1 – The streetlights clicked on with the setting dusk of the Arizona sky as he turned the corner onto Beacon Street. Lined with single-story tract-style homes, sitting behind large Acacia trees and tall hedges, looked the same to him now as it did during the greatest, and probably the most fearful time of his youth.
It was a ways back, more than fifty years now, when Beacon Street had been considered a safe haven for Cody Stokes and his friends. He once believed it to be a magical street and that whatever happened to them here would echo through time. They weren’t wrong. It’s what has brought him back now.
The streetlights showered the neighborhood with an amber glow reminiscent of the honey-hued moon that occurs every three years. With Beacon Street, that honey-hued color was every night. Cody looked upon it as he once did as a kid – now aged with time and walking with more of a shuffle than a step – a thousand memories came back to him at once, and without realizing he was doing so, he smiled. Childhood he could again see dancing among the foreground of the present.
Once upon a lifetime ago, Daniel Lowe and Hailey Akers had been his best of friends and as he shuffled through the neighborhood of this old asphalt playground, simpler times of laughter and adolescence came back to him in a flood of emotions. He was forced to take a moment and draw a few long deep breaths before he could continue. It wasn’t so great getting old.
He pondered the days of riding bikes and running through the neighbor’s yards to avoid being caught during games of tag. Roller skates, skateboards and jump rope all took place on this road. Even where he stood, under a tree that was growing over the sidewalk, was were Nancy McGillis always drew her hopscotch game on the sidewalk. He had participated in it more than his fair share. This entire street was their playing field and they felt then that they owned it.
Each morning the trio would meet at the corner that marked the edge of their domain and walk to school. They had done this since the fourth grade. Like the three musketeers, they were inseparable. Everything they did was as one. Always they left early enough so that they could talk about life’s problems that twelve year olds faced. There was no rush. That’s the way it was then, nothing like today’s times of hustling and never taking a moment to relax. Or maybe that just came with being an adult, but Cody never cared for the hustle, even as an adult.
Coming up on the right was his old house. Built the same year Cody was born, 1950, John and Lisa Stokes settled into this housing development after they had married. Then, the community sat surrounded only by a desert, with the exception of the school two miles away and a small store a block up. Each model home was chosen from one of the four plans available, but in all honesty, they were not so different. Some models offered the garage on the opposite side of the house, while two floor plans included an extra bedroom. Made from brick or block, the low-sloped rooflines, clerestory windows and large entryways mirrored a line of fifty down the road. Once these homes were considered modest and family friendly, today they are simply old and historic.
He wasn’t here to re-visit his childhood home though. That’s not what has brought him back here today. Cody sold that house after his mother and father passed away shortly after he graduated college. A routine vacation turned dreadful when their car ended up in a horrific traffic accident. Cody was told the news by a trusted family friend, who happened to be the police chief, that his father had fallen asleep at the wheel and drove across a divider into oncoming traffic.
He found it hard when he had heard the news and he fell into a dark place mixed with alcohol and drugs. It was Hailey who had found him and pulled him back out. He was twenty-three then.
Though he would love to, he knew better than to knock at the door. The consequences would be great. He wasn’t worried about the kids playing on the street seeing a stranger in the neighborhood. No one would recognize him. But he figured he should keep to himself.
Cody was here today to visit the house across the street from his old one.
In the summer of 1962, many things changed in the way of childhood and although the three amigos remain close, Hailey even more so, they felt that in the summer of Mr. Greg Stanton, they grew up before their time.
That hot playful confusing summer started out like any other. The school year ended with a small party in their classroom to celebrate another year of progress. Miss. Winters, one of the younger teachers, known more for her fashion sense than her teaching abilities, wore the new shorter dresses that kept the old-fashioned teachers talking. Most of the teachers wore long dresses over their knees, but Miss. Winter’s knees were in full swing, and for sure, most of her thighs too.
Although the mini-skirt wasn’t introduced until 65, Cody was sure that Miss. Winters invented it first. It was something the girls in school, like Hailey, thought she was doing on purpose to draw the attention of the men. The school administration may have had a problem with her choice in clothing but the male students such as himself complimented her almost daily. Miss. Winters was a real stunner.
She had made cupcakes for everyone in the class and put together a time at the end of the day for simply doing nothing. The students sat and talked, eating cupcakes, while Miss. Winters did paperwork at her desk. When the bell rang that marked the end of another year, she congratulated them all and wished them an eventful and safe summer.
The walk home, not unlike the walk to school, was hot, as it always is in Arizona. Temperatures were in the hundreds but still wasn’t the worst part of the year yet. The days to dread was when it reached anything over one-hundred and ten degrees and parts of the body started to actually burn in minutes. Although the street was their ally and safety area, most of the summer days would be spent at the public pool. Tomorrow would be the first day of many as the three had already made plans for a ten o’clock splashdown.
They detoured on their way home from school and stopped off at Tuckers Grocery to spend thirty cents on ice cream and soda. Each had saved money for the occasion, sort of a graduation present to themselves. After all, they were seventh graders now, part of the elite.
Inside the swinging glass doors, Danny went right to the ice cream aisle, but Hailey ducked left.
“What are you doing?” Cody asked Hailey as she stopped and began to rifle through the comic book rack.
“The new Wonder Woman is out today,” she informed him, “I’ve saved my money for it.”
That brought Danny from the ice cream aisle.
He plucked Doctor Death from its spot on the wobbly spinning bookrack and started to thumb through it. His outfit, jeans bought extra-long so the cuffs could be rolled, and a white tee shirt with the sleeves rolled as well, matched his older brother Jim’s style. Except for the height difference, the two brothers were hard to tell apart.
Although the style originated from the fifties greaser gangs, they were popular well into the sixty’s. Jim, who hung out with older kids who thought of themselves as a real gang, got the new clothes while Danny acquired the hand-me-downs. Cody was dressed similar to Danny, but his shirt had color. It boasted blue, brown and yellow horizontal stripes that would be considered today a tragedy in the clothing industry. And neither of them had their black hair actually greased back with Brylcreem.
Danny’s brother, like the rest of his gang, still slicked his hair back with the greasy cream even though the fad was fading. It was only that morning, before school, that Danny had told them how much he teased his older brother for still using the stuff. Danny had run around the house, speeding by the bathroom Jim was using, singing the jingle that was always on television. “Brylcreem — A Little Dab'll Do Ya! Brylcreem — You'll look so debonair. Brylcreem — The gals'll all pursue ya; they’ll love to run their fingers through your hair!"
They had laughed together at his brothers failed fashion sense.
Hailey picked a spot on the floor and sat down in a sundress made by her aunt. She received it as a birthday present the week before. Normally dressed in jeans and tee shirts like the boys, and most times acting like one of them as well, her mother had forced her into the dress for the last day of school. Cody liked it because it matched the color of her golden hair. New dress or not, Hailey plopped on the dirty floor and thumbed through the new comics.
For more than half an hour, they read comics before Mr. Tucker finally ran them off. Mr. Tucker, now gray haired and plumb, inherited the store from his father. Sometimes he’d let them sit and read an entire comic before he would run them out, but it varied depending on his mood. Today he must have been in a bad one. He never explained himself in those times and they never asked. They figured getting to read some of the comics without paying was an arrangement they shouldn’t mess with.
Hailey paid for her new Wonder Woman comic, ice cream and soda and the boys threw their money on the counter for their purchased treats. Mr. Tucker swiped it all up without a word.
Outside they continued on their way home and began yet another deeply fanatical conversation about the comic universe.
“Technically Wonder Woman is not a superhero,” Danny pointed out, and not for the first time.
The rest of the way home was an insightful quarrel between Hailey and Danny. Cody laughed and only spoke to get them arguing again. He enjoyed listening to their mismatched descriptions of legendary superheroes and egged on the argument as much as he could.
By the time they returned to their neighborhood, the ice cream was gone, it had to be eaten fast or it would melt, and their sodas about empty. Danny drained the last of his and threw the glass bottle against a block wall.
“Hey man,” Cody bellowed, “Why’d you do that? If we get caught, Mr. Benton will make us clean the whole damn neighborhood again. And if he rats us out to our parents, my mom will tan my ass.”
“Don’t worry,” Danny was saying, “Mr. Benton moved last week into some kind of nuthouse. I guess he was going bonkers.”
“How do you know that?”
“I heard my mom talking with Mrs. Stavros,” Danny told him.
Mrs. Stavros was Mr. Benton’s neighbor and lived three houses down from Cody. Cody knew almost everyone in the neighborhood. Between the three of them, it could be said they knew them all.
“Tyler and his parents moved last month even before school was out,” Hailey informed them. “Maybe it’s the start of something evil. The people are starting to vanish again.”
Hailey was always the most cynical out of all of them and could tell a story exaggeratingly well. The only downside was she would always use the same plot of people disappearing, but it always put a smile on their faces because every story was unique.
She continued, “First Tyler and his family were captured by space pirates and taken away to another world to be traded as a food source for their queen.”
Both the boys laughed.
“Where do you get this stuff?” Danny asked.
“And then,” she went on, “maybe Mr. Benton has some sort of dangerous bug growing in his brain and they had to move him to a laboratory to extract it and examine it before everyone is infected. There could be a nest in his house right now and we would never know it. We’re all in danger!”
They laughed harder and Cody pushed on Hailey’s arm with a gentle gesture of friendship. She wobbled briefly out into the street and came back with a bump of her shoulder to his.
“You have a heck of an imagination Hailey,” Cody told her. “Maybe you should write some of these comics and make us all famous.”
“If I write something, it will be about the two of you.”
“A comic?” Danny asked excited.
“No,” she replied with a giggle, “more like a horror story.”
Danny’s mouth gapped opened with a surprised, “Ahhh…” and the unexpected joke caused the last drink of Cody’s soda to exit through his nose. Now they were all laughing harder.
Hailey took off in a run and the two boys followed her, just like they always do, all the way to Cody’s house, the place where they spent most of their time.
In the grass, under the shade of the big tree in the front yard, they sat to recover from their hot walk home. The wind had picked up and was making the sunny day feel a little better. After five minutes of watching the other kids on bikes and roller skates in the busy neighborhood, Cody’s mother came out with a tray of lemonade.
“You kids look hot,” Lisa Stokes said with a bright smile.
For a mom, Mrs. Stokes was cool. All the kids in the neighborhood liked her and Cody appreciated that she really tried when it came to his friends. She always had a way of making even the happiest times better.
As a stay-at-home-mom, she did everything around the house and Cody was surprised by her abilities to clean, make dinner, do laundry and still have time to make lemonade for his friends. Most of his other friend’s moms complained about their daily workload and didn’t have time for the kid’s right after school. That was ok, having a mom like his that would make drinks and take the time for him and his friends meant the world to Cody.
She sat the tray on a half brick wall that separated the yard from the house and poured each child a glass.
“Geez thanks Mrs. Stokes,” Hailey said, taking hers, “you’re a life saver.”
“Oh anything for you kids,” she told them. “What I wouldn’t give to be your age again.”
Danny and Cody each took their drinks with a thank you and downed half of it with the first gulp.
“You look very pretty today Mrs. Stokes,” Hailey acknowledged.
Lisa Stokes was an above average woman who always wore nice dresses with her makeup and hair done. It wasn’t very often, even for Cody living under the same roof, to see her any other way.
“Why thank you Hailey, that’s a very nice thing to say. You look very pretty yourself. Is that a new dress?” Mrs. Stokes asked.
“I got it last week from my Aunt Stacy,” she replied nodding her head. “I like it but I’d rather be in my old jeans.”
“Why now, you’re a lady, don’t ever feel uncomfortable in a dress. I’m sure by your teenage years that’s all you’ll be wearing. How old are you now anyways?”
“Turned twelve,” she told her, “same age as Cody now.”
“Wow, you guys grow up so fast,” she explained. “You’re teenage years are right around the corner.”
Mrs. Stokes refilled their glasses and Cody rolled his eyes. Only after his glass was full again did he dare say to Danny, “Girl talk, come on.”
“You behave mister,” his mom hollered after him. “It won’t be very long before you’re enjoying some of this girl talk.”
“Right mom, I don’t think so.”
Lisa Stokes returned to the house with the tray, but turned back at the door when a big engine truck came up the road of Beacon Street. It was a large silver and orange box truck, and as it pulled up to Cody’s house it slowed. They could all see now it read U-Haul on the cab door. The truck came to a stop in the center of the street and then reversed into the driveway directly across from theirs.
Sam Worthington and his wife had moved from across the street more than a year ago, the house has sat empty since. After their youngest daughter had gone off for college, they moved down to Florida to be with Mrs. Worthington’s parents.
Cody could vividly recall the story Hailey had told about the Worthington’s move. In her tale, they didn’t move to Florida, but went to live in Paris and landed a job singing at the Opera House where they were both killed off by the phantom that haunts it. It was riveting in the way she told it and Cody smiled thinking about it now.
The driver of the truck backed into the driveway like a professional. He stopped inches from the garage door, shut off the engine and then got out of the truck. He slowly closed the door, walked to the end of the driveway and looked up and down the street. After a moment, he saw Cody, his mother and his friends standing in the yard watching him. A brief wave of a seemingly new and polite neighbor later, he started to walk toward them.
That was the first time they ever saw Mr. Greg Stanton.