Terry had walked the same way to school every day this year. Off the porch, across the street, through the neighbor’s yard, silently of course and on to the street a block from the bus stop. Every day it was the same. At nine years old it was too early in life to determine if this was a routine, if this was boring, the same, the caught in the mindless rut of every-day-ness. It was as his mother, Laura and father, Daniel had pointed out on several occasions necessary. “It is necessary that you get to the bus stop before the bus,” was the exact instruction.

By Halloween, Terry had figured out when to leave, when to have used the bathroom one last time. It was weather, when the weather guy came on, the goofy one who pretended he was cool, who wore shorts outside all year round and screamed at piñatas made in the shape of his fellow early morning newscasters it was time. When he came on to give the weather report it was time to walk out the door, grab his backpack, his retro Batman lunch cooler, a jacket if needed and take off.

His parents had given him the opportunity to act like a grown up at the beginning of the year. To entice him, to get him to take responsibility they had promised Terry a possible trip that next summer to a mega amusement park where he would now be tall enough to ride the rides. Only and they stressed only if he never missed the bus in the morning. Summer, in Terry’s estimation was going to be excellent.

Just after Christmas, during the January frost days, those days with late delayed school starts because the air was too cold for young people to hang out waiting for a school bus Charlotte showed up. Terry’s early morning commute was now invaded by a girl, new to the school, his age, and in his class. There was nothing special about Charlotte other than she was smart, quiet and stayed to herself reading at recess in the cold months and in the spring, she stood in the corner of the school yard examining an ancient tree waiting, she told anyone who would listen, for the running of the sap.

Half of Terry’s walk to the bus top was now accompanied by Charlotte and rather than fight the urge to be solitary wanderers on opposite sides of the street it turned out to be more fun to talk with one another. In the morning. In the afternoon. It was mutual. They are nine. Sometimes they switched lunches, sometimes they complained about homework, and sometimes they just walked and along acknowledging the other with a head nod. Friends, sometimes the best friends are the ones that show up unexpectedly.

Terry loved explaining the neighborhood to Charlotte. He told her all about the Singun’s and that he was allowed to cut through their yard to get home. Otherwise, he would have to go about a block in the other direction or down to the end of the street and cut over through the parking lot of the old church. It was scary down by the parking lot as that took him by Mrs. Franken’s house. Everyone knew that she was a witch and had been known to kidnap stray animals and bake them into pies.

Charlotte challenged him about the old woman baking pets into pies. “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe in that kind of stuff.”

“The story goes,” Terry went on, “that there was a stray beagle puppy running about the block. A cute little guy with big ears and sad eyes. Then one day Mrs. Franken was seen tempting that poor little stray dog into her yard with a steak and after that afternoon no one ever saw that poor lost beagle again. What do you make of that?”

“Lucky dog to get steak.”

“You hardly ever see the Singun’s unless he’s shoveling snow or cutting the grass. Sometimes Mrs. Singun hangs out laundry in the back yard. My dad think she doesn’t have a dryer. Mom thinks she does laundry for other people, because there is no way that Mrs. Singun could fit in some of the clothes that she hangs out. I like when it snows, because he only shovels the sidewalk along the side of the house and stops. Then I get to walk through the snow in his yard to get home. Walking in snow makes my toes get all red and tingly.”

That morning in late spring on their walking commute to the school bus Terry and Charlotte stumbled upon a dead bird. With both of them possessing inquisitive young minds they stopped and examined the carcass. With a stick he poked the bird’s chest, it caved in under the pressure from the stick and let out a bird sigh. Terry jumped back and said that the bird may be still alive playing possum. Charlotte pointed out that matted crushed feathers and the faded colors were proof that it was dead. She squatted next to him smiled, he smiled back and handed her the stick. Charlotte began her own examination, two scientists, two coroners, two detectives trying to determine the cause of death on a street on their way to school.

It was this stalling of the two children on the street that brought out Mr. Singun, a very large stout man that Terry had nick named “the wall”. Mr. Singun came out to see what had caught the interest of the two children. He quizzed Terry, who having been taught manners by his parents, reinforced by his teachers and pastor answered the man’s questions while Charlotte, although considered polite was very shy and liked to hide behind anything for protection, in this case Terry.

Mr. Singun explained to both of them that things die and asked if they knew about death, real death not the goofy deaths from TV, the movies or video games. Both children nodded and Charlotte, feeling adventurous calmly explained, “that the bird may have had a heart attack like her grandfather and there is nothing the fucking goddamn hospital can do.”

Mr. Singun stifled a laugh and nodded in agreement, explaining to Charlotte that she may want to keep her ideas about hospitals a secret, but that death whether it was her grandfather or the poor bird was the same. Terry added that his grandmother had died last summer and that his mom went crying crazy for a couple of weeks and his Uncle Randy hung out at their house until his dad kicked him out. Terry laughed. “Uncle Randy was always drunk and used to puke right off the front porch.”

“Eww.” Charlotte added.

There was a sale at the mini mart that afternoon two gallon jugs of iced tea the good kind the hard to get flavor half lemonade half iced tea sour sweet bitter. It was a two for five sale, one that they don’t advertise unless you are at the pump getting gas with your courtesy card and the digital display comes up as you finish filling your tank announcing the special. Laura had called Daniel at work to stop by and buy what he could. It was her favorite and would he please do this one little favor this one little thing just for her, if he loved her, he would.

It was Charlotte that noticed that Mr. Singun had tears in his eyes and feeling especially bold that morning asked if he was oaky. Not waiting for an answer, she went on and on that it was only a bird and promised to have it taken care of if Mr. Singun wanted her too. She would gladly come by after school and remove the bird if Mr. Singun didn’t have the stomach to.

Again, Mr. Singun laughed. He teased Charlotte about not being afraid of dead things. “I have Terry he will help.”

Terry then went on about how they had studied dead things in school and remarked that if he let them cleanup, they would be doing community service. Mr. Singun would just have to sign a paper for school. The man shuffled the two along reminding them both that the school bus waits for no one. When they looked back, he was using the hose to wash down the sidewalk. Throughout the day they worried about Mr. Singun and at recess the two of them sat and planned how they could help cheer the man up.

Terry’s father had what Terry felt was the best job in the world. He guarded the money in those big tank-like trucks, delivering hundreds if not millions of dollar bills to banks, stores, and the Freezy Wheezy home of the Freezy Monster a huge cone of soft serve swirled ice cream in three flavors of your choosing.

There were several things that Terry and Charlotte had decided that they loved about spring. First was no more school. Although they both did enjoy being in school, there was nothing like summer vacation. Terry voted that baseball was his second and promised, crossing his heart that whatever she picked as her second favorite thing would be tied with baseball.

Charlotte wasn’t a big baseball fan but agreed. “I find the sport boring,” was all she said. Her second favorite was gardens. She and her mom always planted a garden. “Flowers, vegetables, ten foot tall tomato plants.”

Terry wasn’t a big fan of gardens. “Flowers bring bees. I don’t like bees.”

Summer also meant ice cream and this summer Terry would introduce her to the best ice cream. “The best ice cream in the world was at the Freezy Wheezy.”

Charlotte questioned his claim about the best in the world. “How could you know, having not traveled around the world?”

“Easy, it says so on their sign.” That made both of them laugh.

The doorbell rang two times in quick succession. Mrs. Singun was surprised to find Terry and Charlotte at the door. “My my,” she said over and over. “What can I do for you two?” They explained about the bird. Charlotte let Terry do the talking how they both felt that maybe Mr. Singun needed some cheering up.

“Hmmm,” she said in a long drawn out breath. “Mr. Singun seems okay to me.” She closed the door and locked herself up back inside. Behind closed doors Mrs. Singun sat on a chair and began to cry. She cried and then using a dish towel for a tissue wiped her eyes as she watched the two children through the front window walking away. Catching her breath and standing she told herself he would be okay, everything would be okay. He would find another job. He had never let them down before.

The two drifted about in the Singun’s back yard on their way to Terry’s house for after school snacks, picking dandelions, talking and laughing. Charlotte wanted to make a garland of the flowers, a wreath of yellow flowers that you could put around your neck. It was something her mom had taught her, how to weave the flowers together to make a string of green leaves and flowers. “Bees,” she told Terry, “love dandelions.”

“Bees, yuck.” was all he could say. “Bees hurt,” he warned.

“Bees make honey, “she reminded him, “and everyone loves honey.”

Terry wanted to collect a large bundle of the flowers to give to his mom. “Mom loves flowers, she has a special jar to put them in.”

“Vase.” Boys can be stupid. Charlotte’s mom had been adamant about that. Boys can be stupid, boys can be smart too, but sometimes they tend to not think things through.

Charlotte’s mom, Holly liked Terry and insisted that he was one of the smart ones. “He’s smart and he’s your friend. You are so lucky to have such a good friend. That is one of the best things that can happen in your life, Cherry.” Her mom called her Cherry, it was her nickname her secret special mom daughter name. When Holly called out Cherry it meant one of two things, that she was in trouble or that Holly was proud of something Charlotte had done. Charlotte was hardly ever in trouble.

Holly and Charlotte had come to the neighborhood in January after her job had moved them from their old home of six years. “Relocation. You have to go where the money is.” Holly was a programmer, loved games, and was proud of her daughter who was smarter, she told Charlotte, than anyone else she knew at that age. The two of them loved to play board games together and gladly welcomed Terry whenever he was around to join in. Terry would spend a Saturday afternoon with them playing games and talking about the spring and baseball and how his dad was excited about him finally being old enough to be on a real team.

Things happened in a rush. Sometimes that is just the way it goes. Terry’s father, Daniel, had come home, had failed to stop for the iced tea and was taking off his work gear when his cell phone buzzed with the simple message from his wife, Laura that just said “thanks”. “Shit.” Daniel grabbed his keys and headed out the door. He had backed out the drive and was down the street when Terry and Charlotte made it to the porch armed with bunches of dandelions and backpacks.

Sitting on the counter under a vest and some webbing it sat. Black, flat black, dead black, beckoning. It was heavy and Charlotte did all she could to hold onto it while Terry explained his dad’s rules, but it was too heavy. Slowly it slipped from her hands, her moist little hands, it fell slid down the front of her dress and landed with a bang on the floor.

“It sounded like a firecracker, but not as loud.” That is what Mrs. Franken said. “Fireworks in the middle of the afternoon. Tsk. Tsk. What is the neighborhood coming too?” A phrase she used often and repeated at least once more as she hid behind the partially opened door. Her eyeglasses reflected the spring sun and the activity in the street outside. Behind her, her rooms were dark like a sunless basement. Glowing faintly against the far wall was the multicolored screen of her television filled with a gameshow of over animated contestants jumping up and down. On the couch lounging in the glow of that television on an old afghan sat a plump beagle unenthusiastic about the company at the door. The officer thanked her and walked back out to the street.

Mr. and Mrs. Singun had heard nothing seen nothing. The children often cut through their yard and they hoped that the police would take notice that this was a form of trespass which should be attended to. Under the circumstances the officer replied that their specific complaint would be best taken up at a different time. In response the Singun’s closed their door and locked the world outside.

Elisa, a young mother to be watched the commotion from the sidewalk. Occasionally rubbing her hands over and along her swollen belly, her eyes filled with unwept tears. Manolito, her husband came home from work and became nervous when she was not in the house. He started to sweat and his stomach grew tight as he ran out to the street calling her name. There was no note, nothing telling him where she might be. As he searched, he prayed that she had not been rushed to the hospital and the baby had not come early.

He discovered her down the block. Coming up behind her he put his arm around her. At first, she was startled and jumped away. Realizing it was him she smiled and allowed him to pull her close and with his arm around her waist, she rested her head on his chest. It was warmer today than it had been and she was hot, standing there struggling in the sun to stand. He whispered something in Spanish and she shook her head no, adding that she wanted to stay wanted to be here needed to feel part of the neighborhood.

Daniel sitting on his front porch at first oblivious to the commotion and neighbors congregated across the street held his face in his hands, breathed, sighed and then rubbed his fingers over his late afternoon stubble. He shook his head as if that simple motion would clear his mind, refresh restart. He sighed again looked up across the street and realized nothing had changed.

Manny hadn’t noticed the police cars when he came down the street searching for his wife. The unattended vehicles stood motionless and without their lights flashing looked like everyday occupants parked along the street. Many from the neighborhood had gathered along the street in a reverent silence. Hushed it seemed out of some respect for some unknown but valid tragedy. Many silently wept. Elisa explained that the ambulance had left earlier. A priest came and was allowed in. In the house there was crying, the saddest crying for the longest time and now there was silence. The silence came she told him when they shut off the lights to the ambulance before it went away.

Manolito caught someone in the Singun’s house peering from a second floor window. The curtain pushed aside enough to spy on the outside world. For the first time since moving here he felt uncomfortable. The thought of them hiding away while neighbors collected to show support made him feel angry. He stared back until the curtain fell into place, the trespasser on the sorrows of others had moved on.

While they stood there gathered with others from the neighborhood, Holly walked by. Her head hung low her shoulders straining over its weight. No one said a word to her as she left the house and cut through the Singun’s yard. All of a sudden, she stopped stooped down, picked some dandelions tore them apart tossing them into the breeze whispering, “Goodbye my sweet Cherry.”

“Esto es desgarrador. This is heart breaking. It was supposed to be safe. Peaceful. Family.”

Manny laughed nervously.

“Don’t laugh at me. That is why we moved here, this family, that family, the trees, the quiet, the kids playing in the street. This is where we wanted to raise up our kids. No, you don’t understand. I see the two of them walk to school in the morning and then walk home in the afternoon. That is done. The place is different now. Scarred.”

A bee buzzed around her head she stepped away, waving her arms.

“Odias las abejas. You look funny swatting at the bee. Te amo.” Again, he pulled her close, wanted to reassure her, let her know that he was watching out for her, protecting her. He gently tightened his grip around her waist, patted her belly, his way of letting her know he was there, and would always be there for them.


Duane Engelhardt is a new writer who has recently self-published a novella, Code of Silence. Drawing from career experiences ranging from Chief Financial Officer of a branch of an international corporation, to managing an art gallery, stage acting, and working on sailboats, Engelhardt now puts his unique vision of life into photography and writing. When not traveling, he and his wife Kit live outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with Ziva, a conspicuous and vocal German Shepherd, and Layla, an overstuffed house cat, while working on his novel The Forest Hill Crow Society.

Ethan Caughern, 18 years old, is a dual credit student at TCC. He took an interest in photography as a hobby when his father introduced him to it. Ethan also thoroughly enjoys playing piano, which is his primary hobby. TCC BCM is another activity that he participates in. Music is also a big part of Ethan’s life, as he is involved in the worship team in his church’s youth group.