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Story: “The People In The Park” (January 2024)


by April Grant

“Are you planning anything for Veterans Day?”

That question stuck up like a rock in our river of small talk. I was grooming Mrs. Lococo’s dog, Hugo, on a plastic drop-cloth in the middle of her green kitchen floor. Hugo, a huge white standard poodle, was almost pristine already, but he held still like a hero while I went over his butt with the brush blower.

Mrs. Lococo looked a little like her dog. She, too, had wavy, snow-white hair and a long but upturned nose. She was at least eighty, tiny and bright-eyed and peppy, and she appeared to weigh about minus-fifty pounds. I could picture her sitting sidesaddle on Hugo to ride him into Davis Square. Like a lot of our customers at Speedy Paws (the leading, also the only, mobile pet grooming company in Somerville) she had an endless supply of chat. We had already hit all the topics on my mental bingo card (how old was I, did I like my job, the weather had been warm lately, where did I live and how long had I been in Somerville?) and I’d been responding on autopilot with what I hope was a pleasant facial expression.

I talked about how I’d moved six months earlier to be close to Speedy Paws’ core customer base, and Mrs. Lococo surprised me by saying, “A lot of people are still scared to move here. I guess that’s why there are so many young people just renting in the neighborhood.”

“Mm,” I said, wondering if she was going to disappoint me with a rant about Young People, or possibly Renters: They’re Not Nice, Like Us Homeowners. I can usually tell if an older client is going to be rancid by looking at their fridge door. The more yellowed Opinion columns there are, the more likely the client will tell me that the kids these days are whiners. But Mrs. Lococo just had a souvenir Virgin Mary magnet and a memorial silhouette of John F. Kennedy, and those could go either way.

But she went on: “Young people might have missed out on hearing much about the people in the park. Are you scared of them, honey?”

She was talking about Tufts Park. It was relatively close, but I’d never gone in, knowing what I knew. It was a small park, only about the size of a city block, and I want to emphasize that there was nothing visibly dangerous about it. It had huge oak trees, and a steep hill in the middle, with paths winding up its sides, granite boulders jutting out of the grass here and there, and a stone tower at the top. People used to call the tower the Powderhouse, because of something to do with the American Revolution, and the whole block had once, nominally, belonged to the Tufts family who started the college. But people usually just said “the tower” and “the park.” If I’d been new in town, nothing would have looked sinister about the park, except that most of the time it was deserted.

“I’ve never seen them,” I said truthfully. “I don’t go near the park, if I can help it, and if I have to pass by, I make sure it’s broad daylight. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.”

Mrs. Lococo looked relieved. “Well, that’s the wisest plan, but still, you don’t have to be scared of them. We have a smooth relationship with them these days.”

I was baffled where she was going with this, if not to frighten me. “There’s a lot of misinformation about the hill,” I ventured.

“That’s it exactly!” She clapped her hands. “A lot of people live in the past. I should know that there hasn’t been a disappearance since 2011.” There was a conspiratorial glint in her eye that meant nothing to me. “But really, the people there have never been villains. Never. It’s only when they feel threatened that they retaliate.”

“Dogs usually signal if they’re going to give you a nip,” I said, to keep her talking.

There are many subreddits’ worth of fakelore about places like Tufts Park, but you don’t even need to go to the internet for creepy stories. Older clients, and at least one librarian I’d met in Somerville, and people on my street, had all warned me never to go near the park, period, under any circumstances. The sweet old man who ran the laundromat on Ball Square told me to never talk to any odd-looking strangers, for fear that they take me away and leave a “dolly” in my house to replace me. (If I steered clear of odd-looking strangers, I’d never talk to anyone in Somerville, so I’d just smiled and nodded and hoped that when I did see hill people, they would be super-obvious.)

I’d been to the city museum to see a so-called “dolly” or “changeling,” a bundle of twigs wadded up to look sort of like a baby, in a little blanket. Supposedly, the folk of the hill replaced people with things like that in historical kidnappings. I’d never seen any of the grown-up ones, but the baby ones were common (I suspect because they were easier for humans to manufacture as souvenirs). I’d never have mistaken it for a living child, but supposedly the folk of the hill had made it wiggle and cry and look convincing back in the day. That was hard to buy. As with so much of history, the only unanswered question I had was “why?” Why would the folk of the hill bother messing around with dollies at all? They were the folk of the hill. They could just do what they wanted. I thought it must be an intimidation tactic. Waking up next to one of those things would be the equivalent of the mob leaving a horse’s head in your bed.

Mrs. Lococo went on: “I used to teach history, and sometimes I think I need to come out of retirement, because no one seems to want to remember that those people fought on our side in the Revolution. And whenever anyone talks about them now, there’s this rig-a-ma-role about how they’re not even human. As if a person had to be human to be worthy! It’s enough to make me stand up and shout that we just have to let them be good neighbors.”

“I think the world needs your teaching skills, anyhow,” I said.

She beamed. “Everyone’s always talking about tolerance and no one cares to practice it on the people around them, that’s the thing.” I was still nodding along until she added, “I mean, even the people of the hill respect the police.”

“Do they,” I said, keeping it neutral despite my sudden urge to bang my head on the wall.

“I’m sure you wouldn’t do this, honey,” said Mrs. Lococo, “but I’ve heard there are some young people who want the police done away with completely. And these are kids who’ve enjoyed the protection of the law all their lives! I’m sure you’ve seen your schoolmates carry on like that.” She waited as if it had been a question.

What I wanted to say was “I’m twenty-six years old, and do I look like a narc to you?” but I also wanted to keep my job. A lot of my life is spent sparing the feelings of jolly old people with bad opinions, so I beamed at her and kept trimming Hugo’s nails. He was a joy to groom. He lifted one foot at a time for me like a horse being shod.

That was when she asked me the weird question about Veterans Day, and peered into my face as if searching for latent patriotism.

“I’m hoping to make it to the City of Somerville parade on Saturday afternoon,” I responded, smiling. Then I wondered if I should have stayed serious. I don’t know how normal people feel about Veterans Day. Pleased that it’s the World War end-iversary? Sad about everyone who died? Irrationally annoyed that the official spelling has no apostrophe?

Truthfully, I was planning to be at the parade, but for reasons I didn’t want to share with Mrs. Lococo. It was November 2023, and Israel was bombing Gaza. Closer to home, the mayor of Somerville had just done a fantastically ill-timed interview where she gushed about getting Raytheon to open an office in town (“and create jobs!”). I planned to join a group protest: we’d block Broadway, unfurl a RAYTHEON IS KILLING CHILDREN banner in front of Mayor Curry’s car, and embarrass her until the cops started arresting people. I’d never been involved in a protest, and this felt like going from zero to 100 with no brakes, but at least there would be safety in numbers.

What I said was, “What kind of trim do you want for Hugo? The same only shorter, or should we let him grow some bell-bottoms?”

We went back and forth on whether he should be as fluffy as possible for winter, or have his usual close cut to prevent matting, even though it would mean he had to wear his coat outdoors. Mrs. Lococo took this very seriously and frowned behind her huge owl-eyed glasses. I wondered if she was capable of imagining why an ordinary person might distrust the police. Hugo must have felt my hands shaking with adrenaline, because he licked my arm with his huge pink tongue in what seemed a supportive way.

Luckily, Mrs. Lococo’s enormous husband lumbered into the room, stared down at us in silence, and sat down hard in the frilly window seat. Hugo immediately abandoned me and went over to lean on Mr. Lococo’s shins. There was a glass of water on the table, and Mr. Lococo drank half and slowly took pills with the rest of the water. He had huge hands that looked as if they’d been designed to do something broader than fuss with tiny tablets. You could have made five Mrs. Lococos out of him. His big rough-hewn face was set squarely on top of his checked shirt collar with no neck on the way down, and his aged combat boots would probably have appealed to some punks I’ve known. He looked at me like his eyes just happened to be pointing in my direction. His wife fussed over him and sat on his knee, trying to make him have an opinion about Hugo’s haircut. It was like watching a chickadee flirt with a tree trunk. Mr. Lococo put a hand on his wife’s shoulder, and a hand on Hugo’s back. This seemed like a lot of effort for him. I got the feeling he wouldn’t have cared much if I’d shaved Hugo bald or French-braided his coat.

Mrs. Lococo seemed ready to go on making it her husband’s problem all night, so I said, “You’re right, why mess with perfection, we can do the same look again, it’ll just take a sec,” and laid out the sheet and clippers for Hugo’s usual undercut.

“Yes, he had enough of fussy hair in his working life,” said Mrs. Lococo, perching on her husband’s lap like a child visiting the world’s grimmest Santa Claus. “So did I, really. The second I retired from teaching, my high heels went in the trash and I never wore nylons or got a perm ever again. I simply turned into a hippie.”

“Your hair looks lovely the way it is,” I said truthfully. “What’s Hugo retired from? Did you used to show him?”

“Oh, no, I could never be a stage mom.” She giggled. “No, Hugo came into our lives as Frank’s helper dog. Then when Frank felt more like himself again, we couldn’t bear to part with Hugo, so we bought him outright.”

Something felt off about that. Hugo didn’t seem like a service animal, just a good boy who loved his humans. Maybe he was more of an emotional support animal, and the Lococos didn’t like the term. “That’s cool,” I said, and before I could stop myself added, “What did he help with?” You’re not supposed to snoop over people’s health problems. I learned my manners on the kinder parts of the internet, and that’s the consensus and I agree with it. I just got carried away.

“Eye problems,” said Mrs. Lococo, unbothered. “Frank spent a year and a half as a hostage and when he came back he had a hard time with depth perception and dizziness and all sorts of things, poor hon.” She kissed his bristly cheek.

My stomach clenched for a moment. I just had to know. “Oh, in Iraq?” I said, disingenuously, knowing full well that Mr. Lococo would have been way too old to serve overseas by the early 2000s.

“No, no, honey, under the hill,” said Mrs. Lococo, nodding towards her front window. Beyond that window lay six blocks of quiet streets packed with small frame houses, and then Tufts Park with the hill and the tower. “Oh, you didn’t know? I should have said! I always forget who we’ve already talked to about this. The people in the park kidnapped him for all of 2010 until February 2011. It was in the Globe and the Herald and we were on TV, even.”

“That’s awful!” I said.

Mrs. Lococo patted her husband’s chest, showing him off to me as if he was a handsome young stallion rather than a huge silent old man. “It was terrible. But it could have been so much worse. Think of if he’d been blown up by al-Qaeda, or he could be a prisoner with Hamas right now! There are so many young men going through so much; we’ve been relatively lucky.” She shook her head.

I felt myself getting nosier by the second. You meet all kinds of people as a dog groomer, but it’s usually hipsters telling you the one true way to scramble eggs, or attention-starved people describing their last colonoscopy. But Mr. Lococo had actually met the folk of the hill, and lived with them for months. “I’ve never met anyone who’d been through that,” I said to him.

“Well, of course you haven’t,” his wife replied. “Frank was the last human being to be illegally taken. Right after that, the exchange program with UMass Boston got off the ground. You know, very few people thought that would work, but Frank and I did all we could to encourage it while we were in the public eye, and not to blow our own horn too much, but there hasn’t been a disappearance since the three-month exchange system started. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.” She was blushing a little. Mr. Lococo continued to stare straight ahead, seemingly indifferent to our talking about him in front of him. I wondered if he’d had a stroke, or if everything human seemed insignificant after his time as a hostage.

I guided Hugo to the center of the dropcloth and got started on his trim with the silent clippers, and Hugo stood with patience. “How’d it happen?” I said.

Mrs. Lococo hesitated. “How much do you know about the folk of the hill, honey?” she said.

Too late, I recalled that a major reason humans got stuck under the hill was because they went there for weird sex. That’s why so many people disappeared and weren’t missed until it was too late – the hill folk hadn’t had to replace them with a creepy dolly, or make any effort at all. The humans in question had willingly gone underground without telling their loved ones where they were going. My parents had described this as “grown-up activities” in the one conversation we ever had about it. It was hard for me to picture Mr. Lococo as being sexy enough to qualify for the attention of the folk of the hill, even thirteen years earlier. But that wasn’t fair. He might be a slow-moving old guy to me, but his wife evidently thought he was studly, and then, too, maybe it wasn’t all about the looks. Maybe he’d been fun to be around, once upon a time.

“Well, I know what they’re not,” I said, steering the topic in a safer direction and focusing on Hugo’s hairdo. “Not gods, either Celtic or Native American.” (Mrs. Lococo nodded to keep me talking.) “The Celtic idea was debunked, and the Wampanoag have always said there were no hill folk until the Europeans showed up. I went to a talk about that at the library one time. So, the theories are either that the colonists brought them, or they erupted out of the hills as soon as the colonists were here. But we know they’re common in small steep hills, and Somerville has a lot of those, so this city is a… node of activity.” I’d read that term in the papers as the most neutral way to put it. “How’m I doing? Accurate so far?”

“Yes, exactly, honey,” said Mrs. Lococo, taking off her glasses and waving them for emphasis, “and we’re stuck with them. And do you know about the hill destruction?”

“Please remind me,” I said, as I could see she wanted to tell me.

Her eyes glittered. “Well, in the nineteenth century, we had this terrible reputation, that Somerville was just seething with the folk of the hill and they were these terrible predators. But it’s really putting the cart before the horse to say that, because the city dug up Cobble Hill and Ploughed Hill, and sold the whole shebang to Boston as in-fill. That’s a whole other story I won’t get into now. They got quite a ways into digging up Prospect Hill too.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t dig up Tufts Park too, or at least try to pour concrete into the tower,” I said.

“That was discussed as a possibility! I think the other hills were ‘worse,’ by the city’s standards, and they only had so much budget and manpower. They were trying to cut off the folk of the earth from coming out of the hills into the human city. But it didn’t make a smidge of difference, because, of course, Somerville is made of little hills and you can’t dig up the whole city. And it just got the hill people angrier, like bees when someone is kicking their hive, and that made them come out more often and just take people. Thank goodness things are better these days.” She did another round of pats on her husband’s shoulders.

I’d grown up in Western Massachusetts, where people had minimized all this even while it was happening a lot. Getting taken underground was scary, but it was far-off and impersonal, not something that could ever happen to me. The hill folk had never seemed likely to seek me out; aside from infants, they wanted artists and builders and nurses and martial-arts experts, and people who did historical crafts like woodworking, and sexy people in general, so why would they kidnap a grown-up dog groomer who was about a six out of ten on the looks front? But looking at Mr. Lococo made me wonder if I’d been overly casual about the danger. If the folk of the hill would take a frumpy old guy underground for no obvious reason, nothing was stopping them grabbing me off the street.

“I’d better watch where I walk, ha ha,” I said.

“Yes, and you have to just keep your head down and keep moving if you see them coming,” said Mrs. Lococo. “Don’t stare, just don’t get caught up in conversation. And you’ll know them if you see them. There’s always a beetle one, and there’s always a bunny one, ever since Saltonstall.”

I nodded. The bunny one had been on our side in the Revolution. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the only reason I remembered his full name — Leverett Saltonstall the Eldest — was because I’d briefly been into Hamilton.

Hugo was immaculate, and even his patience was at an end; he was starting to fidget and shake his ears. I couldn’t spin out the task of grooming him any longer.

“Good boy, you’re done!” I said to Hugo. “Good job. You have the patience of a saint. Go see Daddy.” Hugo licked my arm and went over and leaned on Mr. Lococo.

I just had to ask. “How’d she get you back, Mr. L?” I said.

Mr. Lococo put his hand on Hugo’s head but otherwise didn’t react.

“It was just like the song says, honey,” put in Mrs. Lococo. “I pulled him off his horse and threw my green cloak over him till they all gave him up to me.” She whooped with laughter. I could tell I was missing the joke and wondered what song she was thinking of. “And then he was a long time finding his feet. Weren’t you, dear heart?” she added in cooing tones to her husband. He continued to just sit there.

It finally hit me that Mr. Lococo’s time under the hill had left him with some kind of cognitive problem, not just eye trouble. When I spoke directly to him, I’d called attention to it, while Mrs. Lococo was doing her damnedest to talk around it. I felt like a jerk.

“But not to be a Pollyanna,” she went on, perky as ever, “now he’s strong as a horse and even healthier than when he went under the hill. Aren’t you, dear?” she added to him.

Mr. Lococo acquired the hint of a smile. “I don’t smoke,” he said to me. His voice was so deep it was like he had a subwoofer in his chest.

Mrs. Lococo flitted into the front hall to find her purse while I packed my supplies. She had an open tab with Speedy Paws, but she always tipped us in cash, like a good citizen. I drifted after her with my stuff, because I’d never been further than their kitchen before. The walls were covered in framed letters scrawled in crayon and awful art made of yarn and popsicle sticks, from her students down the years.

There was also a gold frame with two photos. One was a grainy 1960s-looking picture and showed a small, beaming woman at her graduation, with some sort of honor-student sash over her shoulders and her red hair curling out from under a mortarboard. The other was a professional posed photo of a young man in olive-green fatigues, swaggering in a doorway. He was hot. I mean, just sensational. I don’t even like them big and muscly, most of the time. He had piercing blue eyes and an arrogant smile and five o’clock shadow and an air of contempt that made me want to impress him. If he’d been in the room with me I’d have found any excuse to touch him.

“That’s you guys!” I said.

“Oh, yes.” She smiled. “Weren’t we babies?”

“When are these from?”

“Oh, well, let’s see, I graduated in 1962, but Frank’s is from, it would have to be at least two years later because I saved up to buy that camera, and only had it…” She looked bothered for a moment and interrupted herself, “Here you are, honey, don’t spend it all in one place,” and pressed a twenty into my hand. I thanked her profusely, petted Hugo’s ears one more time, and left, before I could blurt out anything like “Your husband used to be a sex bomb.”

There were three fig trees in the Lococos’ tiny front yard. They’d been wrapped up for the winter in blue plastic sheeting bound around them with duct tape, and they looked a little like tall, hunched people in blue raincoats. I wondered if Mrs. Lococo had done it all herself or if her husband had taken the initiative.

I spent the twenty dollars on laundry detergent and shampoo, to replace what I’d been stealing from my housemates.

For a few days I didn’t think much about the Lococos or the people in the park. There was a lot on my mind. The war on Gaza continued, thanks to US funding. Work also kept me distracted; it’s hard to think of your theoretical fears and long-term sadnesses when you’re freeing a Persian cat from his mats or trimming the nails of a yellow Lab who doesn’t like to have her paws touched.

I did read some online newspapers’ coverage of the redemption of Mr. Lococo, but it was a let-down. None of them described Mrs. Lococo tackling her husband off a horse and claiming him from among the hill folk; most of them didn’t name names. Presumably this was to respect the Lococos’ privacy, but I had been hoping for a more lurid account, from all the hinting she had done. The articles all went straight from praising “a local woman” for her resourcefulness and her support of a nonviolent approach, to talking about the beginnings of the exchange program with UMass Boston. Not even the Herald printed anything detailed or gossipy.

I searched for their names, titles, possible nicknames. This produced several heartwarming news pieces about Lillian Lococo being honored for her decades of service as a high school teacher. There was even a sweet picture of Mrs. Lococo when she still had some red in her hair, being given a wreath of roses by cute moppets.

Frank Lococo” didn’t get me anyone who could possibly be the man I’d met. The closest I came was a police report about a “Francis Lococo” being arrested in 1999 for trying to hit another man with his car, while drunk, outside a pub called Mossy’s that wasn’t around anymore. I tried to imagine the placid old man I’d seen behaving in that fashion, and I failed. It must be a lowlife cousin. I hoped Mr. Lococo had never had a hard time because of his name-alike.

Action Above All planned our protest over a video call, and I agreed to be at Ball Square at 1:00 and at the corner of Liberty Ave at 1:30, and kept my game face on. Afterwards, I went to bed and had nightmares where the police flung me in jail, then forgot about me. The jail was like a dry swimming pool with no ladder and the lights switched off. I woke up thirsty and despondent.

Even so, I got up on Saturday with my friend Juniper’s number written on my leg in Sharpie, in case I got arrested and could only make one phone call. (Juniper didn’t have bail money, any more than I did. I was just planning on calling her to brag. Someone should know I’d been brave, if I ended up in a dry swimming pool.)

It was a steely gray day, and in my deliberately anonymous sweatshirt and jeans, I walked to the Ball Square T stop to meet the other participants. There were about forty of us, though more people wandered up and took part later, so I never got a final number. My heart was thundering as we split up into small groups to walk to the rendezvous spot, and lie in wait for the Mayor’s car.

We walked closer and closer to the area I’d been avoiding for so long, till everybody stopped right at the corner of Tufts Park.

“Wait, here?!” I said, and got looked at like I was an idiot. Someone pointed out that it was the middle of the day, with no hill people in sight.

It had just not registered with me that “the corner of Liberty Ave” was right next to the park. You can tell I don’t normally go within blocks of the place, and I don’t remember street names well. I considered ditching the whole event and going home. But we were on the relatively open, flat side of the park, where people sometimes stand on the sidewalk and throw sticks for their dogs onto the grass. (If a dog drops a stick there, the human doesn’t pick that stick back up.) Trying to calm myself, I thought, “If chumps can take their dogs here all the time and not get kidnapped, I’ll be fine.”

About a hundred yards away, the ground sloped up steeply and the big oak trees began.

The tower at the top didn’t look large or imposing. It was set so far back on the rise that the tree trunks all but concealed it from us. But for the first time since I’d seen the place, it was unlocked. The steel-bound wooden door at the base was propped open, and there was a yellow light in the one little window at the top. A Parks and Recreation pickup truck was idling further up Liberty Ave, with a city employee in it, presumably just playing games on his phone until the folk of the hill wanted him to lock up again. The door was there to keep humans out of the tower, not to keep the hill people confined. There were hill people out and about and they could be anywhere.

Everyone was shrugging it off but me. I wondered if I should accept that my fellow A3 members had common sense I lacked, or else boldly take a stand and insist on us all getting some distance from the park.

Then we heard a slow, patriotic brass band tune coming down Broadway from Winter Hill, and everyone went on the alert. The Veterans Day parade was coming, high school band, vintage cars, and all. I found I only had room in my heart to be scared of one thing at a time, and I made my fear of the hill and my fear of the police fight it out inside me, while I joined the protest on auto-pilot.

I don’t want to say much about the protest. We were a local news story, and then a meme for a hot minute, and I’ve talked too much about it in my day-to-day life. What it taught me was that I can push past my embarrassment and my fear-based paralysis, if the cause is good. It all shook out with me soaking myself in fake blood and standing in front of Mayor Curry’s car roaring, “End the killing!”

It felt downright sociable, because there were ten other fake-blood-soaked A3 members doing the same thing, and fifteen more unfurling a banner reading CEASEFIRE, plus the Third Wave Feminist Brass Band standing off to one side playing “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.” Apart from playing music, they didn’t do much, but it cheered me up to hear them. Mayor Curry sat in the back of a vintage convertible, trying to act as if she didn’t know we were there and smiling at nothing. My schadenfreude boiled up and I swore I would make her as uncomfortable as possible for as long as possible.

I wasn’t intimidated when two older women came out of a house near Pearson Road and told me that if I hated my country, I should leave. It’s amazing that rancid old people are still saying this. It was like something out of a crappy editorial cartoon from the seventies.

Anyway, I bring this up because the protest caused me to see the hill riders far too closely. We’d successfully blocked the Mayor’s car, standing in a line across Broadway right before the intersection. We were at the foot of Tufts Park, but that was the farthest thing from my mind by then. I was at the right-hand end of the line near the park sidewalk, but I was participating, and covered in our red soap/dye mixture, which itched. I held hands in line with a punk who had her bandanna over her KN95 mask, and a girl who had worn full-body leopard-print fleece as some sort of statement. We were roaring that the city was in bed with arms dealers, and the Mayor was scrolling on her phone in an effort to ignore us. The bike cops escorting the parade were circling us, yelling at us to get out of the road, but so far all they had done was yell.

Behind the Mayor’s car was the high school marching band, who had made an effort to drown us out, lost their place, and were now milling around dying of embarrassment. One of our organizers had said, “Make it as awkward as you can for as long as you can. You’ve transcended cringe. They have not.” Encouraged, I planted my feet.

Behind the band, the hill riders had been marching in the parade. At this point, they got tired of waiting and quit.

They circled around the band, one at a time. Instead of going straight up into the park, they made an ostentatious half-circle out into the street on their big horses, clopping along at a walk, then turned towards us where we stood in a line across Broadway. I thought they were going to make their horses trample us, and I almost dropped the punk’s hand and ran away.

Someone three places down the line said in a pervert voice, “Step on me, Daddy.” We started giggling, though it was a very shaky giggle on my part. I stayed where I was.

The riders crossed the street between the Mayor’s car and us, so close I could have touched their horses’ legs, and finally turned toward the grassy slope of Tufts Park. I risked a look up there. The tower was just visible through the trees, door open, light burning.

The horses looked well-fed and glossy, and Third Wave playing “We Didn’t Start The Fire” didn’t faze them. Their ears still pointed forward. I got the impression they would have run onto a battlefield without stressing about it. Some looked pretty old – not that I know much about horses, they just seemed weathered — but they were all strong and quiet. They were shod with copper, green around the edges of their hooves, and orange where the pavement had scraped off the patina.

Every single horse looked me in the face as they came past our line, because I was right where they had to turn. I stared up at the riders so I could drop out of the way in case one took a swing at me.

The first was the nameless one who looks like a suit of armor with yellow light inside it, riding on a glossy brown horse with white feet. Or maybe the suit of armor has been reused with different hill people inside it, many times, over centuries. Or it’s not armor and it grows on the wearer like a beetle’s carapace. Anyway, I can confirm that the eyeless metal snout thing on the front of the helmet has a contemptuous expression. I’d seen pictures of him because he’d also fought in the Revolution, but unlike the bunny one, he doesn’t have a name. He rode on.

Close behind him came a placid white horse, and on its back rode the bunny one himself, Leverett Saltonstall the Eldest. I don’t know that it’s ever been established whether he has been alive continuously for three hundred years, or whether there have been multiple generations of Hill soldiers who look like bunnies, and we just think they’re all the same guy. He was big. Even if he hadn’t been on a horse, he’d have been big. He loomed up with his lop ears hanging down over his armor, and his soft furry face had a disapproving expression. He was idly steering his horse with one paw on the reins; in his other paw, he had this horrible thing that was somewhere between a scythe, a sword, and a vegetable peeler. I almost ran away when I saw that. The punk felt me shudder and grabbed my hand so hard it hurt. I entered a state of fear that was almost calm, and noticed that his paws had hair on the pads, just like he was a huge version of a normal rabbit. His beady black eyes met mine and he gave off a wave of disgust, like he’d just turned over a rock and seen me wiggling. He could have pinned me with the vegetable peeler thing, but he seemed to realize this was not the time or place, and he passed by.

There were others, more than twenty riders, half of them hill people. They all blur together in my mind. I remember one beautiful one who was like a human woman in a green jumpsuit, except that her mouth was constantly open on a silent laugh, and instead of a tongue or teeth she had a blue growth like a sea anemone.

After them came memorial horses, with empty helmets tied on their backs to commemorate people who had died. None of the helmets was the size or shape of a human head. These horses were led by humans, young ones in plain white outfits like junior chefs. The hill folk seemed to like humans to wear white. I saw a boy with freckles who looked very small, and a similarly tiny woman. They were ordinary human size – I’d just had my perspective shaken badly. These were the exchange students, I eventually realized. Even with everything, the war and the arms manufacturers and the fake blood making me sticky and the fear in my heart of the hill people that kept creeping back no matter what I did, I wanted to shout, “How do you keep horses healthy underground?!”

The last memorial horse had a human skull tied to its saddle with a plain gold crown stuck on top. After that came the hostages. There were two of them, handcuffed and shackled and sitting sideways on the horses with their legs bound onto the saddle fastenings. Each horse had four hill people walking on foot alongside it to guard the hostages.

By that point, a bunch more police had arrived and they were working from the other end of the line, grabbing protest members by both arms, frisking and zip-tying them, and dragging them to the back of a police van. I was steeling myself for it to hurt, and the punk was double-checking her pockets to make sure they were empty pre-frisking. She found a single Advil and swallowed it.

The hill folk are legally entitled to keep two human hostages. Both of them were paraded right past us, but unfortunately it happened as I was being zip-tied, so I never saw them or their guards clearly. One of them was a woman wearing sort of eighties-looking jeans and a belted sweater. She just sat there. But the other hostage groaned and called out and struggled against his handcuffs constantly, and the hill people walking beside him kept jabbing blunt sticks at him to shut him up. I don’t think they actually hit him. He would gasp and fall silent and then yell, “Lilly! No, no, you can’t, you can’t leave me here! Help me down, help me dow-ww-nnn,” trailing off in a wail like a child, then picking up energy: “Get me out of here, you bitch! Bitch! Bitch!” On and on like that in a weak shout like he was in the last stages of emphysema.

Two cops gripped my arms like I was a child in a tantrum, but I got one good look at the hostage before they dragged me to the van.

He was Mr. Lococo. Not the old man I’d seen in the window seat with Mrs. Lococo adoring him; this man actually looked like an elderly version of the photo from the hallway. Piercing eyes, square jaw, broad mouth, body thick all over, a faint trace of swagger remaining, but mostly looking affronted to be hauled through the streets as a trophy. Then the cops packed me into the van and shut the doors on us.

None of us were officially arrested. The police zip-tied our wrists and made us sit in the back of the van, backs against the sides, with our legs bunched up in the middle. I slumped there trying to put two and two together about the hostages, and accidentally kicking people, and not really taking in what anyone was saying.

The back of the police van stood open for a few seconds after they threw me in there, because the punk girl whose name I never caught had chosen to lie right down on the asphalt and go limp. The police officers struggled to lift her.

“Jesus, she’s like a squid!” said the woman officer.

“Thank you,” said the punk, dangling in her grasp.

I took this in with half an ear. I had seen someone else I recognized, in the distance. I was sticky and scraped up and kept accidentally kicking the girl in the leopard-print leggings and apologizing, but that didn’t command my attention either.

Framed perfectly by the back of the van, I saw Mrs. Lococo on the sidewalk at the foot of the hill, standing at the bottom of the stairs up into Tufts Park. She must have watched the whole protest, and I’d been too keyed up to notice her. Parade-goers and police crowded in the middle distance, but she was still and quiet, and so was her big white dog.

I had never seen her in street clothes before. She wore a reddish-brown sweater and creased gray trousers and a big green scarf – it was a sharp outfit – and her hair was up in a soft white knot. She didn’t have a leash on Hugo, but he was pressed so closely against her side that it seemed unlikely anyone would notice. The two of them were watching as the last of the white horses with the hostages and their guards rode in front of them and trooped up the hill to the tower.

By that time, the sun had come out from behind a cloud, and low golden rays were shining through the bare oak trees on the hill. The tower didn’t look any less creepy in direct sunlight. The door was still open, and the guards and the exchange students were guiding horses into it. I kept thinking they were too big, that they would scrape their riders off against the top of the door, but the horses obviously knew the drill and ducked their heads, and the riders lay forward or were forced down by the guards. Horse after horse disappeared into the tower, like the reverse of a clown car. It must have a steep spiral ramp going down inside the hill. The horse with the struggling, bound man on its back ambled into the tower and was safely put away underground.

Then the cops threw the limp punk onto the van floor, across our legs, and slammed the doors on us and drove the van a short distance. We all sat there in the dark for about an hour. Sometimes we called out to the cops, to know whether we were under arrest, and the cops ignored us except to run the air conditioner.

One of the older guys from Food Not Bombs started teaching everyone to sing “Solidarity Forever,” and we all joined in, initially in a half-assed way but then with increasing passion.

Eventually the cops took us all out of the van again, two by two. It was getting dark. We’d been parked on the far side of Broadway outside a lawyer’s office the entire time. They cut the zip ties off us and told us to go home and wash up.

There was a faint yellow light still burning in the tower window, and it was dark enough I couldn’t see if anyone was still wandering in the park. I walked a good half-mile out of my way, around the university athletic fields so that I wouldn’t have to go any closer to either the hill or Mrs. Lococo’s house that day. In a distracted way I was relieved not to have been fully arrested. Still, I had other things to worry about.

I was sure that if I told people what Mrs. Lococo had really done, they would believe me. But what could anyone do against the hill folk? The fact remained, I didn’t want to make trouble for Mrs. Lococo, who was a kind old lady and deserved to live in peace with her giant wooden husband and their dog.

At least, I hope she deserved peace. Sometimes I lie awake thinking about that. I hope the real Mr. Lococo had it coming. From the way he was raging, he sounded like a dickhead, but then again, if I’d been left to rot, I’d be angry too.

Sometimes I wonder how she had the strength and endurance to teach the fake Mr. Lococo to walk and talk and act like a human, well enough to convince everyone she had her husband back. She was already pretty old in 2011. Hugo must have helped, but there’s only so much a dog can do. I wonder how the fake Mr. Lococo likes having to be a person. I wonder what they made him out of.

It only occurs to me now, as I write this down: she didn’t care a hoot about the Veterans Day parade. She just wanted me to see the whole thing so she could brag without saying a word.

Oh, well. My first protest went fine, and I’d do it again. Getting zip-tied with the gang was comparatively restful after all that time with the hill folk. Maybe I’ll give Mrs. Lococo an oak twig, to let her know I saw her seeing everything, next time my boss sends me to trim Hugo. But I hope that won’t happen for a while yet.