Night Lights in the Forest

I am resuming some activity even though my health issue is not yet resolved. I am going to be working on one of my unfinished stories and, to that end, on this blog, I will be posting a draft version of the story one chapter at a time. Here we go . . .

Night Lights in the Forest

By: Steve Mathisen

Chapter One

They’re back! And right on schedule, too! Emmy put a check in the upper right-hand corner of the date on her calendar, picked up her journal, opened it to the page for today and began to write.

If I’m right, it’s the last night of the five-night cycle for this month, and I need to find out what they are. My mind is made up. I’m going tonight! Emmy closed her journal, laid it on her bed and waited for her sister to fall asleep.

She had asked for her father’s permission. His response was clear and emphatic, “No! There are things out there at night Emmy, wild and dangerous things!” That only made her more curious.

Emmy hadn’t seen any wild and dangerous things from her window. So, she determined to sneak out to see what the dancing lights and tinkling bells were all about.

She had noticed they only showed up for the five nights around the full moon cycle. This was the third month running and tonight was the final night of the cycle. If she didn’t go tonight, she’d have to wait another month . . . if they came back.

Emmy sat in the window seat watching the lights and listening for her little sister’s breathing to become slow and steady. Nine-year-old Gigi normally followed her everywhere. She didn’t want her tagging along tonight.

When Gigi finally seemed to be asleep, Emmy slipped quietly out of bed, dressed, grabbed a flashlight and crept slowly down the back stairs being careful to tightly grip the worn wooden rail so she could step over the two steps that creaked.

In the kitchen, Emmy headed for the back door. Booger’s head came up immediately, and she shushed their old hound dog. As she attempted to open the door and step over him, Booger chose that precise moment to stand so that she was awkwardly straddling him and trying to hold on to the door knob so she wouldn’t fall. She stifled a giggle and swung her left leg over him and step onto the stoop. Booger turned to follow her. She bent down, took his head between her hands and looked into the eyes of her old friend. She could see his determination to follow wherever she was going. Her constant companion for many years was now mostly old and tired. Sleeping in the kitchen seemed to be all he had energy for, until now.

Rather than argue, Emmy decided taking Booger along wasn’t such a bad idea. He might not be able to fight off any night creatures, but he could still howl with the best of ‘em. So she held the door open for him to come out and then let it go. Then suddenly remembered, reached out and caught the screen door just before it slammed. Tragedy avoided, she grabbed her chest and held her breath for just a moment to force her heart to slow down. Then she headed off into the darkness toward the night lights in the forest with Booger following close behind.

Crossing the field, Emmy thought about all the nights she spent watching what she thought were fireflies. Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered something odd that Daddy had said when she talked about watching the fireflies. She couldn’t remember exactly what it was. Mostly she remembered the faraway look he got in his eyes and the fear that flashed across his face. Emmy momentarily shivered at the thought of Daddy being afraid of anything.

Emmy looked up into the millions of stars twinkling in the clear night sky. A full moon peeked out from behind a solitary cloud. She inhaled the sweet, late summer air and noticed just a hint of the smell of the creek that ran through their farm.

Her jeans kept the tall grass from thrashing her legs as she walked through it. The air was warm and moist but cooler than in the house. Crickets chirped and fireflies swarmed so, for the first time, she noticed that fireflies were much smaller than the lights she had seen from her window. That realization strengthened her resolve.

The Story of Leaving the Ninety and Nine to Find the One – Part Two – Conclusion

Stanley:                       Well, I sang the song to myself and then I prayed for awhile. I asked Jesus to send someone to find me. I sang the song to myself again a couple of times, and I prayed again. I hollered help a couple of times too, but, mostly I prayed. And you know what happened then?

Mr. Mathisen:             No, I don’t Stanley. What happened then?

Stanley:                       Well, after I prayed, I began to feel really calm and peaceful. It was like Jesus was telling me that He would answer my prayer. Just then, I heard a voice calling my name, and I looked up and there was Mr. Christos. He was kneeling at the top of the cliff and looking down at me. I couldn’t believe it. I had just prayed and sang and there he was.

Mr. Mathisen:             Jesus was really watching out for you wasn’t He?

Stanley:                       He sure was! Mr. Christos yelled down to me to ask if I was all right. I told him that I was, and he told me to not move and that he would be right back.

He went away for a couple of minutes and came back with a rope. He tied one end around a tree and the other around his waist. Then he slowly lowered himself down that cliff until he was beside me. He had me climb onto him in the front. I put my arms around his neck and hung on tight. Then he used his arms and legs and pulled us both back up that cliff. It was really slow, but I was never scared. I knew that Mr. Christos had left all the other kids and came looking for me and then he rescued me. I was so happy that I almost cried.

When we got to the top, we backed up against a tree and just sat up there at the top of the cliff for a few minutes while he got his breath back and I just sat real close to him. He risked his life to save me. He left all the others to come find me. Then he gave me a quick hug and told me to never, ever scare him like that again. I quietly said “Ok”, and then we went to find the others.

He never got mad at me at all.

Mr. Mathisen:             Stanley, did you know that our story today is the Parable of the Lost Sheep?

Stanley:                       No. Are you kidding?

Mr. Mathisen:             Nope. Listen to this. It is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15, verses 4 through 7.

4 “If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? 5 And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. 6 When you arrived, you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found. 7 In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Stanley:                       That’s just like what happened to me. My legs were a little shaky from being cramped up on the ledge and Mr. Christos carried me until I could walk by myself and then when we got back to the others, he told everyone what happened and how glad he was that he found me and that I was ok and back with my class. Everyone else was happy too. We had a great time the rest of the day. I made real sure that I stayed with everyone else, and I could see Mr. Christos keeping an extra sharp eye on me all the time. That made me feel real good too.

Mr. Mathisen:             Well Stanley, what lesson did you learn?

Stanley:                       I learned that whenever I get myself into trouble, the very first thing that I should do is to pray. God will always help me.

Mr. Mathisen: That sounds like a pretty good lesson to learn if you ask me.

The Story of Leaving the Ninety and Nine to Find the One – Part One

The Story of Leaving the Ninety and Nine to Find the One

By: God

Adapted by: S.C. Mathisen

Mr. Mathisen:             Stanley, I understand that you had a bit of an adventure this last week.

Stanley:                       Boy, you bet I did, and it was NOT fun Mr. Mathisen! I got really scared. But, I learned something really important, and I’m all right now.

Mr. Mathisen:             Well, would you like to talk about what happened? Maybe the boys and girls would like to hear about it. Maybe they could learn something too.

Stanley:                       Well, alright.

Mr. Mathisen:             Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you? And what were you doing?

Stanley:                       Well, all of the 1 2 my school went on a field trip to the park near Puget Sound. You know the one with the big cliffs and the railroad tracks down by the beach?my school went on a field trip to the park near Puget Sound. You know the one with the big cliffs and the railroad tracks down by the beach?

Mr. Mathisen:             Yes, I do. Go on…

Stanley:                       Well, it was a really sunny day. We all met at the school and rode a couple of school buses to the park. We were all excited to be going to the beach instead of sitting in class. When we got to the park, they lined us all up by class and counted us just to make sure that we were all there. I couldn’t believe that there were a hundred of us!

Well anyway, that’s a lot of kids, and so we headed down to the beach. Our teachers and some of were all walking down the trail the beach, and I saw that my tennis shoe had come untied. So, I stopped to retie it. Our group was the last one and my teacher (Mr. Christos) told me to hurry up. He didn’t want me to be left behind. I said that I would tie it as fast as I could and catch up with them. He said to hurry because he didn’t want me left behind. Then, some other kids started asking him some questions; he turned and followed them down the path toward the beach.

By the time I finished tying my shoes and looked up, they were all out of sight around the bend and down the path toward the beach. I started to run after them when I saw it. It was a Bald Eagle! I had never seen one for real, so I started to follow it. It was flying towards the woods that were next to the beach.

Mr. Mathisen:             Wait a minute! You followed the eagle instead of your teacher?

Stanley:                       Well, I had never seen a real, live one before. I’ve only seen them on TV or pictures of them in books, so I got really excited and . . . kinda forgot what I was supposed to be doing. I just followed it into the woods. I wanted to see where it was going to land. I almost tripped over some trees that had fallen over and stuff. I had a little trouble seeing it a couple of times, but I was watching it real close to make sure that I didn’t lose it. The next thing I knew, I was falling down the side of the cliff. I landed on a little ledge about half way down.

Mr. Mathisen:             Wow! Were you hurt very badly? You look ok now.

Stanley:                       I was more scared than hurt. I mean I landed pretty hard, but I thought for a minute there that I . I looked around to see where I was and I wasn’t sure until I looked down and realized that I was stuck on a ledge! I couldn’t climb back up and I couldn’t climb down! I was stuck on this ledge and I didn’t know where anyone from my school was and they didn’t know where I was! . I looked around to see where I was and I wasn’t sure until I looked down and realized that I was stuck on a ledge! I couldn’t climb back up and I couldn’t climb down! I was stuck on this ledge and I didn’t know where anyone from my school was and they didn’t know where I was! . I looked around to see where I was and I wasn’t sure until I looked down and realized that I was stuck on a ledge! I couldn’t climb back up and I couldn’t climb down! I was stuck on this ledge and I didn’t know where anyone from my school was and they didn’t know where I was!

Mr. Mathisen:             Were you scared Stanley?

Stanley:                       Boy was I!! I was really scared there for awhile and then…

Mr. Mathisen:             And then what?

Stanley:                       And then I remembered your song about not being afraid. You know the one that goes like this: (singing) “I will NOT be afraid, I will NOT be afraid, I will NOT be afraid. With Jesus as my helper NOT be afraid!”

Mr. Mathisen: That’s exactly why we sing those songs, Stanley. What happened then? We don’t want to leave you on that ledge.

God Cares for Me – Conclusion

The girls chose to trust Mr. Christopherson and when he led them into the dark and gloomy part of the trail, some of the other kids got scared and nervous. But, Susie and Andrea didn’t because they knew the teacher personally and trusted him to take care of them.

And it did get dark, it got very dark and the breeze began to get cold. The path became wet and the children began to be scared. Then they started hearing the creepy noises. Owls were hooting. Mountain lions were growling. Strange lights were going on in the distance.

The children were beginning to huddle themselves closer together and some of the girls were beginning to cry.

Mr. Christopherson heard all this, stopped the group, gathered all the children together in a little spot where there were some benches.

Mr. Christopherson stood there in the middle of the children with his walking stick.

“All right you guys, I know this place looks and feels really creepy but, remember that I am right here with you all the time and I’ve got this big stick. Nothing can get to you without going through me.”

A sigh of relief went through all the children. Johnny jumped up and went and stood next to Mr. Christopherson and said loudly, “and they’ll have to get through me too!”

The children all laughed.  Mr. Christopherson put his hand on Johnny’s shoulder and said “that’s right! They’ll have to get through Johnny too. Now, let’s get moving.”

So off they went on the path laughing and talking.

Psa 23:5  You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.

When they arrived at the campsite, the children were surprised to see a large white tent set up. Inside the tent were  tables set up with lots and lots of food. Johnny saw a large plate of oatmeal raisin cookies and began to run. Then he saw Mrs. Johnson, Susie’s mom and his mom and dad and all the other parents of the kids in the class. Everyone sat down to a large meal with all their friends and families and had a wonderful time.

Psa 23:6  Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

When everyone was done eating, Mr. Christopherson stood up and said, “All of this was arranged as part of our lesson on Psalm 23. I wanted you all to know that Jesus is your good shepherd and cares for you all the time where ever you are. No matter what. If anyone wants to harm you, they have to go through Him. I  set all of this up with your parents. The weird noises in the scary place were set up by some of the dad’s. You were never in any danger whatsoever. You were surrounded at all times by people who love you and care for you. But, God cares for you even more than we do. That is our lesson for the day.

God Cares for Me – Part Two

After walking for another half hour, Mr. Christopherson stopped and said “OK guys, let’s take break. Find a place to sit  down. I have some special energy bars in my backpack that will help you feel better and stronger for the rest of the trip. Get out the ”

He asked a few of the kids to help him to pass them out while everyone also got out their bottles of water to drink.

Andrea and Susie were really hungry, finished their bars quickly and decided to do a little exploring while everyone else was finishing their food. Andrea noticed that the trail branched off into two trails. One went up the side of the valley into the sunshine. The other trail stayed beside the stream and led into an area with a lot of really big trees that looked kind of dark and scary.

“Which way do you think we should go, girls?” Mr. Christopherson asked from behind them.

Susie was somewhat startled by the question as they did not know that Mr. Christopherson had come up behind them.

Susie thought for a second and asked “Which way is the safest way to get where we are going to?”

“Only one way gets us to our campsite. But, which way would you choose? The bright and sunny one or the one that looks dark and gloomy?”

“Umm…”

“I could just take a vote of all the boys and girls that are along today, some would go one way, some another. But only one way gets us to our goal, and I will not let you go the wrong way. It’s my job to get you to the campsite safely, and that is the way we will go.”

“That probably means that it’s the way that looks dark and gloomy.” said Andrea.

“That’s right,” responded Mr. Christopherson “but I know the way through there to the other side. Also, I will be there to protect you and calm your fears. You can call on me anytime, and I will answer you.”

Susie looked up at Mr. Christopherson thoughtfully for a moment and then asked, “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Why are so determined to keep us safe and to get us to our campsite safely? What if we run into a bear or a mountain lion or something?”

“When I accepted the job as your teacher and the responsibility of taking you on this trip, I agreed to be your shepherd. I agreed to guard you with my life. I do that to honor God.”

Psa 23:4  Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.

A winter children’s story…

I wrote this story a few years ago…

The Winter Water Hazard

By: S.C. Mathisen

 

“Come on Johnny, let’s go! I want to skate on the old pond today. We’re only here in Millville visiting my grandparents for a week.” Susie said encouraging her friend Johnny to hurry into his coat, hat and mittens.

“I am hurrying, Susie” Johnny said sounding like he was already out of breath.

He had already put on two extra sweaters, long johns and an extra set of wool socks and was bent over trying to reach the laces of his hi-top insulated winter boots and just barely reaching them. Between the extra layers of clothing and the layers of Johnny’s round stomach, the laces were almost out of his reach. He got them and was now finishing up the final knot on his right boot.

“There, I’ve got the boots laced up. All I need to do now is to put on my hat and scarf and coat and mittens. You can never be too careful out in winter weather. Especially here in upper Minnesota! It’s really cold up here!”

“Great, now let’s go. We want to get out there and get back before it gets dark.” Susie said in eager anticipation.

When Johnny was finally ready, they headed out the back door and walked across the wide driveway, passed the barn and followed a path that took them across the cornfields plowed under after the harvest. The sky was a dull, steely gray and the ground was covered with white frost. They could see each breath they took. They talked excitedly about how much fun it was going to be to skate on a real frozen pond instead of the ice rink they practiced on back home in Crescent City.

After walking across fields for a time, the path led into what looked like a small bunch of trees.

“I think the pond is just on the other side of these trees,” said Susie.

“Wow, it sure is farther than I thought,” said Johnny as he slowed down to look up at all the tall trees.

“Come on Johnny, keep up!  It’s starting to snow.”

“I’m coming. I was just noticing how weird it is in here with all these trees covered in snow.”

“Yup, but we should be out of the woods in a couple of minutes if we walk fast.”

“Walk fast, that’s a really good idea. It’s kinda creepy in here. The snow is starting to come down real hard, the sky is getting to be a real dark gray and it’s getting hard to see.”

Johnny picked up the pace and started walking fast. He walked so fast Susie had trouble keeping up with him. The only sound was their feet rapidly crunching in the new fallen snow.

After several minutes of walking, taking different turns to follow what Susie thought was the path, she said with a shiver in her voice, “Johnny, does it seem like it’s getting darker instead of lighter?”

“Y-y-yes. I was hoping you wouldn’t notice and get scared. Why do you think I’m walking so fast?”

“Maybe we should turn around and go back.”

Johnny stopped suddenly and pointed toward his left. “Look there’s a clearing over there. Maybe we should go that way.”

“Ok.”

Johnny turned to his friend and said, “I thought you knew your way around on this farm. You should be the one giving directions. Are you lost?”

Susie looked around with a puzzled look on her face, “I thought I knew the way. I just don’t remember the woods taking this long to get through. I might be a little confused.”

“Oh great, you’re lost. And if you’re lost I’m lost too. Can you find your way back out of here?”

Trying to sound braver and more confident than she really felt Susie said “Sure, we just go back the way we came.”

“Right, we took so many twists and turns on the way here, I lost track of where we came from. I bet you did too!”

“I think I know what we need to do.”

“So do I, we need to pray. God know where we are and He can keep us safe.”

Susie smiled broadly, “That’s right Johnnie. He can and He will!”

Johnny began, “Lord, you know where we are and how to get us out of here. Please show us the way out.”

Susie joined in, “Yes Jesus, please help us to find our way out.”

They both said together “Amen!”

Johnny then turned and looked all the way around him said with a more determined tone, “Let’s head toward gap in the trees over there. If we can get out of these woods, I’m sure we can get back to the farm house.”

Susie, immediately perked up and said, “Ok Johnny, lead on.”

So off they went. Johnny led and Susie followed closely behind him. After a bit they were walking shoulder to shoulder. Each time one stepped on and snapped a fallen twig or branch they both jumped slightly and moved closer together.

Twenty minutes later at the edge of the forest, the sky had cleared and they found themselves in very bright sunlight standing on an overhang that looked down over the valley that contained Susie’s grandparents farm. They could see the farmhouse and barn in the distance.

“Wow! That sun is bright!” said Johnny, shielding his eyes. “How did we end up all the way over here?”

“I don’t know but I guess we walked farther than we thought. Look! There’s the old pond down there,” said Susie pointing off to her right and her familiar smile returning to her face.

“Wow! Somehow we managed to walk completely around it and end up all the way up here.”

“How do we get down there? I sure don’t want to go back the way we came.”

Johnny then pointed to the right but lower than Susie had, “It looks like there’s a trail over there that might take us down there. All we have to do is to follow this overhang till we get to it.”

Beaming at Johnny, Susie said, “Well? What are we waiting for?”

“I think we need to thank God for getting us out of the forest.”

“That’s right, Johnnie, we do. Let’s do it now.”

They joined in prayer. “Thank you, Lord for bringing us out of the forest.  Now help us to get back to the farm safely.” They looked at each other and said, “Amen!”

So off they went walking along the edge of the overhang and sometimes hanging onto tree branches to keep their balance.

Just as they approached the trail, they realized that they would have to cross a shallow, but wide and mostly frozen over creek to get to it.

After looking at the creek Johnny turned to Susie and said, “Whoa! That looks too wide to jump.”

Susie craned her neck looking up and downstream to see if there was another spot they could cross. “The underbrush is too thick to try anywhere else. It looks like we have to cross here or go back through the woods.”

Just then Johnny spotted a low branch hanging over the creek. “You know, we might be able to grab that branch and swing across.”

Before Susie could respond, Johnny had jumped up to grab the branch. He got a hold of it and began to swing but couldn’t hold on all the way across. He dropped onto the icy creek bed and his feet immediately slid downstream.

Susie watched in horror as Johnny began to fall and reached out to catch him but only succeeded in grabbing his coat pocket. That grip on Johnny pulled her off balance toward the creek bed and she fell toward him.

Soon the two of them were sliding down the iced over creek bed like it was a bobsled course. Johnny was feet first with Susie still gripping his pocket going down headfirst.

They careened downhill at getting faster by the minute, all the time bouncing off of the creek sides until they eventually shot out of the creek bed and across the old pond. At that point, they began spinning around like cartwheels.

They eventually came to a stop near the far side of the creek where they sat up and tried to get their bearings. Johnny was just about to speak up when they heard a familiar voice, “If you two are done ice dancing, maybe you’d like a ride back to the house.”

They looked up to see Susie’s Grampa Johnny with his horse drawn wagon at the edge of pond chuckling. Susie and Johnny looked at each other and then they began to laugh too.

You can also find this story online at:

http://www.short-story-time.com/the-winters-tale-the-winter-water-hazard.html