A family takes in a boy they find during a weekend getaway.
|I remember the day we met him, as clearly as if it were yesterday. My older brother and I had spent the better part of the afternoon on that dock, as our father and Uncle Jed taught us the secrets of rod and reel. A friend of Uncle Jed's had loaned us the place for the weekend, and our family had decided to make the most of it by taking a break from the city and enjoying the great outdoors.|
Todd and I had just gotten the hang of casting when the fog first came in, white billows rolling across the flat surface of the lake. From the look of things, it was going to get real hard to see, real fast. My father and Uncle Jed thought it best that we head back to the house before the dense white mist completely obscured the trail back.
As our father helped Todd with his pole, Uncle Jed knelt down to help me with mine. And that's when we heard the footsteps on the aging wooden slats of the dock, creaking under the weight of someone approaching.
The four of us looked up to see a man walking toward us, hands stuffed in the pockets of his sweatshirt, face obscured by its hood.
"Can I help you?" My father asked.
The man reached up and pulled back his hood, revealing the bruised face of a boy who couldn't be more than fifteen. He took another step forward, opened his mouth to speak, and collapsed onto the dock. My father and Uncle Jed rushed over to him, checking his vitals.
When they opened his sweatshirt, they found the source of the boy's trouble. His undershirt was stained a deep crimson color. Lifting up the shirt, they found a web of lacerations crisscrossing his torso, some old and scarred over... others so recent they still bled.
"Todd! Take your brother up to the house and tell your mother to make up the guest room," my father shouted, with a sense of urgency in his voice that I had never heard before.
My older brother looked at the young boy on the dock. There couldn't have been more than a year between them.
"Now!" My father bellowed.
Todd snapped out of his stupor and grabbed me by the wrist, pulling me along as we ran for the house. My father was right behind us, carrying the boy in his arms.
Uncle Jed held the door open as my father rushed inside the house, straight into the guest bedroom, where my nervous mother was waiting. Todd and I watched from the hallway, until Uncle Jed noticed us hovering, then told us to wait in the living room before closing the door.
Some time later, my parents and Uncle Jed emerged from the bedroom, with solemn expressions on their faces.
"He's just a boy," my mother said, shaking her head. "Who would do that to him?"
My father shook his head.
"Is he okay?" Todd asked.
"We'll have to take him to the hospital in the morning," my father replied. "The fog's too thick for driving. But for now, he's resting."
Although my parents insisted that we leave the boy alone, Todd and I couldn't help but sneak into the guest room when they had all moved into the kitchen to continue talking as my mother made dinner.
The blankets on the bed rose and fell with the boy's breathing. The room smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and ointment as we slipped inside. They had left the lights on, lest the boy wake up in a strange house in the dark. Todd and I crept up to the side of the bed and gingerly pulled back the blankets, slowly revealing the top of his head, then his forehead... and then his open eyes, staring back at us.
We screamed and jumped back from the bed. Turning and running from the room, we plowed into my father, who had rushed in to see what had caused the ruckus. His initial anger at our disturbing the boy quickly subsided once he noticed that the boy was awake. He moved forward to check on him, but the boy wiggled under the covers and disappeared.
My father had just managed to coax him into showing his face again, when a loud pounding at the door sent him back into hiding.
Leaving the room, my father joined my mother and Uncle Jed at the door, where two men stood. One was older, with close-cropped gray hair and a weathered face; the other was younger, with ruddy cheeks and a sandy blonde mop of hair on his head.
"We're looking for a boy," the younger one stated. "He's wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans. We think he came down this way."
My mother was about to respond, when my father stepped forward and gently squeezed her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," my father replied. "The only boys we've seen are ours."
The older one stared hard at my father, eyes boring into him with an unsettling intensity.
My father looked away.
The younger one was about to say something else, but the older one waved him off.
"That's okay," the older one said abruptly. "Thanks for your time."
Without another word, he led the confused younger man away from the house. My father closed the door, bolting it shut. He turned to my mother.
"Make sure all the doors and windows are locked."
My mother, now frightened, hurried around the house with Uncle Jed, securing every window in the house... checking and double-checking to make sure they were secure.
Going back into the guest room, my father tried to convince the young boy to once again come out of hiding. His head eventually appeared from under the blankets. After much coaxing, the boy eventually emerged from the security of the blankets entirely, sitting on the bed and staring back at us with nervous, wary eyes.
He checked the gauze bandages wrapped around his torso, tracing his fingers over their fibers. When my mother appeared in the doorway, he instinctively ran to her. She knelt down and he practically leapt into her arms, hugging her close and burying his face in her shoulder. My mother looked to my father and Uncle Jed with confusion.
"Who were those men?" My mother asked, to no one in particular. And then, to the boy, "What did they do to you?"
"I think it's high time we called the police," Uncle Jed commented, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and resting it between his lips as he reached for his lighter.
"Agreed," said my father, grabbing the cigarette out of his mouth on the way over to the phone on the nightstand. "No smoking around the kids."
Jed frowned as my father picked up the phone and started dialing, then frowned. He jiggled the release button a few times before hanging it up.
"Phone's dead," he said.
"My cell phone's out in the car..." Uncle Jed started.
He was interrupted by the sound of breaking glass at the back of the house. The boy immediately began to whimper in my mother's arms.
My father moved to the window and peered out through a small slit in the curtains.
"Get everybody down to the basement. Hurry."
He quickly ushered us out of the room, and down the hall toward the door to the basement.
"What's going on?" My mother asked, as we hurried down the steps.
"Those guys are back... and they're not alone."
"How many?" Uncle Jed asked.
"Six, maybe more. They have two SUVs parked out front."
"Maybe we could..."
"They've got guns, Jed."
My father knew what Uncle Jed was thinking, even before he could say it. Jed had indulged many hobbies over the course of his life, including volunteer firefighting and a few years' worth of martial arts classes at his local gym, and the occasional trip to a the firing range. As a result, Jed walked around with a certain machismo, confident that he could "take" anybody, as he liked to say.
But not six of them. And not when they were armed and we weren't. Jed, for all his bravado, wasn't stupid. And my father's simple assertion removed any thought of being a hero from Jed's mind. There would be no cowboys in this scenario.
Once we were securely in the basement, my father barricaded the door rather futilely, with an old chair that he managed to wedge under the doorknob at the top of the stairs. We all knew it wasn't going to keep them out forever.
The basement was large, and there were plenty of places to hide, but it was only a matter of time before they searched the whole house and found them.
My father started rummaging through the boxes and knickknacks, as fast as he could. Jed joined him.
"What are we looking for?" Jed asked.
"Anything we can use!" My father replied.
In a matter of minutes, we had sifted through most of the junk in the basement and come up with a handful of things that may or may not ultimately prove useful: an old crossbow with a few bolts, a rusty hunting knife, a couple lengths of rope, and some old house painting supplies.
My father and his brother looked at one another, knowing what this would ultimately come down to.
"Guess you get to play hero after all," my father muttered.
"Do I have to?" Jed half-joked.
We didn't have much time left; they were already jiggling the door handle at the top of the stairs. My father handed Jed the crossbow, and took his position under the stairs.
"Stay with your mother in the corner," he said, pointing at Todd and me.
We huddled next to my mother in the farthest corner of the basement as the chair slowly gave way under the force of someone's shoulder on the door.
"Get ready!" My father warned, as the chair gave way and clattered down the stairs. One of the intruders made his way cautiously down the first few steps, his weapon at the ready as he squinted into the dark basement.
"Come on out," he said. "We won't hurt you. We just want the boy."
We didn't find much comfort in his words, especially once he flicked his weapon's safety off.
There was a quick twang and a whoosh, then a scream as the crossbow bolt dug into his hip. The man screamed and fell off balance, tumbling down the stairs.
My mother stifled a scream as he landed with a thud.
Seconds later, another man appeared in the doorway, and upon seeing his comrade on the ground, started down the steps. I watched my father reach from under the stairs, grabbing his ankles and pulling his legs out from under him. The second man fell face-first onto the wooden steps, sliding the rest of the way down to the basement.
My father and Uncle Jed were quickly on the two men groaning on the floor of the basement. Each took a can of paint and unceremoniously bashed them over the heads, knocking them out cold. Jed and my father each took one of the automatic weapons the interlopers had been carrying, checking and priming them as the footsteps of an untold number of others pounded around upstairs, fast approaching the basement door.
We had managed to take out two of them... but how many others were there?
The last thing I remember was the deafening roar of gunfire.