Frank slid the barn door open just wide enough to look out. Then, sure the coast was clear, he opened it enough to allow his slender twelve-year-old body to slip through.
But where was Hercules? He liked to have the dog along. Still, happy to have gotten away from Carrie, his ten-year-old sister, he wasn’t going back to the house for him now.
He examined the field he had to cross for any sign of Carrie. She was determined to find his secret hiding place—would follow him if she could. So he’d do what he’d done for several days now. He’d start off in the opposite direction, then, when he got to the creek, follow it back to the “cave” he and Hercules had discovered.
Stuffed in his shirt were two more books to add to the stack he had accumulated in the cave. One was his favorite book on the great Indian chiefs. The other was the book on bird identification his mother had given him. Yesterday he was sure he had seen a yellow-bellied sap sucker.
The cave was across the creek, on the higher bank, and from there, secure in his secret hiding place, he could see most of their farm. He’d seen Carrie hunting for him a couple of days ago, so knew she was doing her best to find him.
But by the time he reached the fence separating their property from the Morgans’ corn field, he was sure he’d avoided her again, and began to follow the fence down to the creek. Suddenly two pheasants flew up, right in front of him, with a great flurry of wings. He certainly didn’t need his bird book to recognize them, but, again, he wished that Hercules were along. How excited he would have been when they took off like that.
Then Frank went back along the creek until he came to where the cave was, on the far side. But he’d concealed the entrance so well that even he could hardly tell it was there. Hercules and he had just found it by accident, after all, when they were chasing a squirrel.
The creek was deep enough that he always took off his shoes to wade over, stuffing his socks in the toes. And, since it had rained earlier that day, the ground was extra slippery. Working down the bank, with his shoes in one hand, he heard a strange bird call, and looked up. The bird he’d seen yesterday! With that yellow belly! As he was trying to get his bird book out, his attention was distracted, and he made one bad misstep. His left foot slid out from under him. He fell forward, dropping his shoes. As he did, his right foot got caught in a tangle of small tree roots, leaving him stretched out on the ground.
Nothing seemed broken, though his ankle was bleeding a little and one elbow was scratched. But Frank soon discovered he couldn’t get his foot loose. The more he tried to free it, the more tightly that net of roots seemed to grasp it. His full weight working against him, he couldn’t pull himself up enough to free his foot. He needed help. But could he ever call out loudly enough to be heard clear back at the house?
His books were still safe inside his shirt, and, looking down, he saw one of his shoes on a pile of leaves. But the other shoe was floating down the creek, toward the Smokey Hill River! If he lost that shoe his mother wouldn’t let him out of the house for a month. But there he was, trapped, watching it float away.
Then he heard something on the bank above him. It was Hercules. “Good dog! Here! Help pull me up! Go get my shoe!”
The dog came down to him, and licked his face, but wasn’t big enough to help much. They had named him Hercules as a joke. Nor did he understand about the shoe—now almost out of sight.
Then Frank saw Carrie’s face looking down at him. “What happened to you, Frank? Are you hurt?”
Frank was overjoyed. “Carrie!” Then, the first thing he thought of, “Get my shoe out of the creek. Right down there.” He pointed. “And be careful. It’s really slippery.”
Slipping and sliding down the bank—getting her own shoes a little wet and muddy—Carrie managed to rescue his shoe. Then she tried to push Frank up high enough that he could free his foot. But that didn’t work. Finally, on Frank’s suggestion, she wrapped his belt around the biggest root and pulled on one end as he pulled on the other. On the third try his foot came free.
As he sat rubbing his ankle, he asked, “What are you doing here, Carrie?”
“I wanted to find your secret hiding place. Today I decided that I’d keep Hercules in the house for a while after lunch. Then I could let him loose and follow him. He led me right here, not even going off in the wrong direction first, like you do.”
“What a big help you are!” Frank said to Hercules. Then he laughed. “But I guess it’s lucky for me that you did that.”
“And I’ll keep your secret,” Carrie said. “Better than Hercules did. It’ll be my secret, too. I won’t even tell Mom about your shoes.”
Frank thought how smart Carrie had been to come up with this idea, and then to rescue him. She was too close to his secret hiding place now for him to be able to keep it a secret anyway.
“Can you see that cave over there?” he asked her. “Near the top of that other bank.”
“Where?” She was looking but she didn’t see it. Great!
Frank waded across the creek. Carrie took off her shoes and waded after him. He removed the branches so she could see inside the cave.
“How nice and dry. In spite of the rain today! And you’ve got your books here. So you probably don’t want me bothering you while you’re reading.”
“You could bring your puzzles or something . . . sometimes. Then this can be our secret hiding place. Yours and mine and Hercules’.” He patted the dog as he looked out. “See, you can see our whole farm from here.”
Carrie sat down beside him. “What’s that bird over there?”
Frank looked where she was pointing. “I think it’s a yellow-bellied sap sucker. Hand me my bird book and I’ll check.”