The following Saturday, my parents decided to go biking. In the 70’s, there were no fancy Spandex biking outfits, elbow gear or helmets. People just threw on a pair of jeans and old tennis shoes and went for it. My mother had a child’s seat for me on the back of her bike, which I loved. I couldn’t see a thing in front of us, but I got to watch the world whizz by on the sides. It was bouncy and windy and kind of scary. I loved it when we’d all go riding.
There were a few people hanging around the high school behind our house, but we were able to coast between the portable buildings unobstructed. The tick-tick-tick of the 10-speeds echoed all around us, slicing through the eerie silence. We stopped to explore and I was set down to walk around on my own. A broken window a few feet away immediately caught my eye. I toddled around the tiny, weed-filled garden that marked the intersection of three drab, beige buildings and peered through the lower pane someone smashed into one of the classrooms. Inside, on top of a desk pushed against the other side of the window, there were small stack of books, notepads, and various other school supplies. A spindly marble queen snaked around the perimeter of the window and across the back side of the desk, one of the leaves escaping through the breakage to sun itself.
There were cassette tapes, too. Rows of white tapes with blue, lined labels. Someone had penciled a band name on each one: Earth, Wind and Fire, The Jacksons, KC and The Sunshine Band, Blondie. My mother listened to a lot of music, so I had heard of most of them. I urgently needed to have one. I looked around and saw my parents’ backs turned. I gingerly reached up through the broken window, careful not to touch the glass. I pulled out a Bee Gees, then found the bravado to add an ABBA. I was sweating and shaking – I knew what I was doing was wrong. I looked around again; no one was there. Heat rose in the pit of my stomach. I felt dizzy and my forehead was clammy. I shoved the tapes in my pocket and skittered away from the building, exhilarated. And kind of sick.
I scurried to where I had left my parents. They were gone.
I was already getting nervous when I heard voices. I trotted in that direction, but it wasn’t them. Instead, it was a large group of kids – maybe a dozen of them – no older than 10. I panicked and ducked around the corner. I didn’t know these people and I knew better than to approach a group of strangers alone, even if they were just kids. They didn’t see me, so I tiptoed around the other buildings to look for my parents. I couldn’t find them anywhere. Tears welled up in my eyes as terror set in. I stood trembling, not knowing what to do.
“Hi!” A voice cut through the air, “What’s your name?” The group of kids was approaching, led by a kind-faced little girl about my age. I was too afraid to answer and just glanced at her from under my bangs. “Are you here by yourself?” I gave her a shallow nod. “Well, come on. You can play with us.” She grabbed my hand and pulled me in the direction of her friends. Nerves were making my vision go white and I didn’t know what to say or do, so I let her lead me around while I kept an eye out for my parents.
The kids were all very friendly and comfortable with each other and soon I started to calm down. Before long, one of them said they needed to go home to get…something. The last word didn’t seem to fit, so I figured I misunderstood and just ignored it. “Do you want to come to our house with us?” The little girl asked.
I looked around, still hoping my parents would appear. “Sure,” I said, seeing two adult men, strangers, walking toward us. I didn’t want to be alone at the school anymore and would have gone just about anywhere with this girl.
“Okay, come on!” We walked out of the schoolyard, the girl still holding my hand. Their house was around the corner and five or six down. The door was unlocked and we all piled in, me at the back of the line. Like little ducklings, we walked through the foyer, down the hall and into the first bedroom. When the little girl – the last in line – turned the corner, I could see into the living room straight ahead.
Pressed deep into the couch was a large, leathery man with big, unruly hair. He looked odd, like something was wrong with him. He didn’t budge when we passed and I noticed his eyes were slitted, like he was half asleep. An ashtray perched on his knee and a beer dangled from his forefinger and thumb. He stared at a TV screen, but didn’t seem to see it. There were other adults, too. Each one was quiet and they were all staring off in different directions. It was an eerie feeling; like they were there, but not. When I turned the corner, the bedroom was crammed with kids. Some had flopped onto one of the two beds, one was on the floor, two were parked at a table and the rest were lined up like they were waiting for something. The little girl was still at the back of the line. “Do you want some?”
“Some what?” I asked.
“It’s called a ‘hit,’ and it feels really good.”
The other kids started chiming in. “Yeah, you’ve got to try it! It feels really good.”
“What is it?” I asked, my nose crinkled. I peered over the little girl to look at the table and saw the youngest boy with his arm out, a large rubber band wrapped tightly around it. One of the oldest boys was holding the arm and with his other hand, pushed a syringe into the little boy’s vein. I expected the little boy to yelp like I do at the doctor’s, but he didn’t. His expression went slack and his head lolled back, a creepy smile relaxing across his face. “Um, maybe,” I said, terror shooting through me again. “Can I use the bathroom first?”
“Sure,” said the little girl. “It’s right across the hall.” Then she turned to watch the next kid get his hit.
Alarm bells went off in my head. I knew nothing about drugs, but I knew whatever was happening at that house was not good for me. I crept as quietly as possible down the hall to the front door, praying not to alert anyone who might grab me, hold me down and force a needle into my arm. Maybe they wouldn’t have done that, but I didn’t know, so I was careful not to call attention to myself. I found the front door and turned the knob ever so quietly. Thankfully, the door didn’t creak. I didn’t look back to see if anyone noticed, I just stepped out and gently latched the door behind me. As soon as my hand left the doorknob, I turned and ran as fast as I could in the direction I thought we had come from and didn’t stop until I reached the school.
I finally slowed down but, remembering the two men I saw before, kept moving so I wouldn’t cross paths with them again. I had no idea how to get home, but something told me to just keep going. A block or two away I came to a familiar corner. I stopped, looked around and recognized my babysitter’s house. This was my street! Relieved, I turned left and made my way to our front door. I stepped inside to look for my parents. They weren’t home.
Hours later, when they finally did come home, neither said a word about losing me. They didn’t ask me where I’d been and didn’t accuse me of taking off. They just greeted me with half smiles and went about their day as though everything was normal. I wasn’t really sure what to do, so I went about my day, too. In my entire lifetime, no one ever brought it up again.
Author’s note: This concludes chapter 1. Thank you for reading. Comments and critiques are always welcome!