Scratch. Slide. Scratch… Matt gave in to the pavement and fell backwards with a sigh. The stifling July heat surrounded him.
“This is the end,” he said quietly.
Presently he heard footsteps and sat up, dazed. The blue figure of Mailwomen Miggle was approaching.
“Any mail?” asked Matt.
“Bills,” said Miggle cheerfully.
Matt dropped back down.
“What are doing?” asked Miggle.
“Existing” was the reply.
“Hm… I have something here that you might be interested in…”
Matt sat up and stared at Miggled with a puzzled expression.
“One of Bone Boy’s clues,” said Miggle, extending a piece of folded paper to Matt.
Immediately Matt hopped to his feet and snatched the paper, and without a word he ran off down the street.
“Bone Boy, clue, what?” asked Jordon, “Do you want to come in for some cookies?”
“Three summers ago a sixth grader named Bone Boy moved to town. Legend has it that he was the most fun kid ever, and at the end of the summer he made a list. On that list are the secrets to the perfect summer. He knew its power so he hid it well, leaving only three clues behind. After that he was never seen again,” said Matt.
“Wow. Good story. How about those cookies?” said Jordon turning towards the door.
“No time! Don’t you see? We need to find that list and save the summer!” exclaimed Matt, “Look, this is the first clue…”
Matt pulled out the paper and read, “In the place where none should meet, below the long and wooden seat.”
“What can it mean?” asked Matt finally.
“Beats me,” said Jordon, “You know, I really was about to get something to eat…”
“Come on, I know!” exclaimed Matt pulling at Jordon’s sleeve. “It has to be under the bench at Doomuch Park. You shouldn’t meet down there because it’s under the structure!”
Matt started off. Jordon, whose shirt was still locked in the firm grasp of Matt’s fist reluctantly followed. As they rushed by the side of the house they didn’t notice the crouched figure of Rusty Nail, the resident bully whose name was derived from the fact that a rusty nail on a string hung from his neck at all times.
“So, those Milk Membranes think they can have the list for themselves?” said Rusty Nail to himself, “We’ll see about that.”
Presently Matt and Jordan reached the four way intersection on North Millwood Street. Matt pressed the walk button and settled down against the pole.
“What are you doing?” asked Jordon.
Matt only smiled as he started to nap.
Jordon stood still for a bit. Then began to pace. Five minutes passed, then ten and twenty. He watched the cars wizz by and stared into the deep green vortex of the traffic light.
He slammed at the crossed button over and over. “Change!”
“No!” yelled Matt jumping to his feet, “Are you crazy? Pressing the button again resets it!” He sighed and slumped back down against the pole. With a dazed look Jordon fell against the nearby tree and made his way to the ground…
BUZZ! The light turned red and the sign flashed “walk.” Both boys stood up and crossed without a word.
“Finally,” said Jordon as they approached a sign declaring the entrance to Doomuch Park.
They began to make their way toward the towering wooden playscape. It grew out of the dusty earth and reached above the bone dry trees. All areas are a blur with movement: kids of all ages, and a few adults too, pushing and climbing and playing under the blazing sun. It smelled like summer. Jordon and Matt advanced towards the structure side by side.
“Which way to the bench?”
“It’s right in the middle of the second level.”
The two passed by a foot ball game, dodged a Frisbee, and tossed someone their lost ball as it rolled into the sea of tiny pebbles. They rushed to the large wooden stairs and a disoriented third grader fell to his doom in molten lava.
“Matt!” screamed a girl sitting on the fabled bench.
“Hi, Ally,” said Matt.
“What are you doing?” insisted Ally.
“Saving the summer. Too much to handle for a girl so just stay out of it,” replied Matt.
“Oh yeah? Well I’m coming with you!” Ally yelled back, her face growing red.
“Don’t pop a vain! See, girls can’t even argue…” laughed Matt.
“Hey Ally, those potato chips sure look good…” said Jordon.
“Hey! What? Keep your hands off those, Jelly Roll!” screamed Ally.
Jordon backed away and Ally jumped off the bench.
“So, where are we headed,” said Ally.
“We need to find a way under the structure,” replied Matt, deep in though.
“Maybe we could just have Jordon jump a few times,” said Ally.
Jordon’s cheeks glowed as he feigned a smile, “We short try kicking those boards over there.”
Together the three began hammering at the boards. After a minute of beatings they gave way and fell into the dank dungeon of wood chips below. Matt was the first to hop down. Ally followed. Jordon promised to keep watch.
With light seeping in through cracks between boards the two searched the walls and ground, pushing aside trash that had made its way with the light over the years.
“I found it!” cried Matt.
Ally pushed him aside and read the message scribbled in black ink on the wall, “On Morton’s island – Bone Boy.”
“He must mean that island in Morton’s Brook. It passes through this park,” said Matt.
“How clever,” said Ally sarcastically.
The two climbed up out of the hole and together with Jordon headed down across the burnt grass towards the brook; all three blissfully unaware that Rusty Nail had been crouching above them in one of the towers, listening to every word.
The brook was sheltered on both sides by small buffers of forest. During most of the year it runs swiftly through groups of rocks and down strings of water falls, but during the drought of the summer months it slows to a trickle. At its widest point it could easily be hoped; even by Larry Dormper, the forth grader who broke both legs when Rusty Nail pushed him off the highest tower at Doomuch. At the middle of this wide point, maybe a little to the left, an island grew up from the riverbed.
“There it is, and look: the water is so low we won’t even get wet!” exclaimed Matt as he ran ahead.
The three broke apart and began searching through the brush for a clue. Time passed and Ally began to grow impatient.
“Matt! I think this is the wrong island…” she whined.
“You couldn’t tell an island from an ocean!” he spat back, undeterred.
“I found something!” said Jordon holding up a piece of wood. How many times had it been stepped on, face down in the ground? What if only once some kid had turned it over and read its wisdom.
“Dig,” read Ally.
“Dig… Here?” asked Matt
“You couldn’t tell a dig from a… well a… Yes, dig here!” said Ally ignoring the beginning of her statement, “Who has a shovel?”
“I have one,” offered Jordon, “but—”
“My house is closer,” said Matt before he could finish, “I’ll run and get it. Stay right here!”
And off he ran across the baked grass.
A few minutes passed. Ally tried to dig with a stick which eventually broke while Jordon mumbled something about lunch. Suddenly they heard something breaking through the brush.
“Matt?” called Jordon feebly.
“Wrong,” replied a nail wearing mutant emerging from the thick bushes.
Ally screamed as two others came out behind Rusty Nail: Neck Tie, whose whip of ties was legendary, and Stinky Sock, who hadn’t changed his socks since the third grade.
“That’s right,” said Rusty Nail, “Give me the list or my associates here will have to—”
“We… Er… Don’t have the list… Mr. Nail…” whimpered Jordon.
“What did you just call me, Skunk Breath? Neck Tie, Stinky Sock: take them to my tower,” demanded Rusty Nail.
With that Jordon and Ally were carried off to the highest tower in Doomuch Park.
“Guys? Hello?” called Matt, returning out of breath and shovel in hand, “I can’t believe they left.”
He began to dig into the soft earth when he saw the note, written in broken English, “If you ever want to see your friends again, come to my tower and bring the list—Rusty Nail.”
“Oh no! But–” Matt tossed the shovel aside and ran for the tower. Looking up he saw them in the tower: Rusty Nail, his minions, Ally, and Jordon.
He called up, “Hey, Stainless Steel!”
Rusty Nail whirled around, enraged, “What was that?”
“I have your list, but you have to come and get it from me!” Matt waved a folded piece of paper from is pocket.
“Neck Tie, Stinky Sock: After him” yelled Rusty Nail.
All three started down the tower and through the wooden labyrinth. Matt hopped around for a minute as they climbed, then, as they emerged he started out towards the bridge. He tossed the list off into the water. Stunned, the trio rushed by him and followed the list into the water, each swearing revenge. Quickly Matt turned around and returned to the island.
“The list… Did you…” asked Ally slowly.
“No, that was the clue,” said Matt smiling as he recovered the shovel.
Taking turns they excavated the island for hours, and finally, under the light of a red-hot setting sun they pulled out a piece of paper. It was blank. For some time the three only stared at it, but eventually they laughed and set out together to the west.
A bully foiled, a friendship formed, a summer saved.