Continued from Part One
The boys made their way to the house, carefully ducking behind fence and trees along the way. Mark was the first to arrive, touching the side of the house in victory. He turned back and waved the others over.
David, Drew, AJ and Logan joined him at the southeast corner of Mr. Hornbuckle’s home. The house had light blue aluminum siding that had long been in need of a new coat of paint. It was propped up by a cobblestone foundation. The window was just too high to be reached by the young children.
“Lift me up,” Mark commanded. David and AJ held their hands low, gripped together at the fingers, giving Mark footholds to step into. They lifted him up against the window.
“What do you see?” David asked, struggling to support Mark’s weight. “Do you see anything? What do you see?”
The window was mostly covered in a thick film of dirt. Mark wiped the glass, but was unable to remove the grime on the inside of the window. “It’s too dirty,” he said. “I can barely see anything.” He cupped his hands at the sides of his head and leaned his face against the glass. “There’s a bookshelf,” he told the others. “A lot of the books are on the floor.” He pressed his cheek into the pane trying to see around the corner into the hallway. “I think I see–”
The window cracked. Mark pushed away quickly and lost his balance. As he fell backward, the glass broke and fell inside the house. David immediately let go of Mark and began running. Logan and Drew followed after him in a panic.
“Get up! Come on!” AJ pulled on Mark’s arm trying to get him up off the ground. Logan and Drew were now watching from behind a large tree in the yard next door. Mark was able to get on his feet, and AJ helped him to the tree. The four boys waited for several minutes, staring at the broken window and expecting Mr. Hornbuckle to come around the corner at any moment wielding his BB gun or worse.
“Maybe he didn’t hear anything,” AJ finally said. “He’s really old.”
“Maybe he’s sleeping,” Logan offered.
Mark stepped out from behind the tree and said, “Or maybe he’s dead.”
“Where’s David?” Drew asked. They all looked around, but nobody could see David anywhere. AJ hollered out his name a couple of times without any response.
“We need to go inside,” Mark said.
Logan considered running. He knew that Mark was too stubborn and that nothing he would say could change his mind. He also knew that breaking into Mr. Hornbuckle’s house was a terrible idea.
“Hornbuckle would kill us!” Drew shouted at Mark. “We already broke his window.”
“He won’t kill us,” Mark replied. “He’s dead.”
“How would you know that?” Drew asked.
“I saw a hand,” Mark explained. “It was just laying on the floor. The body must be in the hallway. All I could see was the hand. It wasn’t moving or anything.”
Logan relaxed. It was a chilling thought, yet it brought relief. He still didn’t think entering the house was a good idea, but in his mind it was a far less dangerous prospect now.
Mark made his way back to the window.
“What about David?” Drew called out.
Without turning around, Mark answered back, “He’s gone, probably crying under his bed by now.”
Drew, AJ and Logan reluctantly returned to the broken window.
“You have to go in, AJ,” Mark said. “Logan is too chicken, and there’s no way Drew’ll fit.”
This was the kind of blunt talk that solidified Mark as their leader. The slight insults came easily to Mark. He would throw them around casually, and it kept the others in constant fear. Nobody wanted to be on his bad side, in hopes that he wouldn’t call them out in front of the group. It was an insidious emasculation that Mark steadily doled out, and it was effective.
The boys discussed the plan, and once everything was worked out, Mark and Logan helped push AJ up to the window. He grabbed onto the window sill and pulled his body onto it. AJ’s body rested in the window with his legs sticking out and his arms hanging inside. He lifted a leg up onto the window sill and brought himself up on one knee. It was an awkward position with his head ducking in just under the unbroken top pane. He pivoted to face outside so that he could lower himself into the house. Then, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck. His body pushed away reflexively. His leg slipped away, and his torso hit the sill hard.
Mark, Drew and Logan watched his pained face slide out of view, and they heard the thump of AJ’s landing.
“Are you okay? AJ?” Logan called up to the window.
There was no response.
“AJ?” he said again. Dark notions began formulating into coherent thoughts in Logan’s mind. As the possibility of AJ’s death was rising into the forefront of Logan’s consciousness, they heard a response from inside. It was a word muffled through a cough.
“Is that you, AJ? What did you say?” Mark asked. He was jumping up at the window as he spoke, throwing the words through it.
“I’m inside,” AJ called back. “I think I’m bleeding.”
“You have to unlock the front door. Can you do that?” Mark responded while pointing the other boys around the corner. “We’ll be right outside.”
“Yeah, okay,” AJ answered.
The wait was the most stressful time Logan had experienced. Mark, Drew and he stood on the front porch. Mark held open the screen and put his ear up against the door. “I think I hear him,” he said.
The door opened.
“You are bleeding,” Logan said seeing AJ in the doorway. His neck had blood all over it, spread around by AJ’s hand as he must have felt around at the wound.
“Yeah,” AJ said. “I don’t think it’s that bad, though.” He turned around to show the others. “What do you think?”
There was a small cut on the left side of his neck, but it didn’t seem to be bleeding at the moment.
“Looks fine,” Mark said. “A little cut, but that’s all.” He walked inside.
Logan continued to inspect the wound. He was thinking that they should go back home, tell someone about Mark seeing a hand and get a bandage for AJ. Then, he noticed that he was standing outside on the porch by himself. He decided that they could at least see if Mr. Hornbuckle is really dead, and then leave. It wouldn’t take long, he thought.
Inside, AJ explained that he didn’t see anything, that he had been holding his wound for a while and then got to the door as quickly as possible after realizing that he’d probably be okay. He’d completely forgotten about the body until he invited the others into the house. Mark led them slowly on their way through the house.
There were several fallen stacks of newspapers in the foyer. They were in many different languages. The boys stepped around them and entered into the living room. An end table was turned on its side near the broken window. “I think I did that,” AJ said. The room had lime-colored carpeting with a small blood stain near the waylaid end table. They stood right next to the bookshelf that Mark had seen earlier. The books were mostly piled on the floor in front of it along with a couple of random knickknacks. And just beyond it was the hand.
“There he is,” Mark said. He walked over the toppled books approaching the hand lying stiff on the floor, attached to an arm just as stiff.
It was Mr. Hornbuckle. His body had settled onto the floor of his home in an eerie manner with his hand grasping at nothing far away. Logan could see that he was dead, and it felt as though the corpse’s open eyes could see right back at him.
Continue to Part Three