Charlie Fairlaine, who’d picked them up not from this very spot when they’d been heading north, revved the truck again and started off down the road, heading for home.
Freddie Merrill said, “What’d you say to him to make him kick us outta the truck?”
“I didn’t say nothing!” Tommy exclaimed. “He didn’t want his dad to make us clean the barn.”
Freddie stared at him, shook his head, and said, “I guess we’d better get walkin’ then. A hundred miles is a long way and I’m pretty sure we been gone a long time.” He looked at the creamy truck as it faded into the distance on the flat road. “At least the Socialists, the mobsters, and the Anoka Witch won’t be bothering us anymore.”
They sighed together looked backward, then followed in the fume trail of the creamery truck.
The summer sun was well risen on their right when Freddie said, “What if we have to walk past Charlie’s farm?”
Tommy stopped, shaded his eyes, looking into the rising sun, then turning west. “Our shadows are long,” he said.
Freddie sighed again, adding, “That just means that it’s really early and we have a long, long way to go.” He started walking. “How long do you think it’s going to take to get home?”
Tommy ran to catch up to him. “Why you all fired up about getting home?”
Freddie shuffled along for a long time before he said, “I guess having a bed to sleep in is better than sleeping in the grass.”
Tommy snorted. “You got a bed. All I got is the couch.”
“But your dad don’t use you for a boxer’s speed bag.”
Tommy couldn’t say anything about that. “My dad’s old.”
“You didn’t let me finish!” Tommy said, “He’s a Socialist which is like, the next thing to a Communist.”
Freddie didn’t have anything to say about that. They walked for a long time and the sun climbed a few inches into the cloudless sky. “Gonna be a hot one.”
“Yup.” They walked. A tractor futtered past them, the old farmer waving a finger but not slowing at all. “Creep,” Tommy said.
“Yup,” said Freddie.
They continued walking and a few miles later, passed a fancy sign that pointed west and read, “Fairlaine Creamery”. Tommy said, “That’s why we didn’t have to worry about passing Charlie’s farm.”“I forgot this turn.”
They walked as the sun climbed into the sky. After a while, they crossed a small bridge over a culvert. Both boys stopped to peer over the edge and even though there was dirt and sand, there was no water in it. “I’m getting thirsty,” said Freddie. “If we don’t drink something soon, I think I’m gonna dehydrate or something.”
“Yup,” Tommy said, looked both ways, then stood up and started walking south again. After a while, he said, “I think the left side of my face is getting sunburned.”
“Me, too,” said Freddie. “And I sort of feel sick. Like I didn’t drink enough water or something.”
“That’s stupid, of course you didn’t drink enough water. That’s why you’re getting dehydrated!”
Freddie stopped and shoved Tommy, “Don’t call me stupid!”“I can call you stupid any time I want to – but I’m calling you stupid now because you ARE stupid, stupid!”
Freddie crouched to charge Tommy when they heard the roar of an engine coming out of the north. Freddie screamed, “It’s the Communists!” Tommy looked both ways again and rushed Freddie, tackling him of the road and into a ditch alongside where they both splashed into the butt-deep water that smelled like rotting weeds.
Up on the road, an old truck – one that looked so familiar that both boys laid flat down in the mud, muck, and water, their eyes wide, white, and bulging out of their reddened, blonde faces. It roared past without slowing and was gone in an instant. But they lay in to water until the leopard and pickerel frogs around them began to croak again. Finally Freddie said, “I’m cold.”
Tommy sneezed and said, “I’m molding.” Freddie looked at him and busted out laughing. They both scrambled to their feet and after a few minutes Tommy said, “Water’s running. That way,” he pointed south. “We wait a few minutes and we can scoop up enough water to keep us a while. “They we can keep going.”
“What about the Socialists?”
“First of all,” said Tommy, “They ain’t gonna want to drink out of a ditch...”
“That’s not what I meant, stupid!” Freddie snapped, balling his fists.
“I know. I’m trying to make us laugh.”
Tommy looked up at the road and said, “‘cause I think the Socialists are still after us.”