A Needle in a Hay Stack

When I was a little boy, my two best friends, and I loved nothing more than to sneak into Old Herbert’s barn.

Old Herbert had been a farmer all his life, one of the biggest in our small town. By now, though, he’d retired, and all that remained was an old farmhouse and the huge, old barn next to it.

This barn was our prime destination, during the scorching afternoons of a certain summer break years ago.

Of course, Old Herbert didn’t like the idea of some kids wreaking havoc in his barn and kept it locked all day, every day. We kids were crafty though, and the barn was as withered and old a thing as Old Herbert himself.

Small nooks and crannies were everywhere, allowing us to sneak in as we saw fit.

We loved to search through all the old tools and belongings inside, hoping to find hidden treasures, but our favorite was the giant haystack at the barn’s back.

It was there we played most of the time. We built little nests and huts made of hay, or dug into the outer layers of the giant stack.

Our favorite, though, was The Jump. The Jump was as simple as it could be. You’d climb up on one of the barn’s many beams, and from there you’d plunge yourself down into the giant stack of hay below.

It was exhilarating and I still remember how we’d all jump down there, screaming and laughing as if mad.

Old Herbert, though, wouldn’t have any of it.

If he caught us inside the barn, he’d curse at us and chase us out. Should he find us jumping into the hay stack though, he’d be furious, angrier than usual, and screaming at us, his tirade reminiscent of that of a sailor.

Thinking back, I don’t remember any of the insults he’d hurled at us. Yet, there was one thing he always spat at us in his rage. His rheumy, bloodshot eyes would be wide, saliva would fly from his mouth and his teeth would chatter in his mouth.

“One day, you’ll get lost in there!”

I remember how we’d laugh at that as we ran. How d’you get lost in a stack of hay? It was clear to the three of us that the old man, as we called it, was full of bullocks. All he was trying to do was to keep us from having fun!

Now, Old Herbert might have been old, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew what we were up to, even if he didn’t catch us, and so he tried his best to keep us out of his barn. Yet, for every nook he closed off and for every cranny he fixed, we found a dozen more. Even better, there were a lot of loose, old boards we could pull aside to enter.

One day my friend Robby and I were waiting at the local soccer field. Melanie, the third member of our group, was late, and we were getting annoyed.

When she arrived, a little boy was following her.

“This is Terrance,” she started. “He’s here with his parents over the summer and he wants to play with us.”

“City people,” I mumbled under my breath, repeating my father’s words.

City people were common in our small town. Countless people from the nearby cities had built small summer cabins and holiday homes near our small little town to spend the warm months of summer here.

Some locals weren’t too fond of those ‘rich folks,’ one of them being my father. As so common for kids, I soaked up his hate and his superstition, not understanding a thing. All I knew was that city people were to be scorned.

Robby, of course, was the same and seemed even less happy about Melanie’s little companion.

Still, it was Melanie who’d brought him along, and we were at this delicate age when we started to see her with different eyes. So, of course, we didn’t mouth up and grudgingly let the little boy come along.

“Hey Andy, how about we take him to the barn? You wanted to go, right, Terrance?”

The little boy nodded eagerly, but I couldn’t help but be annoyed. The barn was our place, our little secret hideout.

“It’s not for city people,” I mumbled to myself, looking over at Robby for support.

“Don’t be a poop, Andy! Just let him come along.”

Of course, both Robby and I eventually agreed.

We’d made it to Old Herbert’s farm a good ten minutes later. For a while we stayed on the lookout until we saw the old man sitting on a bench in his garden. The coast was clear and thus we rushed to our destination.

I quickly found a loose plank and pushed it aside. Melanie was first to enter, then Robby followed.

Terrance, however, didn’t move, and I turned around glaring at him.

“Isn’t that breaking in? My parents always told me I’m not allowed to-“

“Well, your stupid parents aren’t here, are they? But if you don’t want to come, that’s fine, we’ll just go on our own.”

He shuffled around a moment longer before he hurried past me and pushed himself inside.

“Oh wow,” I heard him gasp next to Melanie. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” she whispered to him.

Here’s the thing about the barn. It was huge from the outside, but the inside always seemed so much bigger. Now, of course, it wasn’t, but it seemed like it because of all the things the old man had accumulated in here.

For a while we snuck around as usual as Melanie laid open the many secrets and mysteries hidden inside the barn to our young visitor.

To be honest, I didn’t like it one bit. She even showed him the little hideout we’d made from hay bales at the right side of the barn.

After a while, I was too annoyed to just go along with this anymore.

“How about we do the jump?” I asked in a loud, excited voice.

“What’s the jump?” I heard Terrance’s high-pitched voice pipe up from inside the hideout.

“The Jump,” I started in the most official voice a twelve-year-old can muster, “is a jump from a beam into the hay stack over there.”

As I said this my finger wandered to the beam we usually jumped from, but then it continued on to a different one, the highest one near the roof of the barn.

“From the highest beam in the barn,” I added with a smirk on my face.

Robby answered me with a smirk of his own. “Yeah, a jump from the very highest one into the hay down below!”

“Hey that’s not-“ Melanie started, but I cut her off right away, relishing in my new position of leader.

“Anyone who’s part of our group has done it! It’s our official initiation! You want to be part of the group, you have to do the jump. Otherwise, you can’t play with us anymore.”

“Stop being a dick, Andy!” Melanie called out.

My eyes wandered to the little boy. He wasn’t listening anymore, instead he was looking at the hay stack and then further up. His eyes went higher and higher before they came to rest on the highest beam of the barn. I could see his eyes grow a little wider, could see him gulp, but then he nodded.

Getting up there was easy enough. We found one of Old Herbert’s huge ladders, propped it up against the beam and ascended.

It took no longer than five minutes for all four of us to make it to the top.

“You don’t have to do it,” Melanie whispered at Terrance.

I grinned. “Yeah, you can just go back home to your parents and stay with them at their cabin, no problem.”

Yet Terrance didn’t react. Instead, he stared down at the giant stack of hay below.

“Well, what’s the matter little baby, not gonna jump?” I called out to him with the biggest grin on my face.

He didn’t answer though, instead his eyes rested on the hay stack below and were growing ever wider.

“I don’t wanna anymore,” he said in a low voice. “It’s scary.”

“Oh my god, what’s the big deal?” Robby started. “There’s like a billion tons of hay down there! We’ve jumped into it so many times, nothing’s gonna happen!”

But Terrance was inching back from the edge of the beam. By now all the color had vanished from his face and I could see his lips quivering. He seemed to be in a state of panic.

“I don’t wanna, there’s something down there and, I,” but his words trailed off.

Robby had gone forward and given him a push, annoyed at his lack of courage.

For a moment Terrance was balancing at the edge, grabbing at the air in front of him before he fell backwards.

His scream cut through the air. It was a high-pitched shriek filling the entire barn. I saw his wide eyes, his terrified face before he was swallowed up by the hay. His scream cut off the moment he vanished and silence descended upon the barn.

Robby and I were laughing our asses off at his terrified expression while Melanie called us stupid.

Eventually our laughter ebbed away, and we kept staring at the hay below.

“Hey, where’d you go, city boy? Come on, you can come out now!”

“Terrance, are you okay?” Melanie called out as well.

“Good work, pipsqueak,” Robby added, still grinning.

Yet, all there was were our calls. No one answered them, and the giant stack of hay remained still.

Melanie hurried down the ladder and over to the stack of hay, looking around to see where he’d landed. At the same time we continued calling out to him from atop, telling him it had all been a joke. By now, we were getting worried.

Our worries turned to fear when the heavy barn door burst open and Old Herbert stormed inside.

“Now what did I tell you, you damn troublemakers? You’re not supposed to be in here! I dare you, if you don’t leave this instant, I give you the beating of a lifetime!”

With that he picked up a wooden stick and waved it around while his rheumy, angry eyes focused on each one of us.

Robby hurried down the ladder, making his way to where we’d entered from.

I was about to follow him, but then stopped, my eyes wandering to Melanie.

“He’s not coming out,” she mumbled, her eyes focusing on mine.

“Who is?” the old man demanded as his heavy steps led him towards us.

“The little boy,” she started.

“Terrance, one of the city kids. He jumped down into the hay, but he’s not coming out,” I added.

“Oh you dumb little… How many times did I tell you it was dangerous? How many times? Did you see anything sticking out of the hay from the top? A piece of wood or something like that? Anything he might have landed on?”

“No, Mister Herbert, nothing, it was all normal, just like yesterday and nothing ever happened to us then!”

At the word yesterday, he squinted his eyes, but let it slide a moment later.

“No, but he said, I don’t know. He said he saw something down there,” Robby, who’d snuck back, added.

The old man jerked towards him and a tirade of courses escaped his mouth before he rushed towards the stack of hay, beginning feverishly to search through it.

I don’t remember many of his words, of his mad, angry ramblings, cursing at us and the damned barn and the hay. Yet, I remember one thing he said as he tore it aside, throwing heaps of it left and right.

“… just like trying to find a goddamn needle…”

It wasn’t long before the old man realized he couldn’t do this alone. Old Herbert went out calling over his wife to help and he told us to head over to the neighbors to explain the situation.

Of course, we did as he told us, especially under the threat of being responsible for what had happened.

Before long almost a dozen people had gathered, us included, all taken away the hay and putting it outside.

The work continued for hours and the sun had already started setting when we’d cleared it all out and the back of the barn was finally empty.

Yet, there was nothing there.

There was no hint of the little boy named Terrance. There was no wood or rubble below the hay he might have hit, no trap door he might have fallen through.

All there was, was the barren, empty floor of the barn.