The sun was edging on the horizon, peaking through silver slits of clouds. She sat there watching, waiting for the end of days. On this day she had wished for a fresh new start. Oblivious to what was really happening to her. She couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched. She didn’t know who or why, but she felt it.
She looked over her shoulder, but saw nobody there. The feeling stayed with her as she got up and start to walk back toward the house. A rustling in the bushes caught her attention as she nervously peered in, squinting to see who or what was there. A squirrel ran out and toward the large oak tree. She jumped, but knew that wasn’t what made the noise. She looked in again and said in a low-pitched squeak, ‘Hello?’
There was no reply. She didn’t really think she’d get one, but it was worth a shot. The only way to really know what was back there, was to suck it up and take a second, better look. This time, she carefully separated the branches to be able to see better in the back of the bushes. At first it just looked like a large rock, but then she saw the two thin arms, bent and reaching up to cover his head. It was a young boy, curled up in the fetal position, and trying to make himself disappear.
During such strange times, she expected to wake up and realize she was just dreaming. At this moment, however, she realized this was all too real. Her head started to get tight, her heart hammered threateningly. She couldn’t run away from this scene, not with a child lying helplessly at her feet. She carefully knelt down, took the wool scarf from around her neck and quickly wrapped up the child, sheltering him from the cold, bitter wind that had suddenly whipped through the trees. She cradled and comforted the boy in her arms and stood up. Just inches behind where she stood, a thick branch snapped.
She gasped and instinctively clutched at the child more tightly. She froze, waiting. She could feel the boy trembling in her arms, his eyes still shut tightly against whatever was happening to him. Finally, when no other sounds disturbed the uneasy peace of the morning , she stepped quickly onto her porch and opened her front door awkwardly. She had been raised in a group home and had helped to care for many, many younger children over the years. Thinking back to what had been comforting, she settled herself in the old wooden rocker she'd found set out at someone's curb and began to rock slowly and steadily, humming almost under her breath to the small boy huddled miserably against her.
Humming turned to singing. Because she held him tightly and he seemed like a baby in her arms, instinctively she sang "Rock a bye baby, on the tree top, when the wind blows, the..." She stopped suddenly - common sense prevailed. The poor boy was too old for that song - and he didn't need to hear that "the cradle will fall." Neither did she. She started in again, slowly singing "you are my sunshine, my only sunshine..", falling into a reverie, taken away to arms that once held her. The boy slowly settled down. Even the wind was calmed by the singing of her song.
She allowed her rocking to slow and her song to turn to hum. Keeping in rhythm with the chair, she rose to her feet and carried the sleeping boy to the sofa. Head now cradled on the velveteen pillow, the boy sighed and rolled to his side, face passive in the soft light. She pulled a throw over him, and reached out to pick a twig from his hair. Her touch caused him to move his head back. Even in sleep, the boy was cautious. It was then that she noticed the key strung about his neck on a simple leather lace. Careful not to wake him, her fingers spider light, she lifted the key for a better look. It was small, delicate and possibly made of silver, an odd key with two shafts. She could not help but wonder what such a key would open and why it would be strung around this boy’s neck.
His clothes were tattered and well worn. She thought that he must have been out there all alone struggling to survive for all that time. Still she was curious as to why he was alone. He was one of the few lucky ones. Other's before him had tried in vain to escape. As she turned to the kitchen, she caught out of the corner of her eye this small box laying just under the table. It wasn't there before she thought. Or was it? Maybe the little boy had it in his few belongings? She bent down to retrieve it and as she did, in this strained and yet a quiet voice he says "don't touch it!" She turned back to the boy and he was sitting up. Unsure of his surroundings, he asks "where am I?" She says, "you're in my house". "How long have I been here?" She wasn't sure how to respond because she didn't know. "I think it has been a few days, maybe a week." "I found you just outside curled up in the bushes". "You are very lucky that I found you when I did", she tells him. "I'm not sure if you would've survived out there much longer". She was wanting to ask him about the key. But it was too soon. First, she would get some food and fresh water into him and another night's rest before inquiring about it.
She started to prepare the boy a bowl of her homemade oatmeal recipe, a recipe that had so lovingly been passed down from generation to generation in her family. It was actually the stuff of legends in this small town; a winner of many county fairs. She knew it would just warm the boy up, not just in body, but in spirit as well. She filled the bowl and walked towards the boy, but her smile quickly dissipated into a face of pure terror. She couldn’t quite make out what it was, but the boy was now on the floor, carving something into her floor. She tried to peek at the design, but he turned around swiftly and screamed at the top of his lungs, “You are the one they warned me about! They told me you would try to take my box!” An then her came towards her with his makeshift blade…
He slashed her and cut her left forearm clean. She clutched her wound towards her chest and fell backwards next to the kitchen table. With the boy fast approaching with murder in his eyes and fresh blood on his blade, she did the only thing she could to survive. She grabbed the box. She swung around and faced him. The pure terror drained from his eyes and turned into panic. He dropped his blade and fell to his knees. He held his hands out toward the box as his fears came to a realization. The blood from her arm had dripped onto the box and what was once aged and rotten had become finished and pristine. The state of shock she was in prevented her from noticing the transformation. He could only bow at witnessing the far reaching powers of the LLC, but he could not fail at his mission. Quicker than a hiccup, he lunged at her and knocked the box from her grasp. He shoved her aside and took the box as his own once again. The box took on it's original form and the boy spoke once again.....
"Keep away from this box! You cannot handle the secrets which it possesses." He retreated toward the door.
She said, trying not to reveal her fear, "What just happened? What did I see?" She took a step toward him as he cradled the box tighter to him.
"You didn't see anything and you wouldn't understand if you had!" He was clutching the box tighter now and inching toward the door. "Get away from me."
She stopped moving for fear he would run back to the woods. It was dark outside now and she was afraid to chase him out there so she backed off some. "Who are you?"
The boy stood there, showing signs of easing up, but still cautious and gripping the box in his arms. He stared at her warily, wondering if she was going to make a move.
"Who warned you about me? Why would I take your box? I don't even know what's in it." She talked softly and slowly as she tried to calm him down and put him at ease.
"I'm not falling for your tricks, you're the one!" He slid along the wall looking for the door while not taking his eyes off of her. "They warned me that you would say these things." He found the doorknob and turned it slowly waiting for the door to open. At that same moment she lunged straight toward him.
"Stop, Nolan!" The words escaped her mouth unbidden as she shot towards the boy. Hearing his name, the boy froze just long enough for her to move between him and the door. "H-h-how did you know my name?" Nolan stuttered. She faced him, breathing a bit heavily, her body thrumming with adrenaline. "I don't know," she admitted. "It just...came to me. I'm Johanna," she added, "And I know we've frightened each other, but I don't think we are enemies here. Someone or something might like us to think so, but I think you ended up at my house for a reason. Let me help you." Nolan looked into her face, then down at the box still clutched tightly in his arms. He tipped his head a bit, almost as though listening to a distant voice, and finally he nodded and stepped back into the kitchen. With something approaching reverence, he placed the box on Johanna's kitchen table and bowed his head to remove the odd key strung there. Johanna watched silently, almost not daring to breathe. Nolan, too, held his breath and inserted the delicate two pronged key into the worn locking mechanism adorning the front of the box.
Alright! Now, who to tag? Secret Agent Woman, would you be willing to do a paragraph? If you aren't into it, let me know and I will try another tagee :-)