giddy, clamoring noise pulled BoyTen’s mind six ways. He
couldn’t think, couldn’t see, couldn’t smell, it was so overwhelming.
He stumbled along buffeted by the crowd as his bare feet
slapped the wet pavement. His head barely reached the waists
of all these big people, so his view was a fleshy forest
of towering trunks. A trail of angry shouts marked his passage
as he bounced and bumped through them. Seeking asylum, BoyTen’s
gaze darted about but only found more people, more bewildering
sights. The big people loomed over him, generally acting
like he wasn’t there. An opening, dark and unpeopled, appeared
between a man dressed in bright holiday colors and a gleaming
silver cart pushed by a sad, withered woman. The boy leapt,
startling the woman, and scrambled into dark and quiet. Sighing,
he crawled between two dumpsters, smearing smelly filth on
his oversized green coveralls. He hugged his knees to his
chest and pulled his knit cap over the blue tattoo on his
“I’m a good boy,
a very good boy. But I done a bad thing.” He rocked as his
gaze darted about. “KeeperJohn, I’m sorry. I wanna go home.
Come find me.”
But how could
that happen? He’s gotten so turned around that he’d lost
track of his turns and twists. How would KeeperJohn, or even
ChiefKeeperSimon, unravel the trail if he could not? He’d
treaded the path with his own feet!
As his breath
slowed and his heart quieted, BoyTen worried at the puzzle.
Try to remember the path back? He grunted and grimaced as
he tried to remember. But the chaos of his passage defeated
him. Follow his own tracks? No, there was no dirt to hold
his tracks. He clutched his knees as his eyes burned with
tears. There had to be a way!
He sat up and
sniffed. Yes! He clasped his hands and sniffed again. The
air was rich with exotic scents he’d never smelled. But laced
in and through them was his own familiar musk. Normally he
ignored it, but not today!
BoyTen stood and
padded down the dark alley. If he could follow his own scent-trail
back the way he’d come, he could find his way. Hot tears
blurred his vision as a sob burst up from his belly. He needed
to be home so bad! He missed his pen, the compound with its
climbing structures, his fellow boys and girls. Oh, this
crowded, dirty, noisy place was terrible!
himself. Not now! He needed to be calm if he had any hope.
Breathing as he’d been taught, BoyTen stilled his mind and
heart. He exhaled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Sniffing,
he smiled. Yes, it was there.
At the entrance,
BoyTen stared wide-eyed at the swirling crowd. His trail
turned to the right, back the way he’d come. He hugged his
sides and took a cleansing breath, then slipped in between
two men striding along and marched within the human canyon
they formed. Good, a left here, and straight ahead.
He walked a good
long way, turning left and right, and only lost the scent
once. With his eyes half-closed, he ignored everything but
threading his way through the sea of smells. The further
he came, the fainter his trail grew. It was spreading and
drowning in the sea of smells. Suddenly a hand grasped his
shoulder, jerking him around.
“Got you, ya little
bastard!” said a man with a face the color of a looming thunderstorm. “You
knock over my table, you break my goods, you pay!”
and pulled, but the man held tight. He twisted his one hand
around to gather the loose cloth of BoyTen’s coveralls and
punched BoyTen in the head so his knees buckled.
“Stop it! Hold
still!” the man shouted. “You wait for police.” He smacked
BoyTen again so the boy saw sparkling lights as a cold breath
chilled his scalp. He’d lost his cap! Before he could grab
it, the man hoisted BoyTen up and thumped him on the side
of the head so that everything blanked out. He returned to
gasps and shouts as he spun helpless in mid-air.
“Look! He has
blue numbers on his forehead.”
“It’s the meat
bag! Like on the video. Hold him. There’s big money for him.”
“Yeah, grab him.
Call the cops.”
Several of the
big ones closed to pull and paw at him until BoyTen thought
he would go insane. KeeperJohn had taught him to always mind
keeper folk, but this was too much!
He shrieked so
that his throat burned. Biting, clawing, kicking and butting,
he cleared a space around himself. Several clutched bitten
hands or bloody nail-scratched faces. He spun and screamed
his outrage so they swayed back, then bounded forward. The
fat lady before him fell, and the boy stomped across her
belly and bust. His bare feet barely touched the pavement
as he hurtled left, then right, under, then over. The pounding
feet and angry shouts faded. Soon he huddled in a courtyard
surrounded by tall brick buildings.
As he panted,
BoyTen’s eyes froze and a sob hiccuped through his teeth.
He’s lost them, sure, but he’d also lost his original scent
trail! Worse, he couldn’t backtrack to pick it up. These
big people were mean. They’d grab him if he went back. So
he was truly lost now. Shivering, BoyTen fell over and wailed.
The buildings around him echoed back the mournful cries until
the courtyard rang with his sobs.
“Boy? Are you
A soft, quavering
voice jolted him to his feet. He crouched, jaw jutting with
teeth bared, hands raised with fingers bent to claw. Growling,
he glared defiance at the woman standing in a doorway. She
was thin, so her wrinkled skin hung loose from her cheeks
and neck. She was pale, so even her hair was the fluffy color
of clouds in a blue sky. And frail! BoyTen had no doubt she
would shatter into a dozen pieces if he touched her trembling
frame. She was unlike any big person he’d ever met.
“Son, are you
okay?” She smiled so her face twisted into a mask of kind
wrinkles. “You needn’t worry. I won’t hurt you.”
He rubbed his
nose on his sleeve and gulped. “Um, I’m lost. I was trying
to go home, but a bunch a people grabbed me and hit me.”
She frowned and
glanced at the blue marks on his head. “You can come inside
if you want. I’ve got apples and bananas, and some cookies
I was baking.” She held out her hand like KeeperSue.
The boy turned
to flee, but froze. Run where? The yearning to be someplace
safe with a friendly person ached within him. He crept forward
step by fearful step and took her hand. It was softer than
any hand he’d ever held, and she smelled of clean and quiet.
At the same time, his stomach knotted painfully as odors
wafted from inside. Yes, cookies and fruit like she said,
but also bread and meat and fish and veggies, older smells
from other days but all good. He shrank against her as he
entered the house wide-eyed. The food-smell wrenched his
throat until he whined. He grabbed an apple and banana from
a bowl as soon as she sat him at a small table and laughed
as he rammed first one then the other into his mouth until
he cheeks bulged with the gooey fruit mush. Gulping it down,
he sighed as his stomach shuddered and grumbled.
The woman set
milk and cookies in front of him and sat next to him. “I
think I know where you belong. Would you like me to call
the milk and shoved a warm sweet cookie into his mouth. “Yeth,” he
mumbled and picked up another. She nodded and walked to a
black phone thing by the door. After murmuring at length
into it, she turned back smiling as he sat tense clutching
the last cookie.
“They’ll be here
soon. Are you full? You look tired. Would you like to lie
His stomach bulged
and his eyes were hot and heavy. He took her hand and she
led him to a big couch in the next room like the one in KeeperDoc’s
office, but lots softer. He curled up on it and the lady
began to sing. KeeperSue sometimes sang, but not this song.
It was about all kinds of silly things like babies and cradles
and trees. He giggled even as waves of sleepiness washed
over him. Soon he was floating, warm and quiet, and drifted
When he awoke,
he knew a long time had passed from the way light shone in
the window. BoyTen jerked up at sound of voices. There was
the nice lady’s soft quavery one, but whose was that deep
booming voice? He smiled as his heart thumped. KeeperJohn!
He kicked the blanket that covered him but just got tangled.
Rolling, he thumped onto the floor, cutting off the voices.
He grabbed the blanket and was peeling it away as KeeperJohn
filled the doorway.
“Hey, champ! I
am so glad to see you.” The man walked over. The boy smiled,
but his chin was quivering even as he did. Oh, he hated it
when he blubbered and that just made it worse. Tears welled
and the boy clutched the man’s heavy green coveralls.
“I been such a
bad boy. I snucked out the gate when KeeperBill left and
took his hat and clothes, but now I lost his hat and I got
lots of people mad at me…”
“It’s okay, sport.
It’s all over. I’m not mad.” KeeperJohn rubbed the boy’s
back and said this over and over until the tears stopped.
Kneeling down, he looked the boy in the eye. “It wasn’t your
fault. KeeperBill should have been more careful. You ready
to go home?”
at the thought. The compound, the other boys and girls, his
pen! Oh, he couldn’t wait. “Yes! Now, please.”
“I’ll just be
a minute. I have to finish talking to Mrs. McCarty.”
He stood holding
the boy. “I really can’t tell you how grateful Universal
Medical Supplies is, ma’am. This little fellow is worth a
The old woman
frowned. “They had his picture posted at the store but the
manager there called him a meat bag. I didn’t understand
and snorted like he did when he was angry. BoyTen clutched
tighter. “That’s a nasty word. This young fellow is a donor-clone.
One of Universal’s clients paid for us to grow a clone from
his own tissues for use as an organ donor.”
“But they’re going
to take his heart and liver and such someday, aren’t they?”
“Oh, yes. His
owner has contracted for the normal array of transplants;
organs, corneas, endocrine glands and marrow. But this little
guy’s lucky. His owner also asked for a full skin transplant,
and he isn’t big enough. We’ll start hormone therapy soon
to force him to stretch out, but he still has years yet.”
“Oh, dear,” she
sighed with a tremor in her voice.
ma’am. He’ll live a wonderful life full of fun and happiness,
until one night he’ll go to sleep. And that will be it.”
KeeperJohn. There was so much he didn’t understand! And the
tone of KeeperJohn’s voice was scary.
entitled to a sizable reward. You’ll be getting a call from
the main office. Please don’t talk to any media people before
then. Universal will pay very well for your discretion.”
The old woman
smiled at last, and BoyTen smiled back. “You ready to go
home?” KeeperJohn asked.
and pushed the big man’s chin around until he faced the door.
KeeperJohn laughed and walked out the front door.
“Bye!”, the boy
called over the KeeperJohn’s shoulder and waved to the nice