• The Wheelbarrow

    Ben Loory

    Winter 2022

    Two boys are playing hide and seek in the woods, when they come upon an old wheelbarrow.

    Get in, one says, I’ll push you around.

    Okay, says the other, and he does.

    He lies in the wheelbarrow with his feet sticking out the front, staring up at the clouds in the sky, while the other boy pushes him around through the trees.

    Okay, your turn! his friend says.

    All right, says the boy, and he climbs out of the wheelbarrow, and his friend immediately gets in, and the two play that way all afternoon, taking turns.

    Then it starts to get dark.

    What should we do with the wheelbarrow? one says.

    What do you mean? the other says.

    Well, we can’t just leave it out here, says the first. What if someone steals it overnight?

    Oh, says the other.

    He hadn’t thought of that.

    Where can we put it? he says.

    The two boys stand there, looking around.

    Mr. Grady’s barn, one says.

    Mr. Grady’s barn is large and very old. Mr. Grady has been dead for years. The weeds that surround the place rise high—higher than the boys’ heads.

    But the two push together, and the wheelbarrow moves through.

    The barn doors creak as they swing them out.

    They gaze into the barn. It is dark and very quiet.

    Come on, the second boy says. Let’s go.

    Together, they push the wheelbarrow inside, peering about as they move into the dark.

    From overhead, a rustling sound drifts down.

    The two boys stop pushing and look up.

    Is this place haunted? one of them asks.

    No, the other says. It’s just bats.

    The rustling sound comes again—this time, louder.

    And the two boys turn and run.

    They run toward the barn doors as fast as they can—though still, it seems to take forever—and then suddenly they’re through, outside, in the open air.

    In the distance, the moon is shining down.

    You were scared! says the first boy, as they stop to catch their breath.

    I was not! the other says.

    You were! says the first. You were shaking in your boots!

    That was you! the other says, and they laugh.

    Race you home! says the first boy.

    Okay, the other says.

    And they turn and head back across the fields.

    When they get to the fork in the road, they wave goodbye.

    Goodnight! they both say. See you tomorrow!

    So the two boys continue their separate ways home, and they go inside and wash their hands, and they sit down to dinner at the table with their families.

    And afterward, they go up to bed.

    They lie there in the dark and think about tomorrow—which will be the last day of the summer. Just one final day of freedom before school.

    They’ll make the most of it as soon as they wake up.

    So they lie there in the dark, and they squeeze their eyes shut, and they try and try to fall asleep. But for whatever reason, they just can't do it.

    They only grow more and more awake.

    And now it’s very late, and they’re lying in the dark. Each lying separately, alone. And now they each find themselves thinking the same thing—about that wheelbarrow they left in Mr. Grady’s barn.

    And for whatever reason, they keep thinking about it—they keep seeing it there in the dark. They keep picturing it standing alone in the barn.

    With those rustling noises coming from overhead.

    And the boys try to block it out—to push away that thought—but it seems the more they try, the more they fail.

    One boy closes his eyes even tighter.

    But the other boy sits up in bed.

    Plink, plink, plink, is the sound the pebbles make as they strike against the first boy’s windowpane. The boy slides it open and pokes his head out.

    Below, his friend is standing on the lawn.

    Come on, his friend calls up. Come on! Hurry!

    What? Why? the boy says.

    Come on, says his friend.

    And finally, the boy nods.

    All right, okay, he says.

    He climbs over the windowsill and shimmies down the drainpipe.

    I hope we’re not too late, his friend says.

    The boys run together back across the fields—this time in the dead of night. They run through the darkness, the one boy leading and the other following closely behind.

    Wait up, the boy says, but his friend doesn’t slow.

    He’s already running as fast as he can. And he can’t see anything—until a cloud leaves the moon and Mr. Grady’s barn suddenly stands revealed.

    The barn is glowing silver in the moonlight.

    Its doors are open wide.

    Didn’t we close those? the first boy says.

    I don’t know, the other replies.

    Ben Loory is the author of the collections "Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day" and "Tales of Falling and Flying," as well as a picture book for children, "The Baseball Player and the Walrus." His fables and tales have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, Gargoyle Magazine, and The Antioch Review, and been heard on This American Life and Selected Shorts.

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