VICTORY RUN by Jad Kaado

Twelve-year-old Vincent Victory packed up his comic books and blanket in his school bag, glancing around his room for the final time.  He dredged up enough courage to leave and cracked open his noisy window to the muffled screams of his parents.  They didn’t notice, of course, as the trend of the past year was a focus on his father’s new political career, the “Victory Campaign.” And ever since he won, things were never the same for the family.

It was the fourth time this week that Vincent’s parents were arguing, except this time it was much louder than usual. His dad, the mayor of Rockview, and his mother, a middle school history teacher, always found themselves at odds with each other.  Most recently, it was about Vincent’s classmate, Mikey Jones, who went missing, and the homeless camp located just north of the park. However, it was not the first time a child disappeared from Rockview.  Last year, when the encampment was set up, another child, the same age as Vincent and Mikey, disappeared and has not been found.  

The townsfolk have accused the homeless community of taking the children, although there was no evidence of the homeless population being involved. The camp was raided by the police, who found nothing and personally accounted for every individual staying there.  Yet the rumors of children being snatched up by an evil homeless man persisted.  Parents forbade their children from going to the park, which was once lively and filled with activities, and most aide from the local government and organizations ceased. 

With the disappearance of the first child, a curfew was employed for the townsfolk, and all after school activities were cut for the students. 

Not even a month after Mikey’s disappearance, Vincent’s father swept in the local elections on the platform of ridding the town of the homeless camp.  Almost everyone agreed except, his wife, who argued with him every step of the way.   And Vincent could not take it anymore. 

Vincent slowly climbed down the wooden panels of his house, with the makeshift rope he made from old t-shirts and sheets, and hopped on his front lawn.  He glanced back once more at his house, hoping his parents would burst through the front door and hug him.  Instead, the house remained still.

He grasped his backpack tightly and walked down Valley Forge Court, guided by the faint street lights.  It was late at night, well past the curfew, and Vincent mostly stayed on the side walk as he passed through the various streets. What was nice about the suburbs, Vincent thought to himself, was how quiet everything was in his neighborhood.

It was the dead of night and Vincent found himself miles away from his home.  There weren’t any cars on the road, and the weather was nice enough for him to have forgotten his coat.   After he traversed around a bend on one of the main roads, Vincent looked up to find the forbidden park in the distance.  It looked different to him since he last saw it.  The swings hung lifeless and rusted on the rail, while the uncut grass covered up most of the see-saws and spinners that once stood as pillars of his early childhood.  The baseball park and soccer fields were slowly being engulfed by the forest creeping in around it. 

It was strange for Vincent since he had not been in there in little over of a year.  The sound of a car rumbling in the distance broke him out of his nostalgic trance.  He looked over to see a police car driving towards the park.  Vincent’s eyes widened and he bolted deeper into the park, leaving his backpack on the road.

He kept running and running with his eyes closed, until he tripped over a protruding root, and fell face first into the ground.

A frigid wind blew through the trees, bringing Vincent back to consciousness. He wiped off the dirt from his face and clothes, as he felt the bruises starting to form around his cheeks and right ankle. He looked around to find himself in the forest behind the park, barely noticing the outline of the trees that were standing in front of him. 

Vincent Victory limped around the pitch-black forest desperately trying to find his way back to the park.  He regretted running away from the police car, just as he regretted leaving home.  He stood there trying to reorient himself.  However, with every step that he took, he realized that he was sinking deeper into the heart of the woods.

Howls, screeches, and shrills filled the night, surrounding Vincent until he was overcome with fear. His pace quickened, until he found a slight recluse in the distance. He nestled himself at the base of a large tree, among the gnarled roots, like a newborn discovering his mother. Huddling close to his knees, Vincent began to cry, and tightly gripped his legs with every tear drop that ran down his cheeks. 

I shouldn't have left home, he thought to himself, while remembering the shouts of his parents echoing throughout the hallway.  Vincent continued to cry, feeling that there was no escape from trouble wherever he went.

It was then he felt something cold grasp his shoulder tightly. Vincent screamed and jumped, as he turned around to find a young girl, about the same age of him, staring directly into his eyes. "Sorry to scare you," she said. "I heard you crying and wanted to help. Are you ok?" 

Realizing he wasn’t bitten by a snake, bear, or some scary monster he saw on a midday movie, Vincent caught his breath and responded, “I'm lost. I don’t know how to get back to my house.” Vincent paused and began crying again. "All I want to do is go back home."

The young girl walked up closer and hugged Vincent. "It's ok," she replied reassuringly, "You're not alone. I want to go home too." 

Vincent felt strangely calm as she grabbed his hand, and lead him away from the tree he was resting on.  “We are going to find help,” she mentioned, “but first we have to stop by the house.”   He was confused by what his new guide was saying.  “Can’t we find help at the house?” asked Vincent.  The girl ignored his question and kept leading him through the woods.  

Vincent kept quiet as they wandered through the forest quickly. He felt within himself a renewed sense of energy, like he had never before, and realized that he let go of the young girl’s hand as he chased after her throughout the woods.

Vincent had many questions about what was going on, but decided to keep quiet. He continued running, hoping to get to the house so that he could contact his parents, or the police, or anyone who would listen.  After going on for what seemed like miles, the young girl and Vincent came upon a small worn down cabin, standing alone in a clearing in the woods. 

A sense of eeriness took over Vincent’s body, forcing him to a complete halt. The wooden shingles of the house were falling apart and the land around it was more unkempt than the park he saw earlier.  The windows were shattered, and the door seemed unhinged.

The young girl turned to Vincent and motioned for him to crouch down alongside her.  “You have to go around to the side and go down the basement window,” she demanded.  Vincent had a confused look on his face.  “Why would I do that?” he responded, almost angrily.  This was his chance to finally get back home. “I’m going to knock on the door,” he said confidently. 

“No!” yelled the young girl as the power of her voice knocked him off his feet.  “You have to go around back into the basement. That’s where he needs help.” Vincent got back on his feet, confused by her directions only to find that the young girl had completely disappeared.  He looked around to see if he could find her in the darkness. It was futile.  He was now face to face with the evil looking cabin, and was still not certain if he should listen to her instructions.  He didn’t know who needed help.  If anything, it was Vincent himself who needed help getting back home.

Vincent approached the front door of the cabin reluctantly.  Fear overcame him as he tried to knock on the door.  Before he could, Vincent felt another cold gust of wind as he did earlier.  He paused and ran around to the back to the cabin.  He looked among the long reeds that were once grass, only to find a broken window basement. Vincent slipped through the window as carefully as he could but felt the broken glass scratching his knees and piercing his shoulder.  He let out a loud scream as the glass broke through his skin and fell into the dark and dusty basement. 

“Who’s there?” replied a scared, yet familiar voice.  Vincent grimaced in pain and grabbed his arm, noticing the stream of blood gently dripping down his shirt.  He heard the same question again, a little louder, and stood up to see who was talking to him.  Right against the wall was a cage that contained what appeared to be a child, around the same height as Vincent.  He approached the cage and noticed his classmate, Mikey Jones, huddled inside, with barely any space to move. 

“Mikey! Is that you?” shouted Vincent upon the discovery of his friend.  “Who’s there?” Mikey asked again.  “It’s me, Vincent Victory, from Mrs. Dunham’s class”.  Mikey shuffled around in the cage, screaming, “Vincent! Get me out of here! I can’t see.”  

“I know”, Vincent said as he grasped the door of the cage, desperately trying to open it. “It’s dark out.”  Just as he responded to Mikey’s plea for help, the entire basement lit up and the darkness, for a moment, was gone. 

“Not anymore,” bellowed a hoarse voice from behind the kids.  Vincent noticed that Mikey was blindfolded with an old rag and had dried blood just under it upon his cheeks.  Horrified, Vincent turned around to find an enormous man wearing a goat mask towering over them.  He was holding a large pair of pliers in one hand and the keys to the cage in the other. 

Vincent backed up quickly onto the cage, as the man laughed at the cowering children under him.  “Now I have another I can add to my collection.” Vincent latched on to the cage, standing as a shield in between Mikey and their attacker.  As his body started going into shock, he felt that he was about to faint, until he noticed something peculiar behind the large man.  The young girl, who had led him to the cabin and Mikey, appeared in bright white light and let out a thunderous screech that rocked the entire cabin.  The walls and the roof shook so much that a piece of the ceiling collapsed right on top of the man’s head, knocking him out cold.

Snapping out of his trance, Vincent felt the same sense of calm and focus as he did earlier when running.  He noticed the key to the cage lying on the floor in front of the man, quickly grabbed it, and unlocked the cage door.  Vincent used his remaining strength to carry Mikey out of the cabin. 

Once they were outside, Vincent saw the young girl out in the distance waving them on to follow along.  He had Mikey hold on to him tightly as they made their way through the forest with haste, with their young guide brightening up their path along the way.

It was near morning, and the campfires were beginning to dwindle in the homeless camp.  Jay and Bob were having their final cigarette before returning to their tents.  As Jay took a puff, he felt Bob’s hand smack his chest and heard, “Hey dude! Do you hear that shuffling?” Jay looked at the direction that Bob pointed at, and noticed two small children run up right to them.  “Bob”, said Jay as the cigarette dropped from his mouth, “go get Joanne’s phone and call the cops.” 

Not long after the emergency phone call was made, police cars and ambulances filled up the homeless encampment.  Vincent was finally reunited with his parents and was being attended to by his mom and the medics in the ambulance, just like Mikey was in the other one nearby.  The adventure came to end, Vincent thought, as he cuddled next to his mother.  He watched as his father, Mayor Victory, thanked both Jay and Bob for contacting the authorities and watching over the kids until they arrived to pick them up.   Police officers came up to Vincent and his parents, and notified them that they found and arrested the large man in the cabin, but that there was no sign of the young girl that helped Vincent. 

Just as they were going to closing the back door of the ambulance, Vincent Victory looked out to the edge of the camp towards the forest that surrounded it.  The young girl appeared in the distance, waving to him.  A large smile appeared on Vincent’s face.  Before he could raise his hand and wave back, the young girl disappeared in a flash of light, never to be see again.