The Cartographer of Dreamland
by Robert J. Howe
This is me at twelve years old, running for all I'm worth up Classon Avenue,
bookbag under one arm, with Kevin Lester and three other bullies in close pursuit.
They're mostly bigger than me, and the only reason they haven't caught me yet is
because I had a half-block head start from the Nativity School gate.
This isn't just about the atlas now; they want to punish me. I don't want to go
home again minus my bookbag, with torn clothes and another bloody nose.
I look back on this scene and I ask myself where the hell all the adults were? Like
every other time I'd been chased by bullies, or beat up, or robbed of my lunch
money and bus pass, it was on a public street in broad daylight. But in my memory
the streetscape is deserted except for me and my pursuers.
I hear their shoes slapping the pavement behind me and fear makes my knees a
little wobbly. I can't outrun them all the way home. There's an empty, weed-strewn lot on the corner of Quincy Street, and with a gasp of desperation I plunge
off the sidewalk and into last year's dead vegetation, rattling yellow and head-high.
I can't run much further, but maybe I can hide.
I stumble a little on the uneven ground, and thorny vines pull at the legs of my gray
school uniform slacks. My mother will be furious if I tear them, but at the moment
I'm more afraid of being caught by Kevin and his crew.
When I figure I've reached the middle of the lot, I bend over to catch my breath,
trying to gasp for air quietly so I don't give myself away. Probably a vain hope: the
lot isn't that big.
After a minute or two it dawns on me that I don't hear my pursuers. I don't hear
anything in fact, except for birds singing nearby, and the slight movement of the
vegetation in the breeze. There are no traffic sounds, no voices of the other kids
getting out of school, no nothing.
My heart begins to slow down. I realize that everything's much greener here in the
middle of the lot. The March weather, iron gray and chill just a few minutes ago, is
spring-like and warm now. Above my blind of vegetation, the sky is deep blue with
a couple of puffy white clouds.
I'm taking this all in when I notice a pair of dark eyes set deep in a furry brown
face peering out at me from the foliage. I'm a good kid -- I never talk back to
adults or use curse words -- but now, without meaning to, I say "Holy shit!" right