Happy Days Are Here Again
By: Kristi N. Zanker
I sat on our front porch swing, leafing through a movie magazine and drinking a glass of cold lemonade. The air was warm and humid. Though it was early June, it felt like August. Inside the house, my parents were listening to the war news on our Philco cathedral-shaped radio. The announcer's voice was filled with empathy as he explained the aftermath of the Normandy Invasion, which happened only day ago on Tuesday, June sixth. My geography teacher, Miss Blair, had shown us on the huge colored map in our classroom where our troops landed. She explained how the Invasion was a turning point in the war. Our neighbor, Mrs. Hutchins has a 20-year-old son stationed in overseas. He might be in France, risking his life at this particular moment.
I took a sip of lemonade, thinking how lucky I was to be here in the United States, instead of war-torn Europe. It was then I heard the locomotive rush down the railroad tracks about a block from our house. The coal train still made a stop at Pennington Lumber and Coal Company in the summer because not everyone had a gas stove. Just then, the front door opened and closed with a bang, interrupting my thoughts. My six-year-old sister, Tammy, came running outside and hopped up next to me on the swing. Her light brown curls blew in the soft wind. We sat silently for a few minutes when all of a sudden he appeared.
This mysterious boy always rode his bicycle down our street after dark. I could not get a good look at him because the street lamps were too dim. With the war on, many useful things like butter, tires, gas, and electricity were rationed. Tammy noticed the boy, too.
Being the curious six-year-old she was, she asked, "Who is he and why does he always ride down our street at night?"
I couldn't answer either of her questions, but I tried.
"Well, perhaps he likes to ride his bike, or maybe he goes and visits someone." I hoped that answer would satisfy her curiosity, and it did.
She hung her feet over the side of the swing and pushed it back and forth. We sat there a few minutes longer, then both of us went inside and sat on the couch with Mother and Dad. I tried hard to listen to the news, but I kept thinking of that boy. He reminded of the radio program, The Shadow, always lurking in the dark.
The next day, when I left school, the warm sun greeted me as I quickly said "Hello" to my friends Leslie, Jane, and Molly. I told them I'd meet them in about an hour at Joe's. They nodded and I ran off. Joe's Diner was the swellest place to hang out if you lived in Pennington, Illinois and went to Pennington High School. I was a sophomore and they were juniors. We went to Joe's every Friday afternoon. This afternoon, I had something interesting and important to tell them. I had been across the railroad tracks again, (which was forbidden by my mother) and I noticed a boy picking up fallen coal from the coal train. Mother didn't like me going over the tracks to that part of the neighborhood. The houses were dilapidated and dirty and yearned for repairs that seemed to be impossible these days. But I went exploring anyway.
Leslie, Jane, and Molly were sitting at a booth when I got to Joe's. The place wasn't too crowded yet, but around seven, people would have to wait in line for a place to sit. It was 4:15. My friends smiled when they saw me.
"You'll never guess what happened!" I said.
"What?" they all chorused.
"A few days ago, when I was taking a walk after dinner, I wanted to look at those houses across the tracks, and you'll never guess what I saw." They all looked at me with their eyes wide. "I saw a boy picking up coal that fell off the coal train that always runs through here."
"I always thought those houses were empty," said Jane.
"I guess one of the houses has people living in it," I answered.
"How bad does that house look? The one with the people in it?" asked Leslie.
"Well, that house is the last house on the street. From what I saw of it, it didn't look too bad. It had a light bulb hanging from a string; one window was cracked, but covered with something. I saw an old bicycle lay on the ground near the steps of the house. That's all I saw from where I was standing before I heard a scream."
"A scream?" said Molly. "Are you sure it wasn't some kind of animal?"
"Believe me, I know a scream when I hear one. Then, I thought I heard a man yelling. I didn't want to find out, so I got out of there as quick as I could."
"That's very interesting," said Jane,
"Considering you were so afraid to walk down that street the first time."
"Well, something told me to do it, because the second time I went I saw the boy by the tracks."
"What did he look like?" Asked Leslie.
"From a distance I could tell he had brownish red hair, from the way it looked in the sun. His black pants had holes around the knees, and his shirt ripped. In a way he looked familiar."
"Wait a minute. It sounds to me like you are describing Johnny Morton," said Molly.
"Who?" The rest of us asked.
"Johnny Morton. He always gets in trouble at school. Shelly Summers told me she saw him come out of Principle Jackson's office, staring at the floor and rubbing his knuckles."
"I think I saw him in Mr. Wyman's room, once, beating the erasers together," Leslie remembered.
"Why would a boy like him be in Mr. Wyman's math class? I hear that he is very strict. If your numbers aren't written neatly, you lose part of your grade. At least that's what I heard," complained Jane.
"Maybe all the teachers hate him and just want to get rid of him!" said Leslie. We all laughed.
"Doesn't he ride that old rusty bicycle to school everyday?" asked Jane.
"Yes," said Molly. "It's always parked in the bike rack."
"Then, I have seen Johnny before!" I exclaimed. "It must be him who always rides down our street after it gets dark. Very strange. I did see a bicycle there, but I didn't think it would belong to him. He must be the one who lives in the last house." Now things were starting to make sense.
"Do you all want to order malts?" I asked.
They all said yes and a waiter came by and took our orders.
"If any of you ever run into Johnny, it's best you stay away from him," warned Molly.
Copyright © 2000 by Kristi N. Zanker
Copyright © 2011 by Kristi N. Zanker
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