The Wanderers

by Charlie Kirby

"Petey, where are we?" Inessa sat very still, holding her sweater tightly closed around her narrow shoulders.

"I dunno, but we will rest here for a bit and then keep moving."


"I dunno, it's just what they do in the movies."

"But I'm cold and hungry. I just wanna go home."

"Me, too, Nessie, but they don't want us there. Not anymore. We'll find someplace where they do want us. Tomorrow, I promise we'll get to Mr. Alex's and Genève's where they will love us and never tell us to leave." Peter slipped his arm around his twin and pulled her close. The noises of the forest didn't sound as friendly now as they had during the day. He pressed back into the small niche they'd found by a fallen tree and stroked Inessa's head. "It'll be okay, Nessie, I pinky promise."

Earlier that morning

Peter sat up in bed and rubbed an eye. He looked over at the cat clock. It had been a gift for Irina, but the girl had found the cat frightening. Peter thought it was funny how the eyes went back and forth, so it had ended up in his room, just as the clown painting had ended up in Irina's. He'd tried to warn her that the eyes watched too, but she thought it was funny. It made him shiver just thinking about it. He reached for Bear, a stuffed armadillo, and climbed from his bed.

Alex was still sleeping, so Peter didn't turn on any lights. He walked across the floor and peered out the window. In the early morning light, a pair of deer were in Mommy's garden helping themselves or so he hoped to her broccoli.

"Hey, Alex." He ran over to his older brother and shook him roughly. "There are deers in Mommy's garden."

"So what? Leave me alone."

"You gotta do something!" Peter looked over to the window and back.

"Okay, get lost or I'm gonna smack you." Alex buried himself beneath a pile of pillows and comic books.


"Go away!"

Sighing, Peter went back to the window and struggled to get it open. He managed to open it about three inches. "Hey, you guys, get out of there!"

"Peter!" A comic book nearly hit him and Peter tightened his lips.

He paused to put on his fluffy kitty slippers and walked out of the bedroom he shared with his brother. The house was still quiet this early in the morning. He paused in the kitchen, just to make sure no one was up. When it was obvious no one was, he grabbed a box of cereal and unlocked the kitchen door. Instantly, Chewy was there and tearing past him barking at the top of his little beagle voice. In the early morning stillness, it was akin to an air raid siren going off.

The deer's heads came up and they started to bounce away, tearing up ground every time they landed. When confronted by a fence, they split and went tearing past the beagle. He did an about face and the chase continued.

"What the hell is going on here?" Peter looked around at his father. Daddy's robe was half knotted and he looked all this way and that, as Mommy called it.

"There are deers in Mommy's garden. Chewy's protecting it."

"Deers?" Daddy was out the door, a broom in hand. Peter opened up the box of cereal and popped a handful in his mouth. He chewed while he watched Daddy try and catch Chewy. Suddenly, one of the deer turned and confronted man and dog and abruptly the tables were turned.

Daddy and Chewy raced back to the house, even though the deer had stopped and loped its way back into the woods.

Daddy's pajamas were all wet and the bottoms were covered in mud. Chewy was an equal mess, all dirty from his race through the garden.

"The next time you want to help, Peter, do me a favor and don't! Your mother is going to have a fit." Daddy shut the door and locked it. "Why don't you take Bear and go back to bed?"

"I could go with you," Peter said, hopeful. It had been forever since he'd climbed into bed to be cuddled by his parents.

"That would be a bad idea at the moment. And leave Chewy here. I don't want him running all over the house until I have a chance to get some clothes on and wash him."

Daddy left him standing there. Peter thought about Daddy's advice and then looked down at Chewy. The beagle was so dirty and looked so forlorn. Peter offered him a fistful of cereal and the dog wolfed it down. Chewy looked back at his young master and thumped his tail on the floor.

"Would you like some more?" Peter obligingly dumped a pile of cereal onto the floor and then went to the cupboard to find a bowl for himself. By the time he got back, the cereal was gone and Chewy was smiling a big doggie grin at him.

Peter began to pour the cereal into the bowl and then he heard a familiar sound. By the time he got turned around. Chewy had managed to vomit his entire stomach contents onto the middle of Mommy's favorite rug.

Peter had no intention of cleaning that mess up, so he neatly folded the rug back over itself, so the vomit wouldn't show. He looked up as the kitchen door opened and grinned at his twin sister.

"Morning," said Inessa. "Whacha doing?"

"Making breakfast, what are you doing?"

"Looking at you," Inessa said with a laugh. "What's wrong with Chewy and why is he all dirty?"

"Him and Daddy were chasing deers, but Daddy wasn't very happy about it."

"He's sure messy."

"He sure is. Hey, maybe we should give him a bath!"

Inessa frowned for a minute, uncertainty clouding her blue eyes. "I dunno... we've never done it before without help."

"But we've watched a dozen times. We can use our bathroom. When Mommy and Daddy get up, Chewy will be all clean and maybe Mommy won't be quite as mad."


They left the kitchen, a shrine to mess and disorganization, behind them and moved on to the bathroom. While Inessa filled the tub with warm water, Peter went through the various bottles of bubble bath beneath the sink.

"What about Mr. Bubbles?" Peter asked, looking over his shoulder.

Inessa nodded enthusiastically. "Take the one that smells like bubble gum."

"How much should I use?"

"He's pretty dirty, better use a lot."

Peter dumped half a bottle into the running water. "Okay, let's go get Chewy."

Inessa turned the water off, more as an afterthought than anything else.

They ran from the room back down to the kitchen and got Chewy. The beagle was fine until he saw the bathroom door. He braced his feet against the floor and the twins struggled to get him the last few feet to the bathroom. Once the dog's paws hit the linoleum, he slid easily.

Peter closed the door so the dog couldn't escape and they wrestled him into the bathtub. Water and suds went everywhere as they struggled to keep Chewy in the tub and the little beagle struggled just as hard to get out.

"Phew, he sure stinks." Peter used a bath toy to sluice water over Chewy's head.

"Use some of Irina's perfume. That should help." Inessa held her hands in front of her face as the dog shook, sending a spray of water everywhere. "Chewy, stop it! You're dirty, you need a bath!"

Peter sighed and slipped off his already sopping robe, pajamas and slippers. Then he climbed in with the dog to hold him still. Inessa grabbed a sponge and began squeezing water onto the dog.

Neither child heard the bathroom door open until their sister screamed. Both of them spun around surprised and Chewy took off, leaving a trail of suds behind him.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" It was doubtful Irina's voice could get any louder.

A moment later, Alex and their parents joined Irina in the doorway.

"Hi, we're giving Chewy a bath," Peter said, trying to sound cheerful. Inessa's bottom lip was trembling and she grabbed Peter's hand.

"I think we're in trouble."

Peter sniffed back a tear and rubbed his backside. It wasn't that the spanking really hurt, but he'd been trying to do something good. Why didn't they see that? Why was it that every time he tried to help he got in trouble?

"You okay?" Inessa's tears had long since dried up. She was the tougher of the two.

"They don't want us here," Peter muttered.

"What do you mean?"

"They want Alex cuz he's the oldest and Rennie cuz she's so smart. They want Jenny cuz she's the baby and she's got a bad hand."

"'Kay, but why don't they want us?"

"We're always the ones in trouble. Mommy said they would be millionaires if they didn't have to feed me."

"And me?" Inessa's voice became tremulous.

"Daddy said things wouldn't break as fast if you weren't always fixin' them."

"They are broken! Even 'fore I got there... mostly!" she protested, wrapping her thin arms around herself. "Where should we go?"

"I bet Grampy and Poppy would let us live with them."

"Yeah!" Inessa perked up at the thought. "We could live with them."

"Then Mommy and Daddy would be sad we were gone and I bet they'd come and want us to come home, but we won't."

"Why not?"

"To teach them a lesson. Not until they were really sorry they got so mad at us." Peter looked around the room he shared with his brother. "We can use my backpack." He held up his backpack, a fuzzy purple purse with big flowers on it.

"'Kay... what should we pack?"

"Um... underwear and your favorite toy, just in case we can't sleep with Poppy... and I'll take some candy and some money, in case they want us to pay rent."

"What's rent?"

"I don't know, but Mommy talks a lot about it lately."

"Adults talk about silly things at times." Inessa walked through the connecting door to her adjoining bedroom.

Even though it made Peter very sad to think about leaving home, his parents had gone too far. They'd show them. And maybe when they were good and ready, he and Inessa would come home. Inessa appeared with an armload of items. Quickly, Peter grabbed Alex's piggy bank and stuffed it into his backpack, along with some clothes, candy, and Bear.

With a heavy sigh, he went over to the window and shoved it up enough that they could crawl out of it. First he tossed the backpack out, then he helped Inessa out and, with a final look and sigh, he climbed out himself.

They quickly walked the short distance from their house to that of their grandfathers. Inessa got there first and tried the knob.

"Oh, oh, it's locked."

"Maybe the back door will be open." Peter started around the house.

"I heard Poppy say that lock was pregnant..." Inessa was already looking back at their house sadly.

"Pregnant? Like Genève?"

"Uh, huh. It didn't make much sense to me though." Inessa tried that door, but it was locked as well. She smiled and held out a hand. "Let me have your purse."

"It's a backpack," Peter protested as he held it out. Suddenly he felt kinda funny about it though.

"'Kay." Inessa dug through it until she found the small set of tools she'd received for her birthday. She worked at the lock for a few minutes and then there was a click. "Guess it ain't pregnant no more," she said, dropping the tool kit back into Peter's purple purse.

Quietly, they entered the kitchen. There was no sign of either man.

"They're still sleeping? They're lazy," Peter whispered, looking longingly at the refrigerator. The cereal he'd eaten was just a distant memory now.

"Let's go get them up and tell 'em we're living here now."

As they approached the bedroom, Inessa frowned and looked at her twin. "What's making all that noise?"

"Maybe burglars have 'em. We need to rescue them!" With a couple of loud yells, they burst into the bedroom.

Inessa looked back at the house as they trudged away, rubbing an eye with her fist. "It looked like they were wrestlin' to me. How was I supposed to know Poppy lost his stupid contract lens? Dumb ole contract anyhow." She kicked a clump of earth.

"I never saw Grampy that mad before," Peter mumbled around his pout. He could still feel his grandfather's firm grip on his arm as he and his sister were half dragged to the back door and shoved out it. He could still hear his grandfather's words, "Why don't you two get lost for a while?" Worst, he kept seeing the door shut in his, no, their faces again and again. Their grandfathers didn't want them either.

"What are we gonna do, Petey?" Inessa sighed.

"I know. Let's walk to town. We'll get on the train and go into the City. Mr. Alex and Genève will want us. They're gonna need help with the baby and we know what to do."

"I can even change a diaper!" Inessa was proud of that. Mommy had let her change Jenny several times. "Do you know how to get there?" She was a bit hesitant now. She'd never walked to the village on her own.

"Uh, huh, Alex showed me last week. It's easy." Peter took her hand and smiled confidently. "We'll go live with Genève and they'll be sorry, cuz they'll miss all the stuff we did around here."


Peter looked around in the dark and hugged Bear closer. Inessa had tears running down her cheeks and every time she wiped them away, mud smudged her face.

"It'll be okay, Nessie, I'll protect you." He dug into his backpack and pulled out a candy bar. He broke it in half and gave the larger piece to his twin.

"I miss Poppy." Inessa took the chocolate and began to eat. "And Daddy."

"Me, too, but they were awful mad at us. They probably are glad we're gone." Holding his twin close and Bear even closer, Peter ate his chocolate and gradually, against his will, fell asleep.

Something wet and stinky was washing his face and he tried to push Mommy away. "Go 'way, Mommy."

"Woof," Mommy said and Peter opened his eyes. A large dog was standing there, his tail wagging.

"Nessie, wake up!" He poked his sister and the little girl murmured, then opened her eyes and squealed.

"Go 'way," she ordered, holding Mr. Boom in front of her. The stuffed red felt looked like dynamite, but lacked its potential for explosion.

"It's okay, Nessie, he's friendly."

"He's awfully wrinkly."

The dog barked again and again, until Peter put his hands over his ears. His head sort of hurt and he was all stickery from sleeping on leaves and twigs.

"Stop barking, dog."

"She can't," a voice said and both children jumped. "She was telling me where she was. Are your names Peter and Inessa?" Peter shoved his twin behind him protectively and glared, trying to frighten the man away. The man merely smiled and knelt down. The dog ran up to him and sat. "My name is Officer Ken and this is my best girl, Barbie."

"How come she's got so many wrinkles?" Peter asked.

"Irina had a Barbie. I melted her head," Inessa said quietly. "She was awfully mad."

"I bet she was." Office Ken was very serious. "Is that why you ran away from home?"

"We didn't run away, we walked." Peter glanced around nervously. "We were going to see Mr. Alex and Genève. They live in New York City."

"You were going to walk all the way to New York?"

"No, just to the village and then we'd take a train."

"Why were you going to New York?"

"No one wants us at home. Not Mommy and Daddy, especially not Alex or Reenie... not even Grampy or Poppy..." The tears started trickling down Inessa's cheeks. "Nobody loves us no more."

Officer Ken took a handkerchief out of his pocket and held it out to her. "You know what, I think they do love you and are very worried about you."

"I don't think so. Mommy spanked us and Grampy yelled." Peter was trying to be brave, but it was getting harder and harder. "He never yelled at us before," he finished softly.

"Tell you what, let's ride into town and we'll get you cleaned up and some breakfast. Then we'll call your folks and see what they have to say. If they don't want you, I'll put you on the train myself. How would that be?"

"No tricks?"

"Nope, scout's honor."

Peter exchanged a look with his sister, "Can you 'scuse us for a minute?"

"Of course." The man took a step away and petted the hound.

After a minute, Peter turned back towards the man and held out a dirt-streaked hand. "Okay, we 'cept your offer, Mr. Ken." Peter's stomach gurgled and he smiled. "I'm awfully hungry."

"I'll bet you are. Let's go take a ride in my patrol car. I'll even let you work the siren."

Inessa perked up at that. "Really? Me too?"

"Yes, you too."

"Mister, you don't know what you just agreed to." With his hand firmly holding onto his sister's, the twins followed the officer out of the woods.

Peter snuggled down into his bed and admitted that it felt much better than the tree stump they'd slept against the night before. Mommy and Daddy had held them and kissed them and then they both cried. They made him and Nessie promise to never run away. Even Alex seemed happy to have them back, if only for the recovery of his bank. Irina became very serious and told them about the time that Poppy had thought someone had taken her and how upset he was. That made Inessa cry and pinky promise to never leave home again without telling someone where they were going. Peter preferred to play it closer to his chest and keep his options open.

Outside, rain started to splatter against the window and Peter was doubly glad not to be sleeping in a tree stump tonight.

"Petey?" A stream of light spilled into his room as Inessa opened the door. Alex was still up and watching TV. Neither Peter nor Inessa, worn out from their night in the woods, protested an early bed time tonight. Still, even after Peter had crawled into bed with Bear close at his side, he couldn't sleep. His head was filled with his adventure. When Inessa came in, he suspected she was having the same trouble.

"Uh huh?"

"Are you sleepin'?"

"No. Are you?"

"No, I can't." She padded across the floor, dragging Mr. Bang in her wake, and climbed into his bed. "Petey, are we in trouble?"

"I don't know. Mommy and Daddy were really glad to see us."

"So were Grampy and Poppy." She snuggled close to him. "I think Grampy was crying. I heard him talking to Poppy and his voice sounds funny, like when Mommy watches that stupid camera commercial." There was a long silence and then she added. "I don't think I want to make Grampy cry anymore."

"Me neither. It made me feel weird, like it's something that ain't supposed to happen."

The hall door creaked open and they both fell silent until Chewy poked his head in. He whined and ran over to the bed. He paused and then, with a mighty effort, jumped up on the bed.

"Night, Chewy. Don't chase no more deers tomorrow." Peter patted the dog's velvety ears gently and the dog's tail thumped happily against the bedspread. "You got me into a lot of trouble."

"I think you did that on your own," Inessa murmured, sleepily. The dog whined and rolled over onto his back and Inessa sat up to give Chewy a tummy rub. "I think he's sayin' he's sorry."

"He better be." Peter turned off his lamp, then burrowed into his pillows and tucked Bear beneath his chin. Outside the rain came down, making a steady drumming on the roof. He yawned and felt Inessa curled up against him. With a heavy sigh, Chewy moved to the bottom of the bed. As long as he lived, Peter was never going to understand adults.

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