This scene is a longer version of one that appears in chapter 5 and would begin on p. 41. It has more details of Charlie and Carolyn’s summer with Oma Marta in Murietta.
Oma never left them alone. She didn’t allow Charlie to “mope around.” She took them to the library and checked out adventure stories and picture books. She put out a puzzle of Switzerland and told them stories about her faraway friends Rosie and Solange. When they finished that puzzle, she bought another of an English countryside and told them stories of Daisy Stockhard and fancy afternoon tea parties and daily outings to the royal Kew Gardens. When Carolyn asked if they could have tea parties, too, Oma said of course they could, and they would have one every afternoon if she liked.
Sometimes Oma drove them all the way to Merced Lake, where she taught them how to swim. By the middle of summer, Charlie could swim all the way out to the raft, but Carolyn never ventured far from shore. Oma sat under an umbrella and read one of the big books she checked out of the library. On the way home, Oma took them to Blueberry Hill Café to have dinner. She told them Mom worked there as a girl and earned tips for being a good waitress to the truckers who carried produce up and down Central Valley Highway 99.
“Your mom is a good, hard worker. You should be very proud of her.”
Every Sunday, they went to church. Charlie grumbled at first, but then he made friends with other boys. Carolyn met Oma’s old lady and gentlemen friends who always told her stories of way-back-when Opa was still alive. Charlie met new friends and often stayed in town. Oma took Carolyn with her to visit shut-ins who liked to play canasta and hearts and talk about “the good old days.” There was always lots of talking going on.
Some talked of Communists in Korea and Russia infiltrating the country or how the A-bomb would be the end of the world. If one of those bombs could destroy an entire city, think what a dozen could do. There’d be enough radioactive poison in the air to kill everything on the earth! They talked about the Red Threat and World War III like it was something that might happen tomorrow morning. There wouldn’t be winners this time, they said. And as if times weren’t hard enough, now they had to foot the bill to pay for rebuilding Japan and Germany. “They started the war!”
“We won. Rebuilding is the Christian thing to do.” Oma dealt the cards. “And it’ll make allies out of enemies.”
On the way to pick up Charlie, Carolyn asked Oma what it all meant. Oma snorted. “Fear mostly.” She smiled at Carolyn while driving down the elm-lined street. “Your Opa would say we need to remember Jesus. He’d say we don’t have to worry about anything. He’d say fear is a bigger enemy than any man could ever be. But sometimes people just get wound up like an alarm clock waiting for the hour to strike.”
While adults fretted about the world, Charlie looked for ways to scare himself half to death. He and his new town friends liked to go to the monster movies at the theater. Oma told Carolyn they’d only give her nightmares. “And you’ve had enough of those.”
It didn’t save her.
Whenever Charlie came home after a matinee, he couldn’t wait to tell every detail about Martians that hide their spaceship underground and monsters coming out at night to put little red lights in the backs of people’s necks, then making them into slaves. Oma just laughed. Charlie didn’t think it so funny. Oma lifted her hair. “Find anything blinking back there?” He said no. She snorted. “Better check again tomorrow night.”
Embarrassed by Oma’s mirth, Charlie waited until Oma was out of earshot to tell Carolyn more frightening tales of flashes in the sky that blinded everyone and plants that went around eating people. “The only way to kill them is with salt water!” And what good was that with the ocean a hundred miles away? He told her about how giant ants lurked in city sewers, coming up at night to eat little girls just like her. He imitated their eeek-eeeking sounds. The next time they went to Merced Lake, halfway to the raft, he told her about a monster that swam in a black lagoon. “It could be under us right now!” He swam faster. So did she. It took him all afternoon to coax her back in the water, and Oma shouting from the shore that the park would close at sunset.
Hitch Martin, Oma’s sharecropper, heard Charlie telling Carolyn another scary story and challenged him to a snipe hunt in the orchard on the next full moon. “It takes a brave boy to hunt snipe.”
Oma looked grim, but she agreed it was time. “We don’t want any snipes around here, do we?” Charlie wanted Carolyn to go along, but Oma put her foot down. “No girls. Snipe can smell fear. Snipe hunting is only for the brave.” She tucked Carolyn close. “Besides, we need to stay safe in case you need doctoring.”
“Doctoring?” Charlie’s eyes went wide.
“If you catch a snipe, no telling what can happen to you. Snipes have fangs.”
Charlie’s courage wavered the night of the hunt. Hitch Martin asked if he was chickening out. Oma shrugged and said if he was too afraid to go, he could hide inside while Hitch and his son went out looking for the critters. Humiliated, Charlie got mad. “Okay. Okay! What do I do? Set a trap or what?”
“Hitch Martin already told you to go out there and holler for the snipe. They’re attracted by noise. They’ll take it as a challenge and come for you. You’ll see. But be careful. Keep your wits about you.”
Carolyn wanted to hide in the house, but Oma said nothing doing; they were going to sit outside and listen. Carolyn pulled the other rocker close to Oma’s and sat on the edge of it, motionless, listening to her brother shouting in the distance. “Hey, snipe. Here, snipe . . . .” His voice wavered. “Come here, snipe . . .”
“What’s a snipe?” Carolyn whispered.
“Nothing.” Oma’s shoulders shook, her mouth open in silent laughter.
Before Carolyn could ask what Oma found so funny, she heard an eerie high-pitched screech coming from the orchard. Then she heard loud screaming. The screaming came closer and closer until Carolyn spotted Charlie flying out from between two rows of almond trees. His legs pumped faster as he ran across the moonlit sand driveway. He skidded to a stop when loud guffaws came behind him. The laughter rose and carried as Mr. Martin and his teenage son strolled into the open.
“Here, snipe!” Rorry Martin called out, mocking him. “Here, snipe!” Hitch Martin held his knees he laughed so hard.
Fuming, Charlie stalked toward the cottage. He glared at Oma. “A wild-goose chase?”
Oma shook her head. “Geese are real.”
Charlie yanked the door open and slammed it behind him.
Oma chortled. “What’s the matter, Charlie? I thought you liked being scared out of your wits!”
Carolyn had a nightmare that night. She was in the orchard, calling for snipe, snipe, come out, snipe, wherever you are. And Dock came out from behind a tree. “Here, I am honeybee.” He reached out and caught hold of her.
Oma shook her awake. Shivering, Carolyn huddled close, staring into the darkness. Oma held her close. “Dreams are like snipe hunts, Carrie. They come from our imagination. Don’t be afraid.”
Carolyn hadn’t imagined Dock. And the nightmare had come back like a hunter in the darkness.