10-year-old Martin’s habit of disobeying his mother gets him into big trouble when he gets lost on a school field trip. Terrified and trapped in a dark, dirty basement, he calls her for help, but the signal cuts out before he can tell her where he is and his phone dies.
“Martin! Martin! Oh, you have to hurry! The bus is here!” cried Sophia as she searched Martin’s backpack a third time to make sure he had everything he needed for his trip. Her son’s school took all the students to a museum 30 miles from her town, and Sophia was thrilled.
Martin was only ten years old and could be quite exhausting at times. When he came out of his room and grabbed his backpack, Sophia gave him her old phone. “Just for emergencies! Don’t play games on it and waste the battery, okay?”
He frowned. “Mom, no! That looks so old! I don’t want to take it with me.”
“Fine then. No rides next time? Is that what you want?”
Martin sighed as he put the phone in his backpack. “Whatever! I hate you for that!”
“Okay, now hurry up!”
When Martin got on the school bus and took a window seat, Sophia waved him goodbye. “It’s barely working!” he mumbled as he picked up the phone.
“Oh, it’ll be fine!” replied Sophia. “Don’t worry Mrs. Wooten! Please be a good boy!”
Sophia stood there for a while and watched the bus disappear down the street. The place where Martin’s school would take him would be very cold. Sophia had given him a thermos of soup and an extra box of sandwiches to share with his friends.
Also, despite his protestations, she had made Martin wear a heavy sweater. Sophia had done everything she could to ensure her son enjoyed the trip and got home safe. But fate had other plans…
The museum was boring and stupid if you ask Martin. He couldn’t understand why all the elderly people there were so busy admiring the sculptures, fabric art, antiques and old objects. His school could have taken her to a picnic instead!
Martin knew he was probably the only one who was fed up with their tour guide, Ms. Wooten, telling them about the old and ugly things displayed in showcases. All the other children seemed very interested in her. Martin could think of 100 more exciting things than a museum tour! Unfortunately, it would take three hours for the “stupid” tour to end.
“Ah!!!! Ah!!!!” he yelled and jerked the stranger’s hand away.
When they came out of the building, the weather had turned cruel. Ice-cold gusts howled through the trees like wild animals; the heavy snowstorm had finally arrived. “Kids, we have to walk to the nearest bus stop because we can’t call the bus here, okay? Everyone stand in a line and make sure you have your scarves and jackets on!” announced Mrs. Wooten.
As the children lined up, Mrs Wooten counted them and smiled. “Here we go, kids! Let’s stay together so we don’t get lost in the bad weather, okay?”
Mrs. Wooten ran behind the crowd of children and kept an eye on everyone. But for a moment she was distracted. She was busy on a call and didn’t notice Martin disappear. He had slipped out of the queue into an alleyway to explore the huge, abandoned mansion he had seen on the way back from the museum.
“Now I’ll have fun where I’ve come this far,” thought the boy.
Martin noticed Mrs. Wooten and the other students waiting for the bus down the alley that ran parallel to the mansion. He knew their bus would be late because he had overheard Mrs Wooten on the phone with the driver. “All right, the roads are slippery. Don’t worry, I’ll stay with the kids,” she said.
Martin left the road and threw open the dark, rusted gate at the entrance to the abandoned house. He gasped as it opened with a tingle. “WOW!” he said. “This is so creepy!”
The villa looked like it hadn’t been lived in for ages, but it was beautiful. In the front yard was an angular fountain that might have been dry for many years. Martin climbed the stairs to the front door and pushed it open. It creaked open and he chuckled. “Phew! No locks!”
A whiff of stench and dirt hit the boy’s nostrils as he entered, and he sneezed. “This place needs some cleaning,” he grumbled as he entered and scratched his nose. It was freezing cold and he was shivering from the cold air that was pouring in through the broken glass windows in the living room.
“This house is huge! Who lived here?” he wondered as he approached the foyer. He was about to climb the stairs to the upper floor when he heard the floorboards creaking behind him.
Martin turned and the noise stopped. “Hello? Is anyone here?” he asked in a resonant voice.
There were no answers or sounds other than the rush of the icy gusts.
Martin decided not to go upstairs. He was making his way deeper into the house toward the kitchen when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Ah!!!! Ah!!!!” he yelled and jerked the stranger’s hand away. He ran like his life depended on it and hid behind the kitchen counter.
Suddenly a soft voice said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Martin peeked out from behind the counter and noticed a little girl wearing a thin sweater and dungarees standing nearby. She was barefoot and looked unhealthy and very dirty.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Emily,” she said. “Did I scared you?”
“Well, sort of…” he answered and came out from behind the counter. “Do you live here?”
“Not really…” she said and sat down on the stairs in the hallway. Martin noticed that she was shaking.
“My name is Martin,” he answered and sat down next to her. “Here…” He took off his sweater and wrapped it around her shoulders before sitting down next to her. “Where are your parents? Are you here alone?” he asked.
“Mm-hm,” she murmured softly. “I don’t have anyone. Mommy and Daddy died.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Martin said. “What happened to them?”
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking into his eyes.
Martin’s cheeks turned red and he looked away from her. “No! I’m with my friends,” he said. “We’ll be home soon anyway. So everything’s fine. So what happened, your parents…”
As he turned to look at her, he noticed that she was no longer awake. Her head leaned on the railing. She was in a deep sleep.
“Hey,” Martin shook her hand gently, and he knew something was wrong with her. He touched her forehead and felt her body burn. “Oh no…” he whispered. “She has a fever! We need a doctor!”
Martin quickly thought of how to help Emily and it occurred to him that he could call Ms. Wooten! He rushed out the door and towards the front gate, but he was too late. The bus, Mrs. Wooten and his classmates were gone!
“Oh no!” Martin panicked. “Oh no! I’m lost! How am I supposed to help Emily now? And mom will be mad at me! I got off the bus!”
Martin ran back into the house and tried to wake Emily up, but she didn’t respond. He couldn’t leave her on the stairs because with the wind blowing in through the broken windows, it was getting colder and she would only get sicker.
So Martin made his calculations. He tried to carry Emily in his arms but he couldn’t lift her and had to give up. “Oh please! I can’t do this!” He wasn’t strong enough to carry her up the stairs.
Martin considered what he could do now and took out his cell phone to ask Sophia for help. But the phone would not turn on. At that moment, Martin looked behind the stairs and saw a corridor that led to a cellar…
Martin figured Emily would be safer and warmer down there than on the stairs in a windowless room. So he kind of piggybacked her down to the basement and laid her gently on top of an old sack he found there.
“Gosh! She just looks skinny! She’s heavy,” he sighed, squeezing his shoulders. Suddenly he noticed something strange. The place was packed with shelves full of wine and smelled strange and pungent.
“Where am I? What is this place?” Martin wondered as he delved deeper into the basement. There he saw a pile of candles that looked like they had only recently been lit. Martin realized he wasn’t alone there! Someone lived in the basement! Martin was already cold because he wasn’t wearing a sweater, and now he was scared too.
With trembling hands, he reached into his pocket and switched on the old phone that Sophia had taken great pains to give him. At that moment he heard footsteps on the basement stairs.
“Come on! Come on!” He hastily dialed his mom’s number and she answered it on the third ring. Martin hid behind a wine rack.
“Mom! Mom!” he whispered into the phone. “I’m in a dark basement not far from… Hello?” The signal has been interrupted.
“Hello? Martin?” Sophia asked. “What’s going on here? What the hell!”
“Mom, can you please be mad at me later? I need help! I’m in a wine warehouse!”
“A wine store? A cellar? What are you doing in a cellar, Martin? Where’s Mrs. Wooten?”
“Mom, I…” Martin was about to finish when he heard footsteps approaching behind him. Suddenly he heard a voice roar: “WHO UNDERSTANDS THERE? I don’t like uninvited guests!”
Never judge a person’s character by their looks.
“… Mom,” Martin was crying now. “A man is here, and he… Hello? Mom?” Before Martin could tell Sophia exactly where he was, the signal went out and his phone was dead.
Sophia panicked. “Hello? Martin? Hello?” She dialed Martin over and over again, but the call didn’t go through. Then Sophia called Ms Wooten, who apologized for not knowing where Martin was. “I counted them on the way back from the museum, and he should be on the bus! I’m sorry, Ms. Richmond, but your son isn’t here!”
“Your apologies won’t bring my boy back!” Sophia screamed. “How could you be so careless? I trusted the school! I trusted you, Mrs. Wooten!”
“Ms. Richmond, please…” Sophia was so angry that she hung up the phone. She quickly called her husband Luke and told him everything. He immediately left work and told her not to worry. Since he had friends in the police force, he immediately notified them and asked that Martin’s phone be traced.
When Luke got home, he informed Sophia that they had located Martin’s phone. The couple and police officers drove 30 miles to the abandoned property, where they found the secret path under the stairs that led to the basement.
Upon entering the home, the parents and police officers found Martin and Emily sleeping on the floor, covered with torn blankets. Then they saw a scruffy man appear from behind one of the wine racks, holding a bottle of whiskey.
“He’s the one!” Sophia gasped. “He kidnapped my son, and the little girl… he must have kept her here too!”
“Officials! Arrest him!” said Officer Peterson.
“Hey! Hey! Officer! I didn’t touch the kids!” the scruffy man shouted as the cops handcuffed him. “I only give them food and shelter! You ask the children!” But the policemen didn’t listen to him and took him to the police station.
Sophia had assured the police that she would take Emily to the police station later. Meanwhile, Martin and Emily were woken up by the homeless man’s loud voices and screams.
“Mummy!?” Martin jumped up and hugged his mother, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, Mom, you’re here! Thanks for coming, Mom. Thank you!”
“How did you get here, Martin? And who is this girl?”
Martin tore himself away from her. “I just heard that Joseph… He helped us, Mom. He also helped Emily. Where is he? Didn’t you meet the homeless man who lives here?”
“What?” asked Sophia. “He what?”
Martin’s parents were shocked and ashamed that they had judged Joseph when Martin related the poor man’s story.
Martin related that Joseph was homeless and had lived in the basement because the house was deserted. He gave him and Emily his rags and blankets so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor, and he also shared his food with them – sandwiches and tea that he bought with the last of his money. Because there was a snowstorm outside and he didn’t have a phone, he told the kids to wait in the basement and he would go out later and ask someone for help.
“I forgot my bag on the bus, mom,” Martin explained. “And I was very hungry. Emily was ill and Joseph gave her medicine that he had. After the sandwiches and tea we were so full that we fell asleep. I’m sorry for sneaking into this house … I should not have done it.”
“What you did was terrible and you’re going to be grounded, Martin! But,” said Sophia, “we have to tell the police that Joseph is not to blame. And what about Emily? How did she end up here?”
“I’ll explain that to you later, but first we have to help Joseph, Mom! He’ll tell you everything! I feel so bad that he’s in trouble because of me.”
When Martin, his parents, and Emily arrived at the train station, Joseph was released. Then they all went to a cafe to chat, where Joseph began to tell his story.
The poor man revealed that Emily was an unlucky soul like himself. She was an orphan living in a home where she was bullied so she ran away and took shelter in the abandoned mansion. “She thought nobody lived there, but I was there! I picked her up and decided to keep her safe!” he confessed.
“I told you. I’m not a bad person!” shouted Joseph. “I am a poor soul… She is a poor girl. Very sad and alone. I came to this country to become an art teacher. I am a painter. My wife lies to everyone that I am a violent man and leaves me and no one at school respects me. I quit my job and become a beggar. The house is very old. I lived there. I slept. The money I get from begging helps me to eat.”
Martin’s parents exchanged a look. “But Joseph, you can’t just keep Emily like that,” Lukas said. “It doesn’t work that way here. I don’t know about your home country, but you need custody of her… How about we adopt Emily and give you a job? I mean, we tried to get one having a second child, but you know, we… we think that was God’s way of sending us Emily! We can help you both. Honey, what do you think of that?”
“You give me work?” asked Joseph. “Oh, you are a kind man… God sent! How would that man thank you?”
Joseph burst into tears at Luke and Sophia’s generosity, and Luke had to put his arms around the homeless man to comfort him. He and Sophia hired Joseph as an art teacher for Emily and Martin. They gave him the opportunity to reclaim his life while also giving young, orphaned Emily a new, better life by adopting her as their daughter.
What can we learn from this story?
Never judge a person’s character by their looks. Everyone thought Joseph was a bad person because of his ragged clothes, but the poor man helped the children instead.
No matter how hard things are, there is always hope that your life will take a turn for the better. Through Martin’s silly adventure exploring an abandoned house, Emily could find a loving home again, and a helpless man like Joseph could reclaim his life. But children must listen to their parents. Martin could have ended up in a terrible situation if Joseph hadn’t been so kind and helpful.
Share this story with your friends. Maybe it will brighten your day and inspire you.