The strange man-boy shot his gaze up, down, smelling fright somewhere, terror and awe in the vicinity. Will balled himself tight and shut his eyes. He felt the terrible gaze shoot through the leaves like brown needle-darts, pass on. Then, rabbit-running, the small shape lit off down the empty midway.
Jim was first to stir the leaves aside.
Mr Dark was gone, too, in the evening hush.
It seemed to take Jim forever to fall down to earth. Will fell after and they both stood, clamorous with alarms, shaken by concussions of silent pantomime, blasted by events all the more numbing because they ran off into the night unknown. And it was Jim who spoke from their mutual confusion and trembling as each held to the other’s arm, seeing the small shadow rush, luring them across the meadow.
“Oh, Will, I wish we could go home, I wish we could eat. But it’s too late, we saw! We got to see more! Don’t we?”
“Lord,” said Will miserably. “I guess we do.”
And they ran together, following they didn’t know what on out and away to who could possibly guess where.
Out on the highway the last faint water-colours of the sun were gone beyond the hills and whatever they were chasing was so far ahead as to be only a swift-fleck now shown in lamplight, now set free, running, into dark.
“Twenty-eight!” gasped Jim, “Twenty-eight times!”
“The merry-go-round, sure!” Will jerked his head. “Twenty-eight times I counted, it went around back!”
Up ahead the small shape stopped and looked back.
Jim and Will ducked in by a tree and let it move on.
“It”, thought Will. Why do I think “it”? He’s a boy, he’s a man…no…it is something that has changed, that’s what it is.
They reached and passed the city limits, and swiftly jogging, Will said, Jim, there must’ve been two people on that ride, Mr Cooger and this boy and — “
“No. I never took my eyes off him!”
They ran by the barber shop. Will saw but did not see a sign in the window. He read but did not read. He remembered, he forgot. He plunged on.
“Hey! He’s turned on Culpepper Street! Quick!”
They rounded a corner.
The street lay long and empty in the lamplight.
Leaves blew on the hopscotch-chalked sidewalks.
“Will, Miss Foley lives on this street.”
“Sure, fourth house, but — “
Jim strolled, casually whistling, hands in pockets, Will with him. At Miss Foley’s house they glanced up.
In one of the softly lit front windows, someone stood looking out.
A boy, no more and no less than twelve years old.
“Will!” cried Jim, softly. “That boy — “
“Nephew, heck! Keep your head away. Maybe he can read lips. Walk slow. To the corner and back. You see his face? The eyes, Will! That’s one part of people don’t change, young, old, six or sixty! Boy’s face, sure, but the eyes were the eyes of Mr Cooger!”
They both stopped to enjoy the swift pound of each other’s heart.
“Keep moving.” They moved. Jim held Will’s arm tight, leading him. “You did see Mr Cooger’s eyes huh? When he held us up fit to crack our heads together? You did see the boy, just off the ride? He looked right up near me, hid in the tree, and boy! It was like opening the door of a furnace! I’ll never forget those eyes! And there they are now, in the window. Turn around. Now, let’s walk back easy and nice and slow…We got to warn Miss Foley what’s hiding in her house, don’t we?”
“Jim, look, you don’t give a darn about Miss Foley or what’s in her house!”
Jim said nothing. Walking arm in arm with Will he just looked over at his friend and blinked once, let the lids come down over his shiny green eyes and go up.
And again Will had the feeling about Jim that he had always had about an old almost forgotten dog. Some time every year that dog, good for many months, just ran on out into the world and didn’t come back for days and finally did limp back all burred and scrawny and odorous of swamps and dumps; he had rolled in the dirty mangers and foul dropping-places of the world, simply to turn home with a funny little smile pinned to his muzzle. Dad had named the dog Plato, the wilderness philosopher, for you saw by his eyes there was nothing he didn’t know. Returned, the dog would live in innocence again, tread patterns of grace, for months, then vanish, and the whole thing start over. Now, walking here he thought he heard Jim whimper under his breath. He could feel the bristles stiffen all over Jim. He felt Jim’s ears flatten, saw him sniff the new dark. Jim smelled smells that no one knew, heard ticks from clocks that told another time. Even his tongue was strange now, moving along his lower, and now his upper lip as they stopped in front of Miss Foley’s house again.