With his grocery cart over stuffed with cans and bottles, Ernest found it difficult to push on the gravel road, tired and thirsty he stopped by his house to get a drink before going to the center. Although, exhausted, still there was a bounce in step and he hummed, knowing he would be extra funds for his projects. Looking down the street, he saw Justin coming towards him and waited. Caring for that boy bothered him, he admitted the quantity of time recently spent with him was rewarding and brought back forgotten memories.
“If only I could get him to trust me. “Hi there, Justin,” Ernest said as he steadied the cart. “I wanted to check and make sure you’re okay? ” “Don’t worry, I’m fine. ” “I’m sorry my parents hate you and especially my mom, she’s sure you’ll kidnap me. ” “Come in and don’t worry about her, she’ll be okay,” he said, waving his hands in the air as he motioned for the boy to enter his house. “My orders were to stay out of your house,” Justin said and grinned. “But she didn’t say we couldn’t visit in your backyard. Let me put my bike away, I’ll help you take this to the center. ” “Go ahead and put your bike back there.
We’ll go to the center later,” Ernest, leaned the cart against the fence. He waited until Justin took care of his bike and closed the gate. “Come on, let’s find something to eat. ” “I can’t. If I enter your house, she promised I’d be on restriction until I graduate from college. ” “You shouldn’t disobey your parents, but you need to understand that I’m not going to harm you. ” When Justin noticed the sad expression on Ernest’s face, he decided since he’d already been in the backyard recently and had no problem, it would be okay to go in for a few minutes. Now he was starting to trust Ernest.
Slipping his arm around the boy’s shoulder, “Come on son,” he said. Without hesitation Justin went with him. Upon entering the house, he glanced around the dimly lit room. At once, he noticed the house wasn’t decorated anything like his home. The worn drapes covered a portion of a large window, with a faded blanket hanging over the rest of the window preventing outside light from entering except through a rip on one side. Looking around the room, he saw a table covered with a yellowed, vinyl tablecloth, and two chairs sitting by the window. A vase containing several dusty, artificial red roses set in the center.
Smiling, he knew his mother would never allow artificial flowers in their home. Along one wall, was an old trunk, with a rug covering the top. Glancing around, Justin knew the room needed a paint job and new carpet. He ignored the stale odor, thinking if Ernest could stand it, so could he. Two dusty pictures hung on the wall, one was a man and woman dressed in wedding clothes. The other one was of a girl sitting on a stool with a boy standing nearby. Were those Ernest’s family’s pictures? Looking at the spider webs in the corner, he thought they hadn’t dusted the room in years.
You have an interesting house,” he said. Ernest commented, “It’s run-down, but it’s home. You can sit down, I’ll get the pizza. ” Going to the kitchen, Ernest returned with an older Coke Cola serving tray that contained two pieces of Pizza and two cans of soda. “Remember, I said when you come over again, you could meet my friends. After we eat our pizza, I’ll introduce you. ” “Yeah, I remember. It’ll be fun meeting them,” Justin said, his voice filled with excitement and anticipation and ate his pizza. “Thank you, the pizza is delicious. ” Picking up the plates and soda cans. “You’re welcome.
Just put them on the table, and come with me. ” He went over to the trunk. Wiping his hand across the top of the trunk, and asked. “Can you guess what’s in here? ” “No, Sir. ” “Here, take a peek. ” Removing the cover, and uncovered a pile of guns. “This’s outstanding. ” Picking up an old rifle, he pointed it toward the ceiling. “Man, look at all those guns. ” “Even if they think I’m crazy, is no sign I am. ” “What are you going to do with them? Isn’t it illegal to have these guns? ” Looking at the rifle before he placed it on the sofa with the others. “It’s not illegal to have guns.
No one’s fired these guns in over fifty years. Do you like my collection? ” “They’re nice. ” Once, he placed the guns on the sofa, Ernest began removing old knives from the trunk and placed them alongside the guns. The more knives he removed, the more shocked Justin looked. When Ernest saw the expression on his face, he asked, “Are you okay? ” “I’m all right. That’s more guns and knives than I’ve ever seen,” he said with a lump in his throat. “What’ll you do with them? ” “I’m a collector. Do you think your parents would let you have this? ” Holding a pocket knife in his hand. “Are you kidding?
My parents and my mother, in particular, would have a stroke if I came home with that. ” “What if I gave it to you and no one knew about it. ” Handing him the knife. “Thank you,” he said and gave the old man a hug. “I could tell my dad, but not my mom. ” “Maybe you shouldn’t tell him either. This will between us for the time being,” Ernest said. “Are you okay with that? ” “Sure, I won’t say anything,” he promised, looking at the knife in his hand. “Are you okay? ”. “Yeah. ” “Stay right here. I’ll be back,” Ernest said, leaving the room.
A few minutes later, he returned with a child’s shoebox and placed it on the table. I’m going to show you what money I keep in the house, just in case your friends decide to rob me. This is just about what they’ll find,” he said dumping a large pile of coins and two crumpled one-dollar bills on the table. Staring at the large pile of mixed coins, with dirt packed on one side, he was certain Ernest had picked them up off the ground. “Justin, pay attention to your studies when you grow up you can find a high-paying job, I wouldn’t want you to do this to pay your light bill and buy food,” Ernest said as he placed the coins in piles on the table. “That’s what my parents told me.
Otherwise, when I grow up I need to find a rich woman to take care of me. Dad always reminds me that rich women willing to care for bums don’t grow on trees and I’ll need to take care of myself,” he chuckled as Ernest agreed. “Justin, it’s tough being old and unable to buy what you want and need,” he explained displaying a smile on his wrinkled face. “You can bet your butt I’m okay from month to month. ” “I know what you’re talking about, but it’s just as tough being young and broke. Every dollar I get from my dad, he makes me earn it. ” “That’s a splendid idea on his part.
Don’t ever be angry with him for teaching you the value of a dollar. Remember, what you earn has a greater value than what’s given to you. ” Pointing his finger at Justin, as he continued counting and stacking the coins, leaving a pile of dirt on the table. “Wow! Look at that. My light bill’s $41. 00 for the month and is due tomorrow, but I’ve earned $43. 78 this month,” Ernest said excited. “I’m glad you have enough to pay your electric bill, but I need to go home. ” “Gee, I worried they’d cut my electricity off until my check comes, it’s happened before. ”
“What do you do for lights? How do you live without electricity? “I’ve got candles and a battery operated light to use around here,” Ernest boasted. “I don’t understand how you can live without a TV? That’s not possible. How do you stay in here when they turn off your electricity? ” It surprised him when he didn’t see a TV. According to his mother, Ernest lived alone in the house and no one ever visited him. His mother’s knowledge of his activities puzzled him. “Who needs all those modern things? I suppose you know you aren’t in danger coming here. ” “I know that, but I should go on home,” Justin said. “I don’t want to get in trouble with mom. My parents don’t like you, but I do.
“Would you tell me why? ” Ernest asked, and hoped to hear a different reason why they didn’t like him. “Well, I can’t remember all the reasons, but Mom said some nasty things about you,” Justin said. “She thinks you’re crazy, and it’s dangerous for me to be with you. Some people said you cook and eat our pets while others believe you keep prisoners in your basement. ” Bowing his head and waited before he spoke, “Now why would they say that? ” “Tell me, is your house haunted. Mom said it is and she swears there’s a tunnel from your basement to the top of the mountain to allow the ghost to go up there.
When he’s ready to return, he screams, and you open the door. ” It shocked Justin to think Ernest was unaware of his mother’s feelings. “Well, do I look like a ghost? ” A smile crossed his face and he winked. “What could I do up there with these crippled legs? I have trouble believing there’s a ghost up there. The sheriff said the wind creates the screaming sounds. ” There’s something up there because I’ve heard it. Justin thought and wondered why Ernest didn’t say there was or wasn’t a tunnel. How can that woman remember so much? Ernest thought about the trouble Louise could cause them.
Wait a minute, are you sure your mother said that? ” Shaking his head, he asked,. “Come with me, I’ll take you into my basement and you can see what I keep down there. You can meet my friends. ” “I’d like to do that,” Justin said excited, now he would know. “Come with me,” he said going into the kitchen with Justin following. Removing keys from pocket Ernest unlocked a padlock and opened the door going down to the basement. Standing on the top step, he looked down the dark stairs, as he leaned against the wall, placed his hands on his chest.
Should I trust him not to tell his parents or his friends what’s down there. He likes me and I like him, he’ll be okay. With one hand on the wall and the other one on the flimsy rail Ernest went down the stairway. After reminding Justin to be careful coming down the stairs. While standing in the middle of the kitchen, Justin had second thoughts about going into the basement. What will I do if he tries to capture me? I’m sure they’re wrong about him. I’ll be fine. He thought about trusting the old man and went over, looking down the stairs, he saw Ernest almost to the bottom step.
He motioned for Justin to join him. Let’s meet your friends,” Justin said going down the rickety steps with one hand on the wall and the one on the rail. “The light burned out several months ago. I’ve never replaced it. I can go up and down these steps with my eyes closed, but you be careful. ” Ernest opened the door and entered the basement. The sounds of dogs barking startled Justin and he froze as the barking ceased. The light from the room lit up the stairway making it easier for Justin to see the last few steps. Arriving at the bottom step, he waited and listened as Ernest spoke their names. “Hey, Ralph, how’re you doing?
Miss Katy, you are more beautiful today than you were yesterday. Sandy, you’ve never looked this nice before. Your coat shines. Come on Mable, you’re youthful and gorgeous. Old Jake, you look awesome today. ” Hesitating to enter the basement, Justin listened as Ernest talked without hearing a response when he spoke. “Claude, I’m so glad to see you. Miss Ginger, I’ve worried about your health, but you are beautiful today. I brought a friend and you’re going to be kind to him. ,” Ernest said and turned around, but Justin wasn’t behind him. Looking in the stairwell, he saw Justin standing in the door.
Ernest motioned toward him. Shaking like a leaf, Justin stepped inside the room, but he relaxed when several dogs jumped up on him and started barking. Picking up a little white dog Ernest patted it. “Justin, these are my friends, they won’t bite you. Okay, guys, stop the barking,” Ernest said and the barking stopped instantly. “Oh, my Lord,” Justin yelled when he saw several dogs and cats running around in the basement. Surprised at how well the animals obeyed, he asked. “How do you control them like that? ” “It’s because they love me and know I’m their friend. Justin placed the white dog on the floor and picked up a little, brown one. “Where did you get them? ” “My friends pick up strays and bring them here. Some were sick or injured, I nursed them back to health. Now are you still afraid of me? Do you think I would kill and eat one of these guys? ” Ernest asked and laughed, picking up a large black cat.
“This is my friend, Miss. Ginger. ” Once he was over the initial shock of what was in the basement and how well Ernest cared for them, Justin was okay. He noticed the large basement was clean, and the animals were healthy as several ran around playing. Now you wait a minute, I know that dog over there belongs to Kevin. What are you doing with him? ” “I’m going to keep him, at least for now. What do you mean he belongs to Kevin? That’s my dog and each month I take a few of them to a friend of mine who owns a veterinary hospital. ” “What does he do with them? ” Justin asked. “He has volunteers who find them loving homes. ” “Kevin loves Blacky and wants him back,” Justin pleaded. “Sorry, you’re wrong. Your friend neglected him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be here. When we found him, he was hungry, thirsty and living on the street.
Kevin will never get him back, and if he gets another dog, he’ll take care of him. We need to take care of our Animals and in return they provide love and companionship. Humans love when loved in return, but this isn’t true with animals they love regardless of how they’re neglected. ” “I agree, but I feel sorry for my friend. He’s sad and lonely without Blacky. ” “When we learned Blacky was being neglected, we told Kevin to take better care of him. Your friend lied when he said, he wants Blacky,” Ernest said as we went over and knelt down beside Blacky and hugged him. My friend, you’ll never be hungry or thirsty again. ”
“How do you feed them? ” Justin was overwhelmed by what he’d seen. “You can bet one thing, they’ll eat before I do. Now, do they look hungry? ” Picking up a little white French poodle, he played with it. “A butcher in town gives me meaty bones to help with the food cost. Somehow, I manage, and they always have plenty to eat. ” Admitting the animals looked neither hungry nor neglected. “They’re clean and healthy. There’s no odor in here,” Justin said, sniffing the air. “Do you take them outside for exercise? Justin asked, and recalled how his dad made him or Wayne take Buster for a walk every evening. “I take some out in the backyard every morning for exercise. They can run and play down here.
The others go out in the evening. During the day I clean up the basement. ” “It’s hard to understand how you can do this. They are content and happy. ” Justin was impressed as he watched the elderly man interact with the cats and dogs. It impressed him how well the animals played together. “When we bring them in, the first few days they’re separated and gradually we let them join the others, so far it’s worked out well,” Ernest boasted. Why do they say you kill animals and cook them? Are these the missing ones? ” “I’m sure some of them are. Some people neglect their pets. We’re only protecting them. ” “What do you do if they get sick? ” “A doctor checks the animals before bringing them to me. If they get sick or need medical care Dr. Don Kelly provides it. Once they recover, we take them to the veterinary hospital and the volunteers do the rest. ”
Wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, Ernest stuffed it back in his pocket. “How many years have you been doing this? ” “I can’t remember, maybe ten or twelve. ” What would you do if you become attached to them? ” Justin asked. “Did you say something? ” He repeated, “What if you become attached while you’re treating them? ” “What are you saying? Me attached to them! How in the hell could anyone pick up an injured dog or a malnourished one, nurse it back to health and not become attached? Son, I want you to know my animals are my family and I’m attached to every one of them. Several years ago, we found Old Spot on the side of the road, he was skin and bones.
The owner abandoned him,” he said, pointing to a brown spotted dog lying in the corner. I brought him home, gave him food and just look at him now, he’s been with me for years, but I’ll probably lose him soon,” Ernest said with a lump in his throat, Justin saw a tear fall on the old man’s shirt. “I know one damn thing for sure it won’t be because he died of thirst or starved to death. ” “What do you do with them when they die? ” Ernest asked, “Do you think I bury them in the backyard? Oh, no, I take them to the pet cemetery and they take care of everything, but I haven’t had that many to die because of the loving care they get. ” “There’s fresh digging in your backyard,” Justin said.
Last summer he and Kenny watched Ernest digging holes in the backyard. He remembered one afternoon, he heard Coach Alan and Coach Bill talking about one night about two o’clock they saw the old man digging holes in the backyard. “I didn’t bury my friends,” Ernest said without elaborating any further. Looking around the large, clean basement, surprised Justin. “Will you do something? ” Ernest asked. “Sure? ” “Will you promise me that you won’t tell anyone what is in my basement? People can say I’m crazy if they want to, it won’t bother me just as long as they leave me alone and let me take care of my friends.
“I promise. But how do you keep them quiet? I have never heard any barking coming from the basement. ” “When they arrive, I separate them until they learn when I say ‘no barking’ they don’t bark. They soon learn I reward them for their good behavior. So far, it’s worked. When they’re transported, we use muzzles, and this keeps them quiet, without hurting them. ” “Have you told anybody else? ” “Only a few close friends,” Ernest said, and went to the door. “Let’s go upstairs and leave them alone. ” After playing with several dogs, Justin followed Ernest up the stairs. Later, they took the cart to the recycled center.
Then Justin hugged Ernest, said good-bye, hurried out the door and down the steps to his bike. Now that he knew what he kept in the basement, he hoped someday the people would learn his secret and treat him differently. Also, he knew he could never tell anyone about it, after all he had promised not to say anything. While riding down the street questions filled his mind. How could he learn what Ernest had buried in his backyard? Did Ernest know what was living on the mountain? While riding home, Justin held the knife in his hand. I won’t tell anyone about it. I’m lucky he gave it to me.