Joshua straddled the flat gray picnic bench. The eight-year-old boy’s tears had soaked Joshua’s button-down blue dress shirt, and he would not have time to change clothes before catching his flight in Greensboro, NC to Los Angelas. Joshua’s tears had flowed beyond his cheeks and dampened his once freshly starched collar. The dull brown and green grass, gray dirt, gray trees and overcast sky seemed fitting to the mood. Joshua looked through his blurry eyes across the street at the Family Duplex home. Family, he thought. I was like a father to so many children here, but now I’m just another adult abandoning them for my selfish ambitions. God forgive me, but I have to help the Browns.
The boy began to scream, “You can’t go, Joshua! I won’t let you!” His small fists beat against Joshua’s chest. Each blow caused Joshua’s heart to hurt, but not his chest.
“Bill, you stop that this instant.” chastised Joshua. “You know better than that. What about your temper?”
“I don’t care about my stupid temper. I just care about you. You can’t go, Joshua.” Bill began to weep again and buried his head back into Joshua’s wet shirt.
Joshua stroked Bill’s thick black locks with his left hand and gently patted Bill’s back with his right. “There, there. I’m not leaving forever. I’ll be back before you know it.”
Bill’s young voice was muffled by Joshua’s shirt and chest, “Do you promise?”
Joshua kissed the top of Bill’s head. “I promise.”
Bill looked up and wiped his nose and cheeks on his sleeve. “When?”
Joshua grabbed both sides of his face and kissed his forehead, and then released his head. “I don’t know, but I’ll come back, I promise. Doctor Adam will be cross with me if I don’t.”
“I’ll be cross if you don’t.”
Fear quivered down Joshua’s spine. Bill could not lose hope. If he lost hope, he might decide to lash out. A nightmarish thought penetrated Joshua’s mind. If Bill lashed out the beast that he had buried inside might find a way out. If that happened, and he was gone… Joshua stopped himself from thinking any further.
Joshua took Bill’s face into his hands again and directed the boy’s blue eyes to look directly into his own. “Bill, you have to promise me never to be cross again. If you love me, promise me that no matter what happens, you’ll remember everything I’ve taught you.” Joshua searched Bill’s eyes for any sign of anger.
Bill’s eyes still dripped with salty tears, but he managed to smile. He suddenly leaped up and kissed and squeezed Joshua’s neck as hard as he could. Joshua enjoyed the temporary reduction in oxygen. He wrapped his arms around Bill’s waist and clutched the young man. The two let go of one another.
“I’ll be good, Joshua. I know I’ll see you again, you promised.”
Joshua picked Bill up and rotated him away from the picnic table’s old wooden bench. Bill let himself slip from Joshua’s grip and his feet plopped down on the dusty gray ground.
“There you are, young man, I’ve been looking for you.”
Joshua looked in the direction of the chapel to see Dr. Adam walking towards them. Adam continued to address Bill, “Please report to the chapel.”
Bill nodded and kicked at the dirt, “Okay,” he gave Joshua one last sad look.
Joshua responded, “I’ll see you.”
Bill smiled, “I know,” and then he took off running towards the chapel.
Dr. Adam sat on the picnic table with his feet on the bench and looked down at Joshua. “Well, it appears Bill took that well.”
Joshua looked down at his tear stained shirt. “It could’ve been worse.”
Dr. Adam leaned back on his right arm. “Joshua, are you sure you should go? I mean, you’re playing a dangerous game, my friend. Memory suppression has never been an effective means of hypnotherapy. What if that thing, whatever it is in Bill’s head, gets out? The state frowns upon chaining up children in the basement.”
Joshua clasped his hands behind his head and smiled, “I don’t think chains could hold Bill. Anyway, I didn’t suppress his memory. I just gave the demon inside him something to do besides torture a child. So far, it’s working. If there are any signs of trouble call the Browns or my cell phone, and I’ll be on the first plane home.”
Dr. Adam asked, “So, does this mean you’ve changed your mind? You don’t want me to suppress Bill’s memories of your therapy sessions after you’ve gone?”
Joshua released his hands, let his body recline back and raise his feet off the ground, and then he rocked back forward and let his feet smacked the dirt. “Oh, that. No, I haven’t changed my mind.”
Adam sighed, looked up at the dormant trees and then looked back down towards Joshua. “I would never question your ethics my friend, but I’m not sure I understand why you want Bill to forget those sessions.”
Joshua’s right heal tapped momentarily in the dirt. “Just trust me. There were things discussed. Things I don’t want him to remember without me here.”
“You don’t think I’m up to the task of following up?” Dr. Adam cleared his throat. “Seriously, Joshua, if you were any other man I would be insulted.”
“Please, as my friend, trust me.”
Adam nodded, sat up and then leaned forward with his arms rested on his thighs. His head hovered only a few inches above Joshua. “Do you think Bill and Harold’s issues are due to their mother?”
Joshua shrugged, “I don’t want to say officially. There are some similarities, and there are some significant differences.”
Adam’s eyes locked on to Joshua. Joshua felt like his friend was attempting to bore into the hidden thoughts inside his head. “If you aren’t sure, why are you going to California, and why did you tell the Browns you can help Harold?”
Joshua rested his left hand on the picnic table and began to drum his fingers against the splintered wood and stared at them. His friend had asked him a fair question, and Joshua could not think of a definitive answer. He sighed and looked back at Adam. Adam’s eyes remained fixed on him. Joshua cleared his throat and said, “Well, what I did is working for Bill, why won’t it work for Harold? Besides, Harold has his forever family. When I met the Browns, I could tell they love their son. In fact, they love him enough to come all the way across the country to try and help him.
Compare that to what Bill has. His mother left him a prisoner here. She promised to come back, and we both know that will never happen. Bill’s only family is this orphanage.”
Adam nodded, “Yes, April has more than a few demons herself. I doubt she will ever return for Bill, but you could fix that, you’re his guardian.”
Joshua smiled and said, “Wrong, you’re Bill’s guardian now, and you won’t do it for the same reason I won’t. What if we’re wrong and she does come back? No matter how bad things get, we’re both suckers for hope.”
“I prefer to think of myself more as an optimist than a sucker,” said Dr. Adam as he sat up and stretched his back.
Joshua relaxed, put his left elbow on the picnic table and leaned against it. “Fair enough. Well, Bill, you and I have our hope, but Harold has the Browns. If that doesn’t give Harold a leg up over Bill for this berserker behavior, I don’t know what does.”
The orphanage’s old, white fifteen passenger van pulled up. It looked as empty and hollow as Joshua felt. The two men got up from the picnic table and hugged. “Joshua, you take care of yourself and get back home.”
Joshua nodded and said, “I’ll be back before you can miss me. You take care of my Panthers’ gear until I get home.”
Adam laughed, “Oh, it’s already hanging in my television room, but really, they’re horrible compared to the west coast teams. Are you sure you want to hang on to that stuff? You’ll be a Forty-Niner’s fan before you know it.”
Joshua gave Adam a mocking scowl, “Aren’t you a fair weather fan. Besides, I’ve heard rumors they’re finally getting rid of Capers. The team will rebuild.”
Adam nodded, “Uh-huh. Well, I get dibs on your Panthers banners when you switch teams.”
“Never gonna happen.”
Both men laughed as they made their way to the van. Joshua hugged Adam and got into the vehicle. Joshua nodded to the driver, and the van slowly made its way down the street. A tear escaped Joshua’s right eye as they passed under the old iron “North Carolina Children’s Home” sign. He refused to look back as the transport made its way to the Greensboro airport.
Do you want to know what happens? Pre-Order the first novel in the series. “Joshua and the Shadow of Death”