“Hey! What are you kids doing over there!?” Mr. Lions asked. He walked like a man on stilts. He was tall and wiry, so that he looked like a vulture that hadn’t eaten in three weeks. When Mr. Lions looked at us, he was hungry—a landowner who hated kids because they couldn’t pay rent. Aside from collecting, he loved to weed-eat.

“Blow it out your ass, old man,” Brad said.

“In Korea—I killed a couple kids about your age. They could pick-up a gun, and they did, so I had to—and in my old age, I see things… Doctors calls them flashbacks—I might be in Korea.”

“If that’s your idea of a threat, no wonder you lost the War,” Brad said.

Mr. Lions looked ready to kill. He went inside. Then he came out with his rifle.


But my friends were already three steps ahead of me.


“That son-of-a-bitch fired at us!”

“Are you hit?”


“What about you Maddie?”

She was lying on the ground with her eyes closed. “I’m okay,” she said.

We were in a grove of willow trees—it reminded me of what my mother tried to do last summer. She was going to church and insisted on taking me. The ladies were covering Proverbs—”Spare the rod and…” My mother took their advice, but instead of a stick, she used a willow branch. I figure it hurt twice as bad. I never liked Sunday school very much.

“You got a light?” Brad asked.

He pulled-out one of those coffin nails and put it between his teeth.

“Sorry bro—I quit.”

“What? Are you afraid of dying?”

“You could say that. What do you think is on the other side?”

“Nothing—absolutely nothing.”

“What do you think Maddie?”

“I don’t think about it. We’re not even in middle school yet.”

She looked at me, like I was a boy and she was a mature woman. Girls could be infuriating.

The sunlight was going down, and the woods were red, like blood, and I thought about that bloodless corpse we found in the ditch.

“We should go home, before it gets dark,” Brad suggested.

“Yeah,” Maddie agreed.

It wasn’t long, before we found the street again, and passed the haunted house. It was empty, ever since the murder-suicide, three summers ago.

Now—a light was on in the living room.

To be continued…


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