I’m taking my usual Oz hiatus (except for the Lou diary entries) by working on a non-Oz project. This one is a dark Young Adult book about an alien invasion called Tree Readers. I actually started this story months and months ago but lost my focus when I had to jump back on the Oz bandwagon. I’m planning on wrapping TR and sending it off to my secret agent man to see what he thinks. In the meantime, here’s a little sample (typos included).
Stanley Keenan was six the first time he helped his father kidnap someone. It was a kid about his own age named Bobby Darden. His father spent weeks training him how to win the kid’s trust. They’d go to the park every Tuesday and Saturday at the same time Bobby would be there with his mother. Stanley slowly got to know Bobby. He liked him. He was fun. In a lot of ways, he was Stanley’s best friend. In fact, he was the one who first called Stanley Key. It was a nickname he would use for the rest of this life.
After six weeks of becoming Bobby’s buddy, Key lured him to a line of trees on the North side of the park, and his old man appeared with a couple of ice cream cones.
Bobby was in the back of Key’s father’s RV before he knew what was happening, lapping up the ice cream like it was his last meal. For all Key knew, it was.
Bobby and Key played in the back of the RV while Key’s old man drove out of town. Bobby was assured that his mother had asked Key’s father to take him on a trip to Six Flags. She wanted to come but couldn’t because of work. Bobby thought his mother was the coolest parent on the planet at that moment.
Little did he know that she noticed her son missing ten minutes after the abduction. She told herself that he had just wandered off. That she would find him soon. She was sure he would be just around the corner, doing something he shouldn’t be doing because that was his nature. If there was trouble, Bobby could find it, but it was usually harmless fun.
The minutes passed and she grew more and more anxious. The volume of her voice got louder. The urgency in her tone was more pronounced. The other parents started to take notice at this women darting from tree to tree calling out her son’s name. Their hearts began to pound. A mother had lost her child. Could anything be worse? They all scooped up their own children and began to help in the search for the poor woman’s child.
They wouldn’t find him. He was growing restless in the back of Key’s father’s RV. He had been happy and content with the thought of going to an amusement park at first, but several hours had passed, and he began to miss his mother in spite of himself. He had never gone so long without so much as a phone call from her. Looking out the window of the RV, he could see that it was dark outside. Darker than he had ever seen it before. Something was wrong. He was only five, but he could feel it. Key tried to keep Bobby’s mind off his mother by showing him his comic book collection, but Bobby couldn’t even pretend to care about the stupid comic books.
“I want to go home, Key,” Bobby said.
Key gripped his latest Superman comic. “Don’t you want to go to Six Flags?”
Bobby shook his head. “Not anymore.”
Key’s hands began to sweat. His father told him that this might happen. He warned him that Bobby would beg to go home, but it was his job to keep him happy and quiet. “What about the roller coasters?”
“We can’t ride ‘em. We ain’t tall enough.”
“Sure we can,” Key smiled. “My dad said so. He knows the guy who built all the roller coasters. They got us special passes.”
Bobby looked down. “I don’t care. I just want to go home.”
“Don’t say that so loud,” Key said. He looked at his father to see if he heard. If he had, he knew that was it for Bobby. They’d pull over and his old man would make sure that Bobby stopped asking to go home. One way or another.
“Tell your dad,” Bobby said.
“I just want to go home.”
Key covered Bobby’s mouth with his hand. “Shhhh.”
“Everything alright back there boys?” Key’s old man asked.
“Yes, sir,” Key answered.
“We’re just about there. Just talked to Bobby’s mom on the phone. Good news. She got off work and she’s waiting for us near the gate.”
Key breathed a sigh of relief. “There, you see. Your mom’s waiting for us.”
Bobby managed a smile. “Good.” His eyes darted from Key to Key’s dad. “Does your dad really know the guy who built the roller coasters?”
Key nodded. “Says he does. They served in the army together.”
“Your dad was in the army?”
“Still is. That’s why we move so much. He’s always going on secret missions.”
“Wow,” Bobby said. “Cool. Does your mom go on secret missions, too?”
“Nah,” Key said. “She died when I was born. It’s just me and my dad.”
The two boys felt the RV slow and eventually come to a stop. Key’s father unbuckled his seatbelt and moved to the back of the vehicle.
“You boys wait here. I’ve got to do some business.” He moved to the door and then turned back to the two boys. “Don’t even think about going outside.”
Both boys nodded. They slowly moved to the front of the RV after Key’s father exited. They watched him through the front windshield as he approached a black four-door car. Key’s father turned back to the RV. Bobby and Key ducked down so they wouldn’t be seen, but they weren’t sure why. They had been instructed not to leave the RV, but Key’s old man didn’t say anything about not looking out the windows.
They watched intently as Key’s father leaned inside the car. He appeared to be talking to someone, but the boys couldn’t see anyone. Bobby reached out and grabbed Key’s arm. He scooted closer to his best-friend. His grip on Key’s arm got tighter as his father raised his voice.
Key’s old man stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow with his sleeve. He headed back to the RV and the boys could hear him mumbling. Both boys yelped and jumped when he opened the side door.
“Bobby,” Key’s father said. “Can you come here, please?”
Bobby Looked at Key. What should he do? He didn’t want to go outside. It was dark out there.
“Bobby,” Key’s father said.
“I don’t want to go,” Bobby whispered.
“It’s okay,” Key said. “My dad’s in the army, remember? He’ll protect you.”
Bobby considered Key’s logic and then stood up. He ever so slowly stepped toward the door.
Key’s father reached out his hand and gave him a reassuring smile. “It’s okay.”
Bobby reluctantly grabbed his hand and allowed himself to be guided out the door.
Key crawled into the passenger seat and watched as his father placed his hand on Bobby’s back between his shoulder blades and walked him to the black car.
Bobby looked back once and Key was sorry he did. He was scared for him. Key didn’t like that feeling, being scared for someone else. It tied him up inside, and he wanted to roll down the window and beg his father to bring Bobby back, to take him home where he belonged, but he didn’t. His father told him he would feel that way. He told Key that doubt was normal. But he promised him they were doing the right thing.
“The greater good,” he called it.
Key’s father opened the trunk of the car, bent down, and whispered something in Bobby’s ear. The small boy hesitated and then to Key’s amazement crawled into the trunk without so much as a gentle shove from his father.
That was last time Key saw Bobby Darden, but it wouldn’t be the last time he saw that black car.