IN CASE OF SIEGE
A Bridge to Terabithia Fanfiction
Standard disclaimer, I do not own the characters and am not using them for profit. They belong to Katherine Paterson and David Paterson, Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media etc.
First off, my apologies to Emily. This is not the Prom Night/Jesse's Proposal story you requested and which I promised. I am still working on that, but I have to go where my muses take me. This one's a shortie, maybe three or four chapters.
This story is derived, amusingly enough, from an entry I placed in the Caption Contest at the "A Place For Us" forum (where stills from the movie are posted and contestants make up funny captions for them). My entry didn't win that particular week, but after thinking about it, I realized that the scenario was not only funny, but also very realistic and arguably even more likely than the way the book/movie storyline unfolded.
Although I'm not going to go back and change Jess's mother's name from "Nancy" to "Mary" in my other stories (to match the change in the credits from the theatrical release to the DVD release), I am changing it to "Mary" for this story.
As the twist in the plotline takes place before the end of the actual movie/book, it branches off into an alternate universe which probably won't be compatible with the future events of my Groundhogs at Terabithia and Royal Court of Terabithia. But rest assured, this is still an LDD story.
It was Friday, and Jess Aarons had had a good week. Relatively speaking. Of course, Scott Hoager and Gary Fulcher, his nemeses in Mrs. Myers' class, continued to sideswipe him in the halls and take both verbal and physical cheap shots at him in the classroom whenever Old Monster Mouth's attention was elsewhere. But any day that Janice Avery didn't throw other kids' sandwiches at him, or fool the school bus driver into throwing Jess off the bus, or shoot ketchup at Leslie Burke, was a good day. He and Leslie had very quietly avenged Janice's theft of his little sister May Belle's Twinkies, without Janice having any inkling that the two of them had penned the fake letter from Willard Hughes. The one that had proclaimed Janice to be the coolest girl in school, asking to ride home on her (and Jess and Leslie's) school bus, and leaving her standing there with egg on her face. Jess and Leslie had finished that day by helping her parents paint their living room a gleaming gold that, as her mom Judy had proclaimed, would "catch fire when the sun sets." All in all, a good week.
Of course, it wasn't going to last.
As usual, Mrs. Myers had given the class a lavatory break before Miss Edmunds arrived for Music. As Jess waited for Leslie in the hall outside the Girls Room, he heard some ominously malicious-sounding giggles from within. A couple of other girls stepped out, each giving him a strange and again ominous looking smile without a word, and then Leslie stepped out. She was more pale than he had ever seen her before, so that she looked either like a ghost or like she had just seen one.
"Jess," she said shakily at barely above a whisper, "we are screwed!"
Those words coming from Leslie's lips sounded so alien that he let out an involuntary laugh. Then the seriousness of the words sunk in and his smile reversed.
"Willard Hughes and his gang are looking for you," Leslie continued, "and Janice is after both of us."
"About the note?" Jess squinted in disbelief. "Nobody knows about it except you and me and May Be--" His eyes opened wide. "Oh, no!" He felt the blood draining from his face.
"The whole school knows. May Belle told Alexandra that we wrote the note, and Alexandra went and blabbed it to everybody else. Jess, we've got to leave the building like, right now, before Willard or Janice finds us!"
Jess began breathing heavily. His eyes shifted back and forth between their classroom and the exit at the nearest end of the hallway. "We need our backpacks!" he said finally. "Wait here, I'll go back and get them!"
Before Leslie could reply, he dashed the few yards down the hall to their classroom. The eyes of the rest of the class were on him, with a ripple of whispers and giggling, as he pushed past those loitering around the doorway or dawdling on the way to their desks, until he reached first Leslie's desk and then his own, taking their backpacks without saying a word or making eye contact with anyone. Not even after he bumped into Miss Edmunds and her cartload of percussion instruments right outside the door.
"Jess! Where are you going?..." Miss Edmunds' voice trailed off as she watched him rush down the hallway to where Leslie was standing.
Leslie took her backpack and grabbed Jess by the hand as they made a dash for the exit, ignoring a couple of teachers and Mr. Bailey the custodian as they all asked what they were doing.
One of the 6th Grade sections had Phys Ed out on the playground, so Jess and Leslie managed to stay fairly inconspicuous as they skirted around the field and slipped into the woods on the other side.
"Okay," Jess breathed, "we're out. Now what?"
"We hide out in the Castle," Leslie replied.
"For how long?"
"Until this whole thing blows over."
Jess stared at her. "Are you kidding me? Leslie, that could be weeks!"
"A couple of weeks at the outside," she nodded. "Remember when I said I was stockpiling all that food and bottled water in the Castle 'in case of siege'? This is exactly the kind of siege I was talking about, not Squogres and Hairy Vultures and Giant Trolls."
"My dad would kill me!"
"Not literally. Willard and Janice just might!"
"You're right about that," Jess nodded. "We should just tell our parents."
"Janice knows where we live. What's to stop her from going after us at our houses? Let's just go to the Castle... for now. Jess, we both have perfect attendance for the year, so we're not going to get left back for missing a couple of days. And it's Friday. Maybe things'll blow over by Monday, if we're lucky."
"And how will we know?"
"We'll figure out how later. One step at a time," Leslie sighed.
"We can't live just on Oreos and apples and chips. Even for just a couple of days. Let alone a week or two"
She rolled her eyes. "So we'll stop at the Winn-Dixie on the way. Pick up a few cans of tuna and corned beef, maybe some summer sausage or hard salami. Meats that'll keep without refrigeration. I've got some cash."
"Good," Jess nodded, then led her up a trail through the woods. "This trail should take us into town, right in back of the Winn-Dixie and the Wal-Mart, without crossing any main roads. And speaking of Winn-Dixie, do you think we should stop by your house and pick up PT?"
Leslie thought for a second before shaking her head. "No."
"He could warn us if someone crosses into Terabithia after us."
"I know. I'd like to, but there's no way we could get into my house and get him out without my parents hearing us. Plus we'd have to get food for him too. We'll be okay without him. Nobody knows their way around Terabithia except us."
"I guess you're right."
"What does the Winn-Dixie have to do with PT? How'd that make you think about him?"
"There was this movie... Oh, never mind."
Mary Aarons came to the door. Although she'd only seen them from a distance before, she recognized the redheaded woman and the lean man with long, light brown hair and glasses even before they introduced themselves.
"Mrs. Aarons? Hi. We've never actually introduced ourselves, but I'm Judy Burke from next door and this is my husband Bill. We're Leslie's parents."
"Yes. I'm Mary, Jess's mom." She shook both their hands. "Please come in and have a seat." There was an awkward pause before she continued, "I... I assume you're here because you got the same phone call from Mr. Turner that I just did."
"Yes," Bill nodded, feeling as apprehensive as Mary, as they followed her into the living room, where they seated themselves on the couch while Mary took the nearest armchair. "We're at a loss as to what's going on. Our Leslie has never done anything remotely like this before."
"Neither has Jess."
"We didn't think so," Judy replied. "Jess is such a nice boy."
"Thank you," Mary said meekly.
"Leslie... has never had as close a friend as Jess before," Bill said. "She was always a loner."
"So was Jess," Mary nodded. "What your daughter and my son have is something very special. But that doesn't excuse their cutting class and leaving school."
"Nor does that explain it," Judy shrugged. "We're at a loss as to what's going on. Leslie may be a loner, but she's never been irresponsible. And Jess doesn't strike us as being irresponsible either. So there's obviously something going on that none of us know about."
"Mr. Turner told me that Mrs. Myers has no idea why they'd do that," Mary said. "Neither does Miss Edmunds, the music teacher. She's the one whose class they actually ran out on."
"Yes, he told us the same thing," Bill nodded.
"He did mention that Mrs. Myers says a couple of the other kids in the class pick on both Jess and Leslie," Mary continued, "but Jess has never said anything to me or his dad about it."
"Neither has Leslie," Judy shook her head, then frowned guiltily toward Bill. "Maybe in our case we haven't made Leslie feel like she could come to us about it."
Mary cast her eyes downward, realizing that that was certainly the case with Jess and herself and her husband Jack.
"But then again," Bill added, "Mr. Turner sounded like he and Mrs. Myers were pretty sure that these kids weren't the cause of this particular situation."
"But how can they be sure of that if they don't know what the real reason is?" Judy asked.
"Good question," Mary said, then added hopefully, "Maybe they got on the bus and they're on the way home."
Bill looked at his watch. "That should be another twenty minutes or so."
"If you'd like to wait here and we could speak to the two of them together," Mary said, "Our youngest, Joyce Ann, is taking a nap. I'll be right back after I check on her. Just make yourselves comfortable."
Bill waited until Mary disappeared up the stairwell before whispering to Judy, "She seems like a very nice person."
"Like Jess," Judy smiled back. "Let's see what her husband's like. Probably not as rough as Jess lets on."
"Well, he's never actually said anything negative about his dad."
"He doesn't have to, Bill. You're the one who studied and worked in psychology. You should have picked up on the same vibes I have."
"Yeah. But the whole family's probably struggling. Five kids crammed into this little house."
They shut up quickly as they heard Mary coming back down the steps. "Can I offer you something to drink?" she asked.
"No, we're fine, thanks," the Burkes both replied.
"I really feel terrible, having to finally meet you under these circumstances," Mary continued. "I really should have come over and welcomed you to Lark Creek."
"It's all right, Mary," Judy smiled. "Jess tells us you've been busy with the baby. That's perfectly understandable. I remember Leslie being a handful at that age. As a matter of fact, we've been planning on inviting your whole family over sometime, give you a break from having to cook for such a large crowd."
"Thank you. We'll take you up on that sometime," Mary nodded, then smiled wryly. "If we don't end up strangling Jess and Leslie in the interim!"
They all snickered. "I'm sure there's a perfectly good explanation for what's going on," Bill said. "Leslie just doesn't cut class and leave the school for no good reason, and I don't think Jess does either."
"No, he doesn't," Mary nodded in confirmation. "They should be home soon, and I'm sure they'll tell us what that good reason is. Hopefully this will be over with before my husband Jack gets home from work."
They spent the next few minutes chatting pleasantly about the two families. The reason the Burkes were there was pushed into the backs of their minds until they heard the back door open and close.
"Momma, I'm home!" May Belle walked through the kitchen and dining area, then stopped dead when she saw who was sitting on the couch. "Oh! Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Burke!" Her smile was forced, and she was unable to mask the apprehension in her eyes.
"Hi, May Belle!" Bill smiled back.
"May Belle," her mother asked, "did Jess and Leslie come home on the bus with you?"
"No, Momma." She frowned. "Are they in trouble?"
The three adults exchanged frowning glances. "That's what we're trying to find out, Sweetheart," Mary said. "Do you know where they are?"
May Belle paused before answering, her lips trembling almost imperceptibly. "No, not really."
"I hope they're just playing out in the woods as usual," Judy sighed.
"That's probably it," Bill nodded. "They'll probably both come waltzing in just in time for dinner as usual."
"I don't suppose you'd want to go out and look for them," Judy said to him.
"I wouldn't even know where to start looking," he replied. "There must be eight to ten square miles of unincorporated forest land out there. Unless..." he looked at May Belle with a smile, "May Belle, you wouldn't happen to know where Jess and Leslie go out to play, would you?"
"No, not really," she said again quickly.
"Assuming they'll be coming home for dinner," Mary said to the Burkes, "if you want to wait here for them, you're more than welcome to have dinner with us."
"Oh, no," Judy replied quickly. "We've imposed on you enough, and I have some meat that I have to cook tonight. We'll take you up on waiting here if you don't mind, but don't worry about us for dinner."
"Make yourselves comfortable," Mary said. "May Belle, you can help me with dinner."
"Okay, we're here," Jess said as they set their backpacks down on the porch of their "Castle" treehouse. "Now what?"
They had hiked perhaps three or four miles, all the way from the Winn-Dixie in town, along some unpaved back roads and mostly through the woods, following the creek until they reached their enchanted rope. So they were more tired than usual by the time they arrived.
"Well, we just sit and make ourselves comfortable," Leslie said as she took the plastic bags of groceries out of the backpacks. "This could be a long siege."
Jess had not seen the contents of the bags until now, as Leslie began putting them up on the shelves: not just the cans of tuna and corned beef and packages of summer sausage that they'd talked about, but a four-roll pack of toilet paper, a change of underwear and socks for each of them, a bar of bath soap, and a small bottle of laundry detergent. "You're really serious about this."
"Jess, you were the one who said that if either Willard or Janice found out, they'd both kill us."
"But Old Monster Mouth or Mr. Turner have probably called both our parents by now. My dad's liable to send the police out looking for us. We should run home real quick and leave a note, let 'em know we're okay."
"Okay," Leslie nodded. "You're right."
"And if I can do them without us getting caught, I want to do most of my chores."
"Your chores?" Leslie giggled.
"Look, we're already looking at probably a week's worth of detention for ditching school. I don't need my dad being any madder at me than he already is on top of everything else!"
"Bill, Judy, these are Jess's sisters Ellie and Brenda," Mary said as the two teenage girls walked in. "Girls, this is Mr. and Mrs. Burke from next door, Leslie's mom and dad."
"Whoa!" Brenda raised her eyebrows. "The girlfriend's parents show up! What's Jess done now?"
"Nothing that concerns you, young lady!" Mary sighed.
"Well, if I'm gonna be an aunt soon, doesn't it concern me?" Brenda laughed wickedly.
"Brenda!" Mary shouted. She was bright red with both embarrassment and rage as she turned back to the Burkes. "You'll have to forgive her. She hasn't learned to channel her wild imagination appropriately the way her brother has."
The two teens went up the stairs to their room as Bill and Judy looked at each other, dumbfounded. "Look at the bright side," Bill whispered with a laugh. "We may have just gotten the inspiration for the next book!"
"I'm taking copious mental notes," Judy nodded.
Ellie took an armchair while Brenda plopped down on the floor in front of the couch when they returned from their room, and turned on the TV. It wasn't long before they started their usual bickering over what to watch.
"Score a couple of more points for my brain cell theory," Bill whispered.
After a couple of minutes-- and losing the TV channel fight with Ellie-- Brenda felt the eyes of the Burkes boring into the back of her skull, and turned to face them. "You know I was just kidding earlier, right?"
"Yes, Brenda. Leslie gave us plenty of warning over what to expect," Bill smiled smugly, leaving Brenda with her own turn at being struck dumbfounded.
Over the next several minutes, Mary went back upstairs and brought Joyce Ann down, seating her in the high chair with a bottle and then continuing to prepare meatloaf, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables with May Belle's help. Just as Mary placed the meatloaf in the oven, the Burkes heard the back door open and shut again.
"Hi, Honey!" Mary called in the direction of the door. Bill and Judy stood, hoping that Jess Aarons would be walking in with their daughter in tow. Instead they saw a tall man with short dark hair, in a blue work uniform with a Sure Value hardware company logo above the left shirt pocket, who kissed Mary briefly, picked up May Belle and hugged her, and then did a double take and put down his daughter when he saw the other couple coming over from the living room.
"Jack, this is Bill and Judy Burke from next door," Mary announced. "Leslie's parents. Bill, Judy, my husband Jack."
"Hi," Jack shook their hands noncommittally as they entered the kitchen. "Nice to finally meet you."
"Same here," Bill nodded, trying to be equally noncommittal, although his eyes betrayed his discomfort.
"Is there a problem?" Jack squinted, more toward his wife than toward the Burkes.
"Yes," Mary said softly, then put her hand on May Belle's shoulder. "May Belle, honey, why don't you go to the greenhouse and feed your purple flowers. And if you remember what Jess's chores in the greenhouse are, maybe you can do some of them."
May Belle pouted but said nothing.
"Now why can't Jess do his own chores?" Jack grumbled.
"That's part of the problem," Mary sighed, then gave May Belle a gentle push out the door. Back in the living room, the two oldest girls had their heads slightly turned toward them, but were thankfully so addicted to the music videos that she was fairly sure the TV volume would drown out most of the adults' conversation. "Mr. Turner, the elementary school principal, called both me and the Burkes earlier this afternoon. Apparently, both Jess and Leslie just picked up their backpacks and walked out of school in between classes, and nobody's seen them since."
There was a long moment of silence as Jack Aarons's entire body tightened up and his face flushed. He took a couple of deep breaths, then turned to the Burkes. "Whatever you do about your daughter is your own business," he finally said, then turned to Mary, "but Jess had better have a damned good explanation for whatever's going on."
"As we've told Mary," Judy spoke, "there's got to be a good reason. Our Leslie isn't like this, and from what we know of Jess, he isn't either."
There was another long, stone-faced moment of silence from Jack, and then he sighed, "You're probably right. That boy may have his head up in the clouds, but not up in other places. This is way beyond acting irresponsible, even for him."
"Do you think we should call the police, Jack?" Mary asked.
"What do you two think?" Jack asked the Burkes.
"They're probably out playing in the woods as usual," Bill said. "I think we should give them 'til dinner time. If they'd just disappeared mysteriously, I'd be more worried, but the staff saw them leave the building together."
"Even if we called the police," Judy said, "I'm not even sure where to tell them to look."
As soon as May Belle stepped into the greenhouse, she knew there was something wrong. Several of the plants had been knocked over, falling out of their pots, they and their soil littering the floor. The raccoon had gotten in again, the one that Daddy had wanted to kill but Jess had let go in the woods. Jess was really in for it now!
Then as she stepped further in, she saw that it was much worse: most of her own purple flowers had been knocked over. This had to be the work of more than a single raccoon.
"Daddy!" she screamed, as much in rage as in anguish. As soon as she'd opened her mouth, the door slammed shut behind her, blocking her scream from reaching the house, and a chill ran throughout her body as she turned to face her worst nightmare.
"Listen up good, Twinkie!" Janice Avery growled. Her face was twisted into a rage of her own that May Belle had never seen to this extent before. "You tell your Farmer Boy brother and his beanpole girlfriend that they're as good as dead! Nobody humiliates me like that and gets away with it!" She continued to glare as she looked around. "And if you tell your parents or any other adults that I was here..." She stomped on a tomato that was lying on the floor, splattering red pulp around. "...that won't be the last thing I squish!"
She was out the door, slamming it again behind her, leaving May Belle frozen in fear and shock.
Yes, I'm aware that all the Winn-Dixie stores in Virginia were sold off to Food Lion when Winn-Dixie filed for Chapter 11 a few years ago, but I couldn't resist exercising a little dramatic license and throwing in another Fourth Wall reference to AnnaSophia Robb's filmography.
As is my usual habit, I favor movie canon over book canon when the two conflict, but I also use book canon to fill in gaps in the movie. Leslie's stockpiling of food and water at the Castle "in case of siege" is straight from the book.
Yes, I know that the animal that Jack had trapped and Jess let go was a New Zealand opossum, but it looked nothing like a Virginia opossum which is gray and white, and looked more like a raccoon than anything else native to North America, so that's what I'm calling it.
I'm posting each chapter as I finish it, so no promises as to when the next one will be up.
Comments are, as always, invited and encouraged.