The Holders - By Julianna Scott


The moment I saw Ryland’s silhouette in the window of our old tree house, I knew something was wrong.

Ry was – as he liked to put it – the world’s best hider. This was due mostly to the fact that he was a skinny kid and could fold himself down to practically nothing. A talent he exploited when it came time to do chores, or when anything green appeared on Mom’s dinner menu. The tree house had at one time been his favorite place to hide, but he never went up there anymore, or at least not since a family of raccoons had gotten in two summers ago. Mom had chased them out, but he still refused to go in, citing the possibility that they might come back and could jump out and get him at any moment. He had a dozen or so hiding places that were safely located inside the house, so I knew that whatever it was that had chased him up into the tree, it had to be bad. Bad enough – in the mind of a ten year-old anyway – to risk a possible raccoon attack.

I made my way across the yard, glad that I’d decided to cut through the cemetery on my walk home that day. If I had stuck to the sidewalk, I would have ended up at the front of the house, and never would have seen him. “Ry?”

I heard shuffling on the wood floor of the tree house followed by a sniffle and a squeaky, “Becca?”

“What’s wrong, Ry?” I asked, starting the precarious climb up the thin wooden planks. Reaching the top, I poked my head through the square opening in the floor and found Ry sitting in the corner hugging his knees to his chest, his eyes as red as his hair.

“Where is your coat? It’s cold out here,” I said, as I hoisted myself up into the cramped space. The long Pittsburgh winters hadn’t exactly been kind to the little shack, and I found myself hoping for both our sakes that the rotted structure and rusty nails could support my extra one hundred and twenty pounds.

“I’m not cold,” he said, sniffling. “I thought you were at work.”

“Just got home. I saw you hiding up here when I walked by.” I slid my jacket off and wrapped it around his shoulders, ignoring the nip of the early October air. “What’s the matter, buddy?” I asked, as I reached over to rub his back and he shrank into my side, hiding his face.

“They’re going to take me away,” he mumbled into my shirt.

I grabbed his shoulders, holding him away from me so I could see his face. “Who is?”

“The men in the house. They’re talking to Mom. They’re going to take me away.”

“We’re not going to let that happen, you know that,” I assured him, though I could already feel my neck getting hot as I prepared for battle.

Who was it this time? Representatives from another institution? Another doctor with his magical prescription pad? Or was it that nosey bitch Ms Paust, the elementary school’s guidance counselor, back for another round of “In my professional opinion…”

“Mom says I’m gonna go this time,” he choked. “She says it’s OK.”

His bottom lip shook as a new batch of tears spilled over onto his already shiny cheeks.

“OK, listen to me.” I held his chin, forcing him to look me in the eye. “You stay in here until I get back, do you hear me? You don’t come out for anyone but me, understand?” He nodded. “I’m not going to let anyone take you, OK? Just stay up here and try not to worry.”

I climbed down the tree as quickly as I could without breaking my neck and ran toward the house. Who could it possibly be? Ever since I’d convinced Ryland to stop telling people about the voices things had been OK. No trips to the counselor, no calls from teachers or concerned parents. Sure, they all still watched him out of the corner of their eyes like he might spontaneously burst into flame, and his classmates still avoided him, but no one had actually approached Mom or come to the house in weeks. I thought we had finally gotten past all this.

“Mom!” I was yelling before I had made it all the way inside the door, “Mom, where are you?”

I found her in the kitchen taking a full pot of coffee out of the machine. As soon as she turned toward me and I