John Hayes: Old Man Miller’s Barn

By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 02:00
John Hayes, flounder fishing, age 15

John Hayes, flounder fishing, age 15

Another FANtastic Tale of   Adventure 

By John Hayes

Wesley and I were hanging around with nothing to do. Our summer days were like that. We knew there were fun things to do. We just had to get out and find them.

Wesley was a skinny little 9-year-old kid. He had brown hair, an impish face, and darting eyes. He looked innocent enough but Wesley had a way of twisting reality. You never quite knew what next to expect from him.

His favorite thing to do was to create fart sounds. It could happen any time. He would shove his right hand up under his shirt and grab his left arm pit. Then cock his left arm, raise it high in the air, and yank it down. The result was a magnificent fart.

He could make all manner of farts, from squeaky little thiits to big fat loud thrruups. He made music. His arm would go flying this way and that, and we would be blessed with a fart song. Nothing gave him more pleasure. Then just as unexpectedly as he started, he would stop. I always felt his mind was just a little bent.

This particular day started out as usual. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know.”

“What do you want to do?” “I don’t know.” “What do you want to do?”

“Let’s go for a bike ride.”

“OK.”

Off we went. We paused awhile on a bridge overlooking the Five Mile River. There we threw some rocks into the water. Got bored and rode off. We soon came upon an abandoned hay field. In it stood an old barn surrounded by young saplings bent on growing back the woods that once were.

The barn, long neglected, leaned a little to one side. The wood shingle roof had given up the fight against the weather. There were no doors. A dim path overgrown with weeds and scattered with hay led to the barn. What made this barn special was the hay. It was full of hay. We discovered a ladder that led to the loft and climbed up and stood looking down at the hay.

“Jump.”

“No.”

“You jump.”

“You chicken?”

“No!”

“I will if you will.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“OK.”

“Let’s go. On three! One, two, two and a half, threee.”

We jumped into the hay six feet below. “Wow! That was neat.”

“Let’s do it again.”

“OK, sure.”

Over and over we climbed up to the loft and jumped. Finally Wesley quit. I went up for one last jump. Wesley went out by our bikes where he started to light little pieces of hay with a match. When the hay lit he let it burn a little, dropped it, and stomped it out.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing.”

He lit some more hay, dropped, and stomped on it. This time the sparks jumped and started several small fires. The new fires refused to go out.

“Help me! Help me!”

I ran down out of the barn and we both stomped and stomped. It was no use.

The fires kept growing with fierce determination. We couldn’t stop them. We just couldn’t. Whooph, the flames took off up the scattered hay right into barn.

Whooom, the barn exploded. Flames shot into the air. The sound grew louder and louder into a roaring thunder. We were awestruck. We stood there staring, petrified. Then the searing heat hit us and we ran. We ran to a house across the road. Rang the bell. An old lady came to the door. We told her to call the fire department.

“The barn across the street is on fire!”

“Wait here!”

She disappeared. We waited. We watched the fire as it grew and pushed the smoke higher and higher. We waited. A storm of burning embers swirled round and round. Still nobody came.

“What’s wrong? Are we in trouble?”

“I don’t know.”

“You want to go?”

“You?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Let’s go.”

We ran back across the street, jumped on our bikes and took off for home.

I never said a word to anyone about the fire. I just pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind.

A few months later my dad said he had something to ask me.

“What’s that Dad?”

“Did you burn down old man Miller’s barn?” How the hell did he

“No, I didn’t.”

“Old man Miller says you did.”

“I was there, but I didn’t start the fire.”

“Who did?”

“It was an accident.”

“Who set the barn on fire?”

“I can’t tell you.”

john-hayes-old-man-miller's-bar

Hayes in 2010

“Why?” “I don’t want him to get in trouble.”

“You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

Dad just stared at me. I stayed mum, waiting to be punished.

“Well,” he says, “I suppose old man Miller collected on his insurance and is none the worse for it.”

I can’t say Wesley intended to burn the barn down. He never said. I never asked. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that his mind is just a little bent.

Retired businessman John Hayes lives in Concord, California.

To read our Tales of Adventure Contest winners’ stories, see the Winter 2014 issue
of Friends and Neighbors Magazine, available at these locations and by subscription.
By Guest Contributor December 7, 2014 02:00
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