The sun finally came up. As a strip of light made its way through the opening, I got out. I found out then that the entrance was not in the shade at all – at least not all day long. It was facing east, and the sun rising behind the trees on the other side of the stream made my heart leap up! I grabbed an apple and went down to the stream. Although my body still needed warmth, it felt good to dip my hands in the water. It was reviving. I sat down next to it, and started to exercise. Can you imagine: me – who’s always hated the idea of getting into a room for the sake of gymnastics! But of course this was not a room in a school, and if I didn’t like P.E. lessons at all, on the other hand, I had always loved being out in the open, surrounded by Nature, and the feeling of being in good shape. I resolved that, if I did manage to let a few days pass without being discovered, then I would take the time to run around, climb trees and do all the things that would make my body feel well. I just needed to feel safe. I started munching at the apple and making plans. My spirits had risen considerably, and I felt better than I’d felt in days. The novelty of the place and of my situation was spurring me on. But I needed to have it all well thought-out.
After eating the apple, I carefully hid its core in the dirt and stood up. I then crossed the stream by stepping on some rather convenient stones and began climbing up the other side. There the trees were closer together, and little light was coming in. It was cooler than by the riverbed, but I had warmed up by now. I was going farther away from the house, and I felt confident in walking away from the tree, too, because the rucksack would be well hidden in there. With all the thinking I had done the night before, I now let my mind wander, without paying much attention to what came to it. I was just walking, rejoicing in the beauty of the day, the sweetness of the air, and – later – the warmth that the rays of the sun, now stronger, were carrying. The wood was alive, and I wanted to experience the most of it.
I was watching with interest a couple of squirrels run up the tree in front of me, when a sharp cracking sound from behind forced me to stop in my tracks. I hid behind the tree, and looked in the direction of the sound. Some other squirrels ran past me, oblivious of my presence and – it seemed to me – not at all scared. This reassured me a little, but I would have to be more careful in the future! So I started thinking of my situation again. Since I had wandered quite some way from the tree, I resolved to keep walking until keeping an ear out for the sounds of possible pursuers, while looking for a more permanent place to hide. And – of course – while looking for food. If I thought about it, I could still feel the dismay of the previous night, when my prospects had seemed rather bleak. I needed more warm clothing and a blanket. Could I risk going back to the house? Not for a few days. When I had planned all this, I had actually considered going back sooner or later, but that would be after my parents had moved; that meant waiting for at least another six days, provided they would go as planned even without me. I thought that was rather likely if they did not want to lose their jobs, but that would also mean that the house would be locked, and with it, my bedroom window. But no – now I remembered! Of course the house could not be locked up! We had animals that needed to be taken care of. Surely they had thought of somebody who could do that, maybe living there, too. And then the door wouldn’t be shut. Or – even if these people did not live there, then the place would be deserted at night, and I would have enough time to break in, and take what I needed. Why hadn’t I thought of hiding things in the barn? I could have done that during the night, and then it would have been so much easier. Yes, I had been naïve – if not dumb altogether – and I felt I was going to regret it sooner or later.
Well, since thinking of warmer clothing or blankets was not going to be of any help, I might try seriously to look for food. Since I had not taken the sandwiches with me, I would have to either hunt or fish. I did not want to set any snares. This would take time, and the people looking for me could easily detect them. Moreover, I did not think I would stay here long enough for them to be of any help. I had the sling with me, though; I never left the house without it, and had gotten into trouble at school more than once because of it. If I could catch a squirrel or a bird, I would then just have to light a fire….
I was still trying to recollect how to light a fire with sticks when I arrived at a clearing. This one was different than the one close to the hollow tree. It was more alive with birds and small animals and had a different smell. I soon realized I had come very close to a pond, and the dampness of the area accounted for the strange sensation. There were many ducks on the water, and I saw plenty of fish swimming in it. The presence of birds and fish meant that I would not have to skin an animal – provided I caught it first, of course. I had never done that before, and was very much afraid I would not be able to, with the small jack-knife I carried (this had gotten me into even more trouble than the sling). There were many pebbles on the edge, and I collected some, which I stuffed into the pockets of my skirt. Then I took out my sling, chose a round pebble, aimed at a duck and – whoosh! – away flew the pebble and all the ducks together. They eventually settled back on the water, and I was able to aim again and again, until I finally managed to hit one. I was so excited I cried out, remembering too late I was supposed to keep quiet. Besides, with all the racket the hunted ducks were making, I doubt my cry would make any difference! I had caught the duck on the right wing, and it could not fly away. I undressed, stepped into the water and dived closer. It kept flapping its wings, trying to escape, but managed only to move in circles. I grabbed it by the feet, and swam ashore. I set it down, wondering if I would ever have the courage to kill it, and started to put my clothes back on. They stuck to my body because of the water, and I realized, that – duck or no duck – I would really have to light a fire. The animal in question was looking at me. It had given up trying to fly away, but it could still walk – I suppose it was just too afraid to do so at the moment. I undid a string from my shoes and used it to tie its feet. With that taken care of, I took some time to collect sticks. I had to walk away from the pond, to where the grass was much drier, and so was the wood lying around. I then made myself comfortable – my legs bent under me – and prepared everything as Pa had shown me. It took ages to even get it right, and much much more to see a whiff of smoke rise from the dry leaves I had used as kindling. If I could just make it burn without extinguishing it…
I sat back holding my hands above the flames. It had worked! I felt worn out; I was not cold, nor did I feel wet anymore. Only then did it occur to me that it must really have passed a lot of time. I glanced at the watch: four o’clock. I had been careless again. I could retrace my steps to the hollow tree, of course, but I doubted I could get back before sunset, as much as I doubted I could find the way in the dark. And I hadn’t eaten yet. I went back to retrieve the duck. Unable to move, it had sat there all this time, but it seemed to have recovered some strength and – what’s more – the wing didn’t look broken at all. It would actually flap both its wings from time to time, trying to fly away. So I released it. Much as I was hungry, I had been thinking about it while lightning the fire. I had never killed an animal – had always loved them – and I felt I could not do it. Maybe given some time, when I would really need to kill something in order to survive. Maybe with a fish it would be easier.
Now that I had a fire, and there was no chance of going back to the tree and the sandwiches, I resolved I would try to catch a fish. I went back to the drier area to check: the fire was burning and didn’t seem in need of immediate attention. So I picked a stick and sharpened one of the ends with my knife. I was warmer; my hair – which was short to start with – had dried out, and I felt all right. I went back to the pond, removed my shoes and my socks, and set to the task of catching fish with a stick. The fish were big and slow, absolutely not afraid of coming within inches of my feet. Some even ventured to pick on them, curious. I had to learn by trial-and-error; it was hard to gauge the distance because of the distorting effects of the water and the deceitful rays of the sun, now on my back. After a while, though, my efforts were rewarded, and a sizeable silvery fish wriggled from the stick. I removed it, banged it on its head, and put it aside. Now that I had learnt, I wanted more. I caught two more fish in this way. At the end I cleaned them, stuck them back on the stick, and returned to the fire, collecting more wood on the way.
The place were I had built the fire was at the edge of the clearing, next to the trees that would shelter me during the night. The warmth from the fire was so nice I indulged for a while in the idea of keeping it up until morning, but I did not dare do that, lest I be discovered. So I hastened to cook the fish before the sun set. It felt like camping, and I could actually envision my family and myself doing that. It had never happened. My father was the practical type, and although he felt I should know how to care for myself, we’d never put my knowledge to the test. Life could be uncomfortable enough by itself if you didn’t work hard; there was no need to make it more uncomfortable by going camping. I ate two of the fish, wrapping the third one in a large leaf, and hastened to put out the fire. I felt sorrow to see it go – it had taken so much to light! I covered the ashes as carefully as possible, retrieved the fish and stepped into the thicket in the direction I had come from. The sun was just setting.
I did not walk far for fear of losing myself. I just wanted to be away from the clearing and surrounded by trees. I found a spot sheltered by a slight incline, wrapped myself as well as I could in my jacket, and set to spend my second night alone in the wood. Eating had made me feel better, and the pungent smell of the fire on my clothes was soothing. I remembered how we used to spend winter nights by the fireplace at our house. Mom would cook dinner and after that I would help to clear the table. Pa would sit on the rug in front of the fireplace, and we would sit next to him. He would then start telling stories to pass the time. He said it reminded him of the old days, when there was no television and people used to spend the evening like that. I usually ended up falling asleep with my head on his lap, and they would have to carry me to my bed.
Tomorrow I would try and catch some more fish, although – now that I thought about it – there must be some also in the stream next to the hollow tree. I would then return to it, and – if there was time – start walking in another direction. I still had to find a better place to stay. This time, though, I would not make the same mistakes. I would carry my pack with the food, the water (although the pond had been clear, its water had not tasted as good as the stream’s), and the extra clothes. There was no point in leaving behind something that, should I find the right place, I would then have to go back to retrieve. And I would look at my watch to make sure I would not have to spend another night outside. I eventually fell asleep thinking of Windy, and whishing I had him here to hug.
I slept fitfully and woke up in the morning with a healthy appetite. I was also stiff with cold, but counted on the sun to warm me up later. I ate the fish. I did not taste as good as the day before, and I had nothing to gulp it down with, but it was OK. I then dug a hole to hide the remains of my breakfast and walked back to the pond. The sun was up and warm. Thank God for another beautiful day! I did not dare think what I would do in bad weather… The fire had darkened my stick – I had used it as a skewer. I was starting to look for a new one when I remembered that fire was supposed to harden wood. And so it was that I caught four more fish, spiked them back onto the stick and made my way to the hollow tree. Before going, though, I made sure I drank plenty of water, as I had no means of carrying it.
I walked back in the direction I had come the day before, but after an hour (I did remember to check the time) I decided to make a detour: if I headed south for a while – that is if I turned left – and eventually turned west again, I should find the stream sooner or later. I would then be able to follow it to the hollow tree. This would allow me to see another part of the wood – retracing my steps was of no real use. So I walked pleasurably for another hour or so. The wood was unchanged, except for the fact that, after a while, it started sloping down again. That made sense. My house had been built on top of a hill, and was surrounded by the wood, with the exception of the area – northwest of the house – where the road was and, on it, other houses. As far as I knew, only this area had been settled, leaving the rest of the wood untouched for generations. The original settlers were Nature lovers and had tried in every way to pass that love down to the following generations, ensuring that the wood be preserved. So that now – even in the second half of the 20th century – not many people were fortunate enough to enjoy such beauty. There were some campers and several hikers coming in on the weekends, but generally the wood would be left to itself and its animals. Today the birds were singing, the trees were whispering in the breeze, and the small animals were running busily around – and there were no hikers to be seen.
I turned right as planned and kept walking. This area was full of birch trees, and the sun cast long rays of light through the foliage. It was majestic. After a while I stopped. The ground was rising more sharply on my right, and there was an entrance of some sort, partly hidden from the foliage. I bent to look closer. The hole seemed to be large enough to host a human being, and I thought it went on for some feet, although I could not see more than a few paces away. Bingo! I thought I had found exactly what I was looking for. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw a cavern, tall enough in most places that I could stand, the ceiling sloping sharply near he entrance and then again towards the end. Little light got in, because the entrance was small and hidden by the foliage, and I wondered whether something could be done about it – maybe a hole a little higher up to let wood smoke out?
I was so stunned I had to sit and collect my thoughts. So I stepped out and sat on the ground. I would have to go back to the hollow tree immediately to retrieve my stuff. I wanted to sleep in the cave this same night. I would have been warmer and more sheltered. It was now ten in the morning. I could reach the tree, eat something, and leave soon after. I just needed to be back before sunset. I was so happy!!
And so I left, walking west as fast as I could, sure I would find the stream soon. At I began to despair. Surely I hadn’t walked so much the day before? And of course I couldn’t have missed it! The ground on my right was now sloping gently, and I hoped the stream would do the same. I was getting tired, and was worried of having to climb up some steep incline. I kept going, but I couldn’t see any sign of water. I had almost resolved to stop for a rest when I heard it. Water was rushing nearby. I renewed my efforts and reached it. It was the stream I was looking for: yesterday I must have walked much more than I had thought, but now that I knew where I was, I had only one more hour to go. I stopped and, before going on, took the jack knife out of my pocket and – with it – carved a deep mark in a tree nearby. It was larger than the others, so I was sure not to miss it on my way back. I then crossed the stream and turned right.
As I had hoped, the going was easy enough. But I had been tired already, and was tiring all the more every minute. When I finally reached the hollow tree, it was all I could do to drop to the ground and lie there for a while. I had to fight hard not to fall asleep. After a few minutes, I stood up and went to the stream to drink and splash some water on my face. Thus revived, I went back to the tree. I stepped in to retrieve the food. The sandwiches had become prey of some very voracious ants and other vermin, and were now completely covered by them: no chance there. The apples were in much better state, and I resolved to keep them for later. I had to eat something if I wanted to restore my forces, so I got out and searched a nice spot to build a fire. I still had the fish with me. I could cook them all; eat part of them and save the rest for tomorrow.
I tried hard; I did everything as I had done the day before, but – try as I might – the fire wouldn’t start. My hands, reddened and excoriated already from yesterday’s work, refused to roll the stick as fast as was necessary. Or maybe the leaves were not dry enough. Or maybe it was just me… I was so depressed I could not think straight. When at last I managed to get hold of myself, it was clear I could not get to the cavern this very day. I would have to spend the night here. The hollow tree was a good hiding place after all – better than being out in the open – and I needed to rest. The sun was still up, and would be for more then a couple of hours. I resolved to be brave about it. Besides, what else could I do?
I threw the sandwiches away, burying them in the ground a little away from the tree. I then cleaned the natural shelf as well as I could, and proceeded to make the place as comfortable as possible. I refilled the bottle at the stream and – once back – sat down facing the sun – one apple in hand and the book on my lap. Since I did not want to use the torch at night, I might as well use the time left to read, as long as there was light.
I remember running through the wood around our house when I was young.
It was not a big house; more like a cottage, it had been built long ago by my great-great-grandfather, and added upon over the years in order to accommodate an increasing number of children and other members of the family.
In time they had all drifted away, though, and only the three of us remained.
My father, my mother and I used to live a very simple life at the top of the hill that overlooked what I thought was the most extraordinary wood I’d ever seen. Oh – not that I’ve seen many woods in my life! And of course I hadn’t seen any other then, but I was so fond of it that I delighted in the pretence of being an expert, and – as such – deemed it the best of woods indeed. I loved the simple things of it: the passing of the seasons; the abundance of creatures that inhabited it; its soothing tranquility.
Now that I think about it, I also remember very well why I was running. I was trying to put as much distance as possible between my parents and me. I wanted to hide; I figured that, after some time, they would stop looking for me and go away for good. Then I was sure I would be able to remain there, either at the house or – why not? – in the wood itself. Surely I could find a cave or some such to spend the rest of my life?
After some time I grew tired of running, and sat in the shade of some aspen trees. I had brought with me some sandwiches, a few apples and a bottle of water, and I started sipping the water – I would surely need the sandwiches in the following days – while thinking about the past hours.
I had come home the evening before after a walk in the wood – as I always did after schoolwork and the day’s chores were over – and I had sat at the big table in the kitchen. Dinner was ready and Mom was serving
Suddenly it had all begun. Well, maybe it was not so sudden after all – it’s hard for me to recall exactly the sequence of events. They were trying to say something to me, to make me understand. Why did they have to do that? Why did I have to do it? It was all planned; they had it all worked out already – up to the tiniest detail. They were planning to sell the house (but had not done it yet, thank God!), and had rented one in the city. We would leave in a week’s time. Pa had found a job as an accountant; Mom would work as a nurse in a private hospital, and as for me – I was to go to school there. I would have to say good-bye to my friends, my house, the animals, the wood… Pa.
I had run upstairs to my room as soon as I could – there was no standing up from the dinner table if you had not finished you meal – and started crying my heart out. Mom had come to try and soothe me at a certain point, but I was absolutely miserable and heartbroken. At last I think I must have cried myself to sleep, because I woke up in the middle of the night still in my clothes and with a mild headache. I washed and changed into my pajamas, but –since going back to sleep was out of the question – I started making plans.
Could I change their mind? Absolutely not. I knew there was no way once their mind was made up. And if they had not asked for my opinion in the first place, how could I make them see? In the end I decided that running away would be the best solution. I would act as nothing had happened, and then…
I stole downstairs to the kitchen to see what was available as sustenance for the next few days. I prepared myself four ham sandwiches; took four big apples and a bottle of water; and got back upstairs in a matter of minutes. I had the bag I used to put my schoolbooks in, but that was of no use, being – obviously – full of books. So I dived into the closet and came up with the rucksack grandma had given me some months before she died (oh, had she been still alive nothing of that would have happened!). It was not as big as I wished, but I would have to make do. I stuffed it with some spare clothes, a towel, an electric torch, a book, and the food I had brought up from the kitchen. And of course I did not forget Windy, my favorite teddy bear; how could I leave without him?
Then I tried to go back to sleep.
On the following day I got up as always and acted as nothing had happened. Father and mother were quite taken aback by my sudden change of attitude, but probably decided not to push the matter further. I had breakfast and went to school as always; came back around half past one; had lunch, and then went upstairs to do my homework. Why did I not just pretend to go to school and then run away? Well, to say the truth, I had thought of doing just that, but I felt I could not leave Trisha like this, without even a word of farewell; she was my best friend and the only one to know about my plan. School would be over soon, and we were looking forward to a happy summer together.
As soon as I was in my room, I locked the door behind me; put the schoolbag on the floor; took the rucksack from under the bed – where I had hidden it – and got out of the window and into the back yard. I had done this a number of times, when I felt bored and wanted to play instead of studying; it was actually no big deal: a pipe ran from the roof down and passed just a few inches from my window. It was easy sliding down – a little harder going back up, but I wouldn’t have to do it this time.
So that’s how I came to be sitting under the aspen trees. The weather was warm, and it felt good to be in the shade. Birds where twittering above my head, and I felt the bustle of animal life around me. I did not dare to stay long, though, in case somebody would come looking for me. I knew of a nice place to hide. I had spotted it some days before on one of my walks, and – in the light of recent events – maybe it had been a sort of a sign: was it my destiny to run away like this? It was not a cave, but rather a large tree, which was hollow at the base. There was not much room; I could barely sit with my knees drawn up against my chest, but I thought I could hang out there for a few days. The opening was in the shade and overlooking a riverbed, that was almost dry – the river being more like a stream. The ground went down in a steep slope, so that it would be very difficult for somebody to walk by it, unless they knew what they were looking for.
I stored the bottle away, stood up, and started walking. I was not running anymore. I wanted to keep as quiet as possible, in order to be able to hear sounds, should anybody be approaching. The going was easy. The wood was gently sloping down, so I didn’t tire walking. After some time I arrived at a clearing. Happy for having found it – I generally never doubted my sense of direction, but you can never know, can you? – I crossed it, turned to my left and walked just a few more minutes.
I found the tree I was looking for, walked around it and stepped – or rather bent – in. The hollow was maybe a little larger then I remembered, although still small. I felt cramped and wondered whether I could stand the position for days. True, I could get out once in a while, if I was careful enough… I opened the rucksack and took out Windy. I sat there hugging him for a time. When my eyes had adjusted to the dark, I started looking around the inside of the tree. The space was narrow, but it went a long way up. There was a spot just above my head that looked like a shelf: that’s where I stored the bottle and the food. With a lighter – and softer – rucksack, I made myself as comfortable as possible, the rucksack acting as a pillow against the rough inside of the tree. With my hands and feet I started removing the leaves and sticks that had collected on the floor; I smoothed the surface as well as I could, and even started scraping bits of wood from the inside, to see if I could make the hollow a little larger. Then it dawned on me that all that work – together with the walk to the tree – might have left easily legible prints. So I carefully ventured out of my hiding place and used my jacket to wipe and spread the leaves around – starting from the middle of the clearing, and working my way slowly back to the tree. I then assembled all the dead leaves and wood I had removed from the hollow and tossed them down the slope. Doing this I noticed that the sun was now setting; it must have taken me quite some time.
I had not thought of looking at the watch before. It was now around half past seven in the evening. As the sun went down, the air started to cool, and I put my jacket back on. The inside of the tree was now completely dark, so that I would have to use the torch to see. I thought it over for a while, and realized that Father and Mother would be very worried by now, but hadn’t probably really stated to look for me yet. My absence should have gone unnoticed for a couple of hours while I was supposedly doing my homework; it then would be thought odd that I had not come down for a snack, or had not been around the house or the barn doing some chore. It had happened already, though, that I had fallen asleep and taken a nap, and – although I would be scolded later for my laziness – I would be left alone for at least another hour. This meant that my parents would probably have started wondering where I was at around half past five – even six o’clock if I was lucky. Then they would have assumed that I had simply gone out for a walk. True, it was without their permission, but I had done that already a couple of times. They had been very angry with me when I had come back for dinner, but they had not moved from the house and were simply waiting for me. I had no reason to doubt that they had done so even today, so that I did not have to fear of being spotted for some time.
That’s why I went out again and walked to the stream. It took me some time, because the slope in front of the tree was very sharp, and I did not want to leave footprints that could be easily spotted; so I had to work my way away to the left, where the ground was going down less abruptly. I wanted to wash a little (my goodness: was the water cold!), and fill the bottle. I also took a sandwich with me, and sat on a rock eating it. The air was cooler than before, and I realized I must put on something warmer soon. Thank God I had thought of bringing some spare clothes with me. At half past eight I returned to the hollow tree. I retrieved my rucksack, put a sweater on under the jacket, took another one out to use as a blanket during the night, and stepped in. I then lit the torch, placed it on the natural shelf in the tree and proceeded in finding the best posture I could. When I was ready, I turned the torch off, and hoped to go to sleep quickly.
I was actually tired. The little sleep I had gotten the night before – toppled with the excitement of the day – had left me feeling odd and worn out. I was still very excited, though, so it was difficult to sleep. I eventually nodded off and slept restlessly, waking up in the middle of a bad dream. I was in a clearing; fog had come up, and I couldn’t see where I was going, nor did I remember where I was supposed or wanted to go. I was very cold and scared. When I opened my eyes I realized that I was, indeed, cold. Moreover, I felt very stiff from sitting in the same position for a long time. I was reluctant to use the torch, but did so nonetheless, just for the time it took to glance at the watch. It was three in the morning. So I shifted for a while, failing to find a better position, and then resolved to give it up and try to go back to sleep.
It was much harder that I’d thought, and – now that I had rested a bit – my mind began racing, and I started to examine what might possibly happen in the day ahead. As soon as there was light I would carefully go out and walk to the stream again. After all, I could not keep that position all day. I needed to stretch my legs and warm up a little; and since going back to the hollow for a long period of time was out of the question, could I risk looking for a better shelter? Or should I rather spend at least another day there, sitting or standing in the vicinity of the tree, wary of sounds or movements? I decided that – cramped as it was – still it was a good shelter, in what I thought a good position. So I would stay close to it, maybe wandering around a little bit if I thought it safe, and I would spend another night in there. The prospect seemed more daunting every minute… The events of the last day kept coming back. I thought my resolve of running away was the right one, but I began to have doubts about some of the things I had done.
Perhaps I should have left in the morning, instead of walking to school as always. This would have proven right in at least a couple of ways. To begin with, I would have had more time before my absence was detected. True, coming to this tree hadn’t taken up much time, but then I could have looked for a better accommodation – maybe the cave I was thinking about. I would also have had more time to assess my surroundings better. This part of the wood was far away from the house, and I did not normally go this far in my wanderings. Also, I could have collected fruits or other vegetables. My father had often taken me to the wood, and had pointed out to me the edible plants. Since he did not have a son, but had so much wanted one, he had raised me as such – much to my mother’s dismay – and I could do things that most girls my age didn’t even think about. So I knew how to set a snare and catch a bird with my sling. He had also tried to teach me how to light a fire, but I have to admit I had not mastered that (why had I not thought of bringing matches?). We were now in late spring, so I thought I could count on the wood to feed me for a while. I had three sandwiches and four apples left; they would not last forever. Secondly, not going to school would have meant that I could have also used my schoolbag to carry more things with me. I could have used a blanket (why hadn’t I thought about it yesterday?), and more warm clothing. I could have brought more food, and maybe some simple tools. Of course both bags would not fit in the hollow of the tree, and then I would have really had to look for a better place. The thing is, I had not thought I would need a more comfortable hiding so soon. I had not realized the discomfort would become painful, nor did I know that the temperature would drop so much during the night. Being almost summer, I thought I did not have to worry about cold for a long time.
Then I began fearing that my timing had not been right at all. If I had left after a few days, that is at a date closer to the day we were supposed to leave, then maybe I would have made things worse for my parents and better for me. As it was all settled – even the day they had to start their new jobs – it would have been harder for them to organize a search. But then whom did I want to fool? Of course they would come looking for me, and would have a lot of people to help them, too. Even telling Trisha had been a mistake, though fortunately I had not told her about the tree, nor the direction I had planned to take. If I ever had a chance of succeeding, then it would be in hiding very well for as long as I could. Towards the end of the night I had worked myself into a frenzy, and was beginning to despair. I was clutching Windy to my breast, whispering soft endearments to him, while the one who badly needed soothing was I !! The first time I had really enjoyed having him beside me was a few days after my tenth birthday. I had opened the package at the party to find a very cute, very soft teddy bear winking at me. I had set it on the shelf next to my bed and left it there. Not that I had forgotten about it – I had received other gifts that day and I had a doll I was very fond of – so I hadn’t even thought of naming it, let alone play with it. A few days later it had started to snow – I was born in January – and the wind had risen. It was building up to a real blizzard, and I was getting nervous. So I had gone up to my room, but had not been able to calm down. Then I had seen it, and – taking it down from the shelf – had set it on my lap. I had started talking to it, and we became friends. Holding it had had a soothing effect on me. I had named it Windy, because of the weather, and we have been very close friends since then. Only with him did I feel secure and at peace. I hoped he would help me now, too.