They sit on a fat limb in an old oak, their feet dangling twenty feet above the leaf-covered ground of what was once the Ohio Canal. They’ve been here often this summer, and this limb is their secret place.

The boy swings his legs, looks down and wonders what it would be like to fall. “Don’t do it,” she says.

He stops swinging his legs. “I won’t. I’m not,” he says. He likes that she knew what he was thinking. With anyone else, he would have jumped despite the warning or maybe because of it. Crash landing be damned.

“We’re being watched,” she says.

He scans the ground beneath them and nearly loses his balance.

“There,” she says, nodding toward the tree directly in front of them.

He looks at the tree, sees only limbs and leaves.

“Higher up,” she says.

Then he spots them, two tiny owls sitting side by side. They’re motionless and look like stuffed animals. “Screech owls,” he says, having seen one at his grandfather’s farm.

They watch the owls, wait for them to fly away or swoop down to the ground or turn their heads, but the owls don’t move. The boy looks at the ground. The urge to jump scares him. So far, they’ve avoided discussing their impending separation and the question of when they’ll see each other again.
He offers her a Milky Way bar. The morning is pleasantly cool for July, and the chocolate has not yet gone soft. She takes a bite, catching the crumbs in her hand, and then she passes the candy bar back to him.

“My grandparents were in the Peace Corps,” she says; “In Nepal. This was back when they first got out of college. They weren’t married at the time. They were like us but older.” She looks at him to see if he understands.

Like us, he thinks.

“They lived in separate villages almost twenty miles apart, and the only way of getting from one to the other was a trail that passed through the jungle. One weekend, my grandmother would walk twenty miles to his village, spend two nights, and then hike twenty miles back to her village. The next weekend my grandfather would do the same thing. Twenty miles there and twenty miles back.”

He leans forward, precariously close to falling out of the tree; “That’s forty miles of walking in one weekend!”

She continues, “Yes, but there’s more. July and August are monsoon season. Rain and thunderstorms, a muddy trail. Imagine walking twenty miles in that! Lightning! Pouring rain!”

If she was twenty miles away, if she was fifty miles away, he’d walk through thunderstorms, rain, blizzards, on muddy trails and over mountains to see her. “I’d do it to see you,” he says. He takes a bite of the Milky Way and hands it back to her.

She grins and cocks an eyebrow, “Okay, you ready for the really scary part?”

“I’m ready,” he says, anticipating snow leopards, Bengal tigers, wolves, and snakes.

“Leeches. There were leeches. They’d crawl up their boots and onto their legs.”


“Big ones. And get this, they’d not only crawl up your leg, they’d also fall from tree branches.”

Something lands on the boy’s arm, and he lets go of the limb, swats at what he briefly imagines is a leech. “Whoa,” he manages as he momentarily loses his balance.

She grabs his arm, “Still think you’d trek twenty miles through leech infested jungle?”

“Yes!” he says; “I wouldn’t like the leeches, but they wouldn’t stop me.”

She reaches over and pretends to pluck one off his neck. “Got it,” she says, and they laugh. She takes a small bite of the Milky Way and hands it back to him. “Wouldn’t stop me either,” she says.

They resume swinging their legs. They’re not in a jungle. They’re in a wooded area of the old Ohio Canal. There may be ticks, spiders, garter snakes, and poison ivy; but there are no leeches, tigers, wolves, or snow leopards here.

Leeches, he thinks. Sometimes it’s the small things that get you. He looks at her. Yeah, he’d do it. He’d walk farther than twenty miles, that’s for damn sure. And how about the five hundred miles between them when she moves back to Virginia? He’s working on that.

They speculate what the two owls watching them must be thinking. Boyfriend, girlfriend owls. That’s her idea. The owls blink and she decides that is a yes.

They’re both wearing faded jeans, white t-shirts, and Nikes. They hold out their feet to judge whose Nikes are the oldest, the ones most worn. He wins or loses depending on your point of view.

“There’s more,” she says.

He can’t imagine there being more to the story of hiking twenty miles through a leech infested jungle, but he wants to hear it.

“They got married after they got out of the Peace Corps,” she says. “And they’re still in love. They laugh all the time. They hold hands when they go for walks and hug for no reason. Last night, they were listening to a song on the radio—’Every Time You Go Away’—do you know it?”

The boy wishes he did. “No.”

“It made me feel… Anyway, they started dancing in the kitchen. They didn’t know I was watching. And sometimes—this is my favorite—they press their foreheads together like they’re sending signals back and forth.”

He’s never seen his parents holding hands and wonders if they once did.

“But there’s something else about their time in Nepal,” she says, lowering her voice, “And I don’t know what it means.”

He inches closer to hear the rest of her story, and she rests her hand on his, “My grandfather said the jungle looked different during the rainy season, and once he got lost. The trail went off in two different directions, and he stood there trying to remember which path to take. He waited and waited, and then a young boy appeared in the distance and waved for him to follow.”

The boy sitting in the tree is still thinking about the song and wants to hear it. “Wow, that was lucky,” he says.

“There’s more. My grandfather walked down the trail, but when he went around a curve the young boy wasn’t there. He disappeared! A few miles later, my grandfather came to another fork in the trail and again he had no idea which way to go. He was lost. And again, the small boy appeared up ahead on the path and waved for him to follow. And then the young boy vanished! The same thing happened to my grandmother when she was hiking to my grandfather’s village. She was alone and lost, surrounded by leeches. The small boy appeared and whistled for her to follow him. She followed him until he went around a bend in the path, and she never saw him again.”

The boy exhales a long breath, “Who? How?”

“They asked one of the elders in the village. Who was he? Where was he from? How did he know where they were going? The elder wasn’t surprised by their experiences. She said the boy sometimes appeared to those who were lost, that he was a spirit. She said they were lucky, that most people fail to see the magic around them.”

The boy knows we’re blind to neutrinos and other atomic particles. We can’t see gamma rays or cosmic rays or even infrared like rattlesnakes or ultraviolet like bees. But this is beyond that. He takes a bite of the Milky Way, which is soft and gooey, and hands what is left to her. She finishes it off and wipes her hands on her jeans. “All gone,” she says.

A whistle blows in the nearby town signaling noon. The day is becoming hot and muggy. They are hungry and he has lawns to mow. She has to pack her things for the trip home to Norfolk. But they don’t move. He has feelings that are about to explode and if he doesn’t tell her now, before she leaves, he doesn’t know when he can, but he can’t find the words. They seem too small, too weak.

“Magic,” she says. “I want us to see and feel the magic.”

The boy straddles the limb, scoots close to her, leans forward and presses his forehead against hers.


Roger Hart’s stories and essays have appeared in Natural Bridge, The Tampa Review, Passages North, Runner’s World, and other magazines and journals. He lives in Montana where he writes under the supervision of his wife and two big dogs.