Friday, June 24, 2011

Chapter 5: The Willow Tree

The final bell of the day buzzed through the school. Three thirty.

McKenna's hands clammed up. She slowly gathered her books and placed them carefully into her backpack. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out and re-read the small note that she found in her lunch sack a few hours before. 

Meet me by the willow tree on the end of your street at 4. Just you and me. I need your help and I have answers for you about Paris.

Answers. Paris. Two words that she had been pressing into the deepest corners of her mind since she was ten. And now she didn't need to hide the thoughts anymore. Because that Converse boy was that boy. And he seemed to be in good health. He wasn't dead. So she had nothing to blame herself for, anymore.

But how on earth had he found her? Why on earth had he found her? 

He was going to be on the end of her street at four. Who knows who with. Likely that man who was the creepiest guy ever, for reasons she couldn't figure out. Maybe the fact that only a few years before, he was dragging a child around a Paris train station with a mysterious paper sack had something to do with it.

"McKenna. We're going to miss the bus. Let's go." She turned toward Greg's voice behind her. He was leaning on the doorway with an impatient expression crawling on his face.

She whipped around to her backpack and stood up. "I'm not sure I'd care if I missed the bus," she muttered. Her bravery was wearing fast. The idea of meeting some guy with some other old guy at a tree in her neighborhood kept getting more and more questionable. 

Greg was already walking down the hallway to the front doors. McKenna walked quickly to catch up, and as soon as she did, Greg began rambling about how ninjas aren't even cool because zombies could kill them all off without any effort.

The bus ride home was similar to any other; except this time she wasn't really listening to the conversations around her. Greg was laughing loudly with some other friends from the neighborhood, and McKenna just stared out the window, biting her lip. 

Maybe I shouldn't even go. Maybe I should get the cops in on this. She shook her head. I have to go. This kid's probably harmless. Maybe the other guy won't even be there.

As the bus crept closer to her stop, McKenna's heart started beating furiously. Outside of the window she could see the huge weeping willow. Calm down, she commanded herself. Soon the bus stopped and a handful of kids filed off. Greg stood up and stated, "After we work on the project, I vote we go and get snow cones."

"Project?" McKenna asked, closing her eyes tightly as soon as she remembered the history project she was working on with Greg. "Oh... We're working on that today?" She stood up and began walking off the bus.

Greg's voice followed behind her. "Uh, yes. It's due next week. And you've had 'other plans' every time I've wanted to work on it for the past two months."

"But I really can't today. I...have to help my mom with some things." She stepped down the stairs and glanced over at the willow tree. Was that a person in the shadow?

"Just an hour, then. Let's just make an outline of the project. At least." Tearing her eyes from the tree, McKenna looked up at Greg. She hated that he could be so juvenile and zombie-obsessed one minute, and then so studious the next.  

"You know, if zombies were really going to attack soon, you'd think you would focus your attention on more important things than history projects." The bus pulled away, and she glanced at her phone. Three fifty-eight. Greg kept trying to walk toward McKenna's house, but McKenna just stood at the bus stop. She knew Greg wasn't going to leave her be. "Look. Let me do something first...I left something at the willow tree."

Greg's eyebrows raised. "You still hang out there?"

"Yes," she replied, simply. She turned and started walking toward the tree. "Just go eat, or something, and I'll come to your house in a few minutes." If he follows, I don't care, she thought. Maybe it'll be better to have someone with me. Or maybe he'll leave when he sees it's a boy there.

"I'll just come with you."

McKenna walked a little faster. She was almost to the tree, now, and she could tell that there was, indeed, a person leaning against it, facing the other way. After a few more steps, she could see the gray converse. It was the converse boy. 

The boy reached up and scratched the back of his head; McKenna noticed a small, gray patch of hair. It was the Paris boy.

She slowed her pace and turned to Greg. "I think you'd better leave," she said quietly. He looked at her, toward the tree, and then at the ground. 

"Well. This is...awkward," he mumbled.

"Not really. I'll explain later. Just...Let me just meet up with you later." Greg craned his neck and his eyes glanced around. McKenna turned back to the tree. The boy was gone. "Where did he go?" she practically shouted.

"He just started going that way," Greg responded, casually.

 Without hesitating, McKenna darted in the direction Greg said the boy had gone. She shouldn't have even pretended like it was okay to have Greg come along with her. Obviously the boy didn't want anyone to join her, or else he would have left a note in everyone else's lunch sacks. 

After she turned the corner, an old, black and shiny car pulled up to the curb ahead of her, where the boy was waiting. As he opened the passenger door, he turned and saw McKenna. He gave her a crooked smile and a smug shrug, slipped into the car, and peeled away.

"Wait!" she cried. The word felt familiar as it rushed out of her mouth. She ran after the speeding vehicle with the images of the train station replaying in her mind. She knew that chasing after the car was useless. They were gone. The boy was gone. And because Greg had come along to the willow tree, McKenna wasn't sure she would ever have another chance to get any answers to her questions.

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