Bill was having second thoughts about giving Nathan that boat. Mind you, it was a beautiful little craft: a child-sized skiff painted in emerald green with the name “Nautilus” painted in gold across the transom.
Yet here Bill was, slowly descending the grimy, wrought iron rungs of the city sewer system chasing after it.
He and his wife, Francine, had given little Nathan the boat for his third birthday, and Nathan literally gasped when he pulled back the bed sheet that had been covering it. Bill had worked all winter on the thing. Every gently curving strip of wood that made up the strakes, every carefully measured rib, every layer of fiber glass, every single element of that little rowboat had more love in it than Bill knew how to express in words. That’s how Bill most clearly communicated—with his hands.
Bill would wake up before dawn, commute 55 minutes to a job he could barely stomach, toil within his grey cubicle walls until he nearly couldn’t take it, and then, after eight pointless hours, get back in his car and listen to the radio blare at him for another 90 minutes as he made his way home, fighting the traffic like a salmon swimming up a crowded stream.
The moment his garage door lifted, so did Bill’s soul. He’d hurry inside and hug his little boy until Bill felt like his heart would explode. Then he’d kiss Francine and sift through that day’s crop of bills while she worked on dinner and Nathan played with toys. “Heaven is a real place,” Bill would say to himself.
After bath time, they’d tuck little Nathan in bed and read him a story. Invariably, the boy’s favorite was “Sammy’s Skiff,” a story about a little dog who wanted to be a sailor. One morning, Sammy set out to sea in a small, green rowboat, landed at an island paradise, had adventures, and then returned home in time for lunch. Bill and Francine couldn’t decide which was more adorable, the story, or the fact that Nathan loved it so much.
So, several months back, Bill began researching boat building, bought some plans from an enthusiast site on the Internet, some wood and tools from a local lumber yard that offered marine grade wood, cleared a large amount of space in the basement, and set to work. As summer turned into fall, and the yard became less of a concern, Bill lived the project. Each night, the moment Nathan descended into dreams about Sammy, Bill was cutting, planing, sanding bending, hammering and gluing. Nearly entire weekends were sometimes spent on the skiff.
“What is Daddy making down there?” Nathan would ask Francine.
“Something special,” Francine would say, and then smile at Nathan and kiss his furrowed brow.
Eighteen days before Nathan’s birthday, Bill called Francine into the basement one evening, just as she was about to turn in.
“Look!” he exclaimed, standing there in a pair of jeans and an old, stained sweatshirt that had taken the brunt of the project’s abuse. He was holding a thin paintbrush covered in bright gold paint.
“‘Nautilus,’” she read, smiling and nodding. “I love it! Nathan will, too.”
Bill couldn’t wait to carry it up to the family room the morning of Nathan’s birthday.
Two days after the skiff’s completion, Bill received a raise and a promotion.
“Does this mean I get to hate that place even more?” He joked to Francine as they sipped at their post-story time glasses of celebratory table wine.
Bill quickly realized the answer was yes. While his title now had the word “manager” in it, he managed no one. What he managed was more work, but that work now had to be approved by his recently hired senior manager, Josh, a man who came to his job by way of his college fraternity and who specialized in procrastination and alcoholism. When the department vice president would chew out the senior manager for his late work, Josh’s finger pointed to Bill—every time.
The backup at work was gobbling up Bill’s time. He still came in at the same early hour, but stayed even later. He started coming in well past dinner and missed story time several days. As Nathan’s birthday approached, a few days had already passed during which the little boy scarcely saw his father at all. That gnawed at Bill.
But Bill continued working the job. It offered good money, good benefits, and he felt that, as the sole earner in the family, he had to take this one for the team. So he stuck with it, even though two weeks after receiving the promotion, he was positive it would kill him. His cube somehow seemed even greyer than usual.
“I’m going to die from an ulcer,” Bill said.
“Leave,” Francine replied.
I can’t, he thought.
On the Saturday that was Nathan’s third birthday, Bill pulled back the covers on the boy’s bed and whispered in his ear.
“Wake up, Nate. You’re three-years-old today. Wake up, Nate. It’s your birthday.”
Nathan woke in an instant.
“Today’s my birthday,” he said with a grin.
“That’s right. How old are you?”
Nathan held up three fingers.
“Right you are. Big three. You’re a big boy now. How about some pancakes and presents for a big boy?”
“Yes,” Nathan said neatly.
All during breakfast, Francine and Bill watched Nathan’s eyes dart from his plate to the odd-shaped, sheet-covered object dominating the family room.
“What is it?” Nathan kept asking.
“You’ll see,” Francine and Bill chorused back.
When they finished their breakfast, Bill announced it was time to go into the family room and open presents. Nathan started toward the big mound.
“Hold on there, Nate. Let’s start with this,” Bill said, handing him a present wrapped in a paper that bore pictures of Sammy, the dog from the storybook.
“This one’s from your grandma,” Francine said.
Nathan tore through the paper. It was a stuffed animal version of Sammy. Nathan hugged it tight.
Bill’s cell phone vibrated. He looked at it. There was a text message from Josh. “CALL ME. 911!” It read.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Bill sighed. “Hold on a sec.”
“No, you have got to be kidding me,” Francine corrected him.
“It says ‘911,’” Bill said. “Let me check it out real quick.”
“No, after presents. What are you thinking?”
“You’re right. What am I thinking? I’m a putz.”
The presents kept coming: a Sammy coloring book, a sailor hat bearing a picture of Sammy, and a t-shirt with a picture of Sammy rowing a small, green skiff. Nathan loved them all, but now he stood, looking at the mound, wondering what was under the sheet. Bill and Francine let the moment stand, and savored it.
“Go ahead, Nate, take off the sheet,” Bill said.
Nathan edged forward at first, then lunged, grabbed an edge of the sheet and flung it back over his shoulder, revealing the Nautilus. Time stopped for just a little bit. Nathan dropped to his knees as the blanket fell to the ground. He reached out and put one his tiny hands on the gunwale and grasped it. This was his. His boat. He grabbed on with his other hand, pulled himself toward the boat, rose to his feet, and stepped into the little skiff. The boy was dumbstruck. He turned to Francine and Bill, who were sitting on the edge of the couch.
“I… love it,” Nathan said plainly. “I love you.”
Nathan plopped down onto the stern seat like an old salt. Bill stepped across the room and held the little boy tight, inhaling deeply.
“I love you, too,” Bill exhaled.
“Let’s go sailing!” Nathan exhorted.
“Sure thing, buddy,” Bill replied.
“Not before we change out of our PJs,” Francine advised as she reached down and lifted little Nathan into her arms. She carried the boy to his room as Bill plunked back down on the couch and stared at his regularly vibrating phone. Josh was blowing it up with text messages.
What the hell could this guy want? he wondered.
“Bill!” Josh exclaimed. “Glad I reached you. Listen, we’ve got a huge project that the VP wants done by Monday. I just got this thing this morning and if we don’t get it in there on time, it is going to be our asses. You’ve gotta get up here.”
“It’s my kid’s birthday,” Bill countered.
“Look, I understand, but this is a company emergency. Ask yourself this, do you want a job or not, because I can tell you that if the brass finds out that the reason we didn’t get the project done is because you refused, you—and possibly me—are going to get canned on the spot.”
“Let me see what I can do.” Bill couldn’t believe he even said it. The words felt like a betrayal.
The argument that ensued between Bill and Francine was the last thing that Bill wanted to have happen on Nathan’s birthday. Bill had struck a compromise with his senior manager that he would come in today, but he would stay no longer than 2 p.m. so that he could get back in time to play with Nathan and the boat. Francine was not placated and more importantly, Nathan seemed very disappointed.
“What can I do, Francine? Let them fire me?” Bill implored.
“Yes,” Francine said.
The whole trip to the office, Bill felt the wrongness of the situation in his gut. He felt cosmically wrong. Somehow, doing the right thing—the responsible thing—was doing the wrong thing.
When Bill got to the office, he quickly realized his suspicion was on the money. As Bill started working with Josh it became apparent that his senior manager had been assigned the project two and a half months ago, and that he was just now bothering to get around to it. It was also apparent that Josh had been drinking. Bill could smell the booze on his breath and Josh was acting scatter-brained.
“Are you drunk?” Bill asked in frustration.
“What are you talking about? Let’s get back on task, Bill,” Josh dodged.
“No, you’re drunk, and I’m pretty damn sure that you’ve been sitting on this job for weeks.”
“Oh screw you. What the hell are you talking about? I just got this assignment,” Josh protested unconvincingly.
“I can’t believe this. I’m out of here,” Bill said in exasperation.
The whole way home Bill’s boss kept calling and texting. Bill ignored it. He was just a couple minutes from home when his cell phone vibrated once more, however, this time the display read “HOME.” He picked it up.
“Bill?” Francine queried.
Before he could finish his reply, Francine yelped “Bill!” She sounded desperate. This was serious. Bill felt sick—sicker than he had on the way to the office.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“Nathan,” Francine replied. “He took the boat out to the creek behind the backyard. I was watching him and everything was okay, but then Bob and Cindy from down the street—their dog got in the backyard and I helped them get hold of it.”
“Well Nathan’s gone!”
“What do you mean he’s gone?”
“I mean gone. He must have rowed his boat down the creek.”
“Call 911. I’m almost there.”
Bill hung up and swung into their neighborhood.
Bill rushed into the home and past Francine who was on the phone with what must have been a 911 operator. He exploded through the back door from the kitchen and into the backyard. He stood at the rear edge of the property and looked down at the creek that bordered his yard. There was no sign of Nathan. Reassuringly, the water wasn’t deep. The boy had probably simply ventured off in his little boat.
“There?” Bill yelled back at Francine who was framed in the kitchen window, the phone pressed to her ear. He was pointing at the creek as he was yelling.
Francine nodded. Bill looked up one length of the creek and down the other. He looked back at Francine.
“Start calling the neighbors after you talk to 911. Tell them to look for Nathan.” He yelled back at Francine. She nodded.
Bill headed downstream yelling “Naaa-thhhaaaan!” over and over again as he walked along the bank. He got past the edge of the neighborhood and saw that the creek pooled a bit as it passed under a small bridge for an infrequently used service road. Curiously, there was no sign of the Nautilus or Nathan.
On one side of the shallow pool there was a large drainage pipe that would typically feed into the pool, but it looked as though the pool was feeding into the pipe. Bill decided to walk into the water and wade across the pool—the water came up to his knees. Once across, he looked into the pipe.
“Nathan?” He yelled into the concrete grotto and waited for a response. There was a small, far-off voice. It must have been Nathan yelling something back at him.
“Nathan, this is Daddy! Stay right where you are Nathan! Do not move! Daddy is coming for you.”
Bill heard the small voice again. Then what sounded like laughter. That was a relief to Bill. At least Nathan wasn’t crying. Bill turned, sloshed his way across the pool, and ran back to the house to fetch a flashlight.
“He’s in the storm drain next to the service road,” he told Francine as he rummaged in the junk drawer for their big flashlight. “Tell the fire department when they come. I’m going in after him.”
Francine face was covered in tears and the blood was gone from her face. She looked shell shocked.
“Oh my gosh,” Bill said. “I’m sorry. You’re freaked. Don’t worry. I think he’s okay. I heard him. It sounded like he was laughing.”
Francine slumped into a chair at the kitchen table and began to cry.
“That fucking job …” she sobbed.
“I know. I’m sorry. Don’t worry. I’ll find him. And then I’ll quit.”
Bill ran back to the pool. He was outside the mouth of the large drainage pipe when his cell phone rang. He answered.
“Listen you fucking asshole, I don’t know who you are, but—” Josh rambled in a clumsy, drunken slur before Bill hung up on him.
Bill entered the pipe. It was tall enough that he hardly had to bend while making his way through. He turned on the flashlight and kept going. He yelled for little Nathan every so often but stayed quiet and stopped moving so his feet didn’t splash in order to listen for any faint response. He didn’t hear anything this time, which worried him greatly.
Bill kept going. He walked for roughly forty to fifty yards when all of a sudden the top half of the top half of the pipe became walled up with a low-ceiling passage continuing beyond. He could possibly crawl through it with a great amount of difficult, but Nathan sitting in the Nautilus could have passed through easily.
“Nathan?” he yelled into it. He heard the same far off voice he had heard before.
“Nathan, don’t go anywhere. Daddy is coming.”
Bill tried crawling into the low pipe. It was a tough fit. He looked ahead and saw light far down at the other end.
“A storm drain,” Bill thought. “There must be a storm drain.”
“Don’t worry Nate, he yelled. “Daddy is coming!”
Bill wriggled himself out of the low pipe and ran back down the the drainage pipe as fast as he could. He waded across the pool, up onto the service road and ran down it, parallel to the course of the pipe below, looking for the storm drain. Approximately one hundred yards down the road he found it. Above the storm drain, set into the concrete, there was a manhole.
“Nathan, Daddy’s getting closer. Stay where you are!” He yelled into the storm drain.
“Shit!” Bill yelled at the clouds as he realized he didn’t have a pry bar to lift the manhole cover.
Bill inspected the small hole in the cover. He could fit a couple fingers in it and try to lift it. He planted both feet on either side of the hole, bent his knees, put a couple of fingers in, grabbed his wrist with his other hand, and leaned back in hope of budging the cover.
The cover came free with surprising ease, and Bill—expecting a much heavier weight—fell on his ass in the process. He rolled the cover to one side, got onto his knees and peered down into the hole.
“Nate?” Bill yelled.
He heard the same little, far-off voice.
“Nathan, I’m coming.”
He stuck the flashlight into his pocket as far as it would go and descended into the manhole.
And now here Bill was, in the sewer. Cautiously, he moved down one rung at a time, never leaving more than a hand or a foot free at any given time. The descent seemed too take forever, but eventually he reached the bottom where the low-ceiling pipe fed back into the main sewer system. There were three other pipes that connected to the chamber he was in. The water came up to his knees and little Nathan could have easily piloted the Nautilus into any of them.
Bill looked down each. He didn’t see much. He grabbed some leaves out of the water and placed them in front of each to get an idea of the current. One seemed to have a slightly stronger flow than the other two.
“Nate?” he yelled into it.
Again he heard the same small voice, but it was tough to tell if it was indeed coming from down that pipe. He tried yelling into the other two. He heard Nathan’s far-off voice, but it was harder to hear in those cases. Bill was pretty certain Nathan and the Nautilus must have drifted down the pipe with the stronger current.
“Nathan, I’m coming!”
The sunlight streaming down from the manhole behind him, Bill clicked the flashlight back on and pressed forward. This pipe was larger, but he had to hunch over a bit to make his way down, working to maintain his footing on the slippery floor as he did.
Bill got about sixty yards when he heard the sound of rushing water. It grew louder quickly. He yelled for Nathan but could hardly hear his own voice. Now Bill was really worried. He yelled Nathan’s name repeatedly, but all he heard was the water. Then, his footing was gone and he was flying down at a forty-five-degree angle. He kept his grasp on the flashlight, but was completely disoriented as he plummeted for what seemed like several minutes (but was probably nowhere near that long).
The slope of the pipe gently evened out and eventually Bill came to a rest in another chamber, but he had no idea how deep below their town he must now be. Was he even still below the town? Was Nathan?
Bill could no longer estimate where he was. He was up to his waist in water and shined the flashlight around the chamber. There were several low pipes feeding off the chamber, but they were blocked off by iron grates. Nathan could not have passed through them. More importantly, if the Nautilus came this way, it must still be afloat, and Nathan inside it, because there was no sign of the skiff capsized or any other condition in the chamber.
This came as a relief of sorts to Bill. He kept looking and found one last low, feeder pipe connected to the chamber that was not blocked off by a grate. He waded over to it, crouched down and yelled into it.
“Nathan, are you down there?”
“Daddy!” piped a very small, but this time clear voice. Then Bill clearly heard Nathan laugh.
“Stay there! I’m coming Nate! Daddy’s coming!”
The sense of relief Bill felt was otherworldly – as though he had just been born. Clean. New.
Bill stood up and reached into his pocket for his cell phone to call 911 and give a general idea of where he was so they could send a rescue crew. “NO SERVICE” the display read.
“Shit … ” he muttered.
“Stay there, Nathan! Daddy’s coming!”
Bill crouched back down and crawled into the low passageway. It was tough going. He couldn’t use the light and walk, so Bill would crawl for a bit, stop, lean on one side and shine the light ahead.
“Nathan!” he yelled after what must have been 30 yards.
“Daddy!” he heard Nathan’s voice further down.
Bill kept going and then, he saw and yellowish light up ahead. It was flickering.
“Is that fire? What the hell is fire doing down here?” Bill wondered. He kept going.
The flickering light got brighter, dancing on the ripples in the sewer water. Bill could clearly see that the low pipe he was in emptied into a larger chamber that was indeed lit by what was either a fire or a candle.
“Nate?” Bill yelled, but this time not as loud.
“Hi Daddy!” He could hear Nathan’s happy little voice clear as a bell from within the room. The boy sounded oddly calm and happy.
Bill got to the threshold and peered in to a large chamber filled with waist-deep water. In one of the corners of the chamber, ahead of Bill and to his left, a large sand bar of sorts had piled up and made a little dry spot. The skiff was moored against the bar, and Nathan was there on the bar sitting on a little plastic bucket. All around, an assortment of candles and little oil lamps sat on the bar, illuminating the entire room.
“Hi Daddy,” Nathan said. He was smiling from ear to ear. This must have been just the adventure he was looking for.
This surprised Bill a bit, but what really threw Bill off his balance was the crowd of roughly thirty rats the size of small dogs that were bowed in neat little rows before Nathan, who was happily kicking his legs back and forth as he sat serenely on the bucket.
On either side of Nathan, stood two apparently bipedal rats wearing what looked like little miters made out of plastic cups on their heads and small robes made out of wool socks. The two rats held out their arms wide before their throng of rats kneeling before Nathan.
“Skreeee, skreee skree skree skrreeeeeeeeee!” The two standing “bishop” rats said in unison.
“Skree skree,” replied the rat audience.
“Skree skreeeeeee skreee skreee skreee…” The bishop rats went on and on as the other rats listened.
Nathan continued sitting as the rat bishops lectured. Bill shook off his confusion and scanned the chamber. He now saw that the walls around the sand bar were covered in crude chalk drawings of a small boy in a green boat giving what looked like various bits of garbage to grateful rats. In the center was the boy giving them a shining object that Bill could not discern. What was it?
Bill peered off in the distance and could see across that there was another large pipe leading off this chamber that had a high ceiling. He and Nathan could hopefully try to find a way out through that passage.
He entered the room. The bishop rats’ preaching came to an abrupt halt. All the rats turned and glared at him.
“Skkkreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” They exclaimed.
“Hi Daddy! Mouses!” Nathan said smiling and gesturing to the rats around him.
“Hey Nate” Bill replied in exhausted relief. “Are you okay? Are you hurt? Did the rats hurt you?”
“Nope. Let’s go sailing Daddy!”
“Okay, Nate-buddy, we’ll go sailing” said Bill and started wading across the chamber to the sand bar.
“Skreeeeeeeee!” shrieked the rats. The bishop rats standing on either side of Nathan grasped the boy’s hands with worried looks on their faces.
“They want me to stay,” Nathan said.
“Oh?” Bill said. He kept moving forward.
“It’s okay… it’s okay,” Bill repeated to the rats more than the boy. “You’ll be okay.”
When Bill got to the boat the rats began backing up around Nathan, forming a barrier.
“Hold on,” Bill said. “It’s gonna be okay.”
Bill held up his hand. He motioned to the Bishop rats, and then pointed to the central mural. The Bishop rats watched attentively. Bill edged forward and reached into his pocket, repeating “It’s okay… it’s okay…” as he did so.
From his pocket Bill pulled out his cell phone. The rats leaned back, not sure what to make of the moment. Bill pressed the phone’s home key and the chamber’s candle and lamp light was immediately offset by the piercing light of his phone’s display.
“Skreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Cheered the rats.
Bill walked carefully through the rat assembly and stood before Nathan. He crouched down and handed one of the bishop rats the phone. The bishop rat walked beside his counterpart who then helped him hold the cell phone aloft. They turned to the other rats and said “Skreeeee skreee skreeee skreee.”
“Skree skree skreeeeee!” The rat throng replied.
The rat bishops looked toward Bill and gestured with their little open palms toward Nathan. Bill reached over to his son, hooked a hand under each of the boy’s armpits and brought little Nathan to his chest. He hugged him harder than he ever had.
“I love you so much,” he said.
“Let’s go sailing Daddy,” Nate said when the embrace was over.
“Sure thing, Nate,” Bill replied, and he gently sat the boy down on the skiff’s midship thwart. Then he lowered himself off the bar and stood behind the little boat’s stern. He pushed the Nautilus, and Nathan in it, over toward the other pipe. He looked over his shoulder to see the rats crowded around the bishop rats, marveling at the bright, shining cell phone, “skree”-ing and excitedly hopping around.
“No Daddy. Get in the boat,” Nathan said.
“I don’t think I can fit,” Bill said.
“Get in the boat, Daddy.”
“Well, okay, I’ll give it a shot, but Daddy doesn’t want to tip the boat over with you in it.”
“Get in the boat, Daddy.”
Bill grabbed hold of each transom knee with each hand and carefully leaned his upper body over the transom. Surprisingly, the little craft didn’t tip back at all. He kept leaning and eventually transferred enough of his weight so that he tipped face first into the Nautilus. Bill corrected himself and sat down on the stern thwart. He had to bring his knees in close to himself in order to not crowd Nathan.
“Yay! We’re sailing, Daddy!”
“We sure are Nate.”
The boat drifted into the large tunnel. Soon, the light from the rats’ candles and oil lamps had diminished enough that Bill got out the flashlight to light their way. The current grew steadily, and Bill, Nathan and the Nautilus kept traveling down the large pipe for what must have been an hour or two. Without a watch or the phone or any point of reference, Bill was having a tough time judging the time and distance of their journey.
“I love my boat,” Nathan said to him.
“Happy birthday, Nate,” Bill said.
They continued further until they started hearing the roar of faster moving water. Sure enough, the pipe they were in started sloping downward, but not as steep an angle as the previous pipe. The current grew fast and the water loud, and Bill put his arms around the boy.
“Hold onto me,” Bill said.
Nathan hugged his father who did likewise as they continued along. Eventually the noise and current diminished and to Bill’s surprise, natural light began to filter into their passageway. Sure enough, he could see daylight up ahead. The pipe must be opening onto some sort of drainage channel or something, he guessed.
The pipe actually opened into what must be a river during rainier times, but in this case was more of a drainage channel. All around were wide flat farmlands with extremely distant hills flanking the agricultural landscape.
“We must be in the Central Valley somewhere,” Bill said to Nathan.
How did we get that far? he thought. They must have traveled a few hundred miles from home. This isn’t possible. This doesn’t make sense.
The sun was high in the sky and the air was warm and hazy. There were hardly any clouds. Just the kind of rich, heavy atmosphere you’d expect in a rich agricultural region.
Bill and Nathan kept drifting along, but the creek appeared to be thinning out and getting shallower. Their pace slowed. Eventually sand scraped against the Nautilus’s keel and they came to halt between two orchards. To their left stretched a vast orange grove. To their right lay long rows of almond trees. Both were in full fruit and the air was full of an almost overwhelming orange and almond perfume.
“Come on, buddy. Let’s see how we can get home,” Bill said to Nathan as he stood up and lifted the boy out of the little, green skiff and onto the ground next to the stream.
Bill helped Nathan up the right-hand bank and then walked back down to retrieve the Nautilus. The little boat made for an easy portage up the embankment and he set it down under an almond tree. He looked around.
Roughly twenty feet away he spied a heavily weathered picnic table. The farm must have put it there for the workers years ago. He leaned down to the Nautilus, hooked his hand through a rope tied to the stem, and lifted the boat up over his back, carrying it almost like a suit jacket. He grabbed Nathan’s hand and they walked over to the table.
“I’m hungry,” Nathan said as he sat down at the picnic table.
“Well, let’s have some lunch,” Bill replied. “We could have some oranges and almonds. How does that sound?”
“Yummy!” Nathan cheered.
Bill laid the Nautilus on the dried grass next to table and began collecting almonds. He put a small pile of them on the table.
“Hold on a minute,” he told the boy.
Bill went down the embankment, crossed the creek and walked up the other side to fetch a couple of oranges. Then he walked back down to cross, pausing to grab a couple flat stones and put them in his pocket. Then he went back up and over to the table where Nathan was sitting.
“Here we go,” he said. “A birthday feast.”
Bill opened up the oranges and handed one to Nathan, who immediately began peeling off cells and eating them. Then Bill pulled out the two rocks and started using them to smash open the almonds.
“Yummy,” Nathan said as they ate.
“Sure is,” Bill replied. “When we’re done, we’ll go look for a farm house and call mommy so that she can come get us. We don’t want her to be worried.”
Both greedily ate up the almonds and oranges. Bill made a couple more trips into the orchards and across the river to replenish their supplies. Before heading off to look for a phone, they lazed in the afternoon sun with full stomachs in the heavy, fragrant air.
Nathan sat on Bill’s lap. Bill hugged the boy as the two of them listened to the leaves of the almond trees rustle in the wind, and stared across the creek, past the orange groves and over to the far-off hills bordering the valley. Bill smelled Nathan’s silk-fine hair and whispered, “heaven is a real place.”
Author’s note: Thanks for reading this story! If you liked it, the biggest compliments you can pay me are to leave a comment and to share it with your friends.