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"Shhh," said the little 4-year-old boy as he held his finger to his lips. I had accidentally walked in on him in his bedroom at the orphanage.

"It's a secret," he told me very softly as he reached out with both hands to close the wooden door behind me.

"What's a..."

"Shhh," he said again, shaking his little finger at me.

He ran over to his bed, climbed on top and looked out the large glass window down across the black-shingled roof. He was looking to see if the matron was anywhere in sight.

"Look down the hallway and see if anyone is coming," he whispered.

Slowly, I opened the door and stuck out my head, but did not see anyone coming from either direction.

"What's going on?" I asked.

He waved his hand for me to follow him. We slowly walked down the long dark hallway and into one of the two large bathrooms, which we had upstairs at the orphanage. He quietly closed the door and instructed me to stand with my back against the door, so that no one else could enter. Then he moved slowly backwards, watching the door and me, until he reached the last toilet. Then he got down on his hands and knees, reached as far as he could behind the toilet as possible, and pulled out a brown paper bag.

"What is that?" I asked.

"I can't show you yet," he replied.

"Why?" I mumbled through gritted teeth.

I was trying to scare him into showing me what was in the bag.

"It belonged to some rich people with a new car and I'll get into trouble with Mrs. Winters, if I get caught with it," he said.

He looked down at the floor, and then sat down and began to trace each of the individual white tiles with his index finger. I walked over, bent down, took the package from his arm and peeked inside. However, all I saw was another plastic bag with something inside of it. But I could not tell what it was, because the plastic was thick and dark colored.

"Give it back!" he said as he snatched it from my hands.

Within the hour, we rounded up four or five of the other orphan boys whom we could trust. We headed out across the vacant field behind the boys' dormitory and headed toward the underground fort we had dug in the ground several weeks earlier. It was located out near the large bamboo bushes. That was where we generally hid from the matron, who chased us with a switch, polo paddle or leather strap. This was the only safe place we knew where no one could find us and we would have the time to try to figure out what we had in the plastic bag.

A lookout was positioned in a small tree hidden from view by the large clumps of bamboo lining the chain-link fence. We snuck into our underground fort using the secret entrance: an old rotten piece of wood covered by dirt and pine straw to make it look like the surrounding area. Then we sent one of the boys out to gather a few leaves, pine straw and some twigs to make a small fire. We lit the fire and then inspected the contents of the plastic package. We did not want to open our secret doorway to have some light.

We took half-a-towel rag, laid it in the center of the dirt floor and placed the plastic package in the center. Then we sat there looking at it for several minutes. No one said a word. The package was big, thick and was somewhat heavy like. It looked like the matron's fat hands clasped together and she had some really, big, fat, ugly hands too.

"Open the plastic bag, stupid," said one of the boys.

"Open it," I also said looking at Tommy Jernigan and pointing at the bag with some fire on the end of a stick I was holding.

Very slowly, Tommy rolled the bag over and over, so we could try to find where the woven paper tape started on the package.

"Where did this come from?" asked Eugene.

"He stole it from the rich man's car at the office," said Tommy.

"I did not. You’re a liar!" hollered the little boy, who had hidden it behind the toilet in the dormitory.

"Both of you just shut up and open the stupid bag," said Eugene.

We removed the tape from the plastic package. Once opened, suddenly the package fell over onto its side and a white powder substance spilled onto the towel.

"What the heck is that?" asked someone.

"I don't know what it is," answered Wayne.

"I think it’s white poison," said another boy.

"Why would that man have poison?" inquired Tommy.

"To kill rats. That’s what poison is for." I told Wayne.

"We ain't got no darn rats," said Wayne.

"We got roaches and big ants, and we got big possum rats." I said holding out my hands to show them how big they were.

"Oh, stick it in you," he said.

"You're in trooouuuble, 'cause you said the bad word," I said looking at Wayne.

"I didn't say the bad word. I said stick it in you and that's not the bad word, stupid."

"You're gonna’ get the soap sock in your mouth when the matron finds out, mister," I told him sharply.

"Oh, shut up!" he said as he hit me in the arm really hard.

Within minutes, our attention was once again focused on the package and the white powder, which had spilled from the plastic pouch. One of the boys took a short stick from the small firewood pile and pushed the white powder around on the towel.

"It's poison all right," said Tommy. "I think they are going to use it to poison us. Then they can bury us in the big field at night under the blackberry bushes. I bet that's where all the other kids went that disappeared in the middle of the night, that we ain't seen no more."

"I ain't seen no little bones in the field when I was playing out there," I told him.

"Ain't gonna’ find no little kids’ bones in the field, because they bury 'em deep and way, way down, so they rot real fast. That is why no one can ever find ‘em," said Eugene looking at the 4-year-old boy.

"Will my bones rot fast too?" whimpered the little boy.

"Oh, shut up, you little twerp. You ain't got no good strong bones yet. You're too little to have good bones," said another one of the boys.

We discussed the situation for almost half an hour, before it we decided we would draw pine straws. The loser would have to taste the white powder. If he died, then we would know that the orphanage was going to poison us kids, mainly 'cause we ate too much food and 'cause nobody really wanted us anyway.

We sent one of the boys outside the fort to get some dried brown bamboo, so we could smoke it together and have fun one last time, before one of us died. We smoked the dried bamboo just like the rich people who smoked cigars. There was nothing finer in our young orphan lives than five or six of the 7 and 8-year-old orphans sitting in a circle in a deep, wet, cold hole in the ground with a warm fire, just smoking and acting like a bunch of rich fellows.

I do not remember where we got the matches. Considering we all grew up to be criminals, I would suspect that we stole them from a car belonging to one of the women, who worked at the orphanage office. Anyway, we finished our bamboo cigars and the straws were finally drawn. I do not remember who lost, but he was not very happy about having to die for the rest of us. We were not very happy about him having to die for us either, but better him than us. We promised him that we would dig him up and clean his bones every day, so that they would not rot so fast.

He took some of the white powder between his fingers and slowly raised it to his lips. I closed my eyes and looked away from his face. I did not want to see him die.

"I wish my mommy and daddy would have come back for me, before I died," he said in a low tone.

"Oh, shut up and eat the poison."

"You can't tell him to shut up when he's fixin’ to die," I said.

Eugene quickly slapped the young boy's hand away from his mouth and the powder flew everywhere. It landed all over everyone in the underground fort.

"Now we are all gonna’ die from poison!" screamed someone.

All of a sudden, the small fire went out, and there was nothing but darkness and total silence beneath the wet, dark, cold ground. Suddenly, the top of the fort ripped away as if it were hit by a tornado. There stood the matron, a large leather strap in hand, with two very large men. Their hands were on their hips and they looked at us real mean like. We yelled, screamed, jumped out of the hole and scattered in every direction. Some of the boys even shimmied up the pine trees, until they were 50 or 60 feet above the ground. They tried to protect themselves from the leather belt the matron was swinging wildly.

The last thing I remember hearing before the limb broke and we fell 20 feet to the ground was the matron yelling, "Where in the hell did you little bastards get that damn bag of sugar?"

We had never seen, heard of or tasted real sugar before. That was only for the rich people and I guess, for the head matron, Mother Winters, who kept it hidden from us and used it only in her morning coffee.

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