The big day Neal was waiting for finally arrived. All week long he had anxiously watched his dad build a tree house for him, and now it was almost finished.
“Can I sleep in it tonight, Dad?” Neal asked, dancing around the tree trunk while waiting for the answer.
The door of the tree house opened and his dad, crouching low, came out and climbed down the ladder. “Well, it’s done,” he said, collecting his tools. “Do you think you’re ready to sleep up there?”
Neal’s face lit up. “I sure am. Can I?”
“I guess a boy who has just turned seven is big enough to sleep out all night,” Dad answered. “Get your sleeping bag and whatever else you need and then wash up for supper.”
After Neal finished eating, he rushed out and climbed up into his tree house. What a great place! he thought. When Neal looked out of either window, he could see the branches waving in the gentle breeze. He rolled his sleeping bag out on the wooden floor and plumped up his pillow. He was set!
To help pass the time until darkness and bedtime, Neal played in the sandbox that his dad had made under the tree house. Long shadows crept across the grass as he finished making the last road for his small cars. By the time he had all his things put away, the sky had darkened, and a few stars were blinking brightly.
Neal crawled into his sleeping bag and zipped it up halfway.
“You all settled?” Dad asked, opening the door a crack.
“Yeah, Dad,” Neal answered. Even though he was happy to finally be sleeping in his tree house, he felt lonely when Dad left. Soon his eyes became used to the dark and he could see the shadows of the trees dancing on the inside walls of his house. Neal played a game, trying to find the shapes of animals in the strange shadows. But before long his eyes became heavy and he drifted off to sleep …
During the night Neal was awakened by a loud clatter. His blue eyes widened with fear as he lay still, waiting to hear the sound again. Then he heard a garbage can rolling around in the wind. The tree house creaked.
“Whew!” Neal said, crawling further into his sleeping bag. “It sounds like a storm coming.”
The rain began to pound on the roof and against the windows. And the tree branches scraped the sides of the tree house, making a scratching sound.
Neal huddled in his bag and wished he were in his own bed. But he was too frightened to climb down the ladder and run to the house that seemed so far away.
Neal’s ears perked up when he heard a new sound. One of the boards on the ladder was creaking. He saw a yellow light bobbing through the window. Neal’s eyes darted from the light to the door. It rattled slightly and slowly began to open.
The frightened boy scooted back into the corner, his sleeping bag pulled up to his chin, a scream frozen in his throat. Through the opening door appeared a bright light. Then, with relief flooding over him, Neal saw it was only a lantern, and Dad’s smiling face was behind it.
“Hi, Neal,” Dad said. “I couldn’t sleep in the house so I thought I’d come out here. Do you mind?”
Neal smiled. “Nope, I’m glad you came,” he replied and slid his bag over so Dad could spread out his sleeping bag.
The lantern’s soft glow made everything in the tree house look friendly and safe. The storm seemed less scary as the two slid down into their bags. They could still hear the rain beating on the roof, and Neal said, “That storm is really loud, huh?”
“Yeah,” his dad answered. “I like to be with someone when it’s storming, don’t you?”
But Neal only mumbled an answer, “Uh huh,” because already he was drifting off to sleep, snuggled up next to his dad.