Before Mike rushed down from his hideout, the boy stole all the apples and disappeared into the woods. The old man hurried after him and stopped dead where the little boy's footsteps led him.
Almost everybody in town knew Michael, and people profoundly called him "Big Man Mike" due to his grizzly beard and mustache. The children in town were frightened of Mike's large frame, and whenever they saw him carrying his hunting gear, they'd flee the spot and hide from his sight.
One day, on his usual hunting spree in the dense Alaskan woods, Mike encountered a little boy who was dead scared about something. "Do I know this boy?… Why does he look so unfamiliar to me?" he thought to himself as he followed him.
At first, Mike thought the kid was from his town. He went after him silently, unaware of what he'd encounter in the deep woods tucked away from plain sight.
Kids in town were scared of Big Man Mike due to his huge physique. | Source: Pexels
Mike owned a small shop that sold snacks and essentials. And since his store neighbored a local gas station on the outskirts of town, he usually had several customers visit him after filling up their vehicles.
He often curled his mustache in pride whenever his customers looked around at the different trophies displayed in his shop.
"Ah, and that… that's the red fox fur from last summer," he exclaimed in glee as shoppers paraded the aisle, eyeing some of the most exquisite trophies that boasted Mike's hunting skills.
"But why are they in the woods? I need to find out..."
Again, it was that time of the year the old man decided to take a long break and tour the woods. The blossoming trees and early grass pushing through the earth were what Mike loved about spring. "Finally, it's time to bring home another fresh piece of my game," he muttered while packing his stuff.
Mike owned & operated a small essentials store near a gas station. | Source: Pexels
Mike put his nephew Simon in charge of the store during his break. He tossed a few building essentials and hunting gear into his jeep and headed to the woods to find the perfect tree to build his hunting lodge. He worked hard day and night to erect his hideout, assuming nobody was watching.
A week later, the cabin was completed. Perched atop the tree and covered by leaves and creepers, the hideout was capacious to lodge Mike and his things. He knew what he was after this time, and he picked up a crate of apples from his jeep.
"Now, this would do the trick to lure the mighty moose," Mike exclaimed. He tossed the apples on the soil, setting a food trap to hunt the animal.
He climbed back to the cabin and looked through the scope on his gun. He waited for a couple of hours, and as he was about to take a break, he saw the leaves rustle. Mike curiously gaped through the gun scope, eagerly waiting for his elk to appear.
Since he wanted to lure a moose, Mike tossed a crate full of apples on the ground. | Source: Unsplash
"There you are, my love…come on, hop in front of daddy," he whispered. He held the gun firm while readying his finger on the trigger. "I am not going to miss this shot, baby!"
Mike focused on the target, hoping it would be his best catch ever. He couldn't stop imagining the beautiful display of the moose's antlers in his shop that would sing praises of his hunting calibers.
The dry leaves rustled louder than before while the bushes indicated movement. Mike knew this was it and prepared for the position. But as he checked through the scope, he saw fine blonde hair and pale skin appear out of nowhere.
After hearing the rustle, Mike thought it was a moose in far sight. | Source: Unsplash
"W-what the hell is that? That's no moose," he uttered in disbelief. Mike looked through the scope and saw a little boy hastily picking up the apples and gathering them in his shirt.
The boy was frightened and looked around every two seconds. He then looked up at the tree, and from his expressions, Mike could tell the lad was surprised and scared.
"Wait a minute…who is this boy, and what is he doing here in this dense forest?" Mike had several questions hounding his mind, and for a second, he assumed the boy could've lingered around from town.
"It's too dangerous to be alone like that. Wait, you li'l rascal, see what Big Man Mike is gonna do now," Mike mumbled as he put down his gun and climbed down from his hideout.
Mike saw a little boy hastily pick the apples. | Source: Pixabay
"Hey, kid! W-what are you doing up here? And where are your parents?" Mike asked the boy. The kid backed off in fear while the old man watched in disbelief.
"Wait there. It would be best if you weren't here alone. Tell me, and I'll take you to your parents," the old hunter said and rushed after him. But the kid was too scared and sprinted into the woods, dropping a few apples.
Mike ran after him, but moments later, he lost track of the boy and kept calling for him, hoping he would come out from his hideout.
"I don't mean harm. I'm here to help...Don't you trust your Big Man?" Mike shouted. He reached the heart of the forest, which was home to several predators.
It got darker as the last rays of the sun faded through the tall trees. "That kid, I can't leave him alone like this," Mike whispered, though a part of him told him to head back to safety. But the old man decided to keep going into the depths of the woods in search of the boy.
After seeing Mike, the little boy raced into the forest & disappeared. | Source: Pexels
Mike recalled tracking animals by their footsteps as a kid. So he looked down at the mushy soil and leaned a bit to see if there were any traces of the boy's footsteps. He found random footsteps all over the place.
"Maybe he was trying to hide behind these trees," Mike mumbled as he checked the spot with footsteps leading further away.
"Ah, this is it," the old man sighed as he found random strides marching further from behind a spruce tree. He followed the footsteps, panting and sweating. After walking about a kilometer, he stood in front of an old shack by the lake.
He looked through his binoculars and spotted the same boy he'd seen in the woods standing by the window. "What on earth is this place?" Mike uttered as he focused deeper into the cabin's interiors. He couldn't believe his eyes as he moved his focus to what seemed like a bedroom.
Mike followed the boy's footsteps & reached an old cabin in the woods. | Source: Unsplash
"Who is she?" he said, gaping in disbelief. The woman lay on the bed, and from what she looked like, Mike could tell she wasn't well.
He let out a huge sigh and decided not to disturb them. The sun had already set, and he knew it wasn't the right time to barge into someone's house. "I'll check back later when I get the time," he said, backing off from the spot.
Mike returned to town empty-handed. He couldn't hunt as the sight he'd encountered in the depths of the eerie forest disturbed him. He turned on his TV and lay on the couch, deciphering who that woman and boy were.
"That's it. I need to get back there and find out who they are right now," he clamored. Mike jumped into his jeep, and as he turned the ignition key on, he couldn't get over the fact that the boy was picking apples off the ground.
"Were they hungry? They looked poor, and maybe they don't have anything to eat," Mike thought to himself and drove to his store. "But why are they in the woods? I need to find out..." The good man he was, Mike decided to help the family at his own risk.
There was a woman sleeping in the cabin. | Source: Unsplash
"For whom is this, papa?" Simon asked the old man curiously. Mike looked at his nephew, and he was reminded more of the little boy in the woods. "I'll explain later, sonny! Now, it's time for a little adventure," he said and hurried to his jeep.
Mike drove to the spot outside the wooden cabin and pulled over. He carried a basket full of food and beverages as he knocked on the door. "Anyone in there? Just an old man from a neighboring town trying to help you out!" he shouted.
Since nobody answered him, Mike gently kicked the door open and walked in. The woman on the bed thought it was her son and called out to him. "I've made us apple pie for dinner, Theo," she said softly.
Just as she turned around, Mike stood there holding the baskets. "Wh-who are you?" the woman shouted in fear, rushing behind the cot for safety.
Mike drove to the cabin with some food & beverages. | Source: Pexels
"Miss, pardon me for coming over uninvited. I'm just here to help," Mike explained to the frightened woman. "I actually saw your little son in the woods yesterday, and I thought I'd…."
The woman was shocked that a stranger had come this far to help. She carefully observed Mike from top to toe and sighed in disbelief. "You look like my dad!" she uttered.
"Well, you can consider me as your father. But would you mind telling me why you're here?… And that boy, is he your son?" Mike questioned her.
The woman spoke out as tears rained down her cheeks. "My name is Annette, and I…" she bawled. As it turned out, she moved from a big city after her husband deceived her. "He took our house and documents, and I couldn't do much to live there anymore," she explained.
Annette burst into tears as she revealed her story to Mike. | Source: Pexels
Mike was stunned and sat down to listen to her story. Annette had nowhere to go and moved into the little cabin by the lake where she often lodged with her father during childhood. "I used to stay here with my papa whenever he came here to hunt," she said.
The old man felt sorry for Annette, and though he didn't want to hurt her more by asking her to recall her past, he asked her why she was sick.
"The wetness and dampness around, you see, has made me bedridden for days," Annette told Mike. "Theo usually brings some fruits and fresh herbs from the woods for us to eat."
Mike was sorry and offered Annette to move in with him. "I was once married but lost my wife very early to tuberculosis," he told the woman. "Maybe our daughter would've been your age if we had one."
Mike opened up about his late wife he'd lost several years ago. | Source: Pexels
The old man's kind words touched Annette. "You may stay as long as you want in my house, and I promise to help retrieve your documents from your husband," he added.
The woman was overwhelmed as she dried her tears. She served Mike a plate of apple pie, something he'd never thought would be so deliciously cooked in a wood-fired oven.
Moments later, the door creaked open, and a long shadow cast across the floor. "Theo, darling! Look who's found us!" Annette exclaimed in joy. But Theo stood frozen in fear.
The door creaked open as Mike saw Theo's shadow on the floor. | Source: Pexels
"It's okay, darling. He's here to help," Annette told her son. Theo walked forward, and as he inched closer, Mike saw pearls of tears rolling down the boy's cheeks.
Theo stared at Mike in disbelief, smiling and crying simultaneously. Wiping his tears, he exclaimed: "Ar-are y-you Santa Claus?"
Mike looked at his green khaki jumpsuit and laughed his heart out. Curling his mustache, he said: "Well, sonny… I'm certainly not the Santa you've seen on greeting cards and cartoons. But I'm just employed as his elf to deliver good news to those with hearts bigger than their desires!"
Theo mistook Mike for Santa & approached him in tears. | Source: Pexels
Theo hugged Mike, imagining elves, reindeers, Santa, and big Mike with them since he was too young to understand anything.
A couple of days later, Mike arrived with two men to help Annette load her luggage into his minivan. That afternoon, he drove across the woods to town with the mother and son, speeding past their old shack in the woods.
"Mom, I forgot to tell you. I ran into this big old man a few days ago. He was chasing me, and thank goodness he didn't catch me stealing his apples. Uncle Mike, you look like him!" Theo shouted from behind the jeep.
Mike and Annette looked at each other and laughed. "Well, he can never find you stealing anymore, sonny! Because you don't have to steal again!" Mike exclaimed.
Mike took Annette & Theo with him to his house in town. | Source: Unsplash
What can we learn from this story?
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