Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motive of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
1 Cor. 4:5
[To be inserted in Supernatural Novel: Day 16, after the last paragraph:]
“Son, we should talk about your relationship with this girl.” Dad made everything sound so serious, and really, Tristan didn’t want to talk about the relationship with Dad. But it could be worse – it could be Dad and Mom. “I can tell you really like this Kim girl. You’ve been spending quite a lot of time with her over the last month or so and we can sense you feel very strongly about her. Frankly, your mother and I are a bit concerned with your judgment.”
Only slightly sullenly, Tristan said, “What do you think I’m going to do, kiss her? I’m being careful not to infect her.” He slumped at the table, arms crossed, projecting a strong “I don’t want to talk about this” emotion that he was sure Dad could easily pick up.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Dad said, ignoring the vibes Tristan was giving off. “But our question is, are you going to be able to keep our secret from her for much longer? It’s very difficult, once you start spending a lot of time with somebody, to keep our disease under wraps for long.”
Just then, Mom appeared and seated herself across the table from Tristan, next to Dad. “It’s true,” she said. “When I first started dating your dad, I kept wondering what the deal was. When he finally told me, I couldn’t believe it at first, but eventually I accepted the truth. And here we are.”
Tristan perked up a bit in spite of himself and leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that.” Dad and Mom assumed a listening attitude as Tristan continued. “I was thinking that maybe I should tell her the truth. The whole truth. It’s horrible keeping a secret from my girlfriend and I don’t think I can do it for much longer.”
Mom frowned a little bit and Dad looked serious. Tristan intuited that they didn’t think it was a good idea, but they also didn’t want to jump to any hasty conclusions. Eventually Mom asked, “Do you trust her? Even when you break up—” seeing Tristan’s look she amended it, “—if you break up, and it’s bad, would she still not tell your secret?”
Dad added, “Son, I know you really like her, and she seems like a very nice young woman. But is the kind of person who’ll share your dirty laundry with everybody when she’s mad at you? We can’t trust that kind of person, not ever.”
“No, she’s not,” Tristan replied firmly. “She’s very self-contained; her family situation is awful, and she’s really mom to her sisters. She’s popular, but she’s not a gossip like most of her friends. I’m sure that even if we did break up, she’d still keep my secret.”
Mom and Dad shared a highly emotion-charged look, saying nothing. Then Dad said, “Tristan, there comes a time when we as parents have to trust your judgment. We don’t like to admit it, but we don’t know everything, either. You’re the one who knows Kim best, and so we’re going to trust you to make the right decision about her. If you think you can trust her with our future – and we are talking about not just your future, but the future of our entire family; we’ve been discovered before and it means moving, hiding, giving up your entire life to start all over – if you can trust her with that, then we’ll support your telling her. If not, if there’s even the tiniest chance she’ll go screaming to the police or her parents, then we have to ask you to keep the secret from her as best you can. We will trust you to make the right decision.”
His heart leaped. They would let him decide about Kim! He already knew that he had to tell her or break up with her – and he couldn’t bear to break up with her. He knew he could trust her. Things were just too wonderful with her in his life. They were meant for each other, two halves of the same coin, two of the lucky few who found their soul mates. Not that Tristan would put it in so many words, but he and Kim were meant to be together for the rest of his life. His intuition told him so, and Tristan’s intuition had never led him astray yet.
When she saw the school newspaper, Kim was floored, stunned, utterly speechless. Who had written this horrendous article about her beloved Tristan and his incredibly nice family? Why would somebody do something like this? Most of all, how had somebody else known about it? Surely Tristan hadn’t told anybody else; Kim got the sense that his family was very tight, and didn’t often share with non-family members about their disease. Then, too, how could somebody have put it in the newspaper without her or Caitlyn knowing about it? Flipping quickly through, Kim saw that most of the rest of the paper remained as she and Caitlyn had laid it out. Just the front page with its screaming headline had changed, with some reshuffling of ads to squeeze in the displaced articles. Nothing interesting had happened that week, so whoever it was had just cut out the filler articles.
Suddenly Kim looked up, staring straight across the cafeteria in horror.
Tristan. He would think she’d written the article! She had to get to him before he saw the newspaper, tell him that she had not broken his trust and written that awful exposé.
“Oh, my God!”Anna squealed, shoving through the crowd to reach Kim. “Did you see that article?”
“It can’t be real,” Selena said. “I mean, zombies? Come on.” Jolene, squeezing in, just shook her head, long ponytail waving.
“Who cares if it’s true or not? It’s really too good to be true. Let’s find them and see!” Sharon said, and she and Anna immediately rushed off in the direction of Tristan’s locker. Kim hurried after, hoping to find Tristan before the students started in on him in earnest. She’d stand with him no matter what.
By the time they got there, it was too late. A huge crowd had gathered around Tristan and his two sisters, who had formed their own protective huddle around Tristan’s locker. Then Mr. Jones came and whisked them away to the office, and despite her best efforts, Kim couldn’t reach Tristan or attract his attention through the near-mêlée in the halls. Dejected, Kim slumped against the wall. It seemed like everything in life always went against her. OK, so her family life sucks. But she finds this wonderful guy who, yes, it’s true, has a little problem. But he’s so nice, so kind, so perfect for Kim, and
“So, Kim,” Anna said, leaning against the wall. “Your boyfriend is a zombie.” Sharon, Selena and Jolene all gathered around, anxious to hear all the juicy details of their queen’s dates with zombie boy.
“No comment,” Kim replied and pushed off against the wall, the weight of her backpack seeming exponentially heavier than it was even half an hour ago. “I have to get to class, so how ’bout if you guys all just leave me alone? Thanks.” And she stalked off down the hall, ignoring Anna’s shocked expression, the gabble of excited gossip immediately bubbling up from the group, ignoring everything but the feelings churning inside her. T
he senses of loss, horror, and outrage warred together, leaving Kim feeling lost and confused. Normally she kept totally in control, but now it felt like everything was spinning wildly out of control and she couldn’t do a thing about it.
Slumped in her seat as class was starting, Kim pulled out her cell phone. She’d text Tristan right now to let him know she hadn’t been involved in the article at all and that she still felt the same way about him and would stand by him through everything. It was going to be a long text.
“Do you have to go away?” Evie asked miserably. “I don’t want you to go to the camp without me!”
Kim paused in her packing to give Evie a hug. “I know, but I have to. This is helping other kids. We want to help people, don’t we?”
“Ye-e-es,” Came the reluctant reply. Evie couldn’t decide whether helping other kids was worth losing her beloved older sister for an entire week.
“Don’t worry,” Kim replied. “Leslie will be here and she’s promised to watch you while I’m gone. And I’ll make sure she does it. That’s my promise.” She tossed a couple more pairs of pants into a rolling suitcase and decided to call it good.
— November, 18XX+1 —
We have at last achieved some measure of safety and I find myself once again in a state to bend my mind to the task of recording our miserable adventures. The prior two months brought tribulations unlike any in my earlier experience, including my previous journeys in Africa. In Africa, I had not the heavy burden of caring for my wife and unborn child, who grows in vigor and strength daily, the only small joy in our bleak existence.
How to speak of our attempts to conceal our illness during our long sojourn in Le Havre and the even longer ocean journey? Lacking the luxury of near-endless resources, I found myself reliant upon my wits alone, for we must needs conserve the small portion of the fortune that remained after we purchased our trans-Atlantic passage. In our tiny, cramped boarding house room, we attempted to disguise the monthly madness with tales that stretched even the incredulity of our extremely credulous boardinghouse mistress. We resorted to crude methods of restraint, chaining one another during the weeks of illness, stuffing gags into one another’s mouths. How it broke my very heart to inflict such torture on my beloved, elegant, cultured lady wife! What her family would say should they ever hear of the truth or even imagine this degradation, I cannot – I dare not – imagine. Yet these crude methods maintained a modicum of secrecy. We left Le Havre having convinced our fellow guests that we simply engaged in voluntary and unusual acts together in the privacy of our own room.
What great relief to escape their increasingly suspicious eyes! I had begun to fear even the necessary ventures into public to obtain food and search for a vessel to carry us to our new home. Charlotte’s delicate constitution, I fear, has suffered irreparable damage and she who was never strong has weakened further under the strain of these last months. From living a life of esteemed respect and gracious teas, Charlotte – or Claire, as I must say now, has fallen with me below the lowest of the miserable classes clawing for survival in these filthy cities. The depth of sorrow in her eyes, which once, not so many months past, lit with gayety and delight, knifes my heart each time I see it. During our journey, she continued to live with dignity even through events so degrading for a lady of her stature that I can hardly think of it.
After some weeks in Le Havre, we found a vessel to carry us to America. Though I have no doubt scurvier vessels ply the seas, I doubt such a vessel could put into port in Le Havre. Yet what choice had we? I obtained passage for us in the steerage of a cargo vessel, the decrepit sailing ship The Golden Gull at an exorbitant rate (much higher, I learned later to my great consternation, than the rates paid by my fellow passengers), but my intuition told me the Captain sensed my anxiety and his suspicious were roused. I assuaged his concerns with cash, that most precious commodity. I curse the day I ever set out to Africa to seek funds to restore the Sherborne family! Would that I had sought anywhere else, in the wilds of China, or India, or even the penal colony of Australia! What evil fate drew me to Africa, with its terrible curse? However, the Gull’s final destination, Baltimore, pleased me well enough. I hoped to procure the necessary implements for settling as far West as a modicum of civilization has extended, for I could not bear to subject Charlotte – Claire – to the rigors of a pioneer’s life.
What to write of the voyage? We were obliged to bring all our own provisions, another costly undertaking, for such a journey in good weather could take well over a month. Thank God we obtained a three months’ supply of rations, for we found ourselves in need of such provisions before the voyage ended. The conditions appalled my dear wife’s sensibilities and left even me weak. Our monthly cycle came upon us each thrice during the journey, requiring great pains to keep secret from our fellow passengers. Their dull-eyed disinterest and their own misery provide welcome distraction from our strange behavior. The sanitation on the vessel was truly unspeakable, and I cannot bear to write of it. Numerous passengers succumbed to cholera and typhus, but Providence spared us that suffering.
Despite the continued misery of the voyage, I could not help but feel excitement rise in my breast when tales of vast and wild lands, as yet untamed, reach my ears from those who have visited the Americas previously. These tales lift my hopes, though I can scarce credit them, for they contain the sound of myth: Vast herds of some gigantic hooved creature called the buffalo moving across rolling plains like waves on the ocean; savage red men seeking the scalps of innocent, helpless settlers and white men turned nearly as savage as the natives; tracts of land too large to walk the perimeter in a day, ready for taking; jagged mountains of immeasurable height jutting far into the sky; endless forests of timber and innumerable wild beasts with pelts of great value.
Upon reaching port, after waiting an endless period through quarantine, we disembarked and a horde of runners accosted us with offers of lodging, train tickets, steamboat tickets, and innumerable other overwhelming offers, their din adding to the chaos of the already overwhelming port. We declined all their solicitations and found a boardinghouse in a less-disreputable vicinity. Though I would hope to remain in Baltimore as short a time as possible and continue our flight to less heavily populated locales – the Northern Territories has captured my imagination – I fear that Charlotte’s time is nearly upon us and that we shall be obliged to delay our excursion until the infant and my dear wife are strong enough to travel.
In the meantime, I shall endeavor to stockpile all the goods necessary for the last leg of this agonizing journey. Though I hate to demean myself, I must consider how to obtain additional funding for this adventure.
December 17, 18XX+1
I write only to document the occasion of the birth of my son, James Tristan Sherborne Killigan. Would that I could write “joyful occasion,” but alas, he shows all the signs of suffering the same fateful illness that infects both Claire and myself. I bitterly rue the day that brought me to that accursed treasure; nothing now remains to me of its value, but my family shall forever bear its punishment.
Claire remains abed and greatly weakened by her long ordeal and as the increasingly inclement weather, inadequately rebuffed by the meager walls of this miserable boardinghouse, saps her strength all the more. I have obtained employment as a clerk at a shipping firm, and devote all my available time to planning o
ur escape from civilization. I hope to depart with early spring, as soon as reports indicate rivers are down. We shall travel west as far as civilization extends, and perhaps there find some surcease from the ever-present watchful eye of neighbors. We can trust no man and must rely on ourselves, our family alone, for all our joys. Should our curse overcome us, as it did me that seeming long-ago night before the ball, we shall continue to travel west, always west.
I see now that the future of this family is flight, always flight, never settling long to make a home for long for fear that our dreadful secret will be revealed. We are like Cain, marked, cursed to wander, bereft of God’s blessing, for all generations.
— October 26, 2009 —
The three old, wallowing yellow school buses, crowded with screaming, excited second-graders, wound their way slowly into the mountains. Slowly suburban developments gave way to horse farms, then large tracts of farmland, then increasingly dense, green forests. The kids started whining about getting bored, forcing Kim and her fellow camp counselors to employ increasingly creative tactics to entertain them.
Nobody noticed the mismatched pair of SUVs, one with a “Less Bark, More Wag” sticker prominent on its bumper, the other bearing a bumper sticker that read “My Australian Shepherd is Smarter than Your Honor Student” sticker, following the school bus convoy.
After an hour and a half, Kim wasn’t sure she could answer “Are we there yet?” politely or creatively one more time. Happily, another fifteen minutes brought them to the entrance of the camp. The buses bumped and shuddered down the long, rutted service road and finally wheezed to a stop in a clearing before of a very large, very mossy log cabin. Smaller but equally mossy cabins formed a semicircle around the large cabin, and the woods started again at the very eaves of the cabins. Trails snaked off into the deepening gloom, hand-carved wooden signs detailing trail names and distances.
Kids boiled from the buses in apparent chaos. Kim and the other counselors struggled to round up their charges, ensure that everybody had their bags, and herd them all to the correct cabins. Eight second-graders in tow, Kim found the Skunk Cabbage Cabin – a really auspicious name, she thought, entering – and then spent the next ten minutes attempting to assign bunks to the kids with a minimum of howling about sleeping assignments.
When she saw her bunk, Vanessa Gilbertson objected, “But I’m afraid of heights!”
“That’s OK, we’ll help you get over it,” Kim replied. What were the odds that she really would have Senator Gilbertson’s daughter in her cabin, after Caitlyn had implied it would happen? “See? There’s a railing here that will keep you from rolling off the bed while you’re asleep. Plus, I’ll be right here.” She pointed to her own bunk, a lower bunk across from Vanessa’s.
“I won’t fall?” Vanessa asked, anxiety tingeing her voice. Kim wanted to give her lots of hugs and encouragement, but seven other girls were bickering and unpacking and one had already started crying because she missed her mother, so Kim simply reiterated her reassurance and moved on. This was going to be a very interesting week.
“OK, Team Disney Princess!” Kim called once everybody had found her bunk, accepted it as hers, and unloaded her bag a little bit. Eight pairs of eyes, some still a little bit watery, turned to her. “We have princess crowns for each of you so we can recognize each other!” Reaching into her bag, Kim extracted nine tall conical hats with ribbons flowing from the tips. Elastic under the chin kept the entire wobbly contraption on. “Line up and come get your crowns. Wait for me outside along the cabin wall. Do you all have your jackets?” The sky had turned an ominous grey during their drive into the mountains.
“I forgot mine,” one girl whined. “I’m cold.”
“Fortunately, I brought extras,” Kim answered, and, reaching once again into the bag, pulled out one of Evie’s old jackets. “Anybody else forget a jacket?” All the other kids’ parents had remembered to shove jackets into their kids’ bags, so all the other girls else shook their heads, swaddled in their voluminous rain jackets.
“OK, Princesses! Come get your crowns and wait for me along the cabin wall!”
“I want pink!” The first girl said, when she received a purple crown.
“Sorry, you get purple,” Kim replied. “You’ll get to be with the special Purple Princesses. Can you go stand by the cabin wall outside and wait for me there, please?” Pouting, the girl took the princess hat and stomped outside.
And so it went. It seemed that not one single child was actually happy with her hat; the ribbons were too short, too long, the wrong color, too few (never too many), or the hat was too big, too small, the wrong color, too tall, too short, the elastic too tight or loose. Finally, after negotiating as quickly as possible with each girl, Kim donned her own hat, a pastel pink one with creamy white ribbons, and stepped outside to assess the damages.
Incredibly, all the girls were standing lined up against the outside wall, most wearing their hats. The shoes of only two bore evidence that they had gone anywhere away from the cabin, and Kim decided to let it go and see how it went. “Alright, Princesses! Now we have to race the other cabins to the Club House, that big building. How fast can you all get there?”
They took off pell-mell sprinting toward the cabin, princess hats flopping and ribbons streaming out behind. Three lost their hats and had to stop to pick them up; one tripped and started crying; two dashed in the wrong direction and needed redirection. All in all, Kim reckoned it wasn’t too shabby for a bunch of second-graders who’d only met her three hours ago.
After regrouping with all the other second graders and their teachers, it was time to split up again for the first afternoon activity. Kim walked her cabin to the leaf identification room where a camp employee waited, an array of leaves spread out across the various tables.
“Do you need me here still?” Kim asked the employee, a woman in jeans and a plaid shirt, in a quick aside as the girls found their seats.
“Yes, thanks,” the woman said. “They know you a little bit, at least. I’ll let you take care of any discipline issues and I’ll do the teaching.” Kim nodded and stepped to the back of the room where she could see all the girls, many of whom had almost immediately picked up the leaves and were scrutinizing them.
“Welcome to Camp Snarfqualmie!” the woman said. “What have you all got in front of you at your tables?”
The camp had started and, frankly, Kim was pretty pleased. None of the girls had hurt themselves yet, they’d only had one breakdown, and no major disobedience. Given their squirreliness on the bus, Kim had imagined much worse for their first hour at camp. In all, the day had gone better than Kim hoped, and had served to distract her from Tristan.
Now, though, she had a quiet moment and the misery washed over her again. She’d texted, left voice mails, sent emails, and even driven to his house in person, all to no avail. Tristan never responded, never even opened the door or acknowledged her at all. Kim though her heart had broken permanently this time. It hurt so much that he’d assumed the worst about her without ever hearing her side of the story! If only he’d been willing to see her, she was sure she could have convinced him that she hadn’t written that horrible article. His keen intuition would surely have convinced him of her innocence if she could have talked to him in person, but the Killigans’ house was shut up tight. When she visited, one of the windows had had a piece of plywood across it, like it had been broken recently and not yet repaired
. A Ford Grand Victoria with tinted windows had slowly cruised by as she stood in front of the house. Kim had nodded to the really obvious undercover cop and got back into her yellow Mustang, acknowledging defeat. She’d sat there and cried, parked outside Tristan’s not far from where he’d shared his secret. How she missed him! She ached for him and longed to help somehow.
But then, Kim felt betrayed, too. Hadn’t she given Tristan the benefit of the doubt? And what had he done but assumed the worst about her? Couldn’t somebody else who knew have written the story? Surely the Killigan family had told their secret to other people. It was so not fair.
But despite Tristan’s totally unfair treatment, Kim couldn’t help but hope that he would see her and they could fix their relationship. She hadn’t told him, but the night after he told her his secret and professed his love, Kim had driven home in tears. When was the last time somebody said “I love you” to her? The worst of it was that she thought she loved him, too, and even his unfair treatment didn’t change that one bit. What she’d give just to have him hold her in his arms again, to hear his sweet voice say her name like a caress, to run her hands through his unruly red hair.
“Lottie, are you completely sure?” Dad asked. He, Mom, Lottie, Tristan, and Julie all sat around the table. Julie looked incredulous and bored. Tristan, who could barely contain his anxiety about Kim, kept jiggling his foot and shifting in his seat.
“I – as sure as I can be,” Lottie said. They all felt her fear, the doubt that made her wonder if she had imagined the threat.
Mom, the decisive parent, said, “Well, obviously we have to do something. Even if Lottie’s wrong, we have to help somehow.”
“How?” Tristan asked. “For all we know, people are waiting outside right now to lynch us for doing something we never do.”
“Plus,” Julie added, “Why should we help them? I mean, I know, Tristan, you’re like totally in love. Whatever. But seriously, they think we’re some kind of freak. Why should we help people who hate us?”
Dad gazed evenly at Julie for a long moment. Then he said, “Because it’s right. It’s what we’d want them to do for us.”
“They wouldn’t, though!” Julie exclaimed. “So why bother?”
“How ’bout ‘because I said so’?” Dad answered. “We can debate the morality of the situation later. Right now we’re going to make sure that Senator Gilbertson’s daughter –” he glanced at Tristan “– and Kim are safe.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Tristan breathed, leaping up. “What’re we going to do, then?”
Julie settled into her seat, crossing her arms across her chest. “I’m not going to do anything. I won’t help those jerks.”
“You can stay home and watch Max,” Mom said as Dad opened his mouth to argue. To Dad she said, “We can’t just leave him here alone.”
“True, and we can’t exactly bring him into danger like that.” Dad nodded. “OK, Julie, you stay with Max.”
“Fine.” She stood up and huffed up the stairs to the room she and Lottie shared. The remaining four Killigans sitting around the kitchen table heard the door slam violently in protest.
Max wandered into the kitchen and looked around at his family. “Hey, what’s going on? You’re all so serious.”
“We’re going to go help some people,” Mom said, kneeling next to him. “You can stay here with Julie.”
“But I want to go, too!” Max exclaimed. Tristan could feel Max’s sense of confinement after days all shut up in the house. He was ready to get out and run around.
“Sorry, Son,” Dad said. “We need you to stay here while we’re gone. When we get back, I’ll take you to the zoo.” Max’s mouth opened in a perfect O and he nodded vigorously, then dashed away into the living room. Mom looked at Dad sharply, wondering if this was really a wise decision, but kept her mouth shut. Going to the zoo wouldn’t be half as risky as their current activity. Tristan heard the sound of Space Zombies starting up and he knew Max wouldn’t be bothered with them for quite some time.
With Max gone, Tristan got down to business. “Do we have any way to get guns? We might need them.”
“No,” Dad answered immediately, “And we won’t need them. I think just our presence should be enough to deter anybody from too rash of actions.” He grinned wolfishly. “After all, we’re zombies, aren’t we? And really, who’s not afraid of zombies at heart?”
It was a real ordeal getting all eight girls into bed that night. They were all utterly exhausted, but so excited that they kept chattering amongst each other until Kim finally threatened to keep them all inside tomorrow morning. That shut them up. Tomorrow morning they were scheduled to go on a hike to a nearby waterfall, and none of them wanted to miss that.
Kim remained awake for a long time, staring into the darkness, pondering. She’d just slipped into a light sleep when a dazzling light flashed through the windows accompanied by the sound of the cabin door slamming open. Mostly-blinded, Kim leaped out of her bunk, whacked her head hard on the bunk above, and crumpled to the floor unconscious.
The next thing she knew, the cabin lights were on. She was tied up, propped against the wall, with all the girls huddling around her crying and screaming. A woman in dark ski masks stood over them brandishing – God, was that a gun?
When she saw that Kim had awoken, the woman leaned out the door and called. “She’s awake.” Immediately a large, ski-masked man entered. He, too, carried a gun. Kim didn’t know weapons, but a gun in anybody’s hand scared the crap out of her – and this one was actually pointing at her!
“You’re in charge of these girls?” The man asked.
“You know you have Vanessa Gilbertson, daughter of Senator Stephen Gilbertson, in your cabin?”
Now Kim was more afraid, and increasingly confused. “Yes…”
“Bring her forward.”
The man said, “I have to talk to her father. She’s the best way. But none of these idiot children will stop screaming long enough to let us identify her. I swear, my dog is smarter than these whelps!”
Kim’s mind raced. So they’d never seen Vanessa before. What clever girls, not to tell on Vanessa. “Why? What’re you going to do with her?” Kim demanded. She didn’t know where the teachers were or what was going on outside the cabin, but she had to protect these kids. It wasn’t Vanessa’s fault her dad was some big fancy politician.
“We won’t hurt her,” the woman answered quickly. “We just need to prove we have her so Gilbertson will do what we want. We can’t afford to let him kill the tax cuts for pets bill! It’s too important for too many people.”
“We’re hostages? Because of pets?!” Kim asked, incredulity surfacing for a moment. Hostages at Camp Snarfqualmie?! Come on. But the man’s terrifying eyes, burning with passion but totally unforgiving, said this was real. He took a menacing step forward and growled deep in his throat, sounding more like an angry dog than a man. Kim decided she had better take this seriously. “OK, OK,” Kim agreed. “But I go with her no matter what.”
“We don’t need to go anywhere,” the man said, displaying a cell phone. “We just need her to talk to her dear daddy so he knows we’re serious.”
Pushing her luck, Kim kept her eyes fixed on the man’s gun. She figured that the man was a lot more serious about guns than the woman, who held hers gingerly, like a live snake. “And if she does, you won’t hurt anybody?”
“We promise,” the woman affirmed. “Don’t we?” This was to the m
an, who nodded abruptly.
“I’m calling now,” the man said. “Hello? I want to speak to Stephen Gilbertson.” Long pause. “I will speak to him, right now, and if you don’t get him on the phone in five minutes, I’m going to break of his daughter’s fingers.” Kim knew this was an empty threat, since she still hadn’t singled Vanessa out yet.
There was then a long pause. The woman paced tensely around the cabin, squinting out the windows into the bright light. Kim kept straining her ears to hear the sound of help; somebody must know about this by now and be doing something. But no sirens or flashing lights intruded on the steady white of the headlights streaming in through the windows. The man simply stood staring at Kim and the eight girls, cell phone in one hand and gun pointed, steady as a rock, at Kim in the other. Then he straightened a bit and pressed the phone against his face.
“Hello, Gilbertson? It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is that I have your daughter and eight other girls here, all of whom I’m willing to kill if you don’t listen very carefully and do as I ask.” Kim saw the woman flinch at the word “kill.” The woman hurried over to the man, who half-turned away from Kim and the girls to whisper secretively with the woman for a second. Kim could hear Gilbertson’s voice squawking through the tinny cell phone speaker at the other end of the line.
“What do I want?” The man said, turning his back on the girls completely. Kim motioned quietly to Vanessa to start working on the knots at Kim’s wrists. Perhaps she could get untied and wrench the gun away from one of their captors… Meanwhile, the man was saying, “How would you feel losing your daughter? Eh? Well, that’s the same way we feel about our pets! We’re calling because we know you have the pet tax cut bill coming your way and you’ve promised George Benson at Rodent Suppliers International that you will kill the bill.”
Kim gasped quietly at the sound of her father’s name and the man whirled around. As he turned, Vanessa quickly hit her hands behind her back, acting innocent.
“We refuse to lose our pets because of a bad economy! We love our pets as much as children!” The man continued. “And unless you get that tax break bill for pet owners passed, you’ll find out firsthand how awful it is to lose somebody you love like a child.”
Kim wriggled her wrists surreptitiously. Vanessa hadn’t gotten them totally untied, but Kim thought perhaps they were lose enough to squeeze out of. Just then, the man turned to Kim. “All right, time to pony up. Which one of these is Vanessa Gilbertson?” Kim opened her mouth, but suddenly the door burst open again and Tristan crashed through the door.
“Tristan!” Kim cried, surprised and afraid and delighted all at once. “They’ve got guns!”
The woman looked around and dropped her gun on the floor in surprise as Tristan flew past her towards the man. The man spun around, gun coming up smoothly. Time seemed to stand still as Kim heard the reports – bam, bam, bam, one, two, three. Tristan crumpled to the floor, but not before his momentum had carried him into the captor, throwing the man heavily into the ground. With a crack, the man’s head split open, spilling his brains across the floor. The little girls screamed wildly. Kim wrenched her hands free of her bonds and threw herself across the floor to Tristan. Blood covered his shirt and he gasped weakly, laying atop the man he’d just killed.
“Brains,” Tristan muttered. “Ironic.”
“Don’t talk,” Kim whispered. It seemed like the world contracted to exclude everybody but her and her beloved Tristan. Vaguely Kim thought she heard Lottie and Tristan’s parents comforting the girls and overpowering the woman, who immediately surrendered. None of it mattered. She was losing her one true love! “Don’t worry, we’ll call 911. You’ll be OK.”
“No,” he gasped, “I’m…done.” Blood oozed from his mouth and he coughed weakly. “Kim…”
“Tristan, you have to believe me, I didn’t do it, I didn’t write the article,” Kim whispered, cradling his head gently. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she gazed into Tristan’s beautiful sea-green eyes. How she wished she’d spent more time with him, not wasted all those years with Austin! Kim couldn’t stop crying as she caressed Tristan’s hair and leaned close to hear the faint whisper of his words.
“I’m…sorry…” Tristan whispered. “I…knew…you…wouldn’t.” He smiled weakly, blood trickling down the side of his mouth, and coughed again. “I…love…you.”
“No, don’t leave me!” Kim wailed as Tristan gasped in weakly again. “I—I love you.”
He smiled. Then his eyes looked off into the distance and dimmed, one last sigh escaping his lips. Kim kissed his still-warm lips, tasted his blood. She put her head on his chest, ignoring the blood still soaking through his shirt, weeping. Nothing would ever be the same again.
“We were wrong about this family,” the Mayor said, motioning to the Killigan family standing awkwardly behind him on the steps of City Hall “They have proven themselves heroes, and their decisive action saved the lives of Kim Benson, Vanessa Gilbertson, and seven other young girls. To honor their bravery and acknowledge their service to the city, I now present them with a key to Somewheresville.”
James Killigan, pale-faced, red-eyed, and gaunt, stepped forward to accept the key and shake the Mayor’s hand as the crowd that had gathered downtown to see the ceremony cheered. Melanie stood with Lottie, Julie, and Max. Lottie had almost died at the loss of her twin brother, and the rest of the family took his death hard. In the aftermath, Lottie, Julie, Kim, and Kim’s sister Leslie had begun spending a lot of time together. They helped each other through impossible days, and even though George and Marilyn Benson didn’t approve of the relationship, they didn’t try to stop it. Leslie had made it clear that she wouldn’t crumble under her Father’s cruel tactics, and her time with the Killigan family seemed to have given her greater resolve and courage to face her parents.
“Thank you, Mr. Mayor,” James said.
“Do you have any words?” the Mayor asked in an undertone. “Usually you’d give a speech.”
James stepped to the microphone. “Thank you for this honor,” he told the crowd. “No parent – no parent should outlive his son. But Tristan valiantly gave his life to protect the children of the very people who had rejected and reviled us just because we’re different. I hope that you will help my son Tristan’s sacrifice to not be in vain. Please look past your prejudices and accept that we are people just like you, your neighbors. I look forward to living with you all in Somewheresville for many years to come.” There wasn’t much cheering; even James had to admit it was a weak speech. But his heart continued to break every morning when he woke and found Tristan gone, every day he saw Lottie’s hollow-eyed loss.
After the ceremony, when the crowd had broken up, the Killigans regrouped. Lottie sighed. “I wish…” She was interrupted by her phone ringing. “Hello?” As they walked to the car, Lottie listened intently. She put her hand over the phone and said, “Mom, it’s Leslie, Kim’s sister. This morning Leslie found Kim in a coma. I think we’d better go to the hospital.”
Mom glanced at Dad. “We’d better,” she agreed. “But first we’ll stop at home and pick up some frozen brains. Kim’s going to want them when she wakes up.”