Friday, February 22, 2013

FFF: "Way Past Joking Time"

(The folks at Flash Fiction Friday apparently want us to hear the word of the Lord, because this week's challenge is about dem bones dem bones dem dry bones. This story is called "Way Past Joking Time")

No matter how tightly I closed my windows, the lights still came through. Flashes of red and blue leaked onto my ceiling, making all sorts of spooky shadows. I still felt sick, so sick that I almost never wanted to eat again. I was laying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, watching a bubble of red light chase a bubble of blue around in a lazy oval. I had taken a shower and changed into pajamas, like my Mom said I should, but everything felt itchy and too hot and wrong.

They wouldn't leave me alone. First the police came through, a black woman and a handsome guy with a funny looking beard, telling me gently that they didn't blame me, that it wasn't my fault, and then going over everything again and again. In between police visits, Mom would come in and try to say something and just wind up blubbering, and then Dad would come in a few minutes later and just kind of stare, putting his hand on my shin for a minute, then getting up and leaving again. The police took all of Lindsay's stuff, even the pillow she was going to use, which was actually mine. But I didn't say anything.

Lindsay was the only girl I had met so far that was my age, and since I was the new kid, I hung on to her like a barnacle. We had been playing outside, our giggling too much for Mom, kicking a ball around and talking about nothing. Lindsay was taller than me and a little bit stronger, and she kicked the ball at me hard. She was that kind of person, the kind of person who would do something just because, just to see what you did. It hurt a little- the ball hit me high on my thigh, and it slapped against my stomach too. I was a little mad, but I didn't show it. Instead, I wound up and kicked it back, as hard as I could, half hoping I could sting her leg back.

The ball, a new one my Dad bought after the World Cup, went high, over Lindsay's head and over the gray fence that separated our yard from his. Our neighbor was strange. He didn't have any kids, and you never saw him doing anything like washing his car or mowing his grass or even walking around. He came and went at weird times, never home when the other adults were, and sometimes, when I couldn't sleep, I would stare at his house, waiting to see something happen- a light go on, the glow of a TV, something. Nothing ever did.

Nobody said anything, but you just got this feeling of wierdness, of ghosts and monsters and horrible things that might happen if you went in his yard. Grace Park, who lives across the street, said that she went up to his front door to sell Girl Scout cookies once, and they knew he was home, because they had seen him go in, but they knocked and knocked and he never came to the door. She said she saw bones in his yard when she walked in, but Grace tended to exaggerate sometimes. It was just weird.

Lindsay smiled at me after the ball went over. I started feeling sick right then, ready for another lecture from my Dad about how hard he worked for his money and how I should be more careful.

Lindsay said, "Dare ya to go get it!"

It was like daring me to flap my arms and fly to the moon. "No!," I said quickly. "Are you crazy?"

"Nope!," she said. She was a really good tree climber, and she was up and over the wall in a second. By the time I said "Don't!," she was gone.

I didn't hear anything at all after that. I figured she was going to sneak up on me and try to scare me, so after a few minutes, I gave up and went inside. I washed up, taking extra long, listening for her footsteps in the hall, determined that she wouldn't get me. I came downstairs, expecting her to jump out of a closet or come rushing out of the downstairs bathroom or to burst in through the back door. She never did.

My mother asked me where she was as soon as I came into the kitchen, and I spilled it all in a nervous rush. They told me never to go over there, and I never did, and I tried to tell them that I warned her and suddenly everything was exploding with movement and sound. My Dad got up and marched out the front door. My Mom called Lindsay's parents, and the Parks, and the Mitchells, and nobody had seen her. The police kept asking me if I heard a car go down the street, but I just couldn't remember if I did or not.

Dad came back, panting and red faced, and saying that there wasn't anybody there, and his car, a green van, was gone. Then Dad mentioned bones, too, and I knew Grace wasn't exaggerating. They called the police, and the lights came, and all the questions, and the madness, and the tears. I stopped listening to them, waiting for someone to ask me something. All I could see was Lindsay's sneakers disappearing as she dropped onto the other side of the fence, her devilish grin when she dared me.

When the police came in and put all her stuff in bags, I watched them do it, making notes on a clipboard as they went, cleaning away her backpack, her clothes, her brush and her slippers and her stuffed toad and her One Direction magazine. My room looked like she had never been there, but I could see the absence, the space where she was supposed to be. I wondered why my kick didn't go straight, banging off the fence instead of sailing over it, or why I couldn't have gone with her across the fence, or why I hadn't just told Mom right away instead of waiting.

I didn't know what had happened, but it was way past joking time, which meant it had to be something bad. I stared at the lights some more, trying not to think about what it could be, not wishing that it had been me instead of Lindsay, but kind of wishing that it had been, too.

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