Chapter 32: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Chapter 32

Frank did what he could to delay, but only so much can be done when a firearm is prodding you along.  At one point, Al asked Frank to drive faster, and Frank replied, “Fine, if you want the police to stop us for speeding.” Phin growled that he expected to see Frank driving plenty slow and that there better be no funny business. After that, the car was quiet as it moved at a snail’s pace back to the Evergreen Resort.

Ashley was in the back seat with Phin and wondered if the two would really let her go once they reached the resort. What would she do if they changed their minds? Ashley respected the gun that Al was holding, but at the moment, she had trouble taking the Shrike brothers seriously. Nathan’s rubber knife was sticking out of Phin’s pocket, and he kept fingering the wooden handle as if he still thought it was a real knife.

Ashley put her hands in front of her mouth to stifle a giggle. It ended up sounding like more of a sob, which was good. Ashley wanted the brothers to think she was afraid of them and bordering on hysterical. If they thought she was too silly and scared to cause trouble, they would be more likely to let her go.

Ashley thought back to her performance last year in the second grade play. They had done a mash-up of fairy tales that allowed nearly all the children to have parts. Ashley had played Goldilocks at the moment she was discovered by the three bears. She did such a good job acting scared and upset, that Mrs. Collins stopped the first rehearsal. She had thought something bad had actually happened to Ashley before coming on stage!  Afterwards she praised Ashley’s acting skills and the play was a big success.

The BGs were scarier than the storied three bears, but in “real life” Ashley was more likely to freeze up than become hysterical. She told herself she would be Goldilocks today if the BGs didn’t let her go as planned.

When they arrived at the chalet, Frank fumbled with the key and dropped it twice.  “Sorry but I get shaky when a gun is pointed at me!” Frank replied when Al cursed his clumsiness.

Frank added, “Why don’t you let Ashley go? That would give me one less worry and steady my hand. There’s no reason she needs to be with us anymore.”

“Oh, no!” Al said. “We’re not stupid! She stays until we have the time machine and not a moment before!”

“I’m changing my mind about letting the brat go at all,” Phin said. Ashley started to channel Goldilocks and whimpered. Phin grabbed her arm more tightly. “None of that now. Your dad needs to concentrate on doing what we say!” Ashley backed off her performance to loud sniffles. She also shed a few tears, which were real. Phin’s fingernails were digging into her arm.

Once the door was open, Frank looked around the interior of the chalet for a moment and then led the way to the stairs. They went single file into the downstairs bedroom.  Frank led, followed by armed Al and then Ashley being pushed ahead by Phin who was still holding tightly to her arm.

Slowly, Frank knelt down and reached under the bed to pull out a suitcase. It was the wrong one, and he pushed it back to pull out the next one. Slowly, he opened the case.

“It’s empty, you fool!” Al shouted.

Frank said nothing, but unzipped the false bottom of the case revealing another compartment. The compartment that held the time machine!

Frank took out the time machine and set it on the floor. At the sight of the long-coveted item, both the BGs gasped.  For a brief moment, Phin relaxed his hand. Ashley, keyed up and ready for an opportunity, immediately broke away and ran for the stairs.

Startled, Phin hesitated for a moment before he turned and raced after her. Al kept his head enough to remain focused on Frank, but yelled at Phin that he’d better not let the brat escape, or else!

Ashley made it to the top of the stairs just inches ahead of Phin. She dodged left around a chair and headed into the kitchen. By the time Phin reached her, Ashley had squeezed herself into the cabinet under the sink. She summoned her best Goldilocks tears and started wailing and crying when Phin reached down and tried to pull her out. Through her crocodile tears, she hung on fiercely to the u-bend pipe under the sink and braced her feet against the inlet pipes.

Phin pulled the rubber knife from his pocket and threatened her with it. “Come on out or I’ll be forced to hurt you!” he bellowed. Ashley didn’t want him to know she knew it was a fake knife, so she wailed all the louder, but didn’t let go.

By the time Frank and Al appeared in the kitchen, Phin was trying to yell over Ashley’s sobs. The effect was like a lion and a police siren having a karaoke war.

“Shut up!” Al added his voice ineffectually to the cacophony. He pointed his gun at the floor and shot. The loud report caused everyone to hush for a moment and Al repeated, “Shut up! Do you want everyone in the neighborhood to hear us? If she won’t come, just leave the brat here.  We got what we came for.”

“Fine!” Phin slammed the cabinet doors shut, and Ashley listened carefully to hear when they finally left. The BGs didn’t talk any more, but they didn’t leave the kitchen right away. Ashley heard a lot of rustling around and footsteps. At one point they opened the fridge. They seemed to be taking forever, and Ashley let out a whimper now and then to keep up the illusion that she was too upset to think clearly and cause trouble after they left.

After an eternity, Ashley heard the front door open and close and the sound of a key locking the door. Ashley counted slowly, 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, all the way up to 60 to make sure they were gone for good. She feared they might come back inside to catch her out of her hiding place, but she had no patience to wait longer than a minute.

She pushed on the cabinet doors, and to her horror, they wouldn’t open! During all the moving around and rustling, they had tied the doors together.

Ashley didn’t need to pretend to be hysterical now. She started to yell and pound on the doors. After the fourth or fifth time smashing her fists against the doors she had a glimmer of hope. The doors were moving out a little farther than before.  In the sliver of light between the doors, Ashley could see that something was stretched between the door handles. Clearly, they tied the door handles together with something. Could she break whatever-it-was?

Ashley repositioned herself in the cramped space so that she could kick at the doors with the soles of her feet.  Wham! Wham! Wham! With each kick, the doors moved outward a tiny bit farther.  After a few more kicks, progress slowed. Wham! Wham! Wham! The doors had moved out far enough that Ashley could reach her fingers through the crack in between them, but they wouldn’t move any farther.

Tears of frustration filled Ashley’s eyes. She closed them for a moment and thought about the Historical Miss books.  In every story the main character had a problem to face that seemed insurmountable. California Christy and her friend Charlotte even got trapped in a mine, once, which seemed similar to her present predicament. She remembered Charlotte telling Christy that there would be plenty of time to be upset later. Right now they needed to think clearly and find the way out.

Ashley opened her eyes and pushed on the doors again. She reached her fingers through the crack to see what was tying the handles together.  Plastic grocery bags! Ashley almost smiled. The BGs used the first thing they could find, but hardly the best thing.

Ashley squeezed her hand through the opening. The bags were looped through the cabinet handles and tied with a knot.  Unfortunately, when the bags stretched they tightened the knot and Ashley couldn’t undo it.

Ashley looked around in her cramped space to see if there was anything she could use to help. The cabinet was empty except for a half full bottle of dishwashing liquid and two bottle caps. Ashley picked up a bottle cap and felt the metallic edge. Not exactly a knife, but good enough for grocery bags, she thought.

Using the bottle cap, Ashley sawed back and forth on the plastic that she could reach through the crack. The metal edge bit into the plastic, tearing it bit by bit. It seemed like forever, although it took only a few minutes to tear completely through the plastic. As the last bit broke through, the doors shot open with a bang and Ashley crawled out.

Heart pounding she ran for the phone and dialed 911. Nothing happened!   She tried again. What was going on?!  Was she dreaming? Why wouldn’t it work?

In frustration she ran out of the chalet and smack into Aunt Hannah who was passing by.

“Whoa, slow down there! Where’s the fire?” Aunt Hannah asked.

Ashley hugged Aunt Hannah and started to cry. She was so relieved to finally be with an adult that could help.

“911 won’t work! Dad and Peter are being held by kidnappers and I need to call 911! Can you help?” Ashley blurted out between sobs.

Aunt Hannah furrowed her brow. She held Ashley at arm’s length and looked into her wet eyes. Hannah was Ashley’s great-aunt, and she was familiar with children who played pranks and children who let their imaginations run away with them. As she looked at Ashley, she didn’t think Ashley fell into either of those categories.

“Let’s go inside your chalet for a moment and you tell me all about it,” Hannah said.

“I don’t have time!  I need to call 911!” Ashley said as the two of them went through the door.

Hannah was silent for a moment as they entered. She put her hands on her hips, then crossed them in front of her, and then sighed. She seemed to come to a decision in her mind.

“Here at the resort you need to dial ‘9’ before anything else to get an outside line. So to dial 911, you actually have to dial 9911,” she said.

Before Hannah finished speaking, Ashley sprinted to the phone. She told the dispatcher that her brother was trapped in a shed behind a yellow house on Bellwood Creek Circle and that her Dad was being threatened with a gun by the two men who lived there. She said the men were robbers, but she didn’t mention the time machine. The dispatcher asked a lot of questions which Ashley answered as best as she could.

When she finally hung up she said, “Aunt Hannah, we need to go and see if we can help. Will you drive me to Bellwood Creek Circle?”

Hannah shook her head. Ashley was pale and shaking now that the worst was over and her eyes were red and swollen.

“You need to sit down on the couch for a moment and calm down before we go anywhere,” Hannah said. She guided Ashley to the couch and then bustled around the chalet for a few moments.

Hannah came back with a thin blanket, a juice box from the fridge and a granola bar. “Here, drink this.” Ashley did as she was told. She closed her eyes for a moment and Hannah covered her with the blanket. Ashley thought about Peter and Dad and hoped they were safe. Before she could finish the thought, she fell fast asleep.

End of Chapter 32

The next chapter can be found here: Chapter 33: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)





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