When a boomer was young. And wanted to look brave

When you read this excerpt from Carson City, Nevada baby boomer Paul Clayton’s new collection of sci-fi stories, Strange Worlds, if you’re an older boomer, you might actually see yourself in the story … oh, 50 or 60 years ago! It is set in Crestmont, Pennsylvania, in 1957.

I bit my thumb so hard it bled. It was the only thing that kept me from crying out when they got Bobby Bendrick. Jimmy Jon and I were hiding in this big, stainless-steel food pantry at the Chestnut Park Convalescent Home kitchen when they came in. They’d spotted us in the hall and had cornered us. The kitchen was the only place to go and we all ran inside. It was funny — they were coming for us and we were looking around for a place to hide. It was like that party game, musical chairs, where the music’s gonna stop any minute and you got your eye on a chair cause you don’t want to be the one that ends up without a place to sit and then gets kicked out of the game.

Writer Paul Clayton

Jimmy Jon hid inside one of the two pantry doors, and Bobby and I raced for the other; I beat him there. I couldn’t help laughing at the scared look on his face as I pulled the door closed and he realized there wasn’t any other place to hide. As I looked out through a crack between the door and the frame, they came in, two of them, a man and a woman. They immediately saw Bobby and cornered him. He cried like a girl when the man grabbed him.

The way I ended up hiding in the pantry was kind of complicated; I wanted to join the Avengers, Jimmy Jon’s gang. Jimmy Jon was twelve, about two years older than most of us. I was nine, but my tenth birthday was only one month away. Anyway, Jimmy Jon was really cool, with a duck’s ass haircut like James Dean, and a motorcycle jacket. He always had a balloon or playing cards attached to the back of his bike with clothespins and it made his bike sound like it had a motor. He smoked, and cursed too. I’d heard him refer to toilet paper as ‘shit paper’ myself a couple of times. He didn’t have a dad and lived with his mom in the apartments on Woodland Avenue near all the stores.

Everybody wanted to be in the Avengers, or at the least to be Jimmy Jon’s friend. My parents had told me not to associate with him and I knew most of the other guys’ parents had told them the same thing. But we all did anyway, at least as much as we could without getting caught.

The first time I’d gone to the Chestnut Park Convalescent Home had nothing to do with Jimmy Jon. I’d gone there on a dare from some other boys—Tommy Zanklewitz and Eddy Fahr. They’d said that zombies lived there. I didn’t believe them; it was old people. That’s what my mom told me. But when Tommy and Eddy said I was chicken and that was why I didn’t want to ride out there with them, I’d had to go.

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