sure that he...

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THUNK! He was thrown many feet and his head bounced on the asphalt, and came to a rest in the headlights of the car that had hit him. He saw bright lighted halos around a person before his eyes closed and he went to sleep. Epilogue. “Mary, we should go home.” Karen and Mary were sitting in plastic chairs next to a bed. The bed was a standard hospital bed, dressed in square white sheets and tan blanket, with metal railings. In the bed lay John, eyes closed. Karen gave a hug to Mary, with the hug meant to pull Mary towards the door encouragingly and sympathetically. The nurse in the doorway smiled sadly, watching Mary. Mary gave a squeeze to John's hand which she had been holding. She did this every night this week since he had been put in this room, in a coma. John never squeezed back, and the length of time Mary squeezed began to get shorter with every passing day. The nurse hated to give the girls the boot, but the rules were clear and she tried to follow them fairly. She wasn't ultra-punctual, but didn't think anyone should be pushing it in this circumstance. As Karen and Mary got up and went through the door, the nurse smiled at the girls, then gave a once-over look to John in the hospital bed, continuing to lay there motionless and not noticing the departure. She was satisfied that he was stable, though, and not in need of anything at the moment. She couldn't see the world in John's mind, but John was fine, living for days on end in a small cabin at the foot of a mountain. The mountain was topped with white, and down its side crept deep green forests and blue streams. Trouble – a lost ogre or something like that - sometimes came that way, but it was nothing that seriously threatened John. This morning he had fried bacon for breakfast, tending to a garden in a meadow at the edge of his

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cleared plot. Later he would, like all afternoons in this bright land, be spending his time sitting on a footbridge over a small river, a fay girl at his side always. As he moved through the sequence of his day he got to the point of being on that bridge, and today he and the girl were tossing flower petals into the water beneath them. The footbridge was warm in the sun and the water was blue and looked cool, moving at a lazy speed. The pair laughed as the petals found water, went under their legs, then under the bridge, to drift on to the other side. The other side. The phrase tugged at John. What other side? Other side? Memories crashed in on his mind. He suddenly looked around and stood up. Without even looking, really, at the girl next to him, he said, “I have to go.” He smiled at the girl, then, who looked up questioningly, smiling, but still with sad eyes framed by suddenly dark hair, but said nothing. John walked back to his cabin, opened his door, and went through the doorway.... Opening his eyes, he saw a hospital room. An empty room with clean walls, and a table next to him with some sort of machine next to it. As his eyes traveled around the room further he saw the window. Looking out the window he saw snow falling, gently, whirling in an occasional eddy of wind in the corner of the building. An eddy like water...and it was then he remembered Mary, falling, on a nighttime excursion... In retrospect, John wondered if he should sit this one out.

© 2011, The Jotter.

Picture on the cover by the author.

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