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It was an unusual feeling looking back at the orphanage gates and knowing we would never have to return there.

Wayne Evers and I had once again decided that we were old enough at the age of 11 and 12, to take off and start a new life of our own. It was also a scary feeling leaving the security of the fences around the orphanage. As bad as the beatings were on us kids, I guess we felt that no one in the outside world could hurt us as badly as the matrons at the orphanage.

When 10 or 15 of us would run away together, it was not so bad. However, with only the two of us, there were just not enough eyes to look out for the many dangers we had heard about. After all, there were the orphanage people who would be after us, as well as the police. We knew that there were plenty of bad people out there in the world, who would hurt us.

Once again, having nothing to eat, we decided to drop by the Patio Restaurant and get one last cache of food, candy and cigarettes to take on our long journey out into the new world. It had been several months since we boys were caught illegally entering the Patio Restaurant. Therefore, we were quite sure it would be safe to enter just one last time. Wed take only what we really needed to survive, until we could each get a job and maybe a place of our own.

When leaving the restaurant, we cleaned up our mess and placed all the empty candy wrappers into the garbage can, as well as replaced all the glass in the back window. We took only what we needed to survive, which was about 15 candy bars, 10 bags of potato chips and five cartons of cigarettes each.

We walked over to the "Old Spanish House, an abandoned house on the south side of Jacksonville. It was near the orphanage and was a hideout for kids who ran away from home, orphan or not. When we arrived, we found there were about 10 unknown people staying there, so we headed out to find our own place. We walked for about two hours and finally decided to try this old, abandoned white house that we had heard about over by Landon Junior and Senior High School.

It was a very scary looking place. It was a big, two-story white building with almost all the glass broken out of the windows. We sat outside in the dark for the longest time, talking about the old house and if the place might be haunted or have ghosts inside. It sure was a scary looking old building. However, after careful consideration, it was determined between our two brilliant minds that there were no such things as ghosts. We would make this our new home. After all, no one really wanted the old house or it would have been taken care of it.

We forced open the front door and entered the pitch-black house. We lit a match and immediately saw a large staircase to our right leading to the upstairs. As we started up the stairs, they began to creak, so we stopped dead in our tracks. We once again discussed the possibilities of ghosts and various creatures of the night. We stood motionless for about five minutes, lighting one match after another. We wanted to make sure that there were no ghosts waiting for us at the top of the stairs.

When we reached the landing, we were just about out of matches. Our fingers were burnt from holding the matches for as long as possible. When we reached the top of the stairs, it was pitch dark and neither Wayne nor I could even see each another. I took the last match from the pack and struck it, holding it high in the air.

"There is a big bed in here," said Wayne.

Just about that time, someone large sat straight up in the bed and pointed a rifle at us.

"BANG! went the gun as it fired.

I heard the bullet hit the wall next to my head. I shoved Wayne as hard as I could toward the landing. Then down the staircase we went, rolling head over heals.

"BANG, BANG, BANG!" went the rifle as it continued to fire in our direction.

Out the door and down the railroad tracks we ran as fast as we could. I was one of the fastest runners in the orphanage, but this time, Wayne passed me screaming like a maniac. It never entered my head that the individual shooting at us was a human being. All I could think about was that there was a darned ghost shooting at me, and that it was going to catch and kill me. By the time we stopped running, all our cigarettes, candy bars and potato chips, which had been tucked into the belly of our shirts, was strewn along at least 200 miles of railroad tracks. Well, actually it was about half a mile, but it seemed like 200.

Late that night, we returned to the orphanage and climbed into our warm beds, and the orphanage was never the wiser. I think that was the week I decided to get baptized at Swain Memorial Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

God knows. I needed it.

I guess it was several weeks before I thought about or even start to realize what actually happened that night. I finally understood just how dangerous that situation really was and how close the two of us came to losing our lives.

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