by Joey Aiello ’17
It was so clear that night it looked as if the sky had been cut open to reveal what it really looks like behind its usual dull mask. Max was a loser. He knew it, but he just didn’t care. The tired chain on his old bike creaked as he pedaled towards the makeshift home he put together for Harold. He knew Harold wasn’t its real name, but Harold was the name he gave it. Max and Harold didn’t speak the same language. In fact, Max wasn’t sure if Harold spoke any language at all. 11:45 p.m. read the small watch Max strapped around his handlebars so he could check the time without stopping. Every second counted.
Max noticed a small glint of light that began to grow on his handlebars. He stopped. Headlights. He couldn’t be seen in the part of town that was more woods than town at this hour. Max knew that if someone saw a young boy along this stretch of road at night they’d certainly stop and investigate, and, since everyone knows everyone in Oak Ridge, his ’’sleepover at Jake’s’’ cover story would be blown. He laid his bike down flat and frantically scanned his surroundings for a hiding spot. The headlights crept around the curve in the dusty road, illuminating everything. Max trembled from his newly assumed crouched position inside a particularly uncomfortable bush, worrying that an abandoned roadside bike could raise suspicion in such an uneventful town. The lights passed, meaning the Oak Ridger in the car they belonged to was no longer a threat. Max continued.
After a half hour of furious pedaling, Max arrived at the tree he marked with a small ‘’x’’ so that he could find the path at night. He removed the milk crate that was zip-tied to his bike and removed a flashlight from the neatly packed bag of essentials it had transported. After turning off his bike lamp and laying his bike against the tree, he made his way down the path. He had practically memorized every turn to take, stream to hop over, and thorn bush to avoid that by this point the flashlight was just a formality. Upon reaching the small hovel he had constructed for Harold, Max noticed something was off. The small dwelling seemed inspected, not in an aggressive way, but Max could tell someone had poked around and then tried to make it seem like they hadn’t. What worried Max most was that there was no possible way an animal could have done this.
Max rushed inside. Harold was nowhere in sight. “Harold,” Max whisper-shouted. “Harold, it’s me, Max, everything’s okay.” The Star Wars blanket that covered part of the dirt floor shuffled ever so slightly. Max carefully moved over to it, bent down, and gently lifted it. The blanket tugged back hard in response to him trying to lift it. “Harold, are you under there?”
Two bluish, purplish eyes appeared beneath a set of small hands holding up R2D2’s real estate on the blanket. “Harold did you dig this hole?” Max asked. No response, as usual. Harold just stared at Max, but Max could tell he was frightened. “Did someone come here?” Max motioned to the toy truck that was not in the place Harold usually kept it. Harold pulled the blanket tighter around him with his small hands. “So you dug this hole here and covered yourself with the blanket so they wouldn’t see you?” Harold still seemed incredibly scared.
“That was very smart of you,” Max said as he took off his backpack and placed it on the ground between him and Harold. Harold’s eyes widened and his short antennas perked up as he scurried out of his hole to unzip the backpack. “Slow down!” Max said, “there’s plenty in there.” Harold took the first box out and waddled over to the corner where he would always stack them. After five trips he returned to Max’s bag and removed the last mini box of Lucky Charms. The top of the box was no match for his ravenous little fingers. “You know they taste even better with milk,” Max said as Harold stuffed marshmallow dotted handfuls into his mouth. He was certain Harold had no idea what milk was.
Max began unpacking the folder he had in his backpack. He took a map of the world out of the folder and gave it to a bewildered Harold. ’’I thought we could start here,’’ Max said, ’’figure out where you come from.’’ Harold looked at the map and then crumpled into a ball. ’’Hey!’’ Max shouted. Harold held the crumpled map in his hand and with his other hand he pointed to the bed sheet ceiling of their little home. He slowly maneuvered the hand pointed at the ceiling towards the crumpled map and then pressed his stubby finger forcefully into the crumpled ball.
’’You come from out there?’’ Max asked, pointing to the an opening the wind had created in the bed sheet roofing revealing a sliver of stars. Harold went back to gladly munching on his Lucky Charms. ’’How are we going to get you back there?’’ Harold seemed disinterested in Max’s questions. ’’Maybe you’ll just have to live with me. I could try and disguise you as a really weird dog if you walked on all fours—there’d be plenty of Lucky Charms involved.’’ Harold looked up from his now empty cereal box. It seemed he had pieced together the sounds that constitute the words lucky and charms and associated them with receiving his favorite treat.
’’Grady, I think I found him,’’ Officer Connors radioed back to the squad car. ’’You sure?’’ the hand held radio transmitting Officer Grady’s voice said. ’’Well, I see some sort of fort made of blankets, bed sheets, and branches with a dim light, that’s gotta be him.’’ ’’Just be careful not to spook him, you remember what his mother said.’’ As Officer Connors made his way over to the little fort he noticed the light go out. ’’Max, my name is Officer Connors, I’m here to bring you home.’’ There was no response. Officer Connors opened the blanket flap acting as the door, revealing Max pointing a shut-off flash light at him as if it were a weapon. There was a small toy truck, Star Wars blanket, and a few mini boxes of Lucky Charms on the woodland fort’s dirt and leaf floor. ’’Hey buddy, your mom’s awful worried about you.’’
’’Who sent you?’’ Max shouted, ’’The FBI? CIA? NASA?”
’’Your mother sent me, Max,’’ Officer Connors said in a soothing, non-confrontational manner.
’’I won’t let you take him!’’ Max shouted.
’’Take who, buddy?’’
’’Harold. He’s my friend,’’ Max choked, with tears in his eyes.
’’Why don’t you bring Harold home with you then,” Officer Connors said.
’’He’s hiding,’’ Max said motioning to the blanket.
Officer Connors crouched down to fit into the little fort and duck walked over to the blanket, a maneuver that really put a strain on his bad knee. He lifted the blanket and saw nothing but a shallow hole underneath it. After glancing back at Max, who was wiping the tears from his eyes on his sleeve, he bundled up the blanket as if he were wrapping a newborn child.
’’Is this okay?’’ he asked handing the blanket to Max.
Max nodded and took the bundle. ’’Come on let’s get you two home,’’ he said. ’’Grady, Max, Harold, and I are heading back now,’’ Officer Connors radioed. Max, cradling the blanket in his arms, walked out of the fortress and back to the squad car on the road by the start of the path with Officer Connors. The dark night sky punctured by the light of distant stars seemed to hang over Oak Ridge with purpose that night.