Fourteen year old Taylor Anna Croft took a deep breath as she strolled down the brick paved streets of inner Benton, Croft Street a street named after a descent ancestor was among a handful of streets that remained paved in the original brick. Mains Street, Town Creek Road, Millers Streets, Grand Street and finally Wilson's Creek Street being the other streets or areas of Benton that had kept the brick paving. All of the streets shared one thing in common, they all fed into Main Street. So close were they, that one could leave the front porch of their house and in about an hour's time of strolling they would be in the heart of town. Sixteen minutes tops if they had a bike, twenty minutes tops if they caught the trolley that ran on the sixteen miles of rails that had been laid between the bricks a hundred and twenty so years ago.

Anyway Taylor had just moved to Benton a season ago. Her mother, attracted by cheap housing and a dream to open her own business had uprooted Taylor from her settled life in Yazoo City following a nasty divorce. Her mother who had reclaimed her maiden name of Croft had also given it to her youngest and only daughter. The move at the time had been the most logical choice, She had dreamed of opening her own business since she was a little girl, and while her father had surrendered the house, and the small plot of land it sat on to Taylor and her mother, they could never hope to afford to keep it, so they ended up selling it. The house had fetched a good price, the money from the sell had allowed Taylor and her mother to move from Yazoo City and buy a nice little cottage located at the corner of Croft and Town Creek Road. The asking price had shocked her mother, it was a steal. The money left over from buying the house and the move just been enough for her mother to buy the old veterinarian clinic downtown. Her mother soon secured a small business loan and after refurbishing the old building she had opened it, the former 'Benton Animal Hospital' reopened under its new name 'Croft's Veterinarian Clinic' and it soon thrived as it had been at least twenty something years since the town had one.

All of these thoughts flew through Taylor's head as she picked her way down the brick paved streets. Today was the first of July and the town was gearing up for a four day town wide celebration. The celebration included such events as a veterans parade that was being organized by Benton High School's JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program. The local paper said the parade was to feature twenty eight local veterans from all wars, the JROTC Program in full formation, and bands from all three of the town's high school's, Benton High School, Benton Academy and St Caries Academy. The local girl scout and boy scout troops would also be featured in the parade and so would all fourteen girls who had been nominated for the first ever annual 'Ms. Benton' beauty pageant.

That was the first day, on the second day, there would be the crowning of the first ever 'Ms. Benton' and another parade featuring cheerleaders from all three schools, and of course the football players. The crowning would of course follow the parade, following the parade there a talent show featuring local youths. The third day would feature an all day civil war reenactment just East of town. And the fourth day would feature a huge firework display that was according rumor would light up the night sky with dozens of colorful displays.

Of course, local craftsmen, pit masters, civic clubs and youth organizations would be hosting attractions both day and night. Local musicians and rock bands would also be putting on shows. Local celebrations would be taking turns in the town's dunking booth, and the cheerleaders would be staffing the annual pie tossing booth. A deep blush colored Taylor's face as she rounded the corner of Croft Street and moved onto Main Street. There would also be the 'Slime Booth' a booth staffed by local youths who had volunteered to sit under a pitcher, the pitcher held around six gallons of slime. The pitcher was connected to a lever that was connected to a trigger. The brave volunteer would sit on a wooden chair under the pitcher and the people who would drop five dollars to toss tennis balls at the target, if they hit the target the pitcher would tip over and the brave volunteer below would be dosed in twelve gallons of freezing cold slime.

Six days ago, Taylor volunteered for the booth, never expecting she'd get picked to be among the handful of local youths who had also volunteered to staff the booth. After all, she barely considered herself a local, having only lived in the town for six or so months and at the time of volunteering she had worn a green and white ribbon in her hair, green and white had been the colors of her former school, Manchester Academy. The woman who had taken her form had given her this odd kind of look when she noticed the color of her ribbon. She liked the ribbon as green and white she thought went with her strawberry blonde colored hair. It also highlighted the color of her eyes, a deep blue color eyes and her porcelain colored skin.

Thinking back to that day, she had even worn her old Manchester Academy tee-shirt with her jean skirt. A deep, plum blush colored her cheeks as she remembered the look the woman behind the counter gave her as she turned in her application. The woman had quizzed her about the shirt, okay quizzed was not the right word, grilled was more like it and through a series of hard nose questions, Taylor had revealed she had once been a cheerleader at her old school. When asked what school was that, she had responded to Manchester Academy, the woman's voice then turned to acid as she handled the application like someone who had just been handed a snake. Her tone of voice did soften when she learned later that Taylor was here on account of her mother's recent divorce. The woman being true to her southern roots pressed for more information. Unknown to Taylor the town's rumor mill had been going a hundred miles an hour for several weeks as news of somebody buying on the Old Sterling house broke, small things generated a considerable amount of fuss in small towns, and somebody moving in, moving out or buying the old haunted house was considered very newsworthy.

Her musing had carried her a good way into Main Street. The entrance of Main Street was blocked by a dozen or so saw horses; across the center of each one was sketched the words ``Department of Public Works – Benton". The saw horses formed some of a barricade, beyond this barricade Taylor could see the beginnings of the three day celebration. The brick paved streets were filled with people who were just milling about. Rows of colorful tents lined the street. Already many of the merchants and ventures were hard at work getting their booths ready for tomorrow morning.

Looking to her left and then to her right, Taylor took a quick breath and then she quickly slipped under one of the saw horses. There was still a good hour and a half before the streetlights came on, her mom had given her the old classic warning that you better be home before the street lights come on. It was a vague warning, Taylor doubted her mother would be keeping up with the time anyway, she had a rare date this evening and was out on the town.

Pushing those thoughts aside, Taylor pushed into the heart of the money making beast. After ten minutes of mindless wandering she finally found the booth she was looking for. The Slime booth had been set up this year in a vacant lot located between two of the tall buildings downtown. The lot had been turned into a car parking lot and had been paved over in bricks to match the rest of downtown. Sitting under the pitcher was a teenage girl, a few years older than Taylor she had chestnut hair that reached down to the small of her back. She wore a simple classic baby blue two piece bikini and her baby blue eyes seemed to twinkle in the dim twilight.

"Come on! Hit the target and slime me!" She called out to a blonde haired girl who was standing just behind a long strip of yellow tape.

The blonde girl took a deep breath and tossed the ball toward the target, the ball sailed through the air, it sailed over the trigger and smacked into the safety net behind the trigger. The girl wearing the baby blue bikini just stood there, her arms crossed over her shoulders and a pout a mile wide wrinkled her face.

"COME ON JAMIE." She yelled, her high pitched voice carried over the noise and confusion. "I know you are a blonde, but you're not that blonde! Jesus girl, I think you need to get your eyes checked. Glasses look cute on some girls, you know." The brown hair girl added as the blonde hair girl stood there blushing a deep reddish color. She muttered something under her breath and reached down and picked up another yellow tennis ball. She wrapped her fingers around the tennis ball and gave it a good hard toss toward the trigger. The ball sailed smoothly and gracefully through the air and a second later smashed into the red trigger. A second later, the bucket above the brown hair girl's head was tipped over and a cascade of green sludge came pouring down on her head, the sludge domed as it splattered on her head before starting to coat her hair and shoulders with thick, mucus green slime.

"Oh LORD THAT IS COLD!" The brown haired girl said as she stood up. She then took a deep breath as she looked down at her slime splatter bathing suit. "And this stuff is so thick! God the color! It's freezing too!" She said shivering as she started to gingerly pick her way from the chair. She then turned around and faced the blonde hair girl who had smashed the target, a broad smile appeared on her face. "But that nothing compared to the bean bath, man, my hair smelled like tomato sauce for days and we were still finding beans in the bathroom." The girl giggled.

"Hey! You volunteered to test the booth!" Cried a blonde hair girl as she walked toward the brown haired girl and handed her a towel. The brown hair girl took the towel and started to towel off.

Taylor took a deep breath as she peered toward the pair. The two seemed to be friends, and the way they easily joked with each other, made her a bit jealous. She envied people who had friends like that. Her own social circle of friends had been shattered, broken and torn asunder when her father signed the divorce papers, and her mother sold their house and small plot of land on Gordon Avenue, the area that was home to the most fashionable of families. It had been that social demotion that all of her former classmates blocked her number and blocked her on Facebook. Having your number blocked and being removed from somebody friends list on Facebook, was the teenage equivalent of being shunned.

Collecting her thoughts. Taylor turned toward home. Full dark had almost fallen. The pale, silvery moon could be seen hanging in the night sky, as if suspended from an invisible string. Yes, home, back to home.. back to her room, her own little world within a world.

End Chapter I