Friday, December 30, 2016

Segment Five - Escape from the Belfry

Chapter Nine

“Shoemaker,” Coach Breman came up behind Adam in the school hallway the next day and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Fritzy said I might be able to snare you for the team.”
            “I don’t know Coach. I don’t―”
            “She also said you could use Jim’s basketball shoes.”
            “Coach, I can’t pay―”
            “Who said anything about payment? Besides, Jim has grown two inches taller since he has been in college. He now wears a shoe two sizes bigger than the ones sitting in his closet at home. You would be doing his mother a favor by helping her clean out some of the things Jim doesn’t need any more. Today is Friday and he will be home tonight for Christmas break. Maybe you could stop by the house on your way home and pick them up. Sure would help Mrs. Breman.” 
            What could the boy say? He had no more sharp excuses left in his quiver.
            “Then there is still the team. Adam, George Barnard already left town with his parents for the holidays. Eric Fox is sick at home with mumps and Gary Jefferson is down with a head cold so bad he can’t breathe through his nose. We have one game left tonight before Christmas break. I want you to play or we may have to forfeit the game.”
            “Coach, no. I haven’t even practiced with the team.”
            “Yes you have, Adam. You play with the guys every day after school for a half hour or so before the team practices. I have seen your free throws and lay-up shots. You’re a natural.”
            “I shot baskets every day all summer out at the farm. Pops had put up a hoop for me before . . . I’ll think about it, Coach.” The bell rang to announce the start of classes. The halls began to empty like water as it drained from a tub.
            “I’ll talk to you more at the house. Now you stop by for those shoes, Adam.” Coach Breman hurried into the Biology Lab and starting lecturing before he pulled the door closed.
            After school, Adam darted out the north door and started down the freshly shoveled sidewalk when Fritzy caught up to him. She had to move fast. The legs that went with her five-feet four-inch body could not cover nearly as much ground as those that matched his six-foot two frame.
            “Adam, why are you running?”
            “I’m not running, Fritzy, just out stretching you.” He laughed and waited for Fritzy to catch up.
            “Daddy said you were going to stop by the house and get those shoes, Adam. Right?”
            “Right,” he added with apprehension. His father had taught him to work hard and not accept charity. He had wrestled in his mind all day about whether to accept the shoes, about the team, about being beholding to people. Now, he was on his way to the Breman home and the decision seemed settled. Was he helping Mrs. Breman or was Fritzy’s family just helping the needy, abandoned kid? He couldn’t tolerate the thought that the Bremans might think of him as  poor. He was temporarily out of money, that was true, but he was not poor. Pops always said that  poorness is a state of mind not a state of the wallet.
            Images of Grandma O’Hara flashed in his mind. He had visited her twice in upstate New York with his mother, before the war started. “Money isn’t necessary,” Granny had said. “The wee one’s pot of gold can be found if you look for the treasure.”
            Adam often wondered what the precious woman was talking about but Moms wouldn’t hear any questions about the old Irish ways or the tiny clan of Travelers with whom Granny lived. But, to Adam, there was magic in her words. He shook off the thought like a cold chill. Shaddi never talked about magic.
            When they arrived at the Breman home, Fritzy’s mother met them at the door. “Would you like some milk and cookies, Adam?”
            Adam laughed to himself. Milk and cookies sounded like a kid’s snack but a hungry man couldn’t be choosey.
            Without waiting for an answer, Fritzy led him into the kitchen and pointed to the table and chairs. The wooden table was green with white stenciled flowers on all four corners and they were repeated on the backs of the chairs.
            Adam slowly studied the room. There was a four-burner electric stove against the east wall, a sink built right into the kitchen cabinets beneath the window that looked out over the back yard, and an electric refrigerator in the corner, not an ice box like his family had on the farm.
            No ice man stops here.
            “Here we go, Adam,” Mrs. Breman offered as she brought over a small plate of cookies and glasses of cold milk.
            “Tell me Adam, what’s your mother’s name? I think I may know her,” she began. “I believe we belonged to the Child Welfare Club together when she first came to town. She was a good friend. I heard she is sick.”
            A good friend? I didn’t know Moms has friends. All she does is work all day long, every day. He snapped his mind back to attention. “Yes Ma’am. She has tuberculosis.”
            “Where do you―?”
            “I’d better hurry along. My uncle will be wondering where I am.”
            “Oh, I didn’t remember that your mother had a brother.”
            “No, not my mother’s brother, my father’s brother. Moms is from the East” He looked up at the clock above the sink. The Bakelite time piece hung from a special hook in front of a recessed electrical outlet that powered it.
            Adam sat down at the table as directed, drank the full glass of milk and took a few bites from one of the cookies. “Wow, the cookies are good, but I have to go.”
            “Please, let’s look at those shoes first,” Mrs. Breman protested and led the way to her son’s room and the overloaded closet.
            Jim’s room was coordinated in shades of blue and brown with matching bedspread and curtains. Trophies were displayed everywhere, across the top of the dresser and on special shelves designed just for them. Adam could tell cabinets were strong and designed to hold many statues that testified to Jim’s ability, since the shelves were reinforced with sturdy screws. There were basketball, baseball and track trophies of various heights and designs. He didn’t want to stare, so he only glanced quickly about the room.
            “Well, Adam, these are the shoes.” Mrs. Breman stretched and pulled the pair from the back of Jim’s closet. “Oh,” her face distorted as if in pain.
            “You okay, Mrs. Breman?” Adam was observant. He was always aware when Moms was hurting. There was a time, when the world was sane, that he thought he might like to become a doctor. In the last few months, he just hoped to survive another day.
            “I was cleaning the closet this afternoon and I pulled a muscle in my back crawling around. I was trying to drag the stuff out of the back.”
            “Here, let me help you.” Adam squatted down like a weight lifter before the big pull. With his long arms, he scrambled everything out from the floor of the closet with one swoop.
            “Oh Adam, thank you,” she bubbled as she started to bend over.
            “No Ma’am. You sit there on the bed and I’ll lift all this stuff up to you.” Adam gathered up the now infamous basketball shoes, a tennis racket, a pair of black dress shoes, two baseball caps–one white, one dark blue–both with appropriate team logos prominently sewed on the front, all mixed in with half-used notebooks, an older pair of sneakers and single socks with an occasional pair, mostly in plain colors and one argyle.
            Mrs. Breman quickly sorted all the items into categories, with subdivisions of clean and soiled. “There, My Boy, the task took us a matter of minutes when we did job together.” She reached over to pick up the shoes that were on the floor and then smiled and stopped. “You had  better get them Adam. They’re yours now anyway.” Then she put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, they are size 11. I hope they fit.”
            “Yes Ma’am,” and his eyes twinkled. “I’m sure they will.” He turned his back as if he were going to sit on the edge of the bed. “Shaddi,” he whispered low, “increase their size by a half.”
            “Blow in them My Son,” Adam heard Shaddi whisper in his head.
            Adam tipped up the shoes as if he were looking inside for stray laces.
            “There may be dust inside them, Adam. I am so sorry,” Mrs. Breman apologized.
            Perfect, Adam smiled. He turned his back to the two, “Don’t want to get any dust on you two. He took a deep breath and blew into the shoes and felt the leather give and expand between his fingers. He pulled the laces on his clodhoppers, kicked them off and slid his feet into the basketball shoes. They fit perfectly.
            Thank you Shaddi. Neither Fritzy nor her mother seemed to notice the power of Adam’s breath. The size 11s had become 11½ with a puff from Shaddi.
            “They seem to fit you, Mrs. Breman bubbled. “And, for helping me, a bonus,” she added as she carefully rose, straightened her back, and went to the dresser. “Jim has grown so much his shoes are two sizes too small, so his socks would be too.” She reached in the drawer and pulled out half-a-dozen pair, most of them athletic white. “Here you are.” Quickly she added, “Thank you so much for helping me get rid of this stuff. That will leave room for Jimmy’s stuff . . . things that fit him.”
            “Ma’am . . .”
            “Adam, you don’t know how much you have helped me. This is at least something I can  do in return. I . . . can’t afford to pay you anything. It helps me a lot to be able to give you something of value in return, even if the shoes and socks are used . . . junk.”
            “Oh no, Ma’am. They’re not junk. I appreciate your generosity.” Adam picked up each item as if it were a precious gift. He remembered what his grandfather had said, “When people are generous, the recipient is generous in return by valuing their gift, no matter how small.”
            “Are you ready?” Fritzy beamed as she came into the room.
            “Ready?” Her mother asked.
            “I’m going to take Adam over to the church. Mr. Gunderman needs some help with his work and I thought Adam would be a good job candidate.” Fritzy latched onto Adam’s coat sleeve and tried to ease him out of room.
            “I thought you were kidding about a job.” Adam had no idea there were any jobs available anywhere around town. Since so many returning veterans found no work when they got  home, Adam did not even apply anywhere. The message was always the same. “No openings.”
            Adam suddenly became excited. He had a strong sense of responsibility and now he might actually be able to put it to use. A real job.
            “Maybe you shouldn’t leave. Your mom seems to need more help,” Adam protested gently. He used to be a helpful, thoughtful person, before the entire world learned what hate was.
            “I’ll help you when I get back, Mom. Adam is going to talk with Mr. Gunderman about helping out at the church over the holidays.”
            “That’s very nice, Adam. You two run along.”  
            “Thanks Mom,” Fritzy sang as she pulled Adam out of the room.
            Adam turned back and looked one last time at Jim’s warm room with walls and a ceiling. There was a bed with a brown quilt, probably made by a grandmother. A tall chest of drawers that housed the socks stood against the wall. Adam’s bare attic room in the bell tower flooded his mind by comparison. The only warm spot in the belfry was inside Mrs. Brumble’s purse, that small hummingbird that slept in the basket. And the only one to talk to was the Wizard. He was always there.

  Chapter Ten

The front door of the Cranberry Street Church! Wow! Not the back. I can enter through the door that respectable people go through.
            Adam’s experience with the church was vastly different on most other days. He never went through the front door. He wondered if the kings of old ever went through the back door of the cathedral or crawled in through the coal room window. Today, as he entered with Fritzy, he felt like a king as he walked through the double doors. He thought for a moment about when he stopped feeling noble, respectable, but he could not remember when it all stopped. 
            Again he thought of his grandfather’s admonition. “Always keep your name clean. Nothing is more precious than your reputation.”Adam felt stronger than he had in months, stronger and cleaner.
            “Mr. Gunderman,” Fritzy called out from the narthex without proceeding into the church. “You here?”
            “Fritzy Breman?” a voice called out from the room below.
            “Yes Sir,” she echoed back.
            Alfred Gunderman huffed and puffed up the stairs. “It’s you, Child,” he chuckled like the squire of Christmas Eve, right down to the rosy cheeks.
            “This is Adam Shoemaker, Mr. Gunderman, and he would like to apply for that assistant janitorial job. I came along to tell you that my parents and I recommend him very highly for the position.”
            “Oh you do, do you?” Alfred smiled mischievously. He looked down at Adam’s black leather, high-top shoes, then met him eye to eye. “You an honest boy?” he quizzed.
            “Yes Sir, I am.” Adam straightened his back and tried his best to meet the old man’s gaze, blink for blink.
            “You been arrested for anything?” Gunderman continued. “Vandalism . . . trespassing . . . pilfering?” 
            Adam felt a discomfort in his skin, like someone had dumped a can of flea powder down his collar. He had already said he was honest but he definitely had been trespassing in the church.  The question included the word arrested, however. “No Sir. I have never been arrested for anything.”
            He felt his eyes lose contact with the man’s and he snapped them to attention again. He knew he was playing with words.
            A man’s word is the most important thing he has, he remembered his father saying in a distant time when he still had a family.
            “Never been arrested, never stole anything.” Alfred repeated. “Now that is a blessing!  And, accepting a gift of charity is not stealing.”
            Adam thought of the basketball and basket-purse. He could feel a bead of sweat on his forehead. How could Alfred Gunderman possibly know about the ball or the purse? His mind raced as he tried to stay ahead of his story.
            Shaddi, he begged silently, help me get through these questions. Soon I won’t remember which story I told. Keep my face honest, even if my words aren’t.
            “Quit teasing, Mr. Gunderman,” Fritzy coaxed, completely unaware of the agreement that had just been etched between the old man and the boy. 
            “The one additional thing I require is about those clodhopper shoes.” Mr. G. said.
            Adam held his breath. They were the only shoes he had.
            “I know everyone of you boys wear them. You had too. The metal heal and toe plates kept them from wearing out, and since you only got two pair of shoes a year during the war, they had to last. But, Adam, they scratch up the hardwood floors somethin’ awful. When you’re here in the church, you’ll have to wear something else.”
            Adam felt his heart drop to the floor. “I don’t have any other shoes, Sir.
            “Of course you do, Adam. The good basketball shoes are for the gym floor, but that older pair would be perfect to work in,” Fritzy reminded him without a moment’s hesitation.
            Alfred Gunderman stuck out his hand and Adam responded meekly in kind. “We have an understanding then, Adam,” the man said as he continued to pump the boy’s hand with a viselike grip.
            Rather than feeling pain in his hand and discomfort in his conscience, a new feeling of manly pride welled up in the boy. This was Adam’s first contractual agreement with another. No lawyer was require to draw up the details. Adam knew what was expected of him and his hand shake was his bond. Shaddi, give me a grip of steel. As Adam felt his handshake firm to a confident clasp, Alfred smiled.
            “You savin’ up for a nice Christmas present?” Gunderman winked and nodded in Fritzy’s direction.
            “We’re going to the New Years Party,” Fritzy bubbled. “Right, Adam?”
            “Right,” Adam agreed but his mind bounced around like the ball he had gotten the evening before. Money for party tickets . . .  coal for the farm.
            Winston’s Coal Company said they would accept a deposit on a load of coal and the balance could be paid over several months. He had a real reason for getting the job. He wasn’t a kid anymore. He felt responsible for his mother with Pops gone. “All in all, I guess I need about twenty dollars.”
            Alfred eyed the boy with a squint and a sparkle to his eye. “I tell you what, if you can work during the holidays, help set up, clean up, and tear down, maybe you’d like to keep the job. I could use you several hours after school even after the Holidays. Naturally, you would have to keep your grades up. What kinda grades do you get, Son?”
            “Mostly A’s and a few B’s.” Adam hadn’t thought to lie about grades. He was a good student. It came naturally to him, especially science and math.
            “Adam, that’s wonderful!” Fritzy laughed. “Are you going to college after high school?”
            “Don’t think so. A high school degree, especially from Middletown High School, is a great education. I can get a job anywhere I want to when I graduate.”
            “No hopes of becoming a teacher or doctor or anything?” Alfred pushed.
            “Medicine . . . I had thought about becoming a physician . . . but . . .”
            “You can do anything you put your mind to, My Boy.” Mr. Gunderman spoke with determination and authority. 
            “That’s what my Grandpa Shoemaker used to say.” Adam could hear the words of his Gramps in his head where his wisdom was buried for future reference. Recently, he thought only about school work and how to stay alive. He didn’t believe in the future any more. He only felt empty inside.
            “I’m not getting any younger, ya know,’ Alfred admitted. “The ol’ ticker flutters, my back and knees hurt. Well, never mind about that. I leave the complaining’ to the young folks.”
            “What?” Adam’s attention snapped back to the immediate. “Yeah, right. Leave the complaining to the young folks.”
            “Are you all right, Adam?” Fritzy pulled on his sleeve.
            “Yes, sure,” Adam smiled sheepishly.
            “Well, Young Man, are you interested in the job or not?” Alfred paid no attention to Adam’s daydreams. He was a practical man. “Job or no job?”
            Adam could not believe what he was hearing. He could have a job for now and maybe for the next few months. “Yes Sir,” he smiled, “that would be great, now and later.”
            “You know they’ll find out about the lies,” the shadows tormented as they rose up from the stair well and glared at Adam. Thankfully, no one else heard them.
            “Don’t ya want to know how much you’ll be makin’?” Gunderman teased.
            “They’ll just cheat you,” again the shadow people hurled dark emotional bombs meant only for the boy.
            Shaddi, I don’t want to hear them, Adam stated. Immediately, he experienced a selective deafness. He saw the shadows’ mouths move but heard no sound, except Alfred’s words.
            “Of course you do, Adam. Everybody wants to know that they’ll make,” Fritzy forced herself into the discussion.
            “Yes Sir, I do,” Adam smiled sheepishly. It was hard, but he tried to keep Mr. G’s words  separate from the shadows as they passed by with moving lips. “I didn’t think it was polite to ask.”
            “I like that Adam,” Alfred smiled. “You’re more interested in the work than the pay. But, in business, you have to know if you’re getting a good deal or not.”
            “Yes, Sir,” Adam stuck out his chest and stood as tall as he could, which was several inches taller than the stooped little man who held his future in his hands. I wouldn’t know if I was getting a good deal or not. But, he asked, “Tell, me, Mr. Gunderman, how much will I make?”
            Fritzy giggled and grabbed Adam’s arm. “That was very manly Adam. Good for you.”
            Adam blushed and stared at his shoes again.
            “Well, the minimum wage for most folks is forty cents an hour. That seems fair. You should earn a man’s wage. I’ll expect a man’s effort in your work, so forty cents it is.”
            “That should be enough.” Adam spoke out loud but his head was full of marching  numbers, all lined up in columns to help him see when Moms could come home.
            “For the party?” Fritzy grinned with the innocence of one who had no worries or cares.
            “That,” Adam agreed, “and for some stuff at the house.” To himself he mumbled, “Twenty dollars,” but in his mind he was thinking of all his needs. Twenty dollars might be enough for Moms to be able to come home sooner than I had even thought.
            “Twenty dollars, huh?” Gunderman smiled.                                                
            Adam was startled. He hadn’t realized he had been heard. He wanted to keep his family life private. “Yes, Sir.”
            “Well, with all that has to be done, you can make that amount during the holidays. You’ll  not have the full amount before Christmas, that’s in four days, but you’ll have fifty hours in by New Years Day. I am sure of it.”
            To Adam, Christmas was just another holiday without Pops, but Moms had always been there. Pops had inherited Grandpa Schumacher’s farm and they lived a comfortable life before the world went crazy. Adam had wished his mother could have been home by Christmas Day, but he would have to be patient. This year, he would visit her at the Sanatarium on Christmas Day and that would have to be enough. “That will be fine, Sir.”
            “Okay then, we have a deal, but Son, I expect you to do a man’s job. Don’t wait to be told. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. If I have to tell you everything, I might as well do the work myself.”
            “I understand but how will I know―”
            “I’ll give you a list of chores for each day of the week plus an anytime list. Picking up paper off the floor and keeping snow away from the entry are anytime tasks, not something you wait ‘til Thursday to do. You do a good job here and you will have learned how to work for a lifetime.” He slowed then asked, “Your folks know you’re gettin’ a job? Is it okay with them?”
            “He just found out today, Mr. Gunderman,” Fritzy protested.
            “Okay, but―”
            “Moms has been sick so she’ll have to write a note.” Adam had to control the contact his boss would have with a family that had blown up with the bombs of war. He would work out the details somehow. For months, he had been making do. If he had to, he would write the letter himself and have Moms sign it. He would do a good job for Mr. Gunderman and prove himself to be the best worker in town. Goodness knows he lived close enough to the job to never be late.      
            “Well, I am very pleased to have such a conscientious young man work for me, well . . . for the church. If you are helping to take care of your mother, you have my vote.”
            What an unexpected turn! Adam hadn’t even applied for the job but the job had found him.
            “Here ya go,” Alfred smiled, handed him the broom handle and walked away. “Work in your sock feet or change your shoes first,” Mr. G. shouted back.
            “You are a working man, Adam. I’d better let you get your work done,” Fritzy smiled. “Change into the older shoes Mother gave you and push that broom around. Then, you’ll have just enough time to get ready. Daddy said you might play in the game this evening. I hope so. I’ll be there.” She started to leave than added, “Say you’ll come, Adam.”
            “I’ll see,” Adam waved to Fritzy, then pushed the broom around the entry. A small dusting of green powder fluttered to the floor and Adam stopped. “Is this just one of Mr. O’Shaughnessy jokes, Shaddi? If it is, it is definitely not funny,” he whispered.

            “What you need when you need it is not a child’s game. Trust, My Son, trust,” Shaddi breathed on the swish, swish of the broom.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas

Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas. Tomorrow is the birthday of the King.

If you have read one of my books, give them a card with an invitation for coffee or ice cream. Spend that time telling them the story of Adam (Escape from the Belfry), Christiana (Length of Days - The Age of Silence), or Clisty (News at Eleven). They will love the time and attention you give them.

I am not commercializing on that blessed event we celebrate tomorrow; but, if you still need a few presents for friends or loved ones, click on one of the book covers along the right side and order a paperback of one of the books I have serialized. It won't arrive by tomorrow but you can give them a card with a note inside. Or, order an eBook and have the novel immediately.

I know your day will be a blessed one if you remember the most precious gift of all: the gift of the holy Christ Child -- the night when God came to earth to teach us how to love, to forgive and to sing. It truly is a holy night. If you listen, you may hear the angels' song of peace.

Love and peace to all,
Doris Gaines Rapp

Friday, December 23, 2016

Segment Four - Escape from the Belfry

Chapter Seven

Adam and Fritzy would have to hustle. They had to get back to town on time. He was the man of the family now. Moms needed indoor plumbing and Adam knew he had to have a clear mind and time to think. Besides, he had Fritzy with him and, to his way of thinking, he was responsible for her too, at least that evening he was.
            A clear mind and clear vision are different things, however. When the sun sets in the country, it is dark, seriously dark. They stepped up their pace as the temperature began to drop. When they had passed Raymond Bryson’s farm, six mailboxes down the road, a blue car slowed down beside them and the driver rolled down his window.
            “The weather’s starting to get bad. You two want a ride back to town?” The driver asked.
            “That’s okay,” Adam refused and didn’t look up. The timbre of man’s voice had an eerie echo that was unnerving as the sound bounced along on the clear icy air. The goose bumps on Adam’s arms stood at attention again. First, Crammer pushed me, now this guy. I can’t get Fritzy involved in this.
            “Look behind you, Son,” the driver suggested.
            Adam turned to see that a squall had gathered in the west. “Even in the dark, that doesn’t
look good.”
            “It looks bad.” Fritzy huddled up close to Adam and buried her head in his back to protect her from the wind.
            “There’s another blizzard pushing in. You two had better hop in and let me take you into  town.” The man was pleasant enough.
            Adam would have acted without paying attention to his gut in the past, but it was different this time. He had never seen the man around anywhere.
            “I’m so cold, Adam. You get in the front and I’ll climb in the back. I can still get back in time to help Mom finish the cookies.” Fritzy said as she reached for the door handle and got in.
            Adam pulled the front seat forward for Fritzy, then got into the car with a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. Country people hitch rides into town all the time. In a small community, everyone knows each other. This time the situation was different. Adam was sure he did not know Mr. Blue Car.
            “The name’s Smith,” the man offered.
            “Adam Shoemaker. Thanks Mister.”
            Fritzy was silent in the back.
            “Shoemaker?” Smith looked at the boy a moment then turned his attention back to the road. “The road is a little slicker out here since the sun has gone down.”
            Smith? Adam puzzled. There aren’t any Smiths in Middletown. “You from around here, Mr. Smith?”
            “No, Son, I’m not. You live out this way? You, Little Miss?”
            Adam felt uneasy. Why was the stranger asking him where he lived? Who was he? Adam 
didn’t like the whole situation but he really didn’t know why, except he had Fritzy to think about if he had to streak out of the care quickly.
            He answered in a monotone droll, “No, I live in town. We were visiting the Crammers.” More lies but they seemed to be the safest response.
            Shaddi, who is this guy? Why does he give me the creeps?
            Nothing more was said for a few miles. In the reflection on the side window, Fritzy
looked like she had fallen asleep.
            Adam also saw the images of darkness, with their sinister eyes, pass by as if on the conveyer belt of an assembly line. He wondered if the shadows were actually there or if the figures only represented the empty, hollow places of his heart. He turned his eyes away and focused on the falling snow that seemed to bombard the front windshield with kamikaze impact.
            “This is the first Christmas without war since 1938.” Smith broke the silence.
            “That’s right I guess. I hadn’t thought about the holidays like that.”
            “Did you folks get along okay back here?”
            Back here? Adam wondered what the stranger meant. He decided facts would be safe. “Most of the men and boys were gone. My dad shipped out almost three years ago. First we thought he wouldn’t have to go. He was a farmer and food was necessary. I guess they ran out of available men.”
            In the dim light, Adam could see the snow-covered jagged fence posts pass as they got closer to town. They flew by like skeletons standing guard, whose dry bones were bleached white from exposure to the cruel world. 
            “I’ll bet you’re glad your dad’s back home.”
            Adam was not interested in talking about his father’s absence with a stranger. He could not explain why his father was still gone, even to himself, no matter how many times he saw the vacant chair at the kitchen table. He certainly wasn’t going to try to answer a question for which he already knew he had no answer. He definitely was not going to say that Pops might be a deserter. It was easier to think that he was dead and the war department hadn’t sent his body home yet. Not even his dog tags. He wondered if the dry bones were trying to tell him of his father’s fate.
            “Is there anything I can do to help out?” Smith sounded caring, helpful even. But, who was he?
            “No, we’re getting along okay.” Adam gripped the passenger side door handle and nearly jumped out of the car when they slowed at the first stop street inside the city limits. Then he thought of the sleeper in the back seat. “You can let me off at Fritzy’s house.”
            “This is Cranberry Street?” Smith looked up at the street sign. “Tell me where to go.”
            “Three streets up. Norman Avenue.” They road in silence.
            “I’ll take you home then,” the man offered.
            “No, that’s okay. I live down the street.” Adam insisted.
            When the car stopped, Adam hoped out and opened the back door. “Fritzy,” he nudged her shoulder. “Wake up.”
            “Oh,” Fritzy slowly opened her eyes and looked around. “We’re home. Thank you but I  was going to the church for a while this evening.”
            Mr. Breman opened the front door. “Glad you two are back,” he called out as he hurried down the steps to help Fritzy inside. “Your mom said you had gone for a walk and I said,
 ‘Impossible. Not on an evening like this.’ Did you have a good time?” he reached out his hand to Adam. “Good to see you Adam. I knew she was in safe hands.”
            “Yes Sir.”
            “Thanks Adam. I had a really good time,” she smiled, then thought again. “I am really hungry. Did you save my supper for me?”
            “We were just ready to eat. Do you want to stay for supper, Adam?” Coach Breman asked.              “No thank you. Gotta get back. Bye Fritzy.”
            He motioned to Smith to drive on. “I can walk from here. Thanks.” Adam had to get away. He was tired of the questions, and sick of the cold. He was relieved he had told Smith to let him off at the Breman’s home. It was just a few blocks down from the church. He just knew he had to get away. There was something about the man that made him feel uncomfortable, but he didn’t know what.
            Smith coasted his car along the curb behind Adam as he walked on the sidewalk. Adam feared he would follow him all the way to the belfry. He walked up to the first house that had no lights on and pretended to try the front door.
            “Back door,” he shouted over to Smith and waved him off. Adam walked around to the back of the house, then ran up the alley and over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. He was glad Morningstar’s dog was not out. That big black mut chased anyone and anything off the place. A  squirrel couldn’t touch a foot to the ground in his yard, before the dog tore after the tree rodent and chased the nut eater back up a tree where it belonged. Adam could hear the dog bark from inside the kitchen door.
            In Morningstar’s back yard, Adam could see that moonlight had begun to burn through the heavy snow clouds. In the dim light, Adam saw a path stretched out before him, defined by tiny bits of sparkling green dust. He followed the crystal path and darted across several back yards and came out on the next street, more than a half block from where he had entered. When he circled around and got back to the church, he finally breathed a sigh of relief. His satisfaction at arriving back at the church was quickly squashed. Every light in the church was on. He dare not go in.
            “You are home, My Son,” Shaddi whispered in his ear.
            “Home,” Adam mumbled to himself. “Only a god who would speak to me would call a
cold, lonely, belfry a home, a home I dare not enter because good people are there.”
Chapter Eight

Adam walked around to the back of the cold building. The kitchen window was not possible to enter. A group of women were working and buzzing about between the oven and the counters. There was nothing Adam could do. The coal room window was too risky. The women like all the lights on and the hall would probably be brightly lit. Adam leaned into the doorway of the back entrance and crouched down to make a smaller target for the wind to hit.
            He almost dozed off. Wait a minute, there is no reason why I can’t go in where it’s warm.
            Adam went around to the front door and stepped inside the church. He knew the church was all lit up but was surprised that every single light was on. Pops would have come up behind you and turn them off.
            Even though the street lights had come on outside, the usual time for folks to come in for the evening, the church on Cranberry Street was alive with activity. Adam followed the sweat aroma all the way to the kitchen door.
            Many church women hustled around in the kitchen where they placed hundreds of freshly baked and iced cookies into large tin cans decorated with festive Christmas scenes. The cookie  were then covered with wax paper before the tin lid was secured on the top.
            “Adam, I am so glad you’re here,” Fritzy wiped her flour dusted hands on her apron as she looked up. “How did you happen to drop in here? I wolfed down my dinner then Daddy drove me over,” she paused just a second. “Would you like a cookie?” Without waiting for an answer, she popped an extra Christmas stocking cookie into Adam’s mouth. “I’m sure this one won’t fit in the tin,” she smiled. “We’re finishing up with the cookies while some of the men set up the Nativity Scene.”
            “I know, I know,” Adam said with little enthusiasm, “a doll in a manger.”
            “Adam, our baby Jesus is a work of art, a masterpiece, carved from a Lebanon Cedar, brought back from the Mediterranean. The artist, Samuel Morris, was one of the greatest wood carvers ever. The carving is worth a lot of money, but more important, the Baby Jesus was given to us by Mr. Morris himself who used to live here in Middletown.” Fritzy insisted. “That carving is our Christ Child.”
            “I’m sorry, Fritzy. I didn’t understand the significancy of the piece. It is the Christmas Christ Child but it is a piece of priceless art as well, giving lovingly by the artist.”
            “That’s okay. You didn’t know,” Fritzy’s eyes twinkled, “and now you do.” She untied her strings, folded the apron and laid the bright cotton coverup on the kitchen counter top. “Have you ever tried to carve anything?”
            “Me? No.”
            “Mom let me use a few of the big bars of Ivory soap to carve. Mrs. Becker, our art teacher, had us draw a picture on paper the size of the bar of soap. We laid the image on the soap and traced the edges with a tooth pick that left an indented outline on the bar. Then, we used a paring knife to shave away everything that wasn’t our drawing, our design. Carving soap was fun, but can you imagine how hard it would be to carve something as beautiful as the Christ Child out of hard wood? That carving of the babe means a lot to all of us, tradition, beauty, and it  represents all of our Christmases.”
            Adam said no more about the carving. Fritzy’s description of her own artful whittling and explanation about how much the figure meant to her, only made Adam feel worse. A baby doll in a wooden food trough hadn’t seemed very precious to him in the past. He didn’t expect this Christmas to be any different, but he couldn’t tell Fritzy how he felt.
            There was silence, then Fritzy added, “It’s getting late. If more snow comes in like they say it’s supposed to, the walks will get even more slippery. Daddy is going to meet Mom and me out front. I had better be going.”
            “I wish I could drive you,” Adam offered.
            “Then none of us would be safe,” she laughed.
            “I will have you know, I have been driving the tractor on the farm for five years, since I was ten. You would be very safe with me.”
            Fritzy smiled. “A real race car driver?”
            “I might not be ready for the Indi-Five-Hundred.” Then Adam thought about all of the people who were still milling through the church, as they finished up and cleared out. He couldn’t very well be the last one in the building. After all, how would he explain that?
            “I’ll walk you to the door so you can wait for your dad,” Adam offered.
            Together he and Fritzy stood for a moment by the glass window in the door where they could see out to the street and shared small talk about school, the day, and the holidays. They spoke a lot of words but the conversation would not have sounded special to anyone who happened by. But, to Adam, their being together was magic, not just because he was talking with Fritzy but because he had absolutely no one else to share a thought with, the hummingbird. The hummer was not no one, he was a no-thing, and that was vastly different.
            When Coach Breman pulled up to the curb, Mrs. Breman grabbed her coat from the coatrack and joined the two. Adam walked to the curb with Fritzy and helped her and her mother into the car. He waved, then stood as the car pulled away. What should he do? There were still others in the church.
            He stood on the street corner for a moment until the Breman’s car neared the corner and turned. The bitter cold of the approaching snow storm blew through his clothing like a summer jacket. He couldn’t stay outside any longer. He slipped back into the church and into the sanctuary where he laid down on a pew.
            Like a common street bum, he stayed in the darkness of the sanctuary and waited for the
sounds of happy friends to fade as the last of the volunteers cleared out of the building. He was not one of them. He was an interloper, a fraud, a liar. He feared he would be caught in his charade.
            “Why do I even care?” he whispered into the vacant places all around him. He should not have cared about Fritzy or about the Christ Child carving. Recently, he had only thought about himself and where he was going to find food. Caring about someone else felt like his security had suddenly cracked, like an ice-covered pond, as the hardness snapped and chased him across the surface. He could barely stay ahead of the split that would take him under and steal away his new sense of security.

            “What next?” he whispered into the night. “Shaddi, will I ever stop running from breaking ice?”

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Present from the Belfry

If you still need another Christmas present for the 25th, Escape from the Belfry is available as an eBook on Amazon. They have the paperback too, so you decide.
I'll post another segment on Friday.

Have a very Merry Christmas


Friday, December 16, 2016

Segment Three - Escape from the Belfry

Chapter Five

“Here, basketball star,” the milkman laughed as he tossed a pint of fresh milk to Adam. “Ya, gotta keep up that superman strength, Boy. Looks like you have a lot to offer football or basketball, either one. I saw you shoot baskets when I picked up my son from school. You’re good at that too.”
            “Thanks,” Adam shouted back, more thankful for the milk than the compliment.
            “Adam, that would be great! Join the team! I would come to every game,” Fritzy giggled a little more. “I happen to know the coach personally and I’m going to tell him what you just did for that boy.”
            Adam wanted to change the subject. He didn’t know what had happened. Had he actually flown across the street like a super hero? “Oh you know the coach do you?” he teased.
            “We get along alright as long as I take out the trash on time, help Mother, and keep my grades up. Dads are dads. You know how that goes,” she laughed.
            “Sure,” Adam agreed but he thought, No, I don’t know how that goes. I haven’t seen Pops in almost three years.
            “Come on Adam, join the team. What’s stopping you?”
            “No Fritzy, I . . . I can’t.” Adam never planned to say anything out loud about his family’s problems, not until he heard himself say, “Fritzy, I don’t have any basketball shoes.”
            “What about your uncle? Can’t he get them for you?”
            “My uncle?” Adam stumbled over his words. He was beginning to forget all the lies he had told.
            “You told me you’re living with your uncle. Uncle—Harold I think?”
            “Yeah, Fritz, Uncle Harold.” Adam knew he was lying and he didn’t lie well. Fritzy went  on talking and didn’t seem to notice.
            “Couldn’t he give you the money for the shoes and help with your mother’s medical bills?” Fritzy asked then stuck her tongue out to capture a few fresh snowflakes.
            “He’s gone a lot—and you don’t know where that snowflake has been.”
            “It has been in the pure air of a snow cloud.”
            “You hope it’s clean,” He joked. “Uncle Harold works hard but he doesn’t make much money.” Adam stopped when he realized what he was saying. That turn of the conversation could be a problem. “Of course, he’s home every night. He’s just late.”
            “What does he do?”
            “He’s a traveling salesman. He’s home mostly to sleep. I get my homework done then—now Fritzy, that’s another thing. I have so much to do. I clean the house―”
            “What?” Adam was confused.
            “You said house, Adam. You meant apartment. You live in an apartment, right?”
            “Right—an apartment.” He had to talk about something else before he slipped and fell
over his own fabrications.
            “Maybe if my dad,” Fritzy started, “no—I have a better idea. My brother, Jimmy, is away at college. His basketball shoes are just laying in his closet. I’ll bet you could have them.”
            “That’s nice, Fritz, but I have so much on my mind right now, so much to do. I don’t
think I could focus on the game.”  
            “But, Adam, it’s―”
            “Are you and your family going to Florida for Christmas this year?” Adam quickly changed the subject. He would have to redirect her before he got his stories all tangled up and choked on them.
            “Florida? I’d love to go south again for the holidays but Grandma wanted to come up here and enjoy the snow for a week or two. Besides, vacation break is so late this year.”
            “So you’re stuck here?”
            “Not stuck, Adam. I haven’t had a white Christmas for a long time. I’m looking forward to sparkling snow on holly wreaths. What are you and your uncle going to do?”
            “Not much. I plan to spend the day at the hospital with Moms.”
            “At the hospital? Won’t you get tuberculosis, Adam?”
            “No. Moms has pasted the contagious stage. She’s just weak.”
            “Will your uncle take you out there?”
            “Sure,” Adam lied again. The only way he was going to get out to the sanitarium would be to walk the ten miles since he had no Uncle Harold to drive him anywhere. He knew he could  hike that far. He had trudged out there often. Maybe this time, with all the snow and cold wind, he would be able to hitch a ride. But, he wouldn’t tell Fritzy any of it. No one knew he lived in the church bell tower and no one would, not even his mother. He shook his head and tried to get his mind off the impossible.
            “Guess what I found, Fritzy—a hummingbird.”
            “You did not, Adam Shoemaker. They left months ago.”
            “Yes, I did. He flew right at me.”
            “Where? Where were you? Where did you find him?”
            Adam stopped. How could he explain that the bird had been high up in the beams of a belfry at church? He had to think up a different location. “The garage,” Adam offered. “He was up in the rafters of my uncle’s garage. He dove at me, then hit the ground.”
            “The apartment has a garage? That’s great.”
            “The apartment is in the upstairs of a home and we have one of the spaces in a three car garage.” Lies, lies and more lies.
            “Is he okay? The hummingbird. Is he alright?”
            “He snapped out of it. This morning, I gave him sugar water with some food coloring mixed in to attract his attention.” How could he tell her that Shaddi had helped him heal the little bird?
            “Maybe he was in torpor, Adam,” Fritzy chattered on, caught up in the excitement of find. “They do that, ya know, when they don’t have enough to eat.”
            “They do not.” Adam stopped. “What is torpor anyway?”
            “My dad’s a science teacher, remember.”
            “Oh—that’s right. Okay, so what’s torpor?”
“Hummers eat one and a half to three times their body weight in food every day. Well,
when they don’t have enough to eat, they go into a sleep-like state called torpor. Their body temperature drops by 50 degrees and their heart rate can slow from 500 beats per minute to less than 50. They may even stop breathing for a while.”
             “He was sure wide awake when he flew at me.”
            “Then that rules out torpor. Hummingbirds don’t respond to an emergency when they’re in torpor and your coming upon him would be an emergency for the hummer.”
            “Sure is a pretty little thing.”
            “They are fascinating. Daddy keeps a hummingbird feeder outside our breakfast room window. I could watch them all morning.”
            “Maybe the bird is one of yours.” Adam didn’t like the sound of that. He wanted the bird for himself. He might have to give the little fellow back if its owner could be proven.
            “Couldn’t be. They flew south in September.”
            “Yeah, to Mexico,” Adam added, then thought a moment. “Ask your dad how those little things fly all the way to Mexico.”                                                       
            “Everyone believed that hummers fly south on the backs of northern geese. Some stories even say that they piggyback under the geese’s wings. But Daddy says―”
            “Don’t tell me if the story isn’t true. I like the way you told it first. For a little bird to find shelter under a large, safe wing is almost spiritual. I like that better.” Adam always preferred the fantasy to reality. He had enough reality all around him in the bell tower.
            Fritzy slipped her hand through the crook of Adam’s arm and stomped through the deep snow a little harder until she matched his stride—almost. “I like that story too. Aren’t little fables wonderful? They take your mind off harder things?”
            “Harder things like basketball games and Algebra tests,” Adam added. He liked walking with Fritzy. Maybe that’s why he wanted to keep the conversation going. “I got a basketball last night.”
            “Have you been practicing?”
            “Not yet.”
            Fritzy seemed to gulp in air as she shot back a plea. “Let Daddy give you Jimmy’s shoes, Adam, please, for me.”
            “For you? You wouldn’t fit in those shoes, Frederica Breman.”
            “You know what I mean Adam. Stop being abstruse.”
            “So now I’m a fancy word for confused?”
            When they got to the school door, they stomped off as much of the snow that clung to their boots all the way to the ankle as they could. They walked through the school door and entered a world of polished hardwood floors, tile walls, and brick arches that defined the staircases. School was the home Adam did not have and housed the only healthy adults in his life. School felt safe.
            “Adam, look!” Fritzy squealed.
            “What?” he looked around to see what she was so excited about.
            “The New Year’s Eve Party—I nearly forgot!” She pointed to the poster prominently displayed on the wall.
            “I thought they cancelled that, since this is the first Christmas so many of the dads are  home.” Adam said as he thought of full dinner tables and families gathered by the fireplace.
            “Look at the date. The party is on December 28, four days before my sister’s wedding.”
Fritzy nearly jumped up and down with party possibilities for the first time in years. Her verbal speed increased by twice its rate. “It’s not a Christmas Party and it’s not a New Year’s Eve Party either. They couldn’t have the get-together on the actual New Year’s Eve. That would be a Monday night and it would be too late for the chaperones who would have to go to work on Wednesday. They’ll need Tuesday, New Years Day, to relax and recover from the holidays. And, Sarah Jane’s wedding is on New Years Day. So—the party is Friday night, the twenty-eighth,” she looked so excited, she seemed to bubble as she babbled.
            “Adam, can we go? A party would be so much fun, games and food and music! Everyone
will be there. Will you take me?”
            Adam’s head swam with alternating waves that thundered in and felt like they could take him under. He would have to tread water fast. He wouldn’t have the money for a corsage or the tickets. He wouldn’t have proper clothes and he couldn’t drive to take her. He had no one to pick them up and drop them off.
            “I’ll bet we could double with Charlie and Barbara.”
            “How much are the tickets?” Adam knew the price wouldn’t matter, even if it cost nothing. He still wouldn’t have money for flowers.
            “The tickets are two dollars a piece and—I don’t need flowers, Adam.”
            “I have an idea, if you won’t be insulted. My church needs someone to help the janitor for a few weeks during the holidays. There are so many programs, he can hardly keep up with everything. You would set up and take down tables and chairs, haul out the trash, sweep the floors—you know.” She chattered on and on.
            Adam saw no evidence of Mr. O’Shaughnessy, no green crystal dust, no shamrocks.  Shaddi had not whispered in his ear either, but, Adam had one thought—a job!
            For the first time in months, Adam felt a little sliver of hope stir within him. Had Shaddi, the wizard, put thoughts in Fritzy’s head? How else was she able to have an answer to all of his problems? Was Shaddi providing what he needs, when he needs it, like he said? “Where Fritzy? What church do you attend?”
            Fritzy beamed, “The Church on Cranberry Street.”
Chapter Six

“Don’t push Bobby,” Kathleen Snyder ordered as she elbowed the eighth-grader who always pushed and shoved his way out to the bus stop at the end of every school day.
            “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the red-headed kid with the orange stocking cap fired back.
            Adam saw the shadow people pass, glare at Bobby and seethe but move on. Adam  shuddered at the sight of them as he stood just inside the west door and waited for everyone to leave.
            The snow beyond the windows still pilled halfway up the mailbox posts and rolled into five foot drifts in the open fields where they waited for excited kids to get home from school. The country road out to the farm could be impassible. That couldn’t stop Adam today.
            Later, that same afternoon, after everyone had cleared out of the school except the floor sweeping crew, Adam started to walk toward the farm. He didn’t think anyone had seen him slip out of town. He had hurried down back streets, away from traffic. He didn’t want anyone to know his business. And, he definitely did not want anyone to know that the farm was empty. He knew that neighboring farm families might notice, since they look out after one another. But, they also respected the need for privacy.
            The day was Thursday, the twentieth, but the date wasn’t important to Adam. What mattered was the mission he was on. He hadn’t been out to the farm in months. If his mother was going to come home soon, he would have to make sure everything was ready.
            The farm was ten miles out, along a country dirt road. Farm trucks had flattened deep ruts in the snow that made walking easier as long as he stayed in the furrows. But, even the warm sun hadn’t melted very much of the snow, just enough to leave some sloppy ice that caused him to  slip occasionally like he had stepped on some slippery moss on the edge of the woods after a rain. It had happened before.
            “Shaddi, walk with me please and protect me from the bitter wind.” Adam felt the same warmth come over him as before. It started in his heart and spread throughout his body, both inside and out.     
            “I will remember your gloves for you,” Shaddi promised.
            “Adam?” a familiar voice called after him on cold air.
            He turned and found Fritzy Breman behind him a few yards as she pushed into the wind. “Fritzy, what are you doing here?”
            “I’m sorry Adam. I truly am.” She swished in her snow pants and stomped through the snow in her fur-lined winter books. “I had to come and find you. There’s something going on with you and I’m your friend.” She stopped and stomped her foot. “Talk to me, Adam Shoemaker!” she yelled.
            “I don’t know what to say,” he blurted out.
            “Begin by telling me why you were hiding from everyone when you left town.”
            “I wasn’t hiding,” he began another lie.
            “You were too, so knock it off.”
            “Okay, okay,” his shoulders fell as he opened a little. He trusted Fritzy more and more. She was real. “I have to go out to the farm and check on everything. I didn’t want anyone to see me so they wouldn’t know no one is around the place now,” he confessed.
            “Adam, I already know your mom is sick, your dad is gone, and you live in town with your uncle. Who else would be living at the farm anyway?”
            “I guess you’re right. But, I don’t want anyone else to know.”
            “Why?” she demanded.
            “Because I don’t, that’s why. You’ll just have to accept that,” he whispered insistently.
            Adam gestured for Fritzy to walk beside him and they walked together in silence. “Your dad is going to kill me if I get you home after dark,” Adam shook his head.
            “No he won’t. I told mom I would be late because I was going for a walk.”
            “A walk! Girl a ten mile hike is not an afternoon stroll,” Adam chuckled a little.
            “When I get back, I’m going to help Mother with Christmas cookies.”
            “Christmas cookies? They sound good.” What Adam really meant was that food of any kind would taste like a feast that afternoon.
            They arrived at the farmstead a little before 5:00 p.m. The short lane that led to the barnyard had been plowed. By the looks of the tracks the tractor tires had left, the good neighbor  was either Nate Parker, down the road, or Sidney Crammer from the next farm over. Adam recognized the tread prints.
            The wind whipped through the willows and wept their icy tears all around the yard, from the road to the house. It all looked cold and abandoned.
            “It gives me the shivers,” Adam admitted as he pulled his jacket around him.
            “I think it’s kinda pretty. A beautiful winter scene. All it needs is a light in the window and a little smoke from the chimney,” Fritzy stopped and smiled.
            “Beautiful?” Adam gasped. “It just looks empty to me.”
            Adam had carried the house key in his pocket all the months the family had been off the place. The key represented access to a life that used to be—a life that was no more. He looked toward the house but it looked dark and cold.
            “Let’s go out to the barn and check on the cats.” His choose the barn first because it was  too hard to go into the house. He grabbed Fritzy’s hand and together they slipped and slid up the earthen hill to the bank barn. Adam pushed the double, cross beamed doors open.
            The tractor was still in the barn with a partial tank of gas. The silo, to the side of the barn, was half full of grain but the cows had been sold.
            “Looks like the cats still play in the hay mow. They must have found food by hunting mice.” A few of them, including Adam’s favorite calico, bounded over to them and nuzzled Adam’s leg. “They look okay.”
            So much was the same, yet everything was different. The key to the house was something he could hold on to. He would never have left it behind.
            “Come on, Fritzy. We can’t waste too much time. The dark will be comin’ on.” Adam found a flat-nosed grain shovel in the corner of the barn and took it to the house.
            “I can help, Adam. I shovel the walk at home sometimes.”
            “I can get it done faster,” Adam insisted. He shoveled the snow until he had made a path up the steps. He and Fritzy stepped up on the wide porch that wrapped around two sides of the house like a man wrestling a bear with biceps of icy steel. Adam nearly slipped onto his  backside.
            “Careful Adam,” Fritzy laughed. “I don’t think I can pick you up off the ground or this porch.”
            Shadows came and watched with their blank, black eyes. The porch smelled foul, like a dead possum was under the boards.
            “Get away from me,” Adam commanded the darkness.
            “Done well, my son,” Shaddi encouraged.
            Fritzy didn’t hear the wizard. “Sorry!” Fritzy threw up her hands in resignation.
            “Not you,” Adam stammered.
            “Who then? Ghosts?” She looked around the barnyard.
            “Something like that,” Adam whispered, embarrassed.
            With the large shovel, he pushed the snow from a large section of the porch but not to the front door. The parlor door was only for company and few people were considered company to Moms. Then, he turned the tumblers in the lock at the side entrance that led into the sitting room and let them both in.
            The house didn’t feel like home to Adam. There was no warmth and the rich aroma of pot roast with potatoes and carrots wasn’t coming from the kitchen. Moms’s African violets had withered and dropped their dry blossoms. A layer of dust blanketed everything.
            “Adam this is lovely,” Fritzy admired.
            “Done well, my son,” Shaddi encouraged.   
            He knew that Fritzy would not have heard the wizard. “This is all dirty, is what you
            Then Adam turned to the details of the room itself. “Let’s get you guys out of here,” Adam talked to the plants as he hustled them to the back porch.
            Fritzy follow close behind. The enclosed porch always smelled of tart pie apples, no
matter the time of year. “It smells wonderful in here,” she smiled as she inhaled the fruity aroma. A bucket of black walnuts still sat in the corner. The green hulls had been removed but
they had waited there, uncracked, for over a year. Moms had gotten too weak to think about walnut meat that still clung to the shells.
            “Maybe we can crack these nuts for your mom sometime, Adam.”
            “Sure,” he responded mechanically as he sat the skeletal remains of the violets on the tin counter-top of the old wooden cabinet that stood against the wall. He grabbed up some cleaning supplies and looked around.
            “The electricity may not be on now, but I can chase some of the dirt around with these rags and out of the carpet with the broom.”
            “I’ll take the dust rag,” Fritzy offered.
            “One of them. I can dust too,” he grinned
            “Wow, what a man,” she teased.
            In the parlor, he focused special attention on the bookshelves.
            “Moms always said, ‘Adam, don’t just push the dust around in front of the books. Take each book down and dust the shelf underneath it. Moms was always particular about a clean house.” As he removed each book, he stopped.
            “Huckleberry Finn. Moms you—” his voice cracked and he wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“Good ol’ Huck,” he smiled and shoved the book back into its assigned slot.
            “Anne of Green Gables, Adam. Did you read the Anne stories?” Fritzy asked surprised.
“No,” he laughed. “They were Moms’ favorites.”   
            “The fireplaces will be a big problem,” Adam admitted. “We left the house in late summer when the dampers were still open. It looks like snow and leaves have fallen through the chimney and picked up a lot of soot as they fell.” He stared at the hearth, took a deep breath, and took one of the dust rags to clean the brass andirons until they shone.
            “That looks great, Adam. I’ll use the broom on the carpet. That way, we won’t chase dirt from the carpet back to the fireplace.” She grabbed up the broom and didn’t wait for Adam’s approval.
            “The little shovel with the rest of these fireplace tools will get rid of these leftover ashes,” Adam’s voice was soft. “Moms asked me to clean the fireplaces after the last cold spell in the Spring, but, as usual, I didn’t refuse, I just didn’t do it.” He leaned his hand on the mantel and stared at the hearth. “I would do anything that you asked me to do now Moms, if you could just come home.”
            “I am so sorry, Adam,” Fritzy soothed as she gently touched his shoulder.
            “Pops—why, why did you leave us?” Adam spoke so soft, it had to come from a hidden corner of his memory.
            Fritzy tried to encourage him and picked up a framed family portrait from the thick beamed mantle. She saw smiling parents and a happy son with stubborn brown hair. On the right side, little globs of glue dotted the glass. “Look at the cute kid with all the hair” she added. “Your family looks really happy,” she offered.
            “Were happy,” Adam corrected. The picture brought back memories and unanswered questions Adam thought he had forgotten. Pops was several heads taller than Adam when the picture was taken.
            “I wonder who’s the tallest now,” Adam whispered as he took the picture and carefully dusted the surface. A faint smile crossed his face. How could he hate someone he loved so much?
            Suddenly, there was a strange presence around the house, a foreboding. He had seen the shadows in the barn, but not in the house. What was it? He didn’t see anything, but he could feel it. He suddenly felt trapped, like the house was closing in on him. The foreboding made his skin raise with chill bumps.
            “You okay?” Fritzy asked.
            “Sure,” Adam shrugged it off. I’m just jumpy today I guess.” Then he hurried to finish cleaning the house as it seemed to grow colder.
            Adam was soon lost in his thoughts, fears he didn’t share with anyone. What is it? Who is here? Whatever is here doesn’t feel like evil, but it does feel like change.
            He shook off the uneasy feeling that had taken over his common sense and tried to concentrate on the work in front of them. There were two dual fireplaces in the house. The first one was there in the living room that shared a chimney with the fireplace in the parlor. The same was true upstairs. A fireplace in Adam’s room was back-to-back with the one in his parent’s room.
            “Let’s get busy,” Adam said. That late afternoon, the two friends shoveled and whisked all four fireplaces, vigorously pulled and raked the carpets with the broom and carefully ran a dust
cloth over all surfaces. Then he checked his watch. “The sun will be going down. It will be dark
            “Adam Schumacher, you here?” A voice called from downstairs.
            He sounds familiar, not sinister. “I’m here,” Adam admitted, then wondered if he should  have kept Fritzy and himself hidden. Their presence was out now, so he added, “I’ll come down.”
            “Gloves,” Shaddi whispered as he had promised.
            Adam grabbed out his gloves from his top bureau drawer and started down the stairs with
Fritzy close behind. When they got to the foot of the stairs, Adam was surprised to see Sidney Crammer. He stood just inside the sitting room where he dropped snow from his hat on his Moms’ good sofa.
            “I let myself in. I thought I saw you walking up the lane.”
            “We were just leaving Mr. Crammer. We have to get back to town.”
            Fritzy came quietly down the stairs and stood at a distance.
            “Haven’t seen you or your ma around the place in months. There a problem?”
            “No Sir. We—well, we don’t tell everyone our family’s business, Mr. Crammer. I hope you understand.” Adam reached behind him for Fritzy’s hand and started for the door.
            “Sure, Adam.” Crammer paused and followed the two as they walked out onto the porch and Adam locked up. “I talked to your pa a couple years ago about buying some of the farm. He wanted to put in running water and a bathroom with the money.”
            Adam stopped and studied the man. He certainly knew there was no indoor toilet. It was a major condition in Moms’ ability to come home and he had walked the slippery path to the outhouse on many cold nights. Mr. Crammer’s words reminded him again of everything Moms would need.
            “We put in electricity back in 1939,” Adam reminded his neighbor, “when the rural service came down our road. Guess Pops was thinking about a bathroom too.”
            “Yeah, he was,” Crammer agreed.
            “He didn’t tell me anything about it. Moms neither.”
            “Well, he told me, Son. I’m sure he didn’t want to bother you.” Mr. Crammer squared his shoulders and looked out over the barn yard. “You sure have a pretty place here.”
            “Yes Sir.” Adam searched his memory for any hint that Pops was thinking about bringing the privy into the house. “Pops told me about everything, Mr. Crammer. We didn’t talk about the bathroom. He never kept secrets from Moms and me.” Crammer must be the source of my crowded feeling, I feel pushed.
            “Won’t argue with that, Adam. Since your dad—well, is still gone, don’t know how you’re going to pay to have a bathroom put in your house. If part of the farm is going to be sold, you and your mom are the two I should deal with. As a matter of fact, your dad had talked about selling off the creek and the bottom land adjacent to the water’s edge.”
            Adam felt a knot in his stomach. “The creek?” He looked at Fritzy and motioned for them to move on down the porch steps with Sidney Crammer scampering close behind, like a yapping dog unrelentingly nipping at their heals.
            “Yes, of course, the creek,” Crammer cracked.
            “We’ve got to get back to town, Mr. Crammer.” Adam had to nearly push the man aside so they could be on their way. They were running late.
            Adam knew Crammer’s offer didn’t sound right. His grandfather’s voice echoed in his ears with the same theme reverberating back from his own father. Both of them had been through the Great Depression. Each knew the fear and desperation of poverty but they always had one thing of value.
            As they started down the lane, Adam spoke low to Fritzy. “Grandpa said, ‘Adam, it’s the farm.’ Pops and Grandpa taught me clearly. They both said, ‘The land is all you have between hunger and prosperity. Hang onto every acre. The ground is a living solution.’ Crammer is not going to trick us into selling one foot of the farm.”
            Sidney Crammer stood in the lane as the young landowner and his friend squared their shoulders and leaned into the wind that had come up again while they were inside. “Think about selling, Adam. Letting go of some of the land was what your father wanted,” the man shouted after them.

            They had walked half way down the dirt lane when Adam turned and put on his gloves.  “I’ll talk to Moms. I can’t promise you anything.” He turned and did not look back.