Let’s work together on this one! I started it — what should happen next?? Anyone? Give me an idea and I will write it – – –
Jenna knew she was not supposed to take the short cut home from school, but she figured that this one time it be would OK since nobody saw her turn off at the corner. Her big brother and his friends all ran ahead of her right after they left the school yard, even though their mom said he was supposed to walk her home every night. Jenna didn’t care, she did not like having Joel and his creepy friends around. They always teased her and made her cry. It was much better walking home alone, and if she took the short cut, Joel would not be able to find her in case he remembered he was supposed to walk her home.
She scuffed her worn tennis shoes along the sidewalk as she headed toward the trees that backed up the post office and general store. Her house was just on the other side of the trees, and she only had to cut through a small part of the much larger forest to get home. The sun was hot and she knew it would be cooler once she got under cover of the trees so she hurried along, not noticing the puffy clouds with smoky grey undersides building up quickly on the horizon behind her. By the time she reached the edge of the forest, the previously slight breeze was much stronger, blowing her long brown hair into her eyes.
“Hey! Where’s Jenna?” one of Joel’s friends shouted at Joel, who was busy looking into the general store window. He pretended he was looking at the display, but he was really looking past it, hoping to see the store owner’s daughter, Maxie, who was working behind the counter inside. “Huh?” Joel started. “What do you mean? She’s right behind us.”
“No, she’s not.” His friend replied.
Joel looked back up the road toward the school building. He did not see Jenna anywhere. “Oh crap! Mom’s gonna kill me.” Joel hated being his little sister’s keeper, but knew that his mom would be really mad if he did not walk her home every day. “You guys go ahead on home, I‘ll go back and get Jenna.” He turned and started walking back up the sidewalk toward the school, scuffing his feet on the sidewalk in just the same manner his little sister had done a few minutes ago on another sidewalk.
Jenna stepped off the roadway into the trees just as a gust of wind blew past, carrying an old envelope, some dirty leaves, and a sheet of newsprint with it. She brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked back at the rattle of the leaves and paper, shuddered a little when she saw the ominous clouds, and then turned back to the trees. “I better hurry,” she thought, “it might rain and I don’t want to get wet.” She moved quickly onto the faint path between the trees, shifting her backpack around from her shoulder to her back so it was easier to walk faster. It was starting to get a little darker with the approaching storm and Jenna wondered for a minute if she had made the wrong decision by taking the forbidden short cut. But soon she was hurrying along, secure in the woods she knew so well. She felt pretty smug about slipping away from Joel and was looking forward to seeing his face when he got home and she was already there.
Even with a storm brewing, the forest was relatively quiet. The wind had not penetrated the trees yet, and Jenna found herself enjoying her walk through the growing twilight. It was peaceful and she slowed her pace a bit to look around at the surrounding trees and bushes, hoping to see a rabbit or maybe even a fox. She almost forgot about the storm, Joel, and the fact that she was disobeying a direct order from her mom about walking through the woods alone. That’s why, when she first heard a rustling in the bushes ahead of her, she didn’t react immediately, but when the rustle was followed by a large boom of thunder, she jumped and screamed a little. She thought she heard something else, like a voice calling out, but could not be sure because of the crashing thunder and her own slight scream. She hurried on toward home, more watchful than before.
Joel looked all over the school yard, even went back into the school, calling Jenna’s name every once in awhile. “Where could she be? I was sure she was right here when we left.” He thought as he headed back through the school yard gate and started down the street toward the post office. He saw old Mr. Guthrie coming out of the post office and asked him if he had seen Jenna.
“Why, no, I haven’t,” Mr. Guthrie replied, “But you better get on home now, there is a heck of a storm comin’ on. You don’t want to get wet!” He started toward his car, parked on the street a few feet away, but turned back to Joel. “Oh, yeah! You might want to tell your mom that I heard Sara Jean over to the café tellin’ about a burglar she heard about from Old Lady Petrie. Said the burglar broke into her sister’s house and stole a TV! Tell your mom to be sure and lock up the house when she ain’t at home.” With that, he got in the car, started it up and drove slowly off, both hands firmly on the wheel, head held high, back straight.
Joel just stood there looking after the car, wondering just whose sister had her house broken into; Old Lady Petrie or Sara Jean. He shook his head and started toward home, worrying about Jenna and how she managed to get by him and his friends. He figured she got ahead of them somehow, and was already home. Boy, was he going to let her have it when he got home.
Because of the wind, now rustling through the tree tops and making a lot more noise, Jenna did not hear the footsteps coming toward her on the path. Her view of the last section of the woods was blocked by a curve in the path so she was totally surprised when a man stepped out of the trees just ahead of her. He was big, and was looking back over his shoulder, which is why he was just as surprised to see Jenna as she was to see him. “Oh!” she gasped when she looked up and almost ran right into him.
“Oh!” he answered, “Where did you come from?”
“I, uh, I just came…” she pointed back behind her, “from there…..”
“Humph!” the man said, peering closely at Jenna. “Where are you going?”
“There…” She pointed behind the man, clearly flustered. She did not know what to say, and seemed to have forgotten where she was headed.
“Well, then,” the man said, “maybe you should get going … to ‘there’ before someone figures out you are gone. Are you supposed to be in these woods during a storm?”
“N-n-no,” Jenna stammered, but the man was not listening. He was looking back the way he came again. “What are you looking for?’ Jenna asked timidly.
“Oh, no—nothing. You better get on home, young lady. It’s going to rain soon.” He started to move past Jenna on the path, but she stuck out her hand and stopped him.
“Don’t you want to get out of the rain, too? You can come to my house if you want. I live just over there, past the trees.” Jenna knew she should not be talking to strangers, let alone inviting them home, but she felt sorry for the man. He seemed so lost and maybe even a little scared. She wasn’t afraid of him anymore, she just wanted to help him.
“Such a nice little girl!” The man smiled at her. “Thank you for the invitation, but I really don’t think it would be such a good idea for me to go back there.” He shifted a pillowcase on his shoulder that Jenna had missed before. It seemed to be filled with some bulky objects. Jenna gasped again, “It must be all his stuff! He must be homeless!” She thought, and was even more determined to help this poor man out of the storm.
“Come on, my mom will be home from work soon and she makes really good vegetable soup! I bet you are hungry, aren’t you?” Jenna hoped that the offer of warm food would change his mind.
‘No, I am not hungry, but thanks again. I must be going now, before the rain hits. You get on home, too!” He chuckled, then hefted the pillow case on his shoulder again, and walked around Jenna. He was whistling when he walked up the path into the woods.
Jenna shrugged, then headed off toward home. She felt bad for the man, but knew she tried her best to help him. In a few minutes she saw her back yard through the trees and broke into a run. The first rain drops hit her head and she wanted to get inside before she got really wet.
Joel walked in through the open front door of his house, calling out Jenna’s name.
“Jenna! Did you leave the door open?” There was no answer. He looked in the kitchen, then went on to the den – where he noticed that something was wrong. The desk lamp was tipped over on the floor, and several books were pulled from their places on the shelves.
“What happened here? Jenna! Are you here?”
“What’s all the hollering for?” Joel’s mom walked into the house, dropping her purse and keys on the hall table. “Hey, what happened in here?” She exclaimed as she walked into the den. “Where is Jenna?”
“I don’t know! She snuck by me after school, I thought for sure she was ahead of me and already home. I just got here and found this mess in here. Jenna is not here!” Joel was looking around frantically, trying to figure out what was going on. Who made the mess? Where was his sister?
“Wait a minute, you don’t suppose…” Joel was wondering as he gazed around the room.
“Suppose what?” His mother asked.
“Mr. Guthrie told me there was a burglary in town, he said he heard about it at the café.”
“Oh, Joel, don’t listen to that gossip . . . . where is the VCR? …and those movies that were next to it?” She was looking around the room as she spoke.
‘Oh, man, we have been robbed!” Joel cried. “What else is missing?”
“Jenna!” they both said at the same time, staring at each other with wide, frightened eyes.
“What?” Jenna said as she came in through the back door.
Joel turned and stared at Jenna like she was a ghost.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, still shaken and trying to figure out what was going on.
“I um, well, I took the short cut through the woods. I would have been here before you, but I stopped to talk to a nice homeless man. I invited him home for some of your delicious vegetable soup, mom, but he said no.” Jenna rushed all this out in one big breath, hoping they would miss the part about taking the short cut. “He was really nice, but I knew he was homeless because he had a pillow case full of stuff, probably everything he owned!” She added, hoping they would share her concern for the nice man in the woods.
“More likely a bunch of stuff WE owned!” Joel sighed. “Oh Jenna, you made friends with a burglar! We were robbed today! Our VCR and some movies are gone. He probably wanted to use them with the TV he stole earlier from Old Lady Petrie’s sister. Or Sara Jean’s sister.”