Within Arm's Reach
To twelve-year-old Christopher “Kit” McNeil, summer was the greatest
time of the year. It was even better than Christmas. Sure, there was a lot of
buildup to Christmas Eve and the anticipation of Christmas morning, but it
was just a single day. On December 26, everything pretty much went back
to normal. By New Year’s the tree, brown and shedding needles, lay beside
the road like an accident victim no one had bothered to help. Cardboard
boxes held together with masking tape were stuffed with lights, tinsel, and
ornaments, and stored away in the attic.
But summer was different. It lasted three whole months. The days
stretched together, filled with bike riding, and ice cubes made from cherry
Kool-Aid, and the unmistakable tang of chlorine from the town pool. Most
families took vacations during that time.
Other people’s families. Not Kit’s. Too expensive, his father always
His friend Troy Wallace’s family did though. Sometimes he’d bring Kit
a T-shirt from St. Louis or a bottle of sand from Destin, Florida.
If summer held one drawback for Kit, it was being stuck in Black Rock
without Troy. Kit had few friends, and when Troy was away on vacation, he
felt lost. That week seemed to drag on forever. He slept in when he could,
mowed the lawn when his father ordered him to, and rode his bicycle to no
place in particular. At night Kit watched reruns on television with his mom
or sat by his open window putting together plastic model kits. He drew a
red star on the calendar to mark Troy’s return.
Which had been four days ago.
Tonight was the first time in over three weeks that Kit had gotten to
sleep over at his friend’s house. Kit didn’t like having Troy over to his
house, because he never knew what kind of mood his father would be in.
Albert McNeil had made it clear he didn’t care to have any more kids
Troy’s mother had taken them to Moviehound Video & Tanning in
Black Rock Plaza to pick out two movies. “Only two to make it fair,” Mrs.
Wallace always said. “One for Kit and one for Troy.” On the way home
she’d picked up a pizza for them at DiVeccio’s Italian Kitchen. After the
double feature of Terror Train—Kit’s choice—and Alligator (which was the
best Troy could find after his mother nixed The Gates of Hell), they had
gone out to the green Coleman tent set up in the backyard. They’d walked
around the neighborhood after Troy’s parents went to sleep and had only
just gotten back into the tent when Mrs. Wallace called to them.
“Kit? Troy? Are you boys awake?”
The boys heard the back door close and footsteps cross the yard. They
pushed the flaps aside and watched her approach in her housecoat. She
stopped in front of them.
“Kit, your mother is on the phone. She needs to talk to you,” Mrs.
Wallace said in a concerned tone.
“Huh? What for?” Kit asked.
Her mouth pinched and she motioned him out of the tent. “I-it’s
In the kitchen, the receiver lay on the counter, the white spiral cord
coiled like an albino serpent.
“Hello?” Kit said.
“Hey, it’s Mom. I— Hold on.”
Kit heard her talking softly to his father in the background. “Mom?
What’s going on?”
“Honey, I need to come and get you. We’ve got to go to Murfreesboro.
Your uncle Arnold . . . H-he’s been in an accident. We’ve got to go.”
“Right now?” Kit asked. Selfishness flared in him. He didn’t want to
leave. As far as the boys were concerned, the night was just getting started.
Kit still wanted to go bike riding around town in the early morning hours
like they’d planned. He didn’t want to go to Murfreesboro for something
that didn’t sound all that urgent to him.
“Can I just stay here with Troy?”
Kit’s mother cleared her throat. “Mrs. Wallace was kind enough to offer,
but no, you need to be with us. It’s . . . it doesn’t sound good.”
“Please, Mom?” he pleaded.
“No, this is something we have to do as a family. I’ll be over to get you
in a few minutes. I’ve got a lot to do in a short amount of time, so be
“But I’ve got my bike over here.”
“You can get it when we get back.”
“Lemme just ride it home. I can be there in ten minutes.” He twirled the
phone cord around his finger.
“I will come get you.”
“I can ride home while you’re doing all the other stuff you said you had
There was silence on the other end of the line, followed by more
muffled voices in the background. “Okay, fine. But I want you on your way
as soon as you hang up. You’ve got ten minutes.”
Kit accepted the minor victory. “Okay.”
“Be careful. I love you.”
“Love you too, Mom.”
He handed the receiver to Mrs. Wallace. Troy followed Kit back to the
tent and helped him collect his things. It was a little after one o’clock in the
morning when Kit rode down the driveway and into the deserted street. The
wind pushed his hair away from his forehead as he zipped down the hill out
of Troy’s subdivision.
I wonder what kind of accident it was, Kit thought.
He had always liked Uncle Arnold. Sometimes he wondered why he
couldn’t have been Arnold’s son rather than Albert’s. His uncle had always
treated him with kindness and love, and he seemed to enjoy having Kit
around. Kit felt guilty about his attitude on the phone. The more he thought
about his uncle, the faster he pedaled.
His route took him straight through downtown Black Rock. He crept
past the old brick buildings that lined the street on either side, guarded by
silver parking meters. There were no cars parked along the sidewalks, and
none moved on the street. The traffic lights blinked yellow.
Kit coasted to rest his legs for a moment. He looked toward the nearest
building and realized someone was watching him. The person stood in the
shadow of a recessed doorway that led up to a set of ramshackle
Probably one of the town winos his father was always griping about or
somebody who couldn’t sleep.
Kit turned to face the road again and noticed another person in front of
the furniture store. And another in the doorway of the department store.
And the doorway after that.
And the one after that.
A figure lurked in every alley and entrance on both sides of the street.
All had hooked noses and wide-set eyes. Everything else about them was
indistinct, like a group of cookies made with the same cutter. Yet something
about their features sent a chill through Kit despite the muggy night air.
He heard footsteps and looked over his shoulder. The figures were
disengaging from the shadows after he rode past. They crossed the
sidewalks and merged into a group that walked stiffly down the middle of
the street after him.
Kit pedaled faster as the street began a gradual uphill climb. Another
glance showed the group was getting larger. Breathing heavily, Kit stood
and pedaled up the incline. He didn’t remember this hill being so steep
before. His wheels slowed; his momentum lessened. It was like riding
His pursuers drew closer. Footsteps increased in speed and rhythm. Kit
knew he shouldn’t, but he looked back anyway.
The group, thirty strong by now, started to run toward him. The distance
between them closed.
“Leave me alone!” Kit yelled over his shoulder.
His bicycle was barely moving forward. Sweat covered his brow as he
stomped the pedals. He knew he could get off and run, but something held
him to the seat. Then his momentum was gone. The bicycle wobbled.
Dozens of identical hands reached for him.
Kit yanked the handlebars sideways, and suddenly, he was moving
again. He rattled down a hill into the town park. Taking his feet off the
pedals so they could spin faster, he hunched over the handlebars to
minimize wind resistance. Sticks snapped. His tires kicked up blades of
freshly cut grass as he wove between the maple, ash, and black oak trees.
Kids often used the park as a shortcut. It didn’t really save much time,
but the sidewalks made for smooth riding. Kit found one, and he was glad
to be off the hole-riddled ground. The air cooled his face, and a great
pressure released from his chest. Chancing a peek over his shoulder, he saw
his pursuers. They stood on the sidewalk at the summit of the hill. They had
not entered the park.
What the hell was that? he wondered. What were they doing? Why did
they chase me like that?
The moon illuminated his path across the park. He steered his bike
toward the gazebo in the center and resumed pedaling.
Something surged out of the darkness at him—a vague black blur. He
yelled in fright and twisted the bicycle aside. He smelled a gross yet
familiar aroma, like sour milk.
The bicycle wobbled beneath him. Kit regained his balance just as the
shape came toward him again from the darkness beneath a tree. Something
cold touched his arm just above his shirt sleeve. No, not touched.
Kit and the bicycle slammed into the ground. His right side tingled, and
pain flared there as if it had been set on fire. Stars twinkled at him from
between the trees. Reaching across his stomach, Kit found the right side of
his shirt sticky and wet. The pain spread throughout his body, radiating
from his shoulder.
Shit, I’ve broken my arm! That could be the only explanation for the
piercing agony that enveloped him.
He struggled to sit up.
Something crouched among the trees’ shadows.
Kit squinted. The pain caused his eyes to water. He tried to separate the
movement of whatever had attacked him from the inky blackness
surrounding it. He saw an arm sticking out from behind a tree, but whoever
it belonged to was hidden from his view.
The pain grew intolerable. He panted through gritted teeth and cradled
his broken right arm, cold and sticky with blood. That must be why it hurt
so bad. It was one of those breaks where the bone comes through the skin.
Kit couldn’t remember what it was called.
He focused harder on the tree his attacker was hiding behind. The arm
was still visible, and it was holding something. Through the pain and
darkness and tears, Kit tried to identify what that something was. He could
make out that it was thin and slightly bent toward the shorter end. The
longer section ended at a hand—
The air caught in Kit’s throat. He wanted to scream but couldn’t. He
looked down at his quivering body. His left hand clutched the right side of
his bloody shirt. Instead of an arm, there was only gleaming bone
surrounded by shredded muscle and flesh.
Eyes bulging, Kit finally screamed and screamed and screamed.
Whatever was behind the tree flung Kit’s own right arm at him. It spun
through the air and landed at his feet. The fingers still twitched.
“AHHH, GOD!” he shrieked.
Kit bolted upright in bed. Darkness surrounded him. His heart raced. It
hurt so bad that he put a hand over his chest to keep it in place. Cold sweat
drenched his skin, and his breath came in great rasping gasps. The inside of
his skull felt like an impacted wisdom tooth being tapped with a hammer.
With his left hand Kit fumbled for the lamp beside the bed. The light
nearly blinded him. He cracked his eyelids just enough to look down at his
It lay on top of the covers, trembling as the nightmare flushed from his
system. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. That goddamn
dream again, he thought. Would he ever be rid of it? Kit didn’t know what
it meant. He had flipped his bike that night on his way home. Going too fast
when I hit a rock. But he’d never broken his arm. It wasn’t ripped from his
body, and nobody had chased him through the middle of town. Groaning, he
fell back into pillows that stank of sweat and tried to go back to sleep. He
left the light on.