They walked until the sun started to rise and Tommy Hastings said, “Maybe we better lay down someplace and sleep.”
Freddie Merrill yawned hugely, staggering from their side of the road to the far side. He said, “I’m not tired. If we just keep walking maybe we’ll make it to
Tommy stared at him. Infected by the yawn, he did the same thing then answered, “No, I’m good. I can keep going.”
They kept walking.
Tommy tripped and fell down, catching himself on his hands and knees, cussing. He didn’t get up.
“Are you OK?”
“Yeah. Just tired, I guess. Feels better to sit here like this than walk.”
Freddie started back to him, stopped and looked around. “What’s that?”
“What’s what?” asked Tommy, looking up.
“That noise,” he whispered. Freddie closed his eyes and listened intently. “Sounds like cans clanking.”
“What kind of cans?”
“Like garbage cans or something.”
Tommy pulled himself to his feet, listening. “It’s coming closer.”
“Maybe we should get off the road?”
“And go where?” He looked wildly around. Mille Lacs was to their left. Nothing but really, really tall green grass and ponds of water on their right. Like a swamp or something.
They stood in the middle of the road, looking back toward Bayfield. Freddie said, “What if it’s the witch?”
“If it’s her, she’s driving a garbage truck,” said Tommy. The rattling grew louder.
“Shouldn’t we do something?”
Tommy squinted against the bright morning light then stepped over to the side of the road and said, “Yeah. Stick out your thumb.”
“If it’s the mobsters, they’ll shoot us. If it’s the communists, they’ll bomb us. If it’s the witch, she’ll hex us. Any way you look at it, we’re dead.”
“What if it’s a milk truck or something?”
“Then we can get a glass of milk.”
“Or a ride?”
The rattling grew louder. From around the corner a flatbed truck roared, trailing a cloud of blue smoke. Tommy stuck out his thumb and Freddie followed suit. The truck slowed down and stopped, rumbling next to them. On the door was stenciled MOONEY MILK. A young, dark-haired man – barely older than them – slid over to the door, leaned out of the window and shouted down, “Need a ride?”
Tommy only nodded.
“Well then, get in back! I’m on a milk run and I’ll be stoppin’ at every Podunk from here to Glenn long as it’s on the road, so jump up. T’ pay fer your ride, you lug the milk cans up and load ‘em! Deal?”
Tommy nodded. Freddie nodded more slowly.
“Hurry yourselves up! I gotta go!”
Tommy and Freddie scrambled up into the truck. It had hardly gone more than a half mile and both boys were sound asleep.