Mary came awake with a start. Terror gripped her as she watched the doorknob turn, and heard a voice holler, “Hello, is someone in there?” then, “I guess I must have locked it, now where’d I put that key?”
Sighing in relief, at the sound of his retreating footsteps, Mary stuffed everything into the backpack, gathered both children in her arms, and slipped quietly out the door.
She was almost to the alley when he saw her. “Where are you going? Hey, wait a minute,” he hollered, “There’s nothing down that way but a turn-around. Hey lady Come back, where do you think that goes anyway?”
Mary took one look at the bearded giant yelling at her and shook with terror! Scared out of her wits, she gripped her children tight, ran to, then down the alley, which suddenly ended in a cul-de-sac. Looking frantically around she saw a rocky cliff on one side and woods on the other. Taking one look at her children, Mary tightened her grip, took a deep breath, and plunged over the guardrail.
She nearly fell as she ran down a gradual incline and into the woods, stopping only when she realized they were surrounded by huge old oak trees.
She told herself sternly that tears were a useless commodity as she impatiently swiped at the tears of defeat and worry that streamed down her cheeks. We’re lost, she thought collapsing breathlessly onto the cold hard ground with her children still clutched in her arms.
Her heart nearly leapt into her throat as she focused on the cold hard ground and realized that she was staring at a very old, much worn, partially hidden path that led off to the right and over a small steep hill.
During their brief flight the air had become much colder. Even within the protection of the trees she could feel the bitter breath of the wind and the sprinkling of rain as it began to fall. The children’s teeth were chattering and they were almost to the point of lethargy. She knew that she had to do something quickly or they could freeze to death.
Instinct told her to keep to the path, even though at times it became so dark and gloomy, that she could hardly see it. Maybe, she told herself, it will lead to a small cave, an old shack, or even an overhanging low tree branch where I can fashion a temporary shelter from the blankets, tarp and pillow to keep us warm.
Kimmey was clinging so tightly to her mother’s coat that she almost tripped her. “Mommy! Mommy! I’m scared,” whispered Kimmey.
Mary set two-year-old Billy down and put her arms around her children, giving them both fierce, but gentle hugs as she comforted them.
“I know you’re scared, Mommy’s scared too. I need for you to be brave for just a little while longer, can you do that for Mommy?” she asked in a voice so tender that Kimmey threw her arms around her Mother’s neck and burst into tears. Both children knew that no matter what, this Mommy would always be there to protect them.
“House,” said Billy, “pretty house Mommy!”
“House Billy? What house?” she asked.
“There,” said Billy, pointing off to the left.
Mary turned and looked in the direction Billy was pointing. The house looked as though no-one had lived in it for a very long time. It was so surrounded by trees and bushes, that if not for Billy’s sharp eyes they would have completely missed it.
Mary looked at her children and saw that they were almost blue from the cold. She knew she had to do something fast, before they froze to death. Boldly and without hesitation she stepped up to the door, crossed her fingers and knocked. If it truly is deserted, it could be the answer to our prayers, she told herself, as the door swung silently opened as if to invite them inside.
Noticing a thin layer of dust covering everything, she looked long and hard at her shivering children. Do I have a choice, she asked herself. Taking her daughter gently by the hand, she straightened her shoulders, stiffened her back and marched into the house, firmly closing the door behind her.
The furnishings look too new, somebody lives here, she thought as a feeling of such utter despair suddenly descended on her that she nearly staggered under the weight of it. Occupied, she thought, just our luck. With shoulders slumped in defeat she turned and opened the door to leave.
At that very moment, two things happened at once. Kimmey tripped over a long narrow wooden box, extending from the left side of the wall and doorway to within inches of an overstuffed chair sitting catty-corner a few feet from the fireplace, and the sky became overcast as rain poured from the sky, complete with thunder, lightning and a freezing cold wind. The decision made for her, Mary, quickly shut the door.
“It’s weird, but I don’t think the house wants us to leave,” Mary said softly to her children, as she sat Billy in the overstuffed chair, than sat Kimmey beside him. Her fingers aching from the cold, she took the blankets from her backpack and tucked them securely around her children.
“Mommy, is this heaven?” asked Kimmey, looking at the huge wooden box she’d tripped over. The box was overflowing with an assortment of canned and boxed foods, along with several small bottles of assorted juices and other drinks.
Would whoever all this bounty belongs to, be angry, if I took some of the crackers and one drink apiece and gave them to my children? She asked herself, opening two small bottles of orange juice and picking up a small box of honey oat crackers. She was about to open the crackers when she saw a months old, hand written note, taped to the box.
In case we miss you upon your return Monday: The cottage has been cleaned and stocked. Henry has stocked the shed with wood, and I have stocked the cupboards with all of your favorite foods.
Jessie was here last Thursday to install a new hot water heater in the hall closet, and Carter made sure all propane tanks were full and the furnace was in good working order.
We also took the liberty of having the electric and phone services turned on, and the food box filled, just in case.
We wish you were spending the winter with us, but understand why you won’t. We’ll stop by to see you, weather permitting, around the first of next month.
M. and H.
Mary could hear the wind howling around the house. Rain that had been falling in torrents moments ago was now a blinding sheet of sleet. A quick look around showed kindling and wood had already been laid in the fireplace, and a huge stack of wood filled the wood box. All she needed was a match to set the wood ablaze. Shivering from the cold she wasted no time in doing just that.
“Will you be okay while I look for a bathroom?” she asked Billy and Kimmey, before going through the doorway to the right of her.
The beautiful old-fashioned kitchen made her gasp in delight as she stared open mouthed at the quaint old style sink and hand pump, setting in the middle of a long counter that ran the length of one wall. A long narrow window above the sink let you looked out at the world. Above the window and on both sides of the sink, cupboards filled the wall from floor to counter and counter to within two feet of the ceiling.
Curiosity getting the best of her, Mary opened one cupboard door, then another. Before long, she had opened every one of the cupboard doors. She could hardly believe her eyes, as she looked at more food than she could even imagine anyone eating in their whole life!
Glancing around, she saw a huge cast iron, wood burning cook stove in one corner. The wood box next to it was stacked full of wood, and a large wooden table with eight matching chairs and an old-fashioned high chair sat against the third wall.
A door next to the highchair proved to be a pantry with plenty of counter space, and full cupboards. On the fourth wall stood the biggest refrigerator and freezer, she had ever seen. The door next to the freezer led to a large shed packed full to over flowing with wood and gardening tools. Closing the door, she returned to the kitchen to stare out the window and take stock of her surroundings.
A sudden triple flash of lightning, and the boom of thunder startled her as it lit up the whole sky, revealing a large yard, a huge oak tree holding a two story tree house in its branches, and a thick rope attached to a tire swing. A gravel driveway circling the yard, connected to the road in two places for easy access from the house to the road. Across the road, facing the house was a huge sign, painted bright red with huge black letters that read. All our memories lane.
There was another boom of thunder, a flash of lightening and darkness returned three fold, as an eerie, uncanny feeling of deja’vu suddenly overcame her and she shuddered. She’d looked at the mantel clock upon entering the house. It had been eleven fifteen and light out when she’d settled the children in the chair.
She had started her search about fifteen minutes ago. She was surprised to see how dark the sky had suddenly become. Worried that the children would be frightened if left alone to long, she hastily returned to the living room, where the light from the fireplace bathed the room in a rosy glow.
The children were quietly talking about being in heaven. That was where all the food was, wasn’t it. After all, they’d received food by an invisible hand last night, hadn’t they? They’d been soooo hungry when a knock had sounded on the door and a big sack of food had magically appeared. “Then today we got juice and crackers from a box. So we must be in heaven,” Kimmey said to Billy in wonderment as they munched contentedly on the crackers and sipped their juice.
Mary was checking the fire, when she saw the flashlight. She picked it up, stepped through the doorway to the left of the fireplace, and found herself in a long hallway. Four doors were spaced along the length of it with one at each end.
Opening the door closest to her, she saw a large combination laundry, linen closet and storage area all in one. The room at the other end of the hall must be the bathroom, she thought, walking to the other end of the hall.
Mary gasped in utter astonishment as she opened the door and stepped into a little girl’s paradise, complete with bookshelves and a huge fireplace. The room was filled with every book, toy and game made for the amusement of a young child. On the bed, propped up by several lacy pillows sat two beautiful, hand painted, life sized china dolls. The dolls were exquisite in dresses of blue silk with lace trim.
A pair of children’s slippers sat under the bed and an open walk in closet was full of little girl clothes, shoes, slippers and boots. On the wall across from the fireplace and under the window sat a little child’s table and chairs. The table was set as if waiting for a little child’s hand to pour tea into tiny teacups. With a wistful sigh Mary turned to leave, and without knowing why, locked the door behind her.
Turning from that door, Mary noticed a light switch on the outside wall of the next room and flipped it on, flooding the room with light. This must be the most exquisite bathroom in the whole world, she thought as she stared open mouthed at the biggest bathtub she’d ever seen. The tub sat in front of a fireplace covering most of one wall. Glass shelves covering another wall held numerous bottles of beauty aids, shampoos, conditioners, hand lotions, bubble baths and other items to make bath time a purely luxurious event.
Mesmerized by all the luxury she hesitantly picked up a huge fluffy bath towel and could hardly believe how soft it was. Behind a half wall Mary found the toilet and sink. A large double shower was on the last wall next to a door, just another closet, she thought, breathing a sigh of relief at having found the bathroom.
Curiosity getting the best of her, Mary, tried the other rooms, but discovered that the only other unlocked room was an adult’s bedroom containing a king sized bed, a huge fireplace, and an office. The office sat in an alcove covered with hundreds of tiny, multicolored windows set in one huge floor to ceiling frame. The wall opposite the office held case after case of trophies.
The rest of the wall was covered with framed articles and hundreds of photos. Most of the photos centered around three sets of girls ranging from babyhood to adulthood. The first set of girls looked like twins, or sisters very close in age, as did the other two sets of girls, and seemed to span a period of approximately seventy years or more. Some photos looked very old, with several sets of names appearing in twenty-year increments, Caroline, Angelia. Maggie, Karen. Mary Sue, Mary Lou.
A group of photos caught her eye showing the girls in each group all grown up and holding a baby in their arms. Caroline with Maggie, three day’s old and Angelia with Karen, three day’s old. Next to that photo was another set of photos with these words, Maggie and daughter Mary Sue Jackson three days old and Karen with daughter Mary Lou Jackson, three days old.
Turning to leave she noticed a platform rocker sitting on a fraying braided rug. The rocker was pulled up to the fireplace. On a small table next to the rocker laid an open Bible. Even with a thin spattering of dust on its pages, the words seek and you shall find, jump out at her, as goose bumps covered her whole body.
Reading the message again, she thought, Has a higher power somehow left that message of hope and courage for me to find? I wonder how long that particular passage has been waiting for me to stumble onto it, she asked herself. Shaken, she quickly closed the door and returned to the warmth of the living room, where the children had emptied the box of crackers and drained their cans of juice, then had curled up together and had fallen fast asleep.
“Poor babies,” she thought as she tucked the blankets around them. They’ve been through so much! Kneeling down she kissed their little faces, then going to the fireplace she added more wood. Carefully she locked the fire screen in place. She was determined that they would be warm, at least for tonight.
Months of worry had exhausted her. The soothing warmth of the fire made her so sleepy she could hardly keep her eyes open. With a weary sigh she curled up on the sofa, grateful for the blanket folded over the sofa’s back, she pulled it over herself and closed her eyes.
Immediately unbidden thoughts rushed to torment her. What if the homeowners returned and found them in their home? Would they call the police or throw them out? She knew they were trespassing. She wondered if the right to survive counted for anything.
Neither she nor her children had ever received much kindness before, should this be any different? The women Mary had called mother, had never once shown her love, kindness, or mercy. Her husband, the group’s leader, had certainly never shown her or her children anything but ridicule and contempt.
He’d always ruled with an iron fist and had expected the men of the commune to deal with their families the same way. Should she expect any less from strangers? Henry and his wife were among the very few that had been kind to them. They had even gone out of their way to make sure that they had had a decent meal to eat.
So much had happened in such a short time that she could hardly believe they had spent the previous night in a gas station restroom!
“Father, she prayed, please keep us safe from our pursuers, as you guide me to my home and family. Thank you for leading us to this house, so that my children and I could be warm, fed and safe for tonight.”
Mary was scared and alone. She’d been so optimistic when she had taken her children and ran from the sheer horror they’d been living in. She felt worn out and hopeless as tears streamed down her face. Exhausted from sheer worry she fell into a troubled, restless sleep.