Billy Dayton
by Brad Aiken

page 2

 There he was, Billy Dayton, just standing there calm as could be, leaning against the fence,
watching.  By now, the rest of us were a hundred yards away, but Billy was just far enough
from the crash site to be out of harm’s way.  I looked at him and smiled.  He had known
just where that plane was going to crash; there was no doubt in my mind. No one else would
believe that, though, especially not the grown-ups.  They all just figured that Billy was
blessed with super-human hearing, or that maybe he had some weird brain tumor or
something.  Doc Johnson even sent him to a specialist for testing, but they didn’t find
anything, of course.  I knew Billy didn’t hear that plane coming.  Not until the rest of us
heard it, anyway.  Billy just knew it was going to be there.  He had seen that crash in his mind
before the rest of us even knew it was coming.  He never said as much; Billy never talked a
whole lot, but I suspected it was something like that.   I’m sure of it now.
 As we grew up, the other kids all began to separate themselves from Billy a little more each
year.  Our parents warned us to stay clear of “that strange, little boy,â€� and besides, he
just wasn’t very cool.  By the time high school rolled around, I was about the only one who
ever talked to Billy anymore.  He didn’t talk about his visions; he tried to hide them as
best he could, but I could tell that he still had them. It was just little things, mostly.  
Nothing big ever happened in Laurelwood -- other than the airplane crash, that is.  But every
now and again, Billy would get this strange look on his face, and duck down a hallway just in
time to avoid Hank Remmick, or grab my jacket as I tried to step off a curb just before a
car would round the corner.  That kind of thing.
 Billy and I were born on the same day, in the same hospital.  We grew up together, and the
day we turned eighteen, we both got drafted into the army together.  Before we knew it, the
comfort of Laurelwood was just a memory, and we were deep in the jungles of Viet Nam.  As
fate would have it, they put us in the same platoon.
 Before long, we had developed quite a reputation.  Billy had a nose for sniffing out Viet Kong
ambushes.  I knew it was more than that; Billy did too.  But we were content to let the other
guys think it was just good instinct.  He pulled us off the main trail, into some little muddy
path out of harm’s way so many times…I couldn’t tell you the number of times he
saved my life.  The other guys, too, for that matter.  That’s why it was so strange when
Ray Dawson did us in.  Ray knew Billy’s gift as well as the rest of us.  We were on patrol,
crossing a narrow, raised path through a boggy delta, when Billy suddenly yelled for us to
stop.  Ray was in front.
 â€œDon’t go no further, Ray,â€� Billy said.  â€œWe gotta go around.â€�
 Ray looked ahead.  We were in the middle of the delta, about fifty yards away from any
solid land except for that narrow little trail we stood on.  â€œAround what?â€� he snapped.
 â€œWe gotta go around,â€� Billy repeated, signaling for us to walk into the marshy delta
off the trail.
 â€œYou nuts?â€� Ray said.  He started to walk ahead.
 â€œStop,â€� Billy yelled again, grabbing the back of Ray’s jacket.
 Ray spun around and gave Billy a shove.  He fell back against me, knocking me to my knees.
 â€œI ain’t going into that muck.  Even if the fruitcake here says to, I ain’t stepping
into that swamp soup.  God knows what’s swimming around in there.â€�  His eyes were
 â€œWhat is it, Billy?â€� I pleaded with him to tell us what was going to happen, to give me a
good reason to convince Ray to step into that marsh.  Hell, I wasn’t too anxious to step in
there myself.
 â€œWe gotta go around,â€� was all Billy would say.
 â€œLoon,â€� Ray muttered as he spun around and started back across the trail.
  He didn’t get very far.  Ray's next step set off a land mind that blew his leg clear off.  
I was kneeling on the ground, holding Billy right where he had fallen when Ray pushed him
down, but the other two guys in our platoon were knocked off the ridge and had fallen into
the delta.  The water was only three feet deep, but they both panicked, fighting against the
reeds and grasses, which only tangled around them more as they struggled.  As Billy and I
tried to get back up on our feet and help, shots rang out. We dropped to our bellies and
slithered over to the water’s edge.  Our friends’ bodies had sunken into oblivion.  We
tried to find them for a few seconds, but we knew that if we didn’t run then, we’d
have never gotten off that trail with our lives.
 I glanced back at Ray; he’d lost more than just his leg.  It was too late for the other
guys, too.  I had to pull Billy out of that murky water; he didn’t want to leave, but I was a
lot bigger and stronger.  I dragged him back up onto the trail.  We looked in each other’s
eyes and nodded.  Fifteen seconds later, we were back in the cover of the jungle and headed
for camp.  It wasn’t until we had arrived there that we realized that we were both full of
shrapnel.  They sent us home a few days later.
 We’d only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks.  It was great being back in
Laurelwood, but the terrors in our mind made it tough to feel at home again.  Billy and I kept
to ourselves, mainly.
 It was a muggy Tuesday afternoon, and we were strolling down Parsons Street in the shade
of the old maple trees that lined both sides of the road.  Things were pretty quiet that day,
even for our little town.  Billy and I looked up as we heard the tinkling of the little silver
bells that hung from the front door at Sam’s Hardware.  Old Mrs. Grandy looked back at
us as she came out of the store with two small bags.  She didn’t smile; no one had smiled
at us much since we’d been home.  I’m not quite sure if it was that they were scared
we might have gone crazy from the war, or just because they felt guilty for sending us over
there in the first place, but they never smiled.
 She stepped into the street and opened the trunk of her sky blue Buick LeSabre, then
glanced back over at us.  I smiled, trying to ease my way back home.
 That was when it happened.  Mrs. G’s eyes widened with fear, and before I realized it,
Billy was darting across the street, straight at her.  He lunged, and the two of them went
flying to the ground, just as Harvey Melnick’s rusty gray Ford screeched around the
corner and slammed into the back of the Buick.