Graham Sheppard panted, trying to catch his breath before he spoke. “I`m here to help you and you have to promise you won`t try to yell, or run if I let you go. Do you understand, Rabbit?”
Rabbit looked up at the man, his hand still firmly across his mouth, his other coiled around the boy’s body like a boa constrictor.
“My name is Sheppard and I have a car parked on the other side of the tree line next to the road, but I can’t carry you and we need to move quickly.”
Rabbit nodded affirmatively and Sheppard relaxed his grip letting the boy go. “Come on. This way.”
The two traveled with a pressing speed and tree branches whipped their faces as they ran. They emerged free of the tree line to a small stretch of field beyond which sat a police cruiser on the shoulder next to the road. The grass was tall and wet, slowing their progress as they waded out into the open. Beyond the trees the faint sound of a fluttering helicopter, powering up and going airborne faded in on the wind.
Sheppard stopped dead in his tracks. He threw out his arm in front of Rabbit like a railroad crossing gate. “Wait!”
The sound was becoming more disenable and growing in clarity. Sheppard knew they were sitting ducks out in the open. “Quick! Back to the woods!”
The two pivoted and scampered back the way they’d come, reaching the tree line edge as the thundering blades of the chopper blew past them, seemingly not far above their heads. Sheppard watched as the helicopter buzzed the police car and then turned sharply, circling in for another pass. They know Rabbit’s still in the area and now they know he has help. It won’t be long before they upload satellite images and go to infrared.
Sheppard tugged at the boys arm. “We can’t stay here. Is there some place you know of, close by, where we can hide for a while?”
“The safe house!”
“What is it?”
“A place in the woods a mile and a half from here, where me and my friends hide from time to time.”
“Take me there!”
“I’m not going without my Dad.”
Sheppard looked at the boy earnestly. “Your father, is he back in the house?”
Rabbit nodded solemnly.
Sheppard shook his head. “I’m sorry. It’s just too dangerous, but I promise, if we have a chance, we’ll come back for him.” Sheppard sensed the boy already knew his father was dead, but needed to hear some reassurance.
Rabbit looked up at him. “Thanks,” he said. “I know we won’t be able to come back, but it means a lot that you would if we could.” Rabbit wiped new tears from the corner of his eyes then turned and began to lead Sheppard to the safe house.
Periodically the chopper could be heard scalping the tree tops as it whizzed by, criss-crossing the area in a strategic grid to find the boy and his accessory. Sheppard knew he was as good as dead if they caught them now. They’d pin the murder of Richard Bradley on him and probably add the kidnapping of Rabbit to it as well- a cherry on the whipped topping. As for as the boy, he’d probably end up like the others, sent to Nellis, or one of a hundred other Air Force Bases around the country, for study and experimentation.
As they moved deeper into the forest, the sounds of the chopper began to fade and Sheppard had renewed hope, they had evaded their pursuers for now. Through the tree line a house could be seen in the distance and Rabbit slowed his pace. “That’s Old Man Vilgrain’s place. We’re not far now.”
Rabbit shifted his direction to the right and led Sheppard through some underbrush of bramble and stinging nettles. There were many trees overturned and uprooted now. Many were covered in moss and stank with the musty, cool, wetness of decay. “There!” Rabbit said. “That’s the place!”
Sheppard looked at what Rabbit had referred to as “the safe house”. It was the rotting carcass of a huge tree that had fallen and lay across a small gully. It had fir and Douglas Pine branches, obviously placed, across the hollowed-out mouth of the gully and toad stools sprouted up from the rot of the wood like a miniature city of condos. It also had several symbols etched into the bark with a knife. Some were crudely hewn and others more detailed. On the ground, an array of large rocks lay in scattered dormancy, where other trees around them had no such rock formations.
I’m sure to a twelve-year-old, that’s the most secret hiding place in the world, but it’s the first place I’d look for a child if I was scouring these woods. They might as well have a blinking neon sign saying “look here”.
Rabbit looked at Sheppard and shook his head in disgust. “This is the best place right now. There is nowhere else.”
Did the kid just read my thoughts?
“Come on.” Rabbit said. “We should get out of sight while we plan our next move and by the way, I’m no child.”
Sheppard felt a chill on his spine as he lurched forward to follow the boy. Somehow he believed that their roles had suddenly been reversed and he was now counting on Rabbit to save him from imminent danger.
The two stepped over other fallen trees, working through the labyrinth of soft decomposition to the hollow as branches cracked under their foot-fall. As they drew closer Sheppard could now see the etched art work more clearly. Most were just symbols- logos representing their fort, or club, but a few caught his attention for other reasons. On one side, a pyramid dissected at the top with an eye carved into the top triangle peered out vigilantly. To the right of it, what appeared to be a double helix, except the artist had overlaid another line as if to correct a previous mistake. Between the two symbols was etched a scarab beetle- an Egyptian sign of power, protection and reincarnation.
“Rabbit, who did this?”
“Me and my friend Jeffery. His carvings are mostly over there.” Rabbit said, pointing to the cruder etchings. “He thought it would be cool to dress the place up like the cavemen did.” Rabbit seemed sad as he said this.
“How did you know to carve these symbols?” Sheppard said, pointing at the trio of etchings.
“I don’t know. I see them in my dreams sometimes, I guess.”
“It’s a very profound mix of signs, except, your double helix is wrong. It has one too many strands.”
“It’s not wrong.”
Sheppard was now very excited. His memories of Marty Stevenson up at the cabin came flooding back to him. How Marty had told him about the Indigo Children from Trinity and their three strands of DNA. He had known for some time there was a vested interest in the Bradley boy, but now everything was falling into place as to his true importance.
Inside the net of branches, in the safe house, a few twigs snapped and someone, or something stirred.
Sheppard pulled his gun from his jeans and pointed it at the pile of branches. They got here before us, but how? “I have a gun. Come out slowly, or I’ll shoot! Keep your hands where I can see them!”
“Put the gun away.” Rabbit urged.
“Not until I know it’s safe.”
Two hands poked through the wall of bush. They were muddy and too small to be the hands of an assassin. “Don’t shoot. Please!” A small-framed girl emerged from hiding as she pushed back the make-shift doorway. Her eyes were streaked with dark rivers of dried tears and her eyes were wide with fear under her tangled mess of hair.
The two ran to one another and hugged deeply and Amber began to weep. Sheppard returned his gun to hiding behind his belt buckle. Great! I’m running a daycare.
Rabbit turned back to look at Sheppard with an untrusting gaze.
Sheppard apologized. “Sorry. Don’t mind me. Although I think it might be better to continue this reunion out of sight.”
Rabbit returned his eyes to Amber. “This is Mr. Sheppard. He’s here to help us. Don’t be afraid.”
Amber sniffed and seemed to calm down. Rabbit led her by the hand and crouching down disappeared back into the gully with Amber trailing behind him. Sheppard dropped to all fours and crawled in. Inside, under the tree, it wasn’t nearly as dark as Sheppard had envisioned. Amber and Rabbit were still holding hands as they turned to sit. They seemed to give off a dim light that added shape to their surroundings. Sheppard’s eyes quickly adjusted and he could make out a dark blue tarp that had been stapled to the tree above them to keep the ground beneath them dry. A small shelf wedged into the dirt wall of the gully held a few flashlights, a small radio, some comic-books in clear plastic bags, and a few pudding cups lobotomized through their opened flaps by plastic spoons. On the ground a few blankets covered the soil for comfort and the occasional chocolate bar wrapper and empty soda can gave the hiding place that lived-in look.
Amber stayed close to Rabbit. She was shivering and Rabbit place one of the blankets around her, holding it in place with his arm.
“I’m sorry Rabbit. I had nowhere else to go. My parents....”
“I know Amber. It’s all going to be OK.”
Rabbit thought better of adding to her angst, so he simply said, “We took him to the hospital in Martin City. He’s there now.”
Sheppard sat cross-legged and felt the gun dig into his groin. He shifted his position for fear of blowing his balls off. “Does this radio work?”
“Yes, but the batteries are weak.”
Their new guardian’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “I’m glad to see you were saving them for an emergency.” He grabbed the radio from the shelf and switched it on. He thumbed through the channels. The oldies still played from WFSH in Whitefish and the Rock pounded out of the station in Butte. The weather forecast predicted a clearing trend over the next forty-eight hours and the news led off with increasing friction with the North Koreans. There was no mention what-so-ever of what was going on in Coram and the surrounding area. The world was still oblivious to what was transpiring on the outskirts of Glacier National Park.
“We’re going to have to move soon.”
“Why?” Amber said, her voice still fluttering in shock. “Can’t we just stay here?”
“I’m sorry honey, but we’ll need to get food, supplies and night will be here soon. It’s going to get very cold out here in the woods.” Not to mention, they’ll soon be tracking anything with a heartbeat.
“What do you suggest Mr. Sheppard?” Rabbit said.
“What about the house? Vilgrain was it?”
“No! We can’t go there. Old Man Vilgrain hates me. He won’t help!”
“Listen son, we have to do something. Waiting here will do us no good. Look, you stay here and I’ll check it out. When I’m sure it’s safe I’ll come back for you.”
This course of action seemed preferable to Rabbit and he nodded his approval while tightening his grip on Amber.
Sheppard took his watch off and handed it to Rabbit. “If I’m not back in twenty minutes, I want you to take Amber and head for Malcolm Buck’s over at the TPE. Be as cautious as you can and make sure no one sees you. I’ll try to meet you there.”
Grahame Sheppard crawled from the gully and replaced the tree branch doorway. He moved with stealth in the direction of the house he’d seen through the trees when Rabbit had led him here. The day seemed a little brighter and he could see scraps of blue now peeking through the tree line from the late afternoon sky. The darker clouds had moved off to the east toward Glacier National Park and Sheppard deemed, now would be the perfect time to move out into the open without fear of being exposed to the rain. He reached the edge where the trees cleared into the face of an expansive field. There in the midst stood Vilgrain’s house, a wart on the flowing lake of golden grasses.
Sheppard stepped out from his cover but was suddenly struck with urgency. Above him in the sky was a web of vapour trails crisscrossing in all directions and slowly dissipating into wider wisps of white. Chemtrails! That’s how they’re poisoning everyone. No time. We have to move now!