The Lord is Close (Part 9)

Neither one of them moved an inch. The little girl could hear padding feet coming closer and the faint sound of a twig snapping. Buddy’s growl became just a little deeper but still he did not move. Suddenly all the movement stopped and the forest surrounding them was silent.

Without warning, there was a loud scraping on the outside of their tree as large claws dug into the bark high above and scratched downward. Instantly, she knew that it was the big cat. She wondered if he was just marking his territory or if he knew that they were inside. Her wondering only lasted a moment as Buddy could not stand it any longer. He lunged out of the tree and began barking and baring his teeth. He nipped at the large cat hoping to dissuade its presence. The cat recoiled and raised a huge paw to strike.

The little girl jumped quickly out to the fire and grabbed a large burning stick. In a frenzy of commotion, she waved it at the cat and yelled while the dog barked even more.

The cat seemingly decided that it was either too much noise for him or not worth the effort. As if turning into liquid, he quickly dissolved into the undergrowth of the forest. Buddy started to follow and she called him back. He stared longingly into the darkness and then reluctantly returned to her.

Neither of them were eager to fall asleep so soon after their recent experience. They spent the remainder of the night building up the fire. When dawn broke through the night and all the forest came alive again with the sounds of birds, the little girl wandered down to the stream to get a drink of water and look for berries.

She took out her little VBS Bible and flipped it open to a random page. The verse that first caught her eye was Psalms 34:18. She began reading it aloud. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted…” Tears welled up in her eyes and she couldn’t see to read.

“Oh Lord, I know you are close but where are you? What should I do next? I’m so afraid of staying here alone and I’m afraid of going back. I don’t know what to do. Please take care of me and Buddy. Please send someone to help us.”

Buddy laid his chin down on her lap. He seemed to understand. She stroked his soft fur and felt a calmness that she had not felt in a while. For a time, the two simply sat, their backs to a tree, watching the sun rise higher. Finally, the girl said, “It will be okay, Buddy. Let’s go explore and look for food.”

Buddy’s ears perked up; he was hungry too. The little girl gathered a pocketful of small stones from the stream to use later to mark their trail. They went back to their little camp and the little girl put her Bible inside the tree and put a little dirt on the fire so that it wouldn’t catch back up. It was already warm so she left her sweatshirt in the tree and safely stored her cutting rock and homemade fishing spear.

She and Buddy took off walking through the woods. The little girl carefully left a trail by placing stones in an arrow formation every so often. She reassured herself that they would make it back to their little home before dark.

After a couple of hours, or so it seemed, they finally walked out of the woods and into a field. On the other side of the field, she could see a gravel road and a few houses dotted here and there. Staying off of the road but near enough to see it, they traveled along the dirt path in the fields that the farmers used with their tractors. The houses became more plentiful until she was certain they had come up behind a small town.

She and Buddy weaved in and out of the houses along the smaller streets until she saw a farmer’s market. The stands were filled to overflowing with colorful fruits and vegetables and people milled about busily looking through them and bartering for the best prices. Hidden in the back behind a wooden screen, there was a pile of baskets full of potatoes with black marks, peppers with mold, and other items that weren’t going to sell any longer. No one was watching those baskets.

She picked up a basket and just started walked back down the alley. No one noticed or stopped her. Buddy followed obediently. She finally began breathing again and looked down to see what she had gotten. There were a few tomatoes, some squash, cucumbers, and potatoes. She knew that the good parts were still going to be delicious. And even more importantly, she knew that she could come back for more. She felt a little guilt again for taking something that was not hers but she told herself that these things were just going to be wasted. Hunger once again began gnawing at her and she shoved her regretful thoughts aside.

Just as she turned the corner behind the last building, she spotted him standing across the street with two of his friends. Her father looked tired and drunk. He stumbled around the side of his pickup truck and she heard him talking in a slurred voice.

“Not only did that ungrateful little girl run off but she took one of my hunting dogs with her too,” he said.

“Now, Richard, the sheriff’s looking for her and I’m sure she’s fine. There’s nowhere for her to go,” one of the other men reassured him.

Richard spat and it dripped down his chin. He wiped it away with his sleeve.

“I’m bettin’ she’s staying with one of her friends. That dog ain’t worth nothing to me anymore either. Why, I’d shoot him on sight if I saw him,” he said.

As if on cue, Buddy barked sharply, and gave away their hiding spot.

“Oh no, we have to run, Buddy!” the little girl said as she dropped her treasured basket of vegetables to the ground.

She took off across the road and into the field and Buddy was trailing behind her.

Her father let out a string of curse words and jumped into his truck and took off after them.

She was already in the field by the time he caught up and there wasn’t any place for him to cross over with the truck. The ditch between the gravel road and the field road protected her.

Her breath was coming quick and fast. Hunger and exhaustion was about to overcome her. She could see the woods and she kept running. Buddy wasn’t very far behind her.

Richard pulled his truck over to the side of the gravel road and grabbed the shotgun hanging in the back window. He easily jumped the ditch and ran after her. Just as the little girl was entering the safety of the forest, she heard the shot ring out.

She stopped under the cover of the trees and turned around. She could see her father standing with his legs spread, proudly holding his weapon. Buddy lay perfectly still on the ground in front of him. His soft furry brown body looked peaceful. He was not running any more. Tears filled her eyes and trailed down her face and heartbroken sobs came from deep within her. She backed deeper into the woods. She heard her father yell.

“We’ll see how you like it now. Now you are all alone. No one cares about you. I don’t care if you die. Good riddance,” he shouted.

She turned around and ran deeper into the woods. She did not think and half the time she could not see. Blinded by her anger and her grief, she just ran as hard as she could. By the time she stopped, she realized that she was completely lost and utterly alone.

To be continued…