Two teenage boys, one slightly older than the other, were slowly walking down the side of the road.
The older boy's longish straight brown hair seemed determined to fall across his eyes, causing him to have to brush it away every time the wind blew.
The younger of the two had auburn hair that was shorter and naturally wavy. And regardless of any wind, the hair would steadfastly hold its style.
There was no conversation between them, and yet, they wore matching expressions of serenity and it seemed that they might be thinking the same thoughts.
Those thoughts were not only an appreciation of the unspoiled, natural beauty that surrounded them, but also an appreciation of a more intangible thing... freedom.
A sound in the distance drew their attention and broke them out of their silent reverie.
As the sound grew louder, they saw a very old pickup truck approaching.
When it became obvious that the truck was slowing down, both boys tensed and watched apprehensively.
"Arlo? Are you okay?" Jerico called out as he pulled to the side of the road. "Chief Tecumseh called us and said that you were having trouble of some kind."
"It's okay, Donny. That's Jerico, he's alright." Arlo said assuringly, then ran across the road to the driver's side window.
Donny hesitated for a moment, then followed Arlo.
"Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I had some trouble for a little bit, but it turned out not to be a problem after all." Arlo said happily, then said, "Jerico and Paul, I'd like for you to meet Donny. He just arrived at the camp today."
"It's nice to meet you." Jerico said absently as he looked at Arlo curiously.
"Cool truck. It's a '56, right?" Donny asked with a smile.
"That's right. Most people only know that it's old." Jerico said as he turned his attention to Donny.
"Yeah. Hey, this thing is really sweet. I'd love to have a look under the hood sometime." Donny said with an ear to ear grin.
"Well, I don't see any problem with that. I need to go to the camp and find out why I was called, but after that you could take a good long look at her." Jerico said with a smile.
"That'd be great." Donny said happily.
"Do you guys want a ride back to the camp? If Simon is doing as well as Arlo, then this won't take very long." Jerico said honestly.
"Want to?" Donny asked Arlo hopefully.
"Sure. Why not?" Arlo said with a grin, then walked around to the back of the pickup and climbed in.
Donny smiled happily at Arlo as he eagerly followed.
"Hang on, guys. We'll be there in a minute." Jerico called out before pulling the truck back onto the road.
* * * * *
"So why did that guy call you Arlo? I thought you said your name was Randolph." Donny asked curiously.
Arlo shrugged, then said, "I answer to either name."
"So is Arlo for you, like Malchijah is for me?" Donny asked cautiously as they pulled up to the guard shack at the front gate of the camp.
"Sure. I guess you could look at it that way." Arlo answered without concern.
Before they could continue their conversation, the truck started moving again, to travel the short distance to the visitor's parking lot.
* * * * *
"There you are. I was beginning to worry." Mr. T said, as Arlo, Donny, Jerico and Paul walked into the classroom.
"I just needed to show Donny something." Arlo said with a grin.
"Yeah. He showed me that this really isn't a prison." Donny said a bit shyly.
Cory looked at Donny with surprise, then at Arlo with an appreciative smile.
"So is there some sort of emergency here that you need me for?" Jerico asked curiously.
"Well, yeah. At least it looked that way at the time." Mr. T said frankly.
"Arlo was having ghost problems." Obie said seriously.
"What kind of problems?" Jerico asked curiously as he turned his full attention on Arlo.
Arlo glanced at Donny, then asked, "Can I have a minute to introduce Donny to the guys before we talk about that?"
"Sure. Go ahead." Jerico said slowly, watching Arlo carefully, trying to pin down just what was different about him.
"Donny, come over here, let's see what the guys are up to." Arlo said cheerfully.
After a glance at Jerico, Donny followed Arlo across the room.
* * * * *
"We've been working on the computers, trying to find Obie's brother. He's been missing for about six years." Arlo said as they approached a small group of boys.
"Really? What happened to him?" Donny asked curiously.
"We think that Obie's mother sold him so she could use the money for drugs." Arlo said frankly.
Donny nodded his understanding, obviously having heard of such things happening before.
"How's the search going?" Arlo asked the group cheerfully.
"We've narrowed it down to three guys, well, actually five. But two of them have moved out of the area. So we're trying to figure out a way to go and check out the three locals." Dylan said frankly.
"Why don't you just ask Jerico to drive you over there?" Arlo asked simply.
"Do you think he'd do that?" Simon asked in astonishment.
"He might, if you asked him." Arlo said frankly. "Come on, Obie. Let's ask him now."
Obie broke into a grin, then hurried to Arlo's side.
As they walked away, Donny automatically followed.
* * * * *
"Jerico, since everything's fine here, do you think you'd have time to drive Obie into town to check out a couple guys? We think one of them might be his missing brother." Arlo asked as they approached.
"I think I really need to sit down with you and find out what happened today." Jerico said seriously.
"I could drive them." Paul offered quietly.
"Can you drive a standard?" Jerico asked curiously.
"Yeah. Uncle Aubrey showed me how." Paul said quickly.
"Then here you go." Jerico said as he tossed Paul his keys.
"Are you sure about this?" Mr. T asked with concern.
"Hang on just a second." Cory said to Paul, then drew Mr. T aside and motioned for Dylan to join them.
* * * * *
"Paul is only sixteen. I really think we should get an adult to drive them." Mr. T said seriously.
"I know you want to protect him, just like you protect all of us. But if you don't give him the chance to do something like this when it comes up, how can he ever prove himself to you and earn your trust?" Cory asked as he looked Mr. T in the eyes.
"Yeah. And what happens when he's eighteen? Are you going to expect him to be able to just walk out into the world and know how things work?" Dylan asked quietly.
"I suppose you're right." Mr. T said reluctantly, then quietly added, "But he's so young."
Cory tilted his head slightly as he looked up at Mr. T with question.
When Mr. T noticed, he chuckled and said, "Sorry, Cory, I forgot who I was talking to."
Cory broke into a grin at the words.
* * * * *
Paul knew that Mr. T, Cory and Dylan were talking about him and was poised for disappointment when they broke out of their huddle.
"So, have you decided who's going with you?" Mr. T asked with a smile at Paul.
After a moment of surprise, Paul looked around curiously.
"Well, Obie needs to go, for sure." Dylan said frankly.
"And probably Devon, he has the directions." Simon said thoughtfully.
"That might not be such a good idea. I printed out the addresses of the schools and all the other information that you might need, but someone else would probably be able to get you there a lot better." Devon said apologetically. "Seriously, I get lost really easy."
"I think Donny should go." Arlo said frankly.
"Why?" Dylan asked curiously.
"He really likes Jerico's truck, so I know he'd enjoy going for a ride. It also might be a nice way for him to ease into things here, instead of facing all of it at once. And besides, it'll just be another way to show him that he's not a prisoner here." Arlo said thoughtfully.
Mr. T considered for a moment, then nodded his agreement.
"How are you with directions?" Dylan asked Donny curiously.
"I can find my way around." Donny said hesitantly, having difficulty believing that they were going to trust him to go into town to run an errand for them.
Dylan accepted a handful of printouts from Devon, then handed them over to Donny as he said, "I'm counting on you to guide them where they need to go and bring them back safely."
Donny broke into a smile, then said, "I won't let you down."
* * * * *
"How are you feeling, Arlo?" Jerico asked curiously.
After a moment of consideration, Arlo smiled and said, "Alive."
Jerico didn't seem to be at all assured by the answer and looked around at the others before saying, "I need to know *exactly* what happened here this morning."
"I felt something, a ghost, I guess. It seemed like it was going to be a problem, but then it got better. Now it's fine." Arlo said simply.
"I have a feeling that you may be glossing over a few of the facts." Jerico said slowly, then looked around to see if anyone else had anything to contribute.
"He started off feeling it here in the room with us. He said that it was... what were the words he used?" Simon finished with difficulty.
"Diluted. Dissipating." Devon said seriously.
"Yeah. He said it was in here. All around us." Mouse said firmly.
"Okay. A diffuse spirit. So what happened then?" Jerico asked slowly, not taking his eyes off of Arlo.
"Well, then he got really scared. He said that it was going into him and it felt like it was pushing him out." Mouse said seriously.
"In fact, it looked for a minute like it really did push him out. It scared me so bad that I asked Luke to do his talky thing." Dylan said with an apologetic look at Luke for not having a better way to describe his ability.
"Luke, what did you do?" Jerico asked slowly.
"I did what you did to the ghost yesterday. I told it to raise its voice and expose its intent and to come forth now." Luke said carefully.
Jerico closed his eyes as his head slumped down.
"Is something wrong?" Luke asked cautiously.
"So you called the spirit to come into full being while it was *inside* Arlo?" Jerico asked hesitantly.
"Oh... I guess when you put it that way, maybe that wasn't such a good idea." Luke said regretfully.
"I asked him to do it. We were losing Arlo and none of us knew anything else to do for him." Dylan said firmly. "If you're going to be mad at anyone, be mad at me."
"I'm not mad." Jerico said quietly. "I'm just trying to decide how bad things really are."
"I don't think things are bad at all." Arlo said honestly.
"Yeah. But you aren't exactly *yourself* at the moment." Jerico said frankly, then turned to Luke and asked, "You didn't happen to think to 'release' the spirit when you were done talking to him, did you?"
"Oh, um... no. I didn't think of that." Luke said shyly.
Jerico nodded, then said, "I didn't think so."
"How bad is it?" Dylan asked cautiously.
"I'm not sure yet." Jerico said slowly, then looked at Arlo speculatively.
"Would you feel better if Arlo told you that he was okay?" Arlo asked cautiously.
"Yes. Please let me speak to Arlo." Jerico said immediately.
Arlo blinked a few times, then looked around the room curiously.
"Arlo, is that really you?" Jerico asked carefully.
"Yeah. It's me." Arlo said hesitantly.
"How do you feel?" Simon asked quickly.
Arlo looked up at Simon and smiled before saying, "I feel good."
"Really?" Simon asked in a worried tone.
"Yeah. I can't really explain it, but I just feel... right." Arlo said slowly.
"Does that mean that you didn't feel right before?" Jerico asked cautiously.
Arlo considered for a moment before saying, "No. Not for a long time. I just didn't know anything was wrong because it's been that way for so long."
Jerico looked carefully at Arlo, almost like he was looking right through him.
"What's wrong?" Arlo asked cautiously.
"I'm worried about you." Jerico said frankly.
"I wish you could feel what I'm feeling. Then you wouldn't be worried at all." Arlo said seriously. "I can't explain except to say that this is a good thing."
"Arlo. The spirit that's inside you doesn't belong on this plane of existence. He needs to move on." Jerico said quietly.
"He's been trying but the light won't take him. Maybe *this* is why he's been earthbound. Maybe this is what he was meant to do." Arlo said seriously.
"Arlo. This spirit has rooted into you and begun to merge with your consciousness. What's happened to you has a name. It's called possession. You're possessed. I think we may need to do an exorcism to deal with this. We need to cast out the spirit so you can return to being yourself." Jerico said seriously.
"Why?" Arlo demanded, then in a quieter voice he said, "Jerico, you don't seem to understand. When I'm *myself*, I'm like a giant roach motel for ghosts. What happens if you get rid of Randolph, then something evil and nasty moves in to take his place?"
"I wish I could believe that it was really Arlo that I was talking to." Jerico said regretfully.
"You know what? Don't even worry about that right now. Just think this through." Arlo said firmly. "I used to get cold flashes from spirits. Then I could hear whispers. Eventually the whispers were clear enough for me to hear their words. Then, within the last year, I started having the visions, like some funky ghost telepath. And now I'm like some big freaking psychic hoover sucking up any ghost that gets within twenty feet of me."
Jerico seemed to be considering his words.
"Have you thought that this might be the next step for me? The stronger I get, the more powerfully I draw spirits to me. Maybe *this* is what I've been growing into. Now that I have Randolph, the empty place in me is filled." Arlo said seriously.
"Arlo, you're not thinking clearly right now. You're *literally* not yourself. I know this may seem perfectly reasonable to you, but the spirit... Randolph, has melded with you. He's influencing your mind. Because of that, I'm not going to be able to take your wishes into account in making my decisions."
Arlo turned to face his friends and said, "Guys, can't you see? I'm happy. I'm whole now. I don't want to go back to the way I was."
"The person that you were before, was my best friend." Simon said frankly.
"I'm still your best friend, Simon. I'm everything that I was before but now I'm this too." Arlo said imploringly.
Simon forced himself to look away from Arlo, then he hesitantly asked Jerico, "What are you going to do?"
"I guess I'd better get started. There's an entire book of requirements I have to work through before I can even think about beginning an exorcism." Jerico said with resignation.
"I give up! You talk to him!" Arlo said with exasperation.
Jerico looked at Arlo curiously.
"Good sir, you seem to be firmly set upon this course of action. And by your own words, there is nothing that I can say or do to dissuade you. Am I correct?" Randolph asked cautiously.
"When someone is possessed, there's really only one thing to do about it." Jerico said frankly.
"That being the case, I will vow not to fight you. If you truly wish to be rid of me, I will offer no resistance." Randolph said quietly.
"Oh. Well, thank you." Jerico said with surprise.
"I guess he's right. If you're going to do it no matter what, there's no use fighting it." Arlo said regretfully, then looked Jerico in the eyes as he said, "But if you go through with it, you need to know that I will never trust you again and I will NEVER forgive you."
Before Jerico could respond, Dylan quietly said, "Jerico, I have a question."
"What would you like to know?" Jerico responded absently, not taking his concerned gaze off of Arlo.
"Well, I know that movie probably wasn't what it's really like to do an exorcism, but... it's really dangerous, isn't it? I mean, you can end up killing the person you're trying to save." Dylan said slowly.
"Yes. The ritual can be extremely dangerous." Jerico admitted reluctantly.
"Okay. Stay with me here." Dylan said thoughtfully. "Randolph hasn't really *done* anything to hurt anyone. No spinning head, no pea soup vomit. All he's really done so far is to help Donny and make him feel welcomed here. So maybe before we start doing something that could kill Arlo, we might think about leaving him like he is for now and just keep an eye on him."
"If Arlo starts having trouble later, you can still help him then, right?" Devon asked curiously.
"I don't recall reading of any accounts of someone being possessed by a benevolent spirit so it's true that this may be a special case. And since the ritual is so dangerous... I suppose we can wait and see what happens." Jerico said reluctantly, then turned to Arlo and said, "But if I determine that Arlo is in any kind of danger from you, I will perform an exorcism on you before you know what happened."
"Were I to become aware of such a danger to Arlo, I would come to you myself and ask that you expel me." Randolph said seriously.
"I'm glad we're in agreement about that." Jerico said firmly.
* * * * *
"How long have you been driving?" Donny asked with a pained expression.
"Four months, but I still need a little practice at driving a standard." Paul admitted reluctantly.
As Donny was about to say something more, Paul shifted up to the next gear and made a horrible grinding sound before the gear finally :thunked: into place, rattling the entire truck.
Donny turned quickly to look out the back window.
"What? What are you looking for?" Paul asked quickly as he checked his rear view mirrors.
"The transmission. I thought you might have left it laying back there." Donny said as he slowly turned to face forward.
"Do you want to drive?" Paul asked with irritation.
"Yes." Donny responded immediately, then added more slowly, "But you won't learn anything that way."
"Fine. Well, if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears." Paul said seriously.
"You need to push in the clutch faster when you're going to change gears, and you should try to ease off it more slowly when you're finished. Just hold it a little longer until you get a feel for it." Donny said as he watched Paul's expression carefully.
"Okay. I'll try that." Paul said quietly.
"Where are we going first?" Obie asked curiously.
"I guess we should go for the closest one." Donny said as he looked through the pages.
"Just tell me where to go." Paul said as he tried to keep his nervousness from showing.
"Do you think you're up to a drive on the expressway?" Donny asked as he looked up from the papers.
"I guess there's only one way to find out." Paul said frankly.
"You'll be able to get on in a few miles, hang a right and stay on it all the way into town. We'll be able to get off about a block away from the first school." Donny said in concentration.
"I don't know what we're going to do when we get there." Paul said frankly.
"We'll go see if we can find Amos." Obie said, as if it were obvious.
Paul chuckled, then said, "But I don't know how we're going to do that."
"How do you find anyone? We'll just go in there and ask people until we find him." Obie said seriously.
"Well, I guess since I'm the driver and Donny's the navigator, we'll put you in charge of that." Paul said with a smile.
"There's the on ramp." Donny said as he pointed ahead of them.
"I see it." Paul said seriously.
"Slow down." Donny said carefully.
"Um... yeah." Paul said nervously.
Donny watched Paul cautiously for a moment, then looked at the on ramp approaching quickly.
"Paul... brake." Donny said in a tone of warning.
"I know. I know." Paul said as he accidentally hit the clutch.
"The other brake!" Donny said in panic.
"I got it now." Paul said as he finally depressed the brake.
"Gear down!" Donny barked.
"Yeah. Give me a sec." Paul said frantically.
"In a second we'll be up that Mack truck's ass!" Donny yelped.
"I got it." Paul said with accomplishment as the truck slowed to a more reasonable speed.
"Oh Fuck!" Donny wheezed as he fell back into his seat.
Obie giggled before saying, "Can we do that again?"
"Yeah. Probably." Paul said with a chuckle at Donny's expression.
"Well, we're almost on the expressway, so it should be smooth sailing for a while." Donny said with relief.
"Yeah. I've always wanted to try 'merging'." Paul said as he carefully followed the Mack truck.
He glanced over in time to see Donny's horrified expression.
* * * * *
Jerico glanced at Arlo at the computers before walking up to Simon's table and asking, "How are you doing, Simon?"
"I'm fine, I guess." Simon answered hesitantly.
"When Chief Tecumseh called us, he said that you and Arlo were having problems. How are you now?" Jerico asked quietly.
"Oh! I'm fine." Simon said with realization. "It wasn't a really bad one, and Dylan helped me through it."
"A really bad what?" Jerico asked with concern.
"Panic attack." Simon answered simply, then added, "But you don't need to worry about it. Like I said, Dylan helped me through it and besides, I'm already scheduled to see Dr. Dan today."
"The child psychologist." Jerico said slowly, confirming that he remembered correctly.
"Yeah. He's been helping me get over my nightmares and panic attacks and stuff." Simon said casually.
"How's it working?" Jerico asked gently.
"Really good." Simon said with a smile. "In the last couple days I've done things that I thought I might never be able to do again."
"I'm glad to hear that." Jerico said with a gentle smile, then added, "If you can think of anything that I can do to help, please just let me know."
"Sure thing." Simon said with a smile. "If I get hung up on something, I may ask you to do your 'talky thing' to jar it loose."
Jerico looked at Simon with surprise before saying, "You know, that might actually work. I never thought of using it to just give someone a 'nudge' in the right direction."
"If I find myself needing a nudge, I'll give a yell." Simon said with a grin.
"I'll be waiting." Jerico said with a smile before walking away.
* * * * *
After arriving at the first school, Obie led the way directly inside and to the office.
Paul and Donny didn't know what approach he was going to use to get the information he wanted, but since neither had a better idea, they were just as happy to go along and see what happened.
As they walked into the office, a rather 'abundant' lady with meticulously styled hair was talking on the phone.
When Obie approached the desk, the woman glanced at him, then held up one finger to indicate, 'just a minute'.
"Talk to the finger." Obie said with a giggle.
After a moment longer on the phone, the woman pointed at the trio, then over to the chairs lining one wall.
"Isn't it wonderful being unworthy of notice?" Donny asked as they walked to take their seats.
"Yeah. I bet if we were adults, she'd at least stop talking long enough to ask us what we wanted." Paul said with a dark look at the woman.
"What are you in for?" Obie asked a boy who had been sitting in the waiting area when they arrived.
"I was late. I overslept." The boy said timidly.
"So they make you go to the office and wait, instead of going to class... yeah. That makes sense." Donny said sarcastically.
"Adam." A man, probably just a little over thirty years old, called as he emerged from the hallway past the desk.
The boy stood and looked up at the man reluctantly.
The man seemed to be about to say something to Adam, then froze as he looked at Obie, Paul and Donny.
"Hold on. All of you." The man barked as he rushed away.
"Who was that?" Obie asked curiously.
"Mr. Hammond. He's the counselor." Adam said as he leaned a little bit to look down the hallway.
The boys exchanged curious glances.
Mr. Hammond reappeared a few seconds later with a magazine in his hands.
He flipped through it, then looked at Donny with wonder.
"I thought so! You're Malchijah!" He said in amazement.
"You never said you were famous." Obie said to Donny with a smile.
"I didn't think I was." Donny said absently, then asked the man, "What is that book?"
"This is a listing from the center for missing and exploited children. I've been seeing you in here for years. You're him, aren't you?" The counselor asked in wonder.
"If I say 'yes', are you going to call the cops or something?" Donny asked slowly.
"No. I won't do that. Please, just come back to my office and talk with me for a minute."
Donny looked at the others and received shrugs that let him know that the decision was his.
"Okay." Donny said slowly.
"Good. Come on, it's right this way." Mr. Hammond said happily.
Donny looked at the others again, to be sure that they wanted to do this, then began to walk down the hallway.
Obie, Paul and Adam followed in turn.
As they reached the office, Mr. Hammond looked at the fourth member of the group and said, "Adam, stop staying up so late and for God's sake, remember to set your alarm clock."
"Yes sir." Adam said shyly.
"Go on. Get to class." Mr. Hammond said with fond exasperation.
They all watched as Adam hurried away.
* * * * *
"Please sit down." Mr. Hammond said as he gestured to the chairs across from his desk.
"Thank you." Paul said courteously as he took his seat.
"Are you in any trouble?" Mr. Hammond asked as he looked Donny straight in the eyes.
"I don't think so." Donny said hesitantly.
"I just wanted to be sure to ask that first in case there was something urgent going on that I needed to know about." Mr. Hammond said seriously.
"No. I'm actually just along for the ride. It's Obie that you should be talking to." Donny said frankly.
"Okay. But before I address that, Malchijah, I really need to know how you're doing and if you need some kind of help." Mr. Hammond said seriously.
Before Donny could answer, Obie asked, "Have you ever heard of Clan Short?"
"Yes. Of course!" Mr. Hammond answered immediately.
"What about Camp Little Eagle?" Obie asked seriously.
"I should say so." Mr. Hammond said emphatically.
"I live there now." Donny said firmly.
"Oh. That's fantastic. I'm so glad to hear that." Mr. Hammond said with a relieved smile.
"And just so you know, my name is really Donny. Malchijah is the name that the porn guys used for me to keep people from knowing who I really am." Donny said seriously.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Donny. That was the only name I knew for you." Mr. Hammond said quietly.
"That's alright. I'm not upset, I just thought you'd like to know my real name." Donny said with a smile.
"Thank you, Donny. I appreciate that." Mr. Hammond said sincerely.
"It's good to know that there are people who are keeping a lookout for missing and exploited kids." Paul said frankly.
"It seems like a million to one odds that I'll actually spot any, but considering my job, I've got a better chance than most... I've got to try." Mr. Hammond said quietly.
"Well, what would you think about finding a kid who was sold by his mother so she could buy drugs?" Donny asked seriously.
Mr. Hammond looked at Donny with surprise.
"That's what we're doing here." Donny continued as he matched Mr. Hammond's gaze.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Mr. Hammond asked hopefully.
"Maybe. We're looking for this kid." Donny said as he placed a printout on the desk, then scooted it toward Mr. Hammond.
"You think Antony is the person you're looking for?" Mr. Hammond asked cautiously.
"He could be. We know they changed Amos' name, but we don't know what they changed it to. We found three boys who still live here in town who are the right age and started school at the right time. This is the first one we're checking on." Obie said anxiously.
"But how will you know if Antony is the one you're looking for?" Mr. Hammond asked cautiously.
"My brother Mike is Amos' twin. If this is my brother, I'll be able to tell just by looking at him." Obie said frankly.
"What are you going to do if it is him?" Mr. Hammond asked slowly.
"Get to know him. Find out if he's doing okay. Let him know that he has brothers who still want him." Obie said quietly.
"Give me a second to see where he is this period." Mr. Hammond said as he started typing on his keyboard.
As he typed, he said, "I'm just going to take you to his classroom and let you see if this is your brother. If it turns out that he is, I'll call him to the office so we can have this discussion privately."
"Thanks for helping us." Obie said with a broad smile.
* * * * *
"What are you looking at?" Arlo asked hesitantly.
"Are you really you?" Simon asked cautiously.
Arlo rolled his eyes, then said, "Yes Simon. I'm me. I have all my own feelings and memories and everything else that I had before. I just have some extra stuff that comes from Randolph too."
"It's that extra stuff that worries me." Simon said frankly.
"I know." Arlo said with a sigh. "And I can understand that. But try thinking about it this way. All of us have things that we're good at and other things that we don't do so well. Now that I have Randolph, he's kind of filling in and making up for some of my weaknesses."
"But it's our weaknesses that make us who we are." Simon said quietly. "And overcoming our weaknesses is what makes us stronger."
"You're probably right." Arlo conceded, "But I'm not like you, Simon. You've been through hell and now you're rebuilding your life. Every day you're getting better and stronger."
Simon reluctantly nodded his agreement.
"I'm not." Arlo whispered. "Ever since I got here... even before I got here, it's been like I've been on this plateau. And no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, I'm still the same quiet, timid guy who's too unsure of himself to speak up or take action."
"You've never had a problem talking to me." Simon said frankly.
"That's true, but you're special." Arlo said with a fond smile, then continued more seriously, "But what I did with Donny today, that's a perfect example. Without Randolph, I might have had the idea to take Donny outside the Camp to prove to him that we're not prisoners here, but there's no way I would have acted on it. I probably wouldn't have had the courage to even suggest it to anyone."
"But Randolph gave you the courage to take Donny out of the Camp?" Simon asked slowly.
"Well, honestly, Randolph sort of took my idea and ran with it. I was kind of watching from the background at that point, just trying to figure things out." Arlo admitted shyly.
"He took over?" Simon asked with concern.
"Yes. But only because I let him. It's not like we're fighting each other in here. I had an idea, he thought it was a good one and wanted to go through with it. So I let him. I wouldn't have had the courage to do that, but he just walked over there and did it. And it was an incredible, wonderful feeling."
"How do you mean?" Simon asked curiously.
Arlo thought for a moment, then smiled as he said, "What if I gave you a magical amulet that would let you sleep soundly through the night. As long as you wore it, you would know that you wouldn't have any nightmares and even having the light turned off wouldn't bother you at all. When you woke up that first morning, wouldn't you look back at that night and just feel grateful for getting past something that had been holding you back for so long?"
"Yeah. I guess I would." Simon said thoughtfully.
"Randolph took action when I was too timid. He did the things that I would have done if I weren't so afraid." Arlo said seriously.
"But right now, he's... part of you. It's not like he's in the background. He's right here, mixed into you." Simon said carefully.
Arlo considered for a moment, carefully choosing his words before saying, "Earlier I said that Randolph filled the empty place in me. When he did that, it feels to me like he filled in the parts of me that were missing. Where I was missing courage, he filled it in with his own. So in a way he's here right now because I'm different because of him. But he's not controlling me. Right now he's kind of rummaging through my mind trying to make sense of what's happened in the last 175 years."
"175 years?" Simon asked with surprise.
Arlo nodded and said, "He died in about 1830. He wasn't really aware of the exact date, but I get the feeling that he wasn't in the habit of keeping track of it. I suppose you didn't need to know it as much back then."
"How did he die?" Simon asked quietly.
"It's uncomfortable for him to think about that very much, but from what he shared with me, I think he got a cold that turned to pneumonia. He was delirious at the end, so it's kind of hard to tell for sure." Arlo said thoughtfully.
"I guess I just kind of thought about him as a 'ghost'. You know, like a thing, not a person. This must be really tough for him." Simon said distantly.
"Well, from the way it sounds to me, since he died, everything's been like a dream to him. He hasn't really been aware of the passage of time. So that part wasn't so bad. I think the thing that bothers him the most is that he knows that he died alone. When he was sick, there was no one there to take care of him. When he died, no one cared that he had ever lived."
Simon thought about that for a moment, then gave Arlo a sorrowful look. He couldn't find adequate words to describe what he was feeling.
"How are things going with the Clan guys? Are they all caught up on their work?" Arlo asked, trying to change the subject and sound casual about it.
"Oh, um... I'll ask Dylan. I think he's keeping track of things." Simon said distractedly.
Arlo nodded, then as Simon got up from their table, he noticed Jerico watching him.
His first reaction was to avert his gaze and try to ignore Jerico. But Randolph's influence in him wouldn't allow that.
Not knowing what he was going to say, he got up from his chair and walked over to the Shaman to face what he needed to do, whether it turned out to be conversation or confrontation.
* * * * *
"Well?" Donny asked as Obie walked out of the classroom.
Obie's gaze was on the floor as he shook his head sadly.
"It's okay. We still have two more to check out." Paul said as he hugged Obie to his side.
"I'm sorry he wasn't the boy you were looking for." Mr. Hammond said sincerely.
"Well, we'd better get going if we're going to get all three checked out today." Donny said with resignation.
"Would you mind showing me the information for the other two you need to look at?" Mr. Hammond asked hopefully.
"What for?" Obie asked cautiously.
"I have contacts at some of the other schools. I may be able to call ahead and arrange things for you." Mr. Hammond said frankly.
"That'd be great!" Obie said with a grand smile.
"Here you go." Donny said as he handed the paperwork to Mr. Hammond.
After a moment to look it over, Mr. Hammond said, "I should be able to help you out with both of these. And just between you and me, I hope it's this one. Erin Morrison."
"Why is that?" Paul asked curiously.
"Because I met with Erin a few times when I used to work at his elementary school. I can't say that I noticed anything that would indicate that he might have gone through what you described, but... I just think that if he found out that he had brothers who cared for him, it would really mean a lot to him."
"Let's check him out first, then." Donny said seriously.
"If you leave now, you should get there in time for lunch. You'll probably find Erin on the far side of the cafeteria, eating alone." Mr. Hammond said quietly.
"Let's go." Obie said seriously.
"Thanks for all your help." Paul said sincerely.
"It was a pleasure to meet all three of you." Mr. Hammond said with a smile, then added, "And Donny, it's amazing after... I can't even imagine what you've been through, and now you're working to recover a missing child... I think meeting you has restored my faith in humanity."
"Oh! Um, thanks." Donny said with astonishment, before turning to leave.
* * * * *
"Are you still thinking about the exorcism?" Arlo asked as he walked to the table where Jerico was sitting.
"No. Actually I was trying to take the explanation you gave me and find some meaning in it."
"How so?" Arlo asked curiously, then gestured to a chair and asked, "May I?"
"Please do." Jerico said with a nod, then continued, "I know it's a fool's game to try and divine the intentions of the great spirit. But usually, in hindsight, things like this make sense. I was just trying to see if I could get some glimmer of reason as to why an earthbound spirit would be bound to you like this. Why him? Why now? Why you?"
Arlo thought for a moment, then quietly asked, "How much do you know about telepaths?"
Jerico was surprised by the question, but answered, "Probably about the same as everyone else. I've never done any in depth research on the subject."
"Humans didn't always have telepaths. How did they come to be?" Arlo asked slowly.
"The popular theory is evolution. They're a step further on the path to what humanity will someday ultimately become." Jerico said slowly.
"What if what I am is something like that?" Arlo asked seriously.
"How do you mean?" Jerico asked curiously, intrigued by the idea.
"It's just something that I've been thinking about, I guess to try and explain why I am like I am." Arlo said introspectively. "But what if I'm a new offshoot of humanity? Another evolutionary experiment? What if the reason I've been drawing ghosts like a beacon is because that's exactly what I'm designed to do? And now that I've found a compatible ghost, we've become a 'joined being' in sort of a symbiotic relationship."
"It's an interesting idea." Jerico admitted reluctantly.
"Like I said, it's just something I've been thinking about. I suppose there isn't any way to prove it either way." Arlo said with a shrug.
"No. But it's worth considering." Jerico said slowly.
"It looks like Simon is waiting for me." Arlo said as he stood.
"I'm going to be here for a while if you want to talk some more." Jerico said as he looked Arlo in the eyes.
"I thought you might be." Arlo said with a grin.
Jerico nodded, then watched as Arlo walked back to the table he was sharing with Simon.
* * * * *
"That's him." Obie said as they walked into the large cafeteria.
"How can you tell from all the way over here?" Donny asked slowly.
"Because if I didn't know better, I'd swear to you that that was Mike." Obie said as he walked across the room with purpose.
* * * * *
"Do you mind if we sit with you?" Obie asked quietly.
Erin turned with surprise and looked at the three boys with an expression that was nothing short of terror.
"We just want to talk." Paul said gently.
"How about we let Obie talk to him on his own?" Donny asked with concern at Erin's obvious panic.
"Is that okay, Obie?" Paul asked quietly.
"Yeah. Maybe you could get something to eat." Obie said with a smile, then turned his attention back to Erin.
"I see pizza." Donny said with a grin.
"We'll be back in a few minutes." Paul said quickly, then hurried to catch up to Donny.
* * * * *
"You're Erin, aren't you?" Obie asked quietly.
The boy stared at Obie for a long moment, then slowly nodded.
"My name is Obie."
"What does it stand for?" Erin asked timidly.
"Huh?" Obie asked in confusion.
"O. B. What does it stand for?" Erin asked curiously.
Obie chuckled and said, "Well, it sort of stands for Obadiah. But everyone calls me Obie."
"Oh." Erin said as he looked down at the table.
"Erin, please don't be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you." Obie said quietly.
A quick glance was Erin's only response.
"Look. I came here today just to see you." Obie said seriously.
This time, Erin's glance lasted for nearly two seconds before it fell away.
"I don't know how to tell you this, so I'm just going to say it." Obie said quietly. "About six years ago, me and my brother Mike lost our brother. We were told that he was dead. But in the last couple days I kinda figured out that he might not have died, like we were told. Amos might have been taken away from us and adopted by another family."
Erin's head jerked up suddenly at the name 'Amos' and he stared Obie in the eyes as he quietly asked, "You think I'm him?"
"Yeah. I think so." Obie said seriously.
"Amos... That... That's my dream name." Erin whispered.
"Look. I can't stay here long. And I don't know if you even want to have anything to do with me and Mike. But if you do, me and Mike live at Camp Little Eagle. You can call us or email us or even come and visit." Obie said as he watched carefully for Erin's reaction.
"I could visit Micah?" Erin asked cautiously.
Obie smiled at the question and responded, "Yeah. In fact, if you wanted to, you could come to the camp and have dinner with us tonight."
"Yeah! But... I... I'd have to ask my mom." Erin finished hesitantly.
"Would it be better if I came over to your house and talked to your mom so she'll know that I'm not someone who's creepy and weird?" Obie asked carefully.
Erin thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.
"If you'll write down your address and let me know when to be there, I'll get someone to drive me over." Obie said happily.
Erin nodded, then took a spiral bound notebook out of his backpack.
"And you don't need to worry. I won't say anything to your mom about us being brothers. I'll let you tell her about that when you want her to know." Obie said with a smile.
"Thanks." Erin muttered, then handed Obie the piece of paper with the address.
After reading it over, Obie asked, "What time should I come over?"
"I get home at 3:30. Anytime after that, I guess." Erin said slowly.
"Okay. I'll see you then." Obie said happily.
"Do you really think I'm your brother?" Erin asked timidly, but a slight glimmer of hope found it's way into his expression.
"Just wait until you see Mike. You'll think you're looking into a mirror." Obie said with a grin.
Erin stared at Obie with fear and hope vying for control of his expression.
"I'll see you tonight." Obie said, then unable to restrain his joy at finding his lost brother, he leaned in and hugged Erin tightly and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
"FAG!" Sounded from a neighboring table.
Obie turned and found an older boy looking at him with disgust.
"He's my brother, douchebag!" Obie said loudly as he looked the older boy in the eyes.
"So the fag has a faggy little brother." The older boy said with a chuckle.
"Yeah. So what? Are you jealous or something?" Obie asked as he stood, then noticed something flicker in the older boy's expression.
Obie's eyes went wide and he said in a much louder voice, "You ARE! So that's why you're screaming 'fag' at everyone else!"
"Is there a problem, Obie?" Donny asked as he hurried to Obie's side.
"This guy thinks he's big tough shit." Obie said to Donny, then looked the older boy in the eyes and said, "You're nothing. Do you think you're brave because you know how to bully people who are smaller than you? Let me show you brave."
Obie pulled Donny down and gave him a firm kiss that was a bit better than any eight year old should be able to manage.
After an initial moment of surprise, Donny returned the kiss, careful to follow Obie's lead.
As soon as the kiss broke, Obie turned to the bully and said, "You see that? You can't do that. You can NEVER do that. You're not brave enough. You're not man enough. How pathetic are you when a little EIGHT YEAR OLD kid has the balls to do something that you're too much of a coward to do? No, you're going to scream 'fag' at everyone else, then you'll become exactly what everyone expects you to be, because you don't have the courage to be anything else. You'll never be one bit better than you are right now, and I'm here to tell you, right now you're a pathetic piece of shit."
The bully was looking around nervously and could see that EVERYONE in the cafeteria seemed to be watching them.
"But now, everyone here knows the truth. Every time you bully someone smaller than you, they'll know it's because you really want to be kissing them but you're too pathetic and scared." Obie finished with a sneer.
"I think we should be leaving, Obie." Donny said quietly.
"Oh, okay." Obie said with distraction, then turned to Erin and said, "I'll see you tonight."
"Um. Yeah." Erin said in a daze.
"Where's Paul?" Obie asked as he looked around.
"Over there. Acting like he doesn't know us." Donny said with a grin.
* * * * *
"Excuse me." A woman said as she hurried to catch up to the trio.
"We're leaving. You don't have to worry about us causing any more trouble." Donny said seriously.
"I just wanted to thank you." The woman said quickly.
"Thank us?" Donny asked with surprise, and stopped just outside the cafeteria to look at her.
"My name is Sylvia Davis and I'm a counselor here at the school." She said with a broad grin.
"It's nice to meet you." Donny said hesitantly.
"Lloyd Hammond called to let me know to expect three special boys to be visiting today at lunch." She said as she tried to restrain her chuckles. "But I was in no way prepared for *that*."
"He was being mean to my brother." Obie said defensively.
"I gathered that. Don't worry, honey. I'm not the least bit angry with you. In fact, I've been at my wits' end, trying to find a way to discourage Myron's bullying behavior. Now it turns out that all Myron needed was for someone to stand up to him. And it just delights me to no end that it was someone who was younger, smaller and a whole lot braver than he is." Sylvia said happily.
"Will you make sure he doesn't hurt Erin, please?" Obie asked hopefully.
"Yes. I'll keep an eye on him, but from the way he looked as you were leaving, I think he's too stunned to do anything, at least not right now." Sylvia said gently, then asked, "So Erin *is* your brother?"
"Yeah. He looks exactly like my brother Mike." Obie said seriously.
"That's wonderful. Lloyd will be so happy to hear that." Sylvia said with a broad smile, then continued, "I'd better get back in there to keep an eye on things, just in case. And I think you three were talking about leaving."
"Yes. Thank you." Paul said quickly.
"No. Thank YOU. You just made my entire semester." Sylvia said, before going back into the cafeteria.
* * * * *
"I'm sorry that I kissed you." Obie said quietly to Donny.
"You are?" Donny asked with surprise.
"Well, no. I'm not sorry that I kissed you. But I'm sorry that I kissed you the way I did, you know, in front of everybody and without asking you first." Obie said shyly.
"I know what you mean." Donny said with a smile. "And it's fine. I'm not mad about that."
"Oh, good." Obie said with relief.
"And just so you know... that was a pretty good kiss." Donny said with a grin.
"Yeah?" Obie asked with surprise.
Donny nodded, then said, "And, believe me, I would know. I've done it professionally."
Obie's grin was ear to ear as the trio walked out of the school and toward the parking lot.
* * * * *
"What do you think is going to happen to that kid... Myron?" Paul asked cautiously.
"I wouldn't worry about him. He'll be fine." Donny said dismissively.
"Are you sure?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Yeah. I've known quite a few like him." Donny said with resignation. "He'll probably grow up to be a politician or maybe a preacher. That way he can get up in front of people and scream about how 'evil' the gays are. Then when he gets back to his hotel room that night, there'll be someone like me waiting for him..."
"So you used to... um, do that?" Paul asked cautiously, then changed direction slightly when he spotted the truck.
"Well, I never walked the streets. But yeah. The guys who had me, made me earn my keep. Sometimes that meant going on 'dates'." Donny said frankly.
"Well, that ain't gonna happen no more." Obie said firmly. "All you got to do to earn your keep at Camp Little Eagle is help out in the kitchen one day every couple weeks."
"I think I can handle that." Donny said with a grin at Obie.
"So are we ready to go back to the camp?" Paul asked as he took out his keys.
"Wait. Before we do that, I think there's something serious that we need to talk about first." Donny said firmly.
"What's that?" Paul asked cautiously.
"Have you ever heard of 'double clutching'?"
Editor's Notes: If I didn't know better, I would think it is less than a couple of months since the last chapter of this wonderful story. As someone predicted, Randolph doesn't seem to be doing Arlo any harm. In fact, I think his influence is doing quite the opposite. I think they fit together very well, considering the fact that Randolph is happier than he was, and it looks as if Arlo is doing a lot better, with Randolph in there, with him.
It was really nice that Obie has found his other brother. I wonder how Erin's new adopted family will feel when they find out about his past, and now, his present.
I guess we will just have to wait and see. I hope it won't be too much longer before we have another chapter. I am so greedy for chapters! Actually, it is just that when MultiMapper writes a story, you just can't help but want more and more.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher