We were mice, moving through a myriad of tunnels in the north field. There were five of us in there. Hadn’t heard or seen anyone in more than half an hour.
I’d come to a crossroads. I was pretty sure the tunnel on the right headed to the northeast, eventually coming up against the eastern fence. The tunnel on the left would take me to the north and another fence, or, if I stayed left all the way, it would split and end at the western opening, near the water pump which sat at the very edge of the woods.
I laid on my back and stared at the sunlit ceiling above me. Someone walked overhead. Searching for mice no doubt. I stayed still and chewed on a long frozen stalk of field grass I’d pulled from the from wall of the tunnel. No danger here. My friends and I had never seen the like: you could jump up and down on top of any of the tunnels and never even make a crack. The crust of ice-fused snow must have been at least two inches thick.
We had played all sorts of games on the field this winter, overtop the tunnels: lacrosse, boot hockey, broomball. Christmas holidays had never been this much fun.
I don’t remember who thought of the tunnels. I think we started out building a fort and someone decided to dig a protective cave at the back of it. Genius from such a simple idea. When we realized the crust would hold our weight—even when all the snow beneath it had been removed, the digging began in earnest.
The adults had no idea what we up to, and in the following days we built such a complex set of trails, you could almost get lost in there.
I used the tunnels as a hiding place when it came time to pump and carry dozens of pails of water up to the house (mom used them for washing clothes).
The girls would disappear at odd times without warning. My brother and I had figured out they had a little room somewhere near the centre of the field. We just hadn’t been able to find it yet; I wasn’t sure I wanted to.
The tunnels became something special to us—magical for sure—but something even more, a thing we could feel in our bellies and in the thudding of our hearts, yet couldn’t name. All I know is that each of us were enamoured for the few weeks the cold weather kept the crust nice and firm.
Then came the day—this day— when with no warning at all a foot appeared through the roof of the tunnel, just a few feet away from my head. A second foot soon followed.
I called everyone out. We gathered in a mournful circle around the hole in our tunnel, knowing without speaking that the fun was over for now. None of us imagined that it would be forever.
Copyright © 2008 Clayton Bye