The forest canopy was full of yellow, red, and brown leaves catching the last of the setting sun’s rays. Their glow filled the forest with a golden light which made the party a festive troop. When the final explosion of sunset touched Charlie, he grimaced at its demise leaving only Missy’s lantern and the twinkling stars above to guide them home. They raised their voices in song as if to deny the darkness its final triumph.
The trees thinned and the brush dropped away as they emerged from the forest. They marched up the hill and through the field. Their music carried on the wind up to the farmhouse where Wilmuth and Gunther waited. They were perched impatiently on a stone porch guarded by a cedar railing. At one end of the porch was a large fireplace with a roaring fire surrounded by fluffy pillows on a raised rubble hearth. The ceiling fans were adorned with fairy lights. The table was set with foods of all types.
The rescue party could smell the sweet aroma of cooked apples, cinnamon, and clover before they saw the light emanating from the farmhouse. As they made their way through the orchard and across the barnyard Robin sang, “We’re almost home.”
As they drew closer, they could see Aunt Wilmuth’s excitement and hear her voice saying, “They’re almost here! Pour the juice! They will be chilled! Everyone should be warm!”
The cart bounced over the deep ruts tossing the riders high into the air. “Whoop!” Walter called out and clasped Charlie’s shoulder. “What an exciting day this has been!”
Charlie giggled and said, “This has been the biggest adventure ever! I am starving. Are we there yet?”
Walter laughed as fresh grease and iron shavings flew through the air when they ground to a halt.
“Yes,” Mercury called, “we are HOME!”
Everyone jumped down from the cart and trotted toward the porch. Walter reached down and cupped his vines together. “Charlie, step here and I will lift you up and over the railing. It’s faster than the stairs.”
Charlie steadied himself with Mercury’s shoulder, stepped onto Walter’s vines, and climbed up the wall and over the railing.
Wilmuth greeted him with a big warm hug. The scent of cinnamon filled his nose as she wrapped him in a heated quilt.
Then Uncle Gunther lifted him up into the air smiling and laughing. “Looks like you had a great adventure!” he exclaimed.
Charlie giggled and for the first time was able to take in the full breadth of the porch. The warmth of the fire, the smell of the food, the twinkling of the fairy lights, the welcomes from his new friends, and the taste of the apple juice filled him with comfort.
A cheer erupted from the far end of the table as the rest of the crew topped the stairs and the band struck up a triumphant tune. Uncle Gunther placed Charlie at the head of the table.
“Come on, Walter!” Uncle Gunther said as he picked him up, too, “Y’all must be starving! Come eat, drink, and warm yourselves by the fire. Afterward, we can have some of Aunt Wilmuth’s famous cherry-apple pie.”
He set Walter down next to Charlie and then took the next seat. “Let’s eat!” he called out and all the farm animals chowed down on their favorite foods.
Walter turned to Charlie and said, “Let’s go fishing tomorrow.” Charlie raised an eyebrow and smiled. If this was a normal day on a farm, he was going to have an adventurous winter!
This book is dedicated to Charles Harris, Architect. He can walk into a room filled with strangers and walk out rich and with friends. I’ve always been in awe of his radiant personality and he continues to inspire me.
Thank you, Charles.
I'd like to thank my dear friends, family, and acquaintances for all of their help in writing this series. The laughter and comradery you brought to the table during the writing and illustrating of this book gave everyone a shared rich experience.
My Forasiepi Family
Donatelle Mascari, my Editor
Roan and Kelly Baker
The Brehm Family
Jennifer Johnson Peeler
Kathy and Larry Zinn
Carli and Jill Johnson-Scott
Ted and Dru Gilbert Ubben