The Latchkey Kids: 2 The Shortcut – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

Madison feels like little red riding hood about to be eaten by the wolf, and she is sure Caesar must have eaten a few grandmothers and kids in his nasty life.  Her breath catches and she stumbles, almost falling.

Madison is almost past the backyard of Mr. Hooper’s house.  She watches carefully before turning up that little road next to the side of the house and walks as quietly as she can.

She breathes in and out slowly, watchful for Old Man Hooper or his dog.  The front of the house faces the other street, her destination.  Just a few more steps and she is past the backyard and beside the house.

All is quiet.  And then she hears the chilling jangle of the chain.  Caesar!

She almost freezes with fear, her heart racing, and with a yelp makes herself run for her life.

Madison does not dare look back.  She hears the snarl that she knows is Caesar, the jangling of his chain, his panting breath, and the sound of his feet thudding on the ground and churning up the snow as he charges across the yard after her.

Madison feels like little red riding hood about to be eaten by the wolf, and she is sure Caesar must have eaten a few grandmothers and kids in his nasty life.  Her breath catches and she stumbles, almost falling.

He sounds so close!

She looks at the second window on the side of the house.

“If I can just get to the second window I’m safe.  Caesar’s chain doesn’t go to the first window, but it’s the second one that is the safe window.  It puts enough distance between me and the dog that I can dare to look behind me.  At least, that’s what everyone says.”

Madison is about to test that out.

She passes the corner of the house, the dog’s feet pounding after her in the snow and the chuffing of his breath through bared teeth is practically on top of her.

Madison feels like her pounding heart is going to stop beating with her fear.  She passes the first window; sure she can feel and smell the dog’s hot nasty breath on her back.

Before she reaches the second window, Madison is startled by a strangled yelp and a scuffle behind her.  She waits until she reaches the second window before she turns around to look, just in time to see Caesar getting to his feet and shaking the snow off.  He had run himself right to the end of his chain and flipped himself over.

Feeling sick with fear and relief, Madison makes a face at him and hurries on her way.

Caesar watches her go with just a few loud barks to send her on her way.

With that out of the way, Madison can focus on where she is going now, and her need for help.  “Please, please, let there be someone at the school to let me in,” she begs.

Madison jogs for as long as she can, and then slows to a walk.  A painful cramp is cutting through her side and her lungs feel burnt by the cold air.  Her hands and feet are beginning to feel frozen inside her mitts and boots.  She is frozen by the time she reaches the school.

Madison’s heart sinks.  There is not a single car in the parking lot.  She goes to the front doors, pulling on them.  They are locked.  Cupping a mittened hand to block out the light, she presses her face and hand to the window on one of the front doors, looking in.  Not a soul in sight.

“Oh no, there’s no one here,” she groans with a sinking feeling in her stomach.  Just knowing she can’t get out of the cold makes her feel colder.

Madison goes around the school looking in all the windows she can reach and trying all the doors.  “Maybe one of the teachers is staying late. Maybe they are getting picked up.”

The place is locked up tight and completely abandoned.  The classroom lights are all off and she can see only a security light on in the hall.

There is no one there and Madison is freezing and alone and stuck outside with nowhere to go.

“What am I going to do now?” she whimpers.




The Latchkey Kids: 2 The Shortcut – Kylie by Vivian Munnoch

“I could just lie down here,” Kylie thinks again, feeling the extreme exhaustion wearing her down, making her feel so weak. “If I stop, I’m done.  I’ll die here. Maybe that would be better.”

Kylie is not even halfway home before she’s sure she will never make it.

“I hurt so bad everywhere from the cold and I can’t decide if I even feel any pain in the numbness that has replaced my feet.  I can’t even feel my feet touching the ground anymore!”

The walk is pure torture in this extreme cold without her coat and boots.  The road seems to stretch out longer and longer before her with every difficult step.

“Oh my gawd, is the road getting longer?” She gapes at the impossible distance ahead. “It feels like the house is getting further away instead of closer.”

“I could just lie down here,” Kylie thinks again, feeling the extreme exhaustion wearing her down, making her feel so weak. “If I stop, I’m done.  I’ll die here. Maybe that would be better.”

The thought both terrifies and relieves her.  “I can rest if I’m dead.  I won’t feel any more pain.  I won’t have to keep going.”

Desolate and wanting to just give up and lie down, Kylie pushes herself on, not knowing where she will find the determination to keep going, making her mind focus only on being warm and inside the house.  She focuses on each step, one step at a time.

Finally, she makes it home.

Kylie doesn’t even realise she is home at first.  She is forcing one foot before the other in blind determination, staring down at her feet as she stumbles along, unable to feel anything more than a distant sharp block of pain with each step, and looks up to get her bearings. She’s expecting to yet again see an impossibly long way to go.

She is shocked to find herself standing on the sidewalk in front of her own house.  She looks up the walkway to the front door and it looks a hundred times longer than it should.

“It’s so far,” she whimpers.

Kylie stumbles up the walkway, making it to the door.  But her torment isn’t over yet.

“I don’t have a key to get in because they stole my coat with the key in the pocket.”  She feels again like giving up.  She knows what to do, but isn’t sure she can do it right now.

“That isn’t such a big problem,” Kylie says through teeth that are clenched tight from the extreme cold.  Her words are a lie meant to push away her own doubts.  She feels absolutely lost.

She looks around as if afraid someone might see her, and limps around to the back of the house, huddling down near a basement window.

“It’s a good thing I figured this trick out before, or Mom would be coming home to find me frozen to death on the front steps.”

Kylie is picturing herself lying on the front steps, curled up in a little ball for warmth and frozen hard as a statue.  Her mother would come up the steps, wondering first why she is there, and then noticing that she has no coat or boots.  She imagines the horror on her mother’s face when she realizes her daughter is dead, frozen stiff as a Popsicle.  “A kidsicle on her front step,” she thinks.

Doubt almost stops her from even trying.  “What if it doesn’t work?  It worked before, but it was summer then.  This time it’s winter.  The window could be frozen shut.  My fingers are so numb I might not be able to do it.”

Kylie steels herself and pushes on the window in the middle where the two windowpanes slightly overlap, pushing on the inner pane overlapping to the inside of the house.  They are the kind of windows that have two sliding pieces of glass in a window frame.  She has to press hard enough to bend the one windowpane in enough so the latch does not catch while trying to slide it over with the pressure of her palms and fingers on the flat surface. There is nothing to grab and pull or push on to make sliding it easier.

She tries sliding the window, prying at it with frozen fingers that are so cold they are nubs of numbness and pain that feel nothing else.

“I can’t do it,” she thinks, panicked.  She is so cold that her fingers barely work.

“No, come on,” she groans.  “You have to work.”

Crying and biting her lip through the pain from the cold, Kylie frantically attacks the stubborn window, desperate to get into the house. For a moment, she is sure she’s not going to make it and won’t be able to get the window open.  Kylie is about to give up when it finally moves just a tiny bit.  It’s such a slight movement that she isn’t sure it really happened.

“It moved.  Did it move?  Of course it moved,” she mutters through clenched teeth.

Encouraged by that tiny success, Kylie attacks the window with renewed energy, pushing and trying to slide it.  It is so cold out that the window is frozen stuck in its frame, just as she was worried it would be.

Kylie manages to slide the window a little more.  It stops just at the edge of the latch by the width of a hair now, the latch not catching.  One wrong move and it could slip back and latch again.  She holds her breath and tries again.  The window moves the tiniest bit and then suddenly the icy grip of winter releases it and the glass jerks open just a little.

She almost cries out with the relief and the feel of that movement and the small opening it makes.  It’s just barely wide enough to get her fingers into.  She shoves her fingers into the narrow opening; the touch of the icy metal feeling like a sharp knife is slicing up her fingers, and slowly works the window open.

Her whole body both numb and burning with cold, Kylie fumbles as she turns and crawls backwards in through the window.  She tries to ease herself down, but her numb fingers can’t hold and she falls with all her weight.  Kylie cries out in pain, her feet exploding with agony as they hit the floor.  She falls to her knees, twisting and trying to roll, her hands going out instinctively to break her fall and only managing to half fall on her side and hurt herself even more.

Now that she is finally safely inside the house, Kylie has the problem of the open window. She looks up at it.  The freezing cold air coming in is turning to fog as it hits the warmer air inside.

“I can’t just leave it open, but I don’t think I have the strength to close it.  I am so exhausted and cold and I hurt everywhere.  I just want to lie down and quit.  No, Kylie, you have to close it. It will freeze open and even Mom won’t be able to close it then. She’ll be really mad.”

Digging deep inside herself for a reserve of strength she is sure will fail her; Kylie grabs a chair and drags it below the window.  Luckily, her mother keeps an old kitchen chair down there to use as a step stool to reach the higher shelves.

Climbing up awkwardly with her blocks of ice for feet to stand the chair, Kylie struggles with the window, but it’s stuck open, already freezing in place.  With the window stuck open and the cold air chilling her, her fingers and toes on fire with pain from the cold walk and her whole body still a numb pain without end, Kylie feels completely defeated. She lets out a sob.

“I can’t just leave the window open,” she groans, “and I can’t get it closed.”

Kylie thinks about hitting the edge with a hammer to knock it loose, but knows she will probably just break the glass.  Sobbing, she attacks the window, trying to force it closed, and finally manages to budge it with a protesting squeak from the window in its cold-shrunken frame.  Shrill squeak by squeak, she fights with the window, nudging it closed a tiny bit at a time.  She cringes each time, instinctively dreading her mother hearing the sound from somewhere in the house and finding out what happened, even though she knows her mother isn’t home.

With the window finally closed, Kylie can go upstairs.  Getting off the chair is just as awkward as getting up.

She moves cautiously through the dark basement towards the stairs.  It is lit only by the weak light coming in the few small basement windows.  The basement makes her feel nervous.  It always has.

Every step is a distant stabbing pain in the frozen blocks that are her feet.

Kylie hears a noise, just barely, and even though she knows it’s probably just her imagination, her heart races faster and her stomach knots.  She has always imagined there are things in the basement, bad things.  Her imagination is fueled by her ears playing tricks on her, hearing things from down here that no one else ever seems to hear.

Swallowing her fear, she forces herself to move forward.  She thinks she catches movement in the corner of her eye and turns quickly to look, but there is nothing there.

“It’s all in your imagination, dummy,” she scolds herself.  “Just get to the stairs.”

When she reaches the stairs, she stops and looks up at the murky blackness above.  The light switch is at the top of the stairs.

She swallows and races up them, half on her knees, the odd numbness with sharp slicing pain in her feet proving too much.  She almost gives up halfway up the stairs.  Her feet feel strange on the ends of her legs, dull numbness like they are asleep but with less feeling. The pain seems somehow to move through her feet to her legs above, like steel blades.  The numb and painful frozen blocks that they were are now getting hot and tingling but still numb.  The darkness of the stairwell swallows her.

She reaches the top and grabs at the doorknob of the closed door at the top, throwing herself against the door and almost crying out when her numb pain-filled fingers have trouble working the knob.  The knob turns, releasing the door to swing open, and she spills out onto the kitchen floor.

She slams the door closed against the invisible monsters in the basement.  She leans against the door, breathing heavily, imagining the unseen monsters somehow getting her through the door, and quickly scoots away with a nervous look at the door.

“You are being so stupid, scared of the dark.  Are you a baby now?”

Kylie is still shaken by the attack in the park and distraught over the panic of not being able to get into the house.  She is shivering and in pain from the cold walk home, and is heartsick over being stuck in this wretched position of being her.

Her whole body feels like it’s warming too fast, getting hot.  Every inch of her aches with the pain and numbness of being frozen.  But now she feels like she is burning up with a fever too.  Exhaustion takes over and she feels like soft rubber melting into the floor.

“I’m not just thawing out, I’m melting like ice.”

“Why?” she sobs.  “Why do I have to be me?  Why can’t I just be someone else; someone who doesn’t get bullied or locked out of the house in winter with no coat and shoes?  Why do I even have to be alive?”

The pain in her hands and feet is getting worse as they warm up.  They feel like they are on fire.  The pain is so bad now that Kylie is sure she is going to lose her hands and feet.

She tries again to pry the tight scarf around her neck loose, but it’s still frozen hard with ice and her fingers are burning nubs of numb pain that won’t cooperate.

“I’ll have to wait for the ice to melt.”

The scarf’s continued stranglehold on her neck only makes her feel worse.  She can breathe, but the air is restricted by the tight scarf.  She imagines herself slipping off, unconscious and dying, strangled on her own scarf in the safety of her own home, her mother coming home to find her cold dead body on the floor with the scarf still knotted tightly around her neck.

“It would probably be good that I’m dead,” she mumbles miserably.

Thinking again about her mother and sister finding her like that, Kylie struggles to her feet, wincing and whimpering, and limps to the bathroom.  She rummages in the cabinet under the sink.  She finds the hairdryer and plugs it in, turning it on and fumbling with it in her painful still-numb burning fingers.  She runs it back and forth, blowing the heat of the hairdryer on the scarf until the ice melts.

Turning it off, she leaves it on the counter and tries again to loosen the scarf.  The wet yarn doesn’t want to loosen.  Finally, it gives and she is able to loosen it enough to get her fingers under it and then to grip her hands around it.  She pulls it off with relief, dropping it on the floor.

Tears streaming and limping awkwardly, Kylie goes to her bedroom. She struggles to get out of her wet clothes.  She stops and looks down at herself.  She turns, looking at herself in the mirror over her dresser.  The bruises are already starting to show on her stomach, back, legs, and arms from the beating in the park.

She pulls on warm sweat pants and a sweatshirt and pulls the comforter off her bed and wraps herself in it.  The edge of the blanket dragging on the floor, she goes to the living room and sits curled up in the big chair, shivering.  She picks up the T.V. remote off the table beside the chair and turns the T.V. on.

“I wish I was dead,” she moans miserably.  “I wish I was never even born.  That I could just melt into the floor and disappear.  That I never even existed.  I hate me and I hate this life.”

Kylie starts flipping through the channels, finds a show she doesn’t like but isn’t as bad as the rest, and stops.

She turns her head towards the large living room windows.  The curtains are only half closed.  Outside at the curb in front of the house is a car.  Her father’s car.  She sinks lower into the chair, desperately hoping he hasn’t seen her.  She feels sick suddenly.

“No,” she whimpers fearfully, “not him, not now, not today.”

She can’t see anyone in the car and that makes it even worse.  She hates her father.

“Please mom,” she begs, “hurry home.”




The Latchkey Kids: 2 The Shortcut – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

“Everyone knows about Old Man Hooper and Caesar,” she thinks. “Mr. Hooper is flat out weird.  He is as crazy as crazy comes and even meaner.  He hates everyone.  There are all kinds of rumors of Mr. Hooper locking people in his basement or killing them.  And Caesar is the biggest, loudest, and meanest dog around. 

Madison arrives at the forbidden shortcut and stops, staring at it uncertainly.

The tall wooden fence looms above her like an impossible fortress wall stretching down the road in both directions across the yards of multiple homes edging this street.  The eight-foot fence has been here for as long as she can remember, blocking access from the sidewalk on this road to the alley on the other side.

She looks down its width in both directions, then up at its height.

Madison is having second thoughts about taking the shortcut.  She always feels nervous using this shortcut.  She has always been told not to go into other peoples’ yards uninvited, and the shortcut means cutting through the yard on the other side of the fence.

“I don’t get why I’m not allowed to go that way. Mom and Dad said it isn’t safe and only made vague comments about buildings there.  Maybe they are scared of Old Man Hooper and his dog.  Who isn’t scared of Old Man Hooper and Caesar?”

“Everyone knows about Old Man Hooper and Caesar,” she thinks. “Mr. Hooper is flat out weird.  He is as crazy as crazy comes and even meaner.  He hates everyone.  There are all kinds of rumors of Mr. Hooper locking people in his basement or killing them.  And Caesar is the biggest, loudest, and meanest dog around.  Caesar is kept chained up in the yard and it’s a good thing too.  He tries to attack anyone who walks past.  Everyone knows Caesar eats any squirrel, rabbit, or neighborhood cat dumb enough to enter his yard too.”

Madison leans closer to the fence.  She peeks through the cracks between the fence boards, spying on the alley on the other side.  There is no sign of life or movement. She looks up and down the sidewalk again.

The shortcut is blocked by the tall fence.  “That’s the trick part of the shortcut.  The shortcut is to go through the fence.  Only those who know its secret can use the shortcut and I know which one is the loose board.”

She finds the little notch mark in a board and counts three boards over, swinging the board on its rusty nail.  She squeezes through the hole in the fence.  It’s a tight squeeze with her bulky winter coat on and she gets stuck halfway through. She sucks in a breath, trying to suck everything in and make herself skinnier. She panics for just a moment.

“Come on, you can fit. You know you can.”

You have to be skinny enough to fit to be able to use this shortcut.  Not everyone in her class can do it. She feels the pressure of the fence against her, wishing she had a thinner coat, and squirms past it, popping out the other side. The board swings back into place behind her when she lets go of it.

Madison glances at the house nervously, hoping no one is home to see her, and quickly runs across the back yard to the alley bordering the other side of the yard.  Stopping there, she pretends she is just walking down the alley and only just stopped.  She looks up the alley towards her destination.

On the other side of the fence she squeezed through and just past this corner of an odd shaped backyard, the back alley runs behind the back yards of homes on two other streets running parallel to each other.  Down the length of the alley are short driveways, half of them with old garages.  Most of the garages look like they should be painted or replaced.  Garbage cans clutter the end of most of the driveways, the homeowners taking their trash out to the cans instead of bringing the cans in.  They are usually full whether or not the garbage trucks have come by recently.

Today there is a yellow-stained mattress leaning against one of the garages. It makes her stomach turn at the sight of its ripped and stained top side.  A few houses past this, Madison sees an old couch missing two of its three cushions.  It is an ugly plaid fabric that looks like it must have been from a hundred years ago.

“Maybe even a thousand,” she thinks wryly.  It is stained, holes worn in the back and arms, and the frazzled arms and sides look like a cat probably used it for a scratching post.

Four houses past the chair there is a short road branching off midway down the alley.  The road is the distance of a single house and yard and spits you out on the next street on that side.  The road has no name as far as she knows.

That road is her goal. Once she reaches it, she gets to the next street.  One of the two houses bordering that little road without a name is Old Man Hooper’s.

This is the other part of the shortcut that makes her nervous.  The thought of passing Mr. Hooper’s house makes her whole body cold with dread.

Madison stops a few houses away and studies Mr. Hooper’s yard, looking for any sign Caesar might be outside.  “Probably even the grass is too scared to be in that yard,” Madison thinks.

At the moment, all the junk cluttering the yard is mostly uneven bumps in the snow, the larger stuff like a rusting metal kitchen chair skeleton missing its back and seat, stick up from the snow.  Large paw prints have trampled the snow down in crazy criss-cross patterns around the yard, especially along trails that must be Caesar’s favorite path to take through the yard.

“I don’t know how that dog manages to get through the yard without getting his chain tangled up in the junk.”  Madison sees no sign of the dog.  She swallows and tries to push down her fear of the yard.

“It’s just an empty yard and if he’s out Caesar is chained.  It doesn’t even bother you,” she tries telling herself.

Madison heads down the alley, slowing as she approaches the short access road and Mr. Hooper’s house.  She pauses and listens for Caesar, searching the yard for any sign of the black and brown dog.  The dog is big.  He looks like he probably has Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, and she suspects he probably has some Tyrannosaurus Rex in him too.  And he is meaner than anything.

She does not see him and is filled with relief.  “The dog must be in the house.”

Nervously, she starts walking past Old Man Hooper’s yard.




The Latchkey Kids: 1 Meet the Latchkey Kids – Dylan by Vivian Munnoch

Dylan resents having to go to a babysitter’s house after school.  It’s embarrassing.

“Nobody my age has a babysitter.”

Dylan shoulders his backpack and gets off the school bus, walking up the sidewalk.  He scuffs his boots moodily against the pavement with every step as if lifting his feet is too much bother.  He is thirteen, almost fourteen, and after more than a year as a latchkey kid, his parents now send him to a babysitter after school again.

“A babysitter,” he thinks angrily, “just like a little kid!”  It’s the same sulky walk and moody thoughts he has every day on the way to the sitter’s after school.  And just like every other day, he glances around surreptitiously for anyone who might see. “Nobody better see me going to the stupid babysitter’s.”

Dylan resents having to go to a babysitter’s house after school.  It’s embarrassing.

“Nobody my age has a babysitter.”

He arrives at the sitter’s house, Mrs. Foster.  With a last look around to make sure nobody is around, a noncommittal shrug, and an I don’t care slouch, he scuffs his boots up the sidewalk to the back door on the side of the house.

Dylan pauses at the door, pushing away the urge to knock.  Mrs. Foster said to not bother knocking and to just walk in, but it still feels weird to just walk into someone else’s house.  He opens the door and goes in.

“Mrs. Foster, I’m here,” he calls out, kicking his boots off and slouching out of his backpack and coat.

“I’m downstairs doing laundry,” Mrs. Foster calls back.  “Help yourself to a snack if you’re hungry.”

Another thing that feels weird to Dylan, helping yourself to a snack at someone else’s house.  Especially someone you don’t feel like you know that well.

Dylan shrugs and cuts through the kitchen to sit in the living room, plopping himself on a chair glumly.