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Gone?

The young mother stands crying beside the abandoned well. Until this morning, it had been forgotten to all living souls. Rotten and half buried boards were now caved in and no longer covered the deadly chasm. The woman desperately clutches a precious photo to her chest.

Only hours earlier, her eight-year-old daughter stood in their house's entry way wailing for her mother. The girl knew that she was in big trouble for getting drenched in mud. Her arms hung away from her body as gunk dripped and plopped to the floor.

As caked clothing was peeled off of her, she was scolded and interrogated on how she had done this. Did she leave the hose running all morning long? Did she get into the feed lot with the cows and calves? She could have gotten seriously hurt, or worse! What happened?!

The girl defensively whined that it wasn't her fault. She had been playing at the end of the field, near where the old homestead had stood until a few years ago. She never left sight of the house. The mother had dictated that the play area had to be within sight of the kitchen window. The mother had seen her daughter playing only a few hours before. Matter of fact, she was just getting ready to check on her daughter when the girl had slogged into the porch.

"I fell down a hole," said the girl, edging on tears because of the mother's anger. "I didn't know it was there. I had to spit stuff out of my mouth. I screamed for you to help, but you didn't come. I was scared. I couldn't feel anything except this yucky mud on the wall squeezing around me. All I could see was a tiny light way up over me."

The mother only somewhat believed the possibility of the story, but felt a growing knot of panic in its telling. "I was so scared. I couldn't stop crying," stammered the girl. "Then a face looked down at me from way up at the top of the hole. I thought it was you; the light shining around it made the face hard to see. It was an old man who said he would help me. I don't know how he got down in the tiny hole, but somehow he was just there, beside me. He said it was alright to be scared - that you used to be scared some of the time when you were little like me. He said that he was going to give me a shoulder ride, like he used to do for you. His shoulders weren't muddy at all. I was still so far from the top of the hole. Then suddenly I could reach it. He told me to hang onto the edge while he moved. Then there he was above me, pulling me out. He told me to run to you to get cleaned up. Mommy, he also said you would remember the last thing he told you before he left before I was born. Mommy, who was the nice old man?"

The mother had no choice but to believe the story. She got the girl rinsed off and left her playing in the tub. The woman now stands beside the gaping hole. She recalls her father's last words in the hospital over ten years ago. "I will always keep your love safe."

Now she cries and whispers, "Thank you, Dad. I love you, too."