The Boy Next Door
by Ron Van Sweringen
Things are not always black and white. Sometimes they are the color of love.
Erthelene sat up in bed, listening to the wind and rain on the roof of the cabin. The experience earlier with Uncle Mabus had left her worried and unnerved.
She left her bed and peered through the open doorway into Uncle Mabus’ room. In a bright lightning flash she saw the old man sleeping peacefully. Snake Dog, lying on the floor at the foot of the bed, turned his head toward her but made no effort to get up.
She returned to her own room and sat in the old rocking-chair by the window, watching rivers run down the glass panes. Erthelene could not shake the feeling of uneasiness that rested heavily on her chest. Even though it was warm in the room, she felt a chill. Bowing her head, she began praying in a voice hardly above a whisper.
* * *
The rain gradually let up, but Billy Joe’s clothes were soaked through. After several blocks he recognized the drug store and the bank, from his earlier trip into town with Erthelene and Uncle Mabus. A large clock above the bank read three-thirty.
He followed the main street for several more blocks, keeping away from the street lights as much as possible. Once he saw a police cruiser with its red lights flashing and his heart froze. They would take him back to the house on Magnolia Street. He had to be careful.
Finally the concrete sidewalk stopped and a dirt road began. Billy Joe remembered Uncle Mabus saying it was less than three miles on that dirt road into Opalville. He was tired and thought about stopping and resting, but was afraid to. Something told him time was running out; he had to keep on going!
* * *
It was five-thirty in the morning when the paperboy made his delivery to the Harrison house on Magnolia Street. After dropping the paper in its regular place, something unusual caught his eye. The front door was not closed, it stood slightly ajar.
“Hello,” the young man called out, “anyone there?”
Gladys had just come into the kitchen, wearing her housecoat and slippers. “Who is that?” she answered, a tone of alarm in her voice.
“Rob Wilson, the paperboy,” the young man replied. “Your door was standing open. I thought something might be wrong.”
Gladys could see him, down the long hall, through the half-open front door. She turned the hall lights on, then slowly closed the door.
“Gladys, who is making all that noise? What’s wrong?” Otilla Harrison called from the top of the stairs.
“It was the paperboy, Ms. Harrison. Someone left the front door open last night.”
* * *
The phone in Sheriff Rogers’ bedroom rang at six-fifteen a.m. A distraught Otilla Harrison was on the other end of the line.
“The boy has run away,” she said sharply. “He left in the middle of the night.”
“Alright, Mrs. Harrison, “ the sheriff replied. “We’ll find him.”
“It shouldn’t be hard. We both know where he’s gone: to Black Water Lake,” she answered, hanging up the phone.
* * *
When Billy Joe saw the old cabin in the morning sunlight, all his tiredness left him. He ran the last few yards and collapsed on the back porch. At that moment Erthelene was making her bed, but stopped when she heard the wail of a siren in the distance. Somehow she knew in her heart that it had to do with Billy Joe. Something had happened.
Uncle Mabus appeared in the bedroom door with Snake Dog at his side. The animal was nervous and whining, its tail wagging.
“I think Billy Joe is here,” the old man said to Erthelene. “Snake Dog senses him.”
The agitated dog was at the top of the stairs by then, confused and fearful of going any further because of the splint on its leg.
The sirens were much louder now, drawing closer.
Erthelene looked out of the bedroom window and saw Billy Joe in the back yard. He began running toward Black Water swamp as two police cars pulled into the driveway.
“Oh! Lawd, no,” Erthelene screamed, rushing past Uncle Mabus. “Not the swamp, baby, not the swamp!”
Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen