All the Kids Go

by Cathy Ulrich

The last time anyone saw Johnny Timmerman, he was heading down the street with his baseball glove in his hand. His mother kissed him goodbye, and he wiped it off when he thought no one was looking. 

The parents say he was taken by the crooked man. The parents always say that. The parents say all the kids that go with the crooked man never come back. Your mother says it. My mother says it too. They say he eats the bones. Say he sucks the marrow. He’s got a stack of bodies like firewood in a gravel pit. 

Someday, someone’s going to find them kids the crooked man took, the parents say. You mark our words. 

The parents are the ones afraid of the crooked man. The parents are so afraid. They peer out their windows at us when we go outside to play. They put bells round our ankles. We chime when we walk together to school. We chime on our way home. 

Your mother kisses you at the door when she hears your chiming. Mine has me wait inside a locked house till she is done at work. 

Don’t let any strangers in, she says. The parents all say. Don’t go off without telling someone. 

Your mother and my mother and all the parents, watching from the windows. Watching for the crooked man. Listening for the chiming of bells. We wave to them as we go down the street, you and me and all the kids. We jiggle our ankles for the melody. The parents watch, and sigh. They see us all bent down at the side of the road, but they don’t see what we have found: Johnny Timmerman’s baseball glove, still lying where it was thrown, all those weeks ago. He might have put it there. The crooked man might have. Soon, we will have to tell our parents what we have found. For now, we pass Johnny Timmerman’s glove from one to the other like some holy thing, and think how quiet it must be where he has gone.

Cathy Ulrich had an uncle who was murdered by a serial killer. She still remembers how sunny it was, how she was hiding in the shade of the slide in her back yard when her mother got the call.
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