The loose tires fell on the dirty, gravel filled street. The scraping sound echoed when it hit the stones and made James cringe. He got off the black and blue ten speed bicycle and crouched down on his knees to inspect it. The bike was a gift for his 11th birthday. He was turning fourteen that year. It was time to hint on a new ride. He sighed and looked ahead. The large, metal, green gate was fifteen meters ahead.
“Better walk,” he murmured and started walking with his battered bike. The late afternoon sun streamed behind him and hit neck. Sweat formed on his back and his school uniform clung to his skin. He reached the gate tired with a gnawing stomach.
James dumped his bike beside the solid oak front door. He opened the front door and heard his mother in the kitchen. He wondered if his older brother was home from work. Jake usually comes home late but on rare occasion, he was home before sundown.
“Ma, I’m home!” he called out and went upstairs straight to his bedroom. He threw his back pack on the newly made bed. His mother had been cleaning.
“Ma, I’m hungry!” he called again. He heard a grunt answer from downstairs. He took his shirt off and kicked his shoes and socks. He poked his head in the hallway.
“I’m hungry!” he shouted. Receiving no answer this time, he scratched his head and went downstairs barefoot.
He heard a pot being filled with water. The hard rush of water muffled his mother’s voice but he clearly heard the words he wanted to hear. Spaghetti. Morning. Fridge.
James entered the kitchen just as the small rest room beside it closed. He looked at the pot but it was only filled with water slowly boiling and a large butcher’s pad on the counter.
“What’s for dinner Ma?”
She answered what sounded like stew but James wasn’t sure. He opened the fridge and found a large bowl of spaghetti and meat balls. He didn’t bother getting a plate. He started digging in with his fork.
“My bike broke again,” he started chewing. He glanced hopefully at the closed door behind him. ” I don’t think it can be fixed this time.”
The kitchen phone rang loudly.
“I’ll get it,” he washed the pasta down with cold water.
“Hello?” he heard the flush inside the toilet.
“James? Good, you’re home early. I was hoping to catch you.”
“Huh? Who is this?”
“Stop it! I made spaghetti this morning. You can eat that,” his heart started beating loudly and he looked at the bowl on the table. “Listen James. We’re five minutes away. Meet us at the gate. We’re carrying a lot of grocery bags and your brother has a surprise for you.”
“Ma… Ma? Ma, is that you?”
“Yes James! What’s wrong with you?”
“What? What did you say?”
He slowly turned around and watched the rest room’s door slowly opening. He dropped the phone and sprinted outside. He ran like never before in his life.
An hour later, James, his mother and his brother Jake waited outside as the police inspected the house. A detective went outside to talk to them.
“The house is empty,” he began. “May I ask who sleeps in the attic?”
“No one. No one goes in there since my husband died. We just cleaned it last year and let it sat empty. Why?”
“We found a bedroll and a bag of clothes.”
“We’ll check your house again and put you on patrol. I’m sorry missus but it looks like somebody’s been living with you for days.”
“The restroom. What about the restroom?” James asked.
The detective shook his head.
“It’s empty except for a construction hammer.”
We don’t have that kind of hammer. He thought. His brother just broke their only hammer two days ago. James was perplexed. And why was the intruder boiling a huge pot of water? Why?