The light was blinding bright, blowing away the night like a bomb. The night that now seemed so surreal and strange. Ronnie had dreamed again of burning down the house, seen his parents succumb to the smoke without even waking up. The smoldering ruins looked perfectly natural now, the blackened metal stove and water heater cartoonish. He thought about the movie theatre cartoons. He’d miss them. It was almost all that he'd miss. He wouldn't miss the noisy house with all the yelling and fighting. That was what had finally done it, the explosions in his head from the clanging, banging noise. Ronnie wished that he'd saved his little green army men. They were in a blackened lump on the stone porch. He'd really meant to take them. He'd been so entranced by the flames that he'd forgotten about everything else.
It was time to leave now, to walk through the great pumpkin field to the woods on the other side. Ronnie remembered how the scarecrow had scared him when he was younger, and there were rows of corn instead of pumpkins. He was headed for the train tracks. He knew about hopping trains. His older brother Jay had told him all about it before he finally left for good. There was an old carnival up in Helix where Jay had worked before. He figured he'd try to find it and get a job there. Walking among the pumpkins, he almost felt normal. Birds chattered overhead in the bright July sun. He thought that some of them were trying to talk to him, but he didn't know the language.
The woods darkened the sky, and the birds here sounded darker as well. He passed old tombstones leaning at crazy angles. Beloved wife, beloved son, all of them from the 1800s to the early 1900s. The biggest ones were all Morrison. They'd been a rich family who owned factories long ago. Some of his aunts and uncles had worked for them, years ago. He remembered stories. He didn't think anyone was sad that the Morrisons were all dead now. The thought suddenly hit him that his parents were really dead. There was no turning back, even if he wanted to. Suddenly tired, he decided to lie down on the soft leaf-covered ground and take a nap.
He dreamed that stars were talking to him, twinkling around his head. They were warm and loving, and wanted to take care of him. That dream faded, and he awoke with a start. The last dream had been of his father beating him with a belt while his mother looked on, hands covering her mouth. He realized that he’d slept the day away and had lost his bearings. An owl spoke to him through the darkness. He answered, trying to imitate the owl’s sound. His throat was dry, though, and his stomach empty. Fully awake now, he realized that he was almost out of the woods. Not only that, but he could see a dim light in the distance. A house, maybe, where he could find some food and drink. He walked towards the light, a little faster now. The owl seemed to be following him, although he couldn’t see it in the darkness. That was OK with Ronnie, he could use a friend.
Out of the woods, he walked through a little garden behind an unpainted old farmhouse. There were big juicy tomatoes growing there, and he picked one and stuffed it into his mouth. He walked quietly up to the window where the light was shining, and looked in. An old woman was dozing in a rocking chair, a black cat on her lap. Suddenly the cat leapt off her lap, startling both of them. The old woman saw his face at the window and picked up a shotgun that he hadn’t noticed standing against the wall beside her.
“Damned thieves and scoundrels! Get out of here before I fill you full of buckshot!”
Ronnie ducked down and ran, crouching, to the nearest tree.
She couldn’t see him when she walked out on the porch holding the gun.
“That’s right”, she muttered, “better git from here.”
His hopes of a sweet old lady serving him apple pie and ice cream were dashed. But he knew she had food and water in there, and he knew that he needed it. He sat behind the tree and waited a long time. Finally the light in the house went out.
Ronnie had The Dream again. A hundred little children standing in a field all dressed in white, each holding a black balloon. They released them all at once, and they floated up into the sky. Time seemed to slow down as he watched them rise, but he knew what was coming. The balloons suddenly turned into cawing crows, thousands of them darkening the sky.
When he opened his eyes he was in the house. The old lady lay motionless in her bed, a pillow over her face. The cat sat guard beside her. He went into the kitchen and ate some beans and fried chicken cold from her refrigerator. Then he grabbed a few cans from the cabinet and wrapped them in a towel, remembering to find the can-opener. He wished that he could carry more, but this would have to do. He finished a bottle of milk, rinsed it out, and filled it with water. Finding some money in her purse, he jammed it into his pockets. The house was so quiet and peaceful now, he hated to leave. He felt sorry for the cat, and put some food and water out for it. He didn’t feel sorry for the old woman. All she had to do was be nice, but she wasn’t. He walked out and didn’t look back. He was afraid that he might see crows following him.