A journal of narrative writing.
by Bill Beverly

Will looked inside.

“Don't eat it all. It's not good for you.” The meter man picked up his clipboard and there was a rattle. The big pen fell between the edge of the countertop and the oven and went all the way to the floor. “God darn it,” he said. “Well, chief, I guess if your hands are small enough, you just got yourself a pen.”

“I can have it?” said Will.

“Sure. I'm late,” the meter man said.

Will thrust his hand between the counter and oven. It was a little farther back than he thought, but he could get it. It would just take him a while to fish it out.

After the meter man went away, Will went out back to check on the pool. It was filling up--the water was a foot deep now. He sat watching the hose run. Bugs buzzed in the dry line of trees between where they lived and where he was now--the woods were right next door, practically.

He could see why Dennis said not to let anyone know about this.

Someone coughed at Will. It was an older boy, dragging along a stick with a dead mop of leaves at its end. He stood on the woodsline like the yard was off limits to him.

“Hey,” said Will, noncommittally.

“Do you live there now?”

The boy had freckles you could see from the other side of the yard. Will wondered what he meant: do you live there now? Do you live there now?

“I said, do you live there?” said the boy.

“Yeah, I live here,” Will said. “My big brother is inside.”

“Are you filling that pool?”

The question seemed dumb, and Will didn't say anything. He tried to stick his hands in his pockets but his pants didn't have any, so they bounced and he had to hitch his shoulders up again.

The boy dropped his stick. He peered over the edge of the pool from outside the row of bushes. “I swimmed in this pool before,” he said.

Will gauged the boy. He was about twelve, Dennis's age.

“Where's the girl who lives here?” the boy said.

“What girl?”

“Okay,” the boy exhaled. He pointed at something vaguely around. “I live right over there. A girl lives here. She's Kristen.”

“Oh, yeah. My brother is inside with her,” Will said.

“What do you mean, inside with her?” the boy said.

It was a question he didn't right away answer. The boy stepped across the bushes and came up close. He had eyes the color of sheets; they seemed to focus and refocus like a thing under water. Will looked away, into the pool. Something was occurring to him. It wasn’t the pool or the woods. What Dennis and the girl were doing inside was the secret. He knew this suddenly, as sudden as waking up wet in the night.

It was secret because this had happened before. One day a man he hadn't seen before got to yell at them, and they stayed in trouble for a long time that time for something Will hadn't done. Gigantic trouble. The man had a white shirt on with buttons and he kept sticking his fingers between the buttons and rubbing his chest. All the time he yelled and the orphanage ladies were agreeing with what he was saying: he and Dennis were going to be sent away. They kept talking about a girl and her name was Beryl. She was a friend of Dennis's but Dennis didn't let Will see Beryl. Beryl was just someone Will could pretend he knew.

The boy was staring. Will felt a vague ache. “We live here now,” he insisted again.

“Sure you do,” the boy said.

Will wondered if Beryl was a secret he had let out.

It was because of the gigantic trouble that they got to leave and go back to the orphanage where the boy with jaggedy teeth lived. It was because of Beryl that it worked. He could see how the freckle-faced boy was a part of it. The boy was already leaning toward the back door.

The cat was drinking water, its tail switching like a railroad warning: stop here, stop here. Will kicked it aside and the strange-eyed boy looked at the shelves on the kitchen walls. The sugar canister sat open in the middle of the floor.

“It's all right,” said Will. “We're supposed to be in here.”

The boy seemed to know where everything was. He stopped a moment and looked at the TV, switched the channel with a button Will couldn't see, and moved on. Will pretended that he knew the house too, that it had become a home away from home. But just exactly what was the lie he was supposed to tell? The boy went up a half-stairway into a hallway above. On the wall beside the stairway were pictures of the girl, small and big, always with the same white hair.

“This is it,” the boy said. “Kristen's room.” The carpet under their feet was the color and thickness of a dog.

Kristen? Will had forgotten her name already. Faintly, his brother and the girl Kristen were whispering inside.

“What are they doing?” the other boy said very softly.

The whispering stopped from inside. Will heard Dennis clear his throat and speak. “Will?” he said. “If you open that door, I am going to kill you.”

“It's locked,” came the girl's whisper.

Will stared at the door. A sign with a rainbow said Kristen. Each letter was a different color. Then Dennis called his name again, fishing for him.

He and the pale-eyed boy were as still as could be. Will's chest was knocking as if his heart wanted out, wanted to be go somewhere else. After a minute he heard Dennis breathe out and laugh--”It's okay,” he apologized in his voice, the dishonest one. Then the noise began to come from the bed. It was a rhythm like the rhythm of a car packed with suitcases as it ran the cracks in a road. Will remembered it from before but not as close up. The whole hallway was a shadow. A change came over the other boy that Will could feel too: a shiver. The boy seemed about to bang on the door, but he couldn't focus his hand. Will grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him away.

To move the boy seemed like magic, like Will had become very old and smart about things. The boy moved as easily as a toy on the end of a string. Quietly Will towed him out to the kitchen. Then he wasn't sure what to say. They stood there. Somehow someone had spilled sugar on the floor, not just a little of it. The white grains whispered under their feet.

“I'm going home.” The freckled boy's voice was a cat squeak. “I'm telling.”

Yes, thought Will, that's it.