A Story of the Earthshaker Series
By: Adrianne Lemke
Nights on the street were long, filled with fitful sleep and flinching back to hide in the shadows anytime footsteps came near. It had been several months, and still the sleeping conditions wore on me. Anyway, it didn't matter how bad it got out here, there was no way I was going back to my father.
The little sleep I did manage was filled with nightmares of what he’d put me through, and the freshly healed scars on my arms bore evidence of what I was willing to do—even at the age of thirteen—to get away.
My ability to track people’s footsteps helped turn my desire for solitude and safety into a reality, and I’d had few problems with the other street dwellers. There were only a few I bothered to talk to, and of them I trusted none. After my first time at a shelter, when a nosy worker had tried to pry into my past to find my parents, I had refused to enter another. There was no doubt in my mind that my father would kill me if he ever found me.
The person I came closest to trusting was a girl my age, named Ally, who lived near an alley I frequented. We’d met only a few weeks after I’d run away, and she often snuck food out of her house for me, never telling her parents about the runaway boy she was helping.
Whenever my nights got really bad, instead of staying in an alley I’d sneak into her playhouse to sleep. Tonight was one of those nights. Gang initiations were on in full-force, and I’d been warned away from the streets by several of the other homeless people staying in the same area. I risked injury or death if I tried staying on the streets. Even sleeping in Ally’s playhouse I only slept in short bursts, concerned I’d be discovered whenever her parent’s footsteps echoed through the dirt floor. I relaxed only when they finally went inside, and I opened one of the pink plastic shutters so Ally would know I was there.
Several hours before dawn, when I knew it was too early for anyone in the house to be awake, I woke to the feeling of unfamiliar footsteps treading quietly through the yard. The steps disappeared into the house, and I assumed they were welcome since they hadn't had any trouble getting in. Ally had mentioned an older brother who was in college, and I’d never seen him, so it could be that he was home for a break.
Or so I thought up until those same footsteps reappeared, the treads going deeper into the earth casting more solid prints. When I looked out the tiny playhouse window, the struggling and scared girl in the man’s arms proved me wrong. Her frightened eyes cast desperately around the yard for help, finally landing on the open shutter where I was hidden from view. She wouldn't be able to see me, or even know if I was awake because it was too dark. And I knew there was nothing I could do to help her without getting in trouble myself, so I put my hand onto the dirt in the playhouse, concentrating on the shadow man’s footsteps as he carried my only friend away from her home.
I stood only when I had the prints memorized. For the time being I was unsure how the knowledge would be useful, but maybe at some point I’d be able to help. The first thing I could do, now that the shadow man was out of the yard was to inform her parents that she was gone without them getting to curious about the boy who’d been sleeping in their backyard.
I crept cautiously out of the little house, keeping constant contact with the ground to make sure no one was approaching. Then I made my way to the backdoor, noting the open window as I hesitantly approached. Taking a deep breath I pounded loudly on the door several times, yelling, “HEY!” until someone finally opened the door. It was Ally’s dad, looking quite upset and I flinched away from the anger on his face. I stood, cowering under his anger as I told him, “Someone just took Ally! They went that way,” I pointed off to the left of the house through the neighbor’s yard.
He didn't bother asking questions, but only rushed back into the house. I assumed to check Ally’s room, but I didn't stick around. The only thing that scared me more than what had happened to Ally was getting sent back to my father when the police got involved.
It was hours later, and I felt footsteps approaching the alley where I was sleeping. I rolled as far under the dumpster as I could get, hoping the dark and grime would keep people from looking. The hope was in vain as a woman’s head peered under the dumpster. “You can come out,” she said gently. “No one is going to hurt you. I just have a few questions.”
I stayed pressed against the wall and she sat next to the dumpster waiting. “Your friend Ally needs you to be brave,” she said after a moment. “Her father has seen you around and knows you would not hurt her. No one blames you for anything. What’s your name?”
My name was James, in my previous life. But I wanted no connection to that so I whispered. “Jason.”
“Jason, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Alice. I’m a police officer, and I want to help your friend. Will you help me?”
I rolled out from under the dumpster, my clothes sticky and stained and my hair too long and tangled. “I didn't see them,” I said quietly, not looking at the detective. “But I can find them again.”
A quick glance at her face showed her confusion, and possibly some concern for the missing girl. “Jason, why don’t you come with me and we can get something to eat while you tell me how you can find them again.”
I backed away quickly, shaking my head. “Easy, kid. I’m not going to hurt you. Just tell me, was life at home so bad that this is better?”
For the first time I met her eyes with mine. “Yes.” Her look softened and she said, “I won’t try to get you to tell me anything you don’t want to. You don’t need to worry about me sending you back there. Just let me find you some nicer clothes and get you a meal in exchange for your help.”
My eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You’re a cop. Don’t you have to call social services about runaways?”
“If they’re a danger to themselves or others,” Alice answered. “Are you?” when I shook my head she nodded. “That’s the feeling I got. Ally’s dad followed her once and saw you with her. You’ve never tried to do anything to harm her or to steal anything from their home or yard when you’ve stayed there. Jason, will you come with me?”
My mouth turned up in a half-smile, and I nodded slowly. “You won’t believe me,” I warned.
She smiled warmly as I followed her out of the alley. “You let me worry about that.”
Strangely, she wouldn’t let me say anything until she’d found me a pair of jeans that wasn’t full of holes and stained, and a long-sleeved T-shirt that was lightweight enough for the warm weather. She’d tried to steer me to the short sleeves, but I refused. She’d accepted that I wasn’t a danger to myself or others. If I wore the T-shirt, she’d be proven wrong about one of those.
We stopped at a deli, and she made me get vegetables on my sandwich. “You’re on your own a lot, kid,” she said. “I just want to make sure you don’t get sick.”
Her actions were confusing. I’d never had an adult take care of me this way, and I wasn’t really sure how to respond, so I went along with it wordlessly. We walked out in the park after eating and I knelt along the path. I was about to show her what I could do to help her find Ally.
“Officer Alice,” I said when she stayed on the path. “I need to show you how I can help. It’s the only way you’ll believe me, but first you need to promise you won’t tell.”
“Tell who?” she asked.
“Anyone. Don’t tell anyone.” I waited for her nod. My hands shook as I prepared to give away my secret to a near-stranger, but I took a deep breath and plunged my hand through the ground until it was wrist deep. The detective was watching intently, already showing her disbelief before I poured energy through my hand into the dirt, a few feet away the dirt began to move and it formed the words: I AM A TRACKER.
Her eyes widened in shock while she watched the hardened earth move around seemingly on its own, and the look changed to one of confusion as she read what I’d written. She opened her mouth, most likely to ask what a Tracker was, when I felt the footsteps of one of the guys who’d grabbed Ally. “Officer Alice, he’s here. One of the bad guys is here!” I wanted to run, but she knelt by me.
“How do you know?”
“I feel his footsteps. He’s close. Standing in the park over by the bathrooms. I think he’s a big guy, the footsteps are heavy.” I closed my eyes to concentrate. “He’s stomping around, but he seems off-balance, drunk and angry,” I shivered. “He wants to hurt someone.”
Alice looked at me in confusion. “How can you tell all that?”
I winced, but answered, “His steps feel like my father’s after a bad day at work.” Hopefully she’d leave it at that.
“Come with me, but stay hidden. I need you to tell me which person it is, and then I’m going to get him, okay?” I nodded and followed her, concentrating on the man’s steps as we went, changing her direction as needed. “He’s there,” I said, pointing to the large man pacing outside the maintenance shed next to the bathroom. I concentrated harder. “There’s someone moving in the shed,” I told her. “I can’t tell who.”
The detective wanted to ask me questions, but she waved me down, and I crouched behind a garbage can. “Excuse me,” Alice called. “Crandal County police, do you work here?” the man nodded and she continued. “I got a call about suspicious activity over here, and I was wondering if I could take a look in the shed…” before she finished speaking the man began to run, but she was too fast, and somehow had him down on the ground within a few moments.
My eyes were wide as I watched her place handcuffs on him, making him lie on his stomach in the grass. She got on her radio and called for backup, specifically requesting someone named Dan. She stood outside the shed, making sure the big guy stayed quiet as she waited for more police. “Stay down,” she warned when I tried to join her. “I can’t go in without backup,” she spoke quietly.
“No one’s moving in there anymore,” I told her quietly from my hiding spot. She nodded and motioned for me to keep quiet. It took only a few minutes for a couple men in uniforms to join the detective outside the shed, none of them seemed aware that I was there. They pushed the door open, using a key detective Alice had found on the big guy and rushed in.
I waited, barely breathing as I hoped to hear good news about my friend. They emerged, backing out of the shed as a man appeared, holding a gun to Ally’s head. Everyone was shouting while she was crying and I stood, unable to stay hiding while my friend was in distress. “Ally!” I yelled. I felt a rush of energy and knelt down behind a tree, pounding the ground and aiming my anger at the man holding Ally. The packed down dirt under his feet growled and shifted and the man stepped back, waving his gun away from Ally’s head as he tried to keep his balance, I shifted the ground once more and he dropped the gun, falling backwards with Ally still in his grip.
The officers rushed him, Alice grabbed Ally out of his arms and held her, murmuring into her ear quietly. I stayed down while the guy got arrested and both men were loaded into police cars. Alice joined me by the tree, watching with me as an ambulance crew checked Ally. “You saved her life, Jason. Thank you for leading me here.”
“I made him fall,” I said in confusion. “I’ve only moved that much once before, it made my father really mad, and he didn’t even know I’d done it.” I tried to stand, but I swayed and almost fell. She caught me.
“Do you want to sleep in a bed tonight, Jason? I think you deserve to after what you’ve done, and maybe you can explain to me how you were able to do that.”
I shook my head, “I can’t. It just happens. You really won’t make me go back to my father?”
“What did he do?” she asked quietly.
“We disagreed on how I should be raised, so I left. I’m not going back,” I stuck my lip out stubbornly, and tried to hide how anxious and fearful I was to be sent back to him.
She watched me closely for a moment, probably seeing more than I wanted her to, and she sighed. “I won’t make you. Come on,” she said. “You can stay at my house tonight. My sister will be home today, since it’s a Saturday. I’ll leave you with her while I finish up my report at work.”
“You won’t tell, right? You promised.” She shook her head and crossed her heart. “I won’t tell anyone unless you say I can.”
When we got to her car a man approached. “Alice,” his voice was deep and booming, softening slightly when he noticed me. “Who’s this?” he asked. I looked between him and Alice my eyes widening fearfully as I pivoted away from them and ran. I didn’t stop when Alice tried to call to me, and I kept running until I got to my spot under the dumpster. His voice and his build, he was my father all over again. I cowered under the dumpster, breathing frantically and hugging my knees.
A man approached the alley several hours later, and I recognized the steps as those of Ally’s father. “Are you in here?” he called softly. “She said you helped save her. Jason?”
I rolled slowly out from my hiding spot. “Thank you for helping my little girl.”
“Is she okay?” I asked softly, slightly more confident due to his soft tone and the lack of aggression.
“Scared, and a little bruised, but she’s going to be okay,” he said. “I brought you a few sandwiches. If there’s anything else you need within the next couple weeks, just ask. I should tell you, we’re moving after that.”
My eyes filled with tears that I wouldn’t allow to fall. My only friend was leaving. “I’m good. Thank you for the sandwiches.”
His hand hovered over my shoulder and I tensed and took a step back, so he backed off. “Anything at all, son. Just name it.”
“Let me say goodbye to her before you leave,” I said, not meeting his gaze. “Please.”
“Of course. I have a blanket in the car…”
I shook my head. “Someone will take it. Thank you.” He nodded and awkwardly left the alley. If only my father had been as kind, I never would have left. It wasn’t fair. Why did some kids get nice attentive parents while I ended up with a monster to run and hide from? What had I done wrong that my own father hated me, only touching me in punishment and a twisted version of love? My shoulders hunched and I sat against the wall, tears quietly streaming down my face.
Several minutes later, after my tears had dried, Alice showed up. “Jason, are you okay? You rushed off in such a hurry,” she sat where she’d been when I first met her.
“That man by the car is a detective. His name is Dan, and he won’t harm you any more than I would. He’d like to meet you, whenever you’re comfortable with it.”
I shook my head frantically. “Just you. You helped me get Ally back.”
“You helped us too. But you should know that was a big risk you took, shaking the ground under someone holding a gun. He could have pulled the trigger.”
“But he didn’t,” I said defensively.
Shaking her head she agreed. “This time. Just keep it in mind for the future. If I ask you to lead us to someone, and you agree to help, I don’t want you to use your…ability like that. It might make others realize what you can do, and I may not be able to protect you.”
“Thank you, Alice,” I said. “Is the bed offer still available?” I asked shyly, taking only quick glances at her face.
“If you want it,” she said with a nod. I nodded and followed her out of the alley. She held out her hand, and I allowed her to take my hand in hers. “Remember, Jason. If you need anything, you can ask me, and if you ever see anything that would require police involvement, get in touch. I’ll try my hardest to show up whenever you need me.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond so I allowed her to lead me to her car and take me home. “I will,” I told her quietly. “I trust you.”