The light flickered, blinked, flickered once more, and then the room went dark. Marta blinked and rubbed her eyes, but there was no seeing through the blackness.
“Now what?” Lisa asked in a shaky voice.
Outside, the wind sang and whistled as it rattled the windows of the old house the family had recently bought. It was the family’s goal to restore the old place to its original splendor, but so far not much had been done with it.
“Methinks ’tis winter,” Marta said, trying to make her words sound Old English and funny. But no one laughed. “Where has your sense of humor gone?” Marta asked.
“It went with Daddy,” replied seven-year-old Peter, his voice choked with fear.
“I wish Mom and Dad had fixed those old windows,” Lisa said nervously. “That rattling is scary.”
“I wish Mom and Dad were home,” Peter whimpered.
For a moment no one moved or spoke. The wind heaved and buffeted the house, died mischievously to a tickle on the window-panes, then rushed again with horrendous screams as though it was demanding to be let inside.
For as long as Marta could remember, there had been terrible windstorms in the valley—at least two or three times a year. Once, in their old home down the street, a winter wind had exploded through a window, shattering glass on the carpet and making its icy way into every corner of the house. Most of the time the wind wasn’t so violent, and Marta, though she didn’t exactly know why, had come to enjoy the storms. Maybe it was the eerie darkness that resulted when the electric circuits were shorted out. Or maybe it was because she remembered enjoying the stormy-night fires her father started in the fireplace and the way the family huddled around the blaze, wrapped in blankets and holding cups of hot chocolate. Her father always seemed to make an adventure out of storms.
Tonight, however, her parents had gone across town on an errand. A little while ago they’d called to say that they would have to wait until the snowplows cleared a path for them to get home.
The wind gasped, beat viciously against the house, then moaned pitifully.
Marta chuckled to herself, but Lisa shuddered and Peter began to cry. Marta never remembered her older sister being frightened of storms before.
“Isn’t anyone going to get some candles?” Marta asked.
“I—I will,” Lisa stammered, but she didn’t move.
“That’s all right; I’ll get them,” Marta said. She started feeling her way through the darkness. It was like playing blindman’s buff. First she felt the piano bench, then the banister, the hall wallpaper, and the buffet; then she groped her way through the doorway into the kitchen. Finally she found the right cupboard. It seemed strange not to be able to see even her hands in front of her. Opening the cupboard door, Marta’s fingers groped through its contents—paper napkins in a noisy cellophane package, rattly boxes of cold cereal, two long, smooth candles and their holders.
“Now for the matches,” Marta muttered, reaching farther back into the cupboard. “I know they’re in here.” Way back in the corner she felt the raspy side of the matchbox. Marta quickly shut the cupboard door, struck a match, and lit the candles. Slowly she walked back to the living room.
“Marta, Marta, is that you?” Peter called out.
“Of course, Peter,” Marta said cheerfully.
“This house is all ghosty,” Peter whispered.
“It’s all right, Peter.”
Marta heard Lisa trying to comfort their brother, but the words were not convincing. It seemed strange to be enjoying something that frightened her brother and sister. What can I do when even my big sister is scared? she asked herself. Quickly Marta placed the candles on the mantle.
“There, Peter. See, it isn’t so bad,” Lisa said.
As if to prove her wrong, the wind knocked viciously against the house. The candles flickered, then burned brightly again. Marta looked at Lisa’s face. Usually it was a happy, princesslike face, but now it only mirrored fear.
“Shall I start a fire?” Marta asked.
“No!” Lisa answered abruptly. “This wind is worse than most. It could blow down through the chimney and start the house on fire.”
Marta had never heard of such a thing. “What?” she asked.
“Last year in a storm like this, two homes burned,” Lisa explained. “The newspaper account said that it had something to do with downdrafts. I’m not exactly sure how the fires started, but we’d better not light one.”
Marta felt helpless. Why can’t Peter and Lisa feel like I do about storms? she wondered. Why can’t they relax and laugh at the weird sounds of the wind and makebelieve fun things about the dancing shadows the candles make on the wall? Aloud she said, “I’ll get some blankets then. At least we can keep warm until the heat comes back on.”
Marta walked out of the dim candlelight and felt her way down the hall to the linen closet. The blankets were stored on the top shelf, so she had to jump to get them down. When she managed to get three, she returned to the living room. “Lisa, you can curl up on the couch,” she said, “and Peter and I will lie down on the floor.”
“No,” Peter said.
“Why not?” Marta asked. “It will be like a slumber party.”
“No, it won’t.” Peter started to cry again.
“It’s all right,” Lisa said, hugging Peter to her. “Come on. Let’s have a slumber party.” She tried to sound excited, but the words came out stilted.
“Or we can pretend we’re pioneers,” Marta said, “It’s a game, Peter. We’re pioneers, and it’s nighttime, so we have to go to bed.”
“Pioneers didn’t have windstorms like this.”
“Yes, they did!” Marta countered. “I’ve read about them. And they were outside in the storms, not inside like we are.”
Lisa climbed onto the couch, and Peter reluctantly lay down on the braided rug. Shadows from the candles danced on the walls and ceiling of the tall, drafty room.
“Well, what did the pioneers do?” Peter asked.
That’s it! Marta realized. That’s how I can help Lisa and Peter. Aloud, she told Peter. “They prayed and did things to keep their minds off the storm.”
“That’s a good idea,” Lisa said. “Let’s say a prayer for us—and for Mom and Dad too.”
“After we’re through, I’ll tell you a story,” Marta added.
Peter prayed with them, but he stopped to look around every time another rush of wind rattled the house.
“This storm may last five more minutes or all night,” Marta said after they finished their prayer, “but we’ll have fun telling stories.”
“I hope it’s only five more minutes,” Lisa said.
Marta’s mind was racing. What story can I tell that will help Peter and Lisa? First she thought of some fairy tales, then of some stories she’d heard in school. But none of them seemed to be the kind that would give comfort … That’s it! She remembered the scripture story she’d heard in Primary last week that had filled her with a secure and comforting feeling.
Marta smiled at Lisa and Peter, then began: “One time Jesus and His Apostles were traveling in a boat when a fierce storm started tossing and turning their boat about. The Apostles became frightened, but Jesus slept through the whole noisy, scary storm.”
Outside, the wind whistled and screamed and rattled the windows and doors, while inside, Marta told the story of how Jesus had awakened and commanded the storm to stop. Marta tried to make her voice sound reassuring and comforting, but even if her voice wasn’t, she knew that the story would ease their fears.
When Marta finished, she looked over at Peter. In the dim candlelight she could see that he was already asleep.
“I’m glad you’re here, Marta,” Lisa whispered. “You’re a lot like Dad.”
Surprised by her sister’s remark, Marta didn’t say anything.
Soon Lisa went on, “It’s not that either of you really likes storms or that you wish they would come to hurt us or to do damage; but when they do come, you both manage to make the most of the situation. I wish I had such a gift.”
Marta was surprised. How often she had wished for Lisa’s long, thick hair instead of her own thin, wispy hair. Marta had never imagined that Lisa would ever be wishing for something that her younger sister had.
Lisa snuggled down on the couch, and Marta pulled her own blanket up to her chin and thought once more about the scripture story. “Peace, be still. …” Marta thought of the words from the story, the words Jesus had used to still the stormy waters. As she listened to the noises around her, Marta smiled.
Marta’s thoughts drifted to Lisa and what her sister had just said. It felt so good to comfort and to be comforted. She smiled again and then let herself relax and listen to the music of the wind as it accompanied the dancing shadows on the wall.