Thursday, March 16, 2017

Segment Sixteen - Escape from the Belfry Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp


Chapter Thirty

Adam had gone back into the church, hungry and tired. Mrs. Gunderman had sent four peanut butter sandwiches, spread on one side with her own strawberry preserves. Mr. G. had suggested the food, but didn’t tell his wife that Adam would have little to eat since the holidays were nearly over and all the special meals and treats that are part of the celebration would be over too. Only the New Years Eve party was left and that was days away. There would be the usual cookies and punch on Sunday after church. He would have had the four dollars Mrs. G had paid him for the work he had done in the yard, but his wallet was missing. The leather billfold had to be in the belfry but he couldn’t find it. How was that possible? He certainly didn’t have a lot of dresser drawers to lose his stuff in. He had started working at the church and would receive his first paycheck soon. Then there was the five dollars a week Moms would earn to keep an eye on Mr. G. For that moment, however, he had no money.
            Adam’s legs felt heavy as he trudged through the empty, dark church. He could hear the sleet and wind pick up outside and was glad he wasn’t on the streets. But, he wasn’t home either. He hadn’t been home in months.
            Out of habit, he started up the ladder to the bell tower and pushed the door open. Ice peppered the small window like a sand storm. Adam shivered. He didn’t know if he was too hungry or too tired to hold any heat in his body, but he was cold. The thought of laying sick and alone in the dark bell tower, like a hobo crouched down in a door way or along a railroad track crowded into his thoughts. That made his body chill more violently. He looked around his wretched garret. With no light at that hour of the evening, he couldn’t see if the little hummingbird had come back.
            He dragged his blanket and pillow back down the ladder. “Mr. G. knows I’m living here,” he spoke out loud to the rough beams and bare floor. “I might as well get warm tonight, before they find me frozen stiff some day.”
            He pulled the bedding into the youth room where a couch and some overstuffed chairs made a cozy place for the high school kids to meet. Adam spread the blanket on the sofa and threw himself onto his new bed. He could have turned on the light, but he had gotten used to the darkness. With no light, he didn’t have to see how alone he was.
            Why has God forgotten all about me? He thought the same thoughts that had no answers. Why has he left me utterly alone?
            He looked at the sandwiches on the side table and broke off a corner. “Not bad,” he whispered to the wind. Then his eye caught sight of something that had been there all along. An upright Philco radio stood on the floor across the room. Could it be? Would he actually hear another’s voice as he lay on the couch with Mrs. Simington’s quilt pulled over him?
            Adam pushed one of the station selection buttons on the Philco, then curled up on the sofa.  He broke off another piece of sandwich and closed his eyes. A singer was just finishing a song from a recent movie, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
            “Goodbye, little yellow bird,” the song began. Adam sat up and listened. “It finished with the words, “in a cage of gold.”
            Birdcage. The word leaped in Adam’s mind and would not let go. He got up, went into the church kitchen and prepared a fresh saucer of sugar water. He took the dish back up the ladder but didn’t even go to the top. The belfry was cold and dreary. He simply scooted the plate across the floor from the opening.
            “Little Hummer, you may leave me, Pops may desert me, Fritzy may turn on me, but, Bright One, I will not abandon you.”

■  ■  ■
             
            “What is that?” Adam spoke into the darkness of the night. If he had been in the bell tower, he would not have heard the sound. In the Senior High Sunday School room, every creak grated on his ears like George Hanson’s first violin solo in the high school Assembly Hall.
            Probably nothing,this time he did not speak out loud. He turned over and pulled the pillow over his ears.
            Bang!
            What the . . .? That is not nothing. That is something. He sat up and listened to the blackness all around him. Thud. Someone else is in this church.
            Adam slowly lowered one sock-covered foot to the floor. I cannot just lay here and wait
for someone to bash me in the head. Thoughts raced through his mind he had never thought of
before. What would happen to Moms if Pops and I were both gone? Pops, where are you?
            Adam was angry, confused, and scared all at the same time. As one emotion rolled and crashed into another, his stomach churned and boiled and fell with them. How can I do this?
He sat down on his couch-bed. Maybe the intruder won’t hear me if I’m really quiet. Maybe it’s those two idiots who took the carving in the first place.
            Adam realized he was holding his breath and exhaled. There was a closet across the room from his bed. He could hide in there, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Hide again? Not this time.
            He cautiously got up and crossed the room with silent steps. Then he thought of Good King Wenceslas and laughed bitterly. There was no heat in the floor he walked on. There were no footprints to walk in. There was no pillar of light by night or cloud of dust by day. There was silence. There was nobody. There was nothing.
            Then I have nothing to lose. A stream of light cast a plumb line on the floor through the slightly opened door that led into the hallway. If he opened the door, he would no longer be able to hide in the shadows. I have been hiding in the dark for months now. I know I will be exposed out there, but I don’t care. He knew that the thought of exposure had two meanings but that was okay with him.
            If the tiny hummingbird can endure a long flight across the gulf, I can walk out that door. Mr. G. had said, Adam, you can endure what you are dealt.”
            The boy followed the light and pushed gently. Maybe this is my pillar. He held his breath until he thought his lungs would explode. The door hinges might squawk and announce his presence. That could not happen.
            Silence Shaddi, silence.
            “Silence and peace my son.”
            He pulled on the doorknob and waited for a sound. There was nothing. He stepped into the Honeywell Lounge and looked around. The large room was not totally dark. The street-lamp  flooded the floor across to the crank-up door. He could see no one. Silently, like kittens’ paws on the kitchen linoleum, he crept closer to the sanctuary.
            His eyes took a while to adjust to the lesser light. He slowly made his way to the altar area where the creche still stood. The scene had announced a miraculous birth that Adam had not truly celebrated. He expected to see the doll from the nursery that Fritzy had wrapped and placed in the manger on Christmas Eve.
            “Isn’t he beautiful?” Pastor Silverman suggested. “Come closer Adam.”
            “No thank you,” Adam cringed from the scene.
            “The child is for you too, Adam. Come.”
            Adam crawled near the scene of love on the knees of his heart. There, in the straw lay the  exquisite wood carving, with a patina of chestnut gold. Two chubby arms reached dimpled hands to the boy who stood over the place where the Baby Jesus lay. That was his first sight of the Christ Child carving. He hadn’t even opened the bag when he returned duffel.
            Pastor Silverman spoke softly. “A long time ago Adam, Alfred Gunderman helped an angry, disbelieving young boy to trust. Mr. G. vowed to stand with the boy. Now look, our carving has returned.”
            Adam could not take his eyes from the Christ Child in the manger reaching out to him.
He touched the small hand of the babe who represented all the love in the world. Tears rolled
down his cheeks.
            “I know. I know Adam. I’ve been there. Adam Shoemaker’s name is written on God’s  heart from this moment on.”
            “Schumacher, Pastor. Make sure God spells it right. My name is Adam Schumacher.”
            
Chapter Thirty-One

Adam woke up the next morning in the Silverman’s guest room. He shook his head and tried to clear his thinking.
            Where am I? He questioned momentarily while the events of the previous day gathered around the edges of his mind. 
            “Adam?” Pastor Silverman tapped on the bedroom door.
            “Yeah?”
            “May I come in?”
            “Sure.” Adam pulled the covers over him again, sat up and leaned on his elbow.
            “A couple of people have been by to see you this morning.”
            “How did they know where to find me?”
            “Actually, Frederica Breman stopped by to see if I knew where you were. I guess she knew you had been living in the church’s bell tower.”
            “Yeah, I guess. I’m that crazy boy that lives with the bats in the belfry.”
            “Speaking of bats in the belfry, you know what I found over there this morning. I hope you don’t mind. I had gone up the ladder to get your school books, clothing and stuff. Look what I found.”
            Pastor Silverman reached around into the hallway and brought in B.B. Brumble’s basket-purse turned birdcage. The basket was covered with a white cloth with embroidered corners.
            Adam’s breath caught in his throat. So many things tumbled through his mind like a quarterback tackled by the full opposing line. B.B.’s basket was another jab in the gut. The little hummer was gone. He didn’t realize until that moment how much the little ruby-throated hummingbird meant to him.
            “So you found the basket?” Adam was sure, once he was found with the silly purse, no one would believe him or trust him now.
            “That’s right. I found it.”
            “Pastor Silverman―”
            “This is the most appropriate use of B.B.’s bag I can think of.”
            “It’s okay that I had the purse?” Adam was confused. If everything was all right, then why was the pastor confronting him with the bag now?
            “Okay? Of course Adam. The basket-purse was there for the taking.” He pulled one of Mrs. Silverman’s card-table cloths from the top of the cage. There in the center of the basket was the little hummingbird, hopping and fluttering in his space.
            Adam leaped from the bed and grabbed the cage. “How did he survive? How is this possible? I thought the little guy was either gone or dead.”
            He pulled the cage close to his face and studied the bird from every angle. Great tears of joy, and other feelings he had stuffed away to deal with another time, rolled down Adam’s cheeks. He looked over the bright red throat of the little green feathers and saw how proud the bird looked.
            The hummer appeared to be healthy and strong. Suddenly, he began chirping his long, ‘Look at me, aren’t I great’ song.
            “He’s showing off,” Adam grinned. “He is amazing.” He looked again at the little bird. “I am shocked, Pastor?” He took the birdcage and sat down on the edge of the bed. He couldn’t take his eyes off his only roommate, as small and amazing as the hummer was.
            “How could any of these things happen? Adam, I don’t know. I’m not the author of any  of this. I just know, there are so many little miracles that gather around us each day, we would trip over them if we saw them all. Most of us see only a few in a lifetime.”
            “And some of us miss them all,” Adam admitted. How many chances to see miracles in his life had he missed? “You said Fritzy was here?”
            “She left you a card she made. Trust me, I didn’t look at the message. She said she had wanted to give the card to you but hadn’t and that things had changed recently. She still wanted you to have it because, she said that you two have a date for the New Year’s Eve Party. She said to remind you that you had promised.” The pastor waited for Adam to reply. The response had to be his.
            “Oh and here is her card,” Pastor offered.
            Adam took the envelope and withdrew the handmade card Fritzy had written for him.
There were two verses with a hand drawn cover, just like a card from Woolworth’s. The cover had a watercolor painting of a ruby throated hummingbird, signed by Fritzy. Inside, the words sound like that had been written just for him. He thought about all that had happened to him recently. He saw the path he had walked written within the ten lines of Fritzy’s poem.
God bless you with–
Truth to speak
The home you seek
Grace for living
A cause for giving.

For This New Year:
I wish you peace to share
Those who care
A song to sing
And hummingbirds in the Spring.
            Adam brushed tears away with the back of his hand. “I didn’t think I would be able to take
her to the party. I don’t have any money. I lost my billfold on my way back from Gundermans’ house.”
            “Now, that is another thing. A man stopped by and asked if I knew where the Schumacher family lived. I said I had just met Adam Schumacher last evening.” Pastor paused to let Adam have time to remember the miracle of the night before.
            “Did you tell him?” Adam’s muscles trembled again as he prepared for another flight.
            “Well, yes.” He studied the boy for a moment. “Isn’t that okay, Adam? He found your wallet and gave it to me.”                                             
            “I have met him. I don’t know who he is. Do you know where is he now?”
            “He said he had to get home. He had taken a few days out of his Christmas vacation
already, trying to find the Schumacher family. But, he had to go back home. He needed to be
with his family for a few days before his children went back to school.”
            “What did he want—besides giving back the billfold? I saw him around long before he found my wallet. ”
            “He had a message for you and your mother. That’s all he wanted. He said he shouldn’t give the information to anyone but the Schumacher family. He claimed there were rules. One is just a privacy restriction. But, the other is the respect he has for the family. He said that someone had told him that a man, believed to be your father, William Schumacher, had been found in an Army hospital. He said the source was reliable. Your father has evidently been there since a Prisoner of War camp was liberated at the end of the war. The man, your father, doesn’t remember his own name, but a patient in the same ward, said he recognized him. Sargent Smith said they didn’t know who he was because he also had no identification on him. He was thin and ill but getting stronger. The war buddy was positive the fellow was him and said he had picked these up off the battlefield when they were pulled from your father’s neck when the enemy drug him away. Sargent Smith wanted you and your mother to have them.”
            Pastor Silverman reached in his pocket and pulled something out. He took the bird from Adam and put the cage on a table in front of a window.
            “This is for you and your mom,” he said as he dropped Will Schumacher’s Army dog-tags into Adam’s hand.
            “Oh no! The man in the blue car had these all along? Where is he? Where’s Pops?”
            “The Sargent left his name, address and phone number. He said he would like you and your mom to write to him. He can make arrangements for you two to meet the man believed to be William Schumacher.” The pastor handed the card with the contact information to a stunned
young man, the newly renamed Adam Schumacher.
            I will go with you, My Son. I’ll help you find your father, Shaddi blew into Adam’s ear with certainty.
            “I will find him. I know I will find Pops as soon as Spring comes. Thank you, Reverend,” Adam grabbed the pastor and held onto the dog-tags. They were the only reality he had known in months. They were not a fantasy. They were a truth about Pops he could live with.
            “I did nothing Son. You thank God.” Pastor patted the boy’s shoulders then added. “I saw no suit among your clothes in the belfry. You are going to need one for the party.”
            “But―”
            “Sounds to me like you promised Fritzy Breman you would take her to the party and she is an awful nice girl to back out on your promise.” He didn’t give Adam a chance to protest but continued, “I have a suit hanging in the back of the closet that I have not warn in years. I guess I kept the suit of clothes to remind me of how slim I was at one time. My wife can take in the pants a little for you.”

            Could it be? Had I actually witnessed a miracle and almost didn’t see it? He looked at the hummer and the wallet and the dog tags and wondered how much more proof he would need?

Sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on amazon.com and b&n.com.  If you remember snail-mail, for a better price, check out offer at                                                www.dorisgainesrapp.com.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Segment Fifteen - Escape from the Belfry Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp


Chapter Twenty-Nine

Adam woke up the next morning in the belfry tired but determined. He had to do it. He had tossed and argued with himself all night. Now, his mind was made up! He was the only one who could, since he was the only one who had seen the boys take the carving. But, how would he accomplish it? Daylight would break soon. There would be no shadows of night he could hide in this time and the shadows of day were always near by. 
            When Mr. Gunderman picked him up at the police station the day after Christmas and took him back to the church, they had passed through a section of town Adam had rarely been in. That area of town was a nice, new neighborhood where good people lived in comfortable homes on friendly streets. He could find nothing wrong with the surroundings although they were much better than his. But then, anything would be better than a cold belfry.
            Adam certainly couldn’t say anything to Mr. G. at the time he was driven back from the police station. But, Adam had seen them. As he and Alfred passed, he had seen Freddy trudge across the snow in his front lawn and into the yard next door where Buddy, the leader of the little band of thieves, apparently lived. Slumped down in the car seat, where he could watch without being seen, Adam saw Buddy open the garage door. The two boys stood for a moment and jabbed at each other, then Buddy poked around in the garage, under what appeared to be a work bench. Adam saw them pull out and open the same duffle he had seen them shove the carving into at the church. The bag was 12 inches square on the bottom and 33 inches tall with USN stamped on the front. Neither of the young felons looked very happy about their initiation into their new career as thieves. They took out their anger on each other as the punched and jabbed. Adam didn’t care what they did to each other. He had discovered where they lived and that’s what he needed to know.
            Now what do I do? He paced around the belfry. He couldn’t just walk up to their front door and say he was there to pick up the carving of the Christ Child that had been stolen. For one thing, he didn’t know how dangerous the boys could be. He had seen them around school. They were always dressed well but seemed to have few friends. They stuck together and included no one else in their duo. They poked each other and argued every time Adam saw them, even in the church balcony on Christmas Eve.
            Adam stalled around all morning as he tried to decide what to do. He was not a thief.  Therefore, he could not bring himself to think like a thief. How could he take something that wasn’t his, even though it was already stolen material?
            It was now nearly three in the afternoon and he wanted that Christ Child back where it belonged, in the manger, before Mrs. Gunderman brought Alfred to the church. Mr. G. had insisted that he would need to check on everything to make sure all would be ready for Sunday’s service. Adam had cleaned in the morning but he was only pushing a dust cloth around. Everything was spotless already. He only had a few hours to do something about the Christ Child carving. But what?
If they’re out of the house . . . maybe. But good ol’ Buddy Boy and Freddy wouldn’t be
doing anything productive. They never did. Adam could not imagine the pair would begin a life of virtue today. They were probably laying around doing nothing.
            Shaddi, tell me what to do. As quickly as he asked, a full scene came to him but to step into that reality, he would have to go where he didn’t want to go. First, he had to walk over to Fritzy’s house, not to see her, but to talk to Coach Breman. Adam believed that he couldn’t just show up at Fritzy’s house to talk to her. But, if he happened to see Frederica while he was there talking to her father, that would be okay. He thought he was ready.
            When Adam got to the Breman’s house he hesitated before stepping onto the porch. What would he say if Fritzy came to the door? He hadn’t rehearsed that because he had no idea what words would be believable.
            “Adam, come in Son,” Coach smiled his usual generous greeting.
            “I had better not, Sir. I have a lot of snow on my shoes. I just stopped by to check on a job I heard about. They need people to help get ready for the party Monday night.”
            “Well now, Adam, I thought Fritzy and Alfred have been keeping you very busy lately.”
            “Yes, Sir, she is . . . they are . . . we are . . . we were.” He studied the tips of his clodhoppers and watched the snow drip small dirty puddles on the Breman’s front porch and was glad he had not gone in.
            “Let me start over.” Adam cleared his throat and looked Coach Breman in the eye. “I heard that they need a couple of people to set up tables and chairs over at the gym and prepare the room before the New Years Eve Party on Monday night.”
            “Yes, that’s right.”
            “Well, I know two guys who I don’t think are going to the party. I hadn’t heard them
talk about it. They might be interested in setting things up, especially if they could earn a few dollars. I don’t have their phone numbers but the one is Buddy Phillips and the other is his neighbor, Freddy something.”
            “Yes, Freddy Alexander lives next door to Buddy. You think they might be interested? Are you a friend of theirs?”
            “No Sir. I can’t vouch for them but I happen to see them in church on Christmas Eve and I thought you might know them or their families. Do you think you could call them? I would be happy to wait right here on the porch while you call. That way, if they can’t or don’t want to, I might be able to think of a couple other guys. I know there’s not much time and everyone has been great about getting the party all put together.”
            “Well that sounds fine but you must step in. If you stand on the entry mat, the floor will be just fine.” Coach Breman stepped back so Adam could come in, then he went to the phone on the front hall table near the stairs. He took a phone book from the drawer in the phone table and read aloud.
            “Here it is. Phillips on Maplecrest Avenue. Here’s the number, Walnut 3321.” He dialed the number, WA3321. “Hello Buddy, this is Coach Breman.” He paused, “Yes.”
            Adam began to add up the dangers involved if the two thieves were to find out who had recommended them. He didn’t think the two culprits knew that he was alive, much less that he knew what they had done. But, he didn’t want to take any chances. He gestured to himself with a negative hand signal which indicated he did not want his name used.
            “Someone has recommended you and your neighbor, Freddy, for the job of set-up people before the New Years Eve party. I don’t know if you’re interested but we could sure use you. It is a little after three now. You would need to be at the school by four. That’s when they’re going to work. You’ll be paid. What do you think?”
            Shaddi, he evoked.
            “I am here,” Shaddi whispered low.
            Adam watched Coach’s expressions and recognized that Buddy had given his answer.
            “You would? Very good. You’ll have to ask your friend. I don’t have his number. If you could call me right back‒” he paused again. “Really? He lets you speak for him does he?”
            Adam nodded in the affirmative with exaggerated head movements.
            “Well, fine. Now, be sure to call back if your parents say― What?”
            Adam rolled his eyes. I’ll bet his parents don’t tell him anything.
            “Good, I’ll call Principal Jackson and tell him I have hired you two and you will both be there in less that an hour― Well, thank you.”
            “Thanks Coach. I don’t know the guys but they both seem to need money lately,” Adam smiled and stuck out his hand.
            “Thank you Adam. That solves a big problem for me. I was going to have to go over to the school myself. Fritzy wanted me to see her new party dress and her mother hasn’t finished making it.” He smiled and the two chuckled as Adam edged out the door.
            He looked back at the house and saw Fritzy waving from an upstairs window. Well, at least she’s smiling. He smiled and waved back. His stomach felt giddy and he remembered he hadn’t eaten much that morning. How could he have forgotten the peanut butter sandwiches Mrs. G. had given him?
            Adam walked along the sidewalk for several blocks then realized he was probably on
the path the two thieves would take if they walked to school to help set-up for the party. The snow had fallen all night and Adam wondered if it would ever stop again. The concrete had been freshly shoved by each homeowner in front of their own property so walking was more safe than in recent days.
            The Middletown Public Library was just ahead, in the next block, on the left. He hurried across the street and dashed into the building. Once inside, he turned and watched through the window in the door. Freddy and Buddy lived just two blocks down on the other side of the street.
            “Are you going out Young Man?” A blue haired lady with a purple flowered head scarf  tapped one goulashes-covered foot in Adam’s direction.
            “No Ma’am. Let me get the door for you though.” He smiled broadly and held the door open for the woman. He could see the boys a few houses down as they walked along the sidewalk. Adam stepped behind the lady as he waited for her to pass.
            “Thank you. It is nice to see polite young people again. I thought perhaps the war had wiped gallantry off the list of manly attributes.”
            “No Ma’am. The list is still intact.” Adam pulled the door closed as soon as she cleared the threshold. He stepped to the side of the door and peered around the wooden frame window pane.
            Look at them, still hitting and poking at each other. They have a home and food and heat and lights and they are the most unhappy pair I’ve ever seen. Never noticed them much before and will try to ignore them when school starts again. You guys don’t know it, but today I will become your very best friend.
            After the boys passed the library, Adam stepped back out into the cold. What would he
do? Then, he knew. The power of knowing had come over him before and he thought everyone had the same experience. He was learning that wasn’t so.
            Mrs. Phillips is probably in the kitchen fixing dinner. That feels right. The time is just a little past four o’clock. Mr. Phillips might be home from work, might not. If he is, he could be in the livingroom reading the newspaper or listening to the radio. Edward R Murrow isn’t on yet, so maybe there would be no radio distraction. I’ve got to take the risk. It doesn’t feel like Mr. Phillips is home from work yet. I have to believe that what I am doing is right and that I won’t get caught. Shaddi, cloak me in invisibility.
            Adam opened the main entrance to the library and gasped. Everything outside beyond the library looked like an animated cartoon drawing with vivid colors, oversized flowers, and exaggerated details on everything. He had stepped into Mr. O’Shaughnessy’s world. Adam knew it. He looked beneath the snow-covered bushes on the other side of the street. He was sure he would get a glimpse of the wee one himself. He saw nothing unusual but sensed there was a treasure hidden someplace and that convinced him even more that the Christ Child carving was near by.   
            Adam crossed the street a few houses up from the Phillips’ home. The sun was bright.  He knew he couldn’t hide in the center of a spotlight and he couldn’t just stand out in the street to  look the situation over. He didn’t try to understand any of it but he felt safe inside the fantasy bubble world.
            Not too fast and not too slow, he warned himself as he walked past the Phillip’s garage and studied the layout carefully.
            The garage had a side entrance. Adam could casually walk up to the garage door. If
anyone were to pass by, he wouldn’t draw attention to himself if he was relaxed and looked like he belonged there. He knew he was the only one who actually lived in Mr. O’Shaughnessy dream  world. Anyone else would be out of place. He alone belonged there so he would not be sneaky, nervous, guarded, or afraid as he retrieved the carving.
            Shaddi cautioned quietly, Move slowly and deliberately.
            Adam would do his best to follow those orders. “Shaddi, give me x-ray vision,” he whispered into the afternoon sun. 
            He was thankful the garage had a side entrance so he wouldn’t have to open the larger, louder one. He knew Shaddi would follow through so he focused his x-ray vision on the inside of the garage. Next to the side door was a long workbench. Adam knew he had remembered correctly.
            He walked up to the door just like he lived there. He didn’t check over his shoulder or fumble with the knob. He simply opened the door and walked in.
            The bag is under the work bench, the Power of Knowing told him. That’s where I saw. He looked again. The duffle isn’t there. Adam couldn’t believe it.
            Stay calm My Son, Shaddi whispered.
            Adam bent low and looked far back under the bench to where the sides met the wall. There, in the corner, pushed behind some paint cans, was the USN sea bag. 
            Adam moved the cans carefully and smiled. In one of those worst scenario visions a guy  can have, he could see himself kick over a bucket of paint and leave red footprints all the way back to the foot of the bell tower ladder at the church.
            That is not going to happen, he determined confidently. He was no longer a scared kid with no home, no family, and no backbone, hiding in the shadows and moving around only in the dark. He would not stay silent any longer. Not that he would make any noise, but everybody was going to hear from him.       
            He grabbed hold of the top of the duffle and carefully removed the bag. He thought of
the infant’s hands and tiny fingers. I will not return the carving with so much as a small scratch on the wood.
            After he withdrew the bag, each paint can was carefully replaced exactly as he had found them. He lifted the duffle into his arms like a new daddy would lift his son, opened the side door to the garage, and stepped out. He was not in the clear yet but he was no longer in the safety of a  fantasy. He was still in the Phillips’ yard. He had to be able to walk away from the house, with the bag, without being seen.
            “Hide in my shadows,” the shadows offered. “I will make your deception complete. No one will see you. You will do wonders within my darkness. No one will know you.” 
            “Walk boldly, My Son,” Shaddi directed. “Do not listen to them. I am the way.”
            With his head held high, Adam gently pulled the door behind him and strolled down the concrete drive just like he lived there.
            He had rounded the snowy edge of the drive and was back onto the sidewalk when he heard a car coming in the distance. The sound carries so far on the icy air, he thought and was thankful for the blessing. He fixed his eyes like flint on the prize that was ahead. He was going to return the Christ Child carving to its home.
            Adam crossed the street and walked up the steps of the library just like any other patron in search of a good book for the weekend. As before, once inside, he turned, watched from the windows, and waited a few minutes. He was suddenly aware that his breathing was heavy. He had felt no fear when he rescued the carving. Now, after the danger had passed, his body seemed to say, What just happened? What did I do?
            No cars had passed on Maplecrest since he left the Phillips’ garage, walked the block or
so to the library, and went in. He couldn’t see how anyone could make an association between him and the house at 1220. He started to open the library door, then noticed a car pull into the Phillips’ driveway so Adam waited. A man got out, closed the car door, and walked right into the house without knocking. I guess Mr. Phillips is home now. Thank you Shaddi. 
            Adam stepped out of the library as if he were one of their most benevolent patrons, a friend of the library he would be called. With confidence and courage, he walked down the steps and back to Cranberry Street. He carried the Baby Jesus in his arms. Pops carried him the same way when he was very little. Adam wondered why he remembered that.    
            When he got to the church parsonage, he studied the scene before he approached. The days were short and evening shadows had started to gather that enveloped the house and tucked the day under the bushes. Inside, the kitchen light was already on. As Adam watched, someone turned off one of the living room lights. Through the window to the left of the door, he could see Pastor Silverman move from the couch to the dining room table. Adam walked down the sidewalk on the other side of the street where the buildings cast even longer shadows. He walked five yards beyond the Silverman’s house, crossed the street, then doubled back so he could approach the porch past the living room window, not the dining room.
            Shaddi, let me give this Christ Child back to the church anonymously. Take away my fear.
            Quietly, cautiously, but with smooth confidence, he stepped up the two steps and then onto the porch. Thank you, Shaddi, for cement. Concrete doesn’t creak. He set the sea bag beside the front door. Now, how do I get away? I wish I had a horse—a flying horse like Pegasus.
            In a whirl of blinding snow and wishful thinking a white winged horse appeared with a
mane of silver silk. Adam rang the doorbell, swung his leg over the horse, mounted his back, and swiftly bounded over the side porch railing. With Pegasus’s help, he waited in the shelter of the high limbs of the near by oak tree.
            “What is this?’ Pastor Silverman questioned as he opened the door.
            “What is it, Dear?” Mrs. Silverman stepped onto the porch beside him.
            “I don’t know,” he said then stooped to untie the sea bag. “Connie, will you just look.” He carefully pulled the top of the duffle down while the rich glow of the Lebanon Cedar arms reached up and out.
            “Honey,” Connie Silverman’s eyes filled with tears, “it’s home. The Christ Child is home. It’s a miracle.”
            The boy didn’t breathe a word. He saw all the joy he could ever imagine from the top of the oak tree. He was filled with amazement for a moment, then he remembered the price to be  paid when you live on wishes.

            Adam saw the return of the carving and the joy it brought, but he saw it from afar. He wasn’t really a part of the “miracle.” While he saw the happiness, he was not part of the rejoicing. Once the excitement passed, he was ready for another thrill charge

     Sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on amazon.com and b&n.com. If you                   remember snail-mail, for a better price, check out offer at www.dorisgainesrapp.com..

Friday, March 3, 2017

Segment Fourteen - Escape from the Belfry Copyright 2013 Doris Gaines Rapp


Chapter Twenty-Seven

Adam declined Mrs. G.’s offer to drive him home. Mr. Gunderman might already know that he lives in the church’s bell tower and not try to rescue him, but he knew Mrs. G. didn’t know. If she did, she might say, “A boy should not live alone.”
            Ordinarily, a long walk would have cleared away fuzzy thinking and self-pity. But, not today. Adam was too tired. He had walked all the way across town to visit Mr. G. in the hospital. Then, he moved furniture and chopped up a tree for Mrs. G. He started back to the church but the walk brought on a weariness he had never experienced before. He was tired to the bone. And, along with such a shroud of exhaustion, depression swooped in and took over the boy. 
            He hurried past the next corner. That was where he would turn if he were going to Fritzy’s house. He didn’t want to see her.
            A group of children were gathered on Tony Hammond’s concrete driveway turning two long ropes in double-dutch. With a child on each end, they rhythmically turned two ropes, as a row of waiting children jumped rope in double time.
            Cousins, Adam guessed and secretly envied the size of their family. Cousins are always
around, if you have some. In New York there were more cousins in the clan than I could count.
But, that was then. Nothing’s the same now.
            Two girls passed him on the sidewalk, giggled and moved on. They are laughing at me, he thought and anger rose up again. They know I am a Schumacher, the son of a deserter. He hung his head in shame.
            He started to cross the street when that same blue car, that had been on the farm road, pulled up beside him. Adam was afraid. Was the man following him? If so, why?
            “Shoemaker, right?” The man rolled down his window and leaned out.
            Adam kept on walking. He felt very uncomfortable around him. He didn’t know why but that was the problem. He didn’t know the man.
            “Some families changed the spelling and pronunciation of their name when they came to this country,” the man smiled.
            “I suppose.” Adam kept on walking and said no more.
            “Sometimes, the Immigration Officers at Ellis Island took in more information than they could handle. They gathered passenger arrival records, border crossings, emigration records, and passports, but they sometimes got the emigrant’s name spelled wrong, like Shoemaker for Schumacher.”
            “So.”
            “You said you don’t know any Schumachers in town, Son?”
            I’m not your son. I’m nobody’s son. Adam decided he’d better not pick a fight with the stranger.
            Suddenly, Adam could hear the man’s thoughts racing through his head. How is that possible? How can I hear him thinking?
            “Gotta get this kid to believe me. His whole life depends on it.”
            To Adam, the man’s thoughts were terrifying. But, his spoken words were calm and reassuring.
            “Look,” the man said, “I’m just trying to find the Schumacher family and since your name is an Americanization of that old-country name, I have to believe you may know them.”
            Again, the man’s unspoken message was heard. “How do I make him believe me? What I have to tell him could change his life.”
            Adam looked neither right nor left. He kept his head down and continued to walk. A biting sleet pounded harder and the ice stunk his face.
            “At least let me take you home,” the man offered as he slowly followed the boy.
            “No thank you.” Adam’s teeth chattered as he tried to sound strong and brave.
            “Ah, come on. I know you’re cold. Just look at you. You’re shaking.” The man in the blue car continued to coast along beside the boy. He shifted gears every once in a while.
            Maybe his car will stall out, Adam hoped.
            “Watch out,” the man warned as Adam nearly stepped into a sleety puddle. Again, the man’s inner thoughts escaped. “Gotta make this kid believe or the whole thing won’t work.”
            I can take care of myself. His heart felt like it would pound out of his chest until it broke free.
            “See, I told you,” the man mocked as Adam slopped through the slush. “You need to let me drive you home. Come on. The heater is warm and I’m a friendly guy.” He smiled broadly at
Adam as he coasted along behind him.
            Why am I getting such scary feelings from this man? The boy was afraid the car’s bumper would brush his legs if he slowed in his steps. He felt stalked. Fear rose up within him and he started to run.
            Adam slipped with every step. He stumbled and slid his way along the streets toward the church. The blue car kept up with him as he covered every block.
            “Let us push him off road,” the shadow people groaned. “We will obey your feelings.”
            Adam refused to acknowledge the evil ones, even though he desperately needed help. When he got to Jefferson Park, he turned abruptly and sprinted past the swings and into the woods.
            Let that guy try to follow me through the park. Then he feared, Maybe he’ll get out of his car and chase me on foot.
            Adam trembled as he stood behind the trunk of a large tree. He had to catch his breath in the thin air that filled his lungs with ice until his chest ached. He waited but had to stand guard too. He had to know if the man was behind him.
            Adam could see his breath hang in the air like a cloud of steam around him. He wished he could stop breathing. If the guy was behind him, he might be able to see the icy mist. What should he do? Is he there? Will he drive around and be there when I come out on the other side of the park?
            Cautiously, he peered around the hickory tree and searched the space behind him. The darkness was coming on faster than he thought it would but he was grateful for the cover of night. In the dim light, he could see no one. All was quiet. All was still.
            He tried to catch his breath by filling his lungs with slow, deliberate gulps of air. He felt
his lungs freeze with pain every time he inhaled and his chest ached with the cold. The air sacs in his lungs could not expand any further and yet he could still barely breathe. He waited in the darkness and rubbed his hands over his chest. He hoped to feel warmth return to his body. Adam cupped his hands and blew the warmth of Shaddi into them, then placed them palms down on his chest. Once his head was clear enough and his lungs began to fill again, he made a plan.
            Shaddi, place the cloak of invisibility over me. The simple request made him feel safe and strong. He was angry with himself for being afraid and he was determined not to let fear call out to the Shadow People.
            He would leave the woods on a path perpendicular to his entrance. If the man tried to continue to look for him, he might believe that Adam would have run straight through the park and come out on the opposite side, not at a right angle to his entrance.
            Adam continued to pant but he gulped in all the air he could until he reached the church. His heart pounded hard and fast. He took the key Mr. G. had given him, unlocked the door, slipped in, and closed it to the sleet that covered his clothes with wet, tiny bits of ice pellets. He leaned on the heavy door and didn’t turn on the light. The only sound was that of his rapidly beating heart. Beyond the door, he heard nothing on the street.
            Adam smiled a stiff little smile. His face was so cold, his expression felt frozen in place. As he stood just inside the door of the church, he was glad he was finally home. He didn’t, however, thank God.
            I got myself home, he boasted to himself. Home, he laughed sarcastically. Pastor talks about the church being our home. Little did he know. This may be God’s house on Sunday but it is mine tonight and I don’t want to share.                                                                                                   
  
Chapter Twenty-Eight

Adam spent the next morning at the church. He buffed the hardwoods until the floor shone in the winter sun as it streamed through the windows. He swept the carpet in the sanctuary and pick at each knit-picky that he saw on the floor. He had to stay busy.
            “Adam, I’m glad you’re still here,” Pastor Silverman said when he found the boy in the corner near the grande piano. “Are you about finished here?”
            “I’ve been done but had to stay busy.”
            “You’re going to wear out the carpet, sweeping it again and again.” Pastor smiled.
            “Sorry, Sir.”
            “I was teasing, Adam. Relax. I came over to ask if you could help Mr. and Mrs. Stafford this afternoon.”
            “Fritzy’s grandparents?” He swelled inside at the thought of being a help to Fritzy through the Staffords. “Sure. What kind of help?”
            “They seem to have a rat problem. If you’re not afraid of varmints,” Pastor Silverman smiled. “They’ll pay you for the job,” he added quickly.
            “Well, I hate rats but I really do like that green stuff.” 
            Adam got his jacket and started to walk over to the Stafford home. He walked through some yards in order to avoid the open spaces of the snow covered sidewalk. Blue-car man could appear anywhere at any time. Adam searched the roads as he walked along. He was no where.
            Adam rang Fritzy’s grandparents’ doorbell and shuffled from one cold foot to the other. He turned his back to the house as he waited. He didn’t want to feel vulnerable with his back to the street.
            “Oh Adam, I am so glad you could come,” Mrs. Stafford nearly pulled the boy into the house. “It’s in this way.”
            Adam followed Mrs. Stafford through the living room. He hadn’t even gotten to the dining room yet when he smelled the odor. He didn’t want to say anything in case Mrs. Stafford hadn’t noticed it.
            Mrs. S. stopped at the large captain’s chair at the head of the table. She spun around and laughed. “You mean to tell me, Adam Shoemaker, you can’t smell that awful stench?”
            “Sure I can. I just didn’t know if you could,” Adam admitted with a polite grin.
            “That is why you are here, my boy.” She smoothed over the obvious work to be done as she started into the kitchen.
            “Tell me more,” Adam said but didn’t move.
            “We have a partial basement under the kitchen and dining room and a crawlspace under the livingroom. Rats have gotten into the crawlspace and seem to have—died there.” Mrs. Stafford closed her eyes and held her breath.
            “Wow,” Adam whispered at the thought of how much he hated rats.
            “Mr. Stafford had to go to Lancaster today. He said he’d be home by supper and to pay
you twenty-dollars if you’d take the job. It’s nasty.”
            “Twenty-dollars?” Adam couldn’t believe his good fortune. That would be two full days salary for a man. “I’ll do it. It’s all legal, right? There’s no dead body down there except rats, is there?”
            “Right.” Alma Stafford went to the kitchen sink and took a pair of rubber loves from the storage space underneath. “Here, you won’t have to touch anything,”
            “Thanks. I’m not real anxious to play with the little critters.”
            Adam cautiously crept down the basement steps. He looked for rats but hoped he wouldn’t find any. He studied the area and spied a cellar door on the opposite wall that led out into the backyard. He approached that exit, walked up the cement steps and checked the deadbolt on the door. The latch was unlocked. He turned, then had a better thought. For precaution, he opened the slanted double wooden cellar doors wide.
            Back down the steps, he faced the other wall again.
            “Are you alright down there Adam?” Mrs. S. hollered down the stairs.
            “Yes Ma’am. I’m just setting the stage for a quick and easy exit.”
            “Good thinking,” she said.
            There was something on the floor near the wall. The little blob was about the size of a baby kitten but Adam didn’t want to cuddle it. He tiptoed over and leaned down to get a better look.
            The thing twitched!
            “Yuck! he shuddered.
            It twitched again.
            Adam put on the rubber gloves and held his breath. The odor was horrible. He grabbed the rat by the tail, ran up the cellar steps and flung the beastly stench into the back yard.
            “Hope that’s it,” he gagged.
            He avoided the opening into crawlspace while he edged his way over to the spot. Something shinny was easily seen inside the narrow space. “Eyes?” he shuddered again.
            He eased his hand hesitantly into the opening. Something hard. He jerked his hand back.
            “I can do this,” he insisted. “Shaddi, I can’t stand any part of this. I don’t have to like what I’m doing, I just have to do it.” A sense of determination filled him.
            He reached again for the shinny object. In his mind, he saw eyes, hundreds of beady eyes. “Don’t be silly, Shoemaker. If a rat’s dead, their eyes wouldn’t shine.” He cautiously reached out on the left. The mysterious piece was thin, cold and hard.
            “A pocket knife?”
            Scratch. The sound came from deeper inside the crawlspace.
            He withdrew the cold metal and studied the surface closely. “B. P.” he said as he touched the initials. “Buddy Phillips,” he nodded and jammed the knife into his jeans pocket.
            He heard another noise and knew what he had to do. He hoisted himself into the four foot tall crawlspace and slithered on his stomach. The putrid odor was stronger the farther he crawled. The space was dark but there was enough light to see the tail of another rat a few inches from his left hand. He grabbed the ugly thing by a hind foot, backed out of the space and dashed up the cellar steps and gagged as he went.
            Hold it! Hold it! he commanded himself. At the top of the steps, he flung the rat and his lunch at the same time. He doubled over and threw up again.
            “Shaddi,” Adam pleaded, “you have given me super smell. Please, I beg of you, turn it
off for a while.” Adam felt a numbness in his nose. “Thanks.”
            With steely determination, he threw himself back into the space under the floor, reached,
grabbed and pulled another dead rodent out. He ran up the steps, threw the rat into the yard and hacked up some more of his last meal.
            “Shaddi,” he gagged. “It’s hard to smell now, but it’s still easy to up-chuck. Not sure how that works.”
            Adam drug himself back into the basement and stared at the crawlspace opening again. He knew he had to go back under. Over on an old white wooden table on the left wall he spied a flashlight.
            “Please work, please work” he willed the battery beam. He pushed the button and closed his eyes. Light burst forth.
            He jumped up on the ledge that led to the space and crawled inside again. With the flashlight clutched firmly in his left hand, he flashed the beam right and left. Nothing but dirt. Ahead was not as clean. Two more dead rats lay on the ground. He grabbed them by anything that stuck out and started to ease himself back while violently retching.
            Adam took one last look around before leaving. He flashed the light into the deeper recesses of the space. He saw no other rats—except. In the middle of the area was a heavy, thick cross beam that ran the full length of the house. Just beyond the beam he could see another filthy carcass. But, there was no way to reach the ugly critter.
            He backed out for the last time, dashed up the steps, flung the two decaying disgusting disease carriers into the burn barrel in the back yard and commenced to throw up again. It felt like he emptied everything down to his toenails.
            I didn’t eat that much for lunch. Must be breakfast and last night’s dinner too.
            “Adam?” Mr. Stafford called down the basement steps.
            “Coming.” Adam raced back down the cellar steps and up the basement staircase. “Yes Sir,” he panted.
            “You okay, Son?” The older man patted Adam on the shoulder as soon as he came up.
            “Here Adam. Have a glass of ginger ail. You’ll feel a whole lot better. ” Mrs. Stafford  offered. “I could hear your sacrifice.”
            “I’m so sorry,” Mr. Stafford appeared to be embarrassed. “I had no idea there would be that many. Thank you so much.”
            “I’m afraid there’s more,” Adam said. “There is one trapped in the middle of the room above the crawlspace and I can’t get to it due to the cross beams.”
            “The middle of that room is the living room.” Mrs. Stafford threw her apron up over her face. “Oh dear, our New Year’s Eve party will have to be cancelled.”
            “The stench is pretty bad, Honey, but, maybe no one will notice,” Willard Stafford stifled a laughed, then couldn’t contain himself any longer. He dissolved into great gulps of laughter.
            Alma stared at him, then smacked his shoulder and grinned. “Well, do you have another solution?”
            “Adam, you pull the carpet back in the living room and I’ll go get the tools.” Mr. S. said as he started for the tool shed out back.
            “Willard Stafford, what are you going to do?” Alma folded herself onto a kitchen chair like a limp linen tea towel.
            “Only what has to be done, Dear.”
            “I don’t think I’m going to like any of this,” she complained.
            The large Persian carpet spanned the center of the living room to within a foot of the wall on all four sides. Adam moved all the furniture from the right side of the living room to the left. He grabbed hold of one corner of the carpet and pulled it diagonally across the room in the direction of the stacked sofa and chairs.
            “I have what I need,” Mr. Stafford said as he marched back into the living room like an Army General as he staged an attack.
            “What can I do to help?” Adam offered.
            “Thank you, Adam but Mrs. Stafford will be as mad as a starving she-lion when I’m done. I don’t want you to get in her path. I’ll have to do this myself but please stand by in case I need to be resuscitated.” Willard reached out his hand. “The gloves please.”
            Alma Stafford and Adam sat down in the remaining pieces of living room furniture and watched in stunned disbelief. Willard took his brace and bit in hand and drilled a small hole right in the middle of the living room floor. Then he placed the pointed end of a keyhole saw in the opening and gradually cut out a crude opening in the middle of the oak hardwood.
            Alma said nothing. She sat in stunned silence.
            Willard laid on the floor, reached into the opening and fished around for the last beastly body. “It’s in here.” He touched the rat and his face turned white. “Oh no,” he shuddered as he jumped to his feet, as fast as a grandfather can leap, and dashed outside. He gagged the whole way out the front door.
            “I’ll try to get it Ma’am,” Adam volunteered but didn’t want to. The last rat out was probably the first one in and the first to die.
            Adam had given Mr. Staffer the gloves so his hands were bare.  He closed his eyes and whispered one word, “Shaddi.”
            The slimy, decayed skin of the grotesque creature had dried in one spot of the underbelly. It was hard for Adam to pull it loose, all the while he stifled his gag response. He slid his fingernails under the slippery body and popped the tiny spot up.
            He couldn’t aim for the back yard, it was too far away. So, he pulled the maggot infested rat from under the living room floor of one of the most elegant homes in Middletown and ran out the front were he jammed the indescribable rodent into a snow drift where it could remain on ice. Adam threw up whatever was left in his stomach then rolled his bare hands in another snow pile as he tried to wash off the slithery slim.

            Mrs. Stafford followed them onto the porch and brought her apron up around her shoulders. “Thank you gentlemen. That is what I call bravery.”
Sequel, Escape from the Shadows, is available on amazon.com and b&n.com. If you remember snail-mail, for a better price, check out offer at www.dorisgainesrapp.com.