September sunlight, as thick and golden as molten honey, filtered through the willows and danced along the ripples of the creek. Up to his armpits in the water, a small boy shouted.
“Hey, Trey, you comin’ in or not?”
“Yeah, I’m coming, Justin, keep your pants on.”
Justin slipped underwater, stroked to the bank and came up splashing, sending jeweled droplets flying. “You’re the one with pants on.”
Trey jumped back to avoid being soaked, skinned out of his shirt and overalls and tossed them next to Justin’s clothes. With a running leap, he cannon balled into the creek. The cold water forced the air from his seven-year-old lungs. He bobbed to the surface, gasping.
Justin was nowhere to be seen. Trey steadied himself, expecting an underwater attack, but nothing happened. A magpie called from a nearby branch, the only sound except for the murmur of the water.
“Justin Sinclair’s an old wet hen!” He-n echoed off the bank, but only the magpie answered. The sun slid behind a cloud, stealing some of the day’s warmth. Shivering, Trey hugged himself and scanned the creek up and down. Justin must be planning something, trying to scare him.
Slippery rocks rolling under his feet, Trey took a step toward the shore. Something boomed in the distance, loud enough to send the magpie flying. It sounded too short and sharp for thunder, but what else could it be? Trey glanced at the sky, looking for storm clouds that weren’t there. Best get out of the water, just in case. He yelled again.
“Hell, Justin, this isn’t funny.”
That clap should have brought Justin running, but it didn’t. Stumbling, fighting the current and his growing panic, Trey headed for shore. The thunder cracked again and again in rapid succession – much too rapid.
The sunlight dissolved into darkness. The clammy chill on Trey’s skin came from cold sweat, not creek water. He sat up in bed, trembling.
He heard nothing from the loft. He hadn’t wakened Beth. Trey rested his head on his knees, waiting for his heart to stop pounding in his ears like the cannon in his dream. Over a year. Congratulations. He’d hoped his nightmares had stopped for good, but he’d learned long ago to focus on the positive.
When he’d settled down, Trey pulled on his pants and lit the lamp. Reading for a while might calm him enough to go back to sleep. As he lifted Two Years Before the Mast from the bookshelf, his hand brushed the picture frame he’d taken from Beth before supper. He’d meant to put it away before she arrived, but in the hurry of getting the place ready for her, he’d forgotten.
If only other things could be forgotten as easily.