“We’ll take my car. It goes faster,” David said. The hotel doors slid open and a burst of hot air flowed over my face.
“Maybe we should take two cars.” I hesitated and came to a stand-still.
David halted. “Shayne, we stick together from here on out. Understand? And we’re taking my car. Trust me.”
I glanced at my Audi, biting my lower lip. Wow. I didn’t pay attention when I was parking. The car sat in its slot all crooked. I sighed, it was still beautiful. “Will I see my car again?”
“No. But if you thought you were rich before…well, you have no idea how rich you are now. You can buy fifty more. Heck, I’ll buy you fifty cars if you’ll just get in mine so we can get out of here.” David was speaking quickly, he was almost demanding.
I turned away, observing the setting sun. The moon was already glowing in the sky. A warm breeze kicked up and fluttered my hair. My heart started racing. “Okay. Where’s your car?”
“Over there.” David pointed to the edge of the hotel parking lot.
“What is that thing?” It looked like an alien car and it was very, very pretty. Shiny silver. Lots of curves.
“An Aston Martin Vanquish. Now let’s go.” He grabbed my arm and tugged lightly. My feet felt sluggish as I followed behind him.
David’s sports car was better than a limo. Way better. Suddenly, I wanted to climb inside it. I picked up my pace and when David popped the door open I ducked under his arm and crawled into the seat. It was pretty low to the ground. The interior was covered in rich red leather and smelled faintly of men’s cologne.
David traveled in style. And I could already tell he traveled pretty quickly. I shook myself. What was wrong with me? How could I be distracted by a car at a moment like this? David shut the door. The engine revved to life.
“Seat belt.” David nodded to the buckle at my side.
Before I buckled my belt, I pulled my mother’s letter and my parent’s photo out of my back pocket. I stuffed them under the seat with my money bible and then slapped my belt into place. “Okay. Ready.”
We drove in silence until the sun was well below the horizon and the sky was darkening to a deep navy. The highway we were traveling on had no street lights and outside the windows was a pitch black darkness that offered no relief from my jumble of thoughts. The car’s headlights cast a focused yellow glow on the road before us, revealing only a short stretch of oil-stained concrete and bright yellow and white lines that separated the traffic lanes.
I couldn’t bring myself to speak to David. I still had no idea what I would say. Here I was, driving with a stranger and I didn’t even know where we were going. I was frightened to talk to him because I was afraid of what he might tell me.
My hands twisted in my lap as I forced myself to keep breathing. I was eighteen. I was an adult. I should be in control, but I had never felt more like a child.
A chill ran up my back and David glanced at me before adjusting the air conditioning to its lowest level. I knew I should say thank you or at least acknowledge his attention to my discomfort, but I just couldn’t bring myself to respond.
“Are you ready to talk some more?” he asked, spraying the windshield with fluid and turning on the wipers to remove a splattered bug. His face tilted to peer at me and I shivered as I met his eyes.
I turned away immediately and looked out the window.
“So what’s your story anyway?” David kept his eyes focused on the road. “You know—your life story. What was it like growing up?”
“Well, it sucked,” I snapped.
David’s eyes flashed with understanding and then he turned his concentration back to the road. “What was it like living with Mrs. Jenkins?”
I sighed. “Actually, Mrs. Jenkins wasn’t that bad. She just wasn’t…warm.”
“What was high school like? I missed out on that one. I was…homeschooled.”
I rolled my eyes. “It was a nightmare. I don’t particularly wish to relive it.”
“Well, isn’t there anything you’ll miss?”
I rubbed my aching head. “There was one girl I was close to. Her name was Tara. She was only at the Jenkins farm for a little over a year before she turned eighteen. She wasn’t like the other foster kids. I mean, she was tough like the rest. But she wasn’t vicious or mean. She didn’t steal people’s stuff or pull nasty pranks. She was actually nice, even though she could easily whip the snot out of boys twice her size. Anyway, she was my friend.” My only friend. “After school, we’d go dumpster diving. We’d find all kinds of cool stuff like tabloid magazines, discarded make-up that wasn’t really empty. Sometimes, we’d find whole trash bags full of tossed out clothes. I always wondered why people didn’t donate them to Goodwill or something. But as long as they fit, we didn’t let them go to waste.”
My eyes flicked to David. I flinched. His mouth was ajar and his eyes were wide like I had just told him I came to this planet by way of Pluto. I gulped.
“Anyway…” I wondered if I should continue. Until this moment, I hadn’t realized how much I craved conversation with another human being. I didn’t realize how deep that craving went until I started talking to someone who actually wanted to listen. For some reason, every word that left my mouth made me feel like a bumbling idiot. I shrugged. Maybe I was out of practice. “So we hid everything in this…” Stolen. “…trunk that we buried in the cow pastures. And it was all ours.”
“Uh…but, did you have anything that was your own?”
“I had these three books no seemed to care about. At least, they never got stolen. Anything else I owned was always gone as soon as I got it…” Dang, these books were stolen, too. I started listing them off on my fingers. “Gone with the Wind.” Stolen from the library. “Pride and Prejudice.” Stolen from school. “And Piercing the Darkness…”
Oh crap. That one was stolen from a church. I winced.
And then I remembered what that book was about.
Whoa. My most favorite book of the three was about Angels and demons. How…strange. I wondered what David would think of me if I told him I was a thief. It’s not like it was a habit, but I already had three strikes against me. Doesn’t that make me a thief? Could you be expelled from being an Angel if you stole from a church?
“Tell me where we’re going.” I demanded, eager to switch subjects. I shifted in my seat, rigid against the door in order to provide the most possible space between us. The reality of my situation was freaking me out.
“There’s a separate world that exists here on Earth, below ground. We’re going to one of the underworld cities that our biggest allies call home.” David gave me a side-look. “Have you ever been to Natural Bridge Caverns outside San Antonio?”
I stared at him with raised eyebrows. His question caught me off guard. “No…Mrs. Jenkins didn’t have the money or the time to take us places, even if she wanted to, which I doubt she did. She was always saying that all of us kids were ungrateful swine and we didn’t deserve the food we ate…Did my parents ever go to this underground city?”
David ran a hand through his waves of brown hair and was about to respond, when the car swerved violently and the shape of a body appeared out of nowhere and smashed into the windshield where the bug had splattered only moments before. The tires started squealing and I shrieked as my body thrashed against the seat belt.
David let out a yell as he fought to control the vehicle, now threatening to settle into a tailspin. A loud ripple of noise signaled we had crossed traffic lanes and were teetering on the rough pavement of the far shoulder.
I grasped the door handle tightly with one hand. Even with a firm hold on the door, my body smacked into the hard covering before throwing itself into the dashboard as the car jerked in new movement. Through the windshield, I made out a set of boots that were attached to the black shape riding the glass in front of me.
A deep thump sounded as the front of the car indented and the black silhouette of a body wearing a pair of boots suddenly jumped from its position on the hood. Its motion was fluid and strong even as the vehicle yanked hard to the right. The heavy sounds of movement on the ceiling above me sent razors of adrenaline and fear through my soul. Someone was on the roof!
“What’s happening?!” I screamed.
Before David could answer me, my head slammed into the window beside me as the car found its center of gravity. Then David hit the brakes.
I flew forward, my seat belt cutting into my neck. Above me, the ceiling started to cave as something beat against it like thunder.
Whatever was on the windshield was now on the ceiling. This freak of nature was still present on the roof of the car despite the fact that my secured safety belt was barely holding me in place. My heart exploded in mind-blowing terror as I realized that whatever was on the roof was trying to get into the car!
Like rockets appearing in the black night, a set of motorcycles slid into my side view. I whipped my head around to gape out the window, wincing as the roof of the car hammered above my head.
There were four motorcycles flanking us, two on either side. The men crouched low on the bikes and wore no helmets. They showed no signs of worry as they rode beside a vehicle fighting to maintain control.
Hysteria overtook me and I started to hyperventilate.
David let off the brakes and slammed the accelerator as a ripping noise cut through the car. I managed to slide my eyes up towards the sound as the force of a quick acceleration pressed me back against the head rest, causing my head to bounce.
Above me, the ceiling was caving in, the fabric was ripped and giving way to the metal underneath, as it too began to tear apart. For a moment, the motorcycles slid behind us and out of view. David stepped hard on the gas as the engine whined and rumbled with strength.
I cut my terrified eyes to David. The veins in his neck jumped, his jaw was set like stone, and in his aqua blue eyes was a horror that was severely contagious.
He’s scared. Oh my god! He’s scared.
Glass shot through the car as a baseball bat smashed through the back window sending a million shattered pieces flying at the back of my neck. I screeched.
I’m going to die.
Suddenly, a motorcycle was racing right beside my window. Its driver was completely composed as if he drove like this every day. The remaining three motorcycles began to position themselves around the back half of the car, until they surrounded the three rear sides.
“Shayne!” David screamed. “The glove compartment! Get the gun!
Before I could move, he jerked the wheel to the left, throwing me around the car like a child’s bouncy ball. Without bothering to see if the motorcycles survived David’s maneuver, I flung open the glove box and spotted the small black handle of the gun, partially buried beneath a pile of papers. I tried to steady myself and yank it out as the car jerked back and forth.
Gun in hand, I fumbled with the buttons that secured the spongy casement. I let out a yelp of frustration as I failed to unlatch the case and nearly lost my hold on the weapon.
A strong surge of light began to illuminate the car from behind, leaving the gun in darkness while everything else was lit up with blinding light. I turned around to see what was happening just as the ceiling emitted an ear-splitting sound that announced it was nearly compromised.
Behind us, four Hummer SUVs had joined the motorcycles. They began to swerve left and right as the motorcycles moved around evasively. Next to the small motor bikes, the Hummers were like giants eager to stomp on annoying little ants. Just as I realized the Hummers were working to remove the motorcycles and help us escape, I let out a shrill cry—a hand reached down to snatch my head and pull me into the air by my long blond hair.
I was dizzy and numb. My scalp felt like it was pulling apart. The side of my head ached with a dull pain I couldn’t seem to register as my own. I forced myself to blink my eyes and focus, breaking through the shimmery blackness that was impairing my sight.
Clear vision returning, I realized my head was nearly out of the car. The road was whizzing below me, the air cutting through my body, and the trees bordering the highway were solidifying into a blurry wall of blackened green. My right leg—stuck in the safety belt—was the only thing holding me inside. I looked up at the thick arm attached to my head and moved my gaze to the face above me. I started into neon red eyes.
I screamed and screamed and screamed.
My foot slipped loose of the seatbelt and quicker than time itself I was out of the car and in the hands of my attacker. A callous, jeering grin spread across his face. Pointy pearly white fangs protruded from his mouth.
My lungs contracted, the forthcoming waves of screams were stifled. I felt my face drain of color; I could literally feel my blood as it rushed away.
Out of the sky another black figure crashed onto the roof of the car. A flash of movement passed closed to my face. I squeezed my eyes shut against deathly fear, the sounds of dangerous speed surging around me. Something jerked me flat on the roof, slashing my cheek on the sharp edge of ripped metal. The cold fingers on my arm slackened and feeling rushed to my arm.
My eyes popped wide to see a new attacker on the roof as he backhanded the one who snatched me from the car and sent him sprawling into the air. He disappeared from sight as he plummeted to the road below. A frosty hand slammed me back on my stomach; my chin shimmered with pain as it struck the roof. Stunned for a moment at the sight of death in action, I paused before facing the new threat holding me steady on top of the car.
He too had red eyes and fangs. I struggled hard and for a moment I was nearly free. I tried to slip through the roof, amazed I was able to move at all while consumed by such freezing fear, but he was too quick and had me in his grasp before I could get my head below the roof line. In a whoosh, we were off the car and in the air. I steeled myself for death, waiting for the moment when I’d hit the concrete and shatter into a mush of guts and broken bones.
The rush of air around me continued and I forced my eyes open and saw that we were flying. Behind us, five other dark figures moved through the sky, zooming toward us. Tiny dots of neon red appeared like headlights in the black shapes chasing our tail.
I kicked and screamed and tried to break free from the rock solid hold of my enemy. In a moment of clarity I peered down and realized we were extremely high in the sky, higher than a ten story building. If I broke free, I would fall to my death.
Death would be better, my mind offered.
“Stop! Do not struggle! Or you will die!” A voice spoke into my ear.
Instantly, I obeyed. I didn’t stop moving because he told me to. I stopped because the breath that touched my ear was ice cold.
“Put me down!” I yelped, eager to reason my way back to the Earth.
Butterflies beat their wings in a powerful symphony as a quick turn in the air sent us spiraling downwards. My stomach seemed to disappear completely. As we neared the tips of the trees lining the sides of the highway, my attacker adjusted his flight so that we were now gliding parallel to the ground.
And like a bump on a rollercoaster ride, we were into the trees. My nails scratched at his leather jacket as I tried to stay latched to the man’s chest. I clamped my eyes shut as we wove through husky tree trunks moving faster than David’s sports car and the Hummers we had left behind.
I felt a hard slap on my back and shrieked as we jerked up and rocketed towards the stars. We were moving too fast. My cheeks began to concave as the man holding me gained even more speed, unnatural speed.
“Humph.” He sputtered, his icy breath startling me even in the midst of my terror.
I glanced to the left. Another figure was flying right beside us, his red eyes bright and fearsome. His white fangs seemed to glow in the moonlight. He was holding a dagger carved from sharpened wood.
I don’t want to die.
Suddenly I felt the gun in my hand.
Had I been holding the gun this entire time?
The casement was gone in the wind. I found the safety lever on the side and flipped it up, fumbling the gun to secure position so I could point and shoot.
Who should I shoot?
It seemed easy enough to decide. I wasn’t going to shoot the person I needed to keep me alive. I aimed at the man with the dagger, and before I could give myself time to think, I fired. The bullet missed.
The man holding me jerked his head around, his red eyes flashing ire.
I waited, frozen.
“Shoot him.” He spoke clearly into the torrent of wind.
I leaned over the man’s shoulder, aimed at the figure closest to us, and fired. A loud pop crackled in the air. The smell of bitter gun powder inflamed my nose. The man with the dagger stopped cold in flight and disappeared from sight. Shocked, I looked to the man who was holding me. He smirked and picked up speed.
“Please put me down,” I begged, hoping he somehow liked me, now that I had spared him an injury of some sort.
“No,” he responded in a harrowing voice. “But we are about to descend. And you will be safe.”
Descend? Oh god, oh god…
We fell like we were jumping out of a plane without a parachute. Below us, I could see a black hole in the ground, surrounded by the tops of trees. As we moved closer to the earth another figure appeared. He swerved into our side, his elbow smashing my left temple.
A potent pain bombarded me. Blackness clouded my vision. The sound of my heart beating was amplified in my head, filling my ears, pounding slower and slower. I felt as if I was fading and then I was lost to the world.