The Surprise

The Surprise

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.”

 

 

Passing the Faith Along – Part 1

Passing the Faith Along

by: S.C. Mathisen

 

We get to go to spend a whole month this summer with Gram Susie & Grampa Johnny! In Millville? Wow! That’s great mom & dad!” Susie was so excited that her entire face lit up and she grinned her widest grin as the family finished their dinner one evening in late June. Her father, Pastor Tom Johnson, responded, “We thought that it would be a good time for a visit since we have that pastor’s conference in Chicago in July and then we’ll come back to the farm for a month while I work on my book.”

While Susie began to discuss with her mother what clothes she should bring on the trip, since it was only a week away, Stanley began to ask his father what Millville was like. He could not remember much about it. He had only been there once and that was when he very little. At the same time, he started trying to finish his dinner in big gulps. After trying to swallow a particularly big bite, he began to hiccup. “Whoa, there sport,” his father said, scooting his chair over closer to his young son. He put his hand on his back and offered him some water. “Here drink this water Stanley, it should help to get that big bite down and stop your hiccups.” Stanley took the glass and slowly began to drink it. After a couple of swallows, he handed it back to his dad, leaned back in his chair and took a couple of deep breaths. “Hiccup,” he went again. His father smiled at his son and said, “maybe we’ll just sit still here for a couple of minutes and wait for this to pass.”

Susie and Mrs. Johnson, still talking about what to pack for the trip, rose and began clearing away the dinner dishes and putting them into the dishwasher.

That evening Susie called her friend Andrea, “I’m so excited that we get to go to Millville. You’d love it there, I wish that you could come too. It’s where my grandparents both grew up in the Midwest, near the Canadian border. There are lots of lakes and trees there and my grandparents have a small farm. We’ll be able to help out with the farm animals and other chores around the farm. And, you’d just love my Gram Susie and Grampa Johnny. They are some of the neatest Christians you’ll ever get to meet. They were missionaries in Africa for the longest time and when they retired from Africa they moved back to my great-grandparents farm in Millville. We’re gonna have so much fun!” “I think you will too, Susie. I’ve never been to a real live farm” said Andrea. Susie said quickly, “Do you know what I want to learn? I want to learn how to milk a cow and collect eggs and…and…well, I don’t know, just everything!” Andrea laughed and said, “Yeah, it all sounds so exciting. I wish that I could go with you too, but my Mom & I are planning a trip to the ocean while you are gone. That will be fun too.”

The day of the trip to Millville arrived and found the Johnson family boarding the train at the Crescent City train station, getting settled into their compartment and watching the scenery pass by. Pastor Johnson kept Stanley busy with walking tours of the train. There was even a car with a playroom that Stanley could play in while his father enjoyed being able to sit for a minute. That evening they had a marvelous meal in the dining car and then settled snugly into their bunks to sleep while the train rolled on toward Millville.

The next morning, after breakfast, there was plenty of time for reading, sightseeing on the train and watching the scenery change.

After lunch, Susie went up to sit up in the observation car and look out the window at the hilly pastures dotted with cows and horses rolling by. She was wondering what it would be like to be on one of those farms when someone sat down in the seat opposite her. It was a girl that didn’t look much older than her and Andrea but, something was different about her. She seemed kind of lonely. Susie wondered what to say to her.

Elwood’s Hazardous, Dangerous, Exciting Trip to the Library – Part 1

Elwood’s Hazardous, Dangerous, Exciting Trip to the Library

By: Steve Mathisen

 

“Elwood!”

The tall boy rolled over and tried to use his pillow to block the sound of his name being called.

“Elwood Phineas Dunkle! Get yourself out of bed and down here for breakfast this very minute,” his mother shouted

He knew the tone and that she would no longer tolerate being ignored.

He groaned, rolled over, slid out of bed, pulled on jeans and T-shirt and headed for the kitchen with a slight detour to the bathroom to wash up.

When he got to the table there was a book instead of his cereal bowl. Elwood looked at his mom.

“That book is due today. You need to make a trip to the library.”

“But Mom, I was going to−”

She set his bowl in place.

“You can do that after your trip to the library.”

“Okay, Mom.”

After breakfast, Elwood put the book in his backpack and rode his bike toward the library.

He was taking a shortcut through the park when his shoelace came untied and got tangled up in the chain of his bicycle. He glanced down at his foot and hit a hidden tree root. The bike stopped suddenly. Elwood did a complete flip over the handlebars and landed staring up at the sky through the branches of a huge oak tree.

“Well, that was a dumb move,” Elwood said to himself. As he began tying his loose shoelace, he looked around for his bike only to see its rear wheel disappear around the trunk of the tree.

Forgetting his laces he jumped up and yelled, “Hey, that’s my bike!” and then ran to where he had last seen his bike and … nothing. There was no bike to be seen anywhere. He ran back around the other way and again … nothing.

“What is going on here?” He said.

Clunk!

“What was that?” Elwood ran around the tree again looking for the source of the sound and once again … nothing.

Clang!

He looked up and saw his bike, hanging twenty feet up, bouncing against the tree and going higher, with a rope around the handlebars!

Elwood quickly found the lowest branch and scrambled up the tree after his bike. He just barely got his hand on the rear wheel of the bike before it disappeared into the darkness of the upper branches of the tree. He climbed higher. He wanted to know what was going on.

He felt cold … and blind. It was so dark toward the top of the tree that he couldn’t see anything but, he heard voices.

His eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see three guys on a platform that was built right into the top of the tree. They had at least a half-dozen bikes. The guys were taking them apart, putting the little parts in boxes and hanging the bigger parts on racks hung on branches.

“Bike thieves”, he whispered, “right here in the middle of the park, hidden up in a tree!”

No one seemed to notice him, so he climbed back down to a lower branch and started thinking about what he had to do to get his bike back.

His brain was working rapid fire coming up with ideas and tossing them out as impractical. Finally, he thought of three possible ideas.

First, he could climb back up and steal his bike back. That wouldn’t work though because the guys up in the tree were all bigger than he was.

Second, he could round up all his friends but, even with all of his friends they probably couldn’t overpower those guys and force them to give him his bike back.

“I’ll go to Uncle Jim; he’s a police officer.”

“But wait, he’s going to want proof!”

He reached into his pocket for his “Emergency Only” phone.

“It has a camera and this is an emergency.”

The Winter Water Hazard – Conclusion

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 grandparent’s 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.”

Once again 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 both 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 began craning 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 began to slide 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 with your 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.

Jairus Daughter – Part 2

Normally that would have been a good thing, but Mama said that something was wrong with the way Naomi was sleeping and that she was really worried. She turned to Papa and looked scared. I had never seen her look that way before in all my life. That scared me and it even scared Papa. I think it was then that he and Mama both began to believe that Naomi was going to die from this. The doctor had not been able to help, none of the ladies in the village had been able to help and now Naomi was sleeping in a very weird way that worried Mama. I started to understand that I might lose my sister. I went over to a corner of the room and sat down. I had never felt so sad before. It was then that one of the other leaders from the synagogue came by to tell Papa that the rabbi called Jesus was going to be arriving down at the lakefront in a boat with all of his disciples real soon and that they should go down to make sure that he did not lead any of the members of their synagogue astray with His crazy teachings.

Mama looked at Papa again. This time she was not scared. She simply said to him, “Jairus, you need to go and talk to Jesus and ask him to come and see Naomi. Maybe He can heal her. I am afraid that she is going to die.”

Papa was stunned. He could not believe what he was hearing. After all, he had just told Mama last night that they should all steer clear of this man named Jesus. Papa especially could not believe that he was hearing it from his own wife with the men from the synagogue standing right there. He was stunned speechless. I have never seen Papa unable to talk before. But, he stood there for a full minute moving his mouth but nothing was coming out.

He walked over to the bench by the window and sat down for the longest time, staring out. There was a crowd of people beginning to gather as word had quickly spread about Naomi’s sickness. There were also a few other men from the synagogue outside talking about going down to confront Jesus. And of course there was Mama inside staring at Papa, waiting for him to make a decision. She finally uttered just two desperate words, “Jairus, please!”

Papa turned from the window, stood up and looked tenderly at Mama. He then said to his friends, “You will have to excuse me. I have a very important errand to do for my daughter.” He then hurried out the door and headed down the street toward the lake. Mama turned her attention toward Naomi again. She kept wiping her forehead with a wet cloth, occasionally squeezing a few drops of water onto her lips.

Papa’s friends from the synagogue made their excuses and headed out the door. Outside, they met up with some of the other men from the synagogue that were in the crowd that was forming. They talked excitedly for just a moment or so and then they all headed down the street toward the lake, picking up their robes so that they could walk faster.

Since no one was paying any attention to me, I took off after Papa to see where he was headed and what he was going to do. I could run a lot faster than any of them could walk, so I caught up with Papa just about the time he got to the lake front. He looked around for a minute and then noticed the crowd that was gathering down on the shore where a boat had just come in.

Papa walked directly over to the crowd of people and pushed his way toward the man at the center of all the attention. I was right behind him when he suddenly stopped in his tracks, coming face to face with the most unusual man I had ever seen. I then saw something that I had never seen before in my life. Papa got fully down on the ground. He was laying face down right in the dirt and was almost shouting so that the man could hear him really well. Papa was pleading with the man to heal his little daughter. “She is about to die,” he said in desperation. “Please come and place your hands on her; heal her so she can live.” I had never heard Papa talk that way before. I was amazed.

Elwood’s Hazardous, Dangerous, Exciting Trip to the Library – Part 2

“Bike thieves”, he whispered, “right here in the middle of the park, hidden up in a tree!”

No one seemed to notice him, so he climbed back down to a lower branch and started thinking about what he had to do to get his bike back.

His brain was working rapid fire coming up with ideas and tossing them out as impractical. Finally, he thought of three possible ideas.

First, he could climb back up and steal his bike back. That wouldn’t work though because the guys up in the tree were all bigger than he was.

Second, he could round up all his friends but, even with all of his friends they probably couldn’t overpower those guys and force them to give him his bike back.

“I’ll go to Uncle Jim; he’s a police officer.”

“But wait, he’s going to want proof!”

He reached into his pocket for his “Emergency Only” phone.

“It has a camera, and this is an emergency.”

He climbed back up very slowly, took out his phone and took several shots of the tree house workshop and the thieves. One of the thieves must have heard the little shutter sound the camera made, because one of them turned and started toward him.

Elwood flew down so fast he almost fell, then he ran toward the police station as fast as he could. But, he tripped on his still untied shoe lace and did the most splendid face plant ever seen in all of history and nearly knocked himself silly.

“Ok, another dumb move!” His head was spinning round, and he saw all sorts of blinking lights.

“I really need to tie that shoe.”

“There he is!” came a voice from the bike thieves tree.

Elwood looked and saw two huge boys running toward him, and they did not look like they wanted to help him.

Without getting his shoe tied, he jumped up and headed for the police station again. When he got to the street, the light at the crosswalk was red, and a lot of traffic was whizzing by.

“There he is just waiting for us!”

Elwood turned and saw the two boys running hard after him.

“Uh oh! I better get going somewhere!”

Elwood ran to the left. The police station was down that direction anyway, and he could cross the street when it was clear.

After running two blocks without tripping, he saw the police station across the street. He looked both ways, saw that the traffic was clear enough for him to cross the street.

He crossed without tripping and was almost in front of the police station when the two bigger boys caught up to him. Each grabbed an arm and jerked him to a stop.

The one on his right said, “No you don’t twerp! You’re not gonna squeal on us!”

The one on his left pulled him around so he was facing away from the station, put his face right in front of Elwood’s. “Yeah, because if you do, we’ll pound you to a bloody pulp.”

Just then a voice came from behind him. “Is there some sort of trouble here boys?”

It was Uncle Jim’s voice!

The first boy stiffened. “Oh, no . . . officer . . . sir, we were just . . .”

Elwood wrenched himself out of the boys grasp and turned around, “Oh yes, there is Uncle Jim!”