The morning sun peaked through the upstairs bedroom, highlighting a head of dark brown hair. Nine-year-old Hannibal Heyes threw the quilt off himself and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He'd already made plans the previous night on what he was going to do today and was eager to get started. He hurriedly got dressed and descended the stairs, then ran into the kitchen.
"Good morning Hannibal. Lordy be boy, slow down!"
Han plopped himself down at the table. "I gots ta hurry and eat Ma so I can get over to Jed's."
"Son, the only hurrying you gonna do this mornin' is gettin' your chores done before you run off to play."
"Now don't start Hannibal. You know you have to do your chores."
"Well what about this? I'll go and..."
"And you know you can't talk your way out of them so don't even try. Now, go and collect some eggs for breakfast."
Han hopped off his chair and grabbed the egg basket. He went out the back door and entered the chicken coop. "Alright you chickens," he ordered, "git up so's I can get your eggs." He commenced to shooing several irate hens from their roost. Han was a little irate himself at once again having to put chores before his plans and it showed when he threw an egg in the basket just a little too hard. He looked down to the three egg omelete he had just created.
"Oh shoot!" Egg snot was oozing through the bottom of the basket. Han looked around and finally decided to stick the broken shells under one of the nests. He then picked up some hay and did his best to soak up the egg soup. He left some hay in the basket to put the rest of the eggs on.
Finally collecting all the eggs, he returned to the kitchen.
"Thank you Hannibal. Now go get washed up for breakfast."
After a hearty breakfast, Han went to the stable to muck out the stalls. His Pa was busy brushing the horses down. "Pa, when I get done here, can I go and get Jed to come over?"
"I suppose so son. Just don't run off to far away. I don't want to have to hunt you down for supper again."
Across the way, at the Curry farm, seven-year-old Jedediah Curry was doing his morning chores as well.
"Hold still Bessie! I don't like this no better than you do." The curly-haired blond boy was having a rough time milking the family's cow.
"Geez. Just a little more." He struggled to get Bessie to stand still. "I wonder who first looked at these things and decided to drink whatever came out of them."
"I don't know, but its a good thing they weren't looking at a bull," Han laughed from the barn door.
"How long you been there?" Jed asked with both hands full.
"Not long. You 'bout done with your chores? We gots important business to get down to."
"Yeah, as soon as I can get Bessie milked. She's not happy about it."
"Here, let me help you." Han walked up to Bessie's head and started stroking her nose. "Take it easy girl. He'll be done soon. If you'll be still, I'll bring you an apple later."
As if she understood, the heiffer calmed down and Jed was able to finish up with no problem.
After delivering the bucket of milk to his Ma, Jed joined Han and they went back to the Heyes house.
"Alright Jed, here's what we need. You stay outside and start collecting enough rocks to make a firepit, I'm going in to get the blanket off my bed.
"What are we doing?" Jed asked curiously.
"Well, I been thinking about Indians. You know, we ain't seen a lot of Indian activity around here, but that don't mean they won't attack our farm or yours someday. So I figure, if we can decipher some of their smoke signals, we could trick them into thinking some other Indians are already here and they'll leave us alone."
"Han, that is without a doubt...the greatest idea you've had yet!"
"I know, now let's get started."
Han ran inside and up to the loft to retrieve the blanket off his bed. Outside, Jed was gathering the rocks they would need. Mrs. Heyes came around the house as he was doing so.
"Why hello Jed. What are you doing?"
"Hi Aunt Catherine. Han told me to collect some rocks while he went inside and got something."
"Giving you the tough job again eh? Jed, are you always going to listen to Hannibal's orders? They're liable to get you both in trouble one day." Catherine entered the house just as Han was running towards the door. "Son, I told you this morning to slow down in this house."
"Sorry Ma. Bye!" Han ran on out the door. "C'mon Jed. Let's go out towards the corn field."
The two boys reached the edge of the corn field and started building a fire ring with the rocks Jed had collected. They didn't have enough so they went in search of some more. Ten minutes later, they had themselves a nice fire ring built.
"Alright, we need some firewood," Han said looking around. An old dead tree lay decaying some thirty yards from their location. Together, they dragged it back to their fire ring and broke it up into pieces. Then Han reached into his pocket and retrieved a couple of matches he had procured while getting his blanket. Having set the wood ablaze, they watched the embers rise and float on the air over the cornfield.
"Alright then, according to what I've read, Indians just throw a blanket over the fire to catch the smoke, then raise the blanket up." Han and Jed each took a side of the blanket and spread it out above the flames. They then started fanning it up and down.
After a few minutes, Han said, "This ain't workin' like it should. Maybe we ought to lay the blanket all the way down and then lift it up before it catches fire."
"Okay," Jed agreed. They laid the blanket on top of the fire for just a second, then lifted it up. "I don't think we should do that again Han. It almost caught on fire."
What the two boys didn't realize at the time, was that some glowing embers that had caught on the underside of the blanket, had flown off in the wind and landed just inside the cornfield when they had lifted it up. There hadn't been very much rain since winter, so the ground was exceptionally dry. The embers had landed on some dead cornstalks lying on the ground and before long, started to smoke. Neither Han nor Jed noticed it.
"I got an idea. Let's put the fire out. That way, it'll smoke good. That must be the way its done." Han ran back to the barn and got a bucket of water. He returned and poured it on the fire. It immediately started to smoke. "There we go!"
The two were so involved in their signal-making, they didn't even notice when a small flame appeared where the embers had landed. The wind picked up and the flame grew.
"Okay, now throw the blanket on it and lift it," Han said. Jed helped him and in a couple of minutes, they had actually made something that resembled a smoke-signal.
"Will you look at that!" Jed exclaimed. "Han, you're a genius!"
"Yeah, I know," he smiled. After a couple more minutes, Han finally noticed something wasn't right. "Jed, there's a whole lot of smoke around here for just this little fire we had."
"Yeah, I was just getting ready to say the same thing." They looked around and then they saw it.
"OH MY GOD! THE CORNFIELD'S ON FIRE! C'mon Jed, we gotta put it out!"
The two ran and got two buckets of water. But by the time they returned, the fire had grown considerably.
"Pa's gonna kill us," Han said desperately trying to throw dirt on the fire.
"US! You mean you! This was all your idea!"
"Yeah, well you helped me! C'mon, we gotta go get somebody." But they didn't have too. David Heyes had noticed the fire from where he was working behind the house. He met the boys halfway.
"Hurry Jed! Go get your Pa! Han run to the neighbors! We need help!" he yelled as he ran past. The wind was helping the fire spread rapidly in the dry field. The boys did as they were told and before long, about twenty-five people in all had shown up to help. Han and Jed watched as the adults started packing water in buckets, by wagon, any way possible to the fire. It looked like they were fighting a losing battle.
The field blazed into the evening twilight. Half of it had already been left in ashes. The fire had quickly gotten out of control in the rain-starved prairie. At first, no one had known who had started it. But one little boy and his cousin did. They watched the flames lick the sky as the adults rushed to get the firestorm under control. All around the perimeter of the field, bucket brigades were underway, barrels of water were being brought by wagon. By nightfall, it was over, the fire had finally been doused, and the adults breathed a sigh of relief. Two little boys, on the other hand, sat terrified. Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah Curry sat by a circle of rocks on the outer edge of the now black corn field. Tears filled both their eyes.
Then, from out of the smoke emerged a figure. A big, intimidating figure. One that filled the boys with fear of what was coming. They were frozen in place. They knew if they ran, they'd never make it far before they were caught. Both stood up as the figure reached them. This was it.
"HANNIBAL HEYES! WHAT ON EARTH DID YOU THINK YOU WERE DOING! YOU TORCHED OUR WHOLE CORN FIELD!"
"But Pa, we was just..."
"DON'T YOU 'BUT PA' ME YOUNG MAN! We're gonna wait right here on Mr. Curry so's we can decide what to do with you two."
A dejected Han looked sideways at his cousin. "Well Jed," he whispered, "I guess we'll have to find some other way to decipher Indian smoke signals..."