CHAPTER 2: WHAT LIES ABOVE (part 1)
“All attics are haunted?”
“That’s what he told me.”
“And you believed him?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, what’s not to believe?”
“Oh, I don’t know, Jacob. It sounds like the kind of made-up crap your brother would tell you just to scare us.”
It was Friday evening. Mike and Jacob were finished off a half-dozen slices of Gino’s Pizza. Jacob had spent the better part of the last hour, in between doughy bites, discussing the state of his attic, and the ghosts that haunted it.
“I don’t think James makes up stuff just to scare me. We both have seen lots of strange things in that attic.”
“Maybe so, but I think most of them were on account of you jumping at your own shadow. Anyway, how would your dumb brother know if your attic–any attic–was haunted. He wouldn’t. He can’t even cook, much less determine if an attic has ghosts.”
“My mom always says that James should learn to cook, just in case he never marries.”
“Heck, what’s to learn? You just peel off the wrapper and stick the pizza in the toaster oven.”
“We never have to get married as long as they keep making Cherokee Red pop and Gino’s pizza.”
“Damn right,” said Mike, “It’s got the four food groups covered–dairy, bread, vegetable–”
“Tomato sauce. Tomato’s a vegetable, and, um, what’s the one I’m forgetting?”
“Right. Pepperoni is some sort of meat, I think. Instant balanced meal. All you really need is a Snack Pack or Little Debbie for dessert. We hardly need moms.”
“Except maybe for washing clothes and cleaning house.”
“I’m never getting married,” Mike said, picking a delicious shriveled slice of cheese-covered pepperoni off his current slice.
“Cheese, sauce, dough, and pepperoni. It doesn’t get any better.”
“Though there’s something weird about pepperoni, don’tcha think?” Mike asked.
“It’s kind of a mystery. It’s not from a cow. It’s not from a pig. It sure ain’t seafood. So where’s it from?”
“I once asked a question like that to my Sunday school teacher.”
“No way. Sister Mary Carolyn?”
“Scary Mary. I said, ‘If Noah put all of the animals on his ark, did he include the pepperoni animal?’”
“What did she say?”
“She told me to stop mocking The Bible. I had to stand in the corner the rest of the morning.”
“Did she make you pray?”
“I was supposed to, but instead kept whispering the Gilligan’s Island song.”
“Best TV song ever.”
“Scary Mary’s a weirdo,” Jacob said. “Always telling us that our souls are going to suffer in eternal agony if we aren’t good. Why does religion hate little kids so much?”
“It’s all scare tactics. She’s obviously never read Ghost Rider or The Silver Surfer. Look at the way John Buscema draws Mephisto and Hell. I’d freakin’ love to visit that place.”
“Don’t let your parents overhear you. They’ll burn your comics and take you to church for exercise.”
“Yeah. It’s got something to do with possession. A priest has to exercise the demons in your soul. I saw all about it on TV.”
“I hate exercise.”
As Friday night plodded along, Mike and Jacob unrolled their sleeping gear, mixed a pitcher of strawberry-flavored Kool-Aid, and broke out their Topps baseball card collections. Jacob’s parents stepped out for an evening of songs and drinks at the Heritage Ballroom in nearby Harmonie. The youngsters were left in the care of James, who stared hypnotically at the Pirates/Giants game airing on KDKA. Jacob’s big brother was content to leave the boys to their own mischief provided they stayed out of his line of vision.
They snacked and swapped cards for nearly an hour. It was proving to be one of Jacob’s less-rewarding exchange sessions. His obsession with owning the Minnesota Twins team card burned in his belly and Mike knew it.
Mike waved the colorful bubblegum card in front of his friend’s eyes.
“You really want this? I mean, as ball cards go, this one ain’t nothing special.”
Jacob examined the card closely. The colors were dull, the photo blurred, and the print registration was misaligned.
“You’re trying to use, um, what’s it called…reverse psychology.”
“I don’t even know what psychology is,” Mike said.
“I want the card,” Jacob said.
Mike flashed the card once more then quickly returned it to its proper slot in his weathered Buster Brown shoebox.
“Ya still interested? I mean, I’m willing to trade ya for it, but I’m afraid it’ll cost you.”
“What do you want?”
Moments later, the deal was done. Jacob hungrily placed the new acquisition into his lunchbox of cards.
“I can’t believe you traded a ‘72 Stargell and a ‘70 Clemente for the Minnesota Twins team card,” Mike said. “You call yourself a Pirates fan?”
“I know what I’m doing, birdbrain,” Jacob insisted. “Besides, those cards I traded you were doubles.”
“Sneaky dog. So, what’cha wanna do now?” Mike said. “Game of War, perhaps?”
“How about a game of speed Ker-plunk?”
Mike and Jacob always enjoyed Ker-plunk, but found it was more interesting if played quickly. Standard game play consisted of loading marbles into a vertical plastic cylinder, where they sat suspended by 30 thin plastic straws. One by one the straws were removed, creating small openings through which the marbles could drop. The object was to remove the straws without causing any marbles to fall. It was typically a slow-paced game lasting 20 or more minutes. Thus, the boys had devised their own rules.
Rather than a single bag of marbles, the boys loaded the game cylinder with three bags and then set an egg timer to two minutes. The object was not to prevent the marbles from dropping, but to cause them to fall as quickly as possible. Keeping score wasn’t likely to happen, but that never seemed to matter. The thrill was in the swiftness of the game, and the unavoidable moment when 100 marbles crashed to the base of the cylinder and the boys cried “Ker-Plunkkkkk!”
“Where’s the game box?” Mike asked.
Jacob thought about it for a moment. It had been a few months since Ker-Plunk had seen any use; it vanished around the same time that he inherited a Sorry! game from his annoying cousin David.
“I think it’s in my parents’ attic.”
Far across the horizon a sinister thunder clap echoed over an increasingly darkening sky. But the boys didn’t hear it; the sound of the blast was lost to cries and cheers of 30,000 Pirates fans, as San Francisco Giants pitcher Jack Curtis walked his third consecutive batter and Stargell took the plate.
“So let’s go already,” Mike said, with just a hint of hesitation in his voice.
NEXT: BANANA SEAT SUMMER – WHAT LIES ABOVE CONTINUES