Pa’s voice changed then from the easy way he’d been explaining sex to us to something more serious.
“I told you that some men like sex with boys. Because it’s illegal and the penalties are harsh, if such a man is going to do what he wants to do, he has to do it in a way he won’t be caught. Whoever this man was, he picked those two boys up in a way that no one saw him do it.”
He stopped, and I could see him thinking. Probably wondering the best way to tell us what he wanted us to know, I thought. I wasn’t sure why he was being so careful. But I was quiet, and eventually he continued.
“I’ve heard some of what happened. Our town cop comes into my store quite a bit, and I’ve gotten to know him pretty well. He knows you, Travis, and he told me what he’s learned so I could be sure you stayed safe. I don’t want what happened to those boys to happen to either of you guys. So, even if it’s a little scary and a little provocative, I’m going to tell you what happened.”
I had no idea what ‘provocative’ meant, but I thought to save that question for later.
“These two boys, who I’m sure you know as they’re only a year older than you are, were out at Snyder’s farm. Do you know about that place?” He glanced back and forth at both of us.
I looked at Riley before answering. I can read his face like a book and knew I had to respond before he did. Some questions you have to be careful about how you answer.
“I’ve heard some things at school. I don’t know if they’re true or not.”
“What have you heard?”
Darn. Well, back to that in-for-a-penny stuff. If he could talk about this stuff so openly and easily, I guessed I could, too. “Pa, you know about us boys skinny dipping in the bend of the Yazoo River just outside town. Well, what I’ve heard said was that girls don’t go there because they don’t want to be seen by the boys, but some of them do want to skinny dip; they resent not being able to do whatever it is boys can do. The ones who swim where we do always wear suits because boys might come along. The others, the ones who want to be naked, they do have a place to go, and that’s where the river cuts through Snyder’s farm. Snyder had a daughter, and he said she and her friends could come and swim as they liked, and he’d keep the boys out. Well, I guess some of the older boys sometimes go out there and sneak in and that there’s a place they can hide and watch those girls.”
“And you ’n Riley haven’t ever done that?”
I shook my head. “We don’t need to see no girls naked!”
Pa laughed. “You’ve got to be curious. But okay, let’s move on. This is serious. Anyway, those two boys were out there, standing behind some bushes where the girls in the river couldn’t see them, facing the river, completely absorbed with watching those naked girls. They didn’t know there was anyone else there at all. But there was. A man came up behind them and grabbed each of them around the backs of their necks, holding them tightly and saying, ‘Not one sound, or I’ll break your necks.’ Then he shook them both just a little, making sure they understood he meant business.
“Then he told them not to turn around and look at him. He said if they saw him and could identify him, he’d have to kill them. He had a deep voice, and they could tell he was strong. They were scared, and they believed him. Neither of them tried to look at him.”
Riley’s eyes were big, and I don’t think he’d realized, but he’s slid over so he was closer to me, so close his legs were up against mine, and so was his hip. My face was probably showing what his was.
“He told those boys not to scream or they’d be dead, and that he was going to blindfold them; it was for their own good and that they needed to do exactly what he told them to do if they wanted to survive. He said he was going to take his hand off one of their necks, but if that kid tried to run, he’d snap the neck of his friend and then go after him, too. So he did that, released the neck of one, and reached into his pocket and pulled out two hoods. He dropped them in front of the two boys, then told the one he’d released to put one of those over his head and then stay still.
“Pretty quickly both boys had hoods on and couldn’t see anything. The man secured their hands behind their backs, then led them back to the road and put them in his car. He drove them to a building. They didn’t know where it was or whether it was a house or apartment or a store or what. They were taken inside into a large room and told to stand still, that they’d be told what to do, and if they did exactly what they were told, they’d be freed when they were through.
“They heard a door close, and then the voice they’d been hearing came to them through a speaker. They were told to remove their hoods. They did and saw they were in a room with bare walls and only a small bed for furniture. They were told they were going to be the stars of a movie the man was making, and if they didn’t do what they were told with each other, he’d come in and take the place of one of them, and they wouldn’t like that at all. Also, then they’d see his face, so they wouldn’t be leaving alive after he was done with them.
“He gave them a minute to think about that, then told them to undress completely. They were scared. They did what they were told. The man told them everything he wanted them to do, and, well, they did. Sex things.”
Pa paused, maybe to let us think about that, or maybe because he wasn’t sure he wanted us to know exactly what the boys had had to do. He had to know we were wondering.
“Boys,” he finally said, “I’m not going to tell you what things he made them do. They did them only because they believed the man would hurt or kill them if they didn’t. I’m sure before long there’ll be rumors about what they did, and you’ll hear about all sorts of things. Remember, much of it won’t be true, much will be exaggerated and only speculation, and if you have questions, I’m who you should ask. Anyway, he made them do a lot of sex stuff, probably filmed it all, then let them get dressed and hooded again, tied their hands behind them so they couldn’t remove the hoods, got them back in the car, drove around some, then let them get out. He’d driven away before they could remove the hoods. They have no idea where they’d been, what kind of car they’d been in, where they’d gone, nothing at all. They did know what they’d done, what they’d been made to do. Both of them are really upset and their parents say they aren’t the same as they were before.”
Riley was still up against me. It felt good having him there.
“Boys, I’ve told you about this because we now know this man is out there, and usually such a man doesn’t only do this sort of thing once. He got away with it, and he’ll probably do it again. Also, sometimes, when a man does this sort of thing, the things he does get worse and worse because he needs the thrill, and the thrill isn’t as great if he always just does the same thing.
“So he’s out there, and I want you two to be very aware of where you are, what’s around you, where your friend is. Just be careful. Watch out for each other.”
“But Pa,” I said, “why do you think he’s still here? Why wouldn’t he have left, gone somewhere else?”
Pa grimaced. “We don’t know for sure. But Officer Lodge thinks he’s local because he knew about Snyder’s, knew that was a place he might find boys, and it’s very unlikely a stranger would know about boys going out there like these two did—just where it was and all. And he’s asked around town if anyone was asking about a place like Snyder’s, asking at the bars and such, and no one was. So they think the guy’s local. If he’s local and gets the urge to try this again, well, that’s what we’re worried about.”
He looked at us and probably saw what our faces showed him. “I’m not trying to scare you. I just want you to be careful. I want you to think about where you are, recognize if you’re somewhere that you could be taken, and be alert. Be aware of strangers. You know most everyone in this town. This guy may be local, but he’s probably not someone you know much. Those boys didn’t recognize his voice. You know most of the men in town by their voices.
“The other thing to think about is those two boys. They had a horrible thing done to them. But as the other boys in town find out about it, I’m sure there’ll be bullying and teasing and making them feel even worse about themselves. Don’t be part of that. If you can, help them. Be kind. Show them that not everyone thinks they’re bad. That you’re on their side. That you don’t think they’re freaks or somehow unworthy of friendship now.”
I kinda nodded at Riley. We could do that. We would do that. They were older than we were, and in this town, kids tended to stay with kids their own age, but we could stop any nasty talk we heard about those boys among kids our age. We could let our friends know that nothing that had happened to them was their fault.
I thought that through, then asked a different question. “If he’s a stranger, how would he know about Snyder’s? You said you only thought he was a local.”
“Good question. But maybe he isn’t local. Could be he overheard some guys talking. Or some boys talking. Maybe he’s a relative of someone living here. Maybe he lived here as a child and now has come back. There could be lots of possibilities. I can imagine some older guys sitting in a bar, reminiscing about being a teenager, remembering seeing naked girls by going out to Snyder’s. That’s the sort of things guys’ll remember and talk about, especially in a bar. Someone could easily have overheard, then learned where Snyder’s was some way that didn’t involve asking someone in a bar.”
He stopped, and we thought he was done, so we got up to go back upstairs and talk about what we’d heard. Before we could leave, however, he stopped us.
“Just one more thing. This is important. I remember being your age, just starting to know something about sex. It was all exciting. I heard boys talking about masturbation, about doing things with each other. That was really exciting. So I know that hearing about those boys and what they had to do—it could well sound exciting, too. It could sound like a good experience, even. That’s probably why that guy at the gas station laughed, thinking only about how it might have felt good and not the parts about being scared and forced to do things you didn’t want to do and how that would feel. How they’d feel afterwards. So you have to know this: it would not be a good experience. Those boys were very lucky. Sometimes—often, in fact—when boys get taken like that, no one ever sees them again. Boys forced to do things like that by someone older—you can be sure those boys don’t have fun. For them, it wasn’t exciting; it wasn’t sexy; it was frightening and awful. Sex when done with another person when you both want to do it and you’re both free to decide what to do, that’s fun. That’s exciting. But being forced to do things, having no say in the matter, and not knowing if you’ll be alive afterwards, that isn’t fun. That’s scary and may change those two boys’ lives forever. So don’t think, well, if we get taken, we might enjoy it. You wouldn’t. You have to trust me on that.”
Me ‘n Riley had a lot to talk about that night. We talked a lot, and fell asleep without even doing anything, maybe thinking about those boys and not really feeling at all like sex. Not right then.
Our town was small, but there were lots of kids here, and kids need activities to keep them out of the adults’ hair. That’s what Ma said, at least. One of the things our town had done was to build a community swimming pool. It was open from nine in the morning to six in the evening for kids in the summer. I think every kid in town used that pool. It often was so crowded it was difficult to do anything but stand in the water.
But standing in the water was better than standing in the hot air that was only wet with humidity.
They had lockers and showers and a dressing area. Most kids didn’t bother. They wore their bathing suits to the pool, with nothing else on but flip-flops. The boys, that is. I didn’t pay much attention to the girls. The rule was, you had to shower before getting in the pool, but they had a few showerheads outside on the deck, and most guys just came to the pool, checked in—the people in charge wanted to know who was there—and went straight through the building, out onto the deck, walked through a quick shower, and plunged into the pool.
That’s what me ’n Riley had always done, too. But what we’d just begun doing together—all except the night before when Pa had told us about those boys, even though he’d also told us about how boys our age do things together and there was nothing wrong with learning how our bodies worked—had left both of us feeling sorta sexy. We’d been putting our suits on up in my bedroom, taking a while to do so because it meant more time being naked together, which was still kind of thrilling, when Riley’s eyes lit up.
“Hey, why don’t we do this at the pool? In the dressing room. See who else is in there?”
I took his meaning right away. It was great seeing him naked, and I enjoyed it. But what about seeing other boys? That would be great, too.
And a little voice, way, way in the back of my head, said, And they can see you, too!
So we went to the pool that day wearing clothes. There were a few kids in the dressing room, but none our age. Mostly older guys. I guessed they didn’t feel cool walking through town in just a bathing suit. Older guys seemed to care about that sort of thing, about what they looked like. Me ’n Riley always grinned at each other when we saw them doing that, being cool, looking like they cared about nothing and making sure everyone noticed. I was never going to be like that, that was for sure.
We’d been looking forward to getting naked in there, but I could see Riley didn’t like the idea so much now with all these older guys there. Most of them were getting undressed with their backs turned to us, but a few were doing it so we could watch. I was sorta tempted to watch and sorta not wanting to in case they decided to pick on me for watching, even if they were inviting me to do so. You never knew how older teens would react to anything. So we hid ourselves best we could. The whole situation wasn’t what we’d been looking forward to.
We shared a locker, got undressed and our suits on as quickly as we could, standing with our backs to the room, not even bothering to look at each other. Then we hit the showers, using the ones in the locker room instead of the ones outside. We knew there’d be a line for those.
Riley said something to me in the showers. It reminded me that even though he usually acted a little silly, a little immature, he actually was pretty smart.
“Travis,” he said, sounding serious, “I think I know what your pa meant.”
“Huh?” I guess I don’t always sound so smart myself.
“Well, getting undressed out there. It didn’t feel sexy at all. It was almost sorta scary. And I was thinking of those boys. Being made to get naked. Being made to do things. I don’t think there’d be anything sexy at all about that. It’d be kinda awful.”
We didn’t stay that long in the pool that day. Too crowded. We were boys, and boys don’t hold onto deep thoughts long, especially when they’re in a swimming pool with lots of other boys, so our mood changed as soon as we hit the water. Many of our friends were there, and we played and had fun, but it was too crowded to do much of anything, and the whistles were blowing a lot, and soon Riley asked me if I was ready to get out. I said sure.
We had to go back into the dressing room. We weren’t worried about it, but we went in wondering if it would be the same. It wasn’t. I guess everyone who was coming swimming that day was already there, and we were about the only ones getting out early. The place was empty.
Riley smiled, and I guess maybe I did, too. We got our towels out of the locker, hung them on the hooks by the shower room and jumped in the showers to wash the chlorine off, and Riley, with a wicked smile on his face, shucked off his bathing suit. He sort of did a little dance for me, and I laughed. Didn’t take my suit off, though.
We finished and dried off and walked back out into the dressing room. It wasn’t empty any longer. There was one kid at a locker undressing, and as we came in, he turned to see who was there. It was Sam, my paperboy.
“Hey, Travis. Riley.” He smiled at us, then watched as we walked to our locker. Riley was still naked, his suit hanging from his hand, his towel over his shoulder. Riley’d stopped when he’d seen Sam, just as I had. I’d had my towel in my hand and quickly wrapped it around me, even though I still had my suit on. Riley didn’t bother. He just greeted Sam as though meeting kids in the nude was nothing special, then sauntered to the locker that way. I followed him, making sure my towel didn’t slip. Why, I had no idea. All the kids outside had seen me in my bathing suit. Why was it different here?
Sam was mostly undressed, with just his undies to go. While I watched, he slipped them off, still facing us. He had the beginning of pubes growing, but they weren’t thick or anything. He still looked a lot like me ’n Riley did, just a bit bigger and with a little hair.
He watched me watching him, and I saw him start to fill out. He didn’t turn away. I felt myself lengthening, too.
Then we all heard voices getting louder, and a few seconds later three older teens came in from the pool. By then, Sam had turned around and was pulling up his suit, and both me ’n Riley were facing our locker, reaching in for our underpants.
Sam gently slapped both of us on the butts as he was walking out.