A few weeks after his 14th birthday, with the soybean harvest fast approaching, Lincoln began having vivid dreams of leaving the farm and heading for the city. Night after night, he pictured himself gathering supplies, trudging down to the highway, and hitching his way to Atlanta. There were problems with the way things got done in the dream, though, and each night in his sleep he struggled to resolve them. The larder would be locked, of course, so he dreamed up a side plot about collecting a stash of suitable tools for breaking in. There were sensors all along the farm’s perimeter, so he dreamed about different ways of avoiding or disabling them.
Even when he had a scenario that seemed to make sense, daylight revealed further flaws. The grille that blocked the covered part of the irrigation ditch that ran beneath the fence was too strong to be snipped away with bolt cutters, and the welding torch had a biometric lock.
When the harvest began, Lincoln contrived to get a large stone caught in the combine, and then volunteered to repair the damage. With his father looking on, he did a meticulous job, and when he received the expected praise he replied with what he hoped was a dignified mixture of pride and bemusement, “I’m not a kid anymore. I can handle the torch.”
“Yeah.” His father seemed embarrassed for a moment. Then he squatted down, put the torch into supervisor mode, and added Lincoln’s touch to the authorized list.
Lincoln waited for a moonless night. The dream kept repeating itself, thrashing impatiently against his skull, desperate to be made real.
When the night arrived and he left his room, barefoot in the darkness, he felt he was finally enacting some long-rehearsed performance–less a play than an elaborate dance that had seeped into every muscle in his body. First he carried his boots to the back door and left them by the step. Then he took his backpack to the larder, the borrowed tools in different pockets so they wouldn’t clank against each other. The larder door’s hinges were attached on the inside, but he’d marked their positions with penknife scratches in the varnish and practiced finding the scratches by touch. His mother had secured the food store years before, after a midnight raid by Lincoln and his younger brother, Sam, but it was still just a larder, not a jewel safe, and the awl bit through the wood easily enough, finally exposing the tip of one of the screws that held the hinges in place. The pliers he tried first couldn’t grip the screw tightly enough to get it turning, but Lincoln had dreamed of an alternative. With the awl, he cleared away a little more wood, then jammed a small hexagonal nut onto the screw’s thread and used a T-handled socket wrench to turn them together. The screw couldn’t move far, but this was enough to loosen it. He removed the nut and used the pliers. With a few firm taps from a hammer, delivered via the socket wrench, the screw broke free of the wood.
He repeated the procedure five more times, freeing the hinges completely, and then strained against the door, keeping a firm grip on the handle, until the tongue of the lock slipped from its groove.
The larder was pitch black, but he didn’t risk using his flashlight; he found what he wanted by memory and touch, filling the backpack with enough provisions for a week. After that? He’d never wondered, in the dream. Maybe he’d find new friends in Atlanta who’d help him. The idea struck a chord, as if it were a truth he was remembering, not a hopeful speculation.
The toolshed was locked securely, but Lincoln was still skinny enough to crawl through the hole in the back wall; it had been hidden by junk for so long that it had fallen off the end of his father’s repair list. This time he risked the flashlight and walked straight to the welding torch, rather than groping his way across the darkness. He maneuvered it through the hole and didn’t bother rearranging the rotting timbers that had concealed the entrance. There was no point covering his tracks. He would be missed within minutes of his parents’ rising, no matter what, so the important thing now was speed.
He put on his boots and headed for the irrigation ditch. Their German shepherd, Melville, trotted up and started licking Lincoln’s hand. Lincoln stopped and petted him for a few seconds, then firmly ordered him back toward the house. The dog made a soft, wistful sound but complied.
Twenty meters from the perimeter fence, Lincoln climbed into the ditch. The enclosed section was still a few meters away, but he crouched down immediately, practicing the necessary constrained gait and shielding himself from the sensors’ gaze. He clutched the torch under one arm, careful to keep it dry. The chill of the water didn’t much bother him; his boots grew heavy, but he didn’t know what the ditch concealed, and he’d rather have waterlogged boots than a rusty scrap of metal slicing his foot.