Chapter 16—The Winds
Gretel slid under the blankets and closed her eyes. It would be a long time before Frau Hilda allowed them downstairs. Lily was still asleep. She might as well sleep, too.
Frau Hilda and Herr Gustav’s voices were raised in the kitchen. Gretel could hear their angry tones, but she couldn’t understand their words. She quit trying and let her mind drift. She was balancing in a nice, foggy haze when a new noise disturbed her. After days of a strange, unnatural stillness, the wind suddenly returned. It rattled the shingles on the roof, howled past the corners of the house, and whipped the leafless trees in the orchard.
A loud crack ripped the air, and the giant oak in the side yard crashed to the ground. The wind whirled to a high-pitched keen, and then everything went silent.
Gretel sat up in bed. This silence was different from the stillness of last week. It scared her. She chewed her bottom lip and reached to shake Lily.
Lily mumbled and turned to her other side.
Gretel gripped her arm more tightly, but before she could wake her, a loud rumbling started in the north and grew louder every second.
“Lily! Wake up! Something’s coming.” Gretel pulled her sister to her feet, threw her blanket over her shoulders, and tugged her toward the window.
The wind blew in a long, black funnel that sucked everything off the ground as it headed toward the cottage.
“Run!” Gretel heard Herr Gustav yell to his wife.
The kitchen door slammed, and the farmer and Frau Hilda raced toward the barn and its cellar.
“We have to get out of here!” Gretel cried.
She gripped Lily’s hand and pulled her down the stairs to the kitchen. “Grab your coat!” They threw their coats and scarves on as they ran out the door. The Schlegels had already pulled the cellar door shut and locked it. Gretel looked around frantically and tugged Lily across the pasture to the creek that ran beside the orchard. “Jump down!”
The creek’s water was frozen. The girls jumped onto the ice and hurried to the bridge that connected the pasture to the orchard. They hid under its heavy beams as the funnel of wind ripped across the field. It sucked up wooden fences and a small shed. The girls had to cling to the bridge’s foundation when the cycle of winds passed overhead. They listened as it thundered through the orchard, uprooting trees, tossing them high in the sky, then spitting them back to earth as twisted, splintered fragments. When it reached the edge of the barn and house, the wind died away. The clouds parted and a trickle of sun shone through. The light was feeble, but better than the terrible darkness they’d had for nearly a week.
Gretel and Lily hugged one another. “We’re alive.”
The cellar door opened, and the Schlegels climbed out of their hiding place.
“That’s it,” Gustav said. “The bear wins. I’ve lost my sheep. It took away the sun. And now this. At least it left us the barn and our house.”
Frau Hilda’s lips curved down dangerously. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m calling a town meeting. I’ll do whatever Franz Wilhelm says. This has to stop.” He strode to the barn to harness the horse to the wagon.
Frau Hilda watched him, her hands on her hips.
Gretel took one look at Frau Hilda’s face and knew she was not happy. At the same time, the farmer’s wife saw them.
“So? You’re still alive.” She did not sound pleased.
“We hid under the bridge,” Gretel said.
Frau Hilda threw up an arm, gesturing toward the ruined orchard. “Look at the path the wind took. That bear! It knew that the cherries were my favorites. And my pear trees. Not one left.”
“Do you believe in the bear now?” Lily asked, peeking out from behind Gretel.
Frau Hilda’s eyebrow rose. “Oh, yes, and this time it meant to punish me instead of my husband. But it’s made a serious enemy out of me. This time, the bear’s made a mistake, and it will regret it. I never forgive, and I never forget.”
Frau Hilda’s words kept ringing in Gretel’s mind on their trip into town. What would Frau Hilda do? Worse yet, what WOULDN’T she do?