Chapter 9: The First Stop
“We made it.” Lizzy threw off the backpack and went to the meadow. A small lake lay aside, frozen up. Winter flowers and roses avoided trampling snow. Redwood trees circled the area.
“A cave. We can sit in there,” Charlie said. Charlie pointed to an opening in one of the hills up on their right.
“Indeed. Nice find, Char.” Oliver patted Charlie on the back.
“Put me down! I want to see,” Jeffrey said. He crawled out of the blanket and down Oliver.
“As long as you stay with us, Jeffrey,” Oliver said.
“I will!” Jeffrey darted across the meadow, but three snowballs bashed his thin pajamas. Jeffrey shook and shivered. “Brrr! It’s freezing, it’s freezing!” Jeffrey cried. Oliver rushed over and swooped him in the blanket.
“Charlie, Liz, explore a little. I’m going into the cave to dress Jeffrey,” Oliver said. Jeffrey muffled his arms around Oliver’s neck. “Come down, Jeffrey.”
“No, it’s too cold.”
“But we’re inside. You need to get dressed,” Oliver said.
“One moment he wants to go down, the next he doesn’t.” Lizzy shook her head.
“Classic Jeffrey.” Charlie shrugged. Lizzy and Charlie promenaded the lake. Charlie rocked Ellie back and forth. Her eyes flickered. She blinked her eyes open and scanned her surroundings. Ellie tilted her head around. How’d we get all the way over here? I know this area, but what’s the name again?
Charlie peeped over his shoulder. It’s about time she woke. Charlie lifted her out, but she reached back for his shoulder.
“Where are we?” Ellie asked.
“We’re at Mother’s favorite pond,” Charlie said. “Come down from my arms. I want to play.”
“No, please,” Ellie said. Charlie put her down.
“Lift me back up! Please, Charlie,” Ellie said, reaching her arms up toward his.
“Charlie, what do you think you’re doing?” Oliver said.
“What’d I do now?” he asked.
“Don’t leave your sister in the cold with a mere blanket. Why, next time she’ll freeze into a cube,” Oliver said.
“I don’t care if you’re sorry or not,” Oliver said, “you don’t have to be sorry if you don’t make mistakes in the first place,” he scooped Ellie into his arms.
“Hey Lizzy, can you bring your sister to the cave to change her clothes. Everything she’ll need lies in the top pocket,” Oliver said.
“Sure. Let’s go, Ellie.” Lizzy clutched Ellie’s hand and tugged her to the cave.
“You have to think more, Charlie. Not all your ideas work,” Oliver said.
“Sorry, your majesty,” Charlie said.
“That’s a start.”
“Hello. Have you forgotten me? Can we do something?” Jeffrey asked.
“Hold your horses, we’re waiting for your sisters to finish,” Oliver said.
“She’s ready to go,” Lizzy said. Ellie waltzed out, flapping her maroon cape coat. She twirled her pink taffeta dress over her wool tights.
“What next, Oliver?” Lizzy asked.
“How about you cart Jeffrey around for something to do? I’ll tote your sister. She looks a little tired,” Oliver said. He hoisted Ellie up and brought her inside the cave. Lizzy snatched Jeffrey and skipped toward the lake.
“Where did you put Alice?” Ellie asked.
“She’s in the backpack. I’ll go and get her for you.”
“You stuffed her inside your backpack! How can she breathe?”
Oliver stalled. Uh oh! He turned back to Ellie. “Um…she is a princess doll. Princesses are special and can find their way around sticky situations.” Oliver grabbed the doll and handed her to Ellie.
“Oh there you are, Alice. I’m so sorry Oliver crumbled you all up.” Ellie glared at her doll. What’s that? Oh yes we’re not at our home. I know, I was also surprised when I woke up.” She brought her doll to her ear and started nodding. Oliver gazed at her perplexed. “Alice would like you to apologize, Oliver.”
“I’m sorry, Alice,” Oliver said.
“She accepts your apology, but she has a question. Where are we going?”
“I don’t know, Ellie,” Oliver said.
“Yes you do. You always know the plan. Like Daddy knows every exact destination at the back of our house,” she said.
“Well, we’re going up the mountain,” he said.
“Why are we going up the mountain?” she asked.
“We’re running away from Ruth. She treated you and your siblings poorly. None of you guys deserved to stay there with her,” he said.
“So does this mean I can play with Alice?”
“And I don’t have to clean?”
“Not another speck of dust will you wipe.”
“Oh Alice, this is wonderful!”
“Well, it’s wonderful I can play with Alice, but not everything is wonderful.”
“What’s the matter?”
“What do we do here, in this weather? The snow wants to eat me,” she said.
“Some things are worth taking a risk for. Either way, if we stayed home or left, we wouldn’t feel safe.”
Lizzy beneath the treetops, taking Jeffrey at her side.
“Where are we going?” Jeffrey asked, following Lizzy as she weaved between the tall trees looming above.
“I don’t know.”
“Shouldn’t you? What if we get lost?”
“Oh well,” Lizzy shrugged.
“Wouldn’t Oliver get mad?”
“Not at me. And he wouldn’t get angry at you either because he knows you’re just following me.”
“What if we never find our way back?”
“I’m not worried about that. Sometimes I think it’s fun to get lost and explore parts of places you haven’t seen before.”
“Jeffrey, I can see what’s going on here. You’re scared and that’s why you’re asking so many ‘what if’ questions. Don’t worry. Enjoy the opportunity for adventure while we can, okay?”
“I don’t know.”
“Besides, if we do get lost, there’s nobody I’d rather get lost with than you,” Lizzy said.
Jeffrey smiled. “Me too.”
Over at the cave, Ellie flipped her doll across from Oliver. “You know, once Dad brought Alice and I here. To the little lake over there,” she said.
“Really?” Oliver said. “Why’d he take you without us?”
“He said Jeffrey needed to get older. Mom wanted help from you guys,” she said.
“But Jeffrey went at a younger age,” Oliver said.
“Well, he gave me that reason first. It turns out he wanted to bring me on my own. He never explained why,” she said.
“Did he say anything on your trip?” Oliver asked.
“Father said lots of things. He said he wanted to take me to the city one day soon, and only me. I told him Alice would have to come along and he said that he most certainly agreed. He also said…”
I remember that! Father said they planned an expedition. How could I have believed that hokum? Charlie and I watched after Jeffrey all day while Mom looked over Lizzy. Lizzy didn’t need help and Charlie didn’t assist much. Mom always spent time with Lizzy when she had a day off. She said, “My Lizzy, you remind me of myself when I was your age.”
“Then we went home and got excited to see everyone again,” Ellie said. Oliver nodded.
Shoot! I should’ve listened. I wonder what she said in between.
“I thought we’d find you guys here,” Lizzy said.
“Lizzy!” Ellie said.
“Take this blanket, Jeffrey. Here’s yours, Ellie,” Oliver said. “Anyone seen Charlie?” The three youngest shook their heads.
“Right around the corner!” Charlie jumped from behind the entrance and chucked a snowball at Oliver. It missed and hit the ground.
“No! How did I miss?”
“Charlie, Charlie, do you mind? We’re all trying to enjoy ourselves and you’re out throwing snowballs.”
“Yeah, the point is to catch you off guard.”
“No duh,” Oliver said, “I know that, but you have to stop anyway. I’m tired of your antics.”
“Fine.” Charlie threw his other snowball at the ground and sat down with a frown.
“Well then, what do the rest of you want to do?” Oliver asked.
“I’m hungry,” Jeffrey said.
“Me too,” Ellie said.
“Me three,” Charlie said.
The three turned toward Oliver. Oliver glanced away from them and peered down at his feet. “It’s unfortunate, but I could only pack so much food. We should wait a little later to eat,” Oliver said.
“How much longer is later?” Jeffrey asked.
“Alice and I are starving.”
“I know, try your best to wait.”
“I thought the whole point we left Ruth was so we wouldn’t have to deal with those horrible things like hunger and her work.”
“Look, there’s only so much I could do, Charlie. I got you out of work, so stop complaining.”
Oliver wrapped the backpack over his back and wandered to the exit. “It’s time we head to the mountain again. We must keep traveling.”
“I don’t want to go in this storm,” Ellie said.
“Nor do I,” Charlie said.
“C’mon, guys. Charlie and Liz shall hold one of Jeffrey’s hands.”
“What about me and Alice?” Ellie asked.
“I’ll carry you if you insist. Once we leave the meadow we can throw snowballs along the way like always,” Oliver said. “Well…are you guys coming?”
Ellie, Jeffrey, and Charlie exchanged looks. “This kind of snow scares us, Oliver,” Ellie said, “I don’t want to risk anything.”
“I know, but we have to continue at some point.”
“Now?” Charlie asked.
“Ideally,” Oliver said.
“I declare the last one out a rotten snowball,” Lizzy said. She raced out, taking Ellie at her side.”
“To the right of the lake and through the tree-tops,” Oliver said.
Charlie grasped Jeffrey’s hand and they exited as rotten snowballs together.
Oliver approached Lizzy. “Thanks, Liz,” he whispered.
“No problem. Now, let’s catch up before they tumble.” She chuckled.
To the right of the frozen lake they went, running at each other’s side. Lizzy and Oliver raced across the ice, sliding past each other. Jeffrey and Charlie jogged and watched, but forgot to keep their eyes on the pathway ahead. They both tripped over the same log in their path. Splat! Their faces crashed into snow and smeared ice all across their clothes and cheeks.
“The klutz brothers strike once again,” Lizzy giggled.
“Should we help these ninnies up?” Oliver asked.
“Nah.” Lizzy started toward the treetops. “Come on, Oliver!”
“Don’t leave without us,” Charlie said.
“Wait, I’m too slow,” Jeffrey cried.
“Catch us if you can,” Oliver called.
Jeffrey lifted his face from the snow. Charlie shook the snow off like a dog dripping of water. He scooped up his snail of a brother. Charlie sprinted to his siblings who traveled further and further without them.
“Put me down! Put me down,” Jeffrey cried. He punched, squirmed, and kicked until Charlie dropped him to the snow. Incoming snow clobbered him, forcing him down. “Help!” he cried.
Charlie lifted him again. “Jeffrey, stop squirming.”
“Don’t touch me!” Jeffrey said. Jeffrey wiggled out of his grip.
“You asked for help!” Charlie said.
“Not from you!”
“Well I’m your only option.”
“I don’t care!”
“Oh Charlie, why have you done it again?” Oliver muttered.
“Done what?” Lizzy asked.
“Charlie must’ve dropped Jeffrey or something. Jeffrey won’t go to his arms, but the snow will swallow him.”
“I’ll go get him,” Lizzy said.
“That would ruin the fun,” Oliver said.
“Yes, but I don’t want this mean, old, and nasty storm eating either of them,” she said. “I’m coming, Jeffrey.”
“Well then, I’m leaving you,” Charlie said.
“You didn’t want me anyway,” Charlie said.
“Jeffrey, now why are you so glum?” she asked. She rocked him and clenched his waist. “No need to be sad, Jeffrey. The storm is dangerous, but soon it will end. You and I can go back to running around without a worry. For now, you’re too little,” she said.
“Why am I too little? I always run in the snow.”
“You’re small and can’t always keep up with us. We can’t lose you. If we lose you, the storm could fall too fast and hide you from us. All those other times, the snow didn’t fall anything like this,” Lizzy said.
“Do you think I can walk now?” he asked.
“Of course, so long as you hold my hand,” she said. She positioned him to his feet. She kept one hand to his and met up with Oliver.
“Let us continue,” Oliver said.
Snow piled higher and higher. Every few seconds it pegged the children, shattering any skin showing. The winds dragged them left and right. Each step felt like climbing upstairs.
Lizzy yanked Jeffrey to her side. She caught up to Oliver, pulling Jeffrey on his toes. They neared the mountain, less than a thousand yards away.
The wind lessened to a minor breeze and Ellie popped her head up.
“I want to walk now,” she said. He released her to her feet and she leapt over logs and ran ahead.
“Hold my hand so you don’t get ahead,” Oliver said. They strode through a few hundred yards. As the five neared within three hundred yards of the mountain, they slowed. Gradual hills filled the mountain rather than steep rocks. The first step appeared.
The approached within a few yards of the beginning. They stopped. “I guess we’re here,” Lizzy said.
“It’s time to go up. We’ve gone quite far,” Charlie said.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Ellie asked.
“Go, Ellie. You go first,” Oliver said. He let go of her fingertips. She kicked up her skirt and ran. She mounted a small patch of snow to reach the first step.
“Look Alice, we made it. We’re the first ones up.”
Oliver gazed at her and flashed a little grin. This is it. No more Ruth no more pain. No more house, nothing familiar. What is on the other side of the mountain? Will we find it?
“My turn,” Charlie said. He wandered up the hill. “How’s the weather down there, guys?”
“Hey, wait for me,” Jeffrey said. He released Lizzy’s hand, but he tripped. His face slid into the snow, but he recovered and moved up. The pathway allowed everyone to stand side-by-side. Ellie grabbed Jeffrey’s hand, but he resisted. He threw a snowball at her. Her mouth widened and she flung one back. Jeffrey ducked and the snowball crashed against Charlie’s cheek.
“No snowball fights without me,” Lizzy said, skipping to the mountain. She stopped. “Oliver, are you coming?”
The others dropped the snow and turned toward him. The five of them and the mountain blurred as a car appeared, dainty and small. He leapt toward it, trying to grab the car, but he leapt too late. The front of the car crashed into the tree, causing the vehicle to shake and hurt two people inside. The image faded.
Where am I? No Mom, no Pop, don’t crash again! Oliver glanced up and down, then to his four siblings. How could I risk anything happening to them? We’ve traveled through storms, but never on a mountain. He breathed in. He stepped over the line, separating the ground and the mountain. No turning back now.
“About time,” Charlie said.
“Ready?” Oliver asked.
“I will lead,” Oliver said. “Charlie, can you go to the back?”
“Just go, Charlie.”
“That doesn’t mean you’re allowed to throw any snowballs at the back of our heads though,” Oliver said.
“Darn! Then there’s no fun in it.” Charlie pouted and crossed his arms over his chest. He just doesn’t want me to have any fun. Why can’t he leave me alone?
“Oliver, can I join you in front?” Lizzy asked.
The five marched up the first part of the mountain, spiraling across some old wooden steps. Lizzy clasped Oliver’s hand and everyone followed their lead. Smiles beamed their faces as they began to hope of good things to come.
“Any second thoughts in your mind?” Lizzy asked.
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Before you stepped on the mountain, you stopped and seemed like you were thinking of something important.”
“Don’t lie to me, Oliver. You don’t have to hide things from me.”
“Well, a small thing caught my mind,” he fibbed. “The exact plan.”
“How long will we go?” Ellie asked.
“Until Rabbit Hill. Then we can roam around without following a path,” Oliver said.
“Well quick, let’s hurry,” Lizzy said.
Up they journeyed, skipping, laughing, and playing about.
“Hey, is that our house?” Charlie asked. He pointed to a brown thing hidden behind trees.
“I think,” Lizzy said.
Oliver sped up the hill, taking Lizzy’s hand. “Our house indeed. You saw the roof,” Oliver said. Am I ever going to see it again? It was the most important thing in my life for so long. I still love it, and will miss it. I’ll have to return sometime, at least for memory’s sake.
Jeffrey and Ellie trotted with Charlie. One little lump of snow caught in Jeffrey’s way. “Oof,” he said, falling face first. His hand tripped up Ellie’s foot.
“Get out of my way!” Charlie said. He slipped and flopped in between them. “Ugh.”
“Ouch,” Ellie said.
“Thanks a lot, now I have a cut!” Jeffrey said to Ellie.
“It’s not my fault. You tripped me.”
“Maybe it was that dumb doll of yours,” Jeffrey said. Ellie dropped her mouth open.
“Stop blaming Alice. She’s done nothing to you and your baboon mouth.”
“Come on Oliver, let’s help these buffoons to their feet,” Lizzy said. She clutched Jeffrey’s hand and thrusted him upward. “Now Jeffrey, there’s no need to insult Ellie or Alice. You must use nice words.” Oliver pulled Charlie up. Ellie hopped up and brushed the snow off her coat.
“Don’t start bringing Ellie down with you. Between you and Jeffrey, this family has enough klutzes,” Oliver said. “We don’t need to waste anymore time anyway.” He patted Jeffrey on the back. Lizzy and Oliver regained the front as the two klutzes waddled side-by-side in the back of the group.