Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Chistmas Cookie Thief

Granny LaVerne stood at the bottom of the steps and yelled, “Hannah and Teddy, you get down here right now.”

Pretty soon the nine year old Davis twins came out of their bedrooms still in pajamas.  Hannah stared at Teddy. “Granny sounds pretty mad. What do you think is wrong?”

Teddy shrugged. “I don’t know, but we’d better get down there and find out.”

When they came to the kitchen, Hannah put on her winning smile and said sweetly, “What’s wrong Granny?”

Their great-grandmother wearing her normal house dress covered by an apron scowled. Their granny might be short with white hair and quite old, but she was no one to be messed with. “Don’t act like you don’t know.”

Hannah widened her brown eyes, and turned to her twin. “Do you know what Granny’s upset about?”

Teddy shook his head.

Granny LaVerne took a deep breath. “You two deny knowing anything about what happened to the big pan of Christmas cookies I made last evening and left to cool on the counter so I could decorate them today?”

They both shook their heads, Hannah a little more actively than Teddy so her head full of numerous beaded black braids bounced around her head.

“And you didn’t pour yourself a glass of milk to drink while you were eating all the cookies, and leave the empty glass on the counter?”

“Granny, we’d know better than that. If Teddy or I had a glass of milk, we would have rinsed it out and put it in the sink,” Hannah said. “We know how much you like a clean kitchen.”

 “Hmph!” Granny snorted. “I suppose next you’re going to blame your mom or dad for eating the

“Could it have been a cookie thief?” Hannah sounded excited now.

“And how was this thief supposed to have broken into the house? I checked the downstairs doors and they were still locked.”

“Could mom or dad have taken them to work?” Teddy asked.

“Linc and Lizzy wouldn’t have done that without asking first, you know that. Or at least I think they would have.” Granny looked a little uncertain now. She sighed. “Go back upstairs and get dressed while I fix you breakfast. That is if you’re not already stuffed full of cookies.”

Great-aunt Claudia was just coming out of her room. “What’s all the commotion about?” She was almost as old as Granny, but taller.

“Someone took all the Christmas cookies Granny baked yesterday evening,” Hannah said. “We think there’s a cookie thief who came in the night.”

Aunt Claudia cocked her head looking skeptical. “Anything else stolen?” she asked.

Hannah’s mouth dropped open, and she looked at Teddy. “We didn’t check to see if anything else was stolen.” Then she smiled. A mystery for them to solve.

Before Aunt Claudia started downstairs, she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if my sister already packed them up in containers last night and forgot she did that.”

After the twins got dressed and brushed their teeth, they met at the top of the steps. “You know what I’ve been thinking, don’t you?” Hannah asked in a low voice.

Teddy nodded. “You’re thinking it was Caleb.”

She nodded. “But we can’t go to the tunnel until Granny and Aunt Claudia take their afternoon naps, or maybe go to the grocery store.”

While they were eating, the twins were thrilled when Granny told them, “Claudia and I are going to the grocery store now. We expect you to be on your best behavior and don’t let anyone in. Also rinse your dishes and put them in the dishwasher.”

They both nodded. As soon as Granny and Aunt Claudia were on their way to the large Packard parked in what had once been a carriage house for horses, Hannah and Teddy hit their hands in a high five.

“We need to get down to the cellar and the tunnel before they come back,” Hannah said.

Teddy nodded. After they rinsed their breakfast dishes and put them in the dishwasher, Teddy took several flashlights out of the drawer where they were stored. Once they’d been lost in the tunnel that was once a part of the Underground Railroad between the house basement and the carriage house. They’d lost their way when their flashlights went out, and didn’t want that to happen again.

They crawled through the small hole behind the furnace into the tunnel and headed down to where the tunnel split. They aimed their lights at the tunnel on the left where some blankets were. It was where Caleb lived.

“Caleb? Are you there?” Hannah called out.

Gradually, he started to appear a little at a time until there was a black boy still in his ragged clothes from when he’d been left behind when his family and others were escaping on the Underground Railroad. He’d broken his leg so they couldn’t take him with the others because they would risk capture.

“We have another mystery to solve, but I don’t think you are part of it this time,” Hannah said.

He smiled at them. “Is it cookies?”

Teddy stared at him. “Yes, but how did you know?”

“I thought you couldn’t eat any more,” Hannah said.

“I can’t, and I didn’t take them, but I know who did,” Caleb said.

“Who?” they both asked in unison.

“I don’t know his name, but he’s a young boy a little older than you. He came through the tunnel from the trap door at the end of this tunnel,” Caleb said.

“I thought the ladder was taken down so no one could use it,” Teddy said.

“He came down on a rope he had fastened up above. It wasn’t the first time he’s come, either.”

“Is he stealing things from our house?” Hannah asked.

“Only food,” Caleb said. “He’s rather skinny. He’s not aware that I’m here although sometimes he seems to sense me. I followed him upstairs to see what he was up to, and he always stayed in the kitchen. Sometimes he fixed himself a sandwich and often another sandwich to take with him. Sometimes he takes a can or two of soup and once a peanut butter jar that was almost empty from what I could tell. Another time he took an almost empty gallon of milk, but there was a full one still in the ice box, what you call a refrigerator, so maybe it wasn’t noticed.”

“How long has this been going on?” Teddy asked.

“You know time runs by me so I’m never sure how many times he’s been there. I’d say about three
times.” He paused before going on. “I wish he could see and hear me. I feel kind of sorry for him
I think maybe he gets lonely like I do,” Caleb said.

“We’d like to spend more time with you down here, but we’ve been told to stay away from here
after that time we got lost,” Hannah said.

“Couldn’t you come upstairs more often to visit us?” Teddy asked.

“I do sometimes,” Caleb said, “but I’m still hoping someday my mammy and pappy will return. I know they’re dead like I am, but it would be so nice if they did come back someday.”

“We’ll try to come down here more often when there’s no one at home, but that doesn’t happen very often,” Hannah said. Suddenly her eyes lit up. “Do you know how to read?”

Caleb shook his head. “No, I never did learn.”

“Well, it’s time Teddy and I taught you. The next time you come to one of our rooms, I’m going to teach you to read, and then you can read books. That should make life a little more interesting.”

Caleb smiled. “I liked it the time I came up and you were watching people in that box, the one where they can’t get out. They must have been having fun because they were laughing. And then there was that time with strange colorful animals like none I’ve ever seen before.”

Hannah laughed. “Those are cartoons. They’re not real, only pictures that move. The other one was real people who were being filmed.” She looked at Teddy then. “Do you think we could take a video of Caleb on our cell phones?”

Teddy shrugged. “We could try, and if he doesn’t show up, we can take videos of each other and show Caleb what we mean.”

“We need to get back upstairs before Granny and Aunt Claudia get home. Dad will probably be coming home soon, too, because he only had a few things to take care of at school. We’re on Christmas vacation, you know,” Hannah said.

“Thanks for your help, Caleb,” Teddy said as they turned to leave. “I brought you another
flashlight with fresh batteries. I’ll take the one I left before and put new batteries in that one.” He
put down the flashlight he’d brought and took the other one that was now dead.

 He turned to follow Hannah, and then looked back and saw Caleb had somehow managed to turn the flashlight on. Teddy smiled. He wished Caleb and he could be real friends, and go places, and do things together.

Their dad came in singing the song Winter Wonderland. The twins knew the words to the song because it’s one their dad sang to them a lot so Hannah started singing along, and Teddy hummed a little.

Linc Davis laughed.  “What have you two been up to while I’ve been gone?”

Hannah widened her eyes putting on her innocent face. “Why, nothing, Daddy. We have been very good while waiting for Granny and Aunt Claudia to come home from the grocery store. We’re going to go outside and carry in the groceries for them,” she said.

Their father narrowed his eyes and cocked his head. “Why do I get the feeling you’ve been up to something?”

She took her finger and made a cross on her chest. “Cross my heart and hope to die, Daddy. Teddy and I have been oh so good today,” she said.

Linc looked at Teddy, who was studying his hands for some reason. Then Teddy wiped them on the back of his pants. He looked at his dad and smiled. “I cleaned my room while you were gone,"
he said. Well, he sort of did, and only hoped his dad wouldn’t go to check it. Not that he ever did. It was more likely that his mom would or Granny or Aunt Claudia. He guessed he’d better go up there and make sure it looked like that’s what he’d been doing.

Hannah looked at Teddy and scowled a little. She turned to her father and smiled. “We’ve both been working hard on our rooms because we want to make sure Santa will visit us this year,” she said. Then she stuck her lower lip out and put on a sad face and sniffed. “I’m worried that maybe Granny will tell Santa we’ve been naughty and not nice because someone took the Christmas cookies she baked, and she thinks it was Teddy and me.” She sniffed some more and wiped away nonexistent tears from her eyes.

Her father looked closely at her. “And you didn’t eat any of those cookies?” he asked.

Her eyes wide with innocence, she said, “Daddy! Do you really think Teddy and me would eat all or most of Granny’s Christmas cookies?” She put both hands over her heart and bowed her head.

Her father rolled his eyes and shook his head. What a little prima donna his daughter was. In spite of the fact their mother tried to curb it, he found his daughter delightfully funny. His wife Liz said it was his fault she acted like that because she knew her dad enjoyed her behavior and comments. Still he got the feeling they had been up to something while everyone was gone. Whatever it was, more than likely it was Hannah who was the one who started it. Teddy never seemed able to refuse to go along with whatever idea Hannah thought up. Since it was close to Christmas, maybe they were making Christmas gifts or something like that. He hoped that was all it was.

After everyone had gone to bed, Teddy felt someone was in his room. Before he turned on the light,
he whispered, “Hannah, is that you?”

“No. It’s me, Caleb. The boy has returned,” he said.

Teddy still had his clothes on because he’d been hoping Caleb would come to warn him when the boy came. Whispering, he said to Caleb. “Let me get Hannah and then we’ll go downstairs.”

Hannah was ready, too, and quietly they followed Caleb downstairs avoiding the step that squeaked. They tiptoed towards the kitchen. There was only the night light left on over the stove.  They heard a noise in the pantry off the kitchen and waited to see who would come out.

Soon a skinny boy, about twelve years old, Hannah guessed, came out holding a bag with something in it. His blond hair was shaggy and fell into his eyes. The jacket he wore was thin and rather ragged. Hannah and Teddy watched him. He went to the refrigerator, and took several things out and put it in the bag. Then he went over to the counter and picked up half a loaf of bread.

“What are you doing here?” Hannah asked in a low voice.

The boy jumped and dropped the bread. “Umm. Just getting a little food,” he said and swallowed. He looked at them wide-eyed. “I don’t mean no harm.”

“Are you the one who took our Granny’s cookies last night?” Hannah asked.

He nodded. “I’m sorry about that.”

“And food from the night before?” she asked.

He nodded. “You’re not going to call the police are you?” His voice trembled.

Teddy said then. “No. You’re only taking food cause you’re hungry, aren’t you?”

He nodded again. “And for my little brother and sister, too. I can’t bear seeing them hungry.”

“Where’s your mom and dad?” Hannah asked.

“I don’t know where my dad is. He left a long time ago. My mom, well she got fired cause she has this problem and was always late to work. Not that she made much money, but at least we had some food, and she was on food stamps, but then her car broke down and there was no money to fix it, and she couldn’t get to the place to get the food stamps or go to the grocery store since we live some ways from the grocery store.”

Hannah looked at Teddy and raised her eyebrows.“You think we should. . .”

Teddy nodded yes, and left the room.

“Where’s he going?” the boy asked.

“Don’t worry. What’s your name?” she asked.

“Paul Newman. I was named after some movie star my grandmother liked.”

“Does your grandmother live with you?” Hannah asked.

“No, she died a long time ago.”

Hannah glanced over at Caleb, and saw the sad look on his face. Maybe because he was thinking of the death of his family.

“How did you get here if you live out in the country?”

“I have an old bike. I leave when my mom is passed out, or I mean sleeping on the couch, and Bobby and Barbie are asleep in bed.”

In a few minutes, Hannah and Paul heard footsteps coming down the stairs and murmuring.

When Paul’s eyes widened, and he got a panicked look on his face, Hannah turned around. Her dad and mom stood there staring at the boy. Behind them were Granny and Aunt Claudia.

“Well, who do we have here?” her dad said smiling.

“My name is Paul Newman, Sir,” he said.

 “Ahhh. Nice to meet you Paul.” He held out his hand.

Paul put down his bag of food and shook his hand still looking scared.

“I think you need to tell us why you’re here,” their mother said softly.

Paul looked up at the two tall, dark, adults and licked his lips and swallowed.

“Before he tells us his story, let’s all sit down and have some hot chocolate and some cookies,” Granny LaVerne said bustling around those in her way and filled the tea kettle with water and put it on the stove. Then she started getting out cups for all of them, except for Caleb, of course, because no one but Hannah and Teddy could see him.

Soon they were all sitting around the table drinking hot chocolate and eating Christmas cookies as Paul repeated his story to the adults and added more from their questions to him.

Yes, he went to school, but not as often anymore because someone had to take care of the little ones. He was twelve years old and wanted to join the Navy when he grew up.

“You know you need to get a good education before you can do that, don’t you?” Linc Davis said.

Paul nodded. “I like school. Or mostly I do except for some of the kids.”

“My husband’s a teacher. He’d be willing to tutor you if you’re behind in school,” Lizzy Turner, the twins mother said. “Also, I’m going to check in on the situation you’re in and help you and your family out.”

 “Mama’s a lawyer,” Hannah said beaming proudly.

“I’m going to fill up that bag you brought and some other bags, too,” Aunt Claudia said.

“As soon as you finish with your hot chocolate, I’ll drive you home. I have a bike rack on the back of my SUV so we can fasten it on the back,” Linc said. “By the way,” he said. “How did you get into the house?”

Paul told them he’d found the entrance several years ago when he’d went into the Carriage House and saw the old Packard in there. He liked to come and sit in it and pretend it was his car.

Linc found an old coat of his that still looked in decent shape and gave it to Paul to wear even though it was too large, it would be warm. Then he left the others to drive Paul home with three or four bags full of groceries and some Christmas cookies, too.

The kids were sent up to bed, and Caleb followed them, too. They settled into Teddy’s room to talk over things.

“Your mammy and pappy are so nice,” Caleb said.

“Even though they can’t see you, you can think of them as your mammy and pappy, if you want,” Hannah said.

Caleb looked a little wistful. “Do you think they’d believe it if you told them about me?”

Teddy looked at Hannah. “What do you think?”

Hannah shrugged. “We’d have to tell them and see.” She looked at Caleb then. “Even if they don’t believe us, we still want to be friends with you.”

“Teddy go to your own room now.  Hannah, you settle down and get to sleep now,” they heard their mother say.

Teddy jumped up and said, “Caleb, do you want to spend the night with me?” he asked.

Caleb grinned and nodded, and together they left.

Teddy was beaming. He loved his sister, but it would be so nice to have a boy as a friend, too.

Hannah settled into her bed, gave a little wiggle and smiled. It was nice having a friend no one but they could see. She didn’t mind that Caleb went with Teddy. Instead she thought of what fun it would be to read books to Caleb and teach him to read. It didn’t matter whether or not her parents believed in him, it was just enough that Teddy and her could see and talk to him. And she thought before she went to sleep, maybe there would be more mysteries that the three of them could solve.


E. B. Davis said...

A bit of history, a bit of paranormal, a bit of harsh reality--thanks for the story, Gloria.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Great story, Gloria. I liked the underground railroad aspect. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

Ah Gloria, I enjoyed reading this story and these wonderful characters. Makes me want Christmas cookies, and a ghostly friend. LOL -- Laurie

KM Rockwood said...

A wonderful Christmas story--a happy ending with a bit of history and depth. And Christmas cookies.

Grace Topping said...

Such a lovely story—perfect for Christmas.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you E.B., Margaret, Laura, Kathleen and Grace. This is a family in my series that came in my fourth book, I think. My critique partners really like them, and I've written another short story with those two children, too. I'm planning on writing more with them and putting them in an anthology for children.

Shari Randall said...

Love the way you wove together so many elements - history, a ghost story, friendship, family. Wonderful story for a cold winter night. Hope you and your family have a merry Christmas!

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Shari. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, too. I have two family events to go to on Christmas Eve, and then family coming to my house on Christmas Day/

Kait said...

Wonderful story, Gloria! Best for a Merry Christmas.

Gloria Alden said...

Thank you, Kait. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and will have a good year in 2018, too.