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25. the boy in the drum

This is an image of Hilda Leek facing the viewer.  She is looking down at her left arm where the raccoon-form of Emmett Beery is grabbing onto her arm.  Her left hand holds a flashlight.  Hilda's face is darkened by shadows and she is looking angrily at Emmett.  The background of the image is made up of dark, wavy lines, as if the background is distorted.
Her eyes were angry, and she looked like she was trying to wave her arm to knock him off — but she was moving way too slow to do that.


Emmett landed right on Hilda’s arm – the one holding onto the knife, as he’d intended.
He’d jumped down from the trees above, wanting to surprise Hilda – and to make her drop the knife, from that surprise.
Hilda was moving in really slow motion, the way most people did to Emmett Beery.

She was looking right at him, but her face didn’t show any feelings about it yet.  She was going so slowly that Emmett knew he wouldn’t see her reaction to his sudden arrival for a little while. He’d knew that he’d been so lucky to be up in the tree already when she and Friedrich had come to his home.

Emmett knew that he was going to have to fight her this time – somehow.
He’d hid as long as he could from her, but he couldn’t hide any more.
She always found him anyway; it hadn’t even taken her too long to figure out that he lived in the willow tree.
And Emmet was sure of one big thing: he was sure that she was trying to cut herself, out in the woods by Emmett’s house, to make really bad things happen – just like she always was.

Emmett knew that if she did get to cut herself, there’d be problems – a lot of problems.
Emmett knew that, whenever Hilda cut herself, her glow got bigger.
Hilda having a big glow would make it super hard for Emmett to get away from her.
She’d get so lit up he’d start burning up just being near her, and she’d have a real easy time finding him even in the dark.
He’d felt that burn from her light a bunch of times before; he didn’t want to feel it ever, ever again.

Hilda looked down at him; her face still didn’t show any feelings, and her arm had barely moved. But it was just starting to lift it upward.

Emmett figured she was going to try to shake him off.
He looked over to see if she was dropping the knife.
But, instead of her letting go of the knife, she looked like she was gripping it even more tightly. That scared Emmett.
There was also something about being on Hilda’s arm that felt really familiar to Emmett.
He felt like that was probably because of how many times Hilda had come after him in the past.
It was a lot of times – so many that he’d forgotten. He knew he’d forgotten a lot of stuff over the years.
That’s just how it was.
But there was just something about him being here on her arm was so familiar.
All the chasing made Emmett very frightened, and so tired.
So much had happened; the day had worn him down so much.

Hilda’s eyes were starting to look angry, and she was trying to wave her arm to knock him off — but she was moving way too slow to do that.

All Emmett had to do was shift his position a little as Hilda’s arm moved and he could crawl into a new spot and hold on again; he didn’t like having to touch Hilda, because of how much she scared him and how bad she was.
But he didn’t jump off of her. He had reasons.
He was frightened of her, yes, but he also wanted things to be different.
Emmett was always telling himself things would be different someday, that he’d be able to fight back against Hilda.
He told himself that because of how scared Hilda made him.
He wanted to fight back; he just didn’t know how to do it.
But there was something more: the moment Emmett Beery had jumped down from the tree onto Hilda’s arm, he’d already realized that this time he couldn’t just run – because it wasn’t just about himself this time.
It wasn’t just Hilda versus Emmett.
Friedrich was there, and Emmett realized that there really wasn’t any choice.
He couldn’t run away; not if he wanted to help Friedrich.
He knew Friedrich was Hilda’s grandson. He wasn’t sure if it was of because of what he’d heard them talking about when he’d been up in the trees overheard, or if he remembered it from another time.
He knew Friedrich was the boy he’d seen on Dog Run Trail – the one Emmett had frightened so badly without meaning to.
Having him be her grandson made Emmett suspicious, but he also knew he couldn’t be sure if Friedrich was in as much trouble as Emmett figured he was.
Friedrich made this different.
Emmett knew if he ran, he might get away.
But he needed to do something to warn Friedrich, just in case Friedrich was good.
Emmett knew he needed to do something to help, just in case Friedrich actually needed help — because of how bad Hilda was, and because Friedrich was glowing the way people did when Hilda made it so they did what she wanted.
Hilda was really bad, and really dangerous.
And Emmett knew that, if Hilda got the chance to cut herself with that knife, she’d get all lit up again — the most lit up a person could get, like she got sometimes when she came for him — and he worried that she was, maybe, lit up enough to keep him from ever getting back into the big willow tree again – and then Emmett would maybe be trapped.
Emmett didn’t know if that’s what would happen, but he sort of remembered that Hilda had managed to make it so he couldn’t get into some of the other places he’d found to live, and it had been bad.
She hadn’t caught him, but she’d come close – and Emmett was sure each time it had happened that she’d been super lit up like she was now.
She was so lit up all over her body that it hurt Emmett’s eyes to even look at her.

Hilda got to the top of the first shake and began moving her arm downward.

Emmett shifted his position again — and , as he got another good grip on Hilda’s arm, he also decided something important.
He wasn’t going to run yet; not until he warned Friedrich somehow.
Emmett knew Hilda liked to hurt kids; he’d seen it before, though he didn’t remember the details. He was glad that he couldn’t remember how he knew that.
Emmett moved around on Hilda’s arm, keeping his balance and trying to figure out what he could do.
The puzzles of his new life were always so tough; it wasn’t fair to make a nine-year-old do puzzles like that all the time while he was being chased.
It was just not fair.
But Emmett knew that he needed to solve the puzzle.
So, he looked over at how Friedrich was lit up: he figured that was probably how Friedrich saw him on Dog Run Trail.
That had been a surprise – Friedrich spotting him and getting all scared.
But it had happened.
Emmett had been dealing with a lot of surprises over the last day, and he was trying to figure them all out in case any of them would help him fight Hilda.
He’d been running everything around in his head, but it hadn’t done much good.
All the puzzles of his new life were coming around all at once and asking to be solved and he just didn’t think he could do it.

Hilda’s hip twisted; her face was all ugly and wrinkly now, like someone who had smelled something really gross. Her mouth had tightened into a little ‘o’ of anger, but it was opening wider. She was furious. She always seemed so strong, and so angry, whenever she hunted Emmett.

Emmett adjusted his weight a little more.
Then, he thought about how, when Hilda did bad things like that to people, the people glowed for a while after – like Friedrich was right now.
Hilda was glowing a lot, and Friedrich was glowing a little.
Emmett knew that when people glowed a little like Friedrich, they would sometimes do things Hilda told them to do – like look for him; and there was always that glow around people when Hilda did stuff to them.
That probably meant Friedrich didn’t really want to be there, which probably meant he was in trouble.
When he’d seen Emmett earlier, he hadn’t tried to catch him.
He’d just gotten all freaked out.
Over the years, Hilda had tried a lot of tricks to catch Emmett Beery, and some of them had involved her making people do things they didn’t want to do.
Emmett remembered that much for sure.
But that led him back to another big puzzle: Emmett didn’t know why Hila kept trying to catch him.
That part of the puzzle was really important.
He knew there had to be ra reason, though  — some reason for all this craziness.
He wasn’t sure if he’d forgotten the reason, or if he’d never known it.
He didn’t remember all their encounters.
All he remembered for sure was that he’d always gotten away, every time.

Hilda’s teeth were showing now; they were more clean and polished than you’d expect an old person to have. They glowed the same as every other part of Hilda. Her wrinkles looked deep. Her forehead looked like it had little valleys running across it.

Emmett knew that he had to keep her from catching him, even if he didn’t understand why she did it.
He knew he had to get that knife away from her.
The knife was a weapon that Hilda usually had.
The knife was scary. It made Emmett really want to hide.
But Emmett knew he had to be brave, no matter how much he wanted to hide.
But he knew that things were different this year.
Maybe because he’d gotten older, or maybe just because of how so many things had happened to him lately, especially how things had gone so very wrong with his trying to get help from Penny.
Emmett Berry knew he was going to have to do all of this alone.
He knew he had to be brave.
No matter how scared he got, he also wanted to do what was right — just because it was the right thing to do.
And the right thing to do in that moment was to try to stop Hilda and help Friedrich, no matter what it took.
That’s why Emmett had jumped down onto Hilda’s arm — to try and stop her from cutting herself, even though he was scared to try.
But he knew he had to try, and so he did. He tried to grab at Hilda’s fingers.
He wanted to make her let go of the knife.

But, when Emmett tried, Hilda felt all slippery for some reason.  Like she was doing something to make it hard for Emmett to hold on to her.  Or maybe she was just slippery for some reason. Emmett didn’t know why she was slippery, and he couldn’t figure it out right then and there. He just knew that it felt really kind of awful.

Hilda’s mouth was open all the way by this point, and she was shouting — loudly.  She was shouting in that weird, underwater-sounding voice all the people had who weren’t like Emmett seemed to have.  People who weren’t like Emmett   – their voices had sounded weird to Emmett ever since his time in the drum. Their voices always sounded like when you play a record all slowed-down, sometimes.

Emmett was used to everybody sounding weird, but that didn’t change how much it hurt Emmett’s ears sometimes when people yelled like Hilda was yelling — especially with the sounds bouncing off everything in the woods the way it did.
The big sound of it bounced around and came back at Emmett like weird echoes – except, sometimes, the echoes were sharp.
That had been happening a lot since Emmett’s time inside the drum, too — especially when he had to spend time around lit-up people like Hilda Leek.
Emmett really hoped Hilda wasn’t lit up enough that fighting her would send him away, back inside the tree like it had the other times.
He wondered, if he fought her, if he’d end up stuck in the tree again, or if he’d get sent somewhere worse like had happened a few times.
Inside the tree, it was safe, because Hilda couldn’t get inside.
But it also meant he couldn’t help Friedrich – not that he was much help as it was.
His plan of action wasn’t working..
He kept trying to pull on Hilda’s fingers, to make her drop the knife, but he just couldn’t get a hold of her, no matter how hard he tried.
It was always hard for him to hold on to things, but Hilda’s fingers felt greasy and gross.
Emmett felt queasy about it; he also felt more scared than he’d ever felt about Hilda before then.
He wished Hilda didn’t know where the tree was.
But she did know, and she kept coming back over and over to try to catch Emmett.
It had happened before; there had been other homes.
He was pretty sure he’d even had a house, once.
Emmett had always been tied to one particular place, until Hilda blocked that place from him somehow.
He wasn’t sure how that worked.
And, he’d lost track of just how many times it had happened.
But it kept happening, for sure.
She always said weird things to him that he couldn’t make sense of, whenever they fought.
Hilda and Emmett had fought a lot ever since Emmett’s time in the drum.
Sometimes, Hilda was stronger than him and hurt him.
But, Emmett had always gotten away so far.
Emmett never got away for too long, though, before Hilda would come and try to kick Emmett out of the willow tree again to catch and trap him – for whatever her reasons.

Hilda was stepping back now, like she was trying to pull away from him.

Emmett just adjusted a little and stayed on her arm.
But he also knew that he couldn’t just keep doing this.
Eventually, the surprise of him dropping down on her arm would wear off and she’d just use the knife on herself.
And then he’d burn.
And, he wondered what would happen to him.
And that’s when he started to get mad at himself, instead of scared of Hilda Leek.
Emmett wanted to be one thing more than anything else, and Hilda kept on keeping it from happening.
Emmett Beery wanted to be a real-life superhero – and he knew that superheroes never fail in the long run.
They might get beat for a long, long time.
But they keep coming back until they win.
And, that meant Emmett had to beat Hilda — somehow.

Friedrich was coming at him now, taking slow steps, like it used to be for Emmett when he swum in the pond near his house.  That meant Friedrich could see Emmett, too, for sure. Emmett knew that Hilda was Friedrich’s grandmother and he knew from the glowing that Friedrich wanted to help Hilda and that he probably wanted to help his grandmother anyway. That much, Emmett understood. That much of it all made sense to him.  But there was no way that Friedrich was lit up enough that Emmett could really get anything across to him.  Writing wouldn’t work.  He figured that Friedrich was good, though.  Emmett had once seen Friedrich help a bird in the woods, after Mickey had shot it with an air rifle – well, Mickey, with the worst one making things happen to him, anyway. As he twisted around to get onto the back of Hilda’s hand, her grandson was about halfway from where Friedrich had started running toward her.  So Emmett knew he didn’t have a lot of time.  Or much strength left.  Hilda’s face was a mess of angry lines, and her yelling had gotten so many echoes to it that it sounded like a big hum that made Emmett just want to run away. But he knew he couldn’t.  He knew that a lot more people would get hurt the way Gunny Marsh and Victor Marsh had.  He hadn’t been there in time to stop that, and he was scared more people would get hurt.  And, Emmett Beery wasn’t about to let that happen to anyone else if there was any way he could stop it.

The very thought of all the awful things Hilda wanted to do filled Emmett with disgust, just like Hilda Leek always said how disgusting she thought he was.
Then, Emmett remembered something that he’d overheard Hilda say to Friedrich as they reached the willow tree.
And, in that moment, Emmett realized what had to be done.
He knew exactly how he could be a superhero.
Then, he corrected himself, and he realized that he already was a superhero – and that it was time for him to use a power that Hilda herself reminded him that he had.
He’d done it before, he remembered — and he knew that it was time to do it again.
He only hoped it worked like it had the last time.

So Emmett Beery looked up at Hilda’s face with all its nastiness, all its horrible light. And Emmett Beery did what a superhero does — he took a mighty leap!

He leapt straight up onto Hilda Leek’s face.
And, as he leapt, he saw Hilda Leek’s expression change.
Emmett was so much faster than her; there was enough time in the jump for Emmett to see Hilda just beginning to realize what Emmett was doing — or, at least, whatever she thought he might be doing.
Whether she was right or wrong about it, Emmett couldn’t know.
He didn’t have that kind of thing — knowing stuff that other people were thinking.
Some of the other people like himself that he’d met since coming back to life could do that.
He couldn’t do that like they could, but that didn’t matter.
Everybody is good at different things.

Hilda Leek’s face got a pinched-up, upset look as Emmett leaped.

Seeing that made Emmett laugh.
He didn’t mean to laugh.
It wasn’t the time to laugh.
Lives were depending on him.
But he couldn’t help it.
It was the kind of laugh you do when you almost fall over in a chair and you feel funny afterward.
Or the kind of laugh you do when you’re really scared and you just decide you need to go for it and do a thing, like taking a skateboard off from a big height in a new place.
Emmett landed on Hilda’s face, grabbing on to her hair.
He was laughing, hurting less and less, feeling stronger from the laughter.
He held on as tight as he could, feeling her mouth on his chest as he grabbed onto her ears with his front paws and wrapped his legs around her neck, holding on to her old-lady hair with his back toes.
And he felt superhero strong, leaping and laughing like that.
He held on tight.
He knew he had to hold on as long as he could, no matter what – even if she tried to bite him. He had to do it – for everyone.

Hilda let out a roar of fury that vibrated against Emmett’s chest; she was shaking from how hard she was roaring.  His hold on her wasn’t as strong as he’d liked, despite the burst of energy he’d had as he leapt at her. He was still weak, and he knew it.  But after that roar, Hilda’s body stiffened.  And then — at last — she finally let go of the knife, as both her hands went wide and started to lift toward her face.

Emmett watched the knife start to fall through the air.
Seeing that, Emmett leapt away from the old woman, twisting his body around in the air, trying to move so he’d land on his feet — trying to make sure that neither Hilda nor Friedrich could catch him once he landed.
Emmett Beery really didn’t want to die again. It had been bad enough the first time he’d done it.

Published inpart 1

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