Boys & Men

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Finders Keepers


Danny ran unsteadily across the prairie pasture towards the irrigation ditch on the far side. He threw himself among the tall grasses and shrubs edging the ditch and buried his face in his arms. His chest heaved, not just with exertion, but with the aftermath of dry sobs.

“I can’t believe I’ve done it-run away from school,” he gasped out loud. “Now I’m really in for it.” He wriggled deeper into the safety of the concealing grass but he was so scared that his body shook and the grasses quivered and rustled in response.

Above him, the noon sun blazed, a newly polished spring sun that melted the remnants of winter and promised warm days ahead. It comforted Danny and his body relaxed slightly into the earth. But when a meadowlark dripped its honeyed notes into the air, Danny angrily stuffed his fingers in his ears. He didn’t want anything interrupting him. He needed to figure things out. He lay still for a long time.

A sharp jab roused him.

“Hey. You dead or somethin’?”

Danny rolled over and squinted at another boy’s dark head silhouetted between him and the sun.

The boy moved back with a tiny sigh of relief. “You had me scared.”

Danny swiftly dragged his sleeve across his face, sat up cautiously and glanced behind. The town of Fort Macleod looked as usual, pretty quiet. No sign of an irate teacher chasing over the fields after him. But he slid his bum down the steep slope of the irrigation ditch towards the water’s edge, putting the concealing earth bank between him and the town. The other boy followed.

Danny looked sideways with interest. Fort Macleod was a small town and he knew practically everyone living there. But this kid with his black hair and dark eyes was from the reserve. Danny had seen him around the stores, but he didn’t know him. He was about Danny’s age and Danny wondered why he was wandering around the fields on his own.

“How come you’re not in school?” Danny blurted out.

The boy grinned, picked up a stone and threw it expertly across the dull water below. Both boys watched admiringly as it skipped seven times before disappearing into the depths.

“Teacher quit,” he replied laconically. “We don’t get another till Monday.”

“WOW!” Danny gasped in admiration. A wonderful new world opened up before him. A world in which teachers quit and you couldn’t find a replacement. A hundred scenarios raced through his brain. What if Mr. Berg quit? No more yelling, no more DTs. No more dreading being chosen to spell out loud. No-one sniggering when he stumbled over his tables. No more being called stupid when he couldn’t do written work.

“So. Why aren’t you in school?” The boy interrupted his daydream.

Danny thought for a minute. Suddenly the world that had seemed so desperate held new hope. With the trace of a grin on his lips, he turned to the unknown boy. “I quit,” he said firmly.

There was a moment’s silence, then the boy gave a chuckle and slapped Danny on the back. That did it. Danny’s precarious balance gave way and he slithered down the slippery grass-covered slope towards the cold grey water.

“Help!” Danny grabbed the boy’s arm. Down they both slithered, stopping only on the very edge of the bank, Danny with one foot in the water.

“Geez, that’s cold.” Danny ripped off his sneaker and wobbled on one leg while wringing out his sock. Then he hopped around shaking the sock and shoe in the air, trying to figure if the sun was hot enough to dry them.

The boy laughed. Danny looked at him and then down at his dripping shoe and sock and realized he was showering the boy; he grinned and again flicked the wet sock in his direction. The boy ducked and scooped up a handful of water and flung it over Danny. Danny retaliated and in seconds both boys were soaked, laughing, and breathless.

“What’s your name?” panted Danny as they lay on their backs and figured out what to do next.

“Joshua Brokenhom,” replied the boy. “What’s yours?”

“Danny Budzynski. My dad runs the general store in Fort Macleod, and we live in the white farmhouse on the highway just west of town.”

Joshua nodded. “Walked past it today.” He punched Danny on the arm. “Your dog barked at me.”

“Aw. He barks at everyone, but he wags his tail at the same time. He’s a dumb mutt,” added Danny quickly so that Joshua wouldn’t think he was nuts over his dog.

Joshua lay back and chewed on a grass stalk. Danny looked curiously at him. He’d never really talked to a kid from the reserve before, and he’d never visited the reserve. He’d heard stories. Some of the grownups in town didn’t seem to like Indians, but Danny thought they were neat; in fact he admired them and sometimes he wished he was one. Not a modem Indian, but a warrior of the plains who never went to school, but hunted buffalo and lived in a teepee. Sometimes Danny would pay his quarter to go inside the museum in Fort Macleod. He’d wander around looking at the Indian headwork, the collection of arrowheads and the old photos, (especially the ones showing the Sun Dance, with the warrior pulling against the sinews threaded through his chest) and he’d imagine what life would be like as an Indian.

“What’s it like on the reserve?” he asked hesitantly.

Joshua looked solemn. “Oh, we scalp white folk and sit around drumming and waiting for the buffalo to come.”

Danny’s eyes widened. “You joking?”

Joshua laughed. ‘“Course I am. What do you think it’s like?”

Danny shook his head. “Dunno. You’re the first reserve kid I’ve talked to.”

“Well, Danny Bud-whatever-it-is, you’re the first Ukrainian kid I’ve talked to. What’s it like at your place?”

“Aw, we just sit around and eat perogies,” Danny offered with a grin.

“Hey, you’re OK.” Joshua stretched and got to his feet. “Want to come and see the eagles?”

Danny cautiously climbed to the top of the bank and looked over. Everything was still quiet. “What the heck. I’m in big trouble anyway.” And he slid back down.

The two boys headed along the ditch swiping last year’s grasses with their hands as they passed, seeing who could send the dead seed heads flying farthest.

“Where do the Eagles play? They’ve never played the Macleod Cougars.”

“Not a hockey team... Eagles... Real birds.”

“Oh, birds.” Danny’s tone echoed his disappointment. His vision of a stolen afternoon watching a hockey game was rudely shattered. “What do we want to go and see birds for?”

Joshua turned and patiently explained. “No, not just birds. Bald Eagles. Lots of them.” His voice rose excitedly. “They fly along this side of the Rockies on their spring migration. They’re going to the lakes up north.”

Danny was unconvinced. “I’ve seen eagles,” he said. “They circle above our farm sometimes.”

“Those are Golden Eagles,” Joshua explained. “But these are the Bald Eagles. You see them in southern Alberta only at this time of the year. They’re special. My grandfather told me they’d be here for the next few days. I promised to meet him on his lookout hill. Come on.”

Joshua scrambled up the side of the ditch and headed west across the farmlands. Danny followed, not sure that eagles were really interesting, but Joshua seemed OK. Besides, it would fill in the time until school finished and he could go home.

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Christopher Dinsdale's Historical Adventures 4-Book Bundle

Christopher Dinsdale's Historical Adventures 4-Book Bundle

Broken Circle / Stolen Away / Betrayed / The Emerald Key
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