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 more tightly to fend off the frigid air.
“Is there any more wood to put on the fire?” asked Anna.
“No, I’ll have to go out and round up some more.” Jacob took off his blanket, rolled it up, laid it carefully down away from the fire, and stood up.
“Where will you find wood this late at night?”
Smiling, he turned to his sister and winked, “I have a source you know nothing about. I’ll be back in a little bit.” 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 other’s 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. Sometimes he goes away for a day or maybe two,” Anna said, “but this time, he’s been gone for three days! We are nearly out of food and already out of wood for the fire. “She buried her face in her knees. “I’m beginning to wonder if something happened to him, and he can’t get back to us.”
“Maybe so, 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 looked up and turned her eyes straight at her brother, “Jacob, be very careful out there. The is a really bad storm. I don’t want to lose you too.”
Jacob laughed his bravest laugh and imitated Pop’s voice. “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 on hard enough to cover his ears, he went out the door into the stormy night and closed the door hard behind him.
Anna stared at the door for a while, then at the red coals that were the remnants of their fire. She wept and prayed.
Outside, the wind was blowing so hard Jacob had to lean into it to make any headway as he walked. He made his way across the street, turned left, and then down two blocks until he came to a hole in the side of an old brick building so tall, he couldn’t see the top.
Once inside, he had to crawl over lots of rubble to get to the pile of wood he was looking for.
Just as he was filling up his arms with the wood, there came a voice. “And what do you think you’re doin’ with that wood? It don’t belong to you. It belongs to me.”
Jacob turned toward where he thought the voice was coming from. He could see no one.
“No, it doesn’t!” He shouted back. “It doesn’t belong to anyone; it’s just scrap wood, and I’m taking what I need to keep warm.”
Jacob grabbed more wood and then ran with all the speed he could muster back toward the way he had come in. He could hear the footsteps of someone chasing him, so he hurried even more.
He was almost to the hole in the wall that went outside when he tripped, fell, and dropped all the wood he was carrying. He jumped back up and was picking up the wood when he felt something hit his head. He saw lots of bright lights, and then everything went dark.
The fire back at the shack finally went out and was now filling the place with smoke. “I just can’t sit and wait for Jacob to come back. I need to go out and find some wood or something to burn.” Anna said to herself. She folded up her blanket, put on her heavy coat over all of her sweaters, put on her hat, pulled it down hard so it would cover her ears and headed out the door of the little shack, careful to close it hard to keep the wind from blowing it open again.
Anna struggled to make any headway against the wind, but finally, she made it to the street and grabbed onto a lamp post and stood for a minute trying to figure out exactly which way Jacob might have gone. Not knowing he had gone left, she went to the right toward the docks and the waterfront. She and Jacob had gone down there often with their Pop when he worked building and repairing boats. Maybe Jacob had found a stash of scrap wood left over from someone’s boat repairs down there.
Jacob’s eyes opened to light so bright it hurt his eyes and to the worst headache he ever had. He rubbed his head and moaned while he tried to get his eyes accustomed to the light and to focus.
“Well, boy. So you thought you were gonna get away with my wood? Ha! Ha! Ha!” said a raspy voice so loud it hurt Jacob’s ears. “No one gets my wood, boy!”
Jacob’s head was throbbing as he turned in the direction he thought the voice came from. He tried to see who was talking, but his eyes still couldn’t focus.
“No, sir, I didn’t know it was anybody’s wood. 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, and now you’re gonna pay for tryin’ to steal from me!”
Anna stayed close to the side of each building she walked past on her way down to the docks to stay out of the full force of the bone-chilling wind. Each time she felt the full force of the wind, 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 on in his old workshop. She looked carefully through the window and couldn’t believe her eyes! There was her father, Aloysius, working on what looked like a large cage.
Anna ran around to the door and tried to go in, but it was locked with a big chain and a padlock. She banged on the door and yelled, “Pop! Pop! How do I get in?”
Frustrated, she began to cry. Then a thought popped into her head. She ran back around to the window and knocked as hard as she dared.
Aloysius, startled at the loud sound, turned and looked toward the window. At first, he looked shocked, then surprised, and then very frightened. He started waving at her to go away when a loud voice came from behind her. “Hey, girlie! What do you think you’re doing here?”
Anna turned around to the sound of the voice to see a very tall, brutish looking figure. Thinking quickly, she noticed a piece of wood stacked against the building, grabbed it, held it horizontally, and ran under him and through his legs. The piece of wood knocked his legs out from under him, and when he fell, he hit his head. After that, he lay still and silent.
“Oh, he’s out cold!” she said to herself. “I’ll just grab the keys hooked onto his belt. Maybe one of them will fit the lock on the door.”
Sure enough, one of them did open the lock, and she was soon in her father’s arms. After a quick hug, they ran out the door and back into town to their cold, little shack.
“Anna, why were you there? H-h-how did you find me?”
Anna quickly told how they had run out of wood, and Jacob had gone out looking for more wood, and she had gone out looking for Jacob.
Aloysius looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, “I bet you I know where he went. There is a building up the street a little way that we went to get wood once. I’ll bet he went there. He should have been back by now, though. Unless something happened to him…”
“Oh, Pop! What if he’s hurt? We have to go look for him.”
Smiling at his determined little girl with a mischievous gleam in his eye, he said, “Let’s go! The good Lord will provide a way.”
They didn’t go directly to the building with the hole in the wall. First, they went back to where he had been held captive and retrieved the cage-like thing he had been working on. When they did get to the building, he set the cage up, so it opened up toward the hole in the wall with just enough room around it for them to crawl in.
Then he turned to Anna and said, “Now you 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 could hear voices and see a strong light.
Aloysius leaned over and whispered to Anna, “There’s quite an echo in this building. We’re going to use that to free Jacob.”
“How?” Anna whispered back.
“God is faithful, little girl. Just you wait and see.” Aloysius whispered with a smile.
He stood up and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Heeeey Screecher! You looking for a tender morsel? Come and get me!”
The sound of his voice echoed throughout the old building.
“Who’s that callin’ to me?” answered 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. Here I come! Come on, boys!”
“Come and get me, Norman!” Aloysius yelled again at the top of his voice.
There was the sound of feet running over the rubble toward them.
Aloysius grabbed Anna, and they ducked back behind a pile of bricks.
They watched as Screecher and his gang rushed past them, out the hole in the wall and directly into the cage. Aloysius had set it up as a trap for them. They were trapped!
Aloysius and Anna quickly found Jacob and untied him. Then they picked up a load of wood, left of the building another way, stopped to call the police to come and pick up Screecher and his gang, made their way home, and built a roaring fire. They ate a small meal, and each told of their adventures.
Aloysius held his two children and said, “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 will never bother us again. The trap he planned to use on us was used to trap him.”