The bus’s brakes slammed and Terra’s head flew forward, smacking against the seat in front of her. Noah rolled from his laying position on her lap and Terra grabbed his waist just before he landed on the hard carpet covering the floor. She pushed herself from her position with her hand, fighting the residue momentum from the breaks. She rolled Noah from his hanging position and pulled him back onto the seat next to her.
Terra moved both his hands out against the seat in front of them, making sure he was steady before she stood and tried to see what was happening. The squealing of brakes was overwhelmingly loud as she looked ahead, squinting in the dark. But before Terra could see anything, the brakes did their job and the train jerked to a stop, sending her hips into the seat in front of her.
She settled back into her seat, keeping an eye out for something to tell her what’s going on, but Terra still couldn’t see anything. Noah looked up at her, silently asking her what’s happening. Terra looked away from him, not able to give him an answer.
“Sorry for the technical difficulties, they should be fixed soon then we will be on our way again,” Someone said from the dark, their voice sounding a lot like the bus driver.
A chorus of voices floated around the confined space, asking for details of the current event or a further explanation. A couple of dim lights came on, illuminating the bus driver and the worry on his face. Terra heard the man try to quiet the crowd and spoke again. “Please, everyone settle down. It should be no—”
A loud pop echoed through the darkness. Noah let out a surprised squeal and Terra gripped his hand, squeezing it in her own. The round man speaking to them just moments before stumbled forward, eyes glossed over as his body slammed into the ground. They all watched in horror as the black hole in the back of his head bubbled red and all voluntary movement from his body ceased.
The light diminished and a chorus of screams erupted. Terra pulled Noah to her and covered his eyes, trying to blind him from the scene already permanently distilled in his mind. He sobbed and Terra could feel wetness soaking her hand while the voices in the train once again flared; this time mixed with screams and tears.
“Terra, what’s happening?” Noah asked between cries, shaking in her grasp. Terra tried to encircle her arms around him to shield him, but his tremors showed her that it was no use now. She didn’t know what to say, so she stayed silent.
Another loud noise echoed through the car, but it wasn’t as loud and seemed swallowed with the overwhelming sound of voices. The moonlight came out and it was a little easier to distinguish shapes and sizes. A large swarm of shadows was buzzing by the front door, blocking the exit.
“Shut up!” A commanding voice thundered over the space, halting all motion and noise coming from the terrorized passengers. “Listen and you won’t get hurt. I’m not feeling particularly patient today, so any disobeying or goofing off will just make you like your bus driver.”
The black shadow spread across the body on the ground and heavy boots thundered against the carpeted bus ground. Terra could hear rhythmical stomps like soldiers walking towards them and their aisle and Terra pulled her hand from Noah’s eyes.
Terra motioned with a single finger to her lips for him to be silent and pointed to the old carpet covering the floor. Slowly, they lowered to the ground. Small crumbs covered the hard floor and Terra brushed her back against the top of the seat to hide from view. Noah followed, hiding under the seat in front of them. Terra heard the boots coming closer and held her breath.
She just escaped the life of a prisoner. There was no way they were going to be dragged into some human trafficking ordeal on her ticket out. This was not the life Terra had planned for Noah. A pair of boots stilled right at her nose. “Now, we are going to count off and leave in the order of your number. Understand children?” The cab remained silent and the fear was nearly palpable. “Do you understand?!” He hollered again.
A chorus of ‘yes’ replied instantly; the voices hushed immediately after their salute.
Terra scampered as far back as she could while still being inconspicuous and tried to watch what was happening, but it was still so dark it was hard to discern the shapes and sizes. Instead, she turned her attention to Noah, who was on the floor just in front of her. Terra waved to him, beckoning him to her location. He shook his head and tucked into a small ball, still completely covered by the seat. She couldn’t speak, so she motioned for him again with her hands, hoping he would get that his fear would kill him if he didn’t do anything.
Noah sucked in an audible breath and Terra’s heart lurched. She switched her attention to the boots at her nose. Their immobile position gave her hope and Terra waved for Noah again. This time, he rolled across the floor and Terra tucked him under her arm. Stealthily, Terra reached out with her other hand, gripping the backpack handles and bringing them close to her body.
“I said count off!” The man yelled immediately and the first terrifying voice squeaked the number one. Terra could hardly hear it through the fear strangulating her senses. The next individual said two, a little louder and more confident, but she could still hear the fear in their voice.
The next number was called and Terra rolled herself like a log under the next bench, going closer to the back. Terra had forgotten Jamie was there until she locked eyes with her as she rolled under her bench. Terra silently cursed and stilled under her bench. Her feet were pulled onto the bench, giving her the illusion nobody was there. Instead, Terra may have just made a mistake that cost Noah and Terra their freedom.
Her heart picked up another notch and Terra squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the call of an intruder rolling under the benches. When nothing came, Terra stuck her head out slightly, making sure to glue her attention to the close pair of boots to try to gauge their attention. Another number was called as Terra slid out, looking straight at Jamie. She locked her eyes on Terra’s again and slightly nodded, disconnecting their eye contact and looking away.
Terra felt as though she was going to throw up from the heart killing her ribcage. She was going to let them leave. Terra watched the boots again, now adjacent to her. Keeping her eyes focused on them, Terra beckoned Noah with her other hand to come closer. He followed her instructions and they squished again under the small seat hiding them from their doom.
They continued rolling under seats, growing further and further away from the chaos and closer to the back. Numbers continued to be shouted into the dead silence. The silence was the only familiar thing grounding the insane situation to reality. Otherwise, Terra would have thought she was dreaming the whole thing up.
She jumped another seat back, hitting the back of the train. Terra placed her hand out, motioning for Noah to stay put. It looked like her options were the back door, which might or might not be locked or make any noise when Terra open it, or the window, which was going to be a loud fall and very obvious. Neither were options Terra was fond of, but the alternative was even worse.
She motioned for Noah to join her and he immediately rolled into her, again tucking under her arm. Terra rose to the seat’s bottom and beckoned for him to slide under her and he obliged, now sandwiched between her and the back of the bus. Terra leaned to his ear. “When I pull the red lever, you are going to jump out the door and run,” Terra whispered and Noah nodded his head.
Terra could feel his fear of building and held her breath. Terra could hear the passengers on the bus stand and her arm shot out, gripping the red handle at the end of the bus, swinging open the door in one swift motion. Noah launched from his position and dove out the door, landing hard on his shoulders in the wake. Terra watched him stand and felt relief that he was okay before following right behind him.
Adrenaline filled Terra’s system the second Terra heard them yelling. Grabbing Noah’s hand, Terra swung both their bags over her shoulder and bolted. They were on the side of a road, but there were thick trees that lined a small fence the Terra all but threw Noah over. Noah took off as Terra swung her leg around the thin wires before letting her other one follow. Her heart rate spiked as Terra heard boots and voices echoing behind her and she pushed her feet in the moist grass, her feet slipping slightly in the moisture.
“Don’t stop, Noah! Just keep going,” She hollered, hoping he heard her.
Terra dug her own feet into the sod and pushed her body forward a much as she could. She could hear a commotion behind them and knew they were found out. Swinging her backpack off one shoulder, she tucked her arm over the thick fabric and darted her hand into the front pocket, reaching for her gun. She first gripped her knife and she pulled it out, slipping it into her front left pocket before sticking her hand back in and grabbing the bigger of the two guns.
Terra spun around, catching sight of who was after them. She noticed four moving shadows and raised her weapon, setting it parallel to the ground before looking down the barrel. Her finger twitched on the safety right as she saw a bright light and she lowered her hand, shocked by the speed the light was traveling. She fell back, just barely missing the ball of light as she landed hard against the moist grass.
“What the heck...” She whispered as she watched the ball fade and diminish into the night air. Terra shook her head and squeezed her eyes shut before opening them again and settling on the last location of the fireball. Seeing nothing there, she cocked her head in confusion again.
Terra heard her attackers coming closer and sprung to her feet, putting the strange light in the back of her mind. She was crawling before she even placed her feet under her body and sprinted for the trees lining the road.
As soon as she broke the treeline, Terra settled against a thick root, hiding her body in the dark woods. Pulling her hood over her head again, she waited silently for her victim to come.
The first shadow emerged and she pulled out her knife, flicking her wrist towards the moving shadow. The blade left her palm and she heard a cry. Trying not to give her position away, she ducked back behind the roots and waited for the next man.
Terra heard Noah’s splitting cry reverberate off the trees. She raised her gun at the next man who approached and squeezed, feeling the kick-back at the action. The man fell in a yell and she spun, darting further into the woods.
“Noah!” She yelled. Nothing returned and she headed for the innocent voice she heard echo through the trees. She heard his cry again and picked up her pace, trying not to trip on the thick vines and roots lying on the ground.
She heard the leaves crunching and branches moving to her right and dove towards the action. Her boots collided with their own branch, making a commotion in her desperation to reach them. She heard Noah’s voice fearfully pleading and she pushed her legs harder under her.
She cleared the tree line and squinted against the darkness, struggling to see in the early morning light. She bolted after the moving shadows, once again clutching the gun between her palms. She stopped her pursuit and leveled her weapon, looking down the barrel to make her shot. Terra huffed in frustration when she couldn’t tell the shadows apart and bolted for them again, her feet aching under her heavy body.
“Noah!” She shouted, trying to grab his attention. If she could only have him fight them, she would be able to distinguish the shadows and shoot.
When she saw no motion, Terra’s heart sank and she pushed her aching legs harder, wanting nothing more than to reach her brother. Finally reaching the fence line, Terra watched as the shadows jumped the thin wires and ran for the street lights. Terra could finally make out the figures, though not completely. She also hopped over the fence, now right on their trail. She was able to completely distinguish the shapes now and rose her gun, pausing her feet to make her shot.
A piercing bang stabbed her eardrums, making her hearing seem muffled. Even though Terra has shot a gun before, she was aware of the fact she wasn’t very good and was still not used to the side effects. The heavy weapon kicked hack in her hands, making her raise the barrel unintentionally.
Terra scowled when she saw she hit neither of the men in front of her. However, she had scared them both to the ground. They were tucked into the moist grass, their clothes sucking up the morning moisture and arms laying over their heads in an effort of protection. Terra’s eyes bounced from side to side as she picked up her steps again, panting out hot air into the cold climate.
Her mind was in overdrive, eyes still desperately surveying the scene before her. Only two people. Only two freaking people.
Terra flew her body on one of the men cuddled on the ground, turning him over with the momentum she had from her fall. He rolled to his back, his eyes wide as he watched the weapon gripped between Terra’s fingers. “Where is the boy?” She yelled at him. The man shook his head and tried to scoot back, but Terra instead moved her weapon and pushed it forcefully against his temporal bone. The man ceased all movement as his eyes rolled in the back of his head.
With him now unconscious, Terra turned around to the other man, who had gotten up and started running. She fired the gun again, not liking the side effects a second time, but smiling at herself when the heard the man curse before he fell to the ground.
Terra similarly fell to the ground to the other man and attempted to roll him to face her as well. Terra noticed the glint of the knife in his hand just before it connected with her and she jumped back. The man snarled and stood, holding his shoulder to his center. It was just light enough to see the thick puddle of blood soaking the arm of his sleeve. Terra snarled, leveling her gun at him again, but forgetting to take a step back as he swung his other arm at her, cutting her hand.
She dropped the gun from his force and watched the weapon land to the ground, a strong sense of deja vu settling in at the familiar scene. The man took his moment of distraction and lunged, tackling Terra to the wet grass. She felt her clothes get soaked from the dew lining the thin blades of grass she rolled on the slippery surface. She slid onto her back, hands jumping out to defend herself as the man whipped his knife in her face. It wasn’t a small knife like hers was, but instead, it was large and glinted in the light from the pole on the street.
Terra grabbed her attacker’s hands, which were coming at her with a force, and she held the blade just inches from her neck. She strained her head back, trying to give herself more space than she could probably get. She raised her knee, planting it firmly between her attacker’s knees and he grunted, swaying slightly and she moved one of her hands from his wrist to the handle of his knife, successfully slipping if from his grasp.
She stood instantly, feet slipping on the wet surface, which she could hardly believe was still wet from the moisture her clothes soaked form their surface. The man rolled onto his side and Terra stepped by his head. He snapped his head to her, his hands raising at the look of his own blade pointed at his nose.
Terra heaved, wishing to rejuvenate her starving lungs of their oxygen. “Where,” she panted. “Are they taking them?”
The man smirked, despite the thick lines on his forehead, showing his stress. “They’re long gone.”
Terra saw red as she brought the knife down. She narrowed her eyes and the man flinched seeing her intimidating actions and she halted suddenly at the fear in his eyes. It was the same fear she held many times, trying to be masked by a stone-cold face.
Still standing over his body, she rose again, her vision returning as she glared at him. She came at him with his knife, this time stepping on his good hand to keep it from moving. She saw the fear flash in his eyes again as she brought the blade down with force, but only whacked the same spot as his coworker with the hilt, knocking him unconscious as well.
Terra heaved her breaths in and out again, watching the thin white cloud of warm air she blew slowly melt into the cold atmosphere. She dropped the man’s knife and stepped back, intaking another thick lungful of cold oxygen. Her hands were shaking as she ran them through her hair and she felt a sob wrack her chest, seizing it of the oxygen she desperately begged to fill her lungs.
Terra fell to her knees, her hand knocking against the wet grass as the only way to keep her from falling into the grass. She heaved heavy bowls of air as she fought the other sobs trying to wreak her chest. She lost Noah.
Terra stared at her hand on the grass, which was bleeding from the cut she received from her attacker’s knife. She sat back on her feet and raised the flesh, watching the small stream of blood flow undisturbed down to her wrist and drip into the bright green flesh of mother nature.
Terrible thoughts of her father’s head in a similar red puddle crashed her mind and she squeezed her eyes. That wasn’t her life anymore. She promised a new life.
Terra ripped the jacket off her shoulders, wrapping the cloth around her palm and holding pressure. She narrowed her eyes on the unconscious man in front of her, studying his wrist in the dim light. Dark lines covered thin sections of his skin, only about an inch in length of varying thicknesses. It was a barcode.
Terra’s mind flashed back a couple of months. She was worried about the new bruise on her cheek at work, trying to cover it with her long hair. She heard a commotion and snapped her gaze up, narrowing her eyes as an officer dragged in two perpetrators, both their hands resting behind their backs.
She studied them as they came closer and her eyes widened as she saw the barcodes on their wrist, both slightly different, but in the same location.
“Isn’t it scary?” Kerrie whispered to her, nearly making her jump out of her chair. She scowled. Kerrie loved to gossip and Terra never enjoyed talking to her. “But they found the guys who kidnapped and tortured that girl. You know, the one who didn’t come home from school a couple of months ago. They got the girl, but she’s too petrified to talk. Apparently, they are part of some sort of cult.”
Terra showed a tight smile and looked back in the direction of the door they disappeared behind. What kind of cult uses barcodes?
She stood and stumbled a little before moving her jello legs back in the direction of the other man. With just one tattoo, it could be just a coincidence. But when she saw a similar pattern on the other man’s wrist, she knew there was no coincidence that big.
Gathering her strength, she rose from the slippery grass and pushed back in the direction of the woods to grab their backpacks. She promised Noah a better life and she was going to keep her promise. Even if she had to go back to New York, she would find him and keep him safe.