13 A Reason to Run
(By Kenneth Smith)
Justin had dreamed of the district race with crowds cheering. No more comments on how small he was - only congratulations on his speed. Instead, he was running through some strange woods with his lungs ready to burst.He wanted to stop for a minute, but he thought about the water creeping into the hole where the rest of the boys were trapped. He kept running.
As he ran, his thoughts drifted back to how this had all started in the first place - to the first day at his new school.
Justin and his friend David had known each other before Justin's family moved into the new neighborhood. Their parents had been friends, and David didn't seem to mind that Justin was small for his age. But on the first day of school, when David and Justin sat down to eat with the rest of the fifth-grade boys, Steven asked when David had started playing with babies.David laughed loud enough for the others to hear. Justin could only cringe .
Several weeks later, David's mother had called to invite Justin to David's birthday party.
I have something else to do, Justin told his own mother.
Something is not an answer, Justin. They're having the party at David's grandfather's farm. A lot of the boys from your school are going. His mother said.
He didn't tell her what he really wanted to do. He had wanted to spend the day running. When he ran, the problems at school didn't matter, and being the smallest kid in his class didn't matter, either.
The district race was coming up, and the fastest fifth graders from each school would race one another. Justin knew he could win. So every day after school he practiced. But Saturday morning was the best, because he had more time and he wasn't tired from school.
This Saturday, however, he was in the station wagon with Steven and the rest of David's friends. When they finally pulled up to the farmhouse, David's mother suggested that David show the boys around.
Can Grandpa take us over to the hill?
He can drive you over, but you'll have to walk back. I'll need his help to get everything ready.
The boys all piled into David's grandfather's Jeep. In a few minutes, they were close to the foot of the hill that David wanted everyone to climb.
You can stay around here for about an hour, David, said his grandfather. "Then start to hike back. You should stay away from the old mine shaft , though."
Steven pulled David aside. "Only an hour, Can't we leave Justin behind? He's bound to slow us up."
Just wait, David whispered. "There's a creek in front of the entrance to the cave. Justin won't be able to make the jump across. After we're inside, we can sneak out of a hole in the top of the cave." They hiked until they came to the creek's bank.
We'll just jump across this creek, and then we'll go climb the hill, said David.
Hey! said Rafael. "It's a pretty long jump. Isn't there a bridge or something?"
Don't be a baby, Steven answered and took the first jump across. One at a time, the boys jumped, leaving only Justin on the other side.
He didn't want to jump. Then he saw Steven smirk . Justin backed up,took a running start, and thought about racing. With one long stride , he seemed to fly across the creek. He landed beside the other boys.
The entrance to the mine was a big stone room with huge wooden beams framing the doorway. About thirty feet in was a wall of boulders blocking further entrance. From a hole in the ceiling, a beam of light shone like a giant spotlight on the back wall.
David started to show the boys how to climb up the back wall.
Let me go first, Steven demanded. "Then the rest of you can follow me. Last one up is a chicken ." He grabbed David's belt and pulled him off the rock, throwing him into Rafael.
Watch it! yelled David. But it was too late. He and Rafael fell hard against a beam and the wood started to crack. A second later the beam fell. Then part of the ceiling collapsed. Dust filled the air. No one could see what was happening.
When the dust had finally settled, the six boys found themselves trapped between two walls, one of which had been the entrance to the cave. Fortunately, the light still shone down from the ceiling.
You idiot! screamed David. "We could have all been killed."
As he talked, he stared at the ceiling. A rock had shifted, making the hole smaller than it had been before - too small for anyone to crawl out.They were trapped. A small stream of water was trickling into the cave.
Justin looked up at the hole. "I think maybe I can get out. I might be small enough."
He climbed slowly up the back wall, afraid that another rock might move. When he reached the top, he wiggled his way outside, ripping his shirt on the sharp rocks.
I'm out! he yelled. "How do I get help?"
You've got to follow the road back, and get my grandfather, David said. "He'll know how to get us out. Hurry, Justin. Hurry! I think the water is coming in pretty fast!"
No sooner had Justin begun running back to the farm than he began to feel sharp pains cutting into his side. David's last words echoed in his head. "Hurry, Justin. Hurry! I think the water is coming in pretty fast." Pretty fast. That's how Justin should run. He had panicked and started running at top speed. He slowed down a little until he could get a regular stride. That was what he would have done in a real race, and that's what this was. He wasn't practicing anymore.
He began counting the trees he passed. He got a regular pace and then picked up speed. He ran as he had never run before.
Suddenly, he saw the farmhouse. "Mr. Hamilton ... Mr. Hamilton! Hurry! Everyone is trapped in the cave. Nobody's hurt, but the water is coming in fast."
Mr. Hamilton left for the cave, and David's mom called the police.
By the time Justin and Mrs. Hamilton reached the hill, the police had cleared the small opening and were pulling the boys out. Everyone was OK.
Justin? asked David. "How did you get help here so fast? I don't know what would have happened if they had come a few minutes later. The water was getting pretty deep."
Justin remembered how he had felt when he squeezed out the small hole. He remembered the giant leap to get across the creek and his giant strides as he raced back to the farmhouse.
Oh, it was no big deal, really, he said smiling.