The Boy in the Red Sweater.
One early October day I woke up with a bit of time on my hands. It was 7:00 A.M. The house was still. There was nothing on TV. Cloverdale Weekend Television doesn’t start broadcasting until 7:30 A.M. on weekdays. I looked out the window. The sky was heavy with dark clouds. I stepped outside to sniff the air. I thought it might smell of of rain, but it didn't . There was a cool breeze foretelling a storm, perhaps a few hours still in the making. I had a brief window to step through for a nice morning walk.
I put on my walking shoes, found a suitable light jacket, wired up my ipod and set out on a hour’s long adventure into the village and surrounding countryside. The village was coming to life. I said a few “Goodmornings” to the over 60’s streaming down the lanes and avenues on their way to McDuff’s for a their Gabbing Geezer’s Breakfast Club, complete with hot coffee and sticky buns. I noticed that most were wearing their dentures. Then I remembered it was Friday. Friday’s are reserved for “Breakfast Surprises”. McDuff’s like to surprise the Old Timers with something delicious for their final meeting of the week. And since they don't know what it will be, they all think it best to wear their teeth.
The Coastal Express just arrived as I passed the train station. The station was packed with ten or twenty people either arriving or departing. I stopped for a moment to review the morning headlines at the small news stand in the station's lobby before continuing on. Ten minutes later I was outside the village proper, walking down Highway 3.
About a quarter mile outside of town I discovered a mysterious, unnamed, dusty road I’d never seen before. I decided to explore this new, uncharted land. It would be my adventure for the day. .
Fifty steps further I noticed something. The air was absent of sound, except for that of my shoes on the pavement. I turned off my ipod and removed my headphones. I was right, there was no sound. Where were the chirping birds or barking dogs? I felt the wind, I saw the wind moving thought the trees - but didn’t hear it. I continued.
I saw faces in the windows of the few homes I passed. They looked at me intently, as curious about me as I was of them. One older woman wearing a dress of blue with little white flowers watched me from her front porch as I approached. She shook her head ever so slightly the closer I got. I couldn’t tell why. Was she disapproving of my encroachment into their little hamlet or perhaps she was warning me to stop and go back. I hoped to talk. She disappeared behind her front door before I was close enough to talk without shouting. A moment later I saw her in her front window and waved. She closed the curtains.
I noticed something red in the distance coming toward me. I was excited to meet another person on the road. I hoped it would be someone I could talk to and ask about this strange place and its residents.
I saw it was a boy. A boy on his way to school perhaps, yet he had no books or lunch. His hands were in his pockets. His face was stern and unwelcoming. The distance between us shrank as I tried to think of someway to start a conversation. He stared into my eyes, never taking his off mine. We finally stepped up to each other. He stood directly in front of me as if to dare me to continue on.
The road forward was blocked by this young boy wearing a red sweater.
“Goodmorning,” I said in my best cheerful voice. He didn’t respond. He looked right at me and stood, hands in pocket. I heard thunder in the distance. The noise was welcome.
“Look’s like rain,” I continued. “Can you tell me the name of this street?” He shook his head. I could smell rain in the rising wind.
“Can you tell me your name,” I asked. He stared. The quiet was uncomfortable. His staring unnerved me.
“Well, have a nice day,” I said to finish my attempt at neighborliness. I took a step to the left wanting to move on. He blocked my step stopping my way forward.
I’d like to move on,” I said politely. He shook his head no. I saw him blink, then slightly smile. It was barely perceptible.
I heard doors opening in every nearby home. Men, women and children emerged from their dark homes and stood on their porches watching me and the boy with the red sweater. I looked again at the boy. He moved his head up slightly then back down in a gesture telling me to turn around and leave.
Again, thunder accented my intrusion into this twilight zone. The wind picked up speed. Dust blew down the road, swirling at times around the boy and I.
“Well, I’d better go. Looks like rain,” I said. I turned and walked. My pace increased when I noticed the people on the porches were slowly moving in my direction. I felt a drop on my face. I started to jog. A few minutes later I reached Highway 3, turned left and jogged toward Cloverdale. I turned my head and glanced back at the forgotten lane one last time before turning out of sight. The boy’s red sweater was still visible in the distance. He was still there, standing beside the highway near the mailboxes, watching me.
Later that day I asked my local friends about that mysterious lane while enjoying a Diet Coke at the Kicking Donkey. They said that part of the Shire was home to a strange extended family group, recently immigrated from the Ukraine. Their privacy seemed of paramount importance. No one went down that lane, not even the postman. Their mail boxes were lined up side by side along Highway 3. According to my friends, the only person ever seen collecting the mail was a young boy, wearing a red sweater.
That lane leading to the Shire's outer limits intrigues me. I may attempt another breech of its security. Except the next time I'll choose a bright sunny day.