The Shopping Cart Man
A Snippet From the Book:
Selection from The Shopping Cart Man from "Chapter 13 - Something Happened" pp. 77-80
...Sam looked over at Emma, sleeping beside him. He turned and looked at Luke and Kenny sleeping in the back. They looked peaceful, almost angelic.
"You sure have a nice family, ma'am," Sam said.
"Thank you,"" Joyce replied, with a smile and a glance in the rearview mirror.
"I'm privileged to have met you," Sam added. He looked back at Kenny and took on a pensive look. "If you don't mind my asking," he began, but then stopped. "I'm sorry. It's really none of my business."
"What? What isn't?" Joyce asked.
"I don't mean to pry," Sam said.
"Really, what is it, Sam?" Joyce asked.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have brought it up," was all he replied.
"You're wondering about Kenny, aren't you?" Joyce surmised.
"He's just -" Joyce began, then broke off.
"He's a wonderful young man," Sam finished. Joyce silently smiled her thanks to him.
"You're wondering why he doesn't talk, I bet," Luke said, from the back.
Sam turned, a little surprised to hear Luke's contribution.
"I thought you were asleep!" he smiled.
"I was," Luke said. "But, I'm not now. Can I tell him, Mom?" Joyce agreed. "He talked just fine up until about two years ago."
"What was it that made him stop talking? Was there an accident or something?" Sam was understandably intrigued.
"Sort of," Luke continued. "My dad took us boys up in the High Sierras for a campout. It was fun. We went fishing and slept out in tents and hiked and stuff. We were there for three whole nights. Then it was time to head back home. We were packing everything up. Kenny asked if there was anything he could do to help. Dad didn't need any help, but he would give Kenny little jobs. He was even smaller then - he was only five, you know - so there wasn't much he could do.
"Well, we were nearly done, and Kenny would finish one thing and then run back to Dad and ask for something else to do. I guess Dad was expecting it, because he had kept a canteen out. As soon as Kenny came up to Dad, he held up the canteen and asked him if he could fill it. Kenny smiled and nodded, and went running over to the river by our campsite.
"It wasn't far. We could see it. We camped right there because Dad liked listening to it at night."
Luke paused a moment before continuing.
"Well, Dad got all done packing and Kenny wasn't back yet. We couldn't see him and figured he must have gone downstream a little. He called out, but Kenny didn't come. He told me to run over to the river and get him. 'Gotta get on the trail!' he said.
"Well, I went over there and walked downstream a ways and I couldn't find him. I hollered good and loud, but never heard him. I went pretty far and was getting worried, so I ran back to camp.
"I told Dad I didn't see him. He said he must have gone upstream instead. I ran upstream calling out for him, but still couldn't find him. I ran back and told Dad. By this time, Dad was getting worried, too.
"He told me to stay at the camp with the gear. He told me not to leave camp no matter what, in case Kenny came back. He ran upstream hollering. I listened and could hear him holler. He kept yelling, but his voice got so far off that after awhile, I couldn't hear him anymore. Then it got real quiet.
"I don't think I've ever heard it get that quiet before," Luke said very seriously. "I could still hear the river and all, but it was real quiet. It was like I was the only person in the world. You know what I mean?"
"I didn't like it. It made me worried. Real worried. I got worried that I wouldn't see my dad or Kenny ever again. I wanted to leave; run up the river and find Dad. But, he had told me not to leave no matter what. I wanted to run, but what if Kenny came back and I wasn't there? I had to stay, for Kenny. It was awful hard. Right when I couldn't take it any more, I heard something.
"I hollered out, 'Who's there? Who's there?' It was Dad. I must have sounded scared or something, because he came running up to me and asked if I was all right. I told him I was and asked where Kenny was.
"Dad looked sad and kind of scared. He shook his head and said he couldn't find him. He said he was getting worried about losing me, too, so he said we better stick together. He said he wasn't sure what to do. I've never known Dad not knowing what to do. I think that was the most scariest part.
"Well, he ended up searching through our packs, real fast like. I didn't know what he was looking for, but he was looking as fast as he could and mumbling to himself and tossing stuff out onto the ground. I asked what he was looking for. He said he wanted a paper and pen to write Kenny a note.
"My eyes went real big and I asked if we were going to just leave him there. He said he didn't know what to do. He said we needed to go get help searching for him, and he didn't want to just leave the camp, in case Kenny came back and we weren't there. He wanted to leave a note for him, telling him we'd be back just as soon as we could.
"I went to my pack and pulled out my notebook and pencil. Dad told me he wanted to write a note saying to stay there, that we'd gone off looking for him, that we'd be back soon, that we loved him, and that he should stay safe and not get scared, but Kenny was too little to read all that. So, Dad just wrote, 'Kenny Wait here!' hoping he could read it. He was only five, you know.
"Just in case he couldn't read it, Dad drew a little smile face. He said he hoped it would make Kenny feel safer. Dad stuck it up high, about as high as Dad's head, on a small tree, so Kenny would be able to see it even from far off.
"Then he looked at me and got very serious. 'Luke,' he said, 'We need to pray. We need to pray that we'll find Kenny and that he'll be all right.'
"I said, 'OK!' and we knelt down in the mountains there and Dad prayed for Kenny. He was pleading and praying real hard. But, you know what kind of surprised me?" Luke asked Sam who had sat with his eyes focused on Luke, taking in this heart rending account.
"No, what?" Sam asked, urging Luke to continue.
"When Dad prayed," Luke explained. "It sounded like he was TALKING to God. Not just praying, but actually talking to God. Like God was right there next to us and he was talking to Him and expecting an answer or something. I've never heard anyone just TALK to God before. You know, it made me think He was really real.
"I mean, I know God is real and all, but to hear the way Dad was talking to Him and asking Him to keep Kenny safe, and help us find him, it made me think that Dad thought He was really listening, that He cared, and that He would really do those things. I've never thought of prayer like that before. I always thought prayer was just prayer. Dad made me think that prayer was to someone real who was actually listening to him.
"Dad got done praying and I opened my eyes. I half expected to see Kenny come walking into camp. We called out, while still on our knees. We didn't hear nothing more than the river and the birds. We got up and kept calling as we looked around.
"Dad said we had to make our way downstream. The river followed the trail pretty good, or I guess the trail followed the river, so he said if we went downstream, we'd also get closer to getting help. Before we left camp, Dad stopped and asked for more paper.
"I asked what for and he said he was going to write another note and put it out on the trail. He was going to write it so that if any other hikers came along, they'd see it and know that we needed help looking for Kenny, and that if they found him, they should get word to the ranger station as quick as they could.
"Dad told me to stay on the trail and that he'd follow the river. We made our way along for probably two miles like that, both of us hollering for Kenny. We could hear each other fine, but we never saw anybody, no other hikers, and not Kenny.
"After about two miles, Dad got real concerned and came running up to the trail to me. He said we needed to get help and we had to hurry because it would be getting dark soon. It was still six or seven miles back to the Ranger station.
"Dad said he'd run on ahead and have me follow the trail, but he was too afraid of losing me, too. So he asked me if I could be real brave and strong and run the trail with him. I said I'd do anything if it got Kenny back safe.
"We ran that whole trail, or mostly. I just HAD to stop sometimes. My heart was pounding and my lungs felt like rusty metal. It hurt real bad, but I felt worse every time we stopped. I kept praying to God that he'd make me strong for Kenny. I kept trying to pray like Dad did. I don't know, but I think it really helped. I've never run that far in my life before. I was sure glad to see that ranger station.
"Dad ran ahead and burst through the door and shouted that his son was missing. Some guy came up and asked a bunch of questions. Everyone started hurrying around and talking into radios and stuff. A guy in a jeep wanted to take Dad up the trail to where we were. Dad wouldn't go without me.
"We rode up pretty far, but then the trail got too narrow, so we had to hike it again. We were tired, but we went as fast as we could. We got to camp and found all our gear and the note Dad had left, but there was no Kenny. We couldn't find him anywhere...."
©2006, 2012 by Douglas V. Nufer
Last modified: 11/15/12