Sometimes, Mother Nature makes strange bullies. Carol-Sue O'Connor was just that. With limbs like twigs and a mop of stringy blond hair framing dishwater-gray eyes, she looked like she was more likely to be picked on than be the one doing the picking. But what she lacked in size or strength, she made up in miles and miles of mean streak. She might not have had the gumption to kick a puppy, but one wrong look from her, and a grown dog would run away with its tail between its legs.
So when Tommy Rodgers turned nine years old, of course he fell madly, terribly, hopelessly in love with Carol-Sue. He followed her home from school every day, carried her books, gave her half his sweets, and, when she caught on that something was wrong with that boy, that he was being unbearably nice to her no matter how mean she was to him, he did her homework, and some of her chores, too, if she thought she could get away with it.
One day in the fall, the neighborhood kids got around to looking sidelong at the old Mason place. It was a little off the main street, down a dirt road, with peeling paint and crooked shingles. The Masons had always been a strange bunch, but now there was only one of them left, the queerest bird of the bunch.
Maggie Mason was too pretty to live alone. That is, too pretty to live alone unless something was awfully wrong with her. They said that when she was sixteen, she'd had boys calling on her from two counties over, walking through the snow in the middle of winter just to get a chance to talk to her. But one by one, they all left, and none of them would say why. It was just that they all got a funny look, and twitched a little when anybody said her name. Meanwhile, Maggie kept on living in the old house, all alone, and got older, but no less pretty, and folks moved out of her path when she came into town. But she mostly kept to herself, and the house got more and more decrepit, and junk started piling up on the sloping porch.
Tommy didn't say anything that would make anybody think he was any more scared of that house than the next boy, but Carol-Sue had her eye on him. Nobody was sure if she tormented him because she liked him back, or because she wished he'd go away, or just because she was mean and she could. But she picked him, told the other kids Tommy was afraid of that house, wouldn't go near it-- and that was true, but none of them would go near it. Besides, it was so far off their path, none of them had a reason to.
So she dared him. She dared him to go right up and take one of the rusty coffee cans that littered the porch, and bring it back to her.
Poor Tommy. There was just no way he could escape, not when she dared him in front of the whole school. But he put on a brave face, and reminded himself that if he did it, did it for her, maybe she'd like him back. Just a little.
That same afternoon, Tommy Rodgers was seen sprinting clear across town, from the Mason house to the schoolyard where the other kids were playing. He only stopped when he made it inside the schoolyard gate, and stood, panting for a moment.
"So," said Carol-Sue, as she made her way up to him, important in her airs. "Where's my coffee can? I don't see it. Did you get it, Tommy? Did you?"
She knew from his eyes that he hadn't. He really was scared of an old house, the silly thing!
He shook his head, and then leaned in, and whispered something in her ear. Later, Carol-Sue said he told her he'd seen Maggie Mason naked as the day she was born, dancing with a demon that crawled right out of a coffee can! A demon, a demon with no body and blazing black eyes. How could a thing with no body have blazing eyes? And for that matter, how could something be blazing and black at the same time?
So she snorted, and chortled, and announced to all the kids in the schoolyard that Tommy Rodgers was a coward who couldn't even make it up to the porch of the Mason house.
Tommy's knees were still knocking.
They say he went back out to the Mason house that night, to prove Carol-Sue wrong. Nobody really knows for sure. But Carol-Sue insists that late that night, Tommy Rodgers threw pebbles up at her bedroom window, and when she woke up and went out to see what sort of fuss he was making now, his eyes were blazing black.
"Carol-Sue?" he said. "Look, I brung you your coffee can."
Then he vanished, right into thin air, and the coffee can fell to the ground with a clunk. Carol-Sue didn't dare touch it, and she ran right back up to bed, and lay awake all night with the blankets pulled right up to her chin.
But in the morning, the coffee can was gone, and Tommy was still gone, and Mister and Missus Rodgers, Tommy's mother and father, said one of their flashlights was gone, too. And when the police went out to the Mason house, after Carol-Sue told them her story, it looked like the place had been deserted for month, and nobody could quite remember the last time they'd seen Maggie Mason.
Carol-Sue swore she'd never pick on another soul again.
But that was before the Smythes moved to town.
I often listen to music and use specific songs as an inspiration for my posts. This week, a few of the images from a song I was thinking about found their way into the actual post. So, credit where credit is due goes to I Seen What I Saw by 16 Horsepower. Carol-Sue's name was lifted out of another 16 Horsepower song as an afterthought; that one is a Cinder Alley
This entry was written for therealljidol Week 20: Playing House