My imagination ran wild whenever I stared at the old house with its peeling white paint and broken windows. Yep, there’s another one broken. Some kids were probably chucking rocks at it.
Why did the Cartwrights up and abandon this house so suddenly last year, leaving behind their TV, couch, beds, old newspapers and various treasures which we neighborhood kids would collect? Maybe they were really outlaws on the lam after their latest bank robbery, and they were finally found out. Who else would live in a secluded house in the woods at the end of a lane?
At that moment, unaware anyone else was there, my body stiffened as a hand grab my shoulder and jerk me around.
“You spyin’ on me, kid?” came a gruff voice from behind me. My feet stayed planted when they should have been running, just like in my nightmares.
Staring me in the face was this dirty, gritty hippie. He smelled like cigarette smoke and sweat and wore a black patch, like Scott and I wore when we played pirates, over his left eye. Brown straggly hair hung down to his shoulders and a thick mustache almost completely hid his top lip.
“No, I.. I was just coming to..,” my voice shook and my eyes opened wide.
“You sure you ain’t just trying to get a look at the freak?”
“I play here a lot; I didn’t know anyone else was back here.”
Did he see the tears forming in my eyes? Is that what caused him to let go of my shoulder?
“Wait a minute,” he paused as if he was trying to make up his mind,
“Uh huh.” My body stopped shaking.
That voice was kind of familiar. Now I paused to make up my mind.
Max! Max Boyd! It couldn’t be!
Max went missing on August 25,1970. My memory was clear on that because it was my birthday, and he had promised me a ride in his 1959 Chevy Corvette Convertible.
Max usually kept to himself, but I liked him. He was a loner, kind of like me. Neither of us had any brothers or sisters, so I looked up to him as the older brother I wished I had.
“Got a light?” he asked.
“What? Uh, no, I don’t smoke.” I said, coming back to my senses.
Propped against his right leg was a cane which he leaned on as he stuck his only hand into the pocket of his jeans to fish something out. Then, just like dominoes falling in line, Max’s cane dropped, his hand became wedged in his pocket, he hopped twice and fell right over. Without thinking, my hand grabbed hold of his left sleeve and held tight to the top of what remained of his left arm. Instead of letting go, I kept holding on, like that time a few years ago when I put my finger on the burner of the stove and just left it there before finally jerking it away. My right hand held tightly to the sleeve while my left hand pressed against Max’s back to heave him up.
He grunted then shook his head, “nuthin’ but a cripple; a 20 year old cripple”.
Staring me in the eye again, he blurted out, “you touched my arm; or what’s left of it!”
I’m sorry,” I pleaded immediately, “it happened so fast, I..”
“My folks,” he interrupted, “they pretend nothing’s wrong. They act like I’m still in one piece; and a kid isn’t even afraid of it.”
Everything happened so fast was all. I had never seen a man with one arm. The closest thing to this was Lefty Shelton, who had lost two fingers on his left hand from a farming accident. It had something to do with a farmer and a cow, no one was ever quite clear about that.
“It’s so cool that you’re back, Max,” I said softly, looking him straight in the eye.
Max’s mouth dropped open when he heard this. He finally spoke up and asked me to keep quiet about seeing him back here.
My mind was racing as Max Boyd, who had disappeared two years ago, was now limping with his cane slowly and unsteadily back down the lane.
Now, Max was home.
Why did he leave and where had he gone? My plan was to help Max get better and to learn the secret behind his disappearance. He seemed to need a friend, and I needed that “ older brother” now more than ever.
What a way to begin summer break that June of 1972!