Chapter 7: The Escape
Tiptoe, tiptoe. Oliver walked down the staircase, clutching the railing. My, it’s dark. Good thing I have this candle. Oliver squeaked opened the kitchen door and slipped in. He raised the light. Oliver rummaged through their food, choosing two bags of rice and a bag of spaghetti. He yanked the drawers open. Forks dropped to the bottom of the backpack. Clang, bang, bam! Did anyone hear that? Hide! He yanked the backpack and squeezed himself into the corner. Nobody. Oliver stood and took a glance across the room. Phew! If Ruth catches me, she’ll probably leave me out to freeze or starve. We have to get out of here. A pan and two plates clunked into each other. He moved to the drawers and grabbed a box of matches.
I better clear the kitchen. What else do I need to grab? Hm…Oh wait! The map. And the letters, watches, and bracelets from Mom and Pop. Oliver trotted up the stairs. He ducked through his parents’ door and under their bed. Boy, this feels heavy! He heaved the chest and thrusted open the drawer of their finest bracelets and watches. He laid the family’s jewelry in a small pocket. He folded the map and squared it behind the watches.
Oliver clomped through the hall in black boots. He tucked his black trousers into his boots. He buttoned his double-breasted coat over his navy sweater that held an “O” on the pocket instead of a handkerchief. He stuffed extra mittens and trousers to the bottom of the backpack. And last but not least, a book shall do. Tick, tick, tick. Oliver checked the wooden clock. How did it get so late? I have to hurry them up.
Oliver opened Charlie’s door. He swayed to the bed and shook Charlie. No response. “Wake up, Charlie.” Nothing happened. C’mon Charlie. Do you have to always be like this? Oliver crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his foot on the ground. Aha! “Wake up!” Oliver whisper-screamed into Charlie’s ear. Charlie widened his eyes. He rubbed them before turning toward his brother.
“Oliver?” he asked.
“C’mon, Charlie. It’s time to go.” He yanked Charlie out of bed, but Charlie fell on the ground anyway. Oliver rolled his eyes.
“Get up and stop messing around!”
“Do I look like I care?”
Mr. Cranky clearly didn’t get enough sleep. Why does he have to take it out on me though? Ugh, I don’t want to move. “Must I get up?”
“Yes.” Charlie extended his hand. Oliver pulled Charlie off the ground. “Come, it’s time to wake Lizzy.”
“I’m not dressed yet.”
“Goodness, Charlie,” Oliver said. “Make sure to wear a big coat, sweater, and boots. Also, put an extra shirt and mittens in this pocket for the snow.”
Charlie roamed into his closet and returned with a gold sweater. A pea coat hovered over snow pants and boots. “I’m putting my extra clothes and books in the backpack,” Charlie said.
“Ready?” Oliver asked.
“Ready,” Charlie said. Oliver scurried to Lizzy’s door. Charlie followed, banging the door against the wall.
“You nitwit! Don’t wake anyone up,” Oliver whispered. “Stand here and hold the backpack until I get her up.”
“Fine, but I didn’t do it on purpose,” Charlie snatched the backpack and cowered to the corner.
Oliver tiptoed to Lizzy’s bed and pressed her blanket. “Hey, Liz,” he said, “it’s time to wake up.” He swayed the blanket back and forth. She rolled to her back. Her two fists dug in her eyelids as she yawned herself up.
Charlie scratched his head. Why couldn’t he be easy with me too? So gentle and kind to Liz. It’s like I did something to him and he never got over it.
She stretched her arms toward the sky. “Morning.”
“I doubt it’s morning yet,” Charlie said.
“Go dress in warm clothes. You know the drill. Pack what we wear outside,” Oliver said.
“Be back in one minute, Oliver,” Lizzy said.
“Charlie, get out of there. Stand with me and wait,” Oliver said.
“So now I get to stand?” Charlie said.
“Don’t push it.”
“What exactly am I pushing?” Charlie poked Oliver.
“Oh you know.”
“I’m ready, boys,” Lizzy said. Out she strolled in a double-breasted topcoat, tailored for her. Underneath twirled a casual, (only for her), long-sleeved tulle dress with polka dots. Black tights and wool stockings warmed her to her fuzzy boots.
“Bring an extra layer, some mittens, and a hat to cover your ears,” Oliver said.
“Alright,” she said. “Ooh, I’ll grab the beret Mother gave me from Paris. That should do.”
“Put them in here,” Oliver said.
“So, can we grab the others?” Charlie said.
“I guess so. We’re going to Ellie’s room first. We won’t wake her, so walk silent as a mouse.” Oliver creaked the door. “I’m going to carry Ellie from bed. Lizzy, please grab her some warm clothes. Charlie…stay quiet.”
Oliver handed him the backpack and swerved to her bed. He scooped his fingers underneath her back, picking her up in her favorite blanket. He wrapped her blanket around her ears. He rocked her to Charlie’s arms, as Lizzy placed Ellie’s garments in the backpack.
“Shouldn’t we get her dressed? It’s freezing out there,” Lizzy said.
“It’s no use. It’s not worth waking her up. Let’s grab Jeffrey.”
“Wait! I have to grab her doll. She wouldn’t go anywhere without it.” Lizzy drew the doll from her bed. “How could you guys forget? Have you ever paid attention to her? She spends every second with Alice!”
“Come Liz, we’re going to get Jeffrey,” Oliver said. “We have to hurry guys. The maids will be up in any minute and I can’t bare the thought of getting caught.”
“Coming.” Lizzy hurried out of Ellie’s room and caught up with her brothers as they entered Jeffrey’s room.
“Lizzy, grab a couple of toys Jeffrey wants to keep. I’ll pick him up,” Oliver said. Oliver escorted his sleeping brother to the closet. Now how am I going to grab all his clothes when I’m holding him? Oliver scanned the room. I’ll let him lie on Lizzy.
“Don’t move an inch and don’t lay a finger on him,” Oliver said to Lizzy. Oliver lowered Jeffrey on Lizzy’s legs. Jeffrey tugged his hand on the blanket.
Oliver brought the backpack, stuffing the last spaces with Jeffrey’s clothes for the snow. He lifted Jeffrey again. “Be slow and quiet. I’ll open the back door to let us exit,” Oliver said.
“Are we leaving for real?” Lizzy asked.
“Yes. Down the hall we go.”
Charlie lowered his eyebrows and shook his head. He inverted his smile at Oliver. Lizzy gazed at every wall, painting, and piece of furniture in the house. Even Oliver sighed. The three glanced at each other and out the windows on the side of the door. Thrashing snow allowed the storm to wear on. Lizzy spread her fingers on the window and Charlie pressed his head against it and rubbed it. “Are you sure you want to go out there?” Lizzy asked.
“I’m sure,” Oliver said. He clutched Jeffrey to his stomach and went for the door. He clenched the golden knob and twisted it. He inched the door open and slipped Jeffrey and him through the space. Oliver waved to his siblings. Charlie and Lizzy squeezed through together.
“Close the door softly,” Oliver said to Charlie.
Woosh, whif. The three turned to find wind gusting at their faces. The chill swept across their faces and made one sleepy child wake. Cough, cough. Ellie cried. “Ah-choo!”
“Put the blanket over her head!” Oliver said. Oliver threw the blanket over his head and Charlie mirrored him with his weeping sister. “Lizzy, sit here,” Oliver said. “Can you hold Jeffrey for a second?” he asked.
“Anything, Oliver,” Lizzy said. Oliver rested Jeffrey’s head on her stomach. Oliver thrusted the backpack to the ground and shoveled out mittens and hats in a similar manner to a dog digging a hole. First Oliver grabbed a knitted hat and squared it on Ellie’s head and ears. He returned with her baby-pink mittens to cover her hands. She cried more, but didn’t open her eyes. When Oliver covered everyone’s head, hands, and ears, she’d fallen back asleep.
“It’s time,” Oliver said. “Charlie, I’ll grab Ellie from you, and you’ll carry Jeffrey. Lizzy, can you carry the backpack for a while?” he asked.
“Yes, please hand it to me,” Lizzy said. Oliver placed the backpack on her lap and lifted Ellie from Charlie. Charlie scooped Jeffrey and rocked his brother.
“We have to sprint, guys. We have to get away from here before Betty or Ruth finds us. Let’s go,” Oliver said. He scurried to the porch stairs, but Lizzy lagged behind while putting the backpack on, and Charlie tried to stop Jeffrey’s squirms. Oliver scowled. “Well? What’s wrong?”
“I’m going to miss this house,” Charlie said. He glanced through the window.
“There’s many memories we’re leaving behind,” Lizzy said.”Remember that time we all had a hot cocoa and marshmallow war and made a huge mess in the kitchen. We all thought Mom and Dad would be so mad when they arrived, but they joined in the fight too!”
“That was so fun,” Charlie said, “But remember when we raced down the stairs by sliding on pillows.”
“And we never got to do it again. Do you also remember…”
“Lizzy! Charlie! We’ve got to get going. The sky’s getting lighter and Betty may wake up soon.”
“What if Mother and Father come home while we’re gone?” Charlie asked.
“Where are we going to sleep tonight?” Lizzy asked.
Oliver stepped toward his siblings. He peered down at the ground, for he couldn’t look at the house again. “I don’t know where we’ll stay tonight and I’ll miss this house too. All I know is wherever we go will be better than living with Ruth. For now, we have to move on and make new memories.”
“Will we make these new ones in the ice pond?” Lizzy asked.
“I hope so,” Oliver said. A door inside the house slammed shut.
“Tick tock, tick tock, we’ve got to go! They’re going to catch up.” Oliver said. Charlie and Lizzy glanced at one another.
“Wake up, children,” Betty said. They saw her climb up the stairs and to their bedrooms.
“She’s coming, c’mon! Do you want to go back in there and suffer? Hurry!” Oliver whisper-shouted. He ran ahead and sprinted ahead. Lizzy scampered down the stairs in front of Charlie.
“Children, children! I know it’s awfully early, but it’s time to get up” Betty called.
“Guys, through the Winter Woods. Follow me before she finds us,” Oliver said. He bolted across yards of snow. The snow felt like sand on the beach, soft but difficult to move on. Lizzy and Charlie scurried toward Oliver to the first trees in the woods. Oliver tilted his head at the snow crashing against the ground. He examined it up and down, like it was the enemy. He peered at his siblings a couple yards behind him. Oliver hurtled off again.
“Be careful not to trip over any logs or twigs. The snow buries them so you can’t see them,” Oliver said. Charlie and Lizzy lost steam.
“How much longer before we can stop?” Charlie asked.
“Can we please stop soon? The backpack keeps dragging my back down,” Lizzy said.
“We have to continue until we’re far enough so they can’t catch us.”
“How far until they can’t catch us?” Charlie cried.
“Until our mother’s favorite meadow should do. Did you not hear her coming? If she found us we’d be over. Not only would Ruth put us back to work, she’d punish us like never before! We have to get away. Ruth hurt you all so much,” Oliver said.
“Are you sure we couldn’t turn back now and wait for Mom and Dad to come back? Betty wouldn’t tell Ruth if I asked her not to.”
“Charlie, just think of every slap you took, every cry you heard from Ellie and Jeffrey and yourself. Remember every back-breaking hour you scrubbed a spot that was already spotless. If you can remember every second of boredom, and pain, then please, tell me how you could ever want to go back there with Ruth still in charge. We may be on the run, but at least we’ll be able to have fun and stay together when we get far enough away.”
“Let’s hurry the pace.” Oliver zoomed off as Lizzy and Charlie huffed and puffed together.
The children scurried as the clock ticked on. Their pace slowed to a jog. Hopping over logs, hurrying around twigs, and clutching siblings in their arms, they continued through the blistering winds the best that they could. Smacking winds greeted Oliver’s cheeks for every step he took. Snowballs and ice whipped Charlie’s face. Lizzy did her best to keep her steps in line while the gusting winds dragged her sideways.
“Let’s walk a little. We’ll get away soon and we should protect Ellie and Jeffrey,” Oliver said, “catch up to me first though.”
“I’m here, Oliver,” Lizzy said.
“Charlie, I didn’t say to walk like a slowpoke,” Oliver said.
“Yeah, Charlie. You’ve gotten slower than Jeffrey chasing us,” Lizzy said. “C’mon Oliver, let’s make him run after us.” Lizzy and Oliver raced off.
“Wait up, guys,” Charlie said. If I wasn’t carrying Jeffrey, they’d surely ditch me. He halted and glanced at them, but they dashed into the shadows. He gasped for one more breath.
Lizzy grinned at Oliver. She twirled, jumped, and laughed. They giggled amongst each other and the white thumping their faces didn’t seem so bad. Lizzy seesawed her hand against the wind.
“Stop, guys, stop,” Charlie said.
“Little faster, boy,” Oliver said.
“Hardy, har, har,” Charlie said. Charlie strode to his siblings. Oliver nudged Charlie, marching them forth. They passed the last few trees before they started to close in on their mother’s favorite pond in Blooming Meadow.