I grew up reading horror and my favourite author was Stephen King. Some of my favourite stories aren’t even horror in the traditional sense, such as The Body which was turned into the film Stand By Me, The Jaunt which is a terrifying science fiction story and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption adapted into one of the most uplifting films of all time. After a break of a few years, I’ve been reading Stephen King again and this is my homage to him.
Gathering together his weapons, Josh knows that today will be the final showdown. There can be only one victor and he wants to make darn sure it’s him.
Walking quickly with his head down, Josh tries to make himself inconspicuous. This is impossible due to his flame-red hair and overweight body, caused by what his mom insists are his “big bones” not the huge meals she serves him.
If he could just get to school without Clay Boone, King of Neanderthals, catching him, that’d be a perfect end to the week. Clay and his gang have been in detention as punishment for locking Mrs Emerson in the supplies cupboard. She would have been in there all night had Mr Krasinski not heard her cries for help as he did his rounds before locking up. Mrs Emerson fixes her grey hair in a bun and is due to retire at the end of the school year so that had been a really mean trick to play on her. This had been an unexpected piece of good fortune for him though as he only had to avoid them in the mornings, when they were less likely to torment him.
Casting a quick glance over his shoulder before crossing the street, Josh’s heart sinks as he spots the unmistakeable figure of Clay a hundred yards behind him. Clay’s buddies surround him like small fishing boats bobbing around a mighty oil tanker. Tall for his age and muscular from helping out on the family farm, he is also two years older than the other boys due to being held back to retake seventh grade twice.
Josh darts surprisingly quickly behind a large bush in Mr Grimaldi’s front yard. “You there, boy!” Josh panics and almost makes a run for it. “You, big boy. No throwing trash in my yard,” shouts Mr Grimaldi. “Stupid dago!” yells Clay, flipping him the bird and laughing. They walk off singing, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” Josh starts when he realises Mr Grimaldi is standing right next to him. “No run from that one, boy. Hide.” Mr Grimaldi turns and walks back to his house without another word.
Checking the coast is clear, Josh crosses the street and is within sight of the school building when he’s ambushed by Clay and his gang. “Hey there, copper top. Where d’ya think ya going?” Clay threatens in his deep drawl. He gives Josh a shove with his huge shovel-like hand and Josh stumbles but manages to stay upright, his substantial bulk in his favor for once. He is saved by the bell as it rings for class and Mr Shepard appears at the top of the steps to catch anyone foolish enough to be tardy. Clay draws himself up to his full height and looms over Josh, “If I see you later you’re dead, fatboy.”
Josh manages to avoid Clay for the rest of the day, carefully checking the rest room and sitting close to a large group of older kids at lunch, silently chewing his way through enough food to feed him and several of his classmates. He sits near the front in class and fights the urge to put his hand up for any of the questions, although he knows the answers to all of them. His favorite subject is history and they’re covering the Trojan Wars, where some Greek soldiers hid in a giant wooden horse which the Trojans brought into their city, being too stupid to realise it was a trap. An inkling of an idea starts to form in Josh’s mind.
It takes Josh a few days to formulate his plan and collect what he needs. The crucial item proves the most difficult to obtain, requiring nerves of steel and a very long stick.
Clay and his friends are hanging around their den, a clearing in a scrappy piece of woodland on the edge of town. They like it there because nobody bothers them, mainly because the swampy ground breeds mosquitoes the size of Buicks. Clay is relaxing in an old lawn chair he stole from Mr Grimaldi’s yard, while the rest of the gang are arguing about who is best, the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, or Champion the Wonder Horse. Billy Maddox is the only one still in favour of Silver whilst the others all agree that Champion is much smarter.
Fed up with being outnumbered, Billy goes off to take a whizz behind one of the weeping willow trees. “Hey fellas! Lookit what I found!” Billy cries. The others rush over to see whilst Clay continues to lounge in his chair. “Bring it here,” demands Clay, a lazy bully used to getting his own way. Billy appears carrying a medium-sized cardboard box, the top of which is taped up. “Open it,” Clay orders so Billy pulls out his penknife and cuts the seal. “Jesus!” he cries as he falls down on his ass in his haste to get away. A distinct noise can be heard emanating from the box. “It’s a goddamned rattlesnake!” cries Billy, his face white with shock. The others cautiously approach the box and quickly retreat when they’ve seen the angry reptile with their own eyes.
“Bunch of pussies,” Clay sneers. “Ain’t you never seen no rattlesnake afore?” Clay slowly gets up out of the chair, “I’m gonna kill it and wear the rattle round my neck.” The smaller boys retreat as he approaches the box. “Build a fire cos they make good eating.” Clay suddenly yelps in pain as a jagged stone hits him on the side of the head. He stands bolt upright, looking around, his temple bleeding, “What the…?” Another stone hits him on the forehead and blood pours into his eye. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” he roars as another stone hits him in the neck. The boys assess the situation and scatter in several different directions. Most go along the main path but Billy Maddox runs towards the creek and falls into a hidden trap six feet deep, lined with wooden planks and the floor writhing with snakes.
“Help me!” screams Billy as he scrabbles at the smooth sided hole, “For the love of God, someone please help me!” No-one apart from Clay remains and he has curled into a ball to protect his bleeding head from further pummelling.
“LEAVE THIS PLACE!” booms a deep, resounding voice. “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE. IF YOU RETURN, YOU WILL NOT LIVE TO REGRET IT.” Clay gibbers as he rises to his feet and wipes the blood from his eyes. There is a look of sheer terror on his face as he backs away from the clearing before turning and running towards town.
A childish giggle breaks the silence and there’s a rustle of leaves as Josh heaves himself out of the dogwood tree and carefully climbs to the ground. He pockets his catapult and walks along the path to where Billy Maddox is still trying in vain to get out of the trap. Josh leans over the hole, “They’re only corn snakes, Billy, they can’t hurt you.” Billy carries on scrabbling at the boards. “If I let you out, will you take a message to Clay?” “Yes, yes, anything,” whimpers Billy. Josh drags a makeshift ladder over to the trap and calls down to Billy, “Tell him to leave me alone or it’ll be worse next time, much worse.” “A-a-anything you say,” stutters Billy, “just get me outta here!” Josh kicks the ladder into the hole and Billy scrambles up and out like a weasel down a greasy pipe. He runs along the path without a backward glance. “Don’t you forget now!” Josh calls after him.
Josh sits for a while enjoying the peace of the clearing and how the slender leaves of the willows cast dappled shade. “Dammit,” Josh curses as he smacks his hand against his arm. He lifts his hand and a smear of blood is all that remains of the mosquito unlucky enough to mess with Josh Trebbin, Warrior of Angel’s Creek.