The sun was sinking fast. An image zapped into Derek’s mind in an instant as he looked up at the sky, churning in pinks and deep yellows, an image of his mother chiding him for getting home so late, making his little brother walk home in the dark. It gets cold outside! he could hear her say. You should have had your brother home an hour ago! He was your responsibility! He’s afraid of the dark! No video games for three days! You’re grounded for a week! You’re grounded for a month! No more video games for the rest of your life!
He could see his mother, unplugging the gaming console from the wall, opening the window, chucking it out into the blue air and in slow motion he could see it tumbling to the earth, crashing and splintering over the sidewalk like a glass bottle, shattering into a hundred billion thousand pieces he just couldn’t even fathom the pain, the agony! The horror!
“David, we need to go! Now!” Derek called, hustling over to his little brother, dangling on a tree branch like a monkey, his toes brushing the grass.
“But I almost got it!” David eagerly struggled, appearing to be trying to sling his legs up over the branch without an ounce of success.
“Come on we gotta go! Mom will be pissed if I get you home late.”
Snatching his brother’s hand the two of them hurried their way through the grove of picnic tables, their sneakers crunching as they hit the gravel park path, Derek looking over the trees and seeing the sun dip way too fast for his liking. He took a sharp left, tugging his brother along, leaving the park trail and breaking into the trees.
“Where are we going? This isn‘t the way home! We gotta go that way!” David said, confusion and nervous uncertainty turning him into a lumbering noodle as his older brother dragged him along.
“It’s a shortcut! I’ve done this a million times; we’ll just go down Badger Hill to our block and then it’s a straight walk home.” The trees fell away as the hill came in sight, the sun roaring low and the pale creep of dark blue sweeping over the top edges of the sky.
Derek let go of his brother’s hand as he began to make his way down the hill. But David stood rooted on the spot, looking down the steep mound that was littered in tall thistles, their prickly stalks and arms up to his shoulders. David didn’t mind small weeds, though he hated stepping on them; once when he was five he had stepped on one barefoot and the experience had imbedded itself upon his memory like a brand. It had hurt. Like a bee sting. But his brother was getting farther and farther away, and not wanting to be left behind, with sudden step David waded into the thistles, avoiding them with tender placement of his legs and arms. Carefully inching his way down the hill, he became very afraid. The thistles were everywhere; large and looming. They pricked at his shirt and naked shins, and his heart began to race.
“…Derek!” David called to his brother, “Derek, I’m scared!”
With adept hop Derek’s soles hit the bottom of the hill, landing on the street, the neighborhood within sight. He turned to see where his brother was. “What?” he yelled back, looking up and seeing his brother not moving, standing dumbly in the thistle patch, like a deer in the headlights. Frustrated he shouted, “What’s wrong? Come on we gotta go!”
“I’m scared!” David screamed again. “I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared I’m scared!”
“What? David, they’re just weeds!”
“WAAAAAAAAAH!” David suddenly wailed, beginning to cry huge tears, frozen in absolute terror from the overwhelmingly large, towering creatures of pointy thorns about him. He was never going to make it out! He was surrounded! He was going to die!
“Stop being a baby!” Derek yelled. “Mom’s gonna kill me if I don’t get you home! Now COME ON!”
But David only wailed louder, his cry echoing out like a siren, his face reddening into a ripe shade of watermelon. The tears rained from his eyes as he suddenly sat down, trying desperately to scoot his little body down the hill through the mass of thistles, but the fear clenched him tightly, and his cries continued. “I’M S-SCAARED!” he screamed, sobbing, shaking his head from side to side while slowly scooting himself along his butt down the hill. Even though clearly having a tantrum, or absolute panic attack, he was still moving. Derek grimaced as he watched his terrified brother creep towards him, looking as though he were about to pop like a balloon at any moment. His chest tightened, wanting to get home and feeling pressured, but, David looked miserable. The hill was too steep for Derek to carry David down safely. He might drop him, and then they’d be in real trouble. David pressed on in noble scoot, barely even a quarter of the way down the hill, his wailing never ceasing. He was just a kid, and clearly the thistles were scaring the CRAP outta him.
“Okay! Okay. David, stop. I’m coming to get you.” Derek said.
David’s crying fell to a whimper, then melted into a sniffle. He watched his big brother make his way back up the hill, pushing the deadly thistles away effortlessly.
“I’m sorry.” David choked out, feeling very embarrassed as his brother reached him. He was worried he was mad. His brother was so much braver than he was.
“No, I’m sorry, Squirt.” Derek said, giving a sigh. “It’s okay. These weeds are as big as you are… I shouldn’t have made you come this way. You did good. We’ll take the long way home, come on.” Derek grabbed both his brother’s sweaty, trembling hands and pulled him to his feet, lifting him off the ground slightly in the tug. Putting his hands on his little brother’s shoulders the two made their way the short distance back up the hill. The sun was just an arch of lingering light along the bottom of the sky, and making their way back to the path, Derek felt relieved that his brother had stopped crying. Looking dejected, David stared down at his exhausted feet. It was nearing his bedtime, and they had about six blocks to walk before they were home.
“Here.” Derek said, tugging his brother to a stop. He knelt down, and instinctively David clamored onto his brother’s back, and hitching him up, David’s hands wrapped tightly and tiredly around his collar bone, and Derek began the hike home.
“…Thanks, Derek.” David hushed in little voice, his small face buried in his brother’s shoulder.
“…No problem.” Derek said, casually. But, inside, it made him feel huge. Full of emotion; a mix of feelings that was good and empowering. It was now definitely after eight o’clock, the sun was gone from view, with only the lamplights and the moon guiding them home. Derek realized that if he got grounded, it wasn‘t that big a deal.
“We’re almost home, Squirt.” Derek said quietly, the dark peaceful, and his brother’s weight heavy-ing as he sense him slipping into a light sleep. “We’re almost home.”
(This story is based off of an experience I had when I was a little girl. In case anyone’s wondering, I was NOT the brave one. *laughs*)