I should have run and hid when I heard, “Hey kid, come here.” I didn’t and my fear subsided when I saw friendly faces gathered around. But not for long as memories of a big old tree with them grouped around it filled my head with visions of what they did.
My friend and I were on our way to Sewer Beach. A fitting name because the slaughterhouse disposed of animal blood and guts through a pipe that emptied into the Charles River just upstream of the beach.
While swimming, once in a while we’d see a skeletal head. Being all of five years old, we thought it exciting to drag it on home to show it to our families. The river was full of used condoms and turds, so we always swam with our mouths closed. Snapping turtles that may have weighed fifty pounds or more were plentiful and we knew if one grabbed you by the toe, it would pull you under water and keep you there until you drowned.
Fearless, we’d dare cars to hit us as we ran across the highway separating Hano from the river. When the cars came close to hitting us, we’d gather up rotten fruit that had fallen from one of the many trees along the way, and we’d throw it at the passing cars. Revenge was sweet, even then.
“Hey kid, come here,” rang in my head and I saw it all again. Tommy and I were walking by the haunted house on Everett Street, the one with the big old cherry tree in the front yard. That’s where the thirteen of them stood. All looked at me and I wanted to flee. Some of the group held their hands out to me filled with fruit off that tree. I headed for the gate because I hadn’t eaten all day.
“Joe, don’t go. Can’t you see what they are?”
I looked closely and saw that all their eyes glowed,
“Let’s grab a handful of cherries and run,” I told Tommy, and when I spoke I felt the heat from a fire pit they had dug beside the tree.
“Come on, hungry boy, bring your friend and we’ll feast today,” one of them said.
My stomach made me obey, and I dragged Tommy
kicking and screaming into the yard.
I never expected what happened to happen. Three of them bound Tommy and wrapped him in big leaves and then put him in the fire. When he screamed all thirteen floated off the ground with smiles on their faces and saliva dripping from their mouths.
Their eyes glowed so bright, it added to the heat as Tommy’s screams died away and the smell of roasting meat filled the air.
“Cherry sauce,” one of them said and handed me a bowl.
Too scared to refuse, I took it in my hand. “What’s this for?”
“Put it on the tender meat for an out-of-this-world flavor,” the thirteenth member said.
Tommy cooked for an hour or more and too scared to move, I stood there with the bowl in my hand, and after a while he stopped screaming. The leaves covering his body burned away to reveal his skin roasted to a golden brown. The cooked Tommy smelled good enough to eat.
“He’s cooked long enough, don’t want to burn the virginal meat,” a coven member said, putting on a pair of oven mitts and pulling the golden brown body from the fire. He placed it on a wooden picnic table behind the tree.
I watched as he carved Tommy into serving-sized portions. Number thirteen dropped a piece into my bowl of cherry sauce. “Eat up.”
I wanted to scream, to run, to get the heck out of there, but they all watched me closely. I didn’t dare move.
“Eat up!” one shouted. I put my face close to the bowl because I feared they’d be eating me if I didn’t pretend to be like them. When my nose got close to the cooked Tommy meat, the enticing aroma filled my nostrils. My stomach insisted I take a bite of the soft and tender flesh of the boy who not long ago was my friend. Now he was just a chunk of meat I could eat.
“Didn’t it bother you to eat your friend?” my wife asked.
“Once he was dead, he was only food,” I said.
“That’s horrible, Joe. I hope you haven’t eaten anyone since then.”
“Just once a year, on this 13th day of October, to remind me what I had to do to survive.”
I saw her look at the calendar and confirm that the date was indeed the 13th.
“Okay, you scared me with your macabre story, so now please untie me.”
I didn’t answer with words, but threw a lit match into the fire pit. The gasoline soaked coals burst into bright orange and blue flames. Her eyes got big and mine glowed.
When I started to wrap her in banana leaves, she screamed. I smiled, because the more she screamed, the more tender her meat would be. So you see, I’ll never forget that old cherry tree.