Bryan finally found a safe place of refuge.
A Safe Place
Watching from his hiding place in the thick weeds, Bryan Williams, eight, thought: these guys couldn't find me in a million years. The small group of mostly men spoke quietly among themselves as they pushed aside the overgrowth of weeds and bushes beside the old railroad bridge. None of the men seemed dressed for what they were doing, searching, some of them wore business suits and some wore blue uniforms. All of them sweated profusely on this steamy, breezeless August day and stopped often to wipe their faces. One of the searchers put his hands to his mouth and called, but Bryan did not answer; he would keep hidden and knew that most grownups have forgotten how to think like a kid, so they wouldn't find him.
Then Bryan saw George, his mother's boyfriend. He stood beside one of the thick wooden support posts, smoking. Next to him was a police officer. George wasn't like most grownups; George had a great imagination, especially when drinking and he drank every night. Usually Bryan got smacked for doing something that George only saw happen in his own mind. Last night's beating with the thick belt hurt very badly and Bryan ran away when George fell asleep on the couch.
The bruises and welts weren't throbbing any more. He had stopped bleeding, too. After fleeing the trailer they all shared for his favorite hiding place, the old railroad trestle, Bryan lay down in the weeds, in his safe place, and fell asleep. Nothing hurt when he awoke.
Though he missed his mom, Bryan hadn't returned home. He was sorry he hadn't said goodbye to her, but she never tried to stop George from hitting him. She just put ice and medicine on his newest wounds. Bryan couldn't return to that place. He wanted to stay here by the bridge watching the trains rush past every couple hours. He was safe here. He could stay here forever.
Even coming to the bridge caused trouble with George. George told him that getting near a passing train was dangerous, that kids could easily get sucked under the wheels and chopped up to death. He warned Bryan not to go to the bridge, but Bryan wouldn't stay away. Nothing bad ever happened to him at the bridge; he got all his injuries at home.
Bryan enjoyed the passenger trains best. He liked seeing the people looking out at him, waving at them, and seeing a few wave back. Bryan often wished that the train would stop so he could get on and go away with the people.
Then the searchers came. Even if these grown-ups didn't have great imaginations, they didn't give up easily either. Bryan realized that they were going to stay until they found him. Eventually, they would discover his hiding place and take him away.
Bryan lay totally silent and motionless as the search widened. Bryan's choice for hiding was not advanced for his few years on earth, but he had moved away from the bridge in case George came looking for him. He hid in a thicket of tall spear grass and thick, ropey weeds about fifteen feet away from the bridge.
The searchers stopped for a few minutes. Some stood beside the railroad tracks to smoke and talk. One or two gestured in the direction opposite where Bryan hid, but one turned Bryan's way and squinted in the brilliant sunlight. The man, dressed in blue coveralls with gold Fire Department patches on each sleeve, was young. Bryan sensed that he still had a lot of imagination. The young man said a few words to another man wearing the same uniform and pointed. They stepped from the tracks and walked directly toward the tangle of weeds.
Minutes later the two men shoved aside the weeds and spear grass covering his hiding place and peered down at him. Bryan grinned up at them, but their expressions stayed serious, almost angry. Bryan wondered if he would get another beating and jumped up and spoke to them, but they ignored him. The two young firefighters looked at each other, shook their heads, and called to the other searchers. Then everybody quickly gathered around.
A man with a camera came and took pictures. Bryan watched everything, standing among the grownups, but no one spoke to him. No one yelled at him for running away, not even George. Everybody just seemed sad. Later, two men brought a big dark-colored plastic bag with a big zipper and put a little kid who looked just like Bryan into it.
Suddenly, the grownups left and Bryan knew they would not be back to get him and he felt better than he had in months. He didn't hurt anywhere and he wasn't hungry. He wasn't even tired from being awake so long. Bryan had his favorite place in the whole world all to himself.
A train sounded its whistle as it went through the crossing on the road and approached the bridge. Bryan hoped it was a passenger train so he could wave.