Secret World

by: Sarah Stodola

NOTE – This is, in a way, a pilot to the “Hazzard County” series. It’s a fanciful story, yes, but don’t we all wish we could be in Katy’s shoes? 🙂 So sit back, relax, and enjoy!

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SECRET WORLD

Gasping for breath, Katy O’Neill ran through the Appalachian woods. Branches slapped her in the face, and roots threatened to trip her up in this treacherous environment. The sixteen-year- old held her backpack of her meager ownings clutched in her arms so that nothing could snag on it and hold her up.

“I think she went this way,” she heard a cry from behind. Her pursuers were entirely too close! Fighting back panic, Katy jumped from rock to rock across a stream, and ducked behind a huge oak.

The sounds of pounding feet and snapping twigs came closer, and the runaway held her breath. She couldn’t let them catch her! The last foster home she’d been in had been the last in a long chain. Everyone called her too free, too undisciplined. Families would take her in, then send her back, and it would be another several months in an overcrowded orphanage before someone else thought maybe they could tame her.

In the last home, the father had tried to beat some sense into her. Katy shivered, rubbing the scar on the back of her shoulder. It was hidden underneath her shirt, but she knew it was there. It didn’t hurt anymore. But it had.

Her pursuers, people from the Tennessee welfare service joined with the state police, had paused just on the other side of the stream, and were holding a meeting. “Look, she can’t have gone far,” she heard the voice of the man in charge of the search say. “She’s never been in the woods before; she knows no skills to escape us.”

Katy’s heart pounded. They were only too right.

“Maybe she went down the stream, so as not to leave tracks,” another man suggested.

“Hmm. She could have, if she got the idea from a book. I don’t see any other signs of her. You three go upstream… we’ll head down. We’ll meet where we parked the cars in an hour.”

“I sure hope we find the poor kid,” another unfamiliar voice sighed. “Before she gets hurt.”

Agreeing voices moved off, and Katy sagged against the tree. She hoped she didn’t get hurt, too. But she couldn’t let them find her. Slowly, she peeked out from her hiding place. The others were out of sight. She glanced around, caught sight of an opening in the bushes straight ahead, away from the stream, and sprinted for it. Ducking behind the cover the bushes provided, she kept jogging on, on a slight incline now.

After about ten minutes more, the slight incline turned into a steep hill. The girl sat down to rest on a log, and thought over her situation. Looking either direction, she finally decided that up and over would be the best route. It wasn’t the easiest, but hopefully those after her would think she wouldn’t try it.

She wasn’t sure what she would do when she got to the other side. She wasn’t sure what she would do when, if, she actually pulled this escape off. She’d been caught the other two times she’d tried to run away. But this time, she hadn’t tried to hide anywhere near her area. She’d hidden in the back of the first delivery van that had come along, and ridden all the way out here before the driver had stopped to check something and caught her, throwing her out and later calling the police. Who had let the welfare people know that she was out here somewhere, almost on the Georgian border. Though she was still in her home state of Tennessee. At least she thought so.

What would she do on her own? Get a job? Where? Doing what? She’d never done anything for money besides a lemonade and cookies stand when she was eight. She had no skills to speak of besides causing trouble. The reality of her situation sunk into her, and she swallowed, no longer quite as jubilant. She was alone. Completely on her own. No one to look out for her.

Now what?

Katy pushed the dark thoughts away and stood, hefting her pack onto her back so that she could use her arms. First of all, she had to get away, or all her running had been for nothing. It wouldn’t take her pursuers too long to figure out that she’d crossed the stream, and come after her. She had to get over that hill. It was her only chance.

As she started the ascent, she couldn’t help singing softly, “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”

That was a favorite song of hers, from a movie she’d once seen. She only hoped that her dreams really could be found on the other side. It was a tough climb over treacherous footing, and several times she almost fell, and had to stop for a rest. Then she came to an open area at the top, and swallowed hard. She’d have to be out in the open for at least thirty seconds, with no tree cover, before she made it over the other side.

Panting for breath, she retied her strawberry-blonde hair back, and tensed, ready for a sprint. “Okay, girl,” she told herself out loud. “If you make this, you’re probably home free. One, two… three!” With the last number, she sprang out, running up and across the open rock.

Time seemed to slow down as she ran. Every moment, she expected a shout, an outcry when someone noticed her. Suddenly, she had topped the ridge and was going down the other side. She almost hit a tree in her surprise, and skidded to a halt barely in time.

She’d made it! She made it!!

Katy bit back an excited scream. The sound would carry. She looked back the way she’d come, then caught something out of the corner of her eye, a flash of colors.

She turned slowly, and breathed in sharply. A rainbow arched out of the clouds covering a large valley, coming down around a bend in the mountains where she couldn’t quite see. The valley floor was pretty much flat, though a ridge rose up in the middle a few miles away. Like the other side of the mountain, pine, oak, and slender trees like birch and aspen were intermixed, though things were slightly greener on this side. *This valley must catch clouds,* she thought.

In the distance, she could see regular patches of different shades of color, fields, it looked like. So, there were farms out here. In the middle of nowhere. There was not a town for over a hundred miles from her position, according to her hastily-consulted map.

So, what were a bunch of farms doing out here in the middle of unmapped Appalachians? It didn’t make sense.

Sighing, Katy leaned back against a tree. Then she blinked, and peered down the hill. There seemed to be some sort of… barrier, between her and the valley below. The dark green line went all the way along the hillside, fading out of sight. Curious, she straightened, and, looking around once more, started down the slope.

When she hit a wall of bushes and trees, she knew she’d found what she’d been looking at. Carefully, she pushed forward, through the growth, until she came to a wooden fence. It was about eight feet tall and made out of ordinary dark-stained boards. The stain looked like a form of weatherproofing. She rapped on one. Solid. Not about to give way to anything.

Her curious streak was now screaming at her. She turned and looked around for something to climb up. Her eyes lit up when she saw a tall pine, and she trotted over to it. It was climbable. It wouldn’t be easy, but a practiced escapee could do it. Cracking her knuckles, Katy leaped high for the lowest branch and pulled herself up, her arm muscles complaining at the strain. Finally, she made it up, and, grabbing another branch, kept going up. It was much easier up here; the branches were close together.

When she came to a branch that leaned out over the barrier, she crawled along it, balancing herself, until she was in a postion to drop down inside. But it was too far down. She looked around again, then stepped carefully over to another tree very close by, an oak growing up inside the fence. From there the runaway easily climbed to the ground, jumping the last six feet.

The moment her feet touched the carpet of autumn leaves and sunk in, she felt like she’d just set foot on another world. Breathing in, she looked around. Things looked the same as they had outside the fence. Why should they feel different?

Pulling herself out of her reverie, Katy shook her head at herself and started the trek downhill. The welfare people probably couldn’t follow her over that fence even if they made it to it, and they probably wouldn’t think she had gone over either. If they even found it to begin with. So she was very probably safe. She felt like yelling in excitement, but kept quiet. Her pursuers, if they were out there, would hear. So she just continued traveling. The farther she got from the fence, the safer she felt.

She’d lost track of time, just looking at everything and enjoying the peace of the woods and knowing she was finally free, and so was surprised when the ground leveled out and she stepped onto a one-lane dirt road. She paused and looked down the road in either direction. To her right, south according to her compass, it turned toward the southeast and cut across the open valley. To her left, in the direction of the farmland she’d seen earlier, it followed the line of trees, running just inside so that colorful branches arched over it in a form of tunnel that sunlight filtered through in visible beams.

The picture was so beautiful that it deserved to be in a painting. Katy chose that route, and struck off down the road. Even after all the walking she’d done, she wasn’t all *that* tired. And this was mostly flat, easy going.

The road followed the curve of the mountain, and eventually came out of the trees to go over a wooden bridge into open country. A free-running herd of horses raised heads to look at her as she came into sight. The chestnut stallion snorted, dancing sideways, then lowered his muzzle to the grass again. Katy grinned at the sight. She loved horses, and seeing them unfenced like this sent a thrill through her.

Still watching the horses, she started over the bridge. Then, suddenly, the stallion’s head shot up again, just as a roar could be heard. Katy spun to glance down the road, hearing pounding hooves as the herd galloped away, and froze herself.

A dark green racer, quite old, probably from the late ’70’s, was skidding around the bend behind her. She flinched at the car’s speed toward her, hair flying as she looked for a place to run. But there was nowhere; she was stuck on the bridge. She readied herself to leap into the stream, but the driver put on the brakes just in time, and the power car nosed down hard to a stop right beside her.

A young man with brown hair and laughing brown eyes climbed out to sit on the top of his car door, and looked across the roof at her. She was a bit surprised; the people she’d known would yell at her if she ever tried such a stunt. But he didn’t seem to worry about his weight damaging anything. She’d heard that older cars were built stronger, well, maybe it was true. “Hi there!” he greeted.

“Hi,” she responded nervously, heart still pounding from her fright.

He cocked his head at her. “I don’t think I know you..?”

“Katy,” she responded. She still didn’t want to give out her last name. Wherever she was, the people still might send her back to the welfare service if they knew her name from lost posters.

But this person’s grin was kind, though a bit mischievous, and he didn’t ask about her failure to give a last name. He simply responded. “Well, welcome, Katy! I’m Dave.” He held out his hand over the wide roof, and she reached out slowly, then forced herself to relax and accept the friendly handshake. He went on as though she’d never hesitated. “I assume you’re from outside from your accent.” *Accent?* she wondered. He was the one with the accent, a strange, soft-drawled mix of deep South and something else, something indefinable and unique.

“Outside?” She frowned a little. “Well… I did climb over a fence to get here. Up there,” she pointed back the way she’d come and up the mountain. “Is that what you mean?”

“Yeah. You’re from Outside.” Katy blinked slightly. This time she had heard the slight stress, the emphasis on the word that meant it was capitalized. A name. “Would you like a ride into town?” he asked.

Katy thought about it, then nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”

“Then get in.” He slid back into his car and put both hands on the wheel, waiting and glancing over at her.

Shrugging mentally, she pulled off her backpack and tugged on the door handle, then stared at it when it stuck.

“Just get in the window,” Dave chuckled. “It’s a racing car.”

She hesitated again, then shrugged and obeyed. Holding her pack in her lap, she settled herself, glancing around for a seatbelt. There was none. Oh well.

“Okay, here we go.” The car pulled off the bridge, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it as it hit the dirt on the other side. Katy tensed, then made herself calm down, again. If he raced, he was a good driver. They wouldn’t crash.

She started to watch the scenery go by. It was really quite nice here, though they were now out in the more open area, with a lot fewer trees and only shallow hills. Dave seemed friendly enough, so she decided to ask a few questions. She started with his name. “Dave?”

He glanced over. “Yeah? What?”

“What’s that fence there for? Does it really go around the whole mountainside? It looked like it from up there.”

“Sort of. It goes around a lot of land, mountain and valley. About a hundred miles on each side of a semi-square.”

She gasped involuntarily. “A hundred..! What in the world for?!”

“It’s our world. Separate from Outside. We have our own county government and everything.”

He didn’t seem to be willing to give much more information than she asked for, so she just kept asking. “Who owns all this?”

He didn’t look at her, a bit hesitant. “Well… I can’t really tell you. We’re not supposed to tell Outsiders much about our world.”

“Oh.” Katy reached out the window to snatch at a low branch as they drove underneath, and turned the leaf she gleaned over in her hands. “That’s okay. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” She paused. “Do you meet… Outsiders, much?”

“Not that much. Sometimes. Usually by us going out, not them coming in.”

“Oh.” She decided to stop asking questions about apparently touchy subjects. She really didn’t want to get him in trouble. And she’d found out enough anyway. She was in an area that had somehow drawn themselves apart from the rest of the state, and maybe even nation. Meaning that she would likely be safe here.

Now it was his turn. “Why’re you here? I mean, what were you up on the mountain for anyway?”

His continued friendliness made her relax a little. She felt she could trust this fast-driving teenager. “I was running away.”

He glanced at her again, a little startled. “Running away?”

“Uh-huh.”

“From who?”

She sighed. “From the Welfare people. Don’t send me back, please!”

Dave was silent for a few seconds, then shrugged. “Okay. I don’t think we would anyway.” He grinned reassuringly at her.

“Could I ask just one more question?”

“Shoot.”

“What’s this place called? Inside?”

He laughed. “Aw, no! This is Hazzard County!”

Katy froze, then turned to stare at him. His return glance was candid and honest. “Haz… Hazzard? But… there’s no such place! And even in the TV show, it wasn’t that big! This place is huge!”

Dave sighed. “I grew up here, and I don’t know much about Outside stuff like the TV series we supposedly patterned ourselves after. And yeah, it’s a lot of land, but there are three towns in the county, and a lot of open farmland and deep woods.” He paused, looking a bit guilty. “I can’t tell you any more. We’re not supposed to tell *that* much to Outsiders.”

“I’m sorry. I was just curious.”

He looked at her again. “You gonna stay?”

Katy leaned back in her seat and looked around at the land speeding past, and smiled. She suddenly knew the answer, and felt freer than she ever had before. “Yes,” she whispered. “I’m going to stay.”

Dave relaxed, and grinned. “Great! Nobody’ll ever find you here, I swear. I guess I should take you to someone who can tell you all the history, then. Like how we started, about twenty years ago-”

“Actually, I think I’ll have plenty of time to find that out,” Katy interrupted. “Truth is, I’m hungry. Do you know of anywhere that has good food?”

Dave frowned. “Hmm. Well, there’s the Busy Bee in Hazzard, and Ellie’s Cafe in Keller’s Corners, and of course the Boar’s Nest has hamburgers.”

She shrugged helplessly. “You forget that I don’t know what’s where! Wherever’s closest.”

He shrugged back. “Okay. We’re closest to the Nest, so I’ll take you there, and then into Hazzard to the hotel. You can get a room there, free until you get a job. That’s allowed here, as long as you don’t just try to live on charity.”

“Thanks. I don’t plan on it.” She smiled. “You guys’re really friendly to strangers, you know that?”

He grinned back. “Well, a stranger’s just a friend we’ve never met.” The way he said it sounded like a quote from someone else. “And a new citizen,” he added with a twinkle in his eyes. “That’s even more special.”

They pulled into a vaguely familiar dirt parking lot twenty minutes later. Katy had seen the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show only a couple of times, but she still recognized the Boar’s Nest. Dave turned off the engine and slid easily out of the car. Katy left her pack in the back seat and followed.

Inside, Dave snatched a table near the front just before someone else did, and grinned at the couple he’d beat there. “C’mon, Katy,” he waved a hand toward another chair. “Hey Kit!”

A small blonde girl turned from where she’d been talking to a brunette across the bar, and waved. “Hi Dave,” she called back over the country music coming out of the jukebox. “Want something?”

“Yeah. Two hamburgers with everything on ’em…” He glanced at Katy. “What’d you like to drink?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Have any root beer?”

“Sure.” He called back, “And two root beers.”

“Gotcha.” The girl named Kit vaulted the bar in a smooth, unladylike move and grabbed two glasses, filling them with dark liquid from a dispenser. Her friend pulled a tray out from underneath the counter and took two paper-wrapped hamburgers from a heated pan to put on it with the sodas. Kit brought the tray over, smiling. “Hi,” she greeted Katy. “New in town?”

“Actually,” Katy admitted with a glance at Dave, “yes. I’m from… Outside.”

The blonde girl’s startling bright green eyes widened. “Really? I… I’ve never met anyone from Outside! Well, not since I came here myself when I was two, but I don’t really remember back that far.”

“You came from Outside?” Katy was curious now.

“Uh-huh. Me and my twin brother were abandoned, and our dad… well, I guess he’s not really our dad, but… well, he found us and took us in.” Kit perched on the edge of the table. Katy judged her to be about five foot three, or maybe five-four. About her own height. “I’m Christina, but just call me Kit. What’s your name?”

“Katy. I was running away from the welfare people up on a mountain and went over a fence in order to hide.”

“I found her up by Deerpoint Pass,” Dave interjected.

The other girl grinned, cocking her head to the side. “Really? So we’ve got an Outside history in common. How’d you get over the fence?”

“I climbed a tree and jumped to another tree inside.”

Slender eyebrows raised. “Inventive.”

“Almost worthy of a Duke, huh?” Dave said teasingly.

Kit aimed a playful jab at his jaw. “Don’t let Daisy hear you.”

Katy gave the other girl a second look. “There’s really Dukes here?”

“Yep. My best friend’s Daisy Duke, over there.” She pointed back over her shoulder to her brunette friend.

“Oh…”

“Actually,” Kit went on, “you’re looking for a place to stay, right? Why don’t you spend the night out at their farm? It’d be more comfortable than the hotel, and with better food too.”

Katy blinked. “Um… You sure they’d let me?”

“Sure. They often put folks up.” She turned and called, “Hey, Daisy!”

The other girl left her post and trotted over. “What, Kit?” Then she gave a brief “Hi!” to Katy.

“Hi,” the newcomer replied, a little shyly.

“Katy here’s new from Outside, a runaway,” Kit proceeded to tell the whole story in one sentence. “She needs somewhere to stay besides the hotel. Do you think you guys could put her up for a bit?”

“Sure.” The brunette, Daisy, turned friendly hazel eyes on Katy, and reached out to put a hand on her arm. “You ran away? Why?”

“I was tired of bouncing from one foster home to another,” Katy replied curtly. It was a sore subject with her.

“Oh. Gosh, I would be too.” Daisy smiled at her, annoyed understanding in her eyes. “So, you’re coming. That’s final.”

Katy was a little nervous about meeting people that were only supposed to exist on TV. But then again, they probably weren’t the same people, just the same last name. After all, this was the real world, just a strange little corner of it. “Okay. Thanks, Kit, Daisy. I really appreciate this.”

“You’re welcome.” Kit flashed her a sunny smile and stood up, heading back for the bar.

Daisy stayed for a moment, though. “My shift’s up in twenty minutes, stick around and I’ll drive you home. Want some fries or something with that burger? It’s on me.”

Katy nodded her thanks, and waited until the other girl brought her a small bag of normal, everyday french fries before unwrapping her food and digging in like Dave already had. It was a good hamburger, juicy and full of flavor, and for the next several minutes, neither one of them said anything besides a mumbled, “Hand me the ketchup?”

Dave finally left, saying he had some work to go do, then running back in with her backpack and waving goodbye again. Katy smiled amusedly as her new friend took off out the door again, then turned to watch the local color of this place.

People came and went, laughing and joking with each other, buying food, ordering drinks. They put coins in the jukebox and played different songs. They came in groups and left separately, or came alone and left with a friend or several. Kit and Daisy went back and forth between the bar/counter and tables, smiling at friends and giving those who tried to get too friendly dangerous scowls. And they could back up the threat, too — Katy watched as one slightly inebriated young man made a snatch at Kit and she kicked him in the stomach.

It was a very colorful place to meet the local people. A little wild, but interesting. Daisy kept coming back and refilling her glass of soda with a “don’t tell anyone” wink, and finally came without anything, leaning on the table edge. “Hi, yet again,” she laughed. “Um, I’m done, so give me a sec and I’ll be right with ya, okay?”

Before Katy could reply, she was gone again, trotting through a door. In a couple of minutes, Daisy was back, dressed in black jeans and a green sleeveless shirt now, rather than the matching white shorts and top she and Kit had been wearing earlier, the apparent uniform of the waitresses here.

“C’mon, Katy, let’s go.”

She stood up, draining her glass, and followed her new friend out the front door to a dark-red Mustang with white racing stripes on its sides. Then she blinked, a little surprised. This wasn’t quite the kind of car she’d imagined Daisy to have. She wasn’t sure what she *had* expected, but not this. “This your car?”

“No, this is actually Kit’s car. She’s loaning it to me while my my own’s in the shop. Her brother’s driving her around for now. Just climb in.” The brunette tossed her small purse in and scrambled practicedly through the window and into the driver’s seat. Katy, shrugging, climbed into the passenger side.

“What’s with all the welded doors?” she joked. “Don’t any of them open in Hazzard County?”

“Sure they do,” Daisy answered, pulling out of the parking lot and down the dirt road in the direction Katy and Dave had come from. “But not on racers.”

“A lot of kids race cars around here, huh?” Katy asked.

Daisy shrugged, then nodded. “Yeah. My own car, Dixie, is a jeep, though.”

“Your car has a name?”

“Yep!” she answered, laughing. “The boys’ General Lee does too. So does this one.” She patted the dashboard. “Cameo.”

Katy frowned a little; something had struck her as vaguely familiar. “General Lee?”

“He’s an orange Charger, with a Confederate flag painted on top of his roof. He’s the fastest thing around. We Dukes are all pretty proud of him.”

“Oh… I think I remember that, hazily.”

Her new friend shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. We don’t watch TV anyway, and sure not about ourselves! I prefer to just pretend Hazzard never came out of a story in the first place.”

Katy could sure understand that. “General Lee sounds like a memorable machine.”

Daisy smiled. “Yeah, that he is.”

She was curious about something else. “Who are ‘the boys’? Two cousins, and they live with you, if I remember right and if that’s the same as that show Outside.”

“Yeah, you’ve got all the major facts right. But we aren’t all really cousins. Me and Luke are really brother and sister. Our parents never came back from a vacation Outside, though they intended to, since we’d been left here with friends. And Bo came from Outside as a baby. You see, people in Hazzard tend to adopt kids who’re orphaned or abandoned whenever they can. Our Uncle Jesse took in the three of us.” Daisy’s whole demeanor softened unconsciously. “He loves us, and we really love him too.”

“Oh. But you’re still family.”

The brunette nodded vehemently, her eyes briefly meeting Katy’s. “In all the ways that are important. We grew up together, we live together, we’ve got the same last name. We love each other. And that’s all that matters, not whether or not we’re blood kin. We’re cousins. We’re a family.”

The first family member that Katy met was Daisy’s ‘uncle’, Jesse Duke. Who totally tore apart her theory that the people were not the same as in that television series. White-haired, bearded, and weatherworn, he greeted her with a friendly smile.

“Well, hello! Welcome to Hazzard. Come on in, dinner’s in about an hour.” He turned toward the barn, and cupping hands around his mouth, hollered, “Boys! We’ve got company!”

Almost instantly, a head poked out from the hayloft, then disappeared with a shout. Only a couple seconds later, two boys jogged out of the barn, the blond still pulling on his blue western shirt.

The pair came up to her and studied her, then the obvious leader, a muscular, somewhat short dark-haired young man in a light green shirt and blue jeans slightly darker than the other’s, smiled at her and stuck out a hand. “Hi. So you’re Daisy’s new friend.”

“Yeah. I’m Katy,” she answered, accepting the handshake. “What’s your names?” She suspected she knew who was who already, as this one had almost the same color hair as Daisy and was likely her brother, but she wanted to be sure before she made a fool out of herself.

The dark-haired boy pointed to his blond cousin. “I’m Luke, he’s Bo. Let me carry that.” He took her pack, then led the parade into the farmhouse.

Bo and Daisy found places to relax in the living room, and Katy joined them while Jesse headed for the kitchen and Luke disappeared up a set of stairs. Katy looked around. Simple but nice, the entire house seemed to radiate warmth. It was a friendly place, and she smiled despite herself. She knew this was crazy, being here with these people, and impossible. But yet she was here, and she wanted to stay. Forever.

“So, what brings you here?” Bo spoke up from his curled position on the couch. His dark blue eyes were candidly open and friendly, and curious too.

Katy sighed deeply. The third time she’d have to explain this. “I’m… a runaway. I got tired of getting bounced around from foster home to foster home, so… I decided to strike out on my own. I was being chased, and I climbed over a fence in order to hide. Then I went down the hill, and met a kid named Dave, and he drove me to the Boar’s Nest, and the rest is history.”

“So you didn’t know where you were?” Luke asked as he came through the door and sat down near Katy on the stone hearth. He seemed the most calm and mature of the Duke ‘cousins’.

She shook her head, then shrugged. “Nope. But I’m glad to be here. It might be the first place I’ve ever been where I’m safe.”

She regretted saying it the same moment it came out of her mouth, but it was too late. Luke’s crystal blue eyes darkened slightly with a curious worry, and he sat forward. “What do you mean by that, Katy?”

“N-nothing,” she stammered. “Nothing. Just forget it.”

Bo opened his mouth, but Daisy, sitting beside him, elbowed him, and he shut it again with a glare in her direction.

Luke looked like he wanted to say something too, but after a few seconds of hesitation, he nodded. “Okay. Almost everybody who comes here has something to hide. You don’t have to tell anybody if you don’t want to.”

The four young people lapsed into silence for a bit, then Daisy stood up, stretching. “Well, Katy, why don’t we set you up upstairs? You can share my room.”

Katy followed the other girl’s lead, and grinned. “Thanks. Where’s my stuff?”

“I put it in Daisy’s room already,” Luke told her, standing as well. He gave Bo’s shoulder a friendly slap. “C’mon, cuz, we’ve got some chores we still have to do.”

The younger boy groaned and slid down on the couch, but Luke hauled him to his feet, and Bo gave in. Giving the girls a look that plainly said “I’m going to my death; save me”, he headed out the front door with Luke.

Katy giggled. These kids were so much fun… An arm slid around her shoulders, and she looked up to see excited hazel eyes sparkling at her.

“Come on, let’s go!” Daisy ran up the stairs, and Katy, still giggling slightly, followed. She was safe here, she was sure now. After what Luke had said about not having to tell anyone anything… She’d have to find a job, though, something she was good at doing. What was she good at doing? She didn’t even know what talents she might have.

Oh well. That could wait for later. She had a few days, at least, to settle in before she started hunting for her own niche in Hazzard life. And she had doubts as to whether she could be anyplace better to settle in than right here. She already had one friend. Maybe four.

“This is it,” Daisy announced as she opened a door and swept a hand into it. “This is my room, and yours for as long as you’re here.” She took a few more steps down the hall and gestured to two half-open doors exactly opposite each other. “The boys’ room, next to mine, and the bathroom. Uncle Jesse’s room is over there,” she pointed to the end of the hall. “Got it all figured out?”

“Well, I don’t figure I’ll wander into the boys’ room trying to find my own, if that’s what you mean,” Katy joked.

Daisy laughed. “Yeah. Sometimes I borrow stuff from them though, so just one word of warning — open door means come in if you want to, shut door means stay out on pain on death.” She purposefully overdid the wide-eyed expression of fear, stumbling back against the wall then half-running back into her own room. Katy, almost doubled over laughing, followed.

Daisy fell onto her stomach on the bed, still giggling. Katy copied her actions, then propped herself up on her elbows and looked around. It was a simple room, with wood-paneled walls, white curtains, and a soft royal-blue carpet. The bed was a double, just big enough for two girls to share. She sighed lightly, laying her head down on her hands and closing her eyes. This was all too wonderful to be true. In just a couple of hours, she’d gone from hunted and running scared to safe and warm here.

“What’re you thinking?” Daisy’s soft voice broke into her thoughts.

Katy opened her eyes, blinking back sudden tears. “I’m not even totally sure… I’m just so glad I’m here…”

Her friend put an arm over her back, hugging her gently. “It’s okay, Katy. Something awful happened to you Outside, didn’t it?”

She swallowed. She had to tell someone. Not everyone. But Daisy… she somehow wanted *her* to know. “Yeah… sort of. Lots of things.”

“Like what?” Daisy prodded gently.

“Well…” She sniffed back more tears. “I just… I never had a real home. Nobody wanted me, so I was moved every few months. Some places were okay, but the last few…” She shivered uncontrollably, and her friend tightened the sideways hug. “I tried to run away twice before, but I got caught both times. This time, I headed straight for the deep woods, hoping to lose them.”

“You did, I swear,” Daisy said strongly, though quietly. “Few people have ever found Hazzard, and they won’t have the agility to climb over the fence like you did even if they do find the barrier.”

“Uh… uh-huh.” Katy was feeling a bit stupid, but she couldn’t stop shaking as all the pent-up fear of the past year came back to her all at once, and tears flowed freely. “I don’t ever want them to find me…”

“They won’t,” Daisy said again. “Katy, what happened to you that you had to run away like that? You sound like you’re pretty desperate.”

Katy turned her head to meet the other girl’s eyes. “They… they were pretty mean. The last home… I was the bottom of the barrel, and so were they. I was sent there without much investigation. They just wanted someone to work, like Cinderella, I guess. The man… he beat me when I broke a vase one day.”

Daisy tensed, drawing back a bit, and her soft hiss of breath drawn in through clenched teeth was one of sheer fury. “He what?!” She was whispering now, her eyes flashing hotly.

Katy nodded. “I… I’ve still got the mark.”

“Where? Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore. It happened a couple months ago. I’ve been in an orphanage ever since.” She sat up and rubbed the spot where the scar was gingerly, almost expecting it to hurt again. “Here.”

“Can I have a look?”

Katy nodded again, and felt her friend slowly lift up the back of her shirt. “You see it?”

Daisy muttered something quick and sharp under her breath, and Katy suspected it was a word that she might get in trouble over if her uncle heard. “He did that?”

“Yeah. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”

She felt her friend touch the spot lightly, then flatten her palm against the scar. Katy relaxed a little despite herself. Daisy’s hand was strong but soft, gentle like a mother’s touch might be, though this girl was probably only a few years older than she. “What did he do that with?”

“His belt.”

“Had to have been the metal buckle to leave that.”

“Yeah.”

Daisy pulled her hand away, letting the shirt straighten itself out, then wrapped both arms around the younger girl in a fierce hug from behind. “They’ll never do anything like that again, Katy, I promise. You’re safe in Hazzard, with us.”

Katy blinked back more tears. “I almost wish I could just stay here, with you.” She twisted around, meeting the other girl’s eyes again. Silent words and emotions passed, and Daisy nodded.

“You can stay for a while. I have a feeling you’ll need more than a few days to get life back to normal, huh?”

“What’s normal?” she laughed bitterly.

“You’ll find out. Here. You belong in Hazzard. And you can stay. All you have to do is choose to.”

“Thank you,” Katy whispered fervently, eyes still locked with Daisy’s. “Thank you all.”

The other girl smiled. “What’re friends for?”

Slowly, she returned the smile, wiping her eyes. “…Yeah. That’s what friends are for.”

“You got it.” Daisy jumped to her feet. “C’mon, forget the past. It doesn’t matter anymore. I smell dinner cooking, let’s go help set the table.”

Katy followed her out the door. “I ate at the Boar’s Nest.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t. Besides, believe me, Uncle Jesse’s cooking is worth a second dinner.”

Laughing a little, the two girls bounded downstairs, Katy’s heart feeling strangely light. This was strange in a way, the very thought of being here, in a place that shouldn’t exist, with people that were supposed to be only fictional, yet were all so very, very real. Strange, but wonderful. Katy felt safe here, and curious, as though there was suddenly more to the world, and now she had the freedom to explore it like she never had had the chance to before. And it had all happened, the entire changing of her life, in one day.

She remembered the words of that song she had thought about earlier. “Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.” The mountains and a rainbow had led her here. And maybe, just maybe, she could find her dreams in this secret world.

Katy believed that she could.

END

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