The 10-year-old Montgomery County boy stood calmly in his living room. In a child's straightforward voice, he described how he suddenly looked up from his play at a neighborhood creek Friday afternoon to find two older youths staring at him and his 7-year-old playmate.

"They started laughing at us and then they pulled out knives," the child said in a brief interview at his home in the Aspen Hill community.

He and the 7-year-old began scrambling up a steep embankment, he said, but the younger boy "tripped and fell down some rocks." As the 10-year-old continued to run for help, he said, he saw the youths jump on the 7-year-old and begin to beat him and cut him with their knives.

"I don't know who they were," the 10-year-old said, before his mother protectively ended the interview. "I don't want to talk too much about it."

The 7-year-old boy was in critical but stable condition yesterday at Children's Hospital, after more than three hours of surgery Friday night. The child had a fractured skull and multiple lacerations to his face, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The names of the two boys are not being published to help protect them, because police consider them witnesses to a crime.

Montgomery County police said yesterday that they have no new leads in the case. "We think they are probably from the area," said police Sgt. Harry Geehreng about the assailants. "We believe it was a random attack and not planned."

The 7-year-old's parents, who kept a constant vigil at the hospital Friday night and Saturday, would say little about the attack on their son. They said they have been able to see him several times since his surgery but would not discuss his injuries.

Meanwhile, the streets of the family's middle-class neighborhood, normally filled with playing children on a sunny day, were unusually quiet and deserted yesterday. Unmarked police cars patrolled the area of Burlwood Drive and Turkey Branch Creek, and some neighbors speculated that parents were deliberately keeping their children close to home.

"It's very unusual not to see the kids out riding their bikes and walking around," said Roland O. Cooley Jr., who lives near the 7-year-old's home. "There's an eerie feeling that persists around here."

Nick Scholz, another neighbor, said he would not allow his 8-year-old daughter, Nicole, to walk the several blocks to a neighborhood pep rally. "I drove her," said Scholz, who has two other children.

Scholz ran to the creek Friday afternoon to help the father of the injured boy. The child was face-down in the water, he said.

"I wouldn't have recognized him because of how badly he had been beaten," Scholz said yesterday. "It's a real shocker for something like this to happen in a quiet neighborhood."

Scholz said he hoped the attack would convince county officials to clean up, and perhaps fill in, Turkey Branch Creek -- a project Scholz said he has been urging for several years. Because of its steep banks, the shallow creek is not visible to motorists on adjacent Burlwood Drive.

The creek is strewn with trash, and Scholz and other neighbors think it may be a haven for teen-age drug users.

"Maybe it will take something like this for the county to come in and clean up the area," said Scholz, who accused county officials of giving him "the runaround."

He said one reason county officials had given for not cleaning up the area was the presence of small animals that they told residents are on the endangered species list.

"Now the little boy is an endangered species," he said.

County park officials, who have authority over the creek area, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Other neighbors, visibly shaken by the attack on the child, recalled yesterday the boy's friendliness and playful spirit.

"He's a very happy-go-lucky child full of life and full of pep," said Meldred Bort, whose back yard borders the creek.

Bort spoke angrily about the unknown assailants, who police believe are between 14 and 20 years old.

"Boys like this need to be put away until they know what's right," she said.

Bort said she has always been cautious about her 8-year-old granddaughter, who visits each weekend.

Now, she said, "I'll be cautious about myself."