This is a story in seven parts, each about 1,000 words. I’ll post one part a day from now until May 7th.
Music. A happy, merry tune, growing faint with distance and then coming back. Will Todd knew the tune, even though he couldn’t remember its name. The sound of an ice cream truck meant it was summer and everything was all right. They were still living in their old house. Will wouldn’t be going to a new school where he didn’t know anyone. It was summer and he could have ice cream for breakfast.
Then he woke up. Even in a dream he’d never be allowed to have ice cream for breakfast. His mom might say okay, but not his dad.
Leaning out his window, Will thought he could still hear the music floating through the air. He kept listening for it, but most of the time it was just a siren far away or a car stereo beating out a rhythm.
September became October and the rawness of seventh grade at a new school wore off. Late one afternoon Will heard the music again, for real. From far away, maybe four or five blocks, it came, that jolly, happy music. He stood and listened, trying to follow the tune, until moms started calling kids in for supper. Until kids knew they’d get heck if they came home late, to chilling soup and congealing gravy and stern lectures from dads.
“I heard an ice cream truck,” said Will, sitting down to meat loaf and mashed potatoes that had stopped steaming but weren’t cold. “I wanted to get a look at it, so I waited, but it went away.”
“It can’t be an ice cream truck,” Will’s dad said. “Not in October. Not this time of day. You should know better than that, son.”
“You must have heard somebody’s radio,” said his mom. “Now eat your supper.”
“But it was—”
Will’s dad looked up from the book next to his plate, held open with his knife. “You heard your mother. Eat your supper.” He was using his college professor voice. Will shut up.
But he kept the argument going in his head while he chewed meat loaf and green beans. No one played music like that on the radio, the same tune over and over, in the same tinkly, wheezy style. It had to be an ice cream truck, cruising the neighbourhoods in the dying day. But the music he’d heard wasn’t “Pop Goes the Weasel” or “Turkey in the Straw” or “Little Brown Jug.” It was something else, a familiar tune, but with something wrong about it. Will wondered what kind of ice cream the truck sold.
Doof might know. He always knew stuff. Doof was the only kid Will had managed to make friends with. He was the class weirdo, but at least he didn’t look at Will like he was a new kind of bug, the way the other kids did. If Doof was at school next day and felt like talking, Will would ask him if he’d heard the ice cream truck. Some days Doof just wouldn’t talk. When Will asked him why, Doof threatened to rearrange Will’s nose so he wouldn’t go sticking it into other people’s business.
His real name was Harold Duffy, but no one called him Harold except teachers. Doof was short for “Doofus,” and even though that wasn’t exactly a compliment, it was better than “Harold.” Everybody called him Doof, even the nice kids.
Doof was good at getting into trouble. He’d crack jokes in class and talk too loudly. Other days he was grumpy or wild, picking fights for no reason. He usually had an array of bruises, in a range of colours from purple to yellow, green, and brown. Every now and then he’d show up with a black eye.
“Got beat up by some big kids,” he said, when Will asked him where he’d gotten the shiner. “They thought I was trying to move in on their territory.”
“Never mind. Let’s check out the creek.”
That was another thing about Doof. He knew all the interesting places. The creek with a knotted rope on a tree, where you could swing out over the water like Tarzan. A little house where no one lived that was stuffed full of old tires. Shortcuts to everywhere, through alleys and vacant lots.
Just before he fell asleep that night, Will thought he heard that music, faint and far away. He listened but couldn’t pick up the tune. Out in the hallway, the night light cast its dim glow. Will was glad to see that little light. Then he was asleep.
Doof wasn’t at school the next day, but on his way home, Will saw him standing on a corner looking up at the sky.
“Hey!” said Will, sneaking up behind him.
“Geez, Will! Don’t do that to a guy!”
“Looking for Santa? Too early by a couple months. What’cha doing?”
Doof wound up a punch, but stopped halfway and held up a finger. “Listen!”
A sound floated toward them. Music, coming closer.
“You know what that is?” Doof’s eyes narrowed.
“It’s that ice cream truck!” said Will.
“There it is!” Doof pointed and ran, and Will followed. I’ll be late for supper.
The ice cream truck turned onto the street two blocks ahead of them, braying its incongruously cheerful tune.
“It’s purple!” said Will. “Weird.” All the ice cream trucks he’d ever seen were painted in bright summery colours like pink or yellow. This one was a solid, dark purple, a night colour. On the roof, a lit-up plastic ice cream cone twirled bright red stripes.
“That’s not all that’s weird about it,” said Doof, puffing a bit. “Come on, hurry up!”
But they couldn’t catch it. The ice cream truck was going too fast toward downtown, its taillights glowing an intense red. Will thought he saw orange and purple sparks coming out of the tailpipe. As it went around a corner and out of sight, Will almost remembered the tune, some kind of lullaby, but played so fast it sounded anything but soothing.
“It’s a special ice cream truck,” Doof said, as the two of them stood catching their breaths. “It goes out at night. I’ll bet it’s got special ice cream and maybe other stuff. It’s only for grownups, or kids who don’t go running home to Mommy just ’cause it’s getting dark.” Doof jerked his head, flinging his mop of hair back, and grinned at Will while he put his baseball cap back on.
“My dad says there can’t be an ice cream truck. It’s getting cold, and who wants ice cream at night?”
“Why not? All kinds of things happen at night.” Doof hummed the Jaws theme. “Doo, doo, doo, doo, woo! Boogeyman gonna get ya, Willy!”
Will laughed and punched him on the arm “How do you know so much about that ice cream truck, anyway?”
“I go places you don’t and keep my eyes open while I’m there.” Doof flapped his ball cap at Will.
“Have you had any ice cream from it? What’s it like?”
“Not yet,” said Doof, “but I’m gonna find out.”