A thin trail of smoke drifted from the lips of the fourteen-year old girl as she sat on the back of a bench located just outside the gates of Cedar Hill Elementary School. Glancing over her shoulder at the school, the girl took in a deep breath, scanned her surroundings, and then looked back to the street. She leaned forward, her elbows resting on her knees as she held the burning cigarette loosely between her fingers, waiting for the second hand of her watch to hit the twelve and signify the end of another school day.
An elderly pedestrian strolled by, giving the girl a disapproving scowl as she glanced down at the cigarette and then back up at the black eye makeup and gangster clothes that seemed to make the scars on the teenager’s face all the more menacing. The woman, leaning heavily on her dark-red fiberglass cane, grimaced at the teenager’s appearance. She stared disgustedly at her greased hair that was held back by a bandanna, then at the ring that was pierced through her eyebrow and at the spiked jewelry wrapped around her neck. The girl eyed the stranger back, taking a long drag off the cigarette and deliberately blowing smoke in the old woman’s direction. The woman hurried across the street and the girl turned her green eyes away after she had disappeared around the corner.
Soon, restless children poured from the redbrick school building as the final bell of the day rang. They ran for their bikes, their parents, or for the sidewalk, all determined to race home so they could call their friends or watch TV. The girl on the bench waited patiently, her eyes searching for the one particular child whom she was intent on finding. Kids ran by her, some giggling as they passed when they saw her strange makeup and the tattoo on her hand, others not giving her a second thought as they hurried home. Finally, as the last of the children exited through the large green double doors, the girl saw the small child.
Mathew Harper walked slowly, dragging his book-filled backpack behind him with all the strength his eight year-old muscles could gather. He knew that he would get in trouble with all the books he was bringing home, but he wanted to read them and his teacher had let him borrow them for the next two days. He trailed behind his classmates, not bothering to catch up to them, for he knew he would not be able to play with them even if they asked, which he was sure wouldn’t happen. Crossing the street carefully after searching to his left, to his right, and then back to his left again, the child turned left and began the ten-block walk home, not noticing the thin curtain of cigarette smoke he walked through as he passed the bus stop waiting bench.
The girl raised her eyebrows as she watched Mathew Harper walk past her without even a glance up. Her dark green eyes watched his retreating figure, and when he had walked about two hundred feet from where she was waiting, the girl jumped off the bench, threw her cigarette to the ground, and started after the little boy. She walked quickly yet casually, not wanting to waste time but also not wanting to attract attention to herself. She kept her eyes trained on the boy’s back, ready for him to turn around at any moment, which would mean that she would have to duck from his sight. He didn’t turn, however, so the girl quickened her pace.
The teenager pulled up directly behind Mathew as he came to a dark alley filled with an abandoned car and seven dumpsters, along with several other small objects that were long past useless. As he walked by it, the girl came up to his side and casually pushed him into the dark passage, then continued on her way. Glancing around only once, she quickly made sure nobody had seen her before disappearing into her surroundings.
Mathew couldn’t stop himself from being pushed into the alley. He hadn’t been expecting the sudden shove, so he had no time to keep his feet from losing their balance. He vaguely saw a dumpster flying by his eyes as he fell, but he was then caught by strong hands and pulled behind an old, rust-covered station wagon. Fear began to well up in his throat and he swallowed heavily as the figure ducked down to his level. He was unable to scream, for the hand that was clamped over his mouth kept him from making a single sound. He stared into the person’s eyes, his own wide with terror and tears.
“Are you Mathew Harper?” the person, one that Mathew perceived as a middle-school boy, asked softly. Terrified, Mathew nodded. “Don’t be scared. My name is Caleb.” The voice was no more than a whisper, but to Mathew, it seemed like a shout to his young, scared ears.
“You’re a stranger,” Mathew replied behind the boy’s gloved hand as he looked at the person wearing a black hat and clothes. “I’m not supposed to talk to you!” He raised his voice and began to struggle with the male teenager, but it was useless. The boy who called himself Caleb tightened his grip on his arm and kept his other hand over his mouth. Mathew looked at him once again, silently wondering if the boy was going to kill him. His back was beginning to ache because of the car door handle that was sticking into it. As Mathew observed Caleb in the slight second it took for him to lean closer to his ear, he thought he saw a cord going to his ear from the collar of the jacket he was wearing.
Caleb, his hand still covering the young boy’s mouth, gave a regretful yet reassuring smile. “I know what your daddy does to you, Mathew,” he said softly, his eyes searching the child’s. Mathew’s eyes widened at that.
Suddenly, the stranger didn’t seem so scary anymore. He didn’t know how the boy dressed in black knew about his dad, but he didn’t care. Mathew only wanted to know one thing from the masked figure as he lowered his hand from his quivering lips.
“Can you help me?” the child whispered, his request coming out in tears as the stranger slowly nodded his head.
The sky was black with nightfall, the air clouded from a late-night fog when the dark blue speedboat crept through the ocean waters. Waves splashed roughly against the sides, then smoothed out as the boat continued further into the sea. A light rumble of thunder made its way throughout the sky, warning all who dwelled beneath the clouds that a storm would soon be upon them. The passengers gave no worry, however, for they knew that their destination lie just ahead.
The driver of the speedboat pulled around to the back of the island as they approached, carefully maneuvering through sharp rocks that were protruding from the dark ocean waters. As the rocks began to clear, the boat was piloted into a small channel surrounded on either side by dense trees and shrubbery. Slowly and silently they came up next to a newly constructed wooden dock that was standing steadily among the ocean.
Dark green seaweed floated around the underside of the wood as Caleb Brinson tossed a rope to a figure that was waiting on the dock, his accomplice holding onto the wood with one hand. When the boat was secure, the driver turned to Mathew Harper, who was sitting on a navy blue seat, his backpack and a small suitcase next to him. He didn’t know when the two strangers had gotten some clothes and toys from his house, but when he asked they simply told him that they had done so when his parents were at work. He was no longer scared, for the boy and girl had been nice to him, had given him a good dinner and even played a game with him while they waited until nighttime.
Mathew rose from his seat when the girl gestured to him. Caleb took his bags and handed them up to a second person on the dock. The boy looked up, but couldn’t make out the faces of the figures, for the fog was thick and the sky was dark. He watched as one of the forms leaned down and extended a hand, as did the driver. The girl in the boat said nothing as he looked at her hand, at the short fingernails that were painted black and then at the black HH tattoo right above her thumb. He vaguely remembered seeing the same tattoo on Caleb’s hand as well, but he didn’t know what the letters stood for.
With his mind clear of any fear or worry, Mathew reached up and took hold of the second hand that was waiting in front of him. The person’s fingers closed around his, and he felt safe as he was led out of the boat and down the dock. Looking back, he saw the speedboat gently floating away and he waved, but the people that had saved him from his father weren’t looking. Even so, he knew where they were going.
They were going home, so they could help more kids just like him.