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Mike G Robertson

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Member Since: May, 2011

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Lichen Cave
By Mike G Robertson
Saturday, May 28, 2011

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A boy, hidden deep in the woods of the Ozark Mountains, reaches a life-changing moment.

Les crouched down in the depression under a rock overhang. It had been his favorite hideout for the last three summers. The limestone above him was just about head height now. It had been roomier when he and his brother and step-dad had moved here three years ago. He had been nine then. I must be getting tall, he thought. He might be as tall as Dill some day, and that was pretty tall. Even if Dill wasn't his real dad.

This little cave, deep in the woods behind and to one side of their cabin, had been his favorite place from the start. At first it was where he brought his best toys to hide them from his little brother. It was a little muddy, which was okay, because it was muddy about everywhere out here in these Ozark hills, at least after rains. And right after rains was when he liked it best. It was cool and the smells were amazing. The smell of the damp earth and mud, and the leaves everywhere composting all around him; the smell of new mushrooms springing up. He didn't know their names and he never ate them; he knew better than that. It even seemed like he could smell the cave itself, the limestone, with it's slightly metallic odor, though it was more likely the lichen and moss that grew all over it.

Today wasn't like other days here though. Today he had a mission. "Les. Go hide yourself. Stay out of sight until those folk leave. I'll come get ya," Dill said, shushing him out the back door of the cabin. "I'll keep Jeffie here. Don't you make any noise, whatever happens."

Hunkered down at the back of the little cave behind the brush he'd piled across the entrance, he couldn't hear anything from around the hill and over by the cabin. He occupied himself by whistling every tune he could remember under his breath. The real trick was to make the whistling like a whisper, so he could hear it but no one else would be able to. Once in a while he let a note out a little too loud. Then he'd stop for a minute and rock, front to back, arms wrapped around his shins. He wasn't worried. Dill had drilled him more than once when they first arrived in these hills. "They" wanted to take him and his brother away, Dill said. "They" weren't good people and they'd mistreat Les and Jeffie, so they needed to remember and do what Dill said. Any time a car came around the road and turned into the mud and gravel drive up to the cabin, Les was supposed to disappear for a while. Jeffie was too young to do it, so Dill said he'd just have to take his chances with him. But Les was old enough to know what to do. "They" were his grandparents, who wanted to keep Les and Jeffie when their mom died four years ago. Les barely remembered them, but he'd come to think of them as mean and tainted in some way, like Dill said.

He didn't start to worry until the light faded and it started to get cold. Usually he'd have gone back to the cabin by now to warm up by the fire and eat La Choy stir fry with those crunchy noodles that Dill would make from a can. Dill would make him take his boots off and scrape off the mud and maybe throw his overalls in the cardboard laundry box. If Jeffie was on the little ladder to the sink bucket, trying to wash his hands, Les would plunge his hands in too and take over, letting Jeffie crab while he washed both their hands and used the rag to do a quick scrub of Jeffie's face, and wipe the both of them dry and then back out to the table and dinner. He was used to it. He liked it. They got along, the three of them out there in the woods by themselves. The only times he didn't like it was when Dill would be late getting back from working some job somewhere. Then Les had to stay in the cabin and try to entertain Jeffie for the better part of a day. But Jeffie was four now and not too much trouble. At least it never did take much to get Jeffie to smile and laugh at the same old silly jokes and stories.

Les was really getting cold now. Why hadn't Dill come for him? He hadn't brought a coat with him. Dill had taught him: don't come out, don't let anyone see or hear him until Dill walked around the hill and whistled for him. They'd had to do it six times since they moved here, and it had been okay each time. Each time Dill said, "Don't worry Les. They can't do nothin'. They make noises about you boys being out here alone with me, then they go away. As long as we keep low and don't be living off the government and such, we should be okay. Just as long as they don't start poking around my weed patches."

It was night now, and no Dill. Les had to think what to do. I could walk on down the mountain, he thought. Don't know where I'd go then though. He knew once he hit the blacktop, he'd have to follow it and they'd find him eventually. He didn't know anybody where he could just go and be with them to stay safe and warm. And be fed. He realized how hungry he was then.

Maybe it's okay, he thought. Maybe Dill just forgot or got busy with Jeffie or something. Maybe he went out to check his plants and hadn't got back yet. He knew it wasn't likely Dill had forgotten him, but he didn't want to think about other possibilities. Finally he unwrapped himself, flexed his sore stiff muscles, and walked on back to the cabin.

The light was on. There was smoke coming out the chimney. That all looked okay then. He scraped the mud off his boots and unlaced them and set them on the porch stairs. Then he went in to the kitchen and he knew everything wasn't okay. Dill wasn't there. Jeffie neither. It was a woman in a police uniform. "Hello Les. Please, come on in. I have some dinner for you here. It's all over, hon. We had to take your dad to the station. He's been arrested for selling illegal substances. Jeffry is in temporary foster care for now. Why don't you eat and clean up and change your clothes, and I'll take you to town. You'll be able to be with your brother, at least for now."

Les thought of turning around and running. But he'd have to get those boots back on. And he was so chilled and hungry. "You oughtn't to arrested Dill. He isn't a bad man. He's been taking good care of us."

"That's good to hear. You go change your clothes now, and maybe pick out a change to bring with you. Then come eat, hear?"

Les stepped over to the little ladder that ran up between two-by-fours to his loft bedroom and climbed up it. This was his space, the only place that was. He looked at his collection of rocks and skulls and feathers that lined the support beam overlooking the kitchen. He found his old backpack, put in his best pair of jeans and socks, the checked shirt Dill had brought him last Christmas, the dog eared copy of Spiderman he'd found in the laundromat last time they went, and on top, he put his two best rocks and the bird skull he'd found in the creek during the spring runoff. What if I can't come back? The thought made tears spring to his eyes, but he rubbed them away. Then he put on the green corduroy pants he wore when Dill took them to church, found a clean shirt, and climbed back down.

He went over to the table and sat down in front of a bowel of celery and cabbage stew. He picked up the spoon. He'd get Jeffie. They'd come back. It would be okay somehow. The stew smelled so good.

       Web Site: Missouri River Writer

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