Read The Boy With Penny Eyes Online

Authors: Al Sarrantonio

Tags: #Horror

The Boy With Penny Eyes (2 page)

BOOK: The Boy With Penny Eyes
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She rushed at him, holding her fists above him and screaming into his face. "I hate you!" The fists were poised, the muscles straining in her arms and in her clenched hands. "I hate you! You're not my little Billy."

Her fists relaxed and she fell to her knees on the carpet in front of him, covering her face with her hands. "Oh, Billy, why can't you be like that day at the ocean? I love you so much."

Something churned in her stomach. She rose with a cry, stumbled to the bathroom, and knelt over the bowl. She vomited, scotch pumping out of her like rejected poison. Her stomach heaved, and suddenly she was very weak. She made her way, half senseless, to the hallway and into the bedroom, and collapsed onto the bed, her arms over her eyes, crying weakly, "Billy, Billy," until she faded into rough sleep.

2
 

He left an hour later. He rose quietly and packed a small bag, taking a blanket, a few cans of food, some fruit, and a bedroll his father had bought the year before he left, when he had said they might go camping together, and he took an extra shirt. There was a box in the upper right-hand corner of his dresser, filled with dimes and dollars and quarters, and he emptied it, putting the coins into his two front pockets and the bills in his back pocket.

The afternoon was gray and chilly. There was rain left in the air, but by the feel of things the sky would clear before long and there would be autumn sunshine. He had a long walk to the bus station. There was no one else out except a few kindergarten children running noisily home. The only other signs of life were a few chirping birds and a newspaper truck that grumbled past him and then disappeared. He cupped his jacket about his neck, flipping up the collar, and walked on.

The bus depot was empty except for the sleepy clerk behind the counter. Billy put down the exact fare and got the ticket he requested. Immediately he went out to the bus that stood with its door open, its interior lights lit against the still-gray sky. The driver was just lifting the plastic white lid off a cup of steaming coffee. He barely glanced at Billy as he took the boy's ticket and waved him into the back. "Any seat you want, sport," he said, and then snapped open his newspaper. Half an hour later the bus left, with only six passengers aboard.

By the time the bus passed through three more towns, the sun was out and there were twenty passengers on board. By late afternoon, it was nearly full and out on the highway. Billy sat in a window seat two-thirds of the way back, his eyes staring at the passing scenery. A woman dressed like a
librarian sat down beside him and tried to engage him in conversation. He ignored her and she soon lost herself in a crochet project that she unfolded from her enormous handbag.

As the sun went down, directly in his line of vision to the west, he took a small apple from his pack and ate it silently, packing the core into a napkin and storing it in his pocket. He turned again to the window, where the western sky was violet.

"Are you on your way to visit a relative?"

The question came from the woman next to him. He turned and saw her looking steadily at him, her crochet work completed in her lap. He turned back to the window.

"You're traveling all by yourself?" Her voice was kind but probing.

He nodded, not turning away from the window. Outside, a row of white clapboard houses, all alike but for different-colored shutters, flashed by, blowing in the dusk, and then a line of small-town stores: hard-ware, bar, Woolworth's, McDonald's. Then another row of white houses.

"It's stopped raining," the woman commented. "This afternoon I thought it would never stop raining."

Again Billy nodded.

There was silence for a moment.

"Who are you running away from?" she asked in the same matter-of-fact tone. Billy ignored her.

"I said, who are you running away from?" Her voice was quiet, but she placed a hand on his arm, then moved it to his chin to turn his face toward her. She did it gently, but with firmness.

"Who?" she repeated, giving the word a short, hard inflection.

Billy stared at her.

"Don't use those eyes on me," she said. "I saw right away those eyes have power. Speak."

Billy said nothing for a moment, then said, "I left home."

She looked at him blankly, waiting for him to go on.

"I left my mother."

She had a strange face, stern yet softly formed. It was the kind of face you saw on women who worked farms alone all their lives, whose husbands had been killed in some war or other. Weather-beaten faces still in some awe of the world, worn but still filled with hardness and life. She looked to be fifty or sixty years old.

She regarded him quietly for a few moments, then pursed her lips and nodded. "That I believe," she said. "Nothing worse, maybe. From the look of you, I thought you were running from something bad." She opened her baggy purse, which was made of silk-like material with a brass twist at the
top, and rummaged, finally taking out something small, yellow, and hard.

"Put this in your mouth," she said.

She set it in Billy's hand and waited.

"It's only a lemon drop," she said, lifting his hand until he took it under his own control and put the candy in his mouth. "Good," she went on. "Now we have to decide what to do with you."

Billy started to look away, out the window again, but she pulled him around roughly.

"You'll listen to me," she said, and now her voice was not so gentle. "You've got a bad look about you. I don't like that. I can feel something going on inside you." She delved into her bag again, taking out another yellow candy, which she put in her own mouth. "Have you done something wrong?"

After a moment, Billy shook his head.

"Stealing, cheating, something like that?"

"No."

She sighed. "Worse?" Her voice was as persistent as water running over rock.

"No," he said.

"You sure?" She sounded almost worried.

He stared at her.

She shook her head and squeezed his arm. "You're lying to me," she hissed. There were tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.

"I'm not lying," he said.

She let his arm go.

She looked away from him for a moment.

Her body was trembling. She slowly brought herself under control before speaking to him again. "You'll have to excuse me. It disturbs me that you're lying to me. It's in your eyes. I've seen other eyes like yours. They were on boys that made me cry, too." She turned away, then turned back to him and said harshly, "How old are you?"

"Eleven."

"God." She took hold of him suddenly, and drew him to her, holding him. "What could have happened to you in eleven years?" She let him sit up again, shift away from her. She was talking more to herself now than to him. "I've seen boys and girls whose parents did things to them I could never imagine. Sex things, and beatings, and worse. I found a boy once who had been locked in a room for three years without ever seeing the sun. Three years without sunshine. He was pale as ivory. His eyes were so hurtful of daylight that he had to wear sunglasses whenever he went out. I found a little girl whose father had shaved her head so that she'd look like a boy, then he beat her twice a week with a hose, calling her his whore-boy." She was nearly crying.

She caught herself and looked at Billy again. "You don't have to tell me," she said quietly. "Not now."

When they reached a town called Petersboro, she got her suitcase down from the rack
above and took Billy's backpack in her other hand. She got out into the aisle, ignoring a grumbling passenger behind her who wanted to get by, and waited for Billy to get out in front of her. He did so slowly, and she kept close to him when they departed the bus.

"This way," she said sternly, indicating with her head that they should move past the line of taxis and passengers waiting to board. "We'll walk it."

They soon passed onto a country road bordered by low fences and uncropped hedge. There was a near-full moon out to guide them. The road turned into a dirt lane lined by oaks. The rain had plastered falling leaves to the ground, making a wet carpet. "You getting cold?" she asked him, seeing that he seemed to be shivering in his golf jacket. He said nothing, and without a word she removed the shawl she wore over her coat and put it around him.

A half hour later they passed a small black mailbox with a rooster painted on it. "Turn down here," she said. She followed him onto a cobbled path, which led along a line of white birches. Through the half-denuded branches was visible a house or barn of some sort, with dark shingles and a dark roof. There was the sound of sawing wood somewhere near.

As they passed under the trees, the sawing ceased. "Melinda!" a high voice called, and
from the other side of the house three children appeared, the oldest, holding a wood saw and perspiring, looking to be twelve or so. The others were a year or so younger, about Billy's age.

"We've been waiting for you," the oldest said, scowling at Billy.

"I missed the early bus," Melinda said, putting down the bags. "The bank had a new girl who didn't believe I had a brother named George who left me all that money." She turned to Billy. "I met somebody on the bus. We might as well do the introductions now. It's kind of pretty in this moonlight anyway." She paused, seeing that the others were staring at Billy.

The boy with the saw said, "Jesus," and the others said nothing, but their stares told what they were thinking.

"I don't want to hear a thing," Melinda said. "You all know what has to be done, so let's do it." She held a hand out in a circle, pointing to each in turn. "This is John, with the saw, and next to him, Rebecca and Marsh. That's short for Marshall. Rebecca and Marsh are brother and sister." She put her hand on Billy's shoulder. "This is Billy Potter, and he's going to be with us for a while." The others were silent. "Take his bag in," Melinda said. "Unpack it in the room next to mine. Put the empty bag in the attic. Then get back to what you were doing."

There was no discussion as they went off to do what Melinda told them.

"Put some late supper on, Rebecca!" she called after them, and the girl, her pigtails whipping as she turned, nodded and ran off.

"Well," Melinda said, "it's as bad as I thought. Maybe worse. If they noticed it, there's a lot that has to be done." She bent down to pull the shawl closer around Billy's shoulders, and led him to the front door.

"We'll do what has to be done," she said in an odd voice, pulling Billy closer as they passed into the house.

3
 

Weeks passed. And with their passing, a routine developed. Each morning, Billy rose at six and went out to the barn. By then the chickens had laid their eggs, and he cleaned up after them, collecting whatever they produced. Then he swept the kitchen and the hallways and swept the stairs. By then it was time for breakfast.

They ate together, in the huge stone-floored kitchen. At night it was the coldest room in the house, but in the morning, after the stove had been lit, there was no warmer place. The table was big, and they filled one end of it, Melinda sitting at the head and the others in the places to either side of her. Billy's place was next to Rebecca's, and it was with Rebecca that he had his first fight. It began when she asked him to pass the sugar one morning.

Billy ignored her, looking down into his cereal.

"I said, pass the sugar," Rebecca repeated.

"You heard the girl," Melinda said, staring down sternly from the head of the table. "She asked you to do something."

Billy sat stone-still.

"You heard her," Melinda said, "now hear me. Pass the sugar like you were asked."

BOOK: The Boy With Penny Eyes
8.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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