By Michael Zambotti
By Michael Zambotti
The car was gone from the driveway, no telling when it would come back. I'd better make this quick. I leaned my bike against a tree and surveyed the overgrown backyard once more before hopping the chain-link fence. I found a path between the weeds and put my hand on a rusty barrel to keep steady. An unoccupied raccoon trap was off to my left. The thick, summer air smelled of wet dogs and dandelions. Crickets and my heart beat were the only sound. An ancient birdbath had tipped over and now served as home to a beehive. The path pulled me to the house. I was certain no one was inside, although I tried not to make a noise. Quiet as a mouse peeing on cotton, as my dad would put it. The brass doorknob was cold under my hand. It turned. Success!
Adrenaline surged. I felt pricklies all over my arms like when I reach into the pine tree to get the wiffle ball back. This was it. Twelve years old and I was going to be a hero! I was going to discover the trove of bodies in Old Man Smith's Den of Horrors. Jimmy and I had snuck out a few nights ago-- we were supposed to be camping in his backyard-- and saw the lights and heard the scraping, grinding noises coming from the basement. We had planned this entire operation together, but at the last minute Jimmy had to go out of town to see his relatives. I was scared, but secretly glad he wasn't there. I wanted to be the hero, all by myself. I'd be sure to mention Jimmy to the reporter, though. I'd already gone over what I'd say in the interview several times. I turned my “Rick's Drugstore Red Sox” ball cap backward for good luck and pressed forward.
The house wasn't nearly as messy as I'd pictured it in my mind. The kitchen smelled of flowers. As I progressed down the carpeted hallway, I noticed a light coming from under a door and heard a grinding noise. I opened the door and peered down the wooden stairs. The grinding got louder and the air held a hint of smoke. Was he down there? Would I catch him in the act? Too excited to turn back now, I double-checked my camera and put an unsteady foot on the top step. No noise. I lowered myself onto the second step. Quiet. Yes! The third and fourth step were silent. When I hit the fifth step my heart sank. A loud, obnoxious squeak sounded and a graveled voice said, “Who's there?” I froze. A weathered face covered by a worn engineer's hat poked through the door frame. Should I scream? Run? What should I do?
“Come down here, I want to show you something.”
He lunged toward me and took me by the arm. The jig was up. The grinding noise was even louder. Red lights periodically flashed from the other room. I wished Jimmy was here.
My throat was frozen and my fingers felt icy. I followed the man sure to be his next victim. I turned left and entered the large room and saw it. Stretched out in front of me was the largest train set I had ever seen. It was an exact replica of our town.
“I've been working on this for months.” Smiled the man. “What do you think?”
“Uh, um, it's a..... killer layout, sir”