THE TUCKER PLACE
“Now you be careful and don’t go messing around that old Tucker place after school.” She said waving her finger at him with her other hand on her hip. Mary bent down and gave him a hug before sending him off. Billy walked fifteen minutes to and from school every day. It was just over a half mile but for a seven-year-old, that was a great distance and seemed to take days to navigate, sometimes.
He had two basic paths to choose from. One took him a little less time as it was straight up his street to the main thoroughfare. Billy always chose the not-so-busy route, unless a few of his buddies were walking the first way.
He preferred the road les traveled to be alone with his thoughts and to admire the Tucker place. He couldn’t place his finger on it, but there was something about that house that intrigued him. There was an aura that brought him by so often.
Walking alone that far or even out playing by yourself away from home was far different in the early seventies than it is today.
There were obviously still horrible people back then (i.e., kidnappers, pedophiles, etc) but I think more recent technology has made news of such monsters instant and the popularity of social media has made parents more aware and frightened.
On Billy’s walks to school, he was only alone for five or six blocks. That’s where he would meet up with other kids on their way to school. Just two blocks more and they would encounter their first crossing guard.
His walks home were imaginative. He would often go out of his way so he could pass the Tucker place. He tried to imagine what was hidden behind those brick walls and large entrance door.
Was it as vast as it seemed? Was it cluttered with smelly old furniture and dusty antiques? Was it dirty and gross or immaculate? Questions he would ask himself.
There had been all sorts of fantastical stories floating around for decades. Even as far back as when his father was a boy the same age as Billy. He had heard from classmates that it was haunted and although he didn’t necessarily believe that there was still a bit of wonder there.
While spending the night at his best friend’s house one Saturday. He and four other boys were sleeping in tents behind the kid’s house and began a conversation about the Tucker place.
Bradley: “When it’s quiet out, you can hear voices coming from the house and out back.”
Kyle: “Yeah, I heard that old man Tucker used to catch kids playing in his yard, then kill them, then eat them.” T-Bone, as he had devoured the local 64 ounce t-bone steak challenge at ‘Johnny’s Roadhouse’: “My dad told me that there’s still blood in the bathtub.” Lance: “You guys are full of bologna! That guy never ate kids, he was just a loner. You’re just trying to scare me and Billy. Plus, T-Bone, your dad’s a drunk.” Lance mocked drinking a bottle by tilting his thumb and pinky. They all laughed, even T-Bone, and dropped the haunted, kid-eating Tucker discussion and moved onto more pressing issue. Like, who of them would be the first to get the new G.I.Joe helicopter. He had heard from his parents that Mr. Tucker lived in that big house all by himself. The old man had no family and died in that house. Keith, Billy’s father, did not believe in ghosts or spirits and dismissed the haunted rumor all together. Billy had some questions regarding the Tucker house. For instance, why did a light come on at night. It was dim and did not happen every night. “I’m sure it’s just a battery powered light, on a timer, and the battery is going bad.”, he explained to Billy.
“But what about the lawn and such always being kept up? I’ve even seen tree trimmers there.” Billy was in an interrogative mood.
Keith prepared himself for the wave of questioning. “It’s a contract. He probably had a great deal of money. No wife, no kids will save a man a boatload of cash. The lawn company is paid through automatic withdrawal. I would go even a step further and assume that the company and Mr. Tucker never saw each other.” “What’s an automatic whatever you said?” Billy asked, crinkling up his
nose as if he smelled something rotten. Keith gave a slight chuckle. “It’s when a bill is automatically paid from your bank account. Whenever a bill, say the lawn service, is due, it just comes out of Mr. Tucker’s account, and it electronically appears in the lawn service’s account. Sometimes it’s easier for people to not have to worry about being late on a bill. As long as money is in the account, it is taken care of.” He was always very good at explaining things in a way that made it easy for Billy to understand.
“What about kid’s voices? My friends said that other kid’s voices can be heard if it’s quiet enough.” Billy was on a roll. “Sound is a very interesting thing, son. You know where Garrett Park is?” Keith asked and Billy nodded. “The voices your friends hear are traveling from there. Now you and your friends should stop concerning yourselves with Mr. Tucker’s house. OK?”
“I suppose, it’s just very odd.” Billy said as he stood up. “I’m going to go play with my Lincoln Logs. Wanna play, too?” Keith said he would love nothing more than that. The two walked down the hall and disappeared into a world of log construction.
It was early spring when things changed. Billy still took the longer way home, so he could pass the Tucker place, but he wasn’t as obsessed, he convinced himself. He was just minding his own business going over the things he learned that day. He felt proud at how well he was writing his name now and he was third best in the class at adding. Billy left his papers in his cubby hole and walked home with just his Six-Million-Dollar-Man lunchbox. He was on the sidewalk running his hand on the black iron fence in front of the Tucker house when he faintly heard a little girl’s voice call out. “Do you want to see?” The voice asked.
Billy looked all around and saw no one. He mashed his face to the iron pickets to hear more clearly. He probably would have tried to shove his entire head through if was wider than six inches wide. “Come on. We can play in the backyard. It’s magical.” There was that voice again. The backyard was blocked from view by very tall border hedges and trees.
I have to get in there somehow, he said to himself. “Go over to the corner of the fence. One of the metal thingy’s is missing and you can come in.” The mystery voice told him.
He was hypnotized by her voice and his own sense of intrigue. He walked to the end of the fence and, sure enough, there was a large gap that looked just big enough for he and his lunchbox to squeeze through. Once inside the barrier between the Tucker place and the rest of society, Billy felt a bewilderment, as if he just entered another world. He could still clearly see the cracked sidewalk and gray-black road, but he felt quite different inside the railing.
“Yay! Come find me out back. We’ll all have such fun!” The girl’s voice called out. All? How many kids are back there? He wondered As if in a trance, Billy walked towards the backyard. He could see nothing past the towering brush but could now hear movement off in the distance. He just stood there staring nearly straight up, still clutching his lunchbox.
“Hello?” Billy yelled through the brushes, cupping one hand around his mouth to boost the sound. Suddenly, a leafy, branch-covered gate opened. His eyes widened in astonishment. It was a hidden entrance to the backyard through the sky-scraping trees.
No one was there, but he walked through anyway, leaving reality behind. The walkway was dark and covered in roots. It extended farther than he thought it should, but he could see a light and didn’t stop his motion. The closer to the light he got, the more sounds he could hear. These weren’t sounds from Garrett Park, they were too close, and it wasn’t made up. It was kids running around, playing. He could hear, “3-2-1. Ready or not, hear I come.”, and in the opposite direction, the distinct sound of a red playground ball being kicked.
Like in a cartoon, Billy wafted forward. He was at the opening to, what he assumed was, the backyard. Now that he could see the backyard in its entirety, his mouth fell agape.
The expansive space was enclosed by some massive white canopy. It was as long as two football fields and as wide as one. There was rainbow covered hills and children playing games as far as his eyes could see. He saw dogs running wild and, what looked like, a petting zoo.
Directly in the center of this utopia was the largest, most complex play set he had ever seen. Multiple slides, a few rock climbing walls, wooden bridges held together with thick rope. Portal windows and four sandboxes, one in each corner.
Is that a cotton candy machine? He asked himself, looking to his right. With all these wonderful amenities, not one adult was to be seen. Billy dropped his lunchbox. It made a loud CLANG!, as it was made of metal and it snapped him out of his trance. He closed his eyes and shook his head violently to try to awaken from this obvious dream. He slowly opened his eyes, and nothing had changed. He grinned from ear to ear. Joy overtook his emotions and made all his questions disappear. He took off to his paradise but didn’t move. His legs were churning, and arms were swaying but he gained to ground. He looked down to see his feet running in place. He couldn’t understand until he felt a slight tug on his Toughskins. Billy turned around to see an old man with his long finger hooked in his beltloop. The man had long white hair that covered half of his spiderweb wrinkled face and yellow eyes. He smiled at Billy. His teeth were pink from the mix of tooth enamel and blood. His breath smelled like old pennies.
“I’m Tucker.” The old man said to Billy in a low ominous whisper. Billy was so scared that he tried to scream, and nothing came out. The fantasy world he was running to instantly turned black and shrunk into a space the size of a classroom. “Won’t you come in?” Tucker invited in that same, disgusting tone. That’s when Billy passed out.
When he started to come to, he felt a coolness on his forehead and a soft touch on his arm. He was on his very own bed with his mom gently rubbing his arm. He had a washcloth on his forehead and his father was in his doorway, talking to Billy’s doctor.
“What happened? Where’s Tucker?” Billy started to rise from his pillow. “Tucker? There is no Tucker, Billy.” Keith said to his son. “You were screwing around by Mr. Tucker’s house, like I told you a hundred times NOT to do,” He was clearly upset. “Oh Keith, he’s just a curious seven-year-old boy. Take it easy.” Mary interrupted.
Keith continued, “Fine! Anyway, you got your head caught in the fence in front of Tucker’s house. I guess it was tighter that you thought it was going to be and you knocked yourself out.”
The doctor spoke up. “You must have been trying to get your head out and you constricted your carotid artery, causing you to pass out. Luckily, one of the crossing guards’ happens to live on Mr. Tucker’s street and called 911 shortly after it happened. You’ll be fine, Billy.”
“Thank you. I swear, I’m never going near that house again. Such a creepy dream.” Billy said, crossing his arms and hugging himself. He rested that day, looking at the pictures in his favorite superhero comics and his mom brought him some comforting soup.
That same night, just as he was dozing off, he was startled by that voice again.
“I’ll see you in your dreams, Billy”