The Spring of Our Discontent
Spring had arrived, and, most importantly, the skateboard competitions would soon be starting. The boys were busy now, not only with school, but with the important tasks of choosing decks, designs, wheels, and bearings. Hours were spent scouring the skateboard shops for suitable accessories, the internet was consulted for competitions being held, and which ones they should choose to compete in. Saturdays were spent working on skateboards, making sure the wheels were balanced, and then trips were made to the skate park to try out the new boards.
Anya would come and go, saying hello to them, fetching food and then leaving. She did not understand Dewey and his friends’ obsession with something that could seriously injure them, but she knew it was important, so she said nothing. They still got together after school and studied, but she and Dewey had taken to going to dinner by themselves sometimes. They had both been accepted at Dartmouth on full scholarships, and when they were alone the subject would change from skateboarding to majors, and classes, and moving to a strange new city together.
Thea and her brothers were getting ready for the competitions, too. Rather than build her skateboard herself, her brothers built it for her, and in return, she painted unique designs on theirs that could not be found in the skate shops. Back in their home town, her skateboard designs had been well known among a small, select group. She would be entering some of the women’s competitions, and her brothers were helpful in pointing out which boards and wheels suited her style best. She was a little excited, and the anticipation helped take her mind off the dilemma that she faced with Michael.
Sometimes she felt Michael had made a fool of her, other times she admitted she may have made a fool of herself. It was pointless to try to get someone interested in her who clearly wasn’t. At least she had tried. She and Michael had skating in common, they went to the same school, she liked the same music that he and his friends did; in other words, she thought she and Michael would have made a good couple. But except for the first day at the skate park, Michael had proved to be unreachable and she didn’t understand why. And she knew for a fact that there was no one at school, so though she knew she was competing for Michael’s affections, she did not know who her competition was.
If he was a jerk, that would be one thing; but he seemed to be a really nice guy. As long as she just contented herself with just being his friend, they got along. He didn’t mind helping with homework; if it was just the two of them coming home from the skate park or the library, he’d buy her burgers and fries if he had enough cash. But whether she pushed gently, or pushed hard, he would not respond to her. When she had gone to his house to talk to him, he had lost it, and had pushed her up the street and told her not to come back. And that nonsense about a murderer in that house—that was the lamest excuse ever.
When she had consulted her brothers they had all told her the same thing. “If he likes you, Thea, he’ll come around. Remember that movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You?” Well, maybe he’s not. Why don’t you forget about him for a while and find someone else, someone who really likes you?” But she was so sure he did; she had always been sure of herself and now he had her doubting herself. She’d tried speaking to him, not speaking to him, then, in desperation, going to his house and confronting him. Nothing had worked.
She pushed a bare, red-painted toe against the floor of the porch, swinging herself in the porch swing her father had hung. What was going on with the story about the house he’d so angrily pointed out to her? He was so insistent that a part of her was inclined to believe him, but rationally she knew it was nonsense. A murderer living in his neighborhood? That was crazy. Michael claimed that he’d been attacked and that same person had grabbed his little sister, and he’d had to rescue her. Michael didn’t seem the type to lie, but that seemed like an awful exaggeration to her. If this person was so dangerous he would have been arrested a long time ago—right?
She decided that she’d take advantage of Short Round’s willingness to talk, especially when he was the subject. She’d distract him and direct the subject to Michael, and ask him about the old house and if anyone really lived in it. She hated taking advantage of a friend, but this had been eating at her for months. Michael still talked to her, but there was a distance growing between and she was desperate for a way to close it.
When she first met the trio, she thought they were nice, normal skate boys, like her brothers. But then, that day in the library, they had gotten weird, talking about ghosts and spirits after she’d fallen off Dewey’s longboard. Even worse was Michael’s insistence that a murderer lived in the deserted house, although the dim light in the window had made her wonder. Okay, she decided, someone lived there, but that didn’t mean a murderer lived there. If Michael didn’t want her to come around, he should have just come out and said so, instead of trying to scare her away.
He’d aroused her curiosity about that house. If someone did live there, it wouldn’t do any good to go sneaking around to find out what was there. She’d be willing to bet that Michael and his friends had—how else would he know so much about it? The days were getting longer; if she wanted to go exploring on her own she’d have to do it soon. She didn’t want to get caught trespassing. Getting arrested was not on her list of priorities.
For his part, Michael did feel guilty about Thea, but he tried to put it out of his mind. He was doing well in school and his grades were more than good enough to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. Four years of college paid for, and maybe financial aid for grad school. He’d be turning 17 soon, and college was becoming more a reality than an idea. He still had not given up the idea of continuing to compete and create a line of skateboard merchandise. His name and pictures were on several websites; and now that he was back in condition, the sponsors were appearing like magic. And since recovering from his accident, he was better than he’d ever been. His dream might not be a fantasy after all.
The only things in his life that made him feel helpless was “It”, and “It’s” attempt to snatch Kit; and the promise he had made to Mariah. It wasn’t right that she and her friend should have their bones lying in the basement, no one knowing or caring that they were there. He intended to make good on his promise give her bones to her parents. That way they’d have something left of her. He tried to imagine what it was like for them, knowing their daughter was out there, dead or alive, but no way to know.
He had to figure out how he was going get Mariah’s bones and the fact that he couldn’t even figure out how bothered him. If he was lucky, the monster would leave and go hunting again, but he didn’t want that to happen. Whenever he tried to come up with a solution, all he could visualize were parents whose daughter had been missing for years. He was sure that for a while they had hoped that she would come back, then that a body would be found so they would at least have something. It had been ten years now and all they had was a big fat nothing. Knowing how his parents would feel if it were him, that was not good enough for Michael.
Thea was on her parents’ back porch, painting a design on her brother’s skateboard. He had been very specific, he wanted the Grateful Dead skull and roses, the skull complete with its garland of red roses. She examined her work, very pleased with the results. The garland of roses even had the ribbon, and she had painted a small duplicate of the design on the rear corner of the skateboard. Now for the finishing touch: She dipped a small brush into some gold paint and painted three narrow streaks across the skateboard, her signature.
She was good at this. She could copy just about any design a skater asked her to, varying it just enough so that it didn’t violate copyright law. Her brothers had friends, whom they had let it be known they had a talented sister who could paint a skateboard for far less than they would have to pay for at a shop like Zumiez. So far she had had three new customers and word about her was spreading. She liked the extra cash, that people were learning who she was, and asking her to paint their new boards instead of getting pre-designed ones.
She set the skateboard on its end to dry. She opened up the fishing tackle box she used for brushes and small jars of paint and made sure she’d left nothing on the porch. She liked this porch: it was big and roomy; during the summer the family would eat dinner here. The porch faced west, and they’d sit and watch the sun go down. Nights were good for watching meteors.
She surveyed her red toenails, trying to decide if she should add another coat of polish, or if it was time for a pedicure. It was growing cool, so she pulled on her jacket, then gave her toes another inspection.
When she looked up, the sky had darkened—too dark for the time of day. It was like a shadow had invaded her back yard, enveloping it, blocking her view of the sky. Normally, the sky should just be deepening to a cerulean blue, with the planet Venus beginning to show in the eastern sky. But Venus wasn’t there—nothing was. Her backyard was black, as black as if a cloud had settled on it, determined to block any light or lightness that was left in the sky. The air was dark and dank, she felt that she could almost reach out and touch it.
She closed her eyes against what she was seeing, wishing it away, and when she opened them, the backyard was once again back to normal. No shadow, no cloud, just Venus shining in the east and tiny pinpricks of stars starting to come out. “No,” she whispered, “it didn’t happen. I’m just too tired. Between homework, skating, and painting skateboards I’m stretching myself too thin.” She gathered up her paints and opened the door, pausing for a moment to take one last look at the sky. “Damn, Michael, your craziness is starting to affect me.” She went inside, locking the door behind her.
She felt exhausted when she went to bed. She tried to study for a math test, but the numbers swam around the page of the book. She closed it angrily, tossing it on the floor. She plumped up her favorite pillow and stared up at the constellations she had painted on the ceiling. “Lyra, Vega, Andromeda, Orion, Leo, Taurus, the Greater Bear, the Lesser Bear,” she chanted, trying to take comfort in them, as she had since a child. No matter where they had lived, she had always had a blue and silver sky floating above her, her own private magical kingdom.
Tonight it wasn’t working. She kept seeing the old house with the sheets in the windows, dark except for a faint glow in the lower level. She wasn’t about to admit it to Michael, but there was an unhealthy look to the house and something about it did scare her—a little. It had also sparked her curiosity like a prince beckoned to a strange dark forest. If Michael knew so much, if the occupant was the criminal, why hadn’t the man been arrested? Thea was skeptical and wondered just what Michael’s motives had been in showing her the house in the first place.
She tossed and turned, unable to sleep. She grabbed her jeans and a t-shirt, then ran downstairs to see if her brother’s car was in the driveway. “Please,” she held her breath, “Please be there.”
She unlocked the front door carefully to avoid the squeaking hinges. She looked behind her, making sure that no one was coming downstairs, then pulled the door open, just wide enough for her to slip through. Her brother’s car sat in the driveway, and she ran to it on bare feet, hoping it was unlocked. She looked inside and found the keys in the ignition, a careless habit he had fallen into lately. Thank god no one had stolen it, she thought, he’d better to learn to lock it, but tonight I’m glad he didn’t.
She opened the door and slipped into the driver’s side, and shifted the car into neutral and let it slip down the slope of the driveway. Thank god her brother favored old cars, she would never have been able to compression start it with a new one. When she reached the street she turned the keys in the ignition to start the engine. She headed slowly down the street, only speeding up until she was a block away from her house.
It seemed like the world was asleep, tucked away into darkness and streetlamps. There was no one to notice a small girl in an older model Chevy as she made her way to Michael’s street, negotiating turns and traffic lights at intersections that save for hers, was void of cars. She followed the bus route that she now had memorized, and soon hit the steep street where he lived, along with the old house he had warned her away from. She sped past his house, then turned around and came to a stop in front of the house that upset Michael.
She parked and locked all the doors as a charm to keep away any harm that could befall her. She sat and looked, really looked, at the house, taking in the sheet covered windows. There was no glowing window this time, as if night had taken the occupant too, and put it to sleep for the night. She took it in, the driveway, the free-standing garage, two fir trees standing sentinel, and a yard that had probably never seen a mower for more years than she could reckon.
Suddenly something lit one of the lower windows. She shifted the car out of park and sped up the street. Thankfully the light was red, for her heart had started pounding and she was finding it hard to breathe. When the light turned, she made a U-turn in the intersection, tires squealing, and passed the house on the opposite side of the street. She braked and stopped for a brief moment. She wanted, badly, to explore the yard and garage, but she wasn’t going to now. “I’ll be seeing you,” she said to the house and took off down the street. Michael was right, someone was there and she was going to find out what that something was if it killed her.
Michael was dreaming that he was watching “Speed Racer”, only it wasn’t the movie, it was happening in virtual time on his street. One of the drivers was a small girl with close-cropped black hair, and she sped up and down his street, seemingly without direction or purpose.
He woke with a start and sat up. Where had that crazy dream come from? He looked around, thinking that he could see Mariah hover in the corner, then disappear. “I think I’m losing it,” he groaned, then lay back down and pulled his covers over his head.
After an hour he realized he could not sleep and jumped up, and headed downstairs to the kitchen. He put some milk in a pan and set it on the stove, letting it heat while he searched for the honey. He felt bad about the way he’d warned Thea away from his house, but he didn’t want to be responsible for one more girl going missing from his neighborhood. Her crush on him complicated matters. He liked Thea, liked her laugh, her crazy clothes, but he liked her as a friend. He knew that hurt her, but he wasn’t going there. He felt what he felt, but no more.
Tiny bubbles were appearing around the edges of the pan. He pulled it off the stove and put in the honey and stirred it up. He carried his mug carefully to his room, and crawled into bed, and took a careful sip of his milk. Breathing in the soothing scent of milk and honey, he stretched out, trying to convince his muscles to relax.
How had his life become so complicated? Only Mariah made sense anymore, and even that was starting to change. They had to let go of each other, but what if she didn’t want to? Would she follow him around like she had when she first revealed herself? He’d learned Mariah could be jealous and crazy and it scared him a little. He should have listened to Short Round when he warned him, but he knew he wasn’t ready to let go. He felt like something was coming and he had a part to play, whether he wanted to join the players or not. Thea and Mariah, different, but in some ways not so different from each other. He felt caught in the middle of a tug of war.
He drank the milk, trying to relax. “Clear your mind”, he told himself, and it worked, for about five minutes. He tossed his covers aside, threw on the flannel shirt hanging on his door, went back downstairs.
He grabbed the afghan hanging on the back of the couch. When he lay down, the cushions of the buttery soft leather couch molded themselves to fit his body. The couch reminded him of days when life had been good. His father still had his good job, and with his mom working too there had been no talk of giving up favorite activities. They could have afforded Driver’s Ed, and he’d probably have a car right now. He missed Karate and soccer, but if he made prize money this summer in competitions and maybe found a job, he could provide for himself those things his parents couldn’t.
The still of the night was suddenly broken by the sound of a car speeding down the street. It was too late to see what it was, and not very unusual for a car to drive down the street this late, but not like that, not at this hour. It must have been a small car, for the engine had been revving high, and his curiosity was piqued. He looked out the window and saw nothing but street lights faintly illuminating the night, still, something had been out there. Damn his insomnia! Sleep wasn’t coming, sleep wouldn’t come, and now he’d think about that stupid car on top of all the other things he had on his mind.
Grabbing a pillow, he closed his eyes and decided he wouldn’t go back up to his room. This would be his refuge for the rest of the night, speeding cars and all. The coolness of the leather was inviting, the pillow soft, the afghan warm, no one would bother him here. He wasn’t even aware when he dropped off to sleep, but his dreams were peaceful as he lay wrapped in the cocoon of the afghan. He slept until he felt his mother shaking him awake.
“What in the world are you doing here? Why aren’t you in your bedroom?” Are you okay, was what her his mother’s eyes were saying?
The couch was too comfortable to leave, he wanted to stay where he was. “Couldn’t sleep, Mom, this hasn’t happened in ages.”
“Move over,” she ordered. It was a good thing that they had purchased this long, roomy couch in the days when they could afford it. “Just how much sleep did you have? The truth please, no telling me what you think I want to hear.”
He squirmed a little, not wanting to be honest while not wanting to lie. “I think I maybe had three hours. I made some hot milk and honey, but it didn’t work. Then I couldn’t get comfortable or settle down in my bed so I came down here . Don’t know what time it was, but it was late.”
His mother saw the violet shadows beneath his eyes, and did not like what she saw. “Well, you haven’t missed school since your concussion, so I think you’re entitled to a mental health day. If this keeps us, you tell me. Not sleeping, especially at your age is not good. Just promise me you’ll try to get some rest, and stay under the radar. Don’t go to the skate park until school is out. Tomorrow I’ll write a ‘Please excuse Michael for not being at school yesterday because he came down with a mysterious illness I don’t know the name of.’ And no television or video games.”
“Got better things to do, Mom.”
“I know you do, sweetie. Sometimes I wish you were one of those irresponsible teenagers. I think I’d worry less about you.” She bent down and kissed his cheek, “I’ll bring you some breakfast, then please try to get a few hours of sleep. Bacon and eggs sound okay?”
“Sounds good,” he smiled, more to reassure her than because he felt like smiling, and fell asleep almost instantly. He woke only to eat the bacon and eggs she’d fixed, then turned over and slept until he heard the clock on the mantle chiming twelve.
Michael groaned as he rolled over and sat up. Sleeping late was the last thing he’d meant to do. He felt guilty about missing school, but not so guilty that staying home and sleeping was something he regretted. Staring at the clock, he pushed himself up and took the shortest of showers and brushed his teeth. He tore a brush through his long hair, and tied it back. He went into his room and threw on a tee shirt and jeans, then pulled on the new Reeboks his parents had just bought him.
As he dressed, he formed a plan in his mind. He checked his denim jacket for his wallet, then counted the bills and change he found in his pocket. Great. Just enough for some food and a cross-town bus ticket. He could get where he wanted to go, grab some lunch, then be back home before anyone would know. His mom wouldn’t get mad if he went to the skate park, she would be more suspicious if he didn’t go there.