Guy panted as he ducked underneath the dining room table for the third time, rolling and dodging as if he were a professional stuntman in The Matrix or something. If only coach Gonzalez could see me now. 

Shortly after he’d woken up, disoriented, he’d heard a stirring within some drawers in the kitchenette next door, and out shot long, deadly knives. The kind you’d chop meat or onions up with. They’d just barely missed him, by inches. He’d been dodging ever since.

I don’t care WHAT Wren says– as far as I’M concerned, this stupid house thinks for itself!  He lifted the skillet a second time, as a shield, when the fifth round came at him, feeling ridiculously Jedi-ish as he blocked them. The supply of knives and other pointy utensils seemed to be endless. He doubted he would eat with any of them again after this was over. If he survived without getting stabbed to death.

“Hey, Guy!”

Guy narrowly evaded a pair of twin butter knives, crossed scissor-like, grazing his right cheek lightly. He held the one pan higher, grasping for a second to protect his midsection. “Who’s there?”

“Me!” Great, now I’m hearing things. Although, if I didn’t know better I’d say that was…

“Kodi?” A sudden gush of red burst in front of him, and for a terrible minute he thought Kodi, bright boy though he was, had hurled himself in front of Guy as a human shield and gotten the full brunt of the attacks. But then he heard chuckling, not moaning, behind him. He risked a quick glance. Kodi had crept through a hole in the wall, he realized with a start, behind a painting of a fat lady indulging herself ravenously, and was sitting a couple feet away, paper and paintbrush in hand. Both brush and paper were splattered in bright red. “How did…?” Kodi grinned. “I figured it out.”

He started sketching then painting at an almost unbelievable pace, hands blurry as they flew headlong across the paper. Guy blinked, then realized he’d been distracted too long; another cleaver knife swished by him, nixing his brow and slicing off a lock of black-brown hair. The pain jolted him to attention. “Get out of here, Kodi,” he said, “it’s too dangerous for you.”

“Not a chance,” Kodi answered, and as soon as he spoke, more red splattered Guy from the front. “What the–?” He risked another glance, this time at himself, only to see that he was ripping almost head to toe in… tomato juice?

Kodi was painting furiously now, and with almost each stroke a new tomato flew out in front of Guy, taking a hit from a utensil. If Guy’s life weren’t on the line, had he been told this story in school, he would have laughed out loud at its ludicrousness. But now he could only gap in amazement.

“No time to explain,” said Kodi, shooting out a skinny, cocoa hand and grabbing Guy’s wrist. “We need to meet up with Wren ASAP. C’mon!”

“But… wait,” Guy half-sputtered as Kodi dragged him along toward the open painting, “Where IS Wren? Where’d you find her? What’s going on with this house, and–”

“Later.” Kodi gave him a shove through the opening, and Guy stumbled in. Kodi slammed the painting-door shut, just in time– two razor-blade knives sliced through and stuck halfway through the painting. “We need to hurry if we’re gonna catch the dude,” Kodi panted, already racing up the staircase. Guy had to sprint to catch up.

“She’s found him already?”

“Thinks she has. And if I read her and our situation right, there’s only place she’d go to look for him.”

“The attic?” A little TOO obvious, don’t you think? 

“Yep.” Kodi was taking two steps at a time. “And the sooner we find him, the sooner we can rescue her friends and get out of this crazy place.”

&&&&&&&

Wren was lurking behind another painting door, tensed and ready. The staircase ended here; she’d followed the stalker’s footsteps up this way; certainty laced every breath she took, every muscle that quivered, every cell in her body. This was it. No… this HAD to be it. Should she burst in suddenly, since she had likely lost the element of surprise due to the spy? Or should she wait and…

The painting-door cracked open in front of her. A young, blond-haired boy, probably no older than eleven or twelve, peered in at her. “Go away,” he said in a polite tone. Wren scowled, almost ready to give him a piece of her mind, when a new voice spoke, saying, “It’s alright, Mikey. She isn’t one of them, I can tell. Let her in.” The boy hesitated, then did as told. Wren jumped out onto solid wood floor, shooting an accusing look at the figure hunched over at the antique desk. Despite the tension and the situation, she noticed a variety of things around it: scrap metal. Screws and bolts. Random pieces of wood and material. If she hadn’t been so focused, she would have wondered what nefarious things he was shaping. She couldn’t get a good view of him due to the dim lighting, but it hardly mattered.”You,” she rasped. “Are you the one? The one they call the Junk Collector?”

“We are all collectors. Not just me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“We all collect junk. What we do with it is what matters.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Look, I haven’t time to discuss philosophy with you. You tell me where my friends are and give them back THIS INSTANT, or I’m turning you in to the authorities.”

He didn’t bother looking up. The silence in the little attic room was next to deafening. Finally, he spoke. “I am sorry for what happened to them. I am, truly.”

Her fear and anger both spiked. “WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?”

He at last gazed up from his work at his desk. She jolted.

The Junk Collector was wrinkled, age-spot covered. The only hair covering his entire head was a fairly long, white bushy beard, a whiskery mustache, and thick, wild eyebrows. He had rosy, Santa Claus cheeks, and watery, pure blue eyes that might make even the most hard of hearts start to melt. He looked at her with these very eyes for a long time before his old man lips gave way to words.

“You were not brought here solely because of your friends, even though that is what you may only think of at this time. You were brought here because you were destined to. Most dismiss me as some crazy old hermit and move on with life. The ones that do bother with me either want something I have for selfish purposes, or seek me for selfless purposes. Yours is the latter, something I may commend you for.”

“I don’t want your praise, old man, just answers. Now tell me–”

“Patience, child. They are not here, nor will you find them anywhere among my domain.”

“What?” Her throat immediately grew dry. “Then where…?”

His watery gaze shifted from the ground back to her. “I have my ideas of where your friends– Charlotte and Phoebe, were they?– are but I won’t jump to any conclusions–”

“Did you meet with them? Did they tell you where they were going? Don’t you know people have been looking for them for years now?” She marched up to him, steadily staring him down.

Much to her surprise, he looked up and met her stare with equal sharpness. “Yes to the first and third,” he said softly. “Unfortunately, they only hinted where they might be headed. They only hoped you could perhaps follow, but I was determined to discourage you as much as possible. Where they went, as I think they did, I do not think you should follow.”

Wren scowled at him. “And why’s that? And don’t tell me something stupid and stereotypical of worried adults, that it’s too dangerous or whatnot. I’m through with being the scared little girl I used to be. I’ve grown up long since then.”

He shook his head. “Perhaps I ought to have rephrased myself… Where they probably went, or more specifically, the path they chose to take, is one you CANNOT follow. You cannot follow it because you were not destined to… you were destined to become a very special Junk Collector, along with the other two who accompanied you.”

“But what IS your definition of a Junk Collector?” Wren whirled about; Guy and Kodi had just entered through, and, by the looks of it, they’d heard most of the conversation. “Stay out of this– this is between the Junk Collector and I,” she hissed.

The Junk Collector ignored her. “Finally, an appropriate question,” he chortled softly. “Junk Collecting is an ancient art, a special art. But junk collecting doesn’t make you a pack rat, oh no.” He fingered a screw carefully. “Junk Collector requirements are few but highly important. You already guessed one of them, boy,” he said, nodding at Kodi.

“Imagination?” piped in Kodi.

“That’s right,” he said smilingly. “A Junk Collector must control and manipulate their imagination to the greatest degree possible, and have faith; when they do so, magnificent things will happen. But that’s not all. Junk Collectors work with solid, physical materials, true… We are resourceful and use what we have around us, even the crudest things are treasured resources to us. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. That’s part of the reason we are called, “Junk Collectors”.”

“Wait, there are more of you?” interrupted Kodi. “What are the other requirements?” added Guy, seeming curious now. Wren felt her annoyance build. They didn’t come here to find out how to become like a possible enemy. They had come on a find-and-rescue mission. She opened her mouth to object angrily, but the Junk Collector cut her off before she even started: “I will tell you where I think they may have went when you are ready, child. Not before.” For some reason, Wren’s mouth closed as if some invisible power shut it for her.

Turning back to the other two, he said, “The other reason, the main reason rather, is that we are not simply tool-makers, people who splurge on making and fixing things for our entertainment, for a hobby. We specialize in fixing and making other people, people who society openly deems as unworthy “junk”. And it is also these kinds of “unworthy ones” who are deemed the best kinds of Junk Collectors; the ONLY kinds of Junk Collectors, in fact. They take after their humble Maker, the very first Junk Collector there ever was.” He suddenly looked mournful. Wren felt her cheeks redden as she thought of how she’d been bullied for years, been called and thought of as a witch; it was as if he’d known all along. “I don’t think you whippersnappers knew this, but there are only two kinds of people who my home, which I myself have built from scratch, will permit inside its perimeters: Those who have been chosen, and those who force their way in for more ominous purposes.”

“You mentioned that some selfish people wanted something of yours, something possibly very important,” said Guy. “Who are they? What is it they want, and what do they plan to do with it?” The elderly man closed his eyes. “I- I may not have much time left,” he whispered, “so I cannot, sadly, answer your questions. But before I go, I must elect you as the new Junk Collectors.” He started to raise his withered old hand, as if to pronounce a blessing on them all, but Kodi interjected once more. “If we’re chosen Junk Collectors, then why did your house and things in it attack us like that? Was it some kind of test?”

The old man stopped, eyes widening in surprise, then brow furrowing. “Quite impossible, m’boy…The only way the house’s defense mechanisms could have been triggered would be if one of them–

THWAP.

The sound of a tiny structure pelting clothing and skin just barely hung upon the air, and the old man doubled over, gasping. “Mikey…” The boy rushed to his aid, eyes wide. “Get… them… out… and… make sure… they…” Mikey nodded, as if understanding all at once. The old man closed his eyes, exhaling gently, then stilled entirely. Wren stared, shock coursing through her body. No… no… 

She forsook all etiquette within her, grabbing the corpse by the collar and began to shake him. “Old man!” she cried, “You promised! You promised to tell me! You said that when the time came…”

“Wren,” said Guy, gently laying a hand on her shoulder, “that’s enough; he’s gone.” She pulled away from him angrily. “You don’t understand! He was my one chance! My ONE chance!” Sobs broke free and she couldn’t, no wouldn’t, stop them, no matter how hard she tried. Because, in a way, the Junk Collector had been right. She WAS broken junk. She DID need fixing. But the only thing that would fix her broken heart now was the knowledge of her friends’ whereabouts, if they were alright, if they could come home and…

She broke down.

“We need to leave,” she heard Mikey say quietly. “Quickly, quickly… this way.”

********

As they followed Mikey through a secret, underground tunnel, Guy felt a kaleidoscope of feelings: sympathy for Wren, who had long since given up on shunning his arm’s presence around her shoulders, horror and shock for the sudden death they’d witnessed, and curiosity in general for all that had happened.

When they left, Mikey had given several longing glances in the direction of the corpse, and Guy realized he’d wanted to take it to bury, but there had been no time in the young boy’s mind, and he had quickly ushered them through a maze of secret passages through the house, ones that were quite different from the ones with the secret door paintings. He now led them by candlelight through what Guy assumed to be earth under the backyard or front yard, he didn’t know which. It seemed as if they had been walking for miles, when Mikey suddenly halted in front of what looked to be a large wooden door. An underground door? Guy had seen a lot of strange things in one day.

“We’re almost there, but I might as well do it now. I know my master wouldn’t have approved of doing it in such an informal setting, though.” The boy blanched, as if the very idea of retribution was painful. “Anyways… you three had better kneel.”

“Why?” said Kodi. “Why should we trust you after your home attacked us? And who are you anyway?”

Mikey took a deep breath, then shakily exhaled. “I am Micheal Bullser, former aid to the Junk Collector. I was meant to be one of the next group of Junk Collectors my master was waiting for, but… ” he bit his lip, “complications arose. I cannot tell you why you were attacked, only that it was not necessarily you the house was after.” As soon as he finished, his small green eyes darted around nervously, as if he had been the one attacked. “My master entrusted me to anoint you the new group of Junk Collectors before something else happens. We are not completely out of the woods, yet.” He took out a small vial of what looked like oil, then repeated, “Please kneel. We may not have much time.”

Kodi was the first to kneel, obediently. With some coaxing, Guy also managed to get a numbed-with-shock Wren to kneel next to himself. Mikey went over to Kodi first, unplugging the minuscule cork from the tiny vial. With shaking fingers, he tipped a single drop onto Kodi’s lowered brow. “Kodi Rithers,” he started, and for once Kodi didn’t interrupt and correct him, saying he was just, “Kodi,” “I, Micheal Bullser, anoint you as your Junk Collecting group’s adviser. The task of advising your group’s secondary leader, as well as your usual junk collecting duties, falls to you. Do you hereby accept the challenge laid before you?”

“Yes.” Guy saw him tremble ever so slightly.

“Then henceforth you will be known as, “Kodi the Sagacious.” You may rise.” As Kodi rose slowly, Mikey handed him a parcel. “From my master to you.”

Before Kodi could so much as thank him, Mikey had already moved on to glassy-eyed Wren, whose arms were still snugly wrapped around herself. “Wren Brown, I, Micheal Bullser, anoint you as your group’s Researcher. It’ll be your task to look up and learn as much as you can about places where you can find and fix junk of all kinds, both material goods and people. You’ll also be responsible for plotting mission strategies, should you run into any trouble.” He hesitated, seeing her state of mind, and before tipping the oil, asked, “Do you accept this adventure with everything your life holds?”

Initially, Guy thought she hadn’t heard, or worse still, that she’d refuse. What would they do, then? But to his great surprise and relief, she spoke, “I do.” Her voice was quiet but flat. Almost… unemotional.

Mikey didn’t wait for any other response, and the drop of oil fell, lightly splashing her hair, running down into her roots. “Then I am pleased to announce you will be henceforth known as, “Wren the Resourceful.” You may rise.” Kodi helped her to her feet, seeing as she couldn’t without stumbling.

“And lastly…” Mikey turned to Guy, the lone kneeler. “Guy Rithers, I anoint you as the secondary leader of your Junk Collecting group, as your Primary Leader will be the Maker Himself.” He paused, then continued, “You will be responsible for heading missions, and deciding on your group’s next route, as well as confronting any inner conflict within yourself or between you and your teammates–” “Wait,” Guy interrupted quickly, “Me? A leader? Is that really a good idea?”

“Are you questioning my master’s authority on his decision?” said Mikey. “He already knew about you and Kodi even before you came to Blank County. I would think that he knows enough about you to select you as a capable secondary leader. Besides, your first order of commands will always come from the Maker, not from you, so don’t worry.”

Guy drew an uneasy breath. “Well… Okay, if you say so…” He felt the tap of oil as Mikey finished, ” in addition to your usual duties as a Junk Collector. Do you accept?”

It seems like I don’t have much of a choice. “Yes.”

“Great.” Out of the corner of his eye, Guy saw Mikey recapping the vial, then gesture. “You may rise.” He rose.

Mikey led them through the doorway and out into the sunlight, much to Guy’s astonishment. We’re back on the surface already?  “We should be far enough from the danger already that you shouldn’t need to fear what the same fate the Junk Collector has received,” Mikey told them. “If you take the west route from here, go north two miles, then east three miles, it should take you home.”

“What about you?” asked Kodi. “Will those guys who were after the Junk Collector go after you, too?” Guy thought he saw the poor kid swallow, but he managed a small, brave little smile, ” Well, I guess that’s a risk I’ll have to take. You’ll be able to find me if you ever need me, though.” He pulled something out of his pocket, and threw it down. What looked like a large hoola hoop formed on the ground. “And now, I bid you all, adieu.” He jumped into the hoop, but he couldn’t have gone THROUGH it, because logic defied that possibility. And yet, he was no longer in the hoop, but had instantly melted through the ground the moment his feet had touched the small area within the hoop’s boundaries. Shortly after, the hoop too up and vanished into thin air. There was no trace of either the hoop or the boy.

The three of them stared at the place where Mikey and the hoop had been. Kodi was the first to break the silence.

“Now THAT I want to learn how to do.”

######

It had been a couple days since they had received their anointment from Mikey and returned to their new, sleepy little hometown, where seemingly nothing out of the ordinary had happened. But that was just it, something completely OUT of the ordinary HAD happened. At school, Kodi could barely contain his excitement. He still remembered the incredible moment when his drawings had sprung to life right off the paper, and all the amazing gadgets they could make.

The package Mikey had handed him contained both a letter and gifts for each group member to use; since there were four gifts, Kodi assumed that there should be a fourth person to their party. He almost wished Mikey could’ve stayed to be the person, that way they could have gotten good advice from him along the way. But from the way the letter sounded, the four-member team was supposedly made up of a Secondary Leader, an Adviser, a Researcher, and a Scouter. And Kodi was the official Adviser. A lot good that would do him, if his knowledge on things was already limited.

But still, the Junk Collector had given them a few pieces of advice within his letter, such as what their general responsibilities as Junk Collectors were, also explaining about a mysterious group known only as the Shadow Six. Kodi’s whole body swelled with shivers as he recalled that part; he was almost certain that they were the ones behind the assassination, as well as the ones who tried to break into the Collector’s house to get something– but what? And why did they try and murder the Junk Collector? As far as even the Junk Collector himself knew, their motives and goals yet remained a complete and total ominous mystery, but it still gave him chills to think of such an organization. The Shadow Six. Even the name had a cold, callous ring to it.

The letter also explained what the trinkets were, and who they were for: A code analyzer for Wren, something that could not translate codes but analyze possible meanings; a new set of special watercolor paints and special parchment for Kodi, so that wherever he went, he would always have something in his arsenal, not just at the Collector’s house; a “scouting hairclip” for their future Scouter, which, Kodi assumed, was presumed to be female, as the plastic butterflies atop the clip could come to life (according to the letter, that is– they couldn’t be activated by any other member) and do a scanning search for anyone or anything; lastly, a book on leadership for Guy.

Guy naturally had not been thrilled with his new position, but, as per usual, decided to at least give it his best shot. As for Wren, she had barely come around in a couple days, and for the most part locked herself in her room, muttering about getting her friends back no matter what. She worried Kodi the most; he knew all too well what losing something or someone that meant a lot to you was like.

He’d just slammed his locker door shut when a young woman’s voice, soft, delicate, and frightened, whispered behind him, “Why is it you have returned?”

 

____________

Author’s Note: I genuinely hope you enjoyed reading this mini-story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I want all who are/were interested in it to know that I plan to continue the story in the next “blog book,” “Deceiver,” starting in May 2017. I will do my best to limit spoilers here, but I will share a couple things with you:

  1. You will learn more about Kodi’s past.
  2. You will see more of the Shadows.
  3. Not everything is as it may seem. 

As the Junk Collector pointed out, we are all Junk Collectors, but Christians especially fall under this category. We recognize that we are broken human beings, essentially “junk,” but it is our job to fix and BE fixed, into something wonderful, new, and whole. I want my readers, especially fellow believers, to all reflect on this as they head into a new season of their lives.

___________

Image Credit: http://drjerrybrown.typepad.com/quotes/

 

 

 

 

 

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