By the time day breaks over the mountains, I’m dressed and out in the barn, loading bales of hay onto the flatbed of our feeding pickup, half asleep with my coat and overalls thrown on over the top of my school clothes. Dad works as a roustabout on the oilfield, leaving at four every morning to get out there on time, so when I hear the rumble of a diesel engine and the crunch of gravel in the driveway, I blink and cock my head to hear better, dropping one bale to the deck of the pickup and standing up without picking up another. By the time the vehicle rolls to a stop outside the barn, I know that it is Dad’s work pickup, a green Ford Powerstroke. I pick up another bale for something to do and throw it down to the bed of the pickup as Dad stomps angrily toward me. I want to ask him what happened, but I don’t dare. I glance at my watch, quickly, before he gets to the pickup. It reads 6:20, so I didn’t miss the bus, I’m working on my chores, and I can’t think of anything I’ve done wrong recently, so I hope he’s mad at somebody else, although at this point, it doesn’t really matter. I’m the only one around. He doesn’t say anything at first, just glares at me through narrowed eyes as I pitch another bale. Finally, after so long that it’s a relief, he speaks. “Where are my keys?” There is very little anger in his voice, but his eyes and his stance make up for it. A sudden flash of fearful memory goes through me. I had his keys on Friday afternoon, because I needed to drive his work pickup into town for parts, and he had the regular key ring with him. I open my mouth to answer, but have to close it again and swallow before I can get anything out. “I think I left them on the hall table. Do you want me to go get them?” He uncrosses his arms, making me step back a little. “No, I want you to go get my strap. Now.” I grimace, but I’m expecting it. I don’t argue, just jump down and head for the tack room at the end of the barn.
I wake up to the sound of the school bus honking in the driveway and my dad yelling from the foot of the stairs. “Chloe!! The bus is here, and I’m not giving you a ride again. Chloe!!” I scramble out of bed and into the outfit I laid out last night, grabbing my backpack off my dresser as I go out the door. I reach the road just in time to catch a cloud of dust and exhaust as the bus pulls out. I groan and turn back toward the house, pulling my hairbrush out of my backpack. Dad’s waiting at the kitchen door, arms crossed and eyes angry. “I told you I wasn’t giving you a ride.” I shrug my backpack up higher on my shoulders and bite at my lips. “I know, but if I walk, I’ll be late.” I know that Dad, as town mayor, doesn’t want it getting out that his kid can’t even make it to school on time. Finally he shakes his head. “Go brush your hair and teeth. I’m leaving in five minutes.” I grin and rush upstairs.
I almost missed the school bus, thanks to Dad interrupting my chores, but I got to school on time. Once homeroom starts, I remember why the hallways and classrooms are so loud and excited. The first field trip of the year is today, an all-school trip to the local history museum. A trip I forgot to get permission for. As the rest of the class, and the rest of the school, file neatly out to the waiting buses, I thread my way in the opposite direction, toward the eighth grade classroom where you are supposed to go if you don’t have a signed permission slip. By the time I get there, the buses are pulling out and there is still only one other kid in the room. I sort of recognize her, enough to know that she’s in my grade, and her dad’s some big hotshot in town. An hour into the day, we are still the only students in the classroom, silently reading as we wait for the end of the day.
I forgot to have Dad sign the permission slip for our first field trip, so I’ve spent this morning sitting in an almost empty classroom reading, with only one other student and the teacher. Just before noon, the teacher stands up and steps silently out of the room. The other student, a girl I recognize, but don’t know, turns her head to watch the teacher walk out of the room before going back to her book. Less than a minute later, the door bangs back against the wall and we both jerk around in our chairs. Immediately, we both move our hands away from our bodies, staring at the man in the doorway, who is holding a pistol aimed in our general direction. His eyes have a crazy look in them, so when he speaks, both of us obey. “Come here. Now.” His voice is surprisingly calm, and even as crazy as his eyes look, it is very clear that he knows exactly what he is doing. The other girl and I exchange a quick look and start carefully for the door. The next few minutes are a blur of empty hallways and the squeak of rubber shoes on linoleum. The man with the gun walks behind us, close enough to touch, herding us out the side entrance of the building and straight to an unmarked white SUV. He opens the back passenger door and motions us in, using the pistol as a pointer to usher us into the backseat. As I slide into the seat ahead of the other girl, I notice the lack of door handles on the inside and the grating between the front and back seats. When the door slams, we are trapped.