I remember that fall, when we were kids, me and Rickey used to sneak through Mrs. DeWhit’s yard, into the woods behind her house, over the big hill, to the basin. I don’t really know how or why we started going there, but it became a regular thing. I still remember dashing across the road, and trying to stay hidden in the shadows at the edge of her yard as we made our way to the woods. The basin was this sort of small pond back there. It had a brook running off towards the far end. Not very big, maybe twenty yards across, but it was deep. The water was always so clear, I guess there some sort of spring, maybe. You could see straight to the bottom, which always seemed to sparkle back up at you.
We’d stand on the edge for hours, skipping stones, or seeing how big a splash we could make without getting so wet that our moms would ask what we’d been up to. Sometimes Ricky would bring one of his little skulls along. He had all these little metal skulls, you know, with colored stones in the eyes. He had this whole collection. His uncle would give them to him.
Anyhow, this one day, old Mr. Fraley caught us out there. Ricky was showing off his newest skull, with rubies in the eyes. Well, they were red, but I don’t think they really were rubies. “Get away from there, you kids,” Mr. Fraley yells. Damn near scared us to death too, because we didn’t know he was there. Looking back, we were probably being a lot louder than we thought we were. I doubt the old guy could have been trying to sneak up on us. Probably just came to see what all the noise was.
Ricky, being Ricky, yells back, “Why? This your land?”
“It’s dangerous out here. This ain’t no wishing well. Don’t you know about the grollint?”
“The what?”, I asked.
“The grollint. It lives in the water here. It’ll eat you alive faster than you can blink just to get the fillings in your teeth.”
Ricky and I looked at each other. Ricky mumbled something about Mr. Fraley being a crazy old man, picked up another rock and tossed it into the water. Fraley bounded forward then, faster than I ever would have though possible. He grabbed Ricky around the arm with one hand, and did the same to me with the other, hard enough it hurt. He yanked us away from the water. Behind us there was a splash. I wanted to turn and see what made the noise, but at the same time I just wanted to run away.
“Hey, my skull!” Ricky pulled free of Fraley’s grip for a second and started toward the edge of the water. Fraley swiped at him, pulling him back.
“Leave it. It’s the grollint’s now.” He shook Ricky’s arm, and Ricky cried out in pain. “You don’t steal metal from a grollint.”
I hate to admit it, but I took a swing at the old man then. He was hurting my friend, so I hit him. Probably not very hard, but it startled him enough to let go of us, and we started to run. He called after us, and we booked it out of there like was some sort of monster after us and we didn’t stop till we got to Ricky’s house. We collapsed in his front yard, and just cracked up laughing. I don’t know what was so funny, but I remember Ricky’s father coming home and asking us if we were on something. We just starting laughing all the harder.
We only went back to the basin three or four more times after that. Mr Fraley always seemed to be hovering around, watching for us. The last time we went, Ricky got his skull back though. I saw it, about three feet out into the basin. Fraley wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Ricky didn’t care what his mother said about him getting wet, he just started to wade in. He kicked the skull towards the shore a few times until he could reach down and grab it easily, an held it up over his head. That caused him to loose his footing and over he went. He stood up again, but he was soaked. I grabbed a fallen branch and extended it to him to help him back to dry land.
“Thanks. Felt like something grabbed my foot.” He smiled, wiping his drenched hair across his forehead. We laughed and headed home, but we never went back to the basin. I was sick of watching out for Mr. Fraley so I didn’t mention it, and Ricky never brought up again.
Ricky and I lost touch after high school, when I moved away. I got a call from him once, but we never managed to meet up. The last time I was at the house, this was just before my parents moved down south and I was helping them clear the place out, I asked if they ever heard from Ricky.
“Don’t you know?” My dad looked serious. “He disappeared about eight years back, now. The police looked into it, but in the end they said he must have just taken off, all though his family didn’t think so. I remember Mr. Dunbar sitting at our table, in tears, saying they had to be wrong. He felt sure if he’d have left a note, or taken some of his things.”
“He left all his things?”
“Everything except that collection of metal skulls. You know the ones his uncle used to give him?”
Later I walked across the street, through the condo development where Mrs. DeWhit’s yard, and woods beyond had once been. At the far end I scaled the concrete wall cut into the foot of the big hill, and hopped the chain link fence just beyond that. The basin was still there, just as I remembered it, like a memory, frozen in time. I stared down into the water, at the deep, sparkling bottom surface, thinking of Ricky for a long time. As I turned to leave there was a splash behind me at the edge of the water. I turned back, and there about three feet from the edge of the water, was a metal skull with ruby red eyes.