Sunday Stories features original fiction every weekend by Langley writers.
Written by Ryan Uytdewilligen
(continued from previous publication on Sunday, Feb. 16. Read last week’s installment here)
Frank carried a fast asleep Ellie through the pouring rain – who, in turn, carried bear. Of course, being tuckered out and all, Ellie kept dropping bear into puddles, forcing her father to have to trudge back and stoop down and try to retrieve the stuffed animal while balancing the girl on his back.
He figured they must have walked for hours, though with the rain, minutes felt like years. It was heavy rain, not just a drizzle; the kind that seeps through, not only one’s many layers of clothing, but through their skin and deep down to the core of their bones.
The man muttered and hummed, anything to quietly filter out his anger and attempt to take his mind off that anger through original tunes. Frank wondered if he should have bucked up and traded the darn bear. He wondered if he should have run off with a couple chocolate bars in his pocket to tide them over – as shameful as both of those thoughts did seem.
He wondered if the two of them were going to come down with a cold fairly soon. Then, Frank spotted a light, and wondered just how far away it was.
A good half an hour or so more, and Frank and Ellie were right underneath it. They had found a farm; well, Frank found it, Ellie was still asleep but she was still physically present for the discovery. They found a farm which in turn, meant they had found barns, trees, and a farm house.
Frank spent several minutes banging on the door and begging for shelter, but no answer seemed to indicate the owner was away. He hoisted Ellie to a nice firm, luscious oak tree with thick branches where they could keep warm and dry for at least the rest of the night. Frank surveyed the place, wondering which barn they could nestle into until he spied a trash can.
Out from the can, Frank pulled an apple core and coffee grounds. He discovered moldy bread and some kind of pasta sauce that had completely lost all natural colour. Frank poked around for anything edible and settled on the initial core, but he was certain the deeper he dove, the better the find would be.
Oh, he tried to chase away the nausea, accompanied by voices that warned what he was doing was downright volatile. He didn’t care, Frank was hungry. He knew Ellie must have been even hungrier, what with her being a growing girl and all.
He found paper and cans and butter that looked fine but must have ended up there because it had spoiled. Nothing touched Frank’s lips, mostly because he got distracted half way through the process of ingesting a piece of carrot. All rotten food items left his hands… even the lid to the trash can clamored on the ground as he fixated on the holy sight parked before him.
A Ford Coupe – black – and from that year, faced he and Ellie – no one inside and with no one watching. Frank waltzed over to her, grazing the wet finish with his finger that glistened under the yard light until his hold hand made its way to the door. To his surprise the door was open, and to his delight, the keys dangled inside.
# # #
Frank O’Neil had both hands on the steering wheel – his daughter’s head rested against the glass, still clutching bear and possessing no knowledge of where she was or what was happening around her. He had turned on the small cab light and ran his hands over the dusty dash.
Frank had turned every knob and twisted every dial. He even took the liberty of locking both doors and adjusting Ellie so she could endure all of the bumps that waited ahead so she could keep on sleeping. All the man had to do now was turn the key.
“I’m sorry,” Frank whispered, turning his attention to Ellie – though each word fell completely on deaf ears. He wouldn’t have wanted Ellie to see him cry anyway. “I’m sorry things couldn’t be better for you. After this is all behind us, I’m going to get you right back in the schoolhouse and…”
Frank mumbled, even whimpered a little, as he sniffled and wiped away his wet face. The windows had fogged up from their breaths, but he was certain, once he got the contraption going on down the road, he’d be able to see just fine. Again, his thumb and forefinger slid on either side of the keys – they just failed to move it.
“I’m sorry that it’s come to this… but… but what choice do we have? There’s no other job and there’s no other way to get to the dairy. They’ll forgive me… I have every intention of bringing it back.”
Ellie’s face, perhaps from the cold or perhaps the comfort from a goodnight’s rest, was covered in a rosy pink. Her lashes flickered as her lips crested into a faint smile. She, in Frank’s view, looked like the spitting image of innocence. She hadn’t a clue where she was or what her father was up to.
Even if Frank had looked at the farmhouse door a dozen times and made sure the coast was clear, he couldn’t drag her towards the possible brink of such shameful consequences. She clung tight to bear while Frank clung tight to Ellie.
“I’m sorry your ma had to be called away so early… I miss her Ellie. I miss her every day and I know you do too. I can’t imagine what you feel,” Frank gulped. “But I can’t imagine having the strength and view of life that you do. I’m proud of you my sweet girl… and I hope you get the chance to have money as… as an afterthought one day. I hope you get to dance and read and skate on ponds when the weather goes cold. I hope… I hope one day you meet a boy that gives you everything better than I ever could. I hope… I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me for this.”
Frank took his eyes off Ellie and looked up… up past the roof shielding his head from the rain. “I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Frank pinched the keys and moved the ignition slightly – slightly, but not even one quarter of the way. Seconds passed until he returned it to its inaugural position. He left go of both the keys and the steering wheel, huffed, and then opened the door to delicately take his daughter out.
# # #
The rain had stopped, which Frank took as a good sign. He had marched a good half mile down the road, thinking for most of the duration that as long as the skies stayed dry and the moon lit their way, it might just yet turn out to be a fairly good night. Ellie road on his back, little arms clinging around his neck for support.
Frank’s arms grew tired holding up her legs, and he knew sooner or later she was going to have to wake up and march a little on her own; but he was determined to dredge on for as long as he could until resorting to it.
Just then, Ellie woke.
“Where’s bear?” she asked.
“I’m not sure where we are, but there’s lights down the way were heading, and that man at the service station said there was a village over that way,” Frank replied.
“No… where’s bear?” Ellie asked again.
“You don’t have him?” Frank said.
“No… don’t you?”
Frank stopped, slowly plopping Ellie to the ground – she needed a few seconds to regain her balance and fully get herself awake. The little girl looked all over her body for any sign of the stuffed animal but came up short. Frank did the same, finding no sign of bear.
“Where is he?”
Frank didn’t have it in his heart to say bear’s gone. That would have also been a lie, seeing as how he knew exactly where bear sat. Stories of make-belief ran through his mind, ones where bear went his separate ways to find a family or go collect some supper for the two of them.
But when the shivering lip of his daughter began to pout and waterfalls rained down from her eyes, he knew that none of those words would ever do… nothing – no excuse – could suffice.
Frank sighed, picking up his daughter and propping her back into position atop his shoulders, before walking back the way they’d just come.
“He’s this way,” Frank said.
# # #
Upon their return, the amount of motor vehicles parked in the farm yard had multiplied up to three; the two new ones had the word “police” painted on the side. Sure enough, two officers chitchatted as they casually kept an eye out for whatever the reason they had been called over there – an attempted robbery no doubt.
To make matters worse, time was now at the cusp of morning and the all-illuminating sun began to rise. With law-enforcement bodies standing mere steps away from the black Coupe, Frank had no chance in the slightest of retrieving bear unseen.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Ellie. “Where’s bear?”
Frank shushed her; the father and daughter hid in the trees on the opposite side of the house. Frank could plainly see that he had knocked over the trash can and left the Coupe’s door ajar. He was a messy thief, that was for sure. Though he failed to actually take anything, the man felt guilty for leaving behind such a pigsty.
Three minutes or so later, the officers began to walk about – eventually heading inside the home. It was Frank’s moment; the path was clear and he knew he could be quick.
“Stay here,” he warned Ellie as he crouched down into a half-skulk half-sprint position.
“But I–” Frank shushed his daughter once more, forcefully guiding her body down towards the darker and weedier ground. “Be quiet.”
Swiftly and silently, Frank tip-toed across the yard – about 70 feet or so – tripping over the gravel only twice. The luck of it all for him was that the passenger door still remained detached, so minimal noise would be made. A loud, rusty creak echoed when he ripped the door open, but he hadn’t much time to give it a thought. Bear was lying on the floor, waiting to be rescued.
“All right, you just stop what you’re doing there,” a bitter voice warned. Frank’s hand wrapped around one of bear’s legs, but the sound of a pumping shotgun caused him to immediately let go.
He spun around to find a frail senior shoving a loaded barrel straight in his face. All Frank could do was whimper and shoot his hands straight in the air.
“Who do you think you are? Slipping around someone’s property and putting your fingers all over their belongings?”
“You don’t understand,” Frank whimpered.
“They’ll be no chances for you to take nothing where you’re going?” the old man spat. The two officers returned from inside the home – mouths still full with breakfast, but hands busy filling themselves with the clubs that swung from their belts.
“I can explain,” Frank screamed.
One of the officers was sure to yank Frank away from the Coupe as hard as he could, slamming the door as soon as there was space to do so, and then flipping the father around so he could pin him up against the vehicle’s roof.
“You’re coming with us,” barked one of the officers.
“I didn’t take anything,” Frank cried. “I was looking for food for my daughter. I was looking for shelter. I thought about driving off, but I didn’t. We kept going ahead on foot.”
“Liar. There ain’t no daughter with you,” the old man sneered.
“So you admit it?” asked an officer.
“Where were you off to?” asked the other.
“Work. I’m just looking for work and they’re hiring at a dairy not far from here,” Frank said with a squirm – still pinned flat against the Coupe.
“Martin Brothers dairy?” grumbled the man – still holding tight to his weapon.
“Yes! Yes! I have to get there. It’s the only place I know that’s taking folks. It’s the only way I can give her a better life.”
“Father! Father!” screamed Ellie, tumbling from out behind the brush and across the gravel. The girl stampeded towards the commotion; the officers were at first startled and ready for an attack before the sunrise revealed just who exactly was launching it.
“Eleanor! I told you to stay put,” Frank snapped. “Don’t hurt her! Please don’t hurt her.”
“Partner in crime?” inquired an officer.
“Her bear,” Frank replied. “We came back for her bear.”
Both officers looked at each other before turning their attention to the completely befuddled old man.
“What bear?” all three collectively shouted together.
Frank squirmed all the more as he heard Ellie slip and slide over towards him. The officer holding him could sense his fear and even he couldn’t stand to separate the two. He let go of Frank, trusting that he wouldn’t go for some kind of weapon, and instead hold tight to his young child.
The officer’s theory was naturally correct.
Frank and Ellie held on to each other as if they were two connective pieces made whole. Both cried and shook and nuzzled and squeezed. The three men standing around had to turn their heads, otherwise memories of their own children threatened to put a complete halt to the arrest.
“What’s going to happen?” Ellie whimpered.
“You don’t worry about a thing. I ain’t going to let nothing happen to you Ellie! I promise.”
“For real… for real father,” Ellie said, wiping her tears. “I getting older now. You can tell me. I’ll understand. Why are they after you? What’s going to happen?”
Frank stuttered, searching for an explanation that coloured over the harsh realities of prisons and fines. Before he could find one, the officer cracked open the Coupe’s door and found a child’s stuffed animal. He cradled the critter for a moment or so as he determined whether it could be used as evidence or a gift for his three-year-old niece.
“I think this might belong to you little girl,” the officer said, extending his hand with bear dangling down.
Ellie wiped her tears and clutched it tight against her chest.
“Thank you,” she said.
The farmer started by pointing his shot gun down towards the ground. Then he turned his attention to the lump in his throat that felt rounder than a plump red apple. He itched his cheek and scratched all down his neck, trying to distract himself and make it so that no one could really tell that he was trying to wipe away tears of his own. After a couple deep breaths and a few glances at his dark and empty home, he moved forward.
“That was the Martins’ dairy you said?”
“Yeah,” Frank nodded, taking out the newspaper clipping from his pocket. The elderly farmer read over it at least a dozen times as he dug his heels deep within the dirt.
“No need to stick around her officers,” the man assured. “I think I can handle it from here.”
The pair took a couple steps back, hanging around to observe just exactly what it was the old man planned to do.
“It just so happens I got a load of hogs due to ship out in a couple hours from here. They’ll go right past that dairy. No room in the cab I’m afraid, if you two don’t mind riding in the back…”
Frank looked at Ellie who’s eyes were restored with wonder and joy.
“Pigs,” she mouthed in complete amazement – certain it was to be the highlight of her life.
“Bless you sir,” Frank said, shaking the man’s hand. “The back will be be just fine for us. Thank you for your help.”
To be continued… The next installment of Bear by Ryan Uytdewilligen will be published by the Langley Advance Times, Sunday, March 1.