The Lost Boys
In a world torn asunder, can two boys find their way home?
Danny only pulled the locket out at night. He slept with it cupped in his hands, pressed to his chest. It was the only thing he had from his old life. Before the Pandemic took his mother and the bad men raided their caravan and stole him from his father.
There was nothing special about the locket; a rough hewn, weathered heart beaten out of tarnished steel. His father made it with his own stained hands, fitted the clasp and the hinges with tiny twisted wires to hold it together. A gift for Danny’s mother.
"Do you know what makes this special?" his father had asked him once. "If you ever get lost, you just have to open this and it will show you the way home."
Danny tried to open it, but the wire clasps were too small and secure for his fingers. He had long since resigned himself to never figuring it out.
Logan began to stir, and Danny quickly stuffed the locket down the front of his shirt. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Logan. Logan had just helped him escape from the cellar, but one could never be too careful these days.
They had the clothes on their backs, the shoes they’d stolen, and precious little else. They walked all day, stopping only to share half a stale KitKat bar and a hydration tablet. They didn't talk much because it was extra energy they couldn't afford to expend. They burrowed into piles of leaves to keep warm at night. They never lit a fire because the bad men were probably looking for them. Danny wasn't afraid of the dark anymore, but in the dark the nightmares came to him, and every time he awoke, cramming his fist into his mouth to muffle his screams, it took him a moment to realize that he was no longer in the cellar. He was safe. Safer, at least.
They were far away from the nearest settlement, they knew that much. There were no city lights in any direction. No rumble and clatter of survivor caravans stumbling from one ruined metropolis to another, vainly hoping to find a safe place to rebuild their lives out of the absolute nothing they had left. The boys were alone. Or so they thought.
"Do you remember where you came from?" Logan asked him.
Danny strained to remember. His memory of the day he was taken was blurred and fragmented by whatever compliance drug the bad me had given him.
If he could only get the stupid locket open, he'd know where to go, he thought ruefully. It didn't matter back in the cellar, but now when he really needed it to show him the way home, he couldn't open it. He found himself fingering it through his t-shirt, willing it to open and show them the right way to go.
"Gateway City, maybe?" Danny suggested out loud. He could see the towering remnants of the Gateway Arch in his mind, clearer than any other recollection he had.
"That's a good five day walk north from New Littlerockton," Logan said, "which would be helpful if we were anywhere near New Littlerockton. But, we aren’t."
Logan never talked about his life before the cellar. He claimed he'd been too young when he was taken to remember much. But little off-hand remarks like this made Danny wonder if Logan recalled more than he was letting on.
They kept walking without any clear sense of which way to go. Anything away from the cellar was the right direction for now. Danny struggled to keep up with the older boy's lanky strides. The shoes didn’t fit him very well, rubbing painfully against his heels and the balls of his feet. He bit down on his lip to keep from complaining. It was a small inconvenience, he told himself. The blisters were preferable to the cellar and the bad things that happened there.
Storm clouds roiled above the ragged treetops and seemed ready to unleash their torrents at any moment. The air was heavy with the scent of impending rainfall. Thunder rumbled somewhere in the distance. Danny counted the seconds between each angry peal and flash of lightning, a trick his father taught him. Seven seconds. The storm was getting closer.
"What are we going to do when it starts raining?" Danny asked.
Logan stopped, looked at the sky, concern etched in his face. He hadn't factored this in. "We'll have to find shelter somewhere." It was a good plan in theory, but the lack of suitable sheltering places in their immediate vicinity made it difficult to implement.
The crunch of tires on gravel made them freeze. They hadn't realized how close to the road they were.
“Get down!” Logan dove for Danny, pulling him down to the damp ground amid the grass and weeds.
Cautiously, Danny lifted his head just enough to peer through the foliage to see the van rumbling its lonely way down the road. It didn’t look like the type of van the bad men used. Those vans were solid white with tinted windows. This was the sort of camper van that made up the caravans. What was it doing all the way out here? Campervans never traveled alone and usually kept to the remains of the Interstates, not deserted back roads like this one.
Acting on some impulse he didn’t understand, Danny jumped up and ran toward the road, ignoring Logan’s hissed protestations;
“Danny! What are you--? Ugh!”
Danny completely trashed any and all caution as he scrambled up to the road as the campervan passed by. He waved his arms wildly over his head, trying to flag it down. “Help!” he called to the driver.
The campervan swerved, slowed, breaks screeching as it slid to a stop a few feet away. Danny’s heart thudded frantically in his chest as the driver door opened and a woman’s head poked out. She wasn’t old, but she wasn’t young, her face creased with worry lines, her frizzy hair pulled into an untidy brown topknot.
“What do you want?” the woman called to him.
“We’re fine!” Logan ran up and grabbed Danny by the shoulders, shifting him bodily so that Logan stood between him and the mystery campervan. “Sorry to bother you.”
The woman looked from Logan to Danny, then back to Logan. “Aren’t you a little young to be out here on your own?”
“I’m fifteen!” Logan protested.
"That's pretty young," the woman said.
“We’ll be fine," Logan insisted. "We’re just trying to get to Gateway City.”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to be walking for a long time. That’s a good ten hours from here by car.”
Danny’s heart sank. It was a long way, and he wasn’t sure if his father was even still there.
“Get in the car,” the woman said.
“No, really--” Logan began, but she cut him off.
“You’re not going to make it all the way to Gateway City on foot,” the woman said. “Not in this weather.”
She had a point.
The inside of the campervan smelled like cigarettes and old shoes, but at least it was warm and dry. Danny and Logan sat together, crammed into the passenger's seat, Danny in the middle and Logan next to the door. The engine sputtered temperamentally, and then the campervan lurched forward again. The first drops of rain tapped against the wide windshield, followed by more, and then the deluge.
It would be cold in the cellar tonight, Danny reflected. It was always cold after it rained. He was grateful not to be there.
"So, what are you boys doing on this very deserted road by yourselves?" the woman asked.
"We could ask you the same question," Logan countered.
"Touche," the woman said. "I'm Mara, which is appropriate because I'm miserable."
"Why are you miserable?" Danny asked.
Mara gave a derisive laugh. "Isn't everyone these days?"
“I hope we’re not taking you too far from your caravan?” Logan said.
“I don’t have a caravan,” Mara said.
“No caravan?” Danny’s mind was blown. Ka-poof!
“Honestly,” Mara explained, “I’m just going to drive to the end of the world and find somewhere to die. But, I suppose a short detour to help you boys wouldn’t hurt. My last good deed.”
“Why are you going to die?” Danny asked her.
Mara shrugged. “There’s nothing left for me here.”
Danny reached up and touched the locket under his shirt, hoping that he still had someone to go home to.
Danny kept the locket in the crevice in the wall behind his mattress. That was his secret place, where he hid the chocolate bars he was given. He quickly stowed it away when the rusty bolts of the cellar door jolted him into alertness. The bad men were there, looming out of the shadows, leering. Danny was crying, cowering, curling himself into the tiniest ball he could form. Begging even though he knew it would do no good.
“It’s okay, kid.” It was Mara’s voice.
Danny woke and was surprised to find himself in the bed Mara had cobbled together with pillows and a throw blanket on the campervan floor. They’d stopped moving. Rain pattered lightly on the windshield. He was safe.
Mara crouched beside him. “It’s okay, kid. It’s just a bad dream.”
Danny flung his arms around Mara’s neck. He was sobbing, his whole body shaking. It was embarrassing, but he couldn’t help it.
“Uh.” Mara wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. “There, there,” she said, awkwardly patting his back.
“I don’t want to go back!” Danny sobbed. “Please, don’t let them take me back!”
“Okay,” she said, trying to be supportive even though she didn’t understand what he was talking about.
“Danny?” Logan blinked into wakefulness beside them. He sat up quickly, startled to see Danny weeping on Mara’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry,” Logan said to Mara. “He has these bad dreams sometimes.”
“It’s okay,” Mara said, eyeing Logan with suspicion and concern. “What were you really doing out on that road all alone?”
With some reluctance, Logan told her everything. About the bad men who had taken them, the cellar, and the things that had happened to them, and about their escape. Mara listened quietly. Danny could feel her blood boiling as she held him, her grip tightening protective.
“Those monsters,” was all she said when Logan was finished.
“Danny thinks his family was in Gateway City when he was taken,” Logan explained. “That’s why we’re heading there.”
Mara nodded, finally understanding their situation. “What about you?” she asked him.
Logan shook his head. “My family sold me. They don’t want me back.”
Danny hadn’t known that. It made him very sad knowing that Logan didn’t have home to go back to. “You can come with me,” Danny suggested, sniffling away his tears. “Both of you. We can all be a family together.”
Mara smiled sadly at him, then something caught her attention. “Whatcha got there?”
Danny had been holding the locket in his sleep, and he’d forgotten to hide it when he woke up. He backed away from Mara, clutching it to his chest.
Mara held up her hands. “It’s okay. I’m not going to take it. It’s obviously very special to you.”
Danny nodded. “It was my mother’s. She said that if I ever got lost, it would show me how to get home.”
“You’ve had that the whole time?” Logan looked rather annoyed. But also a little impressed.
“Yeah,” Danny admitted, “I just can’t open it.”
“May I see?” Mara asked. Reluctantly, Danny gave it to her. He watched anxiously as she turned it over in her hands. “What happens if--?” She picked at one of the little wires, and the locket snapped open. A holographic map burst out of it, making Danny and Logan jump.
“It’s a radar,” Mara said, “and the other signal is in St. Josephsville.”
“What does that mean?” Danny asked.
Mara looked at him, smiling. “It means you’re almost home."