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The Ice-Cream Man

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Maple street. The middle of July. An ideal Saturday afternoon with temperatures at a fairly comfortable 80 degrees, the air permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue or two around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby recreational dugout. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the chalk-laden sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched upon their branches. This was it. The perfect summer day.

 

A young, fair-haired boy named Bobby rode around the neighborhood aimlessly on his brand new, bright red Schwinn bicycle, which he had received as an 11th birthday present less than a month earlier. A small transistor radio was hanging from one of the handles, belting out Dee Dee Sharp’s “Mashed Potato Time” at a boisterous volume.

Mr. Hargis, the resident Neighborhood Grouch, was watering his lawn and smoking a fresh cigar. Bobby, being fascinated by Mr. Hargis, stopped pedaling and planted his feet to the ground, watching intently from a safe distance. Mr. Hargis sensed the eyes on him and raised his head toward the direction, locking eyes with the boy. Normally he would have scowled and shooed away anybody he felt was bothering him (a.k.a. anybody), but the pleasant warmth of the afternoon Sun seemed to lift even his sour mood. He politely waved at him, and unless the Sun was playing tricks on his eyes, Bobby thought he saw the faint trace of a smile on the old man’s weathered face. Bobby, surprised by this rare show of friendliness from Mr. Hargis, waved back, if a little tentatively.

He continued past the Hargis place and pedaled on toward the nearby dugout. As he did so, he saw several neighbors walking their dogs along the sidewalk. They each exchanged a friendly smile as they passed by one another, pulling their dogs away from each other and continuing on their way. Bobby had never seen such a show of happiness and community in the neighborhood before; the weather sure seemed to be having its effect.

Three blocks down and he was there. The field was occupied with two full teams (Jimmy, his best friend, was up at bat), with several others sitting on the bleachers, watching and cheering on their friends. There was also a small group of girls just outside the dugout fence watching their favorite players. As the boy rode past them, he heard a single whistle followed by a brief chorus of giggles. He looked back while riding and couldn’t tell who it was, but gave a shy grin just the same.

Setting his bike up against the fence, he entered the dugout just as the game ended. Jimmy met him near the bleachers tucking his bat behind his head with both hands. “What’s up, you shitheels!” Jimmy greeted him with a good natured push to the shoulder. He had picked up the word “shitheels” from his older brother Eddie and had become quite fond of it in the last few weeks.

“Nothing,” he replied, “just going around on the new bike.”

“I see.” Bobby saw him look past his shoulder for a moment before looking back at him. “One of them girls is checking you out, man.”

He looked back to see the group of girls; while most were looking and smiling back, he picked out the girl Jimmy was talking about almost immediately. Long, wavy red hair curtained away from her bright green eyes as she gave Bobby a warm, dimpled smile. He took quick glances in between staring at the ground before his feet, but he guessed that she liked what she saw.

The boys and the girls went off in groups around them, and Bobby was just about to work up the courage to approach the girl when a sound suddenly entered their collective earshot. High-pitched, but distant. The sound quickly rose as it grew closer; the sound of a truck blaring its familiar, pleasant jingle.

“Ice cream!” one of the kids shouted unnecessarily as everybody rushed to flag down the source of the jingle. It stopped at the end of the street, and so did everybody else as they awaited the services of the Ice Cream Man. Bobby, however, had no money on his person, and so he begrudgingly turned around to collect his bicycle, which he sat on idly while he watched his friends buying their ice cream. While watching, he noticed that it was the same man in the truck he had seen the last few times. An older man (probably as old as Mr. Hargis, Bobby suspected), with thin white hair and a pleasant smile to light up his slightly wrinkled face.

Within minutes, the other kids, including Jimmy and the girl, had walked off down the street in a group, while Bobby remained where he was. If was not mistaken, so did the truck, although no one else was in the area to buy ice cream. After a minute or so, the group was just about out of sight and Bobby was just about to pedal away when a voice called out to him. “Hey! You, boy! On the bike,” the Ice Cream Man shouted over to him. As much as Bobby didn’t want to, he reluctantly dismounted his bike and walked it to the truck; he had always been taught to respect authority figures, and that must have included the Ice Cream Man. He was an adult, after all.

“You need to come with me immediately. Your… parents are… uh… hurt,” he was looking out the window and down the street, in the direction the other kids had left, and then down the other side.

“What?” Bobby replied lamely. The man’s words had hit him with a numb sort of shock, and it seemed to Bobby as if he had heard the man from the opposite end of a long tunnel.

“I said your parents wanted me to find you and take you to them. They’re in the hospital. Bobby’s the name, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Bobby answered on instinct.

“Right, of course. Anyway, I know your parents, and they were hurt in a car accident. They’ll probably be okay, but they want me to take you to them up at the hospital immediately.” The man was barely looking at Bobby as he said this, merely looking around for anybody passing by.

Bobby’s parents had warned him about the danger of trusting strangers, but he had seen this man before, had even chatted with him a bit when buying ice cream. Perhaps this made him something more than a stranger (though not much more, admittedly), and perhaps the man had known his parents in some capacity. The important thing to Bobby was that his parents were in trouble and he wanted nothing more than to see them.

“Uh… okay, sir. But my bike-”

“Your bike will fit in the back of the truck, son. Just fine.”

He decided it would be best to obey him, lest they continue to waste time. The back doors of the truck opened as he walked the bike over to the back, and the man helped Bobby lift it into the truck, ushering him in afterward and shutting (locking) the doors behind him.

“You can sit up front with me, Billy.”

“It’s Bobby, sir.” He said timidly.

“Oh, Bobby! Yes, of course it is.” He gave a friendly smile, which was half-heartedly reciprocated as Bobby took a seat next to the Ice Cream Man.

Bobby stared out the window blankly, thinking of nothing but his parents and getting to them, making sure they were okay. He would be found four days later in a remote field just outside of town, with signs of sodomy and strangulation evident on his body. The white discoloration in the head, caused by a length of rope tied tightly around the neck, reminded police officials of the moon which shone directly above them, with wide, glazed eyes that stared back at them and saw nothing.

And as Bobby was being taken by the Ice Cream Man, the air was permeated with the tantalizing smell of a barbecue or two around the neighborhood. Boys played pick-up baseball at the nearby recreational dugout. Girls played hopscotch and giggled at boys they fancied passing by on bicycles. Neighbors waved to each other as they passed on the chalk-laden sidewalks, and the trees were exuding the pleasant song of birds perched upon their branches. This was it. The perfect summer day.

 

 

Raymond McTiernan is a young writer from the U.S. looking for exposure in the horror genre. His style of writing focuses more on realistic horrors instead of typical monsters, ghosts and things that go "bump" in the night.

 

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