The day after Benny turned eight, his Papa and Mama sat him down.  They asked him to stay with his grandma overnight.  “Bubbee gets lonely sometimes,” said Papa.  Benny’s face fell. He wanted to sleep in his own bed. 

  “Deborah and David will pick you up tomorrow,” his Mama promised.  Benny nodded.  There was no escape.  If he didn’t go, his family would think he was a baby. 

  Benny took the bags of food his Mama had prepared and trudged off through the dust to the other side of the village.  His black cat, Poppyseed, ran along the edge of the fields.  But she never got too far away.  She turned and looked at him with her big gold eyes.  She kept a close watch on Benny. 

  “Hello, Benny,” called Bubbee, when he got to her house.  She saw him through the window.  “Come in and put your bags on the table.”  When Benny walked in to the farmhouse kitchen, Poppy jumped up on one of the chairs.  She supervised the putting away of the food.

  Bubbee showed him where he and Poppy were to sleep.  She gave him an early supper and set out a bowl of water for Poppy.  All evening long, she told funny stories.  She was trying to get a chuckle out of Benny.

  But Benny’s eyes stayed worried.  The thought “I want to go home” kept squeaking around in his mind like a mouse.  Poppy, sitting on his lap, looked up at him.  She wanted to pounce on that mouse, but it was out of reach.

  When it was bedtime, Benny stretched out on a mattress in his grandma’s room.  With Poppy curled up at his feet, he fell asleep long after the stars came out.  He didn’t hear Bubbee climbing into her bed.  But her snoring woke him up.

  The snoring didn’t stop.  It roared up and down, up and down.  It woke Poppy too.  She stalked along the mattress and settled next to Benny.  Her closeness made him feel better.

  Taking Poppy into his arms, Benny crept out of bed and tiptoed onto the back porch.  The floor creaked a little, but Bubbee’s snoring drowned it out.

  Once outside, Benny sat down on the top step with Poppy cuddled next to him. “You can’t sleep either, can you, Poppy?” asked Benny.  The cat’s big gold eyes flashed “No!”  Benny and Poppy always felt the same way about things.

  Suddenly, they heard a rustling in the bushes near the house.  Poppy stood up, and her ears swiveled toward the noise.  Benny’s stomach went into knots.  Was it a bad person? 

  A tall shadow came out of the bushes and began running toward him.  At the last minute, the shadow jumped back and gave a loud laugh.  Benny knew that laugh.  It belonged to Sammy, the butcher’s son.  He was a lot older than Benny.  He was older than Deborah.

  “What are you doing, kid?” asked Sammy.  “Looking at the stars,” said Benny truthfully. 

  “Hey, aren’t you afraid of the dark?”  Sammy reached down and grabbed Benny’s arm.  He jerked him up.  He made Benny stand next to him while he pointed to all the dark shapes around them.  “See those black blotches, kid?”  His finger jabbed at the shadows of hedges and the barn roof and a row of oak trees.  “Monsters hide there.  They wait till a baby like you is in the dark by himself, then they rush out and grab him.  And they eat cats for a snack!” 

  When Poppy hissed at him, Sammy dropped Benny’s arm.  He let out another laugh.  “You and your cat better get inside.”  He whispered loudly, “Remember, kid!  The night is mean!”  Then he ran off.

  As soon as he was gone, Benny scooped up Poppy.  He raced back to his grandma’s room, jumped into bed, and pulled the covers over both of them.  “Don’t move, Poppy,” he said fiercely.  The window was right above his mattress.  The night could see them.  The night might get them.  Frozen into one position, Benny couldn’t sleep very well. 

  As soon as he woke up, more worries began squeaking in Benny’s mind.  “Maybe Deborah and David won’t come!  Maybe Mama will forget to send them!”  Poppy prowled around Benny.  She knew those mouse-worries were running loose. 

  “Why don’t you go out and weed the potato patch for me?” asked Bubbee.  She thought the fresh air would do him good.  So Benny went out in the back, got down on his knees and began to yank at the pesky weeds.  Poppy stayed close to him.  She chased squirrels only a little way and batted at clouds of gnats.

  At lunch, Benny could hardly eat.  His stomach was jumping around too much.  But he felt better right away when he saw Deborah and David coming down the road. 

  The other children kissed their grandma and talked with her for a little while.  Then, “Come on, Benny,” said Deborah.  He was ready!  “Bye, Benny,” his grandma called after him.  She kept waving as long as he could see her.

  Once they were out of Bubbee’s sight, Deborah announced, “We’re taking a short-cut!”  They began to walk through the bean fields, until Deborah saw a friend.  Dashing away to catch up with her, she shouted, “David, take care of Benny.”

  Right away, David said, “I’m going fishing, Benny.  You go straight home.”  He ran off to find a boy he knew who lived near the river.

  Benny trotted on a few minutes through the rows of flowering beans.  Then he stopped and yawned.  Poppy turned around and stared at him.  She yawned.  The sweet smell of the white flowers and the droning of the bees made them both sleepy. 

  Benny looked at the blue sky that was pouring down warm sunshine.  He took off his jacket and folded it up.  Then he lay down and put his head on his jacket.  In a minute he was fast asleep.

  When Benny woke up, he thought he was dreaming.  When he found out he wasn’t, his heart went into his throat.  It was dark all around him!  He could smell the flowers but not see them.  The petals beside him had a moony gleam like ghosts.  As he rolled over and grabbed Poppy, he heard someone calling his name.  The person had a beautiful voice. 

  “Benny, Benny,” she called, and her calling was more like singing.  Other voices joined in.  “Benny, Benny,” they sang.

  Still holding Poppy, he looked up.  There were more stars in the sky than he had ever seen before.  They were flowing over his head like a river of diamonds.  As they flowed along, they kept calling his name.

  The whole sky was singing, “Benny, Benny, Benny!”

  Benny jumped to his feet.  He began to walk in the same direction as the stars.  “Hello!” he called up to them.  “Hello!”

  Then he heard a different voice.  It was his father’s.  He was shouting all around.  “Benny, I’m here, son.  Don’t be afraid.  Here I am.”  

  Right above the dark ground, Benny could see a square of light.  It was the old, familiar lantern!  “There’s Papa!” he said to Poppy, who jumped out of his arms.  “I’m coming, Papa!”  Benny began to run and Poppy leaped along in front of him.  “I’m here.  Don’t worry, Papa.  I’m here.”

  As Benny appeared out of the bean rows, his father put down his lantern and threw his arms around him.  “I fell asleep, Papa,” Benny told him.  “It was so nice in the fields. Then I woke up, and it was all dark.”  

  “You’re a brave boy,” said his father.  “You’re my brave Benny.” 

  Benny couldn’t believe his ears.  Him brave?  He looked up at the sky, which was still beautiful but silent now.  He opened his mouth to say something, but the words wouldn’t come.  Finally, he said, “I’m hungry.” 

  Poppy meowed. “She’s hungry too,” added Benny.

  After his Mama made him a big bowl of noodle soup and put a little dish of chicken on the floor for Poppy, Benny went into his own room.  Poppy was already there, sitting in the window frame.  She was staring up at the stars.  “Sammy was wrong,” Benny whispered to her.  “I think the night is friendly.  Don’t you think so too, Poppy?”

  Her big gold eyes flashed “YES!”

© Lynn Butler Schiffhorst 2008


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