Jared sat in the holding cell with his head in his hands. He’d really screwed it up this time. What would people say now?
“Mr. Anderson, your parents are here.” The sheriff opened the cell door.
“I’m really sorry, sir,” Jared said as he walked past him.
“A little late for apologies, son. You’re lucky your father is an old friend of mine.”
Jared dropped his chin and walked to the front of the station. His mom and dad were in the lobby. His mom was crying. His dad had his arms folded and a scowl on his face. This wouldn’t go well.
“No. Go get in the car.”
They walked out of the station, and Jared kept his head down. A few townspeoples were in the parking lot and stared at him. A few muttered angrily, but they kept their distance. His dad still demanded that much respect around here.
Once the doors were closed, his mom let out a wail and buried her face in a tissue. His dad started the car and put it in drive. His silence was unnerving. Every other time Jared had ended up in the cell, a roaring lecture had begun the moment they were through the station doors and lasted well into the evening. This stony silence was worse.
His dad parked in their driveway and turned the car off. No one moved. Jared held his breath, ready for the drop.
“You will pack your things. And then you will leave our house.” Dad’s tone was cold and froze Jared to his seat.
“Leave? Where am I supposed to go?”
“That’s up to you. But you will not remain in our house, in this town, any longer. I won’t stick up for you again. If you get in trouble again, you will serve your time. But you won’t bring any more shame onto this family. Now go.”
Jared slid out of the car and went into the house. He was stunned. He had no car and knew no one outside of the town. He didn’t have any money either. He’d lost every job he’d ever had. The only thing he was ever good at was messing up and causing trouble.
In his room, he shoved clothes into a backpack and looked around for anything else he might need. There wasn’t much in the room to begin with. They had stripped him of anything extra or fun over the years with his never-ending punishments. He returned to the kitchen and his mom pushed a bag of food into his hands.
“Be careful out there,” she whispered and turned away.
His dad waited on the front porch. He handed Jared a folded twenty-dollar-bill. “Go to the mountains. Catch a bus. Find a job in another town. Don’t come back unless you’ve stopped being so much trouble.”
“Yes, sir.” Jared fought down a lump in his throat and walked.
At the edge of town there was a bus stop. But none were scheduled to stop at the town until the next day. They were too far out of the way to be on any regular bus run. Jared sat on the bench and stared at the road.
“You can’t stay here,” the woman behind the counter said.
“You can’t stay here. The cops run everyone out when the sun goes down, and I know they won’t take too kindly to see you again so soon.”
“But… but I can’t go home. They told me to leave.”
The woman shrugged. “Go camp in the mountains. That’s what others do while they wait for the bus.”
Jared sighed and went out of the bus station. There were hiking trails right behind the building that lead up into the mountains. He picked one and followed it up into the trees. He had nothing to camp with, but the sky was clear. He’d just have to sleep under a tree and hope the bugs didn’t eat him alive.
He stopped once the trail thinned and sat on a rock. He pulled a can of baked beans from the bag his mother had packed him and ate them cold. He didn’t even know how to start a fire. Even if he did, it would burn the forest down and he’d be in even more trouble.
The sun went down and Jared shivered. He layered on a few sweaters and curled up into a ball at the base of a tree. He’d have to try to sleep. In the morning he’d go back to the bus station and then get out of this town.
But he wasn’t asleep long before he felt something slide along his arm. He opened his eyes, and a scream rose in his chest.
The biggest snake he’d ever seen was staring into his face.
But before he could scream, something swished through the air and the snake was cut in two pieces.
It took a moment for Jared to process what he’d seen and looked up to thank his rescuer but was only more confused. The man standing over him had an old metal helmet covering his face, and he was brandishing a sword, the one he’d just used to cut the snake in half.
“Um…” Jared couldn’t think of what to say.
“Young man,” the man said in a booming voice. “What are you doing with no protection? Were you stranded? Did your caravan leave you behind?”
“Um, no. I’m just waiting for the bus…”
“Bus?” The man rubbed the side of his helmet in confusion.
“Um… my caravan…”
“Oh, yes. Of course. Well, follow me, young master. I will keep you safe until morning.”
The man turned and walked into the trees. After a moment’s hesitation, Jared jumped up and followed him. They emerged into another clearing and Jared saw a small cabin.
“Do you live here?” Jared asked.
“This is my current dwelling. But I’m on a quest!”
“A mission. A journey. An adventure! Sure to bring me much acclaim and riches.”
“Oh.” Jared wondered how long this man had lived in the mountains. Maybe he’d hit his head and gotten confused.
“Come see.” The man gestured for him to follow and they went further up the mountain. He held out a small telescope and Jared peered through it in the direction the man pointed.
There wasn’t much to see besides more mountains and trees. Then he saw a curl of smoke and followed it down to another house high on the side of a cliff.
“The castle! My fair princess is imprisoned there, and I must rescue her!”
“Would you assist me in my travels?”
Jared cast around for a reason to say no. There was no castle, just someone’s house up in the mountains. That meant there probably wasn’t a princess either. But then again, what did he have to lose? As far as everyone in town was concerned, he was a screwup and was leaving town. So, what if he lived in the mountains with a crazy man? It was better than being alone.
“Okay, sure, I’ll help you.”