“Do you know what you’re doing?” Beverly asked as I inserted a paperclip into the paddle lock on the back of the truck.
“Keep it down!” I whispered, “We don’t want him to catch us, and I saw a video on YouTube once where they picked a lock like this.”
“Do you think the stories are true?” Beverly asked, leaning over to look at the house. “Do you think he really keeps the bodies of kids in his freezers?”
“I don’t know, but it seems wrong that people run from the ice cream truck,” I replied as I felt one of the tumblers inside stick, “I’m almost there!”
“Gabe! I think-” Beverly stopped talking as the front door of the house slammed shut. She turned to me, her eyes wide.
I nodded, pulling the paper clips from the lock before we snuck into the next yard and watched from the bushes.
The Ice Cream Man wasn’t scary at all. He wore a white outfit, complete with one of those hats you only see in movies. He whistled as he reached the door and unlocked it and stepped inside. I heard the engine start and saw the truck sway a little as, I assumed, he moved around inside.
“What do you think he’s doing in there?” Beverly whispered.
“He’s probably checking the freezers,” I replied as the man emerged from the side and walked to the front of it.
The Ice Cream Man pulled a remote from his pocket and pressed the button on it. The garage door began its slow opening as he unplugged the extension cord on the ground and coiled it until he could put it inside. Producing the remote once more, the door closed, and he reentered the truck, pulling the other cord inside with him.
“This is our chance,” I whispered as I jumped from the bushes and ran behind the truck.
“Wait!” Beverly called after me in her harsh whisper.
I reinserted the paperclips and began wiggling them to open the lock. My heart was racing as the reverse lights turned on. I panicked until I felt the click of the lock. I pulled it from the bracket and opened the sliding door enough for me to roll inside as the truck began moving backward.
I lay on the floor as the tinkling of the music began from the speakers on top, looking out as the truck stopped. I could see Beverly in the bushes, motioning for me to get out. I shook my head as the truck lurched forward, driving slowly down the street.
From the driver’s seat, I could hear the Ice Cream Man whistling along with the music as though it were the catchiest tune in the world.
“You don’t have to hide,” he said, “I know you’re there.”
I held my breath.
“Come on, buddy. Really, you’re fine. I saw the door open. You can come up here and sit in the seat by the door. It’s okay,” he said, pointing over his shoulder.
I sighed and got to my feet.
“Close the back door before you come up, we don’t want anything falling out,” he said, smiling in the mirror at me.
I shut the door and walked hesitantly toward the front past the freezers.
“So, should I ask?” he said as I sat on the padded wheel well. “Or should you ask, rather?”
“Is it true?” I said, figuring that I’d already been caught, I may as well know the truth before I died. “Did you really kill a kid and keep him in your freezer?”
“That’s a new one,” he said, looking over at me. “As are you. I haven’t seen you in the neighborhood before. What’s your name?”
“Gabe,” I replied. “So, why is that the story? Why do the people go inside when they hear you coming?”
“My name is Gary. It’s nice to meet you,” he replied with a smile. I watched his smile flicker as he spoke again. “I used to have my son help me do my rounds. He got sick a few years back and died at my house.”
“At your house? Why didn’t you bring him to the doctor?” I asked.
“I did,” Gary replied, “but the doctors couldn’t do anything for him.”
“What was wrong with him?” I asked.
“How old are you, Gabe?” Gary asked.
“Twelve,” I replied.
“You’re old enough to understand then. Harry was your age-that’s his name-when he got sick. He had a rare form of cancer in his brain that grew very rapidly. The doctors did all sorts of tests and scans and did their best to try to help him, but in the end, it was too aggressive, and they said he couldn’t be helped. So, I brought him home and stayed with him until the end,” Gary said.
“That’s so sad,” I replied.
“It is,” Gary agreed, nodding. “What’s worse, though, is that after everything that happened, I only had my work to do, so I focused on it. At first, kids would run out to the street, but I think something in the way I talked or looked was probably not right, and they were scared and didn’t want to come out anymore. Then the rumors started, and things only got worse. I still drive my route every nice day of the year, hoping that someone will come out to buy some ice cream.”
“This is more than ice cream to me,” Gary said, “this was what Harry and I did together every nice day of the year. We brought happiness to the people of the neighborhood, and in turn, we were happy doing it. He was so excited to get his truck someday.”
“I’m sorry I broke into your truck,” I said, looking down at my feet.
“I know how you could make it up to me,” Gary said as we turned onto my street.
“You could come work with me,” he replied as he pulled up to the curb outside my house.
“This is my house,” I said, looking out the window.
“I saw you yesterday still outside when I drove up. You almost walked to the end of the yard when you saw everyone else go in, and you turned around,” Gary replied. “What do you think? Do you want to change the neighborhood for the better? Get the people to come out again when they hear me?”
I looked at the hopeful expression on his face as I stood up. Behind his smile, there was a deep sadness in his eyes that, out of context, would have made me uncomfortable as well. He didn’t hide it well.
“I think I’d like that,” I said with a nod.
“Great! I can’t wait to spread joy through our neighborhood again,” Gary said, extending his hand. “We could start making rounds now if you like?”
I looked out at the hot sun beating down outside and nodded. “How do I open the side window?”
“There’s a clasp on each side,” Gary replied.
I pressed both and slid the window open, letting the springs roll it over my head.
“Can we pass by your house again?” I asked.
“Sure, why?” Gary asked.
“We left my sister in the bushes next door,” I replied.
“Sure,” Gary laughed.
That’s how I met Gary, the Ice Cream Man. From then on, until he died last year, my sister and I would take turns riding in the back of his truck. In the two weeks before the first person dared to venture to the curb for some ice cream, Gary told us all about Harry, and the wonderful person he was before his death. I’d like to think that Beverly and I helped Gary, but I believe his selfless dedication to making the neighborhood a better community helped all of us more.