Thursday, March 8, 2007

When Toby started counting, Jenny ran. She ran as quietly as she could away from the counting tree and into the tall dry grass of the field. The feathery seeding tops and sharp blade-edges of the grasses whipped her face and arms as she raced down the hill and up again. The ground was bumpy and uneven under her feet.

She knew where she wanted to hide this time. The dark underskirt of the evergreen in the corner of the field was too obvious. Everyone looked there. The old bench by the fence didn’t offer enough cover. But the broken apple tree in the middle of the field had a hollow trunk, and Toby wouldn’t know about that.

Almost there, she looked back and saw him still with his face hidden in his crossed arms, leaning against the counting tree. He was leaning farther now, tired of standing in one place. He must be getting close to a hundred. Almost there.

Jenny slid to a stop at the base of the broken apple tree. She and her sister thought it had been struck by lightning, and that’s why it was broken, so she called it the lightning tree. She’d never hidden in its hollow before. It was dark and smelled like old wood and wet alive things at the same time. She didn’t know if she would fit, but she did.

Then came the waiting. She breathed hard and quiet, waiting for her heart to stop pounding, waiting for Toby. Finally he called ready-or-not-here-I-come.

She waited, trying to listen for him. Would he go to the evergreen first? How long would it take? If he went all the way out there, she might be able to beat him back to the counting tree. She tried to hear his footsteps, the whispering swish of someone walking through the tall grasses, but she couldn’t hear him. There were too many noises around her. The wind played through the lightning tree with a sigh of leaves, a creak-and-crack of branches, and a low moan in the hollow of the trunk.

Jenny looked up to see how tall the hollow was, and she saw a ladder. Just small boards nailed to the inside of the trunk, the kind of thing you’d put up for a treehouse. And she saw that the hollow was open to the sky above her, clear and blue. She reached out and pulled herself up by the lowest board, then carefully climbed up.

At the top, she peeked through a split in the bark, which was like an old skin still standing on its own. She didn’t spot Toby, so she ventured farther and looked out properly.

The whole landscape was changed. Her house and the neighbor’s house and the barn were gone, and all around her were woods. Shocked, she looked down at the lightning tree and saw that it, too, was gone. She now stood on a platform at the top of a little wooden tower.

From somewhere in the distance, someone called her name.

Written by Riley Hoffman
Submitted on 28 February 2007

1 comment:

booker said...

I agree with Joe about that great sense of running down the hill on the uneven ground with the grass whipping by. Really, this story was everything I ever wanted out of hide and seek. The discovery of the ladder is so exciting, and I love where you left it, with a whole new world of imagination opening up.