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A Spirit of Christmas Finds a Place Called War (Part One) by Kyle Aarons

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Author Forward:


Ah, an author's greatest debate when creating a new tale, when to start it and why start it there instead of at some other point. If one starts too far back the buildup is boring, start too late into the pertinent events and it becomes confusing as a reader tries to put all the pieces together. In this case it is even harder because the whole point is to put something out for the holiday season. Does this mean it should start during the season, end during the season, or what?


Well, after careful consideration and spending a restless night trying to figure it out, I decided to spin the clock back a bit, give you a few tantalizing bits, and hope it holds your interest until the real story starts. With this in mind, I felt I better warn any potential readers that all the details will not be make complete sense until a point later on. I hope any who start reading this sticks with this rather eclectic idea and sees it through. Also, as always with me, feedback, even the harshest negative feedback, is gladly accepted.


Kyle Aarons


A Spirit of Christmas Finds a Place Called War



February 5, 2014: The PA in the computer lab suddenly came to life, interrupting the teacher who was just starting to get into coding. "Miss Valentine, would you please send Garrison Mitchell Donavan the Third to the office with his coat and bag please."


A ten-year-old boy looked up from his computer station with wide eyes, even as the others in his class looked at him.


While Miss Valentine glanced his way and gave a head nod to the door, the boy sitting right behind Garrison whispered just loud enough for those around him to hear, "Busted!"


Even as snickers broke out around Garrison, the small, black haired, blue-eyed, boy gulped as he pulled his small school backpack over his shoulder. Normally Gregory would have been correct, the trip to the office would be because someone caught him doing something he ought not have been doing, but these last few days he had been good. He could think of nothing, including the past weekend, requiring a trip to the office, let alone one, which would require him to take his backpack and coat. Such a trip meant suspension, followed by the butt whipping from Father and a serious chewing on by Mother. Even worse, it would mean his beloved bike would be locked to the back of the garage for the foreseeable future and the TV and Play Station would certainly be removed from his room. There was even a chance Father would follow through with his threat of pulling everything out of his room, other than a desk and a bed and making him live with nothing for a few weeks!


Doom and gloom was all he thought about as he made his way out the door, knowing even as he did so the eyes of sixteen others, including Miss Valentine, were boring into the back of his head. The door closed behind him with a light clicking sound. He wiped some tears out of his eyes as he entered the hall and made his way past the indoor swimming pool. Yet something else he would not be allowed to do for weeks after getting suspended. It had happened twice, just not here... Not at this good of a school... But yes it had happened before and life would be beyond awful once again, probably until Easter, maybe longer. The worst part was, he had no idea what he was in trouble for. The two days of detention last week should have been the end of him sneaking in and changing the background of Miss Valentine's computer to bright pink and making all the lettering green.


Putting the frog in Allison's backpack two weeks ago had been awesome, and although many suspected he had done it, he had escaped unscathed. Hearing her scream would have made getting caught worth it, but he knew where the cameras were and as usual had pulled the prank off to perfection. However, this week he had done nothing, although he did manage to get William's locker combination and had been trying to figure out what to do to the obnoxious jerk.


Garrison's father was big on showing a brave face, keeping his back straight, and not looking down. This translated into worse punishments from teachers and the Dean of Students because they saw his actions as arrogant, but this at least his father understood. Having a Dean or even the Principle say something about his demeanor being too proud, was actually a way to minimize the punishment. With this in mind, and with a deep breath, Garrison pulled his shoulders back, blinked out a few fearful tears, held his head high and pulled open the door to the main office. The looks Garrison saw told him something was wrong, very wrong, before the first word was spoken. The door hadn't even closed before he looked over at the secretary behind the counter, "What's going on?"


The woman looked at the boy in front of her, started to say something, but the words simply wouldn't come. Instead, a sound something akin to a squeaky hiccup escaped her mouth, even as she looked down and away from Garrison.


Fortunately, the school counselor for 4th Graders appeared from a side room, and quickly moved up to the boy who was clearly starting to realize this trip to the office was not like any other. The man, who Garrison knew all too well, since he had been required to talk to him about his acting out several times since being accepted to the school, knelt. The very fact the man put his arm around his shoulders, further increased Garrison's fear. Many teachers showed they cared, but they almost never touched a student.


Garrison turned to look into the man's dark brown eyes, "What's wrong? Why am I here?"


"Garrison, your father will be here shortly..."


"Why?" Garrison's voice took on a panicked tone, "What happened?"


The counselor had hoped to keep the boy calm and let his dad fill in the details, but the boy was gifted and the youngster's intelligence had told him something very dire had indeed happened. To leave the boy in the dark much longer would not be helpful and would in the long run cause resentment to someone the lad would certainly have to spend some time with once this sank in. With this in mind, the man clenched the fist of the hand not over the boy's shoulders and spoke softly, "Garrison, we don't have all the details, so what I am going to tell you is very much subject to change and change quickly."


Seeing the boy's eyes were starting to tear up with fear, but still following the words the man took another deep breath and braced for the possible need to restrain the child to prevent him for hurting himself. "Garrison, your mother was in a very serious accident."


Tears now streamed down the boy's cheeks, "How is she..."


The man closed his eyes even as he spoke the words, not really wanting to see the impact he knew his words would have on the ten-year-old, "I'm so sorry, Son, she... your mother didn't survive..."


He didn't have a chance to say more. Instead he had to catch the boy as Garrison crumpled into him and started sobbing.




August 15, 2014: Garrison rode his bike down the hill toward his home just outside of Seattle, Washington as fast as he could. The thrill of getting his fifteen-speed going faster than the cars going down the same road caused him to grin. The death of his mother had translated into a bit of a daredevil outlook on life, and this was just one of the ways the desire to do something so obviously dangerous had manifested.


Since the fateful day he had been informed his mom had been killed in a five car pile-up started by a drunk semi truck driver, he had broken three bones, sprained both ankles, had fallen out of two trees, and had a concussion, even though he had been wearing his bike helmet at the time. The fact he knew two of the nurses and a doctor at the hospital close to his home by name, didn't prevent him from once again trying to pull off the maneuver which had given him a broken rib less than five weeks prior. With pure determination in his eyes and while gritting his teeth, as if expecting to feel the pain of yet another wipeout, Garrison turned his handlebars hard to the left, just like the last time the back wheel slid and the bike wildly tilted to the left. At the same time, a car coming up the hill swerved to avoid the boy, while the young female driver leaned on her horn with everything she had.


As this happened, the car Garrison had passed coming down the hill also honked, as the older male driver detoured over a curb and though the parkway grass of a house, rather than hit the car swerving to avoid Garrison. Even as the back tire of the bike hit the curb and flipped the bike, Garrison could hear the man in the car cussing at both him and the female driver. A moment later, his shoulder slammed into the yard and he rolled with the fall. He stayed on the ground a few seconds and shook his head, while his left hand went up to rub his right shoulder. It was sore, but he was certain he was in one piece, which actually kind of surprised him.


Looking back at his bike, he realized it was not so lucky. The back rim was no longer round. It was in fact, oval and his tire was totally off the rim. The handlebars were also pointed in a totally different direction than where the front tire pointed. Shaking his head, he kicked at the ground, then just as quickly knelt and grabbed his foot. It wasn't until his hand found his toes did he realize he had hit hard enough to take his right shoe and sock off, so he had kicked the ground with a bare foot.


Taking a couple of deep breaths he clutched at his toes and blinked out some tears. He had stubbed his toes before, but man, nothing like this. It hurt bad!


A man in the silver BMW 725i pulled up next to the Garrison, "Damn-it, you not only almost killed yourself, you almost killed a couple of others too! What is wrong with you?"


Garrison gave his head another shake and made sure he really was in one piece before he stood, minus both shoes and one sock, pulled his shoulders back, and looked right at the man, "Mister, sorry, but I know I never left the bike lane..."


The man's face turned red as he glared at the little, longhaired rascal facing him. The kid was a cocky little brat! However, the words did get through, although they took a few seconds to really sink in. His eyes narrowed, but seeing the kid not backing down he turned and glanced back at the street. He eyed the painted in bike lane and followed it all the way up the hill.


Even to Garrison, who was thirty-seven days away from his eleventh birthday, he could tell the man was replaying the event in his own brain. A few seconds of uneasy silence followed before the man let out a long breath and turned back to glare at the little cuss in front of him. "Bike path or not, kid, real dumb. I was speeding and you blew by me, so you had to be doing a good thirty-five to forty, maybe more, on this hill. What were you thinking?"


Garrison grinned widely, showing a chipped tooth from where he last tried and failed to take the turn down the very steep hill. "Um, my father would say I wasn't..."


This actually got a brief chuckle out of the man. "I'd agree with him! So now that I am sure I am not going to have a heart attack, are you OK?"


"I'll live..." Garrison looked down at his bike and cringed knowing it would take some serious work to sweet-talk his dad into buying him a third bike in as many months. "My bike... I think it needs... Um... A morgue."


At this the man loosened up a great deal more. He smiled and snickered a little louder. He moved closer and looked at the remnants of the expensive bike. "Yeah, dead, no question." The man pulled on his tie to loosen it some before reaching down to pick up the mangled frame. "You need a lift?"


Garrison eyed the bike and the man's car. "I'm not supposed to do anything with strangers, but, um..."


"You close enough to walk?"


Garrison nodded, "Yes sir."


"How about you give me your address and I'll drop this off for you and you can walk."


"Thanks!" Garrison nodded with relieved eagerness.


Even as the man took his address the guy pointed down the hill, "Don't forget your shoes. Oh, and I'll give you a nine point five on the roll after the crash, but only a two point oh on kicking the ground when you got back up. Glad to see some kids know how to still take some risks and have some fun. Just be more careful in the future!"


This got a giggle out of Garrison who nodded and once again thanked the man before he went to retrieve his shoes. Oddly enough, his sock remained mysteriously missing. He gave up after a five minute search and headed home, half wondering if his bike would really be delivered. He actually kind of hoped it wouldn't be, so he could tell his father it was stolen. It wouldn't be a lie and it would certainly be easier to get a new one than trying to explain what happened to this one.


Much to his dismay, Garrison found his bike waiting for him as he walked up to the house. The man had not stuck around, but it was clear words had been exchanged between his father and the man. His dad stood on the upper deck looking down at him while shaking his head. This was not something Garrison expected. His father was almost always late on Fridays. Working weekends was pretty much out since the death of his mother, so his dad did everything possible to clear everything so he could spend each weekend home with Garrison. Even worse, this meant he would not be easily able to embellish what had happened. Getting a new bike was getting trickier by the second.


Garrison chewed on his lip as he grabbed what was left of his bike and headed up the drive. Before he even got halfway up the side garage door, used for spare storage, was going up. Knowing the talk he would surely have to endure, he deposited the frame and dropped the back reflector on the mess before making his way toward the inner basement door.


Garrison Mitchell Donavan Junior looked down at his son and examined the boy. He noted the large grass stain on the right shoulder and his hand moved down and gently, yet firmly, pushed on the area. His hand then moved down his son's side and pushed on the ribs with just enough pressure to see if he got a pain reaction. The silent inspection continued for several more seconds as the older Donavan checked his son's face, pulled down on his lower lip to look at teeth, and glanced down at the knees. No blood and no other obvious marks allowed the man to relax a bit. Still his voice, when he finally spoke, came out harsh, "Are you trying to kill yourself?"


"No!" Garrison shook his head fiercely. "I really thought I had it this time!"


The elder Donavan ran his had though his hair, "So the last time, the ER visit, and the bandages on your ribs didn't send a strong enough message to your brain? You are every bit as hard headed as I am! Now, get in the car so we can run to the hospital!"


"I'm fine..."


"I need to go in since I have been feeling so lethargic the last couple of weeks and I'd prefer Doctor Keithson give you a once over just to make sure. Now, no lip or the trip home will not include a stop at Downhill Zone!"


Realizing his father was planning on getting him a new bike with no pleading on his part, Garrison totally dropped any argument and all but ran to the Audi Q7. He was buckled in before his dad even managed to pull the keys out of his pocket.




September 5, 2014: Garrison Mitchell Donavan Jr. looked down at the test results and listened to the doctor. To say it wasn't good was a massive understatement. The truth of the matter was he had stopped smoking too late, should have never started to begin with. Just over eleven years of clean living had not been enough. Of course the doctor going over the test results didn't blame it on the cigarettes, but Garrison Jr. did. He had stopped smoking; going "cold turkey" the day he found out Samantha was pregnant, going from two plus packs a day to zero.


Even as he half listened to the treatment options and the rather dismal prognosis, his thoughts centered on his son. There were no more Donavan's, there was also no more Bergette's, his deceased wife's maiden name. They had both been only children and they had had a child late. He had been almost fifty when Garrison was born. His parents both passed before his son had been old enough to really get to know them. Garrison the Third had never even had the chance to meet either of Samantha's parents. They both passed before the boy had even been conceived.


As the doctor droned on, Garrison Jr. tired to figure out what to tell his son and when. Chances were slim as things now stood, and his son was smart enough to know there was no good answer as to where he would live when the cancer got to the point where he, Garrison Jr., could no longer care for his only child. Try as he might he could find no good solution. Once again he blamed no one but himself. He should have seen a doctor months prior when he first felt "off". He should have never picked up smoking to begin with. He should have quit sooner. Samantha had certainly tired several times over the years prior to the birth of their child to get him to stop.


The real question was nearly unfathomable to Garrison Jr. In simple terms how was he supposed to go about finding a suitable home for his son?





September 25, 2014: Garrison came to a sliding stop only a few inches from his father's Q7. "Hey, you're home already?


Garrison Jr. nodded and turned his head and coughed. Unfortunately, he didn't get his handkerchief out of sight fast enough. Garrison looked at the bright red blood on the white cloth and turned ash white. "Dad!"


The man looked at his son and started to lie, "It's nothing..."


The boy's look stopped the words from continuing. Instead he pointed to the passenger seat. "Drop your bike and take a ride with me son."


Two hours later, the man pulled back into the drive, carefully avoiding the new bike. He pulled to a stop in the garage and looked over at his son's tear streaked face. "So, yeah, they are saying a year at best. I have put some feelers out with people in my company and with my lawyers. There are several people who are willing to give you a good home, but no decision has been made..."


Garrison fought hard not to break down and bawl his eyes out. How could God take both his mom and his dad in less than a year? This wasn't fair at all, and now he was hearing he would soon be living with someone else, it was beyond not fair! The other thing he couldn't help was to feel a bit betrayed. His dad had been doing this on the sly, leaving him totally out of it. He was getting ready to find some place to stick him. The young Garrison already knew the Lefe'vre's and the De Smet's and wanted nothing to do with them or their kids. He also wanted nothing to do with his dad's business partner who, fortunately, had not been mentioned. Still, he didn't like what he was hearing at all. First off his dad was all but giving up. Second, and almost as bad, all the decision making was being done behind his back. It didn't feel right and even as much as he cared about his father, he got angry. "Don't I get any say in this?"


"Son, I am doing everything I can to find you the best home possible..."


"But... but..." sobs erupted out of the youngster, "I don't want to go anywhere with those people, and... and... and..." the sobs almost took over, but he managed to get out what he was really feeling. "I want a real mom and dad like you and Mom!"

With one hand over his son's back, the elder Garrison dropped his head onto his searing wheel, cried and coughed up some more blood. After several minutes he managed to speak, "Gar, let's start over. I'll scrap everything I have done, take the next few weeks totally off and the two of us will find an option we are both comfortable with."


Next to him the boy continued to sob, but managed to look up and nod.




October 7, 2014: Garrison the Third printed off a list and looked down at what he had come up with. The last several days had been one stupid idea after another. Most of the dumb ideas were his, no question, but his father had also come up with some real losers too. The fact was, neither he nor his dad wanted to face the truth and it showed in their thinking. Of course the school hadn't been helpful at all. The stupid counselors there felt a boarding school situation would be good, or even seeing if any of the other students' families would open their doors to a boy only a few precious months from being an orphan.


The latest idea, a real long shot, came the night before. His dad had a horrible coughing fit and ended up going to the hospital. The ambulance came and so did Mrs. De Smet. He went to stay the night with them and their obnoxious spoiled bratty, badly overweight, twins who where a couple of years older than Garrison. The kids were heartless, and one made a comment about them being able to stick a bed under the stairs. It would make a great bedroom for him and they could start calling him Harry, as in Harry Potter.


It was this comment, a nasty remark by a kid who was way too interested in shoving another bag of chips down his throat and sitting in front of a TV than doing anything fun, which caused the latest idea to hit him. Up till now all the ideas from both of them centered on rich or at least very wealthy families who had room for a kid. What wasn't taken into account was what this would mean going forward other than to guarantee a good roof, food, and warmth. The biggest problem this left out was the one thing neither he or his father were really considering, love.


The Harry Potter comment was what really made Garrison think about this. In the stories and in the movies Harry had a great home on the surface. He had food, warmth, and a good roof, but was flatly not wanted. Of course this was a bunch of books and probably never happened in real life. No one would make a kid sleep in a closet when they had a nice house with extra space. Still, the idea was kind of the same. The De Smet’s could take care of him. He would probably end up fat since they would worry about him hurting himself and feed him the same junk the twins ate, but he would be safe until he was old enough to go on his own. The trust fund was already in place and he would have money once he was an adult. Father had made ultra sure of this.


But what about the next seven years? He wanted to live with people who wanted him or at least accepted him for who he was. He didn't want his dad's influence to be behind people taking him in. He didn't want people to feel pressured to take in a kid they didn't want. He didn't want step-brothers or sisters who hated him and the money he would have once he grew up. He wanted someone who would take Garrison in as Garrison. In the simplest terms, he realized he wanted someone who could care about him because they liked him. It was kind of like the way the Weasley’s treated Harry in the books and movies. It didn't matter who Harry was. They liked him and cared about him because they liked who he was. They were poor but Harry was happier with them than he ever was around his horrible cousin. With this thought in mind, Garrison retired to the De Smet's computer room and started doing some research. Where could he look for someone who would accept him for who he was, not what money was behind him? It had to be a place with people who had no connection to his dad's company. It had to be a place where a new kid would be an outsider. It had to be a place probably pretty hostile to him. This way, if he found the right people, he would know it.


The problem was, convincing his father would be beyond difficult. They would have to move. It would have to have a really good hospital within easy travel distance... And yeah, Garrison nodded to himself, it had to be poor. He had to find a place where money was not looked at in the way he was used to. Was there really a family like the Weasley’s out there in real life? His dad's time was ticking down as the coughing fit all too abundantly showed. If this didn't work, he would go wherever his dad felt best, but maybe, just maybe, there was a family out there who would want him, not just take him because...


It was early morning, only a couple of hours before he should have been awakened for school, before he printed a list of some of the poorest places in the country. Unfortunately, this meant there were not many really good hospitals close to them though. Still, armed with all this information, maybe he could make his dad see the light and they could find somewhere where it would be the right place to see if he could find himself a home with a little love and a place where he could just be himself.




October 17, 2014: Garrison Jr. finally had enough strength to look over the totally outlandish idea of his son's. He poured over everything his boy had pulled up, listened to all the arguments, pointed out flaw after flaw only to find his son had carefully, almost meticulously, thought over every angle. His son also had solid, although sometimes childishly dreamy counter arguments. Still, they were filled with hope, and hope was flatly not something he had been offering his son.


He with his right elbow on the study table, the man placed his head into his right hand and rubbed his forehead. "So let me get this straight, you are willing to take a chance of living in what amounts to squalor to find someone who will accept you for being you. You would give up the life you have known, quite possibly even go so far as to live with people who cannot afford to keep the power on from month to month?"


"What would be worse?" The younger Donavan fired back with a degree of hope in his voice as he realized his dad was not flatly dismissing the idea. "Do you want me to live in a place where there is no power and maybe be a bit hungry from time to time, or get fat and be picked on by the De Smet twins? I know you already crossed Mr. Venaford off the list, but do you think I would be better off in one of these places or with him? You trust him with your business but not with me only because you know his background. What if one of the others you want me with are like him and you don't even know about it?"


This actually caused Garrison Jr. to cringe. Saul Venaford was a fantastic sales and financial officer, which is the only reason he was still around. Outside of work the man's morals were pretty disturbing, being honest with himself he decided to bump it down to very disturbing. However, the man was extremely loyal and had a unique way of keeping clients happy. He also had the organizational skills beyond what a small company should be able to afford, but because the man had the big black mark on his past, going someplace bigger was simply not going to happen. Like it or not, Saul was one of the big reasons the company was as successful as it was and its future would be tied with Saul's continued running of it.


After nearly five minutes of silence, and the younger Donavan about to say something, Garrison Jr. held up his had to stop any comments. "OK, Son, as insane as I feel this idea is, I'll play ball. Like it or not, your ideas all have merits and I have to agree with you on one thing you keep stressing. Finding people who like you for who you are, not for what I am to them or what money you come from, isn't something I have ever considered. Plus, honestly, I have no good way to find such a person or family. However, if you do not find the right people, and it will be up to you to find them and me to check on them... and I have final OK over it... You need to tell me who on the small list I have left, you will go to live with if the time comes before you find the right someone." He then slid a list over to his son, "Make your backup choice, because once we go down this road there will be no more chances for us to find you another home."


Garrison the Third looked over the list of seven names. He instantly crossed off the De Smet's even though he knew they were his dad's first choice. There would be no love there at all and he knew it. He examined the last six names. It really came down to the kids more than the parents. He and Jackson got along pretty well and his parents let him do stuff both him and Jackson liked and were not exactly safe. "The Morgan's."


This really surprised the elder Garrison. The Morgan's were black, not that it really mattered to him. He just wondered if this would cause problems for his son in the future and he was pretty sure his son's plan would unravel in little to no time at all. His view was his boy would indeed be with the Morgan's before the end of winter. He almost mentioned the fact this might make him stand out in some strange ways, but quickly thought better of it. The Morgan's were real good people and certainly had two outstanding kids. Leticia was also a phenomenal marketing person with the company. With as deep of a breath as he could take, Garrison Junior nodded and let out a sigh of relief. "Fine choice. Now, you have found some interesting places to live to try this experiment. Have you narrowed it down at all?"


"I did before I started looking at hospitals for you..."


"Son, I can find a good hospital..."


"Not close to some of these places!"


"If I need to spend some time at a hospital, I can hire a nanny or something for you..."


"But I don't want to stick out as having a super rich dad or..."


This actually caused a snicker and another short coughing fit. "Kiddo, we are well off, but I am not super rich!"


The boy waved his hand over the table, "In any of these places you would be!"


This got a grin out of the man, "Ok, there you probably have me. But relax, I bet I can find someone who can watch over you and keep their mouth shut while I travel discreetly back and forth to some hospital even if it is a few hours away, so forget about my medical needs. This is about you. Tell me where you would want to live if this happens to work, because if you find what you are looking for you will be living there for several years. Don't go where you don't want to live, for goodness sake!"


This was really not something the younger Garrison had considered when putting together his list. He stared at the places and scratched his nose. This was a dead giveaway to his father the boy was totally befuddled. To this end his dad slid his chair around the table and pointed to a few places. "Louisiana, lots of swamps, mosquitoes, bugs and snakes..."


The youngster's eyes went a little wide and quickly pushed those off to the side, just as his father expected. The man looked over the list again and knew there was another place he could quickly take off the list. "New Mexico, desert not much of a chance to fish, scorpions and rattlesnakes."


Garrison the Third's hair waved back and forth wildly, "Need to be able to fish!"


"Big cities?" The father chimed in again, "Lots of gangs, crime, no wilderness to explore..."


It took only seconds for his son to pick up anyplace in or around a big city and toss it in the trash. The pile was drastically smaller. The man nodded in satisfaction.


It was the youngster who picked up a small folder and held it up, however. "How about West Virginia, Father? I like hills and mountains, there are certainly places to fish and woods to explore, and this place is one of the top ten poverty areas in the U.S."


With raised eyebrows the man took the folder out of his son's hand and read what his boy had found. He was actually impressed with the level of research. There were problems galore in the area. Drugs, especially prescription drug abuse were a huge problem. Poverty was through the roof, income was so low it was somewhat nauseating, and teen pregnancy rates were somewhere above astronomical. In simple terms the place was a raging shithole.


Two thoughts actually crossed the man's mind as he read though the details in the folder. First off, his son would certainly love the hills and the openness of the area, so even though he would certainly fail in his childish quest, he would have a great place to play, and secondly... The man had to force himself not to grin. There was no chance in Heaven or Hell anyone would be willing to take in another mouth to feed, so his son would end up back in Seattle, in an extremely good school, with a family who would take good care of him.


Forcing his voice to remain neutral he gave a slight nod as he looked at the name of the town, War... Yeah, it was a suitable name and his son would find out the hard way War was not a place he wanted to find himself living in. "War, West Virginia? Wow, OK, but you stay away from drugs while we are there."


The look he got in return only made his eyes narrow, "I'm serious son, according to this drug abuse is off the charts in this area of the country. Above anything else, you know how I feel about druggies."


Garrison the Third nodded vigorously, "Yeah, you fire people who fail drug tests with no second chances, none."


"Exactly, and if I find you have done any, you get the worst ass beating you have ever had and come straight back here, no passing go, no collecting two hundred dollars... Oh, and yeah, it will be in jail. I will pull everything out of your room and you will be sleeping on the floor and you will be getting nothing but water to drink and spinach and brussel sprouts salads to eat until you go to live with the Morgan's!"


The very thought was enough to make beads of sweat pop up on the boy's forehead.




November 20, 2014.


The drive into the back country of West Virginia was a real eye opener for young Garrison and to a lesser degree to his father. What they saw on the drive to War was akin to something out of some kind of zombie apocalypse movie. Some places looked OK, a very few looked nice, but most places were run down and flatly didn't look like people should be living in them, but it was clear they were. Making matters worse, the state highway was not in the greatest condition and much of the traffic consisted of semis hauling coal. The hotel they stayed in the afternoon before was not a place Garrison thought his father would ever allow them to stay in, but his dad needed the early stop to rest. As a matter of fact, his dad had to hook up the oxygen machine before Garrison had even brought the suitcases up to the room.


It was just slightly before nine thirty when the pair entered the outskirts of War, West Virginia. ‘Poor’ and ‘poverty’ suddenly took on a new meaning to Garrison. It wasn't something out of a book and it was not some third world country in some Social Studies lesson. It was right in front of him and it was part of the United States. He found it hard to believe a country could have a place like this and a place like Seattle in it, let alone his own. He couldn't help but feel something was really wrong for both places to exist in what was supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world. The very fact he saw an older looking man filing up plastic water bottles out of a stream and putting them into the back of an old little-kid's wagon, told him he really had no clue what poverty looked like until entering the outskirts of the tiny community.


While the whole of the place was obviously in deep poverty by the condition of buildings, roads, and even the few people out and about, the land itself was astonishingly beautiful. The hills were fairly steep and tree covered. Countless small streams ran down from the out of the hills and emptied into larger streams and rivers. Many of the streams had ice on them since it had been unseasonably cold over the past few days. This day was no exception. The temperatures where in the upper twenties and not expected to get much higher.


After a few turns off the main highway, the Audi Q7 pulled up behind a truck which was being unloaded by a pair of very burly men who were taking the goods into a pretty nice looking house. Garrison started to say something to his father only to see the man shake his head and point to an old beat-up looking 1977 Ford pick-up. The man spoke with a raspy voice since he had been coughing a lot during the trip and clearly needed a long rest. "You won't stick out and you won't be seen in our Audi here. I'll be driving you around in the truck, but it only looks bad on the outside. It is a brand new truck wrapped up in a junk body. Saul handled all the arrangements and made sure we have everything we need.


"All the expensive medical stuff along with a live-in nurse is here for me, and Miss Anderson, my secretary is in the small guest house over there." Garrison Junior pointed out the small newly built structure for his son's benefit.


He then made a wide gesture to the property, "Besides, this is a beautiful hunk of land and the back yard is plenty big enough for a helicopter to come and fly me to the University of Virginia Cancer Center in Charlottesville if needed. I had all my medical records transferred to there, so they know I am coming and will be ready to get me on a program. Also, as we talked about, I will need to go there a couple of times a week, so Miss Anderson will be watching you whenever I am not here. What she says goes. Saul will handle any expenses for you and or Miss Anderson when I am not here. She has a direct line to him and my lawyers."


"You really trust him, don't you?"


Garrison's father reached over and ruffled his son's long hair, "With business and arrangements like this, yes, I trust Saul totally; with you, no." Seeing the look of total confusion ripple across the boy's face, he pulled his son into him and held on while doing his best to explain something outside the ability of a young eleven-year-old to totally grasp. "Look, Gar, everyone makes mistakes and his was a big one. Many don't get caught. He did. He also was very persistent at going after the job opening in Sales, while being honest with me. After some serious debate, I gave him a shot when no one else would. He has repaid his debt to society and just as importantly proven his loyalty to me and my company. We would not be able to afford this without him and his hard work. Now forget about everything else. We are here to check out my "office", grab the truck, and get you into town so you can start attending school."


"But I'll stick out living in this nice of a house! You saw what most people live in..."  


The boy's father nodded in agreement. "Yes, unfortunately, you are correct. This house, while well below what should be considered luxurious, is upper class here. I also understand this is not what you need to seen in if your idea will work the way you hope it will. You need to relax, though. This is a place Saul and I picked out for me to stay and run the company from while we are down here. I bought another place, for next to nothing I might add, on the opposite end of town which is nowhere near as nice as this place. It should have everything we need to better blend in around here and let you try to find what you are looking for."


The eleven year old looked at the moving truck as a pair of men pulled out a massive hutch as if it was made of cardboard. They both set it down as they saw the Audi. The pair quickly came back to the Audi, followed by Miss Anderson who looked a bit shocked by the level of poverty she had seen since getting here the day before. She looked down into the open car window, "Sir, it is too cold for you to have the window down. I'll take care of getting everything moved in. I checked, the nurse and the medical equipment is already here and set up. Do you need anything?"


"Just the keys to the truck so I can get Gar into town and finish his enrollment."


The woman let out a long breath, "Well, the school is right down the road, you drove right past it to get here. But, sir, with all due respect, given what I am seeing it will not be the level of education he is used to and is probably somewhere below what is acceptable. Are you really sure about this?"


Garrison glanced over to his son, who in turn nodded his head. "He is, and I am committed to helping him see this through, so yes. Have you checked out the other property?"


The woman's deeply sour look answered the question before she had a chance to say yes.


Mr. Donavan cringed, "That bad?"


"No, sir. It's worse than 'that bad'. The people you all sent in to discreetly touch things up on the inside, to make it almost inhabitable, still makes it rank somewhere below the hunting cabin my grandfather used to drag us out to a few times a year. You could have at least had them tow out the rusted cars in the back!"


Garrison's young eyes lit up, "Oh, cool, there are junk cars to explore?"


This got a grin from Mr. Donavan, "And there, Miss Anderson, is a real good reason to leave them be."


The woman rolled her eyes, "OK, well, remember, I live here and I only stay there when you can't but I'd prefer he comes and stays with me here. At least here I don't have to worry about mice..."


"The house I am staying at has mice?" Garrison asked with a bit of fear.


"It did, but with any luck the exterminators we hired from Beckley got rid of them," Miss Anderson all but hissed. Her level of disgust over the place was palatable, but the extra money she was being paid for what she was promised would only be a six month assignment made her hold her true desires in, especially after seeing the determination of both her boss and his son.


"If you find someone around here to take you in, you will have to deal with things like mice, son." Garrison's father informed his somewhat shocked son. Seeing some of reality sink in gave the elder Donavan a good feeling. It probably wouldn't take long for Garrison to relent and go back to Seattle. However, this property was even more beautiful in person than on pictures and with some upkeep would give his son a good vacation home should he ever want one, so the money would not be wasted on a short stay.


"Mice..." Garrison shuddered, "Gross! But, I can't wait to see the old cars and junk in the back of the other place!"


Miss Anderson let out a resigned sigh, "I sense some ER visits from cuts and junk in my future."


"Very possible, actually, knowing Gar's predisposition to daredevilism, probable." Garrison Junior agreed before turning his head and coughing. "Come on, let's get to the school, get you all signed up, and see what you may need. Then we can check out where we will be living. Once you are taken care of, I can come back here and get an extended air treatment."


The father and son transferred over to the old looking truck. The fact it started on the first turn of a key and next to purred gave proof to the fact what the exterior hid was far better than the shell. Garrison Junior pulled out his phone and put in the location of the school so he could get directions to it. Just as Miss Anderson had informed him, he had driven right past it. It was only a couple of blocks straight up the street. The fact he hadn't realized he had driven by the school made him a bit nervous. He hoped it was in better shape than most of the town... "Look around as we head out and tell me with absolute certainty you still want to try this."


"I do, I know I do, but... I can see I can't go in all the nice clothing I am used to wearing and stuff, and I sure can't have a cell phone..."


"You'll keep your phone, son. You'll just have to keep it hidden and silenced. I need for you to be able to contact me if there are any problems. Also, your watch with the GPS locater and Emergency alert stays with you too. It will let you send out an emergency call and help us find you if you get lost out here. The cloth band with the Velcro protection cover will hide how nice it is. Look at how rugged this place is. This is all unfamiliar to you and it would not take much for you to wander a bit too far and get turned around or hurt up on one of these hills where you couldn't get down. After all, the one thing we both know you are going to do is go explore.


"As far as clothing goes, Saul assured me he had it handled. You will have stuff in the other house to wear which will allow you to blend in better. You also have an old bike waiting for you which is not nearly what you are used to riding, but it will still get you around. However, you have a room right here complete with all the stuff you are used to, including your latest fifteen speed. All the comforts of home are only two to three miles away and within riding or even walking distance."


Conversation quickly came to an end as they spotted the school. Even as the elder Garrison turned into the school parking lot he felt his heart sink. The K though eight school was a newer looking building than most of the town, but it was a good fifty steps down from anything he had ever let his son attend. He bet his son would stick out like a sore thumb on academics alone and could easily lead to his boy being bullied. After a few seconds of debate, fighting himself to just call this whole thing off, he glanced over, "Gar, you realize this isn't going to be anything like your private academy classes with computers and super small class sizes, right?"


Garrison looked up at his father with a tight, clearly concerned forced grin, but his voice took on a teasing tone. "I bet I can get straight "A's" here! Do I still get the money if I do?"


Mr. Donavan couldn't help but snicker, "Yes, but you will have to be very, very careful about showing it around, son. The fifty I give you for each "A" is probably more than some of the kids in this school have ever seen at one place and one time, ever."


This was yet another aspect of living here the youngster had never considered, but he seemed to take it in stride, "Yeah... OK, no money... What about lunch?"


"From what Saul found out, most of the kids here are on federal free lunch programs. I will be as discreet as I can on setting up a tab so you can join your new classmates without you having to pay. We will just have to see how they handle such things."


"Gee... this is going to be way more tricky then I thought! How come you didn't warn me about any of this stuff?"


"Be honest with yourself, Gar, and tell me if you think me telling you about any of this would have killed your idea to try this?"


A silly giggle escaped Garrison's lips, "Nope, no chance."


"Which is exactly why I didn't bother," The man grunted as he gave his son a quick, yet firm, hug. He pushed open the door of the truck only to hear a nasty metal on metal screech and winced, "Well, at least Saul was right, this stupid thing should blend in right down to the noisy doors!" He then pointed to the area behind the back seat, "Saul said he had a coat for you put back there. Let's see what he came up with since school is in and I am sure you don't want to be seen wearing a several hundred dollar Tri-climate reversible North Face with Gore-Tex jacket."


Garrison quickly yanked off his coat and pulled a small kid's school backpack out from behind the seat. It was stuffed full of clothing. Inside he found some Levi's jeans with some bleached out areas and a slightly tattered end at the bottom of the left leg, a dark blue Hanes sweatshirt with a hole in the right elbow, a pair of fairly cheap tennis shoes complete with some kind of off white paint splatter on them and a red and grey fleece jacket that actually looked like someone had rubbed in some oil and dirt on it and only kind of washed it. He took a tentative sniff, and found it smelled a little bit like motor oil, but just a little bit. "What'd he do, buy me new stuff and make it dirty or something?"


"As a matter of fact..." Garrison Junior smiled, "yes, and it was all his idea. As I said, the house we will be staying in has several more items of clothing just like this too, from what I understand. I know he took it on himself to give you what he felt would be a good blend in look. Now get dressed and play the part or this will go south before we even get started!"


Garrison eyed his dad even as he stayed low in the truck and totally changed. It didn't make more than a few seconds before he realized he would quickly miss his very warm North Face jacket and there was no way he wanted to wear this when it got real cold. He shivered slightly as he moved out into the wind. He looked over at what his dad was wearing, "What about you, Dad?"


The man pulled off his tie and sport coat and yanked out a slightly scruffy looking heavy coat. The man also changed out of his very expensive shoes and put on some much cheaper but still decent black shoes, but it made him look OK. Still... "Dad, are you going to be warm enough? This can't be good on your lungs!"


"This is a very nice warm coat and the shoes are insulated. Like your stuff, it is all new, just manhandled a bit. Remember, I have to help you make this look good for your plan to work the way you want it to. Besides," he grinned with compete sincerity, "this is actually kind of fun for me. For the first time in a very long time no one is looking at me as "the boss". I can kind of relax and no matter how this goes, you sure found a stunning place for us to spend some time together. These low mountains and heavy forest are totally different than we have back in Washington and being away from a big city is a nice change. Even better, the air is really fresh. I bet it will drive Miss Anderson absolutely nuts, though, cause I have no idea where the nearest real grocery store is and her shopping will have to be done a long way's from here!"


The trip into the school office was a bit disheartening for Garrison's father. After paying many multiple thousands of dollars per year on a top-notch private education for his son in two of the best schools in the nation, he could almost feel the money being burned for nothing. It wasn't like this wasn't an OK building; it was just not up to par with what Garrison was used to. There was no several hundred thousand dollar computer lab. Hell, as he glanced in at a couple of the rooms, he didn't even see a computer in use!


All he could do was remind himself this would fail and there was still a slot open in the school back in Seattle for his son. There would be some make-up work, most certainly, but the one really good thing about his son's choice of who to live with was both the Morgan's were incredibly intelligent and very much hands on in their children's education. They also assured him Garrison would get equal treatment on the learning front and would be part of the family in every other aspect of their lives. All things considered, Garrison had almost certainly picked the best of the people he had been allowed to decide from to raise him.


Entering the office, it was clear Saul had done his usual fanatic job with the set up. The secretary was ready for them and knew both his and Garrison's name. The back-story of Garrison having been on a full scholarship to the ultra prestigious school was also documented. How his Financial Officer had done this... Well, being totally honest with himself, he really preferred not to know. The man's shady past had probably come into play which was something between Saul and whatever afterlife deity the man believed in.


The woman checked shot records, and produced a small folder, "After talking over Garrison's level of education, we really feel it might be better to bump Garrison up a grade. Our sixth grade teachers put together a small packet of tests to see how he does, but would like him to take them here, today, so he goes where is best for him first thing on Monday, unless you want to wait until after the Thanksgiving holiday..."


"No, I want him in school Monday even though it is an early release day. He is new around here and needs a chance to get to know the kids in the area. With you having off almost all of next week for the holiday, he only has one day to really meet some kids in the area."


"Totally understandable," the woman stated as if she actually approved of the decision. "So, you are OK with us seeing if sixth grade would be a better fit for him?"


Mr. Donavan was a bit surprised by all of this, but quickly nodded. "Sure am. If it will challenge him I am all for it."

Again the woman smiled warmly, "We can find ways to push good students."


Garrison Junior couldn't help but smile. He hadn't expected a public school, which had to deal with the problems this one certainly had to contend with, to even consider what would be best for a new student. He took the folder and glanced through it. There were five stapled together packets of tests. After only a couple of minutes he was willing to bet all five consisted of recent quizzes given to current students. There were Math, Reading, Spelling, English, and Social Studies packets. With a smirk, he looked down at his boy and shoved the folder into his wide-eyed son's chest, "Welcome to your new school, Gar. Time for you to make up for a few days of missing classes!"


The woman chuckled at the totally opposite facial expression of the father and son, "They will probably take him a couple of hours at the very least. Would you like to have a cup of coffee and a tour or something?"


"How about I come back and pick him up. I still need to get settled in. Having to come here is a bit of a system shock to both of us, and I need some time to figure some things out. I'll definitely take a rain check on the tour, though."


"Absolutely. If he hasn't eaten, we can get him into lunch between all those tests, too, if you would like."


Mr. Donavan turned and coughed, carefully hiding the fact he had once hacked up some blood. He noticed his boy looking at him and he nodded while pulling a pair of ten dollar bills out of his pocket.


The woman shook her head, "We'll take care of it. If you don't want to put in for the free lunch program, then we will be happy to set up a office tab for Garrison.” She looked down at the boy who was thumbing though the folder, "Or do you prefer Gar?"


This question really took Garrison off guard. In his other schools nick-names just weren't used. Some kids went by middle names and a few with obvious and easy names to shorten like Thomas to Tom was acceptable, but frowned upon. The fact he might be able to be called Gar was really cool! "Gar, please!"


The woman astonished both the father and son as she reached over and ruffled Garrison's hair as if it was something she was supposed to do. "Then Gar it is. I'll make sure all the teachers you end up with know so you get introduced properly right from the start." She then handed the boy a pair of pencils, put a hand on the back of his shoulders and guided him into a small side room while looking back at Mr. Donavan, "You can come grab him in two to three hours. I'll make sure he gets fed and if you are a little late, we'll show him around some."


Mr. Donavan nodded, thanked the woman and almost eagerly went back out to the pick-up. A long stint with a non-portable air machine would do him a world of good and with this being the weekend, they had time to settle in before Garrison started school the following Monday.




Mr. Donavan fell asleep while hooked up to the air machine and ended up picking up his son just as school let out. Once again, what he saw as the students came left him cringing. Many of the kids were badly overweight, most wearing way too little for the cold temperatures, and with very few exceptions they had a rough demeanor to them. Many came out pushing one another. A few even went to the ground wrestling while the three teachers he could see stood back and did nothing to break it up, although they did keep an "eye" on things to make sure nothing developed into an outright fight. The other thing he couldn't help but notice was the language coming out of the kids as he made his way past several of them getting into a bus to take them home. There were curse words galore, sexual overtones from kids way too young to be understanding them let alone be making them, and two boys about his son's age asking each other if they had been able to snag any cigarettes. Maybe it was his own health situation, but the conversation almost made him speak up. At the last second, however, he managed to hold his tongue thanks to one of the teachers coming up to see who he was and what they could do for him.


He quickly extended his hand, "Oh, Hello, I am Mr. Donavan. Garrison was taking some tests to see if he could be moved into sixth grade and time kind of got away from me..."


One of the other teachers, a man in his mid to late twenties, moved up and accepted the hand, "Ah, yes. Gar will be in my English class." The man gave a nod to the woman next to him to let her know there was no issues, then turned his attention back to Mr. Donavan. "I'm Mitch Johnson."


"Good to meet you Mitch. So how'd he do on the tests?"


"Well," the young man snickered, "He'll be in my sixth grade English class as long as you approve."


Garrison's father managed a grin, "So he will be in sixth grade everything?"


"Oh, yeah." Mitch nodded, "He did extremely well on everything except the Social Studies packet, but even he admitted he didn't have a clue what some of the questions were talking about. After letting him redo them with the book the questions were out of, open and in front of him, he passed every one of them with no problem, so he is a quick study and will be fine in sixth grade. From what I hear, he really smoked the Math tests, so we may try to slide him some harder stuff and see how he does."


"Fine with me. Push him to your heart's content."


Mitch grinned at this then turned and let out a loud whistle, causing Garrison Junior to wince and turn to see what the man had spotted. Before he realized what was going on, Mitch shouted, "Ross, knock it off or get back over here and go to the office so your dad can come pick you up!"


A very heavy boy with greasy looking, wavy, sandy colored hair and mean looking brown eyes turned with a look of a deer caught in headlights as he let go of the back of a smaller boy's collar. He started to say something only to get cut off as the teacher shouted with a stern edge to his voice.


"Ross, strike two, next time office all day with Dad picking you up, you get me?"


The hefty boy gulped, "Yes, Mr. Johnson!"


"You best, now keep your hands off others and get your butt on the bus!"


Mitch kept his eyes focused on the boy until he disappeared from view in one of the busses lined up to take kids to some of the areas the rural school served. Mitch paused and shot Garrison's father a smirk, "Sorry, but..."


"No need to apologize to me. Good eyes."


"Not really, I just know I have to keep an eye on a few from the moment they leave the building until I can't see 'em no more." He then grinned, "So, let's go grab your boy and give you a quick walkthrough. I bet we can get you and Gar to meet all of his teachers."




The small town of War was just getting dark as father and son pulled off the side road and onto a dirt road marked with a sign with a pair of bullet holes in it: River Road, the sign for the road they were on was missing, but according to Garrison's phone it was River Road. Garrison frowned at his phone then glanced at the remnants of a house on the northwest corner and looked over at a few trailers which should have been condemned and towed away years prior. Lights coming out of the filthy windows of both, however, gave proof of both still being inhabited. Garrison gulped, if anything this was even worse than what he had seen up till now. He looked at his dad, "I think my phone is messed up. It says we are turning off River Road and onto River Road!"


Garrison Junior shrugged, "This is all River Road according to Google. Bing lists the road we just turned off on as either Hale or Dry Fork and Map Quest says we just turned off of Dry Fork with Hale starting just a little further down to the south. One way or the other, our house is at the end of this dead-end road and our official address says we live on River Road. River Road also continues as another offshoot of the road we just turned off of, so it is really messed up. Because of this, Saul put the longitude and latitude of our official house and my office house into your phone's map so you can quickly find them."


Before more could be said, the truck pulled into a dirt driveway and came to a gentle stop. The building the front headlights lit up was tucked into some trees and looked in almost as bad of condition as some of the trailers and houses they had just driven by, but there were a few signs of new construction, including a decent roof with all the singles intact, most even looked new.


Garrison glanced over at his dad as the man handed him a key ring with three keys on it. Each one had a different colored plastic end and had writing on them in permanent marker. Garrison flipped on the dome light and read them aloud, "Front door, dead bolt, and garage..." He looked at the house, "What garage? For that matter, what house?"


Mr. Donavan chuckled, "You are looking at the house, son. The garage is around back and has your bike, a big cord brush cutter, and a few other things including some tools and an emergency generator so I can keep my medical stuff going no matter what happens. Ready to take a look at where you will be living while here?"


"Oh, boy." Garrison muttered as he nodded and pushed open the door to the truck. Even though he knew there were houses close by, the heavy woods blocked out any signs of them. As a matter of fact, from where he stood, he couldn't make out any buildings other than his "house". He could, however, make out a dim glow coming from some nearby structure. "Wow, it is dark out here!"


“No street lights and we are tucked right into the wood line. The star viewing with be astonishing. Now let's get inside. I could really use a bite to eat and a good night's sleep.”


Garrison looked at his watch and realized it wasn't even 6 PM, he also knew the trip had really wiped his dad out, so he said nothing. Instead he grabbed the books the teachers had given him, the small backpack currently filled with his good "normal" clothing, and grabbed his dad's things too. "Did Mr. Venaford get food for us too?"


"No, Miss Anderson did. I was told it was ready for us, and even has a few of those disgusting slabs of flavored cardboard you call frozen pizzas!"


This got a grin out of Garrison as he made his way to the front door, which was clearly new as was the frame around it. In fact the windows were also new. He bet the rundown looking exterior was just like the truck, a shell hiding much nicer things inside. Since his dad was using his phone as a flashlight, he could even make out a massive stack of firewood lined up between four metal posts driven into the ground so the piles didn't fall over. "We have a fireplace, a real one?"


"Yeah, we sure do, and a wood burning stove. The chimneys were checked out and cleaned, so they're good to use. Actually, from what I was told, the only other heat we have is electric heaters in our rooms, so the main heating is done by the fireplace and stove. One of the things I am really nervous about is knowing we will have to do some log splitting and I am in no way well enough to do so in cold weather, so it may fall on you. There are axes in the garage, but we will have to find someone to teach you how to use them.


"Oh, this is going to be so cool!" Garrison jumped up and down with eagerness. This all ended as the door swung open. The inside was pretty much bare! Garrison's hand ran down the wall looking for a light switch, but couldn't find one. He quickly dropped the stuff he was carrying and pulled out his own phone so he could light things up better. From the front door, he could see the main room had an old, scruffy looking, heavy wooden table with four wooden chairs, a built in empty bookshelf on one wall, and a TV stand with a TV that wasn't even flat screen!


It was his dad who finally found the light, a single bulb with a cracked glass light fixture, hooked up to a string pull-down switch. When the light came on, the youngster just stood there not believing his eyes.


There was a game station hooked up to the TV, but it was a... he moved over and looked down in near horror at seeing a Play Station II! There were eleven games for it, but nothing he knew. The next thing he realized was the floor had been redone, but there was no carpet. It was all wood. The same thing held for the walls, they had been redone very recently, but it was all in wood paneling. The only thing not wood, was the floor and wall around the fireplace on the back wall. It was all stone and brick. It looked super old and the brickwork was dark red to black. This made the room pretty dark, since the only light was in the center of the room and the floors and walls were all dark wood. The ceiling was also wood and had four large beams below the heavy looking wooden boards making up the ceiling. There was plenty of room for other things, but it was basically a dining room with nothing else in it.


The fact the front door opened directly into the dining room also surprised him. There was no entryway, no nook for coats, just a fairly big main room. From the main room he could make out a hall and three doors. He moved over to the nearest door and found the kitchen. It had a pair of sinks, side-by-side, with a single faucet, a long counter with a cheap microwave and cutting board on it, a very old looking refrigerator-freezer, a gas oven, and a wall of empty shelves plus two more doors.


The last thing in the room was a wood burning stove with a small pile of wood on one side and a set of fireplace tools on the other including a small billow hanging off the wall above the poker, small shovel, cleaning broom, and log turner.


The boy's exploratory nature took over. He moved to the first door and found a pantry. It was well stocked with food. This, at least, brought a sigh of relief. The final door led right out to the back where he could just barely make out a large shed, which took him almost a full minute to realize was actually the garage. He had never seen one with two doors which had to be pulled open before. He stepped back inside and closed the heavy, newly installed, door even as he found the pull down cord for the kitchen light. He started to move back into the main room when he stopped and stared with a sinking feeling in his gut. There wasn't even a dishwasher!


With a worried look on his face he moved to the next door in the main room. It was right next to the hall and turned out to be a bathroom. It was small, with a sink with a lime green colored counter, a mirror-medicine chest combo, a toilet and a bathtub shower. The floor was old puke green tile and very ugly, so was the wall around the tub and shower. The room itself was painted in a burnt orange and was pealing in a few spots.  Everything else looked new, but was all in an off-white. This was quite possibly the ugliest room on the planet! A pair of toothbrushes were in a holder on the sink. One electric, the other battery operated. They were the same kind he and his dad used. He started to exit the room when it hit him, if it had both his and his dad's toothbrushes in it, this had to mean it was the only bathroom. He shook his head in disbelief, firmly expecting this to be some kind of a joke.


The final door was a closet with a small washer and dryer stuck in one side, a very new and nice water heater in the middle. The construction around the washer and dryer and water heater told him this had been a very recent addition to the house. He bet the appliances had been put in here to hide them since he had seen lots and lots of clotheslines while riding though the area with his dad. The closet also held a couple of shabby coats in his size, a trio in his dad's size, which hung in front of a very old looking large built in safe. "Dad, what's this for?"


The man moved over and put his hand on his son's shoulders, "It’s a gun safe. It was actually part of the house. Saul had it refurbished, and the combination changed, but he flat out said it was in really good condition and dates way back to the late 1800's. He said the construction guys think the whole house may have been built around it, since there are no doors big enough to get it out. There is some emergency cash, a couple of rifles, and a handgun in it. I will give you the combination just in case something goes really wrong and you need the money, but so help me if you ever get in there without good reason, or so much as touch one of the guns..."


Garrison moved away from his dad holding up both hands. He had never been allowed to touch a gun and knew his mom had been one of the biggest anti-gun people ever. He had not even been allowed to have toy guns. "I know, I know, butt whipping, bad, bad butt whipping and super-bad grounding!"


"Exactly," his father nodded in satisfaction, "however, Saul said everyone out here owns guns and there are some dangerous animals out here so he wanted me to have a couple. He even made me get some shooting lessons so I knew how to use them all. He wanted to do the same for you, but I vetoed it. Looking around, I may have to reconsider, but..." He sighed, "Even if I decide to let you learn..." His voice hardened, "If you touch one without permission, sitting will not be an option for a very long time."


There were very few hard and fast rules in the Donavan household. There were the normal rules: Homework had to be done, bed made, teeth brushed, be polite to adults, no lying... all the usual stuff... Then there were two iron-clad rules: First and foremost, touching a gun, toy or real, was akin to a death sentence. He had done it once at a friend's house and his mom and dad had both beat his butt, then they was grounded him for a full month with no electronics other than what he needed for school. They took away his bike and all outdoor activities not related to school, and the only thing he could drink was water except for a glass of OJ at breakfast and one of milk at dinner plus what he could snag at school. It had been the worst month of his young life and he had no desire to repeat it.


The second set in stone rule was no stealing. This was not something he had done, but his mom had warned him over and over from a very young age, theft was the only thing she could not forgive him for. While never said, he got the impression she might even give him away, so it simply was not an option and the thought to do so never entered his brain.


Deciding it was a good idea to forget about the safe, he moved down the hall and found three doors. One opened up into a master bedroom, which had a new wall built making it into two room. The far back was outfitted pretty nicely and had all the stuff his father needed to breath better and do what he could to fight the cancer. The back area also had a decent TV with a Blu-ray/DVD player and stereo. Under the TV was a rack with quite a few DVDs and Blu-ray disks. Finally, there was a good computer at a desk. It didn't take much to figure out the back room is where his dad would spend a great deal of his time when not at the office house. The back area didn't even have windows so no one could see in. Even more telling, the windows in the closer part faced the back of the house and had heavy curtains on them to prevent anyone from looking in. The nearer part also had a bed, nightstand, lamp, a small CD player.


The two doors across the hall from the master bedroom were two small bedrooms. One was totally empty save for some moving boxes that had not been unpacked and the other, his room, had a set of bunk beds, a CD player with fifteen of his favorite music CDs, a desk with a chair and lamp with an old looking computer and monitor, and a closet and a small dresser with a electric floorboard heater next to it. A quick look into the dresser and closet let him know his normal wardrobe had been totally replaced with not so nice looking clothing. Everything he had to wear was hung up in the closet and folded in the dresser and it wasn't very much. He counted eight shirts, six pairs of pants, and a pair of hoodies. What really annoyed him was the fact his boxers had all been replaced by colored briefs. This was not something he liked even a little and knew he would have to talk to his dad about. He didn't want to have to wear briefs, especially not colored ones, to school!


A toy box on the floor of the closet was explored next. It held things he had never owned before, including a baseball bat, ball, and glove. It did have a soccer ball, but no lacrosse stuff, which was his favorite sport. It also had, interestingly enough to Garrison, a slingshot and a BB gun and a huge bottle of BB's and a massive bag of marbles, which he guessed was for the slingshot. He wondered if his father knew about the gun, and backed off without even touching it. Closing the lid, he noted a couple extra pairs of shoes and a decent set of warm boots, which looked like some dirt and oil had been spilled on them. Garrison quickly decided he would need to wear some of the stuff and wash them a few times so they didn't all look and smell like he was some super-young car mechanic or something.


The other thing he noticed was there were only two sets of plugs in his room. There was not enough to plug in the computer, the heater, the CD player, his phone charger, his notebook charger, the small lamp, and monitor. He was more than a plug short! Looking down under the desk trying to find a new plug, he realized the covering on the one the computer was plugged into was brand new and there was some sawdust on the floor. He muttered to himself, "What room only had one plug?"


Exiting the room with some skepticism growing, he started to turn back toward the kitchen to toss in a frozen pizza when his eyes spotted a pull rope dangling just out of his reach when he did a running jump. After five failures he stared up, noticing the outline of a door in the ceiling. "Hey, Dad, what is this?"


The man came out of his room and looked up, "It's a pull down staircase to get into the attic. The exterminators had to get rid of some raccoons and squirrels out of there and the contractors fixed all the holes, but according to Saul, there is some old junk up there you may want to explore. I had him cut the rope so you couldn't reach it. I will let you check it out once you have your first friend over to spend the night, and not until then."


Garrison's eyes went into their 'ultimate pleading mode' as they went wide, "But..."


His dad snickered, "Not going to work this time, Gar. That tiny piece of rope is your incentive to make some friends because, like it or not, I really don't think you will be able to fit in here, no matter how badly you want this to work. Now, you need to fend for yourself tonight. I need to check in with the office, get my e-mails, and get some real rest. These last three days of travel have wiped me out."


Garrison gave the trap door in the ceiling one last look and sighed, "OK, pizza time then. You want anything?"


"Miss Anderson had a great fruit salad waiting for me, so I am going to scarf it down while I make sure everything at work is going smoothly heading into the weekend, then I am going to bed with an oxygen mask on."


"OK, night, Dad."


"You too, and welcome to War, son."


(End part one)

Part Two

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