Tish Farrell has offered this photo as a prompt for a story, so I took up her challenge. My story is below the picture. Visit Tish’s site to find out how she came to take the picture.
BEYOND THE SPIDER’S WEB
Nessa was starting to feel a little chilly. When she’d left the group of picnickers, after the argument, she had intended to walk just a little while, until her anger dissipated, and then turn back. But somewhere she had taken a wrong turn and ended up in this wooded area. Now she was good and lost. The afternoon had turned brisk, and she’d left her sweater at the picnic site. She was pretty sure she needed to be heading in the direction the sun’s rays were coming from in order to get back to the group. She wondered about why she didn’t hear anyone calling for her, but, of course, they didn’t know she was lost.
After one more turn to head directly toward the sun, she spotted an old barn in a small clearing. One side wall was leaning awkwardly, and part of the roof had obviously fallen in. But she decided she needed to sit down and catch her breath, and at least this offered a little shelter.
As she got to the window, she peered inside to make sure no ferocious animal was making his home there. A huge spider’s web covered most of the window opening, and she had to move her head from side to side to see through the silken threads. But she saw no living creatures inside — just a pile of old flower pot, a rusty pitchfork, and several pieces of rotting wood that had fallen from the roof.
Moving to the left, she finally spotted a door, and pushing against it with all her strength, she managed to get it open enough to walk inside the building. The musty smell was strong: rotting hay, dust, dead foliage, and lots of mouse droppings, if she wasn’t mistaken.
But the relief from the wind was welcome, and there was enough light to look for a dry board or two to make a seat to sit down on and stretch out her legs. She sat for several minutes, enjoying the change in position, but gradually, she realized that she was hearing something besides the silence she’d expected. It was like a tapping — rhythmic but with pauses now and then — followed by the same sounds repeated. It was a pattern that spoke to her musical soul, but it wasn’t music. It was . . . what exactly was it? It was almost like code of some kind, but she dismissed that idea as ridiculous.
But it kept repeating — light, but insistent — until she couldn’t ignore it any longer and had to get up and make her way toward the direction from which it came. Trying to tell herself that it was just a loose board being blown against the wall by the wind, she continued in that direction. But by now she knew the tapping was too light to be just a board — and too rhythmic to be the result of the erratic wind. Her first twinges of uneasiness at being lost were now growing into outright fear at what she might find when she reached the source of the sound.
She stopped. She argued with herself. “I don’t have to go on. I can get out of here and keep walking. Besides, I need to keep moving while I can still be guided by the sun.”
That line of thought sounded good, but then the tapping caught her attention again, and she couldn’t dismiss the idea that if there was someone else here who needed help, she’d never forgive herself for running away. So digging deeper for what courage she had left, she eased herself forward toward an inner door. As she pushed the squeaky door open, the tapping suddenly stopped. There was dead silence for long seconds, and then a tiny voice, choked with tears called out: “Is someone there? Is someone there?”
Nessa’s heart almost stopped. She didn’t know whether to answer or not, but then thought how foolish to have come all this way to see if someone needed help and then refuse to offer it. Then the voice sounded again. “Please . . . is someone there? Please help me!”
Suddenly, Nessa’s heart took over from her terrified thoughts, and she answered, moving forward as she did. “Yes, I’m here. But where are you?”
“I’m up here!” the tearful voice called, and Nessa looked up for the first time. There, not ten feet from her, in the hay loft, a young boy was hanging out of a hole in the loft, with one leg still stuck up in the hole. He was holding onto a rope that hung from the loft as well, trying to keep himself balanced. With his other hand, he was tapping a piece of wood against the ladder leading to the loft. He couldn’t reach the ladder from where he hung, but he could hit it with the wooden stick.
“Oh, my goodness!” Nessa cried and ran toward him. “What happened?”
“I . . . I fell through a hole in the hay loft, but my leg got caught on something as I fell, and it won’t come loose . . . although I don’t want it to come loose if I can’t get a better hold on this rope because I would fall to the floor on my head. I called and called for help until my throat hurt too much to keep calling. Then I kept hitting this stick against the ladder, hoping someone would hear me.”
As she came closer, Nessa, realized the boy couldn’t be more than eight or nine years old. His tousledd blond hair hung down from his head as he hung almost upside down, and his face was dirty with smeared dirt and tears. “I’ll see what I can do to help you,” Nessa said, as she started to climb the ladder to the loft.
“Be careful,” the boy said. “That ladder has some rotten rungs.”
“Why on earth were you in here climbing it anyway?” she asked.
He sniffed. “I was running away from home.”
By that time Nessa was in the loft and had discovered that his leg was caught between two boards. She didn’t she any blood, but it was for sure he’d have a serious bruise on his leg when this was over. She tested the rest of the floor around the hole, and finding it solid enough to support her weight, she went to work slowly reaching down for the boy’s shirt and gradually pulling him back in the direction of the loft.
When she had him close enough to have a secure grip on him, she worked at loosening the boards around his leg with her other hand. It was slow work, and he cried out in pain once, but she finally managed to get his leg loosened enough for him to use it to help lift his own weight back toward the opening in the loft.
After a great deal of tugging and huffing and puffing by both of them, the boy was able to reach back through the hole with his own left arm and help pull himself the rest of the way into the loft. They both just sat there, catching their breath for some minutes.
Finally, Nessa spoke. “My name’s Nessa, by the way. What’s yours?”
“I’m Timmy Randall.”
“Do you live near here?”
“Yeah, just over that hill.” He hung his head and took a deep breath. “I didn’t get very far running away, I guess. I got tired, and I crawled up in the loft to take a nap. And that’s when I fell.”
“So why were you running away? Are your parents mean to you?”
“Well . . . they won’t let me have a horse.”
“What! Is that a good reason to run away from your family?”
“Well . . . they promised me a horse for my birthday, but when my birthday got here — yesterday — they said they didn’t have the money to get me a horse, and all they gave me was a new pair of shoes.” He started to cry again.
“But maybe something happened and your parents really don’t have the money to buy a horse,” Nessa argued.
“But you don’t understand. I bragged to all my friends that I was getting a horse for my birthday. They all laughed at me and said I was lying — that my parents were too poor to buy me a horse — and that I was stupid to believe they would. Now I can’t go back to school with all those kids. They’ll just laugh at me even more.”
Nessa studied him, weighing her options. Deciding her best bet was to get him to feel more sorry for her than he did for himself, she said. “Well, I’ll tell you what, Timmy. I’d like to help you, but the truth is that I’m completely lost out here. I was on a picnic with my friends, and we had an argument, and I did something as dumb as you did. I just took off walking. But now it’s almost dark, and I don’t know how to get out of these woods, and I’m so scared I don’t think I can help you at all. I’ve got to try to find my way home all by myself.”
Timmy looked at her for several seconds, his eyes wide, and his mouth hanging open. Here was someone with a bigger problem than he had. At least he knew how to get home — to a warm meal and a soft bed and someone to be sure he was safe for the night. Suddenly his green eyes lit up, and a grin spread across his dirty face.”
“Hey, you know what? I can take you to my house, and my dad can drive you home!”
Nessa feigned surprise. “You’d do that for me? But you’re running away.”
Tim thought about her words a couple more seconds. “Well, I figure it this way. You saved my life just now. If you hadn’t helped me, I would have hung there ’til all the blood ran to my head and I’d have had to let go of the rope I was hanging onto, and I would have fallen to the floor, hit my head, and died.
“But since you stopped to help me and now it’s too dark for you go get home, I’m going to take you home with me.” The last words were punctuated by another big grin. After all, there was no shame in changing his mind about running away in order to help a young lady in distress, now was there? He could go back home — where he’d really wanted to be all along — and save face at the same time.
“Well, Timmy,” Nessa said, as she stood up, “I’d be really, really grateful if you’d do that for me.”
Tim hopped up as well, wincing just a little as he put weight on his injured leg. His grin widened. “It will be my pleasure, Miss Nessa,” he said, holding out his hand to grasp hers as they made their way carefully back to the ladder to start their journey home.