It didn’t count unless you touched the grass. They all knew that. No matter how good your time was. If you didn’t touch the grass, it just didn’t count.
That was the contest that summer. Or at least the contest for a month or so that summer. Run all the way down the sidewalk, past the Millers’ house, the Bradfords’, the Jacobson’s, all of them, all the way down. Down to where the sidewalk ended and the woods began. Touch the edge of the grass and then run back. It wasn’t a one-on-one race, that’s not the way it worked. That would have been too easy. It was a race against yourself. A race against time.
The person with the best time was the champion until someone hit a better time. But it was hard to judge how well you were doing while you ran. You just had to run. As fast as you could. Each of them stood at the top with the best time at one point during the summer. No one kept the top spot for long, though. They kept pushing themselves.
Jake’s run though, that was epic. Who knows how fast he would have gotten. It was the fastest time down the sidewalk by far. Of course the time down wasn’t always as important as the time coming back. As coach would have said “You have to finish strong.”
But Jake was flying from the beginning. It seemed like his feet barely touched the concrete. He flew past the Millers’, past the Bradford’s, past the Jacbonson’s, you could tell he was going for the record. He must have even realized it. He was so confident he took time to jump at the old oak and high five a low hanging branch. No one else would have dared wasted those milliseconds.
He was reaching the end of the sidewalk a full 5 seconds above anyone else’s best time. This was the lead of a lifetime. They all watched to make sure he touched the grass. It didn’t count if you didn’t touch the grass.
His foot slid into the grass as he pivoted to make the run back. And then, he disappeared.
They all would tell the story a little different later. Tommy would say that he looked down at the stopwatch, Dave said that he blinked, Rachel was jumping up and down, and Chris swears, swears to god, that he was watching the whole time, that he never took his eyes off Jake. Whatever happened in that split second, they all agree about what happened in the next. Jake had vanished. He was just gone.
They found him 30 minutes later in the park down the street. He was swinging on the swings by himself and acting like nothing had happened. When they asked him, he said he didn’t know what they were talking about. He had been playing at the park all afternoon. He had been waiting for them.
They would disagree with Jake on this over and over throughout the years. It would turn into a joke. Like some scary story they had told around the campfire or some adventure that they just misremembered. But there was no doubt in any of the other boy’s minds. Something had happened to Jake during that 30 minutes.
They never knew what happened and it never happened again. But there was one thing that they all had in common through the years. None of them, including Jake, ever came near that patch of grass again.