Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Children of the Goats, Part 3

Chloe was in the kitchen when Tsion Ben-Judah arrived. She had a pot of vegetable soup on the boil, and was throwing together a quick salad, when he popped his head in. “Need a hand?” he asked.

“No thanks, I’ve got it all under control.” She tossed the lettuce. “So, how is everything?”

“Confusing.” He frowned. “Jesus keeps telling me something, but he won’t explain. Every time I pray, I get the same message, ‘Be watchful’, but he won’t tell me what that means.”

“God answers our questions in his time, not ours.” Chloe smiled, feeling a moment of...satisfaction at her ability to find such a pious answer. How far she’d come from the days where she’d questioned and picked at everything, subjecting it to the harsh light of intellect! How she’d grown in faith!

“I know,” Tsion nodded. “I’ve prayed for contentment and faith. But Jesus would have me watchful, and I don’t know what to watch. I mean we’re supposed to have a thousand years before Satan returns with his hordes...” He stopped.

“What is it?” Chloe asked.

“There it is again. Be watchful. Watch what?”

Kenny came tearing through the kitchen, trailing a pack of little boys. “Hi, Mom! Is it okay if I bring some friends for dinner?”

Chloe glanced over at the boys. They were mostly about Kenny’s age, with a few older ones. A rather grubby black boy stood in the back, scraping his muddy feet on the welcome mat. She subdivided the soup and salad, and came to a conclusion. “Sure, honey. I’ll just call Irene, and see if she can bring a dish of buttered vegetables to round out the meal. And I think your little friends,” she paused, glancing meaningfully at the black boy in the back, “should get cleaned up properly. What is it you kids play at that gets you so dirty, anyways?”

“I don’t know, Mom.” Kenny grinned. “I stay nice and clean. See?” He held up his hands for her inspection.

“Yes you do, dear. Very good. Now show your friends where to wash up, and you might want to lend...Chris, right? Lend Chris a nice clean outfit.”

As the kids tromped out, Chloe smiled at Tsion. “There’s some sort of trend going on. Mud pies, or mud-ball fights or something. I don’t know what. Half the kids are into it, and it involves getting really dirty.”

“Kids,” Tsion nodded. “Would you like a hand now? I do a mean fruit salad.”

Chloe sighed, glancing down at her salad bowl. “With Kenny’s friends eating here, I get the feeling the more food, the better.”

Children of the Goats, Part 2

Chloe frowned. That was the sixth kid she saw tracking past, covered in dirt. She didn’t normally mind a bit of mud, as long as they washed before they went inside, but this was getting downright weird. There was another one, a little blonde girl with a garden spade shoved in her pocket, her knees covered in black mud.

“Excuse me,” Chloe called. “Excuse me. Suzy?” The girl was called Suzy. A COT, as Buck would put it, a Child of Tribulation. Cameron, she silently corrected herself, he’s called Cameron now. Not Buck. There’s nothing to buck here. She needed to remember that. It was part of God remaking them according to his will. She needed to embrace that.

Suzy glanced up, startled. “Yes, Mommy Chloe?”

That’s right, Chloe remembered, she didn’t have a family. Her parents had been Carpathianists. They’d died in the last battle.

Chloe knelt down and smiled. “Have you been playing in the dirt, sweetie? Gardening?” Gardening wasn’t exactly necessary these days, with all plants being edible (and reasonably tasty), but a lot of people did it as a hobby, or a trade. You were more likely to get certain kinds of food with a bit of work. God helps those who help themselves, after all.

Suzy nodded, wide-eyed. “Playing. There was a big empty spot. I didn’t think anyone would mind.” She looked oddly frightened.

A wave of pity swelled in Chloe’s heart. Christ alone would know what that poor child had been subjected to, with a Carpathianist upbringing. “Of course not.” She ruffled Suzy’s hair. “As long as you’re not hurting anything, play where you like. Just make sure you clean up properly, and put the shovel back when you’re done. And remind your little friends to do the same think, okay?”

Suzy nodded.

“Run along now,” Chloe said.

Little Suzy dashed off. Chloe smiled. “Bless her, Jesus,” she prayed. “Bless all their little hearts.”
As always, when she prayed, she felt an answering rush of pure love.


“I didn’t tell anyone!” Fatima yelled. She hadn’t. Okay, if she had told, she’d have picked Zayna, and Suzy. They were friends of hers, the same age, and their parents were in the pit, too. And they weren’t weird, like Kenny or Michelle who prayed a lot, and told Jesus everything. But she didn’t even know some of the other kids. There were a couple of older boys; a skinny black kid and a shorter blond-haired white one. They both looked about Hakim’s age, which made them just about the oldest kids there were. And two little white girls who Fatima had never seen before stood at the edge of the pit, looking shy and clutching plastic beach shovels.

“How’d they find out then?” Hakim snapped. “I didn’t say anything!”

“Hey,” said the black kid. “The little girl didn’t say anything. It was a different girl. Said her name was Jenny.”

“Jenny?” Hakim frowned. “I don’t know any Jenny.”

“Tall girl? Black hair? Looked older? Maybe twelve?”

Hakim shook his head. “She can’t be twelve. No one’s twelve.”

“I don’t know! She looked twelve.”

Suzy tugged on Hakim’s elbow. “What are we supposed to do?”

Hakim looked down. “Dig.” He sighed. “Fatima, show them.”

Fatima let Suzy and the other kids down the bottom of the hole. She showed them the garden bucket she’d borrowed, and the pile a few feet away where she and Hakim had been dumping the dirt.

By then, the black kid seemed to be finished talking with Hakim. He climbed down into the hole, and unfolded the shovel he’d brought; a square-ended thing, about as long as Fatima’s arm. It had a joint that could bend halfway down the handle.

“What’s that?” Fatima asked. She’d never seen anything like it. She just had an ordinary garden spade.

“It’s a camping shovel,” the boy replied. He held it out for her to look at. “My...father had it. We had to hide out in the hills for a while, after things got really crazy. He used to dig latrines with it.”


“Toilets.” The boy grinned. “We didn’t have proper toilets, so we’d have to poop in a hole.”
“Gross!” Fatima jumped back, dropping the shovel.

The boy laughed. “Don’t worry. The shovel was for digging in dirt, not poop.” He picked it up. “I’m Chris. What’s your name?”

“Fatima. I’m Hakim’s sister.”

“Nice to meet you.” Chris smiled and shook her hand.

Fatima grinned up at him. “Can I try your shovel?”


Hakim shook his head. "There's more of them."

Fatima looked up. Three girls had just come over the hill. They were all carrying shovels. Long shovels; grown-up size. She didn't know any of them. "Isn't that good?" she asked. More kids meant more digging. The hole was growing a lot faster now.

"There's too many." Hakim stood up. "If we keep getting more kids, we're gonna get caught." He pulled himself out of the hole, and walked over to the new kids.

Fatima watched from the edge of the hole, where she was hauling up buckets of dirt on a string. It was her idea, the string. Faster than climbing in and out of the pit. Hakim had called her clever for coming up with it.

"What are you doing here?" she heard Hakim ask.

The one in front, a tall black girl nearly Hakim's age, helt out a shovel. "We came to dig."

"How'd you know about the digging?"

The girl shrugged. "Jenny told me."

"Who's Jenny?"

Fatima ducked her head and hauled dirt. Hakim always asked this, and never got an answer. Never any more answer than Chris gave the first day. Some girl. Looked older than she could be. They wouldn't know her; no one knew Jenny. She was just some girl who knew about the hole.

Hakim wouldn't like it. He never liked it. But he'd let the girls dig, because the hole grew faster. That's what he always did.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

3000 Miles from Graceland, Part 4

“No,” Jenny shook her head, “I’m sorry, I haven’t.”

“She’s eight,” the woman continued, oblivious, “She has brown hair and green eyes.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenny repeated, opening the screen door. She stepped side, followed by Gretchen. “I haven’t seen your daughter.”

“Okay,” the woman replied, sniffling. “I just don’t know what happened to her. One minute she was there, then the next she was gone.”

Jenny shot a confused look at Gretchen. “What did you say?” she asked the woman.

“She was there, then she was gone.”

“Did she...” Gretchen asked, hesitantly, “Did she leave her clothes behind?”

“Yes,” the woman looked up. She spun around to face Gretchen. “How did you know?”

“Our sons,” Gretchen nodded over at Jenny, “The same thing happened to them. I was watching them at my house when suddenly they were gone,” she paused, “But their clothes were still there,” she finished, voice low and husky.

Jenny wrapped her arm around her friend as Gretchen began to sob. “It’s okay,” she croaked out, voice nearly choked out by the feeling of imminent tears. “We’ll find them. The boys are okay.”

Gretchen buried her face in Jenny’s shoulder. “But what if they’re not?” she asked, voice muffled and indistinct. “I should have been watching them. I failed.”

Jenny grabbed Gretchen’s shoulder and pushed her away forcefully. “Stop that!” she yelled, grabbing her friend's chin with her free hand to force her to look up. “We’ll have time to worry about what happened later. Right now you need to stay calm so we can look. The boys might be hurt and they might need our help.”

For a moment Gretchen looked like she might melt in to front step. Then she blinked once and seemed to stand imperceptibly taller. “Right,” she wiped the tears off her cheeks, “We need to go find the boys.”

“Will you let me know if you find out anything about my Tina?” the other woman asked.

“Of course,” Jenny smiled weakly at her, “We’ll keep our eyes open.”

“Thank you. I a couple blocks up at 614,” she gestured off in the general direction of her house, “My name is Kelli Ross.”

“Okay, Kelli. I’m Jenny, this is Gretchen,” Jenny replied. “And if you hear about our sons, let us know. Mine is Kevin, hers is Luke.”

"Kevin and Luke, right." Kelli turned away and walked across the lawn, intent on her search for her daughter.

Jenny looked up and suddenly felt uneasy. Something was wrong.

Very wrong.

A young couple walked up the sidewalk on the other side of the street, obviously in search of something. They shouted out names as they went but no one responded. Down the block a black car sat in a yard smashed up against a tree. No driver seemed to be waiting for a tow truck and no curious onlookers were milling around the accident. A child's bicycle lay in the middle of the street, alone, unattended, exactly as Kevin’s bicycle looked whenever he just left it in the middle of the driveway.

Something clicked in her mind. It was quiet, that was what was wrong.

The street was never quiet. Most of the families on the block had small children and beautiful evenings like this one were always filled with the sounds of children running, playing, shouting and laughing.

Try as she might, she couldn't hear any children.

A chill ran up her spine. She instinctively flipped open her cell phone and called her husband as the cold fingers of panic began to spread throughout her body.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jaci, Chapter 1

"Jaci!" Mama honked the horn in a loud, long blast. "Get your butt out here! We're gonna be late!"

"Coming," Jaci hollered back. She scrubbed her face with the washcloth again, trying to wake up. The sky was gray with the coming morning, and the air was damp and chilly. Jaci wanted her jeans and Elmo sweatshirt, but Mama had made her put this dress on instead. It barely covered her butt. She tugged at the hem, scowled at herself in the mirror, and ran out the door and down the trailer's steps.

Mama revved the sputtering engine and they tore outta there, spraying up gravel that pinged against the side of the car. Jaci slouched against the door. She was sleepy, and she didn't want to be doing this.

Mama looked over at her sharply. "C'mon, Jaci. Wake up and tell me your name."

This was stupid. "Anna."

"Ah-na," said Mama.

"That's not how it's spelled," grumbled Jaci.

"Don't matter, that's how they say it. Anna what?"

"Hastings." Jaci rolled her eyes.

"And how old are you, Anna?"

Jaci breathed a huge, gusting sigh that went down to her toes. "Five and three-quarters. Except I'm almost nine, duh."

"Yeah, well. You're short enough. Say your ABCs for me." Mama frowned as she sped up to get on the freeway. Traffic this early was still bad, and she cussed out a trucker as she lurched ahead to get into the lane.

Jaci crossed her arms. They'd already had this talk before, how Jaci wasn't supposed to be reading chapter books yet, how Anna was smart but not that smart. She stared out the window at the taillights of the car ahead of her. "A-B-C-D-E-F-G..." she sang quietly, trying to ignore the sudden clenching of her tummy. "Mama, I don't think I wanna go."

"Stop that," snapped Mama. "I don't wanna hear that. You got nothing to be scared about." Her voice changed. "Come on, sweetie. You get to stay all weekend in a big fancy house with all the toys you wanna play with. They'll probably let you eat ice cream and stay up late."

Jaci didn't point out that she already got to do that when Mama was working. "Let's just go home," she suggested. "We can get pizza and play Monopoly."

"That's enough," said Mama. "No more talk like that. You straighten up and play the game, and maybe when we're done we can live in a big house of our own." They were passing the mall now, getting into the part of town where you couldn't see the neighborhoods from the highway. "We made a promise to Mr. Hastings. You can't go back on a promise."

Jaci nodded, bit her lip, and pulled down her hem again. "When are you coming to get me?"

"Tomorrow night. Late. You go to bed; I'll wake you up to take you home."

"Are you sure?"

"Stop whining, Jaci. If you whine they won't ask you back."

That sounded just fine to Jaci, but she kept her mouth shut. Mama's mouth was drawing down, with the grooves on either side that said she was close to popping Jaci one. They left the freeway, and soon they were driving down roads that were wide and smooth, so heavy with trees that Jaci could only see bits of houses here and there. She sniffed and wiped her nose on her arm. She wasn't sleepy anymore.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Clara and Charlie, Episode 4

She awoke, puckered, cold, and naked. She hadn't brought a towel, and had to use her sweatshirt to dry herself, before limping damply back to her room. It was dark, but she didn't dare turn the light on, and was forced to fumble through her drawers in the dark. A clean pair of jeans and a new T-shirt made her feel much better, but started to realize how hungry she was. There wasn't much left in her mini fridge, either. The realization dawned that it was the cafeteria or bust. The thought of leaving her room was a bundle of anxiety in her head, but what other choice was there. She dug out the four inch claw hammer her father had given her when she had moved here, so she could hang pictures on her wall. It was comfortingly heavy in her hand, as she padded down the flights, and across the building in bare feet. She had tried to get shoes from her closet, but every time she opened its door, row upon row of paired empty sockets had stared up at her, like the cockeyed shoes in the hallways, and she had been left crying in a puddle on the floor. She’d tried it twice now.

It was half way across the North block basement hall that she heard it. A voice. Distant, male, conversational in tone. She froze, her mind reeling to calculate whether it was safer to run forwards, or go back. She was still vacillating when a door not 30 feet in front flew open, and a man hove into view. He had blonde hair over a craggy jaw, and black smudged eyes, like a sleep deprived Robert Redford. He was carrying a flat panel computer monitor under each arm. She didn't see any more before turning to flee, driving her bare feet again and again into the linoleum, accelerating away. She swung sharply into the Number Two stairwell and half a flight up was stopped in her tracks by the breach.

A window had been smashed in, and shards of glass lay all over the landing. It was not a large window, but the gaping wound it left seemed enormous. The poison had a way in. Clara stepped gingerly around the largest pieces of glass, one arm held out for balance, the other clutched to her chest to keep it from shaking. She was able to stretch her foot directly up to the third step, and once balanced there, ran like there was a wolf at her heels until she was back in the safety of her kitchenette. She didn't feel hungry any more, only slightly dizzy. It wasn’t for hours until she ventured forth again. It was hunger’s return that made her do it. She kneeled behind her door for half an hour listening for intruders, and peeking out through the half inch gap between her door and the floor.

Everything seemed clear, so she tiptoed as fast as quietitude allowed, over to Mary-Jo's room. The sense of intruding was so strong that she didn't dare touch the light switch. The mini fridge, though, quickly surrendered a jar of miracle whip, a banana, a bundle of asparagus, and a 6 pack of plastic diet coke bottles. She looked in the cupboard over the microwave, and there were two packs of Ramen Noodles, a can of tuna. Scooping them clumsily into her arms, she pleaded with Jesus not to blame her as she ran-walked back to her room to cook.

Later, as dusk started to fall and she was pressed flat against her wall, reaching sideways to lower the blind to the outside world without anything being able to see her in through the window, she heard a voice in the hallway outside. Only fragments came through loudly enough to decipher.

"...among you... stones... people go."

She ran to close her door, then tried to place the voice as she squatted, trying not to shake. It was familiar, but clearly nobody from the college. She pressed her head to the bottom of her door to peer out. A one sided mumbling was taking place on the other side, like half a phone call. Eventually a shoe came into view. It stood diffidently for a moment, then paced back out of her sightline, then back in and out again. It was a dirty off-white sneaker, with untied laces.

Aha. She had it in a flash. Foot Washer Charlie. That's who it was! Crazy Charlie! The panicked realization dawned that she much have dropped the hammer in the hallway downstairs with the monitor man. She felt defenseless.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Dead-Cat Bounce

It took Chloe a second to notice the woman with the bundle. If she hadn’t been stuck in traffic she might not have seen anything at all.

She was driving her father’s car back from the airport, glad to finally get a moment alone. She loved her father, she’d swear to G...she’d swear she did, but she was exhausted after being around him all week. The world had gone insane, and there he was, with his weird new religion, acting like he had all the answers. Sometimes she just wanted to grab him and scream, “Your God stole Raymie! He stole Mom! Why worship that?”

But with Mom and Raymie gone, Dad was all she had left. So she put up with him; she had to. And it was easier to offer to drive his car than explain how his lectures on religion (and constant meaningful looks) were driving her up the wall.

She was idling at a stop light when the woman walked past. For few seconds, Chloe didn’t notice anything strange. The woman looked fairly normal, for the most part, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, a bag slung over one shoulder, and a rolled-up blanket in her arms. And Chloe had seen women clutching blanket-wrapped bundles like that hundreds of times. It wouldn’t have meant much last week.

By the time Chloe’s brain caught up with her eyes, and she turned to watch, someone on the sidewalk had grabbed the woman and started screaming. It was another woman; middle-aged, wearing a gray overcoat. Chloe couldn’t hear much at first, but when she rolled down the passenger window, she caught snatches of what the older woman shouted.

“Disgusting...shouldn’t...in public...mad bi...locked up!” Fragments of phrases rang out over the traffic noise. That woman must be screaming at the top of her lungs, Chloe thought. Had she lost her mind?

Chloe couldn’t tear her eyes off that scene, or that one little bundle that couldn’t possibly mean what she thought. There was no way, she knew. Absolutely no way. Not just the one baby, kept like that, and carried so casually down a public street. But just in case (in case this woman had solved it, fixed it somehow and they were all coming back, Raymie and Mom were coming back!) she didn’t dare look away.

“Goddamned loony!” the woman in the gray coat screamed. She tried to take the bundle away. The other woman clutched at it, and they started wrestling at each other, like some mad tug-of-war. A man stepped in, and tried to pull them apart.

The man’s shove sent both women staggering back. The older woman’s arms flew out, smacking the man in the face. The bundle flew out of the younger woman’s arms and landed in the street.

In front of Chloe.

With the blanket unraveled, it was a cat. A little gray cat; dead and horribly stiff. The head was twisted sideways, and the legs splayed out. The fur was coming off in patches.

Chloe wondered if that woman had killed it herself.

Hearing a horn honk behind her, Chloe glanced up. The light was green. She didn’t know how long it had been green. By the chorus of honks, a few seconds at least.

She stepped on the accelerator just as the light turned yellow. She felt her tires roll over a small bump in the road. And behind her, she heard an anguished howl.

She didn’t look back. She didn’t dare look back.

With the rush-hour gridlock, she couldn’t pull over for miles. She had to keep driving with her hands shaking, worried that she might crash. When she finally found a quiet street, she parked and got out of the car.

There was a bit of fur stuck to her front tire, and something wet she didn’t want to look at.

Chloe bent forward, her hands on her knees, fighting back waves of nausea. It was only a dead cat, really. It shouldn’t be that bad.

For the first time, she felt a twinge of envy for her father. It all seemed so much easier for him. He had his God. And she could guess how much value his God would put on a dead cat.

She could do it. Convert. It would be easy. Recite the right prayer. Ask forgiveness for her sins. Every time she’d stayed out drinking, every stolen paperclip, every fib. Every time she’d let some boy get his hand under her shirt. She could pray, and be sorry, and promise God that she’d be a good girl from now on. It would be the easiest thing in the world. And God, who was beginning to look frighteningly real, could be the answer to all her worries.

But she didn’t have any answers for the dead cat. Maybe she should have gotten out of her car and helped the crazy woman. Maybe she should have called someone. Maybe she should have stopped and given the woman back the cat. She should have done something, though. She didn’t know what. Something.

Chloe knew what her father would say. That woman deserved what happened, and worse. Chloe deserved everything that happened, and worse. They were in a fallen world, and the only people who didn’t deserve to suffer like that had been whisked off to Heaven with Mom and Raymie. Right this moment, Chloe wished she could believe something that simple. At least that made some kind of sense.

Chloe straightened up. This was crazy. It was just nerves getting to her. She’d go home and get some rest, maybe call her friends from school to find out if they were okay. She’d call Kim. Poor Kim, who’d gotten into Buddhism in college, came from a family of Southern Baptists. When Chloe had last seen her, she hadn’t managed to contact any relatives at all.

Chloe got back in the car, and took a deep breath. She’d go home, and get a break from this craziness before her father got back with the groceries. Maybe read or watch something about what was going on that wasn’t from Mom’s weird church. Talk to someone who wasn’t trying to save her soul. Just a bit of calm, a brief stretch of something resembling normal, and she’d be able to think.

Just a few hours of calm back home, and it would all look more manageable. She might even be able to cope.

Children of the Goats, Part 1

“What are you doing?” Fatima asked. “Playing? Can I play?”

Hakim looked up from the bottom of the hole. It was a big hole, deep enough that he could kneel in it, and he was a lot bigger than Fatima. Next to the hole was a huge pile of dirt. She couldn’t imagine how long it took to dig all of that. He must have been digging all day!

Hakim wiped the sweat from his forehead, leaving a smear of dirt. “Do you remember Mom?”

Fatima frowned. “You mean Mommy Chloe, or Mommy Irene, or Mommy...”

“No.” Hakim shook his head. “Our mom. Our real mom. From before. Do you remember her?”

“I don’t know.” Fatima sat down on the edge of the hole. It was hard to remember anything from before. She’d been really little when Jesus came. Some of the grown-ups talked about before, about Sin and Iniquity (she didn’t know what Iniquity was, but it sounded bad), and Tribulation, which sounded bad but was supposed to be good. Sometimes she thought she remembered bits, like Mommy brushing her hair, or the smell of Grandma's cooking, but these never sounded like Tribulation and Iniquity, so she wasn’t sure she was right.

Hakim put a grubby hand on her shoulder. “Try. Think. She had black hair that was really long and pretty and shiny. She smelled like flowers. She used to sing us songs before bed, and kiss us good night. You’d go out in the garden while she was working and pull plants apart. She taught you to pull weeds so you didn’t destroy the vegetables. You have to remember something. It’s important.”


"Daddy Cameron?"

Cameron looked down. A little girl was tugging on his pants-leg. Fatima; that was her name. Six years old, he thought. Somwhere around that age. One of the COTs; the Children of Tribulation. No parents; that made her the duty of him and all of the resurrected to guide and care for. He smiled. "Yes?"

"Where's my mommy?"

Cameron took a deep breath. He'd been anticipating that question. He'd always thought it would be awkward, but right that moment, miraculously, he didn't feel awkward at all. Thank you Jesus, he thought.

He bent down and put his hands on his knees. "You remember the Judgment, with Jesus and the Pit?” She’d have been what, four or five then?

She nodded, looking solemn. "Yes."

"All the saved people got to come to paradise and the unsaved people were cast into the Pit of Fire."

She nodded again.

"Well," said Cameron, putting his hand on little Fatima's shoulder, "your parents weren't saved."

Fatima's eyes went wide. "So they're down in the pit?"

Cameron nodded. "Yes they are. But don't worry. As long as you accept Jesus, you won't have to die and go in the pit. You can live a thousand years up here, and have eternity with Christ."

Her lip wobbled. "Did Jesus put them in the pit?"

"Yes." Cameron patted her on the shoulder. "People who decide for Jesus get to live up here and then go to Heaven forever, but the people who don't are cast into the Pit of Flames. So it's very important to trust and love Jesus, understand?"

"I understand," said Fatima.



The boy looked up from his digging. "What?"

"You were right. Mommy's down there. In the ground. Daddy Cameron said." Fatima climbed down to the hole. "Give me a shovel."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

3000 Miles from Graceland, Part 3

"I'm transferring you now," the operator replied hesitantly. "And, again, I'm sorry." The line clicked and the operator's voice was replaced with the silence of a held call.

Gretchen fixed her with a puzzled look. "What's going on?"

"They're transferring me,” Jenny replied through clenched teeth. The sheer volume of emergency calls suddenly struck her and her jaw relaxed slightly. “Apparently they've had something like fifty missing person calls, though."

"Fifty? That sounds like a lot."

"He said they've all come in the last hour. There might be something big happen..." she stopped talking as someone picked up on the other end.

"Detective Hanson," a very tired sounding man's voice sighed more than spoke. "What can I do for you?"

"My son," Jenny said, "He's missing, so is my neighbor's."

"How old are they?"


"Yeah," he took a deep breath, "We've been getting a lot of calls from mothers whose children suddenly disappeared. Also..." the detective paused.


"Did you or your neighbor find their clothes?"

"Yes," Jenny replied, puzzled.

"Figures." Detective Hanson paused for a moment. Jenny heard the faint sound of shuffling paper in the background. "Let me take down some information from you and your neighbor. We'll get on this as quickly as possible."

Jenny gave her information and described Kevin to the detective before passing the phone over to Gretchen, who answered the same questions. After listening to a few more instructions, she hung up the phone.

“He says they’ll do their best,” she told Jenny apologetically. “They don’t know what’s going on, though. We just need to be calm and patient.”

“Calm?” Jenny nearly exploded. “He wants us to be calm and patient? Hell, no.” She grabbed Gretchen’s arm. “C’mon, we’re going to go find our boys.”

“Maybe you should call Rod, first.”

“Oh, right.” Jenny picked her cell phone up from the counter as she led Gretchen to the door. She hadn’t even thought about her husband, but realized she needed his help. Still, there wasn’t time to waste. “I’ll call him on the way.”

She stopped suddenly as they rounded the corner to the front entryway. A woman was standing in the door, right hand poised as if to knock. Her eyes met Jenny’s and fixed her in a wide-eyed stare.

“Have you seen my Tina?” she asked.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

3000 Miles from Graceland, Part 2

Jenny looked at the white cloth and suddenly realized what it was. Gretchen was holding Kevin's favorite shirt, the one with the red rings around the neck and the ends of the sleeves and the picture of the dinosaur on the front. He wanted to wear that shirt every day and sometimes even got away with it. He would never take that shirt off if he could get away with it except to go swimming or to go to bed. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.

"I looked everywhere for them," Gretchen said. As she spoke, tears began streaming down her cheeks. "I searched the house. I searched the yard. It's like they just disappeared." She sniffed. "I thought maybe they ran away, but I can't understand why they would have taken their clothes of, first."

"They wouldn't," Jenny went cold as realization struck. "Someone must have kidnapped them." The thought seemed to rise up in to her mind and seep away the panic. She couldn’t afford to lose control. Not now, not when Kevin was in trouble.

"How? They were in Jimmy's room."

"Maybe he came through the window or something," Jenny shuddered at the thought of some sicko crawling out of a window, carrying two naked, squirming six year-old boys.

"Oh, Jenny, I'm so, so sorry. I should have kept a closer watch on the boys. I'm...I'm a horrible mother. It's all my fault."

Jenny opened the door and pulled her friend in to the house. She wrapped her arms around the other woman and held her tight. "Don't say that, Gretchen. It's not your fault. We'll get the boys back. They'll be fine."

Gretchen went limp. "What should we do?"

"We'll call the cops. They'll know what to do."

"Okay." Gretchen pulled away, sniffed loudly and wiped her nose. "Let's do that."

Jenny led her in to the kitchen. She pulled a tissue out of a box sitting on the counter and handed it to Gretchen. "Here, you need this," she said as she picked up the phone and dialed 911.

The phone rang for an eternity. Finally, on the eighth ring, the line picked up. "Nine-one-one," a strained male voice said, "What's your emergency?"

"My son has disappeared. I think he's been kidnapped," Jenny said. "My neighbor is here and her son is gone, too."

The emergency operator sighed heavily. "Yours and everyone else's, ma'am."

"What?" Jenny practically shouted as white anger exploded behind her eyes. "My son is gone. How dare you...you..."

"Um, ah," the operator audibly backpedaled, "I'm sorry, ma'am, I didn't mean to say that. This is the fiftieth missing person call we've gotten in the last hour. That's on top of nearly a hundred emergency calls. We have no idea what's going on and we're already falling behind. I'll transfer you to someone to take your information. I'm sorry. I really am."

"Just let me talk to someone," Jenny commanded, aware of the icy edge in her voice.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

3000 Miles from Graceland, Part 1

Bang bang bang!

Jenny jerked upright, heart pounding from the sudden, unexpected noise. Someone was hammering violently on the screen door. She stood up, trembling slightly from the rush of fear and adrenaline, and slowly, cautiously, poked her head around the kitchen door.

"Jenny! Jenny, come quick!" the person at the door called out.

It was Gretchen, her neighbor. Kevin had gone over to her house to play with her son, Jimmy. The thought, Shouldn't she be with the boys? raced through her head. Realization struck a heavy, nearly physical, blow. Oh, God, Kevin... She ran to the door.

Gretchen stood in the front door, face pressed in to the screen, eyes wildly scanning the interior of the house. She kept pounding away on the door frame with her left hand. In her right hand she was clutching a swatch of white fabric.

"What is it?" Jenny asked as she got to the door. "Did something happen to Kevin?"

Her neighbor stopped scanning the entryway and looked at her. For a moment it seemed like she'd been struck blind. Wide, blank, unfocused eyes stared right through her and Jenny could see Gretchen was completely terrified.

"Gretchen," Jenny began to feel the first fingers of panic spread through her body, "What is it? Tell me, please."

Something seemed to snap in to place behind Gretchen's eyes. She shook her head ever so slightly and focused in on Jenny. "They're gone, Jenny."

"What?" The feeling of panic slammed in to her fully, with almost palpable force. "Who's gone?"

"The boys," she whispered. "They're gone."


"I don't know. One minute they were playing in Jimmy's room, then they were gone." She held the piece of cloth in front of her face. "All that was left were their clothes."

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Clara and Charlie, Episode 3

Half a loaf of wonder bread, a cup of blackberry yogurt, a jar of Skippy non-crunchy peanut butter, a tin of meal replacement diet shake powder, and a bottle of Pur water. That's all that was in her mini fridge, and she had just devoured half of it. Lying on her bed some of the pain let go her body, releasing her back to a higher level of thought.

Now she could see the full size of it, she burned with embarrassment at her sin. She squirmed and twisted as if she could rub a hole in her sheets, straight out through the bottom of the bed, and out of existence. How could she have been so weak? And at the exact moment of rapture, no less? Once when she was eight years old she had forgotten to lock the bathroom door, and her brother had walked in at the exact moment she started peeing. This was that times a million. Times a billion.

Jesus had called the army of the faithful, and the vault of her being had swung wide open to show the crimson stain she had let seep in. She had been warned so many times of the apple planted in the Eden of her body. She had been lectured about the hole that let temptation in, that would dangle the juicy fruit of sin so provocatively up against her fingertips. Preachers had bewailed its succulent cries, had told of its siren call that ran as rivulets past a dry tongue in a desiccated barren. She had been warned so many times. And had she not chastised her friends when they had fallen? Had she not lectured the girls at her old secular high school when they had been profligate with their charms, and had she not stood with righteous rectitude as they had thrown away their precious virginity, one after the other like so many harlots and cheap things.

And yet! When the trumpet had sounded for Christ's army to arise and come to his side, He had swung her soul wide open, and there, in the black void of her mind, there in the inner spiritual truth of her being... panties were not where they should have been.

It made her sick even to think of such a thing. Determination boiled up within her and a frenzy drove her limbs to push at once in the same direction. Her groveling squirms aligned and coordinated themselves into purposeful movement. Thin legs drove her tiny frame up and out of bed. Her dark brown hair tangled round her, and clung to her hollow temples and high forehead. Her pressed lips were nearly the pale white of her cheek. A steady stride carried her out to the hall, and down to the second last door. With a shove she entered, passed by the shower stalls, and came finally to rest before the one bathtub. She twisted the soap specked faucet full on hot. A minute later she slid her clothes off, and stepped with gritted teeth into the curling steam. With iron satisfaction she sat, making herself take in everything she deserved. She could feel the sin burning away from her, and she felt lighter than air.

After a few minutes she didn't feel anything any more. She made herself sit there until the water was nearly cold. Only then did she let her head touch the back of the tub, and the gentle tug of oblivion lift her to the temporary respite granted the sleeping.