Note: Please keep in mind as you read the chapters from this book two things: (1), This book is written for the age range of 12-18, though older than that may enjoy it, and (2) This is a trilogy, so some things will not be explained until book two, or even book three.
I slung my backpack over my shoulder and waited for my friend, Rachel, to catch up with me before I walked out the door. Because her brother and my sister had to stay after school to work on some science project with their teacher, I was walking Rachel home. We’ve known each other for two years, ever since they moved here from Indiana when her dad got a promotion. Although she hadn’t been the most thrilled about it (she’d actually been a real snot during the first two months), she did come to like it here. Though, of course, the Team had helped with that.
“I hope Abigail doesn’t, you know, get terminated from the team,” Rachel said softly as she picked up her books. “I know what this means to her.” She paused to pull her hair back into a ponytail and added, “I know what it means to me.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I know.”
Abigail is my sister, and the Team is not something you probably know about, which is okay. I’ll explain. The Team was started by Brandon because of his uncle, Dr. Oswald. There are plenty of bad people in the world, and Pleayus and his half-brother are the worst, if there is a worst. That’s why Dr. Oswald cut connections with them, became a Christian, and started his own elite team made up of trained teenagers to stop them. Because who would expect teenagers to stop someone? So that’s why we were created, because you can’t be everywhere at once, no matter how hard you try or how big you are (I don’t mean weight wise, I mean as in how big your corporation is.). We haven’t had any real missions yet, but if we do, Brandon may not let Abigail go.
Rachel didn’t say anything else as I held the door open for her and we walked out of the Christian school and towards her house.
“Let’s go the back way,” she said at last. “It takes longer and I just need some time to think. It’s nice having a baby sister, but sometimes Ashley is just too much. Literally, all she does is eat, sleep, and poop. And breathe,” she added. She shook her head and yawned, rubbing her still blood-shot eyes. Apparently, she’d been up until three in the morning because Ashley had started teething.
“I’m glad I don’t have a baby sister,” I laughed. “The one I have used to be hard enough!” I paused. “But now she’s training all the time, so she’s not that bad anymore.”
I actually kinda miss my sister. I don’t see her that much anymore because, like I said, she’s so busy training. It’s like that’s her life.
“Yeah right! You were complaining about her just yesterday, actually,” she responded, laughing. She walked ahead of me. “Peter’s not that bad. He always was such a dirty rotten snitch, but I broke him in. Or so I like to think. I’m not sure if it was the other way around, however.” She smiled slightly and gave me a quick sideway look. That’s what Rachel does when she’s trying to figure out what mood you’re in. She’s really good at that.
I didn’t really feel like talking anymore, and Rachel wasn’t expecting me to, either, which was fine for both of us. She rattled on about her brother and Ashley, and I tuned her out as we walked through the woods and then knee high grass.
“Chris!” she said at last, so urgent I snapped too with a jolt.
“What?” I asked, startled, looking around, expecting a fire or someone pointing a gun at us. When I didn’t see anything like that, I turned back to her. “C’mon, what’s the reason for yelling like that?”
She didn’t even answer me, just shoved her phone at me. I saw it was a text from another member of the team and one of our friends, Jackson Carson. He’s a cool dude, but sometimes his stupid pranks go way too far. And I mean way too far (like the time his sister swallowed a pencil and had to have surgery to get it removed from her stomach.).
I opened it up and it read my cousin literally is being held for ransom. need help @ haunted house.
I laughed. “That’s a good one. Of all of his pranks, that’s a really good one!”
Jackson’s been pulling these pranks a lot, where he’ll make it sound like he or someone else is in really bad danger, and we’ll come rushing to the location he’s given us, only to find out he’s laughing his head off. He’s like the boy who cried wolf.
I grabbed the phone and texted back, Good one Jack! not fallin 4 it this time.
Rachel shook her head, disbelief and disgust written all over it. “I can’t believe he’s still doing this after Brandon told him not to. You’d think he’d actually learn, even though he’s so smart. But then again, it’s not that hard to be smarter than me.”
“I know,” I agreed, then hastily added when she glared at me, “Not you, him. Sometimes he can be so stupid, you know?”
“I know,” she laughed. Then she frowned. “I didn’t know he had a cousin. But it’s not like he and I are besties- not since that prank I pulled on him.”
“Yup, her name is Jenny and she’s fifteen too. She’s coming here for a week. I think Brandon’s eyeing her for on the Team. He says she’d be a good fit with some decent training. She’s already being taught karate and she’s the star track runner.” I paused and thought about what Brandon might possibly have in mind. I just didn’t want to say it.
“You don’t think maybe she’ Abigail’s replacement?” Rachel asked softly, echoing my thoughts exactly. Then she rolled her eyes and smiled, obviously trying to avoid any further conversation regarding the matter. “Maybe she’ll be Jackson’s? He’s gonna get himself terminated if he keeps it up! You’d really think he’d learn!”
Her phone beeped, and she pulled it out and looked at it. Wordlessly, she shoved it at me, her eyes wide and her face pale.
I took the phone and looked at the text. It read 90411 Red. Then I knew he wasn’t lying. See Brandon knew when there was actually trouble, we wouldn’t know if it was really for real. So he had given this code, 90411, with different colors to signify how bad the danger was, with Red being the worst. Anyone who used this code for anything except for the intended use would be terminated from the Team.
“Jackson may be hardheaded, but not enough to risk termination from the Team,” I said. “You and I both know it.”
“Yes, I do. The haunted house is right over the ridge, so let’s get out of here! I don’t know what’s going on, but Jackson obviously needs us,” Rachel urged. Then she stopped. “Maybe we should get Brandon.”
I hesitated. It’s hard being the leader because everyone looks to you for the answer to everything. Getting Brandon seemed like a good idea, so I pulled out my phone and called him. Like usual, he didn’t answer his phone, because it was dead.
“You’d think he’d be able to keep his phone charged, seeing everything else he’s accomplished,” Rachel muttered. “We don’t have time to run home.”
I don’t know why I listened to her or anything of the sort—there was always time to check and double-check and get backup just in case. But I did listen to her. (Note for later: Never listen to Rachel.) “Okay.”
She dropped her backpack in the bushes. “These algebra books weigh a ton!”
I smiled and did the same. Then she was bounding up towards the ridge. I followed.
I opened the door of my cousin’s house. My nose was still runny from the cold I’d had, and I hadn’t been able to go to school, which was fine with me. Staying with my cousins for a week shouldn’t be ruined by that horrible (though needful) drudgery.
It was really sunny outside, and I instantly felt happy. I closed my eyes and let the sunlight land on me. I was listening to a wren when I heard the distinct crunching of tires on gravel. I opened my eyes and spotted a large truck pulling in.
I squinted, and then hastily retreated inside. After all, I’m a very shy and somewhat paranoid person. And after the recent kidnappings on the news…
Once the truck had pulled away, I decided maybe I should go for a walk.
“Aunt Marybeth?” I called.
“Yes, sweetie?” she answered from upstairs, as a door slammed above my head. I could hear her walking towards the top of the stairs.
“I’m going to go for a walk,” I called.
“Okay, just don’t stay out late; Jackson and Julia should be home soon. And also, don’t go in the woods,” she warned. “You’ve seen the news, and homeless people sometimes camp out there. One of these days we’ll take them some sandwiches…anyway, no woods.”
“Yes, Aunt Marybeth, I won’t,” I promised, as I pulled on my sneakers and opened the back door.
I dashed out the door, forgetting not to slam it, but I knew Aunt Marybeth would understand. She was just that sort of person who was like a grown-up kid. (Which I guess all adults are grown-up kids because adults start out as kids.)
I ran across the backyard and onto the sidewalk. I figured I’d jog for a little way, because I love to run, and it was a nice day.
I’d been running for a while when the same truck pulled up alongside me. I felt my heart beating faster, and I scolded myself for being paranoid. Stupid, it’s nothing.
I was wrong, obviously. The door opened, and a very large man jumped out and grabbed me.
“Where are you taking me?” I demanded. I sounded brave, but inwardly, I was really, really scared. A thousand thoughts of all the awful things he could do were running through my head at that moment.
“None of your business, precious,” the big man answered. He still had me by the neck as he shoved me into the truck, and gunned the engine. The truck lurched forward, and since I didn’t have a seatbelt on, I banged my head on the dashboard. I closed my eyes and didn’t bother to open them until the truck finally stopped, and he pulled me out. All the while, I was thinking about how different things would have been if I had taken the dog with me, or taken my knife…
I screamed. He clamped a meaty hand over my mouth and whispered fiercely in my ear, “Don’t try anything of that, ya hear? I could break your neck like a toothpick, okay?”
I didn’t doubt him, either. I nodded as well as I could, with his arm wrapped around my neck from behind.
“Okay, then,” he said, letting go.
I gulped in fresh air, almost choking on his foul breath.
He pointed a stubby pistol over under a tree. “Sit under that and no funny business, okay?”
I nodded and sat down under the tree and waited. I mean, what else do you do when you have a guy who weighs four, almost five, times more than you, has a whole lot more muscle, and a gun to boot?! The answer is nothing, even though that was a rhetorical question.
He looked over the ridge once and stood there for a moment or two, and then came back over. “Good, your cousin heard you. Now, let’s get you up in that old mansion.”
“No! Jackson!! Julia!!” I screamed, not sure which cousin he was talking about.
He wrapped his hand around my neck and pressed on my pressure points. “If you weren’t as important as bait right now, I’d kill you here and now.”
I knew he wasn’t kidding. I shut my eyes to keep the tears from falling. He unwrapped his dirty hand from around my neck and grabbed my wrist. Pain shot up my wrist all the way up to my shoulder.
“Ouch,” I muttered as he jerked me across the flat ground over a tangle of vines in what probably used to be a very nice garden bed. “There is a path, you know.”
“Yes, I know, but I wouldn’t use it unless you want to be killed on the spot, precious. Have you ever heard of booby traps? Yeah?” he spat.
I understood what he was saying now, and didn’t answer as he dragged me around to a vent in the side of the house. I let my hair fall in front of my face as I gulped in air and looked wildly around for some escape. It was wide and open, and I was pretty sure I could run faster than him. But I couldn’t run faster than a bullet.
I finally realized he was doing something, so I turned back to look at what he was doing. He was on his knees, fiddling with something I couldn’t see. I moved a little for a better view. He pulled the rusted metal hunk off the vent. Now was my chance. I kicked him in the back and he fell forward. But he recovered quickly and I hadn’t even made it five feet before he had the gun on me. I froze.
“Stop, get over here, and get through that hole,” he ordered.
I nodded, mutely, and walked back towards him. Before I could even think, he shoved me through the narrow hole.
There was no way he was fitting through, I realized with a rush of joy. Maybe I could…I scratched those plans away right then and there because already, another pair of hands was wrapped around my wrists and dragging me down a tunnel.
I banged my head on something and yelped, the pain making my head spin.
“Shut up, you stupid wretch,” someone hissed ahead of me, “or we’ll gag you. Hunch over, dummy.”
I obeyed, my heart pounding as we made our way down the dark and narrow tunnel. I’m a blonde, so maybe I’m not the smartest, and maybe I’m one of those really dumb blondes because my hair is so blonde it’s almost white. But I already knew two things: I was just bait, and they wanted my cousin. I didn’t know how, but I did. I also knew they’d been watching us for a little while, to know who my cousins and I were, what school they went to, and when they’d be coming home.
I waited until we were at the end and light was at the end of the tunnel. It was a faint, dim blue type of light, and I could see my captor more plainly now. It was an older woman, probably in her forties. With a quick jerk, I had my right arm free. She obviously hadn’t been expecting it, and I had caught her off guard; she didn’t even have a chance to react. I kicked her with all my might and wrenched my left hand free, whirled, and raced down the tunnel.
My breathing was quick and short, and I could hear my heart beating, so loud it was deafening me.
It all looked the same—curving tunnels, metal doors, dim cold blue lights, and spider webs. Some went up, some went down, some had stairs, and some didn’t. But it didn’t matter. I just needed to get out. This was my worst nightmare, and there didn’t seem to be a way to escape it.
I was panting and exhausted by the time I reached another flight of stairs. I slowly walked up them to the top, where a metal door stood. I pulled on it, and it swung open on noiseless hinges.
I stood at the top and looked around. The floors were half rotten with dust, grit, and glass all over. I cautiously took a step forward, and the floor creaked, making me shudder.
“There you are!” a voice said, and I felt hands reach for me.
I screamed, whirled around, and shoved at the woman, desperation making me rather strong. I slammed the door shut behind me and raced across the floor as fast as I could, the thought that the floor might collapse still in the back of my head.
Arrows shot over my head and landed in a door post. Four knives dropped behind me as I raced through what must have been a dining room. And then I stopped perfectly still because I remembered what my first captor had said about booby traps. I knew I shouldn’t go any farther, if I wanted to survive, anyway, that is.
That wasn’t the only reason, though. A blue, elliptical sphere seemed to be suspended in midair in front of me, and this squidish thing seemed to rest in it, eyes shut. I suddenly forgot what I was running from and why I was scared. My eyes fastened on that blue orb, and I stepped tentatively forward. I could feel this other being’s presence in every fiber of my body, as I stepped forward. In fact, it was as if the very air around me was vibrating.
The surface of the sphere, which seemed to be made of water, rippled gently, and I stopped, staring at it. I was really confused and slightly freaked out by it, but also very curious.
A gentle humming came from within it, and I took another step forward. I didn’t feel afraid anymore.
“Hello,” I said, softly.
The eyes didn’t open, but the creature stirred a little.
“I’m Jenny,” I continued.
I don’t know why I did it, but I did. I reached my hand out as far as it would go. A tentacle moved towards my hand. I paused, not really scared, but just…curious what it would do.
I placed my hand on the surface of the sphere, and it touched the tentacle.
Nothing happened at first. Then, slowly, at first, ripples spread out from where my hand had been and spread out across the surface of the sphere, increasing in distance and speed.
A split second went by. The eyes of the creature within snapped open and focused on mine.
© Copyright January 2017 Abigail Burchwell