The Pin Insulator
As soon as his aunt lay down for her afternoon nap, the boy took off on his bike. He sliced through his subdivision, then made his way through the narrower streets of the older neighborhoods, where his mother had grown up. Her father had grown up on one of the farms just beyond.
He had heard there is a river beyond the farmland. He had always wanted to see it. But his mother would never let him go that far, not even with friends. Now, though, his parents were gone. They were attending his grandfather’s funeral, and his aunt, who was in charge for a few days, liked to take very long naps.
The boy came to a cornfield at the edge of the older neighborhood. He laid his bike down there and walked between the rows of corn toward where he had heard the river would be.
At the other end of the cornfield lay a meadow filled with tall grasses, milkweed and wildflowers. In the distance, he could see a thicket of oak trees. Off to the right stood a red barn and a white farmhouse.
Something shiny caught his eye. Curious, he made his way through the heavy grass to check out whatever was glistening in the afternoon sun.
Whatever it was, it was attached to the top of a fallen telephone pole whose end was jutting up through the tall grass. As he got closer, he realized the pole was resting on another one on the ground and that there was a whole line of fallen telephone poles that stretched across the meadow, obscured by the grass.
Now he could see what was glistening. It was a fist-sized, aqua-colored, grooved, cylindrical glass object, rounded at the end. It was sitting on a wooden pin which extended from the cross arm of the telephone pole. Looking more closely, he could see that the inside of the glass was threaded, and he decided to try to unscrew it.
But as soon as he touched it, a current shot through his body and knocked him backwards. For a few moments, he could see nothing but a white light. Then everything around him was clear again.
Except that now the telephone poles were all standing, with wires stretching between them. Glass objects, just like the one he had seen, dotted the cross arms of every pole.
The boy thought he was seeing things. Then he heard the splash of water. It was coming from beyond the trees up ahead. It must be the river, he thought. As he headed toward the trees, he heard someone singing. It sounded like the voice of a boy.
He walked through the trees. There was the river. Not far from the bank stood a boy in water up to his waist.
“Hey!” he yelled up.
“Do you want to go swimming? The water’s warm today.”
“I didn’t bring my trunks.”
“Trunks? Who needs trunks? I swim naked. Actually, I can’t swim. But I don’t go out very far. Do you know how to swim?”
“Then lose your clothes and take a dip. It feels great!”
Being a boy, whose parents were out of town, he took off his clothes and waded in.
“What’s your name?” he said to the boy in the water.
“Henry. What’s yours?”
“Watch yourself, John. The rocks are slippery, and the bottom drops off in a hurry.”
“Do you live around here, Henry?”
“Yeah. My family lives on the farm just beyond those trees.”
“Can I ask you something about those telephone poles over there?”
“Have they always been standing up like that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just a little while ago, I could have sworn they were all down on the ground.”
“What are you talking about? That’s how we get our electricity out here.”
Just then Henry disappeared under the water. When he bobbed back up, his arms flailing, he cried, “Help!”
From the panicked look on his face, John knew he wasn’t joking.
“Hang on!” he cried, diving in.
John was a strong swimmer. He grabbed Henry around the chest and side stroked towards shore. Soon, they were back in shallow water, standing up.
“That was close,” John said.
“Too close,” Henry coughed. “Thanks for saving me.”
Henry lay down on the grassy bank, still catching his breath.
“Now what were you saying about those telephone poles?”
“Oh, nothing. I took a fall back there. I think I might have been seeing things.”
“Well, those poles better be standing. We depend on them for electric and telephone. Plus, I like climbing them. Well, I’ve got to get home,” he said, pulling on his undershirt. It was the old sleeveless, tank top kind.
“Me too,” John said, stepping into his jeans. “It’s good to meet you, Henry. I’m glad you’re OK.”
“Good to meet you too, John. Thanks for being here today.”
John’s parents got home the next morning. They brought back some of his grandfather’s things, including a bunch of old photographs. His mother spread them out on the dining room table.
John was astonished to see a glass object just like the one he had seen yesterday.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“That’s a pin insulator.”
“A pin insulator. They used to use them on telephone poles to keep the wires in place.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“It was grandpa’s. He loved telling us how he climbed up a telephone pole as a boy and crawled out on the crossbeam to get it. He used it as a paperweight for years. I thought you might like to have it.”
John went over to the table and picked it up. It was heavy and felt thick in his hands. Then he looked down at the photographs.
“Who’s this?” he asked.
“That’s grandpa, probably when he was about your age.”
John gasped. It was Henry.