The Hill
by Brad Aiken

page 2
 â€œGeez, Skeets,â€� he gasped, “why couldn’t you … run like this … from Jerry?â
 He fought to get the words out, but gradually started to recover as the pain of each breath
 Skeets just smiled.  â€œYou OK now, Johnny?â€�
 â€œI’m OK.â€�  He was starting to feel better.
 Skeets pointed down from the porch.  â€œPull out that loose brick.â€�
 Johnny pointed to a brick that abutted up against the stairs.  Skeets nodded.  Johnny pulled,
and the loose brick slid easily away from the wall.
 â€œGrab the key, Johnny.  The folks are asleep, and I don’t want to wake them.  Theyâ
€™re gettin’ kinda old, you know.â€�
 Johnny reached in the hole and grabbed the key.  He pushed the brick back into place, and
climbed quietly up the stairs. “You sure about this, Skeets?  I’d think they’d be
dyin’ to see you.�
 â€œYeah, Johnny, I’m sure.  I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they
wake and find us on the sofas.â€�  Skeets giggled like a child.
 Johnny shook his head.  â€œYou’re a strange one, Skeets.â€�
 They entered quietly, changed out of their wet uniforms into some of Skeets’ old
clothes, and then laid down on the two sofas in the living room.  Johnny was asleep before his
head hit the cushion.

 â€œWake up, boy.â€�
 The sun peered through the front windows.  The storm had passed and morning had broken.
 â€œWake up!â€�
 Johnny felt a harsh nudge against his side.   He forced his heavy eyelids open.  An old man,
must have been close to fifty, Johnny guessed, was standing over him with a shotgun.
 â€œWhat’re you doin’ in here, boy?â€�
 Johnny smiled.  â€œI take it this is your old man, Skeets?â€�
 The man looked mortified, and raised the gun.  â€œWhat kinda evil shenanigan’s you
tryin’ to pull, son?�
 Johnny sat up, and the man raised his weapon higher.  â€œSlowly, boy.  What you got to say
for yourself?�
 Johnny looked over at the other sofa.  It was vacant.  He looked around.  â€œSkeets,â€� he
called out.
 â€œStop it, you damned hooligan,â€� the man shouted at him.
  â€œStop what? Skeets said you’d be surprised, Mr. Tyler.  Only I thought he meant
happy surprised, you know?�
 â€œWhy do you keep sayin’ that?â€�
 â€œSaying what, sir?â€�
 â€œSkeets.  The only Skeets from these here parts died a war hero over in Germany.â€�
 Johnny felt bad for the old man.  Obviously, the army had made a mistake; they must have
told Mr. Tyler that Skeets had died in the war.  â€œNo, sir, no.  The army must have told you
wrong.  Skeets is fine, I saw to that.  His guardian angel, that’s what he called me.â€�
 Mr. Tyler looked up strangely at Johnny.  â€œHis what?â€�
 â€œHis guardian angel, sir.  He’s fine.  We got back yesterday and took a tug up from
Boston Harbor. The weather sneaked up on us mighty quick though, and we capsized in that
storm last night.   Me and Skeets almost bought it, but we got lucky and washed ashore.  
Skeets brought me here through the trail in the woods.  He got the key from behind the
brick by the front steps; said he didn’t want to wake you. He must be in the bathroom
washing up.�
 Johnny turned toward the stairs, “Skeets,â€� he called as he started to stand.
 The man nudged him back down with the barrel of his gun.  â€œI don’t know what kind of
game you’re playin’ mister, but I don’t like it.  Nobody disrespects my brotherâ
€™s name like that.  Nobody.  He was a war hero, he was.â€�  The man tilted his head and
motioned toward a picture on the mantle.  It looked just like Skeets.  He was in dress
uniform standing next to another man, one who looked like a younger version of the man who
now pointed a shotgun at Johnny.
 Johnny stared in disbelief.  The dress uniform was US Army, but it was World War One.  It
had to be Skeets’ father in the photo.  It was odd that Skeets had never mentioned that
his dad had fought in the war.  This old man must be Skeets’ uncle.  The family
resemblence was clear.
 â€œThat you with your brother, mister?â€�
 "Sure is.â€�
 â€œSkeets looks just like him.â€�
 â€œThat is Skeets.â€�  The old man was getting angry.  â€œAin’t you listened to
anything I said?�
He stared at Johnny.  â€œHow’d you know about that key?â€�
 Johnny wasn’t sure how to answer.  If he told him the truth … well, you don’t want
to anger a man who’s got a gun pointed at your head.  He knew that much.
 â€œAnd how’d you find that trail.  Nobody’s used that since me and Skeets hiked it
when we was kids.  It’s so thick with brush, nobody even knows it’s there anymore.  
What kind of game you playing here?�
 The chilling silence in the air was broken by the ring of the telephone.  The lady of the house
 â€œWhy, yes, sheriff.  A young fella fittin’ that description is right here in our living
room.  Tom’s got a gun on him.â€�
 She listened a moment.
 â€œAlright, sheriff.  We will.â€�
 She came in and faced her husband.  â€œSheriff says two soldiers landed at the pier this
morning, the Callahan boys.  It seems they were stranded at sea last night when one of their
friends went overboard.  They rode out the storm and made it to port this morning, and theyâ
€™ve been frantically looking for their friend.  They say he’s new to these parts, and if
he somehow survived, they need to find him quick.  Something about sufferin’ stress from
the war or some such thing.�