A Beautiful Fall Day
It was an unusually crisp fall day, stereotypical in its beauty, as the sun cast its glowing rays down through the few clouds that floated in the sky. Ushered along by a fairly brisk wind from the east, dry, brittle leaves fluttered to the ground from the tree branches high above. By noon, every yard on the block was coated in a brown and beige blanket of tree droppings.
Neil hated this time of year. With the exception of playing football with the guys and Halloween he couldn't think of anything good about autumn. Sometimes he wished he had a magical remote control so he could just fast forward past fall and go straight to Christmas.
Now there was a holiday.
Presents, parties, presents, decorations and best of all…no leaves to rake, old man winter always made sure of that.
Jenny Petersont's warm smile and sparkling eyes were nearly within his reach when the phone startled him out of his daydream.
“Neil, this is mom. Listen, your father is coming home from his business trip tomorrow and I want the house to be spotless. Do you understand me?” She had a talent for nagging.
“Sure mom, no problem,” he sighed.
It wasn't really a problem though. Being the only child had allowed him to develop a sense of cleanliness over time. He always picked up after himself and pushing the vacuum around was a piece of cake. However, there was one particular job that he did hate doing...raking the...
“Oh yes,” his mother continued. “And I also want you to rake the leaves in the yard.”
Great! Just what he needed!
“Now listen to me young man,” his mother added sternly. “If you want to see go see that runny nose band...”
“Mom, its Bloody Nose not runny nose. And they're a great band.”
“Whatever. My point is if you still want to go you'd better get everything done.”
Neil sighed into the receiver. “Fine.”
“Good. And I want you to do the leaves first, just in case it rains tonight. I picked up a new rake the other day, it's in the shed. I'll be home in a few hours. Love ya.” The line went dead leaving Neil with his thoughts and a bad mood.
* * *
The backyard stretched out before him wearing a thick blanket of dead brown leaves. He pulled his gloves on and zipped up his jacket. The thought that he had to bust his butt cleaning up tree turds added to his increasingly bad mood. But there was no use fighting it. The best thing to do was to get the job over with
The shed, a partially rotted green and white structure, squatted in the far
corner of the yard. His dad and Uncle Jay had built it from scratch some years earlier and the elements had been gradually taking their toll on it.
He trudged his way through the desiccated sea of leaves and eventually reached the shed. The doors were warped and difficult to move requiring great effort on his part to open them but he finally managed to do it.
The interior was fairly cluttered with various yard tools and cans of paint and nails. Finding the new rake would be as easy as he thought.
It was hidden behind a mass of shovels and brooms, noticeable only by its bright orange handle. Well at least he had the right tools for the job, although a blower would have been nice.
Outside, the wind was picking up, whipping a torrent of new leaves into the air. Several flew into the shed and hit Neil right in the face. He was surprised when he looked at his hand after wiping away the leaves.
There was a glossy red smear on his palm.
He frantically inspected his face searching for the source of the blood but only succeeded in finding a few minor cuts and scratches.
His attention swung back to the yard. Brown leaves covered every square inch of it; there was not a single spot of green grass to be seen anywhere. A foreboding sense of fear began to creep into his mind. The absurdity of the situation battled his common
sense. Was he really afraid of a bunch of leaves in his own backyard? His friends would have a field day if they ever heard about it.
He gripped the new rake tightly and stepped up to the door of the shed. The yard was thick with leaves, in some places up to a foot or more deep, with more still fluttering in over the fences constantly. He clenched the rake firmly, so firmly that his knuckles were white. If he didn't get over his fears he would be trapped in the shed.
What would his mom say?
Imagine her surprise when she came home from work and found him standing in the shed too afraid to walk into the yard because of all of the leaves.
Wait! He knew what he could do. The lawn mower! He'd just mow down all of the leaves, or at least a path to the house.
He unscrewed the gas cap on the mower and finding it bone dry searched for the gas can, but the bright red container yielded the same results…empty.
How could his dad not keep some gas in the shed?
He turned around and gazed at the yard again. Can't be afraid,” he thought. “It's just my backyard. They're just leaves!” But the logic offered little comfort. The scenario he was in diluted any common sense considerably.
Gripping the rake as tight as he could he summoned what courage he had left and took a deep breath. The autumn air chilled his throat and cleared his head. Rake in hand he swept aside what leaves he could and started to clear a path to the house.
* * *
Neil's mother pushed open the front door and set her briefcase and purse on the floor. She glanced at the answering machine as the report she had due the next day occupied her mind.
“Neil, I'm home,” she called out.
The house was still rather messy so she assumed that her son was still in the backyard working on the leaves.
Frustration overcame her when she looked out the doorwall glass and was confronted with a sprawling sea of brown leaves. The shed door was still open but there was no sign of Neil.
It was beginning to grow dark outside so she flipped on the floodlights. The warm yellow glow bathed the yard but revealed nothing but more leaves. Without thinking she stepped outside leaving the doorwall open behind her.
“Neil? Neil, its mom. Where are you?”
The anger in her voice was heavily laced with worry and then began to turn to fear.
“Neil? Answer me!”
Silence, except for the rustling of the leaves in the breeze.
She took another step, feeling the leaves crowding around her feet. One leaf was inadvertently lifted by a gust of swirling wind and brushed against her face. She pushed it aside and glanced at her hand; a bright red smear glistened in the light.
“Neil! Where are you?”
Fear firmly rooted itself in her mind when she noticed a bright orange handle tip protruding out from the thick lake of leaves near the shed. Quickly shuffling back into the house she slid the doorwall closed tight behind her.
And then she noticed all of the leaves that had blown into the house.