The Rescue. A Short Story.
It was two weeks before Christmas, and Lydia and Lauren couldn’t contain their excitement. For the first time ever, both were playing leading roles in the School Christmas show. Sheila felt at least partially responsible for their success, having spent hour after hour preparing them for their auditions. She had no great interest in show business herself, but if that’s what her children loved, then she was prepared to give them as much help and encouragement as she possibly could. Now the night of the show had arrived, and she found herself as nervous and excited about the performance as the girls.
James should have been home by 5.30 and as six o’clock ticked by, Sheila became agitated. He knew how much this night meant to her and to the girls. One bloody night, that’s all she wanted from him, one opportunity for him to prove that he really did care about his family. The girls were upstairs, finalising their preparations, so after she had set out a dish of cat food for Tinkle, who would be distressed to amble through the cat-flap later on and discover an empty house, she closed the kitchen door and called James, mobile to mobile.
“Sheila? Hey honey, you’ll never guess who I ran into.” She didn’t need to hear another word to know that he had no intentions of being home in time to make it to the school show. “It’s Tom and Deborah. They’re just home from Sydney and they’ve got a real estate deal that they think I should invest in. How would you feel about moving to Australia?” His voice was full of laughter, and full of alcohol. “Sheila? Sheila, are you still there?”
In a frenzy of anger and disappointment, she screamed and launched her mobile across the kitchen. It crashed against the wall and fell to the floor in broken pieces. It was enough to bring Lydia and Lauren racing down the stairs to investigate.
Lydia, the older of the two, didn’t even have to ask what had upset her mother. She knew the pattern. Dad makes a promise. Dad forgets the promise. Mum has a crying fit and something gets broken. With a blank expression, she listened while Sheila explained to Lauren that unfortunately Daddy had to be at an important meeting and wouldn’t make it to the show.
“But he promised, Mommy.” Lauren was tearful. “He said he’d be there.”
Sheila hugged her closely. “I know pet. I know. But sometimes we just can’t control the way things turn out. I’m sure he’ll be sorry to miss it.”
She wondered why she always did that, making excuses for the bastard, when what she really wanted to do was to punch him in the face and tell him how much he was hurting his children.
With James no longer a participant in the activities of the night, Sheila was forced to start up the dilapidated Toyota Corolla that hadn’t been out of the garage for over a month. She hated driving it. On several occasions it had broken down at the most inopportune moments, like in the middle of the main street during rush hour, an episode that had caused so much pandemonium that it made it onto the regional news programme.
She climbed into the driver's seat and turned the key. The engine coughed and choked, but eventually ticked over, and growled with the rasp of a 60-a-day smoker.
“Ok, come on kids. We don’t want to be late.” She called out of the window, and Lydia and Lauren emerged from the house with as much luggage as you might expect for a three week camping holiday.
“Holy God girls. What are you bringing with you?” she groaned as she loaded it all into the boot.
“Just our costumes and a few props!” Lauren didn’t know what all the fuss was about, as she nonchalantly ripped open a packet of custard creams that were meant for their mid-show snack.
“Lydia, did you shut the door?”
“Ok then. Let’s get going.”
In normal circumstances, it shouldn’t have taken them more than 15 minutes to make the short journey into town, but of course, normal circumstances generally included having enough petrol in the tank to make the trip. They had barely made it out their own gateway when the clapped-out engine gave a wheeze, spluttered for a few seconds, and then retired for the night, maybe forever.
“Oh Jesus Christ!” Sheila banged the steering wheel in frustration, realising that, having smashed her phone only moments earlier, she had no way of calling for help. Their house was the first on a country lane, but was still a good four hundred yards or so from the main road. “Dammit.” She had little option. “You two wait here and I’ll run down to the junction and see if I can get some help.”
She snarled under her breath as she made her way along the road. This was all James’s fault, and she wasn’t going to let him forget it. When he eventually arrived home, she was going to read the riot act. How dare he abandon her on a night like this!
Before she had reached the junction, she thought she heard a car door slamming shut, and she stopped to look back along the road she had just travelled. It was silent.
There was plenty of traffic on the main road, and it took only a few moments for a driver to notice her waving, and pull over to investigate.
“Sheila? Is that you?” It was the voice of Lydia’s teacher, Harold Milton.
“Oh Harold. Thank God.” She was relieved to see a friendly face. “We didn’t make it out of the driveway when I discovered I had no petrol. The girls are panicking about being late for the show.”
Harold smiled. “Jump in. I’ll drop you all down to the school and then get the car towed in.”
He reversed back the few yards necessary to swing the car around into the country lane, and as they left the main road, Sheila saw another vehicle driving away from where she knew her own car was abandoned. It was enough to set alarm bells ringing in her head.
“Lydia and Lauren are very talented little girls. I’m sure they’re very excited about the show.” Harold was speaking, but Sheila wasn’t listening. Her eyes were fixed on the road ahead, her heart was pounding.
“Oh my God. Oh my God.” She was gasping for breath as they pulled up at the gateway and saw the car door open. There was no sign of Lydia or Lauren. “Oh dear God where are they?”
Sheila jumped from the passenger seat and ran to inspect the scene. The packet of custard creams had spilled over the back seat and the floor. She ran to the boot and opened it. All of the luggage was still there. She let out a scream of desperation.
“Oh Jesus Christ. My children have been kidnapped. They’ve taken my children. Oh God, help me. Help me!”
“Calm down Sheila, calm down.” Harold tried to take control of the situation. “How long were they alone?”
“Just for few minutes.” She tried to think straight. “And I saw a car pull away from here just as we started up the road.”
“Where does the road lead to?” Harold was considering his options. He didn’t want to alert the police if this was maybe just some kind of misunderstanding.
“Nothing.” Sheila suddenly snapped to her senses. “Just a few more houses and then the quarry. He has nowhere to go.” Her eyes were ablaze. “Come on Harold.”
She ran to his car and jumped in. Whoever had taken her children couldn’t be far away. The road only went on for a few miles beyond their house.
“Shouldn’t we call the police?” Harold suggested, as he pushed the gear level and headed up the road. He passed her his mobile and she called 999.
“My children have been abducted.” She cried “I’m near the old Shipley quarry. Help me please.”
It only took a few minutes to reach the point where the road runs out and a dirt track continues on up towards the woods and the top of the quarry. As they rounded the last bend, they could see a Range Rover parked a little way along the lane with it’s lights still turned on.
“That has to be them,” Sheila’s heart was pounding in her chest. She was out of the car door even before Harold had time to pull on the hand brake.
“Lydia? Lauren? Where are you?” she screamed as she ran towards the other vehicle. Harold set off after her. “For Christ’s sake be careful Sheila. He could be dangerous.”
She didn’t care about the risk. Not when the safety of her daughters was concerned.
The Range Rover had been abandoned, and she stopped briefly to look inside. Her face turned ashen at the one thing that caught her attention. There was blood on the steering wheel and on a handkerchief on the passenger seat.
“Oh dear God! Lydia? Lauren?” she screamed again as she began to run towards the wooded area further up the dirt track. Her mind was tormented, she was being driven on by impulse, not knowing what to expect, not knowing how she was going to deal with the situation. Tears where streaming down her face.
Then suddenly Lauren appeared where the track disappeared into the trees. She began running towards her mother.
“Mummy, mummy help!” she was shouting. “Come quickly mummy.”
“Oh God, something terrible has happened.” She cried to herself, but she was travelling as fast as her legs would carry her, so fast that Harold Milton couldn’t keep up with her. As she reached Lauren, she stopped only for a second.
“Just go to Mr. Milton. He’ll look after you.” And she was moving again, desperate to find her older daughter, who was obviously in danger.
She was in the woods then, breathless and frightened, but driven on by blind fury. Then in the distance, where the track swings up towards the quarry head, and the lake below, she could see the figure of a man, and he was holding her daughter. In a brief second, she took in his size and stature and realised that he could easily over-power her. She looked around her for a weapon and found a thick broken branch from a tree. It would have to do. She had no time to waste. With adrenalin pumping through her veins, she set off again towards the tall figure, which was now clearly lifting Lydia off her feet.
“Nooooooooo!” she screamed as she sprinted the last few yards and swung the branch at the back of the stranger. It cracked against his skull, and he dropped the child and slumped to the ground.. Her momentum caused her to tumble and come to a rest beside a tree, and as she caught her breath, a cat suddenly landed on the ground beside her.
Half an hour earlier, Sam Dickson had just decided that it was too late and too cold to be sitting by the lake fishing. He had only caught a few tiddlers and had thrown them back. He was by no means a proficient fisherman, but he found it a relaxing hobby, and a peaceful way to escape from the pressures of his life in the day-care centre. He had only recently moved to Kent, and had been pleasantly surprised to discover a quarry with a lake only a couple of miles from his new home.
He had started to walk back along the track that led to the road on which he lived, when his eye was caught by a sudden movement overhead. He stopped to investigate and discovered a young kitten, obviously distressed, and clinging precariously to the branch of a tree.
“Well well. What are you doing up there?” he smiled, but he could see that the kitten was crying with fright. “You want me to help you down?”
The branch was several feet out of reach, so setting aside his fishing gear, he attempted to climb to a higher vantage point. The trunk of the tree was cold and slippery, but he managed to get a foot hold and hoist himself a little higher.
“I know you.” He spoke to the frightened feline as he tried to reach out for it again. “You live just up with the road from me. The house with the two pretty little ladies.”
He stretched as high as possible, and just as he was about to reach the cat, the creature let lash with his claws and they tore through the back of his hand.
“Jesus!” he cursed, as he lost his footing and tumbled to the ground. “That’s gratitude for you.” He looked at the wound. The little cat had mighty big claws, judging from the amount of blood that was trickling over his hand. The cat still appeared to be crying, but Sam was now less sympathetic. “Hey. You got yourself up there. You can get yourself down.”
With that, he took a handkerchief from his pocket, wrapped it around his bleeding hand, gathered up his fishing gear and headed back along the track to his vehicle. Decent soul that he was, though, he decided he would stop at the house where he knew the owners of the cat resided. It was on his way home anyway.
When he arrived at the house, there was a car blocking the driveway and the two little girls were playing in the front garden. He lowered his window.
“Hey girls,” he shouted out to them and the girls stopped their activity to look at the stranger. “I just thought I’d let you know, your cat is stuck up a tree in the forest. Up by the quarry.”
The girls looked concerned.
“I did try to rescue her.” Sam was apologetic for his failure, “But I think she was scared of me, being a stranger.”
“Thanks for letting us know, mister.” Lydia replied politely, and she took her little sister’s hand. “Come on Lauren. We’ll have time to go and get her while mum gets the car fixed.”
Sam watched as the two little girls started to walk up the road in the direction of the forest, and suddenly he became concerned for their welfare. If he had kids of his own, he would never let them wander off, in the half light of the evening, into a forest where God knows what dangers could be lurking. What if something terrible happened to them? He would have felt responsible. Without another thought, he turned his vehicle and pulled up beside the girls.
“Ok,” he told them, “It’s too dark for you to be going up there alone. Jump in and I’ll help you get the cat and then drop you back here.”
Lydia smiled at him. “Thank you mister.” And the two children jumped into the back seat of the Range Rover.
In a moment or two, they had reached the point where the vehicle could go no further, and the three of them carried on along the lane by foot. Lauren became a little scared of the shadows as they approached the forest.
“I’ll just wait here.” She suggested, and as the man made no response, she assumed it was alright.
A little way further and Sam and Lydia had reached the tree where Tinkle was still clinging to her branch. Lydia heard Lauren calling to her mother, and was relieved than more help had arrived.
“Mum will be able to help us now.” She told Sam, but he didn’t respond. He seemed to be assessing how far from the ground Tinkle was positioned.
“I think you should be able to reach her if I lift you.” He suggested. “That’ll be safer than trying to climb the tree.”
Lauren agreed that it made sense, and she positioned herself in front of Sam. He gripped her by the waist and raised her towards the branch, but before she had a chance to reach up to the kitten, she heard her mother screaming, and in a second, she fell to the ground.
They waited anxiously in the hospital waiting room. The girls, although disappointed at having missed their school concert, had been very excited about being interviewed by the police. This was an unexpected adventure. They had been asked some very strange questions. Did the man hurt you? Did he touch either of you? Did he say anything strange? They both gave the same answer. “He just tried to help us rescue our kitten.”
Sheila was in a state of high anxiety. Sam was still unconscious. She was terrified that she may have killed him, or have caused him severe brain damage. And James wasn’t there. Her loving husband was too busy socialising with friends to even be aware of the turmoil that had beset the lives of his wife and daughters. She hated him for being absent. She was angry at Sam too. How could anyone be so stupid as to run off with someone else’s children, even if his intentions had been honourable? She couldn’t understand, either, why he hadn’t abandoned his rescue efforts when he realised that she was at hand. He couldn’t have been oblivious to her screaming as she reached the forest, nor to the screaming of Lauren. Was he some kind of imbecile?
A Doctor came into the room. Sheila jumped to her feet, desperate for good news of the man’s condition.
“Mrs Thompson?” he looked relaxed. “Mr Dickson has regained consciousness.”
Sheila released a loud gasp of relief. At least she wasn’t guilty of man-slaughter.
“Thank God.” She replied as she clung passionately to her girls. It had crossed her mind that she could have ended up in jail, leaving her precious daughters in the care of a father who showed little interest in them.
“You can go in to see him, if you like.” The Doctor continued, “But I have to warn you. He’s deaf.” Her face fell and her complexion turned an ashen gray. The Doctor noticed the change and was quick to reassure her.
“I mean he was deaf before the accident occurred. You weren’t the cause of it.” He explained. “That’s why he never heard you calling out. He’s a care worker in Ashford. He teaches the use of sign language to children with hearing impediments.”
Sam Dickson made a complete recovery from the unexpected attack by a concerned mother, who had done nothing wrong but to fear for the well-being of her children. Lydia and Lauren became adept signers, taught by their new friend Sam, who, not long after the divorce of their mother and father, became a frequent visitor to their home. Almost like one of the family.