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The Man Behind the Fence
The air was thick, like molasses, and just as sticky. Although the shade protected us from the harsh Sun, the dense foliage smothered us in muggy heat. My hands were clammy, and I was starting to itch from all the mosquito bites.
“Why do we have to be back here, Jay? We’re getting all dirty–” I whined.
“Won’t you shut it? We’re exploring.” He pontificated. Jayden always had a way of making a terrible idea sound like an ingenious plan.
“Besides,” he continued, “You don’t wanna be boring, do you?”
“But my hair is getting all nasty,” I expostulated, “Mommy just washed it!”
“Relax, Leah. You’ve got your bike helmet on—you’ll be fine.”
I looked back through the verdant bushes. I could just barely make out the park benches. The sound of branches and twigs snapping under Jayden’s feet was slowly getting farther and farther away.
I contemplated abandoning him, but I knew my mother would kill me if she discovered I broke her number one rule: Always stay together. So I scampered after him. The bushes behind the park only extended so far, and we soon came across a tall, wooden fence. The wood was rotting, scattered with small holes, and mottled with various shades of brown. At the top of the fence, the pickets were ragged and sharp. Realizing that we’d reached a dead-end, I tugged on Jayden’s arm, and tersely suggested we head back home. Much to my chagrin, he admonished me with another of his many quips, and wriggled from my fragile grip.
“Let’s see if it ends somewhere.” Jay brilliantly suggested. I responded with an unamused stare, and an exasperated cross of my arms.
He sighed. “Let’s go...left.”
Silence. I stood there.
“Kaleah, pick up your bike and let’s go.”
“Pick up my bike? I don’t understand why we couldn’t just leave them in the park—”
“Cuz’ someone would’ve stolen em’—”
“We’re not even supposed to be back here any-way...”
With each quibble and complaint, the frequency of the squabble increased to a shrill raucous.
Our pre-prubescent voices cracked, and our infantile convictions wrestled for superiority. I was irate, stomping my feet and gesticulating furiously. If someone saw us, we would have looked like two tiger cubs play-fighting. Our words wrangled for several minutes, until we heard a startling sound.
“Psst, psst. Hey—you kids!” A silvery, youthful male voice called out.
We jumped back from the fence, and gripped the handlebars of our bikes. Pins and needles
sprouted all over my skin. The tingles crawled up my spine and made me shiver. Jayden was
apparently engulfed by another feeling, because the next thing he blurted out was, “Hello?”
I hit his arm angrily with all the force an eight-year-old could muster. Jayden narrowed his eyes
at me, and rubbed his arm.
“Yeah!” the voice exclaimed, excited to have our attention.
“Where are you?” Jayden asked.
“Over here,” the voice bellowed louder.
“B-behind the fence?” I asked incredulously. The voice responded with an affirmative.
Walking to the right, Jayden wasted no time following the stranger’s voice. I urged him to wait, but once again his curiosity got the better of him. Dragging my bike behind me, I trudged through the dirt. Eventually we came across an opening in the fence, and we went through it. On the other side was a driveway with a garage at the other end. The man was standing right in front of his open garage door. Then, I saw him and his voice did not match his face.
His visage was that of a gargoyle—all awkward and large. His mouth seemed too big for his
face. I was afraid of what he would look like if he actually smiled. His eyes seemed to bulge out of their sockets, and his eyelids stretched to accommodate their size. The man was tall and burly. His hands were grimy, and he had claws for fingernails.
“Hey,” the man began, “Why don’t you let me fix your bikes?”
“Fix them, sir?” Jayden inquired.
“Yeah, look-atcha tires. You two could use s'more air.”
Before we could accept or deny his offer, the man descended into his garage. When he
disappeared, I recanted the litany of maxims—programmed into our minds since we were little—that Jay had disregarded. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t go off in strange places. Don’t give your stuff to strange people. There was too much that was strange about this man for my taste, so I begged my brother to return home. Of course, he ignored me. The man then phlegmatically slithered out of his garage, carrying several tools. He was so cool about that fact that there were two random kids in his backyard. He was so cool with wanting to fix some strangers’ bike. He was too cool.
I eyed him suspiciously as he fiddled with our bikes, tightening up bolts and twisting various
mechanisms. Suddenly, Jayden nudged me, and gestured to an area in the guy’s garage.
“D-do you see it?” He whispered anxiously.
“All those kid’s bikes back there.”
I squinted my eyes. In the back of his garage, shrouded in gentle darkness, there were at least a dozen different sized bikes. They were all too small to be an adult’s, and way too colorful. Some of them were dirty, other’s looked brand-new.
“There ya go,” the man startled us from our snooping, “They’re in perfect condition now.” He
walked back to his garage and set his tools down.
“It’s a pretty hot day… wouldn’t want you kids burnin’ up out here. Why don’t you two come
inside for some lemonade? My wife makes it fresh.”
Jay and I briefly swapped a look of trepidation before we scrambled to fetch our bikes and
clambered back through the hole. We scurried back through the woods, and hopped on our bikes whenwe arrived at the sidewalk.
When we returned home, our mother was sipping iced tea on the front porch.
“What’s wrong with you two?” She asked, noticing how short-winded we were. I began to stutter, but Jay interjected.
“We were racing, Ma.”
She tipped her head in a nod, “Well, go clean yourselves up. Dinner’s almost ready.”