Ten years later
Detective Leo Carper watched the man through the thick, one-way glass, the blinds blocking thin lines on his body.
The missing ski mask left his dark hair disheveled, his black clothes another reminder of his guilty deeds.
After months, Detective Carper found his break.
He drummed his fingers on the sill of the window, mulling over in his mind what to say. He had to be careful; he knew he couldn’t loose the one lead he had on this case. This was by far the toughest case of his career so far.
Seven people in a coma and no evidence left behind. He was starting to think this was the act of a ghost.
At first, Detective Carper thought this was the result of a sickness.
All seven were found and had the same medical diagnosis—a severe seizure shut off a portion of their brain, leaving them half-dead and in severe condition by the time they were found. It was only when Leo started looking at the victims closely when he realized the connection and knew this wasn’t just a random act of violence.
All seven individuals had just been convicted of serious crimes and were found innocent in the courts. Just a couple days from being let free, they were found in a coma in their house. There was no sign of a struggle or forced entry, just the swift hand of karma.
But when Detective Carper was called just before he was going home, he could hardly believe his luck.
Someone was found trying to break into the crime scene and he knew this was the opportunity to finally push this case further.
Detective Carper took a couple more minutes to gather his thoughts before slipping out of the observation and resting his palm on the handle leading to the interrogation room. He would get his answers.
He took a deep breath and pushed the heavy door, letting it slam behind him as he slithered in the dark room.
The room was bland and dark. The only furniture consisted of the small, brown desk that looks like it was stolen from a classroom and cushioned chairs covered in a deep maroon.
Detective Carper noticed the man swallow as he approached, his adam’s apple springing on his throat.
He was a thin man but looked to be in his thirties or forties. His dark, long-sleeved jacket was now rolled up his arms, exposing some thin, scarred arms. He had a distracting scar right on the side of his left nostril, making him look a little older than he probably was.
Detective Carper pulled out the chair and turned it around, placing a leg on either side of the chair and straddling it.
He could feel the fear pouring out of his suspect, suffocating the thin air. But his suspect only clenched his jaw and rose his chin, his gaze resting on the man.
“Glaring at me is not going to get you out of here. You messed up and you got caught. There is no way out.” Detective Carper pulled his chair closer to the table. “I can help you cut your losses and your time. Either you help me or rot in jail for as long as I can make you.”
That finally elicited a response from the suspect and Detective Carper smiled, watching the words lull around in his head.
Detective Carper’s heart lurched as his suspect suddenly leaned forward, resting his thin arms on the small table resting between them.
“The problem is, detective, I am more afraid of my employer than I am your justice department.”
Terra fought the anxious thoughts as she came to the bus stop.
Noah followed diligently behind her, holding tight to her hand with his backpack dragging on the ground behind him, clutched in his other hand.
Terra squinted against the bright street lights making it seem like it was mid-day, not midnight. Her tired eyes watered from the bright assault and she already couldn’t wait to fall asleep.
Her desperation caused Terra gripped Noah’s hand harder and walked faster, jerking him behind her. She was determined not to miss their chance out of here.
After walking a little longer, the bright lights illuminated a red sign, the numbers “247” centered in a thick, white font.
She released Noah’s hand for only a second to rip the tickets out of her envelope and assured the numbers matched.
Satisfied, she shoved the tickets back in the envelope and squeezed Noah’s hand again, leading him to the bench.
“Here, big guy. Sit and rest for a second.” The yawn that escaped his mouth reminded her that he wasn’t used to being up this late.
She frowned, running the possible scenarios around her head again and trying to reassure herself this was the only way for him to be safe.
“Terra, we really got to ride a train!” Noah exclaimed, settling on the bench while she kept standing next to the armrest.
Noah might be ten years old, but he had never lost his enthusiasm over the smallest things. Terra knew Noah was stoked when she told him where they were going, but mostly about the train ride they would take.
“I know, it was your first one. What did you think?” Other than a school bus, this was his first experience with public transportation.
Noah talked about the train, listing his favorite parts before settling on how much it smells.
Terra smiled. This little boy was the reason she woke up in the morning.
Other shadows started gathering around and Terra motioned for Noah not to talk too loud. Terra tugged her hood tighter around her head before motioning for Noah to do so as well. She groaned when she accidentally extended her injured ribs in the process.
It didn’t take long for a tall bus to roll up to the number stand. The wheels squealed in refusal to stop as the bus slowed down, but eventually rested just in front of the bench.
Noah’s face lit up as he saw the huge door squeak open and the bus driver emerge.
He was a round man in his late fifties who wreaked of sweat and musty odor. He tugged in his belt, which bounced up and down his flabby body when he tried to hold his pants up.
“Every passenger can only have one bag on the vehicle. If you have more than one or an oversized load, I am opening the bottom of the bus to place in your belongings. When you are at your stop, just remind me where your things are and we can receive them.”
There were only a couple of other people waiting to board, most with more than one bag. Terra knew she couldn’t leave either hers or Noah’s bag under there and instead focused on getting on the bus.
She noticed a man next to them twitching and warly eyed him, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. She couldn’t help but grab Noah tighter, pulling him close to her.
If they were able to make it away from their father, they will for sure make it away safely.
“Look at this bus, Terra!” Noah exclaimed, jumping eagerly under her hands.
Terra squeezed his shoulders and leaned towards his ear. “Noah, you need to be quiet and stay with me, okay?”
Terra’s heart flipped as the twitching man shot an accusing finger at them. “Didn’t you hear the man? Only one bag per person. If I have to do it, so do you.”
Terra’s temper flared and she moved Noah behind her back.
“We only have one bag each, dipwad.”
He didn’t say anything but lowered his finger from Terra’s face to Noah’s frame.
Terra turned Noah around, the look of a deer in the headlights stunning his face. Her eyes skimmed his body before realizing he had a second bag hanging on his shoulders.
Terra wanted to slap herself. How had she come all this way with Noah and just now realized he had a second backpack?
“Noah, I told you to only bring one backpack. Why do you have another one?”
“I had to bring my friends! I would be lonely if I didn’t bring them.”
Terra pulled open the zipper on his second bag and realized what he was talking about. Every stuffed animal he owned was shoved into the small space.
In the haste of running away, Terra didn’t even notice the second bag and mentally kicked herself again.
“Noah, do you need these? We don’t have room for them.”
“Terra, they’re my friends. I need to take them with me.”
Terra’s heart softened and she looked at his bag contemplatively. She knew they were important to him, but carrying another bag around with stuffed animals was unrealistic.
Terra took Noah’s bag, swinging hers off her shoulder at the same time. “We can put them in mine. I’ll throw some of my stuff out,” Terra told him as she took out his three stuffed animals and opened her own bag.
The guns and knife she stuffed in her bag glistened and she closed it quickly, ripping open the other pocket instead. She nervously glanced around, making sure nobody saw the weapons she carefully hid.
Satisfied with the lack of attention she received, Terra snagged an extra pair of shoes and socks, shoving them into Noah’s now empty second backpack. “You still packed those clothes I told you to, right?”
Terra checked Noah’s other bag, even though he nodded his head at her question. Sure enough, there were shirts, pants, and underwear hiding in his Mario backpack.
She zipped all their bags closed and tugged the straps through Noah’s arms, but held onto his second bag.
Terra squeezed his shoulders again, silently commanding him to remain immobile while she stepped back a few steps. She stepped back onto the platform and scanned the area, looking for a good spot to hide the Angry Birds backpack. Quickly, Terra darted to a hidden bench and shoved the red bag behind its leg, hiding it best she could.
She left it and rushed back for Noah, who was still where she had left him. She silently led him to the entrance of the bus.
Together they wandered down the aisle, inspecting the open seats. Finally, they stopped at the seat towards the back, just one row from the back door, and Terra pushed Noah into the available bench. He bounced on the cushion as he threw his small body onto the seat, bouncing slightly from the springs.
Terra sat on her seat against the aisle as her eyes landed on a thin girl her age coming near them.
Instantly, Terra recognized her. It was Jamie. She was one year older than Terra and talked to her on occasion while they were still in High School. She passed them and settled herself on the last bench just behind them, offering Terra a small smile.
Terra couldn’t believe she didn’t see her earlier. It felt oddly coincidental that she knew someone getting on the same small bus in the large city of New York.
“But I really liked that backpack, Terra.”
Terra felt awful as she looked at Noah and realized he was looking out the window, surely focused on the backpack hidden behind the bench.
Terra rested her arm over his shoulder and turned his attention to her.
“It’s okay. When we reach where we’re going, I’ll buy you a new one.”
Noah’s face lit up and he looked at her, nearly shaking with excitement. “Really? Then maybe I could get a real-life red bird and call him Red! And he is always mad, but he still does good things for people. So that means there is hope for Dad, right? Even though he’s always mad, he can do good things like Red!”
Terra felt an empty feeling in her stomach while her mouth opened and closed like a fish, not knowing what to say.
Terra understood why Noah loved that little tale so much. It gave him hope about their father turning into a superhero and saving the day instead of neglecting them and snapping every time they even speak to him.
She pushed away the narcissistic thoughts of their father while taking deep breaths, focusing solely on Noah. His face was still bright with the excitement of finally getting to ride a train and bus on the same day.
It was all for Noah.
Terra knew she had to be extremely careful going forward. She couldn’t afford not to be alert—Noah’s future rested on her survival skills and determination.
After the bus driver came through the check their tickets, Terra stuck the rest of the tickets into her backpack and instantly felt comforted when she saw the bright white papers sandwiched between her clothes. The book was small, but the unknown power tucked in those pages was intense.
She had received the book on accident. Terra had opted for riding the bus to work instead of walking or letting her father drive her.
When one of the passengers had dropped a thin, black book, Terra couldn’t help but grab it. She had fought the other passengers to return the book, but failed to reach him in time.
She had studied the small book in her hand. It was just larger than the palm of her hand and the cover was a mix of Black and Grey. Curiously, she flipped the cover open, the first-page blank. She wondered what kind of book this was and thumbed another page open, small scribbles in all caps spreading the first paper.
COMBINATION #74 SUCCESSFUL. TRIAL RUN ON THREE INDIVIDUALS AND ALL TRIALS SUCCESSFULLY ENDED IN COMA. PREPARE FOR PRESENTATION AND PRODUCTION. NOTE: KEEP THE SLIDING PAPER ON THE PAGE.
Terra’s brows had furrowed and she flipped the next page. More entries and detailed experiences coated the paper and more popped up as she had flipped through the pages.
Terra scrunched her eyebrows in concentration as she reached the final page. Covering the next page, a pocket slid up and down the design to keep anyone from seeing it all in one glance.
It would be weeks later until Terra understood what exactly these lines could do. Dad had company over, including dad’s closest buddy, Officer Parker. His drunken state had made him feel inclined to obtain whatever he wanted and he had snatched the small book from her grasp
When he had pulled the sleeve off, he froze and in a second, his eyes rolled in the back of his head, and he started seizing. By the time first responders had arrived, it had been too long and Officer Parker was in a coma.
The bus lurched and Terra shook her head to remove the memories. She zipped her backpack again and set it at her feet. Noah’s face lit up and they watched the world zip by in a world of color when they hit the interstate.
“Noah, you need to get some sleep,” Terra encouraged and slipped the heavier jacket from his shoulders to lay on her lap.
She patted the small makeshift pillow and Noah yawned, nodding his head. She hissed as he accidentally bumped her ribs, but clenched her teeth to keep from jostling him as he settled.
Instead, she stroked his hair and took his job of watching the world whirl by. This was the start of their new life.