Every town in America has one house on one street where no one dares to go. In Keene, that house was 317 Bleeker Street where old man Putterwig lived alone in the dark. The grass in the yard was always brown and never quite cut. The gate in the picket fence let out an excruciating squeak when opened. The paint looked old and faded and was chipping a bit off the long wooden front porch with the creaking floorboards. Now and then Mister Putterwig could be seen on that porch, sitting in an old rocker, taking in the life that passed before his eyes. No one ever saw him leave that house, but mostly no one wanted to look. The adults all said they felt sorry for old Mister Putterwig, widower that he was, but when he was out front watching, they hurried passed the house, afraid of the glare in the man’s squinting yellow eyes. The kids knew better. There was something more than just odd about Greely Putterwig.
Bleeker street was a good, solid neighborhood full of fine middle class citizens, with plenty of kids to fill the schools. Jake Simon, a high school junior lived there with his parents and his seven-year-old surprise little sister, Elizabeth, whom he had to watch every day after school because mom and dad both worked. Jake wanted to play soccer. He wanted to join the Sci-Fi club at school. He imagined all sorts of thing he might have done if Elizabeth never came along and ruined his life. When Jake thought like that, he would say, “What life?” And he would sit down at the game console and tell Elizabeth to go to her room. It all would have been so much easier if Elizabeth was a brat instead of the kind and loving child she was. Dad said she got it from her mother. Mom blamed Dad. All Jake said was she didn’t get it from me.
Jake imagined most of all, that things might be different if he was really good at something. His childhood friend Robert Block, the one they all called Blockhead was on the football team. Tommy had money, that is, Thomas Kincaid Junior who had not been seen without sunglasses in several years. Mike Lee was a nerd who could not only win every video game, but could fix the console if it should break. Jake had no special skills or talents or abilities. He was average, normal, middle of the road in the middle of the class, or as he described his life, boring. No wonder Jessica Cobb was not interested in him.
It was late in October, the leaves were almost all down and the air was almost crisp enough to frost, when Jake picked up the mail and found a note from Vanessa Smith inviting him to a Halloween party. Jake was thrilled because she and Jessica were good friends so he was sure Jessica would be there. He fixed some food and waited for Elizabeth to come home on the school bus when there was a knock on the door. Tommy and Mike were there, and they brought their magic decks. They wanted a three-way game, and Jake got taken out first.
“My deck’s too big. It needs work,” he said. Then he casually mentioned the invitation, and Mike and Tommy immediately had to spoil it by saying they got invited too.
“Everyone got invited. The whole junior class,” Tommy said.
“I’m going as a nerd,” Mike said.
“Thomas Kincaid Junior, mister Cool,” Tommy shook his long hair and adjusted his shades. “What are you going as?”
Type casting, Jake thought. “A babysitter,” he said as he heard Elizabeth come in the back door.
Tommy and Mike packed up and headed for the door and Tommy’s car. Tommy’s parents had the money to buy him a car, even if it was an economical model.
“Mister Donut?” Tommy asked and offered. They all knew the answer, and as they left, Elizabeth came into the living room and switched on the television.
Jake turned and had a touch of anger in his voice. “Don’t you have homework?”
“Not in the second grade,” Elizabeth said as she found the cartoon channel.
“You know that will rot your brain,” he said, and instantly thought of several good comebacks, like, Are you speaking from experience? Is that what happened to you? Or even the proverbial, “Like you should know.” Elizabeth said none of those things. She looked up with an innocent, trusting face.
“It is only cartoons. Would that be alright?”
Jake regularly disliked himself. He did have homework and took himself up to his room.
When Halloween rolled around, Jake found he could not go to Vanessa’s party anyway. Mom had cooking and cleaning to catch up on and Dad would not be home until later. Jake had to take Elizabeth out so she could trick or treat, and he really resented her for that.
They planned to follow Jake’s old route which wound around the neighborhood in a way where they did not miss any houses and did not have to backtrack. It was a well designed plan, and Bleeker Street was first on the list. The one hundred block was mostly buildings, and a group of apartments set back from the road which Jake always found to be slim pickings. They didn’t go there. The two hundred block was where the houses began, and Jake took Elizabeth to the first couple of doors, and then he stayed on the sidewalk and let her go alone, now that she knew what to do. They came to the three hundred block.
Elizabeth went up to 315 when Tommy roared to a halt. Mike was riding shotgun. Jessica and Serena Smith were squeezed in the back with Blockhead.
“Lookin’ for you, dude.” Tommy sported a new pair of shades.
“Nice costume,” Jake let the sarcasm flow. Mike at least looked like he ironed his white nerd shirt. Blockhead had on a football jersey. At least Jessica and Serena made an attempt. Jessica had on a plaid shirt and jeans that fit her well, but over the shirt she had the orange vest of a hunter. She even wore a ball cap with a gun of some kind as the logo. Serena, the glam-girl, was supposed to be a zombie, albeit a cute one that was not too rotten.
“I was going to say, what are you supposed to be?” Serena asked.
“Babysitter,” Jake answered with a straight face. “I’m taking my little sister trick or treating.”
“You’re going to miss the party,” Blockhead had party on the brain. He slipped his arm over Serena’s shoulder but she shrugged it off.
“I know,” Jake responded. “I sometimes wish Elizabeth would just disappear. Then maybe I could have a life.” He looked straight at Jessica.
“You don’t mean that,” Jessica stared right back at him.
Jake looked to the side. “I don’t know what I mean anymore.”
“Hey dude.” Tommy got their attention. “Your sister is with old man Putterwig.”
“What? No.” Jake turned in time to see the old man take Elizabeth’s hand and walk inside the house. “No!” Jake screamed and started to run, Jessica right on his heels. The gate out front slammed shut on the others who took a second to get it open. When they reached the porch, the last touch of the sun dipped below the horizon and the front door slammed shut, and it locked itself. Jake and Jessica made it inside, but the rest were stuck outside.
When Jake and Jessica leaped into the house, they became very confused. Instead of a downstairs hallway, their feet came down in an ancient pine forest with needles and pinecones littering the ground beneath their feet a foot thick. The last of the purple sunset was fading and the stars were coming out bright and twinkling above their heads. They caught a glimpse of the doorway they came through, but before they could react, the door shrank and disappeared altogether with a loud “Snap!”
“What the Hell?” Jessica mumbled. Jake had something more pressing on his mind.
“Elizabeth!” He shouted. “Eiliza-BETH!”