By John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
“Is the gun real?”
Blanks asked Glitch, who until moments ago she considered a brother.
Glitch lowered the pistol until the barrel of the handgun pointed at the grass between he and his invisible Tribe member. “There’s no time. Something’s off here. . .”
“You mean besides your betrayal.”
Blanks’s invisible face brimmed with incredulous rage the illusionist couldn’t see. She waited for him to say whatever he would.
“I don’t think Stanton’s here for the girl. If he was he would have picked her up a long time ago. He wouldn’t have needed me here either.”
“What are you mixed up in?” Blanks almost felt bad for Glitch.
The tired slim man looked back over his shoulder. “Go. It’s inevitable that he’ll find out about her eventually. There’s no way he won’t.”
“But. . .,” Blanks didn’t know what to say to her increasingly distant brethren who was now caught up with some of the worst people in the world. But Glitch didn’t wait for her to finish.
The floating red canvas sneakers disappeared through break in the fence. Glitch squinted his eyes tightly and reopened them. The gap in the fence had appeared mended as the two sharply dressed VIM agents approached from either side.
“Anything?” one asked him.
“I haven’t seen anyone.”
Ordinarily Glitch would have gotten a chuckle out of the deceit hidden in those honest words. But he knew he still had the psycho flame-walker to deal with.
The short man with tattoos of fire covering his face and arms stood at the top of the steps leading into the Stewart’s home. Menacingly he looked into Stephen’s eyes. “Where is it?”
“It’s not finished. Please tell him I need more time.” Stephen hoped this stranger would take his words at face value and leave him be. . .Swelter just chuckled in reply.
“Our mutual employer has requested the device and your notes. And he don’t do too well with disappointment. . .” the small’s man’s eyes sparked. “We’re not planning on disappointing him today are we?”
“There’s no notes.” Stephen hoped to prolong the conversation for as long as he could. He knew he had to keep the man focused on him and maybe he wouldn’t bother the girls. Beads of sweat trickled down his face. The engineer turned executive pushed his eyeglasses up his nose from where they had slipped down to. Swelter pondered Stephen’s words for a brief moment.
“You know what?” Swelter seemed to Stephen to lighten up. Perhaps he would relent and just go away. “I believe you, boy-o.” The tattooed man shifted from one foot to the other, “I’m going to burn your house down anyway.” Swelter’s jovial facade twisted into a devilish smirk. “If your wife and retarded daughter are in there I’m going to hold them down while the flames lick skin off their muscle.”
Swelter’s words didn’t raise above a whisper, but they were loud enough.
Ty emerged from greenery that stood as tall as him. He was unperturbed by the branches and stickers that had struck his arms and body. He had been through plenty of woods in all his years of traveling.
Ty and Sierra had entered a meadow between the woods that backed Sierra’s family’s development and the rear of a strip mall. An concrete tennis court stood out in the center and was surrounded by a twelve foot tall chain link fence. From their condition the court looked as if it hadn’t seen play in decades. Sunlight reflected on the broken glass strewn across cracked, dark gray pavement.
Sierra lifted her heap briefly and surveyed her new surroundings. Then she placed her head back down onto Ty’s shoulder. She watched through one eye as Janice entered the meadow from the same brush she and Ty did seconds before.
Janice locked onto Ty as he rested, hoping to give Blanks a chance to catch up.
“Son of a bitch!” Janice shouted as she attempted to rush her daughter’s abductor, but the rough unkept ground pierced her bare feet with each step. The blonde woman still approached. She winced with each step, but remained undeterred.
As she reached Ty Janice immediately snatched Sierra out from underneath his arm. The pursuit had left her feet and arms sore and she was exhausted from the day’s emotion roller-coaster, nevertheless she had enough energy to slug Ty in his already swollen and purpled face.
Ty covered his face with his hands after the first punch, but Janice didn’t throw another. Ty shrunk and squinted out from behind his hands. “Lady, you don’t understand. . .We came here to save Sierra.”
Janice’s head throbbed as she attempted to process this scraggly young man and how he knew her daughter’s name. She couldn’t make sense of anything he was saying except, “Who’s we?”
The foliage parted again and Blanks appeared in her red shirt and black jeans. She held Janice’s red canvas shoes in her hand. Ty’s enormous pack was strapped to her back making her lean forward as she walked. Blanks scowled at Janice seeing the condition of Ty’s face.
Janice looked from the dark skinned woman to Sierra’s kidnapper. “Somebody tell me what the hell is going on!”
A lone black helicopter touched down on the quiet mountain byway. Seth Stanton, Allison Jeffries and a third man carrying a large black case disembarked. The three ducked underneath the craft’s whirling propellers and headed toward a dirt road obscured by dense tree cover and brush all around it.
None of the three looked back at the chopper or the accumulating halted traffic in either direction. The helicopter lifted off the ground and rapidly flew out of sight.
“Please. Leave my family out of this.”
Swelter’s scowl switched back to a devious smile. He replied, “That’s not how this works. See, you’ll do whatever I tell you and then my friends here won’t have to hobble you too badly.”
The little man continued on, “Goon Two, put Mr. Stewart here in the back of the truck, so I can set his house aflame.” The suited VIM agent behind Swelter rose a step. Stephen knew he only had one shot.
“Okay. Alright. My device’s execution commands are here.” Stephen pointed a finger at the side of his head. “If you hurt either of them I’ll make sure you never get anything.”
Swelter raised an eyebrow. Stephen’s thought his gambit worked until the little man finally answered, “It’s too funny. I figured you of all people understood who you were dealing with.” Stephen’s mind flashed on the scene from the executive suite of VIM on the day he was promoted. The suicide wasn’t a coincidence.
Swelter nodded his bald fire covered head and pushed Stephen out of his way. Stephen tried to oppose the diminutive man’s shove, but as he resisted one of the dark sunglassed men snatched Stephen’s arm. He was dragged down the steps with an overwhelming amount of strength.
“Wait!” was all Stephen could manage as the muscle-bound man in the slate colored suit turned and looked down at the mortified engineer. There wasn’t the slightest emotion behind his wire-framed sunglasses.
The goon punched Stephen in the nose just above his eyes. The agent had nothing in his hand, but the force felt like he was struck with a cinder block. Tears clouded Stephen’s vision and blood poured from his nostrils. The agent dragged the limp man over the curb and toward the closer of the two SUVs. He opened the rear door and tossed Stephen into the back without any strain or effort. Then the goon shut the door and took up position just outside the tinted vehicle. Swelter appeared amused at the scene.
Finally the small villain turned back toward the house and carried his old red gas can inside the house through the front door.
Blanks did her best to provide Janice the abridged, coherent, and not insane sounding explanation of Seth Stanton and his Controller alter-ego, as well as what he did with effected people such as herself and Sierra when he captured them. She told Janice about Gigi, the Writer, and the Tribe’s mission to protect as many Effected as they could.
Janice had read about these Effected, but had not been exposed to any in her daily life. Of course, she never expected anyone would break into her home and attempt to steal her daughter either. Finally Janice shook out the cobwebs, “Wait. . .Sierra’s not one of you?” Her confidence waned, “It isn’t possible.”
Blanks’ shoulders slumped in disbelief of her own. She had hoped Janice would take her words at face value, but Janice just shook her head and muttered to herself.
Ty attempted to bring some levity to this tense quagmire with a smile, but he was quickly reminded of what his face had just endured at the fists of this fierce mother. “Tell her about the girl.”
Janice spun on Ty. Reactively he jumped backwards.
After a moment that she didn’t strike him he relaxed, “Go ‘head, Genevieve. Tell her what the girl can do.”
The Controller was enjoying a rare feeling. He felt excitement at knowing he was about to collect another zeta-class Effected. In all his years and toil he had never come across a clairvoyant. But thanks to his turncoat, Buckets, he was being served one on a silver platter that day.
Stanton was no closer to his goal of empowering himself with Effected abilities, nor did he could he lengthen his own fleeting life. At least he could relish poking around in such a powerful and unknown mind. Of course, there was the added benefit of ridding himself of the nuisance that had been thwarting his collecting of Effected over the past two and a half years.
The Controller’s dark eyes swept the pristine wooded surroundings. The tree-cover had become noticeably thicker. The canopy denser, causing the trees to blot out the sky overhead.
Stanton’s watchful eye darted over to Alison Jeffries and he twitched. There’d been something off with his assistant in recent days. He just couldn’t place it. Bounce was walking differently now. He watched her muscular hips sway with each step countless times before, but now her gait was different. She was walking taller, more relaxed.
As if Blanks heard his thoughts, the dark haired woman peered back at him over her shoulder. She shot Stanton a wicked wink before turning and continuing to look dead ahead. Rarely did the Controller feel fear, but in that moment he shivered almost imperceptibly. He wasn’t afraid of Bounce, but he was plagued by the thought that he was missing something very important.
Stanton, Bounce and the VIM soldier, had rounded a final bend in the road and could see the old mountain house they were headed to. The wheels of the Controller’s EX-2 case started squeaking as his agent rolled it up the hill through the dry brown dirt. Screee. . .Screeee. . .
Stephen regained consciousness. His head leaned against the inside of the SUV window as he groggily watched smoke escaping the seams around his home’s windows and storm door. Flames clung to the bottom of tan fabric curtains in the kitchen and upstairs windows.
The occupants of the building’s other units had emerged while Stephen was out. Some were screaming, others cried. Others still held pets and children in their arms, each in panic and shock.
Swelter’s tattooed face and psychotic smile appeared within the smoke and conflagration inside Stephen’s home. The fire should have been burning the man alive, but it didn’t. It didn’t even phase him in the least.
Thick billowing clouds of smoke poured from the house as the little man opened the storm door. The smoke collected at his feet and around his legs like a charcoal cowl. Ashy smoke erupted from both nostrils as Swelter exhaled heartily. He was doing another bad day’s work.
“This is all a dream. I’m not really going crazy right now and I’m going to wake up and everything is going to all okay.”
Blanks smacked Janice across the cheek with her open palm. The slap immediately turned the belligerent woman’s skin a deep shade of red where she had been struck. “Whether you admit it or not, this is the real deal. Stanton sent his cronies after you.”
The slap had more effect than Blanks intended. Janice caught something she had missed until now. “They didn’t come for Sierra. . .,” she stopped, unsure, but somehow certain, “They came for whatever Stephen’s been doing in the basement.”
Bounce, The Controller, and the Stanton’s agent stood on the groaning boards of the front deck. The Controller sucked at his back teeth. What am I missing? Internally, he shook off his concern. “Mr. Doe, if you’d be so kind.”
The agent stepped in front of the faded evergreen door and without hesitation shot a front kick just below the door’s knob. CRACK! The door flew open as the discord echoed throughout the woods around the estate. The three entered the Tribe’s hideout.
Buckets returned from the backyard with the two agents. They each saw the inferno rage inside the house and had waited several minutes to collect anyone escaping from the back. No one did.
Buckets sweated through his A-shirt. He took of his fisherman’s cap and crumpled it tightly in his hand. The two agents stood on either side unmoved by the frenetic scene underway.
“Heh heh. Was it good for you?” Swelter called over to Buckets, expecting him to respond like a pal, despite their total disdain for one another. “You look like you had a good time too.” The tattooed man triumphantly descended the burning town-home’s steps. The flames began to reach the shingled roof and were spreading rapidly into the adjoining units on either side.
It was quiet on the first floor of the Tribe’s house. Bounce’s eyes scanned the ragged interior. There were signs people had been there recently, but everything was quiet and still.
“Up here boss!” the agent called from the floor above. The Controller and Bounce heard footsteps creaking along the floorboards over their heads and ascended to the second floor.
“What are you going to do about my husband?”
“Nothing,” Blanks answered, “He dug his own hole when he went to work for the Controller. Right now we need to get her as far away from those bastards as possible. Your husband’s on his own.”
It was not the answer Janice hoped for. Blanks pointed an index finger at Sierra quiet in Janice’s arms. “She’s what’s important now.” Sierra’s eyes tracked a monarch butterfly as it flew within inches of her face and then in a wide dipping loop circling the four and disappeared into the forest.
“You have to do something! You can’t just leave him to those creeps!”
Blanks turned to Ty hoping for support. He just shrugged and stared back at Janice. Concern and empathy for the woman would have shown in his face if it hadn’t become so swollen in the past few minutes.
When neither spoke Janice pleaded, “You have to do something. . .Anything!”
Bounce and the Controller approached the room the VIM agent stood across from and looked inside. A woman laid in a bed near the center of the room. A desk and chair stood in the corner across the room. Stacks of hand-written and blank pages rested on top the desk.
Bounce stepped out of the way to let Stanton stand in the door-frame to survey the grim scene within.
The woman in the bed appeared to have just died. Cancer, most likely, Stanton decided to himself looking at her pale frail arms and gaunt face. The woman’s mouth hung open. Her eyes were closed. Her chest and stomach didn’t move.
A second woman sat in an antique wooden chair at the dead woman’s bedside. Her back was to the door. The woman’s shoulders shook. She was weeping at the recent loss of the other. Something about weeping woman struck the Controller as odd. . .
The Controller approached the bed. He walked around to the other side and stood directly across from the mourning woman. He looked down and saw a familiar face through her dark silver streaked wavy hair.
“It’s been a lifetime, Stephanie. I never expected to see you again.”
Swelter cut through the awkward silence, “It’s time to blow this birthday party!” Only he chuckled at his own lame joke.
The six men climbed into the three trucks and sped out of the development, leaving the Stewart’s five unit townhouse building engulfed in flames.
Blanks shook her head, “No way! We’re not going back. You’ll get us all killed, or worse.”
Janice would have argued some more, but she stopped once she realized Sierra was looking up at her. Sierra rarely made eye contact and definitely never for as long. Sierra put her hand on Janice’s chest just above her heart and opened her mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out.
Sierra closed her mouth and squinted at her mother. Then the little girl looked at her mother’s chest for a moment before looking back into her eyes. She held her gaze long enough to tell Janice that everything was going to be okay. Then Sierra looked over at Ty who was rubbing the side of his jaw. Ty straightened up and looked back at the child.
Sierra reached out toward Ty and opened her mouth again. A slight moan erupted. Janice was dumbstruck. In disbelief Janice walked Sierra the few steps over to Ty. Her girl flexed her hands open and closed in his direction.
Janice stood in front of Ty. Sierra leaned as far from her mother’s arms as she could. All Janice could do to not drop her daughter was pass her to the young man.
Ty took Sierra into his arms. At once the girl wrapped her arms around Ty’s neck. She nuzzled her nose into the crook of his neck. Ty looked over at Janice and then at Blanks, unsure what Sierra was doing.
Sierra leaned away and looked up into his eyes as she did with her mother a moment ago. In that instant Ty understood. He knew the girl knew what to do next. Sierra placed her little hand on Ty’s chest, fingertips pointed upward. They both closed their eyes and dropped into the grass and twigs at Ty’s feet.
John Andreula is a writer and dreamer residing in beautiful Colorado.
Get at him at: Info@MovingOnUpwards.com