Ye Who Enter Here

“I ain’t goin’ in there,” Hakim told us.

I turned around to stare into his collarbone. Like the rest of us, he was eight. Unlike the rest of us, he was really, really tall. His growth spurt had kicked in about half a dozen years too early. You’d think the height advantage would have given him a little more courage.

“Fine,” I said. “Angelo?”

“That place is haunted!” Angelo replied.

“I ain’t goin’ in alone.”

“Get Lisa,” Hakim said.

“So you’re saying,” I clarified, “that a girl’s braver than both you guys, and you don’t care that I’m gonna tell everybody?”

“That place is haunted!” Angelo replied.

“You people make me sick.” I hopped on my bike and pedaled back to our neighborhood, seized by a bit more dread than I felt about that allegedly haunted house.

Lisa Green scared the crap out of me, and because she did, I could rest assured that I was perfectly sane. She was a sixty-pound bucket of undiluted viciousness, ready to splash on anyone standing too close.

What I’d discovered some time ago was that she was willing to splash on commission, and so we kept her on retainer at a cost of five stolen candy bars a week. The result was that we got a thug, and she got to eat chocolate and beat people up–her two favorite hobbies. Relationships didn’t get more professional than that.

Usually she was wherever we needed her to be, like magic. This morning, though, she wasn’t in any of the playgrounds she frequented, nor was she in her secret, special place in the desert hills that surrounded our trailer park. I had no choice: I had to go to her home, which I’d never been to before. Something about that scared me even more than she did.

The woman who answered the Greens’ door looked tired. There was no other way to describe her. She was really pretty, and really young, like she was in high school or something. Maybe she was the babysitter.

“Um,” I asked her, “can Lisa Green come out?”

The woman craned her neck inside and barked, “Kid!”

Lisa appeared instantly under the woman’s arm. For the first time since I’d met her fifteen months ago, she actually seemed a little happy–maybe not happy; more like not pissed off. “Hey, Fuentes,” she said.

“Hey, Green,” I replied.

Before we could exchange more words, a hairy, meaty hand clamped down on her shoulder. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” it growled before yanking her inside and slamming the door shut.

I should have left, but my feet were stapled to their cinderblock steps by the words pouring out of the walls. Most I’d never heard before. Of those, I’ve since became fluent in all but one. To this day, I have never spoken that one word, nor do I intend to.

More jarring than all that shouting was the way it stopped without warning. My feet still couldn’t move for the long-as-hell minute it took for the door to open again.

Lisa emerged, pulling on her enormous red hoodie, despite the fact that it was August. Through the curtain of her stringy, brown hair, I could see that her thousand-yard stare was bloodshot, and the snot trickling out of her nose was beginning to dry. “What do you want,” she said.

I gulped. “I need your help with …”

“Don’t care,” she replied. “Let’s get out of here.”

Nothing was ever the same again after that.


… And now…

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