I was scared. I was lost. I was right back where I had started…at the dead 6-point buck. I looked around and saw the pine trees that had been my friends. Now, they appeared to be heartless and menacing enemies in the darkening sky above me. I sat down on the maple tree that had killed the big buck.
Suddenly, I felt this overwhelming sense of panic, as if I were drowning in a sea of darkness. There was nowhere for me to go in these woods of southern Mississippi. Every way I went was to a place that was unfamiliar. I looked for that path, but was unable to find it. It was as if the path itself had up and walked away from me. All the fears of a nine-year old boy came to the surface as I started to cry. I did not just cry for myself. I cried for my mother who would feel guilty for allowing me to go off into the woods by myself. I cried that I would die in these dark, dangerous woods before I really had a chance to even live. And I cried for this dead 6-point buck lying underneath this maple tree that had ended his life. I cried for all of humanity in that crying fit of about 15 minutes.
I sat on that maple tree for, well, God knows how long. I looked up at the night sky and wondered what my mother must be thinking. Was she looking for me? Was she worried that I had not come back home in the one hour that she had specified? I suddenly thought of my brother…that he would get all my toy soldiers, my BB gun, bicycle, and on and on of the countless treasures of a nine-year old boy. That bothered me almost as much as my impending doom of dying in these dark woods.
It was getting cold, even though it was late summer. I rubbed my arms in a vain attempt to get warm. I checked my pockets to feel out any possibility that I had matches. Of course, I did not have any. I looked around at the night sky, wondering if there were other planets that night with a little boy lost on them. It was strange…I felt alone and, at the same time, felt comforted by all those blazing stars in the night sky. A loud screech of an owl made me stand up and look around…wondering if the end would come soon. I wondered if there would be search parties, would there be police on horseback looking for me. Why would they send so many people looking for such an insignificant little boy like me? For what purpose? I just sat back down and cried as hard as I possibly could. Nature held no mercy for me just because I was a nine-year old boy. I would be dealt with in due time.
The fireflies were coming out. They buzzed all around me, as if I were honey and they were bees. It was as if they were mocking me after all the times I had captured them on the front porch with grandpa laughing at me. There seemed to be many more fireflies out the dark, dense wooded area behind my house. The fireflies were all around me. Off to my right, about 50 yards or so, there were so many fireflies until it was almost a glow that permeated the entire area. In fact, there were too many fireflies in that one area. I sat and watched them…something kept going through my mind, but I couldn’t catch it. It was there…and then it was gone. What was it grandpa said about fireflies? Water. It was about fireflies hovering around large bodies of water until they started dropping. Yeah! Grandpa said they had suicidal tendencies since they would fly so much above water until they would start dropping to their deaths. But, what large body of water would be out this far back in the woods?
What large body of water would attract so many fireflies this far out…THE CREEK!!!! Without hesitation, I jumped up from the dead maple tree and ran toward the millions of fireflies!!! I was like a comet passing through millions of suns on my way to the end of the universe! I care for nothing but to get to those fireflies…and then it was as if the entire earth gave way. I found myself falling head over heels over the embankment that led to the way to the creek near my home. I rolled over into the shallow creek as if it were an old friend. Hot, burning tears rolled down my face as I splashed the always cold water from the creek onto my face. It was as if the creek was saying to me, “Hello old friend, and where have you been?”
I staggered upright, realized that if I went up the creek, I would find my way back home. The creek was only ankle deep at most and the fireflies would light my way home. I guess I walked about two miles (or it seemed like it to my nine-year old feet) when I finally saw the familiar back door light to my home off to the left of where I was in the creek. I was wet from head to toe, but didn’t care. I would live to be 10! 15! And even 21 if my father wasn’t home. I ran up to the front yard, came into the front door only to be greeted by my mother. “Just where do you think you have been young man? You best get in that bathroom, clean up and eat your dinner before it gets cold. If your daddy were home, you would get the belt for being late…and how did you get so wet??? Get in that bathroom and take a bath NOW!!!” Mama’s scolding was only music to my ears. If she only knew how close she came to losing me. She never knew how close I came to death that late summers night. I started to tell her when she lay dying from cancer many years later. But, I decided I would keep it to myself. There was no use in letting her know how foolish her son was as a nine-year old.
As I lay in bed that night, it felt good to feel that cool breeze come over me as I lay on my pillow near the open window. I had a full stomach, clean from my bath and sleep was overwhelming me. I felt grateful to be alive and laying in my bed next to my little brother, the same brother who I was determined would never lay hands on my toys as long as I lived. I looked up at that same night sky that I felt would be my last through that open window. I saw one star in particular that…well, seemed to twinkle, as if it were winking at me. I looked at that one particular star for the longest time with tears coming down my boyish cheeks, until I quietly and sleepily said, “Thanks grandpa…thanks for everything.” And, with that, I fell into a deep slumber and dreamed the dreams nine-year boys everywhere dreamed, of summers to be enjoyed and a life to be lived.