The little boy pushed himself upright. He knew the leaves were wet because he could feel the damp on the back of his shorts. He glanced quickly to the painful places. When he saw the blood first on his knee then second on his elbow, he gathered his legs against his chest and began to cry. Through the tears he looked at his bike turned on its side and twisted. The back tire still spun and the pedal was crusted thick with mud from the creek bed.
He couldn’t see the sky for the canopy of the trees all but blocked the sun but he could tell it was beginning to turn dark. The shadows were beginning to move toward him and were longer than before. He thought suddenly, ‘how am I going to get home?’. ‘Oh no’, he said aloud, ‘which way is home?. I’ve gone to far this time’. He sobbed even more still, crying for his mother. He couldn’t breathe and hiccupped because of it. Then it eased, the crying, the pain and the blood. As his breathing slowed, he thought about the plastic soldier with the green paper parachute. He wondered why he didn’t bring it with him today, today of all days. Then he thought about the store that his grandfather always took him. The one with the plastic bird on the springy wire that bounced to the counter and back again and made him laugh. His grandfather would poke him in the cheek and call him gooney bird and make the bird on the counter bounce again. He thought about the things in his pocket. Did he have something to eat in there? He was getting hungry. He wondered what his mother was making for dinner and if they’d notice he wasn’t there.
When he all but stopped crying, he picked up a handful of the wet leaves. He tossed them angrily aside and cussed in the way only an eight year old can. “Stupid, dirty, rotten leaves!” He said. Then he stood remembering the way his father always said ‘that’s my brave little soldier’, whenever he did something that made his dad proud of him. He picked up the shiny red bike save for the splatters of mud and kicked the clumps off the pedal. He decided right then that he would follow his own tracks along the creek side and out of the woods. Surely that would get him to the road and then he would know his way home. And he did.
When he saw the white stucco house in the distance, he picked up speed. His knee only hurt a little now. One last tear fell down his cheek. It was mixed with the dirt from the handlebar when he wiped his face of earlier tears. He rode down and up the bar ditch toward the back door, hit the brakes hard and let the bike skid. He laid it down and jumped off in one swift coordinated motion. His skills had returned. As he stepped away, he looked at the bike closely. Then he leaned over slightly to wipe the blood from his elbow on the leg of his shorts. He was bloody but strong. He whispered to himself, ‘tomorrow we go farther. I know the way now.’