Was browsing through some scary stories the other night and was reminded of a real fucked up occurrence from my childhood. I decided to look into the matter a bit and was met with some disturbing news. Here's my tale: Epilogue. Spoiler I grew up in a pretty nice neighborhood tucked away in the suburbs - single-family homes with wide-open yards, neighbors hosting block parties and cookouts on weekends, community pools within walking distance and ice-cream trucks that patrolled the summer streets with their merry little jingles - you know the type. There were a lot of kids my age or close to it in my neighborhood and the surrounding ones, and we were free to scamper about the community in ragtag mobs or little clusters without us or our parents needing be worried over us. It was a safe place full of helpful people. Violent crime in the area was practically unheard of; I remember one time when I was about nine that someone was shot two streets over, but that was the only local violence that ever made it to the public’s attention. As a result, we often had less supervision than what many would consider to be ideal. But hey, that seems like a good thing when you’re a kid. Hell, a great thing, even. Anyways, before the real story, you need a bit more backstory just so you can understand my mindset at the time. It was summertime and I was either eight or just turned nine. I was languishing around the living room with my eleven-year old brother, bored and watching T.V., while my younger brother was doing something downstairs, probably playing the N64. I noticed my older brother (OB) suddenly sit upright, cocking his head to the side and staring at the wall with a concentrated look on his face. Before I could ask what was wrong, his face lit up with excitement and he jumped to his feet. It was as he took his first running steps toward the stairs that I heard the practically melodious jingling of the ice-cream truck’s bell, and was high-tailing it after him. We both bounded upstairs and were in our mom’s room in an instant, jumping up and down and begging for money, with our little brother to be heard crashing on up both flights of steps after us. We chased the ice-cream truck down and my little brother got his ice-cream first, running back off to the house. I got mine next, one of those snoopy faces on a stick with chocolatey coating on the back, and stood off to the side as my OB and one of the neighbor kids, let’s call him Bobby, were getting their ice-cream and talking to the ice-cream man. Before I knew it, my cool, smooth-talking brother had managed to get the ice-cream man to let all three of us ride on the ice-cream truck with him. My OB and Bobby both even got a chance to sit on his lap and drive the truck, I was super jealous! When it was my turn, though, we’d already gotten down to the end of the street and there were parents waiting with their kids. He was quick to keep us off his lap, telling us the parents couldn’t see us driving the truck. The three of us thanked him with smiles and ran off back to our houses. When I excitedly told my mom about the experience, she got mad at us and acted real funny for the rest of the day, telling us no more ice cream from the ice-cream man. It wasn’t until my brother came home drunk one night toward the beginning of my eighth grade year that I finally understood what had gone on that day. I became very wary of ice-cream men. And their trucks. The Event. Spoiler So, fast forward to junior year in high school. I’m 16 (summer birthday), and the school year is winding down fast. It was the end of May on a weekend, and I’m hanging out with three of my best friends at one of their houses. These three friends are: Mac, whom I’ve only known a few years but have been hanging out with on an almost daily basis for much of that time; Gus, who actually introduced me to Mac, and with whom I have a similar but even stronger friendship; and Mackie, whom I’ve known most of my life but didn’t become close to until middle school, and who introduced me to Gus (basically, all close friends I would spend the majority of my free time with). Additionally, Gus and Mac were kind of friends with another kid who was hanging out with us that night, Ren. I didn’t know Ren. I’d seen him around school before maybe, but he wasn’t in any of my classes growing up and I’d never so much as spoken to the guy. He had a kind of clean-cut look to him with his grown-out buzz cut and his button-down shirts and slacks, something that stuck out hard amidst our crowd; we were dumb stoner kids, thinking that catching that buzz and meandering pointlessly through our teenage years was the best course of action for us. Granted, it was a lot of fun, but that lifestyle just didn’t seem like it was up this kid Ren’s alley; at least, not by judging a book by its cover. I kind of felt like he was gonna cramp our “style” at first, but after we all smoked a bowl and dicked around for a while, it was obvious that he was a cool kid. Real nice and polite and looking like he was just eager to make some new friends. It didn’t take long for me to warm up to him and we were all having a great time just being kids. Mackie convinced his parents to let us all stay the night (sleepovers were a regular thing, but four extra teenagers was admittedly more than usual). Video games, shooting pool, playing darts and watching T.V. kept us entertained into the wee hours of the morning, but once we were sure his parents were sound asleep we were ready to cause a little mischief and make some fun happen. No alcohol I don't think, but plenty of weed to smoke on, and that could sure make any nighttime venture interesting. We snuck out the front door in a big line with Mackie holding it open and waving us through like a commander waving his troops on to their deaths. We rushed down the twenty feet or so of slope that is his front yard and straight across the street to the playground we often loitered and played hacky sack at. It was smallish, basically two wooden climbing structures with a swinging bridge between them and a slide going down either side, with some swings off in their own section of the park. It was probably pretty lame for children given some of the playgrounds in the area, but we loved the place and, being directly across the street from Mackie’s house, it felt like it was ours. Our fortress. Like we could repel some fuckin’ invaders if we wanted to. Or at least, that’s what I’d always thought. So we were smoking a few bowls on this playground, talking about whether or not we wanted to trudge through a small span of woods in the dark over to the apartment complex so we could hop the fence and do a little private pool night swimming (I remember because it was gonna be a lot of fun, I’d done it with three of my other good friends not partaking in the current nights events and I was excited about it). Mac was laid out across the bridge, super baked and geeking and saying over and over between squeals of stifled laughter, ‘I can’t move, I can’t move.’ We were laughing and picking on each other and having a good time, and I felt good about having Ren there with us. It was as innocently joyful of an experience as any I’d had just like it, and had no reason to expect anything otherwise. Suddenly, Mac sat up, head cocked to the side and staring off into the distance with a sobered look, far off down the curve of the street as it circled up and around to the main roads. I suddenly had knots tearing at my gut. That unsettling look, especially when he’d been unable to keep from laughing just seconds before, instantly sent chills down my spine. Before anyone had a chance to say anything, to ask what was up, I heard it. I couldn’t believe it, but I heard it clear as day. In the middle of the fucking morning, almost 2:00 a.m., I heard it. But I didn’t believe. Fuck, writing about it now and remembering it in this detail has got goosebumps going all over me and my stomach quivering. I’ll be quoting stuff now that’s obviously not verbatim, but is the best my memory allows for. Slowly, incredulously, and in something just more than a whisper but loud enough for us all to hear, Ren: “Is… is that a fucking ice-cream truck?” Everyone kind of laughed with a sort of paranoid, curious excitement. Everybody except me, that is. They were probably talking about the same things I was thinking, but I couldn’t even hear them anymore. I was staring down the street in a near trance, praying that some nightmare ice cream truck’s headlights didn’t come around the bend while trying to comprehend the reasoning behind an ice-cream truck being out at this hour. My mind kept racing back to what almost happened when I was younger. And that had been during the day. One horror story after another played out in my head, and all the while the jingling bells were coming closer, their chimes grating and terrifying in a way they’d never been before. The ends of the street softly brightened with the glow of approaching headlights and I was shocked back out of my stupor. Me: “Fuck this!” And I remember my voice cracked as I said those very words before swinging down the slide and sprinting across the playground, across the street and across Mac’s front yard as fast as my piggly ass would carry me. Someone shouted after me, or I guess it was us at that point, ‘Guys, wait!’ But I wasn’t slowing down for nothing yet. Since we had to sneak out of Mac’s house in the first place, I must’ve subconsciously made the choice to run around to his backyard instead of bursting in through the front door and getting us all in trouble. Just as I about made it out of the front yard and onto the side, the ice-cream truck was just coming into view. Another cord of gut tightened itself into a knot as I ran around onto his back porch and hunkered down low. Mackie was right behind me, with Gus and Mac pulling up the rear, out of breath and charged with adrenaline. There were many incredulously whisper-shouted what-the-fucks and hand waving as we all stayed low and tried to calm ourselves down. Mac, in a hushed tone: “Ren!” We all turned to look for him. He was nowhere to be seen. Mackie, in a hushed but more frantic tone: “Where the fuck is Ren?” We all stood up a bit to get a better look. He was nowhere in the backyard. And the ice-cream truck had stopped ringing its bell. “Is he still fucking down there?” Gus, probably sounding guilty thinking back on it: “I dunno, I thought he was right behind us.” Mac: “I think he shouted for us to wait.” Me, in motherfucking disbelief: “Why the fuck would he tell us to wait? Fuck that shit!” Gus, cracking a smile: “Maybe he wanted some ice-cream.” Mac and Mackie chuckled nervously at that, but I was having none of it. Me, starting to get really mad and scared and worked up: “This is fucking midnight ice-cream murder-rape guy, what the fuck, guys?! It’s fucking 2 a.m.!” Mac, trying the defuse: “Yo, chill, calm down man. We’re probably just trippin’ out, it’s probably nothing weird.” Mackie, shaking his head and stepping up with me: “Nah, this shit’s fucked. Fuckin’ weird. We need to find Ren, guys.” Gus, sounding exasperated or angry or something: “Then let’s go fucking find him, c’mon.” It was dark on his porch but the kitchen light was on, and enough of that was spilling into the living room to illuminate the silhouette of everything on the back porch through the glass of the back door. I reached for a hockey stick and hefted it before replacing it with a kid-sized Louisville Slugger. It had a nice feel to it, solid but swift, and it had felt empowering to clench that in my fist. Mac and Mackie both grabbed something off the porch themselves, I don’t remember what, but Gus already had a big hunting knife that he always carried with him to look like a badass. We crept off the back porch together and were moving toward the edge of the house when we heard muffled cries. This is where I’d like to write from my imagination. I’d love to say we heard those cries and rushed off to help, weapons held high, battle cries belting from our lungs. I’d love to say how we swept in and rescued Ren and scared the dude off into the night with our display. But that wasn’t the reaction any of us had. At first, I think we stopped so we could be sure we heard what we did. But when we heard those sounds continue, we all stood frozen, staring at each other in abject fear as I considered that we might very well be living the plot of some horror movie. For what seemed like an eternity, but could’ve only been seconds, we stood frozen, until Gus finally darted off to the corner of the house and peeked around. We each slinked on after him, suddenly unfrozen. Gus, in a panicked whisper: “The fuck?” I braved the dread rising in my chest and peeked around the corner. The ice-cream truck sat still in the middle of the street, and by god but it really was an ice-cream truck. Sat right between Mackie’s house and the playground, its back door wide open… but only for a second; it slammed shut, a tall man in a coat too heavy for a summer’s night walking away from it and around the side of the truck. We were all frozen in place again, clustered around one another probably looking like a bad game of twister, straining to see what was happening without risking being seen ourselves. A second later and the man was hopping back into the cab. Suddenly, the engine whirred and the tires squealed as the truck peeled off, gunning it out of there way faster than we could react. We all sprang into action, but it was far too late; our hushed cries of protest and brandished weapons were utterly disregarded as the truck raced off into the night down the opposite way from which it’d come. The Conclusion. Spoiler None of us said anything. We looked around in disbelief, looked at each other in disbelief, looked to the heavens in disbelief, but none of us could say a thing. We all kind of wordlessly decided to start searching for Ren, taking turns calling his phone only to hang up when it went to voicemail. We meandered through the neighborhood and poked around the surrounding woods, occasionally calling out for him but only rarely; I know my reasoning was because I could hardly speak a word without the lump in my throat promising to spill tears. I was hoping and praying to a god I didn’t believe in that he was okay, but I knew that he wasn’t. I knew that those cries had been Ren. The others knew, too. The sky was just beginning to brighten when Mackie mentioned pretty off-handedly that his parents would be waking up soon. We were all drained and scared and probably in shock, and we sort of mumbled in agreement that we needed to get back to Mackie’s place. We snuck in dead quiet; no hushed laughter or sneaky-fun antics like on our way out. I felt like a zombie walking through Mackie’s place, and I bet they did, too. We got down to the basement and each found a place to cozy up on. Mackie popped on some cartoons just to cut the silence and we all laid there, lost in thought. I tried calling Ren one more time, and we all nearly jumped out of our seats when his phone vibrated loudly across the surface of the pool table on the other end of the basement. It made me feel even sicker. At one point, Mac asked if we should call the police. No one said anything. I wanted to, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how we’d all frozen up. How we could’ve saved him, but didn’t. I’m not sure when it happened, or how, but I fell asleep at some point. I woke up second last, with Gus getting up right after me. It was already just past three in the afternoon when I looked at the clock, and I wondered for an instant how I’d slept in so late. Then the events of the previous night came rushing back to me, and I had to rush to the bathroom to throw up. It had really happened. It hadn’t just been some bad dream. It had really happened. I came out of the bathroom and looked at my friends. Me, almost in tears: “You guys…” They each looked at me, their expressions pained and their eyes vacant. I shook my head for wont of anything better to do. “You guys…” Mackie, looking down: “We’ve got to tell someone what happened.” We each kind of nodded a little, as if it were even a question. Mackie looked up. “I’m gonna go tell my mom.” All of our heads just nodding to the statement, we must’ve looked like a life-sized bobble-head collection. We all shuffled up the stairs together in stony silence. Mackie poked around for a minute before seeing his mom outside through the front window doing some gardening work or something. We followed him out, mentally fortifying ourselves to explain everything to her. Mackie: “Mom.” Mackie’s Mom: “Oh hey guys, you decide not to go to sleep until it was already time for breakfast?” I offered the best smile I could manage, but I doubt one could’ve even called it half-hearted. “So why’d Ren leave?” The question caught us all off guard and Mackie especially, it seemed, since he was the one doing the talking. Mackie, confused: “What do you me-… How do you know he-… Well, that’s what we’ve gotta talk about, mom.” Mackie’s mom, standing up and turning on her son with a mixture of suspicion and concern: “What’s up, Mike?” Mike seemed at a loss for words, reaching and gesturing without saying much more than, ‘Umm,’ or, ‘Well…’ Not getting the answer she was looking for, Mackie’s mom pressed on. “He stopped back by earlier after he left while you guys were still sleeping, said he left his phone and some other things here. I went down to get it for him and you were all out cold, so I told him I’d say bye to you guys for him.” I didn’t know what the fuck to think of that. It set my head spinning. I immediately walked down the driveway and across the street to the playground, frantically flipping to his number from my recent calls. I dialed and his phone rang. And rang. And rang, before going to voicemail. I hung up and tried again. This time it went straight to voice mail, but I realized then that Mac and Gus had followed me and were on their phones, likely doing the same thing. This time, I left him a message, something along the lines of, “Hey Ren, it’s OP. Dunno what happened last night, but shit was crazy. You okay? Hit me back, man.” And then I immediately sent him a text, which was similar but more concerned. More like: “Worried about you, man. Let me know if you’re alright or you need help.” Mackie had finished talking to his mom and was making his way over to the rest of us. He and Gus started talking, but I wasn’t listening. I was desperately hoping that Ren would call back. He needed to. There were too many questions, and shit had been too fucked up. I remember feeling like I was having a panic attack, like I’d been in a state of shock until Mackie’s mom had said that and now all the emotion of the past night was trying to overwhelm me at once. Mackie had walked over to me without me realizing it, was holding me up. Mackie, looking worried and speaking reassuringly: “Hey, hey, Op, it’s alright. Ren’s okay, man, my mom swears it. He was definitely here this morning.” I remember nodding and wanting to cry at the absurdity of it all. It was just too much to process. Either way, he hugged me like the brother he still is to me, patting me on the back in consolation, assuring me that we were all okay. We all chilled for another hour or two, considerably lighter-hearted even though the events of the previous night still clearly weighed on all of our minds. We rationalized what had happened the night before; we’d all run for the backyard while Ren had turned and run the other way, past the park and through the woods toward the apartments with the pool we’d been planning on crashing. His house was in the same neighborhood as Mackie’s, just on the opposite end, so he easily could’ve walked back home afterwards. He came by the next morning but we were all asleep, so he grabbed his stuff and went back home. Now he wasn’t answering his phone because HE was the one who fell asleep. It all seemed a lot more plausible than the alternative, and by the time I needed to leave, I was almost back to my normal self, save for a slight quivering of the chest that wouldn’t keep off. I had to be home for Sunday night dinner, so I left out of there, sure that I’d see Ren at school the following day and this would just be one crazy, funny story. Ren wasn’t at school the next day. It was a little disconcerting, but we all weren’t too bothered by it. We talked it over, sharing the story with a few of our other friends, and figured that if he didn’t show up to school the next day then we’d go to his house and check up on him. The rest of the day went much the same as any other, and ended that way, too. I remember waking up nauseous and uneasy the next morning. I knew somehow that he wasn’t going to be at school. I knew that something was wrong, and had been wrong since the early hours of Sunday morning. I dragged myself to school that day as much as I didn’t want to, waiting quietly in the main foyer of my high school with Mac and some of my other friends (Gus went to fuck-up school so he wasn’t around in the mornings). I nodded to Mackie as he walked in the door and breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ren followed in shortly after, them riding the same bus and all. I waved and called out to try and get Ren’s attention, but if he heard me he only quickened his pace, seeming as if he were avoiding me. After shouting his name didn’t get his attention, I looked to Mackie for answers. It went something like this. Me, kind of wtf-ing: “Uh, dude, what was that? What’s up with Ren?” Mackie, looking just as wtf-ed: “He’s acting weird, man. Like, way different.” Me: “Man, he just completely ignored me. What’s up? Did you ask him about Saturday night?” Mackie, shaking his head and somehow looking more baffled than I felt: “I dunno, man. He sat next to someone else today. I sat across from him and tried to talk, but he cold-shouldered me the whole bus ride. Like he’s fucking super mad or something. He acted like I didn’t exist.” Me: “The fuck?” The warning bell rang and we all went our separate ways to class that day. I had a couple opportunities to talk to Ren over the last few weeks of school, but received the same cold-shoulder treatment as before, and since we didn’t share any classes it was kind of difficult to get him to a point where he’d maybe talk to me. Mac did share a class with him, though, and was able to get just a little more out of him than I was. He’d gotten simple one-word responses to questions related to our finals and a couple of ‘okays’ to others, but he usually removed himself from Mac’s company as soon as possible and would get visibly agitated any time Mac tried to bring up that night, making a point to ignore Mac and excuse himself from Mac’s company. It wasn’t long until school was out for the summer and that crazy night, as emblazoned into my memory as it was, no longer crept to the forefront of my mind so often and in such a sickening way. Summer went by as carefree as was to be expected, and most of the next school year did, too. I didn’t have any classes with Ren my senior year, either, and even though Mackie did, he didn’t make the effort to rekindle the friendship between them. None of us could blame him. Watching him from a distance, Ren seemed perfectly normal around everyone, so long as everyone didn’t include any of the four of us or even our close friends. If he didn’t want to be friends, at this point, that was fine by me. We decided that either what we’d imagined had happened and he just decided he didn’t want to be friends with guys like us, or that the worst-case scenario had happened and he couldn’t stand to look at us without it bringing up painful memories. Egotistical fucks that we were, we decided it was his problem and not ours, and mostly never looked back. I’d been out of high school for almost a year and in my second semester of college when a story I heard reminded me of this creepy, crazy night. I tried reaching out to Ren through social media, but to no avail. Mac moved across the country, and I’ve unfortunately lost contact with the guy and haven’t managed to reconnect yet. Gus decided to screw over one of our mutual friends and one of my best friends and sundered that relationship for all of us. But Mackie and I are and were still real close, and I know he also tried contacting Ren since high school with the same results. I tried again the summer before last and was not surprised when I received no response. You know, just one of those things you think about randomly and spontaneously decide, “Well, maybe THIS time it’ll go differently.” Was reading scary stories recently and one of them reminded me of this again. I decided to try reaching out to Ren through Facebook once more; loaded it up, went to his page this time instead of just sending a message, I guess I was trying to be a bit nosy… well, long story short, he was dead. Drug overdose. On sleeping pills, only months after I’d last tried contacting him, turned out. Suicide, some would say, although I don’t know if that was the official determination or not and haven’t found anyone willing to tell me more than what I’ve already written down. I found out about his death and some of that guilt I felt that night when I saw the ice-cream truck door slam shut is back with me for good. It’s not the same intense guilt and self-loathing as I’d felt at moments that night - it’s an older, more decrepit, less overwhelming sense of guilt, but it’s there. It’s there and it’s constant. It’s dehumanizing. I wrote all this because I’ve never written it out before, and never had anyone I could talk with seriously about it before aside from Mackie and my other friends, and they’ve always been just as confounded as I’ve been. I guess I just needed to get it off my chest, although before learning about what happened to him I’d still been planning on eventually writing about and posting this story here. His death was just that final kick I needed, although it feels like I'm writing to sort out my own thoughts and ideas more than anything. Maybe I’m hoping someone on here will tell me it’s not my fault for freezing up with inaction. I dunno, maybe I’m hoping someone will tell me it is. I wish I knew the truth about what really happened that night, if something did happen or if I’m just a grown-up with a five-year olds’ imagination. I’ve always rationalized that if he’d actually been abducted then he wouldn’t have been home the next morning. At the same time, it’s not impossible that he could’ve been released afterwards. Or escaped. Or forced an escape, the idea of which really drives that guilt-spike home. And then what else would an ice-cream truck be doing driving around and ringing its bell in the middle of the morning if not for that loathsome, despicable reason? He damn well wasn’t out to sell ice-cream. Maybe I should just forget it. I’m 25 now, with two kids and a wife and a house of my own and way too many damn pets. I haven’t even talked to him in 9 years, and I won’t be talking to him anytime soon. People die, and the world’s a fucked up place, where fucked up things happen. You can’t really dwell on the past. But my kids will never so much as see an ice-cream truck growing up if I have my say. Not that I’ve seen one around in a while, thank fuck.