CHAPTER 3: WHAT LIES BENEATH
“Go go go! DID YOU see that? Did you?”
“I saw it. I saw it,” Jacob said, assuming a baseball pitcher’s stance and preparing to outdo Mike’s effort.
The boys were engrossed in one of their favorite summertime activities–skipping “lucky” stones across Gorman’s Pond. They weren’t competing against each other; not officially. But there was a bit of friendly competition in everything they did. Mike watched as Jacob unwound and threw his stone. It skipped and bounced along the top of the water. The more it managed to skip, the further it remained aloft. The further it remained aloft, the louder the boast.
“It looks like … it looks like … oh yeah! Hot dog, we have a wiener!”
“It didn’t go that far,” Mike insisted.
“We’re gonna have to get you some empty Coke bottles.”
“Empty Coke bottles?”
“Yeah, cause you need glasses, gramps,” Jacob said, feeling cocky, and reaching for another stone.
“I love this,” Mike said, preparing to skip the palm-sized pebble across the water.
“Which do you think is luckier, the lucky stone or the rabbit’s paw?” Jacob asked.
“Neither. Not that I don’t carry both with me at all times,” Mike said. He removed a rabbit’s paw from his jeans pocket. The fur on the paw was sky blue. “Though for total luck you have to go with the four-leaf clover.”
“Or that five-leaf clover I found last July.”
“I keep telling you, that wasn’t a five-leaf clover,” Mike insisted. “It was a weed.”
“Weeds don’t have clover leafs, birdbrain.”
“What kind of luck did it bring you? All bad.”
“I lost my front tooth playing catch.”
“Like I said, all bad.”
“But I got a dollar from the Tooth Fairy,” Jacob said.
“Yeah, that’s okay I guess. Anyway, where’s your lucky rabbit’s paw?”
“Lost. But I think my mom threw it out. She never liked it.”
“That sounds like your mom all right.”
“You think she’s watching us?” Jacob asked.
Jacob glanced toward the Gorman house.
“Not my mom, birdbrain. Her.”
“If she was watching us, she’d have already come out and chased us away.”
“That old lady gives me the creeps.”
“She gives everyone the creeps. But, heck, we have all these skipping stones for ourselves.”
The pond next to the Gorman house overflowed with pebbles, though most kids in the neighborhood kept away from its muddy waters. The widowed Mrs. Gorman lived alone in the huge, old house. Hers was one of the few homes in Millsburg that hadn’t been built by the Western PA Mining Company during the days when Millsburg’s mines were rich with coal. And even though the mines of Millsburg had closed many years ago, most of the adult residents of the tiny town worked similar jobs at places like US Steel and the Westinghouse Airbrake Company.
“Tell me the story,” Jacob said, sitting for a moment.
“I hate that story.”
“Yeah, but you tell it better than anyone. Tell.”
“It’s not dark. It won’t be scary.”
“That’s not really a bad thing.”
Mike dropped a handful of small stones from his fingers and sat down next to his friend.
“At the time of the accident,” Mike said, pausing to clear his throat and lower his voice, “Mr. and Mrs. Gorman lived alone. They had two kids, but both were grown and were living and working in Pittsburgh. Mr. Gorman worked at Jenkins Steel in West Mifflin. He was a foreman. On March 3, 1973, he awoke and ate breakfast.”
“What did he eat?”
“Like it matters.”
“The details are important.”
“Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and a glass of orange juice. Mrs. Gorman used to cook him a hot breakfast every morning, but she was feeling sick on this day, so she stayed in bed. He gave her a kiss …”
“Total gross out. Anyway, he packed a sandwich for lunch and headed off to work. Two hours later, one of the blast furnaces ruptured. Something like five-hundred tons of liquid iron shot all over the place. Mr. Gorman and two other guys bit the dust.
“After her husband died, Mrs. Gorman was almost never seen. She hardly ever left her house. When she did, it was just to pick up a few bags of groceries. Her flower garden, which once looked really nice as flower gardens go, was soon full of weeds and dead orchids. And the giant weeping willow tree stopped sprouting new leaves. It just looked sad and kind of creepy.”
Jacob glanced over at the willow tree. “It still does.”
“But the real kicker,” Mike said, “was the mound of dirt that appeared in her front yard. It just showed up there one day. Funny little mound of dirt that was just about the size of … Mr. Gorman. Waiting. Waiting beneath the dirt, to come back to life and get revenge on everyone who killed him.”
Mike broke into a spooky laugh, doing his best to sound like Count Dracula.
“See, that’s where the story begins to lose steam,” Jacob said.
“What do you mean?” Mike asked.
“Mr. Gorman’s death was an accident. No one killed him. There’s no reason why he’d want to take revenge since no one actually did him any wrong. Am I right or am I right?”
“Next you’re going to tell me it’s not even Mr. Gorman buried in that pile of dirt.”
“Well, we really don’t know, do we?”
“We don’t, but it is.”
“Maybe. Or perhaps it’s just a mound of dirt.”
“Lately, every time I tell this story you question it.”
“I’m just saying is all.”
“And I’m just saying you’re wrong. Mr. Gorman’s buried in that yard or my name isn’t Mike Dietrich.”
NEXT: BANANA SEAT SUMMER – WHAT LIES BENEATH continues