Runaway by Clouddancer
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On this May evening, darkness arrived quickly to the city streets due to the light rain falling. In an unloading area behind a red-bricked grocery store the light on the corner of the building flickered on. The form of a boy emerged from the shrubbery and into the light at one end of the paved dock. It stumbled along the fence line and over to the large waste dumpster against the wall of the building where the boy climbed up and huddled out of the damp and wind on the lid for a moment.

A man with black hair, tied back with a leather lace at the nape of his neck forming a shoulder length tail, stepped around the corner of the building. He was wearing a long dark coat that billowed around his legs like a cape, as he moved. He jumped over a puddle and into the circle of brightness shining on the wet ground from the light attached to the corner of the building.

As he felt a pulse of mental Power washed over him, he became uncertain, and quickly stepped back into the shadows, to look around. It had been many years since he had felt something like that. His disoriented mind could not remember when, or why, he had last felt raw unfocused energy like that but something inside reminded him that he had not felt it since he had been banished to this planet nearly 10 years ago.

Taking a deep breath, to settle his mind, he sent out a thin cord of mental awareness and did a quick scan of the area, trying to find the source of this new energy. Trying to assess if it could be dangerous to him. As he worked the man remembered that at one time he had had much greater abilities; doing something like this would have been done almost in his subconscious. At least those who had forcibly removed him from his home planet, and felt it necessary to tamper with his mind and Powers, had left him some, minor abilities. Enough to be aware and to protect himself when necessary.

The scan gave him no information on the source of the power, but the man could tell it was getting stronger. It was beating through his head now, instead of the pulsing he had first felt. Stepping around the corner for a second time, this time making sure he stayed out of the ring of light staining the ground, the dark man tried to trace the energy, to feel his way to its source, but it was so unfocused all he could tell was it was coming from his right.

Turning in that direction, he saw the industrial dumpster in the dark corner. Its back against the building and one side along the fence. It was on this dumpster the owner of the grocery store would place dented tins for the dark haired man to take, as well as day old bread and other items that could be safely consumed if left unrefrigerated. This dumpster was always the man's last stop of the night before he headed to his shelter for the night.

Tonight though there was something … someone moving on top of the bin.

For a moment forgetting what he had been sensing the grey-eyed man stepped towards the bin and bellowed, "Get out of here! That food is mine! Find your own!"

As the lean man moved forward he saw the form lurch up, one hand reaching to grasp the fence railing above its head, a black sneakered foot slid on the wet lid and then the form fell to the ground and lay still. The pounding in the man's head stilled and the heat of Power, radiating from the form, shimmered into the night.

Apprehensively, the cloaked man approached the form on the ground and saw not a teenager, as his mind had first told him, but a youth. As he bent over for a closer look at the boy's face his eyes widened in shock.

"Shirra! You're only a baby! Why are you out here, alone?"

The man looked around, his eyes searching the buildings, shrubbery and the treed area behind him, then down to the boy as he muttered, "You are too young to be out by yourself. And you're far too young to have powers that burn so bright. Why has this been allowed to happen?"

Again the dark man looked around before he rolled the child over, cradled him against his chest and brought his coat around to stop the rain from falling on the boy. "Where are your parents boy? And why has no one provided you with mental protection? Shielded you from your Powers. I don't think much of your parents if they let one as young as you burn so brightly. Your Powers will burn you out, perhaps kill you, if they are allowed to continue on this course." The man ended angrily while he checked the boy's body for injuries.

"Since I can not find any injuries I am going to assume the reason you are unconscious is because your Powers had control of you. After what I saw you are probably mentally drained and you now need rest to recover."

A flash of lightning, followed shortly by a loud rumble of thunder brought heavier rain. "What am I going to do now, hmmm? … I cannot leave you out in this and I don't intend on standing here until someone comes looking for you. Come, my shelter is just through those bushes, and from there I can watch and see when your parents come looking."

While he spoke the dark haired man made another sweeping search before he stood, lifting the boy and carried him to the edge of the unloading area. Passing through the long grass and bushes the lean man walked towards a few large crates and a larger metal box container he had assembled among a small group of trees.

"Welcome to my home, child. It's not much, but it suits me most of the year."

The man stepped into the shelter and laid the boy on a blanket, covering him with a second rough blanket before he continued, "It will provide protection from the rain and it will allow me to see if I can do something about your abilities."

The man removed his coat, draped it over a bin by the door and shook his head, dislodging rain droplets from his hair, before moving to kneel beside the boy. "Now, lets see if I remember what to do, shall we? Or more to the point, whether "they" left me enough Power to do what needs to be done to help you."

He reached out and placed a slender hand on the boy's shoulder while muttering to himself as though reciting a formula, "Before first mental contact can be made you must make physical contact. Which is why it is easy for parents to do this, they always have contact with their children. It is then a simple step to establish shielding after that."

When the grey-eyed man touched the child, the boy shifted his head, so the man soothed him with a gentle shush and a sorrowful smile, "Don't worry, boy, I will not tamper, like was done to me, I am only going to do what should have naturally been done as your abilities began to develop."

The man then steadied his breathing, closed his eyes and slipped into a light trance. The two remained that way for about twenty minutes as the rain continued, the thunder rumbled and lightning flashed across the city. When the man finally opened his eyes he furled his brow and looked at the still unconscious child.

"Well that was … educational. I cannot find exactly why your powers flared up, but I did find unfocused paths and put a damper on them. After we talk I will see if I can set up a specific shield. That job will be much easier now that I have done the initial work. Once the shield is in place then I will only need to reinforce it a few times, to ensure it remains strong. What I don't understand is why you don't have a focus. At your age you should at least be able to Mind Speak. And yet I can tell you don't even have the knowledge that you are Rigan."

The man got to his feet, stumbling as he moved to look out of the shelter at the rain. Then he turned to the child and said, "That exhausted me, I have never used what is left of my powers that extensively. I need to rest, but before I do I need some food to restore the energy I used, and to help ground myself. I need to see what food was placed on the dumpster you were on. I will be just a few moments little one, then we shall both get some sleep."

8888

Next Day

As grey daylight crept though the heavy rain and into the shelter the dark haired boy opened his eyes, looked around and then jerked upright, blue eyes widening in shock and amazement as he pushed the blanket off his body. The boy looked at the lean man, curled loosely on his side, opposite him and then quietly got to his feet.

As the boy took a silent step towards the entrance of the shelter the man spoke, "I wouldn't boy. You will be soaked in less than a minute if you go out in that rain."

Startled, the boy spun around. He then narrowed his eyes as the man finished saying, "Before you leave you could at least offer a thank you, for giving you shelter from the storm, and food to eat."

The boy's eyes widened slightly and then narrowed again as he gave a slight shake of his head before replying softly, "I don't remember eating anything."

"No, you haven't, but you will before you leave. I don't want you to collapse halfway across the loading area, because you are light headed from hunger, and then make me go out in the rain to bring you back." The man said, with a smile. He then slowly and carefully sat up; the man did not want to frighten the boy, who still showed every sign that he was ready to flee.

The black haired man reached to the back of the shelter and pulled out a bag with some sliced bread in it and a container of peanut butter. As he turned back the boy was still standing near the entrance to the shelter.

"Come on, sit down." The man said as he pointed to the blanket where the boy had slept. Some of the rigidity left the boy but the child did another check to ensure he would still have access for a quick get away. While the boy was looking the man noted again how tiny the boy was, even though he was sitting and the boy was standing, both their heads were at the same level.

As the boy crept back to the blanket and sat, the man pointed to the food items and said, "This is not much, but it was all I was able to find last night after I brought you here."

The man spread some peanut butter onto a slice of bread, folded it and handed it to the boy, who looked at it uncertainly before finally lifting it to his mouth. The boy filled his mouth with a bite of the sandwich, quickly swallowed and then took another large mouthful.

The lean man frowned as he looked down at the package of bread and then towards the boy again. That was when the boy's outward condition registered. What had once been a crisp white shirt was now crumpled, torn and smudged with dirt. The boy's dark pants were in slightly better shape, but only because they didn't show the dirt. The child's face looked thin and pale and there were scratches and a bruise on one cheek.

Wanting to get some information from the child the man asked, "How long have you been on the streets boy? When did you last eat?"

The boy's response was a shrug of his shoulders as he pushed the last corner of the sandwich into his mouth and looked towards the entrance. Guess the boy was on the verge of fleeing, the tall man made a second sandwich and handed it to the child. He had begun making a third sandwich for himself so he didn't notice the boy freeze when he asked, "What is your name boy?"

When the boy did not respond the man looked up and saw the boy had become tense again and was deftly shifting towards the entrance. The child's eyes were darting around looking outside of the shelter, contemplating another place to hide.

Hoping to calm the boy the man quietly reasoned, "Well I can't keep to calling you 'boy' can I? And you and I need to talk when we are done eating. I would like to be able to call you something."

The man then lifted his sandwich to his mouth and took a bite; his eyes remained appraisingly on the boy. When he had swallowed the mouthful, he tried a different approach, "Since you don't seem to want to answer those, lets try this one instead. Where are your parents?"

The boy did not answer but at least he remained seated and his gaze had returned back to the inside of the shelter. Finally the man sighed, "Not going to answer that one either, huh? Well I know you can talk since you did earlier. So what will you tell me? How about your age, how many years have you had? You look about … six?"

"I'm 7!" The boy snapped hotly, as he lifted flashing eyes to meet the man's. "I'm turning 8 next month."

"Ah, so you found your voice again!" The man responded playfully. "Now will you tell me your name?"

When the boy gave a shake of his head, the man mused, "Well, then I guess I will call you Little One until you are willing to give me your name, or any name for that matter." He then smiled at the boy and giving a bob of his head said, "You, may call me Charlie."

After he gave his name Charlie noticed the boy relaxed and his jaw dropped open in surprise. When he reached to take hold of the boy's hand, which was holding the remains of the forgotten sandwich the boy flinched away.

So instead the man said, "Please finish eating Little One. You would do better with sandwich in your stomach than flies, don't you think? Not that there are many flies around in this weather." Charlie finished with a smile.

Charlie tossed the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth and then pointed to the boy's, "Would you like another?"

Even though Little One shook his head Charlie sensed the boy needed more to eat so he made one more sandwich and handed it to the boy before he wrapped the remaining slices of bread up, sealed the peanut butter container and returned them to their positions at the back of the shelter. From the corner of his eye he watched to ensure the child did not leave. When he turned back, the boy was finishing his meal.

Charlie waited for the boy to clear his mouth before asking, "Can you hear your parents calling?

Charlie's brow furled with uncertainty as the boy turned his head and apprehensively looked out of the shelter towards the unloading area.

"No, Little One, not with your ears. In here … there." Charlie said as he first pointed to his own chest and then towards the boy's chest.

The boy shook his head, "Why would I hear them in there? You hear with your ears. Besides I can only hear my friends inside."

After he spoke the boy froze his eye opened wide with fear but Charlie did not pay attention since the statement had surprised him making him blink before trying to clarify, "Your friends? You can hear your friends, but not your parents? That is unusual to hear friends before you can hear your parents. Are your friends close? Is that why you can hear them? Where are your friends?"

"They're all around, out there." The boy nervously waved his hand towards the entrance of the shelter. "I can hear them all the time. The Chief doesn't like it when I say I can. So I don't tell him any more."

As the boy spoke, Charlie felt his mind going blank with shock and confusion. Was he missing something, or were the two of them were talking about different things? Maybe he did not understand this language quiet as well as he thought he did, "Your friends are all around you? And you hear them all the time, what do they say to you?"

"Lots of things." the boy said with a shrug, relaxing a little. "Like, when it's safe to go somewhere. Or, when I can do something. Sometimes they tell me where something is if I need it or have lost it. They tell me where to hide and sometimes when to hide. They talk to me when I'm hurting or in trouble." This time Charlie did see the boy suck in a quick fearful breath and stiffen.

When Charlie did not react to the announcement, mostly because he was not sure how to react, Little One slowly began to relax again. Then the boy must have decided it was okay to continue so he closed his eyes and tilted his head in concentration.

"Right now, some of my friends are talking about the two cats walking along beside the fence heading towards the truck trailer over there. The cats are not hunting right now, but my friends say stay away, cats are always trouble." The boy gave a small smile and rotated his head further as he continued, "Ohhhh! I nearly missed that …. There is another cat sitting by a mouse hole behind this shelter. That one they do have to stay away from."

When the boy turned back to face him, Charlie tried to hide his shock, but knew he had been unsuccessful because the boy dropped his head and mumbled, "I'm sorry! I promised I wouldn't tell stories any more. The Chief says I have a good imagination, but he says I'm too old to keep pretending I have 'imaginary' friends."

"That was a story?" Charlie asked, trying to discover the truth. He thought he had felt a hint of Power as the boy spoke but by the time he had noticed it, the flicker was gone. And then Charlie was unsure what he should be thinking when he saw, over the boy's shoulder, two cats, a black and a grey, walk towards the battered tractor trailer in the unused corner of the loading bay.

Charlie eyed the boy and amazed, began to say, "You were just using your P …." before his brain caught up to his mouth, and he finished his thoughts internally.

'…. Powers! Why did I not sense them? Or …. I sensed something but … what? What did I miss? And you haven't even been told about Powers. Who am I kidding; you haven't even been told you are Rigan, why would I think some one would tell you about Powers? But, what kind of Power do you possess? I don't recall learning about one that allows you to hear animals.'

'No!' Charlie berated himself. 'Don't go there right now! Get him using them again, so you can trace the source and stop them from burning him out. That's, what matters. Then worry about the type of Power he has. If you have time, before someone comes looking for him, that is. Just get him talking, what was it this Chief friend had said? ….'

"Using your imagination?" Charlie finished what he had been saying. Then he decided if he could get the boy telling a "story" it might encourage the boy to use his Powers again, so he continued with "Your Chief friend is correct, you have a very good imagination. You would make a very good storyteller, Little One. Can you tell me more about the two cats?"

The boy never looked up during all this and appeared to be curling into himself. It took a gentle, "I really love to hear stories. What are the cats names?" Before Charlie finally heard a very faint, "Momma loved when I told her stories too."

It took a moment before Little One slowly raised his head and looked out towards the loading area. After some thoughtful introspection the boy finally began, "One is called Shheryl, the other is Merrum. They don't like this weather. Merrum asked Shheryl if she could tell when the rain would end, because she doesn't like to hunt in the rain."

Shheryl says, "If you would use your ears you could tell the rain is already getting lighter. It will not be much longer, and then we can go watch the hole under the tree root. The one beside the fence."

"I don't want to hunt there." Merrum says. "Didn't you see the puddle? I just washed my coat and I don't want to get mud in it again."

"It is not like Alexx will notice mud in your coat." Says Shheryl.

"I don't care what Alexx thinks. I will not be visiting him again. He may be a worthy male, but if he doesn't know what an unrestrained cat like I am is worth then he is welcome to that house cat he keeps yowling after." After a pause Merrum continues, with a whine, "I am tired of mouse. Do you think we could get fish today?"

"You plan on sitting all day in the ….'

The boy's brows pinched together and then the boy turned to Charlie and asked, "Is there a fish market near by?"

"No." Charlie shook his head and then, after a moment's thought finished with. "But there is a Fish and Chip shop over in the next block."

Maybe that is what Shheryl meant …. store/shop ... sometimes my friends use words that I cannot explain. It only makes sense in their language. Shheryl said, "Do you plan on sitting there all day in the store begging like a dog would?

"No" Merrum responds. "But maybe the man will remember and give us some fish like last time."

An exasperated Shheryl explains, "We got fish last time because we caught a mouse. The man has fixed the problem and there will be no more mice in that store."

"Maybe we can make him think there are mice still there." Merrum excitedly exclaims.

"How do you propose to do that?"

Merrum thinks for a while before finally saying, " We could always bring a mouse into the store, let it go and let him see us catch the silly thing."

"It might be a good plan but that means we need to catch a mouse to start with. Which is what started this conversation. If we are going to catch a seed eater we may as well eat it and not bother wasting our time with the begging."

Merrum sighed resignedly, "I guess you are correct. Well the rain is letting up and if we are quick the mice will be leaving their holes for their first check after the storm. Perhaps we will not have to wait in the mud too long. Come on!"

8888

During the story Charlie had been monitoring the boy. Trying to find the source of his Powers - where this ability was coming from. It was incredible, last night raw Power had been rolling off the boy, now though his Power was so hidden he could not find it. As the boy finished the story Charlie saw the two cats race out from under the trailer and across the loading area towards the bushes alongside the fence line.

To continue the fiction he had begun Charlie said, "That was amazing, Little One, a very good story to start the day. Now that the rain has let up, perhaps we should head off as well. We have a lot to do today, including seeing what we can do about finding your parents, before we see what we can find for lunch."

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