BREATHE

How long can you hold your breath?

Scott walked along the edge of Prisoner’s Creek, his best friend, Danny, right behind him. It was a hot summer Sunday, and the bugs were out, but there was nothing else to do, so it was either this or going back home to play with the ball and glove. Church was out, and they’d already watched the latest episode of Sky King, so what else was there to do?

Prisoner’s Creek was too wide and too fast to be an actual creek, but it was also too small to be a river, but that didn’t matter to the locals. It was considered a bad fishing spot, and it had a bad reputation, but Scott wasn’t scared of coming down here. No one ever came down here, which made it perfect for he and Danny to use as their own private sanctuary, a place to escape the sulk and boredom of small-town life. Besides, they’d been coming down here for months now. Nothing bad had ever happened during that time, and Scott seriously doubted that anything bad would ever happen here. Real life was just that boring.

He picked up a stone and skipped it across the body of water off to their scenic right.

“Why can’t real life be like Sky King?” he asked. “I could fly a plane and catch robbers and stuff.”

“Yeah, but then you’d have to deal with Penny,” snorted Danny.

“Golly, you think so?” asked Scott in a condescending tone.

They both had a good laugh over their little joke. Scott and his best friend were only twelve, but they weren’t stupid. They knew an annoying character when they saw one. There was always one in every show.

“Anyway, that’s what I want to do,” said Scott.

“What’s that?” asked Danny.

“I want to fly like Sky King,” replied Scott. “Be up in the air and see the ground from way up high. I bet everybody looks like ants that high up.”

“I guess,” shrugged Danny.

“There’s no guess,” said Scott unhappily. “That’s what I want to do.”

“I thought you wanted to swim or something,” said Danny.

“Swimming’s not a job,” said Scott. “Whoever heard of swimming being a job? Nobody says, ‘I wanna swim when I grow up.’ That’s just stupid.”

“But you can swim better than anyone,” said Danny. “You can hold your breath for four minutes while swimming.”

“Yeah, but—” began Scott.

He heard them before he actually saw them. There were three of them, Gary Beans, Joey Foxworth, and Mason Duncan. These were older boys, Gary being the oldest at sixteen. They were pieces of townie trash as far as Scott was concerned, bullies and troublemakers that made everyone living here look bad.

These three had come out of the woods on Scott’s left. They’d obviously been there the whole time, but Scott had been lost in his own thoughts, and Danny hadn’t noticed them either.

Gary Beans walked up to them, took a drag off of the cigarette he was smoking, and then flicked the lit smoke at Scott’s Buster Browns.

Scott danced a little backwards, careful not to slip and fall. He did not want to somehow pitch into the cold black of Prisoner’s Creek.

“Did I hear that right?” asked Gary. “Did you say he can hold his breath for four minutes while swimming?”

“Y…Yeah…” stammered Danny.

Danny was a good friend, but he was also a coward; understandable, of course, considering how pudgy he was. Scott, on the other hand, was not afraid of these jackals.

The three teens menacing them immediately laughed in response to Danny’s accurate description of Scott’s swimming skills. Scott really could hold his breath for that long while swimming, but he sure as heck didn’t want these jerks to know that.

He shot Danny an irritated look, but Danny wasn’t even paying attention to him. His pudgy friend was as white as a wedding gown, a look of obvious fear plastered all over his round face.

“What a little liar,” chuckled Gary Beans. “Nobody can hold their breath that long. Some little kid sure as hell can’t do it.”

“I can, too,” scowled Scott. “I’m the best swimmer in town.”

“Is that right?” asked Gary. “Why don’t you prove it, little man.”

“I don’t have to prove nothin’ to you,” said Scott.

The three older boys laughed again as Gary shook his head in reply. He had a wicked grin on him, a sure sign he was up to no good.

“This kid’s got an attitude, boys,” said Gary. “This curtain climber thinks he can swim. Even worse, he thinks he can shoot off his mouth at his elders. No…you ain’t much older than when your momma shot you out.”

The older boys laughed again, and Mason Duncan, a tall and skinny redhead, elbow-nudged Gary in the side.

“His mom is stacked,” nodded the redhead.

He cupped his hands under his chest and motioned them up and down.

“She’s a real jiggler,” grinned Mason.

“Is that right?” asked Gary. “I could squeeze that juice then.”

Scott did not like the sound of that. It was one thing to harass a couple of kids minding their own business, but it really wasn’t right to insult someone’s mom. That was just plain wrong.

“Don’t you talk about my mom that way!” yelled Scott. “I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich, you no good punk!”

The change in attitude for the three teens was instantaneous, a Jekyll and Hyde transformation within the span of a second.

Gary pulled forth a sliver of black from his grey slacks and flicked a button on the side, and out popped the glint of steel in the afternoon sun. He bared the switchblade like a rogue fang, a fang ready to tear into an unprotected throat.

This actually startled Scott. He’d known these three were bad, but he hadn’t known they were this bad.

He backed away a bit, and his first instinct was to run, but running wasn’t swimming, and he didn’t think he was fast enough to outpace them. Plus, he couldn’t just abandon Danny. Danny was way too slow to ever outrun these punks.

“Grab the fat one,” ordered Gary.

The two other boys, Joey and Mason, grabbed Danny, but Scott’s best friend was too scared to even squeak…He just shook in place.

The two older boys stood on each side of Danny and held one of his arms, respectively.

“Leave him alone!” yelled Scott.

Gary brandished his deadly blade in front of Scott’s face, but Scott backed up a bit more.

“You don’t give me orders, squirt,” growled the teen.

The older boy moved the tip of his blade up toward Danny’s pudgy face until it rested underneath the younger boy’s left eye. Danny’s breath picked up in ragged bursts, but to his credit, he did not cry out.

Gary turned his attention back upon Scott and gave him a menacing stare.

“Now we’ll see if you can hold your breath for four minutes,” said the hostile punk. “’Cause if you don’t, I’m going to pop his squinty little eye out of his fat head.”

“No, you won’t, you…” said Scott, but his voice trailed off as Gary put pressure on the blade.

Danny began to whine in a high-pitched tone, so Scott did not finish the insult he was about to say.

“Now…” continued Gary. “You are going to strip down and swim, you little zygote.”

“I…I…uhhh…” said Scott, but he was at a loss for words.

Gary head-motioned toward Prisoner’s Creek, and Scott looked out over the water in subconscious obedience.

“Out there is Prisoner’s Rock,” said Gary. “You’re gonna swim out there.”

Scott was well familiar with Prisoner’s Rock; everyone was. It was a large chunk of boulder-like land just jutting out of Prisoner’s Creek, but nobody ever went out to it. There were a lot of stories attached to it, or rather, a lot of stories attached to what was next to it, submerged next to it under the water. Nevertheless, Scott wasn’t scared of some stupid local legends.

“That ain’t nothin’,” he said with what bravado he could muster. “Anyone can swim to that. The water’s not even moving today.”

Gary leaned forward and shone him a wicked grin.

“Yeah…but you ain’t swimming to the rock, squirt,” he said in a hushed voice.

“Oh, yeah?” asked Scott in a defiant tone.

“Yeah,” replied Gary. “You’re gonna swim past it, and then you’re gonna swim down till you hit the bus doors.”

Scott’s heart leapt in his chest in spite of his bravery.

“Th…There ain’t no bus,” he said in a shaky voice.

“Oh, you know that bus is there,” grinned Gary. “You can see the corner of it from the other bank…Oh, yeah. It’s there.”

“Then why hasn’t anyone fished it up?” asked Scott.

“Why bother?” asked Gary. “Who wants to fish up that rusted hunk a junk?…Doesn’t matter. You’re gonna swim out there, swim through the doors, and dive down to the back of the bus.”

He turned and pushed the flat of his blade into Danny’s soft and squishy flesh again. The pudgy boy began to whine, but there was nothing Scott could do about it.

“’Cause if you don’t, fat boy, here, is going to lose his depth perception,” warned Gary.

“E…Even if there is a bus, you can’t see it from here,” said Scott. “It’s easy for me to just swim out there and come right back. I could just tell you I found it. You wouldn’t even know if I’d done it or not.”

The three bullies all laughed in tandem.

“You’re kind of stupid, ain’t chya?” asked Gary. “You just keep shooting off your mouth, barking like a little dog…You see, I wasn’t finished, you little anchovy. You’re gonna swim down, find a way into that bus, and then you’re gonna swim down in it. You’re gonna bring back something that’s proof that you were in that bus, or I’m gonna stick me a pig…Ain’t that right, piggy?”

Gary pushed the flat of his blade back into Danny’s soft cheek, just underneath Danny’s left eye. Danny whined again, so Scott had no choice but to relent. Nevertheless, he was not going to relent in every way. These punks had to be defied one way or another.

“I’m not scared of swimming out there,” said Scott in his bravest tone.

“Oh, yeah?” asked Gary. “Tell him, Joey. You’re the historian.”

Joey Foxworth, a big kid with broad shoulders, nodded and gave Scott a sinister grin.

“This is Duggan’s River, though it’s not big enough to be a real river,” said Joey. “Everybody calls it Prisoner’s Creek because of what happened twenty-one years ago.”

“That’s just a story…” said Scott, but he wasn’t so sure.

“Not a story,” said Joey as he shook his head no. “It’s true. That prison bus slid off the road up yonder during a heavy storm, went crashing through the brush on the other side of the creek, and pitched right into the water here. It happened July 1st, 1931.”

“Yeah, and all the prisoners got out except one,” said Gary.

“William Parsey,” nodded Joey in strange understanding.

“They called him Raging Bill Parsey in prison,” grinned Gary. “Pickaxe Parsey is what they called him before he got sentenced. Killed a man with a pickaxe…He was the worst one on that bus. Even the other prisoners were scared of him.”

“Yeah,” said Joey. “It’s said a general store owner cheated him out of ten dollars, and you don’t steal from Bill Parsey. The owner used that ten for change. Parsey found the guy who had his ten dollars and killed him even though he wasn’t the one that took it…killed him dead with a pickaxe. He even killed a man in prison for stealing his dinner roll. Bashed in his brains on the prison floor.”

“He was a real killer all right,” grinned Gary. “A real killer. You don’t steal from Bill Parsey, and if you do, you better ditch whatever you stole fast.”

“The only thing he was allowed to keep on him was a silver dollar,” continued Joey. “It was a 1910 silver dollar. There weren’t any silver dollars minted in 1931 because of the Great Depression, so Parsey held onto the one he had.”

“He was gonna carry it with him to the chair,” said Gary. “He thought he could buy his way out of Hell with it.”

“Yeah,” said Joey. “One time, a guy in prison stole that dollar and used it to trade for some smokes. Parsey didn’t kill the thief, no. He just killed the guy who had the dollar. That thief never stole anything again…He was too scared to…so you don’t steal from Bill Parsey…Yeah, he wasn’t chained with the others when the bus crashed. He was chained to his own seat for everyone’s safety, and everyone else just left him there. They didn’t bother to unchain him.”

“That’s right, squirt,” smirked Gary. “He’s still down there, rotting away.”

“I don’t believe that…” said Scott, but once again, he wasn’t so sure.

Yeah, he’d heard the stories…the bus was cursed, it was haunted, blah, blah, blah, but he’d never heard of any “Bill Parsey.”

“Oh, he’s down there,” said Gary. “Now…you’re gonna swim out to Prisoner’s Rock, dive down till you hit the bus doors, swim in, and look for something to bring back as proof that you were down there…Got it?”

“What if there’s nothing down there?” asked Scott.

“Then fat boy, here, loses an eye,” grinned Gary.

“If you can hold your breath for four minutes,” nodded Joey, “then that’s about two minutes while swimming.”

“Yeah, yeah…” nodded Gary in return. “That should be more than enough time to find something, tough guy. That’s if you’re not chicken.”

Scott did not want to swim in that dark, muddy water. For one thing, there was no light down there, just the rays shining down from the sun to light his way. Plus, that bus…Even so, he wasn’t going to abandon his friend like these no-good punks would their own. He knew better.

He made his decision then and there. He was going to teach these cowards a lesson. Bullies were cowards that only picked on the small and the weak, and he knew this; everybody did.

Scott took off his shirt and then unbuckled his belt.

“Okay,” he said firmly, no fear in his voice. “I ain’t chicken. I don’t believe there’s any Bill Parsey. You just made that up…I’ll be back with something, just you wait.”

The three older boys laughed again, and even Gary removed his blade from Danny’s chubby cheek as he shook his own head.

“Yeah, let’s see you do it,” chuckled Gary. “Say hi to Bill for us.”

“This baby can’t make it,” laughed Mason. “He’ll turn his boxers yellow.”

“I can, too,” said Scott. “I’ll be back with something…I’m not yellow, and I can swim better than anyone else in town, you’ll see…It’s made in the shade.”

The three bullies laughed again as Scott stripped down to his boxer shorts. He nodded once toward Danny in confidence, and then he stepped into the water.

The water of Prisoner’s Creek was slow today and slightly cold despite the bright sun above. Nevertheless, Danny was depending upon him, so he waded forward until he was swimming, and that did not take long. Prisoner’s Creek was far deeper than it appeared to be from the banks, especially around Prisoner’s Rock.

The distance to Prisoner’s Rock took him a little longer than expected, mainly because the water grew colder the closer he got to the rounded boulder jutting up from the middle of this mini-river. Even so, he didn’t have to hold his breath yet. His plan was to climb onto the rock or try to, walk over to the other side of the rock where the supposed bus was, and lower himself into the water from there.

He reached the slick sides of Prisoner’s Rock, but the surface facing the sun was just dry, rough stone, so it was not as difficult as he had thought it was going to be to pull himself up and onto that dry surface.

Scott stood up on the large boulder sticking up from Prisoner’s Creek, adjusted his boxers, and turned to look back toward the bank he’d just left. They were still there, the three obnoxious, hostile bullies, and of course, Danny, whose fear was tangible, even if it wasn’t visible on his fat face from this distance.

Scott nodded once toward Danny and then turned to get back to the task at hand. He still had to get something as evidence that he had entered the so-called bus that was supposed to be under the water here, a proof that he could actually hold his breath as long as he had said he could and, of course, a proof that he wasn’t yellow.

He walked to the other side of Prisoner’s Rock, and the surface of the stone was hot on his bare feet. The only thing saving him from burns was the fact that the soles of his feet were still wet.

He walked to the edge of the rock and stared down into the dark water below. There was a corner of something metal protruding from the water, a rounded and rusted corner of something, but if it were part of a bus, he did not know.

“Time to find out,” he said to himself.

He lowered himself into the water and felt his bare feet touch rusted metal. There was something here, and it did feel like the roof of a vehicle, but he wouldn’t know for sure until he took a closer look.

He swam around to the corner of this submerged vehicle and held onto the rounded rusted metal of the protruding piece. He could see a darkness below him, a rectangular opening of shadow that could only be the open doors of the submerged bus.

“Well, I’ll be,” he breathed out. “There is a bus here…but I don’t believe in any Bill Parsey.”

Still, there was that doubt in his mind, that doubt that was always in the hearts of young boys when it came to danger.

“No,” said Scott to himself. “Let’s just go in and grab something. We’ll do it quick.”

He breathed in while pushing his stomach out in order to fill his lungs to maximum capacity. He dove down through the open doors a second later and entered the bus interior.

There should have been no light down here, nothing to guide his way, but there actually was a light, a strange emerald glow coming from deep down, deep, deep down at the back of the bus. The back of this long vehicle had to be settled on the riverbed, so there should definitely have not been any light, but it was there…He could see it.

He swam down toward the light. He was curious now. He had learned in school about fish that glowed in the dark, but all of those kinds of fish were ocean fish. They weren’t freshwater fish. Still, he wanted to know what was glowing down there; he wanted to see what was making that light.

The eerie green light below lit up the outlines of bare seats long stripped of their covers, those metal seats long rusted out and eaten away by time.

Scott pushed his way down toward the light, swimming down and down like some overgrown frog headed toward the bottom of a murky pond. The light glowed brighter as the water grew colder and the pressure increased, a bright green and macabre glow that shone even through this pitch black.

At this point, he could grab whatever, a screw, a spring, whatever, but he was curious about the light beneath him. He had to grab the tops of rusty seats to pull himself down, and his time had almost been a minute gone, a strain on his lungs considering the strain he was putting on his own muscles.

He reached the last two seats at the back of the bus, the last two seats parked in an eternal cockeyed position directly over the riverbed.

His eyes widened out of reflex. He was used to swimming in fresh water with his eyes open, something a lot of other boys wouldn’t do, but he preferred to see where he was going when down below, even if it was dark underwater ninety percent of the time.

His eyes had widened because of the skeletal figure at the bottom of the bus, the bones in scraps of weathered rags, the bones that sat in a grinning position staring up with hollow sockets for the rest of eternity.

He did not scream. Scott refused to scream underwater. Maybe he would have above the waterline, but he knew better than to open his mouth down here, certainly not down this deep.

The green glow, that ghastly color, was coming from a small flat disk, and that disk was positioned in what was left of this corpse’s skeletal right hand.

Scott could see the rusted chains and bracelets locking this body to the seat, a final resting place for what was supposed to be an imaginary bogeyman.

He bolted out of there, shooting up like a rocket back toward the open doors of the bus. He had no business being down here. Besides, he was feeling the serious burn of lack of oxygen in his lungs, and he needed to breathe.

It took him far less time to reach the top of the bus, far less time than swimming down, though swimming upwards was a strenuous workout on every one of his muscles.

He reached the opened doors, pulled himself through, and took in a deep and gasping breath after he breached the surface.

He shook his head free of water for a second and took in some more breaths.

What he had just seen was crazy, incredible, and also terrifying, but he had seen it, and only he had seen it. No one else knew about it, at least, he had never heard of anyone who had confirmed the Bill Parsey story. In fact, he had never even heard of Bill Parsey until Joey had spoken the man’s name for the first time. It was incredible that he now knew something no one else did…but still, that glow…

“That’s g…got to be it,” he said through chattering breaths. “That’s got t…to be his silver dollar.”

It appeared that Bill Parsey still had his silver dollar, but why it was glowing and why it was glowing green did not make sense to Scott. He had heard in school from Jimmy Calloway that radiation glowed green, so maybe the dollar had gone radioactive. Whatever the case, he could see it, and if he could see it, he could grab it.

Of course, he did not like the idea of that corpse being down there, but Bill Parsey was long dead, twenty-one years gone, so that didn’t really matter, and he had to tell himself that a few times to get the courage to dive once more. He’d never seen a real dead body before, but his best friend, Danny, was on the line, so that body was nothing compared to that.

“Let’s j…just do it,” he nodded to himself. “We’ll get that silver dollar…It’s the atomic age, after all. Things can go radioactive. That dollar’s got t…to be radioactive. It went radioactive somehow. That must be why it’s glowing.”

He nodded to himself once more in confidence of his own strange kid logic. This was all the courage he needed to go back down there, get that silver dollar, and save Danny.

He pushed out his stomach and filled his lungs to maximum capacity once more. He was going to go get that dollar.

He dove down into the black once again, entering the open doors of the bus, pushing himself through and down, down toward the glowing of the silver dollar at the back of the submerged bus, that back end resting at the bottom of the riverbed.

The water was cold, a chill that sank deep into his twelve-year-old bones, but he grabbed the seat tops, pulled his body forward, and swam his way down toward the green-glowing dollar and its former owner, what remained of Bill Parsey.

The trip down was a strain on his lungs. He could hold his breath for four minutes straight, and he could hold it for two minutes with normal swimming, but this diving was strenuous, more exertion on his muscles than he was used to, so he did not know how long he could safely be down here, and that length of time was not long if he was correct in the estimation of his own limits.

There was also the pressure. The pressure on his ears was beginning to hurt, and he did not like that at all. He was used to this kind of pressure due to his previous and abundant swimming, but that didn’t mean he liked it.

He pushed himself toward the light, that dismal and eerie glow emanating from the prize he sought. He stopped before the grinning skeletal corpse of Bill Parsey, reached forward, and snatched the glowing coin from the open finger bones of the long dead murderer. He pinched the coin between his right index finger and his right thumb; he needed its glow as a light source to find his way back up.

Scott immediately turned to swim back up. He was not sticking around here, even if he could have held his breath for longer. However, he did not get the chance to swim up as planned, no…No, the struggle had begun.

The long-withered and skeletal corpse of Bill Parsey reached forward, the rusted chains snapping free from his chair, the malignant and bony digits of his right hand reaching forward to close upon Scott’s left ankle.

Scott turned upon feeling the icy and terrible touch of that long-dead murderer. He could see the grinning skull in the green limelight, the awful, bony fingers wrapped around his left ankle, and he wanted to scream, but he had long since trained himself not to. No, his eyes widened in response as he tried to swim up, but Parsey’s other skeletal hand grabbed onto the rusted metal top of the seat in front of his withered corpse, firmly locking the both of them in place.

Scott was all panic now. There was nothing to say in his mind about it; it was simply a brutal fight for survival. He kicked and struggled to get free, but the icy grip around his left ankle was too strong, the bony digits digging into his skin with a freezing doom.

He felt his lungs burning from exertion. He was running out of air, and fast. He had to breathe, and he wasn’t even sure if he could make it back to the surface at this point, but he had to try…First, though…he needed to get free.

He placed his free left hand on the glass of a tiny window that was higher up than could be easily accessed, a small window that had somehow miraculously survived twenty-one years of submersion and overhead storms. He pushed hard on the glass and struggled wildly, but to no avail. The icy grip burying into his skin was too strong, too powerful, but there had to be a way to free himself. There had to be.

He was almost out of air, almost to his bursting point, but he wasn’t about to give up. He would never do that. He was not going to die down here with the skeletal corpse of Bill Parsey, dying down here with nothing but an oily handprint on a long-forgotten prison-bus window.

It came to him in a flash of desperate inspiration. No, Scott wasn’t yellow, and he sure as heck wasn’t stupid. He had something he could try, probably the last chance he was ever going to have down here.

He momentarily stopped his struggling, turned, and held up the glowing coin in front of Bill Parsey’s hollowed-out eye sockets, holding it up as if to say, “Take it.”

The ragged, skeletal corpse did not let go of him, but it did let go of the top of the seat it had been holding onto. That empty left hand reached forward to snatch at the coin, but Scott used that fateful moment to kick up into Parsey’s bony, spindly right arm, kicking up and into the bones of the wrist with Scott’s own right foot.

Parsey’s skeletal fingers popped free, and Scott rocketed upwards without a second’s hesitation.

His lungs were about to burst, but he shot upwards, swimming with all his might. He hit the open doors at the top of the bus, his glowing prize still pinched in his right fingers.

He made the unfortunate mistake of peering back down into the depths beneath him, and the green glow of the silver dollar revealed Parsey shooting up after him, that skull grinning, those hollow eye sockets empty and yet full of hate.

Scott did not stop just to breathe. He did not have that kind of time. He breached the surface of the water and struggled to pull himself up on Prisoner’s Rock instead. He took in deep gasps of air as he pulled himself up on that hot stone surface baking in the sun, but he did not even stop there. He dashed across the hot surface and splashed back into the water seconds later, intent on swimming back to the bank with everything he had left.

He took a brief moment to pop the silver dollar into his mouth, freeing up his hands, and then he swam like he had never swum before.

Scott knew Parsey was behind him, right there under the water, right behind him, so he did not slow down. What he was going to do once he hit the bank, once he was on land, was another story, but he’d cross that bridge when he came to it.

He swam to shore and dashed onto dry land and scrub grass as quickly as he could. He stopped for a moment, spit the coin into the palm of his right hand, held his knees, and took in some deep breaths. He was exhausted, and with good reason. The first thing he did after that, however, was put some distance between himself and the water, a good ten feet. He did not want Parsey grabbing him again from out of that cold black.

“So, the little curtain climber made it back,” snorted Gary. “So, what’d you get, squirt?”

Scott took in a few more breaths before addressing this obnoxious bully. He wasn’t afraid of Gary anymore. He wasn’t afraid of any of them. He’d already faced a real murderer, a murderer that had risen from beyond the grave, and these three punks weren’t even close to that kind of a threat.

He opened the palm of his right hand and displayed the silver dollar. The dollar was no longer glowing, but there it was, gleaming in the sunlight, pristine and untouched by time as if newly minted.

“What the…?” began Gary.

The older boy snatched the dollar out of Scott’s hand and held it up for everyone to see.

“There…it is…” gasped Scott. “Bill Parsey’s silver dollar…”

“That’s some bullsh…” began Gary, but his voice trailed off as he studied the coin between his fingers.

“It says 1910,” he said in audible disbelief. “But that’s impossible…This thing should be tarnished to hell and gone by now…”

“The bus was there, and I swam to the…the bottom of it,” nodded Scott. “I took it from Parsey’s…own hand. He was…was down there, like you said, chained to his seat. I took it right from him…I told you I wasn’t yellow.”

“You’re full of it,” said Gary, but there were cracks in his own statement, a disbelief that crept through to the surface of his voice.

“That’s his dollar,” said Scott, this time with a firmness of belief that countered anything Gary had to say.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t stupid. He knew what to do now, even if he had to lie a little.

“I’ve heard that certain minerals on the bottoms of riverbeds and creeks can keep a dollar like that from tarnishing,” he nodded. “They come out looking new, unlike stuff they find in oceans, because seas and oceans are saltwater, but freshwater beds like Prisoner’s Creek keep them nice and shiny…Don’t take my word for it, though…Joey knows…Ask him.”

Gary turned his suspicious gaze upon his more knowledgeable companion.

“Is that true?” he asked.

Joey gave him a sheepish grin, shrugged, and then proceeded to give Gary an uncertain half-nod.

“It must be,” he said nervously. “I mean, look at it. It’s got to be Parsey’s. It’s a 1910 silver dollar. Heck, a museum would pay big money for that…”

Gary nodded, immediately stuffed the dollar into the right pocket of his grey slacks, and gave Scott a warning glare.

“I guess you’re not such a little yellow baby after all,” he frowned. “You can swim, I’ll give you that…but I don’t want to see you or your fat friend around here again. This is our spot, got it?”

Scott nodded, snatched up his clothes and shoes, and motioned for Danny to get moving. He could put his clothes back on once they’d made tracks. He was not about to stick around here.

They made some distance between the older boys as they walked into the woods and back toward town. Scott felt better now that those three punks were out of their hair, far better now that they were away from Prisoner’s Creek in general, and he was also relieved that both he and Danny were safe.

They were silent for a few minutes of trudging before Danny spoke up with a question.

“Did you really find that bus?” asked the chubby boy.

“Yep,” said Scott.

He stopped to put his clothes back on. They were far enough away from Prisoner’s Creek now that he wasn’t worried about those three bullies anymore…or the creek itself.

“Did you really find Bill Parsey?” asked Danny.

“Yep,” said Scott.

“Then we need to tell someone that Gary stole your silver dollar,” said Danny.

“Nope,” said Scott with a shake of his head.

“Why not?” asked Danny. “He threatened us both, and he has a switchblade. He should be in jail. He was going to carve out my eye. You know he’s going to end up killing someone…He should really be in jail.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Danny firmly. “He won’t be around much longer. We won’t have to worry about Gary Beans anymore.”

“What?” asked Danny. “What do you mean by that? Why won’t we have to worry?”

“Because you don’t steal from Bill Parsey,” said Scott.

He gave Danny a look that could freeze juice into a popsicle, and then he lifted his left pants leg.

Danny’s eyes goggled out of his doughy face as he stared down at the four long, skeletal, purple bruises wrapped around Scott’s left ankle, the shorter thumb bruise topping off that macabre injury.

**********

Gary finished brushing his teeth as he spit into his bathroom sink. The second-floor hallway light was on outside his bedroom door, but his bedroom light was off, just like he liked it. He was no baby that needed a nightlight, but he did need some light in order to see around in case he had to get up for something.

He was dressed in his white PJs with the red stripes, and he was ready for bed, though he wasn’t necessarily ready for sleep.

He cleaned off his toothbrush and set it back in its little porcelain bowl. He picked up the silver dollar he had set on the side of the sink and flipped it once, catching it as it came down. It was his now, and he was going to be famous for it. He was going to make a cool mint from this, even be in the local paper. Maybe he could even get a spot on TV…

“That little zygote actually did me a favor,” he snorted. “That means I won’t have to kill him yet.”

He stepped into the darkness of his bedroom and stopped at the sight of his open bedroom door.

“I didn’t leave that op…” he began, but his voice trailed off as he stared at the wet, muddy prints upon the bare wood of his bedroom floor.

They were muddy prints of toes and feet leading into his bedroom from the hallway, but not fully formed, almost like…

He stared down at the silver dollar in his right hand as the shiny coin began to glow a green light, subtle at first, and then strong and bright mere seconds later.

“What the—” he began, but he was cut short by a creaking noise behind him.

He turned toward the inner darkness of his room and screamed as a rusty pickaxe came speeding toward his thoroughly shocked and surprised face.

Breathe Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott

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