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I kept a good pace through the wooded area toward the bridge. Never had I been out alone in the night and my imagination conjured visions of all sorts of wild, hungry animals just waiting for a late night snack. Everywhere I looked, I saw yellow eye glowing in the darkness. My heart raced as I neared the bridge. I saw Hobo sitting outside by a fire. I attempted to hide behind a tree, but foot snapped a branch in the grass.
Hobo jumped up and turned my direction me. “Who’s there?” He walked toward me, moving his head trying to get a better look.
I dropped the bag and ran. I raced through the woods, dodging the trees until I reached the clearing behind the house. I stopped to catch my breath and look back. He didn’t chase me. Why did I run away? I don’t even know if he picked up the bag. Darn chicken, just like Mark said. I had to sneak back. I wanted to make sure he got the bag.
I jogged until I reached the edge of the woods. I put one foot softly in front of the other, careful not to break another twig. I got behind a large oak, crouched down. Hobo dug through the bag. He found the sandwiches and starting eating before removing all the plastic wrap. I had never seen anyone so hungry. While shoving the last bite of sandwich in his mouth, he found the aspirin and bandages. He chuckled. That’s when I decided it was safe to come forward. I crept out from behind the tree and stood in his view. “I…is your head okay?”
Hobo reached up and touched the sore on his head. “I don’t know, I guess. It stopped bleeding.”
I walked over and used my flashlight to take a look. “It looks sorta bad. Maybe I can help you put some iodine and bandages on it, you know, so it won’t get infected.” I knelt down beside him.
“Thank you, boy.” He reached and found the aspirin. He shook the bottle. “What're the pills for?”
“Oh, I thought you might have a headache.” I dabbed the iodine on the cut and taped it up with a bandage. “I’m sorry about my friend. He does stupid things.”
“ Aww…It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have chased you I guess.” He smiled. “But, it sure is fun to watch kids run scared out their wits.”
I sat down beside him on the ground. Up close, he didn’t look so scary. His beard was long but trimmed, his eyes were green, and his hair was what my mom calls strawberry blonde. He didn’t smell bad. He wasn’t old either.
“What’s this?” He pulled the soda from the bag.
“It’s Tab.” I opened it for him. “It’s all we had in the fridge. Mom’s always on a diet.”
“Aint bad.” He chugged it down.
“My name’s Caleb. What’s yours?”
“Just call me Ben, cause I’ve been everywhere.” He snickered.
I stared at him. I didn’t mean to, but he seemed like a normal guy. I pictured him in army uniform fighting in Nam. “Were you in the war?”
“Me, naw. “
“Well, I just… I mean how…”
He took two aspirin and swallowed them dry. “Why I live like this.”
I stared into the fire. “Yeah, I just don’t understand.”
“I don’t know.” We sat in silence a few minutes. “I don’t remember.”
I turned to him. “You mean like amnesia or something?”
“I just remember waking up one morning, not knowing where I was, or who I was.”
“Didn’t you see a doctor or something?” The thought of amnesia and the mysterious hobo fascinated me.
He turned away as he spoke. “I went to the emergency room at the hospital. “ He cleared his throat. “But, they just treated me and had me talk to the police.” He paused for a moment and sighed. “No one could help, not that they didn’t try, but nobody came forward to claim me.”
“That is terrible. I can’t imagine not knowing who I was. My family too.” I picked a twig on the ground and broke it into pieces, throwing the bits in the fire.
Hobo glanced over at me.“It’s real late. Ain’t you got a family who’ll worry?”
Hobo’s averted his glossy eyes. I bet he didn’t want me to see him cry that’s why he thought I should go home. I stood up and brushed the dirt and bits of sticks off my jeans. “Yeah, I better get home. It’s Sunday, and Mom will be getting up soon for Church.”
Hobo grabbed my hand and looked up at me. “Hey, you’re nice kid and all, but you shouldn’t be so trusting.” He let go. “Now, go on home, and thanks.”
“No problem.” I started to walk away, but I wanted to talk to him more—to solve his mystery. I could tell Mark, and we could solve it together, like the Hardy Boys. I had to talk with him again. I stopped and turned back. “How about tomorrow, I bring you some lasagna?”
He nodded. “Naw, I don’t want to be no trouble.”
“ No trouble, really. See ya tomorrow.” I jogged through the wooded area to the clearing. The moon peeked over the treetops as I entered my yard. I snuck in through the garage and crept through the kitchen. Tiptoeing down the hall and ran into Mom. My heart raced and I felt like throwing up. I knew she was going to ask me.
“Caleb, where have you been?” She stood in front of me in her bathrobe with a tissue in her hand. Her eyes were red.
I stood quietly for a moment, looking at her. Her eyes were red. She was crying. Then it hit me. It’s Uncle Jim’s birthday. He died before I was born, so I didn’t know him. What makes it so difficult for Mom is the fact that no one knew why he was alone down by the river, or why someone who swam as good as Jim drowned.
I had to think fast. I couldn’t tell her about Ben, she’d ground me ‘til the end of time. “I couldn’t sleep, so I went out to get some air.”
She reached for me and rubbed my arm. “Are you still upset about the derelict? I’m sure he’ll be fine. People learn to adjust, you know.” She pulled me against her shoulder. I felt the softness of her channel bathrobe. It was warm and smelled of fabric softener, a smell that always soothed me as a child. “I could tell it was bothering you. You’ve always been concerned for others. Moms know these things, hon.” She held me tighter.
“Yeah, it that’s it. I feel so sorry for him. I don’t think he’s mean or dangerous or nothing.”
She squeezed me tighter. “I love you,” she said, rubbing my back. “I’ll make you some hot cocoa and then I want you to try to get some sleep.” She released her grip and got the milk from the refrigerator. “Do you want to the cemetery with me in the morning? After church?” She handed me a steaming cup.
“Sure.” I blew away the steam and took a sip.
“Drink that and go get some sleep. I’ll wake you when I get home from church.” She blotted her eyes with a tissue and smiled at me before disappearing down the hall.
I drank the cocoa and went to my room. While I slept I had a dream about Ben, and I helped him find his family. When I woke, I realized it wasn’t real, but it could be. I could do it. I decided to find out who Ben really is.