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Lost in Wolf Creek Valley

by T. M. Grafius, Sr.

The year Nathan Clark lived in West Virginia seemed like one big adventure for the eight-year-old boy.  He learned to ride bareback on the neighbor's horse.   With his parents, he went for long hikes, visited county fairs and explored caves.  He helped pick raspberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, cherries and teaberry, which all grew near his home.  Nathan and his dad dug sassafrass roots for tea and pressed apples for apple cider.  He helped the neighbors bale hay.  It seemed as if there was always something going on.

And there were animals.  Nathan had never been around so many animals before.  There were beef cattle and horses across the road, and there was a sheep ranch right around the bend.  The Clarks had a flock of chickens, four cats, five kittens, a dog and for a short time, a frisky young goat named William T.  Then there was Leroy.  Leroy was a black lamb who had joined the Clark family on Valentine's Day, when he was only four days old, after being rejected by his mother.  In the beginning, Leroy's only interests were in sleeping and drinking milk from a special lamb nursing bottle.  Before long, however, the lamb became Nathan's best friend, playmate and exploring partner.  He also became the cause of Nathan's scariest adventure in West Virginia - the time they got lost in Wolf Creek Valley.

It all started one Saturday morning in June.  Nathan had let Leroy out of the shed where the lamb slept at night.  All the animals except the chickens were lined up on the back porch waiting for their breakfasts.  Nathan undertook his regular chore of filling each of their bowls with their own kind of food.  Then he filled all of the water bowls.  When he was finished, he went inside to eat his own breakfast.  His mother was in the kitchen baking cookies.  She asked Nathen if he wanted to help her after he ate.  Of course, Nathan said 'Yes' because he liked what came after baking the cookies - eating the cookies.  He forgot all about Leroy's being outside.

An hour later, with three freshly-baked cookies in his hand, Nathan went out the back door.  He looked for the lamb but couldn't see him.  He called with the special call he used for Leroy, "Baa-aa!"  There was no answer.  Thinking the lamb might be busy eating or snooping, Nathan walked around the house.  He called again and listened for Leroy's usual response, but there was none.  He checked the field by the house, then the shed and the neighbor's yard.  There was no sign of the lamb.

Nathan began to worry.  Where could Leroy have gone?  The only other place he could think of were the woods covering the slope behind the house.  Nathan remembered his father saying one time how easy it was to get lost in the woods near their house.  "Maybe that's what happened," he thought.  "Maybe Leroy's lost."  That helped Nathan make up his mind.  He would just have to go find the lamb.  He didn't even think about getting lost himself.  The young boy hurried in the front door of the house and called, "Hi, Mom.  I think Leroy got lost.  I'm gonna go look for him."  He kept going through the house and out the back door as his mother said, "Okay, dear.  Just don't go too far."  The door slammed behind him.  Nathan jumped off the back porch and ran across the yard, scattering chickens every which way.

At the end of the yard, he slowed down and tried to see a way through the raspberry patches between the trees.  It was like a spiny, tangled jungle.  He walked along the edge of the woods until he saw a break in the berry stalks.  Nathan dashed into the shadowy woods.  He dodged around trees and jumped over roots and bushes, going deeper and deeper into the wooded area.  Suddenly, he stopped.  A well-worn path angled down the hillside in front of him.  "I wonder where it goes?" he thought.  Nathan wasn't one to pass up a chance to explore something new.  'Besides,' he told himself, 'Leroy might be on the path somewhere.'

Convincing himself that he hadn't really stopped searching for the lamb, the young explorer turned left onto the trail.  The path wound gradually down the slope.  The hill became steeper and the trees grew closer together.  Peering through the trunks, Nathan noticed a small building in a clearing.  He crouched down and crept closer.  The woods were quiet except for an occasional bird cry in the distance.  It was a little scary.  Nathan knelt behind a tree and peeked out.  Nothing moved.  Most of the building had fallen down, but two walls were still standing.  The logs from the other walls and the boards from the roof lay in a pile in the center of the structure.  Carefully, Nathan stood up and stepped closer.  When he was beside the ruins, he noticed how small the building had been.  The walls weren't much higher than his head.  'Maybe it was a play house,' he thought.

As he stepped around one wall, he heard a noise, a whispery, slithery sound.  Nathan eased away from the little house and looked closely toward the sound.  Was that something moving?  He took one step in the direction of the pile of wood, then another.  Suddenly he jumped back!  There it was, a snake, its shiny black scales sliding past an opening between the logs.  Nathan turned and ran back to the trail.  He raced along the dirt path, ducking under low branches as he ran further down the hill.  At last, he stopped to catch his breath.  The air was cool and full of the smell of damp earth and green leaves.  Everything seemed so peaceful, but so had that broken-down building, Nathan remembered.  He glanced around nervously.  Was anything hiding under that log?  Did something move inside that hollow stump?

 

Feeling a need for some friendly company, Nathan called once more for Leroy.  This time, he thought he heard an answer.  He called again, "Baa-aa."  There was a reply, off to the right.  The trail slanted away to the left, so the boy reluctantly stepped off the worn path and into the trees.  The ground was carpeted with last summer's leaves.  Rotting trunks of fallen trees lay this way and that, like giant pick-up sticks.  Nathan cautiously worked his way toward the answering Baaa.  It certainly sounded like Leroy's voice.  He hoped it was.  Holding onto the trunks of saplings as he carefully placed his feet on the leaf-covered ground, Nathan made his way down the slope.  He baaa-ed one more time and was pleased to hear an answering call even closer than before.  He went faster, slipping often on the dead leaves, as the slope grew steeper.  The young boy bounced from tree to tree like the ball in a pinball machine, trying to slow himself down.  It wasn't working!

Just as he was about to slide over a steep drop-off, he grabbed an over-hanging limb.  With his feet dangling in the air, Nathan swung back and forth until he was able to wrap his legs around the small tree the branch was attached to.  He edged his hands along the branch, finally reaching the trunk that his legs were grasping.  Switching his grip from limb to trunk, he slowly slid to the ground.  He sat there for a minute, still wrapped around the tree.  Leaning sideways, he looked over the edge of the cliff.  The bottom of the ravine lay about 30 feet below.  Nathan didn't even want to think what would have happened if he'd missed that branch.  While he tried to figure out what to do next, the boy called for his lamb.  "Baa-aa."  The answer came right away, and it seemed to be very close! 

Nathan baa'd again, then leaping through the brush below came a familiar black shape.  "Leroy!" Nathan cried.  "Come here, boy!" 

The lamb ran to the foot of the steep bank and looked up at his rescuer.  A sad-sounding 'ba-a-a-a' came from his mouth.  His four pointed feet scrambled uselessly in the soft dirt and gravel of the bank.  "Take it easy, boy," Natham told him.  "I'll find a way to get down there."

Standing slowly, Nathan braced his body against the tree and reached up to grab a drooping branch.  Pulling himself along from limb to limb, he headed downhill, following the edge of the drop-off, toward the mouth of the ravine.  Every ten feet or so, he called to Leroy and heard the lamb doing his best to keep up.  As Nathan continued down the slope, the side of the ravine became lower.  The boy was finally able to drop over the edge and slide to the bottom.  He was greeted joyfully by the black lamb.  The two explorers stood there then, looking up at the huge hill, the steep bank, the treacherous ravine.  It seemed like the only sensible thing to do was to keep going downward.

"Stay close to me now, Leroy," Nathan told his buddy.  "I don't want you to get lost again."

The two friends resumed their journey together.  The ravine was overrun with fast-growing shrubs and brambles.  Many times, they had to climb part-way up the side slope to get around the thick growths.  The farther they went, the wider the ravine became until the trees no longer met overhead.  It was good to feel the sunshine again.  Before long, they reached the end of the woods. The land ahead of them opened out into a broad green pasture.  Nathan and Leroy stood at the edge of the grassy field.  In the distance, they could see fence rows, farm buildings and houses here and there on the rolling hills.  On either side of them, the line of trees stretched out in both directions, forming a large semi-circle.  Near the bottom of the sloping pasture lay a pond surrounded by an earthen bank.  It looked like a nice place to rest, so Nathan began running towards it.  Leroy bounced alongside him on his springy legs.  Several times, the lamb cut in front of the boy, who then had to change direction.  When they finally reached the pond, the worn-out explorers flopped down on the grass-covered mound to rest.  While he sat relaxing, Nathan let his gaze slide over the heavily-wooded hill above them.  He looked for the place where he and Leroy had come out on the pasture.  He squinted his eyes and tried very hard to pick out details he remembered.  He finally gave up.  All the dips and hollows looked the same from where he sat.

He tried to pick out the path he and Leroy had taken across the pasture, but part way across the field, he lost the trail.  He had dodged around Leroy so many times that he wasn't sure which direction they had come from.  Nathan put his arm around the lamb's neck and said to him, "Do you think you can find your way back home, fella?"  Leroy just shook his head free of the arm around it and tried to nibble the pieces of grass Nathan was idly playing with.  The boy stood up and said to himself, 'I guess I'll have to find the way on my own.'  He wearily began to trudge up to the line of trees.  Leroy, his head and tail drooping, followed.

Nathan checked out one hollow or ravine after another.  None of them looked familiar.  The lamb was no help, either.  He just moped along behind the boy.  Finally, they came to a slight opening in the trees.  Through it, Nathan could see a wide ravine that had been made by rushing rain water.  It had steep sides that got higher as it went farther up the hill.  Maybe this was the right place.  Then Nathan saw a path through the brush and briars.  That helped him make up his mind.  "C'mon, Leroy.  I think this is the right way,"  he called as he started up the trail.  The path followed the edge of the stream bed, right next to the bank.  The pair had to walk carefully to keep from slipping over the side.  The trail became steeper and rockier.  Leroy's hard hooves slipped easily on the hard stones.  Even Nathan's sneakers slipped once in a while.  The tired boy was imagining how good it would be to see his home again, but then his hopes fell.  The path they were on ended, washed away by some past storm.  They couldn't go forward; they couldn't even climb around the wash-out because the hillside was too steep and tangled.  The only thing he could do was turn around and go back to the bottom.

When the partners reached the grassy field once more, Nathan noticed that the sun had fallen behind the hill.  The shadows were getting deeper and the air cooler.  "I'll bet it's supper time at home," he said aloud, thinking of his parents sitting at the table, with his place empty.  Just for a second, he felt tears start to build up.  Then he remembered he had started out to rescue Leroy.  He couldn't let the lamb down by acting like a little kid.

 

Nathan sniffled once, then he started off along the border of the field to find another way up the hill.  The next hollow they came to was hard to see at first.  Trees made an almost solid wall across the front of it.  There was no stream bed with high banks like the other place, but there was a path.  This time, the trail was on the left side of the narrow ravine. 

Nathan glanced up at the sky.  The evening light was fading fast.  What would he do if it got dark before he made it home?  He didn't even want to think about it.  Maybe his parents would start looking for him.  Then he remembered - he didn't tell anyone where he was going.  He looked down at the lamb standing patiently by his side.  The determined boy took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and decided he just had to find his way home on his own.  After all, Leroy was depending on him. 

They stepped into the gloomy shade under the trees.  The path immediately angled up the hill away from the ravine.  They started climbing, keeping their eyes on the dirt track in front of them.  An occasional glance into the shadows on either side showed the first fireflies of the evening blinking their signals to each other.  The path continued in an almost straight line, becoming nearly level in some places and getting steeper in others. 

After a while, Nathan thought he noticed some familiar features - a twisted tree, a bush that looked sort of like a circus tent.  Then he stopped so suddenly that Leroy bumped into his leg.  There, on the right, was a shape he had definitely seen before - the little tumbled-down log cabin.  They were on the same trail he had left earlier in the day.  While Nathan stood there, a picture of the snake he had seen earlier came to his mind.  He quickly looked at the ground all around him as a chill brought goose bumps to his body.  It was too dark now to run on the path, but the tired hikers walked away as fast as they could.  Nathan knew that they would soon be at the place where he had first seen the trail.  From there, all he had to do was go straight up the hill to his yard.  The trouble was, it was too dark to see where he needed to leave the path.  The boy strained his eyes to find something else he remembered.  It was no use.

Nathan turned around to make sure Leroy was still with him, but the lamb was gone!  "Leroy!" he called.  "Leroy!  Come on, boy!"  There was no answer.  Alone!  Nathan was alone in the woods, in the dark.  He didn't know exactly where he was.  He didn't know how to get home.  Now the tears began to leak from his eyes, even though he tried to stop them.  The worst thing about it, now Leroy was lost again.  'I guess I didn't do a very good job today.' he said softly to himself.

Nathan tried one last time to call for the lamb - "Baa-aa!"  From somewhere above, he heard an answering 'baaa'.  He called again and heard another answer.  And there was a light!  It was a flashlight.  Then he heard his mother's familiar voice.  "We're coming, dear.  Stay where you are.  Leroy will lead us to you."  Nathan kept up a steady stream of 'baaa's' to guide Leroy, but he knew now that everything would be all right.  As the boy watched his mother and father follow the beam of the flashlight through the trees, he felt just a touch of disappointment.  After all, he was supposed to be the rescuer, not Leroy.

The End

Greeple the Space Caterpillar
illustrated children's story
Busy Lizzie's Rhyming Book
illustrated story-in-verse
The Lonely Christmas Tree
a poem
No More Jokes, Please
illustrated children's story
The Midnight Ride
a scary poem
The Face of Death
a spooky poem
She Walks in Beauty Parody
poetry
Assorted Short Stories
My First Motorcycle Hill Climb
a short story
The Hume Hunters
On the trail of alien big game animal.
The Glass Factory
A story of childhood friendship and loss.
 

E-mail us with any questions or comments.       Copright 1985 by T. M. Grafius, Sr.     Return to the top of the page.