Suddenly she heard a noise behind her. She spun around and but saw nothing. She was pretty sure it wasn't her imagination... or was it? Again, the sound of crunching snow and cracking sticks reached her ears. Where was it coming from anyway?
Lisa peered to her left and instinctively hid behind a tree at the same time. She then glanced to her right. There was the oddest thing she had ever seen.
A red sweatshirt was slung over a nearby branch, and she was sure it hadn't been there before.
Footprints. Lisa scrunched up her eyes against the sun that glinted off the sparkling snow. There would have to be footprints.
Grabbing hold of a low, thick branch on the tree she was concealed behind, the girl pulled herself up. A fluffy, white shower flitted to the ground as she found the next place to put her boot. A few branches higher she braced one foot against the tree trunk and paused to look down from her hidden observation point. There were no footprints. There was no one around. She glanced at the trees around her and gasped when she saw him perched in one. He blinked.
They sat, staring each other for a few seconds, before the boy said, simply, “You’re in my tree.”
Lisa stared for a moment longer. “Your tree?”
“Yes, my tree!”, he replied with more vigor. When she didn’t seem to understand, he sighed and slid down the tree. She followed his example.
“Look.” He pointed up the tree that Lisa had been sitting in moments before. A small, rickety treehouse stood high, half hidden in the leaves.
Lisa stared at the tree, then back at the boy. “Who are you anyways?” she asked, “And why are you wearing that funny hat?”
“Well…” he sighed, “I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to tell you.”
“What do you mean “you were hoping?”, she was beginning to get irritated at this strange boy. “I’ve never even seen you!”
“Well,” he hesitated, “It’s like this...I've run away from home." He said it quickly, as if to do it before he changed his mind.
"Why?" Lisa gasped. He said nothing. "What about that hat?" She asked.
"It's cold out here." He replied.
"Why did you run away?" She asked again.
"Do you promise not to tell anyone?"
Lisa considered for a moment, but finally nodded.
"I... about two weeks ago... I was in on a robbery..." He shuffled his feet nervously, "we were going to rob a store-like get into their cash registers and steal the money. I was mostly in on it because they bribed me to find out which day of the week they stayed open later when the supply truck came."
He sighed again, "I don't know why I'm telling you this, but anyway, we slipped in one night while they were unloading stuff into the store and hid, and when we were pretty sure there was no one left in the store, we went into the front of the store to grab the cash register. Well, we were wrong about everyone being gone, and..." He paused yet again.
"The kid that bribed me got caught along with two other kids. I got out the back door before they could see me. I know when those kids get out, they will definitely get me. I've been trying to make a living out here but," he stopped.
His eyes froze on something behind Lisa. "Shh." he pulled her down in the snow.
Lisa tried not to feel like a little kid as she looked out through bushes she saw a man with black hair and blue eyes tramping through the snow.
"Lisa!" he called.
"It's only my brother. Over here, Henry!" She yelled standing up. He looked her way and smiled.
Lisa stepped toward Henry. Looking back, she saw that the boy had disappeared. Her eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Who was with you?" Henry's brown eyes followed the snowy tracks into the far trees.
"I - I don't know." Lisa stammered, realizing that she had not even asked the boy's name.
Lisa stepped back and looked up into the trees, Henry following after her. She soon spotted the funny orange cap and an anxious face under it peeping out of the branches.
"Hey!" Lisa called, "you can come down, it's quite safe!" she noticed his eyes were riveted fearfully on Henry, but after a minute of hesitation, he slid down and shuffled over to them.
"What's your name, sonny?" Henry asked kindly.
"Please don't let him get me!" gasped the boy, clutching Lisa's arm.
"Why?!" Lisa asked in surprise.
"He's one of the police who caught the other boys!!!"
Lisa looked up at her brother. "What?" she asked in surprise. Henry bit his lip.
"Arrested who?" he finally asked.
Lisa explained the story, after peeling the boy's fingers away from her arm. Henry's eyebrows creased.
He sank down into the snow and did criss-cross apple-sauce then rested his elbows on his knees and put his chin on his palms. Lisa watched him.
"What to do we do?" she asked after a moment.
"Do you have a family, boy?" he finally asked.
The boy shook his head. "My parents died when I was a baby." he said.
"Have you been to an orphanage?" Henry asked.
The boy's eyes widened. "Please don't send me there." he whispered. "It's terrible. I never got to eat." Lisa finally noticed how skinny the boy was. She was almost positive she could count his ribs. Henry stared at him for a few seconds then stood up.
"Come with me, boy," he finally said.
"They're back!" Lisa's younger brother, Willie, cried as Henry and the boy, Benjamin came up the road to the house.
"Both of them?" Lisa asked. "Yep," Willie replied.
"What happened?" Lisa exclaimed as Henry and Benjamin came through the door.
"The rest of the department agreed that Ben would be released if he helped us find the rest of the crooks." Henry glanced at Ben. "He has enough info, so he agreed."
"Is it dangerous?" Lisa gasped.
Henry chewed on his lip for a moment before replying.
"It doesn't have to be," he finally said, "Tomorrow we'll just get a couple more officers to come with us and we'll drive over to wherever he says their hideout is and hopefully they'll be there. So it SHOULD be easy..."
Lisa sighed, hearing the little bit of doubt in her brother's voice and prayed that it would be as easy as that.
The next day........
Lisa rubbed her eyes, tiredly. "Henry?" she whispered, inching towards the open door. There were footsteps and Lisa saw a dark form in the doorway. She sighed.
"Henry? What's happening? Have you already left?" She asked quickly. Then she saw his face.
"Who are you?" she whispered, suddenly feeling afraid. The man smiled. Then grabbed her arm and pulled it behind her back. He leaned close to her ear as she was about to scream.
"Don't move, kid. I'll dislocate your shoulder." he hissed. "We don't want to hurt you. If you cooperate you'll get out fine." She bit her lip and nodded against the pain.
Then he looked up and called. "Come on, Hickory!" he cried. The door was thrown open and three men came in. The door was shut and the men disappeared. Lisa watched with wide eyes.
The doorknob turned. "You open the door, Jones, this girl here will get badly hurt." the door knob loosened.
"Let her go, Davis." Henry's voice came.
"Henry!" Lisa screamed. Her arm was pulled up and she screamed again and slumped against Jones.
'What was happening? Who was Jones? I thought you said it wasn't going to be dangerous......' Lisa thought.
"Let's go!" The man holding Lisa pushed her toward the door. She shrieked in protest, and her arm was yanked upward. Twisting, she saw just enough to see that Benjamin was also being held.
"Let her go!" Henry yelled again.
"Make me, Brenton," Her captor taunted. Turning his back to Henry, he called to the other men: "let's go."
"What're we going to do with her?" One of the men nodded at Lisa.
"We'll hold 'er for ransom or leverage. We could use a hostage." He smiled cruelly.
Lisa opened her eyes and wondered how long she had been knocked out. The next thing she wondered, which worried her a bit more, was, Where am I?! She was lying on her back on a cot in a small room with a single bulb lighting the space. She tried to sit up and it all came back to her as the pain in her shoulder made her lay back down. She remembered struggling as the men dragged her away and finally her arm had been wrenched so badly that she had passed out.
Her slight movement had now gotten her captors attention and one of them came over to her.
"Awake, eh, little girl?" He asked with a leer, Lisa recognized him as the man who had been holding her, and whom Henry had addressed as Davis. How did Henry know this man?
"Hope we didn't hurt you too badly!" He added sarcastically as he pulled her to a sitting position. She saw that the three other men were also in the room, and she saw Benjamin sitting in a chair with his arms tied behind him. Actually one of the men was untying him and instructing him to go into the next room and bring them some coffee.
"And don't touch ANYTHING else, understand?" Benjamin nodded and left, but Lisa thought she saw something else other than submission in his demeanor and prayed that he had had an idea of how to get free.
"Just thought we oughta get some use from the lil' begger," the man said, leaning back in his chair.
Benjamin chewed on his lip as he looked around. "WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?" he wondered to himself. Then he put his head in his hands.
"I got her in so much trouble. Dad's going to KILL me!" He groaned. Then looked up and hurried to get the coffee. "Nothing to use in here," he muttered to himself looking around the small messy "kitchen". If you could even call it that. Knives were strewn on the table. The sink was FULL of dirty dishes. Like worse than after Thanksgiving linner......Seriously. The room was a huge mess.
He heard footsteps and quickly went into the next room with the cups. He smashed into a man and groaned and slumped to the floor. Cups of hot coffee spilled burning his hands. He put his head against his chest. Tears stung his eyes. "Dad!" he wanted to scream.
Lisa watched as the man lifted his hand to hit Benjamin. 'Oh, Lord,' she prayed silently, 'help us!'
"Tell me, little girl, what do you know about the robbery?" Davis asked, walking over to her.
Benjamin shot her a 'be careful' glance. Lisa saw a red welt across his cheek.
"That... that it didn't go well..." Lisa stammered.
"Who told you that?"Davis grabbed Her shoulders.
Ben shook his head silently at her, and she resolved to remain silent.
"Why would it matter?" She whispered through trembling lips.
"Because I need to know who was foolish enough to betray us." He spun around and faced Ben "Was it you, traitor?" He roared.
Ben gulped, but did his best to hide his feelings. Every story he had ever heard about courage came to his mind in that moment. Seconds ticked and yet Benjamin gained courage.
"And what if it was?" It was not said casually or disrespectfully, but courageously.
Lisa watched anxiously from her corner. She could see the battle going on between both of them, though no words were said. Just hard stares was the only evidence of the tension between them.
Before another thing could be said, an authoritative voice suddenly called out, "Davis, that's enough. Put your hands up in the air!"
Davis grabbed Ben and swung around, holding the groaning boy in his arms. Lisa bit her lip. " Henry!" She cried.
" Lisa?" Henry asked from the door. He was holding a pistol and it was pointed at Ben's chest. "Are you okay?" He asked.
"Please don't shoot, Henry!" Lisa whispered. Henry turned to Davis. He was holding a knife to Ben's throat. He smiled.
" You move I kill him." He said. Henry bit his lip. 'Ugh! He's got the leverage!' he thought. Ben stared at Henry's hesitating face. 'Just get out of here, Henry.' he thought. Lisa felt arms pull her toward the door.
" No Henry!" She cried. " We can't leave him!" But they were already out the door. Lisa burst into sobs as Henry lifted her into the wagon.
"Hey," he whispered. "I'll get him. I promise." Lisa nodded. Henry turned and slipped into the cabin. She buried her head in her hands. A gunshot met her ears. Then a scream.
Benjamin! She knew that was him. She crumpled into a heap, regardless of the pain in her shoulder, and prayed like she never had before.
Sirens suddenly rent the air as two more police cars screamed around the corner and screeched to a halt. Their inhabitants leapt out and rushed into the cabin. Moments later, the four men were lead out in handcuffs and put, struggling, into the cars, just as a different siren pierced the air. It appeared that one of the officers had radioed for an ambulance, and Henry came out to meet it, he and another officer carrying a limp Benjamin in their arms.
"Are you alright, Lisa?" Henry asked, touching her shoulder. She winced.
"My shoulder hurts." She whispered, her eyes following the ambulance down the road and out of sight.
"If you're hurt then we should bring you to the hospital, too." Henry said, "We can take one of the police cars."
"Is Ben going to be ok?" Lisa blurted out, her eyes brimming with tears.
"I'm not sure, Lisa," Henry paused, "he was hit pretty bad. After I got you out of there I went back in for him. I took a shot over their heads as a warning, then one of the guys turned around and shot Ben."
"Lord, help Benjamin right now..." Lisa began, but could not finish.
"Let's go to the hospital, Lisa," Henry placed an arm around her shoulders and helped her into the car.
Benjamin opened his eyes. He groaned. 'What?' he thought. He struggled to sit up. "Oh, no." he breathed. He glanced over at a chair that Lisa was asleep in. "Ugh." he muttered. Henry appeared in the door.
"Hey, Ben." he smiled.
"What's happening?" he asked. "Where am I?"
"You're at the hospital, Ben. You got shot." he answered. Ben winced and took a deep breath. His chest ached. "Barely missed your heart and lung." he said. Ben took a deep breath.
"What time is it?" he asked
"Hmm? Oh, it's 7:00." he answered.
Ben looked at him. His eyes wide.
"What? No," he started to throw his legs over the side of the bed.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Henry grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down. Ben clenched his teeth and breathed in through them. Henry released his shoulders as Ben relented.
"Please," Ben whispered. "My father's going to kill me." he groaned and put his head in his hands.
"Who's your father?" he asked. Benjamin hesitated.
"Don't worry, Ben. I won't hurt you." he said.
"Okay." he finally said. Then his eyes flitted to Lisa. "Is she okay?" he asked.
Henry nodded. "They just dislocated her shoulder." he answered. Ben noticed the cast around her right arm. He took a deep breath.
"Where'd you find her?" he finally said.
Henry stared at him. "What do you mean?" he finally asked.
"We both know she's not your sister. You just told her that." Ben said.
"She is my sister!" Henry said, surprised that Benjamin would say such a thing. "She did get kidnapped when she was 8 and we finally got her back when she was 11. Of course," Henry's eyes suddenly filled with tears and he had to turn away for a moment. He took a deep breath but his voice still cracked when he spoke again, "Our younger brother was also kidnapped at the same time Lisa was, his name was Benjamin too, actually, he was only 3, but we never got him back. Then Father and Mother both were killed in that accident. It's been 8 years now since he and Lisa were kidnapped. 5 years since we got Lisa back. He'd be 11 now, I guess..." He pulled himself back to the present with a sigh.
"Ben, I thought you said you had no parents, who were you calling, 'Dad'?" But Ben didn't hear his last question. A thought had hit him so hard that he could hardly breathe. Henry gave him a puzzled look then gasped. "Ben," he asked in a low voice, "how old are you?"
"Eleven," Benjamin replied in a hoarse whisper.
"Ben, does that mean..." Henry stopped, Benjamin just nodded.
"What?" Lisa looked quizzically at them, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with the hand that wasn't held by a sling. Suddenly her eyes widened in recognition "what?!" She gasped.
"Lisa!" Ben exclaimed, "how could I not have recognized you before?" He wondered aloud.
Henry stopped for a moment and gazed at his new found brother in surprise. The with a sharp cry pulled the boy into his arms. Benjamin winced in pain. Henry quickly released him and Benjamin's slim form settled back into the white sheets. Lisa burst into tears. Henry looked up as a man stepped into the room. Benjamin started. His eyes widened. "No." he whispered. Henry glanced from the terrified boy to the smiling man.
"Benjamin?" he asked. Benjamin's chin shook with surprise.
"Benjamin what happened?" the man asked.
"Ben, who's that?" Lisa asked quickly.
Ben bit his lip and glanced at her. "He's my dad." he answered.
Then with a sharp cry the poor boy fainted from shock. The man took a step toward him and Henry leapt up and stood barring the way to the bed, his eyes blazing.
"You're Ben's Dad?" Lisa asked in a quavering whisper.
"No!" It exploded from Henry before he could stop himself, "He's not! Ben's Dad is dead, OUR Dad is dead!"
"Wait, what?" The man seemed confused. Then it seemed to slightly dawn on him and he looked a bit apprehensive.
"Are you Lisa?" He asked her. Henry answered before she could.
"Why did you do this to our family?!" He asked, tears quivering on his lashes, "you took my siblings away, then you-"
"Henry," Lisa interrupted, "we have to forgive." She looked the man in the eye, "I forgive you, but can we please have Ben back?"
"Yeah. You can have him back. What use is he to me anymore? Now I'm getting out of here before the police show up." With that he turned and left.
"Thank God that he didn't try to take you!" Henry said.
"And that we're all together again!" Lisa exclaimed.
"Amen!" Benjamin chimed in.
And they lived happily ever after.