Frozen where she stood, Margaret swallowed and gasped for breath. The boys had already
    reached the other side and were throwing rocks off the edge of the trestle into the creek. She gripped
    the side girder. She would have to let go if she were to make it across. She’d have to go down the
    middle, one long even step after the other, like the boys had done and made it look so easy. They
    were ignoring her now, but if she didn’t get across soon, they’d  tease her. Worse, they would leave
    her behind, the ninny girl too scared to cross the towering bridge.

           “Go for it,” she hissed beneath the din of the current and splashing of the frigid waters below her
    feet. She took a step, brought the other foot forward and swayed back and forth.  “Don’t look down.
    Hold steady.”

           She looked over at Goose who glanced back across the expanse that might as well have been a
    hundred miles. He turned away. “If you don’t just go,” she continued her litany to the only one who
    could hear or understand and teetering precariously, one foot clung to one railroad tie while the other
    stretched to the next, “you’ll be here like this forever.” She lingered in a battle between her fear and
    her determination.  “Dad will find out you’ve been here…just go!”

          In a rush of courage, Margaret leapped from one railroad tie to the next. About halfway across,
    she heard a sound. Could it be the mill train? They still used these old trolley tracks to haul who-knew-
    what from one woolen mill to the other, one down by the Falls, the other way down past Scotch Hill
    where mill workers lived in rows of dilapidated houses.

           She held her stride, but a few steps away from the other side, she stopped again, rocking back
    and forth. Nothing to grab onto. The sound of rushing water pounded inside her head, a fine mist
    filled her mouth, and she wondered which would come first, the fall or the train.

           The  boys turned, urged her on. Goose held out his hand and she made one final leap and
    grabbed on. Shivering like a field mouse having made a narrow escape, her feet made contact with
    gravel and the fresh creek air wrapped around her like a blanket of courage.

           Margaret listened again but heard no sound of a train. The three of them laughed and the little
    dog barked and jumped up and down at Margaret’s feet. She had won the right to be included .

           Jimmy shouted above the creek’s din for them to follow him along the tracks, to keep to the edge
    of the woods.

                                                                          * * * * *

           Margaret was aware of the pounding of the waterfall long before they rounded the last sharp
    bend. She had seen the two-hundred foot drop before, just below the woolen mill where a pair of big
    white swans circled  a pond where the thunderous splash of the Falls fed Nine Mile Creek.

           Margaret and Goose and Jimmy scurried along the gully between the old trolley tracks and the
    woods, their path shaded from the hot sun, crashing water drowning their words. Jimmy raised his arm
    and Margaret followed him up the side of the hill  into the woods. They darted between tree trunks,
    downed limbs and piles of brush, newly exposed to the spring air after a long winter buried beneath  
    thick shrouds of snow and ice. Piles of soggy leaves gave way beneath their footsteps. Margaret’s
    sneakers, wrapped in layers of mud and dirt, provided no traction as she scampered across the
    hillside. She tried not to think about crossing back over the trestle.

           Jimmy, and then Goose and Margaret, sat  on the trunk of a newly fallen tree. Margaret looked
    around. They were deep inside the woods, and the only light—trickling through new leaves and a
    thick layering of branches—appeared directly overhead.

           “Those caves are right around here someplace,” Jimmy cleaned his fingernails with a pocketknife.
    Margaret had never known anyone who carried a knife.

            Goose stood up and paced back and forth. “I think they’re farther down the side of this ridge.
    See that dead elm tree? We’ll cut up the hill from there by a thicket of blackberry bushes right as you
    come out into a clearing,  above the’ll see some boulders and…”

           “You’re right!” Jimmy snapped the knife shut and took off running. Margaret kept to his heels and
    could hear Goose panting behind her.

           Hurdling over fallen limbs, sliding in the mud, she remembered the fort, that Francine might be
    waiting for her. She no longer felt the wounds on her legs. She could outrun these two if she wanted.
    Instead, she  kept pace just uphill from Jimmy. She would beat them to the boulders. Maybe she would
    be the one to find the caves.
Nine Mile Creek
an excerpt