By S.C. Mathisen
The cold wind whistled through the loose boards on the shack. Two figures inside shivered and wrapped their blankets around them tightly to fend off the frigid air.
“Is there any more wood for the fire?” Anna asked.
“No, I’ll have to go out and round up some more.” Jacob took off his blanket, rolled it up, and laid it down, away from the fire. He stood up.
“Where will you find wood this late at night?” Anna asked.
Jacob turned to his sister with a wink. “I have a source you know nothing about,” he grinned. “I’ll be back in a little bit,” he said, as he grabbed a sweater from a peg on the wall.
“You’re not stealing it are you? You know what Pop would say!”
Jacob layered the thick sweater over the others he already wore. “Don’t you worry about that. I’ll worry about what Pop might say when he gets back. In the meantime, he’s not here and we need wood.”
“I can’t understand why he’s been gone so long,” Anna said. “Sometimes he goes away for a day, or maybe two, but he’s been gone for three days now! We are nearly out of food and already out of wood for the fire! “ She buried her face in her hands. “I’m beginning to wonder if something happened to him and he can’t get back to us!”
“Maybe so,” Jacob replied quietly, “but we can’t wait for him to come back. We need to take care of ourselves, and that is what I am going to do right now! I’m going out for some wood.”
Anna lifted her head and looked straight at her brother. “Jacob—be careful out there! The storm is really bad!” Her voice quivered. “I don’t want to lose you, too.”
Jacob imitated Pop’s voice and laughed his bravest laugh. “Now don’t you worry your pretty little head, Anna, me girl. I’ll be back in two shakes of a tail.”
Then, pulling his hat down over his ears, he went out into the stormy night, closing the door hard behind him.
Anna stared at the door, then at the red coal remnants of the fire. She wept and she prayed.
Outside, Jacob leaned into harsh wind, and made his way across the street. He turned left, went down two blocks, and came to a hole in the side of an old brick building so tall he couldn’t see the top.
Once inside, he crawled over mounds of rubble to get to the wood pile, then started loading up his arms with the wood.
“And what do you think you’re doin’ with that wood?” a voice cried out. “It don’t belong to you—it belongs to me!”
Jacob turned toward the sound, but couldn’t see anyone.
“It doesn’t belong to anyone!” he shouted. “It’s just scrap wood, and I’m taking what I need to keep warm!”
Jacob grabbed another pieced, then bolted. He heard footsteps giving chase, so sped up.
Jacob almost made it to the hole in the wall when he tripped, dropping the wood. He leaped to his feet and grabbed some wood. Suddenly he heard a loud crack, and felt a sharp pain in his head. Little bright lights filled his eyes. Everything went black.
The fire at the shack went out. Smoke from the embers filled the room. “I just can’t sit and wait for Jacob to come back!” Anna said to herself. “I need to go out and find some wood, or something, to burn!”
Anna folded up her blanket and put on her heavy coat over her sweaters. She pulled her hat down hard over her ears, and headed out the door, careful to close it tight to keep the wind from blowing it open again.
Anna struggled to make any headway against the wind. She made it to the street and grabbed onto a lamp post, trying to figure out which way Jacob might have gone. She turned right, toward the docks and the waterfront. They had gone there often with Pop when he worked building and repairing boats. Maybe Jacob found a stash of scrap wood left over from someone’s boat repairs down there?
Jacob’s eyes opened to a light so bright it hurt his eyes. His head throbbed. He moaned, rubbing his head, as his eyes adjusted to the light.
“Well, boy. So you thought you were gonna’ get away with my wood? Ha! Ha! Ha!” said a loud, raspy voice that made Jacob’s ears ring. “No one gets my wood, boy!”
Jacob’s head ached as he turned in the direction of the voice. He tried to see who was talking, but his sight was blurred.
“I didn’t know it belonged to someone. My sister and I ran out of wood and we are so cold!”
“ I don’t care if you freeze to death, boy!” the voice thundered. “It’s my wood! You’re gonna’ pay for tryin’ to steal from me!”
Anna stayed close to the buildings she passed, to avoid the worst of the bone-chilling wind. Each time she felt the full force of it, she pulled her coat tighter around her small, thin frame.
When she got to the place where her Pop used to work, she saw a light in his old workshop. She peeked through the window.
“Pop!” she yelled.
Her father, Aloysius, worked on what looked like a large cage.
Anna ran to the door and tried to get in, but it was locked with a big chain and a padlock. She banged on the door and yelled, but he didn’t hear her. Frustrated, she began to cry, but then a thought popped into her head. Anna ran back to the window and knocked as hard as she dare.
Aloysius jumped at the loud sound and turned in her direction. Shock, then surprise, then fear filled his eyes. He waved at her to go away.
“Hey, girlie!” a loud voice yelled from behind her. “What do you think you’re doing here?”
Startled, Anna turned to see a tall, brutish figure. Just then, she saw a piece of wood leaning against the building. Anna grabbed it, and ran through his legs, knocking them out from under him with the wood. He fell to the ground. He lay motionless.
Anna spied a key ring on his belt. “Maybe one of them will fit the lock on the door.”
Sure enough one did. Soon she was in her father’s arms. After a quick hug, they ran out the door and back to their cold, little shack.
“Anna, why were you there? H-h-how did you find me?” he stammered.
Anna relayed how they ran out of wood, how Jacob went looking for more, and how she went searching for him.
Aloysius looked thoughtful for a moment. “There is a building up the street a little way where we went to get wood once. I’ll bet he went there. But he should have been back by now….”
“Oh, Pop—what if he’s hurt? We have to go look for him!”
He smiled mischievously. “Let’s go!” he said. “The good Lord will provide a way!”
They didn’t go directly to the building with the hole in the wall, but first returned to where he had been held captive. He retrieved the cage-like apparatus, then when they reached building, set it up so that it opened toward the hole in the wall, with just enough room around it for them to crawl in.
He turned to Anna. “Stay behind me. This is the den of Screecher and his gang. They are the biggest, hairiest, baddest gang in town. If they have Jacob, we’re gonna’ have to do some swift maneuvering to get him out of there.”
They crawled in and crept toward the interior of the building. Before long they heard voices, then saw a bright light.
“There’s quite an echo in this building,” Aloysius whispered. “We’ll use that to free Jacob.”
“How?” Anna whispered back.
“God is faithful, little girl,” Aloysius said with a quiet grin. “Just you wait and see.” He stood up. “Heeeey, Screecher!” he yelled. “Looking for a tender morsel? Come and get me!”
His voice rang out through the building. “Who’s that callin’ to me?” said a loud, gruff voice.
“’Tis your old friend, Aloysius! I come to collect my boy! Oh, and by the way, I got rid of your big cage, Norman!”
“What did you call me!? No one calls me Norman! I’ll get you for that! Come on, boys!”
“Come and get me, Norman! I’ve got a surprise for you!” Aloysius yelled again at the top of his voice.
The sound of feet running over the rubble approached. Aloysius grabbed Anna. They ducked behind a pile of bricks.
Screecher and his gang rushed past, out the hole, and into the cage. They were trapped!
Aloysius and Anna quickly found Jacob.
“Pop!” Jacob cried, as they untied him. They grabbed some wood, then fled the building. After alerting the police about Screecher and his gang, they made their way home, then built a roaring fire. There, they ate a small meal and each told of their adventures.
Aloysius held his two children in his arms. “We are very fortunate mice my little ones. The Lord watched out for us, and now we are all home safe and sound again. That fat cat got a surprise he will never forget, and he will never bother us again! The trap he planned to use on us was used to trap him! That was quite a surprise, I’d say!”