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Authors: Bryce Clark

Red Shirt Kids (7 page)

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
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sat next to each other in the second row of the Volvo. Laura drove, and Amy rode shotgun.

“This is such a great idea for a service project,” said Laura. “I’m so proud of you guys.”

Mike, Amy, and Sam were strangely quiet. They had no idea what to expect when they spoke with Sam’s grandma, but they needed to find out more about the red shirts—where they came from, how they work, and how long they would last.

Sam, Mike, and Amy walked with Laura to room forty-four. The linoleum-lined hallway of the elderly care hospital smelled of medicine and bleach. On the door was a keycard reader and a sign that read, “VISITORS TO C-WARD ROOMS MUST SIGN IN.”

“I’ll go sign in,” Laura said. “Wait here.”

Sam, Mike, and Amy put their heads together as soon as she was gone. “Okay, we need to talk to her. How should we bring it up? I mean …” Amy’s voice trailed off as she stood transfixed on something coming down the hall.

Sam and Mike turned and stifled a gasp. A man in a dark cloak glided slowly toward them. The hood concealed his face, and the cloak covered the man’s hands, encasing his entire body in black. He walked, head down, toward them and then stopped, as if just noticing the children. The man stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity.

“Who are you?” asked Amy, gathering the courage to speak.

The man in the cloak was silent. He raised his head, and they saw glimpses of a pale face. He lifted his hands, and suddenly all of the lights in the hallway turned off. The sound of wind echoed through the corridor. It rushed through the corridor like a tidal wave.

Sam took a step forward, his hands facing into the wind, his red shirt glimmering brightly. Amy and Mike took a step back, shielding themselves from the fierce wind with Sam’s strong body. The man in the cloak paused. He lowered his hands, and the wind died as suddenly as it began. The man in the cloak lowered his head, and the lights flicked on as Laura rounded the corner. “OK kids, I got us signed in,” she said.

Laura’s voice trailed off as she looked at the shocked kids, puzzled by their disheveled appearance. Sam still stood with his chest puffed out, and Amy and Mike crouched behind him. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Amy put on her best smile. “Nothing, Mom, nothing. Just waiting.”

Laura shook her head and held up a generic keycard. “Okay, they gave me this,” she said. “Shall we?” Laura slid the card through the reader and eased open the door to room forty-four.

Sunlight filtered through white blinds in a private hospital room. An old woman in her early eighties with grey hair and a tired face slept on a large adjustable bed. Laura walked into the room, and Amy, Mike, and Sam shuffled in behind her. “Hello? Mrs. Mayfield?” asked Laura. Grandma didn’t stir.

Sam stared at his grandma. He walked to her and took her hand in his. “Grandma?” Grandma stayed asleep, but she squeezed Sam’s hand back. “She squeezed my hand,” said Sam.

Mike sat in one of two chairs by the window. Amy looked around as Laura checked her watch.

Laura’s cell phone rang, and she looked at the caller ID on her phone’s screen. “I need to take this. Will you be okay in here by yourselves?”

“Yes,” said Amy.

“Good. Just talk to her. Hold her hand. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as the door closed, Grandma opened her eyes and sat up. “We don’t have much time,” she said. The kids stared, stupefied. Grandma smiled. “Come closer.” Their red shirts shimmered brightly as they approached.

Grandma reached out and took Amy’s hand. “What’s yours, dear?”

“What?” asked Amy.

“What’s your power, sweetie?” Grandma asked. “What can you do?”

“Whatever she draws comes to life,” Mike said. Grandma clapped her hands with glee and then turned to Mike.

“And you?” she asked him.

“He can turn invisible,” said Sam.

“Oh, a special gift.” said Grandma. “And you, Sammy?”

“He’s strong. Really strong,” said Amy. Tears filled Grandma’s eyes. “Just like your daddy.”

Sam was confused. “My dad? What do you mean?”

Grandma didn’t answer. “Now listen. You must find them,” she said, shaking a finger at the kids.

“Who?” asked Sam.

“Use your gifts. Use them my children,” Grandma said, her eyes moving over each one of the kids individually.

“Where do the shirts come from?” asked Mike nervously. He was growing more concerned with each minute. This wasn’t what he expected at all.

Grandma smiled at Mike. “All in good time, dear. But first, you must promise me that you will find them.”

“What are we supposed to find?” Amy asked.

Grandma stared at Amy, her eyes losing focus for a moment. “What?” she asked.

Amy looked at Mike and Sam, not sure how to proceed. “You said to use our gifts to find something,” said Amy.

Grandma nodded. “Oh yes, if you do not use them for good—oh my.” Grandma’s face suddenly filled with dread. “Oh my, the darkness, children, you can’t imagine it. You must never, never use your gifts that way. Not like Francis—never like Francis.”

“What are you talking about, Grandma? Who’s Francis?” Sam asked. His bewilderment was evident.

Grandma looked around, startled. “What are you doing here?” She grasped the sides of her bed and leaned back, flushed with fear. “Francis! Is he here?” Grandma asked.

“Who?” Mike tried to follow. He felt a deep pressure on his chest and wanted to cry.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, not again. I don’t want to see him. No. No. Children, you can find his prison tree. You must. You must. You must find them.” Grandma’s eyes bulged, and Amy’s hand reached toward the “call” button for the nurse.

Sam’s voice cracked. “What are you talking about, Grandma?” Sam looked desperately at Amy and then Mike. Amy squeezed Sam’s hand.

“Uh, what? Find what?” asked Mike, hoping to spur Grandma’s memory. Mike had heard about Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe Sam’s mom was right—maybe she was just crazy.

Amy sat on the edge of the bed and took Grandma’s hand. “It’s okay. We’re the only ones here. Shhh. It’s okay.” Grandma slid down into her sheets, and appreciation filled her eyes. She took a moment to compose herself and then beckoned for Amy to come closer.

Amy leaned down so Grandma could whisper in her ear.

“Find Diane and Darren.”

Mike, Amy, and Sam sat silently in the Volvo as Laura drove home. Moonlight streamed into the car, casting a pale light on the somber faces of the three friends.

“Did she say anything?” asked Laura. Sam stared out the window. Mike looked at his hands.

“Just nonsense, Mom,” said Amy.

Laura nodded. “Well, it was nice of you to visit.”

Mike, Sam, and Amy now had more questions than they did before the visit. But one thing was certain: Grandma knew about the red shirts. And Diane and Darren Miller.

The moon shone brightly, bathing Mike and Amy’s house in shadows from the trees that rustled loudly in the stiff breeze. The wind howled as clouds moved over the moon, and the trees buckled against the drive of the strengthening wind. The man in the cloak stood at the base of the largest tree, waiting.


sat at the base of a large oak tree in Mike and Amy’s backyard.

“Guys, we really do need to talk about this,” said Amy.

“Okay, fine. Talk,” Mike huffed. He wanted to postpone
discussion as long as possible. “But first, I really want a fort up there.” Mike pointed up at the tree.

Amy sat on the grass. She was sketching the materials she needed for a tree fort—wood, nails, and windows.

Gold dust swirled in the air as the items appeared and settled on the lawn beneath the tree.

Sam quickly hefted up wood slats against the trunk of the tree and nailed them into a ladder. Then he took the rest of the materials that Amy had created in one arm and climbed effortlessly to the tree fort that he and Mike were building on a solid branch fifteen feet off the ground.

Mike perched himself on the branch and began to hammer the solid wood board that would be the fort’s foundation to the tree. Amy climbed behind Sam, and the three friends stood on the enormous branch of the oak.

An hour later, they stared at the tree fort they had built. It was a solid structure with a door and actual windows. Mike opened the door, and they went inside.

Inside the fort was a leather couch and a TV with a Playstation and DVD player, all of which Amy had drawn to life. There were curtains on the windows and a blue rug on the floor.

“This will be our official headquarters,” said Mike.

“Headquarters for what?” asked Amy.

“You know, our group,” said Mike.

“What group?” asked Sam.

Mike thought about it. “The three of us, our shirts …” he thought some more. “I’ve got it! The Red Shirt Kids!”

Amy and Sam thought for a second as smiles spread over their faces. “I like it,” said Sam.

“Yeah, it works,” said Amy.

“Wait a minute!” Mike exclaimed.

“What?” Amy asked.

“The drawings for the fort. What if they get crumpled by accident?” asked Mike.

“We need to put them in a safe place,” said Amy.

Sam, Mike, and Amy trekked back to the attic, and Sam unlocked the chest with the medallion key that hung around his neck. The kids still thought it was pretty cool the way the key and lock became one and spun open on its own.

Mike opened the chest, and Amy laid the drawings of the tree fort materials inside. She put them on top of the last remaining red shirt that still rested inside the chest.

“I wonder what the shirt’s for,” mused Sam as he put the lock back on and sealed the chest.

“Oh, it’s a mystery,” said Amy. “Now listen you two, we are going to talk about what Sam’s grandma said.”

Mike and Sam nodded with both excitement and dread. They took seats on the floor and looked up at Amy. She was the oldest, after all.

Amy considered her words carefully. “Let’s go over what we know. Sam, your grandma knew about the shirts. She knew who we were, and she said we needed to find Diane and Darren.”

“How do you know that she knew who we were?” asked Mike.

“Because she didn’t ask,” Amy replied. “Now, Sam, aren’t you related to Diane and Darren?”

“They’re like my second cousins or something. I’m related to a lot of people in this town. My grandma is too.”

“Your grandma thinks we can find them,” said Amy.

“How can we do something that the police haven’t been able to?” asked Mike.

“We can do things that the police can’t,” said Amy.

“That’s true,” said Sam.

“I hope Darren and Diane are still alive,” said Mike.

Amy thought about the “missing” poster she had seen of Darren and Diane at school. “And I bet they hope someone is still looking for them.”

“But my grandma said lots of stuff about trees in prison and darkness or whatever. What if it’s all just babbling?” asked Sam.

“She didn’t say ‘trees in prison.’ She said ‘prison tree,’” Amy corrected.

“What the heck does that mean?” asked Mike. “And who is this Francis she kept talking about?”

Amy looked at Sam. “Do you have any relatives named Francis?” she asked.

Sam thought about it. “I don’t think so. Is that a guy’s name or a girl’s name?” he asked.

“I think it’s both,” said Amy. “Like I think they call girls ‘Fran’ or ‘Franny,’ and I think they call guys ‘Frank.’”

Sam bolted upright. “Frank? I have—well, had—an uncle named Frank.”

“What do you mean,
?” asked Amy.

“Well, he died. Like my dad.”

“I bet that’s who your grandma was talking about. What did she mean about darkness and prison trees?” asked Mike.

“I have no idea. I was really little when they died,” said Sam.

“Wait. They died together?” asked Mike.

“Yeah,” said Sam.

Amy ran her hand through her hair, thinking. “How old was Francis when he died?” she asked Sam.

“I don’t know. Twenty-something. They were working on something at his house when the fire started,” said Sam.

“Where was the house?” asked Amy.

“It’s close to yours, like my house,” said Sam.

“Your house isn’t close to ours,” said Mike.

“Through the woods it is,” said Sam.

Amy looked up quickly. “The woods …” She stared at Sam and Mike.

“What?” Mike asked.

“We need to do this,” said Amy. “We
do this!”

“What do you want us to do?” Mike asked Amy.

Amy smiled. “I have an idea. Tomorrow, after school, we begin.”


Mike and Sam’s class shuffled around a rundown baseball diamond. Weeds sprouted all over the base paths, and the infield grass was a light brown color. Mike stood with Sam as all of the kids stared at Chris, an exuberant twelve-year-old with spiked hair. Chris played with a voice distortion toy. It looked like a long, thin kazoo. When Chris held it up to his lips and spoke, it altered his voice to sound deep and robotic.

Chris was experimenting with the device, trying out all sorts of interesting words. “Fart! Crap! Puke!” he said, his voice metallic and somewhat creepy. Some of the kids were trying to organize a game of kickball, and Chris turned to them, employing his modified voice. “Give me the ball, turds.” The kids laughed, and one of them rolled the ball to Chris. Chris lined up behind the ball, facing the school. “Witness my awesome power,” he said, still distorting his voice.

Chris kicked the ball as hard as he could. It sailed toward the school and hit a window with a loud thunk. Coach Heller, who was reclining on a bench reading the sports page of the newspaper, didn’t notice. Ben, whose left eye was a deep purple thanks to Sam’s defiance during the game of suicide a few days before, scooped up the ball as it bounced back toward the playground. He turned to Chris. “Weakling.”

Chris gave Ben the finger, and Ben reciprocated. Ben then lined the ball up and aimed it for the school. He kicked it, and the ball fell short of Chris’s mark and hit the side of the school. Chris laughed and pointed at Ben, raising the voice modifier to his lips. “Who is the weakling nowwww?”

Mike looked at Ben and Chris, and he suddenly knew how that voice modifier could be put to good use.

Mike walked over to Chris. “I’ll bet you Sam can kick the ball over the school.” Sam looked up, startled. “What?”

Chris laughed and mocked Sam with his metallic voice. “Who, fatty?” The kids laughed, and Sam sighed.

“Thanks a lot, Mike,” Sam whispered. He hated being the center of attention. He knew he needed to lose some weight, but why did the kids have to be so cruel? His secret dream was that aliens would take him and bring him back skinny.

“I’ll bet you my lunch money,” Mike said to Chris. “And Sam’s—”

“Hey!” Sam shouted.

“—for that,” said Mike, pointing at the voice modifier.

Chris laughed. “You got a deal. Bring it on.”

Mike and Sam faced the school, a good 100 feet away. The kickball was sitting on the ground in front of them.

“I suck at kickball,” said Sam.

“Not with your strength,” said Mike.


“Hey, I’m saying it’s cool. Okay?”

“But what about Amy?” asked Sam.

“Amy’s not around, so we’re still following the rules. Just tap it, you know, softly, so it’s not obvious. I really want that voice modifier,” said Mike.


Mike avoided the question. “It’s just cool,” he said.

“Okay, I guess,” said Sam.

Chris stood with Ben as they watched Sam line up the kickball.

Sam cocked his leg back and kicked the ball lightly.

The ball launched toward the school like a rocket. It sailed high over the school and disappeared into the horizon. Mike’s eyes opened in amazement, and he looked around, hoping the other kids didn’t think it was that incredible.

Chris’s mouth hung open. Even Ben was stunned. The other kids stared, shocked. Then one of them broke the silence. “Oh, yeah!” Another said, “Freaking killed it!” Some of the kids came over and gave Sam highfives. Sam smiled, not used to this kind of attention. He thought he could get used to it.

Mike’s stride was confident, bordering on cocky, when he walked over to Chris, hand out. Chris narrowed his eyes and slammed the voice modifier into Mike’s hand. Coach Heller peered up over the newspaper and looked around. “Where’s the ball?”

Mike and Sam walked towards the school. Mike held the voice modifier in his hand. He put his arm around Sam. “I said to tap it.”

Sam smiled.

BOOK: Red Shirt Kids
8.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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