"Oops... Sorry!" Jim pulled up short after bolting from the short hallway leading to his office and nearly colliding with the teenaged girl. "Can I help you?"
"No..." The response bordered on curt. "...just visiting."
"Okay." Jim shrugged and continued on.
They had several more near misses as he rushed around the various parts of the building getting ready for the last night of Vacation Bible School. It was "family night" and there were several in attendance, so he assumed she belonged to one of them, though apparently there under duress. She looked both bored and annoyed, yet somewhat distressed as well.
She appeared and disappeared, it seemed, almost at will, and she turned up at the oddest places...including, at one point...the nursery. Several others approached her, only to get the same...or less friendly...reaction. Finally everyone just left her alone. She discovered on her own the small group of teens helping with VBS and engaged them in a conversation, even smiling on occasion. In their midst she looked a bit out of place in her long khaki skirt and white blouse. They were all dressed for work in a motley assortment of t-shirts and jeans.
"She's pretty when she smiles," Jim commented to his wife as she passed him.
"Her blouse is too tight." Lee groused as she continued on to the fellowship hall's kitchen.
As the evening ended he noticed the girl going out one of the doors in the front of the building, walking a few feet behind the family she was apparently with. Jim thought little more of it as he did some light clean-up, then turned out the lights and went out the back door and across the parking lot to his home.
It was two in the morning, and the lights that bracketed the doors on the front of the church had just gone out, when a figure with long black hair crawled out from under a clump of bushes that sat up against the wall of the property next door. The girl looked around for several moments, then rushed down the hill to the nearest door. Her hand trembled as she placed it on the glass, directly opposite the crash bar inside, She glanced behind her as a car went by, then and took a long, deep breath, and seemed to slip into a trance. Slowly, the bar crept downward until the latches at the top and bottom of the door released. The girl grabbed the handle with her other hand and snatched it open, then scooted inside, pulling the door closed behind her.
She paused and listened as she peered down the long and mostly dark hallway. All was quiet save for the occasional passing car on the highway outside. She sighed and walked to the water fountain, taking a long drink before continuing on. She stopped briefly at the main double doors to check outside, then went on until she came to the small hall leading to Jim's office. She glanced outside through the door opposite it, then hurried down the hall and into the office.
Jim's office was quite a change from the beige-painted brick and cinderblock of the halls and other rooms. The light on a pole outside filtered through the shears on the window and gave her more than enough light to look around. Three of the walls were paneled, while the fourth held a built-in bookshelf filled to overflowing with books. The whole room displayed the inviting clutter of a restless and inquisitive mind, and she smiled as she walked around it. She was particularly drawn to one corner of the office. A burgonet with falling bevel sat on a corner of an end table, while a long sword leaned against the wall to the right. Above that hung a Roman Gladius, and a Centurion's helmet perched atop a clothes tree. A shirt of mail sat in a clump on the floor, along with a rag and some solvent.
"Interesting man." She mumbled as she scanned the various certificates, diplomas, and awards that hung on the "I love me" wall, on both sides of the window behind the desk, displaying interests ranging from law enforcement to music, theology to the military. She plundered the disheveled desk and came up with an old pilot's logbook...and a candy bar she quickly devoured. She leaned back as she munched on another and peered at the posters on the wall across from the desk. One was a photo of the comet Hale-Bopp while the other was a shot from the Hubble Telescope. To her left over the big brown leather couch was a painting of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. "Very interesting man."
She grabbed a couple more pieces of candy, then got up and walked to the door, looking out and listening. Satisfied, she pushed it shut and stretched out on the couch. She pulled the silver-blue-gray throw over her and was soon asleep.
She was jolted awake by the office door opening and a somewhat scruffy looking teenaged boy rushing in. He ignored her though, and went straight to the compact fridge that was nestled under the table holding the coffee pot. He grabbed a root beer and some cheese, then turned to leave.
"Uh...hi!" He jumped as he spotted her. "Didn't you go home?"
"Where...is everyone...else?" Her eyes flitted toward the door.
"My mom and dad are out to breakfast and my sisters are probably still asleep."
"I...uh...I see. Are you... stealing?"
"Well, kinda." The boy gave a sheepish smile. "This is my dad's office."
"I see." She smiled as she sat up. "Luke...isn't it?"
"Yeah." Luke nodded. "I'm afraid I've forgotten your's."
"That's okay." She sighed and looked at the floor. "I...uh...gave you the wrong one...anyway."
"Oh! Well...uh...what's your real name?"
"When...will other people be here?"
"No telling. My mom and dad tend to get distracted when they go out, so no telling when they'll be back. It is Saturday, though and my dad has to study...I think."
"What time is it?" The girl craned around to see the clock on the wall behind her.
"It's almost eleven..." Luke chuckled. "...I just got up too. I sleep downstairs in the basement."
"Oh!" Her eyes widened a bit. "Do they make you?"
"Nah," Luke grinned. "We live in a REAL tiny house! This way I get my own room. It was my brother's before he got kicked out.
"Is your father mean?"
"Nah..." Luke laughed. "...not most of the time anyway. My brother was being a jerk."
"I see. Listen...uh...what'll your dad say...if he finds me here?"
"I don't know," Luke shrugged. "You were kinda snotty last night,"
"Yeah..." The girl nodded. "...I know. It...uh...keeps people...away."
"Why you wanna do that?"
"I...uh...hey..." The girl smiled up at him. "...you think there's leftovers from last night?"
"Hey, I forgot about them!" Luke reached out his hand. "come on, let's check downstairs."
They were soon sitting at the small kitchen table busily engorging themselves on hotdogs, coleslaw, potato salad, and even some cheeseburgers Luke cooked up for them. They ate, talked and laughed while discussing TV shows, video games, movies, and the latest CD's, and didn't push away from the table until the food was mostly gone.
"I'm stuffed!" The girl playfully patted her stomach. "Thanks!"
"You're welcome." Luke chuckled. "So, what's your real name?"
"I...uh...listen...." The girl's smile disappeared. "I...uh...better be going. Thanks for lunch." The corners of her mouth briefly twitched into a smile, then she headed for the kitchen door.
"You're walking? To where??"
"I...uh...I..." She turned back to him for a moment. "...thanks, Luke. I gotta go." The smile was better this time, then she walked away down the still dark fellowship hall. Luke watched her until she turned left and disappeared behind the coke machine.
Luke put away what was left of the food and mostly cleaned the kitchen, then started across the fellowship hall to his room.
"Hey, is there a girl down here?"
Luke's head snapped toward the sound. Two men were approaching him, dressed "business casual" but with stern and decidedly unfriendly faces.
"No..." Luke shook his head. "...no one's down here but me."
"Where'd she go?" The shorter one took a step forward.
"I don't know!" Luke scowled. "I stayed down here and cleaned."
The man growled, then spun around and stomped to the stairwell, followed closely by his companion. Luke waited a moment then followed them up to make sure they left. He was just in time to see a nondescript white sedan pull out of the parking lot and speed away. He couldn't tell what kind of license plate it had. He shrugged and went across to his house.
He returned sometime later...after a fight with his younger sister that was broken up rather sharply by his parents...to find solace in a video game. He rushed into the downstairs men's room on the way, and nearly broke his wrist on the locked stair door. He shoved on it again and heard a light whimper.
"Uh...hello?" Luke glanced underneath but saw nothing.
"Luke?" The voice was the girl's.
"Are they gone?"
"They've been gone!"
"No...they came back after you left."
"Oh. I'll go check!"
Luke quickly checked the building and found it empty. Even Mr. Watson, the old man who lived in the library, was off on one of his many errands, some of which were understood only by himself. As he looked out the library window though, he spotted what looked like the same white car parked on the other side of the graveyard. Luke went downstairs and out the back door, making straight for the street behind the church. He had just passed through the back gate when he heard the engine crank and watched as the car sped away.
"You shouldn't have done that." The girl met him as he came in the back door. "You could have been hurt."
"Why are they looking for you? What'd you do?"
"Nothing...nothing wrong anyway...not really."
"It...it's hard to explain."
"You could at least tell me your name."
The girl nodded and sighed. "I am...Eluial."
"What does it mean?"
"It means...star...of twilight."
"It's very pretty...uh...like you!"
"Thanks!" Eluial managed a smile and giggle. "Uh...Luke...are you willing...to help me?"
"If you tell me what's going on!"
"Luke...I..." Eluial bit her lower lip. She started to speak again, then her eyes popped to their widest and she visibly tensed. "No...look out!" She spun around and raced out of sight.
Luke turned around just as the back door was flung open from the outside and the shorter of the two men barreled in, slamming him against the wall in the process. The second man knocked him to the ground as he followed the first.
Stunned for a moment, Luke jumped to his feet and headed to the front of the church. He got outside just in time to see Eluial running across the highway...narrowly missed by several cars...and up an embankment and over the railroad tracks on the other side. Her long but narrow skirt lay in the middle of the parking lot. The shorter man hesitated, then followed her when she was already out of sight. There was what looked like a pistol in his hand. The other man ran around back, apparently to get the car.
"What's going on?"
Luke shuddered as his dad's voice startled him.
"Do we need to call the cops?" Jim watched the shorter man struggle the last couple feet up the embankment, then jump back down as a train passed.
"Well...let me know." Jim chuckled at the man's second...successful...attempt, then went to his office.
Luke recovered the skirt and took it to his room, then spent the day wandering the church grounds, the neighborhood behind, and the sidewalks in front of the church, hoping to find out what happened. The car raced through the parking lot a couple of times, but there was no sign of Eluial.
It was nearly midnight as he walked the dog around the church before taking him inside. As they came around the lower parking lot, "Scribbles" suddenly jerked to the left and dragged Luke down the walkway to the door of the basement. Even in the shadows he could see a figure curled up into a tight ball and leaning against the low retaining wall. Scribbles sniffed a couple times, then began licking her face.
"Eluial?" Luke brushed the hair from her face...and froze. As he pushed her hair behind her ear he noticed that the top was not rounded, but came up to a graceful point.
Eluial opened her eyes and began to tremble, but made no move to cover her ear.
"When...I am dead..." Tears streamed down her face. "...please...bury me where they can't find me."
"Uh...who says you're gonna die?"
"Twice...they found...their mark."
"Oh!" Luke franticly began looking her over.
He found two dime sized holes in her back, one on her right side at her waist, the other about six inches above it. The lower one had an exit wound of about the same sixe in front. The upper one did not. Eluial coughed and a trickle of blood ran down her chin, adding to the stains already on her now filthy blouse.
"Uh...okay..." Luke sighed hard. "Let's get you inside."
"No use... I've seen others..."
"YOU'RE not gonna die!" Luke bumped noses with her as he stared her down. "Now help!"
Eluial nodded, and together they got her inside and into his bed.
"What...are you going...to do?" Eluial winced as a jab of pain hit her.
"Uh...don't know." Luke frowned. "Guess I'll go get some first aid stuff."
"Please...don't let them...find me."
"I promise." Luke smiled. "Now be still."
"Dad! There's a dead girl in Luke's bed!!"
"Sarah, you're not supposed to be in my room!!"
Jim looked up from his desk to find Sarah, bug-eyed and quivering, leaning most of the way across his desk. A couple feet away Luke glared at her with clinched fists.
"And she's got pointy ears!!"
"Both of you!" Jim reached for his coffee cup, then leveled his gaze on Luke as his eyebrow shot up. "There's a girl in your room?"
"A dead girl!" Sarah squirmed as she leaned farther over. "And she's cold...and white...and..."
"Sarah!!" Luke swung at her and missed.
"... and she's got pointy ears!!"
"Come on...." Jim sighed heavily. "Let's go see."
"And there's blood everywhere!"
"Sarah!" Jim and Luke barked in unison.
"Sorry!" Sarah did her pre-teen shoulder hunch.
With Sarah pushing her way to the lead, they went downstairs to Luke's room. At first glance Eluial did indeed appear to be dead. Her skin was cold and sticky and there was no reaction when she was touched. Jim frowned as he pressed in on the side of her neck.
"Is this who was being chased?" Jim glanced up at Luke, who fidgeted and silently nodded. "You could have told me about it."
"I promised I wouldn't."
"Hmmm..." Jim sat up a bit. "Sarah, go get your mother."
"She's dead, right?"
:Go get your mother!"
"Ok!" Sarah dramatically waved her arms, then scurried off to obey.
"Well?" Luke inched closer to the bed.
"Well..." Jim traced around Eluial's ear with his finger. "... there's a pulse. Not much of one... but it's there."
"Let's take a look at the damage."
The dressings had soaked completely through, but for the moment the bleeding seemed to have stopped. The sheets, though, were still damp with blood. Lee came in as the exam was finished.
"She needs clean sheets." Lee scowled at Luke. "Why didn't you tell us? When did this happen?"
"Smooth, Luke!" Anna, his older sister, folded her arms as she walked in behind Lee. "Way to go!"
"Anna!" Tears streamed down Luke's face.
"Ok, enough dumping on Luke for the moment." Jim managed a chuckle. "All right ladies, see if you can clean her up some while I figure out how to get the bullet out."
"She needs to go to the hospital!" Lee frowned as she felt Eluial's hand.
"No!" Luke looked back and forth between his parents, both of whom had deeply creased brows. "I don't know!" He shrugged. "Just... no. Please?"
"Like I said..." Jim sighed and headed for his books.
He returned to find Eluial cleaned up and tucked into fresh sheets, a light blanket, and a comforter. Anna held her hand while Lee helped her take small sips of water.
"She woke up while we were messing with her." Lee smiled over to Jim. "She's pretty weak... and scared."
"Hi!" Jim walked to the side of the bed. "How do you feel?"
"What ... will you do... with me?"
"Well, it depends on what I hear. Wanna tell me about it?"
Eluial turned her face to the wall.
"It's ok," Luke moved around, trying to get her attention. "You can trust him. He's pretty cool for an old man."
"Thanks." Jim scowled and Eluial showed a slight smile.
"We really do want to help you..." Lee took her hand. "... but you have to tell us what's going on. Who shot you?"
"Not far from here..." Eluial turned and looked at each one of them. "... there is a place... they call it... CDC. We... my family and I... were being ... studied. Money ran out... so they killed us. My sister... helped me escape."
"I don't know. In her fury... she killed several of them... I..."
"Go on." Jim moved to make eye contact.
"Please, don't give me back to them!"
"We won't give you back!" Luke stepped forward and banged against the bed. Eluial smiled at him, then looked over to Jim.
"No..." Jim shook his head. "...we won't"
"I also killed."
"You do what you gotta do. What... uh... what are you?"
Eluial closed her eyes and there was a long pause. She swallowed hard then looked up and smiled at Luke, then turned to Jim.
"I am an elf."
"Cool!" Sarah grinned and squeezed in next to the bed.
"Way cool!" Anna smiled and rubbed Eluial's leg.
"Oh... wow!" Luke stood wide-eyed, transfixed by another of Eluial's smiles.
"Well..." Lee sighed, "... at least she's not an alien." She looked to the collective scowls of her family. "I was joking! I think having an elf around is kinda neat!"
"Right now she's a sick elf." Jim sighed. "Where's your sister?"
"I don't know..." A tear rolled from Eluial's eye. "... she will not let me in." She smiled at their puzzled looks." "Sometimes we can communicate across distance. My sister and I do it very well... usually."
"Is she alive?" Luke furrowed his brow.
"Yes, she is."
"Where would she go?" Jim glanced at Lee, then stood.
"I... I'm not sure."
"Well, one problem at a time. I need to finish up for tonight. The bullet will have to wait until tomorrow. I need to get a couple things. Rest and try to eat something." Jim smiled and left the room.
Lee followed close behind him as he went upstairs to his office.
"What are we going to do?"
"About?" Jim drained his coffee cup and refilled it.
Lee cocked her head and raised an eyebrow.
"Oh... that!" He chuckled. "Her!"
"Yeah that... her."
"I don't have a clue.... Do you?"
"No." Lee shook her head. "But she can't stay down there."
"Why? I think Luke'll behave."
"That's not what I mean... although..."
"Yes?" Jim leaned back and smiled.
"Trust me... she's maturing quite well!"
"I see!" Jim laughed. "Well... let me think about it."
"Well?" The pinch-faced man looked up from his almost sterile desk.
"No luck yet." The shorter man shifted a little.
"And you're sure she's dead."
"I hit her twice!"
"Hmmm..." The pinch-faced man grabbed his bottled water. "... I want her body. Find it."
"Where's her sister?"
"We're looking for her."
"Find her!" The pinch-faced man snarled as he recapped his bottle of water. "I don't particularly like being in here on Sunday."
"Neither do we." The taller man responded.
"You screwed up! Now find the sister!"
"Yes sir." The shorter man turned and motioned his partner to the door.
"And find the girl's body before the locals do!"
"That is... IF she's dead."
"Thank you, Mrs. Morris..." Eluial held out the bowl. "...the soup was very good."
"Want more?" Lee took the bowl and headed out.
"Yes, I do... a little. Mrs. Morris?"
"I'm sorry... I was such a jerk... Friday night."
"You weren't very friendly."
"I know... People... have been... pretty mean to us."
"Are you sure you were at the CDC? They find cures for diseases... things like that."
"It wasn't them." Eluial's brow became deeply creased. "They were just using some space."
"I'm... not sure."
"I'll get your soup." Lee smiled and headed for the kitchen.
After some discussion it was decided to keep her where she was, and let Luke sleep on the small couch he had put in his room. Eluial had taken a turn for the worse, so Anna volunteered to stay too. She jerked awake around two the next morning, not really knowing why.
"Luke!" Anna barked out a sharp whisper. "Someone's in here!"
"Huh?" Luke raised his head but kept his eyes shut.
"Luke! Get up!" Anna slid from the bed and knelt beside it. "They're at the door!"
A sharp kick shattered the lock area of the hollow core door. In a moment the shorter man was in the room leveling his pistol at Eluial. A half second later something flashed through the air and he howled as his gun hand dropped to the bed. He spun around to leave only to find Luke blocking his way. Before he could react Luke sank his Samurai sword deep in the hapless man's chest.
"Luke, behind you!" Anna screamed as the taller man raised his gun.
Without looking Luke jerked the sword free, spun it, and then stabbed behind him, burying the blade in his attacker's stomach. The man let out a groan and collapsed.
"C...call... Mom and Dad." Luke shook from top to bottom as he wiped the sword on the shorter man's shirt.
"Come here." Eluial held out her hand and Anna raced to the phone in the kitchen. "Thank you."
Luke took her hand and sat down on the bed. Almost instantly he was calmed. A dim blue glow grew from her hand and soon enveloped them both.
"They're on their..." Anna froze with her mouth gaping open.
"You too..." Eluial smiled. "...come here."
Anna took Eluial's other hand and was instantly surrounded by the same blue light. Eluial closed her eyes and paused.
"I name you Elf Friends. May your path be lit by He who is over all."
Eluial smiled and released Anna, but kept Luke in her gaze and glow for several more seconds, while she spoke in an unknown tongue. Finally she raised up and kissed his cheek, then let the blue light fade away.
"Well..." Jim looked back and forth between the bodies. "...Anime does have its uses. Not bad!"
"Thanks!" Luke took a couple swings with his sword.
"Now what?" Lee blinked and rubbed her eyes.
"First... we search these guys, then get rid of them. Then, we find the car."
They searched the bodies, but found nothing. No wallet, not even a driver's license. The car, parked on the other side of the graveyard, was clean as well, and the tag was a temporary from a dealer in Southwest Atlanta. The trunk, however, contained two Uzi's and a Remington 700 with scope... along with plenty of ammunition. After he finished his inspection, Jim moved the car to the basement and took the firearms inside.
While Anna stood watch, Jim and Luke bagged the bodies and tossed them in the trunk. Now the question was what to do with them.
"Those are the same guys from Saturday?" Jim nodded at the trunk.
"Uh... yes sir." Luke nodded as he caught his breath.
"No reinforcements..." Jim gazed out at the graveyard. "... hmmm..."
"Guess they didn't want much attention."
They returned to Luke's room, where warmed up chicken and noodles were helping to calm Eluial and Anna.
"Well..." Lee shoved a spoonful in Jim's mouth. "... now what?"
"Well..." He swallowed so he could talk. "... Luke and I are gonna take a little trip."
"No... please..." Eluial rose up a little. "...can Luke... stay... please?"
"Hmmm..." Jim chuckled and glanced at Lee. "...well... maybe. Got an idea."
Jim went into the kitchen and dialed the phone. It rang for a long time before a groggy voice finally answered.
"Good morning, Sunshine!" Jim snickered as quietly as he could.
"Who is this?"
"It's your dad. Get your butt down here."
"Nothing... uh, now. I need your help. Get down here."
"It's three in the morning!"
"Yeah, no traffic!"
"Can't it wait??"
"No, it can't. Get down here now. Breakfast will be waiting."
"Ok... fine." A loud sigh rumbled through the phone. "On my way."
Jim laughed as he hung up the phone and returned to Luke's room. "Ok, got it covered. Jake's on the way."
Bet he's happy!" Lee smiled as she collected the bowls.
"Yep!" Jim grinned. "I did promise him breakfast."
"This better be good." Jake scowled as he tromped into the fellowship hall where the rest of the family huddled around cups of coffee.
"It is." Jim grinned. "Breakfast is about ready. Come on, I want you to meet someone." He motioned as he got up and headed to Luke's room.
"Jake, meet Eluial."
"Uh... hi." Jake tried to be pleasant.
"Hi." Eluial smiled then looked at Jim. He nodded and she brushed her hair behind her ears.
"She's an elf." Jim smiled at his son's reaction.
"Cool." Jake walked to the head of the bed and reached for Eluial's ear. "May I?"
"Sure... I don't mind."
"These are real!"
"Yep!" Jim chuckled. "She... uh... has an older sister, too."
"We don't know."
"Oh." Jake groaned. "So... what's up?"
"Well..." Jim cleared his throat. "... you and I are gonna go bury two guys that Luke killed."
"They were trying to kill Eluial."
"O... k...." Jake let out a loud long sigh. "I need some coffee."
Breakfast, fried eggs, bacon and biscuits, was eaten mostly in silence... except for Sara's almost continual chatter. Angry at getting up so early, she immediately changed when she found out Jake had come down from Rome. She took it upon herself to fill him in on everything (and getting it mostly right) then bombarded him with questions about elves, himself, and the play he was going to be in next. For the most part he endured it good naturedly. He was well into Lee's second pot of coffee when Jim motioned him toward the back door.
They escaped most of the rush-hour traffic and were in Macon as daylight came and Jim pulled off I-75 for gas.
"So... where are we going?" Jake called back from the gas pump if front of Jim, who had steadfastly refused to tell anyone where they were headed, saying only they'd be back sometime after dark.
"Just follow me." Jim grinned as he replaced the nozzle. "We're getting on I-16, then getting off on 23."
Whatever." Jake sighed and scowled.
"Hey. Think of it as an adventure!"
"Whatever." Jake squeezed himself into his car and slammed the door.
"Now..." Jim smiled as he took out his leatherman. "...let's take care of this problem. He snipped the wire to the antenna connected to the GPS system in the car. "Nice try, guys. Nice try."
"Do you know what you're doing?" Lee's eyebrow shot up as she watched Anna reach for a long pair of forceps.
"No..." Anna shrugged. "... but I kinda got an idea. I've worked on animals before."
"Hey, I kept Joe alive, didn't I?'
"Eluial's not a cat."
"No, but I think I can do this. Hold her still."
Eluial's fever began rising soon after Jim and Jake left, and by noon it was a hundred and three. When they checked her, the upper wound was bright red and burning. The only reason they could think of was infection, so they decided to remove the bullet.
"Eluial moaned and quivered as Anna poked and prodded looking for the bullet. She yelped once when her "doctor" hit something had and it moved.
"There's a broken rib in here... I think." Anna moved her instrument about a half inch to the left. "Got it!" She pulled straight back and produced a disfigured full jacket bullet. A pocket of puss came oozing out behind it.
They cleaned the wounds (both of them, just in case) then left them open to drain.
"She needs some antibiotics." Anna began cleaning up.
"Is she gonna die?" A panicked look crossed Sarah's face.
"No!" Lee and Anna flashed her an ugly look.
"Sorry." Sarah furrowed her brow.
"I've got an idea...." Lee headed for the door. "Watch her. I'll be back.
A couple hours later she returned with a large brown bottle filled with very big caplets.
"She can't take these!" Anna stared at the big white pill in her palm. "These are horse pills!"
"Uh, well...actually... yeah, they are." Lee chuckled. "I got them at the feed store in Winder. Break them up some and it'll be fine."
"If you say so." Anna shrugged and headed for the kitchen.
"Where are they now?" The pinched-faced man growled into his phone.
"Macon... but we've lost the signal."
"What do you mean, you've lost the signal?"
"There's no signal. Whadaya think I mean?"
"Get me their last position. I tire of this!" The man slammed down the phone and stormed from his office. "Idiots! If they've lost her..."
"I spent a lot of summers here." Jim smiled as he leaned on the fence gazing at the two-storied white frame farmhouse. It was built in the 1850's, but still looked homey and inviting. "I love this place."
"Looks pretty cool!" Jake nodded agreement. "Now what?"
"Well, first we hope the gate's not locked. Let's go see."
In between the two barns (one was actually a shed for farm equipment) was a wide gate across the dirt road leading to the largest section of the property. The chain securing it was wrapped around the post several times, but had no lock. Jim swung it open, led them through, then got out and closed it behind them. They drove a few hundred yards until the road forked, then bore to the left and continued on about a half mile through an area of scattered pines and brush. They passed a clump of trees and pulled to a stop next to a large pond, now mostly clogged with lily pads and algae.
"I used to fish here." Jim waved his hand across the pond. "Don't imagine there's much in there now."
"Ok..." Jake sighed. "...so what do we do with the bodies?
Jim smiled and nodded toward the pond. "Put them in there!"
Jake studied the pond then looked out over the pine treed landscape. "They go pigs here?"
"Wild hogs, why?"
"I say strip'm..." Jake grinned, "... and let nature take its course."
"Hmmm..." Jim scanned the area around the. "Ok... let's do it. Over there." He pointed down the road and to the left.
They drove into the trees and deposited the bodies, minus their clothes, under some brush. Their shirts, pants, and shoes were stuffed in the trash bags for later disposal. The car was driven about a hundred yards further down the road, then turned off into a heavily wooded section. Jim parked it there and covered it with some surplus Swiss Army camouflage netting.
"Knew that would come in handy!" Jim quipped as they walked back to Jake's station wagon. "Maybe I'll come get the car after a while."
"If it's still there." Jake sighed and looked back toward where it was hidden.
"It will be... come on."
"Dad..." Jake glanced back to where they'd stashed the bodies, "... you think she's a real elf?"
"Don't know." Jim chuckled. "Why don't you find out."
As they drove out they took time for a short tour of the area around the house, Jim pointing out the chicken coop, smoke house and turkey pen (and annoying a great gobbler residing inside), then using the outhouse before returning to the car. They tossed the trash bags in the community dumpster that was placed where the dirt road met the paved one, then went into Lumber City for lunch and headed home.
"Hi!" Luke smiled at the almost open eyes looking back at him. "How do you feel?"
"I'm weak... it really hurts..." Eluial tried to smile, "... but I think I'm better."
"A little." Her smile grew broader. "Any noodles left?"
"I'll go see!" Luke turned to leave.
"Luke? How... how old... are you?"
"Uh.. fourteen." Luke sighed. "Guess you're a couple hundred, huh."
"No..." A tear welled up and rolled from her eye. "... only fourteen... in your years."
"Really??" Luke grinned.
"Yeah... really! And we're already becom... uh... I... I mean..."
"I'll go check on the noodles." Luke kissed her cheek, then ran from the room, jabbing his arms into the air as his mouth gaped open in a silent shout.
In place of the noodles, Luke discovered a huge pot of chicken and dumplings simmering on the kitchen stove. He was well into his second plate... and Eluial was just finishing her first... when the rest of the family arrived.
"You could have waited!" Sarah slammed her fists on her hips and glared.
"Hey..." Luke scowled, "... she was hungry!"
"I really was!" Eluial smiled. "Come..." she patted the bed beside her. "Come sit with me and eat."
"Really?" Sarah's eyes brightened.
"Ok!" Sarah rushed from the room as Eluial smiled and winked at Luke.
"You know she can't stay here." Jake dumped himself in a chair across from Jin's desk.
Jim sighed and the corners of his mouth curled in. "Yeah... I know." He tossed his pen on the desk and leaned back in his chair. "So... where do we take her?"
"I don't know." Jake slumped in the chair.
"I guess where her sister is."
"Oh, that helps!" Jim's eyebrow jerked up for an instant.
"Come on..." Jim got up and stretched, "... let's see what's going on down there."
A little after two in the morning a plain black van rolled through the gate and into the back parking lot with its lights out. Its deeply tinted windows kept even the most curious from peering inside. It swung wide, then came around so that its side door faced the building. As it got just past the back doors both its side and rear doors flung open and four black-clad figures leapt out. Two threw themselves against the back doors while the others ran down the small hill and knelt beside the basement door. The van continued on through the lower parking lot and up to the front of the building. It parked under the overhand and two more figures exited the side doors, paused a moment, then smashed their way through the front doors with a short battering ram.
Large beams shot down to both ends of the hallway as they raised their short-barreled sig-sauer rifles to their shoulders and scanned for opponents. Satisfied, they did a quick check of the rooms then eased their way to the back door, where they let in the two waiting outside. These headed upstairs while the first two started toward the auditorium.
"Ok... we're in."
"Roger." One of the two waiting by the basement door answered.
"Ok... we're at the top of the stairs."
"Roger... we're going in." The figure outside the basement door reached for the door handle and inserted the lock-picking tool in the lock.
Seconds later he groaned and collapsed to the walkway, an arrow sticking out of his neck just below his chin.
"We're under atta..." His companions cry was cut short when the basement door crashed open against him. Before he could recover his footing Jake stepped out and snatched him up then proceeded to smash him against the wall. He repeated this several times before letting his victim crumble to the ground. He was bending over when something jumped in front of him and pushed him aside. A flash of metal flew across the figure on the ground then what-or-whoever it was scampered up the hill and over the graveyard fence. Jake knelt down to examine his prey to find a pool of blood forming below the man's cleanly sliced-through neck.
"Something's wrong." The figure at the top of the steps to the basement glanced at his partner.
"Abort!" His partner twitched a short nod.
The two figures upstairs ran down the stairs and out the front doors into the van.
The two at the basement stairs backed their way down the steps and into the hallway. They turned around to head for the main door when they reached the short hallway to Jim's office... only to find a hooded figure blocking their path.
"What the..." The leader placed the red dot from his lazar sight in the middle of the hooded figure's chest and fired, with no visible effect. His partner emptied his magazine with the same effect. In the distance they could see their rounds impacting on the wall at the end of the hallway.
Suddenly the figure screeched and launched itself toward them. They fled out the door opposite the office hallway and raced to the van.
"Falcon four... falcon four..." The leader fought for breath. "Falcon five... falcon five..."
"Should I go around back?" The driver glanced back as the leader snatched off his ski mask. His face was decidedly white.
"Go... go... go!" The leader bellowed and pointed to the road. "Go!"
The black van pulled away from the building and up to the road. It seemed to hesitate a moment, then turned right onto the highway and sped out of sight.
"You do this?" Jim looked between Jake and the two bodies at the basement door.
"I don't have a bow and arrow!" Jake furrowed his brow.
"Yeah... good point."
"Well..." Jim sighed, "...I guess another trip to south Georgia. So... who did this?"
"Don't know...." Jake shrugged. "Didn't get a good look."
"Hmmm... ok... let's check the rest of the building."
The entry point wasn't hard to find. The hallway adjacent to the front door was littered with shattered glass and what used to be the crash bar. Jake wandered down the hall as Jin kicked the large pieces into a pile.
"Hey Dad... come look at this."
Jim followed Jake to the end of the hallway and began running his fingers over the now well pot-marked area in the middle of the wall. Bits of copper and lead were intermingled with the pitted concrete.
"Come on." Jim motioned, and backed up the hall. He stopped at the office hallway and turned on its light. Shell casings were scattered about in front of the office door.
"What were they shooting at?" Jake stared down the hallway.
"Don't know." Jim examined one of the casings.
"Believe it or not, they're still asleep." Lee chuckled as she came up from checking on Eluial, Luke and Anna.
"Yeah..." Jim smiled, "... I believe it!" He sighed and glanced down the hall. "Ok, let's get some sleep. We'll deal with this tomorrow." They turned out the lights and headed for the back door.
"I'll... uh... hang around for a while." Jake fidgeted. "Just in case."
"Yeah, good idea." Jim nodded and followed Lee out the door.
Jake went back to the hall and looked down toward the damaged wall. A hooded figure bowed, then seemed to sheath a sword.
"Yeah, thought so." Jake smiled as he returned the bow. He watched the figure another moment then headed back down to the basement.
"Where's Chase and Randle?" The pinched faced man glowered at the remaining team members.
"Unknown." The team leader glared back at him.
"Tell me again why you aborted the mission?"
"We were attacked."
"We don't know." The team leader narrowed his eyes. "But our fire had no effect on it."
"A... ghost?" The pinched faced man's mouth formed a sarcastic half-smile.
"Whatever it was..." The team leader's partner stepped forward, "... we saw it too." The others nodded in agreement.
"Get our of my sight!" The pinched faced man snarled as he rose from behind his desk. "I want her... in my office... tomorrow. Understood?"
The team leader curled up the corner of his mouth, ten spun around and stormed from the room, followed closely by his companions.
"You will die..." The pinched faced man stared at the picture lf Eluial tucked in the side of his blotter. "...like the rest of the freaks."
Jake groaned as he lumbered up the hill from the basement to the lower parking lot. He had exhausted himself removing the equipment from the two attackers, then stuffing them into the huge black trash bags. He paused for a moment to get his breath, then headed for the back gate. When he got there he continued on to the street, looked up and down it, then walked as quickly as he could to the graveyard and went in. He settled himself on a large wide headstone and listened while slowly scanning the area around him.
"I know you're here..." Jake spoke in a half-whisper. "Where are you?"
Two eyes looked out at him from a clump of bushes not far away. slowly, a crouching figure began to move and circle behind him
Let me know what you think!