This series is a little biography about my dad and little imagination about a trip he took the summer of 1946 – he was almost fifteen. He and friend hitchhiked to Duluth. He says is was “something to do”. I prefer to think there was a more cosmic, mysterious reason. Hence, this story. To read earlier SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH posts click on the link on your right. Number one is on the bottom as you scroll down…
“You can’t have me!” Freddie Merrill screamed, scrambling up the steps, stumbling and almost planting his face on the sidewalk at the top of the stairs. A rattling pickup rolled past, belching blue smoke and leaving the smell of rotted vegetables in its wake.
Always the fastest, Freddie turned, sprinting down the sidewalk that ran along the street. Tommy Hastings ran after him, calling, “Freddie! Freddie! Wait!” He put on a burst of speed as Freddie slowed at a street corner. A single car roared through the intersection, so the boys turned right to cross the bridge. A waterfall rumbled under their feet, shaking the bridge. They kept going for six blocks until finally Freddie slowed down.
He collapsed against a highway sign, holding it as his legs trembled.
“What,” Tommy gasped, “are,” he took a deeper breath, trying to slow his breathing. “…you doing?”
“Running,” Freddie managed.
Tommy made a rude noise.
“…away from the witch…” Freddie finished. He sagged against the sign pole.
“Ain’t no such thing as witches,” Tommy said.
A beam of sunlight from the rising sun cut through the fog like a hot knife through butter. Blinded, the boys covered their eyes so neither one saw the girl in the blue gingham dress ride down the street until she braked in front of them. Blinking stupidly, the boys started as she put down her kickstand leaned the bike on it then turned to face them. Her voice was harsh, shrill and nasal as she said, “Freddie Merrill, what are you doing in Anoka without Auntie Shirley? Mom didn’t say you were comin’, otherwise I’d have met you at the train, so since Mom couldn’ta known that means you’re here without permission which means…”
Freddie screamed and darted across the street. Tommy shot the girl an alarmed look the lit out after Freddie who was – no kidding at all – waving his arms straight up in the air and screaming like a banshee while he ran straight down the middle of Trunk Highway 56.
Tommy caught up with him without any trouble ‘cause even though Freddie could run faster, he didn’t have any kind of staying power. Tommy wasn’t as fast, but he could keep running for a long time before his legs gave out. He figured Freddie’s legs would give out any second.
But they didn’t. Freddie just got slower and slower and slower until he finally stopped. The last house on the north side of Anoka had disappeared and they kept on walking on Trunk Highway 56.
“I wanna go home,” Freddie said suddenly.
“Your dad will kill you,” said Tommy.
“He’s gonna kill me anyway. That girl?”
“Not the one who played the guitar!”
“The one in the dress with the voice like a cat getting run over by a car?”
“Yeah. That’s my cousin, Mary Elizabeth.”
The cousin rode up alongside them and said, “Where are YOU going?”
Freddie didn’t look at her and said, “We’re running away to Alaska and then we’re going to the Soviet Union to become Communists.”
Mary Elizabeth gasped, wheeled her bicycle around and pedaled frantically back into town.
Tommy laughed. “Like she’ll believe that.”
“You don’t know my cousin and aunt,” Freddie said grimly. “She’s really stupid. She believes it and she’ll tell her mom and her mom will believe it and her mom will call my mom and my mom will believe it and tell my dad.” They plodded along for a silent mile as the sun burned off the fog and began to beat down on their heads. “My dad is gonna have my head when I get back home.” They walked until Freddie said, “He’s gonna have my head…”