Page 67 - WCM Summer 2022
P. 67

 Barely There
A Short Story by Michalene Hague
“Whose woods these are I think I know.”
~ Robert Frost
Three laughing boys dropped from the oak tree onto the layer of leaves beneath them. The crackle under- foot flushed their faces into smiles. Gerry, the last to thump down, fell to his knees, his black Labrador Retriever dancing around his face. As afternoon sunlight made gold stripes through the trees, the sound of distant gunshots dotted the foothills’ air. Gerry looked in that direction while pushing his dog, Petey, away from licking his cheeks.
“Hey, guys!” Gerry’s older brother Richie called. “Last one back home has to do everyone’s raking for a week!”
“You’re on!” Eddie exclaimed and took off, shouting taunts as Gerry scrambled to his feet, trying to pick off the leaf bits and twigs stuck to his jacket and pants, still a little out of breath from the jump. Petey was flying after them at full speed.
“Wait up!” Gerry yelled. “Richie! Eddie!” he shouted, looking around for his baseball cap. Petey glanced back at his voice but kept going. Where was that cap? “Wait for me! Richie!” He spotted the orange cap hanging on a lower branch, grabbed it and started running. He should have taken a moment to look first. Tripping over a tree root, Gerry landed hands and face in leaves and dirt. He hopped up quickly. “Richie?!” He could hear the older boys’ whoops, but he could no longer see them.
Gerry sighed, dusting off his jeans, face, cap and sweat- shirt. I’ ll just follow their big, fat noise, but I didn’t agree to any raking, he thought. The boys sometimes teased him and left him behind. He was used to it. He yelled their names again while he dodged through some low pine and shrub branches brushing against him. Since they had ventured deeper into the woods this time,
the nagging voice in his head kept repeating Catch up. Catch up. While zig-zagging down a leafy slope, his cap flew off, his feet slipped on twigs as he turned to get it and, whoosh! with a yelp, he was somersaulting to the bottom of the small hill. He lay there for a mo- ment, dragging air deep into his lungs, feeling his head swim in confusion. Now, he’d never catch up. Two more gunshots echoed in the distance.
“Blast that Richie,” Gerry muttered as he rolled over and sat up. He stretched and shook himself, afraid
that he’d injured himself, but realized that only his feelings were hurt. Standing up, he staggered up the hill to retrieve his cap. Wait ‘til I tell Ma at dinner tonight, he thought as he settled his cap on his head. His mother always loved a good story.
He glanced around. No sign or sound left of the older boys, or even Petey. The November air was cool, but the sun was warm on his shoulders. Gerry pulled up his sagging jeans and began to jog. Nothing seemed familiar, and he was no longer sure of his route. Trotting a faint trail through the shedding trees
and pines, he searched the landscape for something that would help him get his bearings. The sun is there, he told himself, slowing. And moss—or is it lichen—grows on the north side of trees, so if I go that way, I’ ll . . . He paused and turned. “No, maybe I should go this way,” he said aloud, hoping someone might answer and pointing a finger to another path. He halted. “What an idiot I am,” Gerry griped. “I don’t even know the direction my own house is in! Jeez, Richie, some brother you are.” He could feel something heavy in his throat.
Gerry plunked onto a log and scratched his nose. Just calm down and think, he told himself. He could fol- low a stream or a deer trail, but which one? And that could be the long way home. Or it could take him in the wrong direction. Or he could stay here and wait. Maybe. Snapping and rustling sounds came from neighboring trees. “Who’s there?” he said to the woods. “Petey?” Silence. Gerry’s chin twitched. A chickadee flitted by.
A red squirrel hip-hopped above, chittering at him.“You’re no help,” he said.“Unless. That’s it! High ground!” Something from a picture book came back to him. He stood and scanned the woods for a rise in the ground. Ah, over there! and he headed that way. The sun was getting lower, painting longer lights and shadows through the air. So why was he sweating? And why wasn’t Petey, at least, here with him? “And why am I walking so fast?” he spoke to the silent woods, the sound of his own voice some comfort.
A sun ray glared in his eyes under his visor. He squinted but saw a wall of gently sloping granite ahead of him. About ten feet high, the breaks and cracks looked easy for climbing, better than a tree. Gerry didn’t remember ever being here before, but it could be the high vantage point he wanted. The rock face felt warm against his hands and body as he began his 67

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