The Orchard

The Orchard Read Online Free PDF Page A

Book: The Orchard Read Online Free PDF
Author: Charles L. Grant
Tags: Fiction, General
his head as we passed, probably not letting us go until we disappeared around the corner of Raglin and didn’t come back.
    Good old Stick. Always there when you need him, and even when you don’t. Opening the gate and guiding me up the walk, ringing the doorbell and explaining to Aunt May what had happened, that I was all right, just a little funny because Rich was my friend.
    She thanked him and gathered me in, called out to Uncle Gil, and took me up the stairs.
    Put me to bed.
    And did not say a word about the noise that was so loud, so persistent, I was positive she could hear.
    The noise no longer like whispering, but like a dry cold wind sifting through dead leaves.
    Richard was dead, and I was glad, and Mary had seen it all in my eyes.
     
    I stayed in bed most of Saturday morning. I didn’t dream the night before—I don’t remember dreaming, at least—but I slept badly, wrestling with the blanket, punching the pillow, several times coming up hard against the wall as I rolled around in search of someplace to give me peace.
    When I did waken at last, May was sitting at my desk, watching me anxiously. She was young, my mother’s baby sister, and not very much older than I. A slender, blonde woman who seemed, when I was having fantasies of great power, to be more my type than the type she had married.
    “How are you feeling?”
    I almost sat up, then realized my clothes were gone and there were no pajamas in their place. I think I blushed; I know she grinned.
    “Okay, I guess.” I waited for the buzzing. When I didn’t hear it, I smiled. “Okay.”
    “Gil wants to talk to you, if you feel up to it.”
    I groaned and fell back on the pillow. “Do I have to?”
    “No, of course not. But he’s worried. He … he remembers.”
    I knew without her telling me. I knew that, until last night, the only other time I had seen a person dead was when I found my mother in her kitchen, lying all twisted around on the floor under the table my father had made one Easter. When I told my father, he beat me for not keeping an eye on her. I was only five, but I was supposed to watch her when I was home because she had a bad heart. The heart stopped. My father stopped beating me when my arms began to bleed. Then he arranged for the funeral, the burial plot, and for his sister-in-law to look after me while, as he put it, he hunted for new employment in some other place besides this miserable hole.
    He never came back.
    The dreams did, forever.
    “I’m okay,” I told her again. “Really. I don’t want to talk.”
    She waited to see if I was telling the truth, then nodded and came over to the bed. I could smell lemon oil on her hands as she tucked the sheet around my neck and ordered me, smiling, to stay where I was until she brought something up to fill my tank.
    “I’m not hungry.”
    “I can see that. I think you even look a bit thinner. But you have to eat something, boy, to keep your strength up.” She kissed the tip of her finger and placed the finger on my forehead, a comfort when I was little, a little disturbing now. “You still have those exams, Herb. You don’t want to get sick.”
    “Exams?”
    God, didn’t she realize what had happened last night? Didn’t she know?
    “Yes, exams,” she said sternly. “This is a bad time for something like this to happen, I can understand that. But you can’t let it throw you, you hear? You’ve got to be strong, Herb. You’ve got to be strong. For yourself, as well as your friends.”
    “That’s an understatement,” I muttered sourly.
    She left without saying anything else, and I closed my eyes, saw Rich bleeding in the ditch, and opened them again. This is dumb, I thought; this is really dumb. He wasn’t anything near as bad as my mother, but I just couldn’t shake him.
    Dumb.
    Really dumb.
    Finally, when my back and buttocks ached so much I couldn’t lie down anymore, I got up, dressed, sat at the desk, and tried to do a little studying. After an hour I could
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