Logan was playing with a football out in the street with his friends. It was the middle of summer. They had nowhere else to be. Summer afforded them that opportunity. Throwing the football around was not the enjoyable part, though. It was simply an excuse for them to all come together, to hang out as friends without any cares in the world. That was what Logan enjoyed, and at this moment it was a football that brought them together in the street to do just that.
His mother didn’t like it. She never approved of Logan playing in the street. Even though they lived on a quiet residential block, she was always afraid for her son’s safety. She had two rules for Logan: look both ways before crossing the street, and stay out of Mr. Hornbuckle’s yard.
No one in the neighborhood liked Mr. Hornbuckle, and he’d given them every reason to feel that way. It was rumored that he had been a rather pleasant fellow before his wife died. That was over twenty years ago, well before any of the neighborhood’s current residents had moved in. The Mr. Hornbuckle they knew was callous and ornery. The Hoopers’ boy, Josh, swore that Mr. Hornbuckle fired a BB gun at him while he’d been skating up and down the sidewalk. Josh’s father was outraged by this and promised he’d “knock the crap” out of that old man, regardless of his age. Mrs. Hooper called the cops, who arrived just in time to witness the confrontation and keep it from getting out of hand. Mr. Hornbuckle had denied the allegation, and verbally berated Mr. Hooper for having raised, “a snot-nosed little liar that clearly takes after his mother’s gypsy ways”. He agreed to let the cops in to look for a weapon. They found none.
The other incidents were less severe. Most people avoided any run-ins with Mr. Hornbuckle, and so did he with others. However, Sally Baxter insisted everyone had good in them and was determined to bring it out of Mr. Hornbuckle. She was the only one who would say anything to him out in public. And every time he would respond with a snide comment about her weight and suggest that she shouldn’t even bother existing if she’s so determined to “look like that”.
He was a vile man. Everyone simply knew this. That only made Mr. Hornbuckle more interesting to the children of the neighborhood. The many stories of his anti-social behavior were embellished inside many a clubhouse or blanket fort. Rather than firing a BB at Josh Hooper, it was told that he’d tossed a grenade underneath the boy’s skateboard, putting him in the hospital for two weeks. And the neighborhood kids surmised that the large crates occasionally delivered to his door contained Asian children he had purchased on the black market. Guessing what he would do to them became a schoolyard game where the object was to invent an act even more outlandish or atrocious than the previous one.
So, when Mark suggested sneaking a look inside the Hornbuckle House, Logan was understandably uneasy. Unlike the traffic which rarely existed on Van Lang Street, Mr. Hornbuckle seemed like a very real danger to him.
“Just a quick look,” Mark repeated. “Maybe we’ll find one of the Asian kids he makes rugs out of.”
“Or that he boils into glue!” David added gleefully. He was a lanky blond who wore glasses. Talking seemed to be David’s favorite activity. Despite his chattiness, he rarely seemed to say anything very interesting. The other boys put up with his company because, though annoying at times, David brought a lighthearted energy to the group. Anytime someone was having a tough or stressful time, David’s casual blabbering helped them forget about that. He was usually oblivious to the feelings of others and would carry on as though everything was fine. And that had a way of making everything feel fine.
While Logan was sickened by David’s cheery speculation, AJ laughed politely. He was the most charismatic of them all. It was a natural result of his friendliness. AJ always had his light brown hair neatly combed and often wore slacks unlike the others who were typically in jeans. It gave him a kind, mature appearance, and he had a personality to match. He was the most recent of the boys to move into the neighborhood. The others had quickly befriended AJ, and they particularly enjoyed his stories of the many different places he’d lived growing up. His father was a consultant, but AJ wasn’t really sure what that meant. All he knew was that it kept them moving. His father’s latest project brought them to Nampa where the family settled into the house next to Logan’s.
“Come on. Don’t be chicken,” Mark said. He was the self-appointed leader. None of the others really liked him all that much, but he was loud and called the shots. He was freckled with red hair, something he’d been teased about often. Mark had always been aggressive, though. So, he often got into fights and was quick to throw insults back at anyone who even thought about negatively mentioning his appearance. He was smaller than the others, but he didn’t think so. He grabbed the football away from Drew, an overweight blonde boy with an underbite, and headed across the street.
Drew hesitated. He was never one to make a decision on his own. His hands still rested, palms up, in front of him, holding a football that was no longer there. Mark was already on the other side of the street, but the rest of the gang stood their ground. This calmed the fear that had arisen in Drew at the mention of Mr. Hornbuckle. It was a fear he’d never admit. His weight was regularly the topic of childish teasing, so he often made an effort to seem braver than he really was. He didn’t want to give anyone more reason to mock him. Peer pressure was Drew’s only guide, helping him stay in the public’s good graces.
Then, David hurried to catch up to Mark. The other boys looked around at each other. AJ finally said, “What the Hell,” and went after David. With that, the scale tipped, and Drew had no choice. He went too, leaving Logan behind alone.
Logan didn’t want to go. He thought about his mom’s warning. Then, he looked both ways and crossed the street.
Continue to Part Two