Christine had been in the forest all day. She had set off for a long hike as usual. It was evening by the time she returned home. The sky was grey. Although it wasn't raining, it was overcast. She was tired, hungry and thirsty. She got to her house and opened the front door.
"Mum, Dad, I'm home!"
No one answered.
"Hey, where is everybody?"
She left the house and walked along the barn where her father stored the wood he had cut. She went over to the old oak tree where her father had hung a swing, which swayed patiently, waiting for someone to sit. After a quarter of an hour, she decided that something was wrong. When she comes home, there's always at least one of her parents there. She went back home.
"Mum, is there anything to eat? I'm hungry!"
She opened the bread bin. It was empty, apart from some crumbs at the bottom. With the tip of her finger, she picked up a few and licked them. It wasn't enough to fill her up. She opened the cupboard-empty. Did some robbers come? She looked inside the big pot where Mummy cooked dinner, nothing. She turned on the light. Just then, Christine noticed a dark stain on the floor in the corner of the room, over by the staircase. She went up to it and bent down. It was dark red. She touched it with her finger. It was blood!
"What's going on?"
Now her worry was turning to fear. Her surprise had melted and concern had taken its place. She checked all over her little house. Her parents' room was tidy as normal. She climbed up the wooden staircase to her own room. Everything was where it should be. Nobody had been into the house. She went back downstairs. She checked the fridge and the cupboards-everything was empty. There was nothing left to eat. Everything had disappeared.
"What on earth is happening?"
Christine went outside again. She walked around the house. She looked all around the barn and checked the garden. Nothing was out of the ordinary, so she went back inside to the kitchen. As she entered, she noticed something glinting under a cupboard. Night had fallen.
She got down on all fours and reached under the cupboard. It was a revolver. Daddy had a rifle but not a revolver.
Christine picked it up and turned it around in her hands. She opened the barrel. Her father had once shown her how. There were two bullets missing! She closed the barrel and put on the safety catch. Then, holding the revolver tightly between her thumb and her index finger, she went back outside. She climbed easily up onto the roof of the big barn. Up there, it was her territory. She had her hiding places. She hid the revolver between two beams and then returned to the house.
Still nobody home. It was completely dark now. She thought it was too late to walk into the village. She climbed the stairs and went into her bedroom. She took off her trainers and closed her door. Then she opened her window wide. She got into bed and waited in silence for the sound of her owl hooting; her heart was beating at the rhythm of her fear.
Shashu, the owl, who had taught her how to talk to animals when she was smaller, arrived a little later. Christine was still fully dressed. She wanted to be ready to go downstairs or climb out of the window at the slightest sign of trouble.
"You are very pale," said the owl, worried.
"I'm frightened. I don't know where my parents are. They aren't here. I don't know what's happened to them."
"Maybe they had an accident," said the owl.
The owl didn't talk of course, but Christine understood.
"Oh Shashu, will you do something for me? With your night vision, please could you do a reconnaissance flight around Dad's lumber yards? Then fly over the route to the village. Maybe you will find my parents."
The owl flew off and returned half an hour later, having discovered nothing.
"They'll come back tomorrow," said the owl.
"I hope so," murmured Christine. "There's nothing to eat."
"Do you want me to bring you a mouse?" suggested the owl helpfully.
"To eat. They're delicious!"
"I am not an owl," said Christine. "I don't eat mice."
"If you don't want to eat a mouse, then you can't be all that hungry!"
He left. Christine stayed still in her bed and finally fell asleep.
When she woke up the next morning, she opened her door.
But they still hadn't come home.
She got dressed, re-did her braids and put on her trainers.
"I'll cycle over to where Dad chops down trees. Maybe he's had an accident."
All morning, she cycled around the forest paths, to all possible sites her father, a lumberjack, might be working. She didn't notice anything out of the ordinary but there was no sign of her father or her mother.
When she arrived back home, it was nearly midday. She was beginning to get really hungry as she hadn't eaten anything since lunchtime yesterday.
She went inside and cried out in fear and surprise. The cupboard was open, the table had been moved and a chair had been knocked over. She went upstairs. Her parents' room had been turned upside down, the bed was undone and the pillows had been thrown on the floor. Someone had searched her room too, her wardrobe was open and all her things had been messed up.
The robbers had been back and they had been searching for something, probably the revolver. Luckily it wasn't there.
"The robbers have kidnapped my parents," thought Christine. "And there's blood. They've shot Mummy and Daddy! They're hurt. Please don't let them be dead! Something terrible has happened... but what? What shall I do?"
Christine went back down stairs. She looked at the mess everywhere.
Just then, she heard the sound of an engine. She ran out of the house, thinking it must be the robbers. She hid behind the barn and watched.
It was a four-wheel drive with a trailer, one of her father's customers. She knew them well. It was a family that often came to get their wood from her father. She came out of her hiding place. She wanted to talk to someone. The mother was very kind and the children were still small, five or six years old.
Christine really wanted to tell them all about her misfortune, but she kept quiet. The man got out of the car.
"Hello Christine. Is your father about?"
"She's not here either. But your trailer is ready."
"All right. I'll remove this empty one and attach the full one to my car then."
They removed the empty trailer from the car and attached the trailer that was ready and loaded with logs.
"Since your father's not here, tell him I'll pay him next week."
"Yes, I will," replied Christine politely.
She looked into their car. The two children were eating biscuits. She was so hungry! She would have loved to have one of those biscuits. But she lowered her eyes and said nothing.
"Goodbye Christine!" said the man, smiling.
He got into his car, but just as he was about to drive off his wife said:
"Did you see her face? She was all pale. She's all alone, poor child".
The lady smiled and took one euro.
"Give it to her. She can buy some sweets."
"Here you go, Christine. Go and get yourself some sweets."
Once again, Christine wanted to say something, but she didn't dare.
She thanked him kindly. She watched as the car drove off into the woods and disappeared. She slipped the coin into her overalls pocket. She was still hungry.
But with one euro, thought Christine, I could go and buy myself something to eat in the village.
Christine climbed onto her bike and cycled to the village. It was an hour and a half away, even by bike, because of the bad road. There were potholes and deep puddles of water and mud to circumnavigate. It wasn't really a road, but a country path through the woods.
After an hour and a half, she arrived in the village. She hurried into the shop. She only had one euro. She looked, thought and calculated. In the end, she chose a bread roll and a small bar of chocolate. It came to exactly one euro.
She left the shop and went to the little play area. She sat on one of the swings. Some children were playing nearby.
"They're lucky," she thought to herself, "because they have their parents at home, waiting for them."
She slowly ate her bread roll crumb by crumb, to make it last as long as possible. She was still hungry when she had finished.
She took the small bar of chocolate from her pocket. She thought it would be better to save it for tonight... but she was so hungry and she ate it then and there. Too bad for supper.
She climbed back on to her bike and cycled home.
When she got close to home, she saw a battered old van parked under the trees. She slowed down and laid down her bike in the grass. She went to the van and examined it closely. There was no one inside. It looked as if it might have been stolen.
She cycled closer to the house and carefully hid her bike behind a fallen tree trunk. She went around the back of the house, hid under the kitchen window and listened. The door was open. She heard two voices. A man and a woman.
"Do you think we'll have to wait much longer?"
"I don't think so," said the woman firmly. "I don't think so."
"I wonder when she'll decide to come back..."
"She'll be back before dark," replied the woman.
"Well, as soon as she gets here, we'll grab her."
"Yes, of course."
The robbers had returned and now they were waiting for Christine.
Our friend was brave and resourceful. She thought of the rifle Dad had in her parents' room, but she preferred to go back round the house and behind the barn. She crept into the barn and climbed under the roof. She sat astride one of the beams and waited.
"I'll wait here," she thought to herself. "They will leave eventually."
But they didn't leave. Evening fell. It began to get dark. Christine looked through the little hole in the roof from time to time. Suddenly she heard the sound of an engine. A car drove up and parked!
Thank goodness! It was a police car. A policeman got out, put on his cap, checked that his truncheon was properly fastened to his belt and slowly walked over to Christine's house.
"Thank goodness," Christine said quietly. "I hope he catches the two robbers. I'll wait here until he's got them."
The policeman walked up to the door silently. He entered briskly and shouted:
"Hands up you two. Don't move."
Christine climbed down from her hiding place and went towards the door. She had taken the revolver that she had found. She went inside, holding the weapon. The policeman stepped back. The man and the woman didn't move. Christine watched the scene for a second in silence.
"Well done," said the police officer. "What's your name?"
"Good. Wonderful. And where did you get that revolver?"
"It belongs to the robbers. I found it under the cupboard."
"Good. Give it to me."
"No! No!" cried the woman. "Don't give it to him. Be careful! You're wrong. He's the robber. We're both police officers. We came to get you, Christine."
"Be quiet. Christine," said the police officer, "you can see I'm a policeman. Go to my car, open the door, look inside the glove compartment and take out my wallet. You will see my police i.d. card with my picture. Then you will trust me and give me the revolver you found under the cupboard."
Christine went to the police car and opened the glove compartment. The policeman's wallet was there as he had said it would be. It had the police badge on the top.
"If it makes you feel better, you can keep the revolver," said the policeman when she returned. "We'll tie them both up. As I'm alone, you will have to help me. I'll explain what happened. These two robbers here, the man and the woman, came into your house. They wanted to steal your parents' money. They threatened them with the weapon you're holding in your hand. Your father wanted to go and get his rifle. The robbers saw him and shot him. Your mother tried to help him and they shot a second time. You will see there are two bullets missing. They wounded your parents, but don't worry, they are both in hospital and they will be alright. I came here to take you to them."
"Christine," said the woman. "Don't listen to him. We came here to take you to hospital to see your parents. He's the robber, disguised as a policeman."
Christine had opened the barrel of the revolver and counted the bullets. She was sure that the man who had come in the police car was telling the truth.
Upon his request, she went out to look for a rope. She kept the revolver in her hand. She came back with the rope.
"Here," she said. "Here's the rope and here's the revolver."
He put the revolver in his pocket.
"Do you know how to tie knots Christine?"
"Well, tie up this woman very tightly. She mustn't be able to escape. Don't try anything, you two," he said, turning his head to the man and the woman.
Christine tied up the woman's hands and the feet.
"Christine, you're making a mistake," begged the woman.
But Christine tied solid knots like her father had taught her. The policeman tied up the man.
"Christine, we won't manage to get them to the car between just the two of us. It would be too dangerous. As soon as we are at the village I will send my men to come here and pick them up. It will take two hours to get to the police station and two hours to get back. In four hours they will be prisoners and I don't think they will be able to escape in that time."
Christine didn't think that the policeman could have called for back-up with his car radio.
"Get into the car. We're going."
Christine ran to the car. The policeman set off, but instead of driving towards the village, she realized they were driving deeper into the forest.
"This isn't the way to the village," said Christine.
"I know the way," replied the man.
"Me too," affirmed Christine. "I live in these woods. If we carry on in this direction, the road will end in less than half an hour."
He continued driving.
Christine turned around and noticed a rucksack in the back seat which was half open. It was full of food... the same food she had in her house.
Suddenly, the man stopped the car. Impossible to drive further.
"Go on. Get out."
He grabbed the heavy rucksack and Christine could better see all the food inside.
"OK. Now we're going to walk over this way. Go on."
"I don't want to go over there," said Christine. "It doesn't lead anywhere. You're going towards an area where there are high hills and no paths."
"Are you going to start walking or not!" shouted the man.
Suddenly, it dawned on Christine that she had made a terrible mistake.
"You're not a policeman, you're a thief."
The man slapped her.
"You have realized your mistake," said the man, taking out his revolver. "Hard luck. You are my prisoner now. Come with me".
They walked for half an hour. The man still held his revolver. It was beginning to get dark and it started to rain. Christine was soaking wet. She was still starving!
"I'm cold," she said.
"Too bad. Keep going"
"I'm hungry too. You've got food in your bag. Please give me something to eat."
The man stopped, turned towards Christine and gave her another two slaps.
"Now I know you aren't a policeman," cried Christine. "You're a thief. I shouldn't have listened to you. I shouldn't have tied up those two others."
"That's right. You weren't very clever. Too bad for you. Keep walking."
He took Christine roughly by the hand and forced her to start walking, then he let go.
"I'm warning you, if you try to escape, I'll shoot you in the legs and leave you by the side of the path. So keep walking and stay next to me."
It was completely dark now. They walked on, next to each other, sometimes stepping in the mud because they couldn't see where they were walking. Christine walked through the mud with her trainers. She was cold. She was soaked as she wasn't wearing a coat. She was very hungry.
They arrived at the junction of three paths. She heard a foxes cry.
"He's hunting on his territory," thought Christine.
It was an owl.
"He's also hunting on his territory."
Then Christine thought to herself:
"I'm on my territory too. This is my forest. I know it like the back of my hand. Maybe I could try something..."
"You want to go to the other side of the hills, don't you?"
"You can't get there this way. You have to go through the pine forest."
"The pine forest. Are you sure?"
"Yes. If we carry on going this way, we'll get to the high rocks. It's impossible to climb them."
"You're lying. Carry on walking."
At the crossroads, Christine convinced the thief to take the left path. This was the wrong path that led to the swamp. She smiled to herself in the night.
"First victory," thought the young girl to herself. "I'm taking him where I want to go. I will fight, and I will win. I'll escape when we get to the swamp."
It was pitch black. She couldn't see the thief anymore, even though he was walking right beside her. That meant he couldn't see her either. But she could hear him walking. She could hear the sound of his footsteps on the muddy path.
She predicted their location. She thought about the little river that followed their path. Along the river, there was a fallen tree trunk. It made a kind of bridge over the river, between its two banks.
"When we get to the river, we'll have to wade across it and the sound of the river will make much more noise than here," she thought to herself. "He won't be able to hear me walking next to him. If I stop in the middle of the water, he'll carry on walking without realizing that I've stopped. He won't be able to see me because it's too dark. I'll hide behind the tree trunk and wait for him to go. He'll get lost in the swamp and I will be free."
"I know what you're thinking," said the man. "You're making a little plan to escape into the night. But I'm warning you. It won't work. I have a gun and if you try to escape I won't hesitate to shoot you."
"I'm not doing anything," said Christine. "I'm just walking."
"Good. Don't do anything stupid."
"How could I?"
"That's right. You can't. And you're only a young girl."
They arrived at the river and went into the water. The water level had risen because of all the rain. It made even more noise than usual. They waded through the water and Christine stopped half way. The man carried on walking, not realizing that Christine stayed still.
She made a first step towards the fallen tree trunk. A second, then a third. Soon she felt the tree trunk against her leg. She climbed over it and crouched down on the other side. It was cold mud but it didn't matter. She lay down on her stomach in the mud. She could feel it penetrate into her clothes. It was very cold. But her plan seemed to have worked. She didn't move.
Suddenly the man shouted out:
"Where are you?"
Christine knew he had just realized that she wasn't walking next to him. She pushed herself further down into the mud. It even covered her back. Her overalls stuck to her body, impregnated with cold mud.
"Where are you?" He shouted again.
He was close by!
"There you are," he said suddenly. "I see you. Come out and get over here or else I'll shoot. I'm going to count to three. One..."
"He can't possibly see me," reflected Christine. "I'm covered by mud behind a tree trunk and its pitch black."
"Two...! I'll shoot you in the legs. It's going to really hurt."
Christine was trembling as much from fright as from the cold mud.
Christine heard the shot, but she didn't feel any pain.
"Horrid kid! Horrid child!"
The man went away, without Christine. She had won! She stayed in the mud, not moving a muscle for several minutes, thinking that he might be waiting somewhere to catch her. She couldn't hear anything.
Then she got out of the sticky mud, shaking with cold. She climbed over the tree trunk, took two steps in the small river, and then went back up the path and ran into the pine wood towards her house. She knew the way, and even though it was dark, she didn't get lost.
When she got to the crossroads, she noticed the beams of light from two torches. Perhaps it was the two police officers. She ran towards them and showed herself in their torch light.
"Is it you, Christine?"
"I'm sorry Madam. I tied you up with a rope. I didn't know you were police officers. You had an old car and you weren't in uniform. I'm sorry."
"I understand, Christine," said the policewoman. "No harm done. In your place, I would have probably done the same thing," she added kindly. "We managed to untie ourselves. We saw the car drive off and we followed at a distance. We didn't want to put you in danger. We'll take you to hospital now to see your parents. You can have a wash and something to eat when we get there."
"What about the thief?"
"We won't be able to catch him in the dark."
"I can call my owl. He's got night vision. I can ask him to rest on a tree next to the thief. That way you'll know where to find him but he won't see you because it's so dark. Then you can catch him."
"Do you still have the courage and the strength? You're trembling with cold."
"Yes," said Christine. "Yes, I have the courage."
Christine returned into the woods with the two police officers. She wasn't frightened. She called her owl and explained to him what to do. The owl flew off and found the thief who hadn't got very far because he kept falling and tripping in the roots or dead branches of the forest.
"Hoo-Hoo," called the owl, resting in a tree.
The police officers told Christine to lie down on the ground. She was already dirty. The two police officers went further into the forest, one on the right, the other on the left, and shouted out:
"Raise your hands. Throw down your weapon. You're surrounded!"
The sound of two revolvers falling in the mud could be heard. They picked them up and seized the thief. They cuffed his hands behind his back with handcuffs.
They went back to Christine's house, got into the police car that the thief had stolen and drove to the village. Christine felt proud. As the thief said, a young girl had help put him in prison. She thought that she should have opened up the wallet in the glove compartment: she would have noticed that the face of the thief didn't correspond with the photo on the police identity card.
The policewoman turned towards Christine.
"If you're not dying of hunger, I'll take you to your parents."
"I'll be OK," confirmed Christine "I can eat later. I want to see my parents."
They went to the hospital. The policeman opened the door of the room, and as he entered he said:
"Sir, Madam, I have brought you your daughter. She is very dirty, she's soaking wet, exhausted and starving... But what a courageous and resourceful young girl she is!"
While our young friend kissed and hugged her mother and father, the policewoman explained how Christine had single-handedly escaped from an armed villain by hiding in the woods.
After she had kissed and hugged her parents, she sat on their bed. A meal was brought to her on a tray, which she ate with gusto. Then, a camp bed was set up in their room and she fell fast asleep.
She spent the next day in hospital with her parents. She had a shower but only had her dirty clothes-the clothes of courage. She was questioned by a police inspector for a long time.
That evening, Christine and her parents were allowed to leave the hospital and returned to their home in the forest, happy and relieved their terrible adventure was over. The villain would be locked in prison for a very long time.
For several days, Christine made the meals, did the shopping and looked after the logs in the forest, as her parents were still recovering from their wounds. But she did it very well and with great pleasure because she was so happy to have her parents back again.