Janelle toyed with the cold scrambled eggs on her plate fighting tears of boredom. Why had her parents insisted she come along to this conference? She was fourteen now. All the other kids were so much younger. To top it all off, her 10-year-old brother, Alex, followed her around everywhere.
A sharp clanging called everyone’s attention. Old Mr. Stanley stood in the doorway.
“Attention, please. We regret to inform you that it seems we’ve had a string of petty robberies overnight. As you know, the old hospital building where you are housed this week does not have the tightest security. We apologize for the inconvenience. If you notice anything missing, please do let us know immediately.”
Janelle wandered over to where Mr. Stanley stood jotting down yet another missing item in his notebook.
“Hi, Mr. Stanley. Any idea what’s up with the robberies?”
Mr. Stanley pushed his heavy glasses farther up on his nose and sighed. “It’s most unusual, actually. The items stolen seem so inconsequential. Thankfully, the thief overlooked many items that are more valuable. Strange.” Mr. Stanley’s voice trailed off as if he were talking to himself.
Janelle snuck a peek at the notebook, quickly deciphering the shaky writing.
bag of snack food
first aid kit
Janelle absently rubbed at a spot on the table. Alex came up behind her. “Hey, Janelle. What’s up?”
“Nothin’. Can you tell Mom and Dad that I’m going back to the dorm? I’ve got to check something out. I think I know where that stuff disappeared.”
“Ok, but I’m comin’ with you.” Alex was back in a flash. Grabbing a stick, he ran ahead. He darted from tree to tree, pretending to shoot at squirrels.
As they entered the building, Janelle called out to Alex. “This way. Let’s go down into the basement.”
Alex suddenly gave Janelle his full attention. “The basement? Don’t you remember what they said? This used to be a hospital.” He hesitated. “The MORGUE is down there!”
Janelle grinned mischievously. “I know, but I remember hearing the basement door close as we came home last night. What reason would anyone have to go down there? Something is going on.”
Alex squared his shoulders and held his wooden weapon in the air. “Ok. I’ll back you up.”
The heavy door squeaked in protest as they quietly left the lobby. Instantly, all was dark and dusty. Cobwebs grabbed at their hair as they crept down the stairs. The damp, stone walls seemed to crowd in on them.
“Shh.” Janelle pointed to a heavily locked door. “The morgue!” she whispered.
Alex gulped as Janelle bravely led the way further down the hall. Alex was now hiding behind his sister.
They heard a low moaning sound coming from a door that was just slightly ajar. Janelle’s bravado was quickly disappearing, but she wasn’t about to let Alex know. As she reached out her hand to push the door open, a rattling and rumbling echoed through the room. She caught her breath as Alex dropped his stick. Giving him a glare as he retrieved his weapon, she whispered, “It’s just the furnace!”
Slowly, they inched the door open. A whimper, barely audible, caught Janelle’s attention in the corner behind the furnace. Peering into the gloom, she saw a form curled under a blanket.
“Quick, Alex. Over here.”
A young boy about Janelle’s age lay trembling and moaning. She reached out a tentative hand to the boy’s damp forehead. His eyes flew open in terror.
“He’s burning up! Alex, run and get some help.” As Alex ran off, Janelle took stalk of her surroundings. Each of the missing items was right there in the room. It was just as she thought. That list wasn’t random at all.
“Don’t let him find me,” the boy cried.
“Who?” Janelle asked, startled by the intensity of the frail voice.
“Please. I’m sorry I took that stuff. Don’t tell my dad.” Terrified sobs shook his body.
Janelle laid her hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok. You’re safe now.” She whispered a prayer to her heavenly Father, and a gentle quietness settled over the boy.
Trampling feet came running down the stairs, and the bright light of a flashlight bobbed down the hallway towards them. As they were bathed in light, it was obvious the boy had been severely beaten.
Janelle fought back more tears, but this time from a heart overflowing with compassion. “You’re in good hands now. We’ll take care of you.”
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