Chapter 1 – An Unexpected Detour

Disclaimer: This is JKR's playground, but I found this little part over by the fence.

As a car sped down the ribbon of concrete into the gathering evening, framed on each side by the mid-summer growth of corn, a boy perhaps twelve years old lay prone on the rear seat. Possessed of hair so blonde as to be almost white, his facial features were so fine they seemed elfin in nature, but with a spattering of freckles that spoke of summer sun. His gray eyes had a depth that invited inspection, rather than cold steel they projected the warmth of an old sweater. At the moment, they stared up fixedly at the top of the car, their red rims explained by a trail of dried tears that marred his otherwise china-like complexion. He shifted awkwardly but couldn't seem to find a position that would ease the seatbelt buckles digging into his hip, or the bite of the plastic ties that bound his wrists and ankles.

There were no sounds in the car other than the deep vibration of the engine and the whine of tires on still-hot pavement. Jeremy Stevens opened his mouth as though to speak, to again ask his captors why he was here, where his parents were, if they were all right, then closed it slowly. Asking, yelling, begging, he had tried them all in the preceding hours and had received no response from either of the two men in the front seat. In fact, the men had not even spoken to each other since he first noticed them on the street in front of his home. It was as if they lacked the power of speech, or perhaps they realized just how chilling their continued silence was. What could this all possibly be about? Why would they want him? Jeremy's folks were comfortable, but certainly not rich as far as he knew. Nor could he think of anything out of the ordinary that had ever happened in his family's life, at least until they grabbed him and threw him into the car. He didn't even have time to shout; it all happened so quickly. By the time he recovered from his shock, he was bound and the car was speeding away.

As Jeremy lay there, he realized that unless something changed he would soon have another reason to be uncomfortable. He doubted the men would show any concern about this, but he had to at least try. "Excuse me," he said in what he hoped was a calm voice. The men gave no indication that they had heard him. "EXCUSE ME," he shouted, "but I'm thirsty and I need a bathroom." No response. He sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment. The fear he had been feeling was replaced by a sudden surge of anger. It suddenly felt like the blood that pumped in his veins was being replaced with white-hot acid; his body was being consumed by it. This couldn't be happening to him! This was real life, after all, not some Hollywood movie! He wanted to strike out, to smash them like bugs for doing this to him. The pain in his body was continuing to increase when suddenly through his closed eyelids he saw a quick flash of bright light. In surprise, he opened his eyes to see not the roof of the car but instead the first hint of stars in the dark blue sky. As he tried to turn and see where he was, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head and someone turned out the lights.

OoOoOoO

The boy heard a loud rushing sound, and then heard what sounded like someone gasping for breath. As he opened his eyes, he realized he was the one doing the gasping. Slowly, the sparkles cleared from his sight and he tried to sit up. It felt as though someone had punched him repeatedly, and his head was throbbing. With a sudden twist, his insides turned out and he was retching. When the feeling subsided, he sat up again, this time more slowly. He could see that he was on the side of a highway, and that there were no other cars in sight. As he decided to stand up and see if he could find some help, he realized there were bands of some sort around his wrists, and a broken band of the same material was hanging off one ankle. With a shock, he saw that one leg of his jeans was torn and blood was pumping from a jagged cut in his leg that must have been almost a foot long. He realized he could bleed to death if he didn't do something right away. It felt strange looking at his leg like that, then as he looked closer it seemed as though the skin was crawling. Fascinated for a moment, he watched and could see that the cut was getting shorter and the blood flow was slowing. A moment later the cut had closed. The hot pulsing in his veins gradually slowed, and he had to lie back to rest.

After a few minutes the pain seemed a little less, though the back of his head still pounded. Had his leg really healed itself, or was he imagining it all? He slowly sat up and looked again. All that remained were the stains on his jeans and the ground, and a thin white line up his leg that felt hollow underneath the skin to his touch. Too weird, he thought to himself. Awkwardly, he got to his feet. The muscles in his legs were like jelly, as though he had just finished running a long race, but he could stand. A few yards to his left on the highway shoulder was a speed limit sign. With hesitant steps he reached it, and leaned against the signpost while his head spun. Why were his hands bound like he was handcuffed? Was he a criminal or something? With a start, he realized he didn't know! He didn't remember why he was here, or how he got here.

The triangle-shaped signpost starting cutting into his back, and he had an idea. Turning, he placed his wrists on either side of the jagged edge of the post, and began sawing up and down on the plastic cuff. Moments later, it parted and his hands were free. Looking up, he drew a sharp breath then winced at the pain in his ribs. Twenty yards up the road, off to one side at the shoulder, was a mass of something that surely must have once been an automobile. Slowly, he started walking in that direction and as he drew closer he could see that this indeed had once been a car. However, there was no part of the car that was more than 12 inches tall, and all four tires were splayed to the outsides like some kind of deformed feet. Black tire marks and gouges in the concrete extended beyond the car as far as the fading twilight would permit him to see.

Approaching the front of the car he noticed a small black leather wallet on the ground beside the car, with what seemed to be a piece of paper sticking out. He reached down, took the wallet and opened it. The paper was in fact a photograph. With a thrill of recognition, he realized that this was a picture of him. Beneath the picture was a pad with some scribbled notes, and to the right of the notepad, on the other leaf of the wallet, was a silver shield embossed with the words "Kansas Bureau of Investigation" and a photo identification card. The face on the ID card was not familiar. Looking up, he noticed something he had missed before. Towards the rear of what must have been part of the car's roof, the sheet metal was torn out in the exact shape of a twelve-year old boy.

While he stared at the torn sheet metal, trying to make sense of what he was seeing, he saw headlights approaching from the distance. In another moment, he could see the silhouette of police lights on the top. A surge of relief went through him, as he realized that help would soon arrive. Then he remembered the handcuffs and the badge, and decided to get out of sight. After all, only criminals are handcuffed, and he must be connected somehow with the wreckage currently littering the road. Tucking the wallet into his back pocket and bending low, he ran towards the cornfield. He could always watch what happened and change his mind if it felt safe to come out. All he had to do was stay out of sight until he could figure this all out.

As the State Patrol car ground to a halt, the boy gingerly knelt in the corn stalks, as well hidden as he could be while still being able to see. The doors opened, and two uniformed officers got out and began to walk around the wrecked car, examining it closely. One of the officers turned, walking very quickly back to the patrol car. Meanwhile, the first officer removed his baton from his service belt, and tapped the end in his other hand, obviously deep in thought. With a flash, smoke appeared from the tailpipe of the patrol car and formed a noxious-looking green cloud. It seemed as though the second officer was speaking to the cloud, but surely that couldn't be right. Then, with another flash, the cloud was gone. The second officer had returned to the wreckage, and the two began speaking in voices too low for the boy to hear.

Both officers turned on their flashlights, and began examining the wreckage, and the shoulder on both sides of the road. The boy froze, certain that as the flashlights played his way he would be discovered. But the lights moved on, then snapped off and were returned to their belts. The officers turned, and moved back towards the wreckage. Standing side by side, the second officer removed his baton as well, and both officers pointed them towards the wreckage while beginning to mutter in a low voice.

A moment later, there were two bright flashes. When the spots quit dancing in his eyes, the boy could see that no trace of the wrecked car remained. The shoulder was now empty, except for the officers and their car. As the officers turned back towards their patrol car, the boy backed up quietly, then turned and began running as fast as he could towards the center of a sea of corn.

OoOoOoO

As the night's coolness faded way, Cal Abrams stretched, pulled on each boot with a pop, and stepped off the porch to meet yet another dawn. A quick walk down the drive, soaking up the promise of an upcoming day, always helped to clear and organize his mind. The Peterson boys now farmed his spread, of course, but morning ritual of more than seventy years is not easily discarded. "Going to be another scorcher," he said aloud as he neared the end of the drive. A lone crow cawed in reply then took flight. Turning back up the drive towards the house, Calvin noticed a flash of white a couple yards into a row of corn. Squinting to see more clearly, he could see a form, curled on the ground in a fetal position and clearly asleep.

Cal walked slowly up the row, and as he approached, he could see that the form was that of a young boy who looked much the worse for wear. He stared for a moment, then reached down and gently shook the boy's shoulder. The boy's eyes flew open, startling gray and bloodshot; he tried to scramble away, then fell back to the ground and looked at Cal without speaking.

"Whoa, boy, " Cal said softly. "I'm not going to hurt you. Take it easy, now." Cal slowly eased himself to the ground near the boy, keeping his eyes fixed on the bruised and panicked face before him. The boy looked wildly to the left, to the right, and then looked back with a look of resignation in his eyes. Slowly, his chest stopped heaving and he seemed to relax the smallest bit. As the boy's eyes lost their resemblance to those of an animal ready to take flight, Cal extended his weathered hand and said, "My name's Cal. What's yours?"

The boy didn't move for a moment, but then extended his hand. "I'm ... umm ... Bill," he replied in a voice that sounded more like a croak, wondering if his hand would be crushed by the firm grip he met.

"Nice to meet you, Umm Bill," Cal replied with a grin that split his weathered face from side to side. "I don't often find young men sleeping in my fields. You look like you've had a time of it already today, son," he continued slowly, and his smile faded a bit. "Care to tell me how you come to be here?"

The boy looked down, hesitating for a moment. "Well," he said, "I don't really know, it's a long story." The hunted animal look was back in his eyes instantly. "I mean, I …"

"Fair enough," Cal said, not wanting to press too hard. Something had this boy spooked and bad; making it worse wasn't going to help right now. "What do you say we walk back up to the house? You look like you've had enough corn for one day, and something tells me you could use a spot of breakfast, too."

"I'd like that, sir," the boy relaxed somewhat. For a moment, Cal could swear he saw the beginning of a grin.

Cal eased to his feet, then extended his hand to the boy and pulled him to his feet. As the boy stood, looking a little unsteady on his feet, Cal noticed his torn and stained jeans; the stains looked fresh, a scar that followed the tear must have been healed months ago. Strange. Slowly, the pair walked out of the field and back up the drive. From time to time, Cal reached out to steady the boy as he walked.

OoOoOoO

It felt like forever since he had eaten. Three eggs, a slab of ham and a stack of toast with jelly later, the boy finally surrendered. The room quit spinning. As the boy polished off his second glass of milk, he was consumed by a gigantic yawn; he doubted he could keep his eyes pried open much longer.

"Looks to me like you could use a hot bath, and some real sack time," Cal said with a grin. The boy nodded. He hadn't said another word since Cal found him in the field, but at least he had a little better color now. "Good. The bathroom is the last door on the left; you can sleep across the hall when you're done. I can't do much for those jeans, but if you toss 'em out, I guess they'd be OK as cut-offs. Sound alright to you?"

"Sure. Thanks," the boy yawned again as he headed up the hall. Moments later, the jeans landed in the hall and Cal heard the sound of a tub filling, then silence.

Half an hour later, when he hadn't heard another sound, he knocked quietly and, receiving no response, let himself into the bathroom. As he had expected, the boy was still in the tub, sound asleep. With a flash of anger, he noticed bruises on much of the boy's slender body, obviously fresh. Just what the hell has this boy been through, he wondered as, trying not to wake the boy, he drained the bath and dried him as best he could. Carefully lifting the boy from the tub, Cal stepped across the hall and tucked him into bed, having to work a little to release the arm that was sleepily gripping him around the shoulder.

Two cups of coffee later, Cal had reached for the phone several times, but not picked it up. He knew he should get Sheriff Holcomb out here; somewhere there must be a family looking for this boy, and whatever had led the boy to his fields needed to be investigated. On the other hand, a few hours delay probably wouldn't matter much. The boy was clearly exhausted, and it seemed like some rest might make it easier for him to open up a little. Kids bounce back quick, he thought, sleep, food, clean clothes are what he needs right now. The rest can wait. Cal suspected the rest would be hard enough for the boy, as it was.