Creek Jumping

creek mouth

There was a cover of snow on everything that made a crust on the brush and on the trees. It was patchy from where sections fell off, but what hung on, hung on like it had grown there.

He walked with the sun to his back and considered how he was walking further away from where he was supposed to be: From the city and his school and even his home and his family.

He walked into a clearing where there was only the red grass – red like hair’s red –  poking through the snow, and no bushes.

Where the dead grass had grown over itself and knotted, he kicked through the clumps, and where the branches were too thick to see through, he pulled them back. He was looking. He was hoping. For evidence or proof.

But, he knew this wasn’t it. Even if it was the Kelley homestead, there’s no abandoned house with family pictures in spider-webbed frames or journals of sorrow or regret. No leftover scraps of its lumber, not his great-grandfather’s grave.

little mahoningBut he kept walking, from the clearing into woods. He started to hear more than his shoes, more than the crunch of snow in grass or broken sticks. Under the cover of the trees he heard birds. He saw a cardinal hopping between branches, and on the trunk of a nearby tree, a black squirrel was climbing.

He heard the murmur of a creek and walked toward it, deeper into the woods. It was iced over, for the most part, like glass melted between the bigger rocks, but glass not well made, with knots and holes.

This probably goes into the Mahoning, he thought, and if he walked in it until it was pulled into the Ohio and walked against its current, he could walk right into the city.

Or maybe it would take him away. He could break the ice, lay down in it, and only God would know where he would end up.

He wanted to know.

He followed it.

He walked until the sky was pink in the mesh of limbs above him. And he walked until the creek dropped off and was interrupted by a waterfall. From where he stood it looked like knuckles of ice where the water turned over, but he couldn’t follow it on his side. It had carved itself into a hill before dropping several feet. It was like a stone wall against the water.

On the other side the slope was soft. It’d be an easy climb back down.

It’d be dark soon, but he just needed to go a little further.

The water had gotten wide, but he could probably almost make it, he thought. He had to at least try.

He backed up and ran at it. He pulled his feet under himself, and when he got as far as he could, he stomped down through the ice. It collapsed around his leg, and the cold, heavy water splashed up on him.

He held his left foot above the water. With his right on the bed beneath, he flailed and lunged and got the left to the other side. The shoe stuck, though, in the soft ground at the edge. He could feel it being pulled. He fell forward to make sure he didn’t lose it, twisted, and landed on dirt on his back.

He breathed deeply there, his chest lifting to where it felt like it was hinging. He rolled onto his side to free his shoe and then back onto his back. He felt like he’d been running all day. Now he was cold and the water was soaking into him. The sky was purple and would soon be black. He’d freeze.

He ran.

— We are an Old Town

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