Authors: Shannon Greenland
“Now you listen to me, young man.” Joe’s foster father jabbed his finger in Joe’s face. “I am
of your lax attitude.”
Joe stared blankly at his foster father, the man he’d lived with for the past six months. He wanted to react, but what was the point?
Joe’s foster father took a step closer to him. He began ticking items off on his fingers.
“You will rise from bed promptly at five a.m. You have exactly twenty minutes to prepare yourself for the day.” He ticked off another finger. “Breakfast is served at 5:20. And even if you are done before the rest of us, you will remain seated at the table.”
Another finger got ticked off. “Morning chores and prayers are from 5:45 until 6:45.
mother,” Joe quietly interrupted.
His foster father narrowed his eyes. “Your
will have the living room set up for school by seven a.m. You are to be seated with notebook and pencil in hand prior to her starting.” He ticked another finger off. “We do not tolerate tardiness.” He leaned down right in Joe’s face. “Are you getting all of this?”
No, I’m not
, Joe wanted to say. What did the man think he was, stupid? “Yes,” Joe answered instead.
His foster father straightened and ticked another finger. “Homework is due . . .” He continued to outline the day, down to every precise second. The same day Joe had been living over and over again since coming here.
It was driving him slowly to the point of insanity.
His foster father leaned down again, hovering over Joe where he sat in the dining room chair. “If your parents,” he jabbed that stupid finger in Joe’s face again, “had raised you with more structure and stability, you wouldn’t have any problems following orders.”
Digging his fingers into the wooden armrests, Joe got slowly, purposefully to his feet. He stood only five foot ten, but he still had height over the man. “Don’t. You.
bad mouth my parents. They were two hundred percent more kind and decent then you will ever be.”
It wasn’t often someone could get a rise out of Joe. But his foster father could. Anybody who spoke badly of Joe’s parents would
get a rise out of him.
The man pulled his shoulders back. “You know what? I’m done with you. I’m calling your social worker and sending you back to the state. I’ve got better things to do then put up with your disrespect and obvious lack of manners.”
“Back to the state?” Joe smirked. “Fine by me. I’d rather live in a thousand boys’ homes then under your roof.”
His foster father turned red all the way up to his military crew cut. He jabbed his finger toward the door. “Get out!” he yelled.
Calmly, Joe nodded, when what he really wanted to do was punch the man in the face.
Turning, Joe strode across the living room, snagged his backpack from beside the couch, and went straight out the front door. He cut across the creek in the back yard and disappeared into the hills of Tennessee. What little Joe had was in his backpack. He’d left a few things back at his foster family’s house. He didn’t care. Everything and everyone Joe had ever loved was gone. Whatever he’d accumulated in the past six months . . . well, it just didn’t matter.
Joe walked for hours through the Tennessee woods and hills he’d grown up in. He knew how to survive. He wasn’t worried. His parents had raised him in nature. Joe could live for months,
on what God’s earth provided.
Subconsciously, he headed in the direction of where his whole world had come apart six months ago. As he neared the spot, his heart picked up pace, and he nearly buckled with the overwhelming presence of his family’s souls, still drifting, still not settled, searching, searching for peace.
Joe emerged from a forest of pine trees and crossed a meadow of dandelions. The same meadow he had played in nearly every day with the commune’s other children.
He sucked in a breath with the rush of wind carrying the screams of those who were gone. Sometimes he wished he didn’t hear, he didn’t feel, he didn’t see the pain others had gone through or were currently experiencing. Joe wished his gifts would let him see laughter and happiness, like his mother’s had. Why had he inherited the sorrow of the world?
Joe sucked in another breath as the memory of his little sister’s wail pierced his heart.
Why couldn’t he have saved them?
Squeezing his eyes shut, he willed away the sounds, the touch, the images.
Its okay, baby
. Joe heard his mom’s voice on the wind.
You’re home. Go forward. Don’t
He opened his eyes and watched the dandelions white seeds float on another rush of August wind. Joe lifted his face to the heavens and absorbed the sun’s heat.
Slowly, he moved forward toward the edge of the meadow where the woods began again, marking the border of his home. He stepped into the woods and stood in the shadows, staring at 3
Sixty one people, his family, had died that day. And he was the only survivor.
With a deep breath, Joe turned and left the Tennessee ridge he’d always known as home.
He made his way through the woods down the hill to the valley. Just like it had been six months ago, the old town had only one grocery store, one post office, a hardware store, and no stop lights. Population: two hundred and fifty people.
He walked into the grocery store and over to the fruit and vegetable section. He loaded up on bananas, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and then grabbed a bag of shelled pecans and a box of powdered milk. Combined with what nature always provided, he’d be able to live for months in the hills.
With a nod to a woman with a baby on her hip, Joe rounded the corner and headed to the cash register.
“In national news, Janie Spieth, seven year old daughter to Wisconsin governor, William Spieth, has gone missing. Experts expect foul play, although no ransom note has been issued. . .”
Joe stared at the black and white television, into the eyes of little Janie Spieth, and felt the familiar tug of her soul. She was alive. Her energy told him that.
He closed his eyes as a chill ran through his body, giving him goose bumps. Little Janie was freezing.
Her sob echoed in Joe’s ears, followed by a boat’s horn.
An image of a freight liner floated past, and Joe focused on the name painted on its steel side. STOCK AND ROLL LINER he made out.
Little Janie’s tear streaked face flashed in his brain as she cuddled a baby doll in the dark.
“’cuse me, you gonna go or what?”
Joe’s eyes snapped open, and he turned to see the young woman with her baby. He motioned them ahead to check out and focused back on the television.
“If you have any information,” the reporter continued, “pertaining to the whereabouts of Janie Spieth, please call this number. . .”
Joe memorized the number, quickly paid for his groceries, and went to the nearest pay phone. Disguising his voice, he called it in, just like he had done two hundred and twenty three times before. Two hundred and twenty three children and adults had been located because of him.
That thought brought a smile to his face.
He hung up the phone and turned to grab his groceries from the ground.
“Interesting information you have there. Want to tell me how you got it?”
Joe whipped around to see a dark-haired man staring at him through peculiar light green eyes. Taking a step back, Joe regained his composure. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The man slipped his hands into the front pockets of his camouflaged pants. “I’ve been following you.”
Joe took another step away. “What do you mean you’ve been following me?”
“My people and I have been watching you for the past six months. You’ve placed quite a few similar phone calls from a pay phone near your foster family’s home. We had your voice analyzed and realized you were the same person who’d been calling in leads for a few years now.
I saw you leave your foster family’s home this morning. I followed you into the woods, up into the mountains, back to your home, and now down to here.”
“Who are you?” Joe asked.
The man slipped his hand from his pocket and held it out. “Thomas Liba. I work for the government.”
“The government?” Joe took another step away, not shaking his hand. His parents had warned him about the government.
Mr. Liba put his hand back in his pocket. “Two hundred and twenty three people you’ve helped save. That’s some track record.”
Joe’s eyes widened. This man
know a lot.
Mr. Liba nodded to the grocery bag in Joe’s hand. “Can’t survive in the woods on just that. You need other supplies.”
“I was heading to the hardware store,” Joe told him before he realized what he was saying.
“Planning on disappearing?”
Joe didn’t answer him.
“Joe Green,” Mr Liba said his name. “Seventeen years old. Five foot ten. One hundred and eighty five pounds. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Grew up in a commune in the Tennessee hills.
Home schooled. Your father was the commune’s teacher, your mother, the healer. Your little sister lived to be ten year’s old. And you, my boy, inherited your mother’s gift of sight. Your world was perfect until earlier this year when your home was targeted in a hate crime by people who only understand one way of life. They brutally—”
Joe squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t. Please.”
“You had gone to gather herbs,” Mr. Liba continued. “There was nothing you could have done. By the time you returned—”
“Please. Stop.” Joe had seen enough of it already. Had relived it many times. He didn’t need any reminders.
Mr. Liba didn’t say anything else, and after a few seconds Joe opened his eyes, looked straight into Mr. Liba’s, and saw all the way to his soul.
Flashes of his life reeled passed. Him as a little boy being horribly beaten, locked in a closet, starved . . . as a young teenager being ganged up on by older guys . . . as a young man in training along side other men, learning how to fight . . . later in life rescuing people from terrible situations . . .
This man, Mr. Liba, had a stern, but gentle soul. A soul that was a little lost. A soul to be trusted. One full of kindness. Yet one not to be messed with.
This is your destiny
. Joe heard his mother’s voice.
Mr. Liba swallowed, and Joe sensed this man had lost a little bit of control and didn’t like it. Mr. Liba knew Joe had just seen his childhood.
Mr. Liba cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “I would appreciate it,” he said, “if you would not share with people what you just saw in me.”
Joe nodded. “We all have our secrets. And I now know I’m supposed to come with you. I also know you’ve got to get to Chicago ASAP. That someone very important needs your help.”
Mr. Liba just looked at Joe. “You’re something else.”
They climbed into the black van parked in the grocery store lot. As they pulled away, Joe’s mind drifted to last year. . . “Jimmy Williams was from Chicago.”
“Twelve years old,” Mr. Liba picked up on the conversation. “Taken from the ball field.
Missing one month. You called in the lead that got him rescued.”
Joe nodded. “Barely in time. The follow up news stories reported Jimmy was near starvation when he was finally found.”
“Yes,” Mr. Liba agreed. “But thanks to you he made it.”
Joe breathed a soft sigh. Yes, Jimmy had made it.
They drove in silence for a while, and Joe closed his eyes, allowing his thoughts to drift with Mr. Liba’s. He was personally connected to someone in Chicago. A man who had an intrical part of Mr. Liba’s past. A man Mr. Liba thought very highly of. A man who had secrets of his own.
Joe opened his eyes, feeling intrusive into Mr. Liba’s emotions, and purposefully cut the connection between them. “Tell me about the Specialists,” he prompted.
A hint of a smile curved Mr. Liba’s lips as he began speaking. That conversation led to another and then another. . .
They only stopped once and eight hours later arrived in Chicago. Mr. Liba pulled up in front of a condemned firehouse. Through the windshield and the dark, Joe studied the deserted building. Something red flashed in his peripheral vision and he turned to see a petite red-headed girl running down the alley toward them.
“That’s her,” TL said.
* * *
Sprinting down the dark Chicago alleyway, Molly jumped a huge puddle, rounded the backside of a dumpster, and shimmied up a six foot tall concrete wall.
She needed needed to get to Red.
Dodging the chunks of glass lining the top of the wall, she swung over and down and landed on her feet.
He had not sounded good when she left.
She ducked under a CONDEMNED sign, slipped through a hole in the chain linked fence, and trotted up a flight of rickety stairs. Pulling back heavy plastic, Molly climbed through the window of the deserted firehouse she had called home, along with twelve other kids, for the past ten years.
A small battery operated lamp put a dim yellow glow in their bedroom. Mattresses, foam, and old cushions piled with blankets and sheets lined the walls. She’d done everyone’s laundry yesterday in the tub downstairs, so it smelled better than usual in here.
Molly turned to the corner where she knew Red, the man who had raised her, would be.
He lay bundled up under his own blankets as well as others that kids had laid on him. It was a muggy July night outside, but as usual, Red was freezing cold.
He opened his eyes and looked at Molly.
She grinned. “Hey, Red.”
Through his bushy gray beard, Molly made out a few teeth, and knew he was smiling back. He coughed, filling the air with a gurgly lung sound.
Molly looked around at all the empty beds and tried not to show her irritation.
“Everybody leave you, huh?” She tried to make a joke.
She’d made it clear many times there was to always be someone,
, here watching Red. If it weren’t for him they’d all still be on the streets.
Ten years ago when she was five years old, Red had found her under a bridge about a mile from where they were now. She’d been in a fight with a boy a few years older. Red had broken the fight up, sent the boy home, and when he found out Molly had no home, Red had 9