This series is a little bit biographical and a little bit imaginary about my dad and a road trip he took in the summer of 1946, when he turned fifteen. He and a friend hitchhiked from
Tommy Hastings and Freddie Merrill looked both ways before crossing the street. That’s what you did in the city.
Tommy said, “What are we doing?” Freddie shot him a strange look. Tommy shook his head, “No, think about it! Why’d we just look before crossing the street?”
Freddie busted out laughing. “We probably looked like we were crazy!” Reaching the other side, they kept going, walking down to the beach.
Tommy said, “This is huge! I can’t even see the other side.”
They watched the gently rolling waves as the sun touched the horizon and began to slide into the shadows. Freddie said, “It’s like I never seen this much water, ever.” He sank down to his butt, legs crossed and didn’t speak.
Tommy sat down beside him. Somewhere in the gathering dark, a loon warbled the song of a crazy, soft-spoken woman. A crane flew overhead. Farther out on the water, someone in a small boat lit a lantern. Freddie said, “People live on this here lake.”
Tommy nodded. “Wish I did.”
They sat as the shoreline on the right side of Mille Lacs blazed for an instant in the last rays of the setting sun then fell into utter darkness as the shadow of night crept over the lake. Just over the trees a star appeared as the blood red light of sunset turned orange then blue then purple. The Moon hadn’t risen yet, but there was a glimmering in the east even as the sky turned black and starry.
“There’s a lot of stars,” whispered Freddie.
Tommy only nodded. After a while, he stood up. The Moon had peeked over the treetops. “We gotta find us a place to sleep.”
“Can’t we sleep on the beach?”
Tommy shrugged. “If we did, we’d be freezin’ by morning. Besides, you ever sleep out under the stars before?”
“Dad did. He said bats crap on you.”
“No!” Freddie hurried back to the road and stopped again. “I don’t think we’ll be able to hitchhike.” He looked up and down the road. “Ain’t nobody driving up here.”
Tommy joined him, glanced, and took a left and started walking. Freddie followed him, “Where you going?”
“Well, we gotta go around the lake and this way looks shorter.”
Neither boy spoke as they walked. It was so quiet, they could hear themselves breathing. The faint slap of waves on the shore came from the lake.
“Where we gonna sleep?” Freddie asked.
“Maybe in one of the cabins,” said Tommy, pointing at the occasional small, boxy house that loomed out of the darkness. Lights flickered in the windows of one or two. “What’s that smell?” he asked abruptly.
“Outhouses,” said Freddie.
“Outdoor bathrooms. My cousins in
“You asked.” They walked on, the paved road curved to the left. They walked. The full Moon came up, light slanting silver through the trees. “What if there’s werewolves?”
Tommy laughed and said, “Ain’t no such thing as werewolves.” He stopped in front of a sign and squinted in the dark. Finally he said, “Says here some town called Bayview about eleven miles ahead.”
“Eleven miles!” Freddie exclaimed.
“Shhh!” Tommy hissed. “I think now’s the time to get into one of those cabins, sleep for the night then set out in the morning.”
Freddie nodded and the boys angled from the road to a dark cabin on the lake side of the road. Tommy stepped up on a short wooden stairway and touched the handle of a screen door.
Freddie tromped on the steps, his tread loud. “Shhhh!” Tommy hissed again. “You sound like you got army boots on!” They stood in frozen silence for an eternity as the Moon rose an inch. Finally, Tommy opened the door slowly and stepped in. Freddie followed behind a moment later.
Suddenly, someone struck a match. Behind the flame, the face of the witch from