10-year-old Martin’s habit of disobeying his mother lands him in big trouble when he gets lost on a school trip. Terrified and trapped in a dark, dingy cellar, he calls her for help, but the signal goes out before he can tell her about his whereabouts, and his phone dies.
“Martin! Martin! Oh, you gotta hurry up! The bus is here!” Sophia cried as she went through Martin’s backpack a third time to ensure he had everything he needed for his trip. Her son’s school was taking all the students to a museum 30 miles away from their city, and Sophia was freaking out.
Martin was only ten and could be quite a handful at times. As he appeared from his bedroom and grabbed his backpack, Sophia gave him her old phone. “Just for emergencies! No playing games on it and wasting its battery, alright?”
He frowned. “Mom, no! This looks so old! I don’t want to take it.”
“Well, then. No trips from next time? Is that what you want?”
Martin sighed as he stuffed the phone in his backpack. “Whatever! I hate you for this!”
“OK, now, hurry up!”
As Martin boarded the school bus and took a window seat, Sophia waved him goodbye. “It barely works!” he mouthed as he lifted the phone.
“Oh, you’re gonna be OK!” Sophia mouthed back. “No troubling, Mrs. Wooten! Please be a good boy!”
Sophia stood there for a while as she watched the bus disappear down the street. The place where Martin’s school was taking him was going to be very cold. Sophia had handed him a thermos flask of soup and an extra box of sandwiches to share with his friends.
She had also made Martin wear a thick sweater, despite his protests. Sophia had done everything she could to ensure her son enjoyed the trip and was home safe and sound. But fate had other plans…
The museum was boring and stupid, if you asked Martin. He couldn’t understand why all the older people there were so preoccupied with admiring the sculptures, fabric art, antiquities, and vintage objects. His school could’ve taken them on a picnic instead!
Martin knew he was probably the only one sick of their tour guide, Mrs. Wooten, telling them about the old and ugly things displayed in glass cases. All the other children seemed very interested in them. Martin could think of a 100 more exciting things to do than a museum tour! Unfortunately for him, it would be three hours before the ‘stupid’ tour ended.
“Ah!!!! Ah!!!!” he screamed, yanking the stranger’s hand away.
As they came out of the building, the weather had turned cruel. Frigid gusts howled like wild beasts through the trees; the heavy snowstorm had finally arrived. “Kids, we need to walk up to the nearest bus stop because we can’t call the bus here, OK? Everyone, get in line, and make sure you have your scarves and jackets on!” Mrs. Wooten announced.
As the kids promptly formed a line, Mrs. Wooten counted them and smiled. “We’re good to go, kids! Let’s stick together and avoid getting lost in the bad weather, OK?”
Mrs. Wooten was walking behind the trail of children, keeping an eye on everyone. But for a moment, she got distracted. She got busy on a call and didn’t notice when Martin disappeared. He’d snuck out of the queue and into an alley to explore the massive, abandoned mansion he’d seen on their way back from the museum.
“I’m going to have fun now that I’ve come so far!” the young boy thought.
Martin noticed Mrs. Wooten and the other students waiting for the bus down the street from the alley that ran parallel to the mansion. He knew their bus would be late because he’d overheard Mrs. Wooten on the phone with the driver. “Alright, the roads are sloppy. Don’t worry; I’ll stay with the kids,” she’d said.
Martin dashed out of the lane and threw open the dark, rusted gate at the abandoned house’s entryway. He gasped as it opened with a tingle. “WOW!” he said. “This is so spooky!”
The villa looked like it hadn’t been inhabited in ages, but it was beautiful. An angle-shaped fountain stood in the front yard, perhaps dry for many years. Martin ascended the stairs to the front door and pushed it. It creaked open, and he chuckled. “Woah! No locks!”
A waft of stench and muck met the young boy’s nostrils as he stepped inside, causing him to sneeze. “Well, this place could use some cleaning!” he grumbled as he went in, scratching his nose. The place was freezing, and he was shivering from the cold air flowing in through the smashed 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 creak behind him.
Martin turned around, and the noise stopped. “Hello? Is anyone here?” he asked, his voice echoing.
There were no responses or sounds apart from the roaring of the freezing gusts.
Martin decided not to go upstairs. He began heading deeper into the house toward the kitchen when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Ah!!!! Ah!!!!” he screamed, yanking the stranger’s hand away. He bolted as if his life depended on it and hid behind the kitchen counter.
Suddenly, a soft voice said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t want to scare you!”
Martin peeked from behind the counter and noticed a little girl clothed in a thin sweater and dungarees standing nearby. She was barefoot, and she looked unhealthy and very dirty.
“Wh—who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Emily,” she said. “Did I scare you?”
“Oh, well, sort of…” he replied, coming out from behind the counter. “Do…do you live here?”
“Not really…” she said as she sat down on the hallway stairs. Martin noticed she was shivering.
“My name is Martin,” he replied, joining her. “Here…” He took off his sweater and wrapped it around her shoulders before sitting beside her. “Where are your parents? Are you alone here?” he asked.
“Mm-hm,” she murmured gently. “I don’t have anyone. Mommy and Daddy died.”
“Oh. Sorry about that,” Martin said. “What happened to them?”
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking him in the eyes.
Martin’s cheeks grew red, and he looked away from her. “Nah! I’m with my friends,” he said. “We’ll be back home soon, anyway. So it’s OK. So, like, what happened, your parents—”
As he turned to look at her, he noticed she was no longer awake. Her head was resting against the banister. 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 realized her body was burning. “Oh no…” he whispered. “She’s running a fever! We need a doc!”
Martin quickly thought about how he could help Emily and realized he could call Mrs. Wooten! He hurried out the door and to the front gate but was too late. The bus and Mrs. Wooten and his classmates were gone!
“Oh no!” Martin panicked. “Oh no! I’m lost! How will I help Emily now? And Mom will be mad at me! I left the bus!”
Martin ran back into the house and tried to wake Emily, but she wouldn’t respond. He couldn’t leave her on the stairs because the place was getting colder due to the winds pouring in through the broken windows, and she’d only get sicker.
So Martin did 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 was not strong enough to carry her upstairs.
Martin thought and thought about what he could do now and pulled out his phone to call Sophia for help. But the phone wouldn’t turn on. Right then, Martin looked behind the stairs, and there he saw a passage that led to a basement…
Martin reasoned Emily would be safer and warmer down there than on the stairs in a windowless room. So he piggybacked her into the basement somehow and gently laid her down on an old sack he found there.
“Gosh! She only looks thin! She’s heavy,” he sighed, squeezing his shoulders together. Suddenly, he noticed something strange. The place was packed with racks and racks of wine and smelled odd and pungent.
“Where am I? What is this place?” Martin wondered as he proceeded deeper into the basement. He saw a bunch of candles there that seemed like they’d been lit not long ago. Martin realized he wasn’t alone there! Someone was living in the basement! Martin was already cold from not wearing a sweater, and now he was terrified.
He reached into his pocket with trembling hands and switched on the old phone Sophia had given him with great trouble. Right then, he heard the sound of footsteps on the basement stairs.
“Come on! Come on!” He hastily dialed his mom’s number, and on the third ring, she answered it. Martin hid behind a wine rack.
“Mom! Mom!” he whispered on the phone. “I’m in a dark cellar, not far from—hello?” The signal was breaking.
“Hello? Martin?” asked Sophia. “What’s going on? What the hell!”
“Mom, can you please be mad at me later? I need help! I’m in a wine storage place!”
“A wine storage place? A cellar? What are you doing in a cellar, Martin? Where’s Mrs. Wooten?”
“Mom, I’m—” Martin was about to finish when he heard footsteps approaching behind him. Suddenly, he heard a voice roar, “WHO’S HIDING THERE? I don’t be liking unwanted guests!”
Never judge a person’s character by their appearance.
“… Mom,” Martin was now crying. “A man is here, and he… Hello? Mom?” Before Martin could tell Sophia where exactly he was, the signal went out, and his phone died.
Sophia panicked. “Hello? Martin? Hello?” She dialed Martin again and again, but the call wouldn’t go through. Sophia then dialed Mrs. Wooten, who apologized for not knowing where Martin was. “I counted them on our way back from the museum, and he was meant to be on the bus! I’m sorry, Mrs. Richmond, but your son is not here!”
“Your apologies will not bring my boy back!” Sophia screamed. “How could you be so reckless? I trusted the school! I trusted you, Mrs. Wooten!”
“Mrs. Richmond, please—” Sophia was so furious that she hung up the phone. She quickly called her husband, Luke, and told him everything. He left work right away and told her not to worry. He had police friends, so he immediately notified them and requested that Martin’s phone be tracked.
When Luke got home, he informed Sophia they had discovered Martin’s phone location. The couple and the cops went 30 miles to the abandoned property, where they found the secret path below the stairs that led to the cellar.
Stepping inside, the parents and cops found Martin and Emily asleep on rags on the floor, covered in torn blankets. Then they saw a scruffy man emerge from behind one of the wine racks, holding a whiskey bottle.
“He’s the one!” Sophia gasped. “He abducted my son, and oh dear, this little girl… he must’ve kept her here too!”
“Officers! Arrest him!” Officer Peterson said.
“Hey! Hey! Officer! I din’ touches the kids!” the scruffy man cried as the cops cuffed him. “I only gives them food and shelter! You asks the children!” But the cops didn’t listen to him and took him to the station.
Sophia had assured the cops that she would bring Emily to the station later. Meanwhile, the loud voices and screams of the homeless man awakened Martin and Emily.
“Mom!?” Martin jumped to his feet and hugged his mother, tears streaming down their cheeks. “Oh, Mom, you’re here! Thanks for coming, Mom. Thank you!”
“How did you end up here, Martin? And who’s this girl?”
Martin pulled away from her. “I just heard Joseph… He helped us, Mom. He helped Emily, too. Where is he? Didn’t you meet the homeless man who lives here?”
“What?” Sophia asked. “He, what?”
Martin’s parents were shocked and embarrassed to have judged Joseph as Martin recounted the poor man’s story.
Martin revealed that Joseph was homeless and had been living in the cellar because the house was abandoned. 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—the sandwiches and tea he’d bought with his last money. Because there was a snowstorm outside and he didn’t have a phone, he told the kids to wait in the cellar and that he would go out later and call someone for help.
“I’d left my bag on the bus, Mom,” Martin explained. “And I was very hungry. Emily was sick, and Joseph gave her some medicine he had. We were so full after having the sandwiches and tea that we fell asleep. I’m sorry about sneaking into this house…I—I shouldn’t have done it.”
“What you did was awful, and you’ll be grounded, Martin! But,” Sophia said, “we need to tell the cops Joseph isn’t to blame. And what about Emily? How did she end up here?”
“I’ll explain it later; first, let’s 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 station, Joseph was released. Then they all went to a cafe to talk, where Joseph began telling his story.
The poor man revealed Emily was an unfortunate soul like him. She was an orphan and lived in a shelter where she was bullied, so she ran away from there and sought shelter in the abandoned mansion. “She thought no one lived there, but I was there! I took her in and decided to keep her safe!” he confessed.
“I told thee. I’m no bad man!” Joseph cried. “I a poor soul… She a poor girl. Very sad and alone. I comes here to this country to become art teacher. I a painter. My wife tells lies to everybody that I a violent man and leaves me, and nobody at teaching respects me. I gives up the job and becomes a beggar. That house is very old. I lived there. Slept. The money I gets from begging helps me eat.”
Martin’s parents exchanged a glance. “But Joseph, you can’t keep Emily like that,” Luke said. “Things don’t work out like that here. I’m not sure how they were in your home country, but you need her custody… How about we adopt Emily and give you a job? I mean, we were trying for a second child, but you know, we… we think this was God’s way of sending Emily to us! We can help you both. Honey, what do you think?”
“You gives me work?” Joseph asked. “Oh, kind man you are…God sent! How would this man thanks you?”
Joseph burst into tears at Luke and Sophia’s generosity, and Luke had to put his arms around the homeless man to console him. He and Sophia hired Joseph as Emily and Martin’s art teacher. They gave him a way to reclaim his life while also providing a new, better life for a young, orphaned Emily by adopting her as their daughter.
What can we learn from this story?
Never judge a person’s character by their appearance. Everyone assumed Joseph to be a bad man due to his ragged attire, but the poor man was instead helping the children.
No matter how hard things get, there’s always hope that your life will take a turn for the good. Through Martin’s stupid adventure of exploring an abandoned house, Emily could get a loving home again, and a helpless man like Joseph could reclaim his life. However, children must listen to their parents. Martin could have ended up in a terrible situation if Joseph had not been someone kind and helpful.
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