The boys still played in the back woods and the yards next to the houses with no lights, even after the parents begged them not to.
The boys bent spoons and sought the deep dark of basements. Boys will play in basements with no windows or bulbs, with bare concrete. Boys who are it will hide in the dark and beg to be found when the footsteps are strange and heavy.
The boys played in the backwoods and in the side yards of the houses of the strangers several streets away. They played on summer nights when the strange windows would reverberate red and a shock of skyline from the second story. The boys saw no-one in the windows but they always felt a watching. Boys will bear their dread in weird ways. They will imagine the monsters of life with serrated teeth and cruel laughter. They will see shadows or shapes from which they will hide beneath the flannel sheets. Boys will not imagine men who resemble the men that sleep upstairs with the mothers—they will not imagine the hairy forearms or the familiar smell of sweat through t-shirts in the afternoon heat. They will not imagine boxes of beer in the backseat.
But the parents imagined and so they begged because telling did no good. Tell them to travel in groups of three or more. Tell them to stick to busy streets where they will stay seen. Tell them to run in zig-zags away from the men who smell like the fathers, when these men approach in cars that look much like the fathers’ cars but maybe a bit older, or maybe brand new. Tell them.
And so to save their sons, their boys, their babies, they begged them to play ball in the front yard. Begged them to stay in sight on summer nights while Mom and Dad got drunk to burn the day, to forget that tomorrow was tonight in a few short hours. Stay Lucas. Stay Josh. Stick to the main roads and the streetlights so we can see you. Please don’t go into the back woods. Please just be in our basement, but keep a light on in the back. Boys will stay nearby until the parents forget. Until they forget tomorrow because the day did deepen and because they dance on the flames of right now.
But out front, where the boys play ball: a single car parked across the street, an idling motor. Lucas held a hand up to his brow to help his eyes. The car was like his daddy’s car, only maybe a little older. The day was darker than it’d been a few hours ago, and now it was hard for Lucas to see things he could normally see. He could not see inside the car that parked. He could not see the man who might’ve been his daddy. He could not see the broad shoulders, the hairy arms. As boys from four houses on this block ran back and forth from yard to yard, jumping over shrubs or bicycles laying where they should not be, Lucas tried very hard to find the face behind the windshield, and he wanted his brother to help him look.
Joel Kopplin’s stuff has been in places like Nap, Apt, and Metazen. His novella Spaces is now available from Outpost19. He lives and teaches in La Crosse, WI.