Canto Three –Discovery Doesn’t Happen Without Risk
Leaving the Ghost House, Valerie waited until Conrad Doble had left. She didn’t like old King Leer looking at her. She would’ve been happier if Pidney had stayed around a bit longer. Not only could he protect her, but she really liked looking at Pidney’s broad shoulders and cute behind. But Pidney left when Mary left. She didn’t have to worry for too long though about being alone with Conrad. He left shortly after Pid and Mary. Danny Murphy and Ray Zeffer were both still there.
“You wouldn’t mind if we walked you home, huh, Val?” asked Danny.
She looked out the cellar doorway where Conrad had just disappeared. “It would be kinda good to have two guys around when I have to go back home and that creepazoid is around somewhere.”
“We promised Pidney a long time ago that we would look out for you,” said Ray.
“I don’t really know you very well, Ray. Why do you wanna help me?”
“We are like second cousins or something,” said Ray. “Grandma says there are connections between the Zeffers and the Clarkes. Back a couple of generations maybe.”
“Besides,” said Danny, “You may only be ten years old, but you are so beautiful. We’d do anything for you just because of that.”
“That’s kinda sexist, ain’t it? You know my mom and I are both feminists, right?”
“Maybe,” said Ray, shoving Danny for having been so stupid. “But it is entirely true.”
She looked at him then… really studied him for a moment. Ray Zeffer, tall and thin, was nice to look at too. He had big brown eyes like a deer… Bambi’s eyes. Those eyes could look soulfully through you like x-ray eyes. He could see Valerie’s heart inside her ribcage. She shivered ever so slightly because of those big Bambi eyes. But those eyes were sad. Something about the way those eyes looked at you told you that something deeply sad and soul-searing had touched Ray. She was fairly sure his mother hadn’t been killed by hunters though.
“Let’s go then. If you walk me to the north edge of town, that will be good enough.”
“You skated in all the way from the farm?” asked Danny.
“Walked to town,” she answered. “You can’t use the board on the gravel roads. It is only two miles.”
“That’s still a long way,” said Ray. “But if you don’t mind, we’ll walk you all the way home.”
“I don’t mind. You are both very sweet to do it.”
The walk along the gravel roads had been pleasant. The rocks and sand crunched under your sneakers in a way that was reassuring. Your feet were firmly on the earth when you walked on the gravel. No danger of floating away into some dream world. And the sound the gravel made could warn you of oncoming cars both ahead of you, and behind. Stalking King Leers too. They couldn’t sneak up on you without being heard.
“That farm place there is where I live with Daddy and Momma,” said Valerie. She looked at Ray.
“We know where you live,” said Danny. “We all three have lived in this town all our lives.”
“Oh, yeah, I know that,” said Val sheepishly. She didn’t want to be awkward in front of Ray.
“It’s a nice farm,” said Ray. “Your dad must work hard with so many acres to till.”
“Yeah, he’s pretty busy in the spring, summer, and fall. He should be in the fields now picking corn, unless he’s finished all the corn that survived the hail in August.”
“I’d be in the fields now, too,” said Ray sadly, “except my dad passed away two years ago. We just rent our land out now, Mom and me.”
Val knew about Ray’s father. He had passed away in the Summer of ’82 from a heart attack while driving his tractor in a field down by Dows, Iowa. Maybe that’s why Ray looked so sad all the time.
“Do you miss it?” asked Danny. “The field work, I mean?”
“Not really. Being a farmer is a hard job. It’s like you are never done working.”
“Danny wouldn’t know,” said Valerie with a mocking grin. “His dad works in an office in Belle City. He counts beans or something.”
“He’s an accountant,” said Danny frowning fiercely. “Bean-counter is a nick-name for an accountant. He doesn’t actually count beans!”
“What does he really count, then?” asked Ray.
“Payrolls and prices and ledgers and stuff… I think,” said Danny. “But I have done field work! You know I walked beans the past two summers, Val! You walked ‘em too!”
“Ack! I hate walking up and down the rows with a hoe, pulling button weeds and chopping rogue corn!” said Ray.
“I like it,” said Valerie laughing. “I pretend some of the weeds are people I don’t like or who have made fun of me. I grab ‘em by the throat and yank their little fat heads off, or I chop them in two with the hoe. Besides, walking beans is how I got to see Danny naked last summer.”
Danny was seriously blushing now. If Val hadn’t killed him with embarrassment before, this was sure to do the job now.
“Tell me about it,” said Ray with a chuckle.
Danny was hesitant, but certainly didn’t want Valerie to tell it. “Well, er… I made a bet with my cousin from Clarion about who could clear out the thistle patch in his row faster. The loser had to do the next two rows stark naked, with the winner holding on to the clothes. I didn’t know anybody could chop thistles that fast.”
“After two rows in the sun with that white skin of his,” said Valerie, “he was red all over… just like a cherry… even in places a person should never be sunburned.”
All three of them laughed about it and Danny didn’t even die of embarrassment. Almost, but not quite.
“We’re here,” said Val at last. “Thank you for walking me home. You are both gentlemen, and very gallant.”
“What does gallant mean?” asked Danny.
“Like a white knight,” said Ray, “protecting the princess from evil.”
“Are we white knights?” asked Danny, looking directly at Val.
“One white knight and one cherry red jester, I think.”
Danny grinned again. Ray laughed. It was good to hear Ray laugh. Some people simply need to laugh more.