Hobo~ Chapter 1
Living in a small town everyone noticed when a new neighbor moved in, even if the new neighbor didn’t have a house. A derelict made his home under the bridge down by the Yunac River early one spring. No one knew his name, so my friends and I just called him Hobo. I guessed that’s what you’d call his kind. He was unshaven, his clothes were dirty and torn, his hair was wild and thick, and he smelled bad. At least that’s what Mark said, but in reality, none of us had been close enough to know for sure how he smelled.
Friday, Mark saw Hobo walking around the wooded area near town. Mark was always coming up with great ideas. Well, they were great at first, but then he usually ended up in trouble. My mom didn’t like me hanging out with Mark too much. She said, “Mark’s beady eyes looked for trouble, and his pointy nose led him right to it.” Mom was right, most of the time, but he was my friend.
I wasn’t even allowed to talk to him for the entire month after we got kicked out of school for three days. Mrs. Haskus caught us sitting under the stairwell at school and looking up girls’ skirts. It was Julie’s fault, she screamed like a girl in horror film when she looked down and saw us looking up at her, smiling. She was wearing white panties with pink hearts on them. It was right after that scream that Mrs. Haskus pulled us up to our feet by our ears and led up to the principal’s office. She was pretty—for a teacher, I mean. Her long, blonde hair hung halfway down her back and she wore snug slacks. Mark said she was a fox. He was right.
When Mark noticed that Hobo left his home, he came straight to my house with a plan. He stood outside my window, cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted my name as if were a life or death situation.
I ran to my window and raised it. “What’d ya want?” I called back.
“Get down here,” he yelled, “hurry!”
I’m not a leader; I’m a follower, so I ran down to hear his next great plan. The screen door screeched as I pushed it open and it caught Mom’s attention.
She hurried around the corner from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel. “Caleb, where are you going?”
I stopped, still holding the door open. “Just outside to talk to Mark.” I saw her mouth open to protest, so I hurried out and let the door slam behind me. She treated me as if I was five, but I was almost fifteen.
Mark ran up to me before I made it off the porch steps. “Let’s go check out Hobo’s house, dude.” His breathing was labored as if he’d just finished running a marathon. “I saw him leave. We ain’t got much time.” He pulled my arm. “Come on, let’s go see what kind of stuff he’s stolen from around town.
“What makes you think he took stuff?”
“My dad is missing some tools and Mrs. Greer down the street is missing a lawn chair. I bet he’s got ‘em.”
I thought about it a minute. There’s nothing better to do. “Wait.” I looked back to see if Mom was watching us. She stood a few feet from the door pretending to dust. “Let me tell my mom I’m leaving.” I ran up a couple of steps and yelled through the screen. “Mom, I’ll be back in a little while.”
She hurried over and opened the door. “Be back in time for supper. I mean it.”
Mark and I ran to the bridge. We crouched along the tree line and stepped softly through the woods.
Mark peeked around a tree. “He's gone. Let’s go.”
We jogged over to the bridge and ran underneath. Stacks of concrete blocks shaped like a couch sat against the wall. A gigantic spool made a table, and there were mounds of boxes and old tattered suitcases.
“What’s this?” Mark picked up an old suitcase. “The initials are J and P.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s his. You know those kinds of people pick through trash, cans, and junk.”
Mark started to open the suitcase. Suddenly, Hobo jumped out in front of us. He growled and chased us through the woods. We ran from him as if he was a wild animal, and we were his prey. I didn’t dare stop to look back until I heard laughter echoing through the trees. I stopped and turned around. Hobo sat in a tree bough watching us and laughing.
“How did he get up that tree so fast? He's crazy.” I leaned over, trying to catch my breath.
“We’ll get him back. I’ll come up with a plan.” Mark collapsed on the grass and stared up at the sky. “Did you notice the smell?”
I sat down beside him. “Yeah, it was terrible.” I picked at some blades of grass. “How do you suppose people end up like that?”
Mark rolled toward me and leaned on his elbow. “I don’t know, but my dad says they’re crazy people that get let out of the asylum ‘cause it’s too crowded.”
“Do you think he’s really crazy? Like, maybe he’ll kill us or something.” I stood up and brushed the grass off my pant legs. “I better go.”
“Aw… Chicken.” Mark sat up and bent his arms into wings. “Bock. Bock!” He lay back and laughed.
I felt my face get hot and knew it was red, and I knew Mark saw it, too. He enjoyed embarrassing me because, with my light skin, there was no hiding my shame. “I’m not chicken. I just gotta get home is all.”
Mark jumped up. “Okay, I’ll walk you home and make sure you’re safe.”
“You’re scared to stay here by yourself.” I laughed.
“Yeah, right.” Mark looked around.
“You look nervous. Like that ol’ crazy hobo’s gonna’ jump out from behind the trees.”
Mark laughed. “Me. Scared?”
“Prove it then. Go down there while Hobo’s home. I dare …” I didn't have to finish the dare. He did.
Mark darted off before I could finish talking. I jogged behind him. I had to see what he’d do. I found a tree to hide behind because, to tell the truth—I was scared. Mark stood close by the bridge and growled at the old guy, just as he had done to us earlier. Hobo walked out from under his bridge and ran toward Mark.
Mark picked up a large limb and hurled it at him. Hobo was laughing and didn't see the limb hurling toward him. It hit him on the head; he fell back.
Mark raced toward me and grabbed my arm. “Let’s get out of here.” We didn’t stop running until our feet touched my porch steps.
“That was so cool,” Mark said between breaths. “I think I knocked him out.”
“Yeah, yeah it was,” I said, but inside I felt sort of sick to my stomach. What if the old man was hurt real bad?
“Well, I’m goin’ home for dinner.” Mark slapped me on the back. “Later.”
“See ya.” I went inside. The house smelled of meatloaf.
“Better go wash up.” Mom said while placing plates on the table. “Your dad will be home any minute.”
I went into the bathroom, washed my hands, and went to my room until supper. I looked out my window toward the woods. My mind flooded with images of poor Hobo lying under the bridge bleeding to death. I wanted to cry, I heard the thud the limb made when it hit his skull. He had to be hurt.
“Caleb, supper’s on,” Mom called.
I sat down to dinner, but I couldn’t eat.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Dad asked with a mouth full of mashed potatoes.
“Nothing. I’m just not hungry is all.” The ketchup on the meatloaf reminded me of blood.
“Sharon, what time are you going to the cemetery tomorrow?” Dad grabbed a biscuit and passed the plate.
“Right after church. I’ve picked out a new wreath to place on the grave.”
“I’ll meet you there, I’m going fishin’ early with Earl. Is Sunday dinner at the in-laws?”
Mom nodded. “Yes, just like every year. I can’t believe he’s been gone for twenty years now.” Mom eyes watered.
Dad touched her hand. “I know it still haunts you.”
Mom rubbed her eyes and cleared her throat. “ Let’s change the subject, huh?”
Dad looked at me. “I saw that tramp today,” Dad said. “He was out pickin’ up cans and such. Some folks think he’s been stealing.”
“Are hobos crazy, like from an asylum?”
“Naw, not all of them. Some of them are regular folks who are just down on their luck. They’ve sunk so deep into poverty they can’t climb out. Others, well they could be left over from Nam. I hear those guys had it rough in the war, and now, a year later, they still got it rough.”
Mom’s eyes darted over to me. “You haven’t been hanging around him have you?”
“No. I just wondered what causes people to be like that is all. It’s kinda sad.” I tried to take a bite of mashed potatoes, but even a small bit felt too big to swallow.
“It is sad, but I don’t want you going near him. We don’t know what his story is.” Mom stared at me waiting for an answer.
“I know. I mean, I won’t.” I scooted my chair back. “Mom, can I be excused, please.”
“You sure you’re feeling okay?” She reached over and placed her hand on my forehead.
I let her feel my head. “I’m okay, just tired.”
“Okay, you may go.”
I went to my room and stretched out on my bed. I kept picturing that limb striking the guy’s head. Then it hit me, he’s got to be awfully hungry, and he probably got cold at night. Maybe he was one of those men who were down on his luck after the war like Dad said. Maybe he wasn’t a crazy at all. I decided to help him. I would wait until everyone went to bed and sneak the poor tramp some food and a blanket. I thought about taking some bandages in case Mark had hurt him.
Around midnight, the house was quiet. I looked through the medicine cabinet and found some iodine, bandages, and aspirin. I took one of the extra blankets from my cedar chest, and when I felt was safe, I went to the kitchen to see what leftovers we had in the fridge. I figured he couldn’t cook, so I made him some sandwiches and took a few sodas. I packed it all up. At that moment, I didn’t know if I’d talk to him or just leave the duffle bag of items by the bridge. I told myself I’d decide on the way. I crept out through the garage and went outside. The full moon lit up the night. I was glad. I didn’t like being out alone in the dark.