There's something I have to tell you.
We carried on, calling out to each other, Annie, Toby, and me, Heckle. Everyone started calling me that after I had a spell two summers ago imitating Heckle and Jekyll, you know those cartoon characters. Well, I thought it would be funny if I did that all the time. Then it drove people up the wall. My Mom and Dad really hated it. Annie's Dad said I weren't allowed back at the house unless I stopped making funny voices. Toby 's Aunt Della didn't like me to begin with, started spraying me in the face with her water bottle like she does her twelve mean cats. Thank God it was only water. At school it just stuck. For awhile I was mad when people started calling me that, now it's business as usual.
Anyway, we were speeding through the woods, hoping to make it to the quarry before that Trapper kid got there. Roger Trapper was a mean joker. He always picked on Annie and Toby. He liked Annie a little bit, I think he had a crush on her. Toby, he hated him because he was big around the waist. But he didn't bother with me much. I could whip him, and I always had to embarrass him in front of those Krieger boys. Two red headed twins. My Daddy said they were evil incarnate. Whatever that means.
We didn't swim much at the quarry. We just threw rocks down, pretending to be bombing certain countries we'd learned about at school.
We heard noises behind us. Like Indian calls. Jehoshaphat! Those Krieger boys were behind the trees throwing water balloons at us. Trapper was shooting rocks with his sling shot. We took off running through those woods like lightning.
Toby trailed behind Annie and me, yelling out all kinds of bad words about those boys Mothers. I had to stop and go back to get Toby. He stepped into a hole and fell. Last time those Krieger twins pushed Toby' s face in a pile of horse manure they'd found. I grabbed him by the arm and nearly dragged him out in a low valley.
Just when we thought we'd lost them, we heard them rantin' and ravin' that when they caught us we'd have to walk back to town in our underwear.
Annie saw an old boxcar from a train that burned up years ago. We rushed inside and hid. It was dark, hot and smelled like a skunk. No light whatsoever. The three of us were breathing heavy. We listened for those boys. The voices were distant, then silent.
“I think they're gone,” Annie said.
“ Yeah....I hope so,” I added.
“I'm hungry,” Toby said.
We heard another voice. “What are you kids doin' in my box?”
“Heckle, that ain't funny,” Annie said.
“Yeah,” Toby added. “Don't make funny voices in times like this.”
“I didn't say nothin'.” I told them.
We heard the voice again.
“I don't know why you strangers are in my home.”
In a flash we rushed out of that box car screamin' and runnin' . We stopped a few feet from the box car to catch our breath out in a field. We looked behind us and saw a boy of about nine standing there. He was wearing overalls with holes in them and he had bleached blond hair and the biggest red lips I ever saw on a little boy.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Toby screamed.
“Nowhere, tubby. I just followed you out of my box, is all.” The boy said.
“Who are you?” Annie asked.
“Clem Stevens,” The boy said.
“I'm Heckle,” I said. The boy laughed. “This is Annie and Tubby,” I laughed. The boy laughed along with me.
“Toby, damn it!” He punched me in the arm.
“Where are your parents?” Annie eyed him suspiciously.
Clem shrugged. 'I don't have any.”
“C'mon,” Toby said. “Everybody has got some kind.”
“Nope. I don't.”
“Even when you was small?” I asked.
“I don't remember,” He said.
We looked at each other. We felt bad for Clem. He seemed alright, and we figured everybody needs someone. So being friends with him is a bit like having parents.
“We're going to the sweet store, get a root beer float or something. You wanna come?” Toby asked him.
“Sure,” He smiled, his chipped teeth showing. “I never been to the sweet store.”
“It's not a for real sweet store, I mean it's got candy too. But really it's just a deli.” I told him.
“What in the world is a deli?”
“Don't you eat?” Toby piped up.
“Of course I eat!” Clem fired back. “I find stuff people throw away.”
“Yuck!” We all three said together.
“How long you been in that old train box?” I asked.
“I don't remember. A long time I guess.”
At the sweet shop, we were enjoying our ice cream sodas and sandwichs when Roger Trapper stumbled in. Two seconds later, the Kreiger boys pushed their way in, almost knocking an old couple down.
The three of them ambled over, stood behind us at the table. We ignored them as much as possible.
“You got a new friend I see,” Roger said. “Looks like another looser.”
“Stop picking on us!” Toby screamed.
One of the Kreiger boys poured ketchup all over Toby. Roger laughed took the mustard and squirted me.
Suddenly, all the mustard and all the ketchup was stripped from my shirt and lifted off of Toby' s head, floated in the air a few seconds, then shot over on top of Roger and the kreiger boys. The ketchup bottle and the mustard bottle turned on them and added more to their shirts and faces. By the time the three of them were squealing like girls heading out the Sweet shop's door, the ketchup and mustard bottle were chasing after them.
All who were present were stunned.
Mrs. Deets who was working the counter didn't say a word. She took off her name tag and apron, laid them on the counter. She walked from around the counter with that hip-hop limp, and went out the door, her manager calling after her.
He turned to us, grimaced. “You lot get outta here, now!”
We scurried. Out on the sidewalk we ran past the hardware store, grocery store and down Plummer ave. We ran until we came to our neighborhood. We stopped by the Newspaper stand, which was closed by this time. We all looked at each other, wild eyed, laughing.
The laughter died out. We were quiet for awhile. Slowly our eyes went to Clem.
“How'd you do that?” I asked. None of us was smiling now.
“That was weird,” Annie said. “I'm not sure if your a witch or what.”
“He can't be a witch,” Toby said. “ He would be a Warlock.”
“Whatever you are,” Annie said with conviction. “I don't want to be around you.”
“Me either.....” Toby said. They started off toward Toby' s house.
“Wait a minute!” I yelled to them. They stopped, turned to me. “I don't know how Clem did that back at the Sweet shop. But he did save our skins.”
Annie and Toby thought a minute. They looked at each other, then back at me.
“I don't care what he did for us,” Toby said. “I'm not hanging around a freak!”
“Me either,” Annie said. “Your with us, Heckle....or your with him.”
“Which is it?” Toby had both hands on his hips, stared at me.
I sighed. It was a heavy burden. I looked at Clem. He was crushed as I walked toward them. “I'm sorry,” I told him. I watched his face change. No more tears in his eyes. They had sizzled on his hot cheeks and turned to ashes.
When I got home. Mom and Dad told me Roger had drown in the quarry. I wasn't surprised. A terrible feeling came over me like choppy waters. I could see it in my mind Roger struggling to catch his breath.
I excused myself and went to my room. The main light wouldn't work. The lamp was on. The lamp I had broken but were afraid to tell Mom and Dad. He was sitting on my bed. He was staring intently at me.
I acted as if it was normal. I went to my desk, faced the chair toward him. “You killed Roger, didn't you.?” I sat down gingerly.
“Yes,” Clem said. “It was easy. I just waited for him to stand closer to the edge of the quarry. I pushed him off.
“Those Kreiger boys didn't know what to think when they saw me glide down those rocks and walk across the water. That's an easy trick.”
“Wont they tell?”
“If they do, no one will believe them.” Clem said.
“Why'd you do it,Clem?”
“Because your my friend,” Clem scoffed. “Always and forever.”
“I don't wanna be your friend anymore.” I told him.
Clem smiled. I felt a shiver run through my body. “It don't matter,” He said. “Your stuck with me. You chose to be my friend. Annie and Toby didn't. Always and forever, Heckle.”
Annie and Toby forgot about him, or choose to not to see him. I know you don't see him. It's okay. All these years, no one has seen him. Unless you choose become his friend.