«Want a ride home?» someone asked.
«No sir, thank you,» Jem said. «It’s just a little walk.»
We went through the auditorium to the hallway, then down the steps. It was still black dark.
«Here Scout, let me hold onto the top of your costume. You might lose your balance.»
When we began to cross the black schoolyard, the auditorium lights went off.
His fingers pressed the top of my costume, too hard, it seemed. I shook my head. «Jem, you don’t hafta -»
«Hush a minute, Scout,» he said.
We walked along silently. «Minute’s up,» I said. «Whatcha thinkin’ about?» I turned to look at him, but he was nearly invisible.
«Thought I heard something,» he said. «Stop a minute.»
«Hear anything?» he asked.
We made a few steps and he made me stop again. The night was still. We listened.
Jem said, «I hear it when we’re walkin’ along, but when we stop I don’t hear it.»
«It’s my costume. Aw, it’s just Halloween got you…»
We began walking, and I heard that it was not my costume. Jem said that it must be Cecil again. So we decided not to hurry and show him that we’re not afraid. I couldn’t understand how Cecil could follow us in this dark and not bump into us from behind. Jem said that the fat stripes on my costume were shining, so Cecil could see me and keep his distance.
I decided to show Cecil that we knew he was behind us and we were ready for him. «Cecil Jacobs is a big wet he-en!» I shouted suddenly. We stopped. There was no reaction. It was not like Cecil to be quiet for so long.
Jem said softly, «Scout, can you take that thing off?»
«I think so, but I ain’t got much on under it.»
«I’ve got your dress here.»
«I can’t get it on in the dark.»
«Okay,» he said, «never mind.»
We walked slowly on. Jem said we were almost at the old oak. The tree was not far from the road, we could see the streetlight then.
We continued to move very slowly because it was difficult to walk fast and not hurt a toe on tree roots or stones, and I was barefooted (I had forgotten to put my shoes on and left them at school). Maybe the wind was rustling in the trees. But there wasn’t any wind and there weren’t any trees except the big oak.
Our company shuffled his feet, as if wearing heavy shoes. Whoever it was wore thick cotton pants; it was not the wind in the trees, it was the soft swish of cotton on cotton, wheek, with every step.
I felt cold sand under my feet and I knew we were near the big oak. Jem pressed my head. We stopped and listened.
This time, shuffle-foot had not stopped with us. His trousers swished softly and steadily. Then they stopped. He was running, running toward us with no child’s steps.
«Run, Scout! Run! Run!» Jem screamed.
I tried to run and lost my balance: it was pitch dark and my arms were useless inside my costume.
«Jem, Jem, help me, Jem!»
I fell to the ground; the chicken wire ripped; I rolled as far as I could and tried to escape my wire prison. I heard the sounds of fight nearby. Then someone rolled against me and I felt Jem. He was up like lightning and pulling me with him but, though my head and shoulders were free, I was still inside the wire, and we didn’t get very far.
We were nearly to the road when Jem’s hand left me. He jerked backwards to the ground. More sounds of fight, and there came a dull crunching sound and Jem screamed.
I ran in the direction of Jem’s scream and bumped into a big soft male stomach. Its owner said, «Uff!» and tried to catch my arms, but they were still inside the wire costume. His stomach was soft but his arms were like steel. He slowly squeezed the breath out of me. I could not move. Suddenly he jerked backwards and fell on the ground.
I stood there, unable to move. The noises of fight were dying; someone wheezed and the night was still again. I heard a heavy breathing of a man, and he coughed awfully. I called Jem, but nobody answered.
The man was moving around, as if he was looking for something. He groaned and pulled something heavy along the ground. Then he walked heavily and unsteadily toward the road. It was dark and I couldn’t see him, I only heard the sounds of his movements.
I went to where I thought he had been and felt along the ground with my toes. Presently I touched someone.
My toes touched a face. It was a grown man’s face. I smelled whiskey.
I went in the direction of the road. I was not sure, because I had been turned around so many times. But I found it and looked down to the street light. A man was passing under it, then around the comer. He was carrying Jem. Jem’s arm was hanging unnaturally in front of him.
When I came to the comer, the man was crossing our front yard. Atticus ran down the steps, and together, he and the man took Jem inside.
Aunt Alexandra met me at the front door and pulled me along with her to the telephone. She looked at me worriedly, then called Dr. Reynolds and asked him to come to our house. Then Atticus came out of Jem’s room and called the sheriff.
«Heck? Atticus Finch. Someone’s been after my children. Jem’s hurt. Between here and the schoolhouse. I can’t leave my boy. Run out there for me, please, and see if he’s still there. Doubt if you’ll find him now, but I’d like to see him if you find him. Thanks, Heck.»