Beneath Winter Sand(3)

By: Vickie McKeehan

Hannah stopped walking. “Where are you taking me? I’m not leaving here until I see my mom and dad. I bet they’re just sleeping. I want to stay here.”

Alice whirled on the child. “Now you listen to me. They aren’t asleep, they’re dead. Stop whining and move those little feet.”

But Hannah didn’t hear the rest. Even though words came out of the woman’s mouth they made no sense to Hannah.

“This old suitcase is the only thing I could find to hold what few clothes you had, other than a paper grocery sack. I packed a few changes of clothes for school and your pajamas and whatever I found on your bed. You can take everything here with you to the temporary shelter. It should last you for a couple of days at least.” Alice glanced at her watch. “If I hurry though I should be able to track down a foster family that will take you in for the night. That’ll have to do for now. It won’t be permanent but at least you’ll have a roof over your head for the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours.”

“Where’s Micah?” Hannah stubbornly wanted to know. “Where’s my baby brother? Before I go anywhere I want to see Micah.”

But Alice seemed not to hear her. The woman dragged her every step of the way to that crappy brown hatchback and stuffed her in the cramped backseat.

It seemed like hours later before the social worker would even speak to her again. By then, Alice seemed almost reluctant to answer a single question whenever Hannah brought up Micah.

Being ignored unsettled the little girl. It caused a fear to creep up her back, an uneasy feeling that something sinister had taken place. The panic gripped her harder, and grew stronger, the further the woman drove away from El Capitan Drive.

Alice took her to an office where Hannah sat in a hallway and was told not to run around. An hour went by, then two. All that time Hannah sat there clutching Mr. Peng next to her chest in a death grip, afraid to move.

It wasn’t until her stomach started to rumble—she’d missed her afterschool snack of peanut butter, crackers, and milk—that Hannah got truly scared.

But eventually, Alice reappeared from behind closed doors. “You’re a lucky girl. You won’t have to spend the night in the temporary shelter. It’s really a state subsidized home for children like you. I’m driving you myself up to Modesto to drop you off at the Tollersons. They’ve agreed to take you for in at least a week.”

“Will Micah be there? I want to see Micah!” Hannah pleaded.

“Micah is a baby, Hannah. He requires another kind of care other than the kind you require. You’re six-years-old, a big girl. I’m sure Micah will end up with another family just as good as the Tollersons until we can get this all worked out.”

But soon after arriving at the Tollerson house, Hannah’s fear turned to something else. Quiet determination took over.

It happened after supper when Hannah realized Alice had come back. And she wasn’t alone. The social worker had brought a supervisor. There were rumblings from the adults. These people who’d taken her away from her home, didn’t seem to have any idea which hospital had checked out six-month-old Micah.

Even after Alice’s supervisor barked into the phone a couple of times, the adults seemed even more confused and agitated. They were all wringing their hands and muttering something about baby Micah that Hannah didn’t understand.

Since no one would tell her anything about her brother, she assumed he’d died right along with her mom and dad. But an older girl staying with the Tollersons that shared a room with her, named Tina Montgomery, set her straight. Tina told her that wasn’t the case at all. The information gave Hannah hope and a reason to try harder to eavesdrop on the adults. So, whenever she could she tried to overhear their conversations. That grew tiresome after a while, especially when everyone—including Alice and Mrs. Tollerson—talked in a low voice, keeping their discussions muffled and hard to hear. It was impossible for Hannah to make out what the adults were saying.

Over the next few days, Hannah did poorly at her new school. Each time she brought up Micah, she was ignored. No one wanted to talk about her little brother. All her questions went unanswered. Every time she cried she was told to stop. She began to suspect these adults were in trouble for some reason, she just didn’t know what it was.