Little Red Schoolhouse [MultiFormat]
eBook by Robert F. Young
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: A little boy runs away from the bleak city to regain the bucolic countryside of his memory, with its little red schoolhouse and pretty, affectionate teacher. Unfortunately he's intercepted by the authorities, and even more unfortunately, they're willing to grant his wish. (This early story of Young's makes an interesting complement to "What Bleak Land," one of his final pieces.)
eBook Publisher: Electricstory.com, Published: 1956
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2001
Little Red Schoolhouse
37 Reader Ratings:
Ronnie avoided the towns. Whenever he came to one, he made a wide detour, coming back to the tracks miles beyond it. He knew that none of the towns was the village he was looking for. The towns were bright and new, with white streets and brisk cars and big factories, while the village in the valley was old and quiet, with rustic houses and shaded streets and a little red schoolhouse.
Just before you came to the village, there was a grove of friendly maples with a brook winding through them. Ronnie remembered the brook best of all. In summer, he had waded in it many times, and he had skated on it in winter; in autumn, he had watched the fallen leaves, like Lilliputian ships, sail down it to the sea.
Ronnie had been sure that he could find the valley, but the tracks went on and on, through fields and hills and forests, and no familiar valley appeared. After a while, he began to wonder if he had chosen the right tracks, if the shining rails he followed day after day were really the rails along which the stork train had borne him to the city and to his parents.
He kept telling himself that he wasn't truly running away from home, that the aseptic three-room apartment in which he had lived for a month wasn't his home at all, any more than the pallid man and woman who had met him at the bustling terminal were his mother and father.
His real home was in the valley, in the old rambling house at the outskirts of the village; and his real parents were Nora and Jim, who had cared for him throughout his boyhood. True, they had never claimed to be his parents, but they were just the same, even if they put him on the stork train when he was asleep and sent him to the city to live with the pallid people who pretended to be his parents.
Nights, when the shadows came too close around his campfire, he thought of Nora and Jim and the village. But most of all, he thought of Miss Smith, the teacher in the little red schoolhouse. Thinking of Miss Smith made him brave, and he lay back in the summer grass beneath the summer stars and he wasn't scared at all.
On the fourth morning, he ate the last of the condensed food tablets he had stolen from his parents' apartment. He knew that he had to find the valley soon and he walked faster along the tracks, staring eagerly ahead for the first familiar landmark--a remembered tree or a nostalgic hilltop, the silvery twinkle of a winding brook. The trip on the stork train had been his first trip into the outside world, so he was not certain how the valley would look, coming into it from the surrounding countryside; nevertheless, he was sure he would recognize it quickly.
His legs were stronger now than they had been when he had first stepped off the stork train and his dizzy spells were becoming less and less frequent. The sun no longer bothered his eyes and he could look for long moments at the blue sky and the bright land with no painful after-images.
Toward evening he heard a high-pitched whistle and his heart began to pound. He knew at last that he had the right tracks and that he couldn't be very far from the valley, for the whistle was the shrill lullaby of a stork train.
Ronnie hid in the weeds that lined the embankment and watched the train pass. He saw the children reclining on their chairbeds, staring curiously through the little windows, and he remembered how he had stared, too, on his trip to the city, how surprised--and frightened--he had been, upon awakening, to see the strange new land unrolling before his aching eyes.
He wondered if his face had been as white as those he was seeing now, as white and as peaked and as sickly, and he guessed that it had been, that living in the valley affected your complexion some way, made your eyes sensitive to light and your legs weak.
But that couldn't be the answer. His legs had never been weak when he had lived in the valley, he remembered, and his eyes had never bothered him. He had never had trouble seeing the lessons on the blackboard in the little red schoolhouse, and he'd read all the printed words in the schoolbooks without the slightest difficulty. In fact, he'd done so well with his reading lessons that Miss Smith had patted him on the back, more times than he could remember, and told him that he was her star pupil.
Suddenly he realized how eager he was to see Miss Smith again, to walk into the little classroom and have her say, "Good morning, Ronnie," and see her sitting reassuringly behind her desk, her yellow hair parted neatly in the middle and her round cheeks pink in the morning light. For the first time it occurred to him that he was in love with Miss Smith, and he recognized his real reason for returning to the valley.
The other reasons were still valid, though. He wanted to wade in the brook again and feel the cool tree shadows all around him, and after that he wanted to meander through the maples, picking a slow way homeward, and finally he wanted to wander down the lazy village street to the house and have Nora scold him for being late for supper.
The stork train was still passing. Ronnie couldn't get over how long it was. Where did all the children come from? He didn't recognize a single one of them, yet he had lived in the valley all his life. He hadn't recognized any of the children on his own stork train, either, for that matter. He shook his head. The whole thing was bewildering, far beyond his understanding.
When the last of the cars had passed, he climbed back up the embankment to the tracks. Dusk was seeping in over the land and soon, he knew, the first star would appear. If only he could find the valley before night came! He wouldn't even pause to wade in the brook; he would run through the maples and down the street to the house. Nora and Jim would be delighted to see him again and Nora would fix a fine supper; and perhaps Miss Smith would come over during the evening, as she sometimes did, and discuss his schoolwork, and he would walk to the gate with her, when she was ready to go, and say good night, and see the starlight on her face as she stood goddess-tall beside him.
He hurried along the tracks, staring hungrily ahead for some sign of the valley. The shadows deepened around him and the damp breath of night crept down from the hills. Insects awoke in the tall meadow grass, katydids and crickets and frogs began singing in ponds.