Like bloodthirsty mosquitoes to bare arms, Jack and Gabriel were drawn to the old RV parked in the grass behind the farmhouse. It didn’t matter that the guy who lived in it, Jack’s great-uncle, Truman Lindstrom, was scary as hell. That was the point.
Standing at the edge of the front porch, Jack gave Gabriel an unexpected shove.
“Hey, quit it,” whispered Gabriel, whirling around, his baseball cap nearly flying off his head.
Above them, the sky exploded with thunder. Raindrops began to pelt the dry spring dirt.
“It’s your turn,” Jack whispered back. “I ran up and touched the door last time.”
“Touching his door is totally lame,” muttered Gabriel. “We need a better plan.”
It was just after dark. Gabriel was staying over at Jack’s place, as he often did on Saturday nights. Jack and Gabriel were cousins, and had been best friends since third grade, when Gabriel and his mom had moved back to Winfield. The boys were both twelve now, recently graduated from seventh grade. Gabriel seemed older than Jack because he was bigger—taller and a good twenty pounds heavier—but also because he was more of a jock, one who liked math and science, was generally serious about school, and spent a lot of time reading. Jack’s likes and dislikes were less set in stone, with a few exceptions: he was drawn to trouble, didn’t like grown-ups, hated the word “no,” and detested hearing his two dads fight, as they were doing more and more these days. Jack stayed out of the house as much as he could, especially at night, when the arguments seemed to heat up.
Squatting down next to the arborvitae, Jack whispered, “Let’s climb the ladder on the back of the RV.”
“Why would we do that?”
They were so close, Jack could smell the Fritos on Gabriel’s breath. “Maybe there’s some way we can see inside. Don’t you want to know what he’s doing in there?”
“You mean like torturing animals?”
They’d both seen the animal carcasses in the woods. Since the farmhouse sat on twenty acres, with a wooded area bordering the rear of the property, it wasn’t unusual to find dead critters around, though not gathered like that. “Truman’s evil.”
“Not good evil either. Bad evil,” agreed Gabriel. “The guy’s got rattlesnake eyes.”
“I’ve never been on an RV roof before,” said Jack, rising from his squat. “It would be cool.”
“What if he catches us?”
“Don’t be a wimp. He won’t.” Jack charged across the grass, feeling his thin cotton jacket billow like a sail in the wind. He liked running about as much as he liked anything. When he’d hear his dads start to fight and he got that sick feeling inside his stomach, he’d sometimes take off out the back door and run until he was bent over double, panting, exhausted. One pain replaced another.
“I am not a wimp,” called Gabriel, adjusting his hat and racing after him.
They huddled together behind the RV as a bolt of lightning lit up the night sky.
“I’m going up,” whispered Jack. “You can stay here or you can come with. But if you come, wait until I get up top before you follow me. Got it?” He figured that the two of them together might weigh the back of the RV down and alert Truman that he was under attack.
Gabriel gave an uncertain nod. His gaze traveled up the ladder.
Jack grabbed the side rail and hefted himself up onto the first rung. When he reached the top, he saw that the roof was made of some sort of rubberized material. He stood up, feeling like he was on top of a mountain, then motioned for Gabriel to follow.
When they were both up top, they crawled slowly past a vent to a skylight toward the front.
“There he is,” whispered Jack. He could hear loud music blasting from inside.
Truman was sitting next to a weird, angled table, looking through a microscope.
“What’s he looking at?” whispered Gabriel, ducking reflexively at another crack of thunder.
It came to Jack out of the blue. “Germs.”
“He’s into chemical warfare. Or maybe he’s making a bomb. You ever heard of the Unabomber?”
Maybe, thought Jack, but there was something wrong with Truman. Ever since he’d arrived in his RV months ago, Jack had sensed it. The guy wasn’t normal.
“I don’t like it up here,” said Gabriel. “The storm’s getting bad. We could be blown off.”
“Then go back down.” Jack wanted to stay and watch a while longer.
Gabriel was halfway to the ladder when Jack called, “I think he’s smoking weed.”
“Really? How can you tell?”
Weed was a subject of great interest to both of them.
On his way back to the skylight, Gabriel caught his shoe on one of the vents and landed flat on his stomach.
“Crap,” said Jack. Truman was up and out of his chair, staring up at the skylight. “We are so busted.”
Jack scrambled down the ladder with Gabriel in hot pursuit. As they ran toward the woods to find a place to hide, the rain grew heavier. Cracks of lightning helped them see their way to a thick section of brush. Hunkering down, Jack felt his heart beat like the bass on his dad’s Black Sabbath CDs.
“I lost my hat,” whispered Gabriel.
Jack put a finger to his lips. A minute went by. Then two. When he figured they were safe, he said, “Do you think he saw us?”
“He did,” came a deep, menacing voice.
Jack shook so hard his teeth rattled. Looking up, he saw Truman part the leaves with a baseball bat. A flicker of lightning lit up his face, all slick with water, his curly dark hair plastered to a monstrous head.
“We didn’t mean anything,” said Gabriel, grabbing Jack’s arm.
“I hate kids.”
Jack tried to speak, but nothing came out. He couldn’t believe Gabriel was handling this. He was the brave one, not Gabriel.
“You got no right to spy on me.”
“No, sir,” said Gabriel.
Jack felt Gabriel’s wet hat hit his chest.
“If I see you anywhere near my RV again—”
“You won’t,” said Gabriel. “We’re sorry. We’ve learned our lesson.”
Truman looked fifty feet tall. Raising the bat, he held it aloft, a soaked marijuana cigarette dangling from his lips.
Jack squeezed his eyes shut. And waited. When he finally worked up the courage to open them, Truman was gone.
Copyright © 2013 by Ellen Hart