After a short break and a drink of water and a quick check of the map the three explorers were on their way down the path heading for the dark opening in a very large stand of trees. The opening sent chills down Mandy's back. At the entrance to the woods Austin who was leading stopped. "Whoa... it's dark in there. It's like night in there," he stammered. "We gotta go in there?" Asked Melissa. "Yea," said Mandy a little skeptical. "It's the only way to get to the Cabin." Mandy knew finding this Cabin was her idea and she also knew it was up to her to lead this expedition, so she swallowed hard and stepped to the front and said, "come on we can do this."
"Man, what is this place? I've never seen so many big trees before," stated Melissa. "Dad says it's an old sugar bush," replied Mandy. "Yum, you mean there are bushes with sugar growing on-um in here?" Asked Austin, who suddenly thought maybe it's not that scary of a place after all. Especially, if there are bushes covered with tiny square sugar cubes like the ones in the sugar bowl at home. At least out here he thought mom couldn't scold him for eating too much sugar. "No silly," replied Mandy, "A sugar bush is what they call a woods that is mostly full of maple trees used for collecting sap that once boiled becomes maple syrup. And I think the building that is used to boil the sap is called a Sugar House as well," explained Mandy. "A Sugar House! I suppose you're going to tell me it's not made out of sugar either," complained Austin. "Nope, sorry just a nickname," explained Mandy. "Figures," moaned Austin.
"Why do they call it sugar then if it's maple syrup?" Asked Melissa. "The pioneer children probably named the maple syrup sugar because it was the only thing they had back then to sweeten their food, so they called it sugar. The Indians showed the pioneers how to collect the sap from the maple trees and then boil it into syrup," explained Mandy. "What happens when you boil the sap?" Asked Austin. "Oh, I know this one!" exclaimed Melissa. "The sap thickens while it's boiling because the water evaporates out and soon turns thick and golden brown. And sweet," added Austin. "How much sap does it take to make syrup?" Asked Austin. "It takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup," replied Mandy. "Yum, I love maple syrup," stated Austin as he rubbed his tummy. "Why do you think Mom and Dad bought this farm, they couldn't afford to keep buying you maple syrup, so they bought our own sugar bush," teased Mandy. "No it's not!" Replied Austin. "Is it?" No," replied Mandy, "But it's a funny story. Well excuse me if I don't laugh," grumbled Austin.
"By the way Melissa have you ever tasted sap?" Inquired Austin. "I did," she replied. "I was at the Maple Festival last year at the stand that sells maple syrup candy they had sap that could be tasted. It was like drinking water that smelled like wet wood and it tasted like it too. Yuk," replied Mandy. "Double Yuk from me," agreed Austin.
The children continued walking down the path and Mandy noted the trees were very old and tall and full of leaves, which blocked the sunlight from reaching the floor of the woods. The darkness made the woods smell damp and musty and they each walked in silence, seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Shadows crept in from behind the trees only to be lost again as they continued down the path. Every once in a while a rustling sound would come from a nearby bush or from high above, but the culprit would elude their sight.
Red squirrels high up on the tree branches stopped what they were doing and begin chattering very loudly warning the other animals and scolding the strangers for intruding. Suddenly a giant bird came swopping down from the trees flying just above their heads. The bird screeched just as it flew over and they all ducked covering their heads. The sound sent chills down each child's spine, as bird flew off and disappeared in the trees.
"Mandy what was that?" Yelled Austin. "It was an owl," she replied. "Will it come back and get us?" Asked Austin. "No, the owl was just upset because we came into its hunting area," replied Mandy. "It was showing us we didn't belong and this is his home.
Mandy, how much farther?" Whispered Melissa. "I'm not sure," she replied. "It shouldn't be too much farther. I don't know about the two of you, but I'm starting to feel like the lion from The Wizard of OZ. I'm shaking so hard I'm afraid my pants are going to fall down," whispered a trembling Austin.
"Look!" Pointed Melissa. Hidden in amongst the multitude of trees and dark shadows loomed an old unpainted rectangular building. A large stone chimney took up almost one whole side and vines grew in and around the rest of the building covering most of the siding creating a mixture of green and gray walls. The children slowly picked their way through the brush towards the dark opening that looked to be the entrance.
The forest was dead quite as if waiting to see what the intruders were going to do next. Every step the children took echoed in the damp stillness. Mandy thought her heart was going to beat right out of her chest. Certainly the others must hear her heart beating it sounded like a huge base drum, but nobody spoke. Mandy had never been this scared in all her life, but was afraid to say anything. She looked down at Austin and he was trembling. Mandy reached down and took his hand and he squeezed hers so hard she thought she might scream, but held back for his sake.
Melissa broke the silence whispering. "Is this a sugar house? I think so" replied Mandy, "That's where maple syrup comes from?" Whispered Austin. "I thought maple syrup came from a factory, not some creepy looking run down shack hidden in the middle of some scary woods?" Asked Austin. "This must be why Dad didn't make any maple syrup this spring. He couldn't have cleaned this place up in time," stated Mandy as the three of them stopped next to the entrance.
"Who's going in first?" Asked Austin. "Not me," blurted Melissa. "Me neither," agreed Austin. "Oh, you two are a big help," complained Mandy. "I thought we were going to locate the mysterious cabin?" Asked Melissa. "We are, but shouldn't we start with this place?" Asked Mandy as she leaned around to try and see inside the sugar house. "Come on, I got my flash light lets at least step inside and look around," pleaded Mandy. Suddenly just as Mandy was about to step inside with her flashlight there was a loud crash from inside the house. All three children screamed at the same time and jumped back stumbling over each other. All three ran as fast as they could back to the main path and didn't stop until they were well out of sight of the ghostly house.
"Who do you think those kids were Lizzy? I don't know Tommy, but I sure thought they were going to see us. That sure was smart thinking you pushing that crate to the floor. I didn't do it on purpose Liz, when I thought for sure that girl with the flashlight was going to see us I tried to duck down and hit the crate knocking it to the floor. Well its ok, it sure sent those kids running with their tails between their legs." replied Lizzy. "What do you suppose them kids were up to snooping around here like that? You don't think they were running away from home do you?" Asked Tommy. "Naw, I don't think so Tommy, because they were dressed in some fine looking clothes and ain't none of them dirty. Did you see they had back packs on and that tall girl with the black hair was talking about finding some lost cabin or something," replied Tommy. "That's right she did say that. You know what we should follow them and see where they go and maybe snatch one of those backpacks. There could be food and clothes in one of those packs. But it's stealing. I'm getting nervous about all the stuff we're stealing Lizzy. I know don't look at me that way it's not stealing its survival, besides God knows our needs and maybe this is his way of providing for us," explained Lizzy.
"What was that?" Panted Melissa as the three children stopped to catch their breath. "Better yet, who was that?" Added Mandy. "What do you mean who was that?" Asked Austin. "You never said anything about being attacked or scared by something this morning," moaned Austin. "It's alright little buddy I'm just wondering, besides it was probably some animal we started," replied Mandy. "Yea, I agree with Mandy, the beam from the flash light must have scared an animal or something," stated Melissa picking up on Mandy's attempt to calm Austin. "We'll tell Dad tonight what happened and He'll come out and check out the sugar house," explained Mandy.
"Mandy, do you know where we are? All of that running we did to get away from that sugar house I'm worried that we got turned around. Can we check the map?" Asked Melissa. "I know we'll find the Cabin. Look it's all right here on the map," explained Mandy as she unfolded the map. "Here's the sugar house and the main trail. We must be right about here," she said pointing to a spot on the map. "We just have to follow this trail to a fast running creek at the bottom of a steep hill." The children each examined the map and once satisfied that they weren't lost continued their adventure down the winding sugar bush road.