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Change

By @C-Rile

Change

Claire and Katie sat in Caleb and Haygan’s living room silently. They got back from their trip two days after the boys were reported missing and now it had been six months since they got back from their trip. (The girls were now nineteen). Both of them were thinking about their sweet boyfriends. Claire would be due in only one more month and she knew Haygan wouldn’t be there for his baby’s birth. Suddenly, Katie started to bawl and said in a hoarse whisper, “Today’s his birthday…” It was February third and Katie couldn’t see her boyfriend on his special day. Soon, Haygan too would be twenty years old and Claire thought for sure that she wouldn’t be able to see him on his birthday either.  

Last week, the girls met with Judah, Elli, and Mooska and they all went to the Police Department to discuss the case of the missing boys. “There’s not much we can do about your friends going missing. We’ll do the best we can to find them. We could probably send out the last of our search parties to look for them if you would like us to.” Said one of the officers to the group. Katie sat in silence and was quietly crying to herself for she was so distraught. She missed Caleb very much and she longed to see his face again. Judah told the two officers, “We’ve been on the edge of our seats for six months now, waiting for you guys to tell us that you’ve even gotten a lead on this case. But no, all you’ve done is tell us that it’s gonna be alright. Well, news flash, it’s not going to be alright if my two best friends have been kidnapped, killed, and left somewhere no one can find just so their dead carcasses can rot and disintegrate away.”

Squeak! Judah pushed out his chair so hard that the floor made a squeaky noise when the chair scraped it. He got up and left the room without closing the door behind him. Katie shuddered at Judah’s harsh words. She couldn’t bear the thought of her true love being killed….

Now a week later, the girls were in the boys’ house thinking about their hunch about what could have happened to the boys. They came up with a logical story: the boys were driving in the dark trying to find Claire, someone led them off the highway on purpose, then grabbed them out of their car and left to some secret hideout at the bottom of the ravine.

“The headline also said there were footprints by the car but the footprints leading to and from the car seemed to be covered up. But I feel like the detectives would be able to see where they’ve been covered up. It just doesn’t make sense to me, I feel like we need to do some investigating ourselves.” Katie said to Claire. “Next week let’s try to get some plane tickets for the Maldives and do some investigating,” Claire said back. Katie agreed, “Deal. We should bring Judah, Mooska, and Elli too.” “Okay,” Claire said.

A week later, the five young adults were standing in the airport security line getting ready for another flight to the Maldives. When they got on the plane, Claire started getting really bad stomach pains. It felt like something had kicked her… or someone. Oh yeah! She had a baby in her stomach! How could she forget? That was Claire’s first kick out of her baby and she was very surprised that she didn’t have any kicks before that throughout all eight months of her pregnancy. Claire chuckled to herself because she had somehow forgotten that she was going to have a baby in one month. “What’s so funny?” Katie asked Claire. “Oh, nothing,” Claire replied leaving Katie confused and clueless. 

Once they all arrived in the Maldives, they got checked into the same hotel they stayed in when they went on their senior trip. Judah got his own room though because it would be a little awkward if he was the only boy in a hotel room with four girls. 

The next morning, the five friends went straight to their investigating work. They started at the ravine. They parked on the side of the road and made their way down to the bottom of the ravine. On their way down, they could see the boys’ car at the bottom, partially in the water, crushed and upside down. Katie stopped climbing and started trembling as she stared at the dreadful-looking car. Claire started crying because she couldn’t take it. They had to tie ropes around their wastes and climb down the mountainside because it was so steep so they couldn’t just walk down and the girls had to keep hanging onto the ledge so they didn’t fall off, but it was kinda hard when they were also mourning over their boyfriends… Suddenly, Claire, Judah, Mooska, and Elli heard a shrill scream. Katie accidentally let go of the ledge she was holding on to because she was busy thinking about what could have happened to the boys. She fell the rest of the way down to the bottom of the ravine and landed in the deep river. 

The other four young adults started panicking and rushed down to the bottom as fast as they could. It took about seven minutes for them to finally make it down to the bottom. Once they did, they couldn’t find Katie anywhere. They went into the river, they walked all around the crime scene trying to find her, but they never did…. “Oh great. First, the boys have a tragedy and go missing, and now Katie had a tragedy and is missing. What’s going to happen next?” Judah asked rhetorically. 

Katie was unconscious from her great fall and was soaking wet from landing in the dirty river. Somehow, somebody found her before the others even got to the bottom and grabbed her and took her into the unknown….

“First, let’s look at those footprints the news was talking about and then we can work on finding the boys and Katie,” Said Claire trying to remain calm, “Hold on. What’s that noise?” Elli looked up and saw their car crashing down towards them and saw that Mooska was about to get demolished by it. She ran towards her and shoved Mooska out of the way and whipped her head towards the sky and then saw nothing. “Elli!” Claire screamed. Mooska, Claire, and Judah all rushed over to the car that just fell from one thousand feet above them and Mooska started to cry because her life was just saved because Elli sacrificed her own life to save her. “It should have been me,” Mooska said in between sobs. Judah was standing next to the car, staring at it, when he thought he saw something move through the window of the back seat…. He went closer to the car, opened the door to the back seat, and saw Elli trembling, sitting in criss-cross-apple-sauce, staring up at him. “Uh, guys? I think you can stop mourning. Come here.” Judah said to the girls. Claire and Mooska walked over to where Judah was and they, too, saw Elli sitting there, alive and well. “But how?” Mooska dumbfoundedly asked. “It looks like we must have left the sunroof open and coincidently, the car fell in such a way that she went through the sunroof instead of getting crushed by the roof itself,” Claire replied. Mooska smiled and hugged Elli joyfully. Elli slowly got out of the car in shock. She had no clue what in the world just happened, but she was somehow alive. 

“This is a crazy day.” Said Claire observantly. “Sure is,” Judah agreed, “Now let’s get back to this investigation before something else happens.” So they all walked over to the boys’ car and looked at the directions of the footprints. Claire gasped and said, “Look over there!” She pointed to a spot about ten feet away from them, “There’s another footprint over there and it looks like it’s leading away from the car. Come on, let’s go see it!” The four of them rushed over to the footprint and it didn’t look like either of the boys’ shoes. Elli suddenly said, “Look! There’s another one! Over there!” She pointed to another footprint that was right next to the river. They all crowded around the footprint that was pointing towards the river. They couldn’t find any more clues and it was already six-thirty pm in the evening so they decided to go back to the hotel and just eat supper there in the hotel. 

After about half an hour, they finally made it back to the hotel. It took so long because they had to walk the entire way back. And they had to walk because their car was crushed at the bottom of the ravine. And their car was crushed at the bottom of the ravine because… well, they don’t know exactly how or why the car just “randomly” fell off the cliff. But I know exactly why it fell. The nineteen and twenty-year-olds had parked pretty much half off the cliff to start with and it couldn’t hold on any longer so it fell off the cliff down to the bottom of the ravine. But as for the young adults, they’ll never know why.

“We need to cross that river tomorrow,” Judah said with determination. Claire was busy stuffing her face with mashed potatoes so she couldn’t answer. And Mooska was busy talking with Elli so they weren’t even listening. “Hello? Is anybody on the same page as me or what?” Judah asked, annoyed that everyone was ignoring him. Claire took a big gulp to get her food down and then responded, “I was listening to you. I just can’t get over how good these potatoes are!” She put another mouthful of potatoes in her mouth with an expression on her face that said that she had never had something like this ever in her entire life until just now, even though she’s had mashed potatoes so many times throughout her life. Judah laughed and said, “So what do you think? Should we cross or not?” Claire swallowed and said, “I think that’s a great idea! We need to find something to cross with though. Like a bridge of some sort…. Mooska! Elli! Judah just came up with a clever idea. We have to go back tomorrow and cross the river.” “Are you crazy? We can’t do that! It’s so deep. One wrong move and we’re toast.” Elli said doubtfully. “I agree with Elli. That’s too hard. You guys can cross the river to try to find them but there’s no way I’m crossing that river.” Mooska said. Elli added, “I’m with Mooska. You guys can go but Mooska and I are not going.” “Seriously guys? I’m the one who’s pregnant and I’m even crossing the river. You really don’t care about your friends so much that you would cross a river to find them? Wow, fine then. I don’t care, but Judah and I are crossing the river to find them.” Claire said sternly. Elli replied, “Fine then.” 

The next morning, Claire and Judah said goodbye to Elli and Mooska and headed toward the cliff. They were able to get a new rental car just as long as they paid for a new car to replace the crushed one. This time they parked in a pull-off on the side of the road so they didn’t have to worry about parking too close to the side of the road. Once they carefully descended to the bottom of the ravine, they started looking for something to use for a bridge to get across the river. “Hey Judah, look over there!” Claire pointed at a fallen-over tree that had no more leaves so obviously it had fallen over a long time ago. The two estimated it to have fallen over about three months ago. “What a coincidence! Just what we need! Good eye Claire. Come on, help me drag this sucker over here.” Judah replied. 

After Judah and Claire got the tree dragged over to the river, they worked together to place it across the river so they could walk across. 

“Alright, Claire, you go first so that I can be right behind you if you need any help. But we have to go one at a time because this log could give way any second.” Judah told Claire. Claire took a deep breath in and let out a long sigh to get ready to walk across the untrustworthy log. “Okay. Here we go.” Claire took her first step onto the log and placed one sure foot in front of the other. “AAAAAHHHH!” Suddenly Claire’s foot slipped and she fell into the water. Thankfully she was able to catch herself by grabbing the log before she went all the way into the water. But she did smack her face on the side of the log so she had a bloody nose. Judah went straight to the scene and got on his knees on top of the log and locked wrists with Claire and he lifted her with ease. Claire thanked him and used her shirt to block the blood from pouring out of her nose. Judah decided to just carry Claire across the river so she didn’t have to worry about falling in again. 

The two made it safely across the river and when Judah sat Claire down on the ground, she started screaming in pain. “Hey, hey, hey. Shh. Take a deep breath.” Judah tried to calm her down. Once she was able to chill out, Claire said, “It feels like I’m in labor but my water hasn’t broken and I still have three weeks before I’m due.” “That’s weird. Do we need to go back to the hotel?” Judah asked her curiously. Claire quickly said, “No, no, no. I’m fine. We need to find Caleb, Haygan, and Katie. We can’t give up now just because I’m in pain.” “Okay, if you say so,” Judah said.

“Look over there!” Claire pointed to a whole trail of footprints. “Let’s follow them!” Judah answered. Judah and Claire rushed to the footprints and started to follow them. About ten minutes later, Judah said, “How far did this person walk? We’ve been walking for like two hours.” Claire replied, “Oh stop it. We’ve only been walking for like ten minutes, now stop exaggerating.” All of a sudden, Claire heard a twig snap close by. She stopped in her tracks and Judah noticed that she stopped and he stopped with her. “What is it?” He asked her. “Did you hear that Judah?” She answered. “Yeah, I think so. Why?” He asked her back. “It sounds like we aren’t alone. Let’s follow that wrestling noise.”

As Judah and Claire slowly crept closer to the noise they kept hearing, they both paused and hid behind a large tree and kept silent. They heard someone talking. Maybe two people, they really couldn’t tell. Claire peeked around the tree just enough so she could see what was going on. She saw a little wood cabin, secluded, with smoke coming out of the chimney, and there was a strong scent of delicious-smElling food that made the two hungry. Off to the side of the cabin, Judah saw two men, walking side by side, while talking with each other and they had their backs facing him and Claire and they were walking away from the two. Wait, Judah thought, is that- 

Judah was struck with shock as he looked at the horrifying image. One of the men had a girl slung over his shoulder and her face was against the man’s back with her arms freely swinging down, above her head, hair in a messy, wet ponytail, she was dripping blood from her neck and elbows. The girl was obviously unconscious or even dead, otherwise, she probably would not have been dangling so freely as she was. “Yeah… found… river… unconscious… grabbed… thought… good… slave…” Judah nudged Claire after he heard those words. “Look over there! Those men are carrying a girl. What if it’s Katie?” Claire decided to creep closer to get a better look and she quickly moved to the next tree in front of her and Judah followed. 

Judah and Claire watched the men and the one who was carrying the girl decided to put her down. They watched as he swung the girl from his shoulder onto a wooden bench and her body was limp as a noodle. Judah and Claire gasped in unison and put their hands over their mouths in shock when they saw the face of the girl. Her neck was bent to the side and her face was stained with blood. Her neck was cut open and was gushing blood. Under her nose and above her top lip had dry blood, probably from a bloody nose. She had two black eyes. Her forehead had a deep, bloody cut going straight down on the side of her face from her hairline, passing across her temples, going all the way down to her jawline.

“Katie….” Claire whispered with tears coming to her eyes. Judah added, “She-she’s dead.” 

Claire heard one of the men ask the other how they knew she was alive and she thought to herself, Just look at her, stupid. Of course, she’s dead. (To the man who thought they could use her as a slave.)

All of a sudden, Claire’s stomach growled because the smell of fresh food made her hungry: Grrrrrrr! “Marv, did you hear that?” One of the men asked the other. “Heck yeah, Harry! Let’s go check it out.” Claire started to panic. She scolded her stomach in her mind and she looked at Judah with eyes that said, “What should we do?” 

Marv and Harry crept towards the tree that they thought they heard the grumble come from and Judah and Claire stood still. 

Crash! Judah and Claire heard a loud noise coming from the cabin. Marv and Harry stopped in their tracks, looked at each other with alarm, and started towards the house. Claire let out a sigh of relief when the men left. “That was a close call,” Judah said. Claire replied, “Yeah it was. Should we go see if Katie’s still alive? It doesn’t look like there are windows on this side of the house so no one will see us unless they come out.” “Okay, let’s go,” Judah said. 

Judah and Claire rushed over to the limp body and they sat on each side of her on the wooden bench. Claire lifted Katie’s chin gently with her fingertips and looked at her tattered face. “Katie?” Claire asked. Katie’s finger started to twitch and Judah said, “Claire, look! She’s moving, she has to be alive.” Suddenly, Katie’s eyes started to slowly open. Claire gasped and said, “Katie, are you awake?” Katie began to groan because she had a major headache. When she opened her eyes completely, she started to jerk all around and let out a couple of whimpers every now and then. Judah grabbed her and held her in place so she didn’t go crazy. “What happened to you?” He asked her. Suddenly, Katie stopped jerking, looked Judah straight into his eyes, and started to cry. He let go of her thinking maybe he accidentally made her cry by grabbing her so suddenly. Katie wouldn’t stop crying and she was trembling with fear for about two minutes straight until Claire finally said, “We should get out of here fast so ‘Marv and Harry’ don’t come out and see us.” “That’s probably a good idea. Let’s get her out of here.” Judah replied. A second later, they heard: “Gladys, what were you thinking? You don’t knock over pots with boiling water in them!” “I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to.” “I know, schnookums. It’s okay. If you need any help, just ask these two little boys. I’m sure they would love to help you. Wouldn’t you, boys?”   

Judah and Claire stood up quickly and they helped Katie get up and they carefully walked her into the forest, with Katie’s arms around both of their shoulders for support. Katie turned around to look at the cabin and Claire and Judah heard her gasp. They all stopped and they turned around after they saw Katie was watching something behind them. When Claire saw the image Katie was seeing, she immediately moved away from Katie and turned completely around, letting Katie stumble. Katie then used her other arm to brace herself against Judah, but she never took her eyes off of what she had been looking at. 

“Git over there, you little brat!” Marv said to one of the slaves, “Hey Harry? The girl is gone! Did you put her somewhere else?” Harry answered, “Of course not, you imbecile! I was inside with you the whole time seeing what those little weaklings were up to.” “Oh, yeah,” Marv replied, looking dumbfounded, “Well then where’d she go?” “How do you suppose I would know the answer to that?” Harry answered, “It’s too late now, I guess. Who cares though? We have these delightful boys instead.” He added sarcastically. 

Claire watched two boys limp towards the wood table with handkerchiefs used as gags in their mouths. They were very exhausted and their hands were tied behind their backs. She watched as they were shoved face-first onto the rough, splintery wood table, and Judah, Katie, and Claire winced at the horrific image. 

Slash! Harry whipped Caleb and Katie’s bruised eyes flinched and she felt tears coming to her eyes as she gripped Judah’s shirt.

“Haygan!” Claire screamed when Harry whipped him next. Marv and Harry stopped and looked towards Claire. “Hey! What are you doing?” Harry asked. 

“Claire! What did you do?” Judah asked. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t take it!” She replied. “We’ve got to run!” Judah said. Then he heard a very quiet voice say, “But what about me? I can’t run.” It was Katie. Judah said, “Don’t worry. I got you.” He carefully picked her up so he wouldn’t hurt her and he began to run. 

“After them!” Marv yelled.

Claire raced ahead of Judah and Katie and when they reached the log, they paused because Marv and Harry were far behind them. Judah set Katie down for a second and then told Claire, “You have to go first, and you need to go now. They could catch up any second.” She hurried across the river on the log and she made it across safely, without falling this time. Nearby, Judah heard, “Hurry up, Marv! Stupid….” He quickly, but gently, picked Katie up once again and rushed across the log. “Hey! Stop right there! We’re gonna get you!” Marv said. Harry went first and as he was running across, the three watched him slip and fall straight into the water. He struggled to keep himself up above the water and they watched him flow down the river until he eventually fell down the waterfall in the distance and died. Marv tried next because he wasn’t going to let them get away and he made it all the way across safely. He started laughing with an evil hint in his voice. Suddenly, Judah put Katie down and said, “You know what? I’m sick of you. Get out of my life.” He ran towards Marv and shoved him into the river and he, too, went down the waterfall and died. 

Judah, Katie, and Claire stood speechless until Claire said, “It’s pretty dark. We need to get Katie to the hospital somehow, Judah. Come on.” Judah turned around and looked at Katie’s blank face and said, “But how are we going to get her up there? She can’t climb up that ledge by herself.” Claire said, “I have an idea, as long as Katie can still follow directions okay. Katie?” Katie slowly moved her searching eyes towards Claire and then Claire told her, “Judah is going to go up there first and then I’m going to strap you into the harness and he will pull you up there so you don’t have to climb. And then I will go up next. Okay?” Katie nodded her head in agreement. 

After Judah got to the top of the cliff safely, he threw the rope and harness down to Claire so she could help Katie get secured to be able to get back up to the top. Once Judah finally pulled her to the top, he undid all the ropes so he could give the harness to Claire for her to get up. After he threw the harness down to Claire, Judah led Katie to the car and opened the door, and helped her climb in. Then he started the car so it could warm up for her. He shut the door and went back over to where he was before. “You doing okay?” Judah yelled towards Claire. She replied, “Yep, almost there.” A few minutes later, Claire made it safely to the top, panting.

In the car, Claire and Judah tried to keep Katie awake by asking her lots of questions, just to make sure she didn’t go unconscious again. “Do you know where we are?” Judah asked her. “Um, aren’t we in Idaho?” She replied. Claire and Judah looked at each other with a look that said, Oh boy…

Once they got to the hospital, Claire and Judah got out first and they helped Katie get out of the car. It took a little while for them to get into the hospital because they had to walk her there the same way they walked her away from the wood cabin and it was a slow process. Once they got inside, the receptionist greeted them, “Assalamu alaikum!” Judah, Katie, and Claire had no clue what the lady was saying so Judah just told her, “We don’t speak in your language. We speak English.” “No worries! I am AmCaleban as well! What can I do for you guys?” The receptionist told them. Claire said, “Hi, my name is Claire. This is Judah, and this is Katie,” she pointed as she spoke, “She needs medical attention.” The receptionist looked at Katie’s drooping eyes and limp body. She immediately started typing rapidly on her computer keyboard and she told them, “You can take a seat over there and Doctor Naards will be out shortly. I’m so sorry, guys.” 

Judah, Katie, and Claire all took a seat over in the waiting area. They waited for about five minutes, listening to Maldivian doctors and nurses speak Dhivehi while walking up and down the halls. Finally, a Maldivian nurse came out and said, “Katie?” Judah and Claire got up and Claire said, “Come on, Katie. It’s your turn.” They helped Katie get up and walked her toward the nurse, telling her that they spoke English, not Dhivehi, and the nurse told them that she could speak English as well, but Doctor Naards didn’t, so she would translate for them.

In the doctor’s office, Judah and Claire were telling the nurse, whose name was Tina, what exactly happened to Katie and how they found her and where they found her. “Sounds like you guys had quite an adventure,” Tina told them. “Yeah, and our…” Claire paused searching for the right word. “…Friends, Haygan and Caleb, are also at the wood cabin right now and we’re going to go rescue them tomorrow. But we can’t tell the authorities because if the kidnappers find out about the authorities coming to get the boys, they’ll probably hide and we won’t ever find them.” 

Once Doctor Naards came in, Nurse Tina told him in Dhivehi that she was going to translate for them since they didn’t speak the same language as him. The doctor talked to them about different medications he was going to give to her to help with pain and to heal her faster. They also took an X-Ray to see if she had any broken bones and they discovered that she snapped her right elbow and she shattered her left kneecap. They also discovered that she had a major concussion, but they didn’t find that out from the X-Ray. Doctor Naards told them that Katie would have to stay in the hospital for the night and most likely longer. 

When the doctors got Katie cleaned up and onto a hospital bed, they stitched her wounds up, put her arm in a sling, and raised her leg higher than the rest of her body. 

Claire was sitting on the side of Katie on her hospital bed when all of a sudden, she felt the worst pains in her life. She looked down and saw water on the floor and felt that her jeans were soaking wet. She suddenly jerked forward and she knew exactly what was going on. She was going into labor. 

“Judah! Get Doctor Naards! Hurry!” Claire told Judah. Judah ran out of the room and got the doctor. A minute later, Judah and Doctor Naards rushed back into Katie’s room with a couple of nurses, including Tina, and they got Claire into a different room than Katie and got her own hospital bed for her to have her baby. 

Claire was in her room with Doctor Naards and Tina, having her baby. 

Doctor Naards handed Claire her baby and said something in Dhivehi that Tina translated to, “It’s a healthy baby girl!” Claire then cradled her baby in her arms.

About twenty minutes later, Judah walked back into Katie’s room and told her that he had to go back to the hotel for the night and he would be back tomorrow with Elli and Mooska to visit her. He told Claire as well.

When Judah got back to the hotel, he knocked on the girls’ door. When they answered, they told him to come in. “Where’s Claire?” Mooska asked him. Judah replied, “She had her baby thirty minutes ago.”  Mooska and Elli gasped in unison. “She did?!” Elli asked joyfully. “Yeah,” Judah replied, “But that’s not the main point right now. I have amazing news! We found Katie!” Judah explained to the girls the whole story, from them crossing the river to where they were sitting right now. “Wow,” Mooska said. “And tomorrow, I’m going to go back to that cabin and rescue Caleb and Haygan, once and for all. But it would be really helpful to have someone with me.” Judah told them. “I’ll go!” Elli exclaimed. Mooska added, “I’ll go too if it means we’ll finally get our friends back.” “Sounds like a plan,” Judah said.

The next morning, at five a.m., while it was still dark, the three set out to go rescue Haygan and Caleb. Once they got down to the bottom of the ravine, Judah warned Mooska and Elli about falling into the river and told them what happened to Claire when she was crossing. Elli volunteered to cross first just so she could get it over with and she made it across safely. Next was Mooska, and she was hesitant while crossing, but she still made it across eventually. Judah went last and he had gone across the log lots of times already so he was used to going across it, so he ran. And he made it to the other side safely. 

They began the quiet, long walk through the dark, serene forest. Judah was first, Mooska second, and Elli was last. Sometimes, Judah would put his hand up to signal them to stop because he would get these weird feelings that something was near them. But there was nothing there.

When they neared the wood cabin, they could all hear people talking inside and wrestling noises, probably from the slaves working, doing their early morning chores. “This is where we found Katie. And when we were leaving, we saw Caleb and Haygan being forced out here, getting gagged and whipped.” Judah whispered to the girls. Then he told them to follow him and they crept closer to the house. The three went all the way to the house and stood up against the wall. Judah peeked around the corner of the house to look inside the screen door. He saw slaves walking around, but no kidnappers. He assumed that the slaves had to do some work for their masters so they were up early in the morning to do so. Elli asked Judah, “What do you see? Do you see Caleb or Haygan at all?” He answered, “I see a lot of slaves walking around but neither of them.” 

The three stayed on the side of the house to watch the slaves do their work, but they weren’t worried about being caught because it was pitch black outside. “I have to get a closer look,” Judah said to the girls. “No, you’ll get caught if you get closer,” Mooska told him. “I have to.” He answered. Mooska and Elli gave him a look that said, be careful. 

Judah crept closer to the house towards the door and was about to walk up onto the porch when he heard: “And how do you suppose I can pay for my broken brooch, you clumsy moron?” Gladys was in the backyard with Haygan and Caleb, still being gagged and their hands tied behind their backs with ropes. “Answer me, you stupid jerk!” 

Judah hesitated when he heard Gladys scold the boys and he turned from where he was standing by the porch and slowly went towards the backyard. He looked towards Mooska and Elli and motioned towards them to follow him. Elli and Mooska followed and stayed right behind Judah. He peeked around the corner of the house towards Gladys and she had her back facing him. Judah was about to start walking to the backyard because he had a good, solid plan in his mind about what he was going to do until Mooska said, “Judah! Wait! Where are you going? You’re gonna get hurt or caught or something!” Judah stopped and turned towards her and said, “I have a plan. You see that open cellar over there?” “Yes.” Mooska and Elli replied in unison. “What about it?” Elli asked. Judah answered quickly, “Gladys is standing so close to it that if I sneak up behind her and then shove her down in there, I can shut it and we can grab Caleb and Haygan and get the heck outta here.” “That’s so smart Judah! You better hurry though in case Gladys switches positions and you can’t shove her in there as easily without being caught.” Mooska said, encouraging him.

Judah walked slowly toward Gladys in the morning darkness and when he was about to shove her, she took a couple of steps forward closer to the boys to hit them and Judah quickly retracted because he was not expecting that. He waited quietly until she stepped back after smacking both of the boys and then he crept towards Gladys carefully and he counted a one, two, three in his mind and he shoved her powerfully by adrenaline into the cellar and the mean lady screamed loudly as she went down to the bottom. Judah quickly scrambled towards the cellar and grabbed the handles of the doors and slammed them shut victoriously. He then grabbed a broom and hooked it through the handles of the cellar doors to make sure Gladys couldn’t get out. 

Judah signaled to Elli and Mooska to come help him untie Caleb and Haygan from their shackles. “Come on, help me get them freed so we can get out of here,” he told them, “Mooska, you get Caleb and Elli, you can get Haygan. I’ll watch to make sure no one comes out of the house.” Mooska and Elli quickly got to work. Elli started by untying Haygan’s hands and Mooska started by untying the gag in Caleb’s mouth because the kidnappers tied the handkerchief so tight that he had blood coming from his mouth because it had cut into his face. Obviously, the boys had been tied up like this for a long time because when Mooska and Elli undid the handkerchiefs, they stuck to their faces from saliva and sweat. And Caleb’s stuck even worse because of all the blood on his mouth. The kidnappers tied the ropes so tight on their hands that their blood circulation was cut off and their hands were purple, blue, and lifeless. 

Once Elli and Mooska got the handkerchiefs and ropes off of the boys, Judah told them, “We should get going now, just in case the other wife comes out. Or even some of the other slaves.” 

Judah, Elli, and Mooska helped the lifeless boys start walking away from the cabin and it was still dark and early in the morning. Now it was six-thirty a.m.

On the quiet walk back to town, Elli decided to break the silence by asking, “Are you guys excited to finally get to see your girlfriends again? Oh, and Haygan, we all have a surprise for you once we get back. The surprise is mostly from Claire though.” Haygan answered her, “Yeah, I guess I’m excited to see her. What’s the surprise?” “Well, we can’t tell you, or else it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?” Mooska told him. “I guess not,” Haygan answered. Elli became suspicious about Haygan’s first answer and asked him, “Are you not excited to see Claire? You haven’t seen her in like eight months now.” “I don’t know. It hasn’t actually been that long though.” Haygan said nonchalantly. Elli was very puzzled for a while and then decided to say, “Oh! Caleb, you probably won’t like this, but Katie is in the E.R. and will be for a while.” Caleb glanced at her and said, “Oh. Okay.” “Are you kidding me? What happened to you two? You guys don’t even seem excited that we rescued you. You’re both just kinda being nonchalant about it. And same with the fact that you guys are going to be able to see your girlfriends when we get back. Haygan, you acted like you didn’t even care that you got to see Claire. And Caleb, you acted like you don’t care that Katie is in the emergency room right now.” Haygan suddenly snapped, “Look, Elli. Caleb and I have been through a lot lately. We have a lot on our minds. It’s hard to focus on something else when your brain has been trained to think about one thing, and one thing only. Don’t scold us right after we got away from being forced into slavery. I’m not taking it.” Elli hushed up right after that and no one said a word the whole way back.

After they all crossed the river safely on the log and got back to the top of the cliff, the five young adults got into the car to head to the hospital to visit Katie and Claire. 

At the hospital, Judah, Mooska, Elli, Caleb, and Haygan all went to Katie’s room first because her room was the closest to them. Katie was asleep when they walked into her room. “Katie,” Elli said to try to wake her up as she lightly shook her. Katie slowly opened her eyes and looked around the room. When she saw Caleb and Haygan, she sat up rapidly and started to laugh as she reached her arms up for Caleb to hug her, but he didn’t even go near her. Katie’s feelings were hurt when he wouldn’t greet her so she put her arms down and laid back down in the bed with her head facing the opposite direction of her friends and started to cry silently. “Caleb, why don’t you give your girlfriend a hug? You haven’t seen her in forever. You’re being rude.” Judah told him. Caleb looked down at the floor and walked out of the room. Judah and Haygan followed him and when they caught up with him, Judah grabbed him and told him, “It’s gonna be okay. You don’t have to worry about those people anymore. They’re going to be put in jail for the rest of their lives. Now come on, let’s go back to the room because I know you want to give Katie a hug.” Caleb nodded and all three of them walked back into Katie’s room. 

Judah and Haygan stopped at the door of Katie’s room and let Caleb go closer. As he was slowly walking towards Katie, she turned her head and saw Caleb walking towards her so she sat up again and he hesitated. Then Katie smiled weakly at him and he started walking to her again. When he made it to her bedside, Caleb sat down next to Katie on her bed, and then they embraced each other joyfully. “Haygan, it’s time to let you see Claire and give you the surprise,” Judah said. 

Katie said goodbye for now to Caleb, and then he, Haygan, Judah, Elli, and Mooska all went to Claire’s room to visit her. Judah told Haygan to go into the room before any of the others and he did. When Haygan walked into the room and was halfway to Claire’s bedside, he realized that Claire was holding and quietly singing to a newborn baby, so he stopped in his tracks immediately. Haygan quickly stepped back and started hyperventilating. Judah pushed him back towards Claire and told him in a whisper that it was okay. 

Claire started tearing up when she saw Haygan and wanted to jump out of her bed and embrace him, but she couldn’t disturb her sleeping baby. She just greeted him by saying, “I missed you.” Haygan didn’t say or do anything. He wasn’t even excited to see Claire. He just stood there….

Judah broke the silence by saying, “That’s your surprise, Haygan. You’re a father!” Haygan still did nothing. Claire and Judah looked at each other and Judah said to him again, “Aren’t you excited to see them?” Still nothing.

“Come over here, Haygan. Come hold our child.” Claire told him. Finally, Haygan inched closer, and then Claire held up the baby for him to hold it and he took the baby gently from her hands. Haygan sat down on the bed cradling the baby ever so sweetly and smiled down at it. Claire chuckled and said, “Her name is Lioness. I know you love lions so I named her after your favorite animal.” Tears started to fill Haygan’s eyes and after a few seconds, he handed the baby back to Claire and rushed out of the room. Judah followed him while Mooska, Elli, and Caleb went into the room to meet Lioness. 

Judah followed Haygan into the bathroom and said, “Haygan, what was that all about? Don’t you like your daughter?” Haygan started crying silently and said, “I do and she’s beautiful but…. I’m scared….” “About what?” “What if Claire is cheating on me? I’ve been kidnapped for over six months. That baby could not be mine.” Haygan said. Judah answered quickly, “She’s yours, Haygan. Claire has not been seeing anybody but you.” Haygan kept silent. Judah tried again, smiling. “You do know that it takes 9 months before a child is born right?” Haygan chuckled lightly. Suddenly, he said, “There’s something that I need to tell you regarding the kidnappers. They weren’t just random kidnappers, they were labor traffickers. They were wandering around when Caleb and I wrecked at the bottom of the ravine and they thought we could be slaves for them. As if they needed more. They shouldn’t have had any at all. Anyways, we were both unconscious when they took us so we couldn’t fight back. And we’ve been working for Marv and Harry for more than six months, and their wives, Gladys and Dorothy. We’ve been abused, worked to our limit, traumatized, and starved. So we’ve become very different people. And they tried to make Katie a slave as well but you guys came and saved her. Then you came back for me and Caleb” Judah stood still and then said, “Haygan, I am so very sorry. If we all would have known, then we wouldn’t have been pushing you guys so much to come and see your girlfriends.”

Back in Claire’s room, Elli, Mooska, Claire, and Caleb were chatting while Elli was holding Lioness. Coincidentally, Caleb had been telling the same story to them that Haygan had told Judah. They all listened intently to Caleb as he told them that he and Haygan were kidnapped and enslaved by labor traffickers. “So that’s why you and Haygan have been acting so different lately. Because you’ve been traumatized….” Elli told Caleb. Caleb nodded and stared at the ground, remembering what all happened with the kidnappers.

Judah and Haygan went back to the others and they started a friendly conversation. After a while, Caleb started to think about Katie. He wanted to see her again since he hadn’t for eight months. “Um. I think I’m gonna. Go.” Caleb told the group. He left before anyone else could respond. 

Caleb made his way down the hall and went down one floor of the hospital. He went down the hall again and stopped at a closed door. The door number was 114. Katie’s room. Caleb reached for the door handle and grasped it. He hesitated. He took a deep breath and pushed the door handle down. The door swung open and Katie glanced at the door to see who was there and smiled when she saw Caleb. Caleb walked into the room and closed the door. Katie extended her hand and Caleb grabbed her hand and held it in his. He sat down on her bed and they stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, Katie said three small words: “I missed you.” Caleb embraced her and said, “I missed you too.” 

Suddenly, Caleb and Katie heard, “Awwwww.” They both turned toward the door and saw Judah, Haygan, Mooska, and Elli standing there all smiling and watching. “So cute….” Elli said making a heart with her hands. “Shut up,” Katie told her jokingly. Caleb and Katie let go of each other and Caleb stood up quickly. “Why are you even here?” Katie asked them. Judah told her, “Because I think it’s time to go back to the hotel. We all need to eat and get some sleep. Claire is going home tomorrow. The doctor said she was stable enough to be at home so we’ll probably just take her to the hotel. And whenever you are mostly healed, then we can go back to AmCaleba.” Katie looked down and sighed, then told Caleb, “Well, I guess I’ll just have to see you tomorrow.” She gave him one last hug and they said goodbye. 

Back at the hotel in the dining area, Judah, Caleb, Haygan, Mooska, and Elli sat at a table, eating their dinner. “Sooooo. Haygan. When are you going to ask her?” Judah asked Haygan. “Well, I have the ring. I just need to find the right place to propose to her. Plus, lately, it’s been a bit hectic so I’m gonna wait till things calm down a bit.” Then he pulled out the ring and showed his friends and they all gasped in shock and they all hovered around the beautiful small, round band. “Fourteen karat white gold,” Haygan told them. “It’s so beautiful!” Mooska exclaimed. Elli told him, “Hey Haygan, we can help you find the right time to propose to her if you’d like.” Haygan agreed and they all finished their dinner.

When they all finished, the five friends went to the girls’ room to discuss how Haygan should propose to Claire. After about twenty minutes, they came to an agreement and had the whole thing planned out.

The next morning, Elli and Mooska went to the hospital to pick up Claire and Lioness from the hospital. When they came back from the hospital, Judah, Caleb, and Haygan were not at the hotel. Claire was puzzled. “Where are the guys?” Claire asked Elli and Mooska. “I don’t know. They’re probably out getting breakfast or something.” Mooska replied. “Yeah, I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re probably catching up.” Elli added. Claire shrugged it off and was excited to finally get to be with her boyfriend again after six months. “We should go celebrate you and Katie being okay and for Lioness being born,” Moosa said. Claire and Elli thought it was a good idea so they all got in the car and headed out. They wanted to go on a hike in the mountains so they found a beautiful trailhead and started to walk. 

About five minutes after they started walking, Elli and Mooska told Claire that they found a little area by the river on the map and that they should stop and have a little rest and check it out. So they went off the trail and toward the gleaming water. Suddenly, Claire was a little suspicious because there were flowery decorations and candles for decor in a circle and Elli told Claire to step inside the circle and wait. So Claire listened and she gave Lioness to Mooska. Claire watched Elli and Mooska disappear behind some bushes and she was awkwardly alone, standing in the middle of a circle of candles. Suddenly, she heard some wrestling in the bushes on the opposite side that Elli and Mooska went behind. Then, randomly, Haygan popped out of the bushes and he was wearing a suit. Then Caleb and Judah followed and they were also wearing suits. “What’s going on?” Claire asked Haygan. He didn’t answer her. Judah and Caleb stood behind Haygan toward the back of the circle, opposite Claire, and facing her. Haygan walked towards Claire and took her hands in his and then kissed her gently. Then, slowly, he got down on one knee and Claire gasped because she could tell what was happening. He reached one hand into his pocket and then pulled it out, revealing a small black box. He took his other hand and opened the box. “May I have the honor of calling you my wife?” He asked. Claire covered her mouth and started to cry. Then she nodded and embraced him. 

When they got back to the hotel, Claire told Elli and Mooska, “I was wondering why we were gonna go on a hike right after I had a baby. But I’m glad we did because it was definitely worth it.” Claire then grabbed Haygan’s hand and shot him a flirtatious glance in his direction. Then he told her, “Next week, just you and I are going to be back in AmCaleba and we’re going to spend three days up at the cabin. We will leave the day after tomorrow. Judah, Mooska, and Elli are going to come back too but it will be just you and I at the cabin. Oh, and Lioness. Caleb is going to stay here until Katie gets healed and then they’ll come back too.” 

That evening, they all went to visit Katie one more time before they all left. When they got to the hospital, everybody burst into Katie’s room at once and told her that they were going back to AmCaleba the day after tomorrow. She started to panic and asked, “Wait, you’re going back to AmCaleba and you’re just gonna leave me here all by myself?” Caleb jumped in and said, “No no no, I’ll be here with you until you get better. I will never leave you again.” Katie smiled and then she said, “Okay. Everybody get over here and give me hugs.” Then they all lined up, except for Caleb, and one by one, gave Katie a hug, as she requested. After a while, they all decided to go back to the hotel to get some sleep for the next day because they needed to be well-rested to pack and get ready to leave the next day. The only person who didn’t leave was Caleb. He was going to stay next to Katie no matter what. 

The next morning, Caleb woke up in the hospital and Katie was still asleep. It was about 9 A.M. and he decided to try to go back to sleep. But he couldn’t so he just stayed up for a while with nothing to do. After about an hour of boredom, Katie finally woke up. About five minutes later, Katie started screaming bloody murder and Caleb ran to get the doctor. A minute later, he came back with Doctor Naards and Nurse Tina. At this point, Katie was just crying and told Doctor Naards in between sobs that her elbow started throbbing like crazy and she couldn’t take it. He went over to her and told her that it was normal that it was hurting so bad and that it was just part of the healing process. She nodded and the doctor and the nurse left the room.

Caleb rushed over to Katie and sat next to her on her bed. He asked her if she was okay and she just kept crying and held her elbow. Caleb wrapped her in his arms to comfort her and then she finally calmed down. 

The next day, Judah, Haygan, Claire and Lioness, Elli, and Mooska headed to the airport. They were all very excited to finally be back home. Meanwhile, at the hospital, Katie and Caleb were sleeping. Caleb never left his place from the day before so they were both still in the hospital bed. Once they woke up, Doctor Naards came in with nurse Tina and said that Katie could go home in two weeks but she would have to stay on the meds they prescribed her until she was all better and she would have to stay off her left leg to let her kneecap heal and have her whole right arm in a cast for it to heal properly. 

Judah, Haygan, Claire and Lioness, Mooska, and Elli made it back to AmCaleba safely and they drove back to their houses from the airport. Judah and Haygan went to Haygan’s house and Judah stayed for a while before he returned to his house. The girls did the same and then Claire was left alone in her house with Lioness. She didn’t know what to do so she just grabbed her puppy and kitten and started snuggling them and then she fed them. Haygan was also alone at his house.

The next week, Claire and Haygan were getting ready for their trip to the cabin. When they met up, they made their way up to the cabin in McCall with their car. They finally made it up to the cabin after a few hours and were cuddling up watching TV together on the couch while Lioness took a nap. Claire glanced to her left out the window and she could have sworn she saw someone in the trees staring at her through the window and she turned toward Haygan and told him what she had seen. When they both looked back out the window, the person was gone. “There’s no one there,” Haygan told her. “But I swear I saw someone,” Claire answered with worry in her voice. Haygan put his fingers under her chin and lifted her face until they made direct eye contact and told her reassuringly, “It’s going to be okay. I’m right here. I’ll protect you, don’t worry about it.” Then he kissed her softly. She smiled up at him and felt a little safer. So they continued watching TV in peace. The man was still watching them, out of sight with evil intentions in his mind. Buuuuut, that is probably another story. Or is it…!? 🙂

THE END

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