Subject One Hundred

So many choices.

There were so many he could choose from. Which one should he take next? Which one would be the most interesting? Which one would do exactly what he wanted?

Not a single one so far had accomplished what he wanted. All were failures and all had to be terminated prematurely. He didn’t mind though. He’d grown to enjoy that moment when it became clear they were wrong. But he was growing tired of how predictable it became. He could tell as soon as the program started how long the subject would last.

Premature termination. He’d hoped it would only occur a few times before he found the right one, but so far ninety-nine subjects had failed. Ninety-nine failures that never came close.

But he had a good feeling about subject one hundred. He just needed to find her.

He searched the screens, his eyes twitching from one face to another. The images weren’t as clear as he’d like, but he’d have to make due. This was a quick set-up. It had to be a quick set-up in case he needed to move again.

They’d almost caught him last time. It was his own fault, he chose the wrong subject not only for the program, but also for disappearing. She’d seemed perfect. Until the police tracker in her wallet attracted nearly half the city. He was lucky his instruments picked up on it in time, but he had to leave her behind after a quick clean up.

The police claimed they found DNA, but they were liars. It was the closest they came to finding him and they wanted the people to believe in them.

The screen in the top right corner flashed. His eyes shot to it. A match? He stared at the face and slowly stood, leaning close to the screen. He hit several keys on his keyboard and the image cleared, distorting the others.

A smile cracked his lips. There she was. She was perfect.

Subject One Hundred.

  *       *       *

Five minutes. Five more minutes and she’d be free. Her eyes bore into the clock, wishing for the hands to move faster, but only succeeding in making them move slower.

“Come on,” Tess whispered under her breath. She gripped the box on her desk tightly. All of her belongings were ready to be taken home and out of this building.

The activity of the office around her continued on, not as focused on the approaching five o’clock hour. As with any time one waits for minutes to pass, the five minutes Tess watched the clock were the longest in her life.

Thirty more seconds to go.

“Tess,” a booming voice called from behind her.

She jumped and turned, seeing her soon to be ex boss Stephen standing with a package in his hand. She looked at the package and then at Stephen.

“No, Steve, come on. It’s my last day,” she whined, knowing the look in his eyes.

“I know and we’ll miss you, wish you well in your future, and blah blah blah, but I don’t trust anyone else to actually get this done.”

“Jim could,” she said, sounding hopeful.

“You and I both know he can’t. Look, it’s not out of the way. It’s on your way home,” Stephen said.

“And how do you know where I live?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Office party two years ago.”

She cursed. She forgot he had to take her home after that particular disaster. “What is it?”

“Home delivery of a few new computer screens. The buyer doesn’t need them installed just delivered. Simple drop and run,” Stephen said, smiling. He held out the package.

Taking an annoyed breath in, Tess took the package and placed it on top of her box. “Fine, but only because you asked me in a good mood and because if anything goes wrong you can’t blame me since I don’t work for you anymore.”

“Is the only time you’re in a good mood when you’re leaving? I should’ve asked you to make deliveries every night.”

“Funny.” She eyed the clock. Two minutes past five. “Guess this is it. Bye Stephen. Tell everyone else I’ll miss them but not that much.”

“Really, Tess, take care of yourself. We’ll miss you around here.”

Tess picked up her box and smiled at him as she headed towards the door. “You’re only going to miss me cause now this place is back to being all lazy bums.”

“Don’t I know it. And Tess?”

Tess stopped and turned to him. “Yeah?”

“Be careful out there.”

  *       *       *

The address was halfway between her house and the office. Tess cursed at the dumb luck. It was like the person who ordered it knew it was her last day and wanted to make sure she delivered it.

She looked up at the tall buildings. She’d miss her long walks home from the office, though lately they’d been a bit more nerve wracking.

Usually she’d take the bus home or drive herself, but for her last week she wanted to walk, taking in the feeling of going to the job she had for almost seven years. Seven years too long, she thought. But she enjoyed it. The work was crap and having to do deliveries whenever Stephen didn’t want to pay extra for the drivers had been infuriating, but she loved the people and enjoyed her own job.

Then the murders started. Almost one hundred women in the past three years had been kidnapped and found dead. The police wouldn’t release the cause of death, which only made everyone speculate, though some claimed the causes weren’t released because the police didn’t want copycats.

Tess knew it was dangerous to walk around alone even in the early evening before the sun went down, but the most recent murder had taken place clear across town. The murderer wouldn’t hit here so soon…would he?

She shook the thoughts from her head. All she wanted to do was deliver the package and get home.

She stopped outside the address and double-checked it with the package. The building was stuck between two tall, modern apartment complexes. It was an old mansion. Tess had seen a number of them throughout the city. The owners refused to sell their homes and companies were forced to build around them, cramping the houses, making them look out of place.

But this mansion seemed to blend seamlessly with the buildings. The surrounding gate was outfitted with state of the art technology and the house itself appeared to have recently been renovated. Tess tried to find a slot to place the package in, but there was none. She looked at the package and, turning it over, found additional delivery information.

There was a gate code, a door code, and a small message written. Please leave package in the small lobby between the outer front door and inner door.

“Damn it,” Tess said. She input the gate code in the small keypad and crossed the wide yard to the front door. She searched it for a similar keypad, but couldn’t find it. She noticed a doorbell and sighed. She hated talking to those she was forced to deliver to. They usually spent most of the time asking her questions and wasting her time.

Pressing the doorbell, she heard its chime echo through the house. After a moment a small mechanical whirr preceded a keypad emerging from below the doorbell.

Hesitating, Tess punched in the door code and waited. The front door opened and she peered inside. It was a metallic room leading to another door.

Her mind tried to think back on anything she’d ever heard of like this and the closest she came was sterilization rooms. She’d read a long time ago that some of the wealthy that became ill would build sterilization chambers for any visitors to use before being admitted into their home.

She’d never seen one before, but she assumed this was where she was to leave the package. She walked inside and placed the package on the floor by the second door. She turned to leave only to see the front door slam shut behind her.

The lights went out and her heart raced. She ran to the door, slamming into it in the dark and tried to open it. She banged on the door, but it wouldn’t budge.

The sound of gas entering the room filled her with panic and she fought against the door. Her motions slowed as her body became heavy. Drowsiness overtook her and she lowered to the floor. As she drew closer to unconsciousness she could see a tiny red light flashing at her from the top corner of the room.

Aegle Sample

Pain exploded from her back with the beat of the song. She screamed and fell forward, but her voice was drowned out by the shouts of the large crowd. It wasn’t until warm liquid landed on the faces of those around her anyone realized something was wrong. Screams of terror mixed with the excited cheers.

She grabbed her belongings in a blind rush and ran down the stairs. She was thankful she had an aisle seat, but there were so many stairs and it was dark. The small lights to help illuminate the steps were difficult to see with the flashing lights from the stage momentarily blinding her.

She made it to the bottom and turned to exit the arena. Something knocked into the wall and she screamed at the pain in her back. She guessed she had hit a railing, but she didn’t want to stop. She had to get out. Her back was burning. She made it out into the hall of the arena and the blinding lights stopped her for a moment. She searched for the stairs to the ground floor. She ran down them, feeling warmth drip down her back to the floor.

She reached the ground floor. Screams erupted all around her and she looked into the faces of terrified concertgoers who had run out to the bathrooms between songs. Seeing their expressions she felt a greater desire to get away from this place. She turned and ran around the ring of the arena. She didn’t know where she was in relation to the entrance, but she couldn’t risk stopping to ask. The pain was pushing her forward.

A stroke on her cheek made her scream and she turned. No one was near her. She could see employees staring at her wide-eyed and some were frantically speaking into radios. She felt another stroke on her other cheek and turned her head. Her eyes widened at the sight.

Wings. Two large, grey wings were following her. Her eyes followed them down to her back and the two bleeding wounds where the wings had exploded from her skin.

Security guards ran towards her from where she had been running. She panicked and started to run faster. She spied doors that looked like the exit and forced them open. She ran down another flight of stairs and emerged into a long hallway. She didn’t recognize it and felt her heartbeat grow faster. Where was she?

The door at the top of the stairs opened and closed and she could hear footsteps as well as the radio blaring in the stairwell. She turned and started to run again. There had to be an emergency exit somewhere, right?

Her eyes suddenly blurred and began burning. She screamed in frustration as her vision made it difficult to see any signs. She tried to rub at them carefully to fix the blurriness, but it only made it worse. She crashed into something and felt her wings flapping wildly. Whatever she crashed into began wrapping around her and she became tangled. Her wings were pulled tight against her back and she couldn’t move her arms.

The panic inside of her reached a terrifying level and she began to cry. She screamed in terror, but managed to form one word. “HELP!”

She heard a door open in front of her and footsteps ran to her. “What the hell?”

She tried to calm down enough to speak, but her voice came out as terrified sobs. “Please! Help! I need to get out of here!”

The footsteps from behind finally caught up and she could hear several men breathing heavily. Hands grabbed for her and she started to scream again, pleading for help.

“Hey! Stop! She’s tangled in the curtain! You’re only making it worse!”

“We’ll take her. She’s with us anyways.”

“Are you crazy? She just created a scene in the halls! We got reports from everyone stationed at the doors that she was running around like a maniac! We’ve been ordered to kick her out.”

“We’ll take care of her! She was supposed to stay down here in the dressing rooms, but she got away from us. If the person who gave you orders has a problem with it, he can talk to us.”

A pause. She tried to calm her frantic breathing, but the cloth of the curtain was tight around her and she couldn’t see. The panic started to come back and she whimpered helplessly.

“Fine, but you should get someone to look at her. I think she’s bleeding.” She heard footsteps walking away.

Her whimpers grew louder as it became harder to breathe. She could feel hands help her to her feet and someone untangled her head from the curtain. She took deep lungful’s of air. The burning of her eyes caused tears to continually stream down her face, but she tried to look at who had saved her. It took a moment for her eyes to focus properly, but she still couldn’t make out her rescuers’ faces.

“Are you okay? Do you need a doctor?”

She shook her head. A sudden wave of nausea forced her to grab one of the men’s shoulders. “I need a bathroom.”

“We should take her to the locker room. There’re bathrooms and showers.”

“And privacy.”

They tried to untangle to rest of the curtain off her, but she furiously shook her head. “No! Please, I don’t want you to see.”

They didn’t argue and led her through a set of doors. They walked down a long hallway and even with her burning, blurred vision she could make out other people who stopped to stare at her. They walked through another set of doors and she was taken to a stall. She quickly ran in and kneeled to the floor and vomited into the toilet. She was thankful her hair was up in a ponytail. Her arms were still trapped in the curtain and she could only use her hands to stop herself from falling into the toilet.

When she was sure she was finished she tried to stand. Hands helped her and a blurry figure flushed the toilet. The men led her to a bench and sat her down.

“We’ll just give you a minute to…clean up.”

“Do you want someone to take a look at you? Like a nurse or something?”

She furiously shook her head.

“We’ll be right outside. Take your time.”

“Thank you,” she said, shyly. She watched their blurred figures disappear through the doors and she released an exhausted sigh. She pulled her arms free from the curtain and raised a hand to her eyes. She pulled her contacts out of her eyes and blinked several times.

The burning disappeared and she felt relief fill her. She looked up and to her shock she could see perfectly. She blinked a few times and looked down at the two pieces of thin plastic in her hand. “Weird.”

She untangled the rest of the curtain and placed it on the bench next to her. She put her bag under the bench, making a mental note not to forget it. She noticed for the first time, blood on her arms and clothes. She stared at it with wide eyes. She looked around and spied the showers. She stood and ran to one and turned it on. The water poured down from the showerhead in a spray of cold. She adjusted it to a comfortable temperature. She tried to take her shirt off, but it caught on something. She reached to her back and froze.

She had forgotten.

The back of her shirt had been torn in two places. She cursed and ripped the rest of her shirt off. She didn’t bother with her pants. She walked under the water and rinsed the blood from her arms. She took her hair down and ran her hands through. The water ran down her back and she winced at the dulling pain.

She raised a shaky hand behind her and touched the wings. She could feel where they were on her back and tried to move them. She found them easy to control and maneuvered them in front of her so she could get a better look.

They were no longer grey. They had probably only looked grey because of the lighting and because of…all the blood. She shivered and saw the feathers on the wings ruffle. The feathers were actually a light golden brown. She stroked the wings and her eyes watched her hands. She stopped and moved her hands to her face.

Her hands were different. Her fingers and nails were longer. Her nails were black, but it wasn’t nail polish. They were naturally black with golden tints toward the cuticles. She slowly lowered to the floor and cried. She could feel her hair sticking to her face and she squeezed her wings against her back as she leaned against the cool linoleum wall. She closed her eyes to try to stop the tears, but they forced their way through.

“Well, well. Looks like someone shouldn’t play with things she doesn’t understand,” a voice said.

She quickly looked up and saw a man in black staring at her. He leaned on a sink and smiled at her.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“Who am I? According to you nothing. I don’t exist. Though you were quite quick to make a deal to get what you wanted. Too bad you weren’t specific. I improvised. How do you like them? I figured something dramatic would be best.”

“What are you talking about? What deal?”

The man leaned his head to the side and then appeared in front of her. She jumped at his sudden appearance and tried to move away, but he grabbed her throat and raised her off the floor. She gasped in fear and started to struggle, but his grip was only meant to hold her not cut off her breathing. “I want them to notice me. I would give anything to be special enough for them to want to know me.”

Her eyes widened as she heard her own voice come from the man’s throat.

He cleared his throat and when he spoke again he returned to his voice. “Again, not very specific, but improvisation was always my strong suit. Your words those many nights ago caught my attention, but I figured the excitement should wait for the big night. Now here we are.”

She stared at him in disbelief. “You’re the devil?”

He laughed. “Well, a devil. One devil isn’t exactly how it works. You may call me D. Don’t bother asking for my real name. Human tongues can’t form the correct pronunciation.” He pulled her closer to him. “I bet you haven’t even had a real good chance to look at all the work I put into you. Here.”

They appeared in front of a mirror and he turned his head to look at their reflection. She turned her head and her mouth opened. D released her and stepped away. She leaned close to the mirror and raised her long fingers to her eyes. They were now black with golden irises, like a wolf or eagle’s eyes. She opened her mouth wider. Her teeth had become perfect, white, and her canines had grown a little longer and sharper on bottom and top. Her hair, starting to dry at the ends, was now the same light golden color as the wings. She stroked the dried ends and felt how much softer it had become, like the feathers on a baby chick.

“What did you do to me?” she demanded turning back to D.

He was gone. She looked around, but she was alone. The water from the shower echoed in the empty room and she stared at the ceiling.

“Oh, one last thing,” D said suddenly. She jumped and looked back in the mirror. He stood behind her, but when she turned he wasn’t there. He was only in the mirror. “This was not done for free. I will be back to tell you my price. For now, enjoy talking to your idols.” He disappeared.

She moved back from the mirror. Voices echoed down the hallway outside the doors.

“I’m telling you she may be hurt. I didn’t want security to just throw her out.”

“So you brought a crazed fan backstage? You’re a real fucking genius.”

“She wasn’t crazed! She sounded scared and kicking her out would only do more harm than good.”

She looked over and then at her reflection. She grabbed the curtain and ran back to the shower. She turned the water off. The doors opened and she scrambled to find a place to hide, but it was too late. She covered herself with the curtain, but forgot to pull her wings in. She cursed and without thinking wrapped her wings around her.

“She’s probably going to kidnap us and take photos of us naked or some shit.”

“What the fuck is that?”

There was a short pause before another voice said, “Holy shit.”

Footsteps quickly moved closer and she felt hands touch the feathers of her wings. “Hello?”

She bit her bottom lip and slowly pulled her wings away. The men staring at her gasped.

“The hell?”

“Is this a prank or something?”

“I think those are real.”

“So, what’s the story here?”

She couldn’t answer them. Her voice had caught in her throat when she saw their faces. Without her contacts to blur the world she recognized the men standing in front of her. They were the members of the bands she had come to see that night, the two opening bands and the main event, Ashes of Snow, Animal Den, and Between Silence.

She pulled the curtain closer to her face and looked away, embarrassed about her wings and the fact she was only in her bra under the curtain.

“Hey, are you okay? People said you were bleeding a lot.”

“That’s what happens when wings unexpectedly explode out of your back,” she grumbled. She slowly turned, lowering the curtain to show them the still sore wounds.

A gentle hand carefully touched where her back ended and the wings began and the owner whistled. “That’s crazy shit, man.”

“What do we do with her now?”

“She should come with us!”

“What?”

“Are you crazy?”

“We can’t leave her here in the showers and I don’t think we can just send her off outside. She can stay with us for the night.”

“You said come with us. That implies taking her to San Francisco tomorrow.”

“Well, why not? She could be our new mascot.”

“The least we can do is let her sleep. You have a car here, right?”

She nodded. “The keys are in my bag.” She pointed to the bench. One of the members walked to it and grabbed it, carefully digging through it for her keys.

“You remembered your shit?”

“I can think pretty clearly in a crisis. For a while, at least.”

“So who’s going to get her car? None of us can go outside right now. There are still people walking around waiting for us to emerge.”

“We’ll get one of the roadie’s to do it. Tell ‘em it’s one of our family’s or something.”

“Right, so where is she going to sleep?”

“We’ve got an extra bed in our bus. Curtained and everything so she can have some privacy.”

“Settled then. Come on. We’re going to have to sneak you past the fans.”

She stood and grabbed the curtain. She pulled her wings close to her back and one of the members helped her wrap the curtain over them. She followed them out and they helped sneak her past a line of fans wanting to catch a final glimpse of their idols. The main band, Between Silence stopped to keep them distracted and the others got her to their bus.

“I guess they meant this bed. It’s the only clean one.”

She took the curtain off, having a little trouble keeping her wings from hitting the walls of the cramped bus. She managed to squeeze into the bed and looked at the other members. They said goodbye and left, leaving her alone.

She pulled the covers of the bed back and tried to find a comfortable position with the wings. She finally managed and closed the curtains. She stared at the curtains in silence.

She was on Between Silence’s tour bus. She was going with them to San Francisco. She wished she was happy or excited about it, but all she felt was fear and confusion. She tried to calm her mind as she heard the band members enter the bus. They spoke quietly so as not to disturb her and she heard them move to their respective beds. The bus engine started and began moving. The rocking of the bus lulled her into a dreamless sleep.

Holding Room Sample

The door to the new holding room opened. The room was made completely out of thick glass except for the door and hallway leading into the room. Those were made of thick metal for security reasons. There were two beds set up side by side against one of the walls of the room. One was made with gray sheets and a single pillow at the head. The other bed was specially made up for the occupant of the room. The sheets were emerald green with a pink pillow at the head. A few stuffed animals were laid out on the bed, but they were really only to add a more homey touch to the barren room. Across from the beds was a table that had a cover made of cloth stuffed with cushioning to prevent injury. A chair, covered similarly to the table, was pushed in against the table. On the wall opposite of the door was a flat screen TV protected behind a thick layer of glass that protruded into the room. A smaller screen, made of inflatable material, was connected to the wall by a short chain. Underneath the TV was a shelf where a few books were kept. There was also a small array of drawing materials including markers and sketchpads. However, there were no pens or pencils.

Dr. Benjamin Travis, Sr. was standing in an adjoining, observation room, keeping a watchful eye on the door that had just opened in the holding room. His gray hair was combed back close to his head and his green eyes stared out from behind thick glasses. He kept his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. Today was a special day, for two reasons. It was the first day the new holding room was going to be used, but it was also Dr. Travis’s last day. He had been “asked” to retire by the higher ups of the program. The only positive thing about it was he got to pick his successor. That had been an easy choice for him, but one that the higher ups and those who had been working closely with Dr. Travis had voiced numerous arguments about. The choice was his alone. Therefore his first choice for successor was the one who had gotten the job.

Screams came from the open door leading into the holding room. Dr. Travis watched patiently as the backs of two workers came into view. They were struggling with something just out of sight. The screaming became more frantic as the two workers managed to move further into the room. Slowly, a young woman came into view. Her short, dirty blonde hair was messy, a few strands sticking up. Her eyes were wide and filled with terror. They were amazing eyes. The inner most part of them were a dazzling royal blue while the rest of the iris was a mixture of green and small specks of gold.

They were the most unusual and beautiful eyes Dr. Travis had ever seen. They were only one of the reasons she had been chosen for this program. Recently, ironically just before he was asked to “retire”, Dr. Travis had received a large grant for his research and a new building to use. That was where they were now. They had been moving everything in before even attempting to move her.

One of the workers was kicked in the stomach and thrown across the room. He hit the wall and crumpled to the floor clutching his shoulder. The other worker managed to grab the woman’s leg before it she could do the same to him. The woman’s screams became ear piercing and Dr. Travis sighed.

He leaned forward and, calmly, removed his right hand from his pocket and pressed a small button in front of him. “Leah.”

The woman became silent and froze. The worker still holding her looked at Dr. Travis. Dr. Travis nodded and the worker released the woman. He hurried to the other worker and started to check his shoulder.

Dr. Travis kept his eyes on the woman. “Leah. Look at me.”

The woman flinched at the commanding tone of his voice, but slowly turned her head. Her eyes hesitated at the floor before moving up to meet Dr. Travis’s.

“Leah, what did I tell you about kicking?”

Leah was fighting to keep her eyes locked onto Dr. Travis. She raised her right hand up to her chest, showing a homemade doll. It was made of gray cloth, similar to the sheets on the second bed, and clothes had been stitched onto it using other kinds of fabric. A small black and white plaid shirt matched a pair of shorts and hat. Leah clutched the tiny thing against her tightly.

Dr. Travis took a deep breath. “Leah? What did I tell you about kicking?”

“Don’t.” Her voice was barely audible through the speaker.

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t kick.”

Dr. Travis smiled. “That’s right. Now, I already explained to you yesterday what was going to happen today, correct?”

Leah nodded.

“What did I tell you?”

“I was getting a new room.”

“And?”

“And…I’d have to leave my old room.”

“That’s right. I told you all of that and you still decided to make this move difficult. Why is that?”

Leah mumbled something inaudible over the speaker.

“Speak louder, Leah.”

“I don’t like leaving my room. I don’t like change.”

“Look around the room, Leah.”

Leah, happy to look away from Dr. Travis, quickly searched the room.

Dr. Travis leaned forward, watching her very carefully. “Everything looks exactly the same. We made sure everything stayed the exact same as your room. The only thing that’s different is the outside.”

Leah looked back at Dr. Travis, still clutching her doll to her chest. “But I still had to leave my room. This isn’t my room. This is a new room.”

Dr. Travis stared at her in silence. He turned his attention to the two workers still huddled on the floor. “How is he?”

The second worker looked at Dr. Travis. “His shoulder is dislocated…and he may have a concussion.”

“Take him to first aid. I no longer need your assistance.”

The men hurried out of the room, moving around Leah carefully. Leah flinched when the door slammed shut and locked.

Dr. Travis returned his attention to Leah. “Look at me.”

Leah slowly shook her head.

“Leah. Look. At. Me.”

Leah bit her lower lip and slowly looked at Dr. Travis.

“No more fighting. Okay?”

Leah nodded her head and squeezed her doll tighter. “Yes, sir.”

Dr. Travis leaned back and put his hand back in his pocket, cutting off the speaker into the holding room. Leah slowly moved towards the shelves under the flat screen TV. She ran her fingers across the few books placed on the shelves then she grabbed one of the sketchpads and a handful of markers. She hurried to the center of the room and placed the markers on the ground. She cradled her doll under her armpit and started to tear sheets of paper out of the sketchpad and throw the sheets onto the floor. She then threw the sketchpad behind her and fell to her knees. She grabbed two of the markers and, quickly uncapping them with her fingers, she began to draw.

Her hands moved over the papers quickly, but were never sure of what they were doing. An image slowly began to appear across all of the sheets of paper. Dr. Travis moved closer to the glass wall that separated him from Leah. His eyes searched the drawing being formed in front of his eyes.

“Doctor?” a lab assistant asked opening the door into the observation room. “He’s ready to meet her.”

Dr. Travis waved his hand at the lab assistant. “Then send him in.”

The lab assistant left. Dr. Travis pressed his hand against the glass and strained to see the full image Leah was creating.

Leah’s eyes were locked onto the papers in front of her. Her hands moved like separate beings. They switched markers without a pause and soon the drawing was almost finished. She just needed to use two more markers and it would be finished.

The door to the holding cell opened and closed. Footsteps approached Leah, but she was too caught up in her work, until the shoes appeared in her vision. Her hands stopped their work, only one line left before completion. The shoes were unfamiliar to Leah. She knew everyone who worked with Dr. Travis. She knew everyone, but the man who was now standing in front of her.

Her eyes slowly made their way up to the stranger’s face. He was young, close to Leah’s age. His eyes were green and his hair was a deep, dark brown. He wore thin glasses, most likely worn not very often.

Leah’s eyes widened. She dropped the markers in her hands and her doll fell, forgotten to the floor. Her breathing quickened and she  whimpered. She scooted away from the stranger until her back hit the wall. Then she curled up into a tight ball, but her eyes were still visible and locked onto the newcomer.

The man watched her patiently. He took a few steps forward. He bent down onto one knee and picked up Leah’s doll. He looked into her eyes and smiled. “Hello, Leah.”

Leah began to shake her head furiously. “No! No! I don’t like change! Leave! You have to leave!”

The man stood and started to walk towards her. Leah squealed and curled tighter into a ball. “I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, Leah.”

Leah uncurled and quickly crawled towards the bed made up for her. She grabbed the covers and roughly pulled it off the bed, pulling the stuffed animals and pillows to the floor with it. She wrapped the thick fabric around her, hiding herself from the man.

The man looked at Dr. Travis. “You really didn’t tell her anything about me.”

Dr. Travis laughed and pressed the intercom button. “I thought I had more time before I would be forced to leave the program.”

“No, you didn’t want her to know about me. You were going to try to convince her I was you.”

“What could possibly have put that thought into your mind?”

The man sighed and walked over to the emerald green, breathing blob that Leah was hiding inside of. He held out her doll. “Leah, you forgot Lee.”

The green blob flinched and slowly Leah’s head appeared from underneath the fabric. “How did you know her name?”

“I know a lot about you and Lee. Why don’t you come out and Dr. Travis will properly explain everything to you.”

Leah hesitated, but eventually she began to stand and reached for her doll. She quickly grabbed it from the man and looked at Dr. Travis.

The man turned to Dr. Travis and raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to be good and tell her what’s going on or do I have to do it?”

Dr. Travis took a deep breath and released it slowly. “Leah. I have been asked to leave. I will no longer be here watching over your progression.”

Leah shook her head. “You can’t. You’re always here. You can’t leave.”

“It’s not my choice, Leah. I have been asked to leave, but I was given the chance to name my successor. He is my successor.”

Leah looked at the man standing next to her. “But he isn’t you.” She looked back at Dr. Travis. “Things cannot change! I don’t like it when things change!”

“You don’t have to think of it as change,” the man said.

Dr. Travis eyed the man, a warning in his gaze. “That’s right, Leah. This man here is the closest to me I could possibly have found for you.”

Leah’s eyes flickered between Dr. Travis and the man. “What do you mean?”

“This is my son. Dr. Benjamin Travis, Junior. He is the only man I could possibly entrust my research to.”

Leah turned her complete attention to the man next to her.

He met her gaze and smiled. “If you’d like you can call me Dr. Travis. Although I prefer Dr. Ben.”

Leah clutched her doll to her chest. Suddenly she looked down at the doll as though it were talking to her. She slowly looked back at him. “Lee says I should call you Dr. Ben. She says I shouldn’t be afraid of this change. It will be all right.”

Dr. Ben looked at Dr. Travis. “How very kind of Lee.”

Dr. Travis cleared his throat. “I’m so happy this went so well. Dr. Ben, I would like to have a word with you before I leave for good. You, too, Leah.” He turned and left the observation room.

Dr. Ben turned to Leah and held his hand out to her. She stared at it and then at him. He laughed to himself and put his hand in his pocket. “We can be informal if you want to be.”

Leah wrapped the fabric of the covers around her tighter. “I don’t know what would be informal for the son of Dr. Travis.”

Dr. Ben wrapped his arms around her. Leah’s eyes widened and her heart began to pound in her chest. She roughly pushed him away.

“That would be informal, Leah.”

Leah hugged Lee close to her chest.

Dr. Ben’s eyes moved to the floor where the drawing Leah had been working on was lying forgotten. He walked to it and leaned down to get a closer look. “What did you draw, Leah?”

Leah walked forward and looked at her work. “I saw it in my head.”

The drawing was of a strange ship. It looked like a cruise ship, but some of the windows and the shape of the ship were unlike anything Dr. Ben had ever seen. The colors Leah had used added a haunting quality to the ship.

Dr. Ben looked into Leah’s beautifully, odd eyes. “You saw this just now?”

“Yes.”

Le Cirque de Disparaître Sample

The tent was filled with patrons, cramped close together in the smoke filled room. They ate their small bags of popcorn and nuts, watching those before them with wide eyes. Children cooed with excitement and grabbed the coats of their parents, pointing with their free hand at the sights in the center of the ring.

Yseult walked to the edge of the ring, sitting against a support beam for the tent, and watched the crowds with a blank face. She could see the awe filling their eyes at each act. Her violet eyes turned to stare at the next act preparing to go on.

Bipin stretched his muscular arms over his head, waiting for his cue to enter. His long black hair was braided down his back and one of the other acrobats quickly pinned it up into a tight bun to keep it out of his way. All he wore was white pants. His almond eyes were focused as he prepared his mind and body for what was to come.

The act before him finished and exited the ring. Bipin entered, surrounded by other acrobats, carrying chairs. At the center of the ring, a spotlight landed on a single chair, placed by the exiting act.

A loud cough and snort next to Yseult caught her attention. She turned her head to see a blonde haired man with thin glasses sitting against the support beam next to her. His dark coat was wrinkled from sitting on the ground and his eyes blood shot. A bottle in his hand was empty and his hair stood on end. His eyes rolled to look at Yseult and a gruff laugh escaped his lips.

“Came to see how the new one fares, eh? Or does La Reine have you on a little errand?”

Yseult stared at the man with the same blank stare, not answering.

“Do you think I have her out here for you, Monsieur Hammond?” a deep voice spoke.

Yseult and the man, Hammond, look up at a tall woman. Her sparkling hazel eyes burn with a youthful light. Her body was lean, muscular, an athletic build that was only accentuated by the black and purple corset she wore. The matching jacket she wore covered her shoulders and the tail rested atop the ruffled back of her skirt. The front of the skirt was cropped shorter, ending halfway down her thighs. The high knee black heeled boots and black tights covered her legs. The gray in her brown hair was the only sign of her age and a black and purpled feathered hairpiece held the loose curls from her face. The strong jaw and pronounced cheekbones almost gave her face a mannish look, but it didn’t lower her beauty.

Hammond flushed at the sight of her, but anger quickly replaced the lust that filled his eyes. “Madame Géroux, always a pleasure to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same to you right now, but as I can see the drink still drooling from your mouth I will have to hold my tongue.”

“Drinking is the only way I can feel normal anymore, Madame. All because of you and this little circus of yours.”

Madame Géroux leaned her hip to the side and placed a hand on it. She smiled

“Yseult, come.”

Yseult stood and followed Madame Géroux away from Hammond. When they were safely out of earshot, Madame Géroux turned to Yseult. She held up a pin with a white feather attached. Yseult stared at the small item.

“It is time for Bipin to be welcomed into the family. You know what to do, Cerise.”

Yseult’s violet eyes changed to black. She took the pin from Madame Géroux. “Oui, Madame.”

Madame Géroux smiled and patted Yseult on the cheek. “Très bon, mon métamorphe.” She walked away, disappearing backstage.

Yseult returned her attention to Bipin in the center ring. A tower of chairs stood nearly twenty feet high. Standing at the top, Bipin held his hand out to the side. An acrobat using a long pole, held another chair up for him. Bipin grabbed it and balanced it on the top of the tower. Another chair already waited for him when he placed his hand out and he grabbed it. He angled the chair and, with the chairs balancing precariously, he placed both hands on the chair, one at the top back and the other at the edge of the seat. His arms tensed and he slowly raised his body until he was in a handstand at the top of the tower.

For a moment, no one made a sound or breathed. Bipin took a deep breath and slowly raised a hand. The chairs shook slightly and sharp intake of breaths was heard in the audience. Bipin spread his legs and turned his head to look at the audience. At that signal the audience exploded into applause. Bipin calmly returned his hand to the chair and lowered his body down to a standing position. He held both hands out to the side and the applause grew louder. He began dismantling the tower, handing the chairs off to the acrobats below. He took one last bow once he reached the ground and the audience leapt to their feet and cheered their amazement.

Yseult moved to the side of the entrance to backstage. Bipin ran towards her, but before he could pass she reached a hand out to him. He stopped and walked to her.

With a movement as fast as a snake strike, Yseult plunged the needle into Bipin’s arm. He jumped away from her, but blood already trickled down his arm from the tiny wound. Yseult looked at the pin and the white feather changed to red. Her black eyes met Bipin’s confused face.

“Madame Géroux would like to see you to discuss your permanent addition to Le Cirque de Disparaître,” Yseult spoke in fluent Mandarin.

Bipin answered her in his native tongue. “I’ve passed her test then?”

“You have.”

“I’m ready.”

Yseult lead Bipin backstage, past many acts preparing for their turn. They exited the main tent and walked passed the smaller tents housing animals, families, and other things. At the back of the circus grounds was a purple and black tent. The door was made of intertwining cloths and Yseult stopped in front of it.

“You must go in alone. Take this.” She handed the feathered pin to Bipin and held several of the curtains to allow him entrance.

Bipin nodded his head and, taking the pin, entered the tent. Yseult dropped the curtains and moved to sit against a tree, waiting.

An hour passed before Bipin emerged from the tent, followed by Madame Géroux. She patted his back and spoke to him quickly in French. The wonder in Bipin’s eyes brought a smile to his lips and he thanked her in Mandarin. She motioned him away and he quickly headed for his own tent.

“Yseult,” Madame Géroux called.

Yseult stood and crossed to her, her black eyes returned to violet and she watched the older woman eagerly.

“I need Sévérine. It’s time to locate our next stop.”

Shifting uncomfortably, Yseult closed her eyes. When she opened them they were emerald green. “Madame Géroux, you must really be stumped if you need me. What can I do for you?”

“It’s time to find a new destination.”

“Oh? You’ve found everything here then?”

“Yes.”

“Your in luck, Madame. Since last we spoke a new signature has been screaming in my head.”

Madame Géroux stared at Yseult with wide eyes. “A new signature? Do you mean someone who…?”

“That’s right. I’ve located someone who may possibly be your heir.”

“Where?”

Yseult smiled. “The better question is when?”

A somber expression filled Madame Géroux’s expression. “I promised everyone we wouldn’t do another jump for a long time.”

“Well, it’s your circus. It’s your choice. Though if you don’t mind waiting, she isn’t going anywhere.”

“She? It’s a woman?”

“Not yet a woman. A young girl.”

Came Back Sample

“Kara. Kara, where are you?” Eric called. He walked through the small house. His eyes moved to the glass door leading to the backyard. He sighed and walked out through the opened door. “What’s wrong?”

Kara turned to her husband. Her green eyes were red from crying. “Nothing.”

“You hate the backyard. You only come out here when something is wrong.”

Kara hesitated. “I had the dream again…the memory again.”

Eric walked up to her and wrapped his arms around her. “It’s okay. It was only a dream. We’re safe.”

Kara looked at him. “I know that, but I have a bad feeling. It’s the same feeling I had that day.”

Eric laughed. “Calm down. We should get to work. One more day and then our relaxing vacation can start.”

Kara smiled and wrapped her arms around Eric, but her eyes couldn’t hide the worry.

 

 

 

 

Kara finished her final sale. She looked at her watch. 2:15 pm exactly. Eric would already be off from the bank. He was probably already waiting outside for her.

“All right, Kara. I have been sent to relieve you of your duties,” Jessica said, walking up to Kara. “Have fun on your vacation. Where are you and Eric going?”

“We’re going on a cruise. We’ve been saving up since the wedding.”

“Really? That sounds so relaxing!”

“That’s the reasoning behind it…Eric’s reasoning.”

Jessica leaned close to her. “Is everything good between you two?”

Kara laughed to herself. “Yeah. I’ve just been having…some stress lately.” She looked away from Jessica’s questioning eyes. Her face blanked.

Across from them moving between racks of clothes and crowds of people was a man dressed in weird black clothes. He looked at her and smiled.

“Kara?”

“I have to go,” Kara said.

She hurried away towards the man. He watched her move closer before turning and heading away. Kara picked up her speed. The man exited the store out into the blinding sunlight. Kara followed, slowed by two couples entering the store. She ran to edge of the street and looked around. She lost him. The man was gone.

A tightening in her chest pre-empts the tears that fall from her eyes. He couldn’t be here. If he was here, then they were here. But why would they be here? Why would they come back, unless…?

“Kara!”

Eric was across the street. He waved to her excitedly, but the excitement slowly drained from his face as he saw the tears in her eyes.

“Kara?”

The ground shook. People screamed and fell to the ground. The lampposts and stoplights swung wildly. Kara covered her head and kneeled to the ground. Eric does the same across the street. The sky darkened and soon it was dark as night. Automatic lights flickered on and the shaking slowed.

As the ground stopped, people stand and look up to the sky. They point with wide eyes. Eric slowly stood and stared at Kara. Kara slowly uncovered her head and looked up.

A black shield-like object covered the entire sky. Just inside a large ship was seen. It slowly moved directly over them. Kara stared at the ship with wide, terror filled eyes. She remembered. She remembered seeing the ship years ago.

A loud noise erupted from the ship. Those standing around covered their ears and screamed. Kara looked to Eric. Neither covered their ears. They knew the sound. It did not hurt their heads like the others. It did not hurt them because it was meant for them.

“Eric,” Kara whispered, but she knew he could hear her.

A light turned on over Eric. He looked up at the ship. Then he looked at Kara, but his eyes were slowly glazing over. He reached a hand out to her.

Kara slowly shook her head. “No.”

A second light turned on over her. She jumped away from it and hid under the store awning. She looked at Eric as he disappeared. She screamed and both lights turned off. The loud noise faded and those around her began to stand.

A hand grabbed Kara’s shoulder. She screamed and jumped back out into the opening. A light turned back on her and she rushed back under the awning. She looked at the man who had grabbed her. It was the man she had been chasing.

“Ryan,” she gasped.

The man leaned close to her. “We came back for you and Eric. They’re ready, Kara. But they need both of you to finish it.”

Kara pulled away from Ryan. “No, we escaped. They left.”

“You knew they would come back. You know why they came back.”

Gareth Sample

“Are you sure you’re okay? You’ve been looking a little nervous since you got here,” Harper asked, leaning close to Gareth. “You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to. I know it brings up bad memories.”

Gareth nodded his head and picked up his clipboard. “I’m fine. Don’t worry.” The feeling in his head grew stronger.

“Okay, but I’m going to keep an eye on you anyways.”

Gareth grabbed the back of tools and smiled as he left the through the side of the barn yet to be built. His eyes trailed the line of stones leading towards the dirt road and the feeling in his head changed to singing. He stopped walking and the smile faded from his face. The singing echoed in his head and he could almost see His eyes staring at him from an unseen place hidden beneath the rocks.

“Gareth?” Harper called from the entrance of the barn, worry thick in her voice.

Gareth heard something to his left and suddenly his vision cleared. He could see where everything used to stand. The two lines of stones used to be walls leading to the doorway of His home. But the home above was only a façade to protect what lay beneath the earth. He stared down and could see passages spreading like veins through the ground. One led far to the left where the small pond at the head of the creek sat.

Sensing the change in Gareth, Harper dropped her tool and ran for him. “Gareth!”

But she wasn’t fast enough. Gareth dropped the tool bag and clipboard and took off at a sprint. The singing in his head had now changed to His voice telling him where to go.

Find me, Gareth.

Gareth leapt what was left of the rock wall and tumbled down the hill beyond. He nearly rolled right into the creek, but managed to scramble to his feet and bolted up towards the pond. Harper’s screams behind him were drowned out by His voice.

Find me and bring me back.

The pond appeared before him and Gareth slowed his pace as his eyes searched for the secret entrance to the passage, but the cleared vision was gone. He stared at the large pipe sticking out of the side of the hill. Black sludge dripped from it into the pond turning the water a nauseating brown with a matching smell.

Gareth waded into the pond and searched, his eyes scanning every inch beneath the disgusting brown water. He spotted something hiding in the muck and dove his hands in, grasping for it.

Arms wrapped around him and pulled him roughly from the water. The sudden attack caused him to flail his legs sending large waves of water into the air. He struggled, hearing His voice fading as he was pulled from the pond.

“Gareth! Calm down! It’s us!” Harper screamed.

Gareth twisted in his captor’s arms and faced Jamison, his face pale and eyes wide. Black sludge had splashed onto his face from Gareth’s ferocious splashing. Jamison threw Gareth to the ground in front of Harper and glared at her. “I told you he shouldn’t have come. It’s still affecting him.”

“He was fine. Something must have triggered it.”

“Yeah, being here! He needs to leave.”

Gareth stared up at his two friends and fear filled him. He couldn’t leave. He had to find Him. “No! I need to stay! I won’t run off again. I’m sorry. I just thought I…saw something.”

“What did you see?” Harper asked.

Jamison huffed angrily. “He’s lying. He’ll say anything to stay. I’m sorry, Harp. We tried, but he can’t be trusted here. He needs to leave before he does something that puts all of us in danger.”

“What danger are you thinking of, Jamison?” Harper demanded.

“What if the next time he runs off it’s while he’s holding a power tool and he drops it on someone?”

The singing grew in Gareth’s head as the two argued and he looked back into the pond. He could see it now. The entrance was there, beneath the murky water. There was no handle or obvious opening. But there must be a way in.

“Then we don’t give him a power tool. He can stay with me and manage things. I’ll keep him in line.”

“And when he runs off you’ll tackle him this time?”

“Yes.”

Gareth’s eyes searched the pond and he saw it. A small line of wire buried in the mud. Find me, Gareth. Reaching his hand for the wire, a small smile formed on Gareth’s face. He’s almost there.

Hands grabbed Gareth and pull him to his feet. “We’re heading back and if he does anything else, it’s on you, Harper.” Jamison shoved Gareth ahead of him and Harper followed in silence.

 

 

 

“Gareth, did you hear me?” Harper asked.

Gareth’s eyes rolled up to meet hers. “Sorry, what?”

Sighing with a mixture of frustration and pity, Harper held her hand out. “Could you hand me the staple gun? Once I finish this we can go. Jamison’s waiting in the truck and I don’t think he’ll stay much longer. So if you don’t want to walk home, hand me that staple gun.”

“Right.” Gareth grabbed the staple gun and handed it to her. He stared at her back as she reached up to staple. Her hair pulled back into a ponytail bounced and he could see the sweat forming on the back of her neck.

Find me. Bring me back.

Gareth could see Him. He’s waiting for him. Gareth had to go to Him.

“Gareth?” Harper held the staple gun at him. “Sorry, could you hand me the hammer? I’ve got to hammer in some of the staples. I told Jamison we needed an air staple gun. The hand staple guns never get them all the way in.”

Gareth took the staple gun, his hand brushing Harper’s hand. He paused and the staple gun fell to the ground. Harper turned to him, worried that he’s having another episode. Instead, she sees him staring at her.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

The singing in Gareth’s head changed and a new feeling filled him. He carefully put the tool bag down and pulled Harper down from the stepladder. Confusion filled her expression and her eyes darted around.

“What are you doing, Gareth?” she asked.

Gareth moved close to her, staring in to her eyes. He leaned down, hovering his lips over hers. He could feel her body tense against him. Her breathing picked up and Gareth closed the small gap between their lips. He could feel Harper pull away slightly, but then her arms wrapped around him and pulled their bodies closer.

Find me, Gareth. Bring me back.

Gareth gently led Harper to the wall until her back was against it. He grabbed both sides of her head in his hands. He pulled away from her and her eyes opened. Staring into her eyes, a strange smile formed on his lips.

Suddenly, Gareth slammed Harper’s head into the wall, knocking her unconscious. Her body slumped, but he carefully laid her on the floor instead of letting her fall. He stood and walked out of the barn. He stared at the remnant of the wall and headed for the pond.

He grabbed the wire buried in the mud and pulled it. The ground trembled and a tube appeared at the center of the pond. The top opened, revealing a ladder heading deep down into the earth. Gareth crossed the pond and climbed into the tube. As he climbed down the ladder the top closed and he felt the walls shake around him as the tube sank back into the pond.

After a short climb, he reached the bottom and lights automatically turned on. The hallway was bare, empty. Gareth walked forward and followed the hallway for several minutes before reaching a large room.

At the center of the room was a large machine. The screens were dark except for a single line of text. Gareth approached and stared at the text.

Bring me back.

Gareth’s hand moved on its own, knowing exactly what to do. He pressed several buttons and the machine turned on, low hums growing in intensity and the sound of machinery deep in the walls moving grew. The screen in front of him brightened and a slot opened. A tray moved out and a strange thing sat on it. Gareth took the thing and stared at it. At one end was a needle and a thick cable connected a second piece. He twisted the needle and the cable grew warm.

Bring me back.

Gareth raised the thing and stabbed the needle into his temple. A bright light filled his vision and he felt his body collapse to the ground before everything went dark.

RT Samples

November

The winter cold had settled in as many had predicted. It was going to be a cold winter, one of the coldest. There was even talk about possible snow in the lower elevations.

Sara and Alice were safe from the cold inside of the small café, their winter coats on the back of their chairs. Alice stared out the window at the people walking by, wrapped up in coats, scarves, and hats to guard against the cold.

“Alice!”

Alice looked at Sara. “What?”

“Were you even listening to me?”

“No, sorry. What were you saying?”

Sara sighed. “I was telling you about that jerk off bartender who wouldn’t give me the time of day! I swear, I’m glad I didn’t give him a tip. With his attitude he’d be lucky to serve a girl like me!”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing! That’s the point! He asked me for my order and then nothing! I sat there an extra twenty minutes trying to get his attention so we could talk!”

“Was his manager there?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Well, it would explain why he didn’t spend too much time with you. He didn’t want to get fired.”

“That’s no excuse to ignore a gorgeous, single woman!” Sara exclaimed.

Two men walked into the coffee shop in heated discussion.

“Can you believe what they’re saying on the news? Those people must be reading too many conspiracy websites. Storms with freak lightning causing massive power outages? Did you see anything like that last week?”

“No, they’re probably getting confused with Nevada weather. They always have freak storms like that.”

Alice laughed to herself. “Can you believe some people? I thought I was bad about missing things.”

Sara nodded. “Yeah, those people on the news have made mistakes before, but nothing of this scale. They’re saying it was one of the worst black outs in years. I thought news channels had people check the stories before they went on the air.”

Alice stared at Sara confused. “What? No, I mean those guys missing the storm last week. They must have been out of town or under a rock.”

“Alice, what are you talking about? There wasn’t any storm last week.”

“Yeah, there was. Are you making fun of me for finally being aware of what happened around me? I know I can be a little out of it sometimes, but I remember the storm last week. Our house was without power for seven hours. We had to light each room with candles. I nearly burned my curtains down. Remember?”

Sara raised an eyebrow. “Alice, don’t tell me you believe what those reporters were saying. Are you trying to impress me by acting like you know what they’re talking about? Well, I caught you in the act.”

“I’m not acting anything! Why don’t you remember?” Alice asked, standing.

“Alice, don’t make a scene!”

Alice looked around and saw eyes staring at her. They were eyes people used to stare at crazy people. She sat down in her chair, her face flushing red.

Sara rested her hand on Alice’s shoulder, reaching across the table. “It’s okay, Alice. Maybe you dreamed about the storm because you heard it on the news.”

Alice stood and put her coat on. “I’m going home. I need to pick something up before I head back to work.”

Sara stood. “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No. I need some time to think.”

“Don’t think too hard, Alice. When you do you start to get all weird and sci fi nerdy on me.”

Alice grabbed her purse. She threw her empty coffee cup away and waved to Sara. She opened the door and was greeted by a rush of cold air. She zipped her coat up and headed for her car. As she drove she turned on the radio and listened as the DJs joked about the “bogus news story” and asked listeners to call in if they had a comment. All the callers said the same. There was no storm. Alice even changed to the news station and listened as they broadcasted an apology to the morning’s news saying the story must have been tampered with just before airing.

As soon as she walked through the door of her house she ran to the pile of newspapers by the back door. She searched through them, throwing paper all around her.

She stopped, scanning the paper in her hands. It was dated the second of November, last Wednesday. On the front page in large letters the headline read:

 

Freak Lightning Storms Black Out Southern California For Nearly Ten Hours

 

There it was in black and white text. There was even a photo of darkened houses and the lightning.

Alice lowered the paper. Why was she the only one who remembered it? Had she just read it in the paper and made it all up in her head?

She looked at her watch. She had to get to work. She was going to barely make it as it was. She cleaned the newspapers up and ran out the door.

 *           *           *

It was a slow day, one of the few of the month. Glori’s Department Store was one of the biggest department stores in the country, beaten only by Macy’s and Sears. Thanksgiving and Christmas were coming. That also meant sales and crowds. Alice hated working when there were large crowds, but those were the days with better pay. She would work every sale day. She was lucky since Harlequin Insurance gave her Thanksgiving and Christmas off. She worked all day at Glori’s and made one of her largest paychecks.

“Alice, would you mind restocking these clothes from the fitting rooms?” Alice’s floor manager asked.

Alice stared at her. “That’s Megan’s job, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, but she still hasn’t come back from her break.”

She took the clothes from her manager. “Right, just these?”

Her manager nodded her head to a rack of clothes. “Those as well. Thank you, Alice!”

Alice began to restock the clothes. It was the third time in the past week she had to pick up on Megan’s slack. She finished the pile of clothes in her hand and moved to the rack of clothes. She stared at the clothes in disbelief. All were men’s clothes. She would have to take the rack all the way to the other side of the store and then take the elevator down to the first floor. That meant she wouldn’t be able to ring any customers up while she was restocking, which meant she would probably not meet her quota for the day and would have to work twice as hard tomorrow.

“Thanks, Megan,” she said under her breath.

She began her long trek across the store. She hated the sound the wheels of the rack made on the hard floor. Anyone inside of the store could hear the racket and they stared at her as though she were making it harder for them to decide whether to buy a size smaller than they actually wore or accept they weren’t their ideal size.

“Hey, Alice. Don’t tell me, Megan’s late from break again?” a worker said as she walked past.

Alice smiled. “How could you have possibly guessed that?”

“It’s a gift.”

She reached the elevator and didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened. She pulled the rack in behind her and pushed the button with the number one on it. The doors opened on the first floor and Alice was greeted with the sound of screaming from across the store. She could hear Jerry, the security for the store yelling angrily. He had probably found a couple of teenagers shoplifting.

She pulled the rack out of the elevator. As soon as she started walking down the main aisle a man nearly crashed into her.

“Sorry!” he yelled back as he exited out the main doors.

Jerry appeared from behind a display with male mannequins wearing suits. His uniform was rumpled and sweat stains were growing under his arms. “Alice! Did a guy just run through here?”

She pointed to the doors.

“Shit! He’s quick!” Jerry rested his hands on his knees and struggled to catch his breath.

“Shoplifter?”

“I don’t even know. Megan just started screaming and told me to stop him.”

“Megan? What was she doing down here?”

Jerry laughed. “She claimed that guy tried to kidnap her.”

“And you believe her?”

“It doesn’t matter if I did, he took off running as soon as she started screaming. My instinct took over.”

Alice raised an eyebrow. “Did she say anything else before your instincts told you to run after a random person that Megan claimed was trying to kidnap her?”

“She did mention something about seeing him attack a family while she was walking back from break, but the family in question denied that…At least, I think they did. I sort of caught bits and pieces as I jogged past.”

Alice looked out the doors, but the man was gone. “Well, guess we’ll never know without the actual culprit. I’ve got to restock these clothes since Megan is busy getting kidnapped.”

Jerry waved at her as she passed. “See you later, Alice.”

“Bye, Jerry.”

Alice tried to restock as quickly as she could, but an occasional shopper would distract her, asking where they could find the restroom, a specific type of clothing, or even the nearest Starbucks. She finally finished restocking and headed back to the elevator. Before she could reach it her manager appeared.

“Thanks again, Alice. Jerry and Megan told me what happened and I made sure Megan got points for her lateness. Since you were down here I appointed her to the register upstairs. If you wouldn’t mind, could you stay down here and just be on the floor? Jerry said you got a look at the man who supposedly attacked Megan and it would be helpful if you could keep an eye out for him. Is that alright?”

Alice squeezed the rack. “Yeah, that’s no problem. I assume my quota for the day won’t be changed, however?”

Her manager grimaced. “I’m afraid not, but don’t worry. They’re hoping for a busy day tomorrow so I’m sure you’ll have no trouble making it up.”

Alice’s manager took the rack and left her standing in the middle of the main walkway. She sighed and walked the floor.

It was true the man had nearly crashed into her, but as she thought about it she couldn’t remember what he had looked like. She couldn’t even remember his hair color. Even his voice had sounded so common she wouldn’t be able to pick it out again. It was just an excuse. Megan had probably been hysterical when she finally made it back upstairs. She probably argued that if she worked the floor there would be a chance for the man to attack her again.

Alice wouldn’t complain though. It was fine. It wouldn’t be the first time she would suffer because of someone else. She just had to work twice as hard tomorrow and make up for today.

Thanks, Megan.

Home By Friday Sample

Mary Harrison walked into her kitchen and proceeded to wash her hands making sure to use about half the bottle of soap. A small alarm went off announcing the time as 1:00 PM. Mary stopped scrubbing her hands and leaned against the sink.

Sunlight poured in through the window in front of her reflecting off the water in to her eyes. Shadows of insects fluttered past every now and then. A butterfly landed on the windowsill and crawled up the glass. Its shadow slowly traipsed across the foamy water then onto Mary. As it reached the top of the window it started to fall. It fluttered its wings furiously trying to stay on the glass to no avail. After a few seconds it finally fell but catching itself with its wings flew off.

Mary stared at the soap bubbles being pushed around by the running water and eventually being pulled down the drain. Lingering soap on her hands dripped down the side of the sink making a long frothy line on the porcelain sink.

Mary jumped as the phone rang. She took a moment to take in what happened and then ran to the phone.

“Albert, did you find her?” She was met with silence on the other end.

“I…I’m sorry, Mrs. Harrison? This is Alexis Marshall from AMVETS. I just wanted to confirm with you that we will be stopping by on Monday. Is that all right?” Alexis’s voice came over the line tinny and high-pitched. Mary’s heart sank and she grabbed her forehead.

“Yes, yes, that’s fine. Thank you.” Before Alexis could say anything else Mary slammed the phone down.

She stared at the phone longingly and yet she didn’t want it to ring again. As she stared at the soundless phone she felt her shoulders begin to tremble.

Her heartbeat quickened and she felt her breathing start to become short gasps. She grabbed her shoulders with her hands to try and stop them. As she tried harder to stop them they became worse. Her legs began to feel like jelly. She slowly lowered to the floor still clutching her shoulders.

Tears formed in her eyes and her instinct was to hold them back, but they wouldn’t be held back. They rolled down her cheeks continuously. The gasps coming from her throat were now sobs. One of her hands moved up to her forehead and balled into a fist. She leaned her back against the cabinets and banged her head against them.

Her cries echoed in the empty house causing her to cry harder. She could feel her heart tighten in her chest and she gasped between each cry. Her tears fell into her open mouth leaving a salty taste.

A strange ringing echoed over and over in her head. Mary looked up and saw a red light flashing on the phone. She blinked and a few tears finished traveling down her cheeks. She quickly clambered to her feet and grabbed the phone.

“Hello?”

“Mary, it’s me.” Albert’s voice made Mary catch her breath.

“Albert…did you find her?” Mary clutched her necklace. There was a silence. “Albert? Did you find our little girl?”

“Mary, don’t worry. I’m sure she’s fine.”

“They have no idea where she is,” Mary said letting the sob into her voice. Albert sighed on the other end.

“They thought they could track her with her credit card, but she hasn’t used it since she filled the car up that morning. They have a PB out with her car type, color, and license plate number, but if she’s in another state they say it’ll take longer.” Albert’s voice was strained with exhaustion. Mary was silent.

“We should have told her the news in person. She needed us and we were thousands of miles away.”

“Mary, calm down. We had no idea she would do this. No one could have seen it.” Mary sniffed and tried to compose herself.

“Where do they think she’s going?” she asked surprised at how controlled she sounded.

“They think she’ll be heading back home, but without proof from her credit card spending they aren’t sure. Honey, please just stay home in case she does show up.” The doorbell rang. Mary gasped loudly. “Mary, what is it?”

She leaned around the corner. She slowly walked to the front door. She peeked out the side windows. The face of her neighbor greeted her. She waved and then held up a bag of cookies.

“It’s Jane, Albert. I’ll call you later.”

“All right, love you.”

“Love you, too.”

“Don’t worry, Mary, they’ll find her.” Mary hung the phone up and opened the front door.

Bitten Sample

Vera’s footsteps echoed through the halls as she ran, her breathing filling her ears along with her pounding heart. Shrieks in the distance made her jump and her grip on her gun tightened even though she knows it’s out of bullets.

Red and blue lights flashed wildly, creating strange shadows across the metallic walls. Signs and arrows on the walls flew by as she ran, but the lights made them difficult to read. Stopping to catch her breath, Vera read the closest sign.

“Hydrogeology, Hydrokinetics, Hydroponics…water labs? Shit!” Vera pulled out a flashlight and a small map. Her eyes searched the collection of papers. “That means I’m somewhere in the center and if I take the next left I should…should pass the Core Chamber.”

A sharp pain in her neck sent a shock through her. The flashlight fell to the floor and she slapped her hand to her neck. Blood from a deep wound quickly soaked her glove.

“Gotta keep moving.” She grabbed the flashlight and put it and the map away. She ran forward, taking the first left she saw. The hallway stretched on and on, but soon it opened into an enormous circular room.

The room was one hundred yards across and stretched high above and below. Every level of the compound could be seen. A faint blue light shone down from above, providing enough light to see. Vera wasted little time sight seeing and ran around the large circular opening. There should be stairs five hallways to the right.

If the emergency systems hadn’t locked them down.

Reaching the hallway, Vera paused grabbing her flashlight and peering into the dark stairwell. The doors were open and the stairs looked stable.

Roars echoed suddenly around the chamber. Vera turned and saw shadows moving on the other levels, drawn to her light. She turned back to the stairs only to see something large crash down from above, blocking the stairs.

Cursing, Vera ran towards a different hallway, not daring to stay long enough for the shadows to catch up to her. Even as her thoughts filled with keeping distance, she could hear them reaching her level. She turned down different hallways, attempting to confuse them.

“Vera? Vera, come in!” a voice called from her pocket.

Reaching into her pocket, Vera placed the small earpiece into her ear, feeling something wet on her ear and cheek. She realized the blood on her glove was still damp and she quickly removed it. She smeared blood down the beginning of one hallway and threw the glove as far as she could before turning down the opposite hall.

“Come in, Vera. Are you there?” the voice called again.

Vera tapped the earpiece once, activating the microphone. “Sam! Thank God you’re alive.”

“Vera,” relief filled Sam’s voice and a small laugh echoed in Vera’s ear. “You’re still…we found your crew. We thought the worst until your tracker suddenly showed back up on our scanner. Where are you?”

“I just passed through the Core Chamber on Level T, but I’ve got a group of them on me. I’m doing my best to shake ‘em, but not having very good luck.”

“But other than that you’re all right, right?”

Vera fell silent and her hand rose to her neck.

“Vera, you’re all right, aren’t you?” Sam asked.

“I… Shit!” Vera groaned in frustration as she hit a dead end. She quickly turned and retraced her steps back to the last hallway crossing. “Where are you, Sam?”

A brief pause before his answer made Vera aware he wouldn’t forget she hadn’t answered his question. “We found a possible exit back up to the surface, but its only access point is on the maintenance level of the entire compound. You just passed through the Core Chamber? Vera, you need to get down here.”

“All the stairs on this level are either locked down or destroyed. I’m making my way through the hallways, but I’m in unfamiliar territory and don’t know any other way down.” Vera swallowed a lump in her throat. “Unless I head back to the Core Chamber and try to climb down.”

“You wouldn’t make it down before they got you,” Sam interjected. He spoke quickly to someone out of range of his microphone. “All right. Vera, look around you for any sign with your exact location. We’ll see if we can find another way for you to get down here.”

Vera slowed her pace enough to read the next few signs. Her eyes locked immediately to one with large yellow letters and numbers. “Okay, here we go. I’m Level T Sector 45…”

“What is it?”

“This is strange. Beneath the Level and Sector it usually states the nearest stairwell. The last stairwell I saw was ST 25, but on this sign it says EX 60. What does that mean?”

“Yes!” Sam exclaimed happily. “We lucked out. Vera, follow those EX numbers. You have to get to T-45-1. The EX means there’s an emergency stairwell in that sector and you’re heading straight for it. The number indicates how far you are from it in meters. It’s one of the few stairwells that’ll take you directly to the maintenance level.”

“Sixty meters? Even if I make it to the stairwell, there’s no way I’ll make it all the way down to you. They’re getting closer!”

“You’ll make it. I know you will.”

Slowing her run, Vera placed her hand on her neck. “Sam, I have to tell you something…”

“It can wait until we’re out of here. Keep going until you reach T-45-1. The stairwell should be clearly marked. Be careful.”

Before Vera can respond the line cuts out. Strong emotions filled her and she slammed a fist against the wall. She stormed down the hallway, her eyes searching the walls for every sign.

T-45-55. T-45-54. T-45-53.

Running and running, the hallways blurred as she ran. The sounds behind her grew closer no matter how fast she ran.

Her foot slammed into something and she fell to the cold, hard floor. Quickly crawling to her feet, she glanced behind to see a body torn in half. The scraps of cloth on the floor belonged to a lab coat.

It must’ve been one of the many scientists and judging by how hard the body was when Vera tripped over it the person died hours before. But it might still give her a little more time. They didn’t seem to mind eating the dead.

Turning down another long hallway, Vera’s eyes caught sight of the next sign. T-45-44. She was making progress.

She heard roars from behind as her pursuers found the body. She pushed herself faster, trying to gain additional distance. She recognized the layout now. Every level was similar with small changes depending on the needs of the levels, but overall they ended up still being the same.

Reaching T-45-31, Vera stopped to rest. Her legs ached and her lungs burned. Sweat rolled down her forehead and her uniform clung to her body. She leaned against the wall and rested her head against the cool metal. The dead body wasn’t going to keep them busy long, but at least her neck wound finally stopped bleeding.

She dropped her gun and took off her bulletproof vest. The weight was only slowing her down and even if she had bullets, they were useless if she couldn’t see her targets.

Her neck stung as sweat rolled across the sensitive skin and Vera’s eyes teared up. What was she going to do? What was she going to tell Sam? How could she tell Sam?

Soft static came from her earpiece. “You have to keep moving, Vera,” Sam’s voice whispered in her ear.

Vera clenched her fists and opened her eyes. “Sam, I really need to tell you—”

“When you get here we’ll talk, but not until then. Keep moving.” The static cut out.

Taking a deep breath, Vera pushed herself from the wall and moved forward. Damage on the walls and doors showed the results of fighting. Burn marks from fire and bullets as well as long tears in the metal grew more frequent as she moved.

Turning a corner quickly, sparks flew at her from a loose cable. Vera barely managed to keep herself from running right into the live wire. She ducked low to the ground and passed safely beneath. She hoped if any were following the cable would manage to shock a few.

She didn’t know how long she ran, but soon her eyes caught sight of the signs. T-45-5. Rereading it to be sure she wasn’t delusional, Vera smiled with laughter. She could make it. She sprints down the hallway, her gasps growing louder and louder.

T-45-4. T-45-3. T-45-2.

T-45-1.

A lighted doorway stood open with arrows only visible in the emergency lighting pointing in. Vera quickly ran inside and searched the inside of the doorway for a way to close the door. She pushed a large red button and the door slammed shut.

Relief flooded her and, even though the stairwell was dark, she felt far safer inside than back out with the flashing lights. She reached out until her fingers found the railing and she peered down. Light from the bottom floor could be seen and she took out her flashlight. She leads with the small circle of light and began the climb down.

She was on Level T, which meant she had to go down seven flights to reach Sam and the others.

A slam on the door she closed made her jump and Vera hoped the door was strong enough to keep them out. The slam was followed by several smaller thumps and scratching. She quickened her pace down the stairs, passing two levels when a terrifying thought revealed itself.

The doors from the other levels were still open.

She quickly ran up to the two doors she’d already passed and pressed the buttons to close them, but a sound from above proved her effort useless.

The sound of clawed feet rushing down the stairs sent a shock of terror through her. She had no weapon and she still had five floors to go. She quickened her pace, but as she made it one more level down, something blocked her path. She shown her flashlight in front of her and saw something had blown the door and debris across the stairs. She couldn’t get past.

Gripping the railing, she quickly glanced over the edge. It was a clear shot down, nothing obstructing her. She risked a glance up and saw movement getting closer.

“This is a stupid idea,” she whispered to herself as she swung her legs over the railing, resting her butt on the top. She carefully turned herself around as the sound of growling and clawed footsteps grew closer.

Taking a few deep breaths, she pushed herself from the railing down to the opposite railing a level lower. She did it again, nearly missing and falling four floors, but her hands caught hold of the railings. A roar from above preceded the sound of something rushing past behind her.

Vera screamed as claws tore into her back and her grip loosened. She fell, readying her body for the impact of the concrete below, but the body of the creature that fell before her softened her landing. Judging from the screech it made when she landed, it had survived. Thinking quickly, Vera pulled out a knife and turned, stabbing the thing in the head, or what she hoped was the head with the light still too faint to see. It jerked once before falling limp and she sighed. She rolled off and stood, not realizing she’d rolled beneath the lower stairs.

Her vision blackened as she slammed her head into the concrete and she fell to the ground. Before falling unconscious, her eyes regained focus and she stared into the reptilian eyes of the creature that had been chasing her. She could see her reflection in its large golden eyes and almost thought she saw her own eyes mimic the beast’s reptilian slits.

“Shit.”

Then the world faded away.

 *           *           *

“It’s a Code Red Evacuation alert. Everyone up and at ‘em,” Sam yelled across the room.

As though to emphasize his point, alarms rang loudly. Dozens of bodies climbed from their beds and dressed. Vera was one of the first ready and hurried to Sam.

“What’s the cause? Gas leak? Fire?”

Shaking his head, Sam stood to the side to allow the others passage. “We don’t know for sure yet, but your father was throwing around the big ‘T’ word.”

Vera’s heart pounded and she leaned close to Sam so he could hear her whisper over the alarms. “Terrorist? Really?”

“We’ll find out soon enough. Let’s go, Vera.”

The world around her darkened, but Vera could still hear Sam’s voice.

“Vera. Come on. Wake up! You’ve got to wake up!”

Jerking awake, Vera stared up into Sam’s worried face. “Sam?”

Pulling her into a tight hug, Sam released a loud rush of air. “Thank God! I thought for a moment that thing got you. I saw the blood and was convinced you were dead.”

“Blood?”

Releasing her, Sam shone his flashlight to the floor. Vera saw the dead body she’d landed on before she spotted the small puddle of blood where her head had been. She raised a hand to her head and winced at a sharp pain. When she pulled her hand away it had blood on it.

“I should be dead,” she whispered.

“It’s not bleeding anymore. That’s from the puddle,” Sam said as he placed a hand on Vera’s head. He flashed his light at her and his eyes scanned the damage. “You banged your head pretty good, but the cut isn’t deep.”

Eyeing the dead creature, Vera placed a hand at her throat. “I don’t think there were anymore following me. But this bastard got a good chunk from my back.”

“Shallow cuts, as well. Come on,” He helped Vera to her feet, “we have to head to where the others are. They’ll be worried.”

Hesitating, Vera avoided Sam’s eyes. “I have to tell you something.”

He took her hand and led her out of the stairwell, her eyes briefly catching a glimpse of a sign with the word maintenance in large letters. “I won’t tell the others. If they ask, you got it when you fell down the stairs. It’s a scratch, nothing more.”

“But…” Vera trailed off, unable to find the right words.

“I promised your father to get you out alive. I’m going to keep it. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.”

“Thank you.”

They hurried through the dark hallways. The maintenance level, unlike the rest of the compound had metal walkways and piping along the walls. Beneath the walkways were more piping and wiring with cement flooring beneath. The emergency lights were red and made it harder to see except for a lighted path along the edges of the walkways pulsating towards emergency exits.

Sam pulled Vera behind him, expertly navigating and ignoring the direction of the pulsating lights. Soon voices could be heard further ahead and he stopped, quickly turning to Vera.

“Let me cover up that…mark before we get closer.” He pulled some bandages and gauze from his pack and quickly covered the wound on Vera’s neck. “Don’t need them to see the damage.”

A sharp pain sent an involuntary twitch through Vera’s body. Sam flinched and jerked back, staring at her. Vera saw fear fill his eyes for a split second before Sam regained his composure. Her heart dropped.

Seeing how his reaction affected her, Sam grabbed her and pulled her into a hug. “It’s going to be all right. We’re getting out of here and we’re going to find a way to help you.”

Vera carefully raised her arms and squeezed Sam back. Her neck ached and she closed her eyes.

You’re mine, a voice echoed in her mind. Her thoughts filled with everything that happened since the first alarm sounded and tears threatened to form. She fought them back and pulled away from Sam.

“Let’s go,” she whispered, afraid if she spoke any louder she’d lose her composure.

Nodding, Sam took her hand and headed in the direction of the voices. Turning the corner, Vera could see at the end of the hallway seven people, two women and five men, standing around a door. One man and woman are dressed in regular clothes while the rest wore the same uniform as Vera and Sam.

Two of the men in uniform stood on either side of the door, struggling to open it. Vera recognized Greg’s vibrant red hair, made even more so with the emergency lights, as he rammed into the door. Allen searched the sides of the door for anyway to loosen it or dismantle it.

“Are you sure it’s a way out?” Vera asked.

“Well, as sure as we can be,” Sam answered.

As they approach, everyone in the group besides Allen and Greg look up at them. Erin, the other woman in uniform, gripped the small computer on her lap, the light from the screen lighting up her face. She smiled at Vera, relieved to see her alive. Dried blood on her arms and abdomen don’t appear to be from any wounds and Vera fights the urge to ask whom it belonged to.

“Look who finally decided to join us in the basement of horrors,” one of the men said smirking.

“Not the time, Jason,” Sam warned.

Jason shrugged his shoulders, wiping a trail of blood from a cut above his eye. “It’s not far from the truth. We’ve no idea what’s on the other side of this door. It could be a closet for all we know.”

“It’s not a closet, according to the map it’s an exit,” Erin said.

“What’s the situation with the door? Are we closer to getting it open?” Sam asked.

“When the emergency systems turned on all of the doors in and out of this place were sealed off.”

“We already know that, but why would the emergency exits be sealed off?”

“I was getting to that.” Erin held up her computer screen for everyone to see. “Every emergency system has its own set of rules and protocols, but there’s only two that seal off all emergency exits.”

Vera felt eyes on her and she looked towards the man and woman in civilian clothing. The woman’s eyes were glued to Vera’s neck.

“And they are?”

“Quarantine and…” Erin hesitated, “and Irreversible Contamination.”

“What?” Sam demanded.

“If this was simply a Quarantine System our codes would be able to open the emergency exits,” Erin continued.

“But?” Vera asked.

Jason threw his hands up in the air. “But our codes don’t do shit down here. Which means no one can leave unless the higher ups on the surface give the all clear or all biologics cease.” He laughed, covering the fear in his voice. “As someone once said in a similar situation: ‘Game over, man.’”

“That was a movie,” the other uniformed man said, his deep, monotone voice hiding any emotion or thoughts.

“Still the same situation. We’re fucked, Roy.”

“What happened to your neck?” the woman in civilian clothes asked suddenly. She walked towards Vera, never taking her eyes off the bandages.

“I was scratched when I fell four stories down a stairwell. And you are?” Vera asked.

“Kara and Jacob. They refuse to give us last names. We found them huddled under a table in the pharmaceutical labs,” Sam said. He turned back to Erin. “Is there a way to open the door via a programming loophole in the protocols?”

“Not unless you want to open every door in this building, giving those things a way out.” Erin wiped sweat from her forehead, leaving a smear of blood from her glove.

Kara stopped a few feet from Vera, her eyes still boring into the bandage on her neck. Vera tried to ignore the woman, but she could hear Kara’s breathing quickening.

“Or giving people a way in to be food for them,” Jason added.

“All we have is this door between us and freedom.” Sam watched Allen and Greg slam their hands or kick the door in frustration. “Have we at least found out if this is really an exit?”

“It’s not listed in the main system, but I found an old blueprint of the first three floors, including maintenance level. It’s not very detailed, but it may show what’s on the other side of this wall,” Erin said.

“Keep searching those blueprints. I’m going to check in with Allen and Greg and see how close we are to getting through that door. Wherever it leads, it’s our best chance to escape.” Sam patted Erin on the shoulder as he passed her. When he reached Allen and Greg the two stopped and the three spoke quickly.

Exhaustion swept over Vera, being in the company of her comrades calming her. She collapsed to the floor, leaning her back against the wall. Her eyes drooped lazily, but the eyes watching her kept Vera alert.

Kara strained against Jacob’s arm resting across her shoulder. He struggled to keep the woman close, but she dragged him closer to Vera with surprising strength. She stopped in front of Vera, towering over her like a statue.

“It’s not a scratch,” Kara said, her voice shaking. “You were bitten.”

“It’s a scratch,” Vera said, raising her eyes to meet Kara’s.

“You’re lying. You were bitten,” Kara’s voice rose in volume, “They go for the neck when they bite. It’s the best place for injecting the venom. You’re going to turn into one of them!”

Jacob desperately tried to pull her back. “Kara, be quiet.”

“No, no, I won’t be quiet! She’s been bitten! She’s been bitten!” Kara screamed.

Strong hands grab the frantic woman and drag her away. Kara’s wide terrified eyes meet Sam’s as he slapped her across the face. “I saw the mark, Kara. It was made with claws, not fangs. If you continue to scream and draw attention to us I’ll be forced to hit you again, harder.”

Tearing herself from Sam’s grip, Kara placed a hand on her sore cheek. “Then let’s see it.”

“No. There are more important things happening right now besides playing into your crazed paranoia. Let me also tell you this bit of important information about me. I only give one warning. If I have to tell you to be silent again, I’ll forego hitting and just shoot you.”

Paint

Henry dips his paint roller in the tray and rolls it to cover the whole brush. He stands and continues painting the wall of his study. The radio plays soft rock as he works. The song finishes and the DJ comes on.

“And that was Hall & Oates with She’s Gone, dedicated to one of our own, the Hill family who are still searching for Sarah. If anyone has any information on her disappearance please contact local authorities immediately. Henry and Addison, you’re in our thoughts and prayers.” Chris Rae’s Josephine plays.

Henry hums along as he works. A bubble appears in the paint on the wall and he stops. He leans close to the wall and raises a finger. He pops the bubble and smiles.

Addie walks into the study, watching her father. “You’re changing the color?”

“Needed something to keep my mind distracted. If I sit still too long I think about Sarah.”

Coughing, Addie sits in a nearby chair. She pulls her legs up to her chest and watches him paint silently.

He continues working for a few minutes before looking at his daughter. “Is there something you needed, hon?”

“You missed a few phone calls. Channel 6 and 3 are interested in interviewing you. A couple other shows would also like to speak with you. Even America’s Most Wanted is interested in doing a segment on Sarah. The newspapers want to interview you for the weekend editions or want to ask some follow up questions from other interviews.”

“You wrote down all the numbers, right?”

She coughs. “I don’t think you should do anymore interviews.”

“They’ll help us find Sarah.”

“But it’s already been a month. They say if you don’t find the lost person within a few days then most likely they’re already…”

Henry turns sharply to Addie. “Don’t say it. You’re sister is alive. If the police had only listened to my advice maybe we would’ve already found her.”

“You mean Brady? He had nothing to do with it, dad.”

“He was the last one to see her before she disappeared. He did it.”

Addie coughs again. “You’re only saying that because you didn’t like him. They were going to get married.”

“I don’t want to talk about this.”

“But—”

“Enough!”

Addie’s cough intensifies, forcing her to lean forward.

“Are you all right?”

“It’s the paint. Did you have to buy the most disgusting smelling paint?” she wheezes.

“It’ll only smell this way until it dies. You should head back up to bed before you get too sick.”

“I’m fine.”

“Addie.”

Taking deep breaths, she eyes her father. “Fine, but at least open a window.” Standing, she heads out of the study.

Henry waits until he hears her door close before dipping his roller in the paint and continuing his work, humming along with the radio.