A 2023 San Francisco Writers Contest / Young Adult Finalist
Beyond the woods, there’s a place called Hiram’s Heaven. Hiram was an old farmer who wore overalls and beat-up boots. Everybody talked about him like he was still around. I never met Hiram. The first time I heard about him was when Billy took me to Hiram’s Heaven, to the wide-open fields where we could run until we couldn’t run anymore.
It was a long walk down an old muddy dirt road to get there. It hadn’t rained lately so my new high-top tennis shoes should be okay. Mom warned me about getting dirty. I don’t know why she always thought it important to tell us to stay clean.
We were kids. Kids get dirty.
Billy and I stood at the end of the dirt road. We weren’t sure who owned these fields since we never met Hiram. We heard that sometimes people were out here with guns, but we didn’t see anybody with guns.
“Billy is it safe for us to just be walking around in somebody’s fields? Wouldn’t that be trespassing or something?” These were important questions before we started the last leg to Hiram’s Heaven. “I heard some older boys came out here and got shot at Billy.” Billy didn’t seem to be listening much to me. He had his pocket size binoculars out and was zoomed in on something down the road. “Shhhh Sally. Be quiet for a second. I see something.”
“See something? Like what? You’re scaring me.” I scooted over behind him. “Billy is somebody going to shoot at us?” He dropped the binoculars to his chest and looked at me like I was some kind of idiot.
“No Sally, there ain’t no one down this road that’s going to shoot at us, so come on, let’s get moving.” He pulled on my shirt to bring me with him. “Let go of me, I can walk!” We fell into step side by side as we meandered down the dirt road.
Billy stopped again and got out his binoculars. He squinted like it was hard to see. “There’s some movement, but I can’t tell what it is. It could be a deer, or a dog.” He started walking so I did too. There was a crispness in the air, and the leaves were starting to turn. The grassy fields, the pine trees, even the dirt, it all smelled good. These were the kinds of smells you remember. Billy and I walked in silence. It was a good silence. The kind of silence when two good friends are just walking somewhere together.
“Get down!” Billy half whispered half screamed. “Get low!” We ducked down on all fours. We sat there like frogs in the middle of the dirt road. “Billy, what’s the matter now? Quit scaring me!”
“Shhhhh” He said again. We were still as statues. “What is it, Billy?”
“I’m still not sure. It looks bigger than a deer or a dog.” We waited to see if anything else moved. Getting scared before we even got there made me want to turn around, but not Billy. “Let’s keep walking. I’ve been out here before. Wait until you see how far we can run Sally!” Then Billy took off running, leaving me standing there in the middle of the road. I took off after him. He wasn’t going to leave me out here with who knows what lurking in the distance. Finally, we approached the gate to enter Hiram’s Heaven.
“This is where we go in.” The gate was unlocked, wide open. As soon as we got beyond it, branches started cracking and the sound of hooves pounded out through the trees. Billy and I darted behind a big oak to see what was coming. A big herd of deer barreled towards us. They ran, and jumped, and darted between the trees and then they were gone. Right after that, two black dogs with big collars ran across the road. They didn’t even notice us. We waited for the sounds to pass before we moved.
“What was that, Billy? Why do you think those dogs are chasing those poor deer?” I was concerned for the deer. “These are their fields. They were here first. Nature was here first, and they have beautiful eyes and big ears. There’s no reason for those dogs to be chasing those deer.” Billy seemed a little unsure about our situation. “Those might be hunting dogs Sally. I didn’t think of that.” This required an explanation.
“I forgot it was deer hunting season.” He stood there contemplating our next move.
“I didn’t come out here to get shot Billy. My mom will be very mad if you get us shot out here today.” I always invoked mom’s name when I wanted something done.
“We’re not going to get shot Sally. I know exactly where we are, and you don’t get shot out here.” As we walked, I could hear the dogs barking in the distance.
The sun warmed my face. It felt good to be free like this. No one around, nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Just walking at our own pace with nothing but trees and air all around us. I wanted to twirl in the sunshine. I held out my arms and started to make big circles around Billy, like I was a bird flying around him. He did the same, and we weaved our way down the road in half circles around each other for the next few minutes. Nothing could hold us back. We were on our way to heaven.
The path came up followed by a patch of thick pines, and an opening to the fields. I knew right then; Billy had brought me to a special place. It went on as far as the eye could see. This must have been how the Indians felt when they gazed across their lands. A sense of openness, and expanse that couldn’t be captured in a word. It was a feeling of untouchable freedom.
“Are you ready to run?” Billy was grinning from ear to ear. This was the moment we had waited for. It was time to let go and run full force into the wind. You had to scream loud when you ran, and you had to run as fast as you can. That’s the whole idea. You let go of everything and run blindly toward the horizon wherever it may lead.
And with a war hoop we were off! Screaming at the top of our lungs and running full speed through the tall grassy fields. This was heaven! We ran and we ran, and we ran until we fell down. We rolled down a fluffy hill of grass that dropped toward a lake. Then we went back to the top and did it three more times. Finally, we laid on our backs staring up at the sky. We watched clouds pass by and tried to name them. We guessed the time based on the position of the sun.
Right about then we heard another ruckus coming from the woods. Gunfire rang out and something ricocheted off a tree. I froze in the grass, too scared to sit up. Billy rolled over and sat up to peer over the grassy shield around us. More shots rang out and he dove back down in a panic.
“Don’t stand up Sally! Stay low!” I did. I was terrified. The gunfire stopped. We waited. We could hear men’s voices in the distance. “We better get out of here Billy before we get killed! I want to go home right now.” I stood up and brushed myself off looking down at Billy still cowering in the grass. “I might be a kid, but I’m not stupid. I’m not going to sit out here and wait to get shot. Let’s go.” Billy wouldn’t get up. He laid there face down in the grass not moving. “Billy? Are you okay?” He didn’t move. “Billy?” He was face down; his voice muffled by the grass.
“I rolled in something.”.
“What do you mean you rolled in something?”
He turned over. Sure enough, he had cow dung all over him. Not just on his shirt or just on his pants, but all over him. He had rolled in a great big cow patty. He was covered. I put my hand over my nose and mouth as he rose from the grass. He smelled bad too. I took off running and could not stop laughing as I ran.
I’ve never felt so free as I did that day in Hiram’s Heaven. Billy and I had the best of times. It was probably the closest to heaven I would ever get. And if I ever did get there again, I hoped Billy would be there too. He will always be my best friend.