The day had that perfect quality you always associate with childhood memories. I was eight, maybe nine, at the time of this particular memory, a small, ponytailed, freckled child with dirty legs and dirtier arms and face, full of energy and hope all children possess when looking forward to playing with other children. The sun shone through marshmallow-like clouds, and although it was only early afternoon, the tar road had started to bubble under my feet. The ponies tethered at the side of the road nickered at me in hope of an apple, but I was in too much of a hurry to oblige.
Johnny, my equally dirty playmate, met me at the end of their driveway, his grin gaping where his big brother, Eddie, had accidentally knocked out his front teeth with a nine iron.
"Let's check out those tunnels Eddie built last night," he demanded. The thought held no appeal for me whatsoever, but rather than show my reluctance and chance losing my only playmate, I pasted on a big grin of my own and followed him. We climbed the sloping lawn to the barn's entrance, where the doors, which were a color somewhere between grey and brown, stretched, from my viewpoint, to heaven. Johnny pulled on one door with all the strength in his puny body, but it refused to budge until I added my strength to his. Slowly, ever so slowly, it groaned a horrid sounding groan while begrudgingly swinging enough for us to squeeze through, scratching both stomachs and backsides in the process.
The smell of the barn struck us a terrible blow after the air of the summer outside. The stench of horse-flesh and manure filled the air, accompanied by the smells of overly-sweet straw and pungent leather harnesses. The stenches filled our noses and permeated our clothes, so that it was impossible, for a moment, to take a full breath for fear of gagging on the smells forcing their way down our throats.
The darkness was cryptlike after the brilliant sunshine, and the only relief came from small cracks in the weatherbeaten boards, cracks caused by the shrinking, stretching, then shrinking, season after season. There, bright sunlight stole in sending golden streaks throughout the barn. Straw dust swirled and danced in these streaks, creating a magical effect.
"I'll race you up!" Johnny screeched, heading for the only good ladder. This forced me to dash in the opposite direction to the makeshift ladder consisting only of wooden two-by-fours nailed to the wall. I climbed as quickly as I could, stubbing my toes and feeling splinters bite into my palms in the process, always careful to avoid the open wiring where I'd seen a multitude of birds land and be instantly barbecued. Reaching the top of the loft, I teetered across the loose board nestled across the levels of cement floor ten or twelve feet below, leapt across the hole in the floorboards where Eddie used to drop kittens, "Just to see if they'd really land feet first every...