Among The Secret
The night was empty in the Baron neighborhood. Nobody spoke, nothing breathed. All was silent.
Lee Grant nodded to the little girl and she jumped from her brothers' window and landed with a quiet smack in his arms. They collapsed for a second, then, brushing themselves off, stood up. Lee started to pull the frightened child along, but froze as he caught sight of a midnight black truck with the Government symbol on the side. The license plate read, POP007. The Population police.
Lee backed up, tugging on the girl's warm little hand. They waited for a moment as the truck strolled by a leisurely pace. After a few breathless minutes, the truck was no longer in sight.
Quietly, cautiously, Lee took the backpack from the child and they eased back into the girl's former backyard. The safety of the trees was on the other end of the exposed area that seemed to stretch on for forever and a day.
The girl bit her lip. Lee knew how she felt. He remembered the way he had been forbidden to ever go out in the open. The way his mother had always panicked if he even looked out a window for more than a microsecond. Lee shook off the memories. Those weren't his memories, they were Luke's. And he was no longer Luke.
His eyes caught sight of a flashlight. Finally, Marissa had come. Three beams, it was safe. Not wasting any time, Lee grabbed the girl up in his arms and shot off like a bullet, dodging lawn chairs, and baseballs, and the other belongings the little girl's family had scattered across the grass.
The terror that had been forced into him since birth reappeared and shook him from head to toe. It was like being claustrophobic, but backwards.
The sweet darkness surrounded him and he collapsed to his knees in relief. They'd made it to the forest. Marissa, always the mother hen, was fussing over her newest chick. Lee smiled fondly at his best friend.
"We have to get back, Rissa, save it for later," Lee commented, straightening up once more. "Who did you leave in charge?"
"Jayden and Baileigh. The little ones are already asleep, but the rest are dying to meet the newest addition." She said, still trying to get some of the dirt off the sleepy eight-year-old's cheek.
Lee rolled his eyes. Marissa Faith was the only one in the group that didn't obey his orders. Not that he wanted the kids to obey him, they'd gone through enough of that in their short life times, but they all looked up to him as their leader, their father figure since their real dads were ripped away from them.
Of course, Lee wasn't old enough to be a dad, he was only seventeen, but he was the only thing they had. Marissa made a nice mother to their group of Third Children. She was sixteen, but in a few months, she would be seventeen as well.
They had rescued twenty-four Third Children in the last five years. Blake and Tyler were the eldest after Lee and Marissa, at fifteen. Blake was a force to be reckoned with, especially when you messed with her twin or the little kids. Tyler was the quiet, blend-into-the-background kind of guy. He never fought with anyone, and calmed Blake down with a touch.
Then came Jayden, Micheal, Mia, Baileigh, Kathie, and Logan, all fourteen. None were related, and none were very quiet.
Madison, Natalie, Christopher, William, Karla, Stella, Rayne, Emilee, Sarabeth, Eli, Alex, Mania, Dilan, Gabrielle, and now the newest girl were all in the age range of six to thirteen.
And finally came the youngest, Arabella, or Ari, as she was called, was two. She was only a month old when Lee and Marissa rescued her. Now she was walking and running, and even talking some.
She had pretty brown curls that bounced as she giggled. Her blue-green eyes were always sparkling for any and everyone. They had found her outside, left for the population police by parents who had her, just so they could watch her die.
The next morning, when the evil, gleeful parents looked out, to see if their newborn daughter was still alive, all they found was an empty cradle. Sad they had missed the show, they had turned back to their other two children, who had backed away in fear of their deranged, so-called parents.
Lee was snapped out of his thoughts of the adorable toddler's past as Marissa jerked to a stop. He hadn't even realized they were moving.
"Lee, look!" Marissa said, holding the girl closer.
The instinctive fear lit up inside like a forest fire.
Four flashlight beams.
"Take the girl and go to the Emergency Base. I'll send whoever I can along." Lee said already slipping torward the Hideout. He saw Marissa hesitate. "Go!"
His heart was pounding as he prayed to God and anyone strong and powerful enough to keep those kids alive to do so. Shaky breaths made their way through his lips as he tip-toed past the green brush that hid the Hideaway from view.
Immediantly, his view was filled with . . . an empty field. The playground Lee had built was deserted. The front door to the house hung open, swaying in the night breeze.
He crept forward, eyes tracing over every familiar knick and crook of the area he'd lived in for six years.
Suddenly, BOOM! Lee was thrown sideways and slammed into a tree. His breath flew out of his chest and he saw stars for a few moments. Then all went black.
Luke's eyes opened. He was back in the attic. He was Luke Garner again. Everything was in its place. The books were all stacked neatly, looking regularly used. A knock interrupted his thoughts. His mother came in, looking beautiful and happy as usual. "Oh, Luke, my baby boy!" She squealed, throwing her arms around his small body.
She leaned back and looked him over. "Luke, you're so skinny. You need to eat. And then Matthew and Mark will play cards with you. Just like old times. Come on, let's eat at the table.
"I-I can eat there too?" He asked, shocked.
"Of course you can, silly. Why not? Then we can go out and play hide-and-seek! Just like old times." His mother said. Something was wrong. They never played hide-and-seek. Ever. And his mother never let him sit at the table without a warning or hesitation. But the offer was so tempting, so appealing. He reached for his mother's outstretched, waiting hand. . .
Suddenly, Marissa appeared behind him. "No, Lee, don't take her hand. Don't go downstairs. If you do, you won't be able to wake up. You'll die Lee. Come on, take my hand, come back, you have to help the kids. Please, Lee." She pleaded.
Luke looked back at Marissa, confused. How did she get in his dream? And who was Lee? His name was Luke. All he had to do was take his mother's hand, and every thing he had ever wanted would be his. Freedom, He could go to school. Have friends. Exist.
But another part of his brain was screaming, 'Go with Marissa, go back to the kids. They need you, they love you. Go with Marissa!' His head whipped between the most important girls in his life. Well, one was Luke's, and one was Lee's. So now he had to choose.
Mother and Marissa?
Matthew and Mark or the kids?
Luke or Lee?
Holding in a cough so as not to bring attention to his position, Lee scrambled to his feet. For a moment, a strange vision of twin girls danced across his view, before he blinked them out of the way. Now he could see, but suddenly, he wished he couldn't. It was a horrible sight.
A gray mist was covering everything. He just make out the burnt and tattered playground that was indeed almost burned to ashes. Lee didn't dare to call out names, though it was killing him not knowing if everyone he cared for in the world were still alive. What if he never saw Rayne giggle, or heard one of Logan's irritating, yet amusing jokes? He shuddered softly.
"We know you're here! Come out now, or we'll burn this place to ashes." The ice-cold voice cackled, followed by its companions.
A hand suddenly grabbed at Lee's arm. His breath hitched, then went back to normal as he saw who it was.
The eleven-year-old gestured for Luke to follow her. He nodded, taking careful, but hurried steps over the forest floor. After a while, once they gotten far enough out of earshot to relax, Lee started to interrogate her.
"Where is everyone? Is everyone safe? Where's Marissa? Did she send you?" He shot off at top speed. He needed answers and Stella had them.
Stella stared at him for several minutes, no emotion penetrating her chocolate eyes. Then he eyes welled up with tears and pain, and her bottom lip quivered.
Then she chocked out the three words that took less than three seconds to say, but also changed his whole world.
"Marissa is dead."
Well, his body stopped him. His brain had just cut off, like the battery had died. As soon as Stella said the most terrifying, painful saying in the universe, the pain washed over him like huge ocean waves after a calm day. His mind, belonging to both him and Luke, recognized the same pain from when J- J-
He couldn't even think her name. His throat was clogged and suddenly he couldn't breathe right. Stella was walking again, silent tears rolling down her cheeks. His body took the liberty to make his feet follow her.
Lee was numb. Not his Marissa. His Marissa was tough as nails and as stubborn a mule. No. He wouldn't believe it. Marissa was stronger than Jen, he flinched, ever was. Rissa was invincible, indestructible, immortal. She couldn't die. God wouldn't allow it.
But the crushing hurt was there, telling him the opposite. Jen had died. No one could stop that. Maybe they were all doomed to die at the hands of the Government.
By now, they'd reached the Emergency Base. When he opened the brass door, he was thrust among crying children. He hugged them all, crying softly into their hair as he tried and failed to stay strong. He'd just lost his best friend, his breath of life. Why should he stay strong?
Even Blake, who didn't even whimper over broken bones, was bawling in Tyler's arms as he shushed her, wiping away his own tears.
"Did the girl get here safe?" Lee asked, praying the child at least was alive.
"Yes, she won't talk. Not even her name." Alex sighed, gesturing toward a quivering blanket that was curled up on a couch. "She wouldn't even talk to Madison."
Lee's yawn informed his mind that he really needed sleep. The black out earlier wasn't cutting it. "Leave her there for tonight. Maybe she'll talk more in the morning, when she's rested." They nodded and Blake and Tyler passed out blankets and pillows. Only after everyone had gone to sleep on their little piece of floor did Lee climb onto the couch and tried to sink into the comfortable arms of sleep.
But even though he was very tired, fear kept him awake. Fear for him. Fear for the children sleeping soundly around him. Fear for Marissa, that maybe she wasn't dead, but being tortured to death. Fear of the unknown.
His eyes finally slid closed as he imagined he was listening to Marissa's voice as her voice crooned him to sleep, speaking the poem she'd learned off her older brother when she still lived with her family.
"Goodnight my angel, time to close your eyes and save these questions for another day. I think I know what you've been asking me. I think you know what I've been trying to say. I promised I would never leave you, and you should always know. Where ever you may go, no matter where you are, I never will be far away. . ."
Lee was awoken by a scream. Natalie. He jerked up, forgetting his legs were twisted in the blanket, and fell to the floor with a thump.
Giggling and chuckles erupted from everywhere. "Natalie, you scared him!" Emilee scolded, although she was laughing too.
"Why did you scream?" Lee asked, standing up, looking red and flustered.
Through her seemingly uncontainable giggles, Natalie chocked out, "Thought I-I-I saw a rat!"
After everyone had calmed down, Lee looked torward the end of the couch, where the small child was sitting up, staring at them, wit the blanket wrapped tightly around her.
He slid towards her, trying to smile. "Hello, my name is Lee, what's yours?"
The girl looked at him for a bit, and when he was sure she wasn't going to answer, she whispered, "Angel."
Try as he must, he could not get her to utter another word. He sighed and looked up at everyone, who was now sitting in a circle on the floor, awaiting his instructions. He sat in between Mandie and Alex.
"Okay guys. It's no longer to safe to return to the Hideaway. Ever. It's not safe to stay in this area either. Somehow, those . . . people, if that is what you call them, knew how to find us. They'll be searching all the places around the Hideaway from now on. And though it will be near impossible to find the Emergency Base, I'd still like us to be as far out of harm's reach as possible." He said. His eyes met everyone's. They all held the same emotions.
Determination. Sadness. Fear. Stubbornness. They wouldn't just stay still like sitting ducks, waiting to be shot. They all loved life and would fight to keep it.
One-by-one, they all nodded.
"Pack everything you can carry, but not heavy stuff. We have a long way to go and a short time to get there." They broke up and went to the rooms, the kitchen, and the storage closet. Lee packed a bag for him and a bag for Angel.
After everyone was ready, and a head-count had been issued, they snuck out of the base and headed for the forest road, which was mostly just a small dirt path. Lee knew exactly where he was going.
He was going to the old house he'd lived in as a child.
He was going home.