Christine
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Christine's great fear

     Christine returned home after a full day spent in the forest. She'd gone on the kind of long walk she liked. And a swim. Night had fallen, dark and grey. It didn't rain but the sky was full of menacing clouds. She was hungry and tired.

She reached the house and opened the door.

"Mom, Dad, I'm home!"

No one answered.

"Mom! Dad!

Hey, who's here?"

She left the house. She walked around the barn where her dad stored the wood that he cut and sold to his customers. She came up to the big oak where her dad had installed a swing for her. Getting on the swing, she waited patiently, swinging.

After 15 minutes, she thought to herself that this wasn't normal. When she got home, at least one of her parents would always be there. She went back inside.

"Mom! I'd like something to eat. I'm hungry."

She opened the bread box. Empty! There were only a few crumbs left. Licking her finger, she mopped up the crumbs and put them in her mouth. She opened the cupboard. Also empty.

Had thieves come? she wondered.

She looked in the big pot her mother often used to make dinner. Zilch.

She turned on the light. Just then, Christine found, in the corner of the kitchen near the stairs, a dark stain on the ground. She went over to it and bent down. It was dark red. She rubbed her finger in it. It was blood!

What had happened? our friend thought, more and more worried.

Now her worry had turned into full-blown fear. Any surprise she had felt melted into dread.

She searched the little house. Her parents' room was neat and tidy. She took the wooden staircase up to her own room. Everything seemed to be in order. She came back down. Again she looked in the cupboards. They were bare. There was nothing to eat.

"Yep," she sighed, "thieves have been here."

 

Christine went outside. She circled the house. She searched the barn, scanning the surrounding area and, not finding anything out of order, she went back to the living room. Night had fallen completely. The light she'd just turned off, she turned on again.

As she went into the kitchen, she saw something shining under the counter. Getting down on all fours, she found a handgun, a revolver. Her parents had a rifle but not a revolver.

The girl took it and turned it around and around in her hands. She opened the cylinder. There were two bullets missing! She put it back in place and put on the safety. Then, holding it like a dead thing, between her thumb and index finger, she left the house. She easily climbed up into the rafters of the barn. That was her zone up there. She had her secret hiding places. Nestling the revolver between two beams, she returned to the house.

 

She listened in silence before entering.

Now it was pitch black. She thought it was too late to go to the village. She went upstairs and into her room. She took off her gym shoes and closed the door. Then she opened the window wide. She sat down on her bed and waited for her owl, her heart beating hard. It felt like a soundtrack to her fear.

 

Chachou arrived a bit later. The owl had taught her the language of animals when she was small. Our friend hadn't even dared put on her pyjamas. She wanted to be ready to go back downstairs or to escape by the window at the first sign of danger.

"Hello Christine."

"Hi Chachou."

"You look pale," the owl said in surprise.

"I'm afraid. I don't know where my parents are. I don't know if something's happened to them."

"Oh, me too. I don't even know mine," said Chachou.

"Yeah, but you're a bird. It's different."

"Oh, okay. Maybe they had an accident ..."

The owl didn't speak, of course. He hooted. But our friend could understand him.

"Oh, Chachou, could you be really nice? You can see in the dark. Can you go and scout out Dad's three lumberyards? Then maybe you can fly over the road to the village. If you see my parents, let me know and I'll run and find them."

 

The owl flew off, only to return half an hour later. He'd seen nothing out of the ordinary, and he hadn't seen her parents.

"They'll be back tomorrow," Chachou reassured her.

"I hope," Christine murmured to herself. "I haven't had anything to eat."

"Do you want me to bring you a mouse?" the owl offered.

"What for?"

"To eat. Mice are really good to eat."

"I'm not an owl," said the girl. "I don't eat mice."

"Then you can't be as hungry as all that."

He flew off into the night. Christine stayed put, not moving from her bed until she fell asleep.

 

When she woke the next morning, she opened her door.

"Mom! Dad!"

But they still hadn't come back.

She arranged her two braids and put her shoes back on.

She thought, I'm going to take my bike and go see for myself. First, I'll go where Dad is logging these days. Maybe he's had an accident.

All morning, she rode on the forest roads, from one logging site to another. All on an empty stomach. She visited the three places where her dad, a lumberjack, managed his lumberyards. She didn't see anything out of the ordinary. There was no sign of either her dad or her mom.

 

At about noon, she got back home. By now, she was starting to be really hungry. She hadn't eaten a thing since lunch yesterday.

She let out a squeak of fright and surprise. The cupboards were all open, the table moved, a chair upside down. She climbed the stairs to her parents' room. It had also been turned upside down, the bedcovers off and the pillows on the floor. Someone had also searched her room. Her closet was open and everything moved.

The thieves had returned and were searching for something, the revolver probably. Luckily, she'd been out on her bike ride at the time.

"These criminals must be holding my parents prisoners," our friend said to herself. "And that bloodstain means that they shot them! They wounded them. I hope they're not dead! No, that's not possible ... Something bad has happened ... but what? And what should I do?"

Christine went back downstairs. She thought about the mess everywhere.

 

Just then, she heard the sound of a motor. Quickly, she got out of the house, thinking it might be the criminals. She hid behind the barn and watched.

An all-terrain vehicle drove up. It had a trailer. It was one of her dad's clients. Christine knew him quite well. The family came to get wood every week.

Our friend came out from her hiding place. She wanted to talk to someone. The mother was very nice. The children were still small. Five and six years old.

Christine was really tempted to explain everything to them but she didn't dare. The father got out of the car.

"Hello. Is your father here?"

"No."

"Your mother?"

"She's not either. But your trailer is waiting for you."

"Good. I'll unhook this one and hook the other one onto the car."

They took the empty trailer off the car and attached the one full of logs to the hitch.

"Since your father isn't here, please tell him that I'll pay him next week."

"Yes, sir. Thank you," our friend replied politely.

Christine looked in the car. The two children were eating pastries. And her being so hungry! She would have loved to eat one. But she didn't say a thing. Just lowered her eyes.

"Goodbye," said the man, smiling.

He got in his car. As he was starting the car, his wife whispered to him:

"Have you looked at her? She's so pale! And alone. Poor little thing!"

She took a few dollars out of her purse.

"Give this to her. So she can buy herself something to eat."

"Here. This is for you. Get yourself something nice.

Once again, Christine felt the urge to say something. But she didn't dare. They weren't her family and she didn't know them well enough.

Instead, she thanked them politely. She watched the car drive off into the woods and finally disappear. She slipped the money into the pocket of her overalls. She was still hungry.

 

But with the money our friend thought, I can buy myself something to eat in the village.

Christine got on her bike and left for the store. It would take an hour and a half to get there because the road was in such a bad state. There were deep ruts in the road full of water and mud and she had to wend her way around them.

Even peddling on an empty stomach, she got to the village in the usual time. She made a beeline to the store. She only had a few dollars. She looked, thought, calculated. In the end, she chose a bun and a bar of chocolate. There was just enough money.

From there, she went to the playground. She sat down on one of the swings. A few children played near her. She thought how lucky they were to have their parents waiting for them at home.

She ate the bun, morsel by morsel, to make it last longer. After that, she was still very hungry ...

She took the bar of chocolate out of her pocket. Before, she'd thought of keeping this for that evening ... but, being so hungry, she ate it without waiting. So much for supper.

She got back on her bike and went back home. There was no police station in the village.

 

When she was coming up to her house, she noticed an old beat-up van parked under the trees. She slowed down and laid her bike down on the grass. She went up to the vehicle and looked over it carefully. She didn't see anyone inside. It looked like it was stolen.

 

Then she headed towards the house. To be careful, she walked all the way around it. As she walked under the living room window, she stopped to listen. She heard two voices, a man and a woman.

"You think we have to wait much longer?"

"I don't think so," a woman's voice answered.

"I wonder when she's going to think about coming back ..."

"She'll come before nightfall," the woman answered.

"Good, as soon as she shows herself, we can take her and get going."

"Yes, of course."

"The criminals are waiting for me," Christine said to herself. "They're planning to take me prisoner. I'm not going to let that happen."

 

Our brave and cunning friend thought of the rifle her parents had stored in their room. No, that was too risky. She went around the house again and went into the barn. On tiptoes, she made her way in and climbed up into the rafters. She shinnied up a post and sat astride a beam. Now to wait.

"I'll stay here. They'll go away before too long."

But they didn't leave. Night fell. It started to get very dark. From time to time, Christine looked up through the skylight. Then, suddenly, she heard the sound of a motor. A vehicle was approaching, with its headlights on. What good luck! A police car!

A man got out. He put on his cap and checked his revolver in the holster on his belt. Slowly, he approached our friend's house.

"What good luck," the girl repeated softly. "As long as he catches the thieves. When he has arrested them, I'll come out of hiding, but not before."

The man walked silently to the door. He entered suddenly and shouted.

"Hands up, you two."

 

Christine came out of her hiding place and headed for the house. She brought the revolver she'd found under the counter. She entered, gun in hand. The police officer backed up. The man and woman didn't move. Our friend watched the scene in silence.

"Well done!" the policeman said. "What is your name?"

"Christine, sir."

"Good. Great! Where did this gun come from?"

"It's the thieves. I found it under the counter."

"Good. Give it to me."

"No! No!" cried the woman. "Don't give it to him, Christine. Be careful! You've got it all wrong. He's the thief. We're the police. We came to find you."

"Be quiet, you two," said the policeman. "Christine, go to my car. Open the door, then the security case. There, you'll find my wallet. You'll find my ID and my badge. Then you can trust me and give me the gun."

The girl went out to the car and found the wallet. She opened it. The laminated ID card looked convincing.

She went back.

"If it makes you feel better, keep the thieves' gun," the policeman said. "We'll tie the two thieves up and, seeing as though I'm all on my own, you can help me. I'll explain everything. The two characters you see here, this man and woman, broke into your house. They wanted to steal your parents' money. They threatened them with the gun you have in your hand. Your father tried to go fetch his rifle. One of the criminals saw him and fired. Your mother got in the way. He shot a second time. Check. There should be two bullets missing. They injured your parents but, don't worry, they're both being taken care of in the hospital. I came to find you and drive you there."

"Christine," said the woman. "Don't listen to what he's saying. We're the police agents sent by our superior officers to take you to the hospital so you can be near your mom and dad. He's the real criminal, disguised as a policeman."

Our friend opened the chamber of the revolver and counted the bullets. Two were missing. So the man who came in the police car was speaking the truth.

At his request, Christine went to look for a piece of rope. She still had the gun in her hand.

She returned with rope.

"Here's the gun," she said.

"Thank you. But you can keep it if you like."

She gave it to him. He slid it into his pocket.

"Do you know how to make knots, little girl?"

"Yes."

"Good. Tie up that woman tightly. She can't escape. And, you, don't cause any trouble."

Our friend tied the woman's ankles and wrists.

"Christine, you're making a huge mistake," the woman pleaded.

But she tied solid knots like her dad had taught her. The policeman tied up the man.

"We can't bring them with us. It would be too dangerous. But, as soon as we get to the village, I'll send a team to pick them up and put them in jail. Go sit in the car and we'll get going."

 

Christine ran to the car. The police officer started the car in total darkness. He didn't turn on the headlights right away. But instead of driving towards the village, he drove away from it. They went deeper into the forest.

"You're going the wrong way," our friend said softly.

"I know the way," the man replied.

"I do too," Christine said. "I live in this forest. If we keep going this way, the road will end in less than an hour."

He kept driving.

The girl turned to look at the backseat. There was a big backpack, not completely closed. It was full of food ... the same as they had at home.

 

Suddenly, the man stopped the car. It wasn't possible to go any further. The ruts had too much mud in them.

"Go on, get out."

He took the heavy backpack and Christine saw the food inside even better now.

"Fine, now we'll walk there. Let's get going."

"I don't want to go this way," our friend said. It doesn't go anywhere. It goes into some steep hills and then there's no road."

She stopped.

"Are you coming, yes or no?" the man shouted.

Just then, Christine realized that she'd been tricked!

"You're not a policeman. You're the thief."

The man slapped her.

"Ah, now you've figured out your mistake," he said, taking out his gun. "Too bad for you. You'll walk beside me. Now, you're staying with me."

 

They continued for half an hour, side by side. The man kept his pistol in his hand. The night was completely dark. It started to rain. Christine shivered. Without a jacket, she was all wet. She plodded along the muddy path. And she was still so hungry!

"I'm cold, sir."

"Too bad. Keep going."

"I'm hungry too. You have food in your pack. Can you give me something to eat?"

The man stopped, turned towards the girl and, again, slapped her twice.

"Now I'm sure that you're not a policeman," Christine shouted. "I shouldn't have listened to you. I shouldn't have helped you tie up the others."

"Yeah, you weren't too smart. Too bad for you. Keep going."

He took Christine by the hand and he held on very tightly, forcing her to walk. Then he let go.

"If you try to escape, I'll shoot you in the leg and leave you there. I'm warning you. So get going and keep up with me."

 

They continued, side by side, often walking through the mud because they couldn't see where they were walking. The mud was often ankle-deep, covering her gym shoes. She shivered with cold, soaked from head to toe. The rain was falling hard by now.

They were getting near the intersection of the three roads. She heard the call of a fox.

He's hunting in his territory, our friend thought to herself.

"Hoo, hoo!"

An owl.

It was also hunting in its land. Then Christine thought to herself. Me too. I'm in my own territory. I know this forest by heart. Maybe I can try something ...

"Sir. Do you want to get to the other side of these big hills?

"Yes."

"There's no path that goes over them. You have to go through the pine woods."

"By the pine woods, you're saying?"

"Yes. Because if we keep going where we're going, there, up ahead, we'll get to the foot of some rock cliffs. There's no going over them."

"I'd really like to believe you, but if you're lying to me, you'd better watch it. And you're staying right by my side."

At the intersection of the three roads, Christine got the thief to go to the left. They took the wrong path, the one that led to the bog. Our friend smiled to herself in the dark.

First victory, the girl thought. I can lead him where I like. I'm going to fight and I'm going to win. Yeah, I'll lose him in the bog.

 

The night was completely dark. She couldn't see the thief who was walking right next to her. So he couldn't see her either. But she could hear the noise of his footsteps in the mud.

She knew the road they were on and knew what was coming. She thought of the little river that would cross their path. And along the bed of the river, on the side, there was a big uprooted tree trunk that had been lying in the mud for a long time. It created a dam of sorts between the two riverbanks, right there at the water's edge.

Our friend thought to herself, As we cross the river, we've got to wade through the water. All we'll be able to hear is our own footsteps. He won't hear me walking beside him anymore. If I stop, he'll keep walking on his own. He won't know that I've frozen in place. He won't see me. Then, I'll hide behind the fallen trunk. And I'll let him keep going. He'll get lost in the bog and I'll be done with him.

"I know what you're thinking," said the man. "You're hatching a little plan. You think you can escape in the dark. I'm warning you, it won't work. I have my gun. If you run off, I won't hesitate to shoot."

"I wouldn't dare," Christina said softly. "I'm walking right beside you."

"Good. Don't play dumb."

"What you're talking about? How am I going to run anywhere around here?"

"You're right. You wouldn't be able to run away. And you're just a little girl."

We'll see about that, our friend thought.

 

They came to the river. They waded into the water. The water level was higher because of the rain. It made even more noise than usual. As they were wading through the water, Christine stopped. The man kept walking without realizing that the girl had frozen in place.

She made a first step towards the fallen trunk. A second. Then a third. Soon, she felt the tree against her hip. She straddled it and then got onto all fours on the other side. She lay belly down in the mud. She could feel it seeping through her clothes. But her plan seemed to be working. She didn't move an inch.

Her parents would prefer to find their child covered in mud than dead, she told herself.

 

Suddenly, the man cried out.

"Where are you?"

Our friend knew then that he'd just realized that she wasn't there at his side anymore. She wriggled deeper into the mud. She even felt it on her back. Her overalls were soaked with mud and stuck to her body.

"Where are you?" he yelled again.

Silence. Darkest night. Fear.

"Ah, I see you," he said all of a sudden. "You're hiding there, behind ... Come on out and get over here or I'll shoot. I'm counting to three. One."

Impossible, Christine thought. There's no way he can see me here, lying in the mud behind this log.

"Two! Watch it. I'm going to shoot your leg. It's going to hurt a lot."

By now, Christine was trembling as much out of fear as cold. Her heart was pounding.

"Three."

Bang!

The girl heard the shot. But she didn't feel anything.

"Blasted kid!"

The man was moving away, without Christine. She'd won!

For a few minutes, she stayed put, there in the mud. He might still be nearby, watching out for her. She couldn't hear anything at all.

Then she got out of the mud, dripping wet and shivering with cold. She slid over the tree trunk, took three steps in the water, then found the path and ran through the trees, towards home. She knew her way. Even in the thick of the night, she wasn't going to get lost.

 

Back at the intersection of the three roads, she saw the beams of two flashlights. The two police officers? She ran towards them and showed herself in the light.

"Is that you, Christine?"

"Please forgive me, ma'am. I tied you up with that rope. I had no idea that you were the police. I'm embarrassed."

"I understand," the woman said. "If I were you, I would've been fooled too," she added gently. "We got loose. We heard the car drive off. We've been following you from a distance. We didn't want to put you in danger. We'll bring you to the hospital where your parents are. There, you can get something to eat and wash up."

"And the thief?" our friend asked.

"We won't be able to catch him tonight. He's armed and we're not."

"I can call my owl. He can see in the dark. I can get him to perch on a tree, near the thief. That way you'll know where he is and get close without too much danger. You'll be able to catch him more easily. He won't be able to see you."

"Do you still have enough in you to bring us there? You're shivering with cold," the man said.

"Yes," Christine said. "I want to do it."

 

She went back into the forest with them. She called her owl and explained what she wanted him to do. He flew off for a few minutes. He found the thief. He hadn't gotten very far because he kept tripping and falling on roots or dead branches.

"Hoo, hoo," the owl hooted, as he landed in a tree.

The police had our friend lie down flat on her belly so she wouldn't get hurt if there were shooting. The two officers made their way through the forest, one from the left, the other from the right. Then they shouted:

"Hands up. Drop your weapons. You're surrounded."

The man threw his weapons in the mud. The police listened carefully to where they fell and quickly picked them up. Then they grabbed the thief. They handcuffed him, with his arms behind his back.

Then they headed back towards Christine's house. On the way, they picked up the police car that the man had stolen from one of their fellow officers. Then they drove to the village.

Our friend was proud. The little girl, as the thief had called her, had done a lot to help catch him. Little girls aren't to be messed with, she said to herself.

 

The policewoman turned towards Christine.

"If you're okay with a sandwich to start with, we can get something at the station. You can tell everything to the chief, then I can drive you to get your parents."

"That'd be great," said the girl.

She had a sandwich and a lemonade, while they took her statement.

Then they left for the hospital. The policewoman asked Christine to wait in the hallway for a minute. Then she opened the door to the room where her parents were. As she entered, she said,

"Ma'am, sir, I've brought someone to see you. She's soaking wet, tired, and covered with mud. But what a brave child. And surprisingly resourceful."

While Christine hugged her mom and dad, the policewoman explained how our friend had, all on her own, escaped from an armed criminal by hiding in the woods.

Christine sat on their bed. The policewoman ordered room service and Christine polished it off quickly. She had more than earned her appetite. Then they brought in a cot and she slept soundly beside her parents.

 

She spent the next day in the hospital, with her parents the whole time. She was able to have a bath but then she had to get back into her mud-encrusted clothes. The mud on her clothes showed the evidence of her courage. Then she was again questioned in detail by a police officer.

That evening, Christine and her family were able to return home to the forest, happy and relieved that their terrible adventure was finally over. The thief would be in prison for a long time.

For several days, our friend made all the meals and did the shopping and took care of her father's business. Her parents had to rest. She did it all very well. And she was pleased that she could take care of her parents. She was so happy to have gotten them back.

 

Translation : Andrew Gordon Middleton