When they come out of the dojo, they discover that their parents are missing and there are signs of a struggle. They call Andre of the Louisiana group, only to find out they are already on the way.
“No. The house is well built and the dojo is soundproofed. We didn’t hear a thing,” Jordan said, tears in her eyes. “How can they just be gone?”
“Go by my house first,” Brian said, giving directions. “That would be their first stop. Heath knew Dad was there.”
They knew something was wrong before they arrived. Police cars, lights flashing, lined the road. The house stood with all the doors and windows open, lights blazing. A smell of fire lingered in the air, but nothing was burning.
Brian leaped out of the truck before Andre came to a full stop. He ran up to the nearest police officer.
“I’m Brian Casey, I live here. What’s wrong?”
The officer directed him to the sergeant in charge, a woman with dark hair. She stood by the barricade, talking into her radio.
“Excuse me, Sarge, this kid says he lives here,” the officer said, by way of introduction.
“Thank God, we thought you were home when this happened.”
“When what happened? Are my folks okay? And the people with them?”
“We’re still piecing it together. Neighbors reported sounds of an altercation. When we got here a few minutes later, we found it like this.”
Brian didn’t wait for her to finish. He vaulted over the barricade and ran up to the house. Jordan and the others followed him, with the police in hot pursuit.
“You can’t go in there. It’s not safe!” The sergeant yelled after them.
Brian ran in the front door to find utter devastation. Shards of glass riddled the walls and floor. Burn marks led from the fireplace and kitchen. Nearly every piece of furniture was splintered and torn. It looked like a full scale war had been fought here. Strangely, there was no blood. Where were their parents? Why couldn’t they find evidence that they’d even been here?
Turning in a circle, Brian took in details rapidly before rushing to the study. This room was also trashed. All the books lay in shreds on the floor. The shelves had been ripped from the wall, the furniture smashed and overturned. He looked among the wreckage for the book that hid the key. He didn’t find it.
Next, he ran to the dining room. The room was pristine as if it had never been touched. Moving on, he ran through the kitchen, to the basement steps. A wave of nausea swept through him, making him gag. Grabbing the nearby garbage can, he heaved the contents of his stomach into it.
A horrible smell lingered in the air of the stairway. Forcing himself to breath through his mouth, Brian descended. He felt Jordan directly behind him, her tonfa at the ready. She hadn’t puked, why had he? The others joined them, moving slowly and quietly, wondering what they would find.
The basement reeked of sulfur and wet ashes. The entire room was gutted by fire, the floor and walls scorched. An inch of water pooled around their feet as they walked across the room to the backdoor. This hung at an odd angle, pieces of it scattered across the room and buried in the walls. The extra covering had been ripped from its hinges.
Without stopping to consider his actions, Brian raced up the steps with Zofia and Jordan right behind him. The others picked their way across the room more slowly, but they joined their friends as quickly as they could.
The vast expanse of swampy trees greeted them. Strangely, there was no snow back here. Footprints in the damp ground, led parallel to the line of trees, skirting the swamp. Four people had gone this way. And one big dog.
Zofia sniffed the footprints and whined. She started off after the tracks with confidence. Brian didn’t hesitate. He followed her quickly, running top speed. Jordan followed, her shorter legs having trouble keeping up with Brain’s stride.
Andre and the others ran with her, following Brian’s path. Brian disappeared between two trees. Jordan ran after him, her steps sure on the uneven, muddy ground. Here, her height was an advantage as the trees grew thick, their branches low to the ground. She saw a few broken limbs and knew that Brian and others had run this way. The ground was churned into muddy lumps, growing more treacherous as they moved deeper into the swamp.
Behind her, Andre and Sweet cursed as the low branches clipped their heads and grabbed at their broad shoulders. The girls moved ahead, slipping through the tight gaps easily. They caught up with Jordan, letting her lead. Not far ahead, they heard sounds of a fight. Loud voices, the barking of the dogs, weapons striking weapons. Jordan held up her hand, halting the others. She crept closer, crouching to see between the trees. She felt the others come up beside her, finding their own vantage points.
© 2016 Dellani Oakes
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