“Jamey!” Gramma called from the foot of the stairs. “Are you coming down? Breakfast is ready.”
On the bed a pile of quilted blankets stirred. Jamey popped his head out from beneath the covers.
“Coming, Gramma!” He answered. Sitting up, he groped for his clothes. “Let me get dressed.”
As he pulled his clothes on, his thoughts turned to his parents. They were on their second-honeymoon, going to the same place they had gone before, fifteen years ago. Jamey had wanted to go, but his father had explained it to him. This was something very special for his mother and father, and it was important that they spend some time together, just the two of them. He wasn’t so sure he understood, but after last night, he was sure he wished he was home instead of here.
Jamey remembered last night. It had been a nightmare. He lay awake all night in his father’s old attic bedroom, dark as a tomb. A tree branch scratched at the window, like a skeletal hand seeking entry; an owl hooted constantly, while all the while the house creaked and groaned. Jamey had done precious little sleeping.
“It was all that racket,” he told himself, but he knew better. It wasn’t the noise that had kept him awake. It was his fear. He knew it, but he didn’t like to admit it. “No self-respecting twelve-year-old is afraid of the dark,” he told himself. “That is, none but this one.” At breakfast, he just picked at his food glumly.
“What’s the matter, Jamey? You don’t feel well?” Gramma asked with concern.
“No. I feel alright.” Jamey answered. “Really.”
“Well, something is the matter. Grammas can always tell, you know. So, what is it?”
She looked at him over her glasses.
Looking away, Jamey said, “I couldn’t sleep, that’s all. I guess
I wasn’t very tired.” He hoped that she would be satisfied with that.
She wasn’t. “It’s darker in the country at night; no street lights, you know. Sometimes I forget that: it takes some getting used to, especially when there’s no moon out.”
She poured herself some tea. “I meant to leave a light on for you last night, just until you get used to the place. Remind me to do that tonight, okay?”
Jamey looked at Gramma with admiration and wonder. Sure!” he said, “And thanks!”
Gramma smiled, her wrinkles crinkling around her eyes.
“Here, have another muffin.”
That morning Jamey spent exploring the wood and hill round the farm. He even rode his father’s old bike to Mr. Clancy’s farm, Gramma’s nearest neighbor who lived about a half-mile down the road.
“You tell your grandmother to get her furnace lit. There’s a blue Norther’ blowing in tonight!” Mr. Clancy spoke with concern. Ever since Grampa had died, the Clancy’s had kept a neighborly eye on Grandma.
That afternoon, which had been unseasonably hot, the wind began to pick up speed, blowing in gusts from the north. Soon the sky became overcast, the clouds scudding before the wind like animals before a fire. Within a couple of hours, the temperature had dropped forty degrees, and by supper it was well below freezing.
It began to hail and sleet, the frozen pellets bouncing off the roof like rocks. By supper’s end, the hail was replaced by snow, a steady supply drifting downward, with an occasional, but furious, gust of wind.
Jamey volunteered to do the dishes and Gramma cleared off the table. While the storm raged outside, picking up intensity with every passing moment, inside it was snug and warm, a comfortable, cozy shelter. Jamey felt content.
“Well, now that the table’s cleared, I believe I’ll go out and check on the animals,” Gramma said. It won’t take but a moment, then I’ll be right back.” She bundled up and went out the back door.
Five minutes went by. Ten minutes: the dishes were done, the glasses dried and put away. Twenty minutes. Thirty!
Jamey paced the floor. “Surely it doesn’t take this long just to check on a few dumb animals!” He was upset and beginning to really worry.
Not able to wait any longer, Jamey went to the back door and looked out. It was pitch black; he couldn’t see a thing.
Reaching for the switch, he turned flipped it up. “It must be burned out!”
Jamey’s hands sweated. “She’s probably alright.” he said to himself weakly. He wanted nothing more than to just leave the door closed and the darkness safely on the other side.
“But she could be in trouble. I’ve got to find out!” His hand gripped the doorknob until his fingers ached. Everything inside him fought against fear and indecision. Finally, he threw the door open and stood facing the chilling blast of night.
“Gramma!” Jamey cried. He ran to her where she lay sprawled at the foot of the stoop, unconscious. Already snow covered her, and he wiped it away from her face. She must have slipped on the ice that had formed on the concrete steps. She lay on her back; her glasses, bent and crooked, were shoved up on her forehead; her face was pale and pasty.
Jamey’s mind raced like mad. He knew he shouldn’t move her, in case her injuries were serious. Besides, he doubted he could. “But if I leave her here, she’ll freeze to death!” Despite the cold, Jamey’s hands sweated.
“The phone! I’ll call for help!” Running inside, he grabbed the phone. There was nothing but static. It didn’t work. Biting his lip and trying to think, Jamey fought back the tears that threatened to erupt. “If only Mom and Dad were here,” he cried. “Someone. Anyone besides just me.”
“Mr. Clancy!” he said out loud. “I can get Mr. Clancy!” But first he must do something about Gramma. He had an idea.
Running to his room, Jamey stripped his bed. In Gramma’s room he found a pile of quilts. Carrying them outside, he covered Gramma from head to toe, making sure she had room to breathe.
“There that ought to keep her warm enough for a while.” he said to himself. To Gramma, he said, “Hold on Gramma! I’m going to get help. You just hold on!”
A search of the kitchen turned up a flashlight with a weak light. It would have to do. Shrugging on his coat, Jamey rolled the bike down the driveway and onto the road. The darkness closed around him, the pale beam of the flashlight useless in the falling snow.
Jamey swallowed hard. The fear he had conquered in the kitchen came again and beat upon his imagination. The wind began to blow even harder, driving the snow into his eyes, making it nearly impossible to see.
“I can’t stop. I can’t stop! For Gramma’s sake, I’ve got to go on!” He forced himself to think only of reaching the Clancy’s. The wind, icy, sharp-fingered, tore at his clothes, trying hard to throw him down. Failing at this, it shook the trees in fury, howling at him as he passed.
Just as he lost hope, when he was sure he wouldn’t make it and not only he, but Gramma as well, would perish in the storm, he was there. Pedaling with the last of his strength he plowed up the driveway.
“Mr. Clancy, Mr. Clancy, open up! It’s Gramma, she’s hurt!” He shouted as he pounded at the door.
Mr. Clancy opened the door, exclaiming. “Why it’s Mrs.
Wilson’s grandson. Come in boy, before you freeze to death!”
“I can’t Mr. Clancy, Gramma’s hurt bad. She fell outside, and she won’t wake up. You got to help me. I can’t move her!”
Only moments later, they were speeding back down the road to Gramma’s house. Jamey prayed that it wasn’t too late.
Much later that night, Jamey sat on the bed in the attic, completely exhausted. Downstairs, he could hear his Aunt Mary puttering around. She had come to keep an eye on him, and to help Gramma when she came home from the hospital.
Jamey’s parents had been called and were ready to cut their vacation short. His mother had wanted to leave right away. But Uncle Richard had reassured them. “It was only a little concussion. The doctor wanted her to stay the night just for safety’s sake. You know Mom,” he told Jamey’s dad, “It would take more than a bump on the head to keep her down.
“By the way, that’s some boy you have there. If it hadn’t been for him, things might have turned out differently. You know, his quick thinking kept her alive. He set out for help in the middle of the biggest storm we’ve seen around here in a long time. A real hero! That’s what he is, not afraid of anything.
You should be proud.”
“Not afraid of anything…” the words echoed in Jamey’s head. Wasn’t that something? He, Jamey, not afraid of anything! He didn’t know about the hero stuff. What else could he have done?
But it occurred to him, he had faced the night, the storm, and his own fear, and he’d won. As he shut off the light, he remembered. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been afraid; it was that he hadn’t let it keep him from doing what he had to do.
Snuggling into the bed, he knew he had it beat. Tonight, would be a night without fear.