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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 23: 28 April 2024
CNF: 740 words
By Luanne Castle

My Haunted Childhood


I’m face down in my red wagon, nose pressed into a dirt-caked groove, hands squeezing the sides so I don’t fall out. My next-door neighbor Mark pulls me along as he runs up the bumpy sidewalk. Weeds and tree roots have pushed up the corners of the concrete panels, so that there is no longer any flat surface. Mark bounces, but the wagon and I bounce even higher. My lunch moves up toward my throat. The wagon smells like pennies. Dirt gets into my nose, making me sneeze. The Chow across the street strains at the end of his chain and barks like crazy at us. Neither Mark nor I have any brothers or sisters, so we spend a lot of time together although he’s younger. The kids on the next street are off limits. That’s what my mother calls it. I have never seen a parent on that street. If you go to their houses, only kids answer the doors. The boys, even the little ones, smell like Grandpa’s gas station. The girls stink like pee.

We head up the hill, toward the haunted house, although most days we ignore it as if it’s a black hole we could tumble down. Occasionally, the brush-purr sound of a car motor, the vehicle’s tires crushing random gravel on the asphalt, makes me look up. Our front yards are very small, and the street almost feels part of them. A while back, I ran in front of a car to get my tossing ball. Suddenly I felt myself hoisted up in the air by strong arms as a car whooshed past. Daddy yelled at me that I didn’t look both ways. But he seemed so scared that an invisible train roared through me, tingling my arms and legs, and now I pay attention to every automobile.

We get to the top of the hill, and Mark stops suddenly. He stands there, staring at the old house, its roof partially caved in. It looks as if it has been edge-painted with black scorch marks. A broken lattice can barely be seen amidst the overgrown bushes and weeds. I wait for Mark to turn the wagon around and give it a kick, sending me on a thrilling ride down the dilapidated sidewalk. We call it sidewalk sledding.

“I think I saw something in the window.” Mark’s nod to me is so serious that I pull myself out of the wagon and follow him, although in my head my legs are taking me running down the hill. I scan the dark eyeholes on the second floor. A quick white something might have flickered in one of them. The house is two-story, much larger than our post-war bungalows, and very old-fashioned looking with fragments of wooden ornamental trim. Mark and I make our way up to the front window, the odor growing stronger by the step. What I smell is like when my father lights leaves or trash in the burning barrel in our backyard. The inside of my nostrils twitch. The empty space that was the front window has posts where narrow panels of glass once kept each other company, but now there are sharp shards sticking out. Even so, there is plenty of room for us to crawl through. By now there are a few other kids in the next yard watching us.

Mark and I argue over who is going to enter first. He wants to go first, so I say I want to. But really, I want him to go first. Still, I offer him a month with my six-shooters and holster. He grins at that, which wrinkles his forehead up into his shiny blond crewcut. We peer inside for quite a while before I begin slowly by sticking in one leg. Suddenly I feel those powerful arms again. They are like the metal claws of Mark’s Demolition truck. Daddy is holding me back and screaming. I should know better. I’m the oldest. He hauls me over his shoulder, pulling down my shorts, and paddles me with his bare hand. “You know better!” My bottom stings, but my cheeks burn more as he carries me down the street hanging down over his back. He yells to Mark’s parents to come get their kid. Pretty soon it feels as if the whole neighborhood is watching me dangling over my father’s shoulder with my shorts down and ruffled panties hanging out.

Luanne Castle’s
Issue 23 (April 2024)

poetry and prose have been nominated for the Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net; and have appeared in Bending Genres, Copper Nickel, Does It Have Pockets, The Dribble Drabble Review, The Ekphrastic Review, Flash Boulevard, Pleiades, River Teeth, Saranac Review, South 85 Journal, TAB Journal, Verse Daily, and other journals. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line Press 2022), a Book Excellence Award Winner; and Doll God (Kelsay Books 2015), which won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Poetry. Her chapbooks are Our Wolves (Alien Buddha Press 2023) and Kin Types (Finishing Line Press 2017), a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Luanne lives with five cats in Arizona along a wash that wildlife uses as a thoroughfare.

Author’s website: https://www.luannecastle.com/

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