Running For Our Lives
I hear the screeching of the tires as we round the curve, leaving the mall behind us. My mom is driving about ninety miles an hour in our minivan and I’m sure we are about to die because my whole life is flashing before my eyes. She is telling me it is going to be okay, but I am thinking about my house that we’ve lived in since she adopted me at three months old. I love that old house. I’m thinking of my cat, too. Who will feed my cat if I die? We left my friends at the mall, so I hope they are okay. While pondering all of these things, I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, “Mom, slow down!”
“I can’t, Sophie!” she yells back. “I need enough speed to make it through the portal.” Okay, my mother has lost her mind. We are flying down the road toward the river without even slowing down for the curves and she drives faster down a dead-end road; it literally drops into the river. She steps on the gas, and closes her eyes. The last thing I remember is going off the cliff, screaming, and blacking out.
The day is starting out like an ordinary day. I get ready to go to school with my best friends in the whole world. Chrissy, Jen, and Danny have been my friends since elementary school and we all clicked from the moment we met. We are juniors, so naturally, we are anxious to get this year over with so we can be seniors. Jen always picks us up in her Jeep Wrangler because she is the only one with a car. My mom is always nagging me about taking me herself, but I like riding with my friends. I hear Jen pull up as I kiss my mom goodbye. I’ll see her at school because she teaches there, but she teaches freshmen so I don’t see her a lot.
I jump in the back seat with Chrissy.
“Hey girl,” Jen says.
“Hey, guys,” I say.
Danny is in the front seat and he looks sad. I don’t even need to ask what is wrong. His parents are fighting a lot, so he usually spends all day with Jen. They’ve been dating for about a year and when Jen’s grandmother gets tired of him, he just comes to Chrissy’s house or mine. Jen’s parents died when she was very young and she has lived with her grandmother ever since. My mother knows Danny’s situation and she is pretty cool about it.
Chrissy is in her usual peppy mood. “Guys, I think we should go to the mall after school today,” she says. I love going to the mall with them; even if all we do is eat and hang out we still have a blast.
“That sounds great,” Danny says, perking up. Seeing Danny smile makes me happy. I will do anything for my friends. They mean the world to me.
“Sounds good to me. What about you, Jen?” I ask.
“How else are you guys going to get there?” She smirks at me through the rear-view mirror. We pull up at River Falls High School and hop out, waving at Jeremy, one of Danny’s soccer friends.
“Hey Soph!” he says, waving.
“Hey Jer,” I reply with a grin. He is really cute, but I know he only thinks of me as a friend. We have to go to class so agree to meet back here after school to go to the mall.
“Crap!” Danny yells. “I forgot I have soccer practice after school today.” Danny is captain of the soccer team and he also has taken mixed martial arts classes a time or two. He is tall, with the boy-next-door look about him, but muscular.
“That’s okay,” says Jen. “We can meet you there. Can you get one of the guys to take you?”
“Yeah, I guess,” he says, clearly not liking the idea.
“Guys? What guys?” Chrissy jumps into the conversation. We all snicker because Chrissy is absolutely boy-crazy. She has always believed her Prince Charming will come on a white horse to rescue her. What she needs to be rescued from beats me, but I guess while she is waiting on Prince Charming, she will kiss a few frogs.
I drop my books and Danny goes to pick them up for me, but Jeremy beats him to it. He hands them to me and smiles when he sees the notebook on top. “What?” I ask. “Is that another song you wrote that we are never going to get to hear?” He asks back.
“Maybe,” I say with an embarrassed laugh.
“Come on, Sophie. When are you going to sing one of your songs for us?” Jen joins in.
“Y’all know I don’t sing them…I only write them.”
“Okay, Sophie, we get it,” Danny sighs. “But you could at least let us read them.”
“I will, one day.” The first bell sounds for us to get to class. “Crap! See y’all later!” I say as I run to my classroom.
As I’m running to the classroom, I glance up and see a man with long, black hair with a twinge of gray in it. His eyes widen at me. I look away for a split second and when I glance back he is gone. I shake it off as just a weird occurrence and it is probably just a father here to drop off his kid.
I’m able to slip in the door to class right before the second bell sounds. Our classroom is like any other, with rows of desks, one right after another. I never sit in front because if you make eye contact with the teacher he will ask you questions. I never sit in back because he’ll think you’re not paying attention and he’ll ask you questions. I like the middle and not because I am a stupid person or anything. It’s because I don’t like the attention. My teacher, Mr. Denton, is a tall man with gray hair who loves the Civil War. If he could teach about it all day he would. The guy in front of me is asleep, the girl behind me is texting, and everyone else is doodling, not paying any attention. I, on the other hand, am thinking about the mall after school.
At lunchtime, Danny, Jen, and I sit in our usual spot, a round table just big enough for the four of us. Chrissy runs to us and gasps. “Did you guys get a look at the new guy? Take a look by the fountain.” I can tell that she is already smitten, and the guy is pretty cute. He has blond hair and when he looks up he combs his fingers through it. He also has the most gorgeous green eyes. I can see them even from where I am sitting right now. He looks me straight in the eyes from the fountain. WOW, I bite my lip. He is wearing tattered blue jeans with a black tee-shirt. He reminds me of a rebel from an old movie.
Chrissy fusses with her hair to make sure it looks nice. She is one of those natural beauties, with long, blond, curly hair and she doesn’t even need makeup, but she always wears a little anyway. She is your typical Southern belle. She has on a pink sundress today, even though it is winter, but it is actually unusually warm today for February. I have to give the girl credit, because she knows how to drive the guys crazy. “How do I look?” she asks.
“You’re a ten,” I say, and as I look up over her shoulder, I notice that the guy is standing behind her.
“Hey!” he says, grinning. Chrissy’s eyes widen as she realizes he is right behind her. She turns around to say “hi,” but he isn’t looking at her.
“Hi, my name is Chrissy,” she says, holding out her hand.
“Hi.” Even though he shakes her hand, he is still gazing at me and I mean staring me right in the eyes. He is irresistible, but I shake off the intense feeling I get.
“My name is Chris.” Chrissy realizes he is not interested, so she sits back down beside Jen. I’m not going to say I’m ugly, but today my red hair is in a bun and I have no make-up on, so why is he so interested in me?
I smile. “Hi, it is nice to meet you, Chris. I’m Sophie.” I mutter as I sit back down at the table with my friends.
He looks confused and starts to walk away. I see him turn back around and grin. “You, too,” he says and walks away.
“That was a little harsh,” Jen says.
“What?” I say. “He isn’t my type.” The lie doesn’t even fool me, because I know that he is exactly my type.
“Utterly handsome isn’t your type?” Chrissy busts in. My eyes sparkle as I eat my cold pizza. He is gorgeous, though, I think to myself. His green eyes were intoxicating.
I find myself looking for him the rest of the day, but there is no sign of him anywhere. He must be in a different grade, because he has no classes with any of my friends. I don’t know why, but I just can’t shake this feeling that I need to know this guy. Why did I blow him off?
I figure I can go ask my mom if she knows him, but I can’t find her anywhere. I go to the teachers’ lounge, her classroom, and even to the nearest restroom. I am getting a little worried so I go to the principal’s office. The secretary is a little sweet old lady who wears her hair in a bun.
“Oh dear,” she says, “Nobody told you.”
“Told me what?” I ask, frantic because she is freaking me out a little.
“Oh, nothing bad, dear,” she says. “She just left early to run errands.” That’s weird, I think to myself. She never runs errands during school.
Despite my confusion, I just say “Thank you” and leave.
Still feeling worried about my mom, I get Jen to stop by my house before we go to the mall. We all need to freshen up, anyway. As soon as I walk through the door, my cat jumps into my arms. It used to scare me to death when she did that, but now I am used to it. She purrs and I rub her behind the ears. After I feed her, I go to my mom’s usual spot for leaving a note. Relief washes over me as I discover a note that reads: “Dear Sophie, I’ll be home for supper; don’t worry. Leave out fish or hamburger meat. P.S. Feed the cat. Love, Mom.” If she was leaving instructions, she must be okay. I leave her a note telling her I’ll be home after I go to the mall.
As I head upstairs to get ready, I find that Chrissy has already changed her clothes and fixed her hair. Jen is sitting down doing her homework on her laptop because she didn’t care to change. We are ready in less than twenty minutes. We hop in the Jeep and I realize that it was a waste of time to fix my hair because Jen has the top down. As I put my hair up into a bun, I roll my eyes at her.
“What?” she asks, innocently. “It’s so nice out today.”
The parking lot of the mall is packed and I assume it is because of the new restaurant opening. We have to park on the upper deck. “Wow, I have never seen the mall this packed,” Jen says as we enter the mall.
“Is The Fireside supposed to be that good?” Chrissy wonders aloud.
“Let’s go find out,” I say and we walk towards the restaurant. Then I stop dead in my tracks. “What’s the matter, Sophie?” Jen asks.
“It’s him,” I whisper. “It’s Chris. Maybe he won’t see us,” I say, trying to hide behind other people. I risk a peek at him and I see him coming straight toward us, smiling. He spots me. “Crap,” I say and come out from hiding.
“Hey, beautiful,” Chris says as his mouth turns upward and he winks at someone. I look behind me to see who he is winking at and he and his friends chuckle. “I’m talking to you,” he says. He is with two very cute guys. He introduces them as Sean and Greg. I can see Chrissy gawking at one of them already.
“Nice to meet you,” I reply as I shake their hands.
“Do you girls want to go get something to eat at The Fireside?” Greg asks.
“Oh, we would love to, but I have to be home for supper in a little while.” I glance at Chrissy and she gives me an evil look.
“Okay, how about coffee? Coffee doesn’t take that long,” Chris counters.
“We would love to,” Chrissy blurts out before shooting me a pleading glance. “It is just coffee,” she mouths, and I give her a stern look. Jen is just following along, checking the apps on her phone and not paying any attention to us. She’ll have her head buried in her phone until Danny shows up.
The guys buy us lattes and we sit in a corner booth of Java Jay’s coffee shop to talk. “So, Chris, where are you from?” I ask.
“Oh, it’s so far away that you probably wouldn’t know where it is,” he says awkwardly. I guess he doesn’t like to talk about himself, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. I start to tell him about myself and wonder why I keep going on and on. I don’t even know this guy, but even though something seems odd about him, he is really easy to talk to. Danny, Jeremy, and the rest of his soccer friends show up just as I start to take the focus off myself and ask Chris about his life.
“What the hell is going on here?” Danny asks, looking furious. He grabs Jen’s arm and pulls her up out of her seat. I have never seen Danny mad like this before. Jen pulls away and Danny gets in Sean’s face because he was sitting next to her. I think they are going to fight right here in front of everyone!
“You got a problem?” Sean asks.
“Yeah, I got a big problem,” Danny spits furiously. Sean reaches for something in his pocket and I think it might be a knife. All the guys are face to face now and ready to brawl. Jeremy is in Greg’s face and Chrissy is between them with a hand on each of their chests, holding them both back.
“Thanks for the coffee, guys, but I have to get home now,” I say as panic starts to set in.
Chris follows my lead. “Yeah, guys, come on we have to go get Ian anyway.” With that, he pulls Sean and Greg away. I let out a breath that I didn’t even realize I was holding. “Bye, beautiful,” Chris says as he walks away, and I beam out of embarrassment. Jeremy swings his head around to Chris and starts after him, but I grab him by the shirt to pull him back.
“It’s okay, Jer,” I say. I try and smooth things over with Jen and Danny because I hate it when they fight. I tell Danny that it is Chrissy’s fault and he seems to calm down. It does sound like Chrissy to put us in that kind of situation. She takes the blame graciously. After all, it was actually her fault. Jen and Danny make up in less than five minutes like they always do.
We walk around the mall for a few minutes and say goodbye to Jeremy and the rest of the soccer team. As soon as we start to head back to the Jeep, the ground begins to shake. At first, I think it is just me, but as I look around, it seems that everyone else feels it too. “That was weird,” I look at the gang.
“Yeah,” Jen says. We are all on edge, assuming something else is going to happen, but it doesn’t.
“Let’s get out of here, guys,” Danny says.
“Works for me,” I reply.
“Yeah, I think we have had enough fun at the mall today,” Chrissy says. We parked on the upper deck, but we want to get out of the collapsible building as soon as possible, so we go to the nearest exit and I notice that Chris and his friends are blocking it.
“We might be in for a little more. Danny, keep your cool,” I suggest. “Hey, guys,” I say, shifting my attention toward Chris and his pals. “Did you feel that shake? Weird, huh?” I try to play it cool, as if I’m not a bundle of nerves.
Chris gives me an awkward nod. “Yeah, I guess. Look, Sophie, I need you to come with me. I need to show you something. I’ll take you home after,” he says. I’m hesitant because it sounds shady to me. I mean, I literally just met him and he wants me to go with him.
“Uh...maybe some other time, Chris. I need to go now,” I say. He looks really impatient and I don’t want to make him angry, so I give a cheerful smile. “I’ll take a rain check, though.”
“I’m sorry Sophie, but that just isn’t an option today,” he says, grabbing my arm. Danny lunges forward to protect me. Where are those soccer guys when you need them? Sean reaches in his pocket again to pull something out. I thought it was a knife before, but it is some kind of stick. Chris grabs me around the waist and puts me over his shoulder as Sean points the stick at Danny. I see a stream of light come out of the stick and Danny goes flying through the air. I hear Chrissy and Jen screaming and soon everyone else starts yelling as well. Chrissy and Jen run to Danny to help him up and that is the last thing I see as I’m carried out of the building.
I scream and wiggle enough to slip out of Chris’s hands and I hit my head on the pavement. Chris picks me back up and carries me like a baby in his arms. “Sophie, stop wiggling. We’re not going to hurt you, you just have to come back with us and I’ll explain on the way,” he pleads.
“I don’t believe you,” I cry. “Help, somebody!” I hear a loud pop and someone materializes before me who looks familiar. It is the mysterious man I saw at school earlier today. “I know you, you were at school earlier today,” I say.
“Yes,” the strange man says. “I was searching for you.”
“What?” I ask, confused. “Why me?”
“You shall know soon enough, my dear,” he says in what is almost a whisper. “Shall we go now?” I hear tires squealing and see a minivan approaching us at a very high speed. It seems as if it will barrel into us, but it screeches to a halt and my mom gets out. I’m going to get my mother killed.
“Mom!” I shout, “Get back in the van and go home. I’ll be fine!” I swallow hard because I don’t believe it myself.
“Yes, Mary, go back home with your cat, she will be just fine with us,” the old man says. By this time I’m shaking and crying, but also thinking. How do they know each other and how do they know I have a cat?”
“No, Maddox. You and your dogs go home,” my mother responds, raising her hands. I see the shock on their faces and they pull sticks from their pockets. Chris drops me to pull his out and they aim at my mother, but it is too late. They all vanish before my eyes.
I look around in disbelief, still crying and now bleeding. “Where did they go?” I ask mom.
“Get in the van,” she says. Unable to move, I just stand there in shock. “Get in the van now!” she yells. I hear police sirens in the distance. “Sophie, now!” she shrieks. And this time I listen. My mom speeds out of the parking lot just in time to see the cops go by. I look over at her and she is steady and focused, gazing in her rear view mirror every few seconds.
“Mom, what is going on?” I ask. “Who were those guys and why were they after me? And why…?”
“I can’t explain now, Sophie. I have to concentrate,” she says in her usual disciplined tone. I have so many questions running through my head. Where did they go? How did they disappear… and what was up with those sticks? My mother is too busy to answer my questions. She is speeding around corners so fast I don’t want to ask right now, and she is starting to scare me a little bit.
“Mom, slow down!” I squeal, but she just tightens her grip on the wheel. Her eyes become more focused as she speeds up even faster. “Mom, you’re scaring me, slow down!” I shout again.
“I can’t Sophie!” she yells back. “I have to get enough speed to make it through the portal,” she says. Contemplating whether my mother has lost her mind, I look out the window and see that we are coming up on a cliff, with a river below. “Um…Mom?” I ask. She keeps speeding toward the cliff. She steps on the gas harder as we go over the edge and into the river. I’m screaming as my mom grabs my hand and the last thing I remember is blacking out.