‘Paper cuts rock?’ Oakley’s shoulders tighten and he wishes he’d stayed with scissors.
‘No you moron, paper covers rock. Either way, you lose.’ Jacob punches the air. ‘Now go ask old man McKinnon to give us our ball back.’
The other kids shuffle their feet in the dust and laugh nervously. No one really likes Oakley. First of all there’s his name. Then there’s the garlic that he eats like apples and the purple sweat pants he wears almost every day. Lastly there’s the weird way he speaks English, even if he is a maths genius.
Still, no one should have to disturb balmy Mr. McKinnon. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t walk up the faded stairs to his peeling front door. The cricket players look at the sagging house, almost hidden behind tall trees. The donkey drop sailed over the thorns of the wild blackberry bushes. When the boys climbed up the hill, they spotted the ball sitting in a weed-infested window box at the back.
Jacob shoves Oakley. ‘Hey tree boy—go get it.’
The rumours say the old man hasn’t left the house since his wife walked out on him about a million years ago. Groceries are delivered to the warped garage door and people claim to have seen a claw-like hand drag them inside. Everyone knows McKinnon is seven foot tall, skeleton skinny, and his orange eyes glow in the dark.
Oakley knocks loudly and the rapping sounds like gunfire in the quiet street.
‘Go away.’ A voice thunders deep inside the house.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ Oakley says through the keyhole. ‘Sir, I’m sorry to be a bother but our ball landed by your back door.’
His pulse pounds in his ears as rattling and thumping echoes inside. He peers through the keyhole down a long hallway. From a room faraway the blue flicker of an old TV or computer monitor offers the only light. Then a short, rotund figure darkens everything. Oakley leaps back before the door is ripped open.
‘You—boy.’ A Santa-like man steps onto the porch. He wears a white t-shirt stretched over the top of purple sweat pants. ‘You called me sir?’ He juggles the ball in the air.
Oakley swallows. ‘Yes.’
‘I’m sure you’re a decent lad. But don’t ever call anyone sir, unless you’re in the military. It makes people think you’re a freak.’
© Maggie Bolitho
Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Cricket Ball on Grass by Matthew Bowden www.digitallyrefreshing.com