Adam declined Mrs. G.’s offer to drive him home. Mr. Gunderman might already know that he lives in the church’s bell tower and not try to rescue him, but he knew Mrs. G. didn’t know. If she did, she might say, “A boy should not live alone.”
Ordinarily, a long walk would have cleared away fuzzy thinking and self-pity. But, not today. Adam was too tired. He had walked all the way across town to visit Mr. G. in the hospital. Then, he moved furniture and chopped up a tree for Mrs. G. He started back to the church but the walk brought on a weariness he had never experienced before. He was tired to the bone. And, along with such a shroud of exhaustion, depression swooped in and took over the boy.
He hurried past the next corner. That was where he would turn if he were going to Fritzy’s house. He didn’t want to see her.
A group of children were gathered on Tony Hammond’s concrete driveway turning two long ropes in double-dutch. With a child on each end, they rhythmically turned two ropes, as a row of waiting children jumped rope in double time.
Cousins, Adam guessed and secretly envied the size of their family. Cousins are always
around, if you have some. In New York there were more cousins in the clan than I could count.
But, that was then. Nothing’s the same now.
Two girls passed him on the sidewalk, giggled and moved on. They are laughing at me, he thought and anger rose up again. They know I am a Schumacher, the son of a deserter. He hung his head in shame.
He started to cross the street when that same blue car, that had been on the farm road, pulled up beside him. Adam was afraid. Was the man following him? If so, why?
“Shoemaker, right?” The man rolled down his window and leaned out.
Adam kept on walking. He felt very uncomfortable around him. He didn’t know why but that was the problem. He didn’t know the man.
“Some families changed the spelling and pronunciation of their name when they came to this country,” the man smiled.
“I suppose.” Adam kept on walking and said no more.
“Sometimes, the Immigration Officers at Ellis Island took in more information than they could handle. They gathered passenger arrival records, border crossings, emigration records, and passports, but they sometimes got the emigrant’s name spelled wrong, like Shoemaker for Schumacher.”
“You said you don’t know any Schumachers in town, Son?”
I’m not your son. I’m nobody’s son. Adam decided he’d better not pick a fight with the stranger.
Suddenly, Adam could hear the man’s thoughts racing through his head. How is that possible? How can I hear him thinking?
“Gotta get this kid to believe me. His whole life depends on it.”
To Adam, the man’s thoughts were terrifying. But, his spoken words were calm and reassuring.
“Look,” the man said, “I’m just trying to find the Schumacher family and since your name is an Americanization of that old-country name, I have to believe you may know them.”
Again, the man’s unspoken message was heard. “How do I make him believe me? What I have to tell him could change his life.”
Adam looked neither right nor left. He kept his head down and continued to walk. A biting sleet pounded harder and the ice stunk his face.
“At least let me take you home,” the man offered as he slowly followed the boy.
“No thank you.” Adam’s teeth chattered as he tried to sound strong and brave.
“Ah, come on. I know you’re cold. Just look at you. You’re shaking.” The man in the blue car continued to coast along beside the boy. He shifted gears every once in a while.
Maybe his car will stall out, Adam hoped.
“Watch out,” the man warned as Adam nearly stepped into a sleety puddle. Again, the man’s inner thoughts escaped. “Gotta make this kid believe or the whole thing won’t work.”
I can take care of myself. His heart felt like it would pound out of his chest until it broke free.
“See, I told you,” the man mocked as Adam slopped through the slush. “You need to let me drive you home. Come on. The heater is warm and I’m a friendly guy.” He smiled broadly at
Adam as he coasted along behind him.
Why am I getting such scary feelings from this man? The boy was afraid the car’s bumper would brush his legs if he slowed in his steps. He felt stalked. Fear rose up within him and he started to run.
Adam slipped with every step. He stumbled and slid his way along the streets toward the church. The blue car kept up with him as he covered every block.
“Let us push him off road,” the shadow people groaned. “We will obey your feelings.”
Adam refused to acknowledge the evil ones, even though he desperately needed help. When he got to Jefferson Park, he turned abruptly and sprinted past the swings and into the woods.
Let that guy try to follow me through the park. Then he feared, Maybe he’ll get out of his car and chase me on foot.
Adam trembled as he stood behind the trunk of a large tree. He had to catch his breath in the thin air that filled his lungs with ice until his chest ached. He waited but had to stand guard too. He had to know if the man was behind him.
Adam could see his breath hang in the air like a cloud of steam around him. He wished he could stop breathing. If the guy was behind him, he might be able to see the icy mist. What should he do? Is he there? Will he drive around and be there when I come out on the other side of the park?
Cautiously, he peered around the hickory tree and searched the space behind him. The darkness was coming on faster than he thought it would but he was grateful for the cover of night. In the dim light, he could see no one. All was quiet. All was still.
He tried to catch his breath by filling his lungs with slow, deliberate gulps of air. He felt
his lungs freeze with pain every time he inhaled and his chest ached with the cold. The air sacs in his lungs could not expand any further and yet he could still barely breathe. He waited in the darkness and rubbed his hands over his chest. He hoped to feel warmth return to his body. Adam cupped his hands and blew the warmth of Shaddi into them, then placed them palms down on his chest. Once his head was clear enough and his lungs began to fill again, he made a plan.
Shaddi, place the cloak of invisibility over me. The simple request made him feel safe and strong. He was angry with himself for being afraid and he was determined not to let fear call out to the Shadow People.
He would leave the woods on a path perpendicular to his entrance. If the man tried to continue to look for him, he might believe that Adam would have run straight through the park and come out on the opposite side, not at a right angle to his entrance.
Adam continued to pant but he gulped in all the air he could until he reached the church. His heart pounded hard and fast. He took the key Mr. G. had given him, unlocked the door, slipped in, and closed it to the sleet that covered his clothes with wet, tiny bits of ice pellets. He leaned on the heavy door and didn’t turn on the light. The only sound was that of his rapidly beating heart. Beyond the door, he heard nothing on the street.
Adam smiled a stiff little smile. His face was so cold, his expression felt frozen in place. As he stood just inside the door of the church, he was glad he was finally home. He didn’t, however, thank God.
I got myself home, he boasted to himself. Home, he laughed sarcastically. Pastor talks about the church being our home. Little did he know. This may be God’s house on Sunday but it is mine tonight and I don’t want to share.
Adam spent the next morning at the church. He buffed the hardwoods until the floor shone in the winter sun as it streamed through the windows. He swept the carpet in the sanctuary and pick at each knit-picky that he saw on the floor. He had to stay busy.
“Adam, I’m glad you’re still here,” Pastor Silverman said when he found the boy in the corner near the grande piano. “Are you about finished here?”
“I’ve been done but had to stay busy.”
“You’re going to wear out the carpet, sweeping it again and again.” Pastor smiled.
“I was teasing, Adam. Relax. I came over to ask if you could help Mr. and Mrs. Stafford this afternoon.”
“Fritzy’s grandparents?” He swelled inside at the thought of being a help to Fritzy through the Staffords. “Sure. What kind of help?”
“They seem to have a rat problem. If you’re not afraid of varmints,” Pastor Silverman smiled. “They’ll pay you for the job,” he added quickly.
“Well, I hate rats but I really do like that green stuff.”
Adam got his jacket and started to walk over to the Stafford home. He walked through some yards in order to avoid the open spaces of the snow covered sidewalk. Blue-car man could appear anywhere at any time. Adam searched the roads as he walked along. He was no where.
Adam rang Fritzy’s grandparents’ doorbell and shuffled from one cold foot to the other. He turned his back to the house as he waited. He didn’t want to feel vulnerable with his back to the street.
“Oh Adam, I am so glad you could come,” Mrs. Stafford nearly pulled the boy into the house. “It’s in this way.”
Adam followed Mrs. Stafford through the living room. He hadn’t even gotten to the dining room yet when he smelled the odor. He didn’t want to say anything in case Mrs. Stafford hadn’t noticed it.
Mrs. S. stopped at the large captain’s chair at the head of the table. She spun around and laughed. “You mean to tell me, Adam Shoemaker, you can’t smell that awful stench?”
“Sure I can. I just didn’t know if you could,” Adam admitted with a polite grin.
“That is why you are here, my boy.” She smoothed over the obvious work to be done as she started into the kitchen.
“Tell me more,” Adam said but didn’t move.
“We have a partial basement under the kitchen and dining room and a crawlspace under the livingroom. Rats have gotten into the crawlspace and seem to have—died there.” Mrs. Stafford closed her eyes and held her breath.
“Wow,” Adam whispered at the thought of how much he hated rats.
“Mr. Stafford had to go to Lancaster today. He said he’d be home by supper and to pay
you twenty-dollars if you’d take the job. It’s nasty.”
“Twenty-dollars?” Adam couldn’t believe his good fortune. That would be two full days salary for a man. “I’ll do it. It’s all legal, right? There’s no dead body down there except rats, is there?”
“Right.” Alma Stafford went to the kitchen sink and took a pair of rubber loves from the storage space underneath. “Here, you won’t have to touch anything,”
“Thanks. I’m not real anxious to play with the little critters.”
Adam cautiously crept down the basement steps. He looked for rats but hoped he wouldn’t find any. He studied the area and spied a cellar door on the opposite wall that led out into the backyard. He approached that exit, walked up the cement steps and checked the deadbolt on the door. The latch was unlocked. He turned, then had a better thought. For precaution, he opened the slanted double wooden cellar doors wide.
Back down the steps, he faced the other wall again.
“Are you alright down there Adam?” Mrs. S. hollered down the stairs.
“Yes Ma’am. I’m just setting the stage for a quick and easy exit.”
“Good thinking,” she said.
There was something on the floor near the wall. The little blob was about the size of a baby kitten but Adam didn’t want to cuddle it. He tiptoed over and leaned down to get a better look.
The thing twitched!
“Yuck! he shuddered.
It twitched again.
Adam put on the rubber gloves and held his breath. The odor was horrible. He grabbed the rat by the tail, ran up the cellar steps and flung the beastly stench into the back yard.
“Hope that’s it,” he gagged.
He avoided the opening into crawlspace while he edged his way over to the spot. Something shinny was easily seen inside the narrow space. “Eyes?” he shuddered again.
He eased his hand hesitantly into the opening. Something hard. He jerked his hand back.
“I can do this,” he insisted. “Shaddi, I can’t stand any part of this. I don’t have to like what I’m doing, I just have to do it.” A sense of determination filled him.
He reached again for the shinny object. In his mind, he saw eyes, hundreds of beady eyes. “Don’t be silly, Shoemaker. If a rat’s dead, their eyes wouldn’t shine.” He cautiously reached out on the left. The mysterious piece was thin, cold and hard.
“A pocket knife?”
Scratch. The sound came from deeper inside the crawlspace.
He withdrew the cold metal and studied the surface closely. “B. P.” he said as he touched the initials. “Buddy Phillips,” he nodded and jammed the knife into his jeans pocket.
He heard another noise and knew what he had to do. He hoisted himself into the four foot tall crawlspace and slithered on his stomach. The putrid odor was stronger the farther he crawled. The space was dark but there was enough light to see the tail of another rat a few inches from his left hand. He grabbed the ugly thing by a hind foot, backed out of the space and dashed up the cellar steps and gagged as he went.
Hold it! Hold it! he commanded himself. At the top of the steps, he flung the rat and his lunch at the same time. He doubled over and threw up again.
“Shaddi,” Adam pleaded, “you have given me super smell. Please, I beg of you, turn it
off for a while.” Adam felt a numbness in his nose. “Thanks.”
With steely determination, he threw himself back into the space under the floor, reached,
grabbed and pulled another dead rodent out. He ran up the steps, threw the rat into the yard and hacked up some more of his last meal.
“Shaddi,” he gagged. “It’s hard to smell now, but it’s still easy to up-chuck. Not sure how that works.”
Adam drug himself back into the basement and stared at the crawlspace opening again. He knew he had to go back under. Over on an old white wooden table on the left wall he spied a flashlight.
“Please work, please work” he willed the battery beam. He pushed the button and closed his eyes. Light burst forth.
He jumped up on the ledge that led to the space and crawled inside again. With the flashlight clutched firmly in his left hand, he flashed the beam right and left. Nothing but dirt. Ahead was not as clean. Two more dead rats lay on the ground. He grabbed them by anything that stuck out and started to ease himself back while violently retching.
Adam took one last look around before leaving. He flashed the light into the deeper recesses of the space. He saw no other rats—except. In the middle of the area was a heavy, thick cross beam that ran the full length of the house. Just beyond the beam he could see another filthy carcass. But, there was no way to reach the ugly critter.
He backed out for the last time, dashed up the steps, flung the two decaying disgusting disease carriers into the burn barrel in the back yard and commenced to throw up again. It felt like he emptied everything down to his toenails.
I didn’t eat that much for lunch. Must be breakfast and last night’s dinner too.
“Adam?” Mr. Stafford called down the basement steps.
“Coming.” Adam raced back down the cellar steps and up the basement staircase. “Yes Sir,” he panted.
“You okay, Son?” The older man patted Adam on the shoulder as soon as he came up.
“Here Adam. Have a glass of ginger ail. You’ll feel a whole lot better. ” Mrs. Stafford offered. “I could hear your sacrifice.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mr. Stafford appeared to be embarrassed. “I had no idea there would be that many. Thank you so much.”
“I’m afraid there’s more,” Adam said. “There is one trapped in the middle of the room above the crawlspace and I can’t get to it due to the cross beams.”
“The middle of that room is the living room.” Mrs. Stafford threw her apron up over her face. “Oh dear, our New Year’s Eve party will have to be cancelled.”
“The stench is pretty bad, Honey, but, maybe no one will notice,” Willard Stafford stifled a laughed, then couldn’t contain himself any longer. He dissolved into great gulps of laughter.
Alma stared at him, then smacked his shoulder and grinned. “Well, do you have another solution?”
“Adam, you pull the carpet back in the living room and I’ll go get the tools.” Mr. S. said as he started for the tool shed out back.
“Willard Stafford, what are you going to do?” Alma folded herself onto a kitchen chair like a limp linen tea towel.
“Only what has to be done, Dear.”
“I don’t think I’m going to like any of this,” she complained.
The large Persian carpet spanned the center of the living room to within a foot of the wall on all four sides. Adam moved all the furniture from the right side of the living room to the left. He grabbed hold of one corner of the carpet and pulled it diagonally across the room in the direction of the stacked sofa and chairs.
“I have what I need,” Mr. Stafford said as he marched back into the living room like an Army General as he staged an attack.
“What can I do to help?” Adam offered.
“Thank you, Adam but Mrs. Stafford will be as mad as a starving she-lion when I’m done. I don’t want you to get in her path. I’ll have to do this myself but please stand by in case I need to be resuscitated.” Willard reached out his hand. “The gloves please.”
Alma Stafford and Adam sat down in the remaining pieces of living room furniture and watched in stunned disbelief. Willard took his brace and bit in hand and drilled a small hole right in the middle of the living room floor. Then he placed the pointed end of a keyhole saw in the opening and gradually cut out a crude opening in the middle of the oak hardwood.
Alma said nothing. She sat in stunned silence.
Willard laid on the floor, reached into the opening and fished around for the last beastly body. “It’s in here.” He touched the rat and his face turned white. “Oh no,” he shuddered as he jumped to his feet, as fast as a grandfather can leap, and dashed outside. He gagged the whole way out the front door.
“I’ll try to get it Ma’am,” Adam volunteered but didn’t want to. The last rat out was probably the first one in and the first to die.
Adam had given Mr. Staffer the gloves so his hands were bare. He closed his eyes and whispered one word, “Shaddi.”
The slimy, decayed skin of the grotesque creature had dried in one spot of the underbelly. It was hard for Adam to pull it loose, all the while he stifled his gag response. He slid his fingernails under the slippery body and popped the tiny spot up.
He couldn’t aim for the back yard, it was too far away. So, he pulled the maggot infested rat from under the living room floor of one of the most elegant homes in Middletown and ran out the front were he jammed the indescribable rodent into a snow drift where it could remain on ice. Adam threw up whatever was left in his stomach then rolled his bare hands in another snow pile as he tried to wash off the slithery slim.
Mrs. Stafford followed them onto the porch and brought her apron up around her shoulders. “Thank you gentlemen. That is what I call bravery.”
Sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on amazon.com and b&n.com. If you remember snail-mail, for a better price, check out offer at www.dorisgainesrapp.com.