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Authors: Chris Woodworth

When Ratboy Lived Next Door

BOOK: When Ratboy Lived Next Door
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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Author's Note

Acknowledgments

Copyright

 

To my dad, Richard Lincicum, for instilling in me his love of books, and to my mom, Francee Lincicum, for swallowing her fear and letting me ride my bike across a busy road to visit the library all by myself

1

May 18, 1962

The sweet ring of the school bell echoed through the building at exactly 3:00 p.m., and we were free of school—at least for the weekend. In two more weeks, we'd be free for the whole summer.

I lifted my desk lid and grabbed my books. Before the lid banged down, I threw myself into the swarm of other sweaty sixth graders bottlenecked at the door. Mrs. Warren was mouthing her usual “Class-don't-push! Class-don't-rush! Class-don't-
don't
!”

It was the same speech we got every day at 3:00, but you could tell her heart wasn't in it anymore. Even Mrs. Warren must have sensed that summer had both arms stretched out, beckoning us to leave our schoolbooks and number-two pencils behind.

Outside, I yanked the back of my skirt up between my legs and pushed it through my belt so it wouldn't get caught in the bike chain. Then I threw my books into the basket on my candy red Schwinn and gave the kickstand a good swat with my foot. I started pedaling straight toward chubby Bobby Wayans. He stood in the center of the road, wearing the bright yellow crossing-guard band across his chest.

“Stop!” Bobby yelled at me, holding his sign high in the air. “I said
stop!

I didn't even slow down.

“Lydia Carson, I'll get you into trouble for this!” he shouted, butt-kissing teacher's pet that he was.

“Well, Bobby, you can always
try!
” I hollered back.

I hadn't liked Bobby for three years, ever since he told on me for putting a toad on the refreshment table during Vacation Bible School. Everybody else thought it was funny, but not Bobby. He was probably afraid the toad would eat a brownie and that would mean one less brownie for him. From the day he became the school crossing guard, I made it my mission to never stop when he told me to.

I swerved just before I reached him. Then I tightened my grip on the handlebars and slammed on the brakes. I spun my bike in a circle and hightailed it out of there before someone with real authority saw me.

I rode through town toward my daddy's filling station. I always went there to do my homework when the weather was good, even on Friday afternoons. The wind blew the short waves of dark hair away from my smiling face. As soon as school was out for the summer, I could pack up these sorry school dresses and ride away from Maywood Grade School for the last time. Next year I would be a seventh grader over at Maywood Junior-Senior High.

The only bad thing about summer coming was that I probably wouldn't see my very best friend, Rae Anne. Her daddy farmed land as far away from Maywood as you could get and still be in our school district. She had a long bus ride to and from school.

Her grandma, Mrs. Ogle, used to live next door to me. In the summers, Rae Anne spent as much time there as she could, and I was at Mrs. Ogle's house more than my own. Rae Anne and I were so much alike we were almost twins.

After Mr. Ogle died last year, Mrs. Ogle went to live with Rae Anne and her family. Now the house was empty and Rae Anne wouldn't be visiting. Her folks didn't mind bringing her to visit her grandma, but they'd never make the trip just so she could play with a friend.

I was coming up to the post office. It was a small building with a flagpole whose cord snapped so on a windy day it would scare the daylights out of you if you weren't expecting it. Everyone had a post office box there. The government wasn't going to spend good money on a letter carrier for a town the size of Maywood, Indiana.

As I rode past, I swung to the right to tap the flagpole with my left hand. I don't know who started tapping the flagpole, but all the kids did it. It was just something you did, same as breathing.

I picked up my pace at the office of the
Maywood Press.
It was my mother's newspaper. She took over as its publisher when she moved to Maywood, before she met my daddy. The only week she didn't put out a paper was the week I was born. You'd think her office would be a good place to do homework, but whenever I went there Mother gave me an impatient “Yes, Lydia?” that said I'd better have a good excuse for stopping by. I got the feeling that needing a place to do homework didn't qualify, so I hardly ever went there. And I guess that was the way Mother wanted it because she never invited me.

I didn't stop until I came to the library. Nanna had asked me to return her book, and she would never forgive me if I forgot and she had to pay a fine.

I parked my bike in front and released my skirt from my belt. My shoelace had come undone and I was bending over to tie it when I heard a clicking noise in the distance, kind of a cross between a motor running and a cat purring. I paused, still bent over, because it was such a strange noise that I was trying to figure out what it was. Suddenly I was pushed forward as something heavy landed on my back. Sharp spikes poked their way up my spine.

Acting on instinct and a fear so mighty I could have lifted a building, I reached up over my head, grabbed whatever it was, and hurled it away from me. At the same time, I lost my balance and stumbled forward against my bike. It went crashing down with me on top. I heard brakes squealing and looked up just in time to see that I'd thrown a raccoon into the side of an oncoming car.

A boy with reddish blond hair came running out of Hanson's A&P. He had a real worried look. I was just about to say that I was all right. I wasn't going to cry or act like a baby. I could take care of myself. But before I could say anything, he sped right past me. He dropped the Popsicle he'd been holding and picked up the raccoon, cooing to it as if it were a baby or something. At first it seemed dazed. Then it started tearing at him, trying to get out of his arms.

A man opened the door of the stopped car. “Oh no! Did I hit anybody?”

Then he took in the scene. “You mean it was just a coon?” He pulled out a bandanna and wiped his forehead. “Thank God!”

He came over to me and in one move pulled me up by my elbow and righted my bicycle. “I didn't hit you, did I, honey?”

“No, sir. I'm fine,” I said, and I guess I was. My knees were just a little bloody. “I was nearly scared to death, that's all. That coon ran straight up my back!”

“Well, they're pretty slick creatures. He was probably rummaging around garbage cans. They're known for that,” the man said and, reassured that he hadn't killed anybody, got in his car and took off.

I looked at the raccoon, now on the sidewalk, and saw a rope fashioned into a collar around its neck. Another rope was hanging from the collar like a leash, and the boy was holding it tight. His face was so white it made his freckles stand out like strawberries in cream. I saw something else on his face, too: pure hatred.

“He don't eat garbage. And you're lyin'—he wouldn't touch your skinny back with a ten-foot pole,” he spat out. “He was tied up waitin' on me at the grocery store, you scrawny sack of bones.” Then he took one hand off the coon long enough to push me. Hard. I stepped backward onto my own loose shoestring. I reached out to keep my balance, but it was no use. All I grabbed was air. For the second time that day, my bike and I went crashing to the ground—only now it was my rear end that got banged up.

I finally untangled myself and looked around. The boy and his raccoon were gone. Nobody else seemed to have noticed what happened, which was a good thing. It was bad enough to be bullied by some hick straight from the hills without anybody seeing it.

I gathered my homework and put it back into my basket. Then I wiped the dust off the library book. Nanna would be fit to be tied if I ruined it. She wouldn't even let me set a book down on the return desk and walk out, the way everybody else did. I always had to hand it to Mrs. Green so that Nanna could rest assured it had been returned, safe and sound.

Nanna was my great-aunt and had raised me from a baby because Mother worked. Nanna's first name was Lydia. Daddy named me after her. I figured he borrowed Nanna's name just so he could call me
something,
since I had no name at all for the first three days of my life. I doubt Mother had an opinion one way or another, seeing as how I still didn't have a middle name. Nanna's full name was Lydia Gladys Baldwin. It sure wasn't pretty, but it was better than the name on my birth certificate: Lydia (none) Carson—as if I were nothing inside.

When I had made sure the book was okay, I slowly climbed the library steps. I opened the door and tried to walk quietly, each step echoing in the stillness. I wished for the hundredth time that Nanna would bring back her own dang books. There was something so somber about the place. I had decided long ago that happiness and excitement were feelings that had no business in a library or a church.

Even though the library had just one big room, I didn't see Mrs. Green right away.

“Oh, hello, Lydia! Be with you in a minute!”

I about jumped out of my skin as Mrs. Green fairly yelled from her perch on the ladder behind me. “Afternoon, Miz Green. That's fine,” I whispered. Mrs. Green had just become our librarian and hadn't learned that shushing people, herself included, was part of the job.

She climbed down and said, “So, Lydia, are you checking that book out or bringing it back?” She took Nanna's book from me. Then she saw my legs and called out louder than a librarian should, “My goodness! What happened to you?”

Before I could answer, she pulled my skirt back to see my knees. “Lydia Carson, you have blood just dripping down your legs! Were you in a bike wreck?”

“Well…”

“Never mind that for now. Sit in this chair while I get out my first aid kit.” She pulled a chair out for me, its legs screeching across the floor.

I sat down and, sure enough, there was blood running down my legs. Just as she came back, I was scrunching my socks down so they wouldn't get wet.

“We'll have you fixed up in no time,” Mrs. Green said while she rummaged through the box.

“Thank you kindly, Miz Green. I didn't know I was hurt that bad.”

“I've been telling my husband that you kids would have a bike wreck, as fast as you come up that road. ‘You just wait and see!' is what I told him.”

“I didn't exactly have a bike wreck. I mean, I did fall into my bike. I got pushed is really more like it.”

“Pushed! What do you mean, pushed?”

“It was the strangest thing. First a raccoon ran right up my back! I didn't know it was a raccoon, of course. I guess it wouldn't have mattered if I did. I threw it off me and it flew right into the side of a car.”

Mrs. Green stopped working on my knees for a minute and said, “Lydia, I'm not angry with you about the bike wreck. You don't need to make up a story.”

BOOK: When Ratboy Lived Next Door
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