What follows is a short story cooperatively written by the Hero’s Journey Class (May 2011).
Hope E. Rapson, Writing Instructor
John Mark Porter
A Woven Journey
The yellow and red oak leaves crunched beneath Wallace’s worn black sneakers as the sixteen year old headed toward his thinking thicket. His mind filled with flashes of faces staring at him in the high school hallway. Were those eyes filled with pity, laughter, confusion, curiosity? Were those mouths talking about him? Were they speculating about his parents? Spreading rumors about the strange car in his driveway last night? Wallace had to get away and work through this; he needed to be alone.
Crossing the dry stream bed, he though he heard the creaking of the rope of his tire swing. “Probably just wind,” he mumbled to himself. He pushed back the shrubbery, and out of the corner of his eye he saw something tumble onto the yellowing grass. Startled, Wallace stared wide eyed at the intruder. This is my turf! Anger saturated his mind; adrenaline startled his body.
The thin girl slowly stood up and brushed dirt and leaves from her stone washed jeans. She had the look of a cornered bobcat.
“Stay where you are!” she hissed.
“Why?” Wallace exploded. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“None of your business!”
“This is my tree house and my tire swing. I come here…”
“…to play? Tough! Today I was here first,” she finished.
Wallace shook his head and looked down. “Now, let’s start over here.”
The petulant girl raised her eyebrows and stared at him with her large dark eyes; her arms crossed and waiting.
“My name is Wallace Ohne. I live in the brick ranch on Grey Stone Lane back there. Me and my….” he hesitated, then swallowed hard. “My dad and I build this retreat together.”
He waited for a response. The girl flicked long black hair over her shoulder and began fingering the thick woven bracelet tied on her pale wrist.
“Well, who are you?” Wallace paused to sit down on the mossy boulder beside him.
“Why do you want to know?” The girl replied with distrust.
Wallace shook his head. “Whatever! I don’t need this today.”
He rose and stomped off, heading in the direction that he had arrived. Wallace’s stride was faster and louder as he headed home through the fallen leaves. No need to be quiet now; apparently the whole world knows about my hideout.
He frowned and pulled his coat around his shivering body. It was early evening but there was already a chill in the air that seeped through his clothes and he was having flashbacks of his father towering over him, smiling and laughing in that same clearing. Perhaps he should just give up the space to the belligerent girl, whoever she was. He didn’t know if he could bear doing it. The place brought back memories, very good memories that reminded him of how much worse life had gotten. His family would never be the same now. Wallace shook his head and sighed as he saw the outline of his house through the trees. He swiftly climbed the steps to the back porch, slammed the screen door behind him, and muttered, “Now what?”
He slouched through the kitchen and into the living room. He headed for his father’s old leather recliner. That was where his father usually sat to muse about the events of his day. He slumped into the comfort of the familiar chair. Why had his father and mother been taken away?
The garage door opener grind interrupted this broken hearted plea. That would be Aunt Eloise, coming back from new Wal-Mart with the groceries. He knew she would want help. As he jumped up, the rickety recliner shifted and nearly fell over. “What a klutz!” Wallace whispered barely managing to keep it upright before he heard Aunt El calling him. He rushed to help. She is all I have now, he thought.
While carrying in the brown bags of groceries, he noticed the only other house down Grey Stone Lane had lights on in every window. A couple of days ago, he had watched the men in tan uniforms carry numerous boxes from their moving truck. He was trying to remember the name the singers whose voice drifted out of the top bedroom, when his aunt called, “Wallace! I need those groceries to make your dinner!”
After consuming a big plate of Aunt El’s spicy spaghetti, and after doing the dishes under the strict supervision, Wallace wandered back to the living room. He noticed that the seat cover of Dad’s easy on the floor tucked beneath the chair. He was astonished to find maps and photos under the papers. Strange, he thought. Dad is a neat freak; he wouldn’t normally store things like this…and he had been sitting here reading when they came for him. Instinctively, he gathered the papers, maps and photo and headed upstairs to his room. He spread them across the top of his desk and switched the study light to a brighter level to examine them.
The papers were some kind of legal forms, the maps were unfamiliar, and the photos were in especially bad condition. The worst one had been burned with a match and all that was visible was a little dark haired girl next three sets of legs…one her size, probably a boy, and the other two? Definitely a man and woman…perhaps her parents? What was that wrapped around her upper arm? Turning the damaged picture over carefully, Wallace read, “2012 - Lydia Kate O.”
Wallace’s conjecture was interrupted by a voice calling from downstairs. “Wallace, I need you to take this pie to the new family down the street. I hear they have a girl about your age.”
“Okay,” Wallace called back reluctantly. He took the stairs by two; his mind racing over the details of his discovery. He’d finish this chore and get back to his room as soon as possible.
Wallace picked up the apple pie and pushed his way through the front screen door. Hearing the familiar slam, he yelled over his shoulder, “I’ll be home soon, Aunt El.”
At the new neighbor’s house, Wallace rang the doorbell. He jumped backwards when the girl from the clearing opened the door.
“It’s you! What was your name… Wallace?” The girl asked, stammering from shock herself.
He thrust the pie into her hands, and blurted out, “This pie is to welcome you to the neighborhood. It’s from my Aunt Eloise.”
“Okay. Thanks.” She took the pie and turned to shut the door with her hip, lifting the foil up to inspect the pie.
“Wait!” Wallace shouted and thrust his foot onto the door jam. He winced as the door made solid contact.
With a roll of her dark eyes, the girl opened the door wide again. “What?!” she said tapping her foot impatiently.
“That bracelet you’re wearing. Where did you get it?”
“I have had it since I was a kid,” she quipped. Then suspicion flashed across her face. “Why do you want to know?”
“Lydia, who’s here?” A man’s deep voice called out with concern and curiosity. Heavy footsteps sounded louder with each step.
Wallace removed his foot when Lydia mouthed, “Got to go!” and began to shut the door again.
“Meet me at the tree house mid-morning tomorrow,” Wallace urgently whispered as the door closed. Turning to go, he overheard her nonchalant answer, “Just the neighbor saying hello, Pop. With a pie to welcome us.”
Wallace was waiting at the tree house. Lydia was nowhere to be seen. It was far past time for her to show up. “Where is she?” Wallace wondered aloud. As he nervously glanced at the entrance, he heard leaves crunching. Lydia suddenly appeared out of the shrubbery.
“You’re late,” said Wallace.
“Sorry! I had to wash the dishes,” she replied.
With a sigh, Wallace sat down on a decaying log and motioned to the seat next to him.
“I prefer to stand, thanks,“ said Lydia. “Now, why did you want to meet?”
Wallace reached inside his orange back pack and delicately pulled out the burned photo and held it up for her to get a good look.
“That bracelet,” she stammered in half voice fingering hers. “It looks like mine.”
“Exactly the reason I called you here,” Wallace answered.
Lydia sat down beside him in deep thought, staring into space. Could that little girl be me? If it is…why does Wallace, a guy I have never met before, have this photo?
She had always been haunted by the feeling that she didn’t belong with her Pop and her Mom. Could I have been adopted?
That’s when the two began to talk, really talk.
At noon the next day, Lydia and Wallace entered the Woodford Community Library. Lydia paused, surveying her surroundings. Several small worn sofas sat in the corner of the room alongside cheap wooden chairs. The rest of the room was taken up with books, and more books of every imaginable kind. She was surprised that so many could be crammed into such a small space.
“This place is…” her voice trailed off.
“Cozy?” Wallace filled in.
“Not exactly the word that I was going to use,” she quipped.
Ignoring the sarcasm in her voice, Wallace continued, “Alright, you start at the computers. Search for records from about sixteen years ago and after. I’ll look in the periodicals.”
Nodding Lydia turns towards the computers while Wallace headed to the newspaper. He flipped through the newspapers, looking at the date. Ten, twelve, fifteen and, finally, sixteen years ago. “New family moves in,” one title announced. “John Burger places first in local spelling bee.” Nothing about birth…Suddenly, Wallace pocket buzzed. Pulling out his cell phone, he opened this text:
big find meet bak lib dor
Wallace frowned, but wove around the library stacks to where the computer cubicle was. Lydia was gone. He turned toward the exit, and was surprised to see Aunt Eloise hurriedly looking through the juvenile section.
“Aunt El, what are you doing here?” Wallace asked.
Pausing for a moment his Aunt said, “Just getting some books for Mrs. Halus; she’s been sick.”
“Did you see the neighbor girl as you were coming in? She was here doing research with me, but now I can’t seem to find her. Actually, maybe the security guard has seen her.”
His aunt cut in hurriedly, “There’s no need.” Taking his arm and turning him around she commented, “I’m sure she’ll resurface.”
Wallace, however, felt urgency of mind and resisted. “But I have something important to tell her. I need to find her now.”
Breaking his Aunt’s firm hold, he turned and walked quickly to the guard standing outside the door of the library.
Walking briskly to the checkout desk, Aunt Eloise quietly handed the librarian a small piece of paper. “Do you have this title?”
“Yes. It’s in the basement storage stacks.”
“Here comes the boy with the security guard; lead them to the second level down. Stall them as long as you can and make sure they remain unaware that you are trying to stop them. I need plenty of time to set the trap.”
Wallace was having quite a different conversation. The guard ended up being one of his former Boy Scout leaders, “Sure, I’ll help you find her,” said Bob.
The librarian approached them. “Ms. Ohne informed me that you had a question. May I be of service?”
“Yes, Ma’m.” replied Wallace. “Have you seen a girl about my age with dark hair and pale skin?”
“Oh, yes. I directed her to the first level of the basement; follow me this way.”
Walking down a flight of stairs they reached a room full of magazines and newspapers. “I guess she left,” said the librarian. “She might have gone to the next lower level.” After the three reached the lowest level, Wallace paused in apprehension. Lydia was not there.
The silence was broken with a loud “Now!” A dark clad assailant rushed toward them. Bob’s trained instincts took over. Fumbling for the light switch, he yelled, “Run!” Wallace dashed out of the doorway and ran up the stairs. Once he reached the ground level, he threw himself under the heavy library desk and tried to calm his ragged breathing. Controlling himself, he looked down on the papers he had been lying on and saw to his delight that one of them was the library’s floor plan. Studying it he realized that on the bottom basement there was a small chamber that led to the outside that was apparently for the conveyance of books to and from the library. Maybe he could go there to find Lydia.
He cautiously rose to survey the area. Aunt El, looking down isles, had her back inches away from him. Sighing with relief, he whispered her name. Eloise turned around and hugged him, but with a forced smile that was foreign to him. The previous dark assailant seized Wallace, forcing him down the stairwell, and throwing him into a side room. Stunned by Aunt Eloise’s complicity and the suddenness of these events, Wallace hardly struggled as he was gagged, and bound hand and foot to a chair. Feet away from him sat Lydia bound but not gagged; her unconscious head sagged on her chest. Inches away from her lay Robert, the security guard, with a bloody head wound, possibly alive, but probably dead. He felt a needle enter the back of his shoulder, and as his surroundings began to fade out, he thought he saw his father and mother at his left, also bound and gagged.
Waking up with a start, he looked for them again, but only Lydia and Coach Tyler remained. Using his body, he shifted back and forth inching toward Lydia. When he got close enough, he kicked at her leg. Getting no response, he tried a second and a third time. Only on the fourth attempt did he succeed in waking her. She woke up with a start and seeing the dead man next to her, would have screamed, if she had not also caught the warning look in Wallace’s eyes. He gestured with his eyes. She responded with whispered guesses, until she understood the plan.
Wallace winced as the Lydia’s heavy chair fell onto his legs. Lydia wiggled towards Wallace’s side pocket and slowly, with her nose and mouth retrieved the Boy Scout pocket knife. She dropped it between Wallace’s legs. Pinning it with his knees as it fell, Wallace brought his face down to it and arduously pried it open with his teeth. Then he started cutting through the duct tape that bound Lydia’s hands. Once her hands were free, she whipped through Wallace’s bonds. At that very moment, they heard movement outside the door and both of them hurriedly reordered the chairs and their bodies in their former positions.
“Pop!” gasped Lydia. Ignoring her, Wade “Pop” Stronsky strolled forward through the inside door. He put his hand on the Wallace’s shoulder, and brought out a hand gun from his jean jacket pocket; he twirled it, enjoying both his captives’ fearful looks. Placing his face right in front of Wallace’s and pointing toward Lydia, he whispered, “Don’t worry… you won’t be around long enough…for that… Ha!”
His assailants murderous intentions emboldened Wallace. He tucked in his head as in submission, but with one adrenaline energized jerk, swiftly butted Wade under the chin sending him sideways hard against the concrete wall. Leaping forward, Wallace grabbed Bob’s stun gun and shot it three times. He shouted to Lydia, “Quick!” and grabbing Lydia’s arm, they rushed toward the outside door.
Aunt Eloise opened that door and was thrown to the asphalt as Wallace and Lydia charged out. They looked ahead to see a man at the back of a white delivery truck hurriedly pulling down its back door. Wallace’s parents bound and gagged lay on the floor boards. Reflexively Wallace shot at the driver’s knees. He would not lose his parents again.
The man went sprawling and with a scream dropped the knife he was holding. Lydia now firmly held Aunt Eloise by her grey hair with one arm twisted behind her. She kicked the knife out of reach as two police cars pulled up to the scene, their sirens screaming. Bob’s shift relief came out the library’s delivery entrance. He was holding a gun and a cell phone.
Wallace ran to free his parents. The police relived Lydia of her cursing captive, but she hung back, tightly grasping Wallace’s pocket knife in her trembling hands.
James and Anne Ohne embraced their son, and turned toward Lydia with tears streaming down their faces. Anne slowly stepped forward and gently touched Lydia’s bracelet. She whispered, “I knew when I put this on you that you would some day come back to us …our little girl.”
“Mommy?” The child deep within Lydia, hardened by the need to survive, spoke clearly, yearning to know, to be known, and to belong.
As Wallace and his father approached, Lydia collapsed into her mother’s arms.
James pulled his reunited family into his strong embrace and said, “What a journey we’ve had, all because we wanted to protect you both from something like what just happened.”
Wallace flashed a grin and pointed to Lydia’s bracelet. Then he pulled the half burned photo from his pocket and they both looked at it again.
“One thing is clear,” Wallace said, “we have many more questions now than when we first met.”
Lydia giggled, her eyes shining with relief and joy.
With that, Wallace and Lydia looked toward their parents, eager to discover the mystery of their lives. They were no longer young neighbors stuck with each other and fighting for a place to belong, but brother and sister. Theirs was a woven journey.