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The Anything Box Part 15

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"Nothing can be more magic." Stevie tightened his hand around his pocketpiece. "Anyway, Daddy said I might get a two-wheel bike for my birthday. I'llbe six years old. How old are you?"

The Dark moved back and forth. "I'm as old as the world."

Stevie laughed. "Then you must know Auntie Phronie. Daddy says she's as oldas the hills."

"The hills are young," said The Dark. "Come on, Stevie, let me out.Please-pretty please."

"Well," Stevie reached for the pretty red rock. "Promise you'll be good."



"I promise."

Stevie hesitated. He could feel a funniness in The Dark's voice. It sounded like Lili-cat when she purred to the mice she caught. It sounded likePooch-pup when he growled softly to the gophers he ate sometimes. It madeStevie feel funny inside and, as he squatted there wondering what the feelingwas, lightning flashed brightly above the treetops and a few big raindropssplashed down with the crash of thunder.

"Well," said Stevie, standing up, feeling relieved. "It's going to rain. Ican't play with you now. I have to go. Maybe I can come see you tomorrow."

"No, now!" said The Dark. "Let me out right now!" and its Arnold-face wasall twisted and one eye was slipping down one cheek.

Stevie started to back away, his eyes feeling big and scared. "Anothertime. I can't play in the wash when it storms. There might be a flood."

"Let me out!" The Dark was getting madder. The Arnold-face turned purpleand its eyes ran down its face like sick fire and it melted back intoblackness again. "Let me out!" The Dark hit the magic so hard that it shookthe sand and one of the rocks started to roll. Quick like a rabbit, Steviepressed the rock down hard and fixed all the others too. Then The Dark twisted itself into a thing so awful looking that Stevie's stomach got sickand he wanted to upchuck. He took out his pocket piece and drew three hardmagics in the sand and The Dark screamed so hard that Stevie screamed, too,and ran home to Mommy and was very sick.

Mommy put him to bed and gave him some medicine to comfort his stomach andtold Daddy he'd better buy Stevie a hat. The sun was too hot for a towheaded,bareheaded boy in the middle of July.

Stevie stayed away from the wash for a while after that, but one day BurroEddie opened the gate with his teeth again and wandered off down the road,headed for the wash. It had been storming again in the Whetstones. Mommy said,"You'd better go after Eddie. The flood will be coming down the wash thisafternoon and if Eddie gets caught, he'll get washed right down into theriver."

"Aw, Eddie can swim," said Stevie.

"Sure he can, but not in a flash flood. Remember what happened to Durkin'shorse last year."

"Yeah," said Stevie, wide-eyed. "It got drownded. It even went over thedam. It was dead."

"Very dead," laughed Mommy. "So you scoot along and bring Eddie back. Butremember, if there's any water at all in the wash, you stay out of it. And ifany water starts down while you're in it, get out in a hurry."

"Okay Mommy."

So Stevie put on his sandals-there were too many stickers on the road to gobarefoot-and went after Eddie. He tracked him carefully like Daddy showed him-all bent over-and only had to look twice to see where he was so he'd be sureto follow the right tracks. He finally tracked him down into the wash.

Burro Eddie was eating mesquite beans off a bush across the wash from TheDark. Stevie held out his hand and waggled his fingers at him.

"Come on, Eddie. Come on, old feller."

Eddie waggled his ears at Stevie and peeked out of the corner of his eyes,but he went on pulling at the long beans, sticking his teeth way out so thethorns wouldn't scratch his lips so bad. Stevie walked slow and careful towardEddie, making soft talk real coaxing-like and was just sliding his hand upEddie's shoulder to get hold of the ragged old rope around his neck when Eddiedecided to be scared and jumped with all four feet. He skittered across to theother side of the wash, tumbling Stevie down on the rough, gravelly sand.

"Daggone you, Eddie!" he yelled, getting up. "You come on back here. Wegotta get out of the wash. Mommy's gonna be mad at us. Don't be so mean!"

Stevie started after Eddie and Eddie kept on playing like he was scared. Heflapped his stringy tail and tried to climb the almost straight-up-and-downbank of the wash. His front feet scrabbled at the bank and his hind feet kicked up the sand. Then he slid down on all fours and just stood there, hishead pushed right up against the bank, not moving at all.

Stevie walked up to him real slow and started to take the old rope. Then hesaw where Eddie was standing: "Aw, Eddie," he said, squatting down in the sand. "Look what you went anddid. You kicked all my magic away. You let The Dark get out. Now I haven't gotanything Arnold hasn't got Dern you, Eddie!" He stood up and smacked Eddie'sflank with one hand. But Eddie just stood there and his flank felt funny-kindastiff and cold.

"Eddie!" Stevie dragged on the rope and Eddie's head turned-jerky-like anold gate. Then Eddie's feet moved, but slow and funny, until Eddie was turnedaround.

"What's the matter, Eddie?" Stevie put his hand on Eddie's nose and lookedat him close. Something was wrong with the burro's eyes. They were still bigand dark, but now they didn't seem to see Stevie or anything-they lookedempty. And while Stevie looked into them, there came a curling blackness intothem, like smoke coming through a crack and all at once the eyes began to seeagain. Stevie started to back away, his hands going out in front of him.

"Eddie," he whispered. "Eddie, what's the matter?" And Eddie started afterhim-but not like Eddie-not with fast feet that kicked the sand in little spurts, but slow and awful, the two legs on one side together, then the twolegs on the other side-like a sawhorse or something that wasn't used to four legs. Stevie's heart began to pound under his T-shirt and he backed awayfaster. "Eddie, Eddie," he pleaded. "Don't, Eddie. Don't act like that. Begood. We gotta go back to the house."

But Eddie kept on coming, faster and faster, his legs getting looser sothey worked better and his eyes staring at Stevie. Stevie backed away until heran into a big old cottonwood trunk that high water brought down after thelast storm. He ducked around in back of the trunk. Eddie just kept on dragginghis feet through the sand until he ran into the trunk too, but his feet kepton moving, even when he couldn't go any farther. Stevie put out one shaky handto pat Eddie's nose. But he jerked it back and stared and stared across thetree trunk at Eddie. And Eddie stared back with eyes that were wide and shinylike quiet lightning. Stevie swallowed dryness in his throat and then he knew.

"The Dark!" he whispered. "The Dark. It got out. It got in Eddie!"

He turned and started to run kitty-cornered across the wash. There was anawful scream from Eddie. Not a donkey scream at all, and Stevie looked backand saw Eddie-The Dark-coming after him, only his legs were working better nowand his big mouth was wide open with the big yellow teeth all wet and shiny.The sand was sucking at Stevie's feet, making him stumble. He tripped oversomething and fell. He scrambled up again and his hands splashed as hescrambled. The runoff from the Whetstones was coming and Stevie was in thewash!

He could hear Eddie splashing behind him. Stevie looked back and screamedand ran for the bank. Eddie's face wasn't Eddie any more. Eddie's mouth lookedfull of twisting darkness and Eddie's legs had learned how a donkey runs andEddie could outrun Stevie any day of the week. The water was coming higher andhe could feel it grab his feet and suck sand out from under him every step hetook.

Somewhere far away he heard Mommy shrieking at him, "Stevie! Get out of thewash!"

Then Stevie was scrambling up the steep bank, the stickers getting in hishands and the fine silty dirt getting in his eyes. He could hear Eddie comingand he heard Mommy scream, "Eddie!" and there was Eddie trying to come up thebank after him, his mouth wide and s...o...b..ring.

Then Stevie got mad. "Dern you, old Dark!" he screamed. "You leave Eddiealone!" He was hanging onto the bushes with one hand but he dug into hispocket with the other and pulled out his pocket piece. He looked down at.i.t-his precious pocket piece-two pieces of popsicle stick tied together sothey looked a little bit like an airplane, and on the top, lopsided andscraggly, the magic letters INRI. Stevie squeezed it tight, and then hescreamed and threw it right down Eddie's throat-right into the swirling nastyblackness inside of Eddie.

There was an awful scream from Eddie and a big bursting roar and Stevielost hold of the bush and fell down into the racing, roaring water. Then Mommywas there gathering him up, crying his name over and over as she waded to alow place in the bank, the water curling above her knees, making her stagger.Stevie hung on tight and cried, "Eddie! Eddie! That mean old Dark! He made methrow my pocket piece away! Oh, Mommy, Mommy! Where's Eddie?"

And he and Mommy cried together in the stickery sand up on the bank of thewash while the flood waters roared and rumbled down to the river, carryingEddie away, sweeping the wash clean, from bank to bank.

And a Little Child--

I have arrived at an age-well, an age that begins to burden my body sometimes,but I don't think I'd care to go back and live the years again. There'rereally only a few things I envy in the young-one thing, really, that I wish I had back-and that's the eyes of children. Eyes that see everything new,everything fresh, everything wonderful, before custom can stale or life hastwisted awry. Maybe that's what Heaven will be-eyes forever new.

But there is sometimes among children another seeing-ness-a seeing thatgoes beyond the range of adult eyes, that sometimes seem to trespa.s.s even onother dimensions. Those who can see like that have the unexpected eyes- theeerie eyes-the Seeing eyes.

The child had Seeing eyes. I noticed them first when the Davidsons movedinto the camping spot next to ours on the North Fork. The Davidsons we knewfrom previous years, but it was our first meeting with their son Jerry, andthe wife and child he had brought home from overseas. One nice thing aboutcamping out is that you don't have to be bashful about watching other peoplesettle in. In fact, if you aren't careful, you end up fighting one of theirtent ropes while someone else hammers a peg, or you get involved in where totoe-nail in a shelf on a tree, or in deciding the best place for someone elseto dip wash-water out of the creek without scooping gravel or falling in. Evenbeing a grandmother twice over doesn't exempt you.

It was while I was sitting on my favorite stump debating whether to changemy shoes and socks or let them squelch themselves dry, that I noticed thechild. She was hunched up on a slanting slab of rock in the late afternoonsunshine, watching me quietly. I grinned at her and wiggled a wet toe.

"I suppose I ought to change," I said. "It's beginning to get cold."

"Yes," she said. "The sun is going down." Her eyes were very wide.

"I've forgotten your name," I said. "I have to forget it four times beforeI remember." I peeled off one of my wet socks and rubbed a thumb across thered stain it had left on my toes.

"I'm Liesle," she said gravely. "Look at the funny hills." She gesturedwith her chin at the hills down the trail.

"Funny?" I looked at them. They were just rolling hills humping ratherabruptly up from the trail in orderly rows until they merged with the aspenthicket. "Just hills," I said, toweling my foot on the leg of my jeans. "Thegra.s.s on them is kind of thick this year. It's been a wet spring."

"Gra.s.s?" she said. "It looks almost like-like fur."

"Fur? Mmm, well, maybe." I hopped over to the tent and crawled in to findsome dry socks. "If you squint your eyes tight and don't quite look at it." Myvoice was m.u.f.fled in the darkness of the tent. I backed out again, clutching arolled pair of socks in my hand. "Oh, geeps!" I said. "Those gruesome oldpurple ones. Well, a few more years of camping out and maybe they'll go theway of all flesh."

I settled back on my stump and turned to the child, then blinked at thefour eyes gravely contemplating me. "Well, hi!" I said to Annie, the child'smother. "I'm just forgetting Liesle's name for the last time."

Liesle smiled shyly, leaning against her mother. "You're Gramma," she said.

"I sure am, bless Pat and Jinnie. And you're wonderful to remember mealready."

Liesle pressed her face to her mother's arm in embarra.s.sment.

"She has your eyes," I said to Annie.

"But hers are darker blue." Annie hugged Liesle's head briefly. Then "Come,child, we must start supper."

" 'By, Gramma," said Liesle, looking back over her shoulder. Then her eyesflickered and widened and an odd expression sagged her mouth open. Annie'stugging hand towed her a reluctant step, then she turned and hurriedly scootedhi front of Annie, almost tripping her. "Mother!" I heard her breathlessvoice. "Mother!" as they disappeared around the tent.

I looked back over my own shoulder. Liesle's eyes had refocused themselvesbeyond me before her face had changed. Something back there-?

Back there the sun was setting in pale yellow splendor and purple shadowswere filling up the hollows between the hills. I've climbed little hills likethose innumerable times-and rolled down them and napped on them and battedgnats on them. They were gentle, smooth hills, their fine early faded, gra.s.sy covering silver against the sun, crisply tickly under the cheek. Just hills.Nothing could be more serene and peaceful. I raised an eyebrow and shrugged.You meet all kinds.

That night the Davidsons came over to our campfire and we all sat around inthe chilly, chilly dark, talking and listening-listening to the wind in thepines, to the Little Colorado brawling its way down from Baldy, the sounds oftiny comings and goings through the brush-all the sounds that spell summer tothose of us who return year after year to the same camping grounds.

Finally the fire began to flicker low and the unaccustomed alt.i.tude wasmaking us drowsy, so we hunted up our flashlights and started our before-bedtrek across the creek to the Little Houses hidden against the hillside. Men tothe left, girls to the right, we entertained briefly the vision of tiledbathrooms back home, but were somehow pleasured with the inconvenience becauseit spelled vacation. We females slithered and giggled over the wetlog-and-plank bridge across the creek. It still had a grimy ghost of snowalong its sheltered edge and until even as late as July there would be aragged s...o...b..nk up against the hill near the girls' Little House, with violetsand wild strawberries blooming at its edge. Things happen like that at ninethousand feet of elevation. We edged past the s...o...b..nk-my Trisha leading thegroup, her flashlight pushing the darkness aside imperiously. She was followedby our Jinnie-Pat is a goat and goes to the left-then came Mrs. Davidson,Annie and Liesle, and I was the caboose, feeling the darkness nudging at myback as it crowded after our lights.

Since the Little House accommodates only two at a time, the rest of ususually wait against an outcropping of boulders that shelters a little from asoutheast wind which can cut a notch in your shinbones in less time than ittakes to tell it.

I was jerkily explaining this to Annie as I stumbled along thesemiovergrown path-it hadn't received its summer beating-down yet. I wasreaching out to trail my hand across the first boulder, when Liesle gasped andstumbled back against me, squashing my toe completely.

"What's the matter, child?" I gritted, waiting for the pain to stopshooting up my leg like a hot fountain. "There's nothing to be afraid of. YourMommie and I are here."

"I wanna go back!" she suddenly sobbed, clinging to Annie. "I wanna gohome!"

"Liesle, Liesle," crooned Annie, gathering her up in her arms. "Mother'shere. Daddy's here. No one is home. You'll have fun tomorrow, you'll see." Shelooked over Liesle's burrowing head at our goblinesque flashlighted faces."She's never camped before," she said apologetically. "She's homesick."

"I'm afraid! I can't go any farther!" sobbed Liesle. I clamped Jinnie's armsharply. She was making noises like getting scared, too-and she a veteran ofcradle-camping.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," I reiterated, wiggling my toe hopefully.Thank goodness, it could still wiggle. I thought it had been amputated.Liesle's answer was only a m.u.f.fled wail. "Well, come on over here out of thewind," I said to Annie. "And 111 hold her while you go." I started to takeLiesle, but she twisted away from my hand.

"No, no!" she cried. "I can't go any farther!" Then she slithered like aneel out of Annie's arms and hit off back down the trail. The dark swallowed her.

"Liesle!" Annie set off in pursuit and I followed, trying to stab somehelpful light along the winding path. I caught up with the two of them on thecreek bridge. They were murmuring to each other, forehead to forehead. Annie'svoice was urgent, but Liesle was stubbornly shaking her head.

"She won't go back," said Annie.

"Oh, well," I said, suddenly feeling the alt.i.tude draining my blood out ofmy feathery head and burdening my tired feet with it. "Humor the childtonight. If she has to go, let her duck out in the bushes. She'll be okaytomorrow."

But she wasn't. The next day she still stubbornly refused to go that lastlittle way to the Little House. Jerry, her father, lost patience with her."It's utter nonsense!" he said. "Some fool notion. We're going to be up herefor two weeks. If you think I'm going to dig a special- "You stay here," he said to Annie. He grabbed Liesle's arm and trotted herbriskly down the path. I followed. I make no bones about being curious aboutpeople and things-and as long as I keep my mouth shut, I seldom get a doorslammed in my face. Liesle went readily enough, whimpering a little, halfrunning before his prodding finger, down the path, across the bridge, alongthe bank. And flatly refused to go any farther. Jerry pushed and she doubleddown, backing against his legs. He shoved her forward and she fell to herhands and knees, scrambling back along the path, trying to force her way pasthim-all in deathly panting silence. His temper flared and he pushed her again.She slid flat on the path, digging her fingers into the weedy gra.s.s along theedge, her cheek pressed to the muddy path. I saw her face then, blanched,stricken-old in its fierce determination, pitifully young in its bare terror.

"Jerry-" I began.

Anger had deafened and blinded him. He picked her up bodily and starteddown the path. She writhed and screamed a wild, despairing scream, "Daddy!Daddy! No! It's open! It's open!"

He strode on, past the first boulder. He had taken one step beyond theaspen that leaned out between two boulders, when Liesle was s.n.a.t.c.hed from hisarms. Relieved of her weight, his momentum carried him staggering forward,almost to his knees. Blankly, he looked around. Liesle was plastered to theboulder, spread-eagled above the path like a paper doll pasted on awall-except that this paper doll gurgled in speechless terror and was slowlybeing sucked into the rock. She was face to the rock, but as I gaped in shock,I could see her spine sinking in a concave curve, pushing her head and feetback sharper and sharper.

"Grab her!" I yelled. "Jerry! Grab her feet!" I got hold of her shouldersand pulled with all my strength. Jerry got his hands behind her knees and Iheard his breath grunt out as he pulled. "O G.o.d in Heaven!" I sobbed. "O G.o.din Heaven!"

There was a sucking, tearing sound and Liesle came loose from the rock. Thethree of us tumbled in a tangled heap in the marshy wetness beyond the trail.We sorted ourselves out and Jerry crouched in the muck rocking Liesle in hisarms, his face buried against her hair.

I sat there speechless, feeling the cold wetness penetrating my jeans. Whatwas there to say?

Finally Liesle stopped crying. She straightened up in Jerry's arms andlooked at the rock. "Oh," she said. "It's shut now."

She wiggled out of Jerry's arms. "Gramma, I gotta go." Automatically Ihelped her unzip her jeans and sat there slack-jawed as she trotted down thepath past the huge boulder and into the Little House.

"Don't ask me!" barked Jerry suddenly, rising dripping from the pathside."Don't ask me!"

So I didn't.

Well, a summer starting like that could be quite a summer, but insteadeverything settled down to a pleasant even pace and we fished and hiked andpicnicked and got rained on and climbed Baldy, sliding back down its snowslopes on the seats of our pants, much to their detriment.

Then came the afternoon some of us females were straggling down the trailto camp, feet soaked as usual and with the kids clutching grimy s...o...b..a.l.l.ssalvaged from the big drift on the sharp north slope below the Salt House. Thelast of the sun glinted from the white peak of Baldy where we had left theothers hours ago still scrabbling around in the dust looking for more Indianbone beads. We seemed to be swimming through a valley of shadows that werealmost tangible.

"I'm winded." Mrs. Davidson collapsed, panting, by the side of the trail,lying back on the smoothly rounded flank of one of the orderly little hills near the creek.

"We're almost there," I said. "If I get down, I won't get up again short ofmidnight."

"So let it be midnight," she said, easing her shoulders back against thesoft crispness of the gra.s.s. "Maybe some robins will find us and cover us withstrawberries instead of strawberry leaves. Then we wouldn't have to cooksupper."

"That'd be fun," said Leslie, hugging her knees beside Mrs. Davidson.

"Oh, Liesle!" Jinnie was disgusted. "You don't think they really would, doyou?"

"Why not?" Liesle's eyes were wide.

"Oh, groan!" said Jinnie, folding up on the ground. "You'd believeanything! When you get as old as I am-"

"What a thought!" I said, easing my aching feet in my hiking boots. "Do yousuppose she'd ever be ten years old?" I looked longingly at the cl.u.s.ter oftents on the edge of the flat. "Oh, well," I said and subsided on the hillbeside the others. I flopped over on my stomach and cradled my head on myarms. "Why! It's warm!" I said as my palm burrowed through the gra.s.s to theunderlying soil.

"Sun," murmured Mrs. Davidson, her eyes hidden behind her folded arm. "Itsoaks it up all day and lets it out at night."

"Mmmm." I let relaxation wash over me.

"They're sleeping a long time," said Liesle.

"Who?" I was too lax for conversation.

"The beasts," she said. "These beasts we're on."

"What beasts?" It was like having a personal mosquito.

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The Anything Box Part 15 summary

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