Castle Roland

Short Story

Posted: 11 May 15

Right Before My Eyes

Copyright © 2014
By D'Artagnon

Marc stared off into space, which wasn't really all that unusual. He was well known in school as a day dreamer, which was in fact where he was and what he was doing. He should have been using his brain to search for the value of X in the quadratic equation written up on the chalkboard. Instead, his mind was out the window, imagining himself flying his starfighter against a fleet of droids bent on destroying all humans. He was building the story in his mind, preparing himself for the inevitable laser sword fight against the ugly, evil queen when…


"Mr. Dalton!" the Algebra instructor, Mrs. Argyle, exclaimed from the farther end of her yard stick. The long ruler made such a sharp slap on Marc's desk that the tiny hairs on the side of his face stood up, almost stinging with the sudden change.

"X=6?" he replied, looking around, bewildered. Several of his classmates giggled, but cut short their mirth with just one stern look from Mrs. Argyle.

"I have been trying to get your attention for most of a minute. Have you not heard me?" Marc lowered his head, feeling a blush of shame rising.

"You are such a poor student," she continued, taking a moment to put her yard stick armed hand on her soft, rounded hip, while her other hand formed into a pointy finger so she could push her glasses back onto her large nose. Her glare was partly obscured by the angled reflections on her wide, horn rimmed spectacles. "If you aren't going to pay attention to the class, then you can gather your books and wait outside," she ordered, her pointy hand gesturing broadly towards the door. A chorus of "oooh" quickly rose, only to be stifled again by a sudden look from the teacher.

Marc reluctantly put his books into his backpack and stood. He hated being singled out like this, but he couldn't deny that he had been so into his day dream that he had not heard the old battle axe at all. He felt the furtive eyes upon him as he walked down the row towards the front.

"Back to your work, children," Mrs. Argyle commanded. Marc kept walking head down. Someone poked a note into his hand as he walked, but he didn't look down to see who. Following every school kid's code about passing notes, Marc tucked it into his kangaroo pocket to read later. As he passed by the desk of one boy, at the front, he actually raised his eyes. The boy in front, who Marc did not know, smiled and adjusted his wireframes.

Something about that one act, the way that boy smiled at him produced a change in Marc. He stopped before going out the door. He stopped and turned. His right hand reached to the tray on the chalkboard, lifting a yellow stick in his hand. He walked over to the panel of slate with the equation on it, and he began writing.

"What do you think you're…" the teacher screeched out, but Marc continued. He wrote a large "X=6" under the main part, and put the chalk down, before turning to look her directly in the eye, before heading out the door.

"Mrs. Argyle?" a girl in the front row said, her face screwed up in confusion. "He's right, isn't he?"

"Yeah, that's what I got," a boy on the furthest row from Marc's seat said. "It's the only number that fits."

"Back to your work!" Mrs. Argyle screamed. Just then the last bell of the day rang and the students gathered their things to leave. It took less than half a minute for the class to file out, during which time, Mrs. Argyle stood and fumed. As soon as the door closed behind the last student's retreating feet, she slammed the yard stick on Marc's desk, shattering it into parts numbering six.

Outside, Marc had just stepped out into the hallways and leaned against the nearest row of lockers. Overhead a banner strung across the hallway told of the upcoming Halloween dance. Not that he was interested. Marc couldn't dance anywhere but in his day dreams, and there weren't really any girls that liked him enough to put up with getting their feet stepped on that much.

Seemed he'd been leaning against the locker just long enough to see the banner and get a bit depressed by it when the bell rang. Kids started walking past him, chatting as they went to their lockers, or ran to the bus ramp to get good seats early. Marc just tucked his hands deeper in his hoody pockets, tightening the fabric around himself a bit. He was a walker and didn't have to rush for a seat on a bus, or even charge down to the long line of parent cars picking up kids. It would be easier to get to his locker once the halls of Bradly Tucker Middle School thinned out a bit.

Yup, BTMS, or as some of his classmates called it BFDS for Big Fuckin' Deal School. The place had probably once been very nice, not in Marc's lifetime. The ceiling tiles showed evidence of being painted, hinting at how old they were, and the paint job looked as sloppy as the dilapidated old chain link fence that marked the school's boundaries. Not that the fence was much for keeping stuff out. Mostly it was there to keep the kids in. Like a musty old spider web in a long forgotten attic, it just sorta was there, like a barrier to freedom.

"That was awesome, Marc," a boys voice said from down the row of nearby lockers. "You should have seen the look on the old battleaxes face when you wrote the answer on the board. She flipped out!"

Marc looked over and saw the boy with the glasses from class changing books, about six lockers down from him. More visible now, Marc was awestruck by the boy's face. Clear of all blemishes, pointy chin, a ski-jump nose and ears that stuck out just a little too far past his bangs. Marc felt himself almost falling as he stared at the cute boy, and he steeled himself to look away.

"Thanks, man," Marc replied, trying to sound cool. He tucked his hands deeper into the kangaroo pocket of the hoody, to cover a slight but necessary adjustment to the front of his pants. As his hands dug about in the pocket, he came across the note he'd been passed, stuck in there with a pen, two short pencils with really worn down erasers, some loose change, and half a pack of cinnamon gum that he hadn't been interested in for days. He fished the note out, even while his mind was trying to picture the boy's face and a name that matched.

"You really had to have balls to do that to her," the boy said, slamming his locker and hoisting a very heavy looking back pack up over his shoulder. "I'd have run out of there after defying Argyle. She's scary."

"I wasn't defying her," Marc replied, nonchalantly. "I just… her class is too easy for me. Numbers have always been easy, so, like, I finish my work early and get caught staring off into…" he said, as the boy appeared directly in his vision. Marc had been trying to look cool by looking away, but with the kid right in front of him now, he was forced to stare into that face. He could see the clear honesty of the boy's hazel eyes, perfectly framed by the light in the hall reflecting off his glasses, like a marque sign with lights dancing around the words.

"Space?" the boy in front of him asked, finishing Marc's thought.

"Er, yeah," Marc replied, feeling his face get a little redder. The boy stroked his hand through his dark hair, looking around as the hallway crowds began to trickle down. Marc unconsciously copied the gesture, leaving his hand back behind his neck for a lazy scratch. Other parts of him were demanding to be scratched as well, but it wasn't really appropriate. In his other hand he looked at the note and decided to open the intricately folded sheet of notebook paper later, tucking it back into the kangaroo pouch.

"So, you a walker or a rider?"


"Walker or rider?" the boy asked again. "You know, the evil cheese wagon?"

"Oh, naw, man, I walk. Just waiting a bit before I hit my locker."

"Oh, kewl. Where is it?"

"English wing, upstairs. It's always a hassle trying to fight the traffic coming down, so I just wait. Not like I have anywhere to be."

"You don't know my name, do you?" the boy asked, a sort of sad smile coming to his features.

"Sorry, dude, but I been tryin' to figure it out and I can't remember."

"S'okay. I transferred in only a month ago. Not many people know me. Phil Patterson," he said, reaching up to push at the nose piece of his glasses.

"Marc Dalton," Marc returned, trying to casually look around the hallways. The crowds began slimming out, a trio of girls walking by and giggling amongst themselves. He pushed up from the wall and started to walk towards the stairs, when the door to Mrs. Argyle's room opened.

"Not so fast, young man!" Argyle called. "You will serve a detention, right now."

"But, it's Friday," Marc complained.

"And Halloween. Trick or treat starts in a few hours," Phil said, trying to bolster Marc's position.

"You just earned yourself a detention as well, Patterson," the old math teacher said. "March to the detention room, right now."

"Aww, man!" Marc whined, turning and starting to walk off. Phil stood his ground though, looking back at his teacher with a gleam in his eyes.

"What did we do wrong?" he asked, calmly.

"You were both insubordinate. Now march before I hand you out another day of detentions."

"But was he right?" Phil asked, getting a shocked look from Argyle. "X=6, that was the right answer, wasn't it?"

"That's two days," the teacher snarled. "You want a weekend work detention as well?"

"Was… he… right?" Phil asked, not budging.

"Hey, c'mon man, don't piss her off more. Don't give her the satisfaction," Marc said grumpily, trying to turn Phil's shoulder.

"Two more days!" the teacher shouted gleefully. The few kids still walking in the hallways were giving space to the growing altercation, but slowed down to watch it just the same.

"You still haven't answered. X=6, that was right, wasn't it."

"Listen up, you little punk," the teacher said, moving forward, her almost constantly pointing finger shaking down at Phil's face. But before she could launch into another tirade, another teacher spoke up.

"Mrs. Argyle! If I could have a word with you," Mrs. Jenkins from across the hall asked, parting the kids watching the conflict. "Hurry along now, children," Jenkins commanded gently, starting the flow towards the busses. The younger teacher walked across the throng of students to stand behind Phil and Marc. "Why don't I take these two to detention. I'll make sure that they have their appropriate punishments." She smiled sweetly at the older teacher, making a point of dropping her hands on each boy's shoulder.

The old math instructor regarded the younger teacher with a guileful, baleful stare. Her gaze passed back and forth between the two boys and the pretty, young teacher behind them. Grumbling, she turned and walked back towards her room. The boys turned and looked up at Mrs. Jenkins with awe, so they didn't catch when Mrs. Argyle turned back around, clutching the doorknob to her room tightly.

"Don't think I don't know what you did here, Missy! I've been watching you. You're not doing these brats any favors by going easy on them. You pamper them and let them get away with murder. You are a poor teacher!'

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that you feel that way."

"Feel! Teaching isn't about feelings! It's about discipline! It's about hard work and endurance! It's about keeping these little punks in line!"

"Mrs. Argyle!" a voice from the head of the hallway barked. All eyes turned towards the assistant principal, Dr. Meyers. "Could I speak with you in your room please?" A chorus of "ooohs" went up from the students, but Dr. Meyers quickly spoke up. "Alright, alright, get to your busses, people. Let's go. Mrs. Jenkins, I'll speak with those gentlemen in my office shortly. Would you take them there and see about calling their parents for me."

"Certainly, Dr. Meyers," Mrs. Jenkins said, patting the boys on the shoulders. "Let's move, gentlemen." Jenkins gave one look over her shoulder as Phil and Marc turned and walked ahead of her.

Phil, however, wasn't done yet. As they began walking towards the administration office, he started chanting; a chant that other kids picked up in the hallway, much to Argyle's screeching dislike. "X=6! X=6! X=6!"

Mrs. Argyle slammed the door into her room, screaming incoherently. Dr. Meyers moved down the hall, through the throng of students, and entered the room shortly thereafter.

In the office, Marc and Phil as sitting side by side, their backpacks on the ground between their feet, while Mrs. Jenkins and the secretary called their parents. Marc glanced up and saw Phil grinning in his direction. He couldn't help but grin back. In short order they were trying hard not to burst into giggles.

"X=6, huh?" Marc asked, glancing around. He saw the secretary talking into the ancient land line, no doubt having conversations with Marc's father.

"Yeah, well, you started it," Phil replied. "Did you see the look on ole Argyle's face? I think she busted a gut screaming like that."

"Yeah. I don't know why she hates me like that."

"She doesn't hate you," Mrs. Jenkin's came over, kneeling beside the boys. "She's just a stickler for paying attention. And she's had a rough year so far, guys. Cut her a little slack. Do either of you need a ride home?"

"I walk. It's only 6 blocks," Marc said.

"Same, I'm only a block from Marc's house," Phil asserted.

"Dude, really?"

"Yeah, you're on the corner by the giant oak tree. You're dad drives that big truck with the work rack on top."

"Wow, that's right. Where's your place?"

"Uh, down by the creek," Phil said, his head drooping slightly.

"At the trailer park?"

"Uh, yeah," Phil replied quietly. Marc instantly felt bad for his outburst. The trailer park down by the creek was even more run down than the school, and many of the people there were on public assistance. Marc sort of noticed for the first time that Phil's sneakers were worn, no-name shoes, his clothes weren't as well maintained or new as Marc's. He realized that he'd hurt his new friend's feelings.

Marc started to say something but Phil cut him off. "No sweat, dude. Some things just are."

"Like X=6?" Mrs. Jenkins asked, getting both boys to smile. "Okay. As much as I like Algebra, I have to ask. What was that all about?" Dr. Meyers entered the room just as Marc and Phil quickly explained the last few minutes of class.

"Well, apparently that squares with what I heard from Mrs. Argyle," the assistant principal said. I think Mrs. Argyle will be taking a few days off." Marc and Phil looked each other, grinning like bandits. "Not so fast, you two," Meyers continued. "Phil, you did behave in a disrespectful manner to Mrs. Argyle. And Marc, we must have less daydreaming in class. However, I believe that both of you boys are not being adequately challenged in Mrs. Argyles class. So I think come Monday we will be swapping you boys into a tougher class."

"Tougher?" the boys moaned together.

"Oh certainly. Do you think you could handle the extra load, Mrs. Jenkins?"

"I think I have a few empty desks," she smiled.

"That's settled then. Boys, tell your parents to check their e-mails. I'll have the information about what happened today in there by Sunday night, along with the change to your schedules."

"Uh, we don't have a computer, anymore," Phil said, his voice sounding soft and ashamed.

"Oh. I see," the assistant principal said.

"You can download them at my house, dude," Marc offered. "Would that work, Dr. Meyers?"

"I see no reason it shouldn't. I'll send the documents for master Patterson to your parents e-mail then. Just, uh, do me a favor and steer clear of Mrs. Argyle for a while. Can you do that for me boys?"

"Yes sir," they responded sheepishly.

"Very good. We will still have to see about that detention, but we can let it go for this week. Get going!" The boys got to their feet, slinging their bags and heading for the door. "And don't overdo the candy tonight!" he calls as the boys exit the school admin office.

"Dude, we so got away free!" Phil shouted as they ran up to Marc's locker. "That was so epic!"

"Epic? We still got detention coming. And changing to a tougher class? I think you're version of epic and mine are totally different."

"X=6!" Phil said, punching Marc lightly in the arm.

"That your new catch phrase?" Marc asked, slamming his locker. His back pack sat noticeably lighter on his back.

"Maybe. Wanna walk home?"

"Yeah, we can hang out at my house. You doing trick or treat?"

"Yeah, but I don't have a costume. My dad kinda forgot."

"Oh, dude, I haven't even figured out what I'm gonna wear yet. We could figure out costumes together, if you want." Marc had to replay that in his own head. Had he just asked a boy he'd just met over to his house to try on clothes together? Something about that thought made him remember what just looking at Phil's face had done to him earlier. In fact, thinking about it in that moment caused it again.

"I gotta take a leak," Phil said, and he ducked into the nearest boy's room. Marc followed and made an effort to slow down once he got in there, setting his back pack down while Phil walked right up to the bank of urinals. Marc chose one at the furthest end from Phil's, with three urinals in between them.

"So, why'd you do that?" Phil asked, his eyes closed. He couldn't see Marc staring at him as he did his own business. He couldn't see how Marc's eyes traced over the lines of Phil's face. Phil looked down to tuck away as he finished, before looking over to see Marc still staring, but no noise echoing off the urinal. "Planning to be there all day?" Phil asked, chuckling.

"Huh?" Marc asked, shaking himself from being caught day dreaming again. He looked down to tuck in his own business, but also to hide his blush.

"I asked why you did it. Why'd you write that up on the chalkboard?"

"Idunno. I just… I don't like being told I'm wrong when I'm right. I mean, yeah, she caught me day dreaming," ZIPP, "but I did know the answer. That wasn't a guess."

They headed down the halls and out the side door, walking towards the general direction of their homes. They chatted about possible costume ideas and where the candy was quote-unquote GOOOOD for the getting. All around them, the trees were slowly dropping leaves, some large piles of them already raked on different yards. A slight chill had entered the air, only adding a crispness to the feeling building. Halloween decorations were staring at the boys with gleeful frightfulness as they rounded a corner with only two blocks to Marc's home.

And that whole time, Marc felt a strange stirring in his chest and, well, other places. It was so weird. But part of it had to just be the "new friend" feeling, and the tension of surviving Mrs. Argyle's crazy-lady talk. Yeah, that had to be it, he told himself.

"So is that your thing?" Phil asked as they walked.


"The day dreaming. Is that kinda your thing?"

Marc blew out a long breath as they passed a nice corner house where the mom and dad were busy setting up Halloween lighting and stuff. Marc made a mental note to check that house out later. "I dunno, man. It's like, I get bored easy. And it's easier to go away than just focus on classes and stuff. I don't mean to do it. Just happens."

"Where do you go when you day dream?"

Marc couldn't believe he was actually talking about this to a boy he'd just met, much less a boy who he'd found himself already having very weird thoughts about. "Different places. Sometimes it's like stuff that's happening in the class. Sometimes, like in gym, I go to like, championships and sports glory, then wind up crashing back into the reality that I suck at PE."

"Yeah, me too. I love sports, but like, my prescription keeps changing and so my eyesight isn't the best. That's why I'm in the front row of all my classes. PE is torture, though, cuz like, I want to do it all and compete, but like, I got the coordination of a dead snail, so…" Phil trailed off.

They walked into the open garage of Marc's house, past his father's tool benches and equipment. They stepped though the garage door into the kitchen and slung their packs under the small table by the door. Marc opened the fridge and pulled out two bottled waters, handing Phil one.

"Mom!" Marc called out, "I'm home. Got a friend with me."

"Okay, honey. I'll be down in a minute. There's waters in the fridge." Marc smiled and held up his water as Phil took a sip of his own.

"We're gonna check out costumes," Marc called back and nodded towards the stairs up to his room. "Place is a mess, so don't freak, kay?"

"Dude, trust me, you got nothing to worry about."

Marc stood back and opened the door to his bedroom, second on the right at the top of the stairs. Phil's eyes went wide as he looked in. He exchanged a bewildered look with Marc.

"That's a mess?" Phil asked. The room was pristine. And sparse. No posters on the wall, a small computer desk, simple, unmade bed and a pair of boxers hanging on the end of the bedpost. Other than the simple dresser and a bookshelf, there really wasn't anything else to the room.

"Yeah, I know. I'm not really big into keeping stuff around. I only have a few toys left and they're mostly Legos."

"Dude, I love Legos. It's the only real thing in my room."

"Cool, maybe we should build stuff some times."

"Oh, well, I kinda keep things built once I build them," Phil explained. "I don't really have like, decorations in my room so like, the stuff I build makes up for it."

A long moment stretched out between them. For Phil it was a chance to glance around the room and see that not only was it sparse, but immaculately clean. If not for the unmade bed and last night's underwear, Phil would have a hard time placing this as a boy his age's bedroom.

Marc, however was imagining what Phil's bedroom looked like, with Legos sets laid out like scenes from movies. In his mind he pictured that there were areas where different sets were frozen in time, different types of Legos guys caught doing things, maybe fighting each other. He didn't notice that Phil was staring at him with that silly grin until the other boy waved a hand in front of Marc's eyes. Marc snapped back, visibly shaking his head. And he had to admit to himself, this time, that part of his imagination was of Phil in his room making sound effects as he played with his Legos sets, wearing only his PJ's.

"Hellooo in there," Phil sang out, getting Marc's attention.

"Hum?" Marc said, quickly sitting down. Something had twitched and with Phil so close, he didn't want to be seen adjusting.

"Oh there you are," Marc's mom said, stepping to the doorway. She was dressed up ready for the evening. Her costume was that of a 1950's glamorous movie star in a slinky dress. As she stepped into the room, her high red wig, done up in a beehive style, hit the top of the door frame, came loose and tumbled behind her, revealing her plain brown hair, a perfect match for Marc's. "Oh crap." She turned around to pick up the wig-hat and could barely bend over in the tight, red sequined dress.

"Phil, this is my mom, Jennifer Dalton. Mom, this is Phil Patterson. He's in my Algebra class."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Dalton."

"Oh, please, Phil, call my Jennifer or Mrs. Dee if you have to. Mrs. Dalton is my mother-in-law and, well, let's not go there," she smiled.

"Okay, Mrs. Dee," Phil smiled back.

"Speaking of Algebra, you and Dad will likely get an e-mail this weekend. We kinda had an incident in class."

"An incident?" Mrs. Dee said, tucking her wig-hat under her arm like a football player about to take one in for a touchdown.

"Yeah," Marc said, looking down. "Uhm, Phil doesn't have internet, so he might need to get a copy of the e-mail for his dad. Is that okay?"

"Sure, no problem. Is this something serious, boys?"

"We're probably gonna be switching to a tougher class," Marc said, still feeling embarrassed.

"Yeah, X=6," Phil added, giving Marc an elbow.

"Right," Mrs. Dee said, drawing the word out. "We'll as long as you two aren't in trouble, we can deal with it later. Your father and I are going to the Stephens Halloween party tonight. So we wont be back til later. Will you boys be okay?"

"Yeah, sure," Marc said. "We're gonna go through the costumes upstairs."

"Thought we were upstairs," Phil said, looking around.

"He means in the attic. As long as they go back where you found them. You know how your father hates messes." Mrs. Dee focused her attention on Phil for a moment. "You look very familiar to me. Do I know your parents?"

"I doubt it, Mrs. Dee. My mom died when I was very little. Dad said she was sick for a long time. He doesn't talk much about it. He isn't from here. Dad's home town is Chicago. They moved here for mom's treatments, and I guess he never wanted to move back."

"So your Mom was from here?"

"Yes ma'am. She went to the same school we go to. Her name was… " and then Phil and Mrs. Dee spoke at the same time, getting a strange look from Marc.

"Jane Farrow," they spoke as one.

"I did know your mother! She was one of my best friends in high school. Oh, I am sorry to hear about her illness."

"S'okay, Mrs. Dee. It was a long time ago. She's not hurting anymore."

"You have a very grown up attitude about it, Phil. You are very brave."

"I dunno about that," Phil offered, trying hard not to blush under the comment from an adult.

"Well, if it's okay with your father, you can spend the night here after trick or treating. That way he will know you are safe, even if you guys stay out late."

"Thanks, Mrs. Dee!" Phil said, smiling broadly.

"And that's how I recognized you. You have your mother's eyes and her huge smile. Have a good night boys. I need to go see about getting your father into gear. How he's going to pull off dressing like Maryanne I'll never know." She took short steps away, trying to remount the wig-hat to her head as she went.

"Wow, that was weird," Marc said, shaking his head to clear the image of his father dressed as the farm girl from Gilligan's Island.

"Yeah, but kinda cool. She like totally green-lighted a sleepover without anyone even asking."

"She does stuff like that. You don't have to if you don't want to. I," Marc began and let out a huge breath. "I don't really have a lot of friends and Mom knows it. She wants me to be, idunno, more social or something, but like…"

"Dude, it's okay," Phil said, picking up where Marc had trailed off. "I don't have a lot of friends, either. And I think it'd be cool to hang with you. Especially after all the candy we're gonna bag." Phil's grin was infectious and Marc couldn't help but break into giggles as well.

"Okay, so let's get some costumes going. Or do you wanna call your dad first, see if it's okay to stay over?"

"Uh, he wont care. I'll just leave him a note on the TV remote. He works really weird hours."

"Kay, well, let's see what we got. Looks like it'll be kinda cool out tonight. Maybe some of the heavier costumes will be better." Marc led the way up to the attic stairs, making sure to pull the string that ran up the stairs to the light at the top. Once up, Marc flipped the three switches that lit up the rest of the attic.

"Whooooa! It's full of…" Phil started to say.

"Storage," Marc finished. "Dad's kinda a neat freak. And a pack rat. Oddly, the two work together with him. He's so organized, Mom jokes that his sock drawer has to be in alphabetical order." Phil giggled at that and looked around at the stacks of plastic storage boxes, some lined up neatly, some on large metal shelves. All of them were not only labeled in magic marker but had paper lists taped to them, sealed in Ziploc baggies.

After several moments of searching and reading labels, they found eight large storage bins marked "costumes" and they dug in. Marc settled for a set of medical scrubs and all the crazy doctor accessories. Phil found and fell in love with a football costume, complete with a helmet that was way too big for him. The shoulder pads almost doubled Phil's body width. They also grabbed a make-up kit and decided they wanted to go as zombie versions of their costumes.

"Dude, this will be so awesome!" Phil said, grinning ear to ear.

"Yeah, we just have to be careful not to smear your make-up on your glasses."

"Definitely! I can't see more than ten feet without them. Especially at night."

"Don't worry, Phil. I might space out, but my vision's perfect. Like a cat in the dark."

"Bet you read books by flashlight under the covers when you're supposed to be asleep," Phil teased.

"I have to keep hiding my flashlights, too," Marc admitted. "I budget part of my allowance for batteries."

"So," Phil began, as they carried their costumes down the steps from the attic. "No siblings?"

"Got one of each. Lots older than me. Barry's in college now, Leesa lives in Seattle with her husband and four kids, the youngest is my age."

"Wow, I didn't think your mom was that old. Then again, Dad is kinda old, and if your mom knew my mom…"

"They started young. Barry was born like a year after they graduated," Marc said. "I don't really know them all that well."

"So we have something else in common," Phil said, sadly. "We both have people in our lives we know nothing about."

"Yeah. Kinda sucks."


The boys quickly set about getting their makeup and costumes right. Phil's looked especially good, because Marc had a lot of practice. His parents were not only big on Halloween, but theater in general. Marc himself had been on stage in at least four productions of the town's little theater group. His mother could act, sing and dance, a triple threat! Phil's job on Marc's face painting was a little sloppier but for the evil, insane doctor look, mostly all you need is fake blood, a scar or two and dark, menacing eyes.

Marc was glad that he was sitting down during most of the makeup application. He had a minor chub going on below when he had his hands touching Phil's face. Fortunately his undies kept things from stretching out the front of the scrubs But that had switched to a wild, dreamy sensation while he had his eyes closed and Phil's fingers were touching Marc's face, applying the colors and generally rubbing his skin. For some reason, the thought of another boy, more specifically this boy, touching his face while he was passive just excited him so much. He slipped into a day dream about being an actor for a horror movie and none of the other boys in the next scene had anything on but makeup. And they put that makeup on each other. And…

"Finished. Looks absolutely horrible!" Phil grinned. Marc snapped open his eyes and the return of light left his vision slightly blotchy for a moment. As he looked at Phil, with the eye splotches fading, an idea came to him.

"One last touch," Marc said, grabbing the football helmet. He snapped a glow stick, shaking it to life quickly and stuck it up inside the helmet before plopping it on Phil's head. Then he marched his buddy into the bathroom, closed the door and shut out the light. The boys stood before the mirror and the effect was eerie and creepy. With the purple glow of the light stick falling on his face from above, Phil's appearance shifted from just "creepy kid costume" to "horror movie scary."

"Whoa! Dude, that's awesome. Thanks! I wouldn't have thought of that."

"Yeah, I kinda thought it up at the last minute. Didn't know if I should go with green or purple, but I like it this way. The purple makes the shadows when you open your mouth longer."

"Mad awesome," Phil breathed into the darkness. He moved his head around, looking at how the light cast down from the helmet. In doing so, Phil moved a bit to his right and bumped into Marc in the darkness. Phil's hand brushed over the front of Marc's doctor pants, and that certain something inside them that was slightly plumped. Marc's hand also accidently brushed over Phil's buns, making a slight sound as his fingers slid on the slick material. Both boys instantly stepped back from the contact, Phil's way oversized shoulder pads accidentally hitting the light switch.

"Uh, wow. Maybe we should get a picture," Phil suggested, keeping his tone light.

"Yeah, great idea. Maybe we can get one of the parents giving out candy to take one with my iPhone."

"Cool. Okay, anything else we need?"

"Just to get some stuff at your house and leave a note for your dad."

"Oh, right," Phil said, somewhat distracted. He turned and opened the bathroom door, which gave Marc a chance to adjust himself. He tried to think of disgusting things to make his boner go away, but with it being Halloween, his Halloweenie seemed to have a mind all its own. The usual gruesome stuff just didn't seem to do the trick, or in this case, trick the dick. He tried the usual grossness; frog in a blender, creepy school lunch lady putting out cigarettes in the sloppy joe mix, having to read a romance novel for Language Arts. Nothing was working. He just hoped that Phil didn't notice and freak out.

Phil for his part was like a duck on a pond. Above the surface, all's calm, normal, making it look easy. Under the waves, though, those little webbed feet were churning a mile a minute just to stay in one place. He'd knew what he'd brushed up against in the dark, and he knew Marc's hand and rubbed across his butt cheek. And while he knew it was an accident that the contact had taken place, it fired off a thousand different thoughts in his mind about what it might mean.

Did he intend to touch me there? Why do I like that he touched me there? Why did I like it so much when he was touching my face? Why did I lean into his body when he was putting the makeup on? Is that a smudge of makeup on my glasses? What time is it? Will Dad be home tonight, or is he working late? All these thoughts and more ran through Phil's mind, jumping around and challenging each other for the front of the pack. He took a deep breath and calmed his thoughts, ordering them, putting himself back in control.

Marc found a pair of paper grocery sacks and thus armed, the boys headed out to gather treats. They started almost at once, going through the houses right around Marc's house. Chocolate quickly took a lead to hard candy and taffy, although one house actually was giving out chocolate covered banana pops, wrapped in Ziploc bags. Which was a win-win as far as Marc was concerned. Phil looked at the banana pops with a reluctant eye, but accepted his just the same, with an eye for trading later.

Several other kids commented on Phil's costume as they ran around. The glow stick really made a difference in how the whole undead football player thing worked. Several kids and parents asked to take pictures of the both of them. The posing and monster faces were epic.

While they were stopping by one corner on the way to Phil's house, they overheard an older parent telling a story. He was handing out candy while standing in front of a giant half hollow oak tree. The older guy was dressed up like a character from the Arabian Nights, all baggy, satiny pants, billowy shirt and short vest, with a turban perched up on his head with a weird funky big jewel thing in the front and a pair of long feathery things poking up above it. The tree itself was immense, its canopy spreading high overhead, despite the large chunk of the trunk that was apparently rotting away. A group of younger kids were listening to the man as he wove his tale.

"So, here we are again, kiddies!" he said, his fingers hanging down as he made broad gestures with both his arms and voice. "Halloween, at the hollow treeeee! Do you know the legend of this tree?"

"No!" the kids roared.

"No? Are you sure? You don't know the legend?"

"Nooooo!" they roared back.

"Are you brave enough to hear it?"


"Well, alrighty then! Sit right down, and listen close. And hear the tale of the Halloween Oak!" He spun in place. "it was many years ago, oh, long before any of you were even in diapers. The night was Halloween. You know what night that is, don't you?"


"It's tonight!"

"Tonight, you say?" the storyteller asked back. Again, the kids shouted back. "Well, then, this is especially important that you know. So listen up you little ghoulies and creepies!" He pointed to the hollow oak, specifically the hollow area. As if on cue, the internal space flickered with odd green light, just a soft, subtle glow, but clearly visible in the gathering darkness.

"Like I said, many years ago, back before cell phone, back before X-Box, even back before baseball, on a Halloween night much like tonight, there were two boys. Adam and Steve were their names. They were great friends. They rode bikes together, they went swimming together, they even build a tree fort in this very tree! They were such good friends that they even became blood brothers. Do you know what that means?"

"They ate each other's boogers?" one kid asked. Several kids made faces and giggled.

"No, they like drank each other's blood like vampires!" another shouted.

"No, they cut their hands and shook and like shared blood that way," a girl in the front said.

"That's right. Cut their hands and shook and all that icky gooey stuff." He glanced around and gathered their eyes back with his hands. "So, as blood brothers, they were the best of friends. But that night, that Halloween night so long ago, a crazy man was out. Escaped from the nut house. His name was… Melvin. Nobody knows his last name, and none would DARE speak it if they knew. He was insane. He ate chickens raw, feathers and all, saving the beak for last because, and I quote, he liked the taste of chicken boogers!" Parents and kids alike giggled.

"So Melvin was on the prowl. He saw all the kids dressed like," and he pointed to each kid costume as he spoke, "a fireman, a princess, a puppy dog, and," he pointed at one of the costumed parents "a pretty nurse." He paused, watching as the kids and parents looked around at the ones singled out. "Oh, he was so crazy he thought that these were all ghosts out to get him. So he decided he'd get them first!

"He grabbed his car! It was a Flintstone Super Special. Powered by three hamsters and a gerbil almost as insane as Melvin himself. And he went out to go and beat up any kid in a costume. See he was so nuts, he thought if he could take their candy, he'd take their SOULS!" He gestured wildly, reaching out over the kids, just as the green glow in the tree briefly surged brighter.

"So, Adam and Steve, they wanted to stay out extra late, get as many treats as they could. They kept knocking on doors long after the other kids had all gone home to their safe beds. No, not these two. For while they were blood brothers through and through, they were also greedy. And Selfish even. Maybe even gluttonous. So they kept trick or treating, almost until…" he paused and let his voice get gravelly. "Midnight!"

"That's when Crazy Melvin found them, resting beside this tree. And he was so crazy, all he could think to do, with drool running down his face and his eyes as wide as chocolate chip cookies, was to ram them. Adam and Steve never saw it coming. And Melvin hit them so hard, the police couldn't get them back out of this tree. Which is where they stayed. The tree's been rotting ever since."

"So what's the lesson for this story?"

"Don't eat other people's boogers?" Phil yelled back.

"NO! Don't stay out too late, or else…" and the light in the hollow oak went to full bright green power. And then two boys jumped out of the tree, reaching for the seated kids and moaning loudly. Their faces were done up in zombie style and the little kids panicked, trying to get up and run away. The parents gasped and then laughed as they realized they'd all been drawn in.

Marc, however, was transfixed. He'd been drawn into the story and let his wild imagination run away with him. He could see the boys, smashed to a pulp under the car, the headlights all split in different directions. He could see the corpses of the boys being partly savaged as they were separated from the tree, their guts all hanging out. He could even see the year by year decay of the tree itself.

Phil nudged Marc, trying to get him to snap out of the trance. Marc looked over, startled, almost dropping his candy bag. "You okay, man?"

"Yeah, just. He's pretty good at that stuff, huh?"

"Eh, if you're nine maybe. Funny story though. I think the kid dressed like a puppy made a mess in his costume when Adam and Steve jumped out at him.

"Poor guy," Marc said, as he and Phil walked up to get their candy. "Sir, did it really happen like that?"

"Well, part of that was to make the little ones listen, but something a lot like that did happen. So, don't stay out too late, guys. Happy Halloween," and he dropped a snickers bar in each boy's bag.

"Happy Halloween!" they called back and started for the next block.

"Creepy," Phil said as they rounded the block to his street. "Dad's car's not there, so he's probably working late."

"Okay, so we get you some overnight stuff and leave him a note."

"Cool. He wont care anyways."


"Yeah, he pretty much lets me do what I want. It's okay," Phil said, but Marc could tell his new friend wasn't really happy about it. Still, he said nothing. Phil ducked inside the trailer home, telling Marc to just wait outside. It didn't take Phil very long, but while he was inside, a police car came down the street. The police car's roof lights were spinning, even though the car itself went by slowly. As the car got halfway down the street, its loudspeaker kicked on with a whine of static.

"Kids, get indoors. Curfew is in effect tonight. Police are declaring trick or treat over in ten minutes. All children should be home by 8:30."

What's that all about? Marc thought. Phil came out and locked the door.

"What's going on?"

"Dunno. Cops said they were calling off trick or treat."

"Aww, man! We only got like 50 houses."

"I know, right?" Marc sighed. "Guess we should get back home then. You got everything?"

"Yeah, I'm cool. Can we hit a few houses along the way?"

"Yeah," Marc grinned.

"Wonder why they're shutting things down," Phil said aloud.

"Maybe Melvin's back," the zombie surgeon said.

"Yeah, right! That was just a story for the pre-schoolers. He practically took them on a Lion Hunt," Phil said, pointing towards a house with no decorations on it. It was creepy, run down looking, with a long wrap around porch and tall gables on the front. Only the light by the door was on. "Hey, how about that one?"

"Idunno. Doesn't look like they're giving out candy."

"Just means we'll be the firsts," Phil said, charging towards the house.

"Phil!" Marc said, chasing after, hoping to stop his friend. But just as they both got up to the door, Phil had reached out and pressed the doorbell three times. "Dude, let's go. I got a bad feeling about…" and then the door opened, dark on the other side. A harsh waft of alcohol spilled out, washing over the boys like an evil fog.

"You! You little creeps!" came the shrill voice. Marc felt all the blood drained out of his face. Phil stared up in horror. The person who opened the door, glaring down on them, was… Mrs. Argyle!"

"Holy shit! Run!" Marc shouted, grabbing Phil's arm. As they moved away, Phil dropped his bag of Halloween swag.

"My stuff!" Phil called, trying to twist back and get his bag. But Argyle reached for Phil at the same time.

"I lost my job because of you little freaks! I'll kill you!" She latched her hands around Phil's narrow wrist, and started trying to drag him into her house.

"Lemme go!" Phil screamed. Marc kept tugging on Phil's other arm, looking behind himself to see if the cop was still there, but it had rolled around the corner and was beyond sight.

"Let him go, you crazy witch!" Marc shouted. He swung forward and stomped on the old lady's foot. She howled in pain and let Phil go. The boys grabbed Phil's bag and then bolted. They managed to run about three blocks before they realized they'd overshot Marc's house. They paused to catch their breath. A few blocks over they heard the police car giving the warning to get off the streets again. The trick or treating crowd was thinning out.

"Did you know that was her house?" Phil asked.

"I didn't think teachers HAD houses. Thought they locked them up at night."

"Yeah well, kinda strange. We should get to your place. I wanna swap something for the banana thing."

"You don't know what you're missing," Marc said, as they passed by the hollow oak. "It's really good."

"I dunno. I'm not into fruit so much."

A pair of bright headlights suddenly flashed on behind the boys. They turned and saw an older car, big and blocky, coming down the street at them. It jumped to the wrong side of the street, accelerating hard. Without a word, Marc and Phil started running, getting off the street and up onto the sidewalk. The car jumped up onto the sidewalk behind them. They moved towards a house, and watched as the car speed right towards the house. At the last moment, the boys ducked behind a large tree as the car went barreling into the screened in porch on the side of the house.

"You okay?" Phil asks and Marc gets up, dusting himself off. Phil's football helmet lay split under the car's rear tire.

"Yeah, I'm good. You?"

"I'll live."

"You'll die!" came a screech from the car. The boys heard Mrs. Argyle put the car in reverse and floor it. Loose boards and concrete bits spun under the clunky car and it surged out of the ruined porch. She spun the wheel and brought her lights around to line up on the boys again.

"She's friggin' crazy!" Phil shouted.

"Let's go!" Marc said, grabbing his bag and making a break for the street. The home owner came out just as Mrs. Argyle floored the gas again, shooting off like a rocket. The front of her car was a mangled mess of bent up metal and broken plastic. The left headlight hung on by wires alone.

Marc and Phil crossed the street, but before they could get very far, Phil fell, his legs becoming snared in a loop of Halloween lights. Marc turned back to help his friend, just in time to see the crazy lady's car come bouncing across the street, scraping on the concrete and sending sparks flying. They were most certainly doomed.

Then something weird happened. Arms looped under Marc and Phil's arms, hauling them into the hollow oak. The car sailed past them and bounced into the street again, going through the corner of the yard. Before the car could make a complete turn-about, however, the car fetched up against a fire plug, coming to a hard, lurching stop. The back tires bounced three times until the engine shut down, permanently.

Inside the oak, Marc and Phil looked around trying to see who had dragged them to safety. They both opened their eyes wide in shock. The two persons who had rescued them were transparent, and greenish. Marc and Phil moved together, staring at the ghostly figures with awe.

"Adam and Steve?" Marc asked, his mouth dry at being in the presence of ghosts, like for real ghosts.

"From the story?" Phil asked.

The ghostly boys nodded, then they reached for each other and grabbed hands, like in the blood brother's ritual. They moved together in a bro-hug and seemed to blur, blending together before vanishing. Marc and Phil looked at each other and then both gulped audibly.

"No way, dude." Marc looked around and peeked his head out of the hollow tree. Behind the tree's bulk, a police car pulled up to where Argyle was just getting out of her car. She tried to charge across the street with some kind of cane in hand when the cop got in her way.

"Looks like she's occupied. Let's slip away, dude," Phil said. They collected their bags and made a break for it. After a block of running, the boys slowed down and walked the rest of the way to Marc's house. They made it inside and crashed on the couch.

"Oh migod. She's a raving lunatic," Marc said.

"I'm sorry, man. I lost the football helmet."

"No worries. I think once we tell Mom and Dad what happened, they'll understand."

"She was gonna run us down. Like in the story."

"And we got saved. I mean… ghosts!"

"I know, right?" Phil reached up under his costume and unhooked the shoulder pads, sliding the upper part of his costume right off. "Oh, I think I'm gonna be sick," he said, rolling off the couch onto all fours. "I never ran that hard in my life."

"Good thing we didn't have to run long, huh?" Marc said, standing and going over to his friend. He helps Phil to his feet and brings him to the bathroom. He sat Phil down on the toilet and brought a wet wash cloth to the other boy's head, carefully removing his glasses.

"You feeling better?" Marc asked.

"Yeah, just a bit woozy. I still can't believe we were saved by ghosts. Ghosts who like, really like each other."

"Well, if they're stuck in that tree, I hope they like each other." Marc looked at the wash cloth and saw the makeup was coming off.

"Adam and Steve, sitting in a tree, Kay Eye Ess Ess Eye En Gee!" Phil sang.

"You're a mess, you know?" Marc asked.

"At least it wasn't X=6," Phil replied. Phil relaxed as Marc washed his face a bit. Phil noticed a small dripping on the side of Marc's face. "Hey, you got a cut or something."

"Yeah, I think I passed too close to something sharp while dodging crazy ladies." Marc looked at his own reflection in the mirror and relaxed. He looked down at Phil and saw the other boy staring at Marc's crotch. The doctor's scrubs had torn open and his undies were clearly visible. Unconsciously, he felt himself starting to bone up.

"Uh, I'm gonna go get your bag. You can shower first and wash off your maekup.

"Yeah, uh, sounds good," Phil said. "I'm kinda bushed. Can we go to bed early?"

"Sure, right after showering if you want. We can watch a movie if you like."

"Sounds like a plan," Phil said as Marc quickly ducked into his own room to grab a pair of sweat pants. He quickly covered himself up and grabbed Phil's stuff. After they swapped out of the bathroom, they settled down to watch a non-scary movie in Marc's room. It didn't take long before they grew tired and turned off the lights and the movie.

As they lay down, faces scrubbed almost raw from makeup removal, the boys both reflected on the events of the night. The stillness of Marc's bedroom, punctuated here or there by breathing sounds, seemed to put them both into a contemplative mood. One neither boy was quite ready to break by speaking, but that both desperately wanted the other to do.

"Great candy haul tonight," Marc said, after the noise of a car passing by on the street below died down.

"Yeah. I never had so much fun trick or treating. Well, you know, until…"

"Yeah," Marc said, sighing. "Never gonna be able to top that."

"X=6?" Phil asked, raising a fist into the air half-heartedly. It fell back against his body with a thump he felt deep in his own narrow chest. "Ow," he deadpanned, getting a short chuckle from Marc.

The silence stretched out again between them, Phil absently scratching his chest through his t-shirt. Marc actively willed himself not to start day dreaming while they lay there, side by side, each a bit anxious.



"About earlier?"

"When earlier?"

"Uh, in the bathroom, when we were looking at how the glow thingy and makeup made your face all uber-nasty?"

"Great idea, by the way," Phil said, trying to delay the question he sort of knew might possibly maybe perhaps be coming.

"And when you were turning your head?" Marc continued, feeling a blush coming on.

"Uh, yeah," Phil said really quiet. He had the feeling he might get tossed out and sent home. Which would really suck, since this was the first sleep over he'd had, like ever.

"Uhm, I dunno how to say this. But, I kinda felt…"

"Yeah, I'm sorry dude. I didn't know where my hand was. I didn't mean to grab your boner. It was an accident."

"You grabbed it?"

"Well, more like my hand rubbed over it. I couldn't see nuthin."

"Oh. Sorry about that. I didn't know you actually could tell."

Phil blushed a bit this time and stifled a giggle. "Woulda been impossible not to tell!"

"Oh god. Sorry dude. I'll be more careful."

"It's okay. I started getting them a few months ago, too. No biggie. Well, some biggie," Phil started giggling again at his own joke. Marc just felt his face get hotter with embarrassment.

"I really wanted to say sorry about touching your butt. Like you said, it was dark, didn't know where each other was much. Just an accident."

"No prob, dude," Phil said. "My butt's had worse than your hand touching it."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. When I was in 4th grade, we went on a school trip to a museum. All that Egyptian stuff, like the mummies and gold stuff and the big coffins? Well, when we got back on the busses to go back to school, a kid behind me dropped an opened pinecone on my seat right before I sat down."

"Ouch!" Marc said, sympathetically. "I hope you turned around and punched him, hard."

"I didn't have to. One of the bus monitors was on him like white on rice. He wound up scrubbing toilets in the 1st grade and kindergarten wings for a month."

"Ewww! But a good punishment." Marc looked over and grinned. "I'm glad we met today."

"Yeah, me too. There's only one question left."

"Huh?" Marc asked, closing his eyes and pressing his head deeper into his pillow.

"Does X really equal 6?" Phil smiled, leaning back into his own pillow.

Marc's eyes flew open.