Owen and I finally made it back to park and were met with chaos. It was incredibly clear to me that no one had any idea what to do, that no one had ever come up with a realistic, functioning plan on what should happen if all hell ever broke loose. So instead, I watched dumbfounded as park employees scrambled all over the parking lot of the staff center, trying to find a vehicle to make a getaway in. Never mind that there were countless other people just on the other side of the walls in danger.
"Get on!" Owen's voice shattered my thoughts as he revved the engine of an ATV. I scrambled onto the back of it, wrapping my arms tightly around his waist as we sped off.
My hair whipped around me in a frenzy as we zoomed down the paved road, taking the maintenance road that led to the back entrance to the visitor's center on Main Street. I pressed my cheek to Owen's shoulder, breathing in his familiar scent, hoping it would calm me down. Instead, when we pulled up short to the staff entrance, I felt more paranoid than ever of what kind of chaotic horror we would found inside the park. I did my best to cram the feeling into the back of my mind, knowing there was much more at stake here. That I needed to be the best, brave version of myself possible for what I needed to do once we got inside.
"You ready?" Owen asked. He had shouldered off the strap of his gun and held the weapon in both hands.
I swallowed hard. "No." I answered honestly and Owen allowed himself a tiny amused smirk.
His blue eyes scanned my face for a quick second before he pulled me in for an abrupt kiss, catching me off guard yet again. "We find the kids, we find Claire, and we get the hell out. Don't do anything stupid, you hear me? If we get separated, you come right back here. I'll find you. Got it?"
"You know, you can be pretty damn bossy." I said, giving him a shaky smile.
He returned it for only a quick second before it was replaced with the hardened, determined look I was slowly coming to recognize. He pushed open the door and I ducked inside. The hallway was empty, the narrow corridor leading to a single white door at the other end. I glanced at Owen, and knew from the look on his face that I wasn't the only one who could hear the distant screams and yells coming from the other side. I gave him a curt nod, letting him know I was ready. Then we were jogging down the hallway, Owen's shoulder ramming into the door and throwing it open as we stumbled inside and were immediately swept up in the chaos. I was almost separated from him within a minute as a sea of terrified people came between us. I latched onto his arm, holding on tightly as we pushed our way inside.
Crying came from every side of the room as I stumbled over feet and pressed myself through the mob of people running away from the exact thing I was trying to get to. I finally managed to weave my way through to the front doors of the visitor's center, and I pressed my hands against the glass as I stared out towards the other side. It reminded me of a scene from a horror movie. Dimorphodons and pteranodons swooped down from the sky, picking off people from the midway as the ducked and dived for cover wherever they could find it.
"Stay low to the ground and be fast." I heard Owen's voice in my ear. "One the count of three...one, two-"
At the last count, I pushed open the doors and we rushed outside, joining the thrum of chaos. Following Owen's advice, I moved quickly down the steps, my eyes scanning every face that was passed. The midway looked like a war zone. Shattered glass, overturned food carts, souvenirs and toys that had been forgotten and dropped in the stampede. All around us people were hiding beneath benches and tables, peering around the corners inside the shops and restaurants.
"Zach! Gray!" I called out, cupping my hands around my mouth so my voice would carry.
We jogged down the street as I tried to be aware of everything happening on all sides of me at once. Every once in a while, one of the winged dinosaurs dove to the ground in an attempt to escape with it's prey. This was almost always followed by a quick shot from Owen's gun. Sometimes the dinosaur went away, and other times it seemed to pay no mind to the bullets and take off to the sky with a human being writhing in it's beak.
"Zach and Gray Mitchell!" I yelled again.
My stomach plummeted at the sound of an answering call. I whirled around, searching, before Owen stopped and pointed me in the direction were the two boys were waving frantically. They were sprinting towards us, a young woman not much older than I was following behind. Claire's assistant, Zara, most likely. Owen and I hurried forward, meeting them halfway. Out of pure instinct, I wrapped my arms around the youngest of the two and was shocked when he hugged me back.
"We've been worried sick about you two! Are you okay? What happened to you?" I asked as I pulled away, the words spilling from my mouth without any sort of control. My hands were smoothing back his tangled hair in a motherly sort of way I never thought I was capable of.
Just then, one of the smaller winged dinosaurs planted its feet next to us in a less than graceful landing. Dimorphodon, as Owen had briefed me, with's tiny body and raptor-like head. The pteranodons were the bigs ones, the ones with the sharp teeth. I pushed Zach and Gray behind me as Owen raised his gun and fired it. It let out a squawk but kept coming towards him.
My heart was pounding again, bruising the inside of my ribcage. I could feel Gray's fingertips digging into my skin as he gripped my arm tightly. Suddenly, a terrified, high pitched scream pierced the air. I had just enough time to see Owen shoot down the dimorphodon before I was whirling around. My stomach leapt into my throat. A huge Pteranodon had Zara clutched in both of its clawed feet. She struggled helplessly, screaming herself hoarse. As the huge animal started to lift her from the ground, I did the exact thing Owen asked me not to, which was don't do anything stupid. I lunged towards Zara and grabbed her around the middle in an attempt to wrestle her from it's grip.
I heard Owen yell my name as hands tried to latch onto me and pull me back to safety. My feet had already left the ground, though, as the pteranodon lifted us up higher and higher into the sky. Too late to let go without plummeting to a world of hurt. My grip on Zara was slipping and she reached down to grab onto my arms and hold me in place.
"What do we do?" She screamed frantically.
I didn't answer her, because I had no idea. I made the mistake of looking towards the ground. I could just make out Owen, Gray, and Zach chasing after us down the midway. I squeezed my eyes shut tightly. Why why why did I have to try and the hero? And even halfway through that thought I knew the answer. Because I would want someone to try and do the same for me, even if in the end, we both ended up getting killed and eaten alive by giant dinosaur birds.
"Oh god, oh god, oh god...." I muttered under my breath, gritting my teeth as we swayed violently from side to side.
There was a sudden jolt that almost made me lose my grip on Zara and my eyes flew open. Another one of the dinosaurs was biting and scratching at the one holding us. Wanting it's prey, or more accurately, us. Zara was screaming again. My mouth was clamped shut, too terrified to move or make a sound. There was another jolt, bigger than the one before, as the pteranodon was rammed by another of its kind. It lost it's ground, failing and zig zagging through the air until suddenly we were falling. I found my voice again as a terrified scream ripped through me.
I didn't want to look down but instinct took over, and my eyes shot towards the smooth, blue surface below us. Water. I felt relief only for a moment as it was replaced with new kind of fear. We were being dropped right into Mo's tank. I lost my hold on Zara as we hit the water and were pulled beneath the surface. I clawed my way through the water, gasping for air when I made it topside again. Zara was splashing and writhing in the water, panicking in a way that was going to get her killed.
"Zara, stop!" I managed to yell to her, accidentally taking in a mouthful of water and sputtering. She didn't hear me, though, and the next second, two of the pteranodons dived into the water an in attempt to grab her again. I watched in horror as they fought over her. "Zara!" I screamed again, this time more in horror than anything else.
One of them managed to get a hold of her and began lifting her into the air. Before the other one could turn it's sights on me, treading water just feet away, I gulped in a deep breath of air and dove underneath the surface. I pushed myself towards the direction of the edge of the tank, trying to suspend the guilt I felt at abandoning Zara. There was nothing I could do for her though, not without getting myself killed. I propelled myself through the dark water, doing my best to stay calm and not think about the giant creature that could've been lurking anywhere beneath me.
I didn't surface again until my lungs were burning and begging for air. I blinked water from my eyes and could see I wasn't far from the tank's edge. Gray and Zach were there, waving at me frantically. Owen was next to them, poised half on the railing like he was getting ready to jump in after me. At that moment, I felt the vibrations through the water before I even heard or saw a thing. The jet of water that was suddenly pushed from underneath made me turn against my better judgement and look over my shoulder. My jaw dropped and my eyes widened, as I watched in terrified shock as Mo emerged from the water. She was huge, and I realized now more than ever how small I was. Her gigantic jaws were open wide as she easily gulped in both Zara and the pteranodon that was holding onto her.
"Swim!" Zach's voice cut through the air in a sudden moment of clarity. I had to get out, or else.
I pushed myself, swimming hard and faster than I ever had in my life. I blocked out everything around me, focusing only on my breathing and the burning in my limbs that meant I was still alive. When I finally reached the side of the tank, arms were already grabbing and yanking me over the edge. I climbed my way over the side, collapsing in a heap on the concrete. My breath was coming in gasps, adrenaline spiking through me and making me buzz from head to toe.
"Are you okay? Rylan!"
I realized Gray was crouched in front of me, talking to me. He was pale and tear tracks stained his cheeks. I looked around him and saw Zach standing at his shoulder, looking at me with the same paled expression. "Owen." I managed to gasp.
I forced myself to my feet and pushed my way past them. A group of uniformed men carrying guns were fighting off the dinosaurs, and directly in front of them just feet away was Owen on his back struggling with a dimorphodon. He must've been attacked while debating whether or not to jump in after me. I barely registered that Claire was also suddenly there, standing over him, fumbling with his gun.
In a sudden act of either boldness or desperation caused from my near death experience, I lurched towards her and grabbed the gun from her hands. I'd only fired a gun once in my life, at a shooting range, and never one this big, but I suddenly felt like I knew what to do. I pointed the barrel towards the winged carnivore, snapping its jaws dangerously close to Owen's head. I pulled the trigger and the recoil sent me stumbling backwards. The dimorphodon fell limply to the ground.
Owen scrambled to his feet, and there was a moment of intense silence between us as we looked at each other. For me, realizing what I'd almost lost. Then he was crushing me to him, holding me close to his chest. I was soaking wet from head to toe, but I barely noticed as I wrapped my arms around him and let him hold me. He pulled away from me and suddenly melded his lips to mine, fingers threading through my wet hair. Our mouths moved together in a frantic, desperate way that spoke volumes without any words. For the first time since that morning, I felt safe and was overcome with the realization that I cared about Owen so much more than I'd known. I gripped the front of his shirt tightly in both hands. I liked the feel of him, solid and warm beneath my fingertips. I shivered as his own hands found their way to my waist. I didn't want to let go, didn't want to face the world outside of that moment. Eventually, though, it ended. When we finally broke apart, we were both breathless. His lips pressed against the top of my head and I buried my face into his chest, breathing in his woodsy, pepperminty scent and letting it wash over me.
"Jesus Christ, Rylan." I heard him say weakly. "Don't you ever do anything like that again. Remember when I said don't do anything stupid?" He pushed back the damp strands of hair that were sticking to my face.
"I know, I know but I-I though I could save her and I didn't and I-" I stumbled, trying to block the image of Zara being swallowed alive from my mind forever.
"You did the best you could...but it was stupid. God, it was stupid." He breathed, shaking his head as his gaze flickered over my face. "Are you okay?"
I nodded. "Are you?"
"Because of you...Ry, I-" He was interrupted by the sound of another round of gunshots close by. The noise brought us both plummeting back to reality. "We need to go."
We pulled a part to see Claire hovering over Zach and Gray the same way I had when I'd first spotted them. "We need to get out of here!" I called over to them. Claire whirled around and twice in one day grabbed onto me and hugged me tightly.
"Thank god...I was so worried." She said in a relieved, but shaky voice.
I hugged her back, suddenly overwhelmed with gratefulness that she, of all people, was here with me. "Me too." I said quietly. We pulled away and smiled at each other before Owen was reminding us it was time to go.
The five of us took off at a sprint, the midway and all adjacent streets still filled with terrified guests. Owen led us to the same high, locked gate we had passed through the very first night he taken me home on his motorcycle. As Claire flashed her badge and the locking mechanism flashed green, we slipped through to the other side. Dozens of employees darted around, talking quickly in walkie talkies and cell phones, hardly noticing us let alone the rest of the world around them. We passed by the paddock that I knew housed the t-rex just as Claire's own cell phone began to ring.
She raised a hand, signaling us to stop. "What now, Lowery?" She asked in a low, quiet voice.
The rest of us huddle around her, trying to stay out of the way of the others around us. "Wait, wait...slow down." She covered her opposite ear with her hand, eyebrows furrowed together and a concentrated frown tugging at her pink lips. I stepped closer, but still couldn't make out a single word coming from the other line. Her eyes suddenly snapped towards Owen, though, and his limbs stiffened. "What do you mean they want to use the raptors to hunt the Indominus?"
Disbelief flooded his features before his expression hardened, hands tightening into two tight fists at his side. I whirled around to look at him, my mind flashing back to the conversation I'd overheard between him and Hoskins just that morning. "He wanted this to happen." I said, dumbfounded. "He was waiting for this to happen."
"Son of a bitch." Owen muttered, pacing a few steps away as he ran a hand through his hair.
"Guys..." Zach's voice suddenly said, in a quiet sort of anxiousness.
His brown eyes were glued on the huge doors behind us, next to the smaller employee door we had just passed through. Something was battering against the other side. The lock was slipping, giving away more and more with each forceful shove. My pulse quickened, my first thought automatically pinpointing the Indominus Rex. I listened harder, though, and the muffled, fearful shouting on the other side gave away the true driving force behind the doors.
"We need to get out of here." Owen said quickly.
"There!" Claire said, pointing towards a jeep that had seemingly been forgotten in the middle of the path.
We all scrambled towards it. Owen took the driver's side as I slid into the front, Claire and her nephews diving into the back. We had barely slammed the doors shut, the locks clicking into place and engine roaring to life, as the huge, tall doors in front of us gave way and a stampeded of terrified people flooded through.
"Go!" Gray and Zach both yelled as I gripped the dashboard in both hands. Owen threw the jeep into reverse, expertly guiding the car back into a corner, tucked away from the pathway. We watched in shock as a huge crowd pushed their way past, desperate to escape the chaos happening on Main Street.
"Can we stay with you?" Gray suddenly asked between breaths.
"I'm never ever leaving you as long as you-" Claire began to assure him, but suddenly both boys were interrupting her.
"No, No! We mean him!" Gray corrected her, leaning forward in his seat to pat Owen's broad shoulder.
"Yeah, definitely him." Zach agreed.
Owen gave me a bewildered look. "Is there enough room for me in your posse?" I teased weakly, giving him a tiny smirk.
"Oh please." Claire sighed, sinking back into her seat.
I glanced at Owen out of the corner of my eye, just in time to see a small, satisfied smile flit across his lips. It vanished quickly, though, my mouth set into a thin line. "We better try and stop Hoskins before he makes this worse."
I nodded, a feeling of dread filling my stomach as Owen finally pulled out onto the path. I remembered the determined, haughty look on Hoskins' face as he talked to Owen. The look in his beady eyes made it clear that he was a man who wouldn't take no for an answer. In the very back corner of my mind, a voice was warning me to prepare for the worst. That maybe this was one battle Owen wouldn't win.