The 10-year-old Martin’s habit of not obeying his mother gets him into big trouble when he gets lost on a school trip. Scared and trapped in a dark, dirty cellar, he calls for help but the signal is cut off before he can tell her where he is and his phone dies.
“Martin! Martin! Oh, you have to hurry! The bus is here!” Sophia cried as she searched through Martin’s backpack for the third time to make sure he had everything he needed for his trip. Her son’s school was taking all the students to a museum 30 miles away from their town, and Sophia was beside herself with excitement.
Martin was only ten years old and could sometimes be quite a handful. When he came out of his room and grabbed his backpack, Sophia gave him her old mobile phone. “Only for emergencies! Don’t play games on it and waste the battery, okay?”
He frowned. “Mom, no! It looks so old! I don’t want to take it with me.”
“Okay then. No trips next time? Is that what you want?”
Martin sighed as he put his phone in his backpack. “Whatever! I hate you for this!”
“Okay, now hurry up!”
As Martin got on the school bus and took a window seat, Sophia waved goodbye to him. “It barely works!” he muttered as he picked up the phone.
Sophia stood there for a while, watching as the bus disappeared down the road. The place where Martin’s school was taking him would be very cold. Sophia had packed a thermos of soup and an extra box of sandwiches for him to share with his friends.
In addition, despite Martin’s protests, she had made him wear a thick sweater. Sophia had done everything she could to ensure her son enjoyed the trip and returned home healthy. But fate had other plans…
The museum was boring and stupid, according to Martin. He couldn’t understand why all the older people there were so busy admiring the sculptures, fabric art, antiques, and old objects. His school could have invited them to a picnic instead!
Martin knew he was probably the only one who was tired of their tour guide, Mrs. Wooten, telling them about the old and ugly things displayed in the showcases. All the other kids seemed to be very interested in them. Martin could think of 100 more exciting things than a museum tour! Unfortunately, it would take three hours for the “stupid” tour to end.
When they left the building, the weather turned severe. The icy winds howled through the trees like wild beasts; a heavy snowstorm finally arrived. “Kids, we need to get to the nearest bus stop, because we can’t call the bus here, okay? Everybody line up and make sure you’re wearing scarves and jackets!” – Mrs. Wooten announced.
As the children lined up, Mrs. Wooten counted them and smiled. “We’re ready to go, children! Let’s stick together so we don’t get lost in this bad weather, okay?”
Mrs. Wooten walked behind the group of children, keeping an eye on all of them. But for a moment, she was distracted. She was on a phone call and didn’t notice Martin disappear. He had slipped out of the line and into an alley to explore the huge, abandoned mansion that he had seen on the way back from the museum.
“Now I’m going to have some fun since I’ve come this far,” the boy thought.
Martin noticed Mrs. Wooten and the other students waiting for the bus down in the alley that ran parallel to the mansion. He knew their bus would be delayed because he had overheard Mrs. Wooten on the phone with the driver. “Alright, the roads are slippery. Don’t worry, I’ll stay with the children,” she had said.
Martin left the roadway and opened the dark rusty gates at the entrance to the abandoned house. He shuddered as it creaked open. “Wow!” he said. “This is so creepy!”
The villa looked as if it hadn’t been lived in for an eternity, but it was beautiful. In the garden at an angle was a fountain that perhaps hadn’t worked for many years. Martin climbed the stairs to the front door and pushed it. It opened with a creak, and he grinned. “Wow! No locks!”
As he entered, the smell of mold and dirt hit the boy’s nose and he sneezed. “This place needs some cleaning,” he muttered, entering the house and scratching his nose. It was cold and he shivered from the chilly air coming through the broken glass windows in the living room.
“Heh, this house is simply enormous! Who lived here?” he wondered, approaching the foyer. He was about to go up the stairs to the upper floor when he heard the creak of floorboards behind him.
Martin turned around, and the noise stopped. “Hey? Is anyone here?” he asked in a loud voice.
Other than the icy winds, there were no answers or sounds.
Martin decided not to go upstairs. He headed towards the kitchen when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Ah!!!! Ah!!!!” he shouted and pulled away from the stranger’s hand. He ran as if his life depended on it and hid behind the kitchen counter.
Suddenly a gentle voice said, “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you!”
Martin peeked out from behind the counter and noticed a little girl standing nearby, dressed in a thin sweater and overalls. She was barefoot and looked unhealthy and very dirty.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Emily,” she said. “Did I scare you?”
“Well, sort of…” he replied, coming out from behind the counter. “Do you live here?”
“Not really,” she said and sat down on the stairs in the hallway. Martin noticed that she was shivering.
“My name’s Martin,” he replied, sitting down next to her. “Here…” He took off his sweater and wrapped it around her shoulders before sitting beside her. “Where are your parents? Are you alone here?” he asked.
“I see,” she murmured softly. “I have no one. Mommy and Daddy are dead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Martin. “What happened to them?”
“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking into his eyes.
Martin’s cheeks turned red and he looked away from her. “No! I’m with my friends,” he said. “We’ll be home soon anyway. So everything’s fine. So, what happened to your parents…”
When he turned to look at her, he noticed that she was no longer awake. Her head was propped against the railing. She was in a deep sleep.
“Hey,” Martin gently shook her hand and realized that something was wrong with her. He touched her forehead and realized that her body was burning up. “Oh no,” he whispered. “She has a fever! We need a doctor!”
Martin quickly considered how he could help Emily and remembered that he could call Mrs. Wooten! He rushed out the door and to the entrance gate, but he was too late. The bus, Mrs. Wooten, and his classmates were gone!
“Oh no!” Martin panicked. “Oh no! I’m lost! How am I going to help Emily now? And Mom will be mad at me! I left the bus!”
Martin ran back into the house and tried to wake Emily, but she didn’t respond. He couldn’t leave her on the stairs because the wind blowing in through the broken windows was making it colder and she would only get sicker.
So Martin made his calculations. He tried to carry Emily in his arms, but he couldn’t lift her and had to give up. “Oh please! I can’t do this!” He wasn’t strong enough to carry her up the stairs.
Martin thought about what he could do now and took out his phone to ask Sophia for help. But the phone wouldn’t turn on. At that moment, Martin looked behind the stairs and saw a corridor leading to a basement…
Martin decided that Emily would be safer and warmer downstairs than on the stairs in a windowless room. So he carried her down to the basement and gently laid her on an old sack he found there.
“Oh, my God! She looks so skinny! She’s heavy,” he sighed, shrugging his shoulders. Suddenly he noticed something strange. The place was cluttered with wine racks and smelled strange and sharp.
“Where am I? What is this place?” Martin asked himself as he descended deeper into the basement. There he saw a pile of candles that looked like they had just been lit. Martin realized he wasn’t alone down there. Someone was living in the basement! Martin was already cold because he wasn’t wearing a sweater, and now he was scared too.
With trembling hands, he reached into his pocket and turned on the old phone that Sophia had tried so hard to give him. At that moment, he heard footsteps on the stairs leading down to the basement.
“Come on, come on!” He quickly dialed his mom’s number and on the third ring, she answered. Martin hid behind the wine rack.
“Mom! Mom!” he whispered into the phone. “I’m in a dark cellar, not far from… Hello?” The signal cut off.
“Hello? Martin?” asked Sofia. “What’s going on? What the hell!”
“Mom, could you be angry with me later? I need help! I’m in a wine cellar!”
“Wine cellar? Basement? What are you doing in the basement, Martin? Where’s Mrs. Wooten?”
“Mom, I…” Martin was about to finish speaking when he heard footsteps approaching behind him. Suddenly he heard a voice shouting, “WHO’S COME HERE? I don’t like uninvited guests!”
“…Mom,” Martin cried now. “There’s a man here, and he… Hello? Mom?” Before Martin could tell Sophia where exactly he was, the signal cut out and his phone went dead.
Sophia panicked. “Hello? Martin? Hello?” She tried calling Martin over and over again, but the call wouldn’t go through. Then Sophia called Mrs. Wooten, who apologized for not knowing where Martin was. “I counted them on the way back from the museum, and he should be on the bus! I’m sorry, Mrs. Richmond, but your son is not here!”
“Your apologies won’t bring my son back!” Sophia screamed. “How could you be so reckless? I trusted the school! I trusted you, Mrs. Wooten!”
“Mrs. Richmond, please…” Sophia was so angry that she hung up the phone. She quickly called her husband Luke and told him everything. He immediately left work and told her not to worry. As he had friends in the police, he immediately notified them and requested Martin’s phone be tracked.
When Luke came home, he informed Sophia that they had tracked Martin’s phone. The couple and the police officers drove 30 miles to the abandoned property where they found the secret path under the stairs leading to the basement.
When they entered the house, the parents and the police officers found Martin and Emily sleeping on the floor, covered with torn blankets. Then they saw a scruffy man emerge from behind one of the wine racks, holding a whiskey bottle in his hand.
“That’s him!” Sophia gasped. “He took my son and the little girl…. he must have kept her here too!”
“Officers! Arrest him!” said Officer Peterson.
“Hey! Hey! Officer! I didn’t touch the kids!” shouted the grubby man as the police put handcuffs on him. “I just give them food and shelter! Ask the kids!” But the police didn’t listen to him and took him to the station.
Sophia assured the police officers that she would bring Emily to the station later. In the meantime, Martin and Emily were awakened by the loud voices and screams of the homeless man.
“Mama!?” Martin jumped up and hugged his mother, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Oh, Mama, you’re here! Thank you for coming, Mama. Thank you!”
“How did you get here, Martin? And who is this girl?”
Martin broke away from her. “I just heard that Joseph… He helped us, Mama. He helped Emily too. Where is he? Didn’t you meet the homeless man who lives here?”
“What?” Sophia asked. “He, what?”
Martin’s parents were shocked and ashamed that they had judged Joseph, as Martin told the story of the poor man.
Martin told them that Joseph was homeless and had been living in the basement because the house was abandoned. He gave him and Emily his rags and blankets so they wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor, and he also shared his food with them – sandwiches and tea that he had bought with his last bit of money. Because there was a snowstorm outside and he didn’t have a phone, he told the children to wait in the basement and that he would go out later and ask someone for help.
“I left my bag on the bus, Mom,” Martin explained. “And I was very hungry. Emily was sick, and Joseph gave her some medicine he had. After sandwiches and tea, we were so full we fell asleep. I’m sorry I snuck into that house. I shouldn’t have.”
“What you did was terrible, and you’ll be under house arrest, Martin! But,” Sophia said, “we have to tell the police that Joseph is not guilty. And what about Emily? How did she end up here?”
“I’ll explain later, but first we have to help Joseph, Mom! He will tell you everything! I feel so bad that he’s in trouble because of me.”
When Martin, his parents, and Emily arrived at the police station, Joseph was released. Then they all went to a café to talk, where Joseph began to tell his story.
The poor man revealed that Emily was an unhappy soul like him. She was an orphan and lived in a home where she was bullied, so she ran away from there and sought refuge in the abandoned mansion. “She thought nobody lived there, but I was there! I took her in and decided to keep her safe!” he confessed.
“I told you. I am not a bad person!” exclaimed Joseph. “I am a poor soul… and she is a poor girl. Very sad and alone. I came to this country to be an art teacher. I am a painter. My wife lies to everyone that I am a violent man and leaves me, and nobody in the school respects me. I quit the job and became a beggar. The house is very old. I lived there. Slept there. The money I get from begging helps me eat.”
Martin’s parents exchanged a look. “But Joseph, you can’t just keep Emily like this,” said Luke. “That’s not how it works here. I don’t know how it was in your home country, but you need legal custody of her… How about we adopt Emily and give you a job? I mean, we’ve been trying to have a second child, but you know, we… we believe this was God’s way of sending us Emily! We can help both of you. Honey, what do you think?”
“Are you giving me a job?” – Joseph asked. “Oh, you are a good man sent by God! How would this man thank you?”
Joseph burst into tears at the generosity of Luke and Sophia, and Luke had to hug the homeless man to comfort him. He and Sophia hired Joseph as an art teacher for Emily and Martin. They gave him a chance to get his life back and at the same time give young, orphaned Emily a new, better life by adopting her as their daughter.