Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 2

Across the field, Gwynivara and the mysterious man fled to the woods. The gnarled branches bent low enough to hide them, but they kept moving as swiftly as possible. As they reached the heart of the grove, they saw flashlights beaming through the trees, so they ran off the narrow pathway and hid against two large trunks, laying as flat as they could. Standing still, hardly breathing, they sensed the police were close to them. Gwynivara still had her sword, but she silently prayed that she wouldn’t have to use it. They heard one of them conclude, “I don’t see anything. Let’s go!” They heard the police head in one direction, and so they took off in the opposite direction.

The forest soon became quiet, which gave Gwynivara and the mysterious man a chance to slow down. The man walked with purpose, so she inferred that he intended to take her somewhere safe. Now that they were out of danger, her curiosity started to peak. So many questions raced through her mind, but she felt hesitant to speak yet. They were most likely out of harm’s way, but she didn’t know how cautious her accomplice would want to remain. As they reached the edge of the woods, she couldn’t help herself. She had to have some idea of what was going on, and her impulses only gave her a split second to choose between the myriad of urgent inquiries. She ended up going with, “What’s the plan?”

“Not here,” he replied softly. “Too many chances for interference. I’ll explain everything when we get there, I promise.” That satisfied Gwynivara’s thirst for knowledge, at least for the moment, so she followed him silently for a spell.

At the other side of the forest, Gwynivara saw that they came to an empty, two lane road. On the other side, overlooking a dirt path, was a rod-iron fence with a wiry archway that read: Talamh de Suaimhneas. The pathway divided two vast fields of tombstones, which prompted Gwynivara to ask, “A graveyard?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “Are you afraid?”

“No!” she asserted. As they set foot inside, she actually did feel a little on edge, but with his confident demeanor, she convinced herself to push past her insecurities. After a while, she noticed a low mist hovering close to the grounds, and the moonlight beamed off of the tombs. She thought out loud, “This place is oddly beautiful!”

“Glad you think so!” the man remarked. “It’s the perfect place for a hideout. No one ever comes in here.”

“Because most people are scared of death?” Gwynivara surmised.

“That, and the fact it’s considered sacred grounds.” He paused for a moment, and then he probed, “Who are you?”

“I’m Gwynivara.” Gwynivara felt a wave of relief. Since he was asking questions, she knew she would get the answers that she longed for. “You can call me Gwyn.”

“Gwyn, huh?” He inquired, “Who are you, Gwyn?”

She hadn’t mentally prepared herself for that response. “Well, I…Uh, I’m a janitor at…no, I just got fired. So…I guess I’m nobody.”

“That can’t be true!” he objected. He decided to change tactics. “How long have you had Venenatus Sanguis?”

It felt strange to talk about the disease since she had gotten so used to hiding it, but she didn’t think there was any point in denying it to him. Besides, if he wanted to do her harm, he would’ve been better off turning her into the police! She figured she may as well tell the truth. “I’ve had it for almost ten years actually.”

“So, I was right, it did begin in Great Dismal Falls!” When he saw Gwynivara’s puzzled expression, he explained, “I’m Lieutenant General Emorick Conley of the U.S. Marines. A few years ago, I heard a man in the barracks screaming, so we rushed in to assist. When we got there, it was too late; the man laid in a pool of blood. I knelt down to check his pulse, just in case, and as I attended to him, a scaly, wolf-like creature snuck up and bit me in the leg! We killed it, but I lost a lot of blood from my injury, so they rushed me to the field hospital. When I started to come to, I heard my doctor talking to some civilian medical personnel, and they not only said I had Venenatus Sanguis, but they said as soon as I came to, they planned to send me to a quarantine zone! I only knew two things about quarantine zones: one, they have a high mortality rate and two, the survivors never came out. After surviving three wars, I wasn’t gonna let this end my life! When they weren’t looking, I hid a gun in my pants, and when they brought me to that so called hospital, I shot my way out! Even though I became a fugitive, I knew I could do more good on the outside. I vowed to find a cure! In order to do that, I figured out that I needed to find the origin. From the newspapers that I obtained from across the country, I found that the oldest cases that were reported came from…”

“Great Dismal Falls,” Gwynivara finished his sentence. “So, that’s why you want to help me? Since I was one of the first to contract it, you want to question me?”

Emorick disagreed, “No, that’s not why. If you got it directly from the source, then maybe. But no, that’s not why I brought you here…”

They stopped in front of a catacomb mausoleum, which, from far away, simply had the appearance of a giant block of cement, but up close, Gwynivara could see columns and gargoyle carvings. Initially, Gwynivara had reservations about entering a room of easily accessible coffins, but behind the stone slab door, she could see a faint, amber glow, so she decided to hear his explanation. Emorick questioned her, “You fought them?”

“Fought who?” Gwynivara answered his question with another question.

“The monsters formed from your emotions. You fought them?” He gazed at her with his own curiosity starting to surmount.

Gwynivara felt a little surprised by his inquiry. “Well, yeah…”

“For ten years?” He seemed to know the answer but needed the confirmation.

Gwynivara now felt a surge of confusion. She couldn’t figure out why would ask so many questions on something that seemed so obvious to her. “Yes, of course! I didn’t have a choice!”

“But you did have a choice,” he pointed out.

Gwynivara initially dismissed this notion. “No I didn’t! They were trying to kill me! What choice did I have? Let them kill me?” Emorick nodded, and then it clicked for her. “Oh! Okay, so I chose life. Is that so unusual?”

“Yes!” Emorick reacted in admiration and wonder. “Considering there’s no cure, which means the person who contracts Venenatus Sanguis has a choice-risk a life of pain or end their suffering. Not a lot of people have the courage to stay strong for that long. You fought back! Almost ten years of suffering, but you haven’t given up! That’s quite a feat!”

Gwynivara accepted the sentiments, it was quite flattering, but she didn’t quite believe her actions were remarkable. “I didn’t realize survival was considered a feat!”

Emorick emphasized, “It is! Which is why I need your help.” This immediately captured Gwynivara’s interest. Rarely did anyone need her help, let alone a high ranking military officer! However, she didn’t let that deter her. Something deep inside her felt passionate about serving those most in need of help, so she listened to him with the utmost attention. Emorick went on, “I’ve made it my mission to not only save people who want to survive but to train a select few for combat. I don’t know who’s responsible for creating this disease, but this has all the signs of biological warfare. My gut says when we get close to the origin, the person responsible will retaliate. I need troops to back me up. You’ve already proven that you have the aptitude to fight this, and I need as many soldiers as I can get to grow our numbers and build up a true rebellion to this injustice! What do you say?”

The opportunity sounded amazing, but Gwynivara did not feel worthy of this honorable position. Truthfully, she wanted to say yes, but she had so much self doubt. She deemed herself fortunate to have eked out of so many dangerous situations, but she didn’t know how much longer her luck would run. The idea of people relying her was terrifying! She uttered, “I mean…wow! I don’t know what to say! I don’t have any experience as a solider…”

Emorick enspeeched, “What is a soldier? What they always were to me were people who dedicated themselves to serve for a vital cause. They commit to selflessly working to help the community and to save lives. They’re willing to sacrifice what’s personally convenient to them in order to help those in need. That’s a soldier to me, and anyone with the drive to do that noble work can serve in this battalion!” Gwynivara still seemed unsure, so he added, “Of course, I’ll make sure you’re trained. Actually, one of the reasons you’ll be an asset to our cause is your Venenatus Sanguis! It creates monsters from the energy we emit when we experience strong, stressful emotions, but do you know what happens when you experience powerful, positive feelings?”

This idea both intrigued and perplexed her. She shook her head, and she asked, “What happens?”

He explained, “You can create anything! A powerful force gets created, and you decide where it goes and what it does. Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to be overwhelmingly deadly, but those who can manipulate it like this can do so much good for the world! Yes, I want to eradicate it still, but until then, for those who have it may as well use it as a powerful tool. Combining this with the intrinsic desire to defend the innocent, a soldier with Venenatus Sanguis has the potential to defeat the true enemy! I can see a lot of fight in you, and with a little honing of your abilities, you’re truly an asset to the rebellion!”

Gwynivara relished this new insight into the disease she had. She had no idea that she had that kind of potential inside her! However, she still had some lingering doubts, “Listen, I wanna help, but we don’t know for sure that I’ll make a good rebel. Okay, I fought for my own survival, but does that really separate me from the hundreds of other people who have it? What if I fail? What if I do more harm than good? I appreciate the idea you have of me, but are you sure you have the right person? I mean, I’ve failed over and over again in the last decade! I don’t think I’ve had enough success to help anyone! When it comes down down to it, what makes you think I’d be good at the fight?”

Emorick didn’t say anything at first. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, glass orb with purple smoke swirling inside it. Gwynivara got entranced by its beauty and mysterious nature. Emorick divulged, “This can store all of the data I’ve collected and play it back at my will. Let me show you a video I obtained from one of the quarantine hospitals…”

Gwynivara peered into the orb, and she saw a small living room with a couch that sat against the kitchen wall. A sword rested on the coffee table while a woman with an athletic body, a long nightgown, and sullen eyes propped her legs up on the sofa. At that moment, a large, snake-like creature that had four legs crawled into view. The woman didn’t move, she didn’t even blink! “What isn’t she grabbing her sword?” The creature crawled onto the foot of her couch and the woman remained motionless. “Get your sword! It’s not too late!” The creature unhinged its jaws and clamped onto her feet. “Come on, don’t give up!” It swallowed her feet and moved up to her shins. “No! Don’t do this! You can fight it!” It moved up to her pelvis. “Fight it! Come on! Your sword is right there! Fight it!” Gwynivara grew hysterical as it inched its way up and more of the woman disappeared. “No! No!” As it swallowed her head, Gwynivara howled and started to bawl. “You could have fought it! Why did you give up?”

Emorick handed her a cloth handkerchief, and as she dried her eyes, he told her, “Gwyn, what just happened, everything you just said, that’s what I saw in you! Tell me now you don’t want to at least try to fight!”

With one last sniffle, Gwynivara took a deep breath and removed her hands from her face. She couldn’t stand the idea of so many people succumbing to this! With a brazened star, she asserted, “I’m in!”


Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 1

Rebels of Darkness

“Good morning, Great Dismal Falls!” a wood-grain, plastic clock radio sounded as the digital time flipped over to seven o’ clock. The disc-jockey continued, “You’re listening to K-F-N-U, home to the greatest hits of 1976! A heavy fog still fills the sky but will lift by the afternoon. Don’t get too excited though, dark clouds stretching from the swamplands to the bay will start October off with very gloomy weather. Speaking of gloomy, our friends to the north have reported a road closure near the Chesapeake tunnel, so bad news for those of you who commute northern Virginia! No, it’s not from construction or a car accident this time. Sadly, a man living in the structure was found dead. Police suspect Venenatus Sanguis as two commuters were attacked by-”

A pale hand slammed down on the off button, and a woman’s voice grumbled, “Not today!” A blonde with feathered hair laid face first into her thin pillow. Her twin bed, which took the majority of the space in her room, had a disheveled heap of sheets covering it, and only a small corner rested on the curvy body of the occupant. With a groan, she picked herself up and got out of bed. She yawned as she opened her dingy bedroom door. Across the narrow hall was a cramped bathroom with peeling wood panel walls. She got a glimpse of her face, and her normally fair skin looked a little sallow, and her golden brown eyes were glossy and etched in red lines. She started to sigh, but she stopped herself. “No, not today!” she told herself as she turned on the shower.

After her hair had dried, she put on a ruffled white shirt that matched her white, flared trousers. She put on a pale pink blazer and a matching scarf to break up the color pattern. She felt reasonably pleased with her make up job; it was harder to tell that she didn’t sleep much last night. She grabbed her beige purse and walked to the end of the hall where a linoleum foyer that separated the living room from the front door. She gazed over to see her elderly roommate sitting stiffly in her recliner watching television. She let her roommate know, “I’m off to work! If everything goes well, I might-”

“That’s nice, dear. Have fun.” The roommate had adjusted her shawl, but other than that, she did not take her gaze off the television set. The younger lady stifled a sigh and headed out the door.

In a tiled hallway with florescent lights, she sat in a chair that stood outside an office with a big, wooden door with the words ‘Hiring Board’ etched on it. She had an application on a wooden clipboard that she began to fill out. The first line asked for a name, and, without thinking, she wrote Gwynivara Wallace. She started to fill out her address when she realized what she had done. She scribbled out the name she wrote and thought for a moment. She whispered to herself, “How do I spell my last name again?” The receptionist at the triage desk gave her a funny look, so Gwynivara tried to cover her tracks with a polite smile. The receptionist didn’t say anything and went back to filing her nails, so Gwynivara went back to her paperwork, trying to remain more inconspicuous.

After she turned her paperwork in, she waited silently for them to call her in. Her muscles were tense, so she took a couple of deep breaths to relax more. At that point, a man with large glasses and a lab coat poked his head out into the hallway and called out, “Taylor McCartney?” At first, Gwynivara doesn’t respond, so he called out again, “Taylor McCartney?”

Gwynivara snapped to attention. “Yes, that’s me!” The man, with a slight look of disappointment, beckoned for her to enter, so she complied and went inside.

The room was empty except for a long table where four men in lab coats sat. The doctor who got her from the hallway took the fifth seat and addressed his colleagues, “Gentlemen, this Taylor. She is applying for the head janitor position.”

The other men frowned, and the one in the center regarded her, “I’m afraid there’s been a mistake. Miss McCartney, you can go back to work.”

Gwynivara didn’t move or speak for a moment. She had a vacant stare like she was still trying to process what just happened. Another doctor asked her, “Is there a problem?”

“I don’t understand,” she replied. “My interview was for this day and time, I’m sure of it. What’s the mistake?”

The doctors, who had already gotten up to go on with their day, sat back down grimly. The man in the center explained slowly, “Miss McCartney, I’m very sorry our job board wasn’t clear enough, but this position is for men only.”

“But…!” Gwynivara’s heart sunk. “But I’ve been cleaning for years…!”

Another doctor piped in, “Cleaning up after your family doesn’t count!”

“No!” she objected. “I was a janitor at the library, and before that I cleaned hotel rooms. I’m the best janitor here! I know all the cleaning procedures inside and out! I’ve even trained people to do this job! I have the right experience for the promotion! Why should my sex matter?”

The center doctor responded unsympathetically, “Yes, you have an excellent background, which is why we accepted your application. But with a name like Taylor, we thought you were a guy. Look, I didn’t wanna waste your time, and I certainly don’t wanna hurt your feelings, but we can’t have a woman in a leadership position, especially a woman like you.”

That last comment made her nervous. “What do you mean?”

He clarified further, “I don’t mean that in a callous way! A person in a supervisory role has to be tough and a little intimidating to be taken seriously. You’re so pretty and sweet, I just don’t think any man on your staff would take you seriously.”

At first, Gwynivara seemed relieved that his previous comment didn’t mean what she thought it did, but she came to realize that this was not that much better. The more he talked, the more she pronounced her frown. After he had finished, she scoffed, “So…if I make myself ugly, can I re-apply?”

The five doctors exchanged uncomfortable glances, and the man in the middle talked to her sternly, “Look, women have many strengths, but being tough isn’t one of them. I mean, let’s say you have a man about my size on your team and he broke a major company rule. I’m upset, I’m agitated, could you honestly say you have the strength to fire me?”

Gwynivara leaned in close, stared at him dead in the eye, and stated firmly, “Doctor Richards, I would love to fire you!”

The men all got a jolt of shock at her response, and clearly Doctor Richards was offended. “Well, young lady, if that’s going to be your attitude, then you’re fired!”

For a moment, Gwynivara couldn’t move. Her mind couldn’t absorb what just happened. She wasn’t even aware of the fact that she had picked up her purse and had left the room. She sat on the bus and could care less about the people around her. She tried to wrap her mind around what happened, but she was too dumbstruck to accept it. With her body on autopilot, she managed to get off at the right stop and walked herself home. When she got to the mobile home park she lived in, it started to sink in, but she forced herself to not think about it or show any emotions. As she walked through the complex, she switched from watery eyes to nerves on edge. Every noise and movement made her jump. Finally, at the end of the row, next a chain-link fence, her house came into view. She ran towards the front porch and checked all around her. When she saw nothing precarious, she took a deep breath and went inside.

After she had changed into her pajamas, which were black sweat pants with a black tank top, she sat on her bed and scoured over the classified section of the newspaper. She had a mug of tea next to her on the nightstand, but she ignored it as she poured the job ads. She pushed back more tears as she focused on her search. Her hands started to shake a little, so she set the paper down and took a drink of tea. As she held her cup, she had one of her legs on the floor. At that moment, a rat brushed by her ankle! Instinctively, she pulled her leg up, but as she did, the contents of her mug spilled forward. The tea spread through the newspaper and even soaked into her bed. That was the last straw! Gwynivara finally broke down and cried her eyes out!

After a minute or so, she heard a loud bang outside. She stopped crying and stared outside in fear. “Oh no!” She reached under the bed and grabbed a sword. She watched the entire window-side wall pulsating, so she stood with her weapon at the ready. Soon, the wall gave in and came crashing down. The perpetrator was an eight-foot tall creature whose appearance somewhat resembled a mix of an elephant and a pit bull! It had sharp talons and glowing red eyes that glared fiercely at her. After a split second of assessing the situation, Gwynivara ran across her bed and headed towards the beast’s body. It swiped her away like a bothersome fly, sending her sailing outside!

She landed in the barren field that laid outside where the fence used to stand. She got up in time to avoid getting crushed. It tried to bite here, but she swung her sword at it, scraping off a lot of its mouth. It had a momentary distraction from its pain, so she ran closer to its throat and tried to stab it, but it flung her away. She landed on her back this time, and immediately, she saw its head dive towards her. She stabbed it in the eye, and it roared in pain. She got up and ran to where its heart most likely was located. She stabbed it, but the sword only pierced its skin, which was so thick that she couldn’t get her weapon out. Before it could swipe at her, she dodged its attempt. She kept avoiding its reach as she racked her brain trying to think of a way to defeat him at this point.

Suddenly, a muscular man with a clean cut and deep gray hair style, a slate tank top, and camo pants appeared and fired a spear gun at the beast! The spear had a rope attached to it, which trailed behind it as it hit one of the beast’s knees. Before the creature could react, the man ran around the beast, making the rope bind the creatures legs together and made it fall down. Gwynivara ran to it, and, with one foot on the monster, she used both her arms to pull her sword out. The man instructed, “Get its throat!” She heeded his word and jammed her weapon into its neck. It let out one final shriek as she dragged her sword from one side to the other. They watched as the beast took its final breath.

As her adrenaline started to slow down, Gwynivara realized that her neighbors had come out to witness the chaos. One neighbor observed the destruction and cried out, “What the hell happened?”

Another neighbor answered, “Look at that thing over there!”

A third neighbor exclaimed, “Oh my god! It’s Venenatus Sanguis!”

As everyone rushed to find a phone to call the police, Gwynivara knew she had to escape before they could get her. The man who helped her directed, “Follow me!” Something in his voice had a timbre that conveyed confidence and genuine care, so her instincts told her to trust him. She followed him as he fled the complex.

Searching for a good read?

Sabotage by Dana Lee Burton

What would you do if you discovered that you belonged to a cult? Carmen faced that decision right before her 30th birthday. She devoted her life to a company called Mirage, which promised a luxurious lifestyle in a exchange for some hard work. After spending her twenties bouncing between jobs, this seemed so stable, but it took an alien, Zartex, assigned to observe her to show her the truth. Once she did, she vowed to expose their misdeeds to the world. So, together with a dashing reporter named Garith, Carmen creates an expose’ to sabotage Mirage’s plans. Trouble wreaks havoc though once Mirage discovers her plans, so they send dangerous people to stop them at all costs. Carmen, Garith, and Zartex must flee for their lives, but they will do whatever it takes to get the truth out there before more lives get ruined. Can they thwart Mirage in time, or will they also become the victims of sabotage?

Sabotage, Chapter 20

She never thought she would ever see him again. That was always the goal, but until now, it didn’t feel real. She bellowed, “Papi!”

Hank, still in in his pajamas and robe, clearly had been stressed for a long time, but when he saw his daughter, his tension melted. He grinned broadly as he ran to her. “Carmen!” As soon as she got close enough, he scooped her up and hugged her tight. “Mija, thank god!”

Carmen, overwhelmed with emotion, hugged him tight and started to cry. All of the fear she felt vanished from inside her and came flooding out. when she was a little girl, her dad was a source of strength and comfort whenever she had a nightmare or got hurt, physically or emotionally. At thirty years old, she found that nothing had changed. Now that it was over and he was here, she had a chance to really process all of her emotions. She didn’t realize how scared she was before, but she felt safe now. “I’m so sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Sorry for what?” Hank asked, slightly surprised.

“I’m sorry for leaving you!” she wailed. “I’m sorry for making you worry about me! I’m sorry that-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Hank interrupted her. “None of that matters. All that matters is that you’re safe!”

In the midst of their hugging, Carmen heard a familiar female’s voice call out, “Carmen!”

Her heart fluttered. It just couldn’t be! Carmen lifted her head to see a blonde woman in her fifties who closely resembled her own facial features and wore army fatigues. “Mom?”

Greta smiled and ran to her. She got on her knees and grasped Carmen tight. “As soon as I found out you were in danger, they sent me back. Oh baby, you had me so worried!” Greta sobbed uncontrollably as she clutched onto her daughter.

After a moment, she glanced over to Zartex and Garith. Zartex bawled unabashedly, and even Garith seemed a little overwhelmed with emotion. As a couple of reporters greeted Garith, Greta and Hank reunited with each other. Carmen told them, “I gotta say goodbye to them.” Her parents were too busy hugging and kissing each other to say anything, but they nodded to acknowledge that they heard her.

When she approached Zartex, she wanted to ask how long he had left, but before she could, he informed her, “It’s almost time.”

Carmen felt a surge of sadness sweep over her. “I don’t know how to thank you for everything!”

“I know how you feel,” Zartex replied. “Literally, I have been watching your emotions this whole time!”

Carmen softly snickered and turned Garith. She was sure he would want to say goodbye to Zartex too. He chatted with his reporter colleagues, so she waited a moment. She didn’t want to appear as though she were eavesdropping, so she watched the crime scene investigators clean up the scene and listened to the rock music the park had turned on. She couldn’t help but hear what Garith had been saying, “Thanks again, Marge! Oh, did you guys hire my production assistant?”

As Marge revealed that she hadn’t, Carmen’s heart stopped. She felt hurt and utterly betrayed. Abandoning all pretense, she grabbed Garith’s shoulder, spun him around, and barked, “You lied to me!”

Completely confused, Garith responded, “What?”

“Remember in Utah, I asked you if you knew anyone that was hiring in the Bay Area?” Carmen vented. “You said you didn’t! That wasn’t true, obviously! You must’ve known that, with my theatre degree, that I could qualify to be a production assistant! You didn’t even consider me for the job! You must not think much of me! And to think I was starting to feel-!” She cut herself off right there. He didn’t deserve to hear anything positive about himself right now.

Garith, with a hopeful gleam in his eyes, stepped up to her. “Yes?”

“Nevermind!” She snarled. “I hope that article was worth it!”

Fuming, Carmen turned her back to him. She saw Garith struggle with a decision, but she didn’t care. As she walked away, something stopped her dead in her tracks. It was Garith, who cried out, “It’s because I love you, okay?”

Garith sighed and confessed, “Things at the studio grew tense as my marriage went sour, and after a bitter divorce, they made a rule about inter-office romances. I know you would be perfect for the job, but…well…The more time I spend with you, the more these feelings grow. I could pretend that there was nothing there, but every day I would see you, and they’d come right back. I would remember what an amazing woman you are, and I couldn’t resist your smile, your curves, your eyes…oh, those eyes!”

Carmen often wondered why certain people couldn’t accept a compliment, but now she got it. Garith was the kindest, bravest, and most handsome man she had ever met. She didn’t feel worthy to inspire these kinds of feelings in him. “But…I…I’m just…I don’t have much to offer. I’m a penniless, jobless thirty year old who still lives with her parents! How could I…How could you…?”

Garith stepped close to her again, putting his hands around her hips. “Hey, you’re enough! Okay, so you got some baggage. I can carry it! I’m real strong, remember?”

Remembering the day they met, Carmen laughed. Garith gazed intensely at her, and her heart fluttered. She couldn’t believe this was real! She didn’t want to admit to herself before, but those feelings that she couldn’t figure out before were romance. Her nerves were all lit up, and she relished in the fact that she would now get to experience the exciting type of love that she so ardently craved. Garith leaned in for a kiss, and her heart beat wildly….!

Suddenly, Garith and Carmen found themselves kissing Zartex’s cheeks! “Sorry guys! I really hate to interrupt, but it’s almost time for me to go, so could I…? One more time? Please!”

Carmen laughed, “Go ahead!”

“Yes!” Zartex exclaimed as the song Nothin’ But a Good Time by Poison played. They soon felt their world morph to a nineteen-eighties concert venue…

(Zartex, totally decked out like an eighties rocker,
sang into a microphone. Garith played the
guitar, Carmen played the tamborine,
Hank played the drums, and Greta
played the bass guitar. Garith and Carmen
stood together to sing back up. All of them
dressed like eighties rock stars.)
Zartex:     Now listen,
Not a dime, I can’t pay my rent,
I can barely make it through the week!
Saturday night, I’d like to treat my girl,
but right now, I can’t make ends meet.

I’m always working, slaving every day!
Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time,
and it don’t get better than this!

(Everyone abandoned  their instruments
and took turns singing into the camera.)
Garith:     They say I spend my money on women
and wine,
Carmen:     But I couldn’t tell you where I
spent last night!
Garith & Carmen:     I’m really sorry for the
shape I’m in,
I Just like my fun every now and then!

Hank:     I’m always working, slaving every day!
Greta:     Gotta get away from the same old, same old!
Hank & Greta:     I need a chance to get away!
If you could hear me think, this is what I’d say:

Garith:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
Carmen:      How can I resist?
Greta:     Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
Hank:     And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex, now raised on a platform high above
the rest of the stage, sang as the other
four watched below).
Zartex:     You see, I raise a toast to all of us,
who are breaking our backs every day!
If wanting a good life is such a crime,
Lord, then put me away!
Here’s to ya!

(During the musical break, the other four
dance. During the guitar solo, Garith
grabbed Carmen’s waist, dipped her,
and kissed her passionately. The others
silently said rock on.)

(Greta and Hank dance together as does
Carmen and and Garith. Zartex sang.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(Zartex’s stage leveled down to theirs and
he partied with them.)
Zartex:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
and it don’t get better than this!

(The audience, which consisted of the police and
the park workers, all sang with the five on
stage for the last verse.)
Everyone:     Don’t need nothin’ but a good time!
How can I resist?
Ain’t looking for nothin’ but a good time!
And it don’t get better than this!

(As the song faded, the crowd cheered. Confetti
rained down on the stage. Greta, Hank,
Garith, Carmen, and Zartex took a bow.)

The world morphed back into the amusement park crime scene, but Zartex didn’t come back. A thick, azure blue light hovered over Garith and Carmen, who waved goodbye fervently with one arm while their other arm was around each other. Before the light disappeared completely, Hank saluted it with two fingers. Garith and Carmen watched it disappear. Though they were sad to see him go, they were proud of Zartex and really appreciated his role in their journey.

Detective Dinsung shook his head, pulling himself out of a reverie he didn’t remember having. He went over to where Zartex had stood, searching around the area in confusion. “Where did your friend go? We still have questions for him!”

“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you!” Garith replied truthfully.

“Is he coming back?” Detective Dinsung asked.

Hank answered, “He wishes!”

Totally confused, Detective Dinsung shook his head and moved onto another part of the investigation. Carmen grabbed Garith’s other hip, and they both snickered delightfully. Hank pushed himself between them, faced Garith, cleared his throat, and said brusquely, “Excuse me, who are you? I’m the daddy!”

“Papi” Carmen groaned. “I’m thirty years old!”

“What’s your point?” Hank surveyed Garith with high skepticism.

“Mister Alvaro, I’m Garith Kendric.” Garith offered him a firm handshake.

As Garith introduced himself, Carmen stood by his side. Greta joined Hank’s side and surveyed Garith in a very different way than her husband did. She met Carmen’s gaze and silently mouthed, “He’s cute!”

Carmen silently giggled as Hank and Garith got to know each other. After all the wondering about what laid on the other side of her journey, it laid out before her now. She may not have instantly found a job or ran into her own place, but she had something she hadn’t thought of-lots of love and support. In all of Mirage’s secrets to success, they hadn’t counted on how magical having these kind of people in one’s life could be. Money and status would come and go, but friends and family were a constant value that should never get discarded again! In a way, she felt sorry for the higher ups of this cult because they would never know this kind of happiness. They never had a chance because they were always chasing the next big thing. They focused so much on the future that they forgot about the now. The present was important too, and some moments and opportunities will leave if they aren’t captured immediately. She decided to stop worrying about the future and enjoy the bits of joy that would come her way in the present. The biggest lesson she learned was that she had no way of knowing any good or bad in her future, but if something good was here and now, she must savor it!

The End

Epilogue: On a clear television set, a judge asked, “How do you plea?”

The camera panned to Jorden, who stated, “I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Arius, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Elden, who stated, “Guilty.”

The camera panned to Lilith, who stated, “Your Honor, I plea guilty.”

The camera panned to Seth, who very begrudgingly stated, “Guilty.”

On the other side of the court room, Carmen, who now looked relieved, sat by her lawyer, Jayesh Chakrabarti. Garith, who sat in the audience behind her, put his hand on her shoulder. She put her hand on his hand, which showed a simple but very elegant engagement ring!

Munching on some popcorn and lounging on a white couch in a room with mostly white furniture, Zartex, back in alien face, commented delightedly, “Yes Oh, I love Earthlings-my favorite aliens!”

Sabotage, Chapter 19

Carmen’s mind stood still in a dream-like trance. None of this felt real. Seth wasn’t supposed to be here! She wasn’t supposed to be facing a gun! People always said that before a person dies, their life flashes before their eyes. That didn’t happen to her. It was more like the effect one has at the end of an epic film-everything came together like a puzzle that was now complete. She couldn’t believe that this was it. She had a hard time accepting that her life didn’t mean more than this; she had goals, dreams, she wanted to make a difference in the world! She searched for a solution, a way out, but she drew a blank. This really felt like the end.

A simple question drew them back into reality. Zartex asked, “How did you get in here?”

Seth answered, “The door in the back was unlocked.”

“There was a door?” Zartex cried out incredulously. “We sure did it the hard way!”

Jorden used Seth befuddlement over that interaction to her advantage. She took out a gun and gently pushed it to Carmen, who quickly scooped it up. Arius reacted vehemently, “What are you doing?”

“Traitor!” Elden declared.

“She saved my life,” Jorden pouted. “I can’t do it! She has a fighting chance now. My conscious is clear.” She folded her arms, clearly upset that she couldn’t stomach her duties to Mirage.

Carmen pointed the gun at Seth, who turned his attention away from Jorden and finally realized what the situation was. Carmen felt uncomfortable toeing the thin line between taking a life and protecting herself. She had no experience with guns, so she really didn’t feel confident at her shooting ability at the moment. If she missed, she would get killed. Or worse, she could get an innocent bystander hurt. She concentrated as much as possible, going over every fact she knew about a gun based on the handful of times her mom took her to the shooting range. She really hoped the police would interrupt this standoff so that she wouldn’t have to make this difficult decision. Inwardly, she knew she couldn’t show fear to Seth right now, so she sarcastically said, “By the way, I’m declining your Head of Security job offer!”

Lilith made an almost hissing noise, but Seth just laughed, “Look at you, pretending to be brave! You never were good at hiding your emotions. You were always scared to go to the field, everyone knew that. I kept waiting for the day it would snap together for you, but you never got it. Truth is you didn’t have the guts to be a manager!”

“She didn’t need to be fearless!” Garith couldn’t refrain from shouting passionately. Zartex had to physically hold Garith back, who was basically shaking from anger. “Each day, she faced her fears! She was braver than you’ll ever be! She walked away from Mirage! She rejected you, not the other way around! She walked away because she was too good of a person to ever rank up! Don’t you dare try to make her feel inferior!”

Arius and Elden pulled out their guns, but Seth just chuckled. “Give them to me!” Even though they were confused, Arius and Elden handed over their guns. “Yours too, Lilith.” Scowling, Lilith reluctantly gave Seth her gun. “Guys, she’s not gonna shoot me!” He put down his own gun and put his hands up. Carmen wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but she didn’t trust him, so she refused to stand down. “Go ahead, shoot me!” Everyone at the scene looked from Seth to Carmen, back and forth. Seth, totally cocky, taunted Carmen, who concentrated only on his movements and fixing her gun at him. “You’re too goody-two-shoes to pull the trigger. That’s the difference between you and us-we do we gotta do to succeed. You have the upper hand! You can solve your problems right now by eliminating me! But you won’t! You’re too weak!” Carmen was starting to get irritated and hoped that it wasn’t apparent. Seth did notice and did a little dance to egg her on. “Shoot me, bitch! Shoot me! Go on, shoot me! Do it! Come on, do it!”

Carmen’s scowl deepened. It was too tempting to pull the trigger. That SOB would deserve it! He was evil and hurt a lot of people! She would but doing the world a favor…Ultimately, she knew she couldn’t hurt anyone unless she absolutely had to. She kept thinking of solutions that didn’t involve anyone dying, including herself. She tried to think of ways to subdue him without killing him. He kept mocking her, which made it hard to concentrate. The situation was tense, no one knew what would happen. If Seth reached for his gun again, she knew she would have to hit him before he could shoot her. But where could she shoot him that would stop him physically but not fatally? Seth saw her arms grew weaker, so he remarked, “That’s what I thought!” He bent down slightly to the left where his gun laid. Instinctively, she aimed her gun and pulled the trigger!

The girls shrieked, and the guys moaned in sympathetic pain. Seth screeched louder than anything Carmen had ever heard. He rolled and writhed in pain as blood flowed from…his groin! Lilith, Jorden, Arius, and Elden timidly turned to Carmen, who still held up her gun. “Get down on the ground!” The four got onto their bellies, peeking at Carmen as she spoke to Seth, “You’re right-I’m not like you. I don’t need to kill people to reach my goals! No, I didn’t spare your life out of pity or remorse. The thing I realized was that upon your death, your body would be at peace. You don’t deserve that! There are things so much worse than death!”

“That’s so cliche’!” Seth groaned. He felt some sharp pain, which made him cry out. “Ugh! You bitch! You bitch!”

“I’m the bitch? I got your balls! You don’t!” Carmen mocked him. She put down her gun and turned to Garith and Zartex, who had a mixed look of sheer terror and utter admiration.

Before anyone could say anything, a group of police swarmed in and surrounded the Mirage executives. “You’re all under arrest!”

“What?” Seth roared out. “She tried to kill me!”

The police informed him, “The amusement park caught you guys breaking in and ambushing them. Thought they were trespassing, we’re gonna let that go ’cause clearly you attacked them!”

Seth argued, “She killed Colt Duncan! We were trying to apprehend her so she could go to jail-where she belongs!”

At that moment, a man in a nice suit flashed his police badge at them. “Detective Disung. I’ve been in touch with the Grand Junction police. Colt’s autopsy showed that he got killed by someone who’s left handed. Carmen is holding a gun with her right hand. We are starting to doubt that she did it.”

Still writhing in pain, Seth pointed out, “So, she shot with her left hand to cover her tracks!”

Detective Disung took out his phone, where he read his notes, “She had the opportunity to let one Teddy Amsan die, but she risked her own freedom to get him help. That just doesn’t seem like the behavior of a guilty person.”

Crying in anguish, Seth yelled, “She wants you to think that! I demand that you arrest her!”

As an ambulance came and began to render him first aid, the police all shrugged at each other. Garith stepped forward and asked, “When was Colt’s time of death?”

Detective Disung gazed at his notes answered, “Colt’s time and date of death: October thirteenth at seven-o-three p.m. Unless you guys have proof of your whereabouts at that date and time, we’ll have to arrest Carmen too.”

Carmen’s heart sunk. She couldn’t believe after everything she went through that it would end this way. As a police officer approached her, Zartex unexpectedly interjected, “Wait, I have proof!” This statement stunned everyone, who watched him with total anticipation as he dug through his pocket and gave something to Detective Disung.

Carmen glanced over the detective’s shoulders, and her sunken heart reinflated. Zartex gave him the photo that they took with the cardboard cutouts at the Green River railroad station! She finally broke her silence, “Look, there’s the receipt stapled to it with the date and time of the transaction! I wasn’t even in the same state as him when he died! I’m innocent! This is proof!”

As Seth got strapped to the gurney, he insisted, “Anyone can fake that! She did it!”

Detective Disung suggested, “Watch what you say-just ’cause you’re going to the hospital doesn’t mean we won’t use what you say in the court of law! Plus, you should be grateful to be alive right now. She could have killed you! I would have!”

As the ambulance wheeled him away, he shouted, “No, she did it! She went into his office and shot him in cold blood! She left him there to bleed all over his family’s picture!”

Detective Disung grinned. “Funny, that detail wasn’t released to any public records!” Seth realized his mistake and cringed as the ambulance loaded him in.

Carmen stood in disbelief. Was it really over? What just happened? What will happen now? The park manager stood before his crew and scolded them, “You guys have GOT to start locking the doors!” Suddenly, it clicked for her-she didn’t have to run anymore! Everyone knew the truth! She was free!

At that moment, something caught her eye that made her beam from ear to ear! She ran in pure joy. She never thought she would ever see…

Sabotage, Chapter 17

“I think this would be a good spot,” Zartex declared as they rowed down the river. It was still dark, but Zartex had been navigating with the map on his watch to pinpoint a good spot to land the canoe. They rowed towards the shore, but when they police lights, he revoked his previous opinion, “Never mind!”

“Duck!” Carmen instructed. Gartith, Zartex, and Carmen got low as the police searched the river. Zartex, with a little stealth, stuck his hand outside of the canoe and pushed it away from the land so they could get out of the police’s eye.

After they felt it was safe enough, they brought the canoe to the shore. Garith asked Zartex, “Are we still downtown?”

Zartex checked the map on his watch. “Yes. If we go down Sutterville and turn left on Land Park, we’ll be there…unless we run into more police!”

“I’m gonna be optimistic,” Carmen asserted. “We won’t run into anymore police for a while.” They heard sirens in the distance. “And I’m done with optimism!”

They ran down the road, but they heard the sirens coming from the street they were supposed to turn on. Instead, they ran straight, coming to a concrete wall. Zartex grabbed Carmen and said, “I’ll see you inside!”

“What?” Carmen responded. “We don’t know what’s in there!” She saw flashing lights coming closer. “Ah, who cares?”

Zartex tossed her over the wall. She landed on some gravel. Garith landed next to her, and Zartex teleported in front of them. They stood still as the flashing lights and sirens passed them. Afterwards, they gave a sigh of relief. “Well, whatever place this is, there’s no vicious dogs coming after us, so I think we’re okay!” Garith commented.

“I’m not so sure!” Carmen pointed to the black box on the wall behind them. “Whoever owns this place is practically watching us right now!”

“They might have caught a glimpse of you,” Zartex stated, “But as long as you stay with me, they can’t catch you on video tape.” The other two stared at him quizzically. “If I push a button on my watch, I can temporarily suspend the program, but the Universal Coalition put in a security measure to block me from appearing on film. Our identity is top secret, so we can’t risk anything leaking to the media.”

Carmen found this information suprising, but Garith seemed to be a little vexed. “So, you’re telling me all this time we could have stayed in vacant hotel rooms?”

“I thought you wanted to sleep outside!” Zartex defended himself, looking slightly guilty.

“We avoided hotels to avoid being seen on camera!” Garith admonished him.

“Shh!” Carmen put her hand on his mouth. “Hold onto your anger until we’re safe!”

She removed her hand, and Garith admitted, “I guess I deserved that.” He paused, mentally collected himself, and inquired, “Where are we?”

Carmen dared to step forward and felt something on the ground. She stooped down and grazed the object since she couldn’t totally see it in the dark. When she realized what it was, she was puzzled. “They’re train tracks! Small ones though. How strange!”

The three of them followed the track until they saw something glimmering in the moonlight next to the track. They took a closer look and saw twisted metal. Carmen’s mind couldn’t comprehend this place. They stood on tracks, but there were different tracks above them. She didn’t know what to think until Garith snapped his fingers. “It’s an amusement park!”

Carmen chuckled, “An amusement park in the middle of a city park? That’s so random!”

“Well, odds are no one would think to look for you here,” Zartex surmised. “And with no lights, this place can’t function ’til daylight. Shall we find a place to sleep here?” Carmen and Garith shrugged but agreed.

They followed the train tracks until they came to a couple of towers that supported a pergola, which rested above some wooden picnic benches. Garith noticed, “It looks like there’s a small platform between the towers. We can probably hide in there.”

Zartex lifted Garith and Carmen up, and then he climbed up after them. They had a good view of the amusement park from up there, but they couldn’t see much in the dark. They did see large shadows lurking where the rides must have been located. Carmen opinionated, “Amusement parks are kind of creepy at night!”

“So, people pay money to go on these machines?” Zartex said judgmentally.

As Garith got comfortable, he told Zartex, “You would probably love it! I’d buy you a ticket, but the last thing we need is for you to go on an emotional overload.”

Carmen situated herself next to Garith and Zartex so she could comfortably sleep. “Zartex, you love machines. You spent all night reading instructions on how to use the printing press, remember?”

Garith, who was half asleep, remarked, “I’m sure he was just killing time since he doesn’t need to sleep. He’s gotta do something to pass the time!”

“Actually,” Zartex informed them, “I do require daily sleep. I just haven’t been able to.” Garith and Carmen’s eyes flew open and looked greatly concerned. “It’s okay. It’ll be worth it in the end. Plus, I’m due for vacation time anyway.” He surveyed the area directly by them. “There aren’t any cameras pointing over here, and you guys won’t move much if you are sleeping. I will be back before you wake.”

Carmen bolted up. “You’re doing it tonight?”

“With the police so intent on finding you,” Zartex reasoned, “I think it’s now or never.”

Garith sat up and put his hand on Zartex’s shoulder. “You have no idea how much we appreciate this!”

“Yes I do!” Zartex pointed to his emotional reader. “I only have one question-why is it called the Sacramento Bee?” Carmen and Garith shrugged. “Oh well. Just don’t move until I get back!”

Zartex teleported out of the park, and Carmen laid still for a moment. The three of them had been inseparable for two weeks, so it felt strange for one of them to leave. They knew it would be temporary, but it felt oddly lonely with their buddy missing. They both laid down, but neither of them could fall asleep. Suddenly, Garith exclaimed, “Uh oh!” Carmen sat up, looking concerned. “How are we going to go to the bathroom?” Carmen wanted to roll her eyes, but she realized he had a point, so she pondered it for a moment.

Zartex appeared in Hank’s living room, which was totally dark. He wondered aloud, “How am I supposed to find a black cat in the dark?” Orlando jumped onto the coach and mewed. “Oh, hi!” He lifted the cat’s sweater, but before he could get the article, Orlando hopped down. “No, don’t do that!” He went a couple of steps to find him, but he didn’t realize that the cat went in front of his feet, so he tripped. Zartex managed to catch himself by holding on to the couch, but he knocked over a lamp in the process. The lamp did not shatter, but it scared Orlando, causing him to howl and scurry upstairs. “Oh great!” Zartex muttered. At that moment,  the lights flickered on. Automatically, Zartex put his hands in the air and spouted, “I’m not Mirage!”

“I know,” Hank replied. Clearly, Zartex had woken him up because he was still in his pajamas and had a woozy stance. He did not give off an angry vibe but instead looked a little concerned. “Those s.o.b.’s would be a lot more sneaky and quiet if they broke into my house. Plus, I got your message that a tall stranger would come by to get the article, though I didn’t expect you until tomorrow.”

“We had to speed things up,” Zartex explained. “So, you’re probably wondering how I’ve been able to teleport all this time. The thing is-”

Hank interrupted him, “You’re an alien.”

Zartex’s jaw dropped. “How did you know?”

“Well, no one on Earth can teleport objects or beings,” Hank rationalized. “My wife has access to the best technology on the planet and has yet to find anything remotely like this. Plus, there was Universal Coalition emblem stamped on the bottom of the papers. I put two and two together.” He paused for a moment, and then he commanded, “Orlando, come!”

He sat down on the stairs, and the cat hopped onto his lap. As he retrieved the rolled up papers, Zartex observed, “Your personality is so much like Carmen’s!”

Hank’s head jolted up,and his eyes glistened a little. “How is my daughter?”

Zartex mulled over the best way to answer that question. “She is safe and sound, all things considered. Once we get the article out, it won’t take long for her to come home.”

Hank got the last paper out and handed it to Zartex. “Watch over her, please!”

“That’s literally my job!” After Zartex said that, he saw tears well up in Hank’s eyes. “She’s in good hands.” He put a sympathetic hand on his shoulders, and then he teleported out. Hank listlessly turned off the lights and slowly trotted upstairs.

When she heard a scream, Carmen jolted awake. For a moment, she had forgotten where she was, and she didn’t even remember falling asleep. She glanced over and saw the scream had come from a child on a roller coaster, and her heart rate began to slow back down. Garith, apparently, had also worried that the scream came from a place of danger and now looked relieved. “Where’s Zartex?” Garith wondered.

“I wish I knew,” Carmen told him. “We will have to get down though or eventually someone will see us up here.” Garith and Carmen used the pergola and a small, concrete wall to carefully climb down. Thankfully, no one had noticed them. They half hid in the picnic bench area, surveying their surroundings. Just ahead of them, a very bored teenage boy blew a bubble with his gum as he watched his ride spin fast. A mother desperately tried to convince her toddler to climb down from a giant, ceramic airplane. One of the teenage girls that worked there casually answered a text message as her ride began to gather a group of impatient children. A woman hurried off the carousel ride carrying a small child, who was throwing a tantrum. A worker grumpily swept up a puddle of popcorn as a kid inadvertently kept spilling his food as he walked. “This is great!” Carmen commented. “Everyone here is too distracted to notice or care what we’re up to!”

“I agree!’ Zartex, who carried a hefty satchel of newspapers on his back, sauntered up them looking tired but satisfied.

“There you are!” Garith said happily. Carmen, too, felt a surge of relief. They didn’t totally believe that he was in any kind of peril, but it was good to verify any inkling of doubt. “Where have you been?”

“I had to walk back here,” Zartex informed them. “Unfortunately, these papers don’t teleport even if I’m wearing them. I should have foreseen this complication. But, in any case, I got it done before they opened up for the day and made it back here without incident…unless you count my interaction with a vagrant man. He asked if I had a quarter, and I asked ‘a quarter of what?’ Then we were both confused. Anyway, to distribute these, we’ll need to find a very public place where people are too busy to care what we’re doing but plentiful enough to have a few people actually take this home and read it. Can you guys think of anywhere like that?”

After he said that, a small child asked loudly, “Mommy! Where’s the bathroom?” She looked down at her dress and said, “Never mind!” A bunch of little kids screamed and ran away from her. The workers all pretended like they didn’t see it happen until the manager came over to see what happened and demanded an explanation. Carmen remarked, “I don’t think we’ll have to look far!”

Sabotage, Chapter 16

With tears rolling down his cheek, Seth made a plea to a reporter, “She killed my buddy in cold blood, and she didn’t stop there! She humiliated our Western Regional Manager in public and framed him for a crime he didn’t commit. She got a vicious dog to attack our vice president. Our head of security is still missing. Our accountant got attacked by a bear. Our recovery agents have lost their minds. I knew she’s after me next! Please, find her before she destroys everyone I hold dear!”

The reporter put up Carmen’s picture alongside Garith’s, who got listed as an accomplice. Peering into the shop window, Carmen’s face turned to pure disgust. “That miserable f-!”

Garith interrupted her by putting his hand over her mouth. Some people stared curiously, so he casually waved them off, “She has Tourette’s Syndrome. Please, don’t stare! She just wants to be like everybody else!” People seemed to accept his explanation and went along their way down the row of vintage, downtown shops. Garith continued to muffle Carmen as he whispered, “He’s a liar, a murderer, and a horrible human being. I’m mad too, but we have to lay low since he’s framing us for his crimes! So please, hold onto your anger until we’re safe!”

Carmen pushed his hand off her mouth and hissed, “He tried to kill me! I defended myself and now I’m getting punished for surviving?”

Before Garith could calm her vexed nerves, a woman proclaimed, “Hey! You look familiar!”

A million excuses ran through Carmen’s mind, but Zartex was first to speak, “I get that a lot. People say I’m a dead ringer for Pee Wee Herman!”

The woman, who hadn’t noticed Zartex until now, realized he was right. “Oh my god, you do! Can I get a selfie?”

“A what?” Zartex replied. The woman took that as a yes and posed for a picture with him. Carmen and Garith slipped away to an alley behind them.

While they trotted through the alley behind the shops, Carmen apologized, “I’m sorry I am so emotional. I feel like such an anti-hero!”

Garith assured her, “No need to apologize for having feelings! You’re human, and you went through a horrific experience, so it’s totally normal to freak out a little. You’re stronger than I am! If I went through what you did, I’d be a big, freakin’ baby about it!” His comment made Carmen laugh, so he went on, “No, seriously! Men actl like we don’t feel anything but hungry and horny, so we stuff our feelings until eventually we blow up over something stupid like a dumb call at a football game!” Carmen laughed again, so he added, “I’m a reporter, so I’m worse! We aren’t supposed to show any emotion even when we talk about horrible stories. I’m a ticking time bomb!”

“Sounds like I’d be safer traveling with a recovery agent!” Carmen joked. Garith laughed this time, and Carmen commented, “I can’t believe it! A minute ago I was really upset. How do you do that?”

Behind them, Zartex teleported and abruptly related, “He uses humor as a defense mechanism.” Carmen and Garith turned to him, and Zartex inquired, “So, how do we get to Sacramento from Roseville?”

Carmen thought out loud, “Well, originally we were gonna take the train, but it’s probably not safe to do that. The city bus is gonna be crowded too. We could take the back roads and alleyways to a point, but eventually, we would walk right into a people-filled area. I don’t know! There’s gotta be a way! Don’t worry, it’ll hit me!”

Immediately, after she said that, she crashed into a business truck! A man poked his outside and yelled, “What are you doing?”

Zartex answered truthfully, “Escaping the police!”

“Very funny!” the man came out to check the damage. “No damage, good! Will you freaks scram? I’m behind on my deliveries! Damn, there better not be too much traffic going down to Fair Oaks!” The man stormed back inside.

“Where’s Fair Oaks?” Garith wondered.

Zartex used his watch to look at a map. “Oh, it’s down here by the American River.”

Carmen also peered over the map. “That river flows to Sacramento! If we went to Fair Oaks, we could get to Sacramento by boat! But…we couldn’t!”

Garith, who already climbed inside, pointed out, “He’s running late, like he’ll check!”

Carmen seemed skeptical, but when Garith reached out his hand, she felt compelled to accept. They heard the delivery driver coming back, but luckily they quickly found boxes to hide behind as he shut the back door. Before he drove off, he saw Zartex standing there and glared at him. “I live in the dumpster.” The driver rolled his eyes and took off. Zartex shrugged and used his teleporter to get out of there.

The delivery driver opened up the back door and started loading boxes onto  his dolly. After he removed a few, he saw Garith and Carmen hiding in there. “Are you freakin’ kidding me!” he reacted vehemently.

“We can explain!” Garith claimed. The man ogled him skeptically. “We’re from the union. We work undercover to see who’s paying attention to safety precautions during their runs. You left your vehicle unsecured and overweight. We’ll have to report you!”

The driver’s tuned totally changed. “Oh please, don’t turn me in! I need this job! If I don’t pay my rent, me and my kid will be out on the street!”

Carmen and Garith made eye contact and pretended to silently debate the issue. Carmen told him, “Well…we’ll let you off with a warning this time, but only because we wouldn’t wanna see a kid on the streets!”

“Oh, thank you!” The man seemed truly grateful. As they hopped out of the truck, he secured his vehicle even though the restaurant owner, who had been waiting for her delivery, came out to yell at him.

Once they were out of sight, Carmen and Garith gave each other a high five. “Good thinking!” Carmen complimented.

“I don’t even know where that came from!” Garith relished.

Zartex appeared behind them, almost making them jump, and remarked “It came from you subconscious instincts.”

“You gotta stop doing that!” Carmen admonished him.

Zartex ignored that and informed them, “I got us a boat. Don’t ask me how!”

“We know how,” Garith responded. “What are we gonna do? Call the police?”

Zartex explained, “I hid it by the river. If we go by night, no one should spot us. All we gotta do is walk a couple of blocks down Sunrise Boulevard, which is right over there!”

“A couple of blocks?” Carmen lamented. “We’re doomed!”

“After all of the walking we did, you’re afraid of a couple of blocks?” Garith probed. “It’s almost too easy! Oh, I see your point now. What do we do?”

“What choice do we have?” Carmen said sagely, “We can’t stay here. We gotta move forward. All we have to do is walk briskly and try not to look too guilty.”

As they walked down Sunset Boulevard, Garith and Carmen avoided eye contact with everyone. Zartex whispered, “Act more normal!”

Carmen quickly noted, “An alien is giving advice on being normal!”

They peeked their heads up to take a look at their surroundings. People didn’t seem to notice them much. A mother and father walked their baby in her stroller. People drove to and from their jobs. A group of teenagers hung out and goofed off with each other. Everything just seemed so normal! It just felt so unbelievable that as her world came crashing down, life still carried on. Carmen wondered if her life would ever be so ordinary. At this point in her life, she couldn’t fathom going to work that she didn’t have stress about so much. As she stared at a businessman on his cell phone driving by, she saw him crack a smile. His worst worry right now would be paying a ticket for using his cell phone while driving, a minor inconvenience that he would forget about it as soon as he saw his buddies at the office. How perfectly extraordinary it was that all this unexceptional behavior went on while this madness happened in Carmen’s universe!

The last block was the most difficult. Carmen’s heart pounded in anticipation. She tried her hardest to walk normally, but she knew that any minute something dangerous would come along. Any minute someone would jump out of the shadows and take her whole world away. The park got closer and closer. She felt faint. Danger lurked around the corner, she just knew it! She lost awareness of her surroundings. She couldn’t breathe. Instincts took over as she walked through the shadows. She  wished it would just happen already so she could get it over with. The anticipation was too much to bear!

Suddenly, she saw sunlight and took a deep breath. She found herself in front of a riverbank. It took her a minute to see a canoe hidden by brush, and she realized that she had made it safely! They didn’t get attacked or captured! Apparently, Garith thought along the same lines because Carmen heard him say, “I’m alive?”

Zartex pleasantly chuckled, “You guys got some funny looks, so I told them you just saw a scary movie. It’s kind of true. I can only imagine the images running in your heads!”

Garith and Carmen giggled nervously. It took them a moment to compose themselves. Garith asserted, “Now all we have to do is wait for the sun to set. And then find a place to hide in California’s capitol! That should be easy, right?”

Zartex was about to answer, but Carmen stopped him. “Don’t answer that.” Garith and Carmen laughed a little, starting to relax again.

As dusk loomed close, the three of them finished eating some chicken. Garith asked Zartex, “Where did you get this? I will make a trip back to Sacramento just for this!”

Zartex recalled, “It was on a picnic table by the lake. I wanted to steal the boat, so I shouted ‘Bear!’ The humans went running! I remember you guys like to eat every day, so I thought that since I’m already stealing from them, I may as well steal some more!”

Garith mused, “You should probably stop admitting to stealing so often!”

“Psh!” Zartex countered. “If I get arrested, I’ll just teleport out! The worst case scenario is my boss will lecture me about breaking the rules. Actually, she can be scary when she’s mad!” Zartex raised an eyebrow at the thought.

Carmen remarked, “You sure do move your eyebrows a lot for someone who doesn’t have any human muscles!”

Zartex retorted, “What kind of disguise would it be if I had a face that didn’t move? Besides, the human body is fun to play with!” He wiggled his eyebrows one at a time.

The three of them laughed, but Carmen shushed them shortly after. They listened for a moment, and the other two heard what she did-footsteps. They hid behind some bushes as Jorden came into the scene, surveying her surroundings with a flashlight. As she scanned everything, she spoke spitefully, “I know you’re here, Carmen! I heard your laugh! You’re here with that reporter! You guys can’t hide for long! I’m right here! I will find you!” She shined her light to where the canoe was hidden. The three had to hold their breath since Jorden had no idea how close she actually was to them. “Oh, this must be your canoe. I’ll wait.” She sat on the edge of the canoe but couldn’t resist baiting Carmen. “You really pride yourself in breaking the rules, don’t you? You’re just like your father!” Carmen felt herself get riled up but didn’t dare act on it. “Maybe we’ll just forget you and focus on him! He’s been successful at keeping secrets so far, so we can use him! And if he doesn’t cooperate, we would have no trouble getting rid of him…”

Carmen felt herself tense up with rage. Jorden was threatening her father and she couldn’t tolerate that! Jorden sat up and spoke to the river, which put her back in the position of being within inches of their hiding spot. “You wanna hide like a coward, fine! Don’t face your charges like an adult! I’m gonna call a recovery agent and tell him to go retrieve Hank! Forget giving him a job in Mirage! We’re gonna send his brown hyde back to the ass of Europe!” Without even thinking about it, Carmen stormed out of the bushes. Before Jorden had time to react, Carmen punched her in the face! Jorden fell to the ground, knocked out!

Garith emerged from the bushes and celebrated, “Yeah! Take that, you racist bitch!”

As Zartex came out, he noted, “The sun is almost down, we can probably get going.”

As they cleared the brush from the canoe, Carmen noticed that Jorden kept slipping closer and closer to the water. As they got the canoe out and began to climb in, Jorden’s head went totally underwater! “Oh no!” Carmen cried out.

As she waded through the water, Garith questioned, “Are you really gonna save someone who wants to kill you?”

“I hate her guts!” Carmen explained as she retrieved her. “But I’m not about to stoop to their level and be responsible for a loss of life!” She got her back onto the land, and as Zartex and Garith rowed to the bank, Carmen pushed down on Jorden’s chest to give her CPR. Finally, Jorden coughed up water, and as she came to, the other two grabbed Carmen. The three of them rowed out of sight before Jorden realized what was going on.

As they rowed down the shadowy river, Garith complimented Carmen, “You’re a better person than me!”

Carmen grinned, “Thanks!” She felt herself blush and was really glad it was so dark! She changed the subject, “How are we going to get away with this?”

Garith replied, “With dumb luck, just like every other part of the journey!”

The three of them laughed together as they rowed down through the shadows.