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Authors: Bryce Clark

Red Shirt Kids (3 page)

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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05

ON MONDAY MORNING,
the front of Falton Junior High School was crammed with cars, station wagons, and SUVs as parents dropped their kids off for the first day of school.

Laura guided the Volvo to the front curb. Amy and Mike unbuckled their seatbelts and scampered out of the SUV. “I’ll be here at three sharp, okay?” said Laura.

“Yeah, Mom, don’t worry,” said Amy.

Mike nodded, and they took off for the front door. Mike wore chinos, a grey Polo shirt, and white Keds, while Amy wore her usual school clothing: khaki pants and a scooped-neck T-shirt.

Mike found a seat in the back of his sixth-grade classroom and looked at the other seventeen kids and the assortment of math, science, and history posters on the wall.

Sitting at the desk next to his was Ben Daniels. Ben was clearly older than the other kids. He wore jeans with grease stains and a ratty T-shirt. Ben was staring at Mike, and it made Mike uncomfortable. He tried to avoid eye contact.

“Hey,” said Ben. Mike finally looked at him. “Your shoes suck,” Ben sneered.

Mike looked down at his Keds as if checking them out for the first time. Did they really suck? They seemed all right to him. But he remained silent.

A three-toned bell rang out, and the distinct clicking noise of a school intercom system diverted Mike’s attention away from Ben.

A deep voice came over the intercom. “Good morning, students. This is Principal Garber. On behalf of the entire staff here at Falton Junior High School, we welcome you back for the new school year. Sadly, today we must take a few moments of silence in honor of Diane and Darren Miller, who are still missing. We also want to remind you to always have a buddy with you. Your teachers will be instructing you further on our new buddy system. And now, please, a moment of silence.”

Mike looked around, curious about this newfound information. Who were these kids that had gone missing? The other kids in the room hung their heads in reverence. Even Ben. Mike lowered his head too. His mind raced with all of the possibilities of kids going missing.
Have they been kidnapped?
he wondered. He hoped they were all right and that they would be found. But Mike was starting to think there was something strange about his new town. Missing lights? Missing kids? And what was in that spooky old chest?

Amy sat in the front row of her seventh-grade class. The boys and girls, ages twelve and thirteen, looked up as the moment of silence ended. Amy wondered about Diane and Darren Miller and what had happened to them. She said a silent prayer that they would come home safely.

Sitting in the desk next to Amy was a thirteen-year-old girl with pigtails, named Shauna Greene. Shauna leaned closer to Amy. “Is your house haunted?” she asked.

Amy stifled a laugh. Was this girl serious? Amy mustered the necessary level of sarcasm in her reply. “Uh, I haven’t seen any ghosts.”

Shauna leaned back. “Oh, good. That’s good.”

Amy wondered what the girl was talking about. Haunted? Was it some kind of new-girl-in-school hazing thing? She tried to put it out of her mind, and her thoughts turned back to Diane and Darren Miller. But like Mike, she was starting to think Falton, New Hampshire, was a strange place indeed.

06

MIKE STOOD ON
the sidelines during gym class, dressed in grey athletic shorts and a blue T-shirt with “Falton Junior High” written on it. Boys and girls, all of them in the same grey shorts and blue T-shirt combo, were gathered to play basketball. Most of the boys wrestled each other for the ball, only to turn around and pelt the closest player with it. The goal of the game seemed to be inflicting pain on others. Most of the girls sat on the first row of the bleachers, gossiping and looking at a copy of
People Magazine.

An elderly man, Coach Heller, sat in a folding chair reading a newspaper. He paid little attention to the game but looked up as Ben Daniels made a layup. Coach Heller looked up and whistled. “Two!” he shouted, holding two fingers in the air to reinforce the point.

Some of the less athletic boys stood on the sidelines near Mike. Mike looked over and noticed Sam Mayfield, whom he’d met at his new house the other day. Sam kept pulling his shorts up and trying to stretch his T-shirt over his belly. Mike smiled as Sam looked over at him. Sam waved, and Mike took a step closer.

“Hey,” said Sam.

Mike nodded. “Hey.”

“I like to shoot,” said Sam.

Mike shot Sam a sideways glance. “Huh?”

“The basketball. I like to shoot it. They never pass to me, though.”

“Oh, right,” said Mike.

“Do you like to play?” asked Sam.

Mike shrugged. “It’s all right.”

“Yeah. You look like you might be athletic.”

Mike shrugged again. “Not really.” Mike wasn’t very athletic, but he liked the fact that Sam thought he might be.

“I’ll play if you play,” said Mike.

Sam looked out over the game, which had just degenerated into a dogpile for the ball. “Yeah, okay.”

Sam and Mike slowly made their way onto the court.

Amy bit into a slice of pizza as she took in the chaos of seventh-grade lunch echoing in the large cafeteria. A girl named Shauna sat across the table from Amy, eating a tuna sandwich.

“The lady who lived there? She was wicked rich. Her maiden name is Falton, you know? Like our town name. She’s my great, great aunt or something,” said Shauna.

“What?” asked Amy.

“Her family started this town.”

“Okay.”

“And she went crazy. And they put her in a hospital.”

“We know.”

“Did you know that she saw ghosts?”

“I’m guessing that’s how they knew she was crazy.”

“Oh. Wow, that makes sense. But is the house freaky?” Shauna’s eyes were bulging with excitement.

“Nope. Hey listen, do you know anything about those kids who are missing?”

Shauna paused, now serious. “Yes,” she whispered.

“So, what happened?”

“I was at the carnival that night. That’s where they went missing. Their parents came and couldn’t find them. I guess they dropped them off or something. My dad took me to the carnival with him. I really liked the Tilt-a—”

“Shauna, the missing kids?” prodded Amy, trying to get Shauna back on point.

“Right. So anyway, their parents came and were like yelling their names all over—’Diane,’ ‘Darren,’ like that—and my dad heard them. He knows them ‘cause he fixed their car or something. And like a lot of parents came over and they started searching. They looked all over, and then the police started to help and a lot more of them came with huge flashlights and a couple of dogs, and they even went into the woods. They made all of us line up on one edge of the park, and they searched us and asked us questions, and then they told us to go home. They didn’t find them.”

Amy stared at Shauna for a moment. “Do they think someone kidnapped them?”

“I heard my mom and dad talking, and they think that is what happened. Now I can’t even walk home from school this year. My mom’s going to pick me up in her dorky station wagon.”

“That must be awful,” said Amy.

“It is. It has wood paneling.”

“No, I mean about Diane and Darren. Can you imagine how scary that would be?” asked Amy.

Shauna thought about this then shook her head and took a bite of sandwich. But Amy
could
imagine it, and it scared and frightened her. She shuddered.

Mike and Sam had joined the game of push, grab, shove, and a little basketball. The kids ran around grouped together like a herd of sheep, all of them following the basketball wherever it bounced. Mike ran with the herd, jabbing at the ball and stumbling over intertwined legs and feet. Sam hung out just over half court, about twenty feet from the basket, his eyes following the ball closely.

Ben Daniels poked the ball away from another kid, and it bounced over to Sam. Sam scooped up the ball, turned to face the basket, and launched the ball with a two-hand set shot. The ball sailed through the air and made a crisp
swoosh
sound as it plummeted through the net.

“All right, Sam!” yelled Mike. Mike ran over and gave Sam a highfive.

Coach Heller was so astounded, he lowered his newspaper. “Now wait a minute. Wait just a minute.” Coach Heller tossed the paper aside and stood quickly. “The kid can shoot. I’ll be … Hold on there, fellas.” Coach Heller walked slowly onto the court. The boys eyed him with suspicion. Up until this moment, Coach Heller had never shown an interest in any game they had played during gym class. In fact, it was school legend that Coach Heller was secretly dead.

The girls also took note, looking up from
People Magazine
long enough to see what the fuss was about. As Sam basked in the attention, Ben glared at him, jealousy oozing out of his pores.

Coach Heller stood near Sam. “You’re a good twenty feet back, big guy—I mean, Sam. You shoot much?”

Sam shrugged. “I guess.”

Coach turned to Ben, who had picked up the basketball. “Daniels, toss the ball to Sam.”

Ben smiled wickedly as he rifled the ball at Sam, the ball making a dull thud as it slapped into Sam’s gut. Sam doubled over in pain. Mike glared at Ben. He
hated
bullies. He wished he were bigger. Then he could march over there and teach this Ben kid a lesson.

Coach Heller winced. “Ouch. Okay, okay, let her fly, Sammy boy.” Heller moved back as Sam recovered from the stomach blow and lined up his shot. He let the ball fly, and it went in again. Coach Heller danced a little jig. “Boy can shoot!”

Ben sneered at Sam. “Yeah, too bad you’re wicked fat.” The other kids laughed as Sam stared at his shoes.

Mike walked over to Sam. “Don’t let him get to you.” Mike put out his fist for a bump. Sam looked down at Mike’s fist and made one of his own. Mike smiled—he’d made his first friend in his new town. Coach Heller waddled back to his chair, waving his hands in a “get on with it” motion. Heller grabbed his paper, resumed his regular position, and the game went on.

Mike rejoined the herd, and Sam stood still at his spot. The ball was batted around as the boys wrestled for the ball, not really understanding the rules of the game. Mike poked the ball away with one hand and grabbed it with the other. He turned to Sam.

“Sam!” Mike shouted and tossed the ball to Sam, who knew exactly what to do with it. He turned to the basket, lined up his shot, and was immediately slammed into the floor by Ben as he shot the ball. The ball sailed wide of the rim.

Sam went down like a bag of sand, landing hard on his backside. Ben stood over him. “Looks like you missed.” Ben laughed and ran back to join the game.

Mike took a step toward Ben, and Ben looked him over. “Seriously? Back off, shrimp,” he sneered.

Mike bit down on his anger, ran over to Sam, and leaned over him. “Are you all right?”

Sam moaned. “I think so.”

Mike leaned down further, extending his hand to help Sam up. Mike froze, his eyes widening as he noticed a gold medallion on a gold chain around Sam’s neck that had popped out from beneath his shirt.

Mike leaned in for a closer look. The medallion was in the same shape as the shield that Mike had seen on the chest in his attic. It even had the lion’s head carved beneath the two flags. “What’s that?” Mike asked, pointing at the medallion.

“Nothing,” Sam said, shoving the medallion back under his shirt. Mike helped Sam up, still wondering about the medallion. He was sure it was the exact same lion’s head that was on the lock in his attic.

Mike stood with Amy as they watched kids streaming out of the school, free for sixteen hours until the inevitable ringing of the school bell the next morning.

Amy held a flyer in her hand. She showed it to Mike. It was a picture of Darren and Diane, the kids who had gone missing. “Have you heard anyone talking about these missing kids?” Amy asked Mike.

Mike was distracted. His eyes were on the front door, and he was clearly looking for someone. “What? No. But I’m telling you, that Sam kid can help us open the chest in our attic.”

Amy sighed. “You don’t even know if it’s the same lion’s head on his necklace.”

“It looked the same,” said Mike. “I’m sure of it. Remember, that stuff in our attic is his grandma’s.”

“Whatever.” Amy didn’t really care. “It creeps me out that these kids are missing. Does this town seem weird to you?”

Mike looked at Amy. “Actually, it kind of does. Like all the lights being stolen and the missing kids.”

“Yeah. When we came up here in the summer to visit, I thought this town seemed perfect … too perfect. I thought it would be boring. Now I kind of wish it were.”

Mike pointed toward Sam as he shuffled out of the school. “There he is.”

Amy followed Mike as they made their way over to the bike rack where Sam worked the lock on his bike.

“Hey, Sam,” Mike said as they approached.

Sam looked up and saw Mike. “Oh, hey.”

“This is my sister,” Mike gestured toward Amy. Sam’s eyes moved to the left and he froze, captivated by Amy’s beauty a second time.

“Hi Sam, I’m Amy.” Amy extended her hand. “We’ve already met.”

Sam stared at Amy’s extended hand awaiting a shake. She reached down, grabbed Sam’s hand, and shook. Sam’s fingers latched onto Amy’s, and a smile spread over his face. “Sam I am.”

Mike and Amy laughed as Sam blushed. He held onto Amy’s hand a little longer than would have been normal, and Amy detached herself as politely as possible.

“Okay,” Mike said, shifting gears. “Anyway, Sam, about that chain around your neck.”

Sam fingered the medallion through his shirt. “I don’t know, my grandma gave it to me. Some kind of key.”

Mike and Amy looked at each other. A key? “Want to come over to our house?” asked Mike.

Sam looked at Amy and then quickly at his shoes as she made eye contact. “Uh, I don’t know.”

Amy was suddenly curious. “It’d be really cool,” she said, smiling widely for Sam.

Sam looked pretty excited now, but it took a moment for him to speak. “Yeah, yeah, all right. I have my bike, though,” Sam bluffed indifference.

Mike slapped Sam on the back. “No problem. Our SUV has a rack.”

Mike and Amy led Sam over to the front curb, where Laura was just pulling up in the Volvo SUV.

Mike opened the front passenger door. “Hey, Mom, can Sam come over?”

Laura looked back at Sam and his bike. She turned back to Mike. “First of all, hay is for horses.”

“Yeah, okay, but can he?” Mike replied.

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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