**An excerpt from a may-soon-to-be-novel that lives in my mind, and has for some time.**
The fields whispered as I hurried through them, like a frightenined rabbit. I was running as softly as I could, but also as fast, because I knew I had to find them.
Evelyn. Jobe. Mama.
Jobe first, I told myself sternly, ducking through the long grasses, waving in the cool wind. It smelled of rain, and the evening was dark and damp. I was going to die out here, struck down by lightning or pneumonia.
It had to be Jobe first. I knew where they had taken him, and I would have to come back for Evleyn. As much as I wanted to take her away as fast as I could from that place, that awful school, I knew that I had to steal away our little brother before I did anything else. I would need speed to get him back, and as much as I hated to think of her as a hindrance, she would be in this situation. I'm so sorry, sister, I said in my thoughts, wishing that she could somehow hear me. May God protect.
Soon I came upon the road. It wasn't raining yet, and I kept moving. I felt as though the clouds were being held back for me, to give me a little more time.
I tripped over the deep ruts made by wheels scraping always through the dirt, mud, and occasional ocks in the country road, not as fancy as the brick ones in the city. Some of these tracks could have been made by that shiny black car, those new tires. In my heart I clawed at them and their hollow words, their factual way of speaking about us. About taking us away.
The rain started to fall. I did not even pause as I felt it tart to hit me, hard and wet and cold.
The fact that I kept moving was perhaps my saving grace. I did not freeze to death or get hit by lightning even as it flashed across the distant prairies behind me. I was entering a different world now, as dawn broke, a world of city folk and big houses, buildings and elevators. Nice clothes, large, prestigious schools.... places where they didn't even know His name. It scared me. I was dripping wet and obviously not from this area, I was carrying at least three illegal things with me. I had no parents to accompany me. How easily I could have been picked up and carted off by the local police, but strangely I met with no one.The streets were empty.
Finally, I made it to that brick building, that place where orphaned boys too young for school were kept. It was short and wide, with barred windows and tall wooden fences surrounding it. I could not even see through the cracks to what lay behind those fences.
I waited until night came again, hiding in a clump of half-dead bushes, resting and thinking of away to retrieve my brother. I heard children a few times, I thought, but they didn't come outside as it continued to drizzle. Sometimes I heard bitter crying from the upper windows. My heart ached. What if those sobs belonged to Jobe? Or worse: what if they didn't? What if I never found him in there? What if I was wrong and they took him somewhere else? He was actually just to school age, since he'd turned three in the summer, but surely he'd be held back a year, as Evelyn and I were going to be? I hoped he was here. I prayed a continuous stream of prayers. Please. Please let me take him home. Please let me find him. Please.
Darkness had fully fallen, leaving the city in an ugly shadow. I crawled silently out of the bushes, sticks and shirveled leaves clinging to my hair, thorns caught up in my skirt. I didn't care. I left my ruined shoes behind in the bushes. I didn't need them, they would only make noise and weigh me down, full of water as they were.
The doors were locked, I knew, so I clmibed the fence, all the while thinking that my country upbringing was a blessing. How I would have managed if I had grown up like a city girl and not learned how to climb fences, trees, rocks, houses... I dropped to the ground with a soft thud. I was now inside the fence.
I was surrounded by plastic clubhouses and cars, things to occupy young ones as they played in their daily allowance of sunshine. Now, they were only hunched shapes made shiny by the constant drizzle. I stalked toward the big double doors, and found that they had no outer handles. They could only be opened from the inside.
Defeated, I sank to the ground. Let them find me, then, and take me away. If I cannot have my brother back...
A small noise caught my attention.
I held my breath.
There. It came again. My eyes were now well-adjusted to the darkness, and I let them roam over every shape and inch of space, until they rested on something small and irregular. The distinct outline of a little boy curled up in a ball, hiding beneath one of the plastic forts. He twitched a bit when he realized he'd been spotted, and an almost inaudible noise escaped him. He sounded frightened.
"Shh," I said, moving toward him.
"Shh. I won't hurt you." I crouched a few steps away from him, and he turned his face away. "Why are you hiding?" I asked.
There was no response, but he did turn his face toward me a little.
"Who are you?" His voice was hoarse and hard to hear. I thought I heard a familiae note in it, but I couldn't be sure.
"My name is Alita."
He snapped his head around and his eyes grew huge. He opened his mouth and I opened mine and I reached out for him becuase I knew it was him but then a white light snapped on and flooded the yard, exposed me and made my heart jump out of my chest. I fell over, tripping on my drenched skirt, and three tall, forbidding figures stood staring, cold and unmoving. Behind them I saw a teenaged boy holding the leashes of three mastiffs, which growled low and threatening.
Jobe crawled toward me. I took him in my arms and felt his body wrack with silent sobs.
"Move again," a cold voice said in a factual tone, "and the dogs are free to give chase."
I felt my lungs contract. I felt weak and loose, like yarn that comes apart at the ends. I clutched Jobe and kissed him once on the forehead, terrified but still tensing to spring.
I leapt up and tossed Jobe over the fence, easily becuase he weighed hardly anything. Before I heard him land on the other side I was climbing, and the dogs were snarling across the yard and snapping at my heels, and I as on the other side and then the fence was opening somehow, and Jobe was already running as fast as his legs could carry him away from there. I scooped him up and carried him piggyback, hardly feeling his slight weight at all as I ran and ran and ran into the night, into the storms that swept westward and far away.
I heard the dogs baying after us, always on our trail. I heard Jobe breathing hard in fear and the booted footsteps behind us.
At last, those sounds faded. We were moving through unfamiliar territory, but Jobe had calmed and was now half-doxing, his head against the back of my neck. I made for the distant woods. It was only after we reached them and were huddled in a pine grove on a bed of dry needles that Jobe finally let go of me. He had dark circles under his eyes, I could see, and scabbed-over scratches on his hands, front and back. They cris-crossed each other and he winced as I tried to clean them by wringing water out of my clothes and onto his injuries. He had a bruise on both knees from being tossed over the fence, but he had landed well, as I'd known he would. Often he had followed me to the rocks, and there he had learned to climb-- and to fall without breaking any bones. There is an art to falling.
As he drifted off to sleep in my lap I gently rubbed his hands.
"Do you want to talk about anything?" I asked.
"No," he said, and drew his hands back. It was another few minutes before he added, "Where's Mama and Ev?"
"I don't know where Mama is. Ev stayed behind at the school so I could get you first." I had to tell him the honest truth. I wished that I could tell him that Mama was at home mking him supper, or that Evelyn was up in our bedroom knitting. I wished I could tell him that they were both safely hidden away with some friends, and that we were going to be safe, too. But I couldn't.
"Are we going to live here now?" Jobe asked.
"Silly," I said, and ruffled his dark hair, "we can't live here. We need a place to cook, and somewhere to sleep when it starts raining again."
Jobe closed his eyes. "They said there's no such thing as God," he mumbled.
I didn't know how to respond. Of course they had said that. "It's not true," I stammered.
"I said that there is such a thing." He rubbed his hands and I knew that they must have done that to him as punishment. My stomach hurt. Jobe nestled closer and his breathing became even. "So I ran outside when they weren't looking. Casper didn't tell on me."
"Who's Casper?" I asked.
"He's their dog boy. He feeds the dogs and makes them chase people. That's why we didn't get eaten when we ran away."
I thought of the boy who had held the three mastiffs before loosing them on us. Traitor...? The dogs hadn't found us yet. Had he had something to do with that?
Jobe fell asleep in moments, but I couldn't. I leaned against the thick trunk of an old pine and looked up at the patches of sky visible between the branches. wispy clouds veiled the moon, but still I could make out a bit of its pale glow. I reached into my pocket and realized with a sinking feeling that I had lost the old rosary. There was no way I would ever get it back now. I sighed and finally fell asleep, my face stil turned upward.
Along the road leading away from the city, the rosary lay in a murky puddle. One of the big mastiffs stopped to drink, and sniffed at it. It barked once, and the boy came over to investigate.
"What've you found, Beast?" he asked, and picked it up. Realizing instantly what it was-- and who it probably belonged to-- he swiftly hid it in his coat pocket. Loudly, he said, "Come on, Beast, find her!" He clicked his tongue and pointed southward , toward the slums. "That way! Go!"
Beast trotted off eagerly, and the two other dogs followed, their tongues lolling out and their wet noses snuffling ceaslessly.
The First Guard walked over. "Well done, Casper," he said, staring after the dogs. "You show great potential. I know that the mayor will be pleased, and if you can please him you can please anyone important." First Guard squinted at Casper. "It's strange when I think of how you were when we first picked you up. No parents, so thickskulled and stubborn. You've learned well, though. Think of the opportunities that you've opened up for yourself by finally accepting..."
"Yes, I know," Casper said quickly. He cleared his throat, uneasy. "I-I really do. Thanks."
First Guard smiled thinly and moved away, conversing with other guards and the one teacher who had come along on the search. The madness... Casper reached into his pocket and fingered the muddy beads. He would find them himself, and there would be no guards or dogs coming with him. He would find them, and he would ask them about everything. He needed to know.
He needed to know what made their god so great that his father would die for faith. Now was his chance to finally have an answer.