Hank did not go into the woman’s house after that for he didn’t want to answer her questions. He still used the route to return from school, but when he walked in front of Willow Grange, he kept his head down, avoiding eye contact with her. She stood in her usual place, but she didn’t have cookies in her hands anymore.
Christmas was fast approaching, but people hadn’t put up their decorations yet. Hank was happy in his own twisted way. He smirked when he thought about how the rich folk were frightened of him. He couldn’t be superior to them in any way, but at least through his vandalizing, he had put them in a tight spot.
But, Hank harbored a sorrow. If no one put up Christmas decorations in their yards, then how would he be able to break their spirit? There would be nothing to destroy; which meant, there would be no entertainment for him this year.
Then, slowly, when only two days were left before Christmas, the Hammonds came out and started building a snowman. Soon, their children came out too and started making little balls of snow to pile up one on top of the other. Hearing the noise, the Junebottoms came out and they began decorating their Christmas tree. Their children came out with ribbons and lights and decorations. The Ginmallows were the last to come out, but they also came out with the brightest of faces, as they were buoyed by the enthusiasm of the other families.
Quite soon, Wishing Cross was one again a hub of frenetic Yuletide activity as every other year before. While the men worked at putting up their decorations and doing stuff that only men can do better, their women stood at the gates keeping an eye out for the vandal.
Hank was on his bike, watching the scene from a distance. As the shiny Christmas ornaments came out from the boxes one after the other, Hank began hating everyone all the more. They brought out their rich Christmas goodies and started putting them up in their yards. The women sat near the gates, and he knew what they were sitting for. So he stayed there out of sight, waiting for the men to finish and go inside their homes, because that was the time when he could make his attack.
He waited until nightfall. When the sun went down, the multicolored lights came on and dazzled the streets. For a moment, he flinched. He stopped and looked in awe at how the various blinking lights transformed the sleepy neighborhood into a thing of amazing beauty. It was truly breathtaking! But then, he saw in the far-off distance, the road leading to his own house. The thought of his house in shambles came to his mind. He thought of the one sorry star that his mother put up at the window year after year and he felt a tear pop out of his eye.
Why did these people have everything in this world?
Why did he have nothing?
He pedaled his bike. There was no one outside at this evening hour. He heard the families happily talking and dancing in their homes. Soft music of Christmas carols carried through the atmosphere. The houses looked resplendent, shining in the nocturnal festive glory. He thought he would look at all the houses first, and then begin his attack.
A new star adorned the tall Christmas tree of the Ginmallows. He made a note to aim at that star once again, like he had done the previous year.
The Junebottoms had bought new nativity statues. This year he would make a dash at the Baby Jesus statue itself.
The Hammonds had once again put a new cutout of Santa and his reindeer. It looked live, as though Santa was actually lurching forward in his sleigh. Hank thought about it: He would have particular pleasure in breaking that idiotically laughing Santa’s head into little pieces.
He came to the end of the street.
And then he saw the one house that made him stop.
It was the house of the woman who had given him cookies, almost every day since the last two months that she had been in the neighborhood. She wasn’t standing in the doorway now, but he could sense she was inside. Her house was decorated for Christmas too. There was not one but many tiny Christmas trees planted in her yard. Each one of them had several ornaments hanging from them. The snow had painted them white in places, but even through the white, the ornaments shone through. There were bells and hollies, and chocolates and candy canes, and little stars and colorful balls. Her house looked like a treat, just like those that she used to give him in her dainty little plates.
Why should her house be spared? The thought arose in his mind. He was set upon destroying the whole neighborhood, and wasn’t she in the neighborhood too? Her house should go down with the others too. Why had God made her happier than him?
He thought of beginning with this house itself.
He bent down and picked up a stout stick, planning to smash all the trees into oblivion. He stepped slowly into the gate, heading for the first tree.
And then, Whoosh!
Hank Greenhorn found himself flying, flying, flying until he was up there in the sky; and he went farther and farther, screaming and moving his limbs. He looked around and saw that no one or nothing was holding him. He was just flying upwards as if by magic. He pinched himself. He slapped himself. And he felt the hurt. No, this was definitely not a dream. He was indeed flying!
He went higher and higher until the ground receded beneath his feet; and then he went still higher till he was higher than the tallest mountains he knew, and then he went even higher than the clouds. When he looked behind, he saw the moon. The moon appeared so large and close that it scared him to bits. Then he looked down, and he saw the earth. It was nothing more than a dark sphere. But it looked amazing. He could see the continents separated from the oceans, and in most of the continents, he could see the lights shining — lights of different hues, just like he had seen in his own neighborhood.
And then he began to descend.