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Summer Dare

by Jeremiah Tolbert

You wait in the bushes while the cicadas sing all around you, and you wait so long that the fireflies begin their lazy dance above the meadow weeds. You wait until the stars come out and the moon rises and the coyotes howl on the hill.

You wait because your friends swore that a ghost walks through this meadow on warm summer nights just like this one, and you called them liars, and they dared you to watch and see. You won't be called a coward. You're the son of a soldier fighting the Communists. You're not afraid of ghosts, or anything else, except, well... maybe you're just a little scared that your Dad won't come home, but you wouldn't admit that to anyone. A year ago, and the idea would have never crossed your mind, because you believed your father was invincible, as all young boys do. But you've watched the news. You have seen the flag-covered coffins. And now you're not so sure.

Now you have waited so long that that the whippoorwills cry, and the bushes have become slick and wet. You're cold, and that is why you shiver. Not because you are afraid. Most certainly not. Oh, the lies young boys tell themselves.

To me, you look like a little baby rabbit I found once, huddled in a hollow of leaves and grass. You shudder now and your eyes roll in all directions. Is it because you can sense me drawing near you? Or is it just your imagination?

I won't stroll through the meadow tonight. I won't moan the name of my lost beloved or scream my death rattle. It is my singular purpose now, to deal with your sort. But I can see that were I to use any of my usual tricks, they would only comfort you, little rabbit. And I am not in the business of providing comfort.

You do not fall asleep like the others. You stay watchful until the sun begins to rise, and then you head home. You have earned a badge of courage among your friends, and I do resent that just a little, but you have earned it. Faced your own fears, if not vanquished them. I fade, unsatisfied, but knowing that your seeming success will only embolden others, and they will not be so complex. The thought provides the tiniest bit of warmth in my cold existence.

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