I was thirteen when Daryl Harrison fell off our grain bin. Zach brought me along once to go visit him in the hospital. I remember clenching onto the plastic railing of the footboard of his bed.
It all happened on a breezy Sunday afternoon that summer. Dad was out for some appointment. So naturally, Zach called the Harrisons to see if Daryl could come over. The Harrisons lived just up the road from us. About half a mile. It wasn’t long after their phone call that I could hear Daryl barreling down the gravel road on their four-wheeler.
When Daryl and Zach hung out, they would usually find something moronic to do in our backyard: from hitting each other with sticks to running over footballs with the four-wheeler. Whenever I showed the slightest interest in going out to play with them, Zach would demand I stay inside. “Go play with dolls or something,” he would say. Come to think of it, I really only saw Daryl in passing at school.
That day, I must have been particularly bored since I risked Zach’s wrath to see what they were up to. I had just turned the corner of the machine shed when I saw Wayne, Daryl’s younger brother, climbing the roof of our grain bin. He had one hand raised in triumph, with the other gripping onto the roof to keep his balance in the wind. I had heard stories from Zach about Daryl and him climbing it all the time, but actually seeing someone up there made me uneasy.
As I approached, I could tell Zach was giving me a stern “get back inside” look, but all my attention was focused on Wayne making his way down the ladder. Our grain bin had a single ladder fastened to the outside, with a few more steps along the roof up to its peak. It wasn’t a large enough bin to have stairs spiraling along the outside, but it was still about 25 to 30 feet high.
Wayne planted his feet firmly on solid ground and ran towards his brother, who was beaming. A rush of adrenaline and excitement showed on Wayne’s face. Wayne was in the grade above me, though he was significantly smaller than I was. He seemed to keep to himself all the time. In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing him say a word to anyone. People in school would tend to refer to him as a shadow that would occasionally stalk you in the hallways. Girls in my class would tease that “Shadow Boy” was sweet on me, but I brushed it off.
By the time Zach opened his mouth in protest, my hands were already around the bottom rungs of the ladder. Arching my head towards the top, I climbed the ladder as fast as I could. I felt an occasional tug from the wind as I went. Eventually my hands ran out of rungs to grasp. I made it to the roof of the bin. All I had to do was pull myself up the remaining few steps to reach the top.
I couldn’t wait to see the shock on my brother’s face. Dropping my eyes for only a second, I suddenly clenched the steel rung with all my strength and jammed my body against the ladder. The wind was now pummeling at my side. I became frozen stiff at the top of the bin.
After a few dreadful seconds, I felt someone climbing over me. I was expecting to see Zach balancing on the edge the roof and looking down at me. But it was Daryl.
“It’s okay, Sam,” he spoke calmly. “Hold on tight here,” he squeezed my hands. “Lift your left leg and slowly bring it down.” I dropped my head to look for the rung below. “Sam, look at me,” he persisted. “Okay. Now lift your left leg and slowly go down to the next step. Good. Now keep this hand here, and move this hand down to here. Here. It’s okay. Great. Now lift your right leg…” Suddenly, Daryl’s eyes widened. He was looking past me, towards the house. Dad must have just got back home.
In a moment of panic, Daryl shot to his feet. A sudden gust ripped Daryl off balance and dragged him down the side of the bin.
I squeezed those steel rungs as hard as I could, both to battle the wind and in hopes that the pain in my hands would distract me from the thud of Daryl’s body hitting the ground.
Keeping my head up, I was able to slowly peel myself down the rest of the ladder, one step at a time. When I reached the ground, Dad was sprinting towards us. “Zach! Take your sister inside, now!” He then shouted at Wayne to run home and get his parents. Being dragged back to the house, I caught a glimpse of Dad calling 911.
We never talked about the accident after that day. Wayne was keen on avoiding us at school. I guess it was easy for “Shadow Boy” not to be found if he didn’t want to be. Now that I think about it, I guess we didn’t really look that hard.
I was in my first year of college when Daryl died in the hospital. I didn’t find out about it until I came home for Christmas that year. Zach claimed he forgot to go to the funeral. I wanted to go to the Harrisons’ to check on Wayne and offer my condolences, but they had apparently moved a month or so prior. It seemed no one cared enough to find out where they moved to.
A few years later, before I left for California for my first “real adult job”, I spent a couple minutes looking at that old grain bin. It was like saying goodbye to someone. I haven’t gone home since.
Brendon Arnold is an engineer in Arlington, VA with a passion for creating stories that people can enjoy.
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