Elizabeth Harons shouldered her backpack and shuffled behind her parents down the road to yet another rehearsal, muttering under her breath. Both of her parents played in the Michigan Strauss Orchestra, as well as many others, and Lizzie had spent over half of her childhood years sitting in the back of rehearsal rooms. Her mother played viola, and her father played the cello (she did too, but not nearly as well). They always took the same jobs, so Lizzie was in the back, without fail, reading or playing her gameboy. As the principal bassist would say through his gray beard when Lizzie complained, You have my permission to seek intense therapy when you're 18. He was Lizzie and her parents' friend, though Lizzie enjoyed thinking that he attended their parties just because of her. That was only partly true. He came for the food, too.

Lizzie held open the door for her father and his cello, and glanced into the road. There, a dark green car with shaded windows was slowing. Something seemed to draw her to it, and she let the door shut behind her father. She clutched her bag to her, and walked slowly to the stopped car. Just then, a large man jumped from the backseat and pulled her in. Lizzie came to her senses and struggled, kicking and biting wherever she met flesh. She was only a child, however, and the man quickly overpowered her. Lizzie was thrust into the car, and the man got in after her. There was no use struggling now, so she took a look around her. The doors had a special rigging so that they could only be opened from the outside unless a code was punched in. Lizzie then looked at the man, who looked back.

Who are you? she inquired nervously.

I'm just a' agent for the great Jim Wolf, he said with obvious pride, rubbing his hand where she had bitten him. John's me name, if ye really care. I shan't say more n that as I been repermanded fer sosherlizen with prisners'.

Wait...Jim Wolf? Mr. Wolf? As in my third, fourth and fifth-grade teacher? That's who's kidnapping me? demanded Lizzie.

Well, I have heard tell that he used ter be a teacher... he replied, but it was only a bit er gossip. Jim Wolf, a teacher! He's a criminal mastermind, he is.

Mr. Wolf had indeed been Lizzie's teacher for three entire years. She wondered about this for a moment, and if this was in any way related to that.

Um...What's yer name, Missy? If ye don mind me askn' .

Lizzie. Can the man that you work for say electoral college'? she asked.

I don't rightly know, Lizzie. Why? She ignored him, and thought to herself. The Mr. Wolf she knew was clumsy, and could not say electoral college, but was not outright evil. Or a criminal mastermind. Not even a mastermind, come to think of it. This was all terribly confusing. Ah, well, she could discover his motives later. Now was time for escape. Her advantages were...hmm...well, for one, her captor's talkativeness. Lizzie couldn't think of any more, so she decided to go from there.

So, what compelled you to work for this guy? she asked conversationally. He looked rather surprised that she cared, which she didn't, but replied cheerfully.

Well, me family was pretty down and out, see'n as me wife had just left. I hadn't the brains fer all them other jobs, so I took this un. Not much as the pay goes, but once in a while ye get some lively talk. he said, nodding to the eleven-year-old. He looked up with a start, and explained apologetically.
I'm real sorry, Lizzie, but I'll hafta tie ye up now. We can't have ye runnin' off. Lizzie nodded and turned away from him. He began to tie her arms behind her back, muttering about courtesy to their captives. The car stopped, and John led her out of it. Lizzie was sure to grab her backpack before they approached a large, not-at-all ominous building.

It was, in fact, quite pleasant, though strange. There was a balcony with wire netting from the railing to the bottom of the roof. There was also a tree in full blossom to the left side of the balcony, it's branches creeping through the odd mesh. Several children came out onto it, staring at the commotion.

Lizzie lost sight of this all as she passed under the balcony into a luxuriously furnished room. The center of attention was a grand staircase that swept outward at the top. This reminded Lizzie of the one on the Titanic, on which she had seen a documentary last night.

She was led up these before she entered another room, one that was rather diminutive compared to the last one. In one corner, a desk sat on a raised platform, with a high-backed chair facing the window behind it. In the opposite corner, there was an elevator with a strange panel of buttons. Lizzie was examining this when the chair slowly turned around, revealing a man, indeed the Mr. Wolf she knew. He started, seeing his former pupil tied up in front of him. He then smiled a slow, wolfish grin.

Electoral college, he said proudly, flecks of spit landing on the papers below him. He stood and began to walk toward her menacingly, ruining the effect by tripping on his lamp cord. He flailed, recovered ungracefully and stood up straight, dusting himself off.

Amazing what money can do, isn't it, Lizzie? he said, leaning closer. Lizzie wiped her face against her shoulder in disgust. A poor elementary school teacher I was, and now look what I have become. A rich lord who kidnaps children!

Is this really a change for the better? Lizzie asked incredulously.

Well, well, well. We think we know everything, don't we? I suppose you'd just go and burn all the money you have and live on the street, eh? Despite what I have tried to teach you, you seem to know nothing of human desires. Money, and power. Yes, that I want, and that I now have. Look what it can do, Lizzie. Look hard, said he, and tried to snap his fingers with a flourish. John, muttering apologies under his breath, steered her to the elevator door. Lizzie wrenched from his grip and called back, It's you that can't possibly know of human desires, as you aren't human yourself! You look, and see what this money and power's made of you!! She said more, but it was cut off by the elevator doors shutting in her enraged face.

Instead of a pleasant as the doors closed, there was a melancholy duh duh duh duhhh, that seemed to signal the end of her life. She regained a calm composure as John untied her with sudden caution, as if her feared her. The door opened again with the same dooming melody to reveal a space not fifteen feet wide, occupied with about two dozen children. On one wall was the door to the balcony she had viewed from outside, with windows on either side of it. Lizzie then realized something very peculiar as the elevator closed; there was no roof! A girl a bit older than Lizzie with glasses and untamed brown curls noticed her looking upward.

It closes at night , and when it rains. It's kinda odd at first, but you'll get used to it eventually, she said reassuringly. Lizzie only nodded soundlessly, the power she had felt in her outburst dwindling away to defeated exhaustion. She sighed, and said, My name's Lizzie Harons. What's yours? Lizzie usually wasn't the first to make introductions, but this was an unusual situation. The girl smiled, showing a retainer. Marissa. Deitz, but last names don't really matter here. She paused, and continued. I've been here a while, so if you have any questions about our boring, simple life, just ask me. Marissa stopped, and noticed the backpack that Lizzie was still holding. What's in there?

Just some books and stuff. A drawing pad, some pencil s, a gameboy. Like that.

Books? I haven't seen a book since I was thrust into this. . .for a really long time. I'm not exactly sure how long, it's impossible to count the days. What books are they? said Marissa, her face glowing.

I have, um, quite a selection. Would you like to read them, or is that a really stupid question? Lizzie took the books from her bag and spread them on the floor.

Could I? Marissa breathed, and Lizzie nodded. Her hands hovered in awe over each one before landing on The Fellowship of the Ring.

Lizzie left her to read it and wandered out onto the balcony, where several children were already. The view was not of a road, as she had thought before, but actually overlooked a small square. Live jazz music wafted up to them as they watched the sun disappear behind the buildings. It would have been wonderful but for that horrible netting. Behind it, she felt the blow of her real situation; she was trapped, and would probably never see her family or friends ever again.

A flat buzz sounded, and the little boy next to Lizzie tugged on her sleeve. We gotta go inside. The doors close now until the morning, he explained.

she answered, and followed him inside. When she did so, Lizzie halted in amazement. The roof was folding in! With a mechanical whir, two large metal sheets came up, around and down before clanging shut. Everything was engulfed in darkness except two rays of light from the dying day outside. Marissa looked up from the book since there was no more light to read by, and threw Lizzie one of the wool blankets that lay in a heap next to her. She caught it, kicked off her shoes, and made herself comfortable under the window. This was quite difficult to do with the blanket as scratchy and threadbare as it was, but Lizzie was soon asleep, occupied in peaceful dreams.

The next morning, Lizzie was awakened by another rude buzz and the ceiling lifting back up. It revealed a cloudy morning sky, and crisp air rushed in. Lizzie glanced at her watch, whose glowing numbers read exactly 6:07. She wasn't in the least surprised, as Mr. Wolf had always been late for everything.

No one other than Lizzie was awake yet, so she decided to list her supplies and brainstorm their uses. She pulled out her backpack and tore out a piece of paper from her pad. After grabbing a pencil, she wrote in her neat script the following:

Supplies Possible Uses
backpack carrying stuff
paper drawing out plans
pencils writing,, maybe weapons
gum chewing, stickiness
books well . . . reading
gameboy & games playing, batteries

Lizzie sat for a moment, trying to formulate a plan... hey, that was pretty good. Not on subject, but a fine line for the story she was going to write of her adventure. She shook herself mentally and got back to the plan. She didn't have scissors, which was too bad - she could cut through the netting on the balcony. The mechanical pencils might do, though.

Lizzie tried the door to the balcony and found it open. The cement was cold under her sock-clad feet as she walked toward the right, where the tree's branches were reaching through. She knelt down and scratched her pencil where the railing stopped and the netting began. Sure enough, it had frayed slightly. Lizzie worked on it harder, until the netting was visibly weaker. Her watch read 8:38 when Marissa peeked out of the doorway.

What are you doing? she asked. Lizzie showed her, and a glimmer of hope appeared on her face.

Do you really think this might work?

Sure. We make a flap, climb down the tree and find someone with authority to search the place and find us, replied Lizzie confidently. I'd say we'll be out of here in about a week. More or less. Hey, I have a few more pencils...would you like to help me? Marissa nodded earnestly, and they set to work, she working on the wall side, and Lizzie where she was before. It was slow labor, but, long after the musicians had begun to play, they both had small holes that were enlarging with each pencil-stroke.

Lizzie turned and smiled at Marissa, and she grinned back. It was really amazing how just a little bit of hope could transform someone.

A look of realization crossed over her face and she said, Lunch should be here pretty soon. Most important meal of the day. Well, to tell you the truth, it's the only meal. But, like everything here, you get used to it. You have no trouble keeping diets, though, she added optimistically as they passed through the doorway.

They were greeted by a number of blank, groggy stares and a few grunts. Lizzie and Marissa were silent, as they had already decided not to mention the plan to them. It really wasn't foolproof, and they didn't want to raise false hopes.

The elevator door opened with that horrible tune and there stood John. He was holding a bucket of water and four loaves of pre-sliced bread from Safeway, all in varying kinds.

There's wheat, white, sourdough and rye for ye, he announced cheerfully as he set them down alongside the water. John turned and stepped back on the elevator, grinning and waving goodbye as the door shut.

Whoever wants wheat, raise their hands, said Marissa loudly, and she passed a slice to those kids with raised hands. It was a primitive system, but it worked very well. Soon, all of the children, including Lizzie, were munching contentedly at the slices. It was slightly amusing, that they ate the traditional prisoner's meal of bread and water, and yet it was modernized. And cheapized, if that was actually a word, which it wasn't. Anyway, it was a cheap way to feed twenty or so kids in your home. Just like Mr. Wolf, cheap.

After they had all finished their slices, Marissa handed the bucket of water to a little girl. She took a sip, and passed it on to the freckle-faced boy next to her. This went on, until it came to Lizzie, who took a swig and handed the remaining water to Marissa. It was only a mouthful, and she polished it off.

Well. Back to work? she said, and Lizzie nodded, following her out onto the balcony. It was surprisingly warm compared to the chilly morning, and they both were soon wiping their brows and wishing for more water. In a way this weather was a good thing, because none of the other kids were out there in the heat. Otherwise, there'd be questions and secrets and lies. Any of those things are bad in a place where you live among the same people 24/7. It caused terrible discomfort to Lizzie and Marissa, however. Each day after this one was as bad as the first, and the fifth day was terrible. They were working at eight-inch holes, and were almost ready to work on the last side. Just two more wires... one...and they had a triangle of netting that would lift up and go back into place inconspicuously.

They high-fived, and did a ridiculous victory dance to the upbeat jazz number. As Lizzie turned around, she noticed a familiar gray beard in the band. She leaned as far forward as she could and saw who she had thought was there; the principal bassist was there below! Lizzie called out to him, but they were too high up to be heard over the music and jabber of the happily milling pedestrians. She called again, but in vain. Marissa came over and put a hand on her shoulder.

Frustrating, isn't it? Lizzie nodded. We've all seen one of our parents or friends at least once. They're so near, but you can't reach them, Marissa sighed, lost in her own memories. She looked back up at Lizzie. Would you like to keep going, or is this enough for today?
Let's keep going, she said, determined to keep up their progress. They knelt back down and continued working on that last side, but Lizzie's eyes kept straying to that kindly face in back of the band. He seemed to be enjoying himself, but there was a cloud of sorrow in his eyes. Probably because of her absence. Lizzie just realized that her parents were probably imagining the worst for what had happened. How could all of these kidnappings go unnoticed? One, sure, probably some psycho dude. But this many, all in, what, a year or two?

Marissa, how long would you guess you've been in here? she asked.

I dunno. Hey, what's the date and the year? she snickered. I sound like the time traveler in that one movie, you know? But seriously, what is it?

Five days ago it was the seventh, so today would be August twelfth, 2005.

Wow! My birthday's in two days! Hmm....then I have been here...three years, four months and a few days. It really doesn't seem that long! And I'm fourteen on the fourteenth! Wow, she repeated.

So Mr. Wolf had been operating for at least that long. So how did he stay undetected? That there was a mystery Lizzie would never solve, one that she would wonder about in her old age and never find a solution.

They worked diligently for two more painstaking days until their little window was completed. Lizzie's watch had stopped working for some reason or another, so they had lost track of time yet again. This was dangerous in a way, as they no longer knew what time lunch would come. If they were caught outside on the balcony too many times in a row, even the dim-witted John might suspect something and look outside. This was bad, though it hadn't happened yet.

At about noon the second day (of course they couldn't know exactly), Lizzie saw again the gray beard. After a bit of arguing, Lizzie gave in to Marissa's logical point that only she actually knew him and could attract his attention, and should go down. Plus, it was her idea and supplies.

Lizzie lifted the screen and stuck her head through it cautiously. Marissa held it up as Lizzie grabbed the closest limb and pushed forcefully with her feet, swinging the rest of her body through. She was dangling there by her hands, twenty feet up, until she managed to hook her foot around the limb. Lizzie managed to get herself sitting comfortably on the branch. She waved to Marissa, who grinned, sharing her excitement. She was free, really free!

Lizzie lowered herself to the branch below her, then the branch below that, until she had her feet firmly on the blessed ground. A thought of kissing it crossed her mind, but a wad of gum a few feet away changed it.

She ran over the cobble stones to the band, a very strange feeling after kneeling and standing around for so long. Lizzie pushed her way through the onlookers and called out to her friend. He stared, and subtly ended the song with his excellent skill. Lizzie rushed to him as he set his bass down and everything gushed out. It was the abbreviated version, as they had very little time. He still stared at her unbelievingly, but knew she would not joke, or lie about something like that.

You mean you're supposed to still be there? She nodded. I'll try to help. You can use my cell phone, we can use it to plan further. I want it back when we're done, though, he said, noticing her excited expression. She scowled at him, but only briefly. I might do something spontaneous when I think of it, so try to have the kids on ready. I feel like a secret agent, but I didn't have the choice of accepting my mission. Oh, well. You'd better get back, he said, nodding meaningfully toward the building with the strange balcony, where Marissa was watching expectantly.

Lizzie ran toward the large tree, it looking much higher than when she climbed down. She jumped up and grasped the first branch, which hung just above her head, and pulled herself up using the knotted trunk for support. She was safely on the first branch, now on to the second. Lizzie continued this way with more than a little difficulty, until she reached the mesh flap. Marissa had gone inside for whatever reason, and couldn't help her. This was going to be tricky.

Lizzie secured her footing on the limb and, after mental preparation, she pitched forward. For a terrifying moment, there was nothing holding her up, and she wind milled her arms rather comically. They found the ledge, and Lizzie gripped it white-knuckled, breathing heavily. She remained like that for a moment, relieved that she wasn't a smear on the pavement after all this. Lizzie took a deep breath and slowly took one foot off of the tree. She set it carefully on the ledge and let go of it with her hands. Her arms pushed in the netting and grabbed the inside ledge before she pulled herself in fully.

Now that took some major skillage, she muttered to herself as she stood up straight. Oh, how she loved solid things under her feet. Lizzie walked forward, but quickly backed up again. Now she saw why Marissa had left; it was lunchtime. John hadn't seen her, luckily, but she still wasn't sure how long she would have to stay out there. I might do something spontaneous, he had said, so try to have the kids on ready. How could she, when she couldn't even get in there to tell them what they had been doing these past days?

Lizzie dropped to the ground and crawled under the window. She slowly looked up, careful not to be seen. Lizzie tried to catch Marissa's eye, but not anyone else's. Marissa seemed to sense something and glanced at Lizzie, understanding the brief look. She suddenly doubled over, and holding her mouth. She raced outside and seemed to collapse. Marissa crawled over to Lizzie's slightly alarmed face.

What was that? she asked, surprised.

Oh, just the standard procedure. It got me out here, didn't it? she answered with a slight smirk. So, what happened?

He's gonna help us. He gave me his cell phone to communicate further plans, and said to be ready.

John's on one of his ravings again, we might be out here a while. I'm not sure how he got from bread and water to peanuts, but he's going on it. Oh, right, his aunt Germima got terribly sick from bad water in Mexico. Then he recalled his trip to Mexico, and the Spanish he had to remember from grade school, and the show they had to watch- Hola Hola'. And they sometimes used puppets to make it more interesting. Then there was the puppet show at the library, where his favorite book ever was about elephants. And, of course elepha-

You can stop now. We are in peril here. How long do you think he can go on?

For a while yet. Hmm...maybe I can get across that we need to get out here... She stared at the back of a tall girl near the window's head, like you can do at the movie theater and get people to turn around. She eventually did, and saw Marissa there. Marissa jerked her head, beckoning her outside, and the girl whispered to the little black girl next to her, and blanched just as Marissa had done. She ran outside as the little girl whispered to the few people surrounding her. Soon after, the news that they needed to get outside spread among all of the children, and one by one they doubled over, looking very sick, and rushed outside. All but the one little boy that had told Lizzie to go inside that first day remained, listening to John attentively. He looked around, shrugged and said something to the little boy before leaving. The boy came out onto the balcony to join the rest of them.

We can go inside now that he's gone, Marissa cued, and they all followed her inside again.

Now! You're probably wondering what we have been doing out on the balcony these past sweltering days, she said, and went on to explain the entire thing, Lizzie adding things here and there, and finally she informed them of the most recent events. Marissa had just begun asking a question when the phone began to play Ode to Joy.

said Lizzie after locating the talk button.

Lizzie? Oh, we've missed you so much! We lov- The phone was yanked out of her mother's grip and transferred to the bassist's. Alright, here's the plan so far. We've already been by the police station, and they wouldn't believe us- no big surprise there. So we're completely on our own. So, we're all gonna come in there with the desperate plea that I'm gonna wet my pants and he directs me to the bathroom, the kind soul that he is. I, of course, am actually coming to your rescue. Outside, your parents will be waiting with three vans. Not enough for safety, but we're just the removal crew. Hey, do you know the code that the dude punched in? It would be a great help.

Let me see, pondered Lizzie. It was so far back.. Um...there were three odd numbers, an even one and another odd one. Okay, um...I think it's five...three...seven...for the life of me I can't remember the last two. I think it was either four or six, and the last number's completely gone. Why didn't I write it down on my hand? I had a pen, but nooo...

That's okay. We'll figure those last two numbers. Expect us when the elevator door opens, he said very mysteriously, and hung up.

Lizzie said to the expectant faces around her. He's going to come up here, and we're gonna squeeze into the elevator and go down. When the door opens, it's every kid for their self. Take a mad dash to the door, and rush out. There'll be too many for him to handle, and we have a pretty good chance. He won't be thinking beyond his supper. You stop for nothing and no one. Once we're out on the street, my parent's will be waiting with three vans. You to you will be in the first van, you to you will be in the second, and the rest will be in the third. That includes us, she said, nodding to Marissa. She nodded in return, and they all sat down to wait.

The next few hours were extremely boring for some, and filled with unbearable tension for others. It was at least five o clock when they heard the melancholy tune of the elevator. Everyone jumped up and crowded into it, Lizzie first and leaping into her friend's arms.

It took some skill and some quick thinking with a water bottle to get here, he said as they began to go down. Lizzie snickered and prepared herself to run out, flinging aside what -and who- ever in her way. The doors opened, but there was nothing to fling. She ran anyway, with all her might, the others right behind. Marissa sped in front of her and began down the Titanic steps, still not seeing anyone else. Apparently some of his power was a bluff, and the only person working for him was John.

Still they all ran, the older children carrying some of the younger ones that had ran out of breath. Some kids fell on the steps, but they were so close. They could see the doorway, nothing blocking the sunlight streaming through. It was so close, they were nearing it. Only three more yards...two... and they were there! Marissa pushed open the door first, and close behind came Lizzie, then everyone burst out into the sunlight. It blinded them at first, and they milled about. But then not three, but four Dodge Caravans came into view. The children ignored the earlier policy and just got into them randomly. Lizzie led Marissa into the first one, where her mother was looking out the window for her.

Hi, haven't seen you in a while, Lizzie said. Her mother grabbed her and hugged her close. After a moment, she realized that everyone was in the car and they were still in danger of being captured. She sped off, the other vans closely following.

Where'd you get the cars, Mom?

You'll have to thank your Uncle Brian for that.

Oh, right, he's in the rental business. So, where exactly are we going?

Our house. Then, when we figure out what these other kid's addresses are, we call them and go there. Some of them might of changed, not what they remember them. Or they might not remember them at all.

Okay. By the way, this is Marissa, Lizzie said, gesturing to the figure next to her. Marissa smiled, and said, Consider yourself greeted properly. I'd shake your hand, but you're driving.

Thanks. It's a pleasure to meet you, Marissa.

The van continued on for a few minutes, filled with happy chatter. It then slowed in front of a two-story home, it's white siding complimented by deep green shutters. A winding path led to a wide porch, shaded by large trees. There was a welcoming, friendly air about it all.

Home sweet home, said Lizzie as the van door slid open and she stepped out onto the sidewalk.

It was right in that instant that she knew-they were all going to live happily ever after. Just like the storybooks, give a few modern touches. Hey, this would make a pretty good story...