Mind The Blind

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic


After a volcanic eruption all the adults in the world and some of the teens go blind. At first the kids helped them survive but once they started going crazy due to their blindness the kids have to
fend for themselves. The story follows a group of school kids as they navigate through the new world a couple years after the eruption. The town they are in seems safe at first until a new group of
adults moves in. Now they must find a way to defend themselves from the adults.

Submitted: April 17, 2018

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Submitted: April 17, 2018

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Chapter 1


 

The girl in the street looked normal; she was just sitting in the middle of the street. Penny couldn’t be sure, but she guessed that the girl was about 5 years-old, less than ten years younger than Penny. The girl was facing away from them, and the oversized light blue hoodie that the girl wore obscured Penny and Ben’s view of the girl’s face. Unbrushed blonde hair reached out of the hood on either side of her face. Her red skirt spread out around her in a wide circle like a collapsed circus tent. The girl silently played with two dolls, maybe they were fighting, maybe hugging. Probably fighting. It was that kind of world, now.

“What do you think?” Penny whispered, not taking her eyes off the girl. “Should we help her?”

Ben’s eye probed every shadowy nook of the quiet town street. Lying down underneath the abandoned pick-up truck didn’t offer them the best view of the scene. But it seemed like the safest place for the two of them. “Maybe if we go up on a roof,” suggested Ben, “…maybe of that building across the street, then we can see better.”

“She’s just a little girl...” Penny started then realized that she knew what his response would be.

“Just a girl?” Ben sighed. “I don’t need to remind you what happened to Tommy last week. And that was because of a little puppy.” Middle schoolers, like Penny and Ben, could defend themselves, but the elementary kids didn’t last long on their own. Ben’s heart sank and he rubbed his bandaged left arm as he remembered trying to fight the pack of dogs. Tommy was 7 years-old, but he never stood a chance. There just weren’t enough bigger school kids nearby to help.  And when the blind adults groped their way toward the noise, Ben and the other school kids had to run. They left Tommy behind. He was obviously already dead, but the kids took every loss hard because he knew that the next loss could be anyone.

“Tommy was my friend, too,” Penny said. She glanced back to the little girl in the street. “You know that little kids don’t do well without our help.”

Ben tried to think. He buried his face in his hands, hoping that would hide him wiping stray tears. “We’re just supposed to collect what we can from these shops,” he said. “Bringing back another mouth to feed without bringing back food…” He scanned the street again.

Penny knew that if she waited long enough, she would get her way. Ben was in her sixth grade class when the eruption happened. The first few months passed quickly as the blindness set in and the sighted tried to help the blind survive. But disease spread quickly and many of the blind went crazy during the first winter. The sighted kids realized that they need to work together to survive. Penny had spent the last year with Ben and the other kids living in the school. Penny and Ben were together so much that most of the school kids just combined their names and called them Benny. They had survived because they were cautious.

“Ok,” Ben said sliding out from under the truck, “we take it slow and you need to be ready to run if anything doesn’t look right.”

Penny sat up against the truck and punched her thighs in an attempt to heighten her senses. She took out her hair band, pulled her dark hair back tightly and reset the hair band.

“We meet at the bridge if we get separated,” Ben stated. Not being prepared for chaos was never an option. Ben tightened his shoelaces.

Penny and Ben stood up. They cinched down their backpacks and started to make their way silently down the street. They passed a few totaled cars, one of which was embedded in the front window of a flower shop. The left side of the street was Penny’s responsibility. She always had the left side. Penny glanced in every car, every alley, and every storefront. Without looking, she knew that Ben was doing the same thing on the other side of the street.

Everything had been looted long ago, and there was no sign of any recent blind scavenging activity. The blind, whether they were adults or a mixture of adults and teens, usually left behind useful items or half-eaten food. They never cleaned out the stores completely. Penny had learned that if the blind dropped something, they rarely go back for it, partly because they might not be able to find it, but mostly because the adults moved as groups, sometimes tied together to help them feel their way through the new world.

Penny and Ben stopped about three car lengths from the girl, who was humming some nursery rhyme.

“Psst,” Penny said quietly.

The girl still had her back to Penny and didn’t seem to hear her.

Penny reached into her pocket and pulled out a marble. She tossed it just to the right of the little girl. That got her attention. The girl turned her head and shoulders around slowly. The silver duct tape across her mouth sent a chill racing up Penny’s back. Terror transmitted directly from the girl’s blue eyes to Penny. This was obviously a trap.

Ben gently touched Penny’s arm and he gave her the two-fingers-to-the-lips all quiet signal. He kept his fingers pressed to his lips as a signal to the little girl. Then through pointing to probable locations nearby, he silently asked the girl where the adults were hiding.

The frightened girl awkwardly pointed to the hardware store on the right side of the street. Ben still couldn’t see any indications that people lay hidden in or around the hardware store. He glanced back at the girl and realized why her pointing seemed odd. She had never raised her hands above her lap. Ben could just make out the fishing line that bound her wrists. The line disappeared under the red skirt and he assumed it was tied to her ankle. Ben turned and silently mimed the bound wrists to Penny, who already had pulled out and opened a folding knife.

Ben knew that indecision kills. The longer they stood in the street, the better their chances were of being discovered by the blind adults that waited to spring their trap. He took a deep breath and slipped a hammer out of his pack.  He and Penny advanced tiptoeing quietly toward the girl.

The little girl shook her head back and forth in warning.  Ben opened his free hand to try and get her to calm down. The girl became increasingly frantic as they neared her. Penny showed the girl the knife. Tears rolled down the girl’s cheeks. As Ben kept his eyes glued to the hardware store, Penny bent down and sliced through the fishing line that bound the girl’s wrists. The girl shook head her violently, but Penny helped the girl stand up.

Penny realized her mistake too late. Out of the corner of her eye, she barely saw the fishing line rise with the little girl. The line dragged aluminum cans out from under a pile of crumpled newspapers; it might as well have been a bank alarm going off.

Chaos erupted.

About ten blind adults raced out from the hardware store. They spread out to surround whatever had sprung their trap. A couple of them stumbled, but they knew their trap well and moved forward as a group, each adult brandished various versions of sharpened walking sticks

Penny ripped the tape off the girl’s face and said, “We need to run!”

“I can’t!” the girl snapped. She lifted her red skirt, revealing handcuffs connecting her ankles.

“We gotta go!” Ben growled. He glanced back and realized the problem. Without hesitating, he spun around, ducked his shoulder into the mid-section of the little girl and hoisted her up on his shoulder like he was picking up a sack of dog food.

Penny tossed a handful of marbles into the path of the attacking adults. Two adults slipped and crashed to the pavement. That took out two more adults who tripped over their fallen.

Ben and Penny sprinted down the street, back the way that they had come. The cans were still clanging behind them. Penny grabbed the trailing fishing line and quickly cut through it with her knife.

At that point, adults were aggressively emerging from each shop. Some of the adults had walking stick spears while others had ropes and blankets. They quickly closed in.

Normally, Ben and Penny were shifty enough that they could evade attacking adults. But carrying the little girl made escape difficult.

They almost made it.

There was a choke point near the end of the block. Two large minivans jutted into the street, awkwardly facing each other. There was room for two people to pass between the vans. Ben had thought the location of the vans was odd, but brushed it off because there were so many abandoned vehicles in strange places all over the town streets.

The important thing to note is that there was room to pass between the minivans. As the kids raced down the street, adults pushed the minivans together, effectively cutting off their escape route.

Ben and Penny slowed to a stop. The sprint had put about a block between them and the spear-carrying adults behind them.

Going around the minivans wasn’t an option because of the adults who had created the barrier. Ben knew that he and Penny could go over or under the minivans. They had a chance. But the little girl with handcuffs around her ankles could get them all caught.

“I’m leaving her!” Ben announced.

“No!” Penny snapped. “We can make it!”

“Don’t leave me!” the girl cried. “Please, don’t leave me!”

Ben set her down by a large pick-up truck. “We’ll be back with help,” he whispered. “Roll underneath that truck and stay silent.”

The girl frantically grabbed Ben’s wrist, his pack, anything she could cling to. He shoved her away. She tripped and fell.

“We can’t leave her!” Penny sobbed.

Ben grasped her wrist firmly and snapped, “We have to!” Then he dragged Penny toward the minivan blockade.

Penny glanced back and watched the girl awkwardly crawl toward a small delivery truck.

The first of the spear-carrying adults heard the sobbing and turned toward the girl. That was a stupid plan!  Penny thought.

“Please don’t run!” a filthy bearded man yelled behind them. “We won’t hurt you. We just need help surviving!”

That was a phrase they had heard too often. Penny turned back toward the roadblock. Blind adults waited like catchers by the ends of the minivans closest to the stores.

“Over the van on the right!” Ben snapped.

When they reached the minivan, Penny vaulted up and grabbed the roof rack. Ben shoved her up to the roof. Penny lay on the roof and spun around, lowering her hands down just as Ben started to pull himself up. She grabbed his foot and hauled him to the roof of the minivan. They both slid down off the other side of the roof just as the spear-toting adults slammed into the minivans.

Ben and Penny dashed down the street away from the blockade and the angry adults. Penny angrily hoped that some of their weaponized walking sticks broke when they hit the minivan.

Unfortunately their miraculous escape was soured by the blood-curdling scream of the girl behind them.

 

 

Chapter 2


 

Simon knew something was wrong when he spotted Ben and Penny approach the gate. He climbed down from the school roof and ran to meet them at the front gate.

By the time Simon got there, Ben was already locking up the gate. Penny sat sobbing on the ground.

Simon stepped over next to Ben and quietly asked, “What happened?” Even though Simon and Ben were about the same age, Simon felt like Ben understood the new world so much better.

Ben stared at Simon then exhaled his frustration, “We got attacked.”

Simon curiously tilted his head. “In Morrison? You got attacked in town? I thought Morrison was clean.”

Ben nodded. “There were blind adults in town. A lot of them. More than 20. They were using a little girl as bait. We… we almost saved her, but… we had to leave her behind.”

Penny sobbed louder.

Ben grabbed Simon’s arm. “Call a meeting in the cafeteria. I’ll tell everyone what happened. We have work to do and not much time to do it.”

As Simon sprinted back toward the school, Ben put a hand on Penny’s shoulder. “C’mon Pen. I need you to be strong. We’re going to go get that girl. I promised, and… well, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Penny stood up, but brushed away Ben’s hand of assurance. She strode back toward the school. Ben knew that he had messed up on so many levels.

 

Shock rippled through the kids in the cafeteria as Ben recounted the attack. The school kids all knew that the town had been safe for over a month. But, now, a pack of adults that large, barely a mile away, was trouble. The planning and all the parts involved in the trap were what scared the school kids the most. It was sophisticated. They hadn’t seen anything like that yet.

After the recount and then a short list of options, the school kids voted to send a rescue party to save the girl. Penny had told everyone that she was wearing a sweatshirt that said “Ooklah” on it. Ben quietly corrected her that the sweatshirt had the letters UCLA on it. Neither Ben nor Penny had asked the girl’s name, so they decided to call her “Ooklah.” But the kids all thought Ooklah was a good name for the girl.

Operation Ooklah was quickly put into motion. But they were smart enough to plan and not to rush into another trap.

The school kids knew that they’d need help dealing with such a large group of adults.The first part of the plan was to send Nathan to ask the ninjas for help. Nathan was only 10 years-old, but he was the school kids’ best biker. He could ride the five miles, find the ninjas, and probably get back before it got dark.

Ben hated the ninjas. They were known to be violent kids who considered it their job to hunt down blind adults. The ninjas would put together a war party to attack the adults in Morrison. But they would want something in return.

 

As Nathan pedaled out through the front gate, Ben headed to the storage room. Ben and Penny would be part of the rescue party. Ben knew that Parker, one of the leaders of the school kids, would be almost ready to leave. The challenge would be slowing Parker down and discussing a plan. Nobody liked to encounter blind adults at night. That’s when they were most active because they knew that they could take advantage of the darkness. Ben hoped that the decision would be to leave in the morning.

Ben prepared himself to be disappointed.

 

Chapter 3


 

Nathan pedaled quickly down Highway 53. He was glad that he had the job of messenger. Sitting around, cooped up in the school, was difficult for everyone. But he also figured that being the messenger meant that he probably wouldn’t be asked to go on the rescue mission. More than most kids, Nathan feared blind adults. He was sneaky but not particularly strong. If he got caught, he’d probably be a seeing-eye kid for a long time. Nathan had guided his parents for almost a year, until they got sick. The sickness seemed to take most blind people within a month. Nathan was thankful to have found the school kids after his parents died.

Messenger was a good job for Nathan and the mountain bike was perfect transportation. Even bigger kids who claimed that they could drive a car, didn’t bother with cars except to move heavy things short distances. Abandoned vehicles littered the two-lane road, creating an obstacle course that most cars couldn’t get through. Nathan prefered the mountain bike. A dirt bike would have been much faster, but noise attracted blind adults.

It was usually fun to ride Highway 53, but Nathan was on high alert. He was going away from the adults that had attacked Ben and Penny in Morrison, but he was headed in the direction of the strip mall where Tommy had been attacked by the dogs and another group of adults. Nathan wouldn’t be going that far, but it was still starting to freak him out that the blind were nearing the school.

Nathan swerved around a school bus and skidded to a stop. Three deer slowly crossed the road ahead of him. The deer didn’t recognize Nathan as a threat. Did the deer know that the school kids didn’t hunt? Nathan made a mental note to remember the location of the deer so that he could tell the ninjas. He’d heard that they enjoyed hunting. Maybe that information would help encourage them to help the school kids. There was a rumor that some of the ninjas even had guns. That freaked him out, and he was glad that the ninjas seemed to tolerate the school kids being in the same area.

After the deer passed, Nathan rode on. He turned left down Paradise Hill. Usually he would bomb down Paradise Hill. He loved the rush and the wind pressing on his face. Rolling that fast would sometimes make him forget how horrible the world had become in such a short time. He would feel like a normal 10 year-old for just that brief downhill mile.

But this ride was different. Nathan checked his speed as he rolled down the hill. He scanned the woods on each side of the road. If there were blind adults in town and out by the strip mall, they could be anywhere.

A rustling noise in the woods on the left caught Nathan’s attention. But he saw nothing. He chalked it up to the deer he had seen earlier.

Nathan quickly glanced to the right and spotted a coyote silently trotting along, keeping pace with him in the woods. Nathan knew that when there was one coyote, there were always others. Coyotes aren’t that big, but a pack of coyotes can be dangerous.

Nathan released his brake pressure and gave a couple of hard pedals to speed up. He glanced back and couldn’t see the coyote anymore.

When he turned his attention back to the road, he noticed a clothesline stretched across the road.

Nathan squeezed the brakes as hard as he could. The tires skidded and the rapid braking threatened to throw Nathan over the handlebars. He was going too fast to stop before the clothesline. Just before hitting the rope, Nathan forced the bike’s back tire forward and to the left, into a power slide. He leaned back and ducked down. Nathan and the bike slid under the waist-high clothesline. Nathan screamed as the pavement tore his pants and scraped his leg raw.  The bike screamed as the metal clawed at the roadway.

A sigh of relief escaped Nathan’s lips when he had come to a stop. He opened his eyes and realized that he didn’t remember closing them. Stray bits of gravel rolled down Paradise Hill like the last few kernels of popcorn popping in the microwave. The shock of barely avoiding the clothesline faded away like the small rocks rolling down the hill.

Then an icy bucket of reality splashed Nathan. Clotheslines don’t magically stretch themselves across roads.

Nathan whipped his head around to the left and spotted two blind men scrambling on all fours toward him. He frantically tried to shove the bike off of him. His left leg felt like it was on fire. When he looked down, he knew that his bloody leg was the least of his worries. A white-bearded man in a ratty long coat was already pulling his bike away. A rope was wrapped around the man’s waist and at the end of the rope, was a skinny boy. A boy who could obviously see.

The boy held his hands out and open, like he was giving up to the police. “It’s ok,” he said softly. “These guys are nice.” The boy advanced slowly.

Nathan painfully backed away, but realized that the other two men had felt their way toward the noise and were now right behind him. He thought about rolling downhill, but the boy sensed that and stepped to the downhill side of Nathan.

“It’s ok,” the boy said again. “We’ll take good care of you.”

Suddenly, Nathan felt strong hands blindly paw at him and grasp his shoulders. He wriggled in a feeble attempt to get away. Hands squeezed his upper arms. Nathan craned his neck to look back and then gasped.

A man’s face was close enough that Nathan could smell the man’s last meal; it smelled like canned dog food. Nathan recoiled, but the blind man tightened his hold, his filthy fingers probing Nathan’s shoulder, neck, and face. “I think we got a good one here, boys,” the man commented. His exploring hands softened as he felt all over Nathan’s face and added, “Kid, everything is going to be alright. You help take care of us, and we’ll help take care of you.”

“Pl-please,” Nathan cried, “please let me go.”

The boy stepped over next to Nathan. He adjusted his rope harness as he squatted down. “Really, it’s gonna be ok,” he assured Nathan. “Besides, out here, all by yourself, with hardly any supplies… you’d have a tough time surviving.”

Nathan wanted to tell the kid that he had a home, with friends, and was surviving just fine. But he knew better. Nathan took a breath to control his sobbing and started, “If you would–”

A rope noose slid over his head and didn’t let him finish his offer. He grabbed at the noose but it cinched tight on his neck. Nathan struggled like a fish caught in a net, but the men were experienced. They said nothing while winding rope around him.

Nathan reached for his folding knife in his cargo pocket but the boy deflected Nathan’s hand and got to the knife first. Nathan slapped at the boy and connected, knocking the boy back.

One of the men, a guy with tattoos on his neck, felt Nathan’s head and slapped him hard on the back of the head. “Stop fighting! We don’t want to hurt you, but if you don’t cooperate, you won’t like what happens.”

The ropes tightened and the men searched Nathan, emptying every pocket.

Nathan pleadingly looked at the boy.

The boy put a finger up to his lips and held up Nathan’s knife.

“He’s clean,” the white-bearded man stated. “A cell phone, marbles, and matches? I don’t know how you kids survive. There’s no electricity.  Cell towers haven’t worked for months. Are you telling me you’re out here alone and don’t have any weapons?” he asked Nathan.

Nathan paused, then said, “My bike, the saddlebag on the bike.”

A man wearing welding goggles reached out and discovered the bike. He dragged it toward him. His probing hands found the saddlebag. He pulled a book, some snacks, water, and a hatchet out. He announced each item as he pulled them out.

The white-bearded man chuckled. “Were you going on a picnic?” He laughed even harder when the other guy said there was a blanket in the other saddlebag.

The white-bearded man turned toward where the tied-up boy stood. He jerked the rope and reeled the boy into to him, “Get over here, Buddy!”

The boy tossed Nathan the knife and just as Nathan was about to catch the knife, the boy screeched, “Ouch! That hurts!”

Nathan almost didn’t catch the knife, but he realized that the scream was to mask the sound of the catch. He silently clipped the knife to the collar of his shirt, just under the rope noose.

The white-bearded man searched the boy.

One man announced, “The bike is trashed,” as he tossed the bike off to the side of the road.

Welding goggle man shuffled along and collected the clothesline.

The white-bearded man finished with the boy and stood up. “Let’s get back home so we can secure our new service dog. This has been a great day.”

As Nathan was dragged to his feet, he began to worry.

He worried if he’d ever see his friends again.

He worried that he failed to alert the ninjas.

And he worried what would happen if the blind men found out that he had the knife.


 

Chapter 4


 

“I’m sure Nathan is fine,” Emma confidently stated when Penny shuffled into the girls’ bunk room, which was just a former 4th grade classroom that the school kids had converted into a big bedroom.

Penny tossed her pack to the side and slumped into the closest beanbag. “It’s all our fault,” she sighed. “If we hadn’t–”

“Stop blaming yourself,” Emma interrupted. “That could have been any of us in Morrison. Luckily, it was you and Ben. And you got away. If me or any of the other 5th grade teams had gone…” She paused imagining the worst. Emma never liked scavenging in town.

Penny saw the tears forming in Emma’s eyes. “Sorry, Emma. I didn’t mean that… uh, you’re right. It was lucky that Ben and I were on the supply run. That was a pretty nasty trap. We didn’t recognize it. I’m just bummed that we couldn’t help that little girl.”

Emma brightened up and swept her hair from in front of her eyes. Optimism cheered her up. “I have a good feeling about tomorrow,” Emma said. “When we save that girl, I bet she has been places. Maybe she will have some good news about different kid camps making progress. Maybe some kids are even growing real food.”

News from the outside would be great. It had been months since the power stopped. The loss of electricity crippled communication. The world went from over-connected to completely disconnected. Penny managed a smile to help Emma down her happy little path. Penny just hoped that Emma stopped her happily-ever-after predictions before rainbow-colored unicorns descended  from the heavens and gave the gift of sight to all the blind people.

Emma realized that Penny was exhausted. “I’m going to get some water,” Emma said. “Would you like some?”

Penny nodded.

Emma popped up and skipped out the door, almost running into Ben as he entered.

“Hey Penny,” Ben said softly after Emma had gone, “I just wanted to–”

“Five apologies is enough,” Penny interrupted. “We should have been able to help that girl. We blew it! Let’s move on.”

Ben took a deep breath. Penny never snapped at him like that. “Get some rest, Pen,” he said softly. “I’m going to go walk the fence and take a turn on watch.” He turned to go, but only got one step.

“That girl reminded me of my little sister,” Penny muttered.

Even though his back was to her, Ben could sense the tears welling up. He turned back and walked over to Penny. He wanted to say something helpful, but he was afraid that he would start balling. He knew Penny’s little sister, Brooke. And as he thought of that little girl in the red skirt, he could picture that being Brooke. Ben went to sit in the beanbag next to Penny, but when he sat, only half of his butt caught beanbag and he tumbled off the side.

From his embarrassed position on the floor, he looked back at Penny. Her eyes were red from crying, but then she started laughing. “You’re such an idiot,” she chuckled.

Ben nodded his head and said, “But I’m an idiot with dope skills.”

Penny wiped her eyes. “I don’t know if I’m crying anymore, or laughing, or both. You should just go do your guard duty. I don’t know if I can take anymore of your caring.”

Ben smiled and stood up. He scratched the back of his head. “Uh, yeah,” he said, “on that note, I think I’ll go.” He made his way to the door, then stopped before leaving. Ben turned around and said, “Hey, Penny, I really came here because… well, I just wanted you to know that I’ll never let anything bad happen to you.” Ben was pretty sure that his voice didn’t crack when he said that, but he could feel his face burning up. He was certain that he was blushing, so he spun around, flashed a peace sign and said, “And I’m out.”

Penny watched Ben go. She smiled and wiped away tears. She shook her head. Even when Ben did something stupid, he always seemed to do the right thing. Penny put her head back. She liked the beanbag because it hugged her as a mother would. She missed her parents and her sister. But she knew things could be worse for her, at least she had the school kids and they had become her new family.

But the bad feeling still hovered over her like an ominous cloud. She prayed that Emma was right and Nathan was fine.

 

Chapter 5


 

Nathan was far from fine.

A scented candle’s flickering illuminated the main room of the house. All of the men were blind, so the light was just for the service boy. Nathan was thankful for the vanilla scent which wrestled with the overpowering body odor. The family photos of a long-gone homeowner stared out at Nathan from a bookshelf. A big screen TV was like a black hole on the wall. Subtle reflections gave Nathan hope, thinking that at any moment it might flicker on and an announcer would call out, “And now, we return to to your regularly scheduled program.” It kind of reminded him of his house from before the eruption. It seemed so long ago. The “regular program” was a new reality. Blankets covered each couch. Ignored dishes choked the kitchen sink. Firewood littered one corner of the room by the woodburning stove. And drapes or towels covered all of the windows. It felt like a big version of a little kid’s couch fort.

A jerk on the rope leash snapped Nathan out of his trance.

“Hey, kid!” the man at the other end of the rope snapped. “Come over here and have a seat.”

Nathan shuffled over to the couch where the bearded guy with the horrible breath slouched. With cracked and dirty fingers, the man scratched at his swollen eyes. Nathan could see that the man had some kind of neck tattoo, but the beard obscured the tattoo. To Nathan, it seemed like every blind adult man had some kind of beard. Blind shaving didn’t join the new reality. Some adults obviously trimmed their facial hair with scissors, but most had given up. They all looked like they were part of a motorcycle gang from some old movie.

The boy, Buddy, built a fire in the woodburning stove. The other two men slumped on the big couch. They each picked random bits of forest floor from their beards and aggressively scratched at their eyes.

Nathan sat gently on the edge of the couch.

Immediately, the neck-tattoo guy reached out, found Nathan, and violently shoved him off the couch and snapped, “What d’you think you’re doing?! No pets on the couch! Didn’t your mom ever teach you any manners?!”

Nathan had spun to his side when he landed, so as to avoid landing on his bloody leg. The only thing that really hurt was his pride.

“Ok,” tattoo man said slowly, “rule number one, no pets on the furniture. Do you understand that?”

“Yes,” Nathan muttered as he sat up, on the floor.

“Yes.. what?” the man snarled.

Nathan understood where this was going. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“That’s better,” tattoo man said. “Now, tell me what you see.”

Nathan felt the knife clipped to his shirt collar. He knew that he needed to play by the rules if he was going to escape. “Uh, I see a kitchen, a living room, a wood–”

“Shut up, kid!” the man snapped. “You need to see the forest through the trees! You see a home. Our home. That’s what you see!”

“Yes sir,” Nathan replied.

“And we will share this home with you,” the man continued, “if you help us.”

Nathan looked over at Buddy, who put his finger up to his lips.

The man kept going, “Every couple of days, we explore and gather supplies. You and Buddy will be our eyes.” The man dug something from the corner of one eye and then added, “You be our eyes, and we will put a roof over your head, feed you, and protect you. Does that sound like a good deal?”

“Yes sir,” Nathan replied.

“Good,” the man said, “now, I have another question for you. When we found you today, you had hardly any supplies. That tells me that you have another home nearby.” He paused and deeply rubbed both eyes. “Wait, I guess that’s not a question. Anyway, tomorrow…” he growled a little with squinting pain. “Uh, tomorrow… we will go check out your house. We will collect supplies that we can use, and we will bring them back here.” He paused, put his hands on his lap like everything was ok, and added, “How does that sound to you? Oh, wait, there’s the question,” he chuckled. “I have a question for you after all, how does that sound to you?”

Nathan nodded.

Silence flooded the room.

The crackling of the fire only increased the volume of the silence.

“Well?!” the man snapped, yanking on the rope.

“Uh, yes,” Nathan replied, “Yes sir. I was, um, I was just trying to think of... of the best way to get there. To my house. Without my bike it might take us awhile.”

The man chuckled. “Don’t worry about us, kid. We can make it. Besides, I have a feeling that you have quite a stockpile of things we can use.”

Don’t worry about us, Nathan repeated in his head. Ha! That’s all I’m worried about right now!

The man yanked on the rope and said, “You make sure that you pay attention, when I need you to do something for me, I’ll jerk on this rope.”

Nathan smiled and thought, I know there’s a jerk on this rope.

Buddy looked quizzically at Nathan.

“Yes sir,” Nathan said.

“Good,” the man grunted, “now help Buddy straighten up this place. The bathroom is outside when you need it. Number one through the railing, Number two in the bucket. Emptying the bucket in the morning is one of your jobs. Now get to work.”

Nathan got up and started to move random filthy clothing from one part of the room to another. As he did that, he examined his rope harness. Cutting through the harness was going to take some work. He wasn’t sure how many ropes he would have to cut through to set himself free. Cutting through the rope back to the tattoo man was not an option; the rope had been reinforced with wire wrapped around it. Then Nathan glanced at tattoo man and wondered if he could cut tattoo man’s neck. Yeah, it was a grisly thought. And a worthless one. Nathan had never cut or stabbed anybody, or anything. A ninja would know what to do, but Nathan was not a ninja. He was a school kid. And school kids are both smart, patient, and sneaky. He needed to wait for an opportunity, and he needed to be ready.


 

Chapter 6



 

Ben was on fence patrol when the family showed up. The sun had set behind the mountains, and Ben was crossing his fingers that Nathan would come riding down the street. But it wasn’t Nathan who showed up.

A boy and a girl, both about 11 years-old walked toward the front gate. The boy was pulling a cart, with two 40-something and obviously blind adults, a man and a woman, holding ropes attached to the back of the cart. Most blind people were dressed in filthy clothes, but the family all wore clothes that had obviously been well-maintained, or wore recently looted from a store.

The “front gate” wasn’t much of a gate, it was more of a junkyard barrier. It had taken the school kids almost two weeks to construct the front gate. They pushed cars and trucks in a line connecting the playground fence with the school’s security fence that went around the back of the building. Then they wired 8-foot high chain-link fencing along the entire length of the car barricade. The front gate was a gap, about five feet wide, in the fencing between two pickup trucks. The trucks were angled so that in an emergency, the trucks could be pushed together to seal the gate.

“Hey!” the boy called out, broadly waving one arm. “We’re not here to take anything.”

“Just stay right there,” Ben advised the kid. Ben didn’t like it. The school was tucked away in a neighborhood. It wasn’t just someplace that you happened upon while out exploring.

Ben and Michael each stood in a pick-up truck bed. Michael turned and waved the red flag, the alarm signal to the other fence patrols. Within minutes, a half-dozen nervous school kids showed up.

The family had stopped about 20 yards from the gate. The man swept his long black hair away from his face in an effort to look presentable. He whispered something to the boy. Then the boy said, “We’re just passing through. It’s just us- me, my sister Abby, and our mom and dad.”

“Maybe you should keep passing by!” Michael blurted out.

“Michael,” Ben whispered, “let me do the talking.” Ben knew that Michael was a good kid, but he was a fourth grader with a big mouth, who might say more than he should.

Ben studied the family. They looked like they had all of their belongings in the cart. They were nomads. If they were scouts for a large group of adults, they wouldn’t be hauling that much stuff. And the kids would be tied to something. Blind adults rarely let sighted kids loose.

The man stepped up next to the boy and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Hey guys, my son Connor, is just trying to be friendly. The kids said they saw a light over this way. Abby checked it out and told us that it seemed like a group of kids in a school.” He paused and rubbed a twitching eye. “We’d just like a safe place to sleep for the night. We’ve been robbed four times since leaving Fort Collins. I promise we won’t cause any trouble.”

Maya hopped up into the truck bed with Ben. If there were recognized leaders of the school kids, they were Maya and Parker. Everyone especially looked up to Maya, literally, she was over six feet tall. Maya wasn’t a star athlete. She was just one of those kids who cared about everybody.

“Ok,” Maya said slowly, “why should we trust an adult? My mom always told me not to talk to strangers.” Ben noticed Maya’s black hiking boots, they weren’t tied. She wasn’t ready to deal with visitors.

“Your mom is right. You shouldn’t trust most adults,” the guy said. “Blindness is making most people crazy. The pain around our eyes drives us even more insane. I want to rip my useless eyes out. I wouldn’t trust adults if I were you. I even tell my own kids to avoid adults at all costs.”

“Fine,” Maya said, “then it’s agreed, you should move on.”

Ben was going to say something to Maya, but she just put up her crossing-guard hand to let him know not to bother.

“There’s an empty house a little ways up the street,” Maya said. “There’s not much in it, but it’s safe. The front door lock still works. You should go stay there for the night. Then be on your way.”

“The thing is…” started the man, “we’ve come a long ways. And we still have a long way to go. We’re trying to get as far south as we can before the next winter. We can sleep anywhere. Our kids aren’t starving, but they are starved for interaction with other kids. What we really want is some company, even if it’s just for one night.” Out of habit, he adjusted the sleeves on his sweater. Ben half-expected him to check his watch. But he couldn’t see. And he didn’t have a watch.

Maya exhaled slowly and moved close to Ben. She could only be tough for so long. Maya had a big heart. She whispered to Ben, “What d’you think?”

Ben knew that question was more of a back-me-up-on-this statement. Ben just had to think rationally. “They seem ok,” Ben whispered back. “If we check them for weapons, we could probably put them in the kindergarten classroom.”

The man spoke up, “I can feel it getting colder. I totally understand if you don’t want to let us in, but we kind of have to know soon. Maybe the kids can hang out with kids while my wife and I talk to the adults with you.”

“No adults allowed here!” Michael snapped. “Can’t you read the sign?!” he added sarcastically.

Maya turned and said, “Michael, shut up and help me with the gate.” Maya and Ben started to roll away the chain-link fencing.

Maya then turned to the man. “We’re going to come out there first and collect any weapons you might have, and dig through your stuff. I promise that we won’t take anything. But if anything looks suspicious, you’re not coming in. If you’re honest, you can stay for the night.”

Ben held back the fence as Maya lead a group to check out the family. Ben’s nerves made him shiver. The family were the first visitors to the school in over a month. And they showed up on the same day that Ben and Penny were almost grabbed. Ben knew that he wasn’t going to be able to sleep that night. And tomorrow was a big day. He needed to be ready.

 

Chapter 7



 

Nathan didn’t get much sleep in the den of the blind men. He passed on the dog food dinner. The smell of dry dog food mixed with a can of Lucky Chow dog food made Nathan gag. The men said the pickings had been slim in the area. They were considering moving but couldn’t with just one set of eyes. Nathan found out that they’d been running a line across Paradise Hill for the last week, trying to catch a stray child.

And they got lucky catching Nathan.

Between the Lucky Chow breath and dog food gas, Nathan counted the hours until morning and fresh air.

The men took turns sleeping. One man was always alert and had Nathan’s rope tied around him. Buddy’s rope was always tied to the white bearded man’s waist. Buddy had seemed to embrace the service pet life. At the end of the couch, he had crafted himself a little bed out of a ratty sleeping bag and some filthy decorative pillows. Obedient Buddy went right to sleep when the men told him to.

At one point, Nathan slipped the knife off his collar and gently started sawing the rope that ran under his left arm to where the main rope was attached on his back.

He had barely started to make progress when the man on guard, the neck tattoo guy, whispered, “What are you doing over there?”

Nathan stopped sawing at the rope and slid the knife under the edge of the couch.

“I said, what are you doing, Scooby?” the man whisper-snarled. The men decided that they didn’t like the name “Nathan” so they decided to call him Scooby.

Nathan quickly muttered, “Nothing. Just trying to get comfortable. These ropes are kind of tight. I guess that I was adjusting the ropes.”

“Didn’t sound like adjusting…” the man mumbled. “You just get some sleep, you’re gonna have a long day tomorrow.”

“Yes sir,” Nathan replied, amazed that the man could hear the knife cutting into the rope.

“Be quiet!” the man snapped softly.

Nathan was confused. Wasn’t he supposed to reply with yes sir every time?

“Shhh,” the man whispered cocking his head to one side and then the other. “Do you hear anything?” he whispered.

Nathan listened intently, but could hear nothing except for the breathing around him.

Tattoo man turned his attention to the front door. He quietly picked up his sharpened walking stick. It amazed Nathan that the blind man knew exactly where the stick was. Nathan still didn’t hear anything. Tattoo man reached out and gently prodded the white bearded man.

The white bearded man rustled then woke up, completely alert.

“What is it?” Nathan whispered.

“Shut it, boy!” the white bearded man hissed.

Three knocks on the front door broke the silence.

“Knock, knock. Anybody home?” a man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Three little pigs, let us in.”

Nathan wasn’t going to make a chinny-chin-chin joke because the tension in the room was like a mousetrap about to snap.

The blind men stayed silent, but they also got ready.

The white bearded man got up and moved close to the front door with his sharpened stick. Buddy trailed behind, making sure to keep his rope from dragging on the floor.

The welding goggle guy stood up and pulled two hatchets out of the couch cushions. He moved toward the left of the front door.

Tattoo man rose and pulled gently on Nathan’s rope. Nathan got up and followed Tattoo man to the sliding glass doors at the other end of the living room. The sliding glass doors lead to the deck, which Nathan knew was at least 15 feet above the ground. The house was built on a hill. Nathan thought it was a fairly safe location. The only way in was the front. Of course that meant that the only way out was the front also. Unless the men had a different plan.

“I said, Knock, Knock!” the man outside the front door growled. “Our girl tells us that you have two seeing-eye boys. We want one.”

Tattoo man slowly opened the sliding glass door.

“I was gonna be nice and count,” the man out front growled, “but I’m not feeling nice tonight.”

BLAM! A shotgun blast tore through the part of the front door where the deadbolt lock used to live.

The man outside kicked the door open. The door slammed into the white bearded man and he went sprawling into a side table.

“Oh! There’s one!” the man in the doorway announced. He spun toward the white bearded man and fired his shotgun three times.

Once was enough as the first shot caught the white bearded man in the throat. Bright red blood sprayed out and reddened his white beard. The man barely got his hands to his throat before he collapsed and died.

Welding goggle man stepped forward and began swinging his hatchets with reckless abandon. On the third swipe he connected with the shotgun guy. That was all welding goggle man needed, a target. He hammered away like a heavy metal drummer at the shotgun guy. Only, he was a drummer with hatchets.

When shotgun guy crumpled to the floor, welding goggle man knelt down and turned his head to the side to listen. Suddenly another man stepped into the doorway and began spraying bullets into the room.

Nathan dropped to the floor.

Tattoo man wasn’t so lucky. At least two bullets hit Tattoo man and he stumbled out to the deck. That stumbling noise was enough to help the guy with the gun. The guy in the doorway trained his pistol toward the sound of Tattoo man, and he fired off three more quick rounds.

Nathan watched in horror as welding goggle guy jumped up and viciously hacked away at the pistol-wielding guy in the doorway. Nathan heard a gasp behind him and spun around just as Tattoo man tumbled over the deck railing. The rope quickly snaked over the railing with the man. The rope became taut, spun Nathan around, and yanked him backwards out the sliding glass door. Nathan bounced down the single step onto the deck then he tried wrenching his body around, but the tension on the rope pulled straight on the middle of his shoulder blades. Luckily, he had the presence of mind to stay low and grab the railing before going over the top.  

The dangling body of Tattoo man never slammed the ground below the deck. Nathan could feel the gentle swing of the body, keeping constant pressure on the rope attached to Nathan’s back. Nathan pressed his body up against the railing. He felt that any movement might send him over the top of the railing.

Welding goggle man got in a few last hatchet blows before a shotgun blast slammed him into the wall. The bloody mist by the door had barely settled when two pot-bellied men entered the house. One waved a smoking shotgun in front of him as a walking stick. The second man held an outstretched handgun.

Nathan knew that his only defense was silence. He willed his racing heart to a more pedestrian pace. He kept his breathing as silent as possible by pulling up his shirt and breathing through the cloth. That breathing method also helped mute some of the smell from the overturned toilet bucket. In his flip over the railing, Tattoo man had kicked the bucket in more ways than one.

The men froze and rotated their heads slowly, using their ears as eyes.

Satisfied with the silence, the man with the handgun called out behind him, “Sadie, bring up the girl so we can see what we got here!” He attempted to pull up his stained jeans, but all he could manage was to adjust the belt buckle under his protruding belly.

A moment later, a girl who was about 11 years-old stepped into the grisly scene.

“Well?!” the handgun man snapped. “What do you see?!”

The girl’s response was a spray of vomit that decorated the wounded front door.

 

Chapter 8


 

After barfing, it took the girl a few minutes to gather herself enough to explain the horrific scene in front of her. The accurate descriptions almost made Nathan puke. He did his best to maintain eye contact with the girl and not look anywhere else.

The new blind adults seemed to trust the girl they called Daisy. Of course trust only went so far; a woman lead Daisy around the main room by a leash attached to a dog choke collar. Daisy guided them around the room.

They found Buddy quickly by following the rope attached to the deceased white-bearded man. After Buddy stopped shivering, he offered to help the search, but one man was tasked with freeing Buddy from the dead man and securing him.

As the man worked with bloody knuckles on disassembling the rope harness, the other adults felt through the piles of supplies and the dead bodies, stuffing anything that felt useful into backpacks.

At one point, Sadie, the woman at the other end of Daisy’s leash, put her hand directly into a massive open hatchet wound in their friend’s head. “Girl!” the woman growled. “Eyes open! Watch us all! I do not need to be gettin’ all nasty!”

“Sorry,” Daisy apologized. “Take it slow everyone. This place is disgusting.”

It wasn’t long before the man with the handgun asked, “Hey, Daisy, where’s the other seeing-eye boy?”

Daisy looked through the carnage in the main room, then she glanced out the open sliding glass door. She made eye-contact with Nathan for the first time. Nathan slowly put one finger up to his lips and gave her his best silent plea.

Daisy took a step toward the deck door and said, “It looks like one of the guys went over the railing of the deck. It’s pretty high up. He must have taken the other boy over the railing with him.”

“Well,” the man snapped, “what are you waiting for? Go out there with Sadie and look over the railing. See if the kid is down there and still usable.”

The blind woman, Sadie, put her hand on Daisy’s shoulder and said, “Lead me out there so I can feel around the deck.”

Daisy paused at the doorway. “Um, you’re going to need to watch your step. It’s gross out here. There’s a lot of blood and it looks like their toilet bucket spilled when the guy went over the railing. There’s poop all–”

“Alright girl!” snapped Sadie. “I’ll stay here. Check it out. And know that I’ve got your leash.”

Daisy gingerly stepped down onto the deck and made her way straight toward Nathan. Three strides got Daisy to the railing, where she leaned over and looked down. Daisy looked at Nathan and made a hand gesture that seemed to indicate she wanted Nathan to jump over the railing.

Nathan could barely move without fear of getting pulled over the railing. He craned his head around but still couldn’t see to the ground below. He glanced back up at Daisy, hoping for clarification. What he saw horrified him. Daisy had a crazy look in her eyes and a bloody hatchet in her hand.

Daisy handed the hatchet to Nathan, then turned back to the house. She silently reached up toward her collar as she said, “Yep, the guy went over the railing. And it looks like–” Daisy suddenly yanked the leash with both hands and a violent twist of her body.

The woman, Sadie, wasn’t prepared. The leash pulled her out the door. She stepped forward but miscalculated her advance because of the step down to the deck. Sadie fell forward, her hands extended to break her fall. She released the leash and slammed onto the deck, right into the contents of the spilled toilet bucket.

Daisy wasted no time. She swiped the bloody hatchet out of Nathan’s hand, then put everything she had into a vicious swing at the taut rope on the railing. Daisy scored a direct hit. The rope snapped. Gravity took Tattoo man and Nathan fell forward. He landed right next to the flailing and screaming Sadie.

Nathan spun around and saw Daisy standing on the ledge on the other side of the railing. She made a couple of frantic c’mon gestures to Nathan. Then she disappeared over the edge. The leash trailing behind her like a wild snake.

Sadie grasped toward Nathan as he started to stand up. Nathan saw the chaos in the house of the adults, scrambling and stumbling toward the deck door.

“Don’t shoot!” the man with the handgun ordered. “Sadie is out there!” Then he stopped, pointed his gun in Nathan’s direction and added, “Sadie, get down!”

“Noooo!” she screamed, still trying to get out of the remains of the spilled toilet. “Don’t shoot yet!”

The man held off.

Nathan looked over the railing. The first thing he saw was the bloody body of Tattoo man, splayed out on the stone patio about ten feet below. Then, to the right, in a grassy area, he saw his safety net. Only it wasn’t a net; it was a trampoline. The tramp had seen better days. A few springs were missing and the safety net around the side was in tatters. But Daisy was already crawling through an opening in the net.

Nathan crouched down and jumped.

Nathan worried that he would land on the tramp and then get flung back up into the air, away from the tramp. As he neared the tramp, he spread his body out so that he might not spring up too high. That was kind of unnecessary. When he landed, he felt a few springs break and the tramp barely broke his fall. He felt the ground through the tramp and was gently tossed back up, maybe a few feet.

A crash on the deck above probably meant that one of the other adults had fallen because of the step down. He hoped that whoever it was got a mouthful of poop.

Nathan quickly rolled off the tramp.

Daisy grabbed his wrist and yanked him under the deck.

They both froze up against the house.

The furious scramble ceased on the deck above.

Daisy and Nathan remained motionless.

“Shotgun!” the man above growled.

“It got in my mouth!” Sadie cried.

“Then shut your mouth!” the man snapped.

An adult stepped heavily onto the deck.

Daisy took that noisy opportunity to bend down and pick up two baseball-size rocks.

“You want me to jump down there?” a man asked.

“We don’t know how far–” another growled. “Hey boy!” He hollered back into the house. “How far down to the ground from this deck?”

“I think it’s like ten feet,” Buddy responded.

“What’s down there?” the man snarled.

“There’s a patio and a little yard,” Buddy replied. “And a kids’ swing set and a trampoline.”  

Then silence.

Nathan looked quizzically at Daisy.

Daisy held up one finger.

Clomping footsteps back into the house warned Nathan that the adults were probably heading down the inside stairs or around the outside of the house to get to them. Nathan was about to start running, but Daisy tapped his arm like she was quietly knocking on a door.

Daisy held up one of her rocks. She threw the rock across the yard into some long dry grass.

BLAM! The shotgun erupted from the deck above them.

Daisy tossed her other rock in the same general direction as the first rock.

BLAM! The response was the same.

The left side of the deck had steps leading down to the backyard. Daisy got Nathan’s attention and motioned with her hand that they should stay under the deck and get around the corner of the house as quickly as possible. She motioned that they should run toward the steps.

Then Daisy held up one finger.

Nathan wondered what she was doing until she held up the second finger.

On the third finger, they sprinted toward the steps.

The man above them heard the children escaping. He stomped on the deck in the same direction.

Daisy and Nathan burst out from under the deck just as the man got to the stairs.

And he tumbled down the stairs, which he obviously didn’t expect.

The shotgun blasted a chunk out of the side of the house as the man fell.

The wonderful sounds of the man painfully falling down the deck stairs was music to Nathan’s ears as he and Daisy exited stage left.

 

Chapter 9




 

Penny woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and relieved. She felt refreshed because her escape experience had drained her and she slept much deeper than usual. Part of that relaxed feeling was because she had agreed to “host” the family girl, Abby. Host is a kind term, it was really more like house arrest. Abby slept in the bunk room with the other girls.

During the previous night, Penny had spent a solid hour grilling Abby.

And she was more than satisfied with her story. It really did appear that Abby and Connor were trying to help their parents get further south, and they were just passing through. Everything Abby said had sounded legit. Penny wondered if the school kids should head south as well.

One thing Penny had learned from Abby was that the kids had been treating their parents with a combination of antibiotics, bug sprays, and anti-itch creams. Many of the flies that caused river blindness had perished during that first winter. The family’s treatment wasn’t a cure, but it had seemed to keep the madness subdued. Maybe it was limiting the development of the larva that caused river blindness. Maybe it was limiting the black flies laying eggs. Or maybe it was just easing the itchiness. Whatever, it seemed to help keep Abby’s parents from going crazy.

Penny and Abby discussed using the treatment to help the infected kids at the school. One wing of the school was where the blind infected kids lived. The school kids kept that wing fenced off even though the blindness wasn’t contagious. They tried to help the infected kids in any way they could. The school kids didn’t have the heart to leave infected kids to fend for themselves out in the world. Blind, infected kids didn’t survive long.

Penny met Ben for breakfast. She began to explain the treatment to Ben, but he had already heard about it.

“I agree,” Ben said between bites of dry cereal. “The new kid, Connor, told me about it. I say we make those supplies a priority when we go into Morrison today. The blind kids are becoming more agitated everyday, even when we keep the lights low.”

Penny nodded then asked, “What did you think about Connor? Did you think they sounded cool?”

“He was a good kid,” Ben replied. “I let him collect some supplies from the storeroom and wished him luck.”

“They left?” Penny questioned.

“Yeah,” Ben said, “like 20 minutes ago. They were headed south and wanted–”

“Nobody told me,” Penny snapped.

“Sorry your highness,” Ben said, then added, “I thought you knew. They didn’t want to create some weird scene with the rescue party getting ready and all.”

Penny just stared blankly and shook her head softly. Why hadn’t she said goodbye? Penny wondered. She knew that they weren’t long lost friends, but a little appreciation would have been nice.

Ben and Penny ate in relative silence until Ben suggested, “Hey, let’s get ready. We’re headed to Morrison in a little bit.”

Penny shook out the cobwebs and said, “Ok, yeah. Uh. When did Nathan get back? Did he get to–”

“Nathan isn’t back yet,” Ben interrupted. “He probably stayed the night with the ninjas. Hopefully he gets back soon. But, if he doesn’t, we’re going anyway.”

“Ben, if Nathan’s not back that could mean…” Penny started, “well, it could mean anything. We need to wait until he lets us know if the ninjas will help.”

Ben did his best to restrict his eyes from rolling. Yesterday, Penny had been obsessed about saving the girl in Morrison because Ben had left her behind. Now, she was not wanting to go unless Nathan had secured help…

Penny and Ben always sat next to each other at meals because they each wanted to face the door. Ben put his right hand on Penny’s shoulder and said, “We have a great plan. Safety is our priority. If something doesn’t look right, we will try again later or tomorrow.” He paused to make sure that Penny was feeling more confident, then added, “Having the ninjas backing us up might be a positive, and it might be a negative. We try to avoid a fight, they look for one.”

Penny nodded. She was still disappointed that the family left. She wanted to know more about what they had seen on their walk. Without the internet, radio, TV, and phones it was difficult to know what was happening outside of their little area. It was nice to have visitors.

“Go get ready, Penny,” Ben suggested. “I’ll meet you at the gate in a few minutes.”

Penny and Ben got up and went their separate ways. Penny’s mind was a million miles away. Ben was focused and running possible scenarios through his mind.

 

The rescue team of 13 school kids gathered at the front gate. 13 was about the largest expedition the school kids could muster without leaving the school under-protected. About 30 kids called the school home, maybe ten of those 30 were infected and lived in the sick wing. Few school kids knew how many infected kids they had because everyone thought the sick kids could be contagious in some way, even though, before the TV news broadcasts ended, they had heard that the river blindness was not contagious.

Ben explained the plan to the team and made sure that everyone knew their role. A nervous excitement fluttered through the group, but one thing was common, they were confident. The school kids were clever and considered group safety number one. Encounters with blind adults were rare for the school kids. They kept a low profile and didn’t stray very far from the school. But, supplies were getting more scarce and the school kids were having to travel farther to to find worthwhile supplies. Ben knew that encounters with infected adults were going to become a greater concern.

He also knew that some kids might not return from these encounters.

As they walked through the gate, he hoped that today wouldn’t be that day.

 

Chapter 10


 

Nathan slowed down after they had run far enough from the house that they could no longer hear the screams of the angry adults. He eventually stopped from exhaustion, bent over and put his hands to his shaking legs. The rising sun cast a watermelon glow on the surrounding mountains. The surreal light complimented the surreal experience Nathan had just survived.

Daisy stopped and looked back at Nathan, “Hey,” she said between deep breaths, “I’m Daisy.”

Nathan looked up and smiled. “I’m Nathan. And I’m so glad you came along.” He stood up straight and shook his head. “That was crazy! We could’ve died!”

Daisy walked over to Nathan. “Nice to meet you, Nathan. Hold still let me get this rope thing off of you.”

Nathan looked down and realized that he had forgotten the harness was still on him. He explained how he’d been caught as Daisy worked on the rope harness. She got it loosened just as Nathan finished. Nathan shrugged the harness off, over his head and started, “Let me help you–” But he stopped when he saw that the choke collar wasn’t on Daisy anymore. He winced a little when he spotted the raw scratches the collar had left behind. “Does your neck hurt?”

Daisy reached up, but stopped short of touching it. “It hurts a lot less without that collar,” she said. She turned her head slightly to the side. “But, yeah, it hurts. I should get some kind of antibiotic cream or something to put on it. I tried to keep it clean, but I’m sure it’s infected.”

Nathan nodded. “I really appreciate you helping me,” Nathan said. “When you pulled out that hatchet I thought you were going to… uh…”

Daisy smiled. “You thought I was going to turn your forehead into a butt crack?”

Nathan smiled. “Yeah, something like that. I’m glad you didn’t. Hey, how did you end up with that group? They were… um, I don’t know. They were scary. Like scarier than any adults I’ve ever heard about.”

After a pause, Daisy sighed and replied, “That woman, Sadie…” Tears welled up in Daisy’s eyes. “That was my mom.” She took a confident breath. “But she’s not my mom anymore. It’s like they’ve all gone crazy because of the infection, the blindness, and constantly itching their eyes. My mom told me that, well, if I found a free group of kids, I should just leave them. She was scared of those guys.” Daisy paused again, seeming stronger each time. “You didn’t even see the one guy outside. He has an eye patch because he dug his own eyeball out a week ago. I don’t know how he’s still alive.”

“What?! That’s horrible! And, um, I’m sorry about your mom,” Nathan said softly. “I’m sure it was really difficult.”

Daisy shook her head. “The only difficult thing was figuring out how to escape. After Patchy the pirate took out his eye, I decided to take my first good opportunity to get away. They were getting more insane everyday. I don’t want to see my mom go down that road.”

Nathan nodded. “You can come with me if you want. I live with a group of kids at a school near here. It’s a safe place and everybody gets along.”

Daisy smiled. “I’d like that Nathan.” She gave Nathan a hug and added, “I kinda need that.” Daisy held the hug for a little longer than Nathan was comfortable with. She let go and said, “You smell like poop. I hope you didn’t–”

“No,” Nathan interrupted, “it must have been the toilet bucket. I didn’t–”

“I’m just messing with you Nathan,” Daisy chuckled. “But, seriously, you do smell like poop. Now let’s get to that school so we can both clean up. I’m praying that you figured out a way to make hot water for a bath.”

Nathan didn’t move, except for putting his head down.

“What?” Daisy asked.

“The school is going to have to wait…” Nathan sighed, “there’s one thing I need to do first.”

Daisy nodded. “You want to save your friend?”

Friend? Nathan thought. Then he realized that she was talking about Buddy, the blind guys’ sighted kid. Nathan shook his head. “Oh, no. He wasn’t really my friend, just another kid.” Nathan looked back in the direction of the house. “I think that kid, Buddy, I think he kind of liked helping blind adults.”

“What is it then?” Daisy asked.

“I have to go find the ninjas,” Nathan stated.

Daisy raised one eyebrow.

Nathan held up one finger. “I take it that you don’t know about the ninjas. Just trust me. There’s no time to lose. Let’s start walking and I’ll tell you all about it on the way.”

Daisy shrugged. “Cool. I’ve got nothing better to do, for once.”

Nathan looked around. The full moon helped him make out some of the landscape around them. Once he got his bearings, they started walking in the direction of where Nathan hoped to find the ninjas.

As Nathan explained the situation, he realized how glad he was to have somebody with him. Even if he smelled like poop. And she knew it.

 

Chapter 11



 

Ben adjusted the focus on the binoculars, scanning the streets of Morrison but he couldn’t see any signs of the adults. The main street looked different from when Penny and Ben were attacked; the abandoned cars were arranged differently.  He focussed all the way down to the other end of town and could just make out Maya’s group. Ben led a group of seven that would approach the town from the west while Maya’s group of six would approach from the east. Parker had grudgingly stayed back at the school with a small group of kids. Ben could see that Maya was checking out the street from her end as well.

Penny could tell that Ben was a little confused. “Well?” she said. “What do you think?”

“I don’t know,” he replied slowly. Ben stashed the binoculars in his camouflage backpack. “I’m not seeing anything out of the ordinary.” He turned to the cluster of nervous kids behind him. “Send in the drone.”

Simon moved up next to Ben. Simon was a geeky kid who wore all black even though it made him look even skinnier than he was. Simon always collected RC cars, drones, and batteries when he was scavenging. He set the helicopter drone down, stepped back, and launched it. Simon had been practicing and was by far the best drone pilot. The helicopter drone flew up to about 30 feet, hovered, then made its way down the street. As Simon guided the drone’s reconnaissance flight, all seven kids crowded around Simon’s controller so they could watch the drone footage being relayed back. The screen attached to the controller provided an overhead view of the town that fascinated all of the kids. They loved looking down on everything and knew that they had a great advantage on the blind adults.

All of the kids had heard how the last trap was set and sprung. Ben had advised them to look for anything that seemed even the least bit odd.

The drone stopped and hovered at each intersection in the small downtown area. Simon made sure to spin the drone slowly in the middle of those intersections so that they could get a 360 degree view.

After three uneventful stops, Michael said what everyone else was thinking, “Maybe they left.”

Penny stared at the screen and said, “I doubt it. These adults were different.” She paused when she needed to concentrate on a window where she thought she saw movement. “It was a big group of adults. Maybe 20 or 25. They were organized. The trap was– wait! Simon, go back a little and turn to the right.”

The excitement level and anxiety rose. All of the kids squeezed in forcing Ben to tell everybody to back off a bit.

Simon carefully guided the drone to focus on the area Penny was concerned about.

“There!” Penny said. “In between the vans.”

Almost at the center of town, two adults sat on lawn chairs situated between a couple of delivery vans. The adults appeared to be having a casual cup of coffee.  Both adults looked up toward the sound of the drone. They acted nonchalant and Penny half-expected them to wave for the camera.

“I don’t like this,” Penny said slowly. “Something’s not right. Adults always freak out when they hear the drone.”

It was kind of what they were all thinking. They’d used the drone before to observe adults from afar, and every time the adults would frantically attempt to hide like cockroaches when the kitchen light is turned on.

But not these two adults.

“There are only two…” Ben commented. “Keep going Simon. We’ve got to find the others. Most importantly, we have to find the girl. She’s why we’re here.”

Simon spun the drone back toward main street and continued toward the east end of town.

The drone exited the other end of town without spotting anything else odd. Ben slowly shook his head and wondered about those two adults in the town. They must know the sound of a drone, he thought. And that means they know where we are by following the sound of the drone.

Simon guided the drone to fly low over Maya’s group, who all waved and smiled for the drone.

As Simon swung the drone up and whipped it around to make another pass at town, Penny said, “Hang on Simon. Can you go straight up and rotate it slowly?”

The drone rose up and, as it rose, the hearts of Ben’s group started pounding harder. A gang of about ten adults were advancing from behind Maya’s group, as two smaller groups of adults moved in from the other sides. Maya’s group was being surrounded and they didn’t even know it. They were watching the drone instead of paying attention to what was around them.

Ben tried to control the rising panic. He wished that Maya had agreed to use walkie-talkies, but she wanted to go in quietly. Ben’s mind raced. The ninjas hadn’t showed up. Something had probably happened to Nathan... Indecision kills, he thought. Decide to do something, now!

“Simon! Buzz the adults with the drone!” Ben commanded. He stepped back from his group that was mesmerized by the drone footage. “C’mon you guys!” he snapped. “We gotta go help them!”

Ben turned to Penny and nodded. Then he grabbed his bat and started running down Main Street.

The other members of the group had a difficult time tearing their eyes from the scene unfolding on the iPad. The footage was tough to follow because Simon was intentionally flying low and fast around the adults to confuse them. But they could see that Maya’s group had noticed the adults once the drone started flying erratically. Maya’s group was backing away from the tightening crowd of adults.

Ben and Penny could see Maya’s group being pressed into town from the east end. Of Ben’s group, all but Simon were now sprinting into town from the west. Simon was still using the drone to annoy and confuse the east end adults.

Ben’s thoughts were overwhelmed with what they should have done differently.

Penny glanced side-to-side as she ran. Her thoughts were more productive; she was mentally questioning what kind of trap the adults had planned. She didn’t like the way this was unfolding because their actions were being dictated by the adults. The kids weren’t in control, and Penny hated that.

 

Chapter 12


 

Ben sprinted ahead. This was not part of the plan, he thought.

Penny slowed her sprint as she looked around. Something just seemed different. When she noticed the gentle flutter of drapes in a second floor window, she realized what it was; all of the second floor windows were open. She whipped her head around and noticed that all of the buildings had open windows. When the kids had scanned the street, they had been so intent on checking the store fronts and alleys that they hadn’t thought to look up.

“Watch the upper windows!” Penny warned.

That call-out seemed to trigger something. Suddenly adults were popping up in many of the windows. And they were throwing something out at the running kids.

Penny watched as whatever the adults threw seemed to spread out in the air. At first the images reminded her of something… a movie, or show about… fishing. Native fishermen, along the shore, throwing out big nets into the surf.

Nets.

That’s what was being thrown.

The nets were being thrown from buildings on each side of the street. Like giant birds of prey, the nets swooped down toward the street.

Penny dodged to the left as a net landed next to her. She glanced down and back. The net looked like it had come from a soccer goal.

Penny turned her head forward. She caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye. She ducked and shielded herself with her left arm. Penny’s left hand became entangled in a falling net. She tried to shake the net off, but it was difficult to control. The holes in the net were bigger than her hands and the net was huge. The net quickly wrapped itself around Penny. Her right foot stepped on the net and before she knew what had happened, she screamed, spun and crashed to the pavement.

It was like being in a giant spider web. The more that Penny writhed around, the more tangled she became.

Penny looked up the street. Ben was about 50 yards ahead of the main group and a few nets fell harmlessly behind him. Penny yelled, “Ben!”

That was enough to get Ben’s attention. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder. He had been approaching the delivery vans that they had seen in the drone footage. And he wanted to be alert in case the two adults were still there. But he wanted to make sure that Penny was OK.

Everything happened so fast. At the moment that Ben turned his head, two adults jumped out into the street. They held sharpened walking sticks in front of them in a protective stance. But Ben was sprinting. And not looking forward. He crashed right into one of the men. Ben gasped as he felt the sharpened stick pierce his belly.

Then Ben screamed as he collapsed to the ground. He turned his head toward Penny. He coughed out a mouthful of blood and tried to draw in a breath but more blood filled his mouth.

The last thing Ben saw was a dirty blind man bending down and feeling the stick in Ben’s gut.

The man moaned, “Oh God. I’m so sorry. Wh– what have I done?” The man felt Ben’s face. “I’m so sorry kid.”

 

Penny gasped as she saw the sharpened stick poke through Ben’s back before she heard his scream.

“No!” Penny shrieked. She thrashed around and just got more and more twisted up in the netting.

Two school kids stopped to help Penny. They started to try to untangle her, but she shook her head violently and yelled, “Don’t help me! Go help Ben!”

The two kids looked up the street and then took off running to help Ben.

Penny felt like a mummy. The more she tried to get free, the tighter the rope netting became. She craned her neck around to look up the street. Ben lay lifeless on the street. The adult who had speared him was crouched down over Ben.

“Noooo!!!” Penny shrieked.

A shiver ran up her spine. That was my fault.

Penny rolled and looked back the way they had come. A boy and a girl behind her were wrapped up in netting like hers and were rolling around on the ground. A half dozen adults emerged from the shops on either side of the entangled kids. The adults pounced on the writheing kids and began tying them up.

Panic set in for Penny. They’d be coming for her too!

Wriggling hadn’t worked. Penny wrenched her right arm up just enough to get the knife from her pocket. She sawed away at the closest netting, but it was too late.

Blind adults were upon her.

She slashed out with the knife and cut a woman’s hand. The woman’s shriek seemed to intensify the adults’ attack. Adults swarmed around Penny. Many of the adults pressed down on her with the dull end of their walking sticks.

With the combination of the walking stick pressure and the tight netting, Penny soon found herself unable to move. Adults groped her and emptied her pockets. Penny cut one man with her knife before that man slammed her wrist and took the knife after it fell to the pavement.

“Let me go!” Penny screamed.

A man felt Penny’s head then slapped her hard across the face. “Shut up!” he snarled.

Someone wrapped a filthy rag around Penny’s head. They cinched it tight so that the cloth went into her mouth.

“OK,” the man who slapped Penny said, “let’s get this one inside. Don’t feel like you have to be gentle with her!”

The adults around Penny grabbed handfuls of netting and lifted Penny up. They paused while a skinny man wound duct tape around Penny’s mid-section to secure the netting.

“We’re good,” the tape guy said.

Penny could barely move; she felt like a mummy hastily wrapped by sloppy Egyptians. She turned her head to look down the street. Ben was still motionless on the ground. Penny could see the blood pool around him. Adult men were wrestling with the two boys that had gone to help Ben. Wrestling is the wrong term because the men basically had each boy in a bear hug while other adults secured the boys’ arms and legs.

Penny stared at Ben’s body. I’m sorry, Ben, she cried silently.  Tears ran down her face and she sobbed through the cloth in her mouth. She hoped he would be alright, but she knew that if he wasn’t dead, he would be dead soon. She watched Ben as long as she could. Then darkness swallowed her as she was carried into a restaurant where the windows were covered with newspaper and cardboard.

 

Chapter 13


 

The family had left early in the morning. They started out walking away from town and stopped at the first house they found. They ditched the supply cart behind a garden shed and walked back to where the kids could see the school. The father wanted to know how the kids made out on their rescue mission. The family remained hidden in the woods so that Connor and Abby could give their parents an account of the rescue party leaving the school. Connor made sure to provide the number of kids and the direction of each group.

By staying far back in the woods, they shadowed the rescue party to the town of Morrison.

“If they’re careful,” the dad said, “they might just pull this off.”

But then the rescue attempt turned into an attack. Connor watched through binoculars and gave a full recap of the attack in the town. He struggled when he had to share that Ben had been speared. Abby couldn’t watch after that.

“Do you think he’s dead?” the dad asked.

Connor didn’t take his focus off the scene. He nodded and replied, “He looks dead. Two guys just dragged him off the street.”

“What happened to the other kids and the group at the far end of town?” the dad asked.

Connor was flustered. He had been mesmerized by the spearing of Ben, and Penny’s capture that he hadn’t followed what happened to the other kids.

“I’m not sure, Dad,” Connor said. “I can’t see where they went.” He squinted through the binoculars but could only see a flurry of adult activity.

“What happened to the other kids? All of them, where are they?” the dad asked.

“I… I just don’t know, dad,” Connor replied. He scanned the streets. “It looks like many were captured by the nets.”

“Did any kids get away?” the dad snapped. “I can’t see! You have a big responsibility being my eyes!”

“I know I do. I’m sorry, dad,” Connor said. “I just couldn’t… well, it was…”

The dad took a deep breath, reached out and found Connor’s shoulder. “It’s ok, Connor. I know you’re doing your best.”

“What should we do, Dad?” Abby asked.

The dad scratched at his eyes. “Well,” he said, “this does change things. This group of kids is weakened now. We have a few options. We can just keep hiking south and hope that we find supplies and safe places to stay. Or we can go back to the school and possibly stay there. Or we can go into town and negotiate with the adults for supplies.”

Silence settled on the family like a wet blanket as they each weighed the options. Realistically, what the mom and kids were doing was waiting for the dad to make the decision. He would be the final say anyway.

Connor surprisingly broke the silence. “I went in their store room at the school. They have enough food and supplies for months. Especially now that they have fewer mouths to feed. But I don’t think they want us living with them.”

Abby added something she hadn’t mentioned yet, “They have blind kids in the school. Like ten or more. The school kids treat them like a mistake. It’s really sad. We might be able to help them.”

The dad reached out and touched the mom’s arm. “I think this group in town is dangerous. And, if we keep walking south, we’re going to meet more groups like them. It’s becoming a much more dangerous world.”

The kids nodded. They liked being around other normal kids. They were encountering more and more scary adults on their hike south.

The dad inhaled deeply. “I say we go back to the school and make a go of it there.”

“But Dad,” Connor started, “what if they don’t want us there?”

The dad scratched at his right eye. A blister had ruptured and blood leaked out. “Connor, if your calculations are correct, there are only 6 or 7 kids at the school who can see. There are 4 of us and if we can get their blind kids on our side, we will have more than enough to outnumber the others. Less than half of this rescue party will return. If any of them do. We just need to get back to the school before they return.”

“That sounds like a great plan, Honey,” the mom said meekly.

“Great!” the dad said. “It’s settled. We head back to the school. I think they are going to like having us around. And, if not, we’ll make them like it or they can move out.”

The family got up and made their way through the woods down to the road.

The dad was amazed that they had stumbled on such a gift. The cities were dangerous. Houses were difficult to protect. But a fully stocked and protected school in the suburbs? Priceless.

He held the back of the cart as they rumbled through the woods and smiled as he devised a plan to get into the school. The dad reached over and gently took hold of the mom’s hand. “This is going to work out great,” he assured her.

“Whatever you say, Honey,” she replied.

 

Chapter 14


 

Nathan and Daisy cautiously walked into the east end of Morrison with seven of the ninjas. The streets appeared deserted.

Colton, the leader of the ninjas, put a hand on Nathan’s shoulder, “Hold up there kid.”

They all came to a stop.

Colton scanned the town and shook his head. “So, there was a trap here?”

“Yeah.” Nathan replied, “up by the hardware store. The rescue group should be here. Maybe they’ve already been here… and gone?”

“I don’t like it,” Colton said. “I thought this was going to be a simple thing, we help you with a few blind adults, you give us some supplies. How many adults did you say there were here?”

Nathan shrugged. “You never asked.”

Colton turned to Nathan. “I’m asking now,” Colton said.

“Well,” Nathan started, “I think they said there were like 10… or maybe a few more than that.”

Colton nodded. “Whatever. We’re not scared. I just like to know what we’re dealing with.” He turned to his group of six boys and one girl. “I need a volunteer to go into town super stealth mode.”

“I’ll go!” blurted a ninja they called Crazy Eddie. He stepped forward and raised his bat. Eddie carried an evil-looking bat that had nails pounded through it.

Colton stared at Eddie, “Seriously, I need a stealthy volunteer. Someone super quiet. When I need mayhem, I’ll be looking to you, Eddie.”

Disappointment forced Eddie to lower his bat. But Nathan could also see that Eddie appreciated being known as the mayhem maker.

“Well?” Colton asked, surveying the small group.

The ninjas looked at each other. No one spoke up. Nathan noticed that they all looked somewhat tentative. On the way to town, they were all talking about past battles with adults. But their boldness bolted when it came time for action....

“Seriously?” Colton snarled. “Jackson? Nick? C’mon, somebody has to go. I can’t go, I have to stay here and make plans for everybody.”

“Fine!” Daisy announced. “Nathan and I will go.”

Colton turned to Daisy and gave her the yeah, right look.

Daisy looked at Nathan and confidently nodded her head.

Nathan wasn’t so sure about going. He’d already been captured once. And he got the ninjas for just this purpose.

Daisy kicked off her shoes.

One thing that Nathan wasn’t going to do was let Daisy go anywhere without him. She had risked her life for him. Nathan slid his sneakers off.

None of the ninjas made a move to take their place.

Daisy and Nathan advanced quietly into town. Hiding wasn’t really necessary, so Daisy and Nathan walked right down the middle of the street. Their sock-covered feet muted their steps and they were careful to avoid kicking gravel or any garbage in the street.

Nathan signalled to Daisy that he would check the left side of the street and Daisy should search the right side. They split up a little as they neared the first parked cars. The cars were parked at weird angles; some cars were up on the curb while others were so far from the curb that they were more in the street than in a parking spot. The horrible parking didn’t surprise Nathan because blind people had parked the vehicles. Maybe it was to force kids closer to the stores.

Daisy followed Nathan’s lead on approaching vehicles. At each vehicle, Nathan first stopped, crouched down, and looked under the vehicle. If he was satisfied that there was no one hiding behind the vehicle, he would then move around to look in the back window of the vehicle. The school kids had found that blind adults prefered sleeping in cars. Maybe they felt protected from other adults and animals. A vehicle that adults lived in for more than a night was considered a nest because the adults would store their supplies in the vehicle.

The first few vehicles they searched were empty. To Nathan, the town looked no different than usual. The only noticeable thing was that the parked cars were arranged in such a way that they forced Nathan and Daisy to proceed in a serpentine path as they moved through town. That negated any straight entry or exit.

When Nathan peaked under a delivery van, his heart stopped. Two pairs of legs were visible. Because of the size and style of the boots, Nathan figured that the legs belonged to men.  Nathan pushed himself up and was about to move closer to Daisy to warn her, but Daisy was already looking at Nathan.

Daisy held a finger up to her lips. Then she pointed up the street, just past the van.

Nathan followed her motion and stared at the dark stain in the road. Two crows poked around the stain. Nathan had worried about disturbing the crows if they moved forward, so he had intentionally tried to ignore the birds. But it wasn’t the birds that stood out as odd, it was the stain that had attracted the birds. At first, Nathan had dismissed the stain. Random piles of garbage and unidentifiable liquids were common. But, as he stared, he realized that there was something different about the stain. The stain was more of a puddle; it was wet and appeared fresh.

The puddle reminded Nathan of something. He drew a blank for a minute then a memory of driving with his dad popped into his head. He had seen a puddle on the road like that before. And lying next to the puddle had been a dead deer.

Road kill.

Nathan’s heart sank. Worry filled his chest, and he struggled to catch his breath. Something had happened here. Something horrible.

Daisy sensed Nathan’s dread. She quietly stepped over to Nathan and gently took his arm. She motioned that they should return to the ninjas.

From his mental place a million miles away, Nathan nodded.

Nathan was worthless on the walk back. His eyes and mouth were open. Daisy wondered if he even blinked on the way back.

After they got beyond the last of the buildings, Daisy whispered to Nathan, “It’ll be alright Nathan. We’ll figure out what happened.” She rubbed his shoulder and stammered, “it’s probably… well, I’m sure that, uh… I think…” She relinquished her feeble optimistic attempt and just hugged Nathan.

Colton and the ninjas immediately knew something was wrong as Daisy and Nathan neared.

When Daisy told them about the puddle of blood, she could almost taste their fear. She barely knew anything about the ninjas, but she had increasing reasons to doubt their courage. Daisy weighed her uncertainty of what had happened in town combined with her lack of confidence in the ninjas and suggested that they all go to the school first, before attempting to further investigate the town.

Without a pause, Colton “100% agreed” with Daisy. She was not surprised, especially when she noticed the relief wash over the faces of the ninjas.

Only Crazy Eddie looked disappointed. “If that’s kid blood in the street, I’m gonna bash in some adult skulls,” he snarled as he slapped the spiked bat against his other hand.

“Cool down, Eddie,” Colton said. “We need to find out what happened first.”

Daisy got Nathan to focus by holding his face and making steady eye contact with him.

Nathan shook a multitude of horrific possibilities from his head and took a deep breath. “This way,” he said. Nathan lead the ninjas down the path to the creek and the plank bridge that the school kids had constructed.

 

Chapter 15



 

Penny tried desperately to explore the restaurant around her, but it was too dark. The last remaining light was snuffed out when they closed the front door. Penny was carried deeper into the restaurant and eventually taken downstairs. She had been in that restaurant before, but never downstairs. The kids generally avoided all basements. Usually there was only one way in, and one way out. They were a natural trap. If worthwhile supplies were stashed in basements, the kids would search there last. Basements were the domain of the blind grown-ups.

The adults carrying Penny set her down in some sort of store room that smelled of rotting food. Penny froze, literally and figuratively. The floor reminded Penny of an ice rink; it was cold and slippery. Her movement was limited because of the tight rope netting combined with the duct tape. She decided to wait to try any loosening until the adults had backed away.

“We’ve got at least two more to stash down here,” a man stated. “Let’s go help.”

“What about these two?” an overweight man in a tattered down jacket asked.

“Don’t worry about them,” the first replied. “We’ll be right back.” He reached down and felt the netting in a few places, testing to see how tight it was on Penny. “They’re all wrapped up good. We’ll lock the door. They’re not going anywhere.”

Penny heard the men leave, shut the door, and she heard the unmistakable sound of a heavy lock being engaged. The men made their way back toward the stairs. She heard a door close before they went upstairs so she assumed that she was being held in some kind of cold storage area. She tried to force the cloth gag out of her mouth, but it was secured tightly. The only way she would get that off would be to work on the place where it was tied behind her head.

She rolled to her right and bumped into somebody.

“Who is that?” a voice said. Penny was almost certain that it was Maya.

Penny tried to reply, but all that came out was a muffled moaning.

There was a slight pause, then, “Penny? Is that you?” It was Maya. Penny was sure of it.

Penny mumbled an affirmative reply.

“We gotta get out of here,” Maya stated, “before they get back.”

Penny felt Maya’s hand working its way up her back. “It’s dark in here,” Maya started, “they can’t see, and we can’t see. So we’re kind of even.”

After some squirming, Maya’s hand got to Penny’s neck and discovered the knot for the gag. Maya didn’t bother untying the knot, she just hooked her fingers under the knot and dragged the gag down to Penny’s neck.

Using her tongue, Penny worked the gag out of her mouth. “Thanks,” she coughed. “See if you can find the edge of the duct tape on my back. It’s one strip. If we can get that off, I should be able to get to my knife.”

Maya worked quickly. She found the strip of tape and dug around until she could peel back the start of the tape. “Got it. Start rolling.”

Penny remembered how they had wrapped the tape around her and she rolled the opposite way. The first rotation was easy, but then Penny got to the wall. She had rolled into some shelving. Penny wormed away from the wall and rolled some more. After one more rotation, Penny felt much freer to move. The netting still squeezed her, but she could at least move her arms a little within the netting. Penny winced when she remembered that her knife had been knocked away.

“Penny?” Maya asked. “Can you roll over here and help me? They tied a rope around my netting. “I know where the knot is.”

“Hang on,” Penny said. She had remembered her belt buckle. A few months ago, Ben had used duct tape to secure a razor blade to the big belt buckle. Penny had thought it was stupid, but Ben had insisted. It was one of his just-in-case things. Penny had learned to trust his just-in-case suggestions. Now, it might just pay off.

She reached down, felt the tape, and carefully peeled it back. The razor blade was right where it should be.

“I’ve got a blade,” Penny announced, “but it’s gonna take me awhile. If they come back and leave a guard down here, you’ll need to make some constant noise on that side of the room. Once I’m free, I’ll come get you.” Penny immediately started sawing at the netting around her left wrist.

“I don’t know how long we’ll be here,” Maya said. “But I’m guessing until dark. If they are going to move us, it’ll be then.”

Footsteps in the restaurant above notified the girls that their reunion would have to be muted soon.

“Penny?” Maya asked. “Did you see what happened to anyone else? My group had to scatter. I took on a couple of adults, but they slammed me down quickly. Hopefully the others can regroup. Maybe Ben can get the ninjas and–”

“Ben didn’t make it,” Penny sighed. “Some guy stabbed him with a spear.” She sliced at the netting, imagining the netting was that blind guy’s face. “Ben’s dead.”

Maya knew Penny well. She knew that Penny never exaggerated. Tears welled up in Maya’s eyes because she also knew that Penny and Ben were inseparable. “I’m so sorry, Penny,” Maya said softly. Maya wanted to figure out why the adults would kill Ben. Adults never killed kids. The blind adults needed kids as guides. It was basic survival. But Maya knew not to say anything else. She needed Penny to focus. Maya preached to all of the school kids that the best chance of escaping after being caught by adults seemed to be within the first few hours of capture. After that, the adults had various methods of securing their seeing-eye-kids. And most of those methods were extremely difficult to get free from.

“Keep at it Penny,” Maya encouraged. “I’m trying to cut my netting on the underside of this shelf.”

The door to the top of the steps opened. Even though they were in some closed storeroom, Penny half-expected a flood of light from above, but nothing changed except the added sound of heavy footfalls of the men probably carrying a wrapped-up kid down the steps.

Penny got through one strand of netting and her left arm immediately felt a little freer. She started sawing away at the next strand.

The adults stopped at the door, unlocked it, and the storeroom door opened. The men shuffled in. Penny felt a boot kick her leg. “Slide over girl,” the man directed. “We’ve got another friend for you.”

Penny felt a body thump down next to her.

“We’ll be right back with one more,” the man announced. “Then we can get to know each other a little better.”

Penny heard the men shuffle back out the door, shut it, and set the lock. Then she worked extra fast on cutting the netting as she heard them going back up the steps. “That seemed like about three minutes,” Penny said. She felt the razor slice through another strand of netting. That freed her left forearm.  She began working on the netting at her hip so that she could sit up.

“What’s going on?” a frightened voice asked.

Penny knew immediately that it was Guthrie; that kid was afraid of his own shadow. Maya had convinced him to come along because she assumed that the ninjas would be there and Guthrie could learn to be brave. A lot of good that did.

“Guthrie, it’s me, Penny. Maya is here and we are going to need your help.” Penny felt the blade cut through another piece of netting. She wriggled her shoulders and found that she could sit up.

“I’m scared,” Guthrie muttered.

“Maya, I’m almost free. I’ll come get you in a minute,” Penny said. “Guthrie, if you can, start swinging around so you’re sideways in this room. I’ve got a plan, but–”

“I scared Penny,” Guthrie repeated.

“Hey Guthrie,” Maya said, “I’m not scared because I’m doing something. Penny’s not scared because she’s doing something. Do you know what we need you to do?”

“Y-you need me to… do s-something?” Guthrie muttered.

“Not just something, Guthrie,” Maya snapped. “Do what Penny says. Do it quickly and quietly. We’re getting out of here.”

Penny sliced through another piece of netting and explained her plan to Maya. The darkness was a dramatic advantage for the blind adults. They could hear so much better than the kids. And the way the men moved in the dark without kicking or bumping anything meant that they knew their way around the restaurant. Penny hoped to use that to her advantage.

Maya’s optimism helped a lot. Confidence was building in Penny as the netting pieces were falling away.

 

Chapter 16



 

Michael looked out from his guard post by the front gate. What he saw confused him. He expected Ben and Penny’s group, or maybe Maya’s group. But… he wasn’t expecting Connor and his family.

“Hold up!” Michael called out. He turned and signaled to Hazel, who was sitting by the school entrance. As Hazel dashed inside to get help, Michael turned back to the family.

The family had advanced and now stood a short distance from the gate. The boy, Connor, and girl (Michael forgot her name) were in front of their cart. The mom was holding onto the back of the cart and the dad was feeling his way around the side of the cart to stand next to his son.

With two groups of kids in Morrison trying to free that girl, Michael had been left behind with a small group of school kids. “Just wait there!” Michael snapped, hoping that his nervousness wasn’t obvious. “We’ll get to you in a minute.” What he really hoped was that Parker would get to the fence soon so that Michael didn’t have to make any decisions. The tension in the school had risen ever since Ben had returned from Morrison and Nathan hadn’t returned.

“Hi Michael,” Connor called out and waved like they were old friends.

Michael glanced back at the school and then back to the family outside the gate. “Sorry Connor, but you guys are gonna have to wait out there,” Michael stammered.

Parker sprinted out from the school and hopped up into the bed of the pick-up truck with Michael. Parker was as surprised as Nathan to see the family back. Parker didn’t bother addressing Connor or Abby, he spoke directly to the dad, “Mr. Curtis, we sure didn’t expect you back so soon.” Actually, Parker thought, I thought we’d never see you again.

The dad looked to the side a little and directed his ear at Parker. “Is that you, Parker?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” Parker replied, feeling oddly formal. “What brings you back? I’m sure we gave you enough supplies for about a week. I thought you’d be pretty far south by now.”

The dad nodded. “Yes, you supplied us well,” he said, “and we are very appreciative for your generosity.” He paused and added, “We started walking, and the kids just couldn’t stop talking about how much they enjoyed spending time with other kids their age. We did leave kind of early this morning. Rose and I thought ‘why not spend a few more days at the school. We’re not in a big hurry.’ So, we turned around. What do you think? Can we hang out here for a few days?”

Parker looked around a little. He wanted someone to consult with- Maya, Ben, Penny… somebody. They always made decisions together, especially if it involved security or adults. In this case it involved both. Parker had spent time with Mr. Curtis the evening before and was satisfied with his story. But he was really glad to see the family leave in the morning. It seemed like no adults could be trusted anymore.

“Well?” Michael said whispered.

Parker closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Michael’s impatience annoyed Parker.

The dad was getting a little impatient as well. “If you need to go get Ben or Maya, I completely understand,” he said. “We can just hang out here.”

Michael turned to the dad and blurted out, “They aren’t back yet.”

Parker gritted his teeth, then whispered to Michael, “Can you go make a quick search of the fence? Scan the woods for anything that doesn’t look right.”

Michael looked at Parker and said, “Now? But what are we–”

“Yes,” Parker interrupted firmly, “now. If you see Will, send him to me.” Parker gave a little flick of his head to try to get Michael moving. What he really wanted to do was smack Michael for announcing that many of the kids were not at the school.

Michael got the general idea and took off. Michael liked fence duty. He thought of himself as a Paul Revere type character who would someday be the one to alert everyone about a surprise attack. He knew that someday he would be a hero. He just hoped that today wouldn’t be the day because the school wasn’t well defended. And he didn’t want to fight.

 

“Is everything OK?” Mr. Curtis called out after hearing Michael jump down and run off.

“Yes,” Parker replied, “everything’s fine.” He paused and added, “We just have this rule that when a search party is out, we don’t let anyone new into the school until they get back.”

“Well, we’re not exactly new,” Mr. Curtis replied. “We were just here last night and this morning.” Getting inside the gate was important to the dad’s plan. He knew that panic was going to set in when the rescue parties didn’t return. “Maybe we can just–”

“Sorry sir,” Parker interrupted, “but that’s the way we do things here. It’s nothing against you.”

“I kind of take offense,” the dad said sounding like a scolding adult. “I’m feeling like you don’t trust us.”

Parker paused and thought, That’s exactly what Maya said- she doesn’t trust you. He didn’t like being scolded by adults, whether it was parents, teachers, or coaches. Parker smiled and realized that he hadn’t been scolded in about a year. And he liked it.

“Hello? Parker?” the dad called out. “Can we bend the rules this one time?”

“Sir,” Parker stated firmly, “you can go hang out by the school sign. It’s safe around here. Connor can show you the way. There should be some shade on the other side where you can rest. Once everyone is back from town, I’m sure it’ll be fine for you to come in for a little while.”

Mr Curtis took a deep breath and almost asked again, but realized that another request might be pushing it. “OK, thanks for considering it,” he said. Then he reached out and found Connor’s shoulder. “Guide us over to the school sign, son. We can all rest there until the groups from town come back.”

Connor turned the cart around and rolled the cart to the other side of the school sign. He and Abby helped their parents find the sign and set them down to rest sitting up against the sign. Connor and Abby knew that the rescue groups weren’t coming back, and that meant they’d be by that sign for a while. They both found a soft patch of grass and laid down to get in a nap.

 

Chapter 17



 

As they walked back to the school, worry swept over Nathan like a tsunami. It made no sense to him that there would be blood. He tried to justify the red stain on the asphalt. Maybe somebody had spilled something. Like blood, a nervous voice in his head added. Maybe the adults had slaughtered a deer or elk or dog. Or a kid. Maybe he was just being paranoid. Or maybe the nervous voice was right; a kid had been killed.

“Hey, Nathan,” Daisy said softly in an attempt to ease Nathan’s obvious worry, “do you think I can stay at the school with you guys?” Yes, it was a stupid question and she knew it, but she needed Nathan to think about something else. She needed to give him an easy question.

“Uh, yeah, of course,” Nathan replied. He turned toward Daisy and lowered his voice, “That was blood in the street. Don’t try to convince me otherwise.” He pushed back the hair from in front of his eyes. “I’m worried.”

“It’s gonna be OK, Nathan,” Daisy assured him. “When we get to the school, we’ll find out what happened and we can figure what to do with everyone else.” Then she added, “Hey, at least we brought help.”

Nathan was going to argue that he thought the ninjas were going to be very little help, if any. But he kept those thoughts to himself. He simply said, “Keep an eye on that Eddie kid, he scares me.”

“Way ahead of you,” Daisy said with a wink and a soft pat on Nathan’s back.

 

Crazy Eddie hadn’t stopped talking the entire walk back through the woods. When he heard about the red stain, he told everyone that he was sure it was blood. And he was also sure that it was the blood of an adult. At least three times he nodded and said, “Kids never lose. Adults are blind. What are blind people gonna do?”

Each time Eddie said that, Nathan wanted to tell the kid about how he got caught and how Daisy had saved him. He wanted to go into gory detail about the the damage that guns and hatchets can do in the hands of blind adults. But he didn’t. Nathan and Daisy had agreed to keep their escape story very simple. They needed the ninjas to focus on helping the rescue team in Morrison.

They walked on in silence, except for Crazy Eddie’s story after story about all the pathetic blind adults he’d encountered.

 

Nathan slowed everyone to a stop at the edge of the woods, about a hundred yards before the school. Thankfully, it was right when Eddie was just starting a story about a group of blind adults trying to cross an icy parking lot.

The school was just visible through the trees. It was difficult to tell whether everything was normal, but at least Nathan felt better. To Nathan, the school was a safe place. The sooner that he was inside the fence, the better.

“We need to go around to the front gate,” Nathan announced.

“The school’s right there,” Eddie blurted. “Why don’t we just–”

“We have trip wires and traps set up around much of the school,” Nathan said.

“Oh,” Eddie said, “like booby traps?”

A couple of the ninjas giggled.

One boy, Jackson, chuckled, “You said booby.”

That lit the giggle fuse for all of the ninjas, except Colton. “Guys!” he snapped. “We don’t know what happened in town. Something serious could have happened. The last thing we want to do is walk up to the front, laughing like everything is hilarious.” Colton directed his glare at Crazy Eddie and won the staring contest. Eddie looked away and swung his spiked bat at the long grass.

“C’mon,” Nathan said as he led the group along the path to the front of the school.

They stopped behind a bus that was at the far end of the parking lot.

Nathan was concerned. Usually there was a lot more activity around the school. Everyone had chores to complete before sundown. He looked around the bus. The gate was closed, which was a relief, but he didn’t see anyone in the pick-up truck bed at the gate. “OK,” he said, “I think we’re good.”

They began walking around the end of the bus, but Colton grabbed Nathan’s shoulder and pulled him back. Colton put a finger up to his lips and whispered, “Check out over by the school sign.”

Nathan slipped in front of Colton and peeked at the sign. Two kids were laid out in the grass. They weren’t moving. From that distance, Nathan couldn’t tell who the kids were. But he could tell that they weren’t moving. Propped up against the school sign sat two adults, obviously talking in a low whisper. Nathan glanced back at the school. The adults were on the far side of the sign, completely out of sight of the front gate.

It was Mr. and Mrs. Curtis and their two kids, Connor and Abby. But, no one in Nathan’s group, including Nathan, had ever met them.

The ninjas were getting anxious. Only a couple of kids could look around the front of the bus at a time. Crazy Eddie crawled under the bus so that he could see what Nathan and Colton were talking about. A few of the ninjas followed his lead and quietly slipped under the bus.

Nathan swung back around and leaned against the bus. Daisy and Colton gathered around him. Nathan threw his hands up. “I don’t know,” he said. “It definitely looks odd. I can’t tell who those kids are, but they’re definitely not moving.” He put his hand up to his mouth and rubbed softly, thinking.

“Maybe we make a run for the gate?” Colton suggested.

Daisy sighed. “If this is a trap, and we can’t get in the gate, we’d be trapped between the gate and those adults by the sign.” She looked at Nathan, “Can we signal the kids in the school?”  

Nathan appeared confused. “What? Uh... yeah, that’s a good idea... but I haven’t seen any kids around the school.” Nathan didn’t like being a decision-maker.

Jackson, one of the kids watching from under the bus, pulled on Colton’s pant leg and whispered, “Hey, Colton–”

“Not now, Jackson!” Colton snapped. “Give us a minute to think.”

Jackson forcefully yanked the pant leg again. “Colton! It’s Crazy Eddie! He’s charging the adults!”

Colton, Nathan, and Daisy jumped out around the front of the bus. They were just in time to see Crazy Eddie get to the adults at the sign. Crazy Eddie slowed his sprint just as he got to where the blind man, Mr. Curtis, sat against the sign. Mr. Curtis tilted his ear toward Eddie. The man started to say something, but Eddie ended that quickly. Crazy Eddie swung the bat full-force at the man’s head, and connected. The force of the swing collapsed the side of the man’s head and drove it into the concrete that held the school sign.

Mr. Curtis died instantly. The back of his head bounced with a wet thunk! off the concrete then his lifeless body slumped forward.

Crazy Eddie had to let go of the bat as he was almost dragged to the ground by the body’s forward roll. Eddie frantically grabbed the bat’s handle, wrenched and tried to free it. The nails were firmly embedded in the man’s skull and now the man’s 200 pound body was laying on the end of the bat.

Chaos erupted like the super volcano that had changed the world.

Mrs. Curtis shrieked, “What’s going on?!” She frantically reached out toward where her husband had been sitting, but she grabbed at air.

Both of the sleeping kids sprang awake and started screaming. Connor scrambled toward Crazy Eddie.

Nathan, Daisy, and the ninjas sprinted across the parking lot and got to Eddie as he struggled with the embedded bat.

At full speed, Nathan slammed into Crazy Eddie and sent him flying.

Colton and Daisy grabbed Mrs. Curtis and pulled her from the sign.

Two of the ninjas tackled Connor and held him down.

Abby crawled over to her father. She gingerly hugged his back, careful to stay away from the caved-in skull.

Mrs. Curtis thrashed around screaming, “What happened? Honey?! Honey?! What’s going on?!”

Parker and three boys from the school raced up and skidded to a horrified stop.

Between heavy breaths, Parker gasped, “What the… What happ–” The crying, screaming, wrestling, and shower of questions were overwhelming. “Uh, everybody just calm down!” That exclamation was like a face slap for everyone involved. Parker almost wasn’t prepared for the reaction. Except for a few sobs and heavy breathing, all eyes were on Parker. “OK,” he said, trying to control his breathing, “let’s get everyone inside and we’ll sort this out!”

The wrestling slowed, as the kids released Connor, Eddie, and the mother. But the sobs increased.

Crazy Eddie shrugged off Nathan, who rolled to his back. Eddie stood up, stepped toward the body of Mr. Curtis, and reached down toward the handle of the embedded bat.

“Leave it!” snarled Colton.

Eddie glared at Colton. But then Eddie looked around at everyone else around him. If looks could be daggers, Eddie was a carnival knife-throwing target. And every dagger was hitting the bullseye. Crazy Eddie snorted and stomped off toward the school gate.

As the others started getting up and making their way to the school, Nathan just lay in the grass looking up at the sky. Comfortable clouds floated overhead, partially obscuring the royal blue sky. Nathan’s lower lip quivered, then he began to cry.

Daisy sat down in the grass next to Nathan. She gently held his hand. And she waited for him to be ready. “We’re Ok, Nathan,” she said so softly that she didn’t even know if he heard her. But that didn’t matter; it was really more for her.

 

Chapter 18




 

Penny and Maya stood on the side of the door that would swing open. A broomstick was the only weapon they could find, but it was better than nothing. Guthrie lay wrapped in his netting, sideways on the storeroom floor two steps into the room. Timing was going to be everything. The men were blind, but they were big and strong. Penny knew that their only advantages were timing and surprise.

The sounds of the footsteps on the stairs made Penny’s heart race; she could feel it trying to escape from her chest. Penny took a couple of deep breaths and whispered, “Go Guthrie.”

As the footsteps approached the storeroom door, Guthrie began rubbing his feet against the shelf on one side of the room. He started breathing heavily, which wasn’t too difficult because he was so scared. Hopefully these combined movements would create the auditory illusion of kids laying on both sides of the small room.

The men unlocked the door, swung it open, and one of the men announced, “Hey, kids, we’re home. We’ve got one more friend for you to play with.”

Penny and Maya sensed the men step into the room. As the men passed, Penny carefully stepped into the void behind them. Penny had one hand toward the middle of the boomstick, and held her other hand over her end so that the broomstick wouldn’t hit the door and alert the men. Maya stayed still and held the other end of the broomstick.

Maya lifted up her end of the stick. The girls held the broomstick horizontally, about chest high.

One of the men reached his foot forward and gently probed with his toe. He tapped Guthrie a couple of times. “What the… Why are you laying sideways kid? We’re going to have to straighten you out after we set down your new friend.”

Anticipation was killing Penny. She wanted to rush forward before the men realized what was happening. She could hear the men wrestling as they set down the new wrapped-up kid.

“Hey!” Guthrie blurted out.

That was the signal!

Penny and Maya rushed forward and pushed the broomstick like they were trying to open a stubborn school door. As soon as they felt a connection with one of the men, they both pushed forward as hard as they could.

The men were caught by surprise. They stumbled forward, tried to turn around, but both men immediately tripped on Guthrie, who rolled toward the door. Penny and Maya shoved forward and down while steadying their feet so that they would not end up on top of everybody. Both men hit the ground with a painful thud.

Penny reached down and grabbed the netting around Guthrie’s legs. She quickly swung Guthrie around and dragged him out the door.

Maya grabbed at the new kid below her. Luckily, neither of the men had landed directly on the new kid. She grasped netting and began to pull, but the body only slid a few feet.

“I don’t think so!” one man snarled. “You’re not going anywh– Arrr!”

Maya heard something heavy hit the man and then the floor. Suddenly, the body she was working on was moving toward the door. Penny had joined her.

Penny reached out with her right hand and caught the edge of the door as they dragged the netted kid. She let Maya finish freeing the kid through the doorway. Penny pulled the door shut and reached up to find the lock. Her hand scraped across a key in a deadbolt and she quickly drove the lock home with a flick of her wrist. Thunk!

One of the men had gotten to the door and started pounding on it. The other man joined him. Neither the fist pounding nor the cascade of curses was going to get through the thick door anytime soon. But that didn’t stop the girls from working quickly.

Penny didn’t know which was faster, her heartbeat or the beating of the men on the storeroom door. Penny used her razor blade to cut through the cords that bound Guthrie’s legs. Maya, reaching out both up and down, searched the basement room. She found a desk and discovered some scissors in the top drawer. Maya bent down and found the other kid, who had been brought in last. She reached up and found his face. Duct tape had sealed his mouth. No wonder he hadn’t said anything. Maya picked at a corner, grasped the tape and ripped it away.

The boy gasped. “Thanks,” he said. “Let’s get out of here. They’re packing the other kids into the vans.”

“What?” Maya said as she quickly cut through the netting.

“Maya? Is that you?” the boy asked. “It’s me, Tim.”

“Yes, it’s me,” Maya snapped. “What’s this about the vans?”

Tim wriggled a little as he became freer. “They’re putting the other kids in the vans that were parked outside. I heard something about going to an auction or something.”

“You must’ve heard wrong,” Maya said. “But, whatever, let’s get out of here first.”

Maya freed Tim about the same time that Penny finished getting the netting off Guthrie. At Penny’s suggestion, they all searched shelves and counters for anything they could carry, then, as they made their way up the stairs, they placed random found-objects on the stairs behind them. Penny finished with a handful of pencils spread out on the fourth step.

At the top of the stairs, Maya took a deep breath and quietly opened the door. A little bit of light from the front windows made the restaurant not quite as dark as the basement. Penny could just make out a few shapes. But what she could make out, was the front door. That door was freedom.

Maya took two steps and froze. The other kids bumped into her. They tried to look around her. But the room was still like being in the belly of a whale.

Penny squinted and could start to make out some tables, chairs, and… people in some of the chairs.

“Ray? Is that you?” a woman’s voice asked. “Ray?”

Maya turned to the kids behind her. She gently nudged them to step aside. They all reached out and opened up a path to the basement door.

“Ray, you’re a jerk,” the woman snapped. “Get Frank up here. We have to go over a few things.” She paused when the only response was silence. “Ray?”

Still nothing.

The kids moved silently further from the door and crouched down.

“Do y’all hear that?” the woman asked.

The silence in the room thickened and then Penny heard it- the beating on the door below.

“Somebody go check that out,” the woman commanded.

Penny could just make out a large dark shape stand up on the left side of the room and a man announced, “I got it.”

As he stomped toward the basement door, another man from the same table arose and said, “I’ll come with you. Those guys are idiots.”

All of the kids held their breath as the two men felt their way to the basement door. The first man got a few steps down the stairs before his foot slid out on the pencils. He crashed onto his back and thumped painfully down the stairs.

The second man stomped down the stairs after him and promptly tripped on some other present left behind by the kids.

“Run!” Maya whispered. She got up and dashed for the crack of light around the front door.

Guthrie and Tim sprinted straight behind Maya. They all prayed that the path was clear. Penny quickly followed them, but she added a little twist- she reached out and grabbed chairs along the way, making sure to tip them over as a barrier behind them.

Penny could hear the adults in the room rushing to get to their feet and close in on the middle of the restaurant.

Maya burst through the door and light flooded the room.

Penny grabbed a table with two hands and swung it around into the middle aisle. She tipped over a couple more chairs. Crashes and curses behind her assured Penny that her obstacles were working.

Penny stumbled out onto the sidewalk as she emerged from the restaurant. The sunlight was blinding. She squinted and whipped her head around until she spotted the other kids heading down the street to the left. Penny raced to catch up.

Their eyes adjusted fairly quickly, and after about 50 yards, they all slowed down and looked back. Adults flooded out of the restaurant but could only spread out on the sidewalk and feel around. Calls to “Stand still and listen!” were largely ignored thanks to the frantic, noisy atmosphere of adults racing around, crashing into obstacles and cursing in the restaurant.

Penny, breathing hard, looked at Maya. The girls smiled and hugged.

Maya stepped back and whispered, “We gotta get back to school and get help.”

Penny nodded and they all started running back to school.

 

Chapter 19



 

A meeting was in session when Penny and Maya returned. Their experience just made extended the meeting and added confusion.  

Tim finished and Penny looked around the picnic table.

Maya was shaking her head.

Parker nodded like a bobbing head doll during an earthquake.

Colton was biting feverishly at his thumbnail.

And Nathan… well, Nathan looked like he felt- out of place. Nathan was never invited to the picnic table leader meetings. But this was an exception.

Everyone seemed as confused as Penny felt after hearing Tim recount what he had overheard when he was captured.

“Ok, Tim, thanks,” Parker said. “We’ll talk about it. Can you take that family some water and see if you can help Michael dig?”

Tim nodded and left.

Parker looked around. “Vans,” he thought aloud, “they must be getting kids to drive… That’s a new one. And an auction?”

Maya rubbed her temples. “They must have a couple of bigger kids who can drive,” she said. “This is really bad.”

Nathan raised his hand.

Everyone turned and looked at him.

Parker chuckled, “You can just speak up Nathan. We don’t do the hand-raising thing here.”

“Um,” Nathan started softly, “uh, Daisy told me that the adults might be selling kids… like slaves.”

Penny looked at Nathan and asked, “Who said that?”

“Daisy,” Nathan replied, “the girl who saved me.” He looked at Parker and added, “The adults that were using Penny had guns. They were trying to capture kids to take them to some place they called The Market.”

“Guns?” Parker questioned. “What are they gonna hit? They’re blind.”

Nathan shook his head. “Blind men shot the three guys that captured me,” Nathan said.

Colton was suddenly interested. He turned to Nathan. “You didn’t mention this before.”

Nathan was about to respond, but Parker cut him off, “That's not important right now. What is important is this pack of adults in Morrison… they are holding what, like nine school kids?”

“It’s eight,” Penny corrected him. It would have been nine, but some adult had killed Ben. Penny was still in shock about losing Ben, but she was doing everything she could to direct her misery toward saving the kids who had been captured. That’s what Ben would have wanted.

“OK, eight kids,” Parker said. “If Tim is correct, all the kids are in those two vans. We know that adults like to travel at night, but there’s no way they will have some kids drive the vans in the dark. I bet that they will try to move them in the morning.”

Maya nodded then asked the question they were all wondering, “How do we stop two vans?”

Colton stopped chewing his thumbnail and said, “We can cut down some trees so they fall across the road. Then when they stop the vans, we ambush them.”

Parker shook his head. “Have you ever cut down a tree before? It’s really hard. I helped my dad cut down a tree one time. He used a chainsaw and it was still really hard.” Parker trailed off that last bit and Penny could tell that talking about his dad had unleashed a flood of memories. It happened to all of the kids, way too often.

Penny jumped into the conversation, “We need to stop the vans before they go anywhere.”

Everyone looked at Penny.

Colton nodded. “Yeah, good idea. Maybe we shoot out the tires with a bow and arrow. Or stick a knife in the tires.”

Penny shook her head. “Tires are tough. I’m pretty sure that you can’t stab a tire.” She addressed Parker and Maya. “Those vans were parked sideways in the street. They can’t go backwards right now because they would hit the curb, then a building. We just have to block them from going forward.”

“Create a traffic jam,” Maya muttered.

“Yes,” Penny replied, “a traffic jam. The adults in Morrison have been moving the cars around, why can’t we?”

Parker looked at Penny and asked, “What’s to stop them from just moving the cars out of the way?”

Penny shrugged. “I’m still working on that.”

“Maybe we could tie the cars together,” Nathan suggested. He thought it was a stupid idea as soon as it escaped his mouth. They’re not shopping carts! he thought, chastising himself. Why am I even here?

“That’s a great idea, Nathan,” Maya said. “Ropes or chains underneath might make a huge mess for the adults to try and figure out.”

Newly discovered confidence put a smile on Nathan’s face. As the plan developed, Nathan felt increasingly comfortable to contribute suggestions. That respect was new for Nathan. And he liked it. In two days he had gone from messenger boy to having a voice among the leaders.

 

As they discussed the traffic jam, Michael and Tim were digging a grave in the corner of the field by the fence. Tim had brought water. The mom and the girl, Abby, each took a water bottle and thanked Tim. The boy, Connor, shook his head. He was digging a small hole with a stick that kept breaking. Tim could tell that he was furious. Every few minutes, Connor would glare at Crazy Eddie who had been put on front gate duty with Guthrie.

Michael and Tim were two of the better diggers at the school. They had dug holes for some of the traps around the school. They liked digging, but they didn’t like digging graves.

Tim paused and took a sip of water. “That kid must be so pissed,” he whispered to Michael.

Michael looked over at Connor, then turned to Tim. “Yeah, I bet he’s stabbing the ground and pretending he’s stabbing that crazy ninja kid.” Michael shook his head. “You should’ve seen that dad’s face; it was totally smashed in. It took two kids to get the spiked bat unstuck. It was nasty.”

Tim was glad he hadn’t seen it. He didn’t do well with blood. He glanced over at the dad’s body and was thankful that it was wrapped in a tarp. “Let’s just get this done,” he said tossing his water to the side. Tim figured that they had another hour or so of digging to get the grave at least knee deep. He just hoped they wouldn’t hit a big rock and have to start over. Digging graves sucks.

 

Chapter 20


 

Maya burst into the room and shook Penny awake. Penny didn’t even realize that she had fallen asleep. After the meeting she mindlessly ate a stale protein bar and went to the girls’ bunk room to lay down for a minute.

“Penny! Get up!” Maya blurted.

Penny looked outside, rubbed her eyes, and muttered, “Is it morning already?”

Maya turned and grabbed Penny’s backpack off the chair and tossed it to her. “It’s the vans.”

“They left town already?” Penny asked, shaking the sleepiness out of her head.

Maya thought for a second and replied, “Well, yeah, they did leave town already. But that’s not the problem.”

Penny stood up. The concern on Maya’s face was overwhelming; it almost looked like panic. “What’s the problem?”

“The vans just pulled up to our front gate,” Maya said.

Questions bounced around inside Penny’s skull, but they ended up sticking in her throat. She quickly followed Maya to the front gate.

 

As news of the vans spread, kids from all over the school stopped what they were doing and flooded out the front entrance. They either found a viewing spot on or near the fence line of cars that protected the school, or they stood just outside the front doors.

Maya and Penny climbed up into the pick-up truck at the gate. Parker and Colton were already there.

The two vans from town sat silently, parked on the road in front of the school.

“Any change?” Maya asked.

Parker looked over at her and shook his head. “No, they’re just sitting there. We can’t see anybody in either van. No one’s come out of either vehicle.” He shrugged. “I don’t get it.”

Penny shook her head. “Does anyone else feel weird about all this?” she asked. “We haven’t seen hardly any groups of blind adults for like three weeks, then suddenly there’s a large group in Morrison, a smaller group grabs Nathan, and Daisy’s group just happens to be passing through.”

Colton added, “Don’t forget about that family with the mom, dad, and two kids.”

“Yeah,” Penny agreed, “that family just walks up to the gate… while all this other stuff is going on. I think it’s all too much to be coincidence. They’re all connected somehow.” Penny’s head hurt. It felt like a puzzle where all the pieces were on the table but they were upside down and she just couldn’t put them together. It was frustrating.

“How did they find us?” Maya muttered.

“They did capture school kids,” Parker said. “Our kids who could easily be in those vans.”

The backdoor of a van opened. And out stepped the girl that Penny had tried to save the day before. She was still wearing the light blue UCLA hoodie. A chain leash attached to her neck lead back into the van. An overweight, dirty white-bearded man who held the other end of the leash followed UCLA girl out of the van until they were standing side-by-side. The vans were parked sideways so the kids couldn’t see what was in them.

The man wore a filthy red tracksuit. He looked like a trailer park Santa Claus who had just finished cleaning out the reindeer pens. He pulled the girl over next to him and patted her head like she was a loyal pet. They stood there for an uncomfortably long time without saying anything.

Parker couldn’t take it. He called out, “What do you want?!”

Penny shook her head. Her dad had always told her that the first rule of negotiating was to let the other person speak first. Penny knew they were entering negotiations. Or at least she hoped they were entering negotiations.

The man said nothing, he just bent down and listened to something whispered by the UCLA girl. Then he stood back up and lifted his chin and puffed out his chest a little.

“We want our kids back!” Parker announced before the man could speak.

The man chuckled. “That’s not exactly what I was thinking.” He paused and nodded confidently. “No, I’m going to give you the choice between two ugly shirts.”

Parker waited, but the man just smiled. Parker shook his head and said, “We don’t want your ugly shirts. Besides, you’re blind, how are you even going to know what ugly is?”

“It’s a metaphor!” the man snapped. He squinted and dug at the corner of his eye with leftover sausage fingers. “I’m going to give you two choices. You probably won’t like either choice, but you have to choose one.” He composed himself and continued, “You can choose to send us four more kids so that we have an even dozen to take to the auction. Or… we are going to come in there and take as many kids as we want. With the first choice, nobody gets hurt. But, if we have to come in there, I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety.”

“I don’t think so!” Parker blurted back. “My deal for you is, let our friends go and we will let you go.”

The man laughed, way too loud and way too long.

As he laughed, the kids moved closer to the fence. Fear connected all of the school kids. There was something overly confident in the man’s laugh that masqueraded as a dangerous secret.

Parker turned to Penny and whispered, “We’re not prepared here. Take a small group and go back in the school. Grab whatever weapons you can get to quickly. We may have to attack.”

Penny nodded and replied, “Keep him talking and distracted.” She turned and jumped down out of the truck. Penny pointed at the four closest kids and motioned for them to follow her back to the school.

The sounds of Parker trying to engage the man in further conversation followed Penny as she dashed back to the school. When she got to the front door, she stopped and looked back. The man was still laughing. There’s something we’re overlooking, she thought. Penny blinked that thought away and spun back and grabbed the door handle. She pulled, but the door didn’t budge. Confusion made Penny look down at her hand as if she thought there was something wrong with it.

Duh, she thought, push the door you idiot. She hoped no one had noticed her failure. Penny let go of the handle, grabbed it again, pressed down on the knob with her thumb and pushed. But the door refused to open. She frantically pushed and yanked on the handle. But nothing happened.

The door was locked.

Penny cupped her hands like hollow binoculars to block out the glare and pressed her face against the door glass. She spotted the family boy, Connor, standing just beyond the entrance in the school. Penny rapped on the door with her knuckles and pointed down to the door handle.

Connor looked at her. An evil smile creased his face. He raised his pointer finger and slowly waved it back and forth as if to say, “No, no, no.”

Confusion furrowed Penny’s brow. Then her features softened as realization set in. It was the realization of what she had been missing when trying to connect everything.

Connor’s sister, Abby, ran down the hall and stopped next to her brother. She said something to him which resulted in an even wider smile. Then Abby looked to Penny at the front door and Abby raised her middle finger up toward Penny.

The kids around Penny had been watching the exchange and stayed silent. Penny turned to them and suggested that they race around the school to try and find another way in. As those kids split up and began their search, Penny started back toward the front gate. She was almost positive that the kids would not find a way into the school. One priority that the school kids had made from the very beginning was to secure the school. It was the reason they had decided on living at the school in the first place. The front door was the only way in.

Now, they were locked out.

And the majority of their weapons were locked in.

The two ugly shirts just got a whole lot uglier.

 

Chapter 21




 

When Penny returned to the front gate, Parker could tell that something was wrong. Penny was alone and empty-handed. Penny quickly explained how the family had betrayed them. Parker knew that the chances of getting into the school was a long shot.

“What are we going to do without weapons if they attack?” Parker wondered aloud.

Maya sighed. “But they might not know that many of our weapons are inside.”

Penny had already thought about that. “It doesn’t matter. Weapons are just things,” she said. “Our best weapon is right here.” She pointed with both fingers to her eyes. “And that’s the adults’ greatest weakness.”

Maya nodded but only felt a little bit better. “I agree Penny, but it’s going to be dark soon. If we’re going to use our advantage, we gotta do something now.”

Penny looked to the vans. The man was lounging in a lawn chair with UCLA girl sitting on the ground next to him. “What’s going on out there?”

“The guy is giving us 30 minutes to decide,” Parker said. “But what are they gonna do? How are they thinking they’ll get in?”

“That doesn’t matter either,” Penny said. “We need to go to them. They won’t expect that.”

Maya smiled, “Yeah Penny. I feel like we’ve been one step behind with this group. Let’s pass the word around. The first priority is to disable the vans, somehow.”

Colton spoke up, “The ninjas and I will take care of the vans.”

“Good,” Parker said, “I’ll take away their eyes. That girl in the hoodie is all they’ve got as far as I’ve seen.”

“Confusion is a weapon,” Penny announced. “We can confuse them by making noise in the places where we aren’t.” She paused and added, “Except for whoever is driving the vans.”

“I said that we’ll take care of that,” Colton repeated.

The kids hashed out a few details and sent messengers around the school grounds.

But before the message got to everyone, the van doors opened. Three men stepped out of each van. And each man carried a shotgun.

The Santa Claus impersonator in the lawn chair rose slowly as the shotgun-toting men spread out next to him. He pulled on the leash and dragged UCLA girl right in front of him. “OK, kids!” the man yelled, “I’m guessing that the situation has changed a little. And your choices have changed. I said four more kids, but I’m going to bump that up. I want six more kids for my collection.”

The kids prepared to open the front gate. Small groups got ready to sneak out the secret exits under the fence on either side of the main gate. Penny stood next to Maya. She knew that she’d be fine once she got moving. Ben had always told her that instincts take over after the initial action starts and Penny should trust her instincts. Tears welled up in Penny’s eyes. She wiped them away and set the memory of Ben aside for later.

Maya turned to the group as the gate opened and said, “They’re scary, for sure, but remember that they don’t want to hurt us. We’re valuable. That’s a huge advantage. If they shoot, it’ll probably be over our heads, to scare us.” She paused, hoping she was right. “Make noise everywhere. Let’s have 15 kids seem like 50.”

It was dusk, but confidence emanated from Maya like she was the rising sun on a cold morning. Penny loved it. Adults underestimate kids, she thought. Let’s surprise them.

The front gate opened and the attack was on. Ten kids flooded out the front gate following Maya and Penny. Each kid had a thin rope tied around their waist. Two random things were tied to the end of the rope. Some had shoes on their rope, others had sticks, and others had various articles of clothing. The random things were known as “dead dogs” and were meant to be dragged behind them to make noise. Once the kids cleared the front gate, each kid tossed their noise-makers behind them and started to run. They split up and sprinted through the parking lot.

The effect was immediate. The shotgun-toting men attempted to follow the sounds of movement in front of them, but their frustration was obvious.

During the confusion, Colton and the ninjas left through the right-side secret exit and started sweeping around to get on the other side of the vans.

Parker slipped out through the left hidden exit. He didn’t know how he’d get close enough to grab UCLA, but he trusted that the confusion created by the others would give him a chance. The only weapon he carried was a shovel that he had grabbed from where the boys had dug the grave. A shovel was better than nothing.

 

Every kid knew that adults are scariest when they can grab you. Stay out of arm’s reach and you should be able to get around them.

The men near the van were obviously irritated. They swung the shotguns back and forth, pointing from one sound to another.

“We don’t want to hurt you!” the adult leader yelled. “But we will if you don’t stop this nonsense!”

Penny stayed low and paused behind an old red VW Beetle. She peeked out over the hood. Making noise was easy, but she was struggling with how to get close enough to disrupt the defensive stance of the men. She was about to race to the next car when she realized that an answer was right in front of her. The cars! The kids couldn’t get the cars started because no one had keys, but they knew that the older cars would roll if they shifted them in neutral. They had moved some of the cars around the parking lot already for better sight lines to the road. Penny couldn’t risk calling out to the other kids; she’d have to get the proverbial ball rolling first and hope that others caught on.

Penny spotted Michael approaching and waved him over. She opened the driver’s side door as he got there.

“What are you doing?” Michael whispered.

Penny reached in and put the gear shift into neutral. “Help me with this,” she whispered back. “Let’s try to push this at them.”

The car was parked diagonally, facing toward the street. They had to back it up some and then turn the wheel to get it started toward the street where the vans were parked. The driveway out to the street was slightly downhill, so Penny knew they’d just have to get it rolling and gravity would do the rest.

Michael opened the passenger door. Penny took a deep breath and they both pushed on the door frame to move the car backwards. At first the car barely budged, then they got it moving. Penny steered with her left arm. They paused after they had the car backed out of the spot.

Penny glanced over at Michael, “Now comes the hard part. We have to get it rolling so I can reverse the wheel and steer down the driveway. Keep it slow,” she whispered, “until I get it straightened out. Then we can give it a good shove.”

Michael nodded. He looked excited.

“One of those guys is probably going to shoot at the car,” Penny warned. “After about halfway, if the car is rolling ok, you take off to the right and I go left.”

Michael’s excitement changed to anxiety with every word that Penny said.

Penny realized that the pause was contributing to Michael’s apprehension. “Let’s do it!” she said with a smile.

They both switched their pushing positions. As the Beetle rolled forward, Penny cranked the steering wheel toward her. The car turned out toward the parking lot and began rolling toward the street. Penny over corrected and the car swung too far out. She steered back and forth a little until she got it rolling straight. The car was picking up speed. At first Penny was confused, but a quick glance at Michael cleared up her confusing.

Michael had one hand on the door frame and one on the open door. He was driving forward as hard as he could. His labored plodding quickened and the light car responded.

Penny considered asking Michael to slow down, but she didn’t. She wanted the Beetle to plow into those men and end this whole thing. Penny began pumping her legs. She looked through the dust-crusted driver’s window of the car. UCLA girl was frantically chattering away at the adult leader. He turned his ear toward the approaching Beetle. As he did that, he also drew the attention of the two closest shotgun-wielding men.

“Michael! Go!” Penny ordered.

Without even a glance, Michael dashed off to the right, jumped into the grass and slid behind a large ponderosa pine tree.

Penny continued pushing the car. She turned the wheel slightly and aimed the Beetle directly at the adult leader and the back van. The car would have to roll through grass to get to the van, but Penny didn’t think that would be a problem. She was already having a difficult time keeping up with the car. She gave one last extra shove and ducked off to the left to hide behind a gray minivan.

She had barely gotten to the safety of the minivan when the first shotgun blast erupted. That was followed by two more blasts, angry shouts, and the unmistakable sound of metal connecting with metal- CRASH!

As Penny let out a relieved sigh, the tortured wailing of an adult man filled the air.

Penny put her head in her hands and wondered what she’d done.

 

Chapter 22


 

As Penny and Michael were rolling the Beetle, Colton and the ninjas skirted way around the edge of the commotion to approach the vans from behind. Colton stopped his group at the edge of the road. To the casual observer, it would appear that the ninjas had paused to asses the situation and wait for the right time to dash across the road. But, to Colton, the pause was actually a crossroads. He secretly had two plans in mind. If all was going according to plan, the ninjas would help disable the vans as promised. But, if the initial assault by the kids looked like it would fail, Colton planned on convincing the ninjas to run away and not look back. He was certain that all but Crazy Eddie would support his escape plan. They weren’t really “fighters.” Colton had just adopted the name “ninjas” because he wanted his group to focus on being quiet. And he hoped that other kids would leave them alone if they were called the ninjas. Unfortunately, the school kids sought the ninjas help because they needed fighters. A real fight was certain to expose the ninja masquerade.

Colton had spotted a small pile of melee weapons stashed under the back of the van behind the leader. From Colton’s obstructed view, he could make out a bat, some kind of axe and what looked like a machete. That was bad; armed grown-ups is the first ingredient in a disastrous fight. After seeing the blind men aiming the shotguns around and watching kids run out the front gate trailing little more than noisemakers, Colton almost suggested the escape plan to the ninjas.

But then the Beetle started rolling toward the vans. The school kids impressed Colton with their resolve. They weren’t just scared kids, scavenging and surviving.

Colton’s mind was made up. “Now!” Colton commanded.

The ninjas dashed across the street as the adults turned their attention to the oncoming car. Colton lead them to a rocky outcropping on the other side of the road. As he sprinted, Colton decided that he would ask the school kids, after the battle, if the ninjas could join up with them. But first, he had to prove to the school kids that the ninjas were worthy.

 

Parker looked out from behind the school sign. The men with the shotguns were obviously confused by all the sounds of the frontal assault. But Parker knew that confusion could lead to panic. Making a man with a gun nervous was like poking a sleeping bear with a stick. Neither situation ends well.

Before he ducked back behind the sign, Parker was horrified to notice that someone had slammed Crazy Eddie’s bat into the top of the school sign. It was definitely a menacing image; the gruesome warning was wasted because blind adults would never be intimidated by something they couldn’t see.

Parker pushed up on the handle and freed the bat from the sign. He sat back down and weighed his two weapon options. When he focused his attention just beyond the spiked bat, he spotted the remnants of the blood from where the man had been killed by Crazy Eddie. That image slid Parker’s mind into a foggy place.

A shotgun blast snapped Parker out of his confusion. He ducked and looked out around the sign. The red Beetle was rolling toward the vans. He knew that chaos was his best chance to get close to the vans. Parker rose and sprinted for the vans. He carried the bat in his right hand and the shovel in his left. He wasn’t sure what he would do with either, but he felt safer carrying both weapons.

As he dashed toward the vans, he saw the ninjas running across the street on the other side of the vans. And he smiled when he saw the panic in the men as the red Beetle rolled toward them.

 

Crazy Eddie raced behind Colton. He knew that their mission was to disable the vans, but the best plan Colton had come up with was to get around behind the vans and see what they could do. What kind of lame plan is that? Eddie wondered. No weapons. No plan. We’re screwed, he thought.

Eddie wanted desperately to smash a window at the school and let everybody in so they could get proper weapons. He was amazed and frustrated that the school kids didn’t have any guns. They claimed that kids would just hurt themselves with guns. The leader girl, Maya, had told him that pointing a gun at a blind person was about as effective as a kite with no string.

As Colton headed for another hiding spot, Eddie considered rushing the men at the vans. Maybe he could get a shotgun and end this whole thing. He glanced at the vans and smiled when he saw the red Beetle rolling toward the enemy. Then his grin expanded as his eyes caught movement on the other side of the vans. Seeing Parker running toward the vans was one thing, but Parker carrying Eddie’s bat fueled his charge.

And changed his mind.

Eddie veered away from the ninjas and sprinted toward the back side of the vans.

 

Parker spotted Crazy Eddie running around behind the vans. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce why Eddie had changed direction.

Parker paused in front of the first van, partly to wait for the Beetle to hit the back van, but also to meet up with Crazy Eddie. As Parker waited, he glanced into the van’s front windshield. A boy sat in the driver’s seat. It was Simon, one of Parker’s friends. Simon was secured to the driver’s seat by a rope around his neck. A man sat in the passenger’s seat. The man was obviously badgering Simon for details on what was going on outside the van. Parker gave Simon a thumbs-up and Simon returned the gesture. Simon’s eyes darted to the right.

Parker turned and saw Crazy Eddie step around the front of the van. Eddie was panting through an evil, toothy grin. He held out his hand and Parker gave him the spiked bat. Eddie’s smile reminded Parker of The Joker from Batman.

A shotgun blast startled them both; the crunching metal and tortured scream immediately followed.

After a quick head nod to Eddie, Parker peeked around the edge of the van.

Eddie stepped out and looked around Parker.

 

Chaos reigned at the other van. The rolling Beetle had pinned the adult leader to the second van. The bumper had caught the man at the knees and Parker could see that both of the man’s legs were either broken or the knees were dislocated. Knees weren’t supposed to bend like that. Parker gagged up a mouthful of vomit and slapped his hand to his mouth. Self-preservation helped Parker swallow that vomit and quickly advance forward. He knew that this was his chance to get to UCLA girl.

The leader laid on the hood of the Beetle and ineffectively pounded his fists on the hood, the windshield, and anything else that he could reach. And he screamed in pain. A high-pitched wail that Parker would never forget. The pounding was accentuated by the metallic clank of the chain in the leader’s left hand. Handcuffs secured the chain to the leader’s wrist. As the leader pounded away, UCLA girl’s chain leash slammed the unmoving car.

The men around him were panicking. They moved from wildly aiming their shotguns around to using the shotguns as walking sticks and stepping blindly toward the pinned leader.

“Get this off of me!” the leader wailed as he continued to beat down on the car.

Parker carefully made his way around the horrific scene.

One of the men was feeling his way toward the back of the first van. He would be inside soon. Four of the men were working on the Beetle.

“Find a spot and push this thing back!” one man yelled.

The men set their guns down, found a handhold on the car and slowly rolled the Beetle away from the pinned leader.

The leader’s cries provided Parker with the cover he needed. Parker quickly and quietly stepped around the front of the car. He spotted UCLA girl cowering away from the horror. The chain connecting her to the leader jerked and eased with the leader’s pounding. UCLA girl had her back to Parker and was trying to reach something under the back corner of the van. But each time she reached out, the chain pulled her back toward the leader.

Agony made breathing difficult as Parker moved forward. He spotted the chain around UCLA girl’s neck. It wasn’t connected to her neck by a collar, the chain wrapped around her neck and was connected to itself by a combination lock. The shovel in his hand was going to be useless. He knew there was no way that the shovel would be able to chop through the chain.

As Parker bent down toward UCLA girl, he wanted to avoid startling her or warning the blind men of his presence so he reached out as UCLA girl reached under the van and gently tapped her shoulder.

The effect was immediate. UCLA girl grabbed something under the van and quickly spun back toward Parker. It was a violent spin, made even more violent by the machete that UCLA girl swung at Parker.

The machete swing arc was wide enough for Parker to spot the weapon and take action. He reached out and got ahold of UCLA girl’s wrist. Parker was saved by the combination of his quick action and UCLA girl’s recognition that Parker was not a threat.

Relief flooded through UCLA girl’s face. She relaxed, but reached up to her throat with her free hand.

Parker set the shovel down quietly and took the machete from UCLA girl’s hand. He gave her a knowing nod, switched the machete to his right hand, and turned back toward the leader. Parker’s breathing sped up as he realized what he needed to do.

As the men successfully pushed the Beetle away from the van, the leader slid down the hood of the car. His moaning made it obvious that he was alive. His crumbling to the ground made it obvious that neither of his legs worked anymore. The men continued pushing forward and the leader slowed his eventual meeting with the pavement by reverse-climbing down the hood of the car. When his body slapped prone to the pavement, he wailed even louder.

And Parker was ready, standing right next to the fallen leader. Parker got into his best power stance, raised the machete high and hammered down with all he had. Anger drove the machete down and cleanly through the leader’s left wrist that held UCLA girl’s leach.

The leader let loose an unearthly screech.

Parker grabbed the leader’s severed hand. The handcuffs slid off the severed end of the wrist, but the chain was wrapped around the hand, through the palm in the leader’s final death-grip. Parker didn’t bother to try to unwind the chain. He just yanked the chain, hand still attached, and dashed away. UCLA girl was prepared. She was on her feet, holding the chain up so it wouldn’t drag, and she ran right behind Parker.

A shotgun blast behind them made Parker wince. He didn’t know what it would feel like to be shot, but he half-expected it. When nothing happened, he just sped up. As Parker sprinted down the road, he loosed the fingers’ grip, unwound the chain from the severed hand and tossed the hand into the grass by the road.

Then another shotgun roared and Parker dove into the grass just off the side of the road.


 

Chapter 23


 

A volcano of jealousy erupted within Crazy Eddie as he watched Parker move around the Beetle-induced chaos. Eddie thought that when he killed the man by the sign, he would be hailed as the GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time. He would be legendary. Kids never killed adults. Instead, Eddie became the goat by killing an innocent man. Some kids were blaming Eddie for the attack by the adults.

Eddie wanted, no, he needed, to regain the respect of the other kids.

He was certain that everyone could see Parker’s heroic actions. That should be me! Eddie thought.

Then he glanced at the van. His job was to disable the vans. He shook his head out of frustration and considered beating on the van with his spiked bat. But he knew that would do very little except make Eddie look like a toddler having a tantrum.

He peered around the van again and watched the men push the car away from the van. He watched the leader painfully crumble to the ground.

And Crazy Eddie smiled.

He didn’t smile because of the leader’s obvious suffering, he smiled because he spotted a shotgun on the ground next to the rolling car. Now that’s what I’m talking about! he thought.

Eddie quickly set the spiked bat down under the front tire of the van. He tucked the spiked end up against the tire. If the van rolled forward, it would be disabled. Then he turned his attention toward his extra credit project.  He prepared to sprint the short distance to the action at the other van, toward the gun. But then he watched Parker’s savage swing sever the leader’s left hand. The screech erupting from the fallen leader made Eddie wince. He got up and dashed forward just as Parker grabbed the severed hand and took of in the opposite direction.

Eddie skidded to a stop when he reached the shotgun. He snatched it off the ground, stepped back, raised the gun, and pointed it at the blind men who had just finished pushing the car away. “Freeze!” Eddie yelled. “Put your hands up and step away from the car!”

The two men closest to Eddie paused while the men on the other side of the car felt along the car as they made their way back toward the van.

“Shut up kid!” the man closest to Eddie snapped. “Go back to school and learn something. Like how adults are always right!” The man chuckled. It was a sardonic laugh that sliced through Eddie’s gun-backed confidence. The man was well over six feet tall. He was filthy, unshaven, and looked like he would have fit in perfectly waiting in line at a homeless shelter in the city. The dark, ripped sweatshirt especially infuriated Eddie because a large smiley face printed on the sweatshirt was surrounded by “Have a Nice Day in Denver!” Even the sweatshirt seemed to be making fun of Eddie.

The man took one large step toward Eddie. It was the last forward step that man would ever take.

Eddie panicked and pulled the trigger. The shotgun blast knocked two people down. The advancing man caught a load of buckshot is his chest, neck, and face. The force blew the man back into another man. Eddie was not prepared for the force of firing a shotgun. He’d never fired anything more powerful than a laser gun before that moment. The shotgun kicked back into Eddie’s gut and simultaneously the barrel swung up and cracked Eddie in the middle of his forehead. The stunned Eddie staggered back one step and ended up crashing to his butt. He barely contained himself from falling flat to his back by putting his hand out behind him. Buzzing filled Eddie’s ears and the stars before his eyes couldn’t be blinked away. Blinking became more difficult as blood bubbled out of his forehead and oozed down into his eyes. He could taste the blood.

Eddie struggled to stand. He used the shotgun as a prop but it slid out on loose gravel. He slid the gun away and pushed off the pavement to get shakily to his feet. With his head pounding out a sad song, Eddie used his sleeve to try wiping the blood away from his eyes, but he only succeeded in smearing the warm blood into his eyes. He staggered as if he were trying to stand on a bobbing raft during a storm.

“Parker?” he called out warily. “Parker, where are–”

A shotgun exploded and lifted Eddie off his feet, sending him flying and slamming into the pavement, flat on his back.

One of the men on the other side of the car had stumbled across one of their guns. Eddie’s feeble cry to Parker was all the man needed to locate his target.

Eddie’s last thought was, Now, I know what it feels like to get shot. I’m going to have to tell everybody.

 

Penny and Maya had joined up and were cautiously making their way toward the vans as the men pushed the Beetle away from the pinned leader. They both watched in horror as Parker chopped off the guy’s hand and ran away with UCLA girl.

Penny was the first to see Crazy Eddie pointing the gun at the man. She would have yelled or waved her hands frantically, but fear made Penny grab Maya and pull her behind a car. Eddie was pointing the gun at the man, but it was also pointed right where Penny and Maya were advancing. They had barely gotten down to safety when the gun roared.

A moment of silence followed and Penny peeked up through the dirty windows of the car. Her first thought was that Eddie had been shot. He was sitting on the ground, his face was bloody, and he looked… well, he looked like what Penny imagined someone would look like if they had been shot.

Watching Eddie struggle to his feet brought a sigh of relief to Penny. She turned to Maya and said, “We gotta go help.”

Penny and Maya stood and started to run around the front of the car just as the man with the shotgun blasted Eddie off his feet. Both girls slowed to a stop. In a movie, the scene would have unfolded in slow motion, maybe with a long wailing “Noooooo!” from one of the girls. In reality, the gunshot was like the wind slamming a door shut. Both girls froze and took a moment to wonder about veracity of what they had just witnessed.

All three of the men left standing quickly felt their way back to the first van. They banged on the back door, which quickly opened and the men were pulled inside.

Penny and Maya shook off the shock and raced toward Crazy Eddie. They got to him just as the first van started up and pulled forward. The van bumped over the spiked bat under the front tire. The bat held on for two rotations and then was flung aside as the van picked up speed.

Penny bent down next to Eddie. Blood had pooled up in each eye socket, and his mouth was slightly open. He was obviously dead. But there was something peaceful about the way he was positioned. There was no contortion of limbs or tongue hanging out of his mouth. Penny thought without the blood, Eddie could easily have been resting. His hands casually rested on each other on his chest, like a vampire in a casket waiting for morning. Penny reached out and held Eddie’s hand. She quietly thanked him for coming to help them.

The van near Penny roared to life. Penny winced as she expected it to peel out and spray her with gravel. But the van barely moved. The engine roared, but it simply rocked back and forth.  The van looked like it was in a video loop, playing the same 5 seconds over and over. Penny saw the reason for the stuck van. A couple of ninjas had positioned large rocks in front and behind each tire on Penny’s side of the van. They had obviously already secured the other tires.

Maya quietly moved around to the front of the van.

Penny heard shuffling behind her. A group of kids approached from the school. One boy bent down to pick up a shotgun, but Penny stopped him, “Hey!” she shouted. “Leave it! Look around and see what guns do!” She tried to sound commanding as tears formed in her eyes. She looked around. The man Eddie had shot was laying on his side half on the curb. He was a twisted mess of a human being laying in a pool of his own dark blood. The leader crushed by the car was even worse. Both legs were bent at unnatural angles. And his left arm ended in broken bone and bloody tissue. The machete lay discarded in the place where a hand should have been.

The door to the van opened. A man stepped out of the van. His arms were raised high and in his right hand, he held a walkie-talkie. It was like he was playing a game of keep away. “You may think you’ve won!” he shouted. “But I already radioed it in. The others are coming from town. And you won’t like what happens when they get here.” He sniffed in confidently, like someone about to dig into a birthday meal. “Do you smell that?” he asked no one, and everyone. “I smell darkness coming.I don’t need to see it, I can sense it. We own the night!”

Penny turned to the kids around her and put a finger up to her lips. Then she pointed to the each side and shook her hands back and forth to encourage kids to spread out and start making noise.

“Well?!” the man yelled, turning his head back and forth in an attempt to follow the sounds of the kids. “What’s it gonna be?!”

Penny sensed a growing frustration and panic in the man’s voice.

So did Maya. That side-confusion was all Maya needed. She had already silently moved within two steps of the man. Once she saw her window of opportunity open, Maya attacked. She took two quick steps then jumped and swatted the walkie-talkie out of the man’s hand. The walkie-talkie clattered to the pavement where one of the ninjas quickly scooped it up. Maya continued her forward trajectory and ducked as the man reached out to grab her. He took a couple of wide swipes and came up empty.

The man stood up, shrugged his shoulders and said, “It doesn’t matter! My friends will be here soon. Maybe we will sell all of you at auction.”

Colton crept behind the man and poked him in the back with the handle of the shovel. “We don’t doubt that your friends are coming,” he said, “but we’re going to take our friends from this van. If you try to stop us, I’ll shoot you just like I shot your friends.”

The man obviously wanted desperately to spin around, grab the gun, and take control of the situation. But he had heard gunshots and gotten a recap of the action. An 11 year-old girl named Becca had relayed that a kid had killed two adults. She knew that only one adult had been shot but she decided to relay that two adults were killed as it would have a greater impact.

Colton poked the man again. He made sure not to leave the shovel handle against the man for fear that the man would see through his ruse. “Now sit down!” Colton commanded.

The man reached out for the side of the van and slid down to a sitting position against the van “You’re gonna be sorry!” he growled.

 

Penny, Maya, and other kids quickly opened the van doors. Seven kids, wrapped in netting, lay side-by-side on the floor of the van. They discovered some knives hanging by magnets on the inside wall of the van. Maya and Penny each grabbed a knife and began cutting away at the netting, freeing the kids.

One of the ninjas freed Becca from the driver’s seat.

As they worked on the ropes, Penny turned to Maya and whispered, “We gotta get out of here.”

Maya returned the look, nodded, and said, “Yeah, I know. Let’s keep everyone quiet. I have an idea. Say nothing so that this guy can only guess where we go.”

Once all of the kids were free, Maya waved back at the school. It wasn’t a friendly great-to-see-you wave. It was a frantic beckoning wave to get everyone out of the school.

Penny cleared all of the weapons out of the van and grabbed a roll of duct tape.

The man leaning against the van laughed. “It doesn’t matter where you go,” he chuckled. “We’ll find you, or some other group of adults will find you. We don’t want to kill you. We just need you to be our eyes. It’s not like you’re going to be slaves, you’ll be more like… partners. Yeah, think of it–”

“Shut up!” Colton snapped. “Now, get in the back of the van!”

“What if I don’t?” the man asked foolishly.

Colton smiled and replied, “You have two choices. You probably won’t like either choice, but you have to choose one. You can choose to climb into the back of the van, or… I can shoot you.”

The man sneered, but he got up and felt his way to the back of the van. He moved around the end of the door, but Penny stopped him, “Hang on. I want to tape your wrists together.”

The man thought about arguing, but simply rolled his useless red eyes and held his hands out.

Penny quickly duct taped the man’s hands together.

“Are you done now?” the man snarled.

Penny almost shut the door, then she added, “I want to do your ankles too.”

“What?!” the man snapped. “Why?! Do you think I’m going to run away?”

“You’re annoying, that’s why!” Penny replied. “Your friends will be here soon. They can free you.”

The man just grunted and snapped his ankles together.

Penny taped them tightly together, stepped back, and slammed the van doors shut.

When Penny shut the back doors, Maya opened the front door. She reached in and started up the van. 1970’s rock music guitars (Maya was pretty sure it was AC-DC) played on the sound system. Maya cranked the music up as loud as it would go, slid out of the van, and shut the driver’s side door.

The school kids and the ninjas moved away from the van, across the road and up into the woods, away from the school. With darkness swallowing the scene, the kids could see maybe 15 to 20 feet in front of them.

Maya looked back toward the school. Once she was certain that they couldn’t be seen from the school, she directed the kids to follow the road in the direction that the other van had gone. After they gotten around the first corner, they made their way back down to the road. They silently ran away from the school, their home.

No one looked back.

 

Chapter 24


 

Nathan and Daisy were tasked with gate duty while the others went after the vans. Nathan didn’t mind. His last 24 hours had been a roller coaster ride that he didn’t want to get back in line for. He glanced over at Daisy as the kids spread out to approach the van. He could tell that Daisy was antsy. Her eyes darted over the action. Her weight shifted from foot to foot like a prize fighter imagining an upcoming fight. He could tell that she wanted to be out there, in the action, not protecting the base.

Six school kids were specifically stationed at the front gate, but everyone else was also watching the front.

An adrenaline rush flowed through all of the gate protecting kids when the car pinned the adult leader to the van and the eruption of chaos that followed. The shotgun blasts made each of them gasp, and be grateful that they were safely behind the school fence.

The sun was going down and they had difficulty seeing out to the street.

Nathan grabbed a pair of binoculars and watched the men dash for the front van. He focused on the driver’s side window and was almost certain that he recognized Simon as the driver of the front van. He was just turning the binoculars to the second van when Daisy slapped him on the back.

“Nathan, we gotta get out there!” she exclaimed. “That first van is going to try and get away!”

Nathan took the binoculars away from his face and was about to question what Daisy meant by going to help, but she was gone. He spun around and saw her jumping down off the back of the pick-up truck. She was heading for the bike rack. Nathan roughly handed the binoculars to a kid named Randy and yelled out to the surrounding kids, “Open the gate!” Then he jumped down to join Daisy.

By the time he got to the bike rack, Daisy had already selected a mountain bike and was getting on it. Nathan rolled a bike off the rack and pointed it toward the opening gate. They both stood up on their bikes and pedalled powerfully to accelerate.

The front van drove away to the left. Daisy immediately turned her bike in the parking lot, jumped the curb and head across the grass in pursuit of the fleeing van. Nathan rode close behind her and wondered how they’d ever catch up to the van. He also wondered what in the world they would do if they caught up to the van by some great miracle. But he followed anyways.

In little time, they hopped up onto the road and the riding was easier. Nathan felt a shudder go through his body as he realized that the last time he was on Highway 53 was just the day before. And that trip was horrendous.

But Daisy was on a mission.

As Nathan pedaled faster in an attempt to catch Daisy, he admired Daisy’s courage. She could have left Nathan with the ninjas in the morning and gone her own way. She could have sat back at the gate and waited to see what happened. Now she was chasing down a van of angry, dangerous adults to help save kids she had never met. These thoughts made Nathan smile. Daisy’s bravery gave Nathan courage.

Darkness continued to set in, but they easily wove through a couple of abandoned car jams. That would become more difficult when it got really dark. Nathan kept his eyes open for deer because he knew that deer were most active at dawn and dusk.

Gunfire erupted down the road in front of them. Daisy slowed and glanced curiously over at Nathan. They rode forward cautiously.

More gunfire.

As Daisy and Nathan crested the next hill, they saw the gunfight. A roadblock of cars had been constructed and it had caused the van to stop. Whoever was behind the roadblock was in a fierce firefight with men on either side of the van. From what Nathan could tell, they were all adults. He wondered how anyone expected to win a blind gun battle.

Nathan turned to Daisy and said, “What do you think?”

Daisy shrugged. “We gotta get down there. For sure a kid is in the driver’s seat. There are probably more in the back of the van. All of the men are out of the van. I count four. I’m sure that’s all of them.”

Nathan tilted his head. “If it was me in there, I’d want someone to help. I think this is our best shot. Let’s go straight for the open back doors. And keep your head down!”

The gunfire had slowed to random shots. Obviously, no one wanted to be the first to run out of ammo. Nathan wondered if someone had been shot. He took the lead this time. A few quick standing strides and he got rolling quickly down the slight incline. He coasted as he neared the van. He knew that the brakes wouldn’t squeak. Nathan was one of the kids who worked on the bikes. Stealth was one of their key goals. All of the school kid bikes rolled quietly.

A man to the right of the van fired his shotgun. Nathan used that moment to hop off his bike. He planned to lay it down gently, but Daisy was right there and reached out to hold the bike. Nathan climbed quietly into the back of the van. A bullet hit the windshield and Nathan ducked. Before he stood back up, he spotted a few random guns in a laundry basket on the van floor. He was lucky to have ducked and spotted them because otherwise he might have kicked the basket.

When Nathan got to the driver’s seat, he popped his head around the side so as not to startle Simon.

Simon called out to the man on the left side of the van, “There’s one straight behind the roadblock, right in front of the van.”

“What time kid? Use a clock to describe it!” the man snarled.

“Uh, 12:00,” Simon replied.

The man blindly fired straight toward the roadblock.

Nathan released the straps binding Simon to the seat. They both turned to go out the back.

The man on the right of the van yelled out, “I’m out! Grabbing another gun from the van.”

Nathan and Simon froze as the man climbed in the back of the van and felt around for the laundry basket.

“How many more kid?” the man asked.

Simon turned his head for, hoping that the man would think he was still strapped in his seat. “You got the lady, but there’s still the one-eyed guy directly in front of the van.”

“A lot of good that one eye does for that guy,” the man replied. “We’ll get him.” The man turned and felt his way out of the van.

Nathan watched as the man stepped out of the van and passed dangerously close to Daisy and the bike that she held. Nathan waited until he heard the man shoot once and then he lead Simon out the back of the van.

They quietly turned the bikes around. Nathan gave Simon his bike. Two kids on a mountain bike trying to ride silently was a noise disaster waiting to happen. As Daisy and Simon pedaled up the hill, Nathan jogged quietly next to them, hoping that no one would catch a stray bullet in the back.

As they crested the hill, it sounded like the gunfire had become hand-to-hand fighting behind them. But the kids didn’t look back.

Darkness settled in on the road and they had to take it slow on the way back to the school.

 

Chapter 25


 

Mild confusion faded and a sigh of relief escaped from Penny as she spotted Nathan, Daisy, and Simon walking down the road toward them. What they were doing away from the school didn’t seem to matter; Penny was exhausted. At that point, Penny was just glad to see as many kids safe as possible.

Maya had completed a head count as they trudged away from the school. The addition of Nathan’s trio filled out their group. The only school kids missing were the blind kids left in the school. Maya felt bad for them, but she knew that the blind adults from town would soon take over the school and probably care for the blind kids. The supplies at the school would suffice for the next few weeks, but that was about it. The school was safe, but it was time to move on.

Once they were all together, Maya announced, “You all were really brave today. There will be a time for us to think about all that we’ve left behind. The school was a great place for us, but it’s time to move on.”

Maya looked around at the anxious faces. They were all just kids. They should be avoiding homework, playing video games, complaining about soccer practice, and looking forward to the next vacation. But the world was a different place now. And as Maya studied the faces looking back at her, Maya realized that these kids had changed with the world. The kids had very few supplies beyond the clothes on their backs. But the school kids weren’t scared, they were ready to restart someplace new. Maya was proud of them. And she knew that Ben would be proud of them as well. Ben had always stressed to the other older kids that the group needed to work together and needed to be able to function without one or more of the older kids.

Tears made Maya look away. It was the first time that she had let her guard down and remembered that Ben was gone.

Penny could feel the confidence swell in the group of school kids. She was waiting for the rest of Maya’s speech, but then noticed that Maya was crying. Penny quickly took over. “I agree with Maya. But we can’t just hang out here in the middle of the street. Have any of you been out this way recently and know where we can go?”

Nathan raised his hand then quickly put it down and spoke up, “Um, there’s a big house on the right, a little ways down the road. It’s got a long driveway and there isn’t much else up there. We took anything we could use last time, but we can at least spend the night there.”

Penny nodded. “Sounds good, Nathan. I think we could all use some sleep. Nathan, you lead the way.”

Nathan smiled. Then he noticed that Daisy was staring at him. “What is it?” he whispered as he started walking with Daisy next to him.

Daisy grinned. “You gotta stop the hand-raising thing. You’re like a leader of this group now. Next time you do that, I’m going to give you a high five.”

Nathan laughed. “I’m going to raise my hand just to see if you’ll follow through with that.”

They walked on down the road with the school kids following them. Nathan felt like a leader.

Penny held Maya back as the other kids followed Nathan. “You ok?” Penny asked.

Maya sniffled and wiped her eyes. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just… well, I just was thinking about Ben.” She immediately wanted to take it back. She knew how close Penny was to Ben.

Penny gave Maya a hug. “I think about Ben all the time. He gives me strength. I really miss him too, but he would want us to go on.”

“Yeah, but where are we gonna go?” Maya sobbed. “We just left behind everything we built over the last year, or however long we were there.”

Penny nodded. “Ben and I actually had been talking about this more and more. He knew that we were going run out of supplies and have to move soon.” Penny started moving Maya toward the other kids so they wouldn’t fall too far behind. “There’s a club down this road. Ben saw on the scavagening run when they lost Tommy.” She paused because she remembered Ben telling her what happened.

“A club?” Maya asked. “What kind of club?”

Penny shook the Tommy memory off and replied, “Ben said it was like a country club, with a golf course, tennis courts, and a pool.”

Maya nodded, “That could work, Penny.” She wiped away the lingering tears and started to consider the possibilities. “I liked being a school kid, but I guess that I could be a country club kid if I can do a little shopping.”

They both chuckled at that. Penny smiled and put her arm around Maya. We’re going to be alright, Penny thought.  


 


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