This Is My Life?
By Eric Aune
Copyright © September 2014
Copyright © September 2014
It was dark out. Ryan was hurrying home, knowing that he had stayed longer than he should have at his best friend Rick's house, but he really wanted to play that new X Box game that Rick had gotten for his thirteenth birthday. His parents had said to be home by 6p, but he had gotten so caught up in the game, that he lost track of time and when he got up to take a piss because of the coke he had drunk, his phone fell out of his back pocket and when he picked it up he saw that it was just after 7pm. What's more there were a couple of calls and a text from his mom.
"Oh shit! I'm fucked."
Ryan looked at his friend Rick with fear on his face.
"I was supposed to be home over an hour ago."
"Oh, man that sucks."
"I gotta get home. I'll see you at school."
"Yeah Bro, good luck."
"I'm going to need it. See ya."
The two boy's bumped fists and Ryan headed to the front door. He waved goodbye to Rick's parents as he went out the door. Outside he paused a moment to zip up his jacket. It was a bit cold outside now. It had been a fairly warm Indian Summer, but the last couple of days, the temperature had dropped. He looked around, the streetlights were on, and they, plus the lights from the nearby houses were all that lit the dark street. He was only a few blocks from home, so he wasn't worried about getting home; it was what was waiting for him at home that worried him. He just wondered how long the grounding was going to be. He figured it was going to be at least a week. When he saw how late he was, he knew that was the least that would happen. Hopefully he didn't lose any privileges or allowance money.
He had just gotten off the last grounding and his dad said that if he was late getting home, the punishment would be worse than just a week's grounding. The grounding had been for the whole week including the weekend and then during the week, he had to come straight home from school. The main problem with that, was that he was on his middle school's touch football team and because he couldn't stay after school to practice, he had to sit on the bench during the last game they had, because the coach said that if you weren't at practice, you couldn't play in the game. Ryan knew that the punishment didn't mean he would get a whipping or anything. His parents didn't believe in doing that. Sure when he was little, they might smack his butt once or twice mostly to get his attention when he did something wrong, but now that he was a teenager, his dad said that a spanking was not the right kind of punishment. His dad believed that taking away privileges was more appropriate for an active young teen.
After the last grounding his dad had pointed out that due to him ignoring the rules, he had not only let himself down, he had let his team down as well, because he missed a couple of practices and because of that, he had to sit on the bench during the game. He was the fastest running back for the team and because he had to sit on the bench, the team didn't do as well and they lost by a touchdown, instead of winning by one or two touchdowns.
Ryan shook his head as he put his hands in his jacket and pulled the hood over his head to keep his ears warm. He had walked for about a minute or so, when he was startled by his phone ringing. He reached into his back pocket and pulled the phone out. He saw it was him mom, and answered it right away
"Hi mom…..yeah, I know, I'm sorry……I lost track of time at Rick's…..I know, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to…..I'm on my way home right now….I understand mom….I know, I know, I know I'm supposed to be a good role model for Benjy….okay, I understand…..yeah, it shouldn't be long, like I said I'm walking home now….okay. I love you Mom and I'm sorry I let you down….bye."
Ryan put the phone back in his pocket and he hunched his head a little as he continued walking down the street. He had to wipe his eyes because he had heard how his mom sounded on the phone. He could tell she was disappointed in him once again. He had been walking for five minutes when something seemed different. He slowed down as he looked up. He noticed that it was darker here. He looked around and saw that a couple of the nearest streetlights were out, making this part of the street darker than the surrounding area. As he looked around, he noticed something else. He looked at the nearby houses and in the trees. He could have sworn that there were some birds in the trees making noise a moment ago. He turned around to look behind him. Everything looked normal. Weird. He jumped as he felt something cold touch his neck. Ow, that hur….
Ryan slowly woke up and stretched before turning over to get some more sleep before he had to get up. He was trying to remember what he had been dreaming about. Whatever it was, he thought it had been a good dream; at least it felt like it had been a good dream. He snuggled into the bed covers some more and tried his best to recover the dream. He smiled as his body felt the comfortable bed beneath him. He moved around and then his brow furrowed a little. With his eyes still closed he moved his hands around as he felt the sheets that were above and below him. Something felt different to him. He turned onto his back still feeling the sheets around him. He slowly opened his eyes and rubbed them a little before he stretched once again. He reached down under the covers and realized he was naked underneath the covers. He was surprised at that, he never slept naked. He always wore at least his underwear to bed. Now he started to wonder what was going on. Why was he sleeping in bed naked?
Then the next weird thing came to him. Why did his sheets feel so soft and comfortable? He opened his eyes as his hands felt the sheets and noticed it was dark in the room. He started looking and feeling around for a lamp and felt the table beside his bed. He looked over and saw that his night vision seemed to be starting to work. He found that he could actually see okay in the dark so he didn't turn on the light beside his bed. That was when he realized that this wasn't his bedroom. It was much bigger and didn't look like his parent's bedroom either. It was just a little bigger than their room was and it wasn't decorated the same way. Everything was different. He looked around to see if there was anyone in the room and when he saw it was clear he got up. He thought he should be cold and it seemed to him when he touched his chest with his hand, his skin felt a little cool, but he found he didn't feel cold at all. He knew he couldn't stand there without any clothes on so he needed to see if he could find some.
He saw a dresser and walked over to it. He started looking through the drawers and found clothes of different sizes inside the drawers. It was all kids or teenagers clothes so he went through it until he found clothes that fit him. Soon he was dressed in some dark jeans, a gray long sleeve t shirt and socks. He saw a closet and went over to it. Inside were different sizes of tennis shoes. He wondered if it was alright to use them, but he didn't see his shoes around, so he thought that until he could find his shoes, he'd borrow this kid's shoes. Once he was dressed, he looked around the room once more to see if any of his stuff was in there. Since there was nothing he went over to one of the windows and pulled back the heavy dark drapes and looked outside. He definitely didn't recognize where he was because he was upstairs and looking down at a large expanse of lawn at the edge of which was a tall wall that looked like it was made of stones or bricks or something like that. He saw near the wall, what looked like a large dog walking along this side of the wall. Probably a guard dog.
Now he was starting to get a little nervous, because he didn't know where he was. It didn't look like it was the home of any of his relatives, unless one of them bought a new house somewhere. But still how did he get here, that still made no sense. He couldn't quite remember how it could have happened. He shook his head and decided he'd better figure out where he was first, before he figured out how he got wherever here was. He went over to the door and carefully tried the knob. It turned easily, but he was still cautious as he began to turn it and that is when he was startled by a loud explosion, followed quickly by more. He jumped back from the door and got down behind the bed trying to hide. He saw a flash from the windows and he jumped up and went to the window. Outside he saw dark shapes moving around on the ground outside. There were several large dogs and what looked like some people fighting. Then he fell back when he saw one of the large dogs jump on top of one guy and grab him by the head in its jaws. The dog shook its head from side to side and the dog pulled the head off the guy. That was gross enough but what really surprised him and caused him to fall back was that the guy whose head was ripped off looked like he turned into dust and he saw the dog with his head down looking like it was trying puke or spit something out of its mouth.
Ryan fell back until he fell back on the bed. He was shaking his head.
"No no no no no."
He had his head in his hands as he tried to process what he had seen. Then he realized he had to get out of here. He didn't know what was going on, but he knew that he didn't want any part of it. He once again went to the door and then veered over to the closet. Inside there were more clothes including a dark hoody. He grabbed that and slipped it on before going to the door. By this time there was noise everywhere. He could hear yelling, screams of pain and of fury. There was snarling like dogs fighting or something. He turned the knob and slowly opened the door. He cracked the door and looked outside. There was no one in the hall. He could hear the sounds of fighting including gun shots now, although everything was louder now without the door filtering out the sound as it had done before. He opened the door and looked both ways before he ventured outside the bedroom that he had found himself in.
He didn't know which way to go, so he chose one and began to creep down the hall. He stopped after a short amount of time, when he heard the noise from downstairs began to get louder. He moved to the side of the hall and continued along it until he got to a corner. He saw ahead of him a short wall and beyond that was the noise from downstairs. He stayed low and crept forward. When he got to the short wall, he slowly peaked over it until he was looking to the floor down below. What he saw caused his eyes to widen and he had to clamp his hand around his mouth to keep from screaming as he dropped back down below the wall with his back against it. He was breathing rapidly as he tried to compose himself. He shook his head, not believing what he had seen going on down below. A scream from below made him jump.
He was afraid to look, but something inside of him drew him to once again look over the low wall. When he looked down he saw chaos and pandemonium. There was the sound of gunfire and an occasional explosion in the distance. Down below, he saw men and women, young and old fighting each other. Some were using their bare hands against each other. Others carried different kinds of swords and axes as they fought each other. They all seemed to move very fast, at least that's how it seemed to Ryan, but he was able to follow the combat fairly easily for the most part. He sucked in a breath, when he saw one of the men with swords cut the head off his opponent and instead of blood spraying everywhere, the guy he was fighting turned to dust and that became a pile of dust on the floor, that was quickly spread around as the others fighting around the room below moved through the dust pile.
Then he saw one of the large dogs go around the fighters below and start up the stairs. The guy who had just finished off his opponent leapt at the dog with his sword held high. The dog whirled around and now Ryan could see just how big this dog was. It stood almost as tall as a man at the shoulder. It whirled around and batted the sword out of the way with one quick swipe of its paw, causing the man to get knocked off line. The man was able to flip around and rebound off the wall. As he went by the wolf, because that is what Ryan now believed it was, a wolf, but it didn't look quite like any other wolf he had ever seen. The man swung the sword causing the wolf to yelp as the man scored a hit on the wolf's side. The man landed a few feet away and smiled at the wolf. The wolf growled and leapt at the man. The two began to fight. Ryan dropped back down below the top of the short wall and he started to shake.
He didn't know what was going on, but he had to get out of there and going that way was not the right direction. After he got his trembling under control, he began to crawl back the way he came, once he was far enough away, he stood up and began to run down the hall in the other direction. He found another smaller stairway at the other end of the hall and stopped to listen. He could hear the fighting that was going on down below, but there didn't seem to be anything right below him. He carefully descended the stairs until he got to the bottom. He looked around and found he was in what looked like a kitchen. The stairs continued downstairs, but since no one was there, he decided to go out the open door that looked like it led outside, that he saw across the kitchen. He looked around once more time and then ran to the door and he found that he was right, he was outside.
He looked behind him to see if anyone had seen him and seeing that no one had, he began to run toward the wall he could see across the yard. As he ran he noticed things. The grass smelled so strong, it made him remember how much he liked the smell of the outdoors. He could smell other things as well, like trees, flowers and then he smelled something else. It had a slightly familiar odor to it, but he couldn't place it. Then he saw a naked man lying on the ground ahead of him, and the man's head was missing. He felt his stomach protest for a moment and he thought he would puke, but then he felt a pounding in his head and the feeling of nausea went away, replaced with something else that he couldn't name. He turned away and started running harder. He saw a couple more bodies that were in a similar state and it only caused him to speed up as the wall loomed in front of him, he leapt up and only meaning to get his hands up high enough to grab the top of the tall wall and pull himself over, he instead found himself on top of the wall and was able to quickly jump to the ground. He was so scared it didn't register in his mind that he had just leaped to the top of a 10' wall and then over the side without slowing down.
He found himself running through an orchard. In moments he left the orchard behind as he began to climb a hill. He ducked around the scrub brush as he ran up the hill. The top of the hill had a small copse of trees that he ducked into to catch his breath. He sat down at the base of one of the trees and pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them and dropped his head down and began to cry. He was there for a few minutes before he could calm down enough to think about what to do next. He wiped his eyes and dried them on his pants as he stood up. He first looked back the way he came and saw that something was still going on at the house he had run from. He could hear the fighting, even though it was faint. He saw the lights of a large city ahead of him and he figured he should be able to find some help there.
He began to jog down the other side of the hill away from the house. The lights of the city were drawing him to them. He found that he wasn't really as tired as he thought he was and the jog he was doing felt really easy and it was eating up distance pretty fast. He seemed to be jogging faster than he had ever jogged during PE in the past. He quickly crossed a few roads and several farmlands as he headed to the city. In just a few minutes he neared some of the neighborhoods at the edges of the city. He didn't know what time it was, but because of how deserted and quiet the streets were, it seemed to be very late at night, maybe even after midnight. He thought about stopping, but something about the bright lights near the center of the city drew him on.
Jason was standing next to Clifford and Patrick when his phone rang. He pulled it out of his zippered pocket and answered it.
"Jason……yes sir, we're about done here……no, we haven't really had time to search the house yet. They had a stronger force than we anticipated……yes sir, unfortunately we did lose some…..no, not nearly as many as they did……a few survivors but not many…..If that is your orders than yes, we will take care of the survivors……I will contact you when we are done here….Of course sir….thank you."
He closed the phone and looked at the other two.
"Robert told me to check upstairs and he said that he didn't want prisoners, unless you find any that can be saved, the rest are to be destroyed. Cliff, do you mind being my backup, while I check upstairs. I don't think there are any of them up here, but it's always nice to have someone at my back."
The large muscular man chuckled and nodded while Patrick went to carry out the other orders. Jason led the way upstairs with the sword in his hand at the ready. They paused at the top and listened. Cliff seemed to be sniffing the air. Jason looked at him and he shook his head. When they came to the upper hallway, they began to make their way down the hall, checking each door as they went. Clifford's growl was all the warning that had as twenty something looking young man, jumped out of a door and knocked Jason to the ground. Jason was slammed into a wall and was dazed. He tried to shake it off because he knew he might be in trouble if he didn't. Just as he was about to get up, he found himself showered with dust. He looked at Clifford and nodded as the big man reached down to help him up.
"No problem Jace."
"C'mon, let's check the place. Hopefully that was the last one."
The two of them continued to search the rooms. Halfway down the hall, Clifford paused in one of the rooms that they were searching and looked around. There was a large bed in it. Jason searched the dresser and saw that the clothes were disturbed in some of the drawers. All of the clothes in the drawers looked to be sized for a boy between the ages of 10 and 15.
"Someone was here, pretty young."
"Damn. How young?"
"Real young. The trail is faint."
Jason let out a frustrated sigh.
"We need to search this floor as quick as we can. Try to see if you can find him, hopefully he…?"
"Hopefully he didn't get caught in the middle downstairs. Let's see if we can find him."
They went back out in the hall and made their way along the hall, continuing to check the other rooms along the way until they got to the servant's stairs at the far end of the hallway. He looked at Cliff when they were at the head of the stairs and Cliff nodded. They made their way down to the kitchen. Looking around they saw the door to the outside was hanging off one of the hinges. They exchanged glances and went outside walking across the lawn up to the wall. They jumped up to the top of the wall and dropped onto the other side. Cliff pointed out some footprints and Jason looked in the direction that they were going. He pulled out his phone.
"Robert, there was a boy here…..yeah boy, probably young to mid teen….I think he got away…..I'm guessing he's headed to the nearest city…..yeah, that's going to harder, but we'll send some people into the city to see if we can find it……of course I will….as you wish….Okay, I'll see you later Robert."
He waved at Cliff and they jumped back up and over the wall and made their way back to the house. They met up with Patrick and another large powerful looking man.
"Jace, how's it going?"
"I was going to ask you two."
"We're pretty much done here. Robert's guys are going to take over the search. All the threats have been eliminated, so it will be okay for them."
"We found that they had a young boy here, probably pre to mid teen here. I think he escaped and may be on his way to the city. Robert wants me to head into the town and try and find him. Eric we could use some of your folks to help."
"Sure, I'll send some of them to help with the search."
Ryan kept walking past the houses at the edges of the city and soon found himself near the center of the town. Nothing looked familiar to him, so he still wasn't sure where he was or how he got there. He found himself a large mall, the name was Pacific View Mall. That didn't tell him much except that it was probably still in California. He soon saw a newspaper on the ground and picked it up. It showed him that he was in Ventura. He looked around and most everything was pretty much empty. He was starting to feel real hungry and a bit tired. He had no money, so he couldn't buy anything to eat, even if he could find a place to buy it. He thought about dumpster diving, but wasn't quite at that point yet. He realized he needed to find a place to rest for the rest of the night, maybe the next day, things would look better. He found a park not too far away called Camino Real Park. He went inside the dugouts of one of the baseball diamonds and lay down on the bench. He was about to fall asleep when he heard someone nearby.
"Hey young man. Are you okay?"
Ryan looked around and saw an older man looking at him through the dugout fence. He sat up and the man waved to him.
"C'mon this isn't the place for you to get a decent sleep. It's too cold. I'll take you to a better place."
Ryan hesitated as he looked at the man. He had long gray hair in a neat pony tail. The man didn't look dirty. In fact he looked like he was fairly clean, wearing a pair of worn camo pants and an old army jacket. Ryan still wasn't sure, because he was told not to trust strangers. Right about then Ryan's stomach cramped up a little and he groaned.
"Are you alright?"
"I feel real hungry."
"Well then come with me. I've got some food. I'll be glad to make sure you've got some food in you and it will be warmer."
The man could see that the kid was nervous and he backed off a little.
"Tell you what. My name's Barry. You follow me at a distance. I'll lead you to where I camp. I know you're afraid of me, because I'm a stranger, but you need to get some food in you, it'll help you warm up a bit too. You can't be warm, if you don't eat. I swear I won't get close to you. I just hate to see a young guy outside in the cold like this. Do yourself a favor and follow me kid."
Ryan looked at the man for several moments before he pushed himself up from the bench and came out of the dugout. He stopped several feet from the man and waited. Barry gave him a nod and turned around. Ryan waited until there was a large enough gap between them before he starting following Barry. As they walked Barry, would look over his shoulder to check to see if the boy was still following him. When he looked back, Barry gave the boy an encouraging nod. They walked back toward the mall and then took one of the major road underpasses that went underneath the Ventura Freeway. They cut through the parking lots of several business and light manufacturing companies. After about an hour they came to the edge of the buildings and before them stretched orchards and farmlands. Barry crossed the road and went into the orchard. He realized that the boy wasn't following him, so he stopped and turned back to the edge of the orchard.
Ryan had watched the man enter the orchard and stopped. He was a bit more worried about what the man meant to do to him if he followed him into the orchard. Barry looked over at Ryan.
"C'mon boy, we still got a little bit to go and then I promise you will be safe and well fed. I won't hurt you."
Ryan continued to look at the man. He was trying hard to believe that Barry, really wanted to help him, not hurt him. He thought about turning around and heading back to the brighter lights of the city. There were not as many lights out this way and it looked pretty dark inside the orchard. Barry seemed to sense what was worrying the boy and looked over his shoulder at the orchard. He always went this way and didn't even give it a second thought, but looking at it from the boy's point of view, he understood what was scaring the boy.
"Sorry, I always walk through orchard, but we can go around if you want."
Barry turned and began to walk along the road. Ryan felt better and crossed the street and began to follow the man once again. Barry continued along the road, making sure that the boy was still following him. As he walked he wondered what had caused a young teen to be out on an October night sleeping on a bench in a park. He thought maybe the kid was a runaway from an abusive home, but he had noticed that the kid's clothes weren't in bad shape, that looked brand new, but even though it was California, it still could get pretty cold at night this near to the Pacific Ocean and he only had a lightweight hooded sweatshirt to keep him warm. Barry thought that after he got some food in the kid, he would try to see if he could help the kid to get into a better situation. Being homeless like this was not something a kid like this should have to deal with. Maybe he just got mad at his parents and needed to get away for a little bit. In the morning after some food and good night's rest, he would be ready to go back home. Barry hoped that was the case as he led the kid to his little camp.
They came to the edge of the orchard and ahead of them lay open farmer's fields. He looked back over his shoulder to make sure the kid was still there once again.
"Hey kid. We're going to cut across the field, because we don't want to get near the houses. Most of them have dogs and they'll start barking at us if they hear us."
He waited until the boy nodded that he understood, before he turned and crossed the road and starting walking across the field. Once they were past the houses, Barry headed to one of the dirt roads that separated the fields into sections and followed the road, instead of walking directly across the fields. Ahead of the man, Ryan saw that Barry looked like he was headed toward a line of trees beyond the fields. As they neared them, Ryan started to slow down a little when Barry began to follow a trail into the trees. Like at the orchard, the man realized that the boy wasn't following him. He stopped and looked back.
"Hey buddy. This is the only way that we can get to my camp. Please trust me. You shouldn't be out here. It can get pretty cold at night out here. It will be reasonably warm at my camp. We can have a fire to keep warm and you can have some warm food inside you. I have an extra blanket you can borrow to help you get a decent night's sleep. In the morning, I'll help you figure out where we go from there. I'm only worried about you being safe."
Ryan stood there watching the man. Barry seemed to be a caring person and meant him no harm. Ryan looked back toward the lights of the city and then at the man. It was a long walk back and he wasn't sure that he could find the park he had been in when the man found him. Neither moved for almost a minute before Ryan made his decision and began to follow the man. Barry smiled and led the way into the trees. Barry knew the way so well, that he needed no light to follow the trail. He suddenly realized that maybe he should have let the kid use his small flashlight, but when he looked back, the kid seemed to be doing okay. How nice it would be to have the eyesight of youth. They followed the winding trail for a couple of hundred yards, before they arrived at Barry's campsite. He noticed that the boy had closed the distance between them and was now only about 10' away when Barry's camp came into view.
His campsite included some tarps strung between trees as wind and rain breaks and some lying on the ground. There were also some scavenged wood that had been tied together into a small shack like structure that was part tarp and part scavenged wood and part cardboard. Outside the structure there was what looked like the bottom half of a 55 gallon drum with a grate over it. There were a couple of plastic crates to sit on around the barrel. Barry sat on one of the crates and took his old backpack off. He looked at Ryan who was standing at the edge of the campsite. He gave the kid a big welcoming smile.
"See kid, home sweet home. Right over there is fresh water, well, I boil it to make sure it doesn't have anything bad in it. You don't want to have the shits or worse. I can cook my meals and I have a decent place to sleep."
Barry opened the backpack and pulled out few cans and set them down on the ground. While he was doing this he felt the kid step up closer and when he looked over he saw that kid had taken a seat on a plastic crate across the fire barrel from him. He gave the kid another encouraging smile.
"Welcome to my home kid."
The word was spoken so low, that Barry almost didn't hear it.
"Well Ryan, it's nice to meet you."
Barry lifted the grate and put some wood into the barrel from where it was stacked nearby. He stuffed some newspaper underneath it and pulled a box of strike anywhere matches and in just a few moments the wood caught fire. Ryan could feel the warmth from the fire and unconsciously leaned forward a little bit.
"So what would you like to eat?"
He picked up the cans and looked at them.
"I have some chili con carne, vegetable soup, chicken noodle soup, beef stew."
"Uh, beef stew if that's okay."
Barry smiled at Ryan.
"Beef stew it is."
Barry pulled out a P38 and opened up the can. When it was opened, but with part of the top still attached, he removed the label and set the can on the grate to cook, using the opened top as a handle. He smiled over to Ryan as he stirred the stew around a little. It was a 32 ounce can, so Barry believed that there would be plenty for both of them. Although in reality, he was prepared to let Ryan eat most of the can if he could.
"So Ryan, I'm not going to ask why you're out here instead of home with your family. It's not my business, but I am willing to help you get to a place where it would be better for you. You should be going to school, hanging out with friends, playing sports and all that kind of thing. This is not a place for kids. It's not safe. I've seen and heard about bad things that can happen to kids trying to make it out here. Occasionally a kid gets a break and he gets out of this into a better environment, but there are lots of them that get eaten up by this life and are destroyed in some way. They get involved with drugs and/or crime and unless they are extremely strong in here and in here."
He pointed at his heart and head.
"Usually they just get lost and never can make it back from wherever they end up. There are worse things, if you know what I mean."
Ryan's pale cheeks turned a little bit red as he realized what the man was talking about. Barry nodded when he saw that.
"Yeah, I think you do know. So if you'll let me, I'll help you in the morning. What do you think?"
Ryan stared into the fire and was quiet as for a few moments.
"Uh, yeah, I think I'd like that. I really don't know how I got here anyway. This is a long way from home for me. I know you're thinking I've run away from home, but really I didn't. The last thing I remember was walking home from my friend's house and I woke up in some big house over that way."
He pointed in the direction that he thought the house was located. He decided to keep what he had seen to himself. He didn't want this guy to think he was crazy. He noticed that his stomach was really starting to hurt, so right now food was a priority. Barry seemed to be sincere, so Ryan was inclined to trust him. So far he had done everything he said he would do, and when he talked to Ryan, he was gentle in his speech. Barry was surprised at what Ryan told him. It sounded like the boy had been kidnapped. Luckily he had been able to escape. The best thing would probably be to take him to the sheriff's station or the first sheriff's car that they saw.
"You know I think I'll be able to easily help you in this. It sounds like you were kidnapped and I'm sure your folks are worried about you. They've probably filed a missing person report on you."
Ryan nodded in agreement.
"Probably. Um, Barry. I know what you said, but if there are places that people can go, why do stay out here."
Barry sat back and looked across to the younger boy. Ryan leaned back a little and tensed up, in case he had to run, but he relaxed when Barry smiled at him, once again showing him that he was a nice person.
"I choose to be here."
Barry waved off his apology.
"Nothing to be sorry about. A long time ago, I decided that I didn't want to be cooped up in a regular job. I loved being outside, in fact you know that I've worked all over the place for the past forty years, since I got out of the Army. Whenever, I need some extra cash, I just go find some odd job, get the money I need and then move on. I've done all kinds of things, fast food cook, construction, handyman work, anything like that. When I need to clean up, I find one of those rescue missions run by some church or something and get cleaned up and maybe get some new clothes when mine are too worn and then come back to wherever I happen to be camping out. When I was a kid, I loved to camp and my dad took us out camping every few months. We had a blast."
Barry was silent for a moment as he remembered those camping trips with his dad and older brother. He got a lump in his throat for a moment as he remembered when they heard his brother had been killed in Vietnam. That is why he had decided to join the Army. He wanted to serve like his brother had done. He quickly swallowed it down. It was always hard when he remembered his brother. He had loved him and it was really hard when they got the telegram that told them that his brother had been killed. Barry was still in high school at the time and he decided right then and there to join the Army when he graduated. His parents weren't real happy about the decision, but it was his decision.
"Well anyway, that's why I live like this. It's how I want to live. I feel completely free."
Barry stirred the stew some more as steam rose from it, showing that it was heating up.
"Well I think just a few short minutes and we can have a little something to eat and then maybe get some sleep before the sun comes up. Oh, that reminds me."
Barry got off the crate and crawled into his shack. He came out moments later carrying a blanket. He moved toward Ryan and held out the blanket. Ryan hesitated just a moment before reaching out and taking the blanket.
"Don't mention it. After we eat you can curl up near the fire here to keep warm and I'll be in my shack."
Barry went back to cooking dinner while Ryan wrapped the blanket around him. Not that he felt cold, but the folds of the blanket wrapped around him gave him a feeling of comfort. He sat their wrapped in the blanket and stared into the fire, almost mesmerized by the dancing flames. When Barry spoke, Ryan nearly jumped at the sound of his voice.
"Well I think that's about it. Dinner is served my friend. Unfortunately I only have one spoon, so we'll have to share it."
Ryan looked up and saw Barry was holding out a large tablespoon out to Ryan. The smell of the stew made his mouth water a little, so he scooted the crate around the fire barrel until he was closer to Barry and took the spoon, as Barry used a thick leather glove to grab the top of the can to move it to the edge of the grate away from direct contact with the fire, but near enough to keep the stew warm while they ate. Ryan dipped the spoon in the can and brought out a big spoonful of stew.
"Be careful, it'll be hot."
Ryan nodded as he blew on the spoonful of stew to cool it off before putting it into his mouth. He closed his eyes as he savored the taste of the stew, it seemed to calm his protesting stomach. He opened his eyes and glanced at Barry who was looking at him with a smile. Ryan couldn't help himself and smiled back.
"Good huh. Food always tastes better when you're camping."
Ryan handed over the spoon.
"No go ahead have another couple of bites. There's plenty."
Ryan hesitated before he reached in and took another bite and then immediately held the spoon out to Barry. Barry smiled at the boy as he took the spoon and got a spoonful for himself. For the next few minutes they passed the spoon back and forth as they ate up the stew. When the stew was all gone, Barry reached into this pack again and pulled out an old army canteen and handed it over to Ryan. Ryan took it and took a couple of good drinks before handing it back to Barry. He smiled.
"Thank Barry. I feel a little bit better now."
"Good. Let's get some sleep. You're welcome to join me in my shack if you want, there's plenty of room."
Ryan thought about it for a moment and shook his head.
"I think I'll be fine near the fire. It's like camping out."
"Yeah. Well if you need me you know where to find me. Sweet dreams Ryan."
Barry used some of the water from his canteen to wash the spoon off and dried it with a handkerchief before returning it to his pack. He looked at Ryan once again before crawling into his shack to get some sleep. Ryan lay down on the ground near the fire. There was heat radiating from the metal of the fire barrel and it made him feel comfortable. He was laying there when suddenly his stomach cramped really bad and he felt really sick to his stomach. He lurched to his feet and moved over to some bushes outside of the campsite and dropped to his knees as he leaned over. He began to throw up the stew. Barry heard all of this and came stumbling out of the shack trying to see what was going on.
He saw where Ryan was on his knees and immediately ran over to the boy. He knelt down next to him and began to rub his back until Ryan appeared to be done. On the ground was the stew that he had eaten. Barry went back to his shack and got his canteen. He helped Ryan sit up and take a swallow of water.
"Swish it around and spit it out."
Ryan followed his instructions and Barry pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and gently wiped the boy's face. Barry helped the shaky boy get up from the ground and get back over to the fire. He sat on one of the crates and guided the boy to his lap. He held the canteen to Ryan's pale lips and urged him to drink some water. Ryan opened his mouth and let Barry help him take a few swallows of the water. Barry had his arm around his shoulder. Ryan leaned into him and laid his head on Barry's shoulder. Barry put the canteen down and brought his other hand up to stroke the boy's hair.
"I'm sorry that happened. I think that maybe whoever kidnapped you, may have given you some kind of drug to knock you out, since you don't remember what happened. Maybe something about the drug upset your stomach and when you ate the stew, it interacted badly with that. I don't want to give you anything else right now in case that happens again. Why don't you keep my canteen with you and finish it off. Maybe that will help you get your stomach settled. Hopefully by the time we get up, the drug will have gotten out of your system and you can get eat something then. When we find one of the Ventura County Sheriff's in the morning, we'll let them know that you were probably drugged."
"Thanks Barry, for taking care of me and helping me."
Barry hugged the boy.
"I'm glad I was the one who found you and got the chance to help you out. Now do you think you can get some sleep?"
Ryan nodded against his shoulder. He opened his eyes and found himself looking at Barry's neck. Something about the man's neck was doing something to him. He felt a slight pinch in his mouth and sat up. He looked at Barry's friendly wrinkled face. Barry felt Ryan tense up a little and let his arms drop as the boy got up. He kept his hands out so that Ryan could see that he meant no harm.
"Um, thanks Barry for being so nice."
"No trouble at all. Here take this. Wrap that blanket around you, and stay near the fire, you feel cold. If you want to put some more wood in the fire, go ahead."
Ryan looked at the canteen that Barry held out to him. He accepted it and took another drink. The water seemed to help a little. Barry nodded and got up.
"Okay, I think we're set now, remember if you need me, I'm right here. Try to get some sleep. You've had a hard night and the sleep will do you good."
Barry nodded and crawled back into his shack to try to get some sleep. Ryan listened as Barry moved around for a little bit longer and then heard Barry start to snore. Ryan closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but his mind was still running over everything that had happened to him and he just didn't feel sleepy at all. Closing his eyes didn't help, so he got up and with the blanket wrapped around his shoulders, he sat and stared at the fire. In the flames he saw images of what he had seen at the house. He was still trying to make sense of everything that he had seen. None of it made sense to him. He was still sitting there as the dawn made its appearance. The fire was down to embers now, but still he sat and stared. He didn't register Barry's movement as he crawled out of the shack. Barry stood and stretched and saw Ryan sitting on the crate staring at the embers.
"You're up early. Well I gotta go take a piss and then we'll get headed into town to get you some help."
Barry turned and walked away to find a tree. When he came back, Ryan hadn't moved. He looked at the can sitting on the grate.
"I'd better clean this up before we leave. I don't want to be attracting ants."
Barry reached down to pick up the can and his thumb hit the sharp edge of the can, cutting it.
"Shit, that's sharp!"
Barry pulled his thumb to his mouth to suck the blood from the cut. Ryan sniffed something and his eyes widened a little. He felt something like two needles being jammed into his upper gums real hard. He looked up at Barry where that smell was coming from. Barry saw the way Ryan jerked and looked at the boy. When he did, his eyes opened wide as he saw the boy's eyes change to a reddish hue and then the boy opened his mouth and began to snarl. Barry could only look on in shock.
"Oh my god!"
That was all he could say before Ryan launched himself across the fire barrel and grabbed onto Barry, knocking the man into his shack hard enough to collapse it as he landed on it.. Barry tried to push the younger boy off of him, but the strength of the boy was more than he could handle, even if he had been as strong as he was in his Army days, he knew there was nothing he could do to stop Ryan, but that didn't stop him from trying. Moments later Barry felt something sharp pierce his neck and he knew the young teen had bitten him. He could smell and feel his blood as it flowed from his neck. He felt the boy sucking on his neck and resigned himself. All he could think about was this poor boy and what someone or something had done to him. He reached up and gently patted the boy's back. That action awoke something within Ryan and he pulled back, sitting up and pushing himself away from Barry. Barry's vision was kind of fuzzy as he looked at the horrified look on Ryan's bloody face as the boy realized what he had just done. Barry saw tears start to fall down the boy's cheeks.
"Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! What have a done? What…..Barry….I'm so sorry. What am I going to do? What is happening to me?"
Ryan looked down and saw that his hands had blood on them and then he looked down at his hoody. It also had blood all over it. He jumped up and looked around trying to figure out what to do next. Then he looked at the light from the east and every story he had ever heard about what happens to vampires when the sun shines on them. He screamed and began to run in the opposite direction, ripping the blood soaked sweatshirt off and throwing it to the side. He was running wildly back and forth and then everything that happened overwhelmed him and his brain just shut down.
Barry's last view of Ryan was of the frantic boy crying and running around the campsite aimlessly and then he ran out of view so fast, it was like he disappeared. Barry whispered a little prayer.
"Lord, I don't know how it happened or if what I just saw was real, but watch over that boy. He needs you."
Barry closed his eyes and went still.
Jason and Cliff were in Cliff's open topped jeep on Telephone Road when Jason reached over to Cliff to tell him to stop for a moment, but Cliff was already pulling the jeep to the side of the road.
"Did you hear that?"
Cliff nodded. Jason pointed to where the property road across from them and they drove onto the farmer's property. As they drove by, they thought they heard someone yelling at them, but Cliff ignored them as he drove along the dirt road heading to the fields beyond the house. He continued to drive along the roads and then pulled to a stop when they reached the line of trees that bordered the Santa Clara River. They heard a motor behind them and they saw a man driving toward them on an ATV. Jason waved at the trees and Cliff disappeared into the trees while Jason turned to face the man coming toward him. The man stopped the ATV and jumped off.
"Just what in the hell do you young kids think you're doing? This is my land and if you don't get the hell off of if, I'm going to call the Sheriff and have him haul your punk ass to jail!"
Jason didn't have time to screw around, so he moved quicker than the man could comprehend and soon had the man by the neck and stared into his eyes. The man's face went slack as Jason looked at him.
"You will get on your ATV and drive back home. You will not remember any of this and are actually feeling a little tired so you will go back into your house, lie down on the couch and take a good, refreshing nap. When you wake up, you will not remember any of this. Now go."
The man turned around and got on the ATV, turned it around and calmly drove back to his house. Jason leaned against the jeep as he caught his breath. He had just started being able to control a person at least a little bit, but it still tired him out a bit. He looked at the man who was calmly driving away and then followed where Cliff had gone into the trees. He had not gone very far when he heard Cliff call to him.
"Jace, over here."
Jason ran over and found Cliff kneeling over a man who was lying on the ground. The man's campsite looked like a cyclone had hit it. The man's neck and upper chest was covered in blood and his eyes were closed.
Cliff pointed toward the west. Jason looked down and could see the tracks of the kid. He took off in the direction the kid had run. Fifty feet away he found the torn and blood soaked remains of a hooded sweatshirt. He picked it up and took off once again. He found the boy lying on the ground. He knelt down and reached out to him and the kid freaked. He had to jump onto him and hold onto him.
"Calm down kid. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help you."
Ryan was still so freaked out that he kept struggling. All he wanted to do was get away from whoever was holding him. The arms that held him were like iron and he couldn't break free of them. Eventually Ryan began to tire. Jason continued saying the same things over and over and eventually they got through the blood lust, fear, shame and everything and Ryan began to calm down. Jason felt the boy finally relax and he slowly released his hold. He got up and looked down at the young teen on the ground. The boy had bloody tear tracks on his face. Jason felt sorry for the kid.
He held his hand out to help the boy up. The boy grabbed his hand and allowed Jason to help him up. Jason felt the tensing of the boy as he tore his hand from Jason's grip and started to run, but he suddenly found himself running into Jason who had gotten in front of him and he was knocked to the ground. He looked up at Jason in surprise. Jason just looked at him with a little smile and then he allowed his eyes to change and his fangs to drop. Ryan scrambled back and Jason retracted his fangs and stood before Ryan with his arms crossed.
"Who….who are you?"
"Name's Jason and I'm here to help you. What's your name?"
"Well Ryan, will you let me help you?"
Ryan looked over his shoulder where the sun was coming up and jumped up looking around for some place to get under cover out of the sun. Jason just looked at the boy's frantic search.
"What are you looking for Ryan?"
Ryan pointed to the east.
"The sun is coming up. We're going to burst into flames or blow up or something."
Ryan then just slumped to the ground.
"Maybe that's best. I killed him. He was just a nice old guy trying to help me and I….I killed him."
Jason crouched down as the boy began to cry. He hugged the boy and Ryan grabbed onto him as he cried.
"Come on, we're okay and no, we're not going to burst into flames. Its overcast today and it won't really get bad until later. Get up, we need to get out of here."
"Yeah, because I'm a monster and we wouldn't want anyone to see a real life monster."
"We'll talk about the monster part later. Let's go. And you're right, we don't want anyone to see us, especially you."
Jason stood up and held his hand out. Ryan took it and Jason pulled him to his feet. He directed Ryan over to the nearby river and had him wash his mouth and face to get the blood off of it. He put his arms on Ryan's shoulders and looked at him.
"Now you need to do one other thing, retract your fangs and relax."
Ryan brought his hand up to his mouth and felt the sharp pointed fangs and his eyes widened as he felt them. He punctured his finger on one of them and pulled his hand away.
He looked down and watched as the wound closed up and disappeared. He looked at Jason.
"Yeah, we heal really fast. That's one of the perks. Now retract your fangs. We don't want anyone to see you."
"But how? I don't even know how they came out."
"Think about sucking them up into your mouth."
Jason demonstrated a few times. Ryan tried to copy what he was doing and finally got it. When he did that, his eyes changed back to normal as well. Jason nodded and put his arm across the boy's shoulders.
"Let's go get back to my friend."
"Another like yo….us?"
Jason chuckled and shook his head.
"Not exactly but he is a good friend."
The sun peeked over the hills and Jason held his hand up to shield his eyes from the brightness of it. He started to hurry Ryan along. When they got back to the campsite it was deserted.
"Where is he?"
"My friend probably has him. We can't leave evidence like that around. It will make people suspicious and we don't want that."
Ryan's head drooped as he followed Jason through the trees as he thought about what he had done. He had killed a man who had only wanted to be nice to him. He had sucked his blood. Ryan could still taste Barry's blood in his mouth and he hated himself for liking it. Maybe he could ask this Jason guy to kill him or something. He didn't want to be a monster. Jason's voice caused him to look up.
"Cliff. I see you cleaned up a bit. We'll have to figure out a place to dump the body."
"There is no body. This guy is one tough old man. The kid stopped before he went too far and the man is weak from blood loss, but I got the bleeding on his neck stopped. We do have to get him some place safe so that he can recuperate."
When Cliff said that Barry was alive, Ryan perked up and ran past Jason to the jeep, but he stopped when he saw the huge guy standing outside of the jeep. The man smiled.
"It's okay kid. You can check on him, but he's out cold. I gave him something to help him sleep, until we can get him someplace safe. You should call it in Jace."
"Get in Ryan, we got places to go and people to see."
Ryan got in the back seat next to Barry, who was slumped over asleep. Clifford had wrapped a blanket around him and grabbed his backpack. Jason got into the passenger seat and pulled his phone out of his pocket to make the call.
"Oh hi George….oh he's resting…..good well we found the kid…..yeah, he did attack someone, but the guy is alive, we just need to get him somewhere that he can rest until he's back on his feet……not too bad but he lost a lot of blood…..the kid….about 13 or 14…..I know I'm glad we put that bastard and his crew out of business…..no one should be making half lifes…..Okay, that sounds good. We'll head there right away…..We'll be there in about 10 or 15 minutes…..Sure George we'll see you then….bye."
He looked at Clifford.
"Head back the bastard's place. George is sending a helicopter for the old man, the kid and me."
Clifford nodded and drove away. Fifteen minutes later he was pulling into the parking area of the house that they had raided the night before. Ryan recognized the place and it was all he could do not to jump out of the jeep and run.
"What….what are we doing here? You're bringing me back? You said you are going to help me, but….."
"Shh. Ryan, we're not bringing you back here. We just needed an out of the way place to get picked up. The vampire that took you and made you one of us, has been severely dealt with. He's gone and he won't be making anymore half lifes ever again. Trust me, we destroy people that do that."
"But, he's just like us…."
Jason turned around in the seat to look at Ryan and he had an angry look on his face.
"No, he is not. He's the worst kind and my friends and I try to make sure that those like him do not exist around here. Now is not the time to discuss this sort of thing. We will have plenty of time later. I will answer any questions you have then. Okay?"
Ryan nodded and Jason's look softened.
"I'm sorry, but we are all not the same. Any more than all werewolves are the same."
Ryan's head jerked up and looked back and forth between Clifford and Jason. The he realized that was what he had smelled when he got in the jeep, it was a sort of an animal smell. He thought it was Barry, but now he knew. Clifford looked at him through the rear view mirror and smiled as he nodded.
"Holy shit. What other things are out there?"
"Like I said questions later."
They got out of the jeep with Clifford carrying Barry. Jason led the way inside to get out of the sun. They didn't have to worry about the sun much, but no reason to stay in the sun if they didn't need to. Within minutes they heard the sound of a helicopter nearing the house. Jason looked out and saw one of Robert's corporate helicopters coming in for a landing. He nodded to the other two people and they ran over to the helicopter. Clifford put Barry into one of the seats and strapped him in. Jason pointed Ryan to one of the other seats while he got in after him. They waved to Clifford before shutting the door. The back windows of the helicopter were darkened to keep the sun out as much as possible. Soon they were up and on their way to Robert's estate. Fifteen minutes later, the helicopter was landing to the side of the estate. A couple of Robert's people were at the door of the helicopter with a gurney. Jason helped get Barry on the gurney and the men rolled him away. Ryan looked at them.
"What are they going to do to him?"
"They're going to take someplace where he can get some rest and heal up. That's all."
Ryan looked around the estate.
"What is this place?"
"This is my mentor Robert's estate. This is where I and others like us live and we help Robert in the things that he does. Come on Ryan, let's get out of the sun. Even though we can stand to be in it for some time, it gets a little bright and hot after a time."
Ryan nodded and walked beside Jason into the house. Jason could tell that there was something really bothering the boy, well other than the obvious, so he gently took his shoulder and guided him to the library. He thought it might be empty at this time. Inside he had the boy sit on the couch next to him so that they could talk.
"Okay, so what's on your mind?"
He could sense the Ryan was near to tears.
"I…I'm never going to see my folks or little brother ever again?"
Jason reached over and pulled the boy to his side. This is why he hated those Nosferatu bastards. This boy had a family and probably friends and that had all been taken away.
"I'm sorry Ryan, but no, you can't go back. Maybe someday, but not right now. For now, you have a choice to make."
"We give every new vampire that we rescue from the Nosferatu, this choice. I need you to sit up and listen to what I have to say. We give you this choice because you were not given a choice about whether you wanted to be a vampire or not."
"You mean some people want to be a monster?"
Jason looked at Ryan with a sad look on his face and nodded.
"Unfortunately there are those who do."
"You didn't want this did you?"
"Not a fucking chance. The vampire who took me, was a Nosferatu like the one who took you. I had no choice and Robert saved me. I had my whole life ahead of me. I was 17, I had a full ride baseball scholarship to a UC. I had a girlfriend that I knew I was going to marry someday. Everything was perfect, until that son of a bitch ripped it away from me. After Robert rescued me, he gave me a choice, and now I'm going to give you the same choice."
Ryan looked at Jason and nodded.
"Okay, here are the choices. Since this is not what you wanted, we'll end it for you."
"You mean kill me?"
"You were all ready for the sun to burn you up. It would have worked but it would have taken a long time and it would have hurt a lot. You would have been in pain for quite some time."
"But you said it wasn't like in the movies."
"It's not, but being exposed to the sun for a long enough time can be fatal to us. It just takes a while, it's not some instantaneous thing like you see in the movies, and it hurts a lot. I know, the one who turned me used that for punishment against me. No, we would make it quick. You wouldn't feel it. The other choice is to join us, live here, and learn everything that you can about fighting off the real monsters. That last choice is that you are free to leave, but I warn you if you do this and you begin killing people all over the place, then we will hunt you down and destroy you."
Ryan sat back and leaned his head against the back of the couch. Jason sat there and waited. Several minutes later Ryan looked at Jason.
"You said maybe someday I might be able to go back and see my folks and brother?"
"Maybe, but it will have to be several years from now. It can't be right now. If you returned to them right now, what happened with Barry, could happen with them and I know you don't want that. So you would have to wait. It was a long time, 10 years before I saw my girlfriend again. Five years after that I saw her again and I let her and her husband, who was my best friend when we were kids, know what had happened to me. I also got to know my son Chris."
"Wait, what? You have a son? How is that possible? I mean technically we're dead and…."
"Yeah. No there was not something miraculous that happened. She was pregnant with my son when I disappeared. I didn't know until about nine or ten years later, when I had to rescue him from some assholes that had kidnapped him."
"But that's a story for another time."
Ryan looked Jason over. What he saw was a 17 year old teenager, except for the eyes, when you looked at his eyes, they looked much older.
"Do you still see them?"
"Sometimes, but he has a different life, so I try not to intrude too much. He's a great kid and I love him very much. In fact he's only a little older than you are right now."
Ryan looked down at himself and then at Jason.
"So this is my life. I'm not going to change, no matter how long I live? I'll always look like this and I'll always be 13 years old."
Jason nodded his head.
"That's why we give those who were given no choice about it, a choice. Especially someone who was turned against his will like you were at your age. If you can't live with this, then it's best to end it."
"If I decided to end it, would I get a chance to say goodbye to my family and my best friend?"
"No, that just wouldn't work out at all. We do everything that we can to make sure the humans don't know about us and the werewolves. If they found out, we would be exterminated. There are a whole lot more of them than there are of us and we would eventually be overwhelmed and destroyed. If any of our number starts to kill too many humans, then they are given one warning to stop. There are no second warnings."
Ryan was again quiet for a little while.
"Would you be the one who would kill me, if I asked for it?"
Jason gazed into the boy's eyes and nodded slowly.
"If that is what you want, then yes, I would grant you that."
"What if I decide I want to learn, but later I decide I can't do it anymore?"
"That will be up to you. If you want someone to give you the final death, then someone will grant your request. If it is at your request we will honor whatever you want. Only rogues that we have to capture are made to feel pain, in payment for all the suffering that they have caused. That is their punishment."
"Why did you decide to continue to live?"
"At first it was because I wanted revenge on the vampire and others like him, who destroyed my life. Later I had a better reason. My son Chris and my family. I am their protector and I will always be there whenever they need me. One day, I may visit my brother and my parents, if they are still alive, but not yet. My family is what gives me the strength to continue in this semblance of life."
"I think that's the part that makes me want to go forward, to live this life, my family. How did your family take it when they found out about you?"
"Like I said, that's another story, and I will be happy to tell it you, but you are still new and I think you should rest first. When you wake up, we have to hunt, because you need the nourishment or you'll starve. I can see in your eyes, how tired your body is. Since you are so new, you will need to sleep a little longer and you need to feed more often. Eventually you won't need to feed as often, but right now you need to feed."
"That's the part I hate the most, having to drink blood. Would it be alright if I can see Barry? To see if he's going to be alright?"
"Sure. I'll take you to him."
The two teens got up from the couch and walked out the door. One who has found a light within the darkness and the other who has to figure out if there is a light for him in the darkness.