Title: Compass Points
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
Ben woke slowly fighting the rising sun's rays by snuggling deeper into the covers on his bed. He burrowed as deeply as he could into the warmth of his bed and slowly let his eyes open. Finally, with a great whoosh of his covers he dove out of bed and grabbed his robe. He ran to the door of his new bedroom and hurried into the hallway. It was only then that he realized he didn't know where the bathroom was located. He stood in the hallway and noticed the natural light coming in from the window set high in the outer wall of the building so that the morning light filled the passageway. He moved quickly when he heard the sounds of his grandmother in the kitchen downstairs. He raced to the top of the steps and yelled down, "Granma, where is the bathroom?"
The sight of his grandfather walking up to the bottom of the stairs with a stern expression on his face drew Ben to start down the steps. When he reached the bottom step, his grandfather swept him up into his arms and laughed. "Lost Ben? How did you sleep in that new room of yours?"
Ben snuggled in his grandparent's arms and slung his arms around the beloved neck. "I slept great." He lifted his head and then whispered into his grandfather's ear, "But where is the bathroom?"
George Fraser put the boy down on the floor and pointed down the first floor hall. "Second door on your right Ben." He pushed the boy along, "And we don't shout about bathrooms, hear me."
Martha heard George talking to Ben as she maneuvered freely around her new kitchen surroundings. Thoughts of whoever built their home ran through her mind. She was puzzled, truly puzzled. Alert was so far from everywhere and the only places she had ever seen log homes this large were much nearer larger, almost metropolitan areas. She was musing over those thoughts as she stirred Ben's oatmeal.
Walking to the front door, George opened it and looked out into the early morning sun filled yard. Their things were waiting out there for unpacking. With a sigh he opened the door and went out to the car. He opened the car and pulled out a small sign he had had made from under his car seat. He held it up to the morning light and read it for the hundredth time; The Frasers – Library Hours Daily 10 – 4. He marched back up the steps and leaned the sign against the wall. With a smile he went back in the house to see Ben coming down the hall in his bar feet. He smiled at the sight of the boy. "It sure has been a long year and a half since Caroline died." he thought. He quickly pushed the thought from him; missing her didn't get any better for any of them, and it was especially hard for little Ben with both of his parents for all intents and purposes gone out of his life.
Ben marched up with a sleepy smile on his face and took his Grandfather's hand. "Are you sure my Dad will find us here?"
George knelt beside the boy and nodded, "I'M sure. Run upstairs and get dressed. Bring that compass of yours down with you when come."
With a quick nod, the 7 year-old boy ran for the steps and climbed them quickly. He quickly made his bed, hung up his robe and took out the clothes he had worn the day before. He folded his pajamas and put them under his pillow and grabbing his compass and his shoes ran out of the room.
Martha smiled at George as he leaned against the counter as she worked. "Can't blame the boy for wondering. I know Robert has a job that requires a lot of his time away from home. But he hasn't been to see that boy much in the last 6 months. I'm worried. It's just too easy for Robert to deal with Caroline's death if he's not reminded by Ben's presence. When are you going to say something to him?" Her harsh words were softened by her facial expression. For a small woman, the men in her family always knew she had strength and power by her attitude. Right now George knew she was getting furious with their son, though she loved him with all of her heart.
They heard Ben coming down the stairs and dropped the subject, which George knew would be brought up again later. Ben ran towards the kitchen door and slid on his stocking feet to a stop by the door. He took a deep breath and put his shoes on the floor by the doorway. "Morning Grandmother." He had lately stopped his use of more abbreviated forms of the word Grandmother. His dark hair was still uncombed and curled riotously around his head. His bright blue-gray eyes shifted from one grandparent to the other before he stood and took in the new kitchen. His eyes widened at the size of the room. The kitchen alone was nearly the size of the entire main room of their old cabin.
Martha placed Ben's oatmeal on the table with a glass of milk from the refrigerator that had been set up by some kind neighbor before their arrival. There was even a complete meal for them in several covered dishes. It made Martha feel like she was really back in civilization to know there were people close enough to be 'neighborly'. "Eat your breakfast child." Pulling his chair out she smiled at him.
George poured a cup of coffee and joined Ben at the table. "After breakfast you and I will go over the ground rules around here. The old cabin was familiar territory to you Ben. New rules will apply here until you know your way around."
"Yes Sir." Ben gulped another big spoonful of oatmeal. His feet still didn't reach the floor and he swung his feet back and forth while he ate. His compass lay next to his bowl and he wondered just what his Grandfather had in mind.
Half an hour later Ben and George stood next to each other out on the porch. George walked out and sat on the top step of the porch and patted the empty spot beside him. Ben plopped his little body down and looked at his Grandfather with anticipation as his compass ribbon dangled in his fingers.
George pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Ben. "This is a smaller version of the map on the wall in your bedroom. That box in the middle is this house. There are several rings drawn in a circle around it."
"Yes Sir" Ben surveyed the markings on the paper seriously.
"For now, I don't want you going further away from the house than the red marker line. I'll show you that boundary in a bit. It won't be hard for you; before I came back to the old cabin I walked the area over and marked out the red area with small red pieces of cloth tied onto trees. Do you understand?"
Ben thought for a second and then replied, "I shouldn't go past those red markers, right?"
"Good, glad to see you understand that rule." George said with a smile. "Now, open your compass."
Ben's small hand pried open his compass lid and looked down at it. His Grandfather had been teaching him to use compass markings and Ben loved the feel of the compass in his hand.
"I want you to take this pencil and the paper and go to each corner of the house. Then I want you to stand and face the house and write down the compass heading towards that corner. After you write down the one facing the house, I want you to write down the marking that faces away from the house. Understand Ben. At each corner of the house you will have two marks. One mark will indicate the house, one will be for a heading away from the house." He watched the boy listening intently. He smiled down at the serious eyes in that pale little face. "When you've done that, we'll walk your red line."
Ben jumped down off the steps and ran off, yelling over his shoulder, "Wont' be long Grandpa."
George watched the little figure standing studiously at the corner of the house checking the compass and then writing. He laughed and approached the family car. He began unloading more of the things that had traveled with them rather than with the rest of their things that had been sent on before them.
A short time later, Ben ran up to his grandparent and waited for him to set a small box down so he could hand him his paper.
George took the paper from Ben and read the hastily scratched markings on the paper. He nodded as he confirmed each of Ben's markings. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder and led him over to a chair on the porch. "Give me your compass Ben."
Almost reluctantly Ben handed over his prized compass. His eyes grew round as he watched his grandfather turn it over in his hand and pull out his pocketknife. Fascinated, Ben watched as his grandparent first marked out a box on the compass back and then at each corner of the box very carefully etched in Ben's compass markings.
Handing the compass back to Ben, George placed a strong hand on the boy's shoulder and pinched it a bit. "Keep your compass on you. If you turn the compass over and look at your compass marks, you'll always be able to find your way home. Understand Ben? You are not to leave the cabin yard without your compass."
"Yes, sir. I'll remember." Ben smiled brightly up at the large man sitting before him.
"Well, let's go walk that red line a bit, shall we?"
"Yes Sir!" Ben jumped off the porch eagerly while his grandfather stepped to the door to let Martha know they would be gone for a bit.
Then the two Fraser men walked off hand in hand to check out Ben's compass points.
Ben woke with a start realizing that another new day had dawned in his new room. He let his eyes wander around at his things and his eyes stopped at the map on his wall. Climbing out of bed, he ran on soft stockinged feet to stand in front of the map. Seriously studying map, he took his compass off its small hook and held it in his hands. He began to plot the trip he would make when he left the cabin that morning. Turning back to the bed he made it quickly and went in search of clean clothes. With the bundle of clothing in his hand and his shoes and compass dangling from his fingers he left the room.
Bouncing down the stairs with his hands full felt dangerous and fun but earned him a reproving look from his Grandmother as he bounced off the bottom step. "Little early for gymnastics, isn't it child?" She said with a stern look and a twinkle in her eye.
"Yes, Mam. But I couldn't resist."
"Go along and get cleaned up. Breakfast is almost ready and I need your help in the library room this morning."
"But Gram, I was planning on exploring this morning."
"Well, you can do that after lunch." She turned away to hide the smile on her face and headed back into the kitchen. She missed the sudden droop to Ben's shoulders and the listless way he headed to the bathroom.
Ben returned to the kitchen in record time and ate his oatmeal without complaint. His compass bulged in his pocket a constant reminder of his plans for the day. He drank his milk and watched his Grandmother clearing away his Grandfather's plate.
"Where'd Granpa go?"
"He had to go into the village and let the elders and villagers know that the library will be open soon."
"Oh, then he won't be here to walk with me some more."
"No darling, he won't. But as long as you mind the rules, you can venture out after your chores."
Ben slipped off his chair and took his empty bowl to the sink. "What do I have to do today?"
"Come along and I'll show you."
Martha led Ben down the hall past the bathroom and entered a large room at the back of the house. The entire room was lined with shelving and there were two tables in the middle of the room with matching chairs. The floor was shinny and two huge windows let light into the room. Over the two tables hung a large light. Near most of the bookcases were boxes. Boxes seemed to be everywhere. Martha pulled one box open and Ben saw that it contained books. She kept opening boxes and Ben kept seeing books. He was beginning to get the picture. He was going to have to empty those boxes.
Martha went over to the table and sat down taking a small pile of books with her. She carefully noted the condition of the book; it's title, author and reference location. She looked up to see Ben watching her with his elbows resting on the table and his head on his hands. With a smile she handed him the book and told him exactly which shelf the book should be on. The morning passed quietly, Martha logging the books and Ben setting them up on the shelving. By noon they had made it through one quarter of the book boxes. Martha called a halt to their job when she heard Ben's stomach beginning to growl. She laughed as the embarrassed little boy gave her a steady look.
"Come on, Ben. I think it's time we broke for a sandwich before you run out to play."
Ben ran to her chair and helped her pull it back and followed her out to the kitchen. They ate a quiet meal. Ben was wiping the milk off of his upper lip when he caught his Grandmother's eye. He tilted his head down and tucked his chin in a bit, then used the napkin next to his plate to wipe his mouth. His whispered, "Sorry."
"I know your Grandfather explained the rules to you Ben. Here is one of mine, before you go exploring, you must write down the direction you are going to take. I don't know the area either and I might need to know where to find you. If you leave me your compass heading I'll be able to find you. Do you understand me, young man?"
Ben caught the smile in her eyes and ran and hugged her shoulders as she leant down to him. "Today I am going southwest."
"Be careful and have a good time." She watched his little form disappearing quickly through the kitchen door.
Ben bounded with glee down the steps of the porch and took off across the yard towards the southwest. He stopped when the semi-manicured yard began to turn into real forest. His heart pounded and his ears perked up. There he heard it, the sound of running water. He had read the map right. Yes. Where there was water, there would be wildlife. His feet seemed to draw him of their own accord and soon he was walking into the woods.
Walking into the woods was stimulating for Ben as he picked out the familiar sounds and smells. He took out his compass and every few minutes checked his compass heading. The nearer he got to the sounds of the water the faster he moved. All too soon he found himself standing in front of one of his Grandfather's red flags, the sounds of running water just out of sight. He sat down and hugged his knees, his compass ribbon dangling in his fingers. Finally he rose and turned back towards the house a look of disappointment on his face. As he began to walk away he heard it, a voice was calling. He listened again and turned around. About ten feet from the red marker stood a boy about his own age.
"Hey, new kid." Ben heard and smiled.
"Yes." He called back.
"Come on over here."
"No, I really can't. I'm not allowed."
"How old are you kid."
"I'm seven. My name is Ben. What's yours?"
"Name is Tom. Come on, a bunch of us are down by the creek."
"I really can't. I promised." Ben felt frustration beginning to twist his insides.
"Are you a baby?" Tom taunted as one who is sure of his goal.
"No. I'm not, but I promised."
"Where do you live?"
"We just moved here."
"Oh, you're the kid whose mother died. I heard about you." The boy stood his ground and Ben felt small, really small. When Ben didn't respond the boy realized he might have hurt Ben's feelings more than was necessary and he felt bad.
"Well, listen. If you can't come today, see if you can get permission to come back another time. Us guys are here as much as we can. Bye Ben." And with a wave of his hand Tom was gone from sight.
Ben started back towards the cabin and after a few minutes checked his compass. He was right on target, but his heart wasn't in it as he kept walking. About half way back to the cabin Ben sighted a wonderful, large rock just right for sitting and climbing all over. He settled himself on the rock and thought about asking permission to join the other boy. He had no idea that his meeting with Tom would lead his life in a totally different direction than he was currently going. But he sure knew that more changes might be coming his way.
As he was about to leave the area the rock was in a large man with blond hair stepped out in front of him and stood staring at him. The man was tall and broad of shoulder and had had pale soft skin with ruddy cheeks. His hair was thick and he stood as if he owned the world. Silence filled the air. Ben didn't move nor did he smile. Part of him wanted to take off running to the safety of his grandparents, part of him wanted to tear this man apart. Ben was startled at the feelings that were rising in his chest for he didn't think he knew this man. Ben waited for the man to make a move or say something. When the man didn't move, Ben sidled around him as far away as he could and still keep the man in sight. When he was able to run, he took off. He heard cruel laughter fill his ears as he ran.
Ben ran so hard that he was soon out of breath and he stumbled over a root sticking out of the underbrush. He fell, hitting his head on the ground with a solid thump. He lay there out of breath and quiet, the world tossed around him and the sun glimmered through the leaves of the trees as he lost site of the world around him.
Tom walked back towards the other guys he called his friends and then hesitated. He felt awful about the look on Ben's face when he had taunted him about his mother. Tom knew if his mum heard about it, he would be deep trouble. He turned around and headed back towards Ben. When he reached the area where he had seen Ben, he caught no sight or sound of the boy. He knew where Ben lived; after all he was an old timer in Alert.
He followed the way he was sure Ben must have taken. He saw the man jump out of the woods at Ben and he saw Ben take off. Tom didn't know the man, but he instinctively knew that something wasn't right. He skirted the man's position and took off after Ben. When Ben fell and hit his head, Tom crept up and leaned over the boy lying still on the ground. He put his hand on Ben's chest to make sure he was breathing and then rose and took off towards Ben's cabin. When he reached the cabin clearing he saw the car pulling up in front of the cabin. Tom rushed out and ran up to the man getting out of the car.
"Are you Ben's Grandpa?" Tom rushed the words out of his mouth.
George didn't hesitate; he could see the young boy was scared. "Where's Ben? Show me boy."
Tom turned around and began running across the yard. George followed as fast as he could. The disparity in their sizes finally matched itself once they were in the woods as they both had to be careful running over roots and things. When they finally approached the spot where Ben lay, George gasped. His first thought was, "My God. He's dead." His second thought as he saw Ben's chest rising and falling was, "He's alive. Thank God."
George knelt beside the boy he loved more than life itself and gently felt the small body over for injuries.
"I think he just hit his head when he fell."
George gathered Ben up into his arms and without taking his eyes off of Ben's face asked Tom to go back to the village and send the doctor out. Tom took off before George had even finished his sentence. He carried the boy back to the cabin slowly and cradled Ben's head securely to his shoulder.
Sitting in a chair on the porch, Martha was surprised to see George come striding out of the woods with Ben cradled to him. She watched him walk towards her with a racing heart threatening to block her throat.
The boy seemed lifeless in his George's arms as George almost ran up the porch steps. George hurried inside and into the living room, where he gently put Ben down on the sofa. He looked up to see an ashen-faced Martha standing over him and the boy.
"He's all right. Just knocked himself out I think. There was a young boy that led me to him, I sent him for the village doctor."
Footsteps raced loudly across their porch and the village doctor entered the dwelling calling out as he walked inside. "Hello. Someone here call for the doctor?"
George called to him. The doctor walked into the room with a quick smile at Martha. "Young Tom Sloan said your grandson was hurt. Never know if that boy is teasing or not so I thought I better come along to your place." The doctor was middle aged and small. He placed his medical kit on the floor and knelt quickly beside the sofa and began looking Ben over. "How long as he been out?"
"I couldn't tell you." George answered and held Martha to him.
It took what seemed to be forever to the Frasers for the examination to be over. But finally as Ben began waking up the doctor smiled at them. "He's OK." He put his hand on Ben's forehead and looked into the puzzled young eyes. "Remember what happened boy?"
Ben could see his grandparents behind the man touching him and couldn't honestly remember more than meeting Tom in the woods. He whispered, "No."
"Well, it seems as though you took a fall." The doctor smiled. "I'm Doctor Bell. Spect I'll be seeing a bit of you from now on." Doctor Bell rose and faced the Fraser's with a smile on his face. "I shouldn't worry. Youngsters around here know me pretty well. He seems a good lad."
"He is." Martha said as she dropped down next to Ben and looked at his face.
"Well, put him to bed for twenty four hours and call me if you think it's necessary. Give him an aspirin if he complains of a headache. I doubt that he'll complain of anything but a headache." He looked down at Ben with a smile in his eyes. "Young Tom Sloan is a good friend to have Ben. I think you'll be hearing from him soon."
George gathered Ben up and held him tightly as he carried him upstairs to his room. Martha asked the Doctor to wait and rushed to follow her husband. Together they put the boy to bed and made sure he was comfortable.
"Grandpa." George heard as he began to leave the room. "I didn't pass the red flags."
George stepped back into the room, "I know you didn't boy." George walked up to the bed and brushed Ben's hair back off of his forehead. "We'll talk about it later."
When George entered the kitchen, Martha was pouring coffee for the doctor. She also set out a cup for herself and George.
"Word gets around here quick. Ben's going to find himself with a lot of new friends." The doctor smiled ruefully. "The kids around here wear injuries like badges of honor. Everyone of them proudly displays a new injury like a medal of honor."
George looked quietly at Martha. "Well, we wanted him to be more like other kids."
Ben lay in his bed upstairs and tried to remember why he had fallen. All he could remember was finding the red flag and seeing the boy name Tom. He thought about it all afternoon and by dinnertime realized he might never remember what had happened.
Ben got well quickly and received permission to cross the red line once in awhile. He had other adventures and other injuries. But for some reason, he never asked Tom if he knew why he had fallen the first day they met.