Snowed In!

by Peter Conrad

Part 2


Pretty loud, that thing, isn't it?"

Reiko had probably not expected me, at least he was a bit startled at my words.

Don't sneak up on me like that!"

What was I supposed to do? With all that noise, you wouldn't have heard anything less than an alarm siren."

That's true. Fortunately, the sound insulation is really good."

Otherwise it would probably have been hard to bear.

Why did you get up already too, I thought you wanted to stay in bed a little longer?"

I had actually intended to do just that, but somehow I wasn't in the mood to stay in bed.

I wanted to quickly restart the fireplace first, so we'll have it a little warmer soon."

Good idea, although I don't think it's that cold in here."

I had to agree with Reiko on that, it really was still quite pleasant. But that was no reason not to make it a little better, so I spent the next few minutes getting a fire going again. My guest, meanwhile, called the bed-jacker back into the house and rubbed him dry.

After that we visited the toilet (individually!), made up the beds (together!), then it was time to worry about breakfast. Shortly after 8:30 we sat comfortably at the table, drank coffee and devoured freshly baked rolls with Nutella.

Have you seen how much it snowed last night?"

I certainly had, a look out of the window had been one of my first official acts of the day.

Yeah, I guess since we got here yesterday, it's added a good 30 centimeters."

At the moment it was only snowing lightly, but if the storm warning was to be believed, that was only a brief respite.

So what are we doing today?"

That was a good question. My first idea was skiing, but with all the powder snow, I guess that was out for the time being.

I don't really know yet."

Well, I'll tell you one thing, Faby, I don't need another snow hike like yesterday today."

Hmm, why not, actually? With the right equipment, it might even be a nice thing to do.

With normal shoes I don't feel like it either, but we also have snowshoes here! With that, it shouldn't really be a problem."

Snowshoes? Those big things that keep you from sinking in the snow?"

Those are the ones."

That might work."

It sure would. One thing's for sure, we can't sit around here all day either, we'll be at each other's throats after two days at the latest. Apart from the fact that your dog has to go out every now and then anyways. And sometimes for longer than three minutes."

You're right. So we'll go hiking later?"

Unless you have a better idea, we should."

Okay. So, what do you think, is there any hot water yet?"

We had power back on for three quarters of an hour now, so the water heater had been running for a correspondingly long time.

Yeah, it probably won't be really hot yet, but it should be warm enough to brush your teeth and such by now."

Fine, I'll just get ready real quick then, if you don't mind."

Hmph. I had planned to be the first to benefit from the warm water this time. Oh well.

Go ahead. But I'm warning you! If you use up all the warm water and I have to wash myself with ice cold water, I'll sabotage your snowshoes so that you sink in miserably!"

Cheekily, Reiko grinned at me.

Okay, I'll try to hold back on the water consumption."

He should, if he knew what was good for him. While Reiko now disappeared into the bathroom, I cleared the table and looked again after the fire in the fireplace. It was blazing happily now. I added two more logs so that it would not go out during our absence, then I sat down in an armchair and played a little with Arko, who had brought a toy ring from somewhere. This activity was still going on when the dog's master came back into the living room in his anything-but-fancy long underwear.

Arko seems to like you, he doesn't bring his toys to just anyone."

Well, he just sees right through me. What's not to like about someone like me?"

Haha, if you think so. Okay, the bathroom is available, and there should be a few drops of warm water left too."

I hope so for your sake!"

Now I'm scared!"

You should be!"

With those words, I retreated, got my day clothes, and did all the things in the bathroom that one should do at the start of the day. And Reiko's life was also safe - for the moment anyway - he had actually left me some warm water.

After putting on my thermal underwear, I stowed my pajamas in bed, then joined Reiko in the living room, who was sitting in an armchair reading in the Harry Potter book.

Okay, I'm ready. Shall we leave right away, or wait a little longer?"

Reiko looked at his watch.

Nine-fourty. What do you say we leave at ten?"

Okay, we don't have to rush."

So I too settled down and reached for my book. Fifteen minutes later we got up.

Say, Reiko, what kind of clothes did you actually have packed? Just jeans and stuff?"

Yes, unfortunately, I did not expect to romp around in the snow."

Now this wasn't exactly the best winter gear, but then again, not really a problem.

Come with me, I think I have something suitable for you."

We went into the small bedroom, where I opened the closet.

We have some snowsuits here that Tom and I have outgrown, mostly still our old kids' suits. Some of the lowland natives among our guests don't even think that far ahead, and then they're glad to find something at least for the kids."

Well, I'm the same size as you, so what doesn't fit you anymore shouldn't fit me either."

True, but there's also one of Tom's here that fit him until recently, so it's about your size and mine. The blue one there, just try it on."

Reiko reached into the closet, spread out the bright blue jumpsuit and stepped into it.

It's a little tight, but otherwise it fits pretty well."

Well, Tom's a judoka, not a beefed-up hockey warrior. What do you think, will it work?"

Sure, it's definitely a lot better than just jeans."

It certainly was.

Are we ready to get going? I'll keep this on in that case - otherwise I'd better take it off again, because it is a bit too warm for indoors."

Yes, I'll get dressed right away, too. You can go ahead and go to the storage room, that's where the snowshoes are."

Storage room? Where is that?"

Same direction as to the generator room, only not the second but the very first door. The storage room serves as additional sound insulation to the living area."

Reiko nodded and moved away, and I, too, left the small bedroom to go across the hall to the big one, where I pulled out my own bright red ski jumpsuit from the closet, which I then filled with my godlike body.


Fabian's family had apparently really thought of all eventualities. Even with a snow suit my host could come up, I had really not expected that.

Pursued by Arko I searched and found the storage room, in which then my assumption was confirmed again. Ski boots and touring skis including ski poles for half a company were stored here, in addition blankets, sleeping bags, and snow shovels filled the room, even a small snow blower was parked in a corner! There was also a whole shelf full of canned food and drinks. I had to acknowledge without envy: When Roeckers did something, they didn't do it half assed!

And back there were the snowshoes that were supposed to make it easier for Fabian and me to get around in the fresh snow. Large basket weaves with simple bindings to strap the shoes on, just as you would see in movies about old time polar expeditions, for example. I took two pairs off their wall brackets, and Arko sneezed at the dust drifting away.

Sorry, they haven't been used in ages, so they haven't been dusted of in ages, too."

Again Fabian had literally snuck up on me, and again I winced in shock.

You know what, Faby? I think I'll put a necklace with a cowbell around your neck so you can't scare me like that anymore!"

Haha, we would have to decide who of us is the ox here first!"

The smile on Fabian's face took the edge off his words, so I could laugh about it too.

All right, all right. Here, have a pair. Do we need anything else?"

Yes, ski poles."

There were plenty of those, so we each picked out a suitable pair. A few minutes later, after we had put on our boots and Fabian had turned off the generator, we left the cabin. Still in the house, we had strapped on our snowshoes and then literally stepped up into the freshly fallen snow.

It was the first time I had ever walked with snowshoes, and I was surprised to find that I hardly sank in at all. Quite in contrast to Arko, who jumped around enthusiastically, but sank up to his belly in the white splendor every time.

Fabian saw this too, and realized the problem it presented.

Crap, I didn't think of that. Unfortunately, I don't have snowshoes for your dog."

That would certainly have looked extremely funny.

I see what you mean. He'll keep up the jumping around for a while, but eventually he'll be so worn out from it that he won't be able to go any further. I have no idea how to move him around then."

Yes, I don't want to have to carry him in my arms."

Neither did I. Arko weighed a good 30 kilos, you couldn't expect anyone to carry him for a long distance. But wait a minute…

Fabian, there was a plastic plastic sledge or something like that in the storage room, wasn't there?"

That's right. You mean we take that with us and then pull Arko with it through the snow when he can't move around on his own paws anymore?"

Yes. That gives a whole new meaning to the word 'sled dog,' but the only alternative would be to leave Arko here alone in the cabin. And I don't really want that, he wouldn't do any damage, but he would get extremely bored."

Fabian thought about it for a moment, then nodded.

You're right, that's a good idea. The sledge is very light, someone can tie it on his back as long as it is not needed. Add a blanket to that, Arko would be able to lay in the sledge warm and comfy, and that should solve the problem."

We agreed on that plan, and shortly thereafter I carried the red sledge on my back and Fabian had strapped on a rolled-up blanket. Thus equipped, we trudged off after Faby had locked up the cabin.

Say, how are we supposed to get out of here before spring anyway? With all this snow, even the Jeep won't make it back to civilization."

The Jeep had turned into a large mound of snow since the day before, the shapes of which only rudimentarily betrayed the fact that a car was hiding underneath.

Don't worry, we won't be stuck here that long. We have a contract with Road Services, as soon as the main roads are clear, they'll send a snow blower up here."

That calmed me down to some extent, for all my old/new friendship with Fabian, the prospect of being stuck here for not just days but maybe weeks wasn't particularly enticing after all.

Where are we going now, anyway?"

We're not going anywhere specific, we're just going for a nice spin through the woods. I'll find us a route with as little elevation change as possible, that's where the snowshoes do best."

That sounded reasonable, and so we trudged through the white splendor. We made pretty good progress, and I enjoyed the cold but clear and clean winter air. The snow underneath our snowshoes crumbled away gently, now and then traces of animals could be seen in the snow, but it was very quiet in the forest, apart from our own noises there was hardly anything to be heard.

For the first while we made pretty good progress, and Arko didn't seem to get enough of frolicking in the snow. One thought nagged at me, though, and I just couldn't shake it off.

Faby, can you find your way back to the cabin ? "

Sure, we just need to follow our own tracks if necessary."

That sounded logical, but something could mess that plan up.

And what if it starts snowing heavily again and the fresh snow covers our tracks?"

Well, then…"

What then?

Then I guess we'll have to use this."

Fabian had stopped, reached into a pocket of his snowsuit and showed me a device about the size of a cell phone.

What's that?"

A GPS receiver."

Now at a closer look I recognized the device.

And it works here in the forest?"

Not very well, but better than the GPS of a smartphone, and good enough to find our way back to the cabin."

You wouldn't happen to be in the Boy Scouts, would you?"


Because you seem to be prepared for everything."

My dad insisted on it. Remember the Vormueller case?"

Vormueller, Vormueller… There used to be something. Ah!

Wasn't that the mountain rescue guy who got lost himself during a search operation?"

That's the one."

That was three or four years ago. Alois Vormueller was searching on his own for a missing ski hiker and was caught in a snowstorm. He could no longer find his way out of the forest and remained lying against a tree, completely exhausted. His colleagues found him barely alive, and several of his toes had to be amputated due to frostbite.

And the guy really knew his way around here. If it can happen to someone like that, it can happen to anyone. That's why I always have that thing with me here in the winter."

This, of course, made my little fears about getting lost in the snowy forest, where somehow everything looked the same, a thing of the past.

And, Reiko, still able to go on ? "

Yeah, no problem. This is going really well with the snowshoes, no comparison to my tedious trudging through the snow yesterday."

Great, then we can keep on going."

Yup. Off we go."

Or not? While Fabian and I were still perfectly fit, Arko seemed no longer willing to move on his own paws. That I was allowed to experience this, my four-legged bundle of energy was tired!

Look, Reiko, it looks like the dog sledge will have to be used."

Hehe, Fabian had noticed it too. I unstrapped the sledge, Fabian put the blanket in the plastic tray, and as if Arko had just been waiting for it and knew exactly what was planned, he jumped on the blanket. Wagging his tail, he looked at us and almost seemed to laugh a little, as if saying " Get busy and pull me!". Sighing, I put on the sledge line, and then we marched on. Because of the additional load, we were now of course much slower than before.

While we were trudging through the forest, we talked about all sorts of things, especially about the last years, in which we had been such strangers to each other. Fabian told me about his studies, I told him about my hope to graduate from high school this term with more or less acceptable results, we exchanged information about what had happened in the families, and in general we made a big step on the way of getting to know each other again.

After about half an hour, Fabian stopped.

Okay, Reiko, I'll take the sledge for now."

Don't bother, that lazy piece back there is MY dog after all."

Forget it. I'd be a fine friend if I left all the work to you."

Oh well, I certainly wouldn't fight it tooth and nail. I freed myself from the sledge line and looked at Arko.

Now look at that slacker, Faby!"

The dog of course knew perfectly well that he was being talked about, he raised his head and wagged his tail again. Being pulled around seemed to please him quite a bit!

Hehe, like Count Coke of the Cake Fork."

He'd better not think he can just rely on someone else's strength all day!"

Well, for now he can rely on my strength for a while, and then we'll see. The route I've come up with takes us in an arc back to the cabin, at the current pace it'll take us a good hour to get back there."

That shouldn't be a problem, I at least still felt quite fit, and the borrowed snowsuit kept me wonderfully warm and dry.

After Fabian had taken over the sledge line from me and slung it over his shoulder, we resumed our hike and our conversation. This time it was me who stopped after maybe twenty minutes.

Wait, Faby, do you smell that too?"

The sledge team had also stopped.

What do you mean?"

It smells kind of burnt here, doesn't it?"

Fabian stuck his nose in the air and sniffed. I was absolutely sure I detected a slight burnt smell.

That's right, something's smoking here. Smells like burning wood."

Yeah, but that itself was kinda weird.

A forest fire? In the middle of winter?"

I don't think so, Reiko. With all that snow, any flame would have gone out pretty quickly."

I think so too."

We continued to hold our noses in the air.

Can you make out where that's coming from, Reiko?"

Good question. I'd say about there, 10 o'clock or so."

Could be. I think we should take a closer look."

I could only agree with Fabian on that. If anything smelled smoky in the woods, you better make an effort to find out why. So we changed our direction and marched toward the burning smell. We could tell that we were on the right track because the smell was getting stronger.

Reiko, look, is that smoke up ahead?"

I stared stared into the white snowy landscape. At first I couldn't make out anything, but then I actually saw a pale cloud of smoke between the trees!

Yes, definitely! Do you have any idea what is there?"

Fabian thought hard.

Somewhere around here, lumberjacks parked a caravan in the fall, but they left a few days ago and won't be back this year."

This was getting more and more mysterious. We kept heading toward the source of the smoke, and two hilltops later we realized that the burning smell was indeed coming from the logging caravan Fabian had mentioned. To be more specific, smoke and the matching smell were coming from its chimney!

Very strange. Someone has taken up residence in that thing."

Stray wanderers?"

Well, Reiko, there's only one way to find out. However, at the moment, that seems like the most plausible explanation."

Okay, let's have a look."

Before we could start moving again, Arko already jumped past us and dashed away (as fast as he could in the deep snow) towards the caravan.

Look at him, how fast he's suddenly back on his paws!"

Well, his laziness is only exceeded by one thing: his curiosity."

You should know, he's your sloth."

Haha. So come on, let's take a closer look."

Freed from Arko's burden, Fabian and I were now moving faster again, and determinedly we approached the object of our curiosity. Arko had already arrived there and jumped around the caravan barking loudly, but without getting any reaction for the time being.

So either they're deaf in there, or they're afraid of your dog."

You can't be that deaf not to hear that barking."

We quickly covered the last few meters, and just as we arrived at what appeared to be a well-heated caravan, its door tentatively opened….


It was almost like a horror movie. The door of the lumberjack's caravan opened with a squeak and a creak. Who would be standing in front of us? The Yeti? Or much worse: The Messner ?

What now appeared in the doorway, however, clearly had too little hair to be a Yeti, and even for Reinhold Messner the beard growth was still too small or rather non-existent. No, the figure that now looked down on us with a puzzled but also relieved expression was clearly of younger age, if at all then not much older than Reiko and me.

You found us, thank God!"

Indeed, we had found them. But who were " they?" And what were " they" doing here?

Who are you, and what are you doing here in this logging caravan? And are there more in there?"

Surprised, the young man looked at Reiko.

Why do you ask that? Aren't you guys a police search party or something like that ? "

Well, as cute as this guy was, I would have definitely volunteered to join any search party, but just like Reiko, I continued to be completely in the dark.

No, we're not a search party, we were just on a little hike in the woods when Reiko here smelled smoke from your furnace. And because we couldn't make sense of it, we wanted to see who was burning wood here, and now here we are."

Oh. And here I thought you were looking for us."

Yeah who are you anyway, and why would anyone be looking for you?"

Even as Reiko asked this question, another caravan occupant pushed past the door opener.

I'm Jasmin, and this is my brother Jonas. We were going for a little walk in the woods yesterday with some kids of guests of the Stone Valley Inn, and we got lost."

That couldn't be true!

You have children with you? How many? And how old are they?"

You better come in, not that all the nice heat disappears through the open door."

Jasmin was right, so Reiko and I took off our snowshoes, then followed Jasmin and her brother into the caravan. Squeezing between our legs was Arko, whose appearance in the caravan was commented on with a multi-voiced shout of joy from children's throats.

As the source of the cheers I quickly made out five children, about the age of ten, twelve, one boy looked a little older. The five were sitting on the floor, huddled close together, probably trying to warm each other up a bit more. Although the cast-iron stove seemed to be glowing, it was not particularly warm in there.

Between the kids Arko scurried around and let himself be petted and cuddled. Reiko was probably even more surprised by all this than I was, at least he stood in the middle of the caravan with his mouth open and couldn't get a word out. I, on the other hand, was starting to think clearly again.

You left the Stone Valley Inn yesterday? And then got lost?"

Yes, as my sister said, we wanted to go for a winter walk with the kids of some guests. I'm training to be a hotel clerk at the Inn and was assigned to childcare. Jasmin is visiting me for Christmas, so she went along."

The one-eyed man leads the blind one, or what?

In the beginning there were no problems, it just snowed a little and we had a lot of fun. Then it slowly snowed more and more, and wind came up. We wanted to turn around and follow our own tracks back, but suddenly we couldn't find them anymore."

With a knowing nod, Reiko looked over at me. Well, I guess my dad's GPS idea really was damn useful thinking. Now if only those careless guys would have used one.

But then how did you end up HERE of all places? You guys are really far away from the Stone Valley Inn."

Really? I don't know, we kept walking the way we thought we had to take. But I guess by that we got really lost."

That was almost an understatement. The troop had apparently taken a reaaaaallllly big detour, getting further and further away from their actual starting point. They had probably even passed fairly close to our cabin, but without noticing it.

Well, we were starting to panic, it was snowing harder and harder and it was getting dark, then luckily Jonas saw this caravan here. We didn't know any other way to help ourselves, we picked the lock and made it as warm as we could."

Well, no one would probably blame them for that, that was about the only sensible thing they did in the whole mess.

Are you all okay, or are there any injuries or other medical problems ? "

No, thankfully we're all okay, it was just the kids that got a little scared when it got dark."

Quite understandable

We snuggled up and kept warm overnight, always thinking that surely they would find us soon."

Very optimistic…

Then when we heard the dog earlier, we thought that a search party had found us."

You got the wrong idea, we didn't know that anyone was missing."

But they must actually be missing us and looking for us!"

Well, Jasmin, I'm sure they are, but the last time we talked to anyone was yesterday afternoon, so we didn't hear anything about your disappearance."

Reiko hit the nail on the head, and I too wondered very briefly why we hadn't heard anything about a search operation. Oh well, they probably wouldn't be looking for the group so far away from the Stone Valley Inn, and second, with the low cloud cover, there certainly couldn't have been any helicopters involved in the search (which was guaranteed to happen!). Then something else occurred to me.

Don't you even have a cell phone with you?"

Jonas looked down at his feet contritely.

Yes, I do, I brought mine. But I tripped and fell on it shortly after we left the Stone Valley Inn, and it hasn't worked since."

Well great, to all the misfortune they added a whole bunch of bad luck. I took a look around, the kids were still enthusiastically involved with Arko, who was taking all the childish attention without complaint.

Come on, you two, put your jackets on, we'll confer outside about what to do next."

The little ones didn't need to hear everything, I was glad that they were distracted from the messy situation for the time being. Shortly after, the four of us were standing outside in the clear winter air. Well, in the not-so-clear winter air, the wood stove was still spewing out some stinky smoke.

What are we going to do now? Can you show us the way back to the Inn?"

Jonas, you don't seem to have a clue just HOW far away you've gotten from that one!"

How far? How long would we be on the road?"

I didn't have to resort to the satellite miracle to answer that question.

On the direct route it's about an hour and a half, more like two in these snow conditions."

Well, that's okay."

No, Jasmin, it isn't. The direct route goes through Devil's Hole, and you can't go that way with the kids, especially in this weather."

The Devil's Hole was a deep valley cut through which some paths went, but they were all very steep. And because you couldn't see exactly where you were putting your next step with all that snow, a crossing was out of the question. Especially with children.


Before I could answer, Reiko was already explaining the reason to the two lost people.

Crap. And the indirect route?"

It goes around the Devil's Hole and takes at least three hours in these conditions."

I still wondered how the troop could have gotten this far in the first place. But brooding over it didn't help.

Is there a road around here where they could pick us up with a car?"

Reiko and I laughed.

There is a road, but there won't be any cars on it for the next few days. Everything here is buried in snow, and we're stuck in our cabin, too."

Damn, and it's all my fault! We should have turned back as soon as the snowfall got heavier!"

They really should have done that, but it was pointless to blame him for that now. He was sure busy blaming himself anyways - and he would hear more of that from several sides at the end of the adventure.

Give me a moment, I'll call my dad first, so that he can call off the search operation."

Your dad ? "

His old man is the head copper around here…. oops… sorry, Fabian. The chief of police. And he's guaranteed to have the hat on in the search for you. Oh yeah, I'm Reiko, by the way."

While Reiko was explaining all this, I had pulled my cell phone out of the breast pocket of my snowsuit and turned it on. Sure enough, it found the net, quite weakly, but it should work. It repeated the ceremony that had already happened the night before when I turned it on: several messages came in about missed calls, both from our home number and from my dad's cell phone. It was this one that I dialed. After three rings, I heard his voice.

Fabian, I'm sorry, I don't have time for you at the moment, we have a total mess here right now."

I should be glad that he had answered at all. I should probably turn off the caller ID when I get a chance. But I better hurried now, before he hung up again!

I know, Pop, the reasons for that total mess are right here beside me."

Silence for a few seconds.

What do you mean?"

Dad, I guess that the mess is because seven people from the Stone Valley Inn are missing, including five children. And those same seven people are within five meters of me."

Say that again!"

I've got a pretty contrite hotel trainee here from the Stone Valley Inn, his sister, and five kiddies."

My God!"

Yes, son, what do you want?"

Stop with the jokes! Did they find our cabin or what?"

Not exactly, we found the lost hikers. They had taken up residence in a lumberjacks caravan before nightfall. We spotted them on our own little hike, actually Reiko smelled their stove."

How are they doing, are they all okay ? "

Looks like it, probably just a little through the wind from what they experienced. Physically, everyone seems to be okay."

Well thank goodness! You have no idea what's been going on here since last night!"

Oh, I certainly had my suspicions and ideas about that.

The missing persons report came in pretty late, so we could not send out people because of the darkness. Helicopters couldn't fly the whole time, and for 2pm today the Air Force promised to send out a couple of Tornados with thermal imaging cameras if possible. But luckily I can call all that off."

Yes, you can do that. But now tell me, what should we do next ? "

Well, that's really a problem. Where exactly is this lumberjacks caravan ? "

It's a good three hours walk to the Stone Valley Inn."

Shoot, that's a hell of a long way, especially for the kids."

Well, we had that figured out already.

It's only half as far to the road, Pops."

That won't help, I'd have to send out a tank to get through there right now."

Is it that bad?"

Yeah, all the snow has knocked down a lot of trees. No getting through with normal technology, and it's going to stay that way for a while. But tell me… How far is it to the cabin?"

Ouch. Somehow I had feared that this question would come.

About an hour cross-country, an hour and a half on a tolerable trail. But none of them have snowshoes!"

They wouldn't have them for going to the road either. Faby, I'm really sorry, I know you wanted to have a quiet couple of days. But this comes first. Get all of them to the cabin, it'll be a little crowded, but otherwise you should have plenty of everything there."

Yup, that's exactly what I was afraid of.

Okay, Pops, really seems to be the only option."

Yes, it is. I'll try to find a way to get to you as soon as I can, but I can't say if it'll be tomorrow, the next day, or three days from now, or even later."

Beautiful prospects. But there was nothing I could do about it.

All right. We'll get back to you when we've all arrived at the cabin."

Great. In the meantime, I'll inform the parents that they don't have to worry anymore. When things have calmed down a bit, you can have the rescued call their folks sometime. By the way, I'll pay your phone bill this month, don't worry."

I would have served him that bill anyway.

Okay, I'll talk to you later, but it may take two hours or so."

No problem. And Faby?"


I'm proud of you, son."

What pleasant tones. But I guess I should stay honest.

Reiko smelled the smoke and called my attention to it."

Then give him my thanks, and tell him that I'm proud of him too. Okay, I have some work to do here now, so goodbye!"

With these words my dad ended the call, and I looked around.


Although I only heard part of the phone call, I pretty much got what was planned.

We're taking everyone back to the cabin?"

Yes, Reiko. I'm supposed to give you greetings from my dad and his thanks for sniffing out the Sunday hikers. He says he's proud of you."

That's the kind of thing you like to hear.

Ahem, I don't mean to interrupt, but could you tell us what exactly is going to happen now?"

Jasmin's curiosity was understandable, but Fabian probably didn't want to explain everything two or three times.

Let's go back into the caravan, and I'll tell you all together what's going to happen next."

We went back into the caravan, and while Fabian explained the plans to those present, I slowly noticed that this Jasmin actually looked quite nice. Dark brown, long hair, nice, open face, maybe ten centimeters shorter than me, and (as far as I could tell under the thick clothes) well built. Staying in the same cabin with this girl for a few days? Interesting idea…

Cabin sounds so small, do you have enough space for all of us ? "

I had to laugh for a second.

Don't worry, kiddo. They call it a cabin, but it's a full-blown house, we can all fit in there. And there's plenty of supplies of grub, firewood, and diesel for power, too."

Fabian grinned at me.

What Reiko says is true, you don't have to worry about that. But on another note, it would be quite useful if we all knew who we are dealing with. So this is Reiko, I am Fabian. The furball belongs to Reiko and is called Arko - and sometimes he even responds to it. We already know Jasmin and Jonas, but we don't know the kids' names yet."

Reasonable idea, always just saying " little one" would probably not work in the long run. Shortly thereafter we knew that the two girls were named Manuela and Ricarda, the boys were named Christoph, Felix and Patrick. Manuela was 11, Ricarda, Christoph and Felix 12, Patrick fell a bit out of the age group at 14.

Well then, let's get going!"

The kids rose from their seats, with Arko constantly running around between them, the dog really basked in their attention. Well, he'd always been great with kids.

Faby, I'm going to turn off the stove, we shouldn't really leave it running."

Good idea. Do you know how to do that?"

How was I supposed to know? I had grown up in the age of central heating running on natural gas or oil.

I don't know, but I'll figure it out somehow."

I know how to do it, I'll help you."

Jasmin knew about this sort of thing? Well, it was really nice of her to help me, hehe. While the rest of the gang was now leaving the caravan, Jasmin skillfully pulled the flue off the stove.

Here, you can grab the two handles, they are warm but not hot."

And where do I put this thing?"

You put that out in the snow, a little away from the caravan. Then we'll throw snow on the flames, and the thing can cool down."

Hmm, that sounded logical. I grabbed the not-so-light stove and carried it out of the caravan, always careful not to flick the glowing parts against me somewhere. Outside, I put it in a place I thought appropriate, then Jasmin and I shoveled snow into the flames, which died out rather quickly. The wood was still glowing, though, not to mention the cast-iron stove itself.

And now? Do we have to wait until this thing is completely cold now, or what?"

No, we'll leave it here."

Leave it standing all by itself? Just like that, out in the open? Jasmin must have noticed my doubtful look.

Well, first of all, no one will come by here anyway who would steal the thing. And besides, the caravan is open, so the stove wouldn't be much safer in there than out here."

Where she was right, she was right. And with the low temperature, it would cool down quickly and not set the forest on fire. So we left the stove in the snow and walked over to the others, who were already standing there ready to leave, waiting for us.

All done, Fabian. How do we do this now, which way do we go?"

We'll take the same path as before, it's a bit longer than the shortest way, but reasonably level."

Good decision, the walk through the deep snow without snowshoes would be strenuous enough as it was, especially for the kiddies. Fortunately they wore at least clothes fit for the weather, so they would be warm and dry. Then I remembered something else.

Say, Jasmin, would you like to take my snowshoes? You'll do much better with them than without."

She smiled at me! Oh my, what a sweet smile!

No, thank you so much for the offer, but I can't walk with those."

Well, that really shouldn't be a problem, but if she didn't want to…. However, I would feel pretty stupid if she had to struggle through the deep snow and I walked comfortably on snowshoes next to her. And that I wanted to walk next to her, there was really no doubt for me! I had to get rid of the snowshoes somehow….

Fabian, are you going ahead with Jonas? I'll take the back with Jasmin and make sure we don't lose anyone."

With a slight grin on his face, Fabian looked at me.

Okay, we can do that."

Had he recognized my deeper intentions behind this proposal? Well, never mind.

Jonas, do you want to take the snowshoes?"

Jasmin's brother looked at me questioningly.

And what about you, don't you need them yourself?"

Nah, we'll push the whole gang ahead of us, stomping down the snow."

Most likely that wouldn't help much with the few people we had in front of us, but what the heck.

All right, if you'll let me have them, I'll be glad to give it a try."

Ha, worked! I handed the snowshoes to Jonas, who strapped them under his feet, and after a few trial steps, he seemed to be doing just fine with them.

Well, folks, let's get going! Jonas and I will go first. If we're going too fast for you, let us know. But we should hurry a bit, there is more snow announced, the sooner we are in the cabin, the better."

With these words Fabian and Jonas turned around and our gang of wannabe-yetis started to move. I quickly put the sledge on my back, not needing it for now, Jasmin took over the blanket, then together we formed the end of the merry convoy. The two guides on their snowshoes set quite a pace, but the kiddies probably didn't want to be surprised by heavy snowfall again, they kept up the pace well, although they - like Jasmin and me - sank quite deeply into the snow with every step. Arko took it easy now, he didn't jump wildly through the area, but walked more or less in a civilized manner in the middle of the group of children as good as he could.

We walked purposefully through the forest, and our group stretched out a bit.

Your brother is doing an apprenticeship at the Stone Valley Inn?"

Yes. Jonas was very lucky to get the job. At home, he just kept getting rejections."

Where is that anyway?"

Our home? We come from a small village near Leipzig."

Okay, they were really quite far away from home. As we walked along, I learned a few more things about my companion. She was 17 years old, went to high school, wanted to study something with pedagogy later and spent her Christmas vacations with her brother.

Hehe, now you've stumbled right into a pedagogical internship!"

I pointed to the crowd of children in front of us.

You can say that again."

The four younger kids were chattering happily among themselves, throwing snowballs at Arko, and seemed to be in good spirits overall. Older Patrick, however, had broken away from the others a bit and was walking on his own between the group of four and the two leaders. Funny. I pointed this out to Jasmin.

What's wrong with him?"

My companion sighed.

Patrick's been like this all along, doesn't seem to enjoy anything and always separates himself."

And why is that?"

There seem to be several reasons for that. Well first of all, of course he's older than the others here, and in that age group, 2 years make a huge difference."

Okay, I could relate to that, they were indeed worlds apart.

Then he didn't want to come on the hike at all, he'd rather do something with some older teenagers. But they're all over 16 and in turn didn't want him around because he would have cramped their style. He was the only one in the 13-15 age group at the Inn."

The worries of a teenager's life.

That's why he actually wanted to stay at the hotel, but his parents insisted that he join us. You can imagine just how enthusiastic he was about it."

That I could, yes. Having to deal with a bunch of eleven- and twelve-year-olds as a fourteen-year-old was uncool enough. But it was even less cool to be forced to do so by one's own parents.

Well, and to top it off, he doesn't get along with Jonas."

Weird, Jonas had given me the impression that one could get along with him very well, easily. Just like with his sister…

Why is that?"

It took a moment before Jasmin forced herself to answer.

I really don't know if I should even tell you this. But maybe it's even better that way, through Patrick it would come out pretty quickly anyway."

Now I was curious!

Do you see Jonas's beanie ? "

Sure I saw the colorful thing, it was hard to miss.

Yeah, so?"

Don't you notice anything about it?"

What should I notice about it? These knitted hats were very fashionable at the moment, I wore one myself. Even if mine wasn't quite as colorful in the rainbow colors.

Wait a minute. Rainbow colors? Was that supposed to mean…

I stopped and stared at Jasmin.

Your brother is gay? "

Jasmin had stopped as well, propping her arms on her hips and striking an altogether belligerent pose.

Yes, he is. Do you have a problem with that, too?"

I just couldn't help myself. Deep inside, my body began to shake, and shortly thereafter I burst into a massive fit of laughter….


Not even 24 hours ago, I thought that I would have a few cozy days all to myself. Not even 12 hours ago I assumed to have a few cozy days together with Reiko. And now I had another 7 people to take care of! And among them were 5 kids! This was a perfect example for " Even the best plans don't survive the first contact with the real life.".

Jonas had strapped on his snowshoes, which Reiko had sacrificially left to him. Of course, he was completely without ulterior motives, my old new best friend. That he would slip away to the end of the group without snowshoes but with Jonas's sister was simply a great sacrifice on his part. And in three days, Santa Claus himself would come to the cabin via the chimney.

When I saw that everyone was ready to depart, I gave the command to leave, and our platoon began to move. Jonas was doing very well with the snowshoes.

Have you used these things before, Jonas?"

Nah, this is my first time. Works really well though, you don't sink in and you can move quite quickly."

That was the whole point of snowshoes, after all.

How old are you, anyway?"

Nineteen. And you?"

A year younger. And you want to be a hotel clerk?"

Yes, I like dealing with people, so I guess it's quite a suitable job for me."

Probably. Whereas the working hours in that kind of job would be too stressful for my taste.

But you're not from around here, are you?"

Not even close! We come from Saxony, Leipzig area, to be exact."

Oh? He knew how to cover that up quite well!

But that doesn't show at all."

Okay, I had picked up a small trace of a dialect, but I hadn't figured out what kind of dialect it was.

Well, I had to work really hard on my speech pattern, for the people here to understand me!"

I snorted. Yes, I would expect that with someone from Saxony!

Although Saxon is the original dialect of Germany's high culture!"

I gasped with laughter.

Hahaha… And what else do you dream about?"

It would be nice if he said " about you" now - but I should probably forget that hope.

Don't laugh, that's true. Even the old privy councilor Goethe spoke Saxon. And the old poetry king is without a doubt one of the most important German cultural assets."

Yes, of course. But you're neither a privy councilor nor a king of poetry. So it's just as well that you can talk properly."

Our parents made sure from the very beginning that we spoke proper High German. We didn't want to have to rely on an interpreter when visiting foreign cultural philistines."

Ouch, philistines. That had hurt.

It wouldn't be that good for your job either, I guess."

That too. They even invited me to the job interview by phone, to check whether I speak any reasonable High German at all."

Hm, yes, a dialect-speaking hotel employee was certainly not a good advertisement for the house. No matter what dialect it was. The Stone Valley Inn catered to the upper middle class, so even the local employees had to make an effort to use a proper pronunciation.

You know what surprises me a little, Jonas?"

No? "

That they sent you and your sister off with the kids."

What do you mean?"

Well, in these weather conditions, even natives get lost from time to time - you don't really send out migrants. Especially not with a bunch of kids!"

Well, you'll have to ask Mr. Ziermayer about that. He was going to do it himself, but then he suddenly didn't have the time, so I was forced to do it."

My dad would definitely have some serious words with old Ziermayer about it. That had been pretty irresponsible.

Well, everything turned out all right."

Fortunately, to be honest I was getting more and more scared. The first time such a big responsibility, and promptly everything goes wrong."

You can probably be blamed the least, you are not used to the area here and the rapid weather changes. You must have just started training this fall, right?"

Yeah, I'm still the absolute rookie at the hotel."

Well, there you have it. Don't worry too much anymore."

Your word in God's ear."

I looked around at our posse, it was going well, and everyone still looked fit and cheerful. All except the oldest boy, who was trudging along about ten meters behind us, somewhat discontented. I wondered what kind of louse had crawled under his shirt ?

At the very back of the column were Reiko and Jasmin, who were apparently engrossed in a lively conversation. Was something brewing there? I mean, Jasmin didn't look bad at all - for a girl, that is!

Say, how old is your sister?"

Seventeen, she'll be eighteen in March. Why?"

Because I kind of have a funny feeling that Reiko has some interest in her."

Hehe, and I had a funny feeling earlier that Jasmin has some interest in Reiko!"

Well that sounded good.

Have you guys been friends for a long time? You and Reiko?"

Well, depends on how you look at it. We've been friends for 15 years - but we've also only been friends for one day."

Huh? "

So I explained to Jonas the somewhat complicated subject of my friendship with Reiko, but without elaborating on the reasons for our years of estrangement.

A nice story…"

Somehow it sounded a little sad, the way Jonas squeezed out those words. Before I could think about it, however, loud laughter rang out from the end of the marching column. We stopped and looked around, just in time to see Jasmin give Reiko a resounding slap.

Ohoh… Is your sister always this violent?"

Not really, he must have done something really stupid if she reacts like that."

Since there were a good 100 meters between us, we couldn't hear what was going on with the two of them. However, we saw how Reiko became serious again, rubbed his left cheek and explained something to Jasmin. After a while, she raised her hand again, and hesitantly stroked Reiko's wounded cheek. Reiko held very still, this new softer touch seemed to please him. The next moment, however…

You idiot!"

With these words, Jasmin pushed Reiko away from her, causing him to fall backwards into the snow. Now it was Jasmin who burst into loud laughter. The " idiot" had probably not been meant really seriously, in any case she now prepared to help Reiko up again. But she hadn't reckoned with his vindictiveness, because no sooner had he grabbed her hand that he pulled her down to him in the snow.

In the meantime, everyone had stopped and marveled at the spectacle. Arko had scampered to his master and now jumped around the duo rolling in the snow, barking loudly and almost drowning out their joint laughter.

Doesn't seem like it was that serious, does it, Jonas?"

Yeah, looks like they made peace already."

I guess I should do something about this, we really didn't need any more delays.

Eh! You back there! Could you arrange to get back to vertical and keep walking? Would be very nice indeed!"

Yes yes, old slave driver, we're working on it! Take it easy!"

Well, hopefully. Jonas and I watched with grins as Jasmin and Reiko stood up, brushed the snow off their clothes, and started moving again. That was the signal for us to do the same, and so we marched on.

Jasmin is visiting you for the holidays?"

Yes, she's been begging and pleading."

Are your parents here too?"

Our area was just the right neighborhood to spend a nice white Christmas with the family.


Oops. That sounded pretty sharp! I looked in wonder at Jonas, who was now stomping along beside me with a pinched face.

Uh… Sorry. Looks like I've put my foot in my mouth, I didn't mean to. Sorry."

Jonas sighed.

That's all right. You couldn't have known that. My parents and I… we don't talk anymore. In fact, I'm dead to them. They no longer have a son - and I no longer have parents. End of story."

That didn't sound good at all. I probably should have left it at that, but foolishly, my curiosity got the best of me once again.


You have to know everything in detail, don't you?"

Sorry, Jonas. You don't have to tell me, that's entirely up to you."

That's how he seemed to want to keep it, anyway, we walked side by side in silence for the next few minutes. Suddenly, however, my companion broke the silence.

I'm gay and they can't handle it. They kicked me out of the family. Even Jasmin got into huge trouble when she told them she wanted to visit me here. They tried to forbid her to come, but in the end my little sister got her way."

Holy crap. I silently sent a prayer of thanks to heaven for my tolerant parents who had been great about my coming out. I knew that wasn't necessarily the norm, but it was the first time I'd seen how such a thing could turn out.

I'm sorry, Jonas. I wish I hadn't brought it up…"

As I said, you couldn't have known."

That was true.

And now?"

What did Jonas mean by that?

What and now?"

Are you shocked, disgusted, or what?"

Aha, that's where the wind was blowing from.

Yes, I'm shocked and disgusted."

Shit, I suspected it! I guess you're a homophobic asshole too."

The cute boy beside me had understood me totally wrong.

No, Jonas! It's because of your parents that I'm shocked and disgusted, not because you're gay!"

Hesitantly and somewhat incredulously, Jonas looked over at me.

Are you serious?"

You bet I am. Your parents are idiots if they disown you just because you're gay."

A smile of relief spread across Jonas' face. And that relief could certainly be amplified a bit.

I was luckier, mine took it in stride."

WHAT?!? "

As if rooted to the spot, Jonas had stopped and was now staring at me with his eyes wide open. I smiled back at him.

Jonas, I'm gay too."

Jonas' face reflected disbelief.


Yes, honestly."

Wow, I wouldn't have thought that now. Since I started learning here, I've been looking to join a gay youth group or something like that, but haven't found anyone yet. And now we run into each other in the middle of the forest."

Well, the ways of fate are unfathomable."

God the smiling face of my counterpart was extremely cute!

Shit, another faggot! Is that a plague or what?"

Ohoh. It was Patrick who was now looking at us with a pinched face. I gave him the finger, whereupon he moved further away from us in the column. Jonas and I, on the other hand, started moving again.

Say, does the brat have some kind of problem or what?"

Looks like it, Fabian. Ever since he found out that I'm gay, he's been acting like a terror chicken. And I really haven't done anything to him."

Those were nice prospects for the next few days, stuck with that guy in the cabin.

We marched on quickly. Jonas and I goofed around, told each other a bit about our lives (leaving out the topics " gay" and " parents" as a precaution), and after a while the silhouette of our cabin appeared on the horizon.


So that was a real nasty surprise, getting hit in the middle of the most beautiful laughing fit in such a way! Which put an end to my amusement pretty fast.

What the hell, Jasmin!"

With angry sparkling eyes she looked at me challengingly.

I don't like it at all when someone makes fun of my brother!"

That's where the wind was blowing from! After all, the little sister seemed to have quite a protective instinct towards her big brother. How sweet!

I wasn't making fun of your brother at all!"

You weren' t? I t looked like it, though!"

I should probably clear up this misunderstanding quite quickly. Since Fabian was completely open with his orientation anyway, I had no qualms about outing him here and now in front of Jasmin.

Jasmin, I only laughed because my best friend is gay, too. And it just so happens that he's walking up there right now next to your gay brother. Next to your gay brother, who I guarantee he finds more than just a bit nice to look at."

So far I knew Fabian to know that he had found a new victim for his flirt attacks. Only that he probably had no clue that he might even succeed this time!

Are you really serious now? Fabian is into boys too?"


Now Jasmin's eyes no longer sparkled angrily but mischievously. She raised her right arm again, and I was about to take cover. This time, however, her hand very slowly approached my face, then her fingers tenderly stroked my maltreated cheek. Oh my was that nice, I could endure it forever….

You idiot!"

In the next moment, before I could even react, she gave me a shove against my chest, and with both arms helplessly flailing around in the air, I fell backwards into the deep snow! Completely befuddled I lay in the white, cold splendor, and this time it was Jasmin, who broke out in loud laughter. Really! What a little devil she was!

There, come on, I'll help you up."

How kind. First she sends me to the floor, then she offers me a helping hand to get up. But not with me, my dear! I grabbed the proffered hand, but instead of pulling myself up, I pulled Jasmin down to me - with the result that we were now both lying side by side in the snow.

Now that was mean, Reiko!"

Mean? Who was mean first?"

We both could hardly get out the words because of laughing, we rolled around and over each other in the snow, and Arko jumping in made the chaos perfect.

Unfortunately, Fabian soon reminded us that we actually had better things to do than roll around in the snow, so we straightened up again, freed our clothes from the clinging snow, and followed the gang, which had started moving again.

You really think that your Fabian could fall for my Jonas?"

Wouldn't be so bad, actually. Both gay, both quite good-looking guys (if I was allowed to make a judgment about that), both about the same age, both in the same area. There was only one thing left to clarify.

Yeah sure, why not? Is Jonas still available?"

Hehe, you want to start playing matchmaker right away, or what? But yes, Jonas is still single. Much to his regret."

That did sound promising.

Great. Will you help me set them up?"

Jasmin got a little more serious.

I guess we'd better not go quite that far out on a limb on that one, Reiko. While I'd be very happy for Jonas if he found a suitable boyfriend, they'll have to find each other themselves for this to really work."

What a clever little head she had on her shoulders. She was right, it would be better to let fate take its own course. Which didn't mean that we couldn't be of a little help. For example, by giving them enough time together, preferably without a whole crowd of kids around them!

Okay, maybe it's better that way. Now to get back to this Patrick guy: he knows your brother is gay, and he can't deal with it, or what?"

Yeah, unfortunately, I just don't get it."

Maybe it comes from his parents."

No, rather not, they have also noticed that Jonas is gay, and seem to have absolutely no difficulties with it. After all, they even trusted him with their son!"

Very strange. Usually it's the parents who have a problem with homosexuality, while the children are more open about it."

Well, in this case it's the other way around. But you're right, often it is as you say. Like with our own parents…"

What about them?"

They can't accept that Jonas is gay. They literally kicked him out of the family. That's why he was so quick to accept an apprenticeship so far away from home."

Now that didn't sound good at all, and I gradually realized what kind of courage it must have taken Fabian to admit his being gay to his parents. And how lucky he had been with his parents, because I knew that much: they had always fully supported and defended him, even if there had been unpleasant jibes in the village from time to time.

But now they've come here with you to visit him?"

Our parents? Visit Jonas? Never. I travelled down here by myself. And even that I had to fight for, there were days of arguments about whether or not I was even allowed to come."

I should be glad that Jasmin was apparently quite assertive, otherwise I would probably never have met her. And that would really have been a big loss!

In the following minutes we got off the subject of being gay again and talked about all sorts of things, and so the time passed quite quickly. And then it was time, in the distance the Roecker's Cabin (or rather the Roecker's Palace!) could be seen.

We're almost there, Jasmin."

Really? That was fast!"

Well, not really, we had been walking for almost an hour and a half after all. But since that time had been pretty interesting and eventful, it didn't seem that long at all.

Yes, up ahead, that's where we need to go."

Our column was slowly but surely approaching the destination, and the closer we got, the greater Jasmin's amazement grew.

That seems like a pretty big cabin!"

Yep, the term cabin is a bit misleading for it."

You can say that again! And I was afraid it was going to be as cramped as that old lumberjack caravan again."

With seven people in that thing, they were almost piling up on top of each other. Not to mention certain other problems.

Don't worry, it will get a little crowded in the cabin with 9 people plus the dog, but compared to the caravan you spent last night in, it's a great space."

Well thank goodness! Uh… Reiko?"

Yes? "

Is… well… is there a bathroom in the cabin too?"

I had to grin, I guess this was really a very important information! Well, let's see if I could lead her on a bit.

No, not in the cabin. But out in the yard there's an outhouse."

A what?!?"

An outhouse."

Holy shit!"

What an appropriate choice of words.

Oh, it's not so bad. You just have to remember to take some newspapers with you all the time. And the big stick that's next to the cabin door!"

What do I need a big stick for in the outhouse ? "

Well, the thing is, there's a whole bunch of raccoons hanging around, and now in the winter they like to take shelter in the outhouse. So now, when you have to use it, you first stand next to the outhouse, open the door a little, and then hit the back wall a few times with the stick. With the noise the beasts disappear and you can use the toilet undisturbed. You'll just have to hurry up a bit, because after ten minutes at the latest, the nosy bunch will reappear."

Jasmin seemed to be torn whether she should believe me or not, but didn't say anything about the whole topic for the time being. In the meantime, we had already come to within about 200 meters of the cabin.

You see, back there on the right? That's the outhouse!"

Slowly she seemed to buy my story, the sight of the little house was probably very convincing.

What a bummer, and I really need to go now!"

I grinned inwardly as we got closer and closer to the cottage. Arriving at the entrance, there was indeed a large wooden club. Exactly where I had left it yesterday. I actually wanted to carve a hiking pole out of it - but in Jasmin's eyes it was the last proof of the truth of my story!

The whole team was now standing in front of the cabin, and Fabian opened the door. Jasmin seemed to be in a real hurry now, she dashed forward and grabbed the stick.

Fabian, is this the stick I have to use to drive the raccoons out of the outhouse?"

I had to hand it to Fabian, he reacted in a flash!

Yes, that's it. I suppose Reiko already told you what to do, didn' t he? "

Yes, he did!"

Jasmin strode quickly to the outhouse, where she first put an ear to the wooden wall and listened. Then she lifted the latch of the door and pulled it open an inch. Carefully she took a step around the outhouse, waved the stick and drummed like mad on the wooden construction!

Of course, not a single raccoon came rushing out - though Jasmin couldn't see that from where she stood.

Is it safe now, can I go in?"

I fought hard to talk without laughing.

Yes, the critters have taken off. But remember, you have to hurry up a bit, you don't have more than ten minutes!"

Jasmin leaned the stick against the wooden wall and now pulled the door all the way open.

Oh, and Jasmin?"

What now, Fabian!"

You can use the outhouse now, of course… but you could also just go into the house and use the bathroom there. It's got a flush, and it's not that cold in there, either."

Jasmin's jaw dropped, while everyone else burst out laughing. Even Patrick couldn't help it!

You… You… I hate you!"

With these words she came sprinting back and stormed past us in the direction of the cabin entrance. Fabian was calling after her.

To the left, the door at the end."

Jasmin disappeared into the house, and we slowly calmed down.

Reiko, you're mean."

I know, Faby. But when she asked me if there was a bathroom in the cabin, I remembered the outhouse and just couldn't help myself."

Fabian chuckled softly to himself, and Jonas also smirked, but then he became serious again.

Reiko, I can only warn you. You can't fool my sister like that with impunity. She will come up with something very special as revenge, so be on your guard."

Oh, I hadn't even thought about the possible consequences, that had always been a weakness of mine. But Jasmin would surely forgive me and laugh about it herself in the end. She would, wouldn't she?

I guess we should all go in now. Reiko, the generator is running because of the timer, but it will turn off in a few minutes. Just press the start button once, please, that will overwrite the shutdown timer."

No problem. And then I'll take care of Arko, to get him nice and dry."

Right, and I'll brief our guests a bit."

I entered the cabin, followed by Jonas and the kids, while Arko had already scurried through the tangle of legs and into the cabin. In the generator room, I pressed the start button, then grabbed the dog towel and started rubbing my furball dry, while around me the whole pack was busy getting rid of their boots. Well that would be fun with so many people on a heap….


It was very hard for me to get back to the serious business of the day after Reiko's toilet joke. He had thought it up really cleverly, and apparently also brought it across completely convincingly!

Okay, kids, please first take off your boots and put them next to the door."

With that the chaos was complete. Five kids bent down to take off their shoes, almost banging their heads together. Jonas and I also got out of our boots, which still had some snow on them - we had, of course, already taken off our snowshoes in front of the cabin. Shortly after, everyone but me was standing in the cabin in socks.

Take a look in that little cupboard, there should still be some slippers in it. Try them out and see who they fit."

There would certainly not be enough slippers for everyone, no one could have expected such a massive demand. Well, the others had to put their feet on the bearskin or the seats.

I took a look at the room thermometer: 21 degrees. Quite good, but I would put some more wood in the fireplace.

Fabian? "

Yes? "

What should we do about the clothes? None of us has anything to change into, and the snowsuits are much too warm for indoors. Not to mention that they got a little wet and need to be hung up to dry."

Crap, I hadn't thought of that at all! I thought we could just change and be done with it, but only Reiko and I could actually do that, the others understandably didn't drag their entire wardrobe through the forest. So now what?

I have no idea. We have plenty of food here, there's plenty of firewood, we can make electricity and we also have a few sleeping bags. But we don't have any clothes for you guys."

Hm. Okay, then we'll have to improvise. Can you bring the temperature up a bit more here? Or do you have some blankets?"

Both. Why?"

We'll have everyone take off their snowsuits, they'll all have something long underneath anyway. It'll just be a real adventure trip, with improvisation and stuff, like in the Boy Scouts."

That sounded reasonable, and also seemed to be the only possible solution anyway.

All right, let's do it this way. Will you tell the kids? You're in charge of them, after all."

Jonas sighed and turned to the kids, some of whom had already settled into their chairs.

Guys, don't get comfortable yet, you can't hang out here in those thick clothes. So please take off your snowsuits."

Puzzled, the kids looked at him.

But Jonas, we don't have anything to change into!"

I know, Ricarda, but you all have something underneath."

You want us to walk around in our underwear?"

Yes, Manuela, just think of it as some kind of pajama party."

Hmm, pajamas were, after all, the next problem that would come our way in the evening at the latest.

Well, I don't know…"

My God, don't make such a drama out of it! It's well heated here, do you want to drown in your own sweat or what? Alright, I'll start then!"

Jasmin had returned from her bathroom adventure and had immediately taken command. Well, she wanted to study something in education, so maybe she could handle the situation better than Jonas or me. She began to peel herself out of her snowsuit, she hadn't even pulled the top back up after the toilet visit anyway. A fact that Reiko of course noticed immediately, who looked now from his squatting position with Arko very attentively upward to Jasmin. Such a naughty boy!

Hesitantly, the children began to uncover themselves as well, and I should probably do that, too, I was beginning to feel quite warm. I signaled Jonas to follow me and disappeared with him into the master bedroom.

Here we have enough space to undress as well. You should be about my size, you can get a pair of jeans from me."

While I got out of my snowsuit, Jonas also took off his suit and shortly after stood in front of me in tight thermal underwear, under which a seductively trim bod was visible. I had to turn away very quickly and reached into the closet.

Here, try these on."

I handed him one of the pairs of jeans I had brought with me.

I'll change over in the other bedroom."

I didn't dare expose myself to him any further, although I would have loved to watch him undress!

Indecisively, Jonas accepted the jeans, as if he didn't quite know what to do with them.

Any problem? These really should fit you."

Yeah, they should, but…"

I looked at him questioningly.

But what?"

Well, I don't know if I should wear them."

Oh, don't worry, I'll be happy to help you out!"

That's not what I mean at all."

Then what do you mean?"

Well, it's because of me that the kids are in this situation, and I guess I'd be setting a bad example if I basically forced them to walk around in their underwear, but walk around fully dressed myself."

Oh. I guess his sister wasn't the only one in the family with a pedagogical touch.

Well… I don't care, it was just an offer. You're welcome to walk around like that, no problem."

Well, maybe a problem for me.

Okay, then I'll do it this way. I don't want to preach water and drink wine myself."

Whatever you say."

Jonas handed me back the jeans and was about to leave the room.

Wait a minute. Here, you can have the slippers, or do you want to do without them, too?"

But you need them yourself."

Nah, I've got some thick anti-slip socks here, I'd rather wear them than the slippers anyway."

Doubtingly, Jonas looked at me, so I showed him what I meant.

Okay, if that's the case. Thank you."

You're welcome."

My guest put on the slippers and turned toward the door.

Will you come right out with me , Fabian? "

In a few minutes, I want to call my dad first and let him know that we arrived here safe and sound. I'd rather do that here in the quiet and not in the throng of kids out there."

Hehe, I can understand that. Oh yes, where can I hang up the clothes to dry?"

The best place is in the storage room, there are already a few clotheslines prepared. Ask Reiko, he'll show you where that is."

Okay, then see you later. I'll take care of your snowsuit, too."

That was really nice of him. I quickly took out my cell phone, then sat down on the bed and dialed my dad's number while Jonas left the room and pulled the door shut behind him.

Hi Faby! Everything okay with you, did you arrive at the cabin ? "

Yeah, dad, everything worked out great."

Good. Did you hear that loud rumbling earlier?"

Loud rumbling? I hadn't heard anything like that.

No, what do you mean?"

Boy, a whole avalanche of rocks came down here, that were the stones that fell from the hearts of the parents and everyone else after you called in."

I could imagine that very well. With the parents anyway, but also with the search teams, the tension was always particularly high when it came to searching for missing children.

Is your cell phone battery still holding out?"

Yes, no problem, besides, I have the charger with me."

Good. When we're done talking, I'll call the Stone Valley Inn. There the parents are waiting for word that you have all arrived at the cabin. I'll give them your cell phone number, then they can call you, and everyone can talk to their respective children. Agreed?"

Sounds reasonable. As long as they don't keep calling here all the time, that would be total chaos."

Right, I hadn't thought of that at all. We'll do it differently, I'll give the number to an officer of mine, he'll dial it from a non-display phone, then the parents can talk from that phone. Is that better?"


Good, then we'll do it that way."

Anything new on the weather front?"

Not much. It's supposed to snow hard again tonight, and again during the day tomorrow. Then, if we're lucky, it'll stop tomorrow night and we'll have a few days of peace. As soon as that is foreseeable, we will send out the heavy equipment. Clearing up a way to the cabin has now become the highest priority."

Well, that was worth something, normally our access road would have been the very last to be done.

Great, I'll keep my fingers crossed that this works out as soon as possible."

Believe me, we all do that here, too. The parents are really pushing, they want their kids back as soon as possible."

That was perfectly understandable. And I also wanted the parents to get their kids back as soon as possible. So they wouldn't completely spoil my pre-holiday rest!

Something else, Fabian. I have found a way to send you a certain amount of supplies."

Oh, that was interesting news!

How so, I thought there's no getting through to us."

Not by normal means, but I remembered that the Stone Valley Inn has a snowmobile with a small luggage trailer. If it leaves in an hour at the latest, it'll make it to you and back in the daylight."

Sounds great! But I guess you can't take the kids with you?"

No, that's too dangerous. If they were adults, we might take the risk, but with kids we'd rather not. Besides, only one could ride with the driver at a time anyway."

Okay, whatever you say."

Now you'd have to tell me what you'd like us to send along for you, food and things like that."

We had quite a bit of food stockpiled, but without supplies it was going to be a very one-sided diet, so we should make ample use of this opportunity.

You got a pen and paper ready, Pop?"

Yeah, you're good to go."

We need bread and rolls for the next few days, maybe toast would be best. If possible, have them add a second toaster. Butter, fresh sausage and cheese wouldn't be bad either, some eggs, jam and stuff like that."

Got that written down. What else?"

I pondered for a moment.

We have plenty of coffee there, but tea, milk and cocoa powder for the kids would be good. Oh yeah, and don't forget sugar."

No problem, they have all that at the Inn."

I assumed so too, they even had their own baker and butcher's restaurant in the house.

Can you think of anything else?"

A flash of inspiration raced through me.

For food that should be it, but tell me, the parents are all there at the Inn too, right?"

Yeah, why?"

Then let them use the hour until departure to pack a few things for their kiddies. A change of underwear, a pair of pants and a sweater, sleeping things, washing things, and so on. We're at a complete loss in that regard up here."

My God, I hadn't thought of that at all until now! Son, you're brilliant, at least one of us is doing some thinking!"

Well, I guess I really wasn't a genius, if we hadn't already stumbled upon the problem, I probably wouldn't have thought of it either.

Is there enough space for it on the snowmobile ? "

Yeah sure, it's not so problematic with clothes anyway, you can squeeze and crumple them a bit."

Fine. Maybe ol' Ziermayer can also see if he can find some things for his apprentice and his sister."

I'll give him the message. So, if that's it, I'll jump right into organizing your supplies."

You do that, Pop. It's just starting to snow again, so the sooner you can get the snowmobile going, the better."

That's right. About the phone calls to the parents, I'll let an officer know. When would be a good time to start making the calls?"

Not until you are on the way, until then the parents have other things to do. And we also need to get some calm and order into the situation first."

Right. So expect your cell phone to ring in about an hour. Better hang it up on the charger in the meantime, it's probably going to be a pretty long conversation."

Will do. Well, talk to you soon."

Your mother sends her love."

Give her my best. Bye."

Bye, Faby."

And that was the end of the conversation. The announcement of the supply run had lifted my spirits considerably. I was already dreading having to spend the next few days with a whining gang of kids who kept complaining that there was only canned food to eat.

I put the cell phone aside and started to change my clothes. But then I thought of Jonas, who had turned down my offer of jeans in solidarity with the kids.

Oh shit, what the hell!"

I put my pants back in the closet, grabbed my cell phone and charger, and went back into the living room, where my first order of business was to connect the cell phone to the power outlet. Then I looked around the room. Except for Reiko and Patrick, everyone was stripped down to their underwear by now, and Reiko was probably about to change.

Faby, I'm going to get changed now."

Okay. Did you show Jonas where to hang the clothes?"

Yeah, he knows where to put them."

Reiko disappeared, and while Jasmin and Jonas now collected the children's snow clothes, I first took care of the fireplace. It could still use some new logs, so I added more and poked around in the embers with the poker to make sure there was a decent fire.

Patrick, get out of your warm clothes, that goes for you too!"

I've already taken off my jacket! I can keep my pants on."

My God, don't make such a fuss! Look, Fabian is heating up the fireplace even more, soon you won't be able to stand it in those thick pants!"

The faggots only want to see me in my underwear!"

One more sentence and he would spend the night in the outhouse.

You're an idiot, Patrick! As if they'd see anything in a guy like you! Maybe it's me who wants to see you in your underwear!"

Hehe, Jasmin had really hairs on her teeth. Reiko better be really careful around her.

Come on now, pants off, otherwise I'll do it for you. And don't think that I wouldn't be able to do it!"

I didn't have any doubts that Jasmin would be able to do it. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Patrick get up from his chair and, with a pinched expression on his face, pull off the straps of his snow pants. Another battle won, so I could turn my attention to the fireplace again.


While I was on the way to the bedroom, I still heard the argument with Patrick. Well, we would have a lot of fun with this little rebel!

After arriving in the bedroom, I pulled the snowsuit down. I had also slipped out of the top part shortly after entering the cabin and had knotted the sleeves in front of my belly, not only because it was quite warm, but also because it was a bit tight and thus restricted my mobility. And to rub Arko dry you had to be VERY mobile!

So as I pushed the snowsuit down my body, I was suddenly very glad that I hadn't done that right in the middle of the living room in front of the assembled troops. Why? Quite simply. Because the snowsuit was a little tight, I pulled down my underwear together with it and suddenly my most private parts stood there in the open. If that had happened to me in the presence of Jasmin, I couldn't imagine the embarrassment! Maybe I should change to my ice hockey underalls in the future, with them this could not happen.

Cursing I pulled up my longjohns again and then finally got out of the naughty snowsuit. I briefly considered whether I should put on normal clothes, but doing that I would probably have stood out in the midst of the others just as much as if I was completely naked. So I grabbed the snowsuit and joined the others again. A short detour to the storage room, where I found a place for my snowsuit, then I was ready for whatever might happen next.

I took a look at the crowd, which had become quite quiet in the meantime, even Patrick sat curled up half asleep in an armchair. Without pants, mind you. Well, no wonder, they didn't get much of sleep last night, they must be completely exhausted. I went over to Fabian, who was sitting on one of the bar stools.

Seems like peace and quiet caught up with us."

I hope so, Reiko."

Did you call your dad ? "

Yes, I did, and you won't believe what he announced to me."

Fabian told me about the snowmobile plan, and my eyes widened.

Gee, that would be really great if it worked out!"

I'm sure it'll work, dad keeps his promisses."

Wonderful. I hoisted my rear end onto the bar stool next to Fabian.

Any idea what to do about sleeping? We don't have that many beds, so surely the sleeping bags will have to do."

We'll have to think about that later and discuss it with the kids. Right now, I'm glad they're getting a little rest."

I'm hungry!"

So much about rest, peace and quiet.

And I want something to drink!"

Faby, scratch that 'peace and quiet arrived' idea."

Looks like it."

Jasmin, who had been occupying the second armchair until just now, came over to us.

I'm sorry, guys, but please don't forget: we haven't had anything to eat since yesterday, and 'drinks' have been nothing but melted snow."

I hadn't even thought of that! I could tell from Fabian's shocked expression that it was the same for him. Christoph and Patrick really couldn't be blamed for their calls for munchies.

What are we going to do now, Fabian?"

What are we going to do now? Taking care of that problem, what else."

Yes of course, stupid question.

And what are we going to eat? Best something that will be ready quickly, right?"

Let's see what the cabin has to offer."

Jasmin and I followed Fabian into the storage room, where we took a closer look at the canned goods on hand.

What do you think about goulash soup? We'll bake up some of the baguettes to go with it."

I grabbed one of the soup cans, looked really tasty.

How many of these are we going to need?"

There are nine of us now, normally I'd say three cans would be enough, but I'm guessing you guys are pretty famished, so better make it five. We can always heat up again what's left later."

Where are the baguettes?"

Over there in the cabinet."

I went to the aforementioned cupboard, and sure enough, inside were several packages of baguettes ready to bake, two long bars per package.

How many of those, Faby?"

Three packages should be enough, I guess."


I took out three packets and closed the cabinet again.

Uh… Guys? "

Jasmin had been watching the whole time, now she obviously had something to contribute.


Maybe we should take one less can and one less package of baguettes."

Why? You guys must be super hungry, I think Faby is right about the quantity."

Yeah, but we don't know how long we're going to be stuck here. Maybe we should stretch the supplies a bit more, just in case."

Ah yes, that was a reasonable idea. Of course, Jasmin didn't know about the announced snowmobile supply run yet, so I quickly told her about it. As a result, relief spread across her face.

Well, if that's the case, then we can really take as much as Fabian suggested."

Good plan, we grabbed the cans and the baguettes and carried everything to the cooking area.

I'm cooking, guys."

That was just fine with me, my cooking skills were limited to burning water.

I'll get some drinks. Reiko, will you help Jasmin a little?"

Fabian brought this question out with a slight twinkle in his eye - was he the one trying to set up ME now?

Well, sure I do."

Great. Patrick. You were thirsty?"

Yeah sure!"

Then come on, the bottles aren't going to come on their own."

Lo and behold, thirst got our petulant teenager to finally do something without grumbling and complaining. With Patrick in tow, Fabian disappeared back toward the storage room.

Okay, I'm going to go find a big pot, can you open the cans for me, Reiko ? "

Sure, Jasmin. After all, I have a dog, so I've had a lots of practice opening cans."

Jasmin laughed at me, a sight I couldn't get enough of.

Well, go ahead, human can opener, get started. Jonas?"

Yes, sis?"

You could go ahead and get the plates and silverware together. Oh yes, the baguettes also need to be unpacked and shoved into the oven."

With that, it was clearly settled who wore the hat or rather the chef's hat here in the cooking area. Well, maybe it was good if someone who actually knew what he was doing took over.

I went for the cans, and as quickly as I opened them, their contents disappeared into a large soup pot. Jonas rummaged around in the cupboards and pulled out a hodgepodge of soup plates, bowls and dishes. Strangely, Roeckers were unprepared for the fact that nine people were going to be spooning up soup in their cabin at the same time - an oversight that would surely be rectified as soon as possible.

I guess some of us will have to eat with coffee spoons, I only found six soup spoons here."

You can give me one of those right now, I need it for stirring."

Jasmin snatched a spoon from her brother, and while I dumped the contents of the last can into the pot, she turned on the gas burner and started stirring around in the pot.

Jonas, have you unpacked the baguettes yet?"

Yes, they're ready."

Good. Reiko, turn on the oven and put the baguettes in."

Man, she had quite a commanding tone! I should get used to obey her.

In the meantime, Fabian and Patrick had come back and brought a few bottles of non-alcoholic beverages and put them on the counter.

Patrick, I give you glasses, you distribute them and pour everyone what he wants."

Why me?"

Fabian looked down at the teenager, unnerved.

Because you're the oldest of your gang and can start taking over some responsibility!"

All right, all right…"

Patrick resigned himself to his fate and did what Fabian had told him to do, while Jonas was now distributing dishes and cutlery around the table.

This is going to be pretty crowded, I would suggest that two of us eat here at the bar."

We quickly agreed that I would supervise the kids at the table with Jasmin, while Fabian and Jonas would keep an eye on the overall situation from the high bar stools. Meanwhile, a heavenly aroma drifted through the room, and I turned back to Jasmin, who was busily stirring the pot.

Why do you keep stirring this stuff?"

Because I don't want it to burn, you simpleton."

Oh. Interesting! I hadn't thought of that yet, maybe that's why I always had bad luck so far in my attempts to cook anything. You just never stop learning.

Don't just stand there like a statue, you better make sure the baguettes don't turn into coal."

Yes, Sergeant Major!"

You nut!"

But she said it with a smile! I was completely blown away. Actually funny, so shortly after the disaster with Melanie. Although it had not gone that great with her for quite a while already.

The baguettes seemed to be just right, so I took them out of the oven. Not without burning my paws. Then on the second one, I was smart enough to use a knife to pull it onto a plate.

Those things are done, how about the soup?"

Jasmin looked into the pot and nodded her head in satisfaction.

It's ready too, we can eat."

Wonderful. First we filled the bowls of Jonas and Fabian, who also kept one of the baguettes with them at the bar counter, then I carefully carried the big, hot pot to the dining table, where five hungry children's mouths were already waiting to be stuffed.

Sit down, Reiko, I'll fill the bowls. I don't want this turning into a giant mess."

Jasmin seemed to have a lot of faith in my skills as a waiter. Not! Oh well. Less work for me to do. I quickly fetched the baguettes for our table, then settled down while Jasmin deftly filled the bowls with steaming hot goulash soup.

Well, bon appétit everyone. But watch out, the soup is hot! I don't want to hear anyone complaining when they've burned their mouth!"

The warning was probably justified, soon we were all spooning away, and a few minutes later I was surprised what a short work we had made with the previously so large-looking soup pot. Even Fabian, who apparently wanted to get seconds, looked puzzled at the empty pot.

Empty already? Should we make some more, or are you full for now?"

That's exactly what I had been thinking. Fortunately, everyone was apparently properly fed for now, no one wanted more. Using 5 cans was the right decision, with one less as Jasmin had suggested, we would still have hungry kids at the table. The baguettes were gone to the last crumb, too. Not even Arko had gotten anything! But it was still a few hours until his usual feeding time anyway, after all it was now just past half past three.

So, now that we are all well fed and sit together so nicely, I have time to tell you and explain some things."

All eyes were on Fabian now.


The feeding of the predators had gone quite well and in a civilized manner, now the kids were hopefully receptive for a few things I had to tell them.

Okay, here's the thing: as you've probably heard, we're stuck here at the cabin for now, and we're going to be for at least another two days."

The girls now looked a bit scared, the boys hid their feelings, but not all of them succeeded. Well, they had to know the truth, and the truth wasn't that bad.

It's going to be a little crowded, the cabin isn't really designed for that many people, so we'll have to be a little considerate of each other. Everyone will also be helping out a bit, and we'll start that right after my speech, so a few of you will please help clear the table and do the dishes."

I thought that was only fair, after all they were all old enough to contribute a little to the common good. I explained what the cabin was all about, how electricity and water worked, etc. etc. There were some questions about the toilet and showers, and I pointed out quite clearly the imperative to conserve hot water. It took quite a while until I arrived at the last point for the time being.

After that, we'll have to figure out how to do the sleeping thing, but that won't be a problem either. We have two bedrooms with several beds and also some sleeping bags."

Christoph shyly raised his left arm in the air. How cute, as if he was at school.

Yes, Christoph?"

We don't have any pajamas at all, should we sleep in our underwear?"

That's exactly what we originally thought you should do, but…"

But we're supposed to sleep naked!"

From whom could such an idea come? Only from Patrick, of course.


No, Manuela, of course not! Patrick is just talking nonsense again."

Manuela wasn't the only one who breathed a sigh of relief.

You don't have to sleep in your underwear, because I have another surprise for you. Later, a snowmobile will show up here, and it will bring some food - and for each of you some things that your parents packed for you. Sleepwear, washing things, fresh underwear and things like that."

From the happy faces around the table, I gathered that my surprise was well received.

Is the snowmobile going back too?"

Yes, Patrick, we'll just unload everything quickly, then it will go back to the Inn."

Then I can ride along!"

Somehow I had expected that.

No, you can't. The driver doesn't take anyone for safety reasons."

We'll see about that!"

I sighed inwardly. What to do with this boy? Earlier, when he was getting drinks, he had been reasonably friendly, but that had probably just been a slip.

So, I think that's all settled for now. If you have any questions, just ask, we have to get along well here, so no false shyness, okay?"

In response, I got " Okay!" from four children's throats, with only Patrick sitting silently in his chair with his lips pinched together.

Great. Chris, Felix, you clear the table, please. Manuela and Ricarda, you help Jasmin and Reiko with the dishes."

And what are the rest of us three doing?"

We, my dear Jonas, are taking care of unloading the snowmobile that I hear humming along."

Sure enough, a loud humming engine approached the cabin; it could only be the snowmobile that had been announced. Actually earlier than I had expected.

Come on, quickly put on your snow clothes and boots, the thing will be here soon."

We dashed into the storage room and got back into our stuff, which hadn't really dried out in that short time. Then, as we stepped in front of the cabin, the snowmobile with a small box trailer in tow just came to a stop right in front of our home away from home.

Hi Faby."


What was my dad doing here? I hadn't expected him at all!

What are you doing here?"

Well, I know my way around here best amongst those who can handle one of these things. So I thought I'd take care of the delivery myself."

I didn't know that you can drive a snowmobile."

Well, you're a long way from knowing everything about your old man! When I was in the army, I drove toys like that all the time, and you never unlearn that. Okay, now quickly introduce me to the two boys, and then we'll move everything into the cabin as quickly as possible!"

I was still slightly flabbergasted, but introduced my sire to Jonas and Patrick, noticing that Jonas reacted somewhat dejectedly to the obviously very good relationship between me and my dad. Given his own history, unfortunately, that was understandable.

Well then, give me a hand, boys! Patrick, you can take this big bag here, it's full of clothes, so it's not particularly heavy."

Ah, so dad was able to bring parental emergency packages for the kids. Very nice.

Jonas, Fabian, there are several baskets of food in the trailer. They're damn heavy, so you better carry them together!"

They had to be really heavy if pop didn't trust us to carry them alone. And sure enough, I tried to lift one out of the trailer, but fiddlesticks, I couldn't get it over the railing of the thing.

Now wait a minute, you heard your dad, we're supposed to carry these together!"

All right, all right. So come on, give me a hand."

Together we managed to get the basket out of the trailer, and with arms that grew longer and longer, we carried it into the cabin. My dad had already stepped in and took a look at the situation.

Ah, I see you've just eaten!"

Yes, dad, our lost ones were completely famished."

I'll take your word for it, Faby."

By the way, this is Jasmin, Manuela, Ricarda, Christoph and Felix. You know Reiko anyway."

Indeed. Hello Reiko, long time no see."

That's right, Mr. Roecker. But I'm very happy to see you right now and here."

Oh come on, you're just happy to see what I brought you!"

Both Reiko and my father laughed, well, the two had always gotten along very well.

We'll talk about your stunt with the car sometime after Christmas, when everything is back to normal."

Now Reiko looked contrite.

Okay, Mr. Roecker."

So, how is it, have you unloaded everything?"

Jonas and I had dragged in two more baskets, at least as heavy as the first, while Patrick had brought a second garment bag into the cabin and now arrived with yet another larger box.

Careful with that thing, Patrick, the contents are fragile!"

Is that the eggs in there, dad ? "

No, son, something much better!"

Well now I was really excited. My father took the box from Patrick, put it on the now-cleared table, opened it, and took out a… TV! Not a huge thing, but a very flat LCD TV with a 20 inch screen.

Wow, dad, where did you get that thing?"

It's a noble donation from Mr. Ziermayer, who's feeling a little guilty about sending Jonas off with the kids."

That had to be a VERY guilty conscience indeed.

Do we even get reception out here? And we don't have an antenna here at all."

There's an antenna, too."

My father pulled out a small indoor antenna.

Well, with this little thing we'll get the public channels at most. Great, then we can watch folk music at Christmas."

Patrick. As usual.

Don't be so cynical, young man. You'll get plenty of channels, we're in the DVB-T covered area here."

DVB-T? "

Ha, not so smart guy, gotcha!

Yes, digital video broadcast. With the little antenna, you'll get over 20 stations. And because of the LCD technology, the TV doesn't consume very much power either."

However, we would have to pay a little attention on that topic. The electric heater and microwave took our power grid to the limit when they were running at the same time.

By the way, your parents asked me to send you their best wishes for the next days. But they should have called by now anyway, right?"

Shit! I knew that I had forgotten something.


What is it, Faby?"

I turned the phone off earlier and put it on the charger - and forgot to turn it back on."

You'll forget your own head someday. But oh well, no big deal."

My father reached into his jacket and brought out a radio, which he now turned on.

Wolf One-Nine for Wolf One Karat, come in!"

Wolf One-Nine is listening. Did you get there okay, boss ? "

Yeah, I am. Listen, my boy's cell phone was off."

Ah… And we were wondering why we just couldn't get through."

Well, shit happens, no big deal. He's going to turn it on right now, wait five more minutes, then you can call here."

Will do, boss."

Good, I'll be on my way back soon, too. Wolf One Karat, over."

Received, over."

You heard it, Faby. Better turn that cell phone on now before the parents get a fleet of snowmobiles somewhere and come haunting you personally."

I could really do without that! I walked over to the cabinet where I had put the cell phone, unplugged it from the charger, and turned the phone on.

I'm leaving again. Listen up, everyone. You are well and safely housed here now, you don't have to starve either, nothing can happen to you here. Try to make the best of the next few days, it's certainly nice to be away from your parents for a while, isn't it?"

The two middle boys in particular grinned at my father.

There you go. As soon as it's possible, we'll send out heavy clearing equipment to dig you guys out of here. It'll take a few more days, but I'm sure you guys can handle it."

Physically, for sure. But whether my nerves would hold out was another matter entirely.

Before my father now left the hut, he came over to me once more, hugged me and whispered something in my ear.

You're doing just fine, big guy, I'm mighty proud of you."

With those words he let go of me, waved once more and disappeared outside. Now, while I was receiving the usual you-had-a-call-but-didn't-feel-like-taking-it messages on the cell phone, I could still see out of the corner of my eye a figure following my dad outside….

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead