I set down my lunch sack, take off my Mary Janes, and step over a railroad tie that borders the sandbox. “Hey, Scoot,” I say.

“Emmy!” he says without looking up from the hole he’s already made. “Dig for gold?”

“How deep’s it buried?” I ask.

“To the island,” he says, loud enough for others to look over.

If Miss Primrose is in sight, the bullies shut their traps and don’t make fun of him for the way he talks, or the way he likes his blond hair cut into a burr but makes his Mama leave the three red patches an inch longer. “Strawberries patches,” he calls them.

Seven-year-old Janie clambers over and says, “I want to find an island.”

Me too. I want to find an island. Anywhere but here in the Hilltop school yard. Stupid name, Hilltop. We no more sit on a hill than Mama’s home cooking chicken and dumplings.

Janie and Scooter start chattering, so I dig my toes further into the sand and imagine pulling Mama out between my toes. That’s all the treasure I need.

A shadow hovers over me, but I don’t turn when it says, “Playing with retards?”

Scooter pays no mind to the comment and keeps digging for gold.

I look behind me. Frank’s hands are in his pockets. He’s pushing himself up and down by his toes.

“Don’t know how tall you are?” I say.

Frank looks at me like I have an ostrich head. “Huh?”

“You keep bouncing on your toes. You wanna be a ballerina Someday?”

“You gonna play in a sandbox all your life? Even when you’re all grown up?”

“You’re not grown either, in case you haven’t noticed.”

“I’m older than you. So, you’re that girl whose Ma disappeared.” He’s not nice when he says it. “And your daddy’s missing.”

I look toward the seesaw for help. The top hairs of Rachael’s red bob take turns bouncing up and down with Carla’s blond ones. They don’t pay me any mind.

“You’re stupider than you look,” I say. “Daddy’s at work.”

Scooter stops digging and looks up into Frank’s face. “Can’t disappear. Houdini died!”

I love how Scooter accents the words that are important to him. It’s his way of saying something important without having to string a bunch of words together to make a proper sentence. Scooter’s world is filled with magic, and not just because he loved Houdini.

Frank shakes his head and looks at me. “This dimwit your friend?”

“At least you got one part right.”

He puzzle-faces.

“Who’s stupid now?”

“Keep playing in the sandbox, Enema,” he says.

I go back to digging trying my best not to stand up and claw out his eyes. I hear him spit and stomp off.

I want to speed through time so Miss Primrose can ring the dismissal bell. Nothing’s the same, and now it’s worse since Frank-furter entered my life. I think I’ll call him that. No, even better. I’ll call him Franken-Farter. I smile and yell the name inside my head and reach for my lunch sack. It’s gone.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket

Featured image photo credit


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