Troy's leg was acting up, giving him a nasty headache. He needed to rest awhile. Stop, look and listen flashed into his mind. He finally stopped, noticing a fierce looking scrape with a dark shade painting his pink skin. He touched it gingerly then stood up slowly.
Climbing unsteadily up the edge of the ravine allowed loose rock and earth to tumble under his feet. His right foot dragged, then the left one. MoveMove. It seemed as if he passed a zillion trees scraping the side of a mountain.
Troy paused often. His mosquito-bitten body cried out in pain and frustration. A scattering of low-slung ridges lay before him. Where was he? How could he have left the riverbed? It was the one area he knew.
All he had to do was follow it downstream. He was so stupid. He kicked at the earth hurting his leg even more. He had rushed across one hill, then another. After a while they all began to blend into one. Why did he have to run away pounded inside his head.
Troy slapped at the constant buzzing of mosquitoes. They were driving him crazy. He dug repeatedly in the earth for some moisture, since it was so dry in the higher country. His tongue was parched.
He looked ugly with clumps of mud around his head and face. At least it helped fight off two or three-dozen mosquitoes. A cloud of them danced around his sweating neck and belly. Large pieces of cloth had been ripped from his T-shirt exposing his bare skin.
He smelled his own sweat. So much of it was due to fear. He tiredly sat back on his butt. Troy swatted mosquitoes from his legs. His jeans were tattered from walking through miles of raspberry bushes.
Remaining shreds of cloth hung from his legs like pennants.
Oh for some water and a dip from that little lake he saw in the distance. It didn't seem to get closer, at all. He had to get to the water. Somehow. It was the main objective in his young life right now. He needed moisture.
But it seemed so far away. Even after all this walking. If Dad were here he'd say, "Never give up, chum." No, he'd probably say, "You didn't have to run away. Why didn't you just tell us you got caught cheating in a school test?"
Troy lay on his back. He just had to rest a little and pretend cool water was lapping at his legs. Then up to his waist and ... AAHH. Imagination was a great help right now. The memory of days camping with Dad and mom helped cheer him up. Canoeing, fishing, campfires and hotdogs were all up there, in his head.
He was hot and confused. His blond hair, matted and stuck out in all directions. Clothes were ripped to pieces. Bloody smears provided color in wicked looking slashes across his pink skin. Fingernails were broken from digging in the mud.
The lake slowly began to draw closer. He picked up one foot, then another, again and again, one after another. "Forward, left...right...left! He called out.
He pretended he was in the Air cadets. Just like Dad once was.
"Forward, left...right...left!" Over and OverOver and Over, his voice called out.
When did he discover he was definitely lost? His mind was wandering. He found it hard to focus on anything that made sense. "Hug-a-tree." That's what he should have done. Hug a tree the moment he knew he was lost. They had even discussed it not long ago in school.
"Move forward...to the lake...left, right, left," he called out.
What day was it anyway? Sunday? He came out Friday night, so many thoughts. What a sucker he was. "And a dope."
Everything was confusing. "Was it all a dream?"
His tired mind had a tough time concentrating. "You can be such a stubborn kid," Dad used to say. Troy had hated that. But then, maybe he was right.
"Act your age Troy!" was another of Dad's expressions. Right on. Troy deserved to be treated like a child. Especially when he behaved like this.
"Where is that darn lake anyway?" He turned and spotted it again through the trees. His leg was a bundle of pain from dragging it up the hill. Tears flowed again. "Come on big boy, you can do it."
He didn't want to die. He wanted to grow old. "Sorry dad. I'm sorry. I should have told you. Or mom...or the police, anybody." Feeling sorry for him was the worst thing he could do. Then getting a zero on his math was awful. The shame. Wait 'til the teacher phoned his parents. He couldn't face them.
But Troy felt he had little choice. So he packed his gear, kicked his bike into gear and headed out to the hills a few miles away. He thought he knew the area well. After all, didn't he and his parents spend much time there hiking and camping in the woods? Only one night, that's all it was going to be, one night.
Then when he returned to his parents, they would have forgotten all about that stupid test mark. Except now he was lost. "I want to see you all again and tell you I'm sorry." Troy's rambling brought on more weeping.
Who was he crying for? Himself?
The lake drew even closer. He stepped carefully over a bee nestled in a blueberry bud. His eyes could barely see from his puffy and dirty face. He wished the shrunken buds were ripe. Troy grabbed at them, forgetting the bee.
His hands plucked greedily at the branches feeling them prick his skin. Why doesn't it rain? Even blueberry bushes must be thirsty. "I'm so hot. And tired," he added in a weakened voice.
Finally, as Troy approached the edge of the lake, he could see tiny ripples. Trout were nosing to the surface. They were anxious to nibble on flies. If only he had his fishing rod. "Look at the size of those fish. Awesome!" His parched lips were cracked and mouthing a few words caused a lot of discomfort. Eyes wanted to close.
Troy's head turned wearily as he surveyed the lake. First time here in this unknown place. Then he sat down. He looked at the sky. His face was like a question mark. "God, please help me!" It was a long time since he had gone to church. Maybe if he got out of this one, they'd all go together again.
He watched the soft summer breeze tickle the lake's surface. And he swayed with the watery movement. His gaze took in the hills on the other side. It wasn't fair. He was so miserable in such a peaceful place.
"Mommm," his lips managed to whisper.
The boy saw no roads. No houses. No humans. No sounds of civilization. Normally he would have felt thrilled in the deep woods. Right now all he felt was hunger and pain. And helplessness.
His legs creaked. He could barely get up. His stomach felt cramped. His tongue repeated itself. "God, please help me." If only he had gone to church more often. He needed some help right now. "Please."
And then something really special happened. The third part of Stop, Look and Listen took place. He listened. Faintly at first, came a sound. It turned his head. Then the crack of a branch nearby announced something coming in his direction. Troy noticed through blurry eyes a creek swinging away from the lake.
The new sound was coming from that direction. Brush was being scraped from movement. He could see taller willow branches quivering. "Run! Hide!" his senses demanded.
He willed his body upward and stretched shakily to his feet. He didn't know where to go. What to do? Confusion set in. His eyes squeezed tightly. It provided a moment of relief as evening shadows began to fall. The tops of branches were moving rapidly towards him. He froze in his tracks.
At first Troy saw, through wide and frightened eyes, the outline of a tall figure. Then a familiar hat swung into view. The traveler coming towards him suddenly stopped. Breath inhaled in a loud gasp.
And Troy looked and stared. Twenty feet separated him from his imagination. It was like another dream. Troy pushed all thoughts of fun and games out of his mind. This was too serious. He searched the familiar face trying to decide. Is this a dream or fantasy, or truth?
He saw the man's eyes widen in surprise. A familiar smile sent a beacon of warmth towards the boy. Then tears began to flow. Troy's mouth said over and over in silent thanks. "Dad... Dad. Oh, Dadl."
Suddenly he was off, flying through deep grass. As if propelled from a cannon, like a man in a circus shooting off into space. Except in this case, it was a boy. Not very tidy or smelling clean, just a boy racing across a hundred foot stretch like an Olympic runner.
His mind was on nothing else. Not even soggy socks, ripped sneakers, torn pants nor T-shirt bothered him anymore. Not even the squishy, uneven land bordering an unknown lake in the woods slowed him.
Not the bloodied leg and arms munched from too many mosquitoes. Nor the tired body that until a few moments ago had run out of steam. No, nothing else mattered. There was a destination that took command of his focus. It was those outstretched arms and broad, smiling face of joy that was his target.
Troy's recharged body built up a scream of happiness. Nearby rescuers heard "DADDYYY!!" scream overhead. And so did every animal and bird in the forest within a quarter of a mile. A launch into space covered the last few feet and the boy buried his dirty face in the man's chest.
Dad wrapped arms around Troy, like a warm blanket. This was his boy, found.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2008
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.