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When I was three or four we lived in a 1950s ranch house my parents bought at a sheriff sale. It was kind of run down, but a bargain because it was a only few blocks from my grandmother’s home, on the same block as my sister’s school, and my dad could be to work in 5 minutes.
Where the side door came into the house from the carport, there was a utility closet. It housed the hot water heater, a furnace, and a trap door down to the crawlspace below the house. The utility closet was in a short L-shaped hallway between the kitchen and the den which we used as a family room.
I remember the crawlspace always had a “dirty water” smell to it. The floor of the crawlspace wasn’t poured concrete, but was composed of loose gravel.
My sister would be at kindergarten all day, so it was just me and my mom until it was time to walk to the school to get her. I would play alone in the den while my mom was decorating cakes (her side job) in the kitchen. My mom would hear me carrying on long conversations in the den with my toys.
One of my favorite things was to make a “cave” by lifting the leg rest of the recliner and playing with my toys underneath. It used to annoy my mother because I never put it back down. One day she asked me why I always did that and I told her, “Because the light from the big window hurts their eyes.”
“The light hurts your toys eyes?”
“No. The two little black boys who come out to play with me.”
That freaked her out, so she talked to my dad about it and they asked me more about it.
I told them I had two friends named “Poomie” and “Punkie”. They were two little black boys that lived under the heater in the utility closet. Poomie always wanted to play, but he had to drag Punkie along with him because he never wanted to come, but they weren’t allowed to ever be apart. They were both terrified of my dad, and they would disappear back into the closet when they would hear him coming.
At night, since my dad was home, they were too afraid to come out. So they would fall down into the crawlspace and crawl until they were under my bedroom. Sometimes they would whisper jokes to me through the floorboards, but mostly I would just hear them moving around in the gravel.
It ended when my mom found me sitting in the utility closet with the door shut. I told her that Poomie and Punkie had to leave because a “Raggedy Man who walked along the train tracks at night” almost found them. They saw him in our backyard trying to peek through the screen door. So they crawled into the furnace and turned to cinders and flew out through the chimney.