“You okay?” he asked.
“You’re bleeding.” He looked really concerned, like he knew me and cared.
“It doesn’t really hurt.” I wasn’t interested in letting him see me all bloodied and bruised. I wasn’t interested in letting him see me at all. What happened to just being able to forget about him? I had no escape.
“Okay,” he said.
“I’m sorry I crashed into you.” What else could I say? I was on the verge of a total word explosion, ready to start asking him all kinds of questions, inviting him over to go swimming, inviting him over to play or watch a movie or have my grandma make us lunch. Thankfully, I realized the oncoming avalanche before it wastoo late. Before I could start rambling, incoherent and desperate, I hopped back onto my bike.
“I gotta go,” I said, pushing the pedals as hard as I could to get started. My knee hurt like crazy. I tried to imagine the pain was gone. It almost worked. “Sorry!” I called out as I biked away. I didn’t wait or pay enough attention to hear a reply.
The rest of the bike ride back was filled with excruciating embarrassment and throbbing knee and elbow pain. I had almost forgotten about my new book. That seemed like a lifetime ago. The bookstore and the candy display and the creepy suspenders guy all seemed like a weird dream. The harsh reality was that I had run over perhaps the only other kid in the neighborhood and then rushed away from him like he had the plague. I had awoken from my bookstore dream into the most awkward day ever.
And then I had another dream, only this one was a true waking dream and more incomprehensible. I was almost back to my grandparents’ house. I was still in the subdivision, peddling down Wildwood Trail. The houses here were set back from the street, many of them surrounded by trees and sloping little hills. Some even had little streams running through their front yards. This side of the subdivision was closest to my grandparents’ woods, so the trees and undergrowth and wilderness of the woods had crept onto these properties. As I rode, my face hot with embarrassment, I kept gazing at the long, grassy front yards, the thick patches of trees that obscured all the houses.
One yard in particular kept drawing my eyes. The house was barely visible from the street, hidden behind a thicket of young oaks and ash trees, and one particularly huge willow tree whose spindly branches hung down like a veil over the house beyond. There were lots of wildflowers and tall grasses in the yard — buzzing with bees and dragonflies — making the property seem more a nature park than somebody’s front lawn. I could just glimpse the house beyond — it was a bit like a chateau, like something out of the French countryside. I half-expected the people to come walking out dressed like they were going on one of those old time-y hunts, the kind with the hounds and the horses and the poor fox running a desperate escape.
But instead, I saw something even more strange. I saw a girl in a flowing green gown sitting under the willow tree, a young man lying in her lap. The man was dead. His blood — sticky, deep red — was stained all over his body. His eyes were open and lifeless. I knew what dead eyes looked like. And the girl who held him wept.
Then I realized that the man was wearing chain-linked armor over his body, a long sword in his hand.
I couldn’t believe it. But I was riding so fast that by the time my eyes focused and my brain processed what I’d just seen, I had ridden past them. I turned my head, almost losing my balance as I did, and tried to catch another glimpse of the sight. But when I saw the spot by the willow tree again out of the corner of my eye, the girl and her dead warrior were gone. The tree was as plain and ordinary as any I had seen.
Why I didn’t stop riding, why I didn’t throw the breaks on immediately, I could never tell. It was like my head and my body were two separate things. Even my eyes — which had been sure of what they’d seen — were somehow disconnected from brain. It had to be a trick of the light. It had to be my imagination. Maybe I’d hit my head when I went down earlier. Maybe I was hallucinating.
I tried to forget the vision just as I’d tried to forget that boy from earlier. It was nothing. It was just a normal yard with a normal willow tree. It was just another house in this ordinary, uninteresting subdivision filled with old people.
It was frightening how well I blocked out everything. I rode down the street, turned left to my grandparents’ driveway, peddled along the tree-lined, woodsy pavement, and pulled into the garage without another thought of the strange girl and all that blood. I also didn’t feel like reading my new book. I put it upstairs on my bed and then went back down to watch T.V. My grandma was out gardening; Jay was up in one of the spare rooms playing Super Nintendo. Grandpa was off doing some kind of yard work down at the other side of the long driveway, the side that was closer to the main road and the neighboring city. I satisfied my need for forgetfulness by watching reruns of Bewitched and the A-Team. By the time dinner came around, I had completely wiped the boy, the bike accident, and the horrible image of the girl and the dead man from my memory.
I was good at forgetting.