Alternate Universe "The Tribe"

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them.

WARNINGS: Post-Apocalypse basis

TIMELINE: Covers Sept-Dec with a brief jump into Jan of Year 0.

Orrin watched as Nathan bandaged up Vin's leg. Nat was sure that the dog bite wouldn't affect Vin's mobility as long as it didn't get infected. Orrin reflected that is could have been a whole lot worse. He didn't want to have to use the little cemetery that was nestled in a small grove behind the town. They hadn't had to plant anyone in it yet and if they were lucky it would be years before they had to use it. Besides he had seen his fill of bodies when The Virus came, and not just on the News.

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Orrin usually watched Evie Carol-Ann tell stories to the younger kids as he helped prepare the evening meal with some of the older kids and one of the other adult volunteers. When he and Evie had first come in October everything was being done by the volunteers. It was November now and there were few volunteers now. No one said anything, but it was noticed, especially when the older kids were asked to help out. Most were pretty good about helping, but there were idiots in every crowd. The volunteers never said what happened to the adults that succumb to the virus, but Orrin had a pretty good idea, most did actually, except for the young ones, it was on the news a lot before the communication network went down. First it was individual grave at the person's family cemetery. Then it was multiple family members in the same plot. After that it was mass graves outside of the cities. The original thought had been to move the bodies as soon as possible so that a plague or something didn't spring up. It ended up being a moot point. As the bodies outnumbered those moving them it was discovered that the bodies aged exponentially, becoming dust in a matter of weeks. It just wasn't a pretty process to watch.

Out of all the volunteers Carol-Ann was the closest to them in age. She was 21. Evie loved kids and had taken on the task of working with Carol-Ann almost from the moment they arrived. The two had quickly become fast friends. Orrin had found out, through Evie, that Carol-Ann had been studying to be an elementary teacher. It made sense, she was great with the younger kids, telling stories, making up games for them to play, and generally making sure that they were as happy as possible. It let the other workers try to keep the rest of the centre up and running as the world slowly collapsed around them. He knew it would hit the youngest ones the hardest when The Virus caught up with her.

It happened on Dec 27th, she was one of 3 adult volunteers left and it was obvious to all the older teen the other 2 wouldn't see the New Year. Orrin and one of the other older boys, John, moved Carol-Ann's body to a room at the far end of the centre. They covered her with one of the colorful blankets that Evie insisted they take. After they stood awkwardly side by side for a couple minutes, before Orrin said a few words over her. They weren't much, but it was all his mind seemed to be able to think of right then. As they left they made sure that the door was locked. Orrin was pretty sure no one would come looking, but the last thing they needed was someone to find her a week from now. Quietly they headed back to the others. Now it was time to make sure those still left survived.

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Vin carefully locked the door behind him as he stepped out in the cool September air. As foster parents went the Henderson's were nice. They made sure he had plenty to eat, a room to himself and they didn't call the social worker to come pick him up when he needed some time to himself and disappeared to the park down town. When Lisa and Jack got sick a social worker came around at the beginning of the month to pick up all the foster kids to go to a center Vin had been out at the store picking up some groceries. She said she would come back, but she never did. Vin could have cared less, but Lisa and Jack were worried. So Vin made them a deal. He would stay and look after them till the end of the month to make sure they were comfortable and then he would go to the nearest centre. Vin felt he should really stay till the end, but Lisa wanted him to go as soon as he could. Jack came up with the compromise of the end of the month. Vin sighed as he stood on the back porch. He had done all he could, all that they would let him do for them. He had stock piled enough food, water and other general supplies to last them another month and made sure it was all with in easy reach. He had taken a really good look before he left this morning, he had seen it when he had been living on the streets, and he could see it in their eyes. He didn't think they would make it for the next month. He was pretty sure they knew it too. Vin wasn't sure which centre the other foster kids had been taken to, but a phone call to the Virus Hotline had gotten him the address of the closest centre to his area. The operator he had spoken with had sounded a little unsure of any specifics on the centre other than the address. Vin wondered what he would find when he got there.

Vin started at the local elementary school. It was a single story brick building, which ran in a long line, with a large square on one end. Vin figured that must be the gym. Some of the windows had been broken and boarded up, so that meant that there was still someone around to do damage control. There was some graffiti on the walls, but not as much as in other places he had seen. Shifting his pack to a more comfortable position on his back Vin headed inside.

It took awhile for Vin to find someone who could help him. The first couple adults he found kept telling him to find someone named Allan. Allan turned out to be a balding man who look like he could be anywhere from 40 up. He looked stressed. It took awhile for him to understand that Vin had arrived on his own and not been dropped off by one of the "roundups". Once he did he dug through the mound of papers piled high on his desk until he was able to pull out a binder filled with printouts. First he tried to find Vin by his name, then his address, then his foster family, finally he tried the names of some of the other foster kids. Frustrated he began digging through the piles of papers again, muttering under his breath until he managed to find a small notebook. One of the piles threatened to topple as he pulled the notebook free, but held steady when Vin gently pushed it back into place. Allan grunted thanks and gestured for Vin to take a seat as he reached for the phone, flipping through the notebook, before dialing a number.

Allan made a handful of phone calls, trying to find which centre Vin had been assigned to, but each call gave the same answer. Vin wasn't on any of their lists. Finally Allan found the centre that the other foster kids from the Henderson's had been sent to, on the far side of the city, but they were already filled past capacity and they were unable to take anyone else. Besides they argued Vin wasn't on their books either. It was getting late when Allan hung up the phone. Getting up he took Vin down the hall to a classroom filled with kids and introduced him to Cheryl. She would make sure that Vin would get a hot meal and a bed to sleep tonight and Allan would straighten things out in the morning.

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Vin lay quietly on the classroom floor where Cheryl had laid out a blanket for him and stared into the dark, listening to the sounds of the other kids sleeping around him. He was in turmoil. It was obvious from the phone calls Allan had made that he wasn't wanted here. Just like at all the other centers he would be just one more mouth to feed in an overcrowded system. But he had made a promise to Lisa and Jack. Granted his promise had been to go to a center, he never promised he would stay, but that seemed a bit dishonest to Vin when he knew that the Henderson's had only wanted to know he would be taken care of. But Vin wasn't one to stay where he wasn't wanted; he had learned that very early on after his mom died. He could take care of himself; he had done it before and knew he could do it again. Besides if he left the centre than it would be easier for the adults to take care of the other kids that couldn't take care of themselves. Vin decided that tomorrow he would find himself somewhere of his own to stay for a couple weeks and then head back to the Henderson's to check on them.

The next morning Vin found it quite easy to slip away after breakfast. He simply told Cheryl he had to go to the bathroom. Taking his pack with him, he went to the bathroom as he said he would and then simply walked out the front door. The only people that saw him go were a group of younger kids playing tag in the main hall and they were too busy with their game to really notice that he was gone.

Vin quickly made his way back to the Henderson's neighborhood. He knew some of the houses that were empty now and it was the matter of only a couple minutes to jimmy a window open. Slipping inside he carefully shut the window behind him and crept quietly through the house. Vin easily found the spare room on the main floor and left his pack there as he made a tour through the rest of the house to make sure he was alone. Convinced he was on his own he went around the house again, this time making it more secure. The last thing he wanted was to wake up to an unexpected, or unpleasant surprises. Finally satisfied he began to take stock of supplies. By the time he was done it was getting late in the afternoon. He was happy with his progress though, figuring he had supplies for about two weeks if he was careful. The biggest thing he would have to watch was water. He would be ok as long as the taps kept running. Vin fished out a can of Wieners and Bean from one of the piles he had mad and settled in for supper.

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It was nearing the end of October when Vin first ran into the "Devil's Dogs" and Eli Joe. Vin had checked on the Hendersons a couple days ago; and finding them nothing more than dust he gave them a small burial in the backyard, under the rose bushes they had loved so much, and moved back in. When he had secured the house he had found the shotgun Jack had kept in the bedroom closet. Vin didn't like the idea of shooting anyone, but he sure wasn't against scarin' anyone.

It was late afternoon and he was returning from scavenging and saw 3 older boys trying to break into Henderson's garage. They didn't think much of him interfering until he leveled the shotgun at them. The biggest boy called himself Eli Joe and informed Vin that he'd best join up with their tribe or take off, 'cause the Devil's Dogs were taking over this area. Vin replied quietly that he wasn't interested in joining with anyone right now and they could leave his house any time, since bunched up as they were it wouldn't take much with the shotgun blast to hurt them all. The three left then, very slowly, but Vin saw the look in Eli's eyes. It was one of pure hate. After that Vin made sure he carried a small pack of cloths and food with him any time he left the house. It didn't hurt to be prepared to run if need be.

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By mid November the utilities had been cut off in the neighborhood. Vin had discovered the stove made a great improvised fireplace, but it was getting harder and harder to safely scavenge. The Devil's Dogs had moved in full force. Vin had discovered he was a fairly good shot, and had mastered the trick of "near-miss" when some of the Devil's Dogs got too close. He had traded in the rather inaccurate shotgun for a .22 rifle he had found after nearly taking out a dog, that had been nosing through some garbage, when he was trying to discourage Eli Joe and a couple of his goons. Vin couldn't figure why they didn't pick up some guns too, but he was glad for it. What ever the reason it made it easier for him to keep the odds a bit more even.

On the whole he had reached a rather uneasy, unspoken truce with the Devil's Dogs and their leader Kane. It all came tumbling down on Dec. 14th. Vin was on his way to a small corner store that he was hoping hadn't been picked over too badly, when the sound of loud voices reached him through the cold air. Surprised he looked down the alley way he was passing and saw 2 teens part way down. He could easily recognize Eli Joe's large fighting with another lighter haired teen. Vin thought he might be Kincaid, one of Kane's Lieutenants. .

Vin watched as Eli struck a vicious blow to Kincaid's head, dropping him to the ground. Eli jumped on top of the other boy and Vin lost sight of what was going on as the two rolled on the ground and behind a dumpster. Suddenly the sharp crack of a gun split the air causing Vin to jump. He ducked low, thinking it was aimed at him. When Eli stood up with a triumphant cry, Vin got a bad feeling in his stomach. When Eli Joe looked over and saw him, Vin knew he was in real trouble this time.

A group of the Devil's Dogs came running around the corner at the far end of the alley, alerted to trouble by the shot. Eli Joe started yelling that Vin had killed Kincaid, and within moments had the rest of the teens whipped into a raging frenzy. At least they didn't have any of the dogs with them. Vin knew he had a hard time out-running them and hated having to shoot at the animals. The odds where stacked too high against him this time. Vin turned and ran.

Vin managed to loose the mob chasing him as he wove a drunken pattern through backyards and empty shops. He came to rest in an abandoned strip mall. There was no way he could go back to Henderson's now, not with the whole tribe of Devil's Dogs looking for him. He realized that he hadn't a chance of convincing Kane he hadn't shot Kincaid with only his word against Eli Joe's. It made him mad to think how he was being run off like this, being blamed for something he hadn't done. It wasn't the first time it had happened, but the world was changing now. He promised himself he would come back someday and make Eli Joe 'fess up to what he had done, clearing Vin's name. Now though it was time to more on. Maybe he could find a new place deeper into the city, away from the Devil's Dogs turf. Checking the area was clear; Vin slipped away into the now dark streets, heading North.

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Buck laughed as Chris chased his little brother around the room in an attempt to retrieve the book that he had been reading. Adam, at 4, was able to dodge in and around the other kids in the room easier than his larger brother could. His laughter echoed through the room; bring a smile to more than one person. Finally Chris caught his little brother and swung him around over his head before flopping him onto the floor and tickling him. After a few minutes he let Adam up and plopped him down on "his" cot.

Adam sat up and leaned against Chris as he sat down beside him, his little face serious, he asked Chris when they could go home to mom and dad again. Chris sighed and bundled Adam up in his arms pulling him onto his lap for a big hug. He tried to explain again that they couldn't go home for awhile yet. Not until the "adult sickness" went away. Adam accepted this easily, believing fully in his older brother's wisdom, and scampered off happily with Buck when the dark haired teen suggested they go see what was for lunch.

Chris was depressed. He had come to this quarantine center with Buck, Adam and Sarah nearly four months ago. The Larabee's had already caught the Virus and it fell to Chris to drive the four of them into Denver in the family Dodge Ram, ever since Adam had asked when they could go home. Chris was thankful that 'the question' only came every couple days, but it seemed to get harder to answer each time. He still hadn't figured out how to tell his little brother that their parents were dead. He dreaded the coming month, Christmas was coming and he had no idea how to make it special for the four of them.

He was distracted from his morose thoughts by a soft kiss on his cheek. He glanced up to find that Sarah had taken Adam's place. He smiled at her as she tried to reassure him that everything would work out all right. Chris wasn't sure what he would do without her. He leaned in to kiss her again when Adam came flying back, launching himself to be caught, chattering excitedly about there being Jell-O for dessert today. His good humor was infectious and Chris gave him an indulgent smile as he allowed himself to be dragged off to inspect the treat. Buck gallantly offered his arm to Sarah and the 2 teens followed at a more "regal" pace. At least until Adam scampered back to them and insisted that they hurry up, before dashing back to his brother's side.

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Chris was starting to get frantic, Sarah's birthday was in 2 days and he had no idea what to do, what to get her or even where to go. His original plan had been to borrow a sleigh from their neighbors and take her for an afternoon ride. He had even talked his mom into helping with a "fancy" meal of Sarah's favorite dishes: Beef Wellington and roasted herb potatoes with sides of asparagus and buttered peas, with a garden salad and Angel Food cake topped with strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. But now he was totally lost. After supper that night his savior arrived.

Buck was excited, he had watch Chris worry himself to distraction over the last week. He had come up with a plan. Now all he had to do was convince Chris to follow along with it. Buck was pretty confident he could do it, he knew he had everything covered. Grabbing Chris from the "lunch room" Buck hauled him out of the room, pushed him into his coat and down the halls. When they got to the building's main doors Chris finally put on the breaks and demanded to know what was going on. Buck explained to him that he had arranged for some free time and the two of them were going shopping for Sarah. He had an answer for all of Chris' half hearted protests. Adam was going to be a 'big boy' and help look after Sarah, Sarah was looking after Adam under the guise of Christmas shopping, he had okayed their leaving with their room's 'den mother' who had promised to let them back in if they missed the lock down hour at 9, and there was a mall only 3 blocks away where they were sure to find something appropriate for Sarah. So Chris soon found himself zipping up his coat and shoving on his gloves as he followed Buck out into the moonlight snow covered streets on the hunt for the perfect gift.

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It had taken the 2 teens longer than they thought to slog their way through the nearly knee deep drifts that had accumulated. It had also taken time to find an out of the way door that was willing to give them entry with a few forceful kicks. Chris had been surprised to find that most of the stores security grated were still up, letting the 2 teens have fairly free access to wander where they wished. Thankfully Buck had thought to bring a flashlight so they didn't break their necks while they wandered around. As they moved deeper into the mall, there were signs of looting and vandalism, which was discouraging, but there still seemed to be a fair bit to search through.

Buck suggested the lingerie shop when they passed it, hoping to get a rise out of his best friend. Chris gave him a dirty look, not that he wouldn't have minded seeing Sarah in something like that, but there was no way that the center offered enough privacy for it. Cloths didn't seem appropriate and he had already decided it had to be something that was easily portable. He had no desire to try and haul a painting or some such thing back through the snow and have it ruined. He stopped at a book store and looked for a new release of a couple of the authors Sarah liked; Laura Hamilton and Mathew Reilly. He managed to find a couple and put them in a backpack he had picked up in an earlier store. Buck found some reading material for himself and Adam. Chris hit the proverbial mother load when they found the jewelry store.

There was a lot of damage here; they had to be careful of the broken glass that littered the floor and shelves. But surprisingly there was still a lot of smaller jewelry still lying around. It took a fair amount of time to pick through the debris to find what he was looking for, and make sure it was fairly close to the right size. He decided to error on too big though. When Buck saw what he was searching for he gave a loud whoop that echoed through the mall. Chris grinned at the good natured ribbing and hoped Sarah liked it. He gazed happily at the diamond ring, nestled in the palm of his hand, as it sparkled brightly in the beam of the flashlight.

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As soon as they left the confines of the mall they could tell something was wrong. The smell of smoke was in the air and the sky had an unnatural glow in the direction of the center. They tried to run, but the snow hampered their frantic efforts, slowing them to a nightmarish speed. As they turned the corner on the last block the true horror greeted them. They stood frozen as they looked on the center.

The center was fully ablaze; the bright flames jumping skyward through broken windows. Even from this distance they could feel the heat of the fire. Their senses were assaulted as the smell of the burning building mixed with a smell of "cooked meat". But the worst was the screams that came from inside.

With a tortured scream Chris broke and ran towards the inferno, calling to Sarah and Adam. Buck lurched after him, desperately trying to get a bit more speed from his exhausted legs, trying to stop his best friend from killing himself. The snow hampered both of them, but Buck made a desperate lunge before Chris had made it a quarter of the way, and was able to tackle him into the snow. Chris fought back, alternating between yelling at Buck and screaming for Sarah and Adam. Buck finally managed to pin Chris to the ground and sat on him. He could do nothing more than watch their small world collapse around them. Tears fell silently down his face.

The 2 teens watched, unable to look away, as the fire burned, its efforts to catch neighboring buildings on fire hampered by the snow and open ground that surrounded the building. Chris had stopped fighting Buck, sagging boneless against the cushioning snow, as he started blankly ahead his mind having gone numb.

The gentle falling snow roused Buck and he realized that if he didn't get them out of the street soon they stood a good chance of freezing to death. He'd be damned if he had managed to avoid being charbroiled only to become a popsicle. He hauled Chris' now unresponsive form to his feet and began the long walk back to the mall they had just left. He needed to get them inside where they could get dry cloth and warm up. Hopefully in the morning they could find food and water. His momma always said that "tomorrow was something to look forward to, a bright new day." Too bad that right now tomorrow looked pretty black.

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Nathan sighed quietly as he helped his father pack up the medical books that had arrived last week. It was late November and with all the preparations they had been doing their basement had taken on the look of a giant packrat's den. There was barely room to move between the rows of shelving filled to near overflowing and the stacked boxes covering the rest of the open space. When the Virus first reached the States they had sat down as a family to discuss the future, Nathan's future. At 15 Nathan already had plans, medical school, but now things were changing. His parents encouraged him to continue his medical studies, but now to focus on things that could be done without a major ER or staff. They emptied their savings and began buying anything they thought would help their son and those left in the wake of the Virus. There may not be any adults left, but people were still going to get sick and need help.

In the beginning things arrived everyday; books, bandages, scissors, splints, herbs, as well as canned goods and bottled water. The only thing that couldn't come to there house was all ready at the clinic: the prescription drugs, like penicillin; which his mother began to smuggle home in small quantities. When their neighbors found out what the Jacksons were doing they began to help as well, offering what they could. When the postal service finally broke down Nathan and his father began driving to pick up what extra supplies they could.

Yesterday Nathan's mother had called from working at the clinic and told them to get the truck and come to the clinic fast. The men of the Jackson household were confused, but got into the truck and drove to the clinic. When they got there Mrs. Jackson was waiting at the front door. Across the doors in large red signs were signs stating that the clinic was now shutdown and the building was empty. She explained that the doctors that hadn't already contracted the virus had been transferred to major hospitals to fill in staff shortages. The clinic was being shutdown and its inventory moved in the morning. They had one chance to move what they could before a more official body show up. It was a lot of work, but the three of them managed to transfer one of the small storage cabinets, filled with medicine, on to the back of the truck. They also managed to get some boxes of other supplies as well, before deciding they had pushed their luck far enough and headed home.

As more of their neighbors contracted the Virus Nathan became very thankful for each day that he got to spend with his parents. Every day they tried to do something together that wasn't related to Nathan's survival, even if it was something as simple as going for a walk. It was a time that they all cherished. Nathan's mother became sick on December 20th; his father became sick two days later. Nathan was grateful that they both made Christmas. At his mother's insistence he moved her into the kitchen and under her guidance he prepared Christmas dinner. He cooked everything on top of the wood burning stove his father had installed earlier in the fall. Nathan made a stew from cans and dumplings from scratch. The canned sweet potatoes were seasoned with spices, and he even managed to scrape together a manageable pecan pie. A bit burnt on the bottom, but his folks didn't mind at all. They spent a quiet Christmas, eating by candle light in the living room, enjoying each other's company.

Nathan buried his parents just after New Year's. Buried really wasn't the word for it, since the backyard was frozen solid and under a couple feet of snow. They had died together and he felt it only right that they stay that way. He carefully moved them back upstairs to their room and placing them in the bed they had shared for their married life. As his mother had asked, he placed a family picture with them. His father hadn't requested anything. Nathan said a quiet prayer for them. Leaving the room he shut the door gently behind him. It looked as though the New Year had brought his "new" life with it as well. He hoped he could live up to his parents' expectations. He hoped he could live up to his own.

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Josiah finished tucking the last of the smaller children into their cots with a satisfied sigh. It had taken a long time to get them to sleep tonight. They were hungry. Straightening up he slipped from the sleeping room that held the 16 children, who ranged in age from 5 to 12, and headed upstairs to see if he could find Father Carter; who he hadn't seen all day. Chances were pretty good that at this hour he would be able to find him in the main church praying. He did that a lot lately, they all did.

It was all ready late December and the occupants of the small community center that joined on to the church were in trouble. It was getting harder and harder for them to find enough food to keep the children fed or wood to keep the old woodstove burning. In the fall, when the children were first dropped off by their parents, one of the local grocery stores nearby was willing to supply them with food in exchange for helping out around the place; cleaning up moving stock, and such. But as time moved on and the stock depleted there was nothing more that could be given.

Father Carter, the only priest left after Fathers Tebb and Sauer passed on, spent his days constantly looking for supplies to bring back. He left the children in Josiah's care. Josiah did his best to keep the children busy and entertained. He told them stories, played games, taught the older ones how to knit, and taught them all basic schooling as well as he could. When it was nice out he would bundle the kids up in what ever could be found and let them all play in the snow. Sometimes Josiah found it hard and frustrating, but he tried his best and most days everyone got on together.

Josiah found Father Carter where he expected to, kneeling in front of the relief carving of Mary. Josiah sat quietly in a pew until the Father was finished praying. He was concerned when the Father got up with a grunt of pain. He was shocked to see the Father's face when he turned around. It was covered in many places by dark bruising and he had a cut on his left temple that still seeped a bit of blood. Josiah jumped to his feet and helped Cater sit down in his place, before rushing to get the first aid kit. As he fussed over the older man, he asked what had happened.

Father Carter explained that he had found a small neighbor hood that had yet to be vandalized by the Psychos, the youth gang that had moved into the area and was causing trouble for those at the church and more than a little concern for the children on Josiah and the Father's part. He had broken into a house, God forgive him, and been able to find a large assortment of canned goods. He had filled the pack and satchel that he had brought with him and started back for the church. While he had been in the house it had begun to snow again, which turned out to be both a blessing and a bane. It covered his trail, which would hopefully keep from leading other to the area quickly. But it also muffled the sounds of the broken city, letting him walk right into an ambush. A large group of the gang kids had jumped him and beaten him up when he wouldn't tell them were he had gotten the cans of food. Eventually they left and he had made his way slowly home. He had been praying to Mary for guidance and to protect the children.

Josiah frowned. He couldn't believe that The Psychos, who insisted that they were a tribe not a gang, would actually attack an adult; one who was a priest at that. He knew Father Carter didn't condone fighting, but tomorrow he was going to go back to the neighborhood the Father had found and he was going to bring back some more food. Heaven help who ever tried to stop him.

This next day Josiah left early, wanting to make it back to the church in time for the evening meal. Before he left he took one of the stout wood doweling curtain rods from the upstairs office. When Father Carter asked him about it, Josiah told him it was for testing the depth of the snow. What he didn't tell him was that he planned on using it if the Psychos showed up. He was able to find the neighbor hood easily with Father Carter's directions and was heartened to see that nothing looked disturbed since the Father had left. Letting himself into the neighboring house to the on Father Carter had entered yesterday Josiah began to look around for anything could be used.

It took him until after lunch to gather together everything he wanted to take back with him. He had been able to gather not only food, but some books and toys for the children. Packing up his pack and the satchel he had borrowed from the Father, he was dismayed to find that it wouldn't all fit. After a few moments thought he set off in search of something to carry the extras in. He was a bit over loaded, but with a bit of practice he was able to drop everything except the food stuffs in case he was jumped.

Josiah did his best to cover his tracks leading away from the houses. Like Father Carter, he wanted to protect this stockpile for future use and as the winter grew longer, more and more kids left to fend for themselves would come hunting. After he was safely away from the neighborhood he buried the broom he had been using by a street sign and began to move faster towards home. He had made it close to two thirds of the way back when the Psychos found him.

Not prone towards violence Josiah was quite willing to serve out a few well deserved lessons on taking from those in need and not being what anyone would have called small and he used his added height and weight against the younger teens surrounding him with only a small twinge of conscience. The fight was short but Josiah gave better than he got and the teens retreated with threats and curses. Josiah gingerly touched his bleeding lip and checked to make sure his teeth weren't loose. Checking the rest of his injuries he was reasonably sure that he didn't have any life threatening injuries. Picking up his bags from the trampled snow, he turned himself towards home. Tonight they would have a feast and celebrate!!

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JD laughed as Joseph chased him through the big house, the 2 boys gave a good impression of a herd of elephants, but neither cared about the noise they were making. There was no one was around to hear them. Finally the 2 collapsed in an exhausted pile on the living room floor and let the silence of the house surround them.

Once the house had been full of people, JD remembered. Mr. Clark was the 'lord and master' as he frequently reminded the staff, insisting on being called Sir by the hired help. Mrs. Clark had a soft voice and had made sure that Mr. Clark knew how much work JD did around the house, being able to get into all the small spaces that the adults couldn't, so he could stay after his Momma died of cancer last year. Their son Samuel, away at University, didn't really count any more except when he came home on holidays. Mr. Simmons, the butler, had a sour disposition towards any of the helps' children in the household. But his wife Mrs. Simmons, who everyone called "Cook", was always willing to slip a sweet, sticky treat to the boys on baking day. Mr. Elliot, the chauffeur, always had a joke to tell JD. Ms. Julia was the upstairs maid, and for the most part had quietly kept to herself. JD knew she spent a lot of time with Carlos, the gardener's assistant. JD liked his accent and had started to learn Spanish from him. Mr. Olsen, the gardener, was ancient and was planning to move to California to live closer to his daughter. JD's momma used to be the downstairs maid and helped with the cooking on special days.

JD had met Joseph the first day of school when they were at the bus stop and found out they lived next door to each other. Joseph's dad was the chauffeur for the Rogans, next door. His mom worked across town, so Joseph only got to see her on weekends when she came home. Once at school they discovered that they were in the same class, even though Joseph was 2 years older than JD. They were the 2 extremes in age. Joseph, having started his schooling late, was the oldest while JD, having jumped a grade, was the youngest. They became inseparable.

When the Virus came the Clarks had the Rogans over for dinner and they laughed about how panicky everyone was getting over people getting sick. They were sure it would never strike at the upper crust of Denver society. They were wrong. The Rogan household suffered the first loss among the servants. After that Mr. Clark spent a lot of money buying up anything that he thought could save him. JD thought a lot of them were silly. He wasn't sure what Beryllium was, but he was pretty sure that a breathing mask made out of it wasn't going to stop anyone from getting sick. Mrs. Clark was a bit more practical and arranged for Joseph to come and live with JD. She also sent Cook out to stock up on food supplies and fill the pantry. Then as the weeks turned to months the adults that they had know for their whole lives passed away and they were left alone. Two small boys in very large house and for the most part, free from responsibilities, they were having the time of their lives.

It was Halloween. JD and Joseph decided that since there was no-one to give out treats they were going to play tricks. They ran around the house and gathered up all of the useless things. The adult's clothing and cans of shaving cream were among their collection. They agreed that it wouldn't be right to do their house or either of the neighbors, so they gathered up all their supplies and carried the unwieldy bundles to the next block. There was a big house that used to belong to Mr. Tobias and every time that they had walked passed his place on their way to the small public park, if he was outside, he had yelled at them, calling them dirty urchins. It confused JD, as they were never covered in dirt or anything when they went to the park. Joseph always told him just to ignore it.

Once they got to the house they set to work. They stuffed the cloths with whatever they could find lying around and setup the scarecrows all over the lawn. They made heads for them out of paper bags and signs for them all proclaiming what a jerk Tobias was. When they had finished they happily surveyed they work. They had managed to make half a dozen scarecrows of varying size. They were debating on what else they should do to the house when they were surprised to hear loud voices coming towards them.

Half a dozen older teens rounded the corner of the block rough-housing as they came. Joseph gave a little squeak and pulled on JD's arm. They had both learned in school that big kids were mean. Then the 2 younger boys were spotted. The quiet October day way shattered by their yelling and the pounding of running feet as JD and Joseph turned tail and ran, heading for the park where there were places they could hide.

At the entrance to the park Joseph stumbled on the curb and fell to the ground. JD stopped and turned back to help, tugging at Joseph's arm as the bigger kids closed the distance. Joseph yelled at JD to run, he didn't want both of them to get caught. With JD's help Joseph scrambled back to his feet, but the boys had lost precious time. The older boys were closing fast. JD and Joseph scrambled through the park, heading for the "kiddies' park" that had a miniature sized jungle gym and crawling tunnels. Joseph pushed JD into one of the crawling tubes ahead of him and then ducked down to follow. He was halfway in when he felt a hand grab his ankle and yank him backwards. He screamed and kicked, but was pulled out of the tunnel's safety, into the teens' waiting arms. His last sight of JD had been his friend's horrified face as he realized what was happening.

JD sat in the tunnel with his knees drawn up to his chest, rocking, until the light faded. He had been frozen when Joseph got grabbed and he couldn't force himself to move as the older teens roughed the younger boy up and pounded on the top of the tunnel, creating an echoing din of noise that engulfed the young boy hiding inside. JD stayed frozen as the sounds of the teens faded in the distance as they walked away, taking Joseph with them. JD felt lost, alone, very scared and deep down he was mad at himself for not helping Joseph. Thoughts chased themselves around in his head. Where had Joseph been taken? Would he see him again? What was he going to do now? Should he go home? What if the big kids found him again? Finally the dropping temperature forced JD from his hiding spot. Carefully checking for danger JD headed home with a heavy heart.

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One of the first things JD did after the run in with the teen was fashion a hidey-hole in the spare bedroom. Then he started looking for Joseph. Snow fell and winter solidified its hold on the ravaged city. While JD had found older kids on multiple occasions, even managing to follow them through the city streets, they had not led him to his friend. Christmas hadn't been much fun this year. He had really hoped that Joseph would come back for Christmas ... but there was no sign of him. Still, JD thought, he may find him next time he went out. There was always a chance. He had to be careful though, he didn't want to get caught by the big kids and disappear too!

+ + + + + + +

Ezra gave a discussed snort, quietly, as Headmaster Sharma reminded them yet again that as the elite youth of Denver it was up to them to behave in the high standards that he had come to expect of them in the trying times that faced them. It was about the sixth or seventh time he had given the same speech since the Virus hit Denver. Ezra was pretty sure that the "high standards" were only given lip service by most of the student body, and didn't even exist in the knowledge of the stragglers the school had taken in. When Ezra had arrived at the school half way through the semester last year his first impression of the headmaster was a pompous man who was oblivious to anything in the world around him that didn't either affect him directly or fall into one of his pre-defined categories. His opinion hadn't changed over time and he tried to have as little to do with the headmaster as possible. He quickly learned that the really power in the staffing body was held in the hands of Mrs. Connelly, the secretary, and Mr. Lorne, the 'second in command'.

This fall, just after school started, they got 'the speech' for the first time and the next day the busses had shown up and dropped off dozens of kids who took up residence in the gym. A couple of the teachers were assigned to try and keep them on some type of schedule and not disturb the rest of the prep school's students. That worked ... for about 2 weeks.

Kids being kids were curious and it didn't take long for the 2 vastly different groups decided to check each other out. The quad was full on that fall day and Ezra had a front row seat, sitting on the campus steps that lead into the dorms. A group of the more adventurous new comers met up with the "Alpha-Omegas" - the elite group in a school for the elite. Charles was leading the Alphas, and made some rather scathing remarks at the newcomers' expense. It didn't take long for them to work out they had been insulted and the results were predictable. They tried to beat the crap out of Charles. Only Charles, being the far-sighted individual that he was, had retreated behind his "goon squad" to let them take care of business. There were injuries on both sides by the time the teachers showed up. The newbies were confined to the gym for the next week as punishment. The Alpha-Omega's were given an evening's detention for their defensive participation. The headmaster was fairly bias.

Ezra made it a point to find out who was the most influential of the newcomers once they were "let out", and quietly suggested some extra curricular activities. He found that he quite enjoyed the games of chance that were started up. The "non-elite" kids had a whole different mindset on how they played the game. Ezra found it a challenge, having learned all of his class-mates' tells very early on in his stay at the school.

Charles found out about his games and reported Ezra to the Headmaster. As there was no real evidence (they had been gambling for food), Ezra was able to convince Sharma that he was upholding the standards of the school by being concerned to the underprivileged, that he wanted to make the other kids feel welcome at the school. And he did, just not for the same reasons as Headmaster Sharma. Please that Ezra was showing initiative the Headmaster dismissed both boys with a reminder of the school's standards, again. Charles made it firmly clear that he planned to make sure Ezra got caught, and he would be the one bringing the younger boy down.

As fall gave way to winter changes began in the school. Slowly the staff body dwindled in number. As such more and more responsibilities were handed over to the older students, the majority of those who belonged to the Alpha-Omegas. Ezra found it more and more difficult to continue his games of chance. Not only because Charles was keeping a closer eye on him, but also because the "under privileged" population of the school seemed to be shrinking. The disappearances weren't many to start, while the adults were around, perhaps one or two kids every couple weeks. By the time the last adult died in December it was up to 5 a week, leaving less than half of the original arrivals. By the New Year Charles was nearly the undisputed power of the school. Besides a handful or so of kids like himself, who hadn't aligned with the 'new order', Ezra found himself in a rather unenviable position. The New Year was starting out by looking a bit more complicated than he original planned.