Andre and Freddie. Future fifth grade neighbors in a small southern town. Their houses sit side-by-side on a dead-end street ending at the west side the Bayou Teche. The boys are frequently found gallivanting around their neighborhood and in the nearby woods along the bayou. To them the neighborhood is their playground. They spend their summer swimming, riding bikes, building forts and fishing. It’s not unusual to find them chasing fireflies in the early evening or catching crawfish in the ditch bordering the nearby elementary school. Or mowing the neighbor’s grass to earn spending money. The adults in the neighborhood call them inseparable. They were best friends.
Today, after a ride to the Phil-a-Sac for an Icee and bubble gum, the boys peddled their sting-rays to the end of their street. They layed their bikes off the side of the gravel road and walked to the banks of the bayou. They sat down on the edge of the wooden dock with their feet dangling in the murky water.
“Hey Andre, take your gum and put in the bottom of your icee like this,” Freddie instructed, pushing his gum down to the bottom of the cup with his straw.
“But it makes the gum hard Freddie.”
“So what. That’s why it’s so cool!”
“That’s dumb man,” Andre replies before sipping on his straw.
The sound of slurping was interrupted by a passing boat pulling a skier. A quick wave from the boys turned to giggles as the boat left behind a wake that splashed against the dock. The spraying water cooled them from the muggy afternoon, if only momentarily. The passing boat causes a blue heron to take flight in front of them, adding color to the green woods across the bayou.
“Hey man Freddie, check this out” Andre says as he stands and pulls three large keys from his back pocket.
“What are those?” Freddie asked.
“Keys to my kingdom,” Andre responded.
“For real? Those are cool looking. Like something from Scooby Doo! So, what is this kingdom of yours Andre? I don’t get it.”
“Well, it’s like this. You know how in old times, when there were castles and stuff Freddie.”
“Sure I do.”
“I want my own kingdom. So in my mind I made up this castle for me to escape to with the biggest door and lock there is. And this key here is the only thing that can unlock it. I have a moat around it with sharks!
“Sharks Andre, for real?” Freddie interrupted. “There can’t be sharks in a moat.”
“In my kingdom they can.”
Freddie stares at Andre with a puzzled look. “So where is your kingdom?”
“Bigfoot’s Grave! Follow me!”
Andre begins running along the bayou with Freddie close behind. They quickly reach the edge of the woods, both hunched over and out of breath.
“What about our bikes man?” Freddie ask.
“Oh, they’ll be fine. Aint no one ever stole them before. Now follow me Freddie.”
The boys follow the trail into the dense woods. They evade countless briar patches and spider webs till the reach a big wooden door leaning against a huge fallen oak.
“Here we are Freddie.”
“How did this door get here man?”
“I found it up against the bank of the bayou down there about a week ago. It looked cool so I pulled it on land and put it here to dry. It looks old. It had these keys in the keyhole. So I made this my castle. Isn’t it neat?”
Freddie is looking at the door perplexed. “You dragged me all the way here to show me a door?”
“Noooo. Follow me.”
The boys step to the side of the door and squat down next to one another.
“We have to crawl underneath the oak dude.”
“After you Andre. I aint going first.”
“Chicken!” Andre says laughing.
The boys disappear behind the door and under the oak tree. The space makes a perfect little hidden room for the boys to sit.
“Why did you take me here Andre?”
“I have a secret to tell man. Promise me you won’t tell a soul.”
“I won’t man, I promise.”
“Yes pinky promise. And I swear on my grandma’s grave too'” Freddie replies.
The two extend their pinkies to each other and move their hands in a handshake type motion.
“I saw my step-father beating my mom the last week.”
Freddie’s face turned red. He can’t muster the right words to respond. He stares blankly as Andre continues. “I heard arguing from their room, then mama came running down the hall. I peaked out my door just as she turned to him and he hit her man. She fell against the wall the onto the floor. He jumped on top of her and continued to hit and yell at her.”
Freddie finally manages to stutter a somewhat coherent sentence, “did she, you, was she, did you tell the cops?
“Naw man, I’m too scared. I just closed my door and cried is all.”
“Andre, I just. I can’t say a word cause I can’t understand why he would do that.”
“After they went back to their room, I came to Bigfoot’s Grave to be alone. That’s when I found the door with these keys and built this castle. I don’t want to be in that house anymore man.”
The boys spend hours in the castle talking about anything and everything. The dark subject was not revisited. Instead it was back to talking about kid stuff. Bikes, fishing, football and even kissing!
The boys enjoyed the rest of that summer together. They visited the castle often spending hours talking and dreaming. Later in the summer, Freddie began noticing bruises on Andre from time to time. He never asked questions, just came to the only conclusion a young boy could. Two weeks before school began Freddie’s mom brought him into the living room and sat him down. “Freddie I need to tell you something. It is not going to be something good.”
“What is it mama? Did someone die?”
“No son, but Andre and his mama left their house. They moved to Houston this morning and asked me to tell you. They won’t be coming back. I’m sorry son.” She reached over and hugged her son tightly. She could feel the tears on her shoulders yet heard no crying. “I don’t know why on earth she would leave so suddenly.”
“He is my best friend mama. What do I do?”
“Andre asked me to give you these.” She pulled the keys to Andre’s castle and handed them to her son. “He said you would know what they are for.”
Freddie grabbed the keys and ran out the front door without a word. He sprinted down the street and along the bayou. Into Bigfoot’s grave he ran until he reached the castle. He sat alone and cried all afternoon. His heart hurt more than anything he had felt before.
The castle door eventually disappeared from its location in Bigfoot’s grave. In time, Freddie’s pain did as well. With time he healed as all people do when losing a friend. Freddie thought of those days with his best friend often. He missed him. His childhood. The castle. He never saw nor heard from Andrea again. He’s now just a memory. He understands that he not only lost his childhood friend that summer, but his innocence too. Freddie became ancillary victim of the horror that is domestic violence. He also kept his promise to Andre by keeping the secret between them. He never told a soul.
This fiction was written for Picture it & Write.