Fort Danger

By Audrey Osofsky

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    That which thou hast prayed to me … I have heard (2 Kgs. 19:20).

    “No school today!” came the magic words from the radio.

    Remembering last night’s house-shaking blizzard, Dave thought that a holiday from school was a beautiful bonus.

    “I wish Dad weren’t out of town,” said Mother, briskly beating pancake batter. “Something always happens when he’s gone.”

    A sudden gust of wind rattled the windows. Dave peered out. He could hardly tell where the road was. It looked like a white river with waves whipped up by the wind.

    “Being snowed in isn’t so bad,” he said happily. “Nothing can get through, not even a school bus.”

    During breakfast, the radio broadcast several weather-related stories: A forty-mile-an-hour wind had roared all night, blowing three feet of snow into massive drifts. Semitrailers had jackknifed, and cars and buses had slid into ditches. Some snow-plows were still stuck on major highways. “The worst of the storm is over,” the announcer concluded, “but some areas might not be plowed out until tomorrow.”

    The phone rang. It was Dave’s best friend, Tim. “Tough about school, huh? Think we can handle it?”

    “Maybe if we get together for moral support,” Dave replied.

    “Glad to help a buddy out,” Tim said cheerfully. “Be right over.”

    Tim lived only two blocks away, but by the time he got to Dave’s house, he was covered with snow. “The Abominable Snowman himself!” he laughed.

    “I know a perfect place to build a snow cave-fort,” Dave suggested, pulling on his ski jacket, snow bib, boots, hat, and mittens. He felt as if he was outfitting for a polar expedition.

    “Snow’s sticky enough,” agreed Tim.

    “Build it where I can see you from the house,” Mother warned. “And be careful.”

    “Sure,” the boys said in unison.

    Outside, the wind punched them in the face, and snowflakes as thick as feathers swirled around them. Sinking deep into the drifts, they plodded toward the garage, where Dave pointed to a high snowbank.

    “It is perfect!” Tim said. The giant snowbank blocked the wind and had plenty of raw material for their cave-fort. They set to work tunneling into the base of the big drift, shoveling out the snow and packing the sides as they dug.

    Two houses away their friends Jeff and Brian were piling up snowballs.

    “We just have to get our fort done before they start a snowball fight!” Tim exclaimed. They worked all morning, then stopped only for lunch and to change their wet mittens.

    “How’s your fort coming along?” Mother asked, dishing up tomato soup and handing them grilled cheese sandwiches.

    “It’s the best ever,” bragged Tim. “It’s the biggest and highest

    “And strongest, I hope,” Mother put in, looking worried.

    “We’ll find out in the snowball showdown!” replied Tim, gulping down his soup.

    When they went out again, they saw that Jeff and Brian had started to build a fort too. Dave wondered how much ammunition they had stockpiled.

    Dave and Tim’s fort was shaping up. They widened the entrance, enlarged the inside, and sloshed water onto the sides to ice them firm. Finally, pushing out a big snow chunk, Dave grunted, “We’re just about done.”

    “If you clear the doorway,” said Tim, “I can finish up inside.”

    Dave crawled out and started shoveling out the entrance. He looked at the fort looming high above him. It seemed strangely quiet. The wind had died to a whisper. The snow had stopped. Nothing moved. It was like a movie that had stopped, frozen in one frame. He shivered.

    Then, without a sound, the snow roof slowly slid inward, collapsing the fort and burying Tim. This can’t be happening! Dave agonized, and he flew at the crumpled white mound with his shovel, flailing away furiously. “Tim! Tim!” he yelled. But there was no sound. “Cave-in!” he shouted to Jeff and Brian, and they came running with shovels. “Tim’s under there!”

    Dave’s mother came running out of the house. “I called an ambulance, but nothing can get through. The roads are still blocked!” She frantically started scooping at the snow pile with her bare hands.

    Dave’s heart sank. “Please, God,” he murmured desperately, “help Tim.” Shoveling furiously again, he shouted, “Hang on, Tim! We’ll get you out!” Finally, his breath coming in great gasps, Dave stopped shoveling. Looking at the huge pile of snow and at the very little that they had uncovered, a wave of despair swept over him.

    Suddenly a story flashed through his mind, one that he’d read long ago. It was about an avalanche, a boy who was buried, and his friend who kept poking a broom handle deep into the drifts until he found him.

    Dave tore off his mittens. He wanted to feel with his fingertips. Plunging his arm deep into the snow, he jabbed down in different places, calling, “Tim! We’re coming, Tim!” over and over. Tim had to know that help was on the way, so that he could hold out longer.

    I must hurry, Dave told himself. There’s so much snow to cover. Am I reaching deep enough? Again and again he thrust his arms into the snowreaching, reaching.

    Suddenly he thought that he felt something way down deep. Was he imagining it? His arm pushed through the snow again. There was something there! “Dig here!” he yelled.

    The diggers scooped out snow with their shovels and then with their hands until they had uncovered Tim’s arm, hanging limp. Quickly they uncovered Tim’s head. His face was ashen, but he opened his eyes and mumbled something. In just minutes he was freed, carried into the house, stripped of his wet clothes, and wrapped in blankets.

    It wasn’t until then that Dave was conscious of his own red, throbbing hands. He soaked them in tepid water, but they hurt for a long time afterward. A small price to pay, he thought.

    Meanwhile, everything around him was a blur … people coming, Tim’s mother talking to the doctor on the phone: “He just wants to sleep,” she was saying, her voice shaky. Dave’s thoughts focused again when she told him, “The doctor wants us to question Tim. If he makes sense, he’s probably all right.”

    Dave went with her into Tim’s bedroom. Tim’s face was still pale, but he was breathing steadily. His eyes were closed. “Tim?” Dave asked softly.

    Tim opened his eyes. “Thanks,” he said, trying to smile. “You saved my life.” His eyes closed again.

    Dave swallowed hard. “Tim, did you hear me calling your name?”

    Tim shook his head. “I didn’t hear anything.”

    “Not even the yelling?” asked Dave.

    Tim’s voice was low. “I just kept thinking, ‘Don’t panic. It uses up more oxygen.’” Then he fell asleep.

    He makes sense, all right, Dave thought, relieved.

    Tim’s mother turned to Dave. “You’re a hero,” she said, her voice soft with tears.

    But Dave knew that he couldn’t take all the credit. It was a miracle. It had to be. Why else would he have remembered that long-ago story? Why else was he able to find Tim in time? God was looking out for us, Dave thought. Miracles are never a one-man show.

    Illustrated by Virginia Sargent