By Adrianne Lemke
By Adrianne Lemke
Paul, Buster, and I had remained together so far, but I could tell the other boy was becoming irritated by something. We remained at the abandoned house where I'd found Buster, the dog, abandoned in a shed. We were, unfortunately, going to have to say goodbye to our canine friend before much longer, as we were running out of the food I had found in the shed with him. Paul sat on an old mattress, absently stroking the dog's silky head as he stared aimlessly at the house in front of him. "What's on your mind, Paul?" I was hesitant to ask, worried I would be told that he planned to leave. What he told me next was a shock.
"I think there's someone in the house," he said quietly, still staring. "The curtain on the upstairs window moves, but we've been here for almost a week and haven't seen anyone come in or go out." He glanced almost shyly at me, "Have you...felt any motion? Is there anything there to tell you if someone is in the house?"
After our encounter with the bullies just short of a week ago, I had told Paul about my abilities. Well, more accurately about my tracking abilities. The scarier power I kept to myself for now. He had met my explanation of my skill with doubt at first, but then had wondered at how it could be used. "I have someone I would like to avoid, if possible," he had spoken softly, sounding ashamed, and a little scared. "Would your...ability, be able to help?" Of course I had told him I would do whatever I could, but he had yet to trust me enough to show me the person he feared.
I knelt at the base of the house, "I can't always feel through a foundation," I warned. "Especially if the only motion is on a second floor." Setting my hand lightly on the base of the house I closed my eyes and focused on any vibrations or echoes coming from inside the supposedly abandoned home. Expecting nothing, my eyes opened in surprise, "There has been motion in the basement recently. I can feel echoes of someone moving in there. But,"
"Why would they stay hidden when we've been living here for so long already? Why haven't they reported us to the police?" Paul interrupted, backing away fearfully.
Shaking my head at the interruption I pushed more energy through to try to get more information, but I jerked back slightly when the ground under the house began to rumble. "What was that?" Paul's eyes widened.
"It was nothing," I answered quickly, withdrawing some of the power before I lost control over it. Apparently I had answered too quickly, because now my companion was eyeing me warily.
"Jason," his voice was serious and I kept my gaze on the house, still trying to figure out who was inside. "Is there something you aren't telling me?"
Choosing to ignore the question, I instead focused on the more immediate problem. Buster was scratching at the door and whining, and I knew someone was inside. "There is someone in there, but I don't think they are a threat to us. I think whoever's in there is too scared to come out."
He eyed me warily, but said, "Maybe we should go in, you know, see if they need help or something. You know, after the little earthquake they just had," he said the last as he stood, still keeping his eyes on me.
"You may be right. We should make sure they're okay." And not only because of the almost earthquake I had inadvertently caused, but also because there could be something wrong that had caused the person to be locked in their house.
Breaking into the house became unnecessary when we discovered the door was unlocked. Pushing the door open we entered slowly, Paul behind me. Despite wanting to run away from a potential threat, something I fully appreciated, he wanted to first make sure there was nothing wrong. He put up a hard front, but Paul was a good kid, and I hoped he wouldn't decide to leave. I had meant what I'd said when we met, we needed to stick together to last on the streets.
The floor above us creaked, and instinctively I froze. "Jason," Paul whispered. "Why are you stopping?"
"The same reason you're whispering, we don't belong here. This person has every right to call the police on us. We're in their house without permission."
Buster had no such reservations. The dog, who had stuck close by my side for the last week whined a bit and dashed forward, racing up the steps to find whoever was hidden there. "Buster!" a young voice exclaimed happily. Sharing a glance with Paul, we rushed upstairs to find a child. One that was at least three years younger than me, and had been apparently living in this house by himself for at least a week.
The boy hid behind Buster as we entered, and I crouched, Paul standing behind me making no move to enter the room as I calmed the obviously frightened child. "Hi there, I'm Jason and this is Paul. We've been staying in your back yard. I think you've probably noticed us. Is Buster your dog?" I figured an obvious question might be the easiest way to get the boy to talk, and I was right.
"Y-yes," he stuttered a little, glancing up past the dog's neck to look at me. I was struck by how scared and innocent this boy was, and wondered how he had come to be in this house alone.
"What's your name?"
"J-Jeffrey," The stutter remained, and I wondered if it was just a reaction to being scared, or if he always had trouble speaking. "Wh-where are m-my parents?" he asked suddenly, his question coming out slowly and a bit nervously.
Shaking my head I wasn't sure how to tell him, "I'm not sure, kiddo," I answered sadly. "Let's check the rest of the house for anything that might tell us. Do you want to come with us?"
He nodded slowly, standing and holding Buster as he came to stand next to me. "J-Jason, did they le-leave?"
"They may have, kiddo," now it was my turn to hesitate. "If they did...do you have other family?" he shook his head and my heart sank. This innocent little boy had been abandoned, whether on purpose or by some accident taking the parents away. What was I supposed to do with this?
"Jason," Paul tapped me on the shoulder and I motioned for Jeffrey to wait for a moment while I went into the hall. "You could call that police officer you told me about. There has to be something she can do to find this kid's parents."
"Probably, but then what? He has no one else, Paul. Are we just supposed to let him be on his own?"
"As opposed to what? Coming with us?" he scoffed. "What good would that do? We can hardly do anything for ourselves let alone for someone else."
I looked at the floor and back up at the boy I'd already decided to help. "I have to offer. He obviously has some problems, but he was abandoned. He needs people who understand that, and I think you do."
He glanced away from me toward the younger boy and nodded. "Yeah, I guess in a way. My parents were there, but never in a positive way. Always fighting and either ignoring me or blaming me for everything that went wrong in their lives. But the question remains, what can we do to help?"
"We can be his family. We can keep him safe, but we can't stay here anymore. Once I tell Officer Alice about this...well, I'm not sure if we'll be able to do much, but I don't want him in the foster care system. I have heard some pretty bad stories from other runaways, and I wouldn't be able to stand it if I played a part in putting him there."
Jeffrey came into the hallway and handed me a slip of paper. "I c-can't read this," he said, his innocent gaze tearing through me and making me hurt for him as he obviously wanted me to read the note his mother had written, explaining how she and her husband couldn't be seen with a 'mentally-challenged' child. In the note they claimed they loved him, but couldn't stand the shame they would feel if any of the neighbors found out about him.
Paul was reading over my shoulder and shook his head slightly. We couldn't tell Jeffrey his parents had left, never intending to return. They couldn't even be bothered to realize that their son wouldn't be able to read their final goodbye and would wait in the house for them to return. "No one knows about him," I whispered to Paul. They never let him out of this house. Buster was his only companion."
"Jeffrey, do you want to go outside?"
He looked confused. "M-mama said n-not to go outside."
"But do you want to? You can play with Buster and get some fresh air."
Jeffrey still looked a little confused and frightened, but he nodded following Paul past me in the narrow hallway. He surprised me by grabbing my hand and pulling me along, and I knew I couldn't let anything else hurt this child.
"Wait," I said, halting in the doorway. "We should look around, see if there's anything here we could use. And he'll need clothes. Jeffrey, do you have a bag somewhere?"
As we packed the bag with anything we could use, including clothes and food, Paul kept glancing over his shoulder at me, like he wanted to ask something. “Do you have a question, Paul?”
“Are you serious about us sticking together?” his voice was soft and hesitant, like he couldn’t believe anyone would want to keep him around, and, despite my own painful past, I felt my heart twist in sympathy.
“As long as you want to stay with me, yes. We will do better together, and we can keep each other out of trouble.”
“I have a friend who is in trouble. She still lives with her family, but they treat her horribly. She’s too afraid to leave, but if she knows someone is out here ready and willing to take care of her, she might be able to get the courage to do so.”
Cringing, I hesitated to agree. Even in an abusive home, a kid usually went to school and had the chance to better themselves. “Life on the streets isn’t for everyone, Paul. And it really should be for no one. Are you sure you want to convince her to leave a home, even if she is abused? We could just try to get her to ask someone for help in removing her from her home and get her somewhere safer.”
“Like you’re doing for Jeffrey? What’s the difference? His parents left him, they should be arrested and other family members found, but you’re taking him.”
Wincing, I realized he was right. If I took Jeffrey, I almost had to give this girl the option of coming with us. “Fine. I’ll meet her and if she wants to come with us, she can. But I will not force the issue. If she feels better staying with her family, I won’t push her to come with us.”
“Thanks Jason.” We finished gathering the supplies we were able to carry, and Paul led us toward his friend’s house. He was getting more nervous as we got close, and I wondered why, until he stopped near the house and asked, “Is there a big man near this house right now? I know you don’t know the guy, but he is large and should leave some sort of imprint if he was nearby recently, right?”
For someone who didn’t believe me completely when I told him about my ability, he actually had a pretty decent grasp of how it worked. “Yeah, I might be able to tell. I knelt in the side yard of the house and put my hand on the ground. “The most recent prints by this house are a heavy tread and a slightly lighter one leaving. Not sure when, exactly, but I don’t think any large people are in the house currently.”
“Good,” Paul relaxed, and Jeffrey stood behind him quietly.
“Are you going to knock?” I asked after standing for a few moments. The other boy nodded and made his way to the front door. He rang the doorbell, then knocked three times.
Noticing my questioning glance he said, “It’s a way for her to know it’s me. I met her a while ago, and sometimes she doesn’t answer the door. We worked this out when she realized I would never do anything to hurt her.”
Proving his point, the door cracked open, and a young girl poked her head out. “Paul, what are you doing here? My daddy will be back any time now, it’s not safe.” She noticed me and cringed back. “Why did you bring someone else?”
“It’s okay, Ginny. Jason is like us. He’s been hurt, and wouldn’t hurt anyone. He has a way to protect us, and I want you to come with us. Get away from the bas…man who hurts you. You deserve to feel safe, and we can be the people who keep you from getting hurt.”
Her eyes flashed for a moment with something that looked like hope, but she shook her head. “I can’t leave. They’re my family.”
“We could be your family, Ginny. A better family. One who will never mistreat you.”
“Paul,” I had a warning tone, he was pushing too hard. “We can’t make her come. Ginny,” I spoke to the girl for the first time. “Paul is right. If you want to get away from the people who hurt you, you are more than welcome to join us. But we won’t force you to come with us. We’ll be here any time, if you feel ready to leave. If you don’t want to come now, that’s fine. We will check on you, if you would like, and see if you change your mind.” Some strong vibrations were heading our way. “Paul, I think her dad is coming back. It’s time to go. Ginny, we’ll talk to you another time, okay?”
She nodded, the flash of hope returning, and I knew. Even if she wasn’t ready now, when times got too hard, she might be willing to become a member of our little group. Paul hesitated. “Paul,” I grabbed Jeffrey gently, leading him away. “Time to go!”
“Word of warning, Ginny,” I called softly over my shoulder. “He’s drunk, so you might want to do whatever you can to stay out of his way today.”
“Thanks,” she said, closing the door. I heard the lock click into place and we disappeared around the corner just as her father reached the front door. Looking around the corner, I saw a large man, about 6’ 1” and very drunk. He looked like he was ready to pick a fight with anyone, and right now the only one in his path was a helpless little girl.
Frustration gnawed at me, and I knew I wouldn’t leave her forever, but the ground beneath me rumbled, echoing my anger at the situation. “Stop it,” I muttered to myself.
“What?” Paul asked, looking up at me. He had been glancing at the ground in concern as it shook slightly.
“Sorry. Just trying to keep my temper.”
He looked at me in shock. “The ground rumbling, here and at Jeff’s house, that was you, wasn’t it. You can do more than feel footsteps. You do have the power to protect us, don’t you?”
“Sometimes. Other times I have very little control,” I cautioned. “I don’t know how it works, or how to use it to my advantage.”
He shrugged matter-of-factly. “You’ll just have to practice. If you’re going to be our guardian, then you have the motivation you need to use whatever means possible to keep all of us safe.”
Jeffrey took my hand, looking at me with trust already. How could an abandoned boy learn to trust so quickly? “You already know I won’t leave you behind, don’t you?” I asked him softly. The little boy nodded, and I knew Paul was right. I would do whatever was necessary to keep these kids safe. Including Ginny, if she chose to join us. “Alright, Paul. We’ll do it your way. I’ll practice, and you need to know that if I say to move, I mean right away. My range isn’t great, so if I feel a threat, I need to know you’ll listen.”
There was a tone of authority in my voice the other boy seemed to respect, and he nodded without hesitation. “I’m sorry I didn’t, before. I was really hoping…”
“She may still come with us, Paul. She’s just not ready yet. We won’t abandon her either, okay?” I interrupted. “I’ll keep us all as safe as possible. I will be your protector.”
If you enjoyed this story, please let me know! You can also check out the earlier Earthshaker Short Stories: Trust, Stray, and Rescue, and the first two novels of the Earthshaker Series: Tracker and Kindred, available on Amazon (Kindle and Paperback). Thanks for reading!