As the fury of the skies unleashed it’s vengeance upon the two 9 year old boys, an unnatural darkness descended, and the earth shook and trembled with every crash and retort of the relentless thunder… The sun had surrendered it’s glory  to the minions of the night, and, the path from the magical forest was now a cascading stream, winding it’s way down the grass covered hill that was the way home.

     Matty and Chris huddled together, terrified, as the horrific storm hurled it’s worst at the towering trees that had withstood the onslaught for more than a half century, but, now, bowed in submission, as the vicious winds snapped and chewed at the gentle boughs until they could resist no more, and were sheared off and sent crashing down into haphazard piles as if they were tiny twigs…

    By all appearances, God was angry, and had abandoned his children….

          It was at the apex of the monstrous storm, as the soaked boys clung to each other, numb with shock, and trembling uncontrollably, that God sent the help that they had prayed for, in the form of two brothers, bonded to each other through the cauldron of life and loss… weathered by the ravages of time…. two carpenters, but, more importantly- father and uncle…

         They appeared magically, from the depths of the mystical timbers, and, scooped the boys up in their strong arms, and carried them back into the safety of the deep woods, and, held them close, until God smiled upon them and vanquished the rumbling skies, slowly at first, then parted the demonic clouds with the golden light of the Autumn sun…

       It was not by chance that the men appeared, as Matty learned, once the storm had departed…

“Good Lord, Matty!!  We’ve been searching for you for the the longest time!! Uncle Barney and me looked everywhere… God, you could have been killed!! Why didn’t you come back when you heard the thunder?? Do you understand how dangerous that was??”
      The blond- haired boy shivered, but, didn’t answer… He was speechless, at the moment, from the close call, but, also, by the scene in front of him, for there, a little dark haired boy in oversized sneakers was being comforted by his uncle, who seemed to have forgotten his previous declarations…
      Chris was not talking either, instead, he just stood there,  glancing at Matty plaintively…

Exasperated, Matty’s dad asked one more time…”Well, what happened?  Why did you forget everything I’ve always told you?”
       Matty looked at his dad, then Chris, and finally, his Uncle Barney, and said the 3 words that have been repeated by young boys since the beginning of time…. Designed to end all questions and take blame without causing more trouble… “I don’t know…”

        He stood there near his towering dad, and trembled …. hoping that it was just…. over.  It was. The words had the necessary effect, and, dad just sighed. Uncle Barney, uncharacteristically, said nothing.
        “Well, let’s get you boys back to the car… you’re frozen like 2 popsicles!! I’ll get the heater cranked up before you end up getting sick… How on earth did you get so wet, anyhow?” Thankfully, the question didn’t require an answer, so, the group headed back down the trail and soon was climbing the slick hill near the building lot, and the cars were in sight…
         “What’s your buddies name, Matty??”
         Matty responded meekly,”He’s Chris…”
         “Well, we should get him warmed up and then we’ll bring him home… his parents must be worried!!” Then, Matty’s dad put his hand on Chris’ shoulder, and asked him directly, “Where do you live, son?”
          “On t-the other s-side of them woods, s-sir,” was Chris’ shivered response….
           “OK, OK… let’s get you boys in the car before you  can’t talk anymore!!”

          With that, the boys were herded to the passenger side of the wood paneled station wagon, and seated together on the front seat. Matty’s dad took a red checkered shirt that he had in the back of the car, and wrapped it around the 2 skinny boys, started the car, and, cranked the heater to the highest setting. Then, he closed the doors and walked over to the blue pickup truck where his brother stood… The 2 men engaged in a close conversation, occasionally glancing back at the young boys… Matty huddled with Chris, and, watched the men talk, but, because the windows were rolled up, and, the car was running, neither boy could make out what was being said.
         “Matty”, whispered Chris, “Do you think your uncle is goin’ to call the cops or somethin’??”
         “Huh?? Cops??  Naw, why would he do that? I think they’re just worried about your folks, Chris… Probably just talking about other stuff, too, but… not cops… don’t worry!! You didn’t do anything wrong!!”
          “Matty…. p-please don’t tell your daddy what I said ’bout not goin’ to school, OK?? I weren’t supposed to tell no one… My daddy would get real mad if he found out I did…” He squeezed Matty’s arm for effect… “Please!! OK??”
           “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody, I promise!! As far as I know, you already graduated from college, OK??”
           Chris giggled at that, and, both boys snickered and then started to laugh at the silly suggestion… Chris laughed so hard, that his runny nose was dripping onto his pants leg…
            “Gross!!” giggled Matty… “Here…” The boy opened the glove compartment and sneaked a folded napkin from his dad’s secret stash… Napkins collected from various sources… A few from ‘McDonald’s ‘, some from a ‘Mr. Donut’ where the workers got coffee and donuts occasionally, and, a few from unknown places… none wasted, tho, and now, serving a vital purpose– the nose wiping of a frozen nine year old!!

  Soon, the two boys were recovering from the close call, as the heater in the ‘grand old lady’ roared, and, roasted their feet and legs… Still wet, but, at least warmer, Matty and Chris started a game of ‘rock/paper/ scissors’, where the loser had to withstand a knee tickle for 5 seconds… counting aloud while being tortured!!  The conversation between the Matty’s dad and uncle was forgotten, and, the two boys squirmed and laughed on the red seats of the huge car, until the driver’s door opened…

        “What are you two goofballs up to?” Matty’s dad laughed, as he interrupted the contest…
        “Nothin’ “, giggled Matty. “We’re just playing…”

     “Well, I guess you’re warmed up a little, huh? Maybe we should think about heading home… It’s getting late… We were supposed to be on the road a half hour ago!! Your mom will be wondering if we got eaten by bears, or something!!”
     Chris giggled… “Ain’t no bears back in there, sir…. Least, I never saw none, and, I know what to look fer, too!!  Back home, we got lots of bears…”
      “Yeah?? Well, where’s ‘home’, Chris??” Matty’s dad asked.
      “Oh… well… home is here, right now, but… before now it was in a place called Tennessee, sir…”
      “Wow!! That’s a long way from here, kid… How did you end up in Connecticut?”
       Chris started to answer, but, was interrupted by a rap on the passenger side window… Startled, Matty looked to his right, to see his uncle standing outside the car, motioning him to roll the window down… Which he did… slowly… He always had a little trouble cranking down that front window!!
       After it was halfway down, Matty’s uncle said, “That’s far enough, tiger… I just wanted to give you something… ” He seemed nervous, and, Matty glanced up to see him  wipe a tear from his eye… He handed the boy a little, leather pouch, and, reached through the open window and, tousled Matty’s hair… Matty was taken aback… confused, and, said nothing…
       “Matty!!  What do you say?? Uncle Barney just gave you something…” Matty’s dad asked.
        Matty started to hand the little pouch back to the curly- haired man, but, he wouldn’t accept it, and gently pushed it back towards the boy…  “It’s OK, he doesn’t need to say anything…” And, with that, he turned, and walked back to his truck.
        “Matty!! That was awful… what is wrong with you??  Your uncle was trying to do something nice for you!!  Do you know how worried he was that you were lost in that storm??  He was frantic!! ”  He looked at the blond boy, who was peering down at his wet sneakers, but, saying nothing… “Well??”
         “We weren’t lost…” the boy mumbled…
         “Lord… I just don’t know about you… your mother says I should understand you, but, for the life of me… well… I just don’t!!”
          He threw the shift into reverse, and, the big car rolled backwards, and, Matty and Chris sat, side by side, grimly, as the car was put into a foward gear and started down the road that led from the site…
          “Where do you live, kid?” Matty’s dad asked… “I need to make sure you get back so that your folks don’t call out the national guard, or something…”
          Chris motioned towards the deep woods and quietly answered, “On the other side of the woods… a trail back near a  big stump… we got a trailer in there…”
          “Trailer?  You live in a trailer? Uh, do you have a hook up or something?”
           Chris looked at him, confused… “Huh?”
          “You know… electricity, water…. “
          “Naw… just some gas fer cookin’… ”  his voice trailed off… “Ain’t got much…”
          Matty’s dad looked at the skinny boy sitting next to him, and, then looked away, back at the bumpy and muddy road they were travelling. He seemed deep in thought… Finally, he turned back to the boy, and asked, “Does your daddy have a job, Chris?”
          The dark- haired boy started to answer, but, choked on the words, and, reached to his face, and rubbed the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand… He started to sniffle again, so Matty opened the glove compartment, and, handed him a couple of the salvaged napkins…
          Matty’s dad reached over, and, put his arm around the trembling boy… “It’s OK, son… lots of people have tough times in their lives…. maybe it’s a good thing we ran into you… Does your daddy know anything about construction work?  Has he ever swung a hammer?”
          Chris wiped his nose, and, said, “I guess so… he used to work at some sawmill back home, before we came up here… ‘fore they had the fire…”
          “Fire?  What happened? The mill burnt down?”
          “Yes, sir… it took part of everything from lots of folks that day… lots of folks…”
          ” God, that’s awful, kid… Well, maybe your dad needs some GOOD luck, now… Maybe he wouldn’t mind, helping us out… We could use the help… We’re going to break ground on another foundation in two weeks… Things are picking up now… whatta ya think?? Think he might be interested??”

            Chris smiled in a way that reminded Matty of their first meal together… “Yessir!!” he exclaimed…My daddy’s been looking fer work for a long time!! All he can find was small chores ‘n stuff. but, buildin’ a house… well, shucks, he would be tickled to help y’all, I can say … fer sure!!”

           It was, and still remains, one of the happiest moments in Matty’s childhood…. He found himself grinning like a cheshire cat along with his new friend, and, beaming with pride at his dad, who had instantly changed the life of a little, lost boy…

      He thought back, on the beginning of the day- how a simple thing like a quest, could become the start of a new friendship, and, a terrible brush with tragedy could turn into the life altering pivot for a destitute family on the brink… His eyes filled with tears, as the sun broke through the final clouds and the warmth from his new friend spread through his skinny frame and found it’s home, deep within his heart….

      Somewhere,  within the magical woods, a tiny, striped creature smiled and scurried about, planning the next encounter with the blond- haired hunter…

                                    {{ Epilogue }}   October  1964

       The Autumn sun had begun to set as the two boys left the safety of the bedroom closet… The younger boy looked around, and, whispered back at his older brother…”It’s OK, Matty… no monsters out here… it’s safe…”
        Matty followed, tentatively, straightening the collar of his blue PJs, and, stretching his stiffened, bruised legs…. He turned to his left, and pulled open the bottom drawer of the tall maple bureau… From under a stack of flannel, winter shirts, he pulled out the leather pouch that his uncle had given him the year before… He opened the top, and extracted the knife for the first time, and, handed the leather pouch to his brother… He had seen the top of the knife before, but, now that he had pulled it from it’s hiding place, he was able to view it completely… It had been a gift that he never planned on using. In his mind, it was best left in that drawer, unopened, so that the bad feelings of the past, could be buried with it… But now, the little boy was full of fear, and, needed to know that there was some way to protect himself, and, his little brother, from unspoken horrors and things and people that hid in the shadows where the children sometimes went to play…

        He studied the device, and turned it over and over in his small hands… His little brother watched, fascinated… It was made with a mother of pearl casing, and on the nickel plating at the bottom of the folded knife, was etched the initials  ‘BJR’… The initials of his uncle Barney…
        He ran his thumb across the smooth surface, and, then pulled at the hidden blade, which clicked into place, as it unfolded from the housing… He touched the blade, gingerly. It was very sharp. He winced at the thought of the blade tearing through the flesh of the creature with the strong hands and heavy breath, and pictured the astonishment on the invisible face, as the blade drew the red blood through the gaping hole… The boy’s teeth clenched shut, grinding together as he pictured the scene…
        “Matty…” interrupted the little boy. “What’s this??”
        Matty looked down to see his brother pull a little, folded paper from the leather pouch… He took it from the little boy’s hand and unfolded it…  It was a note, and, it was a very short note…. It said, ‘Matty, please forgive me. Uncle Barney.’
         The 10- year old, blond youngster read the note again, and, thought back to that day, the year before, when two innocent boys ran down the winding paths of the magical forest, and, became brothers… A small smile parted his lips and, he took the knife and folded the terrible blade into it’s case and put it back in the leather pouch. He took the note and opened the little wooden box on top of his dresser where he kept his most prized possessions, and, gently placed the note into the box for safe keeping… He knew then, that the power of love would be the path foward. He said a silent prayer as he returned the knife to it’s hiding place, and started his journey of forgiveness….