Monday, July 10, 2017
Phoenix from the Ashes Part 1
Phoenix from the Ashes Part 1
Written by Snarks
Note: All characters are my own creations. None are based on any people living or dead.
Thanks to PJ for her beta and suggestions.
Warning: Beginning contains reference to child molestation, child abuse. Please do not read if you are a survivor, or as upset by any form of child abuse as I am. The reference is part of the story and, if it's not considered a spoiler, never actually happens.
The paragraph that contains the reference will be in italics so that you can see and skip that part if you need to.
Phoenix from the Ashes Part 1
He'd had enough. He'd had enough and he couldn't do it anymore. For the past five years, ever since his father had stormed out of the house, swearing that none of the kids were his, he'd watched his bright eyed, beautiful mother go from loving and caring to hollow cheeked and pale. Her once sparkling eyes, sunken into her skull. An invisible knife twisted in his heart every time she said that she wished they'd never been born.
‘Keen had fought back once, saying that anywhere had to be better than their home and threatening to run away. His mother’s boyfriend, a grizzled, haggard, drug skinny man with the unfortunate name of Ickory Huckster and perhaps five yellow-brown teeth left in his mouth, had grabbed ‘Keen by the neck of his shirt, holding tight when the child tried to wriggle loose.
"What’s the matter yeh little turd?" Ickory had asked snidely, rancid breath in the boy's ear. ‘Keen thought he would be sick from the smell.
"You wanna go to a orph'nage or a foster home where the bigger boys and even the foster fathers'll fuck you up the ass every night? You wanna go to a place where they'll beat you and starve you? An' what's gonna happen to your 'tard brother, and that delicious little piece of meat yeh call 'the baby'? It'll only be a little while ‘til one or all of you is hustlin' blow jobs on the streets, or dead. So yea, go ahead, run away. Do your mother an' me a favor an' disappear. Little fuck," he'd said disgustedly as he shoved ‘Keen away from him.
'Keen's stomach knotted with fear. None of his mother's boyfriends had ever threatened the boys like that before, though several had felt free to slap them around. ’Keen had been constantly getting between those men and his brothers, taking the beatings and allowing his brothers to get to a safe place. The jerks who hit, well, they didn't seem to care who they hit as long as they got to do it, and he preferred it be him rather than Sam, or his sweet and still innocent little Mikey.
He had taken care of his brothers for the last five years, ever since little Mikey had been two and Sam had been eight. It had been a lot for a boy of twelve to deal with, but he had done it.
He'd made sure they got to school and did their homework. He'd made sure they took regular baths and washed their hair, brushed their teeth. He did the laundry and the dishes, tried to keep the house clean, using Pledge to clean the powder residue off of the wooden coffee table, covering the cigarette burns on the couch and chairs with blankets he found in the donation boxes.
He wondered how it was that he hadn't been caught yet as he went into the local Family Saver and guiltily stuffed packages of socks and underwear into his backpack so that he and his brothers would have them. He would often, to assuage his conscience, pick up clothes that had fallen and rehang them, or refold items that had been looked over and carelessly thrown back onto the pile.
He frequently slipped into the welfare donation boxes by flashlight, and picked out clothes he thought would fit him and his brothers. They weren't always the best fit but they were clean and in good condition and he figured there wasn't much more he could ask for. He had a stack of sneakers and shoes in his closet for when one or both of his brothers would outgrow or wear out the ones they had.
Often he would wait anxiously for his mother, or Ickory, or both, to be passed out so that he could rummage for enough money to buy food.
Now it was someone else’s turn to deal with it. The guilt and fear ate at his stomach but he just couldn't take it anymore. He prayed that whoever found Sammy and Mike would be good to them. Would take care of them until he could come back and take them somewhere safe and far away from here.
His mind went back to hearing Sammy's screams. His first reaction was to run to their room to make sure they were alright as he saw and smelled the smoke. As usual, there were no batteries in the smoke alarms. He soothed Sammy as much as he could, little Mikey was better at doing that than he was. He put them on the bed closest to the window and cracked it open so that fresh air would get in and ordered Mikey to stuff a blanket under the door to keep the smoke from coming in.
He ran to the living room where he found his mother sprawled on the floor, mouth open as she snored. He averted his eyes as he closed her legs and pulled her short, tight skirt down as far as it would go in order to preserve her dignity. He rolled Ick over onto his side to prevent the odious man from choking on his own spit up. Flake was on the couch with Misty Grey (he grimaced at the would-be actress' name). Both of them were passed out. Flake's cigarette had ignited the couch cushion and his hand, wrist and part of his lower arm were currently on fire, as were Misty's overly sprayed, over-bleached locks. He had used part of the new and now ruined blanket to put them out.
He had looked around the room, his heart pounding. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. He wanted to throw things, smash the windows. A brief image of him taking his brothers outside and setting fire to the house crossed his mind but he closed his eyes and shook his head to rid himself of the image. It wouldn't help. It wouldn't help any more than the buckets of tears he and his brothers had cried over the years.
Where could he go with a disabled twelve-year-old, and a seven-year-old who saw and heard everything but never spoke. His brothers would only slow him down, and he had to get out and as far away as possible.
Instead he rummaged through the adult’s pockets, purses and back packs looking for money and cell phones. He left the credit cards in their wallets and carefully replaced the wallets where he'd gotten them. He made a pouch out of the hem of his tee shirt and stuffed the money into it.
Rushing as quickly as he could he ran back to his room, put on the clothes he had been wearing that day, and stuffed the money into the pockets. He picked up his back pack and crammed socks, underwear, a couple of pairs of jeans and a couple of shirts into it. He went to the bathroom, picked up rolls of toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush and deodorant and added them to his bag. He would have taken more but he knew that even what little he had would feel like twenty pounds after a few miles.
After that he had run to the kitchen, leaving the back pack near the front door and checking to see if the adults were still out, happy for once to see that they were.
In the kitchen he took a little food to tide him over, put it in a bag for himself and brought the rest of it to his brothers. Sammy's eyes gleamed when he saw his brother shake up a bottle of YooHoo and pop it open before handing it to him. ’Keen gave Mikey two juice boxes and a package of oatmeal cookies for the two to share.
"Mikey," ’Keen said softly. "Mikey," he repeated, gently taking his little brother's face in his hands so that their eyes met.
"Listen Mike, everything is OK now but I want you and Sammy to stay here in the room. Take care of him, alright? I'll send help as soon as I can, alright? Understand, Mighty Mike?"
Seven-year-old Mikael, who hadn't spoken a word in his lifetime, looked into his older brother's eyes and nodded before scooting closer to Sammy to hand him one of the cream filled oatmeal cookies.
With some trepidation that the adults may have awakened while he'd been talking to his brothers, ‘Keen tiptoed toward the living room. He sighed in relief when he realized they were still out. He was just about to leave when he looked back at Flake's burned arm, and on Misty's, (ugh, he couldn't bear to use such a pretty sounding name on such a hideous woman) head. They might be out like lights but they'd be in pain when they woke. He went back into the kitchen and saturated two dish towels in cold water. He placed one on the man's arm, and the wrapped other around the woman's mostly hairless head. Then he turned and left without a backward look.
He wasn't too worried about either of his brothers giving him up, and it would be a while before his mother or her friends were sober enough to notice he was missing, if they ever did.
He took one of the cell phones from his pocket and dialed 911.
''911, what is your emergency?'' came a calm female voice on the other end.
He knew there was no way he was going to be able to deepen his voice enough to pass himself off as a full grown man, but he was good at imitation, a skill which he often used to entertain his brothers, so he did his imitation of his next door neighbor, Mrs. Hines.
''Oh, my! I was out walking little Pookie when I heard a terrible ruckus at my neighbor's house! The children were crying so! I knocked on the door but there was no answer and that's when I smelled smoke! Well I'm sorry but I went in and there they were!" ’Keen said, rapidly and breathlessly.
''Who was that ma'am?''
''Why, the mother and her boyfriend and oh I don't know how many other people were there, all passed out on the floors and furniture! One of them... why his hand was on fire but he never woke once! I hope I didn't tamper with evidence but I put it out.
Was that OK?" ‘She’ dithered worriedly. "I won't get in trouble, will I?"
''No ma'am, I don't believe the police will fine you for tampering with evidence. Are the fires out now, Ms..... ?''
''Oh, ah...’ ’Keen stumbled, momentarily forgetting who he was supposed to be imitating, ''Yes, there are no more flames anywhere I could see. And my name is Hines. Mrs. Althea Hines. And Pookie Bear,'' he added, as though the little Yorkshire terrier had been in on the rescue mission and deserved at least half of the credit.
The dispatcher caught herself in a laugh. Now was not the time.
''Mrs. Hines, may I have the address?''
''Mine, or my neighbor's?'' ’Keen asked absently. If he was going to be Mrs. Hines then he really had to be Mrs. Hines.
''Your neighbor's for now, ma'am. May I have the address please?''
"449 Docker Street. Just off of Haven Boulevard.''
"I'm sending help now, Mrs. Hines. Now can you tell me what you saw when you walked inside? Where are the children now?"
"Oh, my! The mother and her boyfriend were on the floor. I didn't know if they were dead or not," ‘Keen replied. It was a bold faced lie. He'd made sure everyone in the room was alive. ''I did move one man's face out of his... I mean he'd... been sick,'' ‘Keen whispered as though 'she'd' seen him doing something worse, "and was having trouble breathing until I moved his head."
"There was white powder and pills and those mara-hew-anna cigarettes and empty beer bottles and such like," ’Keen continued in his neighbor's breathless manner.
"Are the children all right, Mrs. Hines?"
"The twelve-year-old, well he was the one was making all the noise he was so scared, the poor mite, and the baby, he's seven I think, why he was trying to get his big brother to calm down. I comforted the kids best I could and gave them something to drink and eat and put them back to bed before calling you."
‘Keen could hear sirens in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Mrs. Hines, help is on the way, will you stay with the kids until the paramedics arrive?"
"I'm sorry, what's that?" Mrs. Hines shouted. "I didn't hear you! Oh jitterbugs! I think the battery is failing...,” ’Keen said before closing the phone, throwing it to the ground and crushing it under the heel of his sneaker. He kicked the pieces into a sewer grate and ran.
He couldn't take it anymore. Tears came to his eyes as he ran in the opposite direction of the sirens. He felt like such a coward. How could he leave his brothers to the horrors of the orphanages or foster homes when he couldn't bear to face them himself. But he couldn't. He'd had enough.
‘Keen had been walking for a while. It had not been quite one in the morning when he began to walk. He saw the lights of a gas station and went in, hoping that the clerk wouldn't be nosy about what he was doing out at two a.m., or where he was going when he stopped to buy a map of Washington State and one of America, which he stuffed into his backpack. He had, in his rush, forgotten his bag of food so he bought a microwavable cheeseburger and a couple of bottles of Cherry Coke.
The clerk stood behind the counter, snapping his gum and intently studying the latest copy of Play Boy. ’Keen had stolen before, but only what he'd needed for his brothers. As he glanced back at the clerk he thought that if he'd been a different kind of kid, he could have stolen the place bare and the guy wouldn't have noticed.
A kind looking elderly gentleman offered to give the young boy a lift to the next town, but before he knew it he found the car turning into the parking lot of the nearest police station. ‘Keen opened the door and bolted before the man had a chance to grab him or call for one of the nearby policemen who were standing near their cars, preparing for their shifts.
He had no idea how many of the cops took up the chase but ‘Keen had youth and terror on his side and he ran faster than he'd ever done before. He lost them quickly and avoided main streets wherever he could after that, ducking every time he saw headlights approaching and waiting until his heart beat returned to normal before continuing his trek.
‘Keen knew where the highway was and he headed indirectly for it, staying as close to the trees and shadows as he could while he took large bites of the soggy and stale tasting burger he'd bought at the gas station. He alternated bites with sips from the first bottle of Coke.
As the sun rose ‘Keen was tired but he pushed himself to continue walking, keeping to the tree lines or walking casually down unavoidable streets until night fall, only stopping at a mini mart to buy some juice, bread, peanut butter and more soda. He splurged on himself and bought a large bottle of chocolate milk and a container of chocolate chip cookies.
Sometime around four a.m. the next day he walked into a rest area. He looked around cautiously. It had already been more than a day of walking and he still had things to do before he could find a place to sleep. He went into the rest room to wash and change his clothes. He used the plastic bag from the groceries to wrap the dirty clothes in and then shoved it deep into his back pack until he could find a laundromat.
‘Keen searched the area thoroughly for any nearby cars or trucks before taking out the wads of bills he'd taken from the house. Eyes darting up and around on occasion to be sure he was still alone, he counted the money and gasped when he realized he was carrying a little over four hundred dollars.
Terror struck. He was a seventeen-year-old boy traveling alone. A runaway! A thief! If he was caught, by the police or one of the creeps that preyed on younger kids, with that kind of money on him, he would be toast. But what could he do with it? He had no immediate idea, any more than he knew where he was going to go from here, so he separated the larger bills from the smaller. The singles he kept in his left jean pocket, the fives in the right. He put a few tens in his back pocket, took an empty baggie he found under the table with only a little smear of peanut butter left on the inside and put the rest of the twenties, and fifties in that. He then took off his sneaker and sock. He folded and flattened the baggie against his bare foot, slipped his sock back on and then replaced his sneaker. It felt slippery and uncomfortable at first but he quickly got used to it.
He kept up his routine for nearly a week, only spending money when he had to, and staying off the main highways if he could, stopping at rest stops to wash himself and his clothes to the best of his ability. On rare occasions he'd catch a bus being sure to do it after school hours, where he'd sleep until he reached the end of the line. He tried to act nonchalant when the drivers would give him curious stares. A smile and a thank you usually put the drivers at ease and they'd smile and wave at him, wishing him a good day.
He'd eventually lost count of the days, no longer caring. Choking down what food he could buy, forcing what he was able to eat down past the lump of guilt that seemed to be lodged in his throat and then wrapping the rest to be eaten later. He was extremely tired but slogged on, stopping at any rest stop he could to recharge. He'd ditched the remaining cell phones some miles back for fear that if he used them someone would be able to track him down. He'd seen enough crime dramas on TV to know that it was possible, and he couldn't afford to be caught.
It was the middle of the day and he once again found a likely looking place to stop for a while. Looking around again and seeing the coast was clear, he ate quickly, chugging down another bottle of chocolate milk before it went bad, after which he ambled toward the woods bordering the rest area. Finding the perfect tree, he jumped for the lowest branch, and pulled himself up with great effort.
His arms were shaking something terrible by the time he managed to climb up, but he felt much safer now than he had just moments before. He smiled in relief and rubbed his arms to ease the cramps. Climbing trees had been a challenge for him in the past, but he'd always done it whenever he'd needed a quiet place to think and rest. He made himself a stable nest among three sturdy branches for the night, hung his back pack on another nearby branch, and fell immediately to sleep, mindless of the cold.
He slept well into the following day, the sounds of cars, wailing infants, fussy toddlers and frustrated parents incorporating themselves into his dreams. It wasn't until he heard the dog barking that he came to, feeling as though his head were full of cotton. He felt muzzy and needed to drink something. He rubbed at his eyes and took in his surroundings.
Down below him at the base of his tree, was a scruffy little brown dog which looked up at him expectantly, wagging its tail, little pink tongue hanging out of the side of its mouth. It barked again, continuing to wag its tail until it looked like a fan behind it.
"Shoo!" whispered ‘Keen, "Shoo, mutt! Get outta here!" he said trying to shrink further back into the remaining dead foliage of the branch he was on.
The dog barked back and ‘Keen could swear that the danged thing was smiling at him.
"Come on, Killer! Get back here! You can chase the squirrels when we get home! Come on ya mutt," the male voice said affectionately.
The dog grinned back at its owner, then jumped up on the base of the tree with one little paw, looked back up at the boy in the tree and barked again. Killer's owner approached the tree and looked into the sparse, winter withered foliage, which rustled as the youngster tried to disappear into the branches.
"Hey! Who's up there!? Are you OK? Hey! Come on down, I won't hurt you. Come on down," the man said, circling the base of the tree until he could see the frightened boy.
"Hey, my name is Gideon." The man smiled up at the youth reassuringly. "Gideon Baker. Come on down, son." The dark haired, dark eyed man raised a helping hand to the kid.
"I'm not your son!" ’Keen replied belligerently. He was angry. He was angry at the stupid mutt for giving away his hiding place. He was angry at this stranger, who had the nerve to call him son when he didn't even know him.
The stranger's smile wavered for a moment and then returned. "Alright then, I suppose if you tell me your name I can call you something other than son, or hey you. What do you say? Want to come down? I only stopped because Killer here needed a bathroom break. Which way are you headed? I'm headed back to Maine," he said, pointing east. “We flew out to Seattle to visit my brother but decided to rent a car and drive back to enjoy winter sights.”
‘Keen eyed Gideon warily. What if he was a predator? What if he was a cop? Why wasn't he asking any questions about where a youngster could be headed or why he was sleeping in a tree? On the other hand, the ride would get him across the border into Montana, and perhaps he could hitch a ride with one of the truck drivers from there to... wherever he ended up. Maine seemed as likely a place as anywhere else, he thought, but the man would definitely feel compelled to ask a lot of questions if he rode the whole way with him. That was if Gideon didn't try to drop him off at a police station like the old man had.
‘Keen grabbed his bag and jumped down, ignoring the outstretched hand. He kept his distance from the man but the dog, Killer, barked and jumped on ‘Keen's legs until the boy finally knelt, picked up the squirming dog and petted it while it alternately yipped happily and licked his face.
Despite his reservations, ‘Keen found himself very much liking the little dog. “Killer? He’s so small! What kind is he?” ‘Keen laughed as the dog licked his nose.
“He’s a German Hunting Terrier. And don’t let his size fool you, kid. He’s bred to hunt and he’s pretty fearless. But I’ve got to say, you must be special. He’s friendly enough but he doesn’t normally like to be held by just anyone,” Gideon told the youngster. The tall, well-built man smiled, amused at his dog’s unusual behavior. He leaned against the tree with his arms crossed, making sure to keep his distance so as not to make the youngster feel afraid and possibly drop Killer before he ran. Thirty years of being a social worker had warning bells ringing in his head. This kid was in trouble and he needed help.
"Don't call me kid." ’Keen frowned at the man, and went back to tickling and petting the ball of fur in his arms. Killer was in doggy seventh heaven, wriggling, licking the boy’s face, and wagging his tail.
"So, what?" ’Keen asked absently as he petted the soft, curly fur of the dog in his arms. He'd always wanted a dog but there hadn't been enough money to feed the family, let alone a dog.
"Are you going to tell me your name?" Gideon grinned, seeming amused.
‘Keen thought fast and figured his soon to be new last name was safe enough. "Phoenix," he replied. He had heard about a family that had legally changed their last name after getting out of a bad situation, he'd vowed to do the same thing as soon as he was able.
"Alright then, son..."
"Phoenix,” ’Keen said.
"Phoenix, then,” Gideon said. "Do you have a last name, Phoenix?"
‘Keen gently placed the dog on the ground. "Thanks for the offer, Mr. Baker, but I have to get going,” he said as he edged away, preparing to run.
"Hey! Phoenix! Don't run, OK? I'm not going to hurt you. I don't know your story but I know it must have been bad for you to run away, and I really do want to help if you'll let me," the man said, looking earnest and distraught at the same time. Killer looked up at ‘Keen and whimpered.
Usually, when people were trouble, ‘Keen could see it or feel it. He felt no threat from this man, or his dog, and despite the teachers at school drilling it into their student's heads to never take rides from strangers, ‘Keen nodded reluctantly and followed the man to his car.
‘Keen sat in front with Gideon, Killer on his lap, one arm wrapped in one of the straps of his back pack. He had already planned on tossing the dog into the man's face and jumping out of the car, regardless of how fast it was going, if he tried anything with him. He hoped that he wouldn't hurt Killer in the process, but if it came down to a choice between jumping and being injured or killed, or being molested or murdered, he would jump and take his chances. He only hoped that if he did have to die, that he would die quickly.
He kept a keen eye on where they were headed, steeling himself just in case Gideon, or whatever his real name might be, tried to turn the car down a side street or dirt road, his right hand unobtrusively resting on the door handle just in case.
They drove for quite a distance before Gideon began to ask the questions that ‘Keen had been expecting earlier.
"Are you willing to tell me why you're running away, Phoenix?" Gideon asked casually, keeping his eyes on the road as he drove.
‘Keen answered the question with one of his own as he scratched behind Killer's ears. "Will it make a difference?"
"No, I guess it won't make any sort of difference... but I am curious to hear your story, if you're willing to share it."
"Usual stuff, I guess." ‘Keen shrugged, dividing his attention between the dog and their direction without being too obvious.
"Didn't you ever tell any of your teachers, or relatives, about what was going on?"
"No. I don't have any relatives that I know about. My neighbors are blind, and the teachers would've called CPS and w... I'd'a got taken away to who knows where and who knows what'd happen to me there. Ick... I mean, someone told me about the stuff that happens in foster homes. The guy I thought was my father always told me to only believe what I can see, half of what I read, and nothing that I hear. But there might have been truth in what the creep said, so why take the chance?"
"You're a smart boy," Gideon said admiringly, shooting a smile in ‘Keen's direction before returning his attention to the road.
‘Keen gave a derisive snort and scratched Killer's belly as the dog sprawled on his back on the boy's lap. 'If I were so smart I'd have had a plan,' He thought to himself.
They had driven for nearly four hours and had reached Montana when Gideon announced, "OK, there's a stop up ahead. Do you want to get something to eat first or use the restroom?"
‘Keen didn't like to be cocky, but he did feel that in this case he could be smart and get a free meal without having to let anyone know how much money he actually had on him. "Let's eat first, OK?"
Gideon smiled. Boys always seemed to be hungry so the kid's response didn't surprise him. They walked into the ridiculously overpriced fast food place and ordered two double bacon cheese burgers with extra-large fries and extra-large Cokes. ’Keen tried to eat casually as he glanced around just in case he saw police uniforms nearby.
"I'm gonna get a refill on the Coke, alright Mr. Baker? I'm still thirsty."
"Call me Gideon. And depending on where you want to go, if you still want to travel with me, you're welcome," the man replied thoughtfully.
"That's the good thing about being a boy, we can ‘go’ anywhere, right?" The youngster grinned. The man laughed and nodded agreement, and ‘Keen went to get his refill. He kept a surreptitious eye on the older man while he filled the cup. His stomach dropped as he saw the man take out his cell phone and make a very short call. From what ‘Keen could see, the man had only dialed three numbers.
‘Keen waved to Gideon and mouthed, 'Bathroom!' The man smiled understandingly and went back to his phone call. ’Keen went down the hallway toward the men's room and slipped out the exit door instead. He stopped at Gideon's car to grab his bag and cuddle Killer before he left. Vindictively, ‘Keen opened the glove compartment, swiped the two packs of cigarettes and the two pack of lighters that Gideon kept in there, shut the car door carefully so as not to catch the barking dog accidentally, and ran.
Gideon waited, glancing at his watch now and again. It had already been twenty minutes. Even after drinking two extra-large sodas the kid should have been back by now. He got up and went to the men's room.
"Phoenix?" he called gently. "Phoenix!" he asked more loudly.
Some smart alec in one of the stalls yelled, "I'm Blue Bird, will I do?" But there was no answer from the youngster.
Gideon closed his eyes. If he were honest with himself, he couldn't claim to be surprised that the kid had run out. That wasn't a youngster who trusted easily. He'd seen how he'd kept his bag close, how he'd rested his hand on the door handle while they'd driven.
He sighed mightily and took his cell phone out of his pocket, dialing the number once again.
Phoenix's real name Joaquin Striker AKA 'Keen to his family: 17 years old, straight black hair, up-slanted grey eyes, thin and small for his age at 5'4", elfin features
Brothers: Carbon copies of their brother
Samuel - 12 years old, only an inch shorter than his older brother
Mikael - 7 years old, a few inches shorter than his oldest brother
Calla Lily Striker: Long wavy black hair, large blue eyes, 5'6", very thin for her height due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Cally's current boyfriend:
Ickory Huckster: scraggly light brown hair, beard and mustache. Muddy brown eyes. Missing most of his teeth. 5'9" and also very thin due to drug and alcohol abuse.
Edward Striker: Straight brown hair, up-slanted grey eyes, 6' 0"
'Flake' Hudson: Very short dark brown hair and brown eyes, tanned. 6'1". Muscular due to steroid use.
Misty Grey: Shoulder length blonde hair with streaks of pink and blue, grey eyes, slender and fair skinned. 5'5"
Mrs. Hines and Pookie Bear (her Yorkshire Terrier)