Thursday, June 21, 2018

READ & RELAX to The Monster Down the Street

a children's literary story


Almondie Shampine

       We walked by the house probably three or four times a day, slowing our pace to glance in through the windows and gaze longingly at the old, rusty swing set. The place looked vacant, like someone hadn’t lived there for a hundred years. Weeds that nearly reached our bellies filled the small yard, and the once gravel driveway was lost in crab grass. Sycamore trees given too much freedom branched out over the house, shading it from the sunlight and adding to its already scariness.

            We never saw any lights on or anyone come and go. We never saw a moving shadow when the sun was setting low and shone light into the two front windows, but from talk in the schoolyard during fourth grade recess, someone lived there, but who?

            “Can’t be human,” my best friend Carrie whispered. We were standing in front of the old, yellowing house, as we did often.

            “No, definitely not,” I agreed.

            “What do you think it is?” she asked.

            “I don’t know.” I kept my eyes fixed on the broken screen door. Hanging from only one rusty hinge, it creaked as the cool breeze pushed it back and forth, back and forth. “Someone that lives in the dark,” I said.

            “With eyes that glow like flashlights.”

            “All alone.”

            “Doesn’t need to leave the house to go grocery shopping because it eats spiders and beetles and bugs.”

            “Just gobbles them up with no teeth.”

            “Except for two fangs to pin them down and suck their blood.”

            “It crawls around on its four claws.”

            “With long, sharp, green nails.”

            “Bloodstains on the tips.”

            “And it’s hairy, like a bear, like a . . . a . . . monster!” Carrie said, reaching for my hand.

            BANG! The broken screen door burst open and slammed into the porch railing. We scampered off squealing like pigs in trouble.

            Summer came round, meaning an extra eight hours of playtime every day. We tried to keep ourselves busy doing other things, like playing countless games of basketball, kickball, and baseball, and zooming through the Deer Run trailer part streets on our bicycles, but something kept us going back to the house everyday. The ground had become a raw brown from where we always stood, fifty feet away from the answers to our constant, quiet questions.

            Maybe it was harmless curiosity, or the fact that neither Carrie or I had a swing set, or maybe it was simply knowing that we didn’t know everything that led us to do what no kid had ever dared to do before. All I know is I’ll never forget the events that followed once we knocked on that old, wooden door.

            It was another boring day in Central Square, New York. I’d awaked to dark clouds and depressing rain, spent the morning reading, the noon hour dozing in front of the television, and the early afternoon staring out the window and loudly moaning my boredom.

            “Joann, why don’t you call Carrie and see what she’s doing?” Mom suggested. I think she just wanted me to stop whining about being so bored.

            Ten minutes later, I was out the door and walking to my best friend’s house. The sky was still dark, and the breeze was moist and cold, but the rain had stopped for now.

            “So, what do you want to do?” she asked.

            I shrugged. “I don’t know.” We sat on the porch steps, licking our berry popsicles in silence. “Do you think maybe it’s lonely?” I asked suddenly.


            “The monster. It sits in that house all day in the dark all alone. Maybe it just needs a friend,” I said.

            “Yea, to eat for dinner.” Carrie laughed.

            “Let’s go see if we can see it through the window.”

            “But we never do,” she whined.

            And there we were, once again, gawking at the house, wondering the same things.

            I gasped. “Look, Carrie, a light.” A dim light shone through one of the small windows, but the window was too high for us to get a good looking at the inside of the house.

            “Boy, those swings look like awful fun,” Carrie said. “It’s too wet out to play kickball, and if we ride our bikes, we’ll get muddy. If only we could just swing on those swings. We’d never be bored again.”

            “I’m going to go ask it if we can play on its swings,” I said. My fear was great, but my curiosity and boredom were greater.

            “What? You’re . . . you’re crazy!” she whispered fearfully. “You’ll get kidnapped and . . . and eaten. You’ll be killed. Remember what Tommy Thompson said, Joann? Anyone who goes up those steps never comes back. Tommy’s in the sixth grade, so he knows,” she warned me.

            I started for the yard.

            “Joann!” she cried.

            “Carrie, if it hates children so much, why does it have a swing set?” I tried to reason with her.

            “To get kids to come into his yard to eat them, just like robbers use candy to kidnap kids,” she answered.

            I paused halfway through the tall, sticky weeds. I was having second thoughts, thinking that maybe this wasn’t such a grand idea after all. No, I’d gotten this far. I was in the middle of a mission and I was not a quitter.

            “Or maybe he just wants a friend, but everyone else is too much of a scaredy pants to knock on the door,” I said.

            “I’m not scared,” she said.

            I challenged her. “Yes, you are.”

            “No, I’m not. I’ll knock on that door myself.” Carrie stubbornly tramped through the lawn, pausing beside me.

            We tiptoed toward the house, hearts pounding and bodies shaking. We grasped for one another’s hand and started up the creaky steps.

            “We both will,” she said. We lifted our trembling fists and softly knocked on the paint-chipped door.

            We heard something! SQUEAK! SQUEAK! The doorknob rattled as it turned. The door groaned as it slowly . . . slowly . . . opened.

            We were ready to bolt like lightning, maybe even faster than that. I couldn’t move my eyes from the door.

            . . . Slowly . . . Slowly . . . “AAAAAAH!” we shrieked.

            “Wait, you’re not a monster,” I said.

            “Did you think I was a monster?” The old, bald man with the bright blue eyes smiled at us.

            “Everyone does. We thought you were a big, hairy monster that ate children, not an old Grandpa,” Carrie admitted.

            I elbowed her. “Carrie!”

            “Well, I do like children for dinner,” he said.

            “Really?” My eyes got wide in fright.

            “Well of course. There’s nothing like having company to help me eat all my food,” he told us.

            My shoulders fell in relief. For a moment I’d thought he was really going to eat us.

            “We don’t like bugs,” Carrie said.

            He laughed, coughed real hard, and then turned serious. “You human beings don’t like bugs?” he teased.

            “Yuck!” We stuck our tongues out.

            “What about dirt? You like to eat dirt?”

            “Gross!” we shouted.

            “Hmm! Well, I do have some chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven, but I don’t think –”

            “Yeeeaah!” we screamed excited.

            “Why don’t you ever leave the house?” Carrie asked him.

            “I can’t get around like I use to,” he said, nodding his head down toward his wheelchair. That’s why we could never see him through the windows.

            He rolled into the kitchen and every time the left wheel went round, it squeaked.

            “Why don’t you ever have any lights on?” I asked, looking around the dark house. The kitchen light was on, but it wasn’t very bright.

            “I’m an old man. It hurts my eyes.”

            After filling up on cookies and milk and promising to eat dinner when we got home, we ran out to finally play on the swing set. It was old and rusty and the chains whined a whole lot, but it didn’t matter to us. Flying through the air, kicking our feet out, leaning forward, and jumping into the fluffy weeds, there wasn’t a better feeling in the entire world.

            We still wondered why an old man would have a swing set. Then he told us it had once been his daughter’s and that she and his wife were now in heaven with God to watch over them.

            Everyday that summer, we went to the house. We would help him clean and keep him company and he would always have some kind of delicious treat for us to munch on. Kids walking by and riding by on their bicycles would stare at us and quietly warn us about waking the monster. We never told them there was no monster, only a nice, old man who couldn’t get around much. Heck if we were going to share our goodies and swing!

            Then one day at the end of summer, he sat us down at his small, wooden table and said, “I’m going away soon, girls.”

            “Where are you going?” I asked with my mouth full of apple.

            “I miss my wife and daughter. It’s time I go where they are.” He smiled softly.

            “In heaven?” I asked. He nodded his head.

            “Can we come? We’d like to meet your wife and daughter, Mr. Mead.”

            He laughed. “That’s very sweet of you, little Carrie, but you won’t see them or me, again, for many, many years. Now, I just want to thank you girls for giving me peace and happiness these past couple months. Before you ladies came along, I was very sad and lonely. You gave back to me what I’d lost years ago when my two precious loves died, my wife and daughter.”

            “What else had you lost that we could help you find?” Carrie asked.

            He smiled real big.

            “There’s still no teeth in there, Mr. Mead. We didn’t find any either,” Carrie said.

            He laughed real hard, and then he coughed real hard.

            “My smile. You helped me find my smile,” he said. “Even though I’ll be gone, the swing set is yours to play with whenever you want.”

            “Thank you,” we said, but we didn’t really understand.

            He kissed our foreheads and sent us off to play on the beloved swing set.

            We never did see Mr. Mead again, but we’ll never forget him. His swing set kept

us busy and having fun on what otherwise would have been boring days, and no one

could make chocolate chip cookies like Mr. Mead.

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