“Stand By Me” still. Credit: Columbia Pictures Corp.
By Bruce Mastracchio
The boys turned off the concrete highway, and the cool, powdery earth felt good underneath their hot sneakers. The road wandered recklessly through the woods, and the one they called “Andy” led the way, with two others following at his heels like nameless dogs, while Joey, the smallest of the four, trailed behind.Joey knew all about Scabby Scott, and what a terrible old woman she was supposed to be, but he still couldn’t understand why everyone in town had to come out here like this, and throw rocks at her house. It was something everyone did though – even the guys in high school. He had heard parts of some terrific stories at Earnshaw’s Drug – like when they stole all her squash one night and she came out of her shack screaming bloody murder the whole time, and when she almost winged Big Jack Kelly with a shotgun blast one Halloween. But, in spite of the stories, Joey had never really wanted to go out to Scabby’s, and even this afternoon, when they had all left Andy’s house, he didn’t realize they were actually going to go all the way this time.He looked back over his shoulder toward the highway, but it was already hidden by an abrupt bend in the road and a cluster of maples. He wanted to turn around right then and there and go home, but, by this time they had gone too far, and now Andy was saying that they were almost there.Scrawny oaks sprung out of the high, thick grass that bordered the road ahead, and the full branches of a few maples cast long, dark shadows across large sections and a beer can winked at them from the side of the road. Andy and the two others tore off towards the can, all arriving at the same time, to wrestle in the dirt for possession. Joey thought they were like dogs quarreling over a bone. When he reached that spot, they were all off ahead of him, kicking the can down the road.Joey began throwing rocks, imagining targets out of the patterns in the leaves. He threw the larger ones hand-grenade style, and listened as they dove down through the branches. All in the same instant, he spied a squirrel and flung a rock toward it. His arm froze in the releasing of it and he stood there slightly on his toes watching the arc of the rock. He didn’t understand what made him throw it and breathed a sigh of relief when the squirrel scampered away, unharmed.In a sudden burst of motion, Joey tore off to find the others. His small, excited voice cut clearly through the late afternoon air.“Hey, you guys, wait up !”It was the first time he had said anything since they had been on the dirt road, and the sound of his own voice startled him. The only answer was the still whimpering can. When he caught up with Andy and his two followers, they were huddled together at the side of the road under a thick maple. Joey was out of breath and just stood there, wide-eyed and gulping down air, while Andy pointed beyond the big tree into the woods.Set back from the road was what they all knew was Scabby Scott’s house – only it wasn’t really a house; it was just a shack. It looked like a haphazard pencil sketch, stuck in the center of a multi-colored landscape. There was only one window that wasn’t bordered over. Immediately around the shack, the sparse grass growing between the rocks, was already brown, as if that area was contaminated. Joey wondered where Scabby could have grown the squash he had heard about.“There she is! There’s Scabby!” cried Andy, diving into the tall grass. “I seen her behind the window!”“Joey! For Pete’s sake. Get down!”Joey lowered himself to his knees behind the other three, who were hugging the earth and peering at the shack through the tall grass. He still hadn’t seen Scabby. Andy and the others chose a handful of rocks. Joey hesitated. He guessed that if he had come this far, knowing that it was the thing to do and everything, there wasn’t much sense in NOT throwing the rock. Anyway, just one rock wouldn’t make that much difference to Old Scabby.So, he threw it, and watched it hit the roof. A shingle jarred loose and flopped to the ground.“Now, what was so great about that?” he thought.Then, Andy’s last rock shattered the one unboarded window. They all took off running as though their lives depended on it. Joey caught up with the others around the first bend. They were all talking excitedly.“Think she’ll call the cops?”“Are you kidding me?” answered Andy. “She don’t have a phone. You know, I think, I think I might have hit her behind that window.”“Jeez, you caught her good, Andy!”“Yeah and it was a damn big rock, too!”“She didn’t take no potshots this time.”“Boy, she sure did scream.”“I didn’t hear any scream.”“All’s I heard were rocks hitting the roof and the window crashing. Jeez, that was a shot, Andy. Jeez. What a shot!”“You didn’t hear any screaming?”“Don’t think so. But it happened so fast and all.”“Well, it wasn’t very loud. More like a groan.”“Yeah, more like a groan. I remember that! Jeez, Andy, maybe you killed her!”Joey was scared silly. Clear out of his wits, or, at least, that was what Andy said when Joey went back to see if Scabby was all right.When he knocked on the door to the shack, paint from the porch ceiling fell down the back of his neck. He shouted a “Hello” but there was no answer. Thinking she might be deaf or dead, he didn’t know which, Joey gave the bottom of the door a swift kick. It sprung open and revealed a large room. It was completely empty except for the cobwebs that draped the four corners, and the broken glass, and Andy’s big rock!Then a piece of paper on the wall caught Joey’s eye. He went over to look at it. It was covered in dust and the print had faded some, but, it was readable.NOTICE OF INSPECTION: per order of The Board of Selectmen, East Greenwich, Rhode Island.COMMENTS: Habitation of this building is prohibited as of this date. Police take Notice!DATE: July 6, 1950Joey brushed away 11 years of dust with his sleeve, but he couldn’t brush away the print.“Nineteen-fifty” he thought. “I wasn’t even 2 years old back then.”At first, he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He thought about the guys back at Earnshaw’s Drug. Those poor guys believed in Scabby, even more than he had. He knew how they would laugh it off, if he ever told them. He could hear their sneering remarks.“Sure, Joey, sure. Like it happens every day. Tell us more, kid. The fans want to hear more.”So, Joey decided to laugh, too.He was still laughing as he walked back to join Andy and the others. He told them how he had found Scabby on the floor unconscious, how he had revived her and told her he was sorry, that he had thought it was an empty house, and how she had cried when he said that.The boys all nodded wisely at his story as they turned and started the long walk back to town. Their long, adventurous day was coming to a close.Then, on the way home, Joey pointed at a squirrel perched on the tip of an overhanging branch. The rock that he threw came so close to the surprised animal that it fell off the branch and into the dirt below. It looked so awkward trying to flee into the high, thick grass that the four boys laughed.“Jeez, Joey, that was a real shot! That was a shot and a half!”
And then the four boys, shoulder to shoulder, headed back towards town on the dirt road. Once there they went to Earnshaw’s where they would have another tale to tell. Another story in the legend of Scabby Scott!