Chapter 1 – The Boy
December 1992 – February 1995
“Get out of here, Dawg.” She swung the broom handle down sharply on the Boy’s shoulders as he tried to scramble away. He went to his corner, but she came after him, raising the broom over her head. “Drop that candy. It’s mine.” The broom smacked his left arm before he could dodge past her. The Hersey kiss fell from his fingers to the grimy carpet.
The Boy ran out the front door into the sharp December air. A block down the road he stopped and looked back to see if she was following. He never knew when she might. The street was empty, except for a crumbled car near the opposite corner. The wind tossed the grey tree limbs. He pushed the rolled up ends of his shirt sleeves down so they hung over his hands. Even two shirts did not keep out the cold, and it would only get worse. He wondered which way he should go. It would be better not to return to the house for a couple hours. His shoulder and arm were sore, but he ignored them. His stomach hurt worse. He began walking again. He didn’t want to attract attention by standing still out in the open. He looked at the houses as he passed them, hoping one had been abandoned since yesterday. The house he had used as a refuge had been taken over by drug dealers, and he needed a new place to hide when her rages came on or her friends came over. He wished he had been able to take some money so he could buy something from the Quik-Stop Store on the next street over, but she had guarded it well.
The Boy walked four blocks until he came to the church. A long rectangular extension had been added to one side over the last few months. He studied it in the fading light. It was the first time he had witnessed something being built. Houses usually burnt down and disappeared. This one had appeared in stages. The door of the extension opened, and the building let out a breath like the school cafeteria. Someone had said they were going to give food away here, just like at school.
He crept toward the open door. A van with a large trailer had parked near it, and several men carried boxes inside. The Boy waited in the shadows until he heard and saw no one. Then he slipped through the door. The men stood talking off to the right. If they turned they would see him. To the left was a table with boxes on it. Two tablecloths covered it, hanging to the floor — a good place to hide. As he was about to dive underneath he saw a tray of sandwiches hiding behind the boxes. He grabbed them and dunked under the table.
Footsteps sounded louder, coming toward him. Had they seen him? He tensed, ready to run if he had been discovered.
“Maybe I should set up over here by this table instead. That way everyone is in front of me instead of off to one side or the other.”
“You’re the expert, Dylan. I just thought that more kids would have a front row seat this way.”
“I’m sure the acoustics would be better that way.”
“Okay, let’s move it.”
When they walked away, the Boy relaxed and examined the sandwiches he had snatched. Tuna fish. He ate four halves right away. Now he was thirsty, but he ignored it. He could get water any time. The men were back. When he became bold enough, he looked through a crack between the two cloths. They were setting up a keyboard.
“This is hungry work,” said a man, walking toward the table.
The Boy fell back from the crack and waited.
“Hey, where are those sandwiches? Guess they’ve already cleaned up. I wish those kitchen volunteers weren’t quite so efficient. I hope you’re not hungry, Dylan.”
“I ate before I got here. But I could use something to drink, if the kitchen will allow it.”
The first man laughed. “I’ll go see what they have left.” The man walked away.
A third man spoke, “Should we move this table, then?”
“No. Let’s just shove the boxes underneath.”
A box slid under the table and rammed into his knee. The Boy didn’t make a sound. He had practice.
“Are you sure they’ll want any of these tapes? Can they even afford them?”
“I’m sure someone will, even if it’s only us workers.”
“What a comfort.”
The man who wasn’t Dylan laughed. Two more boxes shoved the boy flat against the back wall. “Really, Dylan, I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you coming here. See those kids over there setting up chairs? Two have already acknowledged Christ as Lord. They’ve put the word out on the street for us. You see, even if they just come to check you out, it’s a success, because then they’ll know there’s a place where they can get food and learn about God. Eventually we want to give out clothes, too. Some of these kids are in rags I wouldn’t give my dog to sleep on. Hey, Jerome,” the man said loudly. Then in a normal voice Jerome was introduced to Dylan and then given new instructions for the chair setup. The men moved away.
The Boy quietly rearranged the boxes so he could look out at the room again. Then he settled in to watch and listen. He ate another half sandwich. The noise level increased as more people crowded into the building. When he knew they wouldn’t hear him he looked through the boxes. He decided to take one of each of the three different cassettes. He had found a cassette player with headphones in someone’s locker at school last month and had hidden it at home under the floorboards in his corner. He could hide the cassettes in the same spot so she wouldn’t find them.
Then the concert began. The table was to the side, so that he could look past the legs of only one worker who was standing in front of the table and see Dylan as he faced the group. The boy didn’t look toward the mass of people sitting on the floor or on folding chairs to the right of him. If he did the panic would come. Instead he focused completely on the area everyone else watched.
Dylan Trent was introduced, and he spoke and sang about a God that was mighty and holy, a God who had created everything, including people. The music washed over him. It was different than the rap that echoed through the streets around him. Somehow it was smoother, fitting together into one long feeling. Watching Dylan create this music was better than watching it on T.V. This was real. And he almost ached with the desire to be a part of that music.
Then Dylan quieted the music and spoke about this mighty God. “People,” he said, “chose not to obey God. The penalty for breaking God’s law is hell, a terrible, painful, and lonely place.” Dylan paused, his fingers moving smoothly over the keyboard. “But then God sent Jesus, because he didn’t want to send us all to hell. He wanted to bring us to heaven to be with him.”
Dylan said Jesus was a man and he was God. He told how Jesus had suffered so we wouldn’t have to. How people had beaten him with a whip, spit on him, called him names, had a crown of thorns shoved into his head, and finally had nails driven through his hands and feet and made him hang by those nails.
The Boy stared at Dylan, forgetting his own fear. Dylan was talking about someone who hurt like he did. People had grabbed and hurt him. The Boy wondered if maybe he could find this Jesus. Maybe they could run away from these other people together and be with God, the mighty one.
But then Dylan said that Jesus did not have to let them do that to him. He was God. He had done miracles. He could control the sea. He could have stopped them, killed them all on the spot, struck them down with lightening.
Strike them down with lightening? Jesus could control the sky, and he let them hurt him? But…
“But,” Dylan continued, “instead he let them do those things to him because he knew he was the only one who could pay the price needed so that people, kids and adults, men and women, could come to God — so that they could talk to Him and have Him as comforter and friend. All who believe, who trust that Jesus’s sacrifice was enough to pay for their sins will be able to go to heaven and be with Him and not have to go to hell.”
At the end, Dylan said, “If anyone wants Jesus as friend, Savior and Lord, raise your hand now and be counted with the people of God. Show God you want to accept his gift of life.”
The Boy cringed underneath the table. He didn’t want anyone to see him… except Jesus. Anyone else would hurt him for hiding here. But not Jesus. Jesus had taken some pain for him. That’s what Dylan had said, he was almost sure.
Jesus, he thought, too scared to move. Jesus, you’re God. Please see me, too. Please….
Dylan also told them about God’s Word and that the Gideons had New Testaments for everyone who came. He said the people at the mission here would be happy to talk to anyone about God at any time. Then he played some more music.
The Boy stayed behind the tablecloths, closing his eyes and letting the music wash over him again. He heard Dylan singing about how great Jesus was. He wanted to capture the music and give it to God. He’d never felt this… this wave… this presence of… He couldn’t define it. He wasn’t afraid, and he wanted the music to go on forever. He wished he could sing and make the sounds for Jesus just like Dylan was.
But then the music stopped. The concert was over, and the tension returned. Would they find him and hurt him before he escaped?
The boxes were slipped out from under the table. He ate the last of the sandwiches while he waited for the crowd to clear, not because he was hungry, but because he didn’t know when he’d have food again. His stomach ached with a pain he barely recognized as over fullness. He ignored the pain. He was good at that.
“Hey man, what you doing here anyway,” the Mean One said.
The boy cringed. He knew that kid. He’d shoved him against the school yard fence last week. He glanced around his shelter to see which way the attack would come. The tablecloths still hung undisturbed, but clean, brown shoes protruded under the table — Dylan’s brown shoes. They were so close he could touch them. “I came to sing and tell you about Jesus.”
“But why? I mean you ain’t much good at it.”
Dylan laughed. “I’ve had people tell me otherwise. But I came because Jesus told us to go and tell people about Him.”
“You’re crazy, you know that. There ain’t no Jesus and there ain’t no God.”
“I know that there is.”
“Maybe in your rich home, but not here in the hood. You don’t know what it’s like.”
“God wouldn’t be God if He were only God in some places, would He? God is God everywhere and there are no places that He is unaware of and no circumstances that He is not in control of.”
“Your God is a power freak then.”
Dylan laughed again. “My God is power. There is no other power than what comes from Him. Everything else is a pale imitation. Anyone who thinks they have real power is deluding themselves.”
“You think you have all the answers, white boy.”
“Not all, but the more I learn about God, the more answers I get.”
“Hey, Ty. Let’s go,” called another voice.
“Yeah sure. Just remember, your answers are wrong.”
“Not,” Dylan said.
The Mean One laughed and then left. Dylan’s shoes left. The Boy breathed again as he heard the men begin taking down the equipment and carrying it outside. Then he remembered Dylan’s words. God was power. That woman wasn’t, and neither were her friends or the mean ones at school. Jesus was. He needed to know more. He wished he had one of those books Dylan had talked about — a Bible, even if he couldn’t read it. Maybe there were pictures in it, and he would be able to figure things out.
The noise level dimmed, and then it was quiet. He heard a few people talking, but they sounded like they were in another room. The Boy looked out from under the table. He saw no one. Hiding the tapes under his shirt, he crawled out. The table was empty except for a small red book — one of the New Testaments — the Bible — God’s words. He reached out to take it, but then hesitated. They were God’s words, and he was just a dog. Maybe the whole thing had been a dream. Jesus wouldn’t let people hurt him for a dog, would he?
“Take it. It’s free.”
The Boy whirled around and looked straight into Dylan Trent’s eyes. They were light hazel and clear. He could find no threat in them. Dylan reached out and picked up the Bible. The Boy jumped back and bumped into the wall. The cassettes under his shirt fell out onto the floor.
“May I assume that you liked my music?”
There was no anger, but sometimes no emotion was more dangerous. He knew now it was all make believe. He would be punished. He cringed against the wall and waited for the attack.
Dylan picked up the three cassettes. Then he held them out to him with the Bible. “Keep them.”
The Boy raised his gaze to Dylan’s. Was he trying to trick him?
“I want you to have them,” Dylan said, “to remind you about God and what Jesus has done for you.”
The Boy didn’t move, sure Dylan must be giving them to someone else, but no one else was near.
Dylan set the cassettes on the table and backed away.
The Boy wanted the music and the book. And he could see the door, wide open. He snatched the cassettes and Bible and ran through the door into the cold December air.
The Boy tried to read the small New Testament, but he was disappointed. There were no pictures, and he only knew a few words. He listened to the tapes again and again until his batteries ran down.
Several days later he went back to the mission. He was hungry, and he hadn’t eaten since the concert. He’d even missed lunch at school that day because the Mean One had chased him, and he spent the lunch hour hiding in a closet. He waited until there were few people before he snuck inside. They had said they would give away food, and maybe he’d see Dylan again.
Dylan wasn’t there, but he tried to pretend it was like school. When he saw someone else receive food at the counter, he hesitantly approached. He kept expecting to be chased away, but the woman behind the counter smiled at him and gave him a bowl of soup. He carried it to the far corner of the room and sat on the floor. No one bothered him that night.
He came again the next night, and they fed him again. At the end of the week a man tried to talk to him, but he ran out, afraid of being punished. He stayed away for several days. When he came again, the man sat on the floor a ways from him, asking questions. The Boy wasn’t sure how to answer them. He knew that woman didn’t want him to talk to anyone. He wasn’t allowed to speak. If she found out, she’d hurt him. So he just listened.
Slowly he realized Gary Dean and his wife Michelle would not hurt him. Michelle always had food for him, and Gary Dean would play the guitar or the piano. He craved the music, especially when he couldn’t find more batteries for his tape player. He especially wanted to touch the piano, but didn’t dare. Gary would also speak about God at a late Bible study once a week. The boy would sit in the back of the room in the shadows and listen until someone came too close.
One evening he saw the Mean One from school come in after he’d gotten his soup and sandwich. The Mean One saw him and sauntered toward him. The boy scrambled up, but then he saw a large, black kid intercept the Mean One. He pointed toward the door… and the Mean One left! He was safe. He found out the large kid’s name was Jerome, but Jerome never came close. He stayed with the mission workers.
Two kids got lessons from Gary on the piano, and he started making sure he was there to watch, knowing he would not hit the wrong notes like they did. After several weeks, he waited after the last student left and Gary had left the room, and he went to the piano and dared to press the keys. Gary came out, and he ran away, afraid of being punished. That woman hated him to make any noise, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the piano.
The next time he went to the mission Gary told him that he could play the piano when there were no lessons or meals. Gary also started to leave his guitar out. The first few times the Boy touched the instruments he was afraid someone would get him. He kept turning to make sure no one was coming up on him. After while though, the music captured his complete attention as he struggled to reproduce first what he had heard Gary play and then what he heard on Dylan’s tapes.
Many times as he ate the workers talked about him as if he wasn’t there, but people always did that. Sometimes he was just called the retarded boy. The boy had heard that said about him before so he knew it was true. They said sometimes a deficiency in mental acuity enhanced abilities, and that must be why he was picking up the music so quickly.
But then one time he heard Jerome tell them about how the Boy was being hurt, but no one believed Jerome. Even the Boy could feel the disapproval of the workers toward Jerome for talking about that. That woman was right. Speaking about the things at home was wrong. He wondered if Jerome would get punished. He watched afraid his protector would be hurt and banned from returning. Jerome kept quiet the rest of that evening, and the Boy’s fear increased when Jerome didn’t come back for several days. The Boy knew if he spoke, he would be punished and not be able to come back either. But then Jerome returned, and it was as if he’d never stayed away. The Boy wondered if he’d been at home too sore to move. That happened when he was punished. Sometimes he was punished so badly that woman wouldn’t make him go to school.
After a while the Boy sat at the table to eat, and he let Gary or Michelle sit near him. Perhaps they wouldn’t hurt him. Eventually they quit waiting for him to answer their questions, but they still talked to him.
One night, almost a year after he had first come to the mission, Gary sat across the table from him. “Have you heard about the concert next Friday?”
The Boy took a deep breath. He had to know. After a quick silent prayer he asked, “Will Dylan Trent be here?”
Gary stared at him. “You can talk! You’ve been holding out on me.”
The Boy cringed. Should he run? Was Gary mad? Would he try to get him?
“It’s all right,” Gary said in a calm, neutral voice. “Really. I’m glad you can talk. Maybe you can tell me your name. No one seems to know it.”
The Boy started to get up. He’d never know. Dylan would understand.
“Dylan won’t be here this year. We’ve got a new group of guys who rap. They’re bringing a whole band. It’ll be pretty good.”
The Boy relaxed a little as the conversation turned from him, but he wasn’t pleased with the answer. Would he ever see Dylan again?
“You heard Dylan last year?”
The Boy nodded.
“You really liked his music then?”
He nodded again.
“The truth is I like Dylan’s music a lot better than this new group, but most of the others who come here like this rap group better. We’ve played their CD during dinner, and everyone’s getting excited, but you always come too late to hear it. Do you think you’ll be here for the concert?”
The Boy looked around and then shrugged. He finished the last of his food and left without touching the piano. He didn’t make it to the concert because too many people milled around, and he had nowhere to hide. If it had been Dylan he would have taken the chance.
Over the following year the Boy continued going to the mission. Often he could not play the piano in the far room as much as he wanted because there were more official students and they needed the practice. So he’d sit in the corner cafeteria room with the guitar, making it speak for him when there were not Bible studies. Those he listened to intently so he could learn more about Jesus. He began to understand that what was happening to him at home was sin. The things she made him do and what was done to him was all sin, and God didn’t like it either.
That summer he decided to run away. He could get food and clothes at the mission. He didn’t need anything from home. One night he simply didn’t go back, staying in an abandoned house several blocks on the other side of the mission. Three days later her friends tracked him down. They beat him and used him so badly he couldn’t go anywhere for over a week. She just laughed that laugh as they did it. He knew he would never be able to escape her. He was trapped there forever.
Dylan didn’t return the next Christmas either. The Boy was able to hide in the kitchen during the concert, but the music didn’t relax him as Dylan’s had, and he wished he’d stayed away.
It was late in January when Gary sat across from him at the table. The Boy knew he wouldn’t hurt him. He kept eating, wanting to hurry through his food so that he could play the piano and bring forth the music that was trapped inside him.
“I hate to tell you this, but Michelle’s parents are pretty sick.”
The Boy looked up from his soup.
“The doctor says they need someone to live with them, so we’re going to have to move back to North Dakota.”
“You’re leaving?” He couldn’t believe it.
“You’re talking to me again. I thought I’d imagined it. Yes, we have to leave tomorrow morning.”
The Boy pushed his food away. He was no longer hungry.
“I don’t know if you know Jesus or not. Do you know Him? Is He your savior?”
The Boy looked into Gary’s eyes. “Yes. But I….”
“But… what? You can tell me. I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
He looked around and then down at Gary’s hands on the table. “She makes me sin,” he said in a whisper.
Gary stared at him, and he knew he’d said the wrong thing. “Who is she?” he finally asked.
He shook his head. He’d said too much.
“Listen, if half the rumors I’ve heard about you are true….”
He had to get away.
“Wait, I may never have another chance to talk to you. Please listen.”
The Boy stopped, but did not sit back down.
“You’ve got to tell someone. Tell someone at school so they can get you away from her.”
The Boy walked away. He’d never escape from her. No one would help him.
Gary followed. “What can I say to convince you?”
He slipped out the door.
“She can only make you if you let her,” Gary called after him.
The Boy started running and didn’t stop until he reached the abandoned house on the other side of the neighborhood. He crawled through the broken basement window and made his way into the attic. He liked to sit up there and look outside, because he could see if anyone was coming.
Tell someone. He’d told Gary And he was leaving. He pulled out the cassette player from the pocket of the baggy pants he’d gotten from the mission clothes closet and placed the earphones near his ears. I don’t let her, Jesus. You know I don’t let them. They just do it. I can’t stop them. They’re bigger than me. I tried to stay away, remember Jesus, last summer. They found me, and it hurt. It hurt so much. If Dylan knew he would take me far away. They would never be able to find me then.
But Dylan’s not coming back, is he? He didn’t last year, and he didn’t come this year. O God, please take me away from here. Please. Let them kill me if it’s the only way out. Is it really true, Jesus, that you would send me to hell for killing myself? I wish I could read your book. Then I’d know for sure. Please help me.
He listened to the tape until the batteries died. He decided he better go back to the house. If she had to look for him, it would be painful.
Two days later she informed him that someone had bought him for the night and that he better stick around.
“Did you say something, Dawg?”
“I won’t let them.” He wished he knew how to stop them. “God doesn’t like it. I don’t like it.”
She slapped him. “You should know by now, Dawg, you aren’t supposed to speak unless I command it.”
He hated to look in her eyes because they taunted him. They promised him pain. But he looked straight at her and realized that he was as tall as she was now. Her brown eyes held a slightly bloodshot look. She wasn’t as stoned as she normally was in the evening. She needed more crack. That would be the price for him. But God didn’t want him to do that. He started to walk past her, a bold move on any day.
She grabbed his arm and tried to twist it. “You’ll stay here tonight.”
For the first time in a long time he fought back. Gary said he shouldn’t let them. Well, he’d stop them; he’d fight until she killed him. He grabbed her left arm with his free hand and pulled her around until she had to release her grip on him. Then she continued until she fell against the kitchen counter.
“You bastard.” She pushed herself away from the counter, lunging at him.
He moved, avoiding her body, but his foot caught hers, sending her to the floor. She tried to get up, but screamed in pain as her right arm bent at an odd angle.
He watched, surprised he was still standing and without pain while she cursed and screamed. She looked tiny then. He could hurt her, beat her like she’d beaten him, wrap his hands around her skinny, little neck. But as he thought it, he also thought of Gary, and he hesitated, confused. He wanted to kill her, but Gary said… God said….
But she was standing now, and the look in her eyes caused his mind to go white with fear. He had to get away. How could he have forgotten her friends? They’d get him and hurt him and not let him die.
She snatched something from the counter, something that had reflected the grimy kitchen light, something that would hurt him.
He backed away into the living room. Maybe if he didn’t fight her when she hurt him this time, she’d forget about her friends.
She followed until he was in his corner and then stood face to face with him. “Just you wait, Dawg. I’ll get you back so bad. You won’t even know when it’s coming. Just when you think you’re safe, I’ll get you.” Then she plunged a steak knife at him.
He dodged to the left, but the knife still cut deep into his right arm. Blood soaked his shirt. She laughed as he crawled behind the couch. He prayed she was satisfied with his punishment, and he barely heard her leave as he wavered between pain and unconsciousness.
When he awoke she was home again. The cast on her arm shone stiff and white against her dark skin and the black T-shirt she wore. When she closed herself into the bedroom, he crawled out from behind the couch and went into the bathroom to look in the mirror. His shirt sleeve stuck to his arm with blood. He soaked it until he could take off the shirt. The wound started bleeding again. He tore a piece off the bottom of his shirt and clumsily wrapped it around his upper arm. Then he put the shirt back on. He was hungry but decided not to search the kitchen. He couldn’t upset her anytime soon, or it’d be far more painful.
Outside his shirt froze stiff against his arm before he was halfway to the mission, and he gritted his teeth against the pain. They had put up Valentine decorations since he was last there — the night Gary had told him he would leave. It was late, and there was no food on the counter for him. He ignored his stomach. Perhaps he’d be able to get a new shirt, but the clothes room was locked.
“May I help you?” asked a high-pitched, female voice.
The Boy whirled around and recognized one of the workers from the kitchen.
“Oh, no one left you anything, did they? Michelle used to take care of that. It looks like you could use another shirt also. Is that what you came for?”
She unlocked the door and turned on the light. “Help yourself. I’ll go see if there are any leftovers.”
When she was gone, he threw off his torn, bloody shirt. He found a sweat shirt and then took a large lined flannel shirt to use as a coat.
The woman peeked in. “Oh, you’ve already changed. I have a sandwich and some chips for you.”
He walked past her to the table. As he ate she picked up his old shirt with two fingers and carried it, arm fully stretched out, to the large trash bin. Then she locked the door and went into the kitchen.
He heard them talking about him, but he barely listened. They’d never hurt him here. He knew he was safe for now. When he finished the food he started to leave. He didn’t want that woman to send her friends to find him.
He stopped, alert.
The woman who’d helped him earlier held out an old guitar. “Gary said he wanted us to give you this.”
“Yes. You left too quickly last time you were here.”
Tentatively the Boy reached out, expecting her to snatch it back and laugh at his stupidity. But she allowed him to take it, and then she walked back to sit with the others.
He put the guitar’s worn, brown, leather strap over his head before sitting in one of the chairs by the table, tuning and playing. His eyes stung, but he never cried. He had learned early not to. He wished Gary and Michelle had not left. He wished they had taken him with them. But they didn’t want him. Not really, or they would have taken him. This guitar was great. They must have cared some. What would he do with it? She would destroy it, especially if she knew how much he wanted it. He couldn’t let her destroy it.
The Boy looked for the woman from the kitchen. She sat with several other people across the room listening to him and talking quietly. He wished she was alone. She had seemed kind, but people always acted differently in a group. If he didn’t talk to her though, he wouldn’t ever see the guitar again. He took a deep breath and walked over to them, holding out the guitar. “Can this stay here?”
“You don’t want it?”
“He really does talk,” said someone else.
“I want it,” he tried to explain.
Questions came from several people at once. They didn’t seem to understand. He laid the guitar down on the closest table and walked away. They called out for him to wait, but he couldn’t. There were too many of them.
The Boy had walked only half a block when he heard the footsteps behind him. Oh, no! She had sent them! He was going to be punished. He ran and turned, cutting across a yard. They picked up speed, following him. Then someone blocked his path. “Hey, Dawg, guess what we’re here for.”
He ran the other way. Another one came and cut him off. He saw three of them all together, and they moved in on him. They grabbed him as he tried to slip between them, and they pounded him to the ground with a bat. Then they dragged him back to the house. She laughed the laugh that haunted his nightmares as they took turns hurting him. He felt himself losing awareness. This is it, God. Let me go to You. It was his last thought before he felt nothing more.
Go to Chapter 2
© 2013, 1995 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.