The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Andrew by Vivian Munnoch

Andrew walks around the store, trying to be invisible.  He can feel the store clerk watching him and, when he risks a quick look at the clerk, sees the man is watching him suspiciously.  The clerk looks like he is ready to confront him and accuse him of stealing something, even though he hasn’t done anything.

“I just want to keep warm without having to go back home and wait alone for Mom and Dad to come home,” he thinks, feeling dumb just thinking about it.  “What’s there to be afraid of being home alone?  There’s nothing there.”

Andrew is afraid someone might find out.  “I’m too old for this kind of little kid scared of nothing stuff.”

The clerk’s suspicious stare is making him more nervous.  He’s starting to feel panicky; scared of being caught even though he isn’t doing anything wrong.

He tries to pretend he’s shopping, hoping the clerk will leave him alone.  He looks around him and grabs something off the shelf without looking at anything but the price tags below the items on the shelf.  It has to be something he has enough money to pay for, and he doesn’t have very much.  He has no idea what it is that he grabbed.

He’s only buying it to show that he’s not there to make trouble.

Andrew shuffles up to the counter, keeping his head down, and puts the object on the counter.

“Are you really going to buy that?” the clerk asks with a smirk.  He still looks suspicions and is eying Andrew with a distrustful look, judging him either insane or a criminal, depending on his reaction to the question.

Andrew looks up at him with a nod, a flush creeping up his neck, and then looks down at the item in question.  He stares at it in horror.

There, for all of the world to see, is a pink box. He feels like it is staring up at him in gleeful accusation, yelling to the store, “HE IS LYING!”

Andrew swallows, feeling suddenly sick with embarrassment, the red flush rising up his cheeks.  He looks around quickly to see if anyone is looking.

The object pictured on the bright pink box looks similar to that bullet shaped lipstick candy, only longer and white.

Andrew doesn’t know what it’s used for, but the word Tampon glares up like an announcement and all he knows is that it’s something very private that boys are not supposed to know about and has to do with women and teen girls and puberty.

The package says it’s a mini pack just for the purse.  He suffers a sudden flash of thought, envisioning having to explain to his mother why he bought it.

Andrew turns redder, his face burning with a flush of shame, and the clerk behind the counter laughs.  His expression shows pain for the boy’s predicament and relief that he isn’t a shoplifter after all.

“Your mom sent you, didn’t she?”

“Yes,” Andrew mumbles, looking down and hoping no one sees him.

He pays for his unwanted purchase and makes a beeline for the exit, running halfway home before he slows down and starts looking for somewhere to ditch the little bag.

When Andrew gets home, the tampon box has been safely disposed of in a random trashcan along the way.  He lets himself back in the house and goes back to playing video games.

He plays for the next hour, nervously listening for the noises from the basement that sent him fleeing from the house. The noises never repeat themselves, but that almost makes it worse because he can’t make himself stop expecting them.

Finally, his parents come home and he can put this day behind him.

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

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The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Madison by Vivian Munnoch

With no one at the school to let her in and no idea what else to do, Madison heads back home.  She is getting colder, her fingers and toes are burning and painful from the cold now and she is getting very upset.  She is also going to have to explain to her parents about locking herself out when they get home.

“Assuming I’m not frozen to death by then,” Madison mutters miserably.

She retraces her steps, the walk feeling a lot longer this time, and stops when she reaches Mr. Hooper’s house.

Caesar!

“I forgot about Caesar,” she groans, “I have to go past him again.”

The thought of having to go past the dog makes her whole body ache with dread, her muscles unwilling to go on even though she knows it’s the only way.  It will take too long to go the long way around and she is frozen.

“Come on Madison, you can do this.  It’s only a dog and he’s on a chain that doesn’t even reach past the edge of the yard.  Yeah, only a big mean dog that’ll probably tear you apart and eat you.”

Madison loves dogs, but this one is scary, mean, and large.

She stares at the house and yard, willing the dog to not be outside or that Mr. Hooper comes out and controls that nasty dog.

“Mr. Hooper is as scary as the dog is.  Maybe I am better off trying to sneak past the dog.”

She jumps when the dog pops his head around the side of the house with one loud woof, staring at her from the backyard.

Madison swallows, trying to control her fear.  The dog is only standing there watching her so far.

“His chain doesn’t reach the road, so walking by should be safe, right?”  It doesn’t feel safe.

“Okay Madison, let’s go,” Madison urges herself on.

She takes a first cautious step.

The dog just watches.

She takes two more steps, almost reaching the point where she would be even with the curb in front of the house.

The dog moves, shifting position but not taking a step, and she imagines him coiling to spring at her.

“Just do it Madison,” she mutters, “just go.  Don’t even look at him and just walk right past the house.”

A few more steps and Madison is passing front yard, keeping to the far side of the little road, as far away from Old Man Hooper’s house as she can without climbing over the fence on the other side. Every muscle is stiff and tense.

Caesar just stands there watching her very intently.

“Very hungrily,” she thinks.

When Madison reaches not quite halfway past the back yard, the dog suddenly launches himself at her with a deep growl that becomes a barrage of loud angry barking, bounding after her with powerful strides.

Madison screams and whirls to face the lunging dog, putting her arms up to protect herself from the attack.

The back door of Mr. Hooper’s house flies open with a bang and the old man comes barrelling down the stairs on legs that are little more than sticks covered by loose pants.  He is wearing a stained white undershirt with a hole in it and an unbuttoned plaid flannel shirt that is also stained and torn.  Madison suspects the brown-red stains are the blood of his and Caesar’s victims from cutting them up in his basement to bury them or feed them to Caesar.  His wild eyes, unkempt hair, and grey patchy chin stubble make him look more frightening and wild, like a backwoods crazy man.

Fists clenched, he raises one and shakes it at her threateningly, the other gripping what Madison suspects is some kind of weapon to knock her senseless with so he can feed her to the dog.

“You quit teasing my dog!” he shouts at her.  “Get outta my yard!  Get outta here and leave my dog alone!  You kids are always teasing my dog!”

Caesar reaches the end of his chain and Madison is relieved to see the chain holding strong.  With the chain taught, still pulling and lunging at her, Caesar’s jaws snap as if he is already chewing on her while he continues to bark ferociously.

“I’m not even in his yard,” Madison thinks.  With a scared whimper, she scurries off towards the back lane, putting Mr. Hooper’s house and Caesar behind her as quickly as she can.  The moment she reaches the corner where the little road meets the back lane, Madison breaks into a run.

Behind her, Caesar is still barking after her and she can hear the old man yelling and muttering.

Madison is still shaken by the confrontation when she reaches the fence with the loose board.  She looks up at the fence, picturing for just a moment Caesar breaking his chain and coming after her, pinning her helplessly against the fence while he tears her apart, tearing first through her coat to get to her skin beneath.  She sees its height as an impossible barrier, and then almost panics when she doesn’t find the loose board right away.

“Okay Madison, calm down,” she tries to sooth herself.

Fingers numb with the cold and her toes like numb blocks filled with a distant sharp pain that are there weighing her legs down but somehow detached, not a part of her, Madison tries again, looking for the notch in the board and counting the boards.

Her fingers will not work when she tries to move the board.  Madison pulls her mitts off and blows hot air on her fingers, putting them in her mouth and sucking on them to try to warm them up.  It only makes the pain in her frozen fingers worse.  Putting her mitts back on, she tries again and this time moves the board.

Madison starts squeezing through the board when she hears the sounds of footsteps and heavy breathing behind her, and then the jingle of a dog’s chain.

“That heavy breathing is definitely a dog panting,” she thinks.  “Caesar!  He got loose!”  Terror grips her and she squeezes frantically through the fence, almost falling through on the other side.

She turns as she lets the board fall back into place just in time to see a woman jogging up the alley with a big fluffy white dog.

Madison leans against the fence and lets out a nervous giggle. “It wasn’t Caesar,” she says in relief.

She walks the rest of the way home, each step seeming to take her farther away instead of closer.  The pain in her frozen fingers and toes is getting worse.  She tries walking faster, and it makes the pain in her feet worse but at least she should get home faster. Her nose is burning too now and she walks holding her mitts to her face, blocking the cold and warming her face with her own breath cupped beneath the mitts.  She leaves only a crack to see through between her mitts.

“Will I ever get home?” she moans in despair.

When Madison finally gets home, she is so cold that her hands and feet hurt so much she is crying.  She still can’t get in, though, because she lost her key and locked herself out.  Madison sits on the steps and just cries.

“Are you okay?”

She looks up, startled, to see the woman who lives next door.

“I locked myself out,” Madison sobs.

“You look frozen!” the woman exclaims sympathetically.  “Come inside my house to warm up and we’ll watch for your parents to come home.”

Madison gratefully goes with her.

Inside the neighbor’s house, she is given a warm blanket and a cup of hot cocoa.  Her fingers are too frozen at first to hold the cup.  She sits there, rubbing her hands together, trying to warm them.  When her fingers and toes start to warm up the pain is terrible.  Frostbite had been setting in.  She has to wait for the pain in her fingers to lessen before she dares try picking up the cup of hot cocoa.  She sits there drinking it thankfully and watching a television show that is way too young for her that the neighbor put on to entertain her.

A few hours later, Madison’s mother arrives home.

The neighbor notices the car in the driveway.  “Someone is home at your house.”

Madison looks up at her with fear in her eyes.

“I’m going to be in trouble for locking myself out,” she thinks.  “Worse, my parents are not going to trust me to be home alone now.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” the neighbour asks sympathetically, seeing her fear.

“No, I can manage,” Madison says unhappily.  Her mind is working, thinking through what she will say to her parents.  She gets up reluctantly.

“Thank you for letting me wait here, and for the hot cocoa,” she says as she pulls on her coat and boots at the door.  She waves goodbye as the woman closes the door behind her.

Madison trudges home reluctantly.  “I’m going to be in so much trouble,” she thinks again miserably.  “They’ll make me go to a babysitter now.  I’m too old for babysitters.”  She opens the front door to find her mother frantically searching the house and calling her.

Hearing the sound of the front door and the thud of Madison’s boot dropping on the floor, her mother rushes to the door.

“Where have you been?”  Her voice is as anxious and harsh with worry as the expression on her face.

Madison shifts nervously, standing there with one boot on and one off, her coat open, and hat and mitts dropped carelessly on the floor with her backpack.

She looks down at the floor, not wanting to meet her mother’s eyes.

“I lost my key,” she mumbles quietly.

“What?  Look up at me when you speak. What did you say?”

Madison huffs in frustration, not wanting to repeat herself.  She looks up at her mother, her mother’s worried look making her want to hide.

“I got locked out.”

“How?  Where is your key?”  She advances on Madison.  “Take your jacket off, give me your backpack.  Where is your key, Madison?”

Madison lets her mother take the offending backpack.  She takes off her other boot and jacket while her mother searches the backpack.

“I don’t know.  I got home and I couldn’t find my key.”  Her voice is cracking and sounds small, making her sound years younger.

She stands there watching her mother pull stuff out of her backpack, shaking them out and finally dumping the rest of the contents on the floor in a mess.

“So where were you?”

“I was next door.”  Madison decides not to tell her that she walked all the way back to school and then home again before finally ending up next door.

The front door opens behind Madison and her father walks in.

“What’s all this?” he asks, looking down at the mess scattered on the floor and at his wife rifling through Madison’s backpack.

“Madison locked herself out.  She lost her key.”  Madison’s mother doesn’t pause in her search of the backpack and its contents.

Her father takes his shoes and coat off, hanging up his coat, and gives Madison a disappointed look.

That look makes a red flush burn her cheeks.  She would have preferred anger to his disappointment.

He shakes his head. “Did you check her backpack and coat?”

Her mother looks up at him with an annoyed look.

He picks up Madison’s coat from the floor and searches the pockets, feeling along the bottom hem in case it somehow slipped through a hole in the pocket into the inner lining.

Madison just watches.  There are no holes in her pockets.

“How did you lock yourself out?” her father asks while he searches the coat.  “This was a pretty big responsibility we trusted you with.  I guess you just aren’t ready for it.”

“There is no key,” her mother exclaims, dropping the violated backpack on the floor.  “I guess we were wrong.  You just aren’t responsible enough yet.”

She turns and heads for the kitchen.

“Mom, I am. I’m twelve,” Madison begs, following her.  “What are you going to do?”  She has a pretty good idea what her mother is going to do and she is mortified at the idea.

“Mom, no, please, I’m too old for babysitters.”

Her mother picks up the phone and digs her little phone book out, turning on Madison.  “What if the neighbour wasn’t home?  Where would you have gone?  It’s too cold out; you could have froze or had frostbite.”

Madison blushes at the memory of her freezing walk and the pain of frostbite in her fingers and toes.

“I’m finding you a babysitter.”  Her mother starts flipping through the little phone book.

“Mom, please,” Madison begs, fighting the tears she can’t stop.  Twelve is too old to go to daycare or a babysitter.  Too old to cry.  How can she show them she’s old enough if she cries like a baby?

“You just aren’t ready yet for the responsibility of getting yourself to school and home,” her father says, entering the kitchen and pacing angrily.

The tension in the air between them all is heavy.  Madison watches helplessly as her mother is determined to find a babysitter and her father continues pacing angrily and scolding her and complaining about the locked door.  She doesn’t even hear his words anymore, seeing only the teasing and taunting at school when the other kids learn she’s going to a babysitter.

Madison looks at her father, usually her biggest ally when her mother is set on something and is being unreasonable.  She has no ally there now.  Madison isn’t sure if he is angry with her, himself, or at the door that kept her from getting into the house.

Madison is mortified.  “Babies go to babysitters,” she thinks.  “I’m old enough to be home alone.  I’ll show them!” Her heart sinks. “But how?”

With no mature options, she resorts to what has always worked in the past.  Madison cries and begs them to give her another chance.

This goes on for some time, a battle for who has more stamina.  Her mother keeps threatening to send her to a babysitter, her father pacing angrily and lecturing her, and Madison keeps crying and begging for another chance.  Finally, her parents wear down first and relent.  Madison is given another chance to show that she can handle the responsibility.

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

The Latchkey Kids: 3 The Parents Come Home – Kylie by Vivian Munnoch

Kylie listens in fear to the doorknob being jostled.  She knows it’s her father trying to get in.  She expects to hear the sound of breaking glass at any moment.  She inches up cautiously to a window, staying low below the bottom edge, and carefully rises up just high enough to peak out.  She needs to see, to know where he is.  She is terrified he might see her.

He tries the front door first, and then moves around the house.  He tries a side window.

Kylie skulks through the house, following him around.  She almost steps into a bedroom doorway, catching the dark motion at the window barely in time and darting back, pressing herself against the wall.  Her heart is pounding so hard in her chest it feels like it’s going to come right through her rib cage and out through her chest.

His face is pressed against the window, looking in.  He moves on to the back of the house.

Kylie sneaks into the bedroom and looks out, trying to see where he went.  She moves on, following him to the back of the house, going into the kitchen now.  She wants more than anything to look out and see what he is doing, but is terrified he will see her.

“Please don’t let him know I’m home,” she pleads silently.  “He hasn’t tried yelling through the door and pounding on it, so maybe he doesn’t know.  Maybe he thinks the house is empty.”  She crouches against the back door, below the window level, listening.

She can hear him out there, tipping things over, letting them fall, while he searches for a hidden key.  She almost jumps and screams at the sudden shaking of the back door when he tries to open it, rattling the doorknob and shaking the door in its frame.

Kylie fights the tears, trembling, and holding her hands tight over her mouth to keep her whimpers from being heard on the other side of the door.

The rattling-shaking of the door stops.  She can hear him muttering, but not what he is saying.  He walks off, back around the house, trying another window.

Kylie scrambles away from the back door, staying low, peeking around a bedroom doorframe before scampering past the open doorway.  She sees the dark shape of his form moving past and scampers into the room, ducking beneath the window.

She breathes deeply, holds her breath, and slowly rises up to peek cautiously out the window.  She just catches her father moving out of sight, continuing on to the front.

Kylie scampers through the house to the front.  She slips into the living room, staying down and against the wall, inching to the front window.  She rises up against the wall beside the window where she is hidden by the partially open curtain, peaking through the small crack between the curtain and window frame.

She holds her breath, watching him walk away and get back in his car.  He turns his head and looks back at the house, and just for a few heartbeats Kylie is positive he sees her, that he is staring at her.  Then he starts his car and drives away.

She feels sick with fear and weak with relief.  She sinks to the floor and sits there sobbing.

“I wish I was dead.  I wish I was never even born, that I never even existed,” she whimpers miserably.

After that, Kylie sits in a dark corner waiting for her mother to come home, scared her father will return and break into the house.  It feels like time has stopped and will never move again while she endlessly waits.

“I’m going to have to explain to Mom how I lost my coat and boots,” she moans.  “I have another hat and mitts I can wear. They’re old and worn out, and Mom fixed the mitts a few times, but that was my only coat and boots for winter.  What am I going to wear tomorrow?”

Kylie is startled by a sound at the door.  She freezes; her stomach knotting and her heart pounding hard in her chest and feeling like it skipped a beat.  “Is he back?”  She is terrified.

Relief floods Kylie when she hears the familiar jingle of the way her mother always jingles her keys just before she unlocks the door, followed immediately as the door opens by her mother’s voice calling her and her younger sister’s babbling mid-sentence about what she did today.

“Kylie, what are your coat and boots doing on the front step?” her mother calls out as she comes in the house.

Kylie is confused.  “Coat?  Boots?”

She gets to her feet and goes to see what her mother is talking about.  She stops, staring in confusion at the clothes her mother is holding out to her.  “I can’t believe it,” she thinks numbly, “there is no way any of those girls would have brought back my clothes.  So how did they get there?”

“Well?” her mother insists impatiently.  “Why are they on the front steps?”

“I don’t know,” Kylie says, staring in wide-eyed confusion at the bundle that is her coat wrapped around her boots and stuff.  Tears pop to her eyes.  She can’t hold them back.

“How did they get there?” she thinks wildly. “Did he leave them? But, if Dad left them, that means he was following me. He followed me to the park, watched them beat me up and take my stuff, and he did nothing.  Nothing to help. He left me walking home like that.  No, even Dad wouldn’t just watch and do nothing, would he?  Would he leave me to maybe die walking home in this cold?  No, I don’t think he would.  Then who?  How?”

Seeing her distraught look and her red swollen eyes, her mother knows immediately that something is wrong.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, concerned.

Kylie looks up at her mother, her face twisted with all the fear and sadness she has been feeling for the past few hours and it all pours out about being beaten up at the park, how her coat tore, and the three girls stealing her clothes and leaving her to walk home without them in the cold.  She chokes on her tears and stumbles over the words when she starts telling her mom about her dad trying to get into the house.

Her mother listens, horrified.  She is more upset about her ex-husband coming to the house than about the girls in the park, but she can deal with only one of the problems.

“We’ll go to the girls’ houses and talk to their parents,” she says.

“No!”  Kylie is stricken by the idea.  “That will only make them bully me worse!”

“We can’t just let them get away with this,” her mother insists.  “And, they left you without a coat or boots in this cold?  Something has to be done about it!”

“Please mom, no,” Kylie begs.  “Don’t you remember the last time?  Their mothers believed them, not us.  They wouldn’t believe those girls were bullying.  They were even worse to me for months after!”

Her mother looks at her, taking in the strain and fear no mother wants to see in her daughter’s eyes, and realises she’s right.  Saying anything will only make things worse for Kylie at school.

When she had confronted the girls’ parents before they had sided with the girls, believing their story and saying Kylie made it all up and that she was the bully.  The bullying did get worse after that.  When she complained to the school, the principal pretended to sympathize and promised to talk to the girls and did nothing about it.  But she could tell the principal believed the three girls stories that Kylie made it all up.

“I wish I could pull her out of that school and send her somewhere else,” she thinks unhappily, “but how would she get to school?  The other schools she could go to are full and wouldn’t take her when I tried.  We would have to move and I just don’t have the money for that.”

She sighs, feeling helpless to protect her daughter.

“Well, let’s take a look at that coat,” she finally says, closing the discussion about dealing with the bullies.  She is relieved because she doesn’t have to deal with a confrontation with the other girls’ parents.  But she still has the bigger problem, keeping them safe from her ex-husband.

One thought just doesn’t fit, however.  She cannot reconcile how the coat and boots ended up on the front steps.

“Kylie, if those girls took your coat and boots then how did they end up on the steps?”

“I don’t know,” Kylie says miserably.  “I guess someone must have seen what happened.”

“And they did nothing to help?”

“They brought my stuff back at least.”

Kylie’s mother frowns, not satisfied with that explanation.  She unrolls the coat and together they look for the tears.  It won’t look very good, but it will have to be mended so Kylie can wear it to school tomorrow.

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

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

Andrew is wandering aimlessly. He doesn’t want to go home yet and feels completely foolish about it.  It will be a while before his parents get home and he doesn’t want to be alone in the house right now.  He can’t put the thought of that noise he heard in the house out of his head.

“There’s nowhere to go and no one to hang out with, except Dylan, and that isn’t an option.

Dylan was my best friend for years and probably would have understood my fear of being alone in the house for hours. The focus is on the was. We don’t hang out anymore, not since Dylan became withdrawn for a while and wouldn’t talk to anyone.  Not even to me.”

Andrew feels a pang of regret and hurt at that.

“Dylan is back to going to a babysitter’s instead of going home anyway, and he has no interest in being friends anymore.”

When he first found out about the babysitter, he didn’t believe it.  He had to ask.  Dylan reacted angrily and has avoided him ever since.  He knew Dylan would be embarrassed and wouldn’t want anyone to find out, so he kept the secret.  Dylan is close enough to hang out after school if his sitter lets him, but Dylan doesn’t seem to want to anymore.  Andrew is fine with that.

“Dylan changed.  He became a bully, picking on anyone smaller and weaker than himself.  I don’t like him much anymore.  I don’t think he’d bully me, but he’s just a jerk now and I don’t want anything to do with that.”

Despite his thoughts, he has doubts.  He is not so sure Dylan wouldn’t beat up and bully him too.  Dylan is bigger than most of the boys his age and so far everyone has been fair game, except him.

The cold is getting to him.  His feet, hands, and face are freezing; his ears, too, despite his hat.

“I’ve got to figure out something now.”  Andrew stomps his feet, putting his hands over his ears, trying to warm up.

“I’ll go to the store. It’s not far. At least I can go inside and warm up.”

He walks fast, alternating between a fast walk and a jog until he gets to the store.  He’s hanging around there for a while, staying outside and trying to find a sheltered spot where it might be less cold.  He stays out as long as he can stand it, the cold biting his fingers and toes until they hurt.  His ears feel like they are on fire and the cold air stings his nose painfully when he breathes in.

The cold is too much for him, driving him inside to find warmth.  He looks at the inviting warmth through the window.

“They won’t like me just hanging around and will kick me out, probably accusing me of shoplifting or something.  People always seem to be suspicious for no good reason of kids on their own without parents.  I have to do it.  I’m going in.”

He glances at the store clerk nervously as he enters the store and starts wandering up and down aisles, pretending he’s looking for something.

 

THE LATCHKEY KIDS IS AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND IN PAPERBACK ON AMAZON

 

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

Dylan is sitting morosely staring out the sitter’s living room window when he sees three girls coming up the street, Amber, Jessica, and Brooke.

Dylan isn’t all that interested in what they’re doing, but they are girls and he has nothing else to do, so he watches them.  Amber is carrying a bundle.

“This is so boring,” he thinks.  He’s always bored at the babysitter’s.  “Mrs. Foster is nice enough, but she just doesn’t have anything to do.  No video games or anything.  She doesn’t have kids and has nothing in the house for them.  All I can do is sit here waiting for one of my parents to pick me up.  I wish they would hurry.”

Dylan watches the girls stop while Amber jams the bundle into a trashcan next to the garage across the street.  From their nervous looks around, he has no doubt they are hiding something.

Curious about what they are hiding, he waits for them to move on.

“I’m going outside,” he calls out to Mrs. Foster.  Shrugging on his coat and pulling on his boots, he goes out.

The chill air feels like it’s biting his lungs when he inhales.  He hurriedly zips up his coat, wishing he had grabbed a hat to cover his already stinging ears.

Dylan checks up and down the street to make sure no one is watching and darts across the street to the trashcan.  No one is home at the house, but someone might drive by and see him digging in the trash.  He looks again before lifting the lid to look in.  Pulling the bundle out, Dylan looks it over then unwraps it to reveal a coat wrapped around boots and a hat and mitts.

He studies them.  They look familiar.  He realizes they belong to Kylie.

“What are they doing with Kylie’s stuff?”  His eyes narrow.  “Those three are the nastiest girls in school and Kylie is Amber’s favorite victim.”

Dylan looks back at the babysitter’s house, debating what he should do.  “Kylie just lives on the next street.  If I run the stuff over there, the babysitter might notice me gone and I’d be in trouble.  Besides, who knows why those girls have the stuff?”

He’s about to stuff the clothes back in the trash can but thinks better of it.

“They stole it from Kylie.  There is no other reason they would have it.”  He thinks it over, feeling guilty for his automatic response to shove it back in the trash.  His conscience wins.

With a last glance back at Mrs. Foster’s house across the street, Dylan darts between the houses, cutting through the back yards to the next street.

Dylan doesn’t want Kylie to see him.  He approaches her house from behind, sneaking as he cuts through the next-door neighbor’s backyard towards the front.

He is just about to break cover from the neighbor’s yard and sneak up to the front door when he spots a car parked in front of the house.  He looks up and down the street.  It’s mostly empty, so there is no reason for someone at another house to park in front of this one, and besides, the car is parked on the wrong side of the street. Street parking is on the other side.

“Her mom probably isn’t home yet, so who would be at her house?”

Dylan studies Kylie’s house and yard and spies a man skulking around the house, peeking in windows.

He ducks behind the bushes between the yards, hiding out of sight.  He is still beside the house and he moves quietly and stealthily along the row of bushes, watching the guy from his hiding spot as he goes around to the back of the house.  He watches the man try the back door.  It’s locked.

“Is he a burglar?  Who is this guy?”  Dylan watches the man turn over things in the yard, tipping a large snow-filled flowerpot on its side and breaking the top off it.  His feels like his veins are turning to ice.

“He’s looking for a key,” he thinks.  “He is a burglar.”

Dylan’s mind races, remembering his own house getting broken into, how much that scared all of them, and the terror his dog still suffers every time someone comes to the house.  That was the worst part, not knowing what they did to the dog.

“I have to get out of here.”  He’s about to dart away and run back to the safety of the babysitter’s house, but he stops instead, spotting the frightened face of Kylie peeking out a window.

A cold chill fills Dylan. “She’s home alone and some guy is trying to break in.”  He holds his breath, his mind reeling, trying to think what to do.

Dylan is frozen, unable to move or act, and can only watch helplessly while the burglar searches for a way in. His mind moves strangely, thinking, “He doesn’t look like what you’d think a burglar would look like.” He’s picturing the stereo-typical burglar hunched over and dressed all in black with gloves and a mask. This guy is dressed like any other man, kind of dorky looking even.

Finally the man gives up, gets in the car parked in front of the house, and drives away.

The extreme cold is seeping through his clothes, but Dylan still can’t make himself move.  He is in shock and filled with a numbing dread.  After what feels like forever, he manages to break his paralysis.  Shivering with fear shock, he sneaks to the front door of the house, skulking low below the level of the windows so Kylie doesn’t see him, and leaves the bundle of clothes on the front step before sneaking away.

As soon as he’s far enough, Dylan sprints for the sitter’s house, his heart pounding and his chest tight with anxiety.

“Should I tell someone?” he thinks as he runs, uncertain. “The guy is gone, but what if he comes back? What can they do anyway, since he’s gone? Probably nothing.” By the time he reaches the sitter’s he has decided not to bother saying anything.

 

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

Amber, Jessica, and Brooke are feeling pretty smug about the fun they had at Kylie’s expense.  They giggle and chatter about what they did to her as they walk away from the park, Amber rolling Kylie’s hat, mitts, and boots in her coat.  She fingers the tear in the coat caused in the struggle, waggling her fingers through it to peals of laughter from all three.

“We should have taken the rest of her clothes too,” Amber sneers nastily, “and stayed to watch.”  She starts limping and groaning, holding herself in a mockery of how Kylie must have made her way home.

“Oh, I am so cold,” she mock wails and then breaks into laughter.

“It would have been much funnier if we left her in only her underwear,” Jessica agrees with a nasty laugh.

Brooke laughs too, her laugh and smile faltering a little.  She had been caught up in the moment, enjoying tormenting Kylie just as much as the other two, but now she’s not so sure.

She keeps her feelings guarded, not wanting the other two to know that she is having doubts about what they did.  She feels the painful bite of the cold through her own mitts and boots and feels bad for making Kylie walk home with nothing to protect her from the severe cold.  And stuffing snow down her pants and in her shirt, she cringes inside, imagining how much more painful that must have made the cold walk home.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have done it on such a cold day,” she thinks to herself.  She glances at the other two, who are oblivious to her lack of enthusiasm.  “I can’t ever tell them about my doubts.  They’ll turn on me and start doing these mean things to me.  You never show weakness to anyone who treats others like this, and Amber would definitely see my secret doubts as weakness.”

As they walk back to their homes together Amber realizes they can’t bring the clothes back with them.  How would they explain them to their mothers?  They would be in a lot of trouble, both for stealing and for leaving Kylie to walk home coat and bootless in this cold.

She smirks at the painful bite of the cold seeping through her own mitts and boots, making her fingers and toes burn and tingle with the cold.  “Hah!  Serves her right,” she thinks nastily, though if you asked her she could not have told you what it served her right for.  There is nothing Kylie has done to deserve the abuse other than just being there.  Amber also would not be able to explain why she hates Kylie so much, she just does.  She doesn’t need a reason.

She pauses, turning to her friends.  “We have to get rid of this junk.” She raises Kylie’s clothes for emphasis.

The other two nod.  They know what she means.  They will all have some explaining to do about the clothes if any of their mothers see them.

“Where?” Jessica asks.

“First place we see,” Amber says.

They walk on up the street, watching for a good place to stash the clothes.

Amber stops with a cruel smile.  “There!”  She spotted a trashcan next to a garage.

The others follow her as she darts to it.  The lid is frozen and she has to work at it, but it finally comes off and she shoves the clothes inside and puts the lid back with a satisfied smirk.

“We better hurry,” Brooke says, eyeing the trashcan and feeling bad for throwing Kylie’s clothes in the trash.  “She’ll never get them back now, that’s for sure,” she thinks.

She has more urgent things to worry about right now.  They were only supposed to be out for a little while and all three have to get home soon before they get in trouble.

“We’re going to be late,” Brooke says.

The other two nod and they hurry off down the street.

 

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

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.

 

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

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.”

 

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

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.

 

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

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.

 

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