Chapter 21: Tense Departures
Small snowballs fell as the four children continued away from Green Acres. Winds swept chills at their ears. The children batted their eyes and ducked their heads.
Ellie gave up on leaving Oliver’s arms and drifted to sleep. Lizzy trudged along the slowest. They stopped running, but the upward march tired them.
They hadn’t seen flowers for hours and none of them saw one tree around. Their misery stalled as their tears froze in the snow. Barren land remained.
“Oliver, I’m exhausted. I need a break,” Charlie said.
“Yes Oliver, please. I’m much too tired to keep going,” Lizzy said.
“I would, but there’s nowhere to stay. I won’t have us sit in the snow as it buries us. We’ll travel until we find shelter,” he said.
“Ugh,” Lizzy and Charlie said. Charlie and Lizzy exchanged another sigh of exhaustion before darting to Oliver. The two of them slogged behind.
“I can’t deal with this anymore!” Charlie said.
“Me neither,” Lizzy said as a tear dripped down her face.
“You have to. Don’t break down now. There’s still too much at stake and we can’t just stop and cry.”
“Why not!” Charlie said.
“Keep busy. Do something.”
“Fine,” Charlie said. He sought shelter and kept pointing to cramped caves. Oliver wouldn’t even look and Lizzy shook her head.
Several hours passed. Oliver kept marching. Ellie woke, but remained in Oliver’s arms until one of Charlie’s findings resulted in a suitable sleeping site.
“Come in,” Oliver said.
“Can we go out and explore? I want to see the flowers,” Ellie said.
“No flowers live here. Tomorrow we’ll find a better region with much more to offer. We got rushed today,” Oliver said.
“Will we at least get a fire?” Charlie chattered his teeth.
“I doubt there’s any wood to make one.”
“How do we stay warm? It’s freezing,” Lizzy said.
“Huddle up,” Oliver said.
“Come here, Coco,” Ellie said.
While the three of them huddled and told stories, Oliver seated himself at the edge of their shelter. He viewed the snow pour harder, but soon his mind wandered off. Out of the empty plains arrived a car. Not just any old car, but one with four rounded seats. The car drove through the snow, but this time his parents didn’t veer off into the tree. They avoided all the trees. Instead, an animal appeared. The animal went and jumped at the car, causing it to crash. That animal got Jeffrey too. Along with the car, the whole image faded away. What animal did that?
He looked around and back at his siblings. What more are they going to take? Why have they taken so much from me? From us? What can I do? He shook his head and noticed the fruit bucket. A grumble echoed from his stomach.
“Is anyone hungry?” Oliver asked.
“Me! me,” Charlie and Ellie said.
“Me as well,” Lizzy said.
“Come and let’s eat this fruit,” Oliver said. He situated the bucket in the center, allowing everyone to dive in and eat. Charlie plucked his hand in first to snatch a handful, but grabbed more than he could hold at once.
On top of that, he tried plopping them all in his mouth at once! Ellie ate a few berries one-by-one.
“Lizzy, would you like some?” Oliver asked.
“You first,” Lizzy said. Oliver picked out an apple. Lizzy stuck her hand out, but Charlie raced in front of her.
“Charlie! Where are your manners?” Oliver teased. Giggles bursted amongst the girls, the first giggles all day.
“They’re not in existence,” Lizzy joked.
“Very true,” Charlie said.
“Well then, we better teach you some,” Lizzy said.
“But how?” Charlie asked.
“Well first,” Lizzy said.
“Ladies first,” Oliver interrupted.
“Always say please and thank you,” Ellie said.
“And you’re welcome,” Oliver said.
“Don’t interrupt like Oliver,” Lizzy joked.
“Wait for others to get their food before you eat,” Ellie said.
“But what if I’m hungry?” Charlie asked.
“Then the others must feel hungry too,” Lizzy said.
“You better not eat so fast or you’ll choke,” Oliver said.
“I haven’t choked yet.”
“Not yet,” Lizzy said.
“Are you saying I’m going to choke soon?”
“No silly, but you ought to eat with caution,” Lizzy said.
“And ought to act more polite,” Oliver said.
“Remember not to kick or shove,” Ellie said.
“To get things first or rush by,” Lizzy said.
“Everyone will get some,” Oliver said.
“So keep patient!” the three chanted.
“Sounds like a lot to remember,” Charlie said.
“Not if you make an effort,” Lizzy said.
“Think of others first…” Ellie said.
“And you’re bound to do the right thing,” Oliver said.
“You guys like to boss me around,” Charlie said.
“Oh Charlie, give it a try,” Lizzy said.
“Oh alright,” he said.
“Yay!” Oliver, Ellie, and Lizzy cheered. Charlie reached his hand for the basket.
“Wait. Lizzy hasn’t received any,” Oliver said.
“Thank you, Oliver,” Lizzy said. She dipped her hand in and plucked out a strawberry.
“Finally,” Charlie said.
“You didn’t ask Ellie. It’s ladies first,” Oliver said.
“And think of others,” Ellie said. She grabbed three raspberries.
“Now may I have some?” Charlie asked.
“Yes,” Oliver said.
“Not too many. You don’t want to choke,” Lizzy said. Charlie shoved his hand in for ten berries. Oliver shook his head.
“Oh my!” Lizzy said. Ellie giggled. All the fruit disappeared. Stuffed children scooted back to their stations.
The clouds darkened. A pitch-black sky covered their sight. “I can’t see. I’m scared.”
“It’s too dark,” Charlie said.
“Oh it’s nothing to feel afraid of. Just a little darkness. Why don’t you grab onto Coco or something?” Oliver said.
“Coco reminds me of that bunny we were chasing when it went dark on our first family dark campout. Remember?”
“Oh yes!” Ellie said.
“Why don’t we all huddle in the blankets. Lizzy can tell us her story of that day,” Oliver said. Charlie scooted in with Ellie and Lizzy.
“Three years ago, we went on our first full family campout while the sky was black. We ventured on our seven person campout, but never at a gloomy time of day. Most of us felt afraid.”
After a full day at Mountain View Lake, the family of seven hunkered down to make snow angels. They scattered all over the area, spreading their “angel” wings out. Though as they moved their arms and legs out in the snow, the sky turned black.
Jeffrey opened his eyes. “It’s dark!”
The others opened their eyes as well. “Why it is,” Oliver said.
“I can’t see anyone,” Charlie said.
“Me neither,” Ellie whimpered.
“What if a bear eats us?”
“Or a lion comes and tears us apart?”
“Did you all hear that?”
“Where’d everybody go?”
“Careful, dears. Don’t worry and don’t move too much. We don’t want you hurting yourselves,” Evelyn said.
“Listen to your mother,” James said.
“We’ll get you guys in a minute. Keep calm,” Evelyn said.
“It’s dark. What if we can’t find them ourselves?” James whispered to Evelyn.
“You brought a flashlight, didn’t you?”
“No. I didn’t remember. Why don’t we all fall asleep right where we are? It’ll save some time.”
“Oh James. We both know the children don’t want to stay alone.”
“They ought to learn to sleep on their own sometime.”
“Yes, but in their own beds. Not when Eloise and Jeffrey are two and three years old.”
“Maybe you have a point.”
“Let’s go grab the children and bring them next to us. They’ll feel safer that way.” The two stood and marched two different directions to find their kids.
“Is that you, Father?” Oliver asked.
“It sure is. Grab on.”
“Here, Lizzy,” Evelyn said. Evelyn clutched Lizzy’s hand.
“Papa,” Ellie cried. “Father?”
“On my way, sweetheart.”
“Now, now, Jeffrey. No need to feel afraid,” Evelyn said. Evelyn hoisted her son into her arms.
“There, there, Ellie. No need to cry.” James swayed Ellie. She clenched her fists over his coat and clung on to Alice.
“Charlie, at last,” Evelyn said.
“Evelyn? Where are you?”
“Over here. Bring Oliver and Ellie.”
“Already here,” Oliver said. Evelyn seated herself and rested her head on James’s shoulder. James tightened his arms around Ellie. Jeffrey squirmed at his mother’s side. Evelyn stroked Lizzy’s hair, brushing it up with her hand while Oliver held her. Charlie rolled across the middle land, from parent to parent.
“Children, it’s time we go to bed,” James said.
“We must. It’s too late,” Evelyn said.
“It’s dark and scawy,” Jeffrey said.
“Me and Alice can’t sleep here.”
“I want to go home,” Lizzy said.
“What if a bear comes and eats us all?” Charlie said. Oliver cracked a smile and Lizzy laughed. Ellie and Jeffrey cried.
“Charlie, don’t give them any ideas,” James said.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“No bear will eat any of you. Father and I will stay and protect you all. It’s bedtime,” Evelyn said.
“Too dark!” Jeffrey said.
“Not one more fuss out of any of you. Bedtime!” James said.
“You don’t have to say it so meanly. Lie down children and I’ll sing you a song.”
Her voiced calmed them. Jeffrey fell asleep in seconds. James rocked Ellie to sleep in his arms. Evelyn replayed the song several times to get them to sleep. Charlie rolled his eyes shut. Oliver and Lizzy tuckered each other out and closed their eyes one after the other.
“Pleasant dreams,” Evelyn said.
“Goodnight, Evelyn,” James said.
“At first we couldn’t handle the dark, but we got through the night. By morning, we woke up and at’em, ready to sleep through the dark again. None of us even wanted to go back home! Surely, we can stay in darkness tonight.”
“I didn’t cry,” Ellie said.
“Oh yes you did. You and Jeffrey cried like babies,” Charlie said.
“None of us felt brave,” Lizzy said.
A stomp rung against the floor. “Did you hear that, Alice?” Ellie asked.
“Wait a minute,” Lizzy said.
The foot stomped again. “It’s getting closer. Quick! Under the blanket,” Charlie said.
“We can’t feel afraid,” Lizzy said.
“It’s coming closer. Hold on, Alice!” The footsteps approached faster and faster. The creature leapt at them.
“Boo!” He brushed his hand against their faces.
“Ah!” Charlie and Ellie said.
“Charlie, Ellie. it’s Oliver,” Lizzy said.
“Ho…how do you know? We can’t see anything,” Charlie said.
“I don’t believe it,” Ellie said.
“Oh come on. It’s me. You didn’t wonder why I disappeared for a while?” Oliver said.
“No,” Charlie and Ellie said.
“I’m tired,” Lizzy said.
“Good idea. How ’bout we get some shut-eye,” Oliver said.
“I don’t want to. Not tonight,” Charlie said.
“We’ve had a long day. Pull your eyes down and tuck yourself under the blanket.”
“This isn’t just some other day, Oliver. I can’t fall asleep the same,” Charlie said.
“You don’t think I know, Charlie?”
“Terrible, terrible day,” Lizzy said.
“Focus on the good, like all the things we’ve done tonight.”
“How’s Jeffrey going to sleep?” Ellie asked.
“Um, he’s…with Bongo, or, or another good animal friend. You know your brother and animals,” Oliver said.
“Oh he sure loves spending time with animals. I never thought he preferred to sleep with them over us,” Ellie said.
“Me neither,” Lizzy said, “but he chose the animals. He’s with them, and not us
“Time to sleep. Shut your eyes and off you go.”
“Goodnight,” Ellie said. She pulled the blanket over her shoulder. She wriggled around underneath until comfortable. At the time she visited her dreams, Charlie started his noises. He didn’t snore, but the noises didn’t please anyone’s ears.
Lizzy lay on her back. She rolled to her side and found Oliver sitting up. “Aren’t you going to sleep too?”
“Yes. I’m waiting for you guys first. You’re the last,” Oliver said.
“Goodnight, Oliver,” Lizzy said.
“Goodnight, Lizzy,” Oliver said. It turned out a lie that he would sleep soon. Instead, Oliver stared outside the cave. He watched the sky get lighter, and the snow’s fall end.