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What Really Happened
It started off so innocent, there was nothing wrong with it. You won’t understand though, no one does, you’ll just be like everyone else in town: thinking we was up to our games. Well, I’ll tell you right now, we weren’t playing and John McClintosh had it coming when he started acting crazy the way he did. Billy and me couldn’t do nothing ‘cept try to stop him and John wouldn’t let himself be stopped once he got started, once he got one of his crazy ideas in his head.
It started on that hot July day; you remember it, don’t you? It was when all us kids went down to the water hole and swung off the tire swing. That was the day Jack Hazelton slipped out of the tree before he got to the swing. We got a good laugh outta that one, I’ll tell you that. Jack was always trying to show off. Anyways, John got to thinking ‘bout his idea that day, like I said, that’s when this mess all started.
Jack had just slipped and flopped into the water with a loud splash when John says,
“Tony, Billy, listen up.” He was scrambling up the tree confidently, showing off to Jack who was still recovering from his painful belly flop. We followed him, Billy punching me when I cut in front of him. John didn’t say nothing for a little bit, intent on his climbing, swinging back and forth, hanging upside down and leering down at Jack. Finally John thought he proved his point and he swung up a few limbs above the swing and called us up after him. I sat on the limb next to Billy, a little lower than John.
“I was just thinkin’ ‘bout Jack and his showin’ off, he’s getting a little too big for his britches if ya ask me.” He looked down at Jack, a cold shine in his eyes. Jack, unaware of this plotting, chucked a rock at Rebecca, who screeched and slapped him. Good ole Rebecca, she doesn’t let us boys get to her. She’s pretty much one of us, ‘cept she has to wear a dress and has those long braids that get pulled when she gets in fights.
John laughed, “Yeah, ole Jack, he’s got somethin’ coming to him. I think we should be the ones to dole it out.” Billy was laughing with John,
“Yeah John, we’ll get him nice and good alright. What we gonna do?”
“Just scare ‘im a bit.”
Billy was nodding but I was slower to agree, John is always thinkin’ up harebrained ideas but there was something different in his voice this time. You’ll probably think this makes me sound weird, but he looked hungry when he looked at Jack, kinda like that vampire, Dracula. He looked down at Jack like he wanted to drink his blood like some vampire.
I told you before, it started off innocent, for the next couple weeks we’d go to Jack’s house throwing rocks at his windows and screaming like we was those Irish banshees Mrs. O’Flaerty always crows on about. Then we started letting Jack think he was one of us: taking him out to play Cowboys and Indians and helping us throw mud at those prissy girls.
Pretty soon I got to liking Jack, but John wasn’t gonna have any of that,
“Don’t you start liking that fathead, Tony,” John threatened, “Me and Billy ‘ill drop ya real quick, I’ll tell ya that. I’ll give you a few smacks on the head; I’ll knock some sense into your brains.” Billy laughed and parroted,
“Knock ya some sense, Tony.”
I dunno why Jack played with us so long, especially with John always giving him that hungry look and getting that hard glint to his eyes. John would bait Jack,
“So you think you can climb that beam up there in the loft, Jack Hazelton?” or “You seem pretty sure you can outrun me, you think you could outrun Mr. Tobin’s crazy dog? I’ll bet that crazy mutt would tear you up before you reached the fence line.”
Jack would just take it, always rising to John’s challenges. He’d balance across old rickety beams, outrun Mr. Tobin’s crazy dog, or sneak into the church and see what he could take out. All those harebrained ideas John would think up, like I told you. But when Jack did everything so well, it would make John get real angry. Jack would sometimes do things better than John and John doesn’t like it when people are better’n ‘im
John kept at it with Jack for about a month, and then one night, he tapped on my window telling me to get dressed quick. I hopped out my window and John and I fell in step, walking down the path that led to Billy’s house.
“We are gonna get ‘im tonight, Tony.” John said. I didn’t say nothing for a moment, I looked up, trying to see the stars through the leafy trees. I couldn’t see nothing though, except an inky darkness.
“John, I dunno, Jack’s not all that bad. We’ve had some laughs.”
“Don’t be stupid, you know Jack’s a showoff.” He looked at me in an angry way; I thought I caught a glimpse of that cold shine he had when he first started plotting against Jack. “His head’s as swollen as a balloon and we’ve gotta pop it, Tony.”
That scared me. I could lie to you and tell you I just thought this was gonna be just another one of John’s tricks, but if I’m tellin’ you the whole story, I might as well tell it plain. John scared me that night, I knew that the night wasn’t gonna end good.
When Billy snuck outta his house, we walked toward Jack’s house, John filling us in on the idea that he had been working so hard on.
“We are gonna go up to the old mines and blindfold Jack. We’re gonna tell him we’re playin’ a game like we are in a maze… like those labyrinth things. There’s obstacle and stuff in those labyrinths; that’s why we gotta do it in the mines. I got some ropes, rocks, and a few nails that I set up near the entrance earlier tonight. We’s gonna run him into the middle of the mines and turn him loose with just this little stubby candle.” He held out a dusty candle, the wick barely sticking out and the wax dried all around the stub. “When we let him loose, we’ll split up and wait for the fathead. We’ll have some obstacles ready for him by the time he gets to us.” John ended his idea, breathless and smiling.
Billy wasn’t agreeing quite like usually does. I think he finally realized that John’s voice had changed, it didn’t sound like a kid’s voice. It sounded like some grown up’s voice who had some crazy rule he was gonna beat into his kid.
“John…” Billy said in a small voice, “I dunno ‘bout this.”
“Don’t you turn yellow like Tony. Both of you can go back to bed if you’re gonna be chickens.” Billy looked at me, I could tell he was scared too, so I tried again,
“John we’ve been playing Jack for a fool all this month. We got even.”
“We haven’t scared him yet!” John burst out angrily, stopping and drawing up tall. “I want to scare that stupid fathead showoff ‘till he wishes he never lived. If you have a problem with it then you got a problem with me.”
John looked crazy now, he didn’t even look like my friend. If I left now, I wouldn’t be able to sleep knowing what was happening and besides John would pommel me if I opened my mouth again.
We got Jack and blind folded him, John shoving him through the woods, cracking jokes and taunting Jack all the way. We got to the mine and Jack stopped walking.
“John.” He said, his voice strong and not scared, “I don’t know what you take me for but if you try anything stupid, I’ll punch you so hard you won’t be able to breathe.”
John’s face contorted with all his anger, but Jack couldn’t see that, being blindfolded and all, “Oh yeah, Jack Hazelton? You just try, we’re just playin’ labyrinth and there ain’t nothin’ stupid about it.”
Inside the mines it was dark and worn. Billy, John and I had good candles and the light from them showed the dangling roots and uneven dirt of the mineshaft. John left Billy first at a coil of rope,
“Blow out your candle, Billy.” John ordered, “And don’t you go lighting it again either. Just wait ‘till Jack get’s to ya.”
We came to a wider spot in the tunnel, a small beam of wood sat on the ground, its edges rough, John hefted it and smiled at the blindfolded Jack,
“I stop here. Tony you bring him past the cart and to the place where the tunnel opens to all the different shafts, spin him around a few times and leave him a match and his candle. You wait for him by the cart.” I grabbed Jack’s hand, it was sweaty and sticky, the only proof that he knew we weren’t just playin’ some trick on him. Jack’s not stupid either, he knew he was outnumbered.
“Tony.” Jack whispered to me after we had passed the cart, I had seen a pile of rocks resting next to the rusted cart. Those were for me. I didn’t answer Jack.
“Tony.” He said again, a little more frantic. When we reached the crossway I spun him around a few times and then told him to count for a minute once I left him.
I took the stubby candle meant for Jack out of my pocket and held it out to him. After a moment I pulled it back and lit it with my nice new candle. Instead of the sputtering candle stub I handed him my glowing candle wordlessly. The stubby candle flicker and sputtered as I walked through the mine tunnel, at the entrance of the tunnel out I stomped my footprints all around, hoping Jack would see them and know which way led out.
I settled down at the cart, not blowing out my dying candle. After what felt like three hours, I heard soft footsteps and saw candle light glowing softly ahead of Jack as he walked through the mine.
He saw me leaning against the wall, “Tony?” I nodded but didn’t look him in the eye. He stared at the pile of rocks for a second then looked at me.
“You gonna play at being an obstacle, Tony?”
“No Jack, I ain’t.” My voice was shaky. I wanted to do something to stop Jack from getting to John. John was crazy and Jack was nice. I didn’t want Jack to go farther, but I couldn’t tell him to stop going. I just couldn’t tell ‘im, besides when I finally met Jack’s eyes he had a cold glint a lot like John’s, but his was different, his look was more frantic, the look of the hunted. That cold glint, though, gave me some hope, he was like those polar bears that went in a big circle and hunted down the guy that hunted him.
“Be careful, Jack.”
Jack gave me a nod and walked on quiet feet towards the mouth of the tunnel— and John.
I’ll tell you right now, I was racking my brain for ways to help Jack who was outnumbered and up against crazy John who had a thick piece of wood. ‘Cept I couldn’t think straight, I just sat there, watching the flickering candle stub, wax burning my fingers, when I heard Jack scream.
The scream echoed off the tunnel walls and it reminded me of Mrs. O’Flaerty’s banshees, but this wasn’t no game and this was more scarier than anything I ever put myself through. I heard slams and rustles, a low guttural growl and grunting. Before I realized what I was doing, I had jumped up and grabbed an armload of big rocks. Looking ahead I blew out my flickery candle, knowing John would see the light when I came up.
Jack screamed again then I heard John swear and scream at Jack. I stumbled through the tunnel, trying to reach them as quick as I could. Ahead I saw soft light, it was blocked every few moments when Jack and John shifted, casting silhouettes along the tunnel. From the shadows I crept, watching what was happening.
Jack was bleeding all over. His nose was pouring out blood all down and around his white tee shirt and he had a chunk of wood stickin’ out of his leg. On the other hand, John’s left arm dangled limply, but his right hefted the beam confidently. One of his eyes was swelling from a lucky punch from Jack. Both his eyes were narrowed like some rattlesnake.
Jack punched John in the stomach but John brought the wood beam up and around quick enough to catch Jack on the side of the head. Jack fell with a loud smack. John laughed , it was hard and cruel,
“Hey fathead, have I popped your swollen head yet?” His breath was winded and he gasped. Jack didn’t say nothing, he just laid there, blood flowing out his nose and matting his hair where the wood caught him.
“Hey fathead!” John said shrilly, “Punch me again.” Jack mumbled something and moaned.
“Fathead!” John yelled, he kicked Jack over and Jack’s eyes snapped open. He rolled to his knees and wobbled to his feet. John lifted the beam above his head and got ready to bring it down on Jack.
I leapt out and threw my biggest rock at John. It hit his left arm; the broken one. He hollered and turned his crazy eyes on me,
“Tony, what do you think you are doing?” He stomped towards me and I aimed another rock at him. I threw it and it hit him square in the chest. He fell down hard, dropping the beam, holding his hand to his chest. He tried to talk, but his voice couldn’t reach his throat.
Jack staggered over to him. Standing over John, he glared at him, “You remember what I told you, John?” He didn’t wait for a reply, he just brought his fist down hard across the side of John’s head. John’s breath whooshed out of him and he laid there, unmoving.
Jack’s face calmed down a bit; he knelt next to John and put his ear to John’s chest.
“He’ll be alright, I reckon.” He said quietly. Jack looked at me for a moment and didn’t say nothing for a few minutes then he held out his hand, “I owe you one, Tony. Thank you.”
I don’t know what I was expectin’ but it wasn’t Jack shaking my hand. When I grasped his hand, it wasn’t sweaty anymore, it was cold and slippery, from his blood or John’s, I dunno.
“I s’pose we should take John back home.” Jack said and I nodded. We each took one of John’s hands and yanked him down the tunnel; I let Jack take the broken arm. When we reached Billy we used the ropes and hauled John back to town.
The rest ain’t all that important. It’s just about our mom’s clucking around us like hens and our dads takin’ their belts to us for bein’ so stupid. John doesn’t show off so much anymore, but then again neither does Jack, so I s’pose John’s plan did work. He stays away from me and Jack for the most part, ole Billy still spends time with him though.
I don’t know what you think now, but I told you already, this wasn’t a game. John stopped playing games when Jack kept besting him. John really did have it coming to him, it’s funny though, how he thought it was the other way around: Jack having something comin’ to him. I don’t care if you believe me or not ‘cause I told you all that happened and the rest is up to you to decide about.