After visiting with Papa Rothstein, who sees the family resemblance in the boys, Kalonymous is happy. Then, his cousin Yehuda tells him that he’s not welcome. Kalonymous fears that Breindl and Motti will turn on him suddenly, as have so many others in their lives, and he decides to make the boys too useful to let go.
* * *
It was almost as cold inside the empty house as it was outside, but at least they could stay dry as the snow fell. They huddled together for warmth, but the cold sunk into their bones and no matter what they did they could not stop shivering. Kalonymous knew he had to find something to warm them up quickly. Dovid’l’s lips were blue, and Kalonymous didn’t know how long he would last.
He walked through the house again and again, searching for any rag to throw over their bodies. He found a towel in one of the bathrooms, and a jacket that may have been left behind by one of the workers. It certainly wasn’t the type of garment the Hohmanns would wear.
On one of his reconnaissance missions, his eye fell on a tin bucket that Lilli had used to mop the floor. There were newspapers spread out all over; all he would need is a box of matches. Kalonymous looked everywhere, throwing drawers open, thrashing through closets, certain that he’d find them by will alone. His heart was pounding as he stormed the house, desperate to save himself and his brothers from certain death, until he could stand it no longer. The cry rose up from deep in his belly, sailing up through his throat and out of his mouth. “Gevald!” he wailed, his eyes shut tightly. “Help me! I can’t anymore!”
And … when Kalonymous opened his eyes his gaze immediately fell on a box of matches perched on a high shelf.
He ran up the stairs to the Bird Room with his new finds clutched tightly in his hands. He set the pail down, stuffed the newspapers inside and lit them up. At first the fire flared and went out, but after a few tries, he got the hang of it and he was able to coax a small flame. If they sat close enough, they could at least hold their hands over the fire and get a little bit warm.
Looking around for more fuel, his gaze settled on the wooden slats that were used to board up the windows.
“What are you doing?” Hershel cried.
“I’m making firewood.” The boards had gone soft from the damp and the rain and practically peeled off the window frame. Kalonymous was able to make a small fire every day, and by the time disaster struck they were still, miraculously, alive.
It happened one rainy night — it must have been spring because there were only sparse patches of snow left on the ground. The boys hadn’t left the house in weeks — it was just too cold.
They had already bundled themselves up into a little nest of bodies and scraps when they were startled awake by an enormous roar. They thought at first it was thunder and were about to go back to sleep, but the racket was getting closer and closer to the house and lasting far longer than thunder.
“What is it?” Dovid’l whimpered, still groggy with sleep. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know. It sounds like there are trucks outside.”
“Who are they?” said Hershel.
“I’m not sure. We need to go. Now!” Kalonymous moved quickly, stuffing whatever small foodstuffs were left into all of their pockets, and holding on to his brothers’ hands, rushed them down the stairs and out the back door of the house. Dovid’l’s feet hardly touched the ground. Kalonymous threw open the back door and dragged them back out into the woods. The rain was soaking them to the skin but they had to keep going.
It seemed like they’d been running for a long time, but they were so weak they’d only covered a little ground. Hershel stopped to catch his breath and as they stood waiting for him they found themselves squinting in the glare of powerful searchlights.
“Come on!” he urged. They kept running, trying to stay out of the beams, but the lights were rotating back and forth. They were moving like drunkards, swaying from one side to the other as the lights threatened to expose them.
“Owww!” Hershel cried out in pain as his head smacked into a low overhang. Blood dripped from a gash in his forehead but there was no time to stop and nurse the wound. Kalonymous wiped the blood off as best he could with his tattered sleeve, threw his arm around Hershel and urged them forward.
A few moments later, they could hear dogs barking. The howls sounded so close that Kalonymous nearly lost heart and gave up, until Hershel grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled him back to the spot where he’d banged his head. The small outcropping was big enough to hold the three of them and high enough to mask their scent from the dogs.
Hershel shimmied quickly up the rockface, pulling Dovid’l after him, then reached down to help Kalonymous. The rocks were slippery and the rain was blocking his vision — he could not get a foothold. Every time he mounted he slid back down again. He started to cry in earnest then, imaging he could hear the dogs wheezing in his ears and feel their breath on his face, and just as he was about to succumb Hershel gave one last mighty pull and Kalonymous flew up and over, landing on Dovid’l and knocking him flat. They leaned over and watched the dogs run by, knowing that while they were safe for the moment, their troubles had only begun.
To be continued . . .