Sunday, October 31, 2010
PAT BODNAR: Now, the VOA Special English program AMERICAN STORIES.
I'm Pat Bodnar. October thirty-first is Halloween. In the spirit of this ancient holiday, we present a story written by Special English reporter and producer Caty Weaver. It's called "The Boy on Graves-End Road.
NARRATOR: Kelly Ryan was making dinner. Her ten-year-old son Benjamin was watching television in the living room. Or at least she thought he was.
KELLY: "Benny-boy, do you want black beans or red beans?"
BEN: "Red beans, Mama."
Kelly: "Don't do that, Ben. You scared me half to death! You're going to get it now ... "
NARRATOR: Ben had come up quietly right behind her.
KELLY: "I'll get back to you, stinker!"
NARRATOR: Kelly goes to the phone, but as soon as she lays her hand on it, the ringing stops.
KELLY: "How strange. Oh, the beans!"
NARRATOR: Kelly turns her attention back to cooking. As soon as she does, the phone rings again.
KELLY: "Honey, can you get that?"
BEN: "Hello? Oh, hi. Yes, I remember. Sure, it sounds fun. Let me ask my mom. Can you hold? She might wanna talk to your mom. Oh, um, OK. See you tomorrow."
KELLY: "Ben, your rice and beans are on the table. Let's eat."
KELLY: "So, what was that call about?"
BEN: "That was Wallace Gray. You know him, from class. He wants to play tomorrow. Can I go home with him after school? Please, Mom? I get bored around here waiting for you after work."
KELLY: "But, Ben, I don't even know his parents. Maybe I should talk to them."
BEN: "You can't, Mom. He was with his babysitter. He said his parents wouldn't be home until late tonight and they would leave before he went to school in the morning. Please Mom, Wallace lives right over on Graves-End Road. It's a five-minute walk from here. PLEASE,?”
KELLY: "Well, OK. What's so great about this guy, anyway? You've got a ton of friends to play with."
BEN: "I know. But Wallace is just different. He's got a lot of imagination.”
NARRATOR: The school week passes, and Ben starts to go home almost every day with Wallace. Kelly notices a change in her son. He seems tired and withdrawn. His eyes do not seem to really look at her. They seem ... lifeless. On Friday night she decides they need to have a talk.
KELLY: "Sweetie, what's going on with you? You seem so tired and far away. Is something wrong? Did you and your new friend have a fight?"
BEN:"No, Mom. We've been having a great time. There's nothing wrong with us. Why don't you like Wallace? You don't even know him, but you don't trust him."
KELLY: "Benjamin, what are you talking about? I don't dislike Wallace. You're right, I don't know him. You just don't seem like yourself. You've been very quiet the past few nights."
BEN: "I'm sorry, Mom. I guess I'm just tired. I have a great time with Wallace. We play games like cops and robbers, but they seem so real that half of the time I feel like I'm in another world. It's hard to explain. It's like, it’s like ... "
KELLY: "I think the word you're looking for is intense."
BEN: "Yeah, that's it -- it's intense."
KELLY: "Well, tell me about today. What kind of game did you play?"
BEN: "We were train robbers. Or Wallace was. I was a station manager. Wallace was running through a long train, from car to car. He had stolen a lot of money and gold from the passengers. I was chasing right behind him, moving as fast as I could. Finally he jumps out of the train into the station to make his escape. But I block his path. He grabs a woman on the station platform. She screams 'No, no!' But he yells 'Let me through, or she dies.' So I let him go."
KELLY: "What happened then?"
BEN: "Well, that's what was weird and, like you said, intense. Wallace threw the lady onto the tracks. And laughed. He said that's what evil characters do in games. They always do the worst."
NARRATOR: Later, after Ben went to bed, Kelly turned on the eleven o'clock news. She was only half-listening as she prepared a list of things to do the next day, on Halloween.
KELLY: "Let's see, grocery shopping, Halloween decorating, dog to the groomer, hardware store, clean up the garden ...
NEWS ANNOUNCER: "... the victim, who has not been identified, was killed instantly. Reports say it appears she was pushed off the station platform into the path of the oncoming train. It happened during rush hour today. Some witnesses reported seeing two boys running and playing near the woman. But police say they did not see any images like that on security cameras at the station. In other news, there was more trouble today as workers protested outside the Hammond ... "
KELLY: "No! It can't be. The station is an hour away. They couldn't have gotten there. How could they? It's just a coincidence."
NARRATOR: The wind blew low and lonely that night. Kelly slept little. She dreamed she was waiting for Ben at a train station. Then, she saw him on the other side, running with another little boy.
It must be Wallace she thought. The little boy went in and out of view. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped and looked across the tracks -- directly at her.
He had no face.
NARRATOR: Saturday morning was bright and sunny, a cool October day. Kelly made Ben eggs and toast and watched him eat happily.
KELLY: "You know, Benny-boy, a woman DID get hurt at the train station yesterday. She actually got hit by a train. Isn't that strange?"
NARRATOR: She looked at Ben.
BEN: "What do you mean, Mom?"
KELLY: "Well, you and Wallace were playing that game yesterday. About being at a train station. You said he threw a woman off the platform, and she was killed by a train."
NARRATOR: Kelly felt like a fool even saying the words. She was speaking to a ten-year-old who had been playing an imaginary game with another ten-year-old. What was she thinking?
BEN: "I said we played that yesterday? I did? Hmmm. No, we played that a few days ago, I think. It was just a really good game, really intense. Yesterday we played pirates. I got to be Captain Frank on the pirate ship, the Argh.
"Wallace was Davey, the first mate. But he tried to rebel and take over the ship so I made him walk the plank. Davey walked off into the sea and drowned. Wallace told me I had to order him to walk the plank. He said that's what evil pirates do."
KELLY: "I guess he's right. I don't know any pirates, but I do hear they're pretty evil!"
BEN: "So can I play with Wallace today when you are doing your errands? Please, Mom? I don't want to go shopping and putting up Halloween decorations."
KELLY: "Oh, whatever. I guess so. I'll pick you up at Wallace's house at about five-thirty, so you can get ready for trick or treating. Where does he live again?
BEN: "Graves-End Road. I don't know the street number but there are only two houses on each side. His is the second one on the left."
KELLY: "OK. I can find that easy enough. Do you still want me to pick up a ghost costume for you?"
BEN: "Yep. Oh, and guess what, Mom: Wallace says he's a ghost, too! I suppose we'll haunt the neighborhood together."
NARRATOR: Everywhere Kelly went that day was crowded. She spent an hour and a half just at the market. When she got home, decorating the house for Halloween was difficult.
But finally she had it all up the way she wanted.
KELLY: "Oh, gosh, five already. I don't even have Ben's costume."
NARRATOR: She jumped into her car and drove to Wilson Boulevard. The party store was just a few blocks away.
Kelly soon found the ghost costume that Ben wanted. She bought it and walked out of the store.
EILEEN: "Hey, Kelly! Long time no see. How's Benjamin doing?"
KELLY: "Eileen! Wow, it’s great to see you. How's Matt? We've been so busy since the school year started, we haven't seen anyone!"
EILEEN: "Matt's good. Well, he broke his arm last month so no sports for him. It is driving him crazy, but at least he's got a lot of time for school now!"
EILEEN: "Anyway, Matt was wondering why Benny-boy never comes by anymore. We saw him running around the neighborhood after school last week. It looks like he’s having fun, but he's always alone. We don't need to set up a play date. Ben should know that. You just tell him to come by anytime -- "
KELLY: "Wait, wait a minute. Alone? What do mean alone? He started playing with a new friend, Wallace somebody, after school, like everyday this past week. Ben hasn't been alone. Wallace Gray, that's it. Do you know him? Does Matt?"
EILEEN: "Oh, Kell. Kelly, I'm sure he's a fine kid. I don't know him but don't worry, Ben's got great taste in friends, we know that! I'm sure he wasn't really alone, he was probably just playing hide and seek or something. I didn't mean to worry you. I guess everybody's on edge because of what happened to the Godwin boy this morning."
NARRATOR: Kelly suddenly felt cold and scared. What Godwin boy? And what happened to him? She was not sure she wanted to know, but she had to ask.
EILEEN: "Frank Godwin's youngest boy, Davey, the five-year-old. You know Frank, we call him Captain. He used to be a ship captain. Well, this morning the rescue squad found Davey in Blackhart Lake. They also found a little toy boat that his dad made for him. Davey and his dad named it the Argh. Davey must have been trying to sail it. It’s so sad."
KELLY: "Wait, he's dead?
EILEEN: "Yes. Davey drowned."
KELLY: "Where's Blackhart Lake?"
EILEEN: "It's right off Graves-End Road, right behind that little cemetery. That's why they call it Graves-End. Kelly, where are you going?"
Kelly: "I've got to get Benjamin."
NARRATOR: Kelly raced down Main Street. She had no idea who Wallace Gray was or how he was involved in any of this. But she did not trust him and she knew her child was in danger.
Finally she was at Graves-End Road.
BEN: "Only two houses on each side."
NARRATOR: She remembered what Ben had told her.
EILEEN: "Right behind that little cemetery."
NARRATOR: And what Eileen had told her. Kelly got out of the car and walked down the street. She looked around.
BEN: "It’s the second one on the left."
NARRATOR: She could see the lake. Some fog was coming up as the sky darkened on this Halloween night. But there was no second house. Instead, what lay before her was grass and large white stones. The cemetery. Kelly walked through the gate into the yard of graves.
NARRATOR: No answer. She kept walking.
KELLY: "Ben? Answer me. I know you're here."
NARRATOR: Again no answer. But the wind blew and some leaves began to dance around a headstone. Kelly walked slowly toward the grave. Suddenly the sky blackened -- so dark, she could not see anything. She felt a force pushing at her. It tried to push her away from the grave. But she knew she had to stay.
KELLY: "Benjamin Owen Orr, this is your mother. Come out this second!"
NARRATOR: No one answered, except for the sound of the blowing wind. The darkness lifted. Silvery moonlight shone down directly onto the old gravestone in front of her. But Kelly already knew whose name she would see.
KELLY: "'Wallace Gray. October thirty-first, nineteen hundred, to October thirty-first, nineteen hundred and ten. Some are best when laid to rest.'"
NARRATOR: Kelly took a deep breath. Then ...
KELLY: "Wallace Gray this play date is OVER! Give me back my son. Wallace, you are in TIME-OUT."
NARRATOR: Suddenly, the ground shoots upward like a small volcano. Soil, sticks and worms fly over Kelly's head and rain down again -- followed by her son, who lands beside her.
BEN: (COUGHING, CHOKING)
KELLY: "Ben! Ben!"
BEN: (COUGHING, CHOKING) "Mom, Mom! Are you there? I can't see. All this dirt in my eyes."
KELLY: "Ben, I'm here, I’m here baby, right here. Oh, sweet Benny-boy. Can you breathe? Are you really ok? What happened? How long were you in there?"
BEN: "I don't know, Mom. But I didn't like it. I didn't like where Wallace lives. I want to go home."
KELLY: "Oh, me too, Sweetie. C’mon, Ben, put your arm around me. C’mon.
BEN: "And Mom, one more thing ... "
KELLY: "What is it, Ben?"
BEN "I don't want to be a ghost for Halloween."
PAT BODNAR: Our story "The Boy on Graves-End Road" was written and produced by Caty Weaver. The voices were Andrew Bracken, Faith Lapidus, Katherine Cole, Shirley Griffith and Jim Tedder. I'm Pat Bodnar.
Join us again next week for another American story in VOA Special English.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Did you ever wonder at the lonely life the bird in a cuckoo clock
has to lead--that it might possibly love and hate just as easily as
a real animal of flesh and blood? Philip Dick used that idea for
this brief fantasy tale. We're sure that after reading it you'll
give cuckoo clocks more respect.
"Beyond The Door" by Philip K. Dick
Larry Thomas bought a cuckoo clock
for his wife--without knowing the
price he would have to pay.
That night at the dinner table he brought it out and set it down beside
her plate. Doris stared at it, her hand to her mouth. "My God, what is
it?" She looked up at him, bright-eyed.
"Well, open it."
Doris tore the ribbon and paper from the square package with her sharp
nails, her bosom rising and falling. Larry stood watching her as she
lifted the lid. He lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall.
"A cuckoo clock!" Doris cried. "A real cuckoo clock like my mother
had." She turned the clock over and over. "Just like my mother had, when
Pete was still alive." Her eyes sparkled with tears.
"It's made in Germany," Larry said. After a moment he added, "Carl got
it for me wholesale. He knows some guy in the clock business. Otherwise
I wouldn't have--" He stopped.
Doris made a funny little sound.
"I mean, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford it." He scowled.
"What's the matter with you? You've got your clock, haven't you? Isn't
that what you want?"
Doris sat holding onto the clock, her fingers pressed against the brown
"Well," Larry said, "what's the matter?"
He watched in amazement as she leaped up and ran from the room, still
clutching the clock. He shook his head. "Never satisfied. They're all
that way. Never get enough."
He sat down at the table and finished his meal.
The cuckoo clock was not very large. It was hand-made, however, and
there were countless frets on it, little indentations and ornaments
scored in the soft wood. Doris sat on the bed drying her eyes and
winding the clock. She set the hands by her wristwatch. Presently she
carefully moved the hands to two minutes of ten. She carried the clock
over to the dresser and propped it up.
Then she sat waiting, her hands twisted together in her lap--waiting for
the cuckoo to come out, for the hour to strike.
As she sat she thought about Larry and what he had said. And what she
had said, too, for that matter--not that she could be blamed for any of
it. After all, she couldn't keep listening to him forever without
defending herself; you had to blow your own trumpet in the world.
She touched her handkerchief to her eyes suddenly. Why did he have to
say that, about getting it wholesale? Why did he have to spoil it all?
If he felt that way he needn't have got it in the first place. She
clenched her fists. He was so mean, so damn mean.
But she was glad of the little clock sitting there ticking to itself,
with its funny grilled edges and the door. Inside the door was the
cuckoo, waiting to come out. Was he listening, his head cocked on one
side, listening to hear the clock strike so that he would know to come
Did he sleep between hours? Well, she would soon see him: she could ask
him. And she would show the clock to Bob. He would love it; Bob loved
old things, even old stamps and buttons. He liked to go with her to the
stores. Of course, it was a little awkward, but Larry had been staying
at the office so much, and that helped. If only Larry didn't call up
There was a whirr. The clock shuddered and all at once the door opened.
The cuckoo came out, sliding swiftly. He paused and looked around
solemnly, scrutinizing her, the room, the furniture.
It was the first time he had seen her, she realized, smiling to herself
in pleasure. She stood up, coming toward him shyly. "Go on," she said.
The cuckoo opened his bill. He whirred and chirped, quickly,
rhythmically. Then, after a moment of contemplation, he retired. And the
door snapped shut.
She was delighted. She clapped her hands and spun in a little circle. He
was marvelous, perfect! And the way he had looked around, studying her,
sizing her up. He liked her; she was certain of it. And she, of course,
loved him at once, completely. He was just what she had hoped would come
out of the little door.
Doris went to the clock. She bent over the little door, her lips close
to the wood. "Do you hear me?" she whispered. "I think you're the most
wonderful cuckoo in the world." She paused, embarrassed. "I hope you'll
like it here."
Then she went downstairs again, slowly, her head high.
Larry and the cuckoo clock really never got along well from the start.
Doris said it was because he didn't wind it right, and it didn't like
being only half-wound all the time. Larry turned the job of winding over
to her; the cuckoo came out every quarter hour and ran the spring down
without remorse, and someone had to be ever after it, winding it up
Doris did her best, but she forgot a good deal of the time. Then Larry
would throw his newspaper down with an elaborate weary motion and stand
up. He would go into the dining-room where the clock was mounted on the
wall over the fireplace. He would take the clock down and making sure
that he had his thumb over the little door, he would wind it up.
"Why do you put your thumb over the door?" Doris asked once.
"You're supposed to."
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I wonder if it isn't that you
don't want him to come out while you're standing so close."
"Maybe you're afraid of him."
Larry laughed. He put the clock back on the wall and gingerly removed
his thumb. When Doris wasn't looking he examined his thumb.
There was still a trace of the nick cut out of the soft part of it.
Who--or what--had pecked at him?
* * * * *
One Saturday morning, when Larry was down at the office working over
some important special accounts, Bob Chambers came to the front porch
and rang the bell.
Doris was taking a quick shower. She dried herself and slipped into her
robe. When she opened the door Bob stepped inside, grinning.
"Hi," he said, looking around.
"It's all right. Larry's at the office."
"Fine." Bob gazed at her slim legs below the hem of the robe. "How nice
you look today."
She laughed. "Be careful! Maybe I shouldn't let you in after all."
They looked at one another, half amused half frightened. Presently Bob
said, "If you want, I'll--"
"No, for God's sake." She caught hold of his sleeve. "Just get out of
the doorway so I can close it. Mrs. Peters across the street, you
She closed the door. "And I want to show you something," she said. "You
haven't seen it."
He was interested. "An antique? Or what?"
She took his arm, leading him toward the dining-room. "You'll love it,
Bobby." She stopped, wide-eyed. "I hope you will. You must; you must
love it. It means so much to me--_he_ means so much."
"He?" Bob frowned. "Who is he?"
Doris laughed. "You're jealous! Come on." A moment later they stood
before the clock, looking up at it. "He'll come out in a few minutes.
Wait until you see him. I know you two will get along just fine."
"What does Larry think of him?"
"They don't like each other. Sometimes when Larry's here he won't come
out. Larry gets mad if he doesn't come out on time. He says--"
Doris looked down. "He always says he's been robbed, even if he did get
it wholesale." She brightened. "But I know he won't come out because he
doesn't like Larry. When I'm here alone he comes right out for me, every
fifteen minutes, even though he really only has to come out on the
She gazed up at the clock. "He comes out for me because he wants to. We
talk; I tell him things. Of course, I'd like to have him upstairs in my
room, but it wouldn't be right."
There was the sound of footsteps on the front porch. They looked at each
Larry pushed the front door open, grunting. He set his briefcase down
and took off his hat. Then he saw Bob for the first time.
"Chambers. I'll be damned." His eyes narrowed. "What are you doing
here?" He came into the dining-room. Doris drew her robe about her
helplessly, backing away.
"I--" Bob began. "That is, we--" He broke off, glancing at Doris.
Suddenly the clock began to whirr. The cuckoo came rushing out, bursting
into sound. Larry moved toward him.
"Shut that din off," he said. He raised his fist toward the clock. The
cuckoo snapped into silence and retreated. The door closed. "That's
better." Larry studied Doris and Bob, standing mutely together.
"I came over to look at the clock," Bob said. "Doris told me that it's a
rare antique and that--"
"Nuts. I bought it myself." Larry walked up to him. "Get out of here."
He turned to Doris. "You too. And take that damn clock with you."
He paused, rubbing his chin. "No. Leave the clock here. It's mine; I
bought it and paid for it."
In the weeks that followed after Doris left, Larry and the cuckoo clock
got along even worse than before. For one thing, the cuckoo stayed
inside most of the time, sometimes even at twelve o'clock when he should
have been busiest. And if he did come out at all he usually spoke only
once or twice, never the correct number of times. And there was a
sullen, uncooperative note in his voice, a jarring sound that made Larry
uneasy and a little angry.
But he kept the clock wound, because the house was very still and quiet
and it got on his nerves not to hear someone running around, talking and
dropping things. And even the whirring of a clock sounded good to him.
But he didn't like the cuckoo at all. And sometimes he spoke to him.
"Listen," he said late one night to the closed little door. "I know you
can hear me. I ought to give you back to the Germans--back to the Black
Forest." He paced back and forth. "I wonder what they're doing now, the
two of them. That young punk with his books and his antiques. A man
shouldn't be interested in antiques; that's for women."
He set his jaw. "Isn't that right?"
The clock said nothing. Larry walked up in front of it. "Isn't that
right?" he demanded. "Don't you have anything to say?"
He looked at the face of the clock. It was almost eleven, just a few
seconds before the hour. "All right. I'll wait until eleven. Then I want
to hear what you have to say. You've been pretty quiet the last few
weeks since she left."
He grinned wryly. "Maybe you don't like it here since she's gone." He
scowled. "Well, I paid for you, and you're coming out whether you like
it or not. You hear me?"
Eleven o'clock came. Far off, at the end of town, the great tower clock
boomed sleepily to itself. But the little door remained shut. Nothing
moved. The minute hand passed on and the cuckoo did not stir. He was
someplace inside the clock, beyond the door, silent and remote.
"All right, if that's the way you feel," Larry murmured, his lips
twisting. "But it isn't fair. It's your job to come out. We all have to
do things we don't like."
He went unhappily into the kitchen and opened the great gleaming
refrigerator. As he poured himself a drink he thought about the clock.
There was no doubt about it--the cuckoo should come out, Doris or no
Doris. He had always liked her, from the very start. They had got along
well, the two of them. Probably he liked Bob too--probably he had seen
enough of Bob to get to know him. They would be quite happy together,
Bob and Doris and the cuckoo.
Larry finished his drink. He opened the drawer at the sink and took out
the hammer. He carried it carefully into the dining-room. The clock was
ticking gently to itself on the wall.
"Look," he said, waving the hammer. "You know what I have here? You know
what I'm going to do with it? I'm going to start on you--first." He
smiled. "Birds of a feather, that's what you are--the three of you."
The room was silent.
"Are you coming out? Or do I have to come in and get you?"
The clock whirred a little.
"I hear you in there. You've got a lot of talking to do, enough for the
last three weeks. As I figure it, you owe me--"
The door opened. The cuckoo came out fast, straight at him. Larry was
looking down, his brow wrinkled in thought. He glanced up, and the
cuckoo caught him squarely in the eye.
Down he went, hammer and chair and everything, hitting the floor with a
tremendous crash. For a moment the cuckoo paused, its small body poised
rigidly. Then it went back inside its house. The door snapped tight-shut
The man lay on the floor, stretched out grotesquely, his head bent over
to one side. Nothing moved or stirred. The room was completely silent,
except, of course, for the ticking of the clock.
* * * * *
"I see," Doris said, her face tight. Bob put his arm around her,
"Doctor," Bob said, "can I ask you something?"
"Of course," the doctor said.
"Is it very easy to break your neck, falling from so low a chair? It
wasn't very far to fall. I wonder if it might not have been an accident.
Is there any chance it might have been--"
"Suicide?" the doctor rubbed his jaw. "I never heard of anyone
committing suicide that way. It was an accident; I'm positive."
"I don't mean suicide," Bob murmured under his breath, looking up at the
clock on the wall. "I meant something else."
But no one heard him.