Kiah's Soul-Shifting Journey: (1)
Author: Ann Denton

Chapter 3
Chapter Three

Chapter Three


            I fill my plate and sit down to eat. I feel everyone’s eyes on me, but I don’t look up. Marion chooses to sit at our table, again. She has a worried look on her face. “Ryker, I want you, Sally, Max and Kiah to take the back road into town, today, and pick up supplies.”

            I look at her, did I hear right? Did she say my name? She never sends me to town. I have always assumed she didn’t send me, because she felt I couldn’t communicate with anyone. Besides that, we normally only go for supplies on the first day of the month. The “first” is two weeks away.

            “Why so early?” Ryker questions.

            “I have received word that quadrant troops are beginning to arrive in town, and I am afraid there won’t be any supplies left. Just give this envelope to Mr. Aims, and he will fix you up.” She looks at Ryker with an apologetic look. “I’m sorry, I don’t think it will be safe to take the truck. You’ll have to pull the cart and walk.”

            Ryker looks at her with his eyebrows drawn together.

            “The troops are supposed to be fighting for us, but from what I understand they are causing all kinds of destruction, taking what they want, and shooting anyone who gets in the way. Take the back-roads, and stay completely away from the troopers. It will probably take two days, so find a safe place in the woods to make camp, okay?”

            “Why does she get to go?” Molly shrieks across the table. “How much help is she going to be if they get in trouble? She won’t even scream for help!”

            “Sometimes…” Marion defends in a calm, even tone, “…a quiet mouth can be beneficial. I am sending Kiah because I don’t believe her mouth will get them all killed. And, if all the gossipy chatter that I have heard this morning is true, I believe she will be very helpful in defending herself as well as the others. Since you have a problem with that, Molly, you can take Ryker's stable duty and work off some of your anger.”

            “But, I…”

            “Now!” The look on Marion’s face lets Molly know that she is in trouble. Molly immediately quits arguing.

            So that’s why everyone was looking at me this morning, they had heard about my fight with Molly. I look up at Ryker. He is smiling at me and gives me a wink. I try not to smile, but I can’t help it.

            “Sally, I had Mary lay out some decent traveling clothes for you and Kiah. I don’t want the town’s people to think we are raising a bunch of vagabonds out here. Now, go get ready. It’s getting late.”

            I put on the pants and shirt that Mary had laid out. They fit perfectly. I have never worn anything except the baggy work-clothes that the orphanage supplies. I am surprised when I look in the mirror, and I am a little embarrassed. This is the first time I have ever noticed the curves on my body. Apparently, Sally noticed them too. “Wow, maybe my momma was right. You blossomed into a beautiful flower, instantly, Kiah. Can I braid your hair? It will be more comfortable to travel.”

            I hand her my brush, and she sits me down in front of the mirror.

When she has finished, I have a long braid wrapped around the top of my head like a crown. She turns me around and pinches my cheeks. “That will give you a rosy look. This will protect your lips from the sun.” She coats my lips with petroleum jelly. “Not to mention, make them more kissable.” She giggles at my raised eyebrows. “I believe that for the first time in our lives, we will see Ryker speechless.” I give her a questioning look. “Oh, c’mon, you have to know how the poor, love-sick puppy feels about you,” she giggles again. “Everyone, even Molly, knows how he feels about you. That’s why she is so jealous of you.”

            Molly is jealous of me? No, I’m sure Sally is wrong about that. I roll my eyes and look in the mirror. I’m amazed at what I see. I look just like my mother. My long, brown hair, braided on top of my head, has hints of red peeking through. I have bright green eyes that sparkle with flecks of gold. My high cheekbones are red, from being pinched, and my full lips look wet and shiny from the petroleum jelly.

            While Sally throws a few items in a bag, I look out of the bedroom window. Marion is talking to Ryker by the barn. She hands him something … I think it’s a pistol. He tucks it in the back of his pants and pulls his shirt down over it. She then gives him a knife, and he tucks it into his boot.

            We grab our bags and run down the stairs. As we approach the barn, I see Molly with Ryker. “Are you going to miss me Ryker?” She drools as she puts her hand on his chest.

            He grabs her hand by the wrist and pushes her away. “Yeah, whatever.” He grabs the long handle of the two-wheeled hay cart. He stops when he sees us. He stares at me for what seems like an eternity.

            “See, what did I tell you?” Sally giggles.

            We start walking down the back road toward town. Sally and I follow Ryker and Max as they take turns pulling the cart. It is hot and humid, but since we are taking the back-roads, we will be going through the woods. The trees will give us protection from the hot sun, but our journey to Bell Town will take longer. If we could stay on the road, we could make it to Bell Town in five or six hours. Pulling the cart through the thick brush in the woods will require us to walk seven or eight hours, instead. The distance and time doesn’t bother me, I am away from the orphanage, and I am with Ryker. I smile. I think this might turn out to be the best two days of my life.

              After about two hours, Ryker stops and instructs us to get a drink. “Max,” Ryker says, “I’ll take Kiah and go ahead to scout out a good place for us to have lunch.”

            “I’ll go with her.” Max snorts a laugh while looking me up and down.

            Ryker glares at Max and motions for me to come with him.

            “I was just kidding,” Max mutters.

            After walking far enough ahead that Sally and Max are out-of-sight, Ryker takes my hand. “So, I guess you put Molly in her place last night, huh?”

            “A lot of good that did. Her mouth was just as nasty today as it always is.”

            He chuckles. “I think she just wanted to go to town.”

            “Yeah, and we all know why, don’t we?” I realize, a little too late, that my sarcastic tone reflects more than what I want him to know, even more than I have admitted to myself. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him smile.

            “Hmm, no. I guess, I don’t know. So, why don’t you tell me?”

            I look at him and see his eyes dance with excitement. He is enjoying this, immensely. “Oh, just forget it.” I shake my head and start walking again.

            He grabs my arm and spins me around. “Tell me Kiah, why do you think she wanted to come?”

            “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Ryker, we’ve all seen it. She looks at you with sick goo-goo eyes and always has her hands all over you. It’s pretty disgusting, you know,” Ryker laughs.

            “Why are you laughing at me?”

            He pulls me close to him. I can feel his heart beating. “…Because… you have no reason to be jealous.”

            “Jealous! You think I’m jealous? Don’t be ridiculous…”

             He takes my face in his hands. “I think you are jealous just as I would be jealous, if some guy had his hands all over you.” He kisses me, gently at first, then, hungrily, like he can’t get enough of me. Or maybe, it’s me not getting enough of him.

            He pulls me over to sit under a tree. “Kiah, I need to talk to you before Sally and Max get here. Marion told me a little more about the situation in town. The troopers are looting the stores, raping the women, and killing anyone who gets in the way.” He reaches into his boot and pulls out the knife that I had seen earlier. “I want you to take this for protection, and I want you to use it if you have to.”

            I look at the knife and then back at him. “Ryker, I couldn’t…”

            “Kiah, I think Marion made a mistake by sending you.”

            His words sting, and I fight back my tears. “Why don’t you want me here?” I choke.

            “Kiah, she sent Sally because she is a good fighter, and she looks like a boy. She sent you because you run like the wind… and until this morning, you looked like a lost, little girl. But now, you look…” He stops, and he looks deep into my eyes.

            “I look what now?” I’m trying to make sense of what he is saying.


            “Desirable?  To who?”

            He smiles and touches my cheek. “To me and to any male with eyes.”

             I finally understand. He is afraid that I will become the prey of the out of control troops. My heart dances inside my chest as my soul drowns in the intensity of his blue eyes. I take the knife and slide it down into my boot.

            “Promise me that you will use it if you have to,” he says.

            I touch his face and kiss his lips. “I promise,” I whisper close to his ear. I wrap my arms around his neck, hoping the need to keep my promise never arises.

            We lay in the grass, waiting for Sally and Max. “Ryker, what happened to your parents?” I make little circles on his chest with my finger.

            He looks at me with a pained look in his eyes that I have never seen. “My mom is dead, and my dad is either in prison or dead.”

            I run my finger across his forehead, trying to wipe the pain away from his face. “What happened?” I’m thinking that maybe I shouldn’t have brought up the subject of his parents.

            “My dad came home drunk and was taking life’s frustrations out on me again, and my mom tried to intervene. He beat her to death. She was so young and beautiful, too young to die.”

            “I’m sorry.” I have a lump in my throat while tears threaten to fill my eyes. “I wish I could have been there, for you.”

            He looks at me and smiles. “When I first came here, I dwelled on it a lot. I would sit and wonder if I could have stopped it and if I would grow up to be like him. Then one day, a strange, little girl showed up, and I realized I wasn’t the only one who has experienced bad things. I decided that I would be there for her and help her through her problems. As it turned out, I think she helped me as much or maybe even more than I have helped her.” His blue eyes are drowning me again. “You, Kiah, have made me who I am today.” My heart takes another leap in my chest as he wraps his arms tighter around me. It takes me awhile to regain my voice.

            “My mom believed that when it’s your time to go, nothing would keep death from taking you. So, it doesn’t matter what you die from. If something doesn’t kill you, then something else will.  When it’s your time, you’re gonna go. She told me that if Toby hadn’t died when he saved me, he would have died of something else, because it was his time to go. She also said that if he hadn’t saved me, I would still have lived, because obviously it wasn’t my time to go.”

            Ryker looks at me. “That is weird stuff. Do you believe that?

            I laugh. “I don’t know. I was only seven when she told me all of that. I’ve never really had any reason to believe anything different. You are right though, it is weird stuff and impossible to prove. If I had died, and he had lived, she could have said the same thing to him. Anyway, I’m sorry that I have never asked you about your parents.”

            Ryker gives me a surprised look. “I dreamed this last night. In my dream, you came into my room and said that you were sorry, and then, you kissed me on my cheek.”

            I giggle, “I bet you smiled in your sleep and whispered my name.”

            “That was a dream, wasn’t it?”

            I giggle again but don’t answer. “I guess you had to cancel your meeting for tonight.” I try to change the subject.

            He turns toward me, rests his head on his hand, and looks at me. “Were you going to come?”

            “Maybe, but you know, now, I will have to hurt Molly, if she touches you.”

            He laughs, but before he can say anything, we hear Max. “What are you guys doing?”

            Ryker jumps up and grabs my hand to pull me up to a standing position. “Napping,” I can tell Ryker is trying to change the subject now. “What took you guys so long?”

            Max laughs his usual laugh. “We were making-out in the woods.”

            Sally punches him in the arm. “You freak! We were not!”

            Ryker throws dried beef and fresh fruit to Max and Sally. “Hurry up and eat. We need to get into town and back out by dark.”

            A few hours later, the wooded area gets easier to travel. The walk through the woods was grueling. The heavy brush slowed Sally and me down, and the sun is already going down. Ryker is trying not to show his frustration, but the tight clenching of his jaw tells me he is worried about entering Bell Town after dark. We lose the protection of the woods about a half-mile from the town. The walk is easier, but I notice Ryker continuously scanning the area in all directions. His nervousness makes me think that we must be easy targets for any troopers that might be keeping watch.

            As we approach the edge of town, we hear random gunfire. We see smoke coming from burning buildings and hear occasional screams. Ryker knows his way around the town and motions for us to follow him.  He is flexing his right hand, and I know he is ready to pull his gun if the need arises. “This is Mr. Aims’s shop,” he whispers. “Stay here, I’ll be right back. Max, stay alert!”

            Sally is biting her nails, and she looks like she is about to cry. I put my arm around her to help calm her down. Suddenly, we hear shouting in the building and then more gunfire. Ryker runs out shouting. “Max get Sally!” He grabs my hand, and we take off running. “We have to get the girls back into the woods!” I listen for Max and Sally behind us. I hear them, but I also hear several other footsteps.

            We start to run the half-mile back to the woods, but before we can enter the dark wooded area to find a hiding place, two armed troopers appear right in front of us. Ryker stops and squeezes my hand. “Use your knife, if you have to,” he whispers.

            The men behind us drag Sally and Max by the collars of their shirts. “Bring them into the woods,” snarls a big man with a scar across his face.

            My heart is pounding in my chest. I see Ryker’s jaw clenching, and I know he is worried about me. They drag us deep into the woods, and then we stop in a small clearing. “Tie them three to a tree. I wanna see this one.” The scar-faced man grabs me by the wrist and pulls me so close that his breath gags me.

            “Get your hands off of her!” I hear Ryker struggling, trying to get away.

            “Get away from her, you freak! She’s not right in the head. She can’t even speak,” Sally shrieks.

            “Get them back to camp. I’m going to have me some fun with this one.” The scar-faced man holds my wrists tight with one hand and waves his gun in his other hand.

            “No!” I hear fear in Ryker’s voice. “Kiah, remember what I said.”

            I hear them dragging Ryker, Sally and Max away. Ryker is struggling and cursing, trying to get away. “Kiah!” I hear a loud thud, and then I don’t hear him anymore.

            “Now, let me see what you got under that shirt.” He twists my arm behind my back. He pulls my shirt out of my pants and reaches up my shirt. Panic rips through my body, and I struggle harder. I pull my knee up to his groin as hard as I can. He doubles over and loosens his grip. I start to run, but he grabs me, and I fall to the ground.

            Before I can get up, I hear my mom again. “Lay still, Little Butterfly. Pretend you are dead.”

            I lay very still in the darkness as he comes closer.  He picks up my hand and drops it. My hand is limp and falls to the ground. He puts his ear to my mouth to see if I am breathing. He touches my chest to see if my heart beats. I’m sure he will feel it pounding, but he doesn’t. “Damn, you ain’t no fun, dead.” I hear him walk in the same direction that the other troopers took Ryker, Sally, and Max.

            “Now, Little Butterfly, follow him to save your friends.” I hear my mother’s voice again.

              I sit up and strain my eyes to watch his dark shadow go into the woods. I take my knife out of my boot and follow the sound of his heavy footsteps. A few yards deeper into the woods, I can hear the other troopers at the campsite. I see the soft glow of their campfire. “Hey Ralph.” I hear someone say when the scar-faced man enters the campsite. “You back already? Did you have your fun? Where is she?”

            I hear Ralph laugh loudly. “Lets just say, she died a happy girl.” The campsite roars with laughter.

            “No!” I hear Ryker’s tormented wail. Then, I hear another loud thud, and he is quiet. I’m afraid that I am too late. I am afraid that he is dead. I squeeze my eyes tight, fighting back the tears. I have to focus. I still have to save Sally and Max.  I pick up two good-sized rocks, and stuff them in my pockets. I put the knife back in my boot, grab a tree branch, and scale the tree as quietly as I can. I can see the whole campsite from the branch. I scan the area for Ryker, Sally, and Max. They are all tied to a tree together. I can see Ryker’s face from the soft glow of the fire. He is bleeding, but I see him pulling at the ropes on his wrists, and I breathe a sigh of relief. A supply tent stands a few feet away from them. A supply cart that is used to carry supplies sits close to the tent.  Four smaller tents are lined up on the far side of the campsite with two rifles standing up against each of them.

            “Since you’ve already had your fun,” one of the men growls to Ralph. “We’re going into town. You can watch the prisoners.”

            Ralph starts to argue, but none of them listen. They grab all of the rifles that are leaning against the small tents, and they march out of the woods toward town. I wait, until I know the others are out of hearing range, and come out of the tree. Ralph is sitting by the fire with his back to me. I take aim and throw one of the rocks. The rock hits him squarely in the back of his head causing him to let out a loud yelp. I take the knife out of my boot, and I stand in the darkness of the woods with the knife handle close to my stomach.  He is standing and looking around for his attacker. He sees me in the shadows and instantly recognizes me. “I thought you was dead, Girlie. Did ya come back for more?” He runs toward me. I step back, farther in the darkness, and stand firmly with the knife sticking straight out in front of me. When he gets in front of me, I take one step forward and sink the knife deep into his stomach. He falls to the ground. I stand there, watching his blood drip from the knife, until I hear Ryker, Sally, and Max. They are all trying to get my attention. 

            I run to Ryker first. I try not to cry at the sight of his face as I cut his wrists free. I can tell he put up a terrible struggle for me. His eyes are swollen, and his lip is bleeding. I cut the rope from Max’s and Sally’s wrists. Ryker takes my knife to cut his ankles free. He throws the knife to Max and grabs me in his arms. He is shaking, and I think he is crying. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.

            Before I can say anything, Max yells, “Ryker! Save it, we have to get out of here!”

            Ryker grabs my hand, and we take off running. “Wait!” Sally yells, “They have a supply tent, and we have no supplies to take back.”

            Sally and I stand guard while Ryker and Max fill the trooper’s supply cart outside the tent. “We hit a goldmine.” I hear Max say. “Look at all these weapons and ammo.”

            “Load them in the cart, and lets get out of here,” Ryker says.

            Sally and I nervously watch for any returning troopers.

            “Grab the cart, Max.” Ryker comes out of the tent, and we race into the woods.

            We run, deep into the woods, I’m not even sure where we are, but something seems familiar. Then, I hear her again. “Look around you, Little Butterfly, and you’ll find your way home.  I suddenly stop. Ryker’s arm jerks, and he stumbles back to me.

            “What?” Ryker asks.

            I look around, confused by continuously hearing my mom’s voice, and then, I see it. I see the tree that Toby and I used to climb. I take off running, pulling Ryker with me. “Kiah…” I keep running and pulling him with me.

            “What the…” I hear Max say over the rattle of the supply cart. “She’s going to get us killed.”

            “Shut up, Max!” Sally shouts, “She’s already saved your butt once tonight.”

            I run through some heavy brush. The prickly thorns are tearing at my pant legs. “She was right. I found my way home.” I breathe.

            “Kiah?” Ryker whispers.

             When we get to the door, I let go of Ryker’s hand and push the door open. Everything is the same. My home looks just like it did the day my dad and I traveled to the orphanage. His empty coffee cup is still on the table. My mom’s sewing basket is sitting by the rocker.

            “Kiah, what is it? What are you doing?”

I look at him, and tears are streaming from my eyes. “Ryker, this is my home. This is where I lived with my mom and dad and… and Toby.



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