Lost Child Announcement


We were at the local park when they made the announcement. I was standing in the crow's-nest. I had climbed up the blue rigging of my ship the HMS Fortitude, to the top most part of the ship. I could see all around and feel the wind in my face. Below me were my crew, milling around. Most of them couldn't get up this high. It required a certain stretch and boldness to get off the platform and sit on the higher bar. Over to the starboard were the woods. Eastward were the grassy planes, where the parents and families sat with their picnics.

The sky was largely overcast and it began to rain very lightly. The lamp post opposite me crackled into life. It spoke, in a bold and gentlemanly tone.

"Will Pip Calveti please make his way to the clearing in the woods to be reunited with his family."

I skipped down the rigging, and the jumped off the thick log frame of the ship onto the sawdust sea. Wishing my crew good luck, I ran to the edge of the play area, and crawled through the hole in the fence, emerging into the woods.

The muffled sound of the park was all around, yet I couldn't get a visual. All I could see was the thick undergrowth. To the left was sticky weed, re-enforced with brambles, and to the right a field of nettles. I felt uncomfortable, and remembered the warnings I'd been given against going into the woods. My friend Sarah had seen a rat, and her mum, a needle. I could see some broken glass off to my right, but the way ahead was clear. I nervously begun to weave forward between the trees, until I reached the clearing.

My mother and father were not there. I remembered that it was in that exact dirt clearing that Sarah had seen the rat. She must have seen him scuttle across the shallow, sandy soil; illuminated lightly by the sun. I warily glanced around at the dark undergrowth. Under the shadows of those twisted nettles were things not meant for boys like me. In the nettles lived tougher creatures - foxes, badgers, and of course the rat.

I walked into the center of the clearing to study the ground for clues. A series of peculiarly shaped leaves caught my attention. Each one was pressed perfectly flat against the ground, pointing with serrated edges toward a dark passage in the undergrowth over to the east. There was a natural decline in the ground, creating a tunnel of nettle stems arching over. It was just enough to allow me to lie flat on my belly and crawl through.

I didn't like the look of it, but I wanted to be brave to find my parents. I repeatedly assured myself it would be okay. I imagined myself hitting the rat if it came, punching it into the ground.

Slowly I crawled into the gap. My t-shirt and jeans became covered in dirt as I shuffled along on my belly. Nettles brushed across my face stinging me, so I closed my eyes and moved gently. I saw a pinhole of light toward the end of the tunnel and, in a panic, increased my pace, pushing my hands deeper into the dry soil.

I reached the end of the tunnel, breathing heavily. Through the undergrowth was a small opening, looking onto the plains. In the distance I could see my family. My Dad, looking restless, begun to wander toward the undergrowth in which I was hidden. They really were looking for me.

I was desperate to reach out to him, but I couldn't move. I was stuck against the sticky weed and caught on the brambles. They pressed me flat against the ground and my hands crumbled the dirt in an attempt to push myself up and look out.

My Dad approached, but as he got closer my perspective skewed. It appeared as if he was walking above me. I felt tiny, like a mole watching the world above. I desperately wanted to show him where I was. I knew that he would have found me, had he been able to see. His long legs stepped infinitely over me and I shrunk to a point, projected into a separate dimension. I knew why - he couldn't know about the clearing, the hollow, the nettles, the earthworms that squirmed around my fingers, the foxes, or the rat. He couldn't have found it, even though he had wanted to. I felt like I wanted to cry.

Instead I reached out, pushing toward the opening in the leaves, falling forward and tumbling down the short dirt slope onto the plains, surrounded by the adults, and the picnics.

Ahead were my mother and father, watching the fall with some confusion. I still felt terrible, but for some reason I had this stupid grin on my face. They began to laugh, thinking I had played some sort of joke on them. I looked up directly at my father, and saw the simple joy of seeing me across his face. I saw them both, and I began to laugh too.