Fist. Pull. Foot. Push.

Lanny tightened his fingers around the bottom rung of the silo’s ladder and pulled the weight of his body up, legs swimming the air for leverage, nose twitching, bits of corn dust and hay seed escaping through tiny cracks across the structure. A sign read, “OFF LIMITS, NO CLIMBING, CAUTION, KEEP AWAY”—but he knew the silo well; he’d been counting the fifteen bars to the tip-top for a year. He’d drafted a diagram, worked the math a hundred times. He’d mastered sit-ups, push-ups, and jumping jacks—three reps three times a day. A measly one-hundred and twenty feet. Super easy for the world’s best climber. No wind today. No sweaty palms. Not a drop of rain. It was the right day. The perfect day to show them all.

Fist. He pressed the soles of his tennis shoes into the first rung.

Pull. He shivered with a few goose bumps.

Foot. He kissed both biceps.

Push. He freed both hands from the bar, intentionally losing balance, testing ability, catching weakness, turning fear into fight.

His pulse quickened. Senses never more alert.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. Every inch a major win.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. The Coke bottle sloshed in his front pocket.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. He’d take a drink later, though he wanted one now.

Fist. Pull. The engine of his father’s Ford pickup roared, tempting him to look down or back. He closed his eyelids and counted—not one-one-thousand-one, two-one-thousand two. This was no time to daydream. Just one. Two. Three. Deep. Inhale. Seven. Exhale. Ten.

Foot. Push. The muffler grew louder, angrier, closer.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. He climbed faster.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. The Ford was underneath him.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push. Oh, the rush.

The Ford passed like a curse of thunder. Lanny braced a leg around the side of the ladder and threw his hands into waves of fit. “I’m up here.” He yelled. “I did it. You were wrong and I was right.” But only flecks of dust from the dirt road and a few wayward cottonwood seeds took notice. The mighty muffler, growling down county road 10, slowly lost its growl and steam to dissipation.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push.

Fist. Pull. Foot. Push.

He set his lips on a square piece of wire mesh at the top, a barrier meant to aerate mold and obstruct hungry crows, squirrels, and mice—everyone wanting a piece of the meal. Drumming the tin roof, his dark silhouette expanded across the silo. “I know you saw me do it.”

The sound of his mother’s weeping in the vegetable garden twisted his head to the right, turning his stomach three flavors sour. “Tiny little ant,” he said, squishing her head between his fingers. “Tiny little cheater.” His mother disappeared into the cornfield. He squished the cornstalks, the Guernsey, the Appaloosa, the Great Dane, the Massey Ferguson, and other cottonwood seeds twirling around his achievement. “I am The Great Crusher,” he yelled, squishing a Coopers Hawk flying above his head. “The universe is mine. All mine.” He finished the Coke. The bottle slipped from his hand, fell, and vanished inside a tall patch of prairie grasses. He flicked the bottle cap and spit at the ground. “You’ll never get me.”

With a burst of hummy-hums and snappy-snaps, his little sister threw open the farmhouse door and skipped toward him, her flowery sundress as bright as her cheeks. Lanny inhaled and pressed his back against the silo, his heartbeat pulsing in his toes. She stopped, grabbed the bottle cap, and kissed it as if it were a grand prize. “Tiny little brat,” he said, watching her spin, limbs a windmill, a jet plane, a rhythmic clap, an-elbow-to-hip dance she knew so well.


She looked up, mouth wide open. “You in big twouble, mistah.” Pointing the finger of fate. “Up thewe’s fow big people, not you.”

“I’m nine and a half and you can’t even tie your own shoes. I am bigger.”

“Daddy says it’s dangewous.”

“Only for little brats like you.”

“You gonna get a spankin’ when I tattle.”

“Everyone knows you’re a big, fat liar.”

“Nah-uh, I’m Pwincess of the Wealm.”

“Not if you tattle, you’re not. Then you’re Freda the Frog with huge, ugly warts and a giant eyeball stuffed with corncobs.”

She pounded fists against her dress. “I’m not an ugly fwog. Take it back.”

“Only if you promise to leave and never tell anyone in the whole world what you saw.”

“I pwomise.” She repeated the elbow-to-hip dance.

“Hand to heart?” he yelled.

“Cwoss it twice.” She made an X across her heart.

“Pinky swear?”

“Ow I’m head lice.” She sat and fell on her back.

Lanny squished her. Go. Away. Silly. Girl.

“Is God nice?” she asked, making snow angels in the dirt. “Does he have blue eyes like the sky or gween ones like daddy’s and mommy’s?”

“How should I know? I’ve never seen God.”

“But you’s so close to heaven.” She pointed upward. “He’s wight up thewe.”

“This isn’t heaven, dorkus. I’m barely higher than the barn. How stupid are you?”

She sat up and slowly turned her head in the direction of the barn, sun-streaked hair sweeping across her shoulders. Turning back to Lanny, she spread her arms to their limit and smacked her palms together. “You awe too close to heaven. Now ask God to make mommy and daddy bettah or I’m gonna tattle.”

“This isn’t heaven.”

“Ask weal nice.”

“It doesn’t work.”

“Then I’m coming up thewe.” She jumped to her feet and grabbed for the bottom rung. “I’m big too ya know.” But she couldn’t reach it. “Ask God wight now.” She sobbed. “Do it.”

“Fine.” Lanny pointed to the farmhouse. “Cry baby.”

“Talk loud so God can heaw you.”

Fist. He faced the sky. “Are you even there?”

Pull. He waited for a response. “I knew you weren’t.”

Foot. He shoot a middle finger at the clouds. The sun. The blue horizon.

Push. He closed his eyes and spread his arms to their limit, too.