I lay on my back in the crawlspace beneath the house. Above me I could hear Jack and Pickles running and batting around their toy mice--and each other.
Through the crawlspace's plastic liner and my T-shirt, I could feel the coolness of the dirt. I wore a small headlamp and stared up at the underside of the bathroom floor. There were numerous pipes and ducts that met to serve what was a rather small room--but a rather small room with some slightly buckling wooden floorboards.
Nothing was leaking, but the crawlspace was sufficiently humid for some air conditioning ducts and plywood around the vents to attract condensation. A few of the crawlspace vents were closed, and I figured opening them up should take care of the problem.
As soon as I pulled open the vent nearest the bathroom floor I could hear the horses clearly. Through the small, screened opening I could also see parts of the pastures. The ponies were whinnying and running around. It was no surprise that Vander was the most obnoxious of all, running in and out of my view with his head and tail sticking nearly straight up. It was a wonder he didn't fall down.
I needed to go out to the barn to check on the aforementioned crazy horses, but for a moment I considered just closing the vent and hiding beneath the house instead.
We had decided to wean Justin today and the entire gang had been making a ruckus all morning--with one exception: Mandy. Mom was apparently over the whole thing. While the others ran around and hollered, Mandy silently kept her head down in the lush pasture grass.
We had been feeding Mandy as much as we could, but still she nearly wasted away trying to fatten Justin up. As he got bigger and more playful, she became weaker and less entertained by being jumped on, shoved, bumped and bitten.
And what better way to celebrate Justin's 3-month birthday than to take his mother away from him? Jokes aside, Kimberly and I idealized waiting to wean Justin until he turned 4 months old, but we weren't sure Mandy would last that long.
If it were up to Justin, he'd nurse until he was 4 years old. He enjoyed the easy food. He was eating grass, hay and grain, and drinking water, but I think the comfort and convenience of his mother's milk was still attractive.
Justin's tiny whinnies and calls to his mother remained unanswered, though that did nothing to deter him. Madison, whom we'd turned out in the back pasture with Mandy, did enough hollering for two horses, so it all evened out.
And Vander had no good reason to be riled up because he was with his girlfriend, Ellie, and Justin, whom he liked, but he ran around like an idiot anyway. With good behavior as well as bad, Vander always dedicates himself to going the extra mile.
Like a worried parent, I checked all the fences, gates and latches and peered through the fencing to give the ponies a "once-over," looking for any cuts or scrapes from the morning's chaos. Kimberly told me I was being a silly worry wart, but she's the silly one because I saw her doing the same thing about 15 minutes before me.
I figured it was as good a time as any to make the run to the feed store. We needed more dewormer and another head for the muck rake. Little did I know, during my trip to the store I would miss all the fun.
Kimberly was in the barn when Hazel began barking at something in the woods. Hazel was still barking when two little boys emerged from the thicket of brambles beside the ditch that runs behind our property.
One boy was shirtless, but both were scratched up and crying. Hazel stopped barking as Kimberly approached the boys.
"Where did you two come from?"
"We got lost, ma'am," said the shirtless boy before bursting into sobs.
"It's OK," Kimberly reassured them. "Where do you live?"
"There was a 'possum over there," responded the other boy, pointing across the tobacco fields. "It was dead, but there were stickers and we tried to get away and Jason lost his shirt." Jason tearfully nodded in agreement.
"'Cause Danny's brother told us about the bears and the and-a-conda snakes, which is prob'ly what got that 'possum," added Jason.
"We wanted to go home but we couldn't find the railroad tracks, and it was hot but then we saw the 'possum..." Danny said, still crying as his voice trailed off into a series of sorrow-induced hiccups.
"You're OK now," said Kimberly. "Let's get some water and try to call your families," Jason, Danny and Hazel followed her to the house.
Both boys quickly finished two glasses of water each. They had been out since before lunch. It was now almost 4 o'clock.
Danny and Jason were both 7 years old and lived a few miles away in Black Creek, but only Danny knew his home number and address. He called his house, but no one was home. Danny started to hang up when Kimberly shook her head.
"Leave a message," she said.
"Mom," Danny began, "it was hot, but we were on the railroad tracks..." Danny still seemed dazed by the afternoon heat and trauma. Kimberly took the phone.
"Danny and Jason got lost and ended up at our house. I'm about to drive them home." Kimberly left her name and cell number and hung up.
They walked to the truck, which was parked with the horse trailer beside the barn. While Kimberly unhooked the trailer, Jason and Danny stood by the fence admiring the horses.
When Kimberly finished, she joined the boys who stood by the gate, petting Justin. It was the first time all day Justin was quiet and still. He just stood there soaking up all the pets and scratches that four small hands could give.
"What a pretty horse," Jason said.
"We wouldn't have gotten lost if we had horses," Danny remarked, still petting Justin.
"Yeah," agreed Jason.
Kimberly drove Jason home first because only Danny could remember both their addresses. Jason's mother was on the front porch of their trailer when they pulled up. She waved to Kimberly with a smile, but seemed pretty upset as she turned to Jason and ushered him inside.
Danny's sister met him in their yard. Apparently Danny's mother was still out searching for him, but she called Kimberly just a short while later. She thanked Kimberly for her help, but still seemed rather upset and distracted.
Kimberly told me the entire story as we stood by the pastures with the horses gathered around. Kimberly's cell phone rang in the barn, and she jogged to answer it.
"Those little boys were pretty upset to be away from their moms," said Justin matter-of-factly.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"Yeah," he responded. "I'm glad I'm a big boy... not like them at all."
I glanced at Mandy who obviously overheard Justin's comment as she stood in the adjacent pasture. She rolled her good eye, shook her head and continued grazing.
"Yep," I said as I scratched Justin's neck. "You're a big boy now."
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.
Read Jeremy's other columns in EquiSearch.com's Humor section.