Chapter 1: Grab N' Go
- Maria Karvouni
San Francisco, California
The children's plan is simple: fit in with the high school kids, loot the snack machines, and leave before someone notices them.
Unfortunately, stealing is never easy.
Fifteen-year-old Nessa Phoenix raids the school vending machine with a crowbar she had found in a scrappy junkyard. Her hazel brown eyes squint with concentration as she struggles to scoop fourteen various chips out of the dispenser.
Her eighteen-year-old brother Nico tilts the appliance so Vanessa can grab them in a hurry.
"Are you guys finished, yet?" an annoyed Hailey Colwell asked.
While the siblings are taking care of the snacks, Hailey and her boyfriend Casper De La Cruz shine their flashlights to help the siblings achieve their master plan.
"Relax, babe," Casper reassures her. "There is no one in this school."
"Yes." Casper smoothes the back of Hailey's neck with his gentle fingertips, then kisses her nose. "It's all good."
His worried girlfriend frowns in disbelief. "Did you do an entire sweep of the school?"
"Yes," he groans. "I read the janitor's mind. He is on the second floor, but he is clogging toilets in the girls' bathroom."
Despite the empty hallways, Hailey cannot help but feel as though they are being watched by something — or someone.
"Alright," she murmured. "But I have this bad feeling in my stomach, and-"
"Look, Hailey." Nessa cuts her off. "I love you like a sister and all, but can you calm your tits? Robbing a vending machine is not as easy as it looks."
Hailey rolls her eyes. She puts her dark brown curls in a messy bun and sighs, "Okay, whatever. Just please hurry!"
Nessa shoves the bag of sugary goods inside her bold red backpack. Her chestnut brown hair dances past her dark eyes. But before she closes her bag, Nessa notices an insect crawling on her ripped denim jeans and flicks it off with her delicate fingers.
She glances at her older brother, who is still tilting the machine. He wears a deep blue flannel, a black Nirvana t-shirt, acid-washed jeans, and worn military boots. Malicious hazel-green eyes train on his baby sister as Nico pressures her to hurry.
"I am almost finished, asshole!" Nessa scowls menacingly. "So, shut the fuck up!"
"Keep your voices down!" Hailey hissed.
She turns to Nessa and adds, "If your bag is full, then distribute the snacks and put them in our backpacks, okay?"
Nessa nods. She gazes at Nico's bag across her feet. He adorns it with monochrome pins — ranging from various grunge bands to a blood-red Anarchy symbol. She strides towards the backpack, but when Nessa pulls the zipper, a loud fart noise makes her heart skip a beat.
"What the hell?" Nico grimaced. "Who farted?"
Casper's cheeks burn scarlet. He bows his head and emits an awkward apology.
"It wasn't a fart," he confessed. "That was my stomach."
Nico, Nessa, and Hailey drop their jaws in shock.
"What?" Casper groaned.
Nessa pinches the bridge of her nose.
"Casper," she says slowly. "We are stealing school property. So, can you make your stomach not sound like a farting whale?"
"Sorry, Ness." Casper mumbles.
He pushes his gangly dreadlocks out of his soft brown eyes so he can see Nessa. His olive-brown hands glide across the light blue walls. For today, Casper wears a black Run-DMC hoodie, a pair of faded jeans, and charcoal-colored Vans sneakers. Sitting on the top of his head is his red snapback hat.
Once Nessa closes Nico's backpack, she shoves five chips in the couple's bags then glances up at her older brother.
"Okay, Casper," she says. "I am finished."
A delighted Nico breathes in relief as he sets the machine down and massages his worn hands.
"Next time, why don't you lift the machine, Nessa?" he grumbles.
Sliding her slender arms through her backpack's rough straps, an irritated Vanessa glares at Nico.
"Well, maybe if you hadn't sucked ass at 'Rock, Paper, Scissors,'" she retorts. "I would have given you the damn job."
"Whatever, Nessa Now."
"Stop calling me Nessa Now. It's fucking annoying."
Sweat dribbles down his jawline as Nico fakes an innocent smile.
"Of course, Nessa Now." he teased.
His smug grin grows wider. "Well, you asked me to call you Nessa Now."
An annoyed Hailey tells the Phoenix siblings once more to stop quarreling.
"You two are brother and sister," she reminds the bickering duo. "For fuck’s sake, can you guys just be nice to each other?"
"NO!" the siblings cried in unison.
"Ugh." Hailey groaned. "Well, we can at least get out of this hellhole."
Casper nods in agreement. "Yeah Nico, stop pissing off Nessa Now and get everything ready: the janitor is still in his office."
Speaking of the janitor, Casper and Hailey sense him coming in their direction.
"Guys!" Casper hissed. "We have to go right now."
Retrieving his backpack, Nico gives the couple strange looks when his ears perk up to the sounds of imminent footsteps. Their old janitor Mr. Stockley recently came out of the boy's bathroom after cleaning someone's puke on the floor.
His hands smell citrus-scented soap; drops of water and white foam soak his best uniform. Since his work is complete, Mr. Stockley calls it a night and see his family. But as he enters the left corridor, he spots four teenage misfits raiding snacks from the vending machine.
"When the hell?" he screams. "What are you kids doing?"
"Shit, RUN!" Nico yelled.
After Nessa tosses small, brown parcels of M&M's at the janitor's withered face, she snatches her backpack then scampers after the others. Hailey grasps Casper's hand then pulls him away from the janitor's clutches. Their feet are in tune with the rhythm of his jingling keys.
Sweat puddles appear under the guy's brown shirt; his pants tighten his heavy legs. Hailey can hear the janitor's loafers squeaking behind her. She worries if he continues hunting them down, he might have an asthma attack on the white school floor. But luckily, the janitor was a cross country champion during the 1975 Olympics. To this day, he never backed down from a challenge.
"Stop!" Mr. Stockley wheezed. "Stop, you little shits!"
The kids ignore him. They continue sprinting down the corridors until Nico finds an entrance that leads them outside.
"Come on, guys!" he urges. "This way!"
Approaching the exit, Nico shoves the door open to let the stiff wind sting his burning hands. The luminous moonlight alters Hailey's skin color to the shade of medium brown. Rifling inside his pocket, Casper hurls the keys of a red Ford Mustang over to Nate, who grabs it in mid-air.
"Thanks." Nico huffed. He presses the button with his left thumb and instructs everyone to get inside.
Hailey and Nessa crawl in the backseat, while the boys sat in the front. The dreadful odor of lukewarm French fries greets them with open arms, but at least the car seats are comfortable.
Dropping his bag on the floor, Casper let out a tired groan.
"We are never doing this shit again," he vows.
Nico laughs breathlessly before he turns the ignition and leaves the school parking lot.
* * *
The drive back to Idlewild Boarding School is as slow as the clouds in the night sky. Casper watches the stars materialize above his head, whereas Nico scans the empty highway. Meanwhile, Nessa pushes her cassette tape inside the slot and lets the music play through the speakers.
As her favorite band Pearl Jam came on, Nessa bobs her head to the beat while she gobbles her salty potato chips. Her best friend Hailey sticks her left hand out the window and feels the breeze cooling her fingertips.
The air conditioner is breaking down, so Nico lowers the windows for his friends. Casper whoops as the breeze cools his sweaty face.
"Aw yeah, that shit feels fucking nice." he breathes.
Hailey laughs in agreement, whereas Nico sneaks a couple of glances at his nonchalant little sister eating her snacks.
"What?" Nessa snorts, still munching on her potato chips. "Is there something on my face?"
"Okay, then what's up?"
"Can you remind me again why we can't buy snacks at the supermarket?" Nico asks apathetically.
"Because vending machines are easy to steal," Nessa answers with a smirk.
Nico shoots his eyes at the mirror above his head.
"Look, Nessa Now—"
"It's Nessa, you idiot!" she bellows.
"Whatever," Nico grumbles. "Just because we don't have money to eat doesn't mean we have to rob our old school's vending machine."
Casper crosses his arms. "Wow, that's rich coming from the guy who stole this car from a college student."
Nico grips the steering wheel tighter.
"First, that asshole ruined my favorite leather jacket." he spat. "Second, we need this car to get by."
Nessa plucks out a small package of Oreo cookies and tears it open. Chocolate crumbs sprinkle on the leather gray seats as Nessa happily munches on her cookies. She crumbles her blue wrapper and tucks it in a white plastic bag near her feet.
A stunned Hailey casts her eyes at her rebellious best friend. "Didn't you just ate Chinese food?"
"Yeah, but I am still hungry."
Nessa brushes her chocolate crumbs off her white crop top. She reaches into her JanSport backpack again, but this time, she offers Hailey a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos.
"Want some?" she asks.
"No, thank you."
Pushing the curls out of her eyes, Hailey studies the teal jewelry around her fingers. Fresh folds appear on her cream-colored cashmere sweater and high-waisted jeans. A thick layer of mud soils her dark brown ankle boots.
After adjusting her black choker, Hailey gives Nico a serious look.
"Once we return," she began. "What are we going to tell the principal?"
Nico speeds up under the glowing green lights. His mind relaxes, yet his feet are eager to get some rest.
"We'll tell him we were taking a night drive across San Francisco," Nico explains carefully.
"Okay," Hailey nods. "But what if we get stopped by the cops? How the hell are we going to explain the stolen snacks to them?"
A nonchalant Casper toys with his dreadlocks.
Unlike Hailey and Nico, he didn't seem too worried about getting caught. Instead, he focuses his attention on the stars in the sky.
"Then we'll tell them we bought the snacks from a crappy supermarket down at 2300 16th Street," Casper reassures her. "Everything is going to be okay."
"Really?" Hailey scoffs in disbelief. "What makes you say that?"
Her stern frown disappears as Casper leans towards her face then kisses her on the mouth.
"Does that convince you?" he asks Hailey after he pulls away.
She thinks for a second before placing her hands on his cheeks. "A little."
Rolling her eyes, Hailey presses her lips against his.
"Oh my God!" Nessa groans, lowering her bag of chips. "Will you two cut it out? I am eating here!"
A laughing Casper apologizes to Nessa as he pulls away from Hailey's warm embrace.
"Maybe you are right," Hailey admits. "Maybe things are going to be okay."
Casper grins. "Fuck yeah, it will! What can go wrong?"
Hailey laughs until Nico ejects Nessa's tape from the tape deck and drops it in the cupholder.
"Hey!" Nessa cries. "I was listening to that, asshole!"
Nico makes a face. He slows down in front of the moving truck until it drifts towards the left lane.
"We have been listening to those songs all the time." he reminds her. "Why can't we listen to Green Day or Soundgarden?"
"Ugh." his little sister scoffs. "You have no taste in music."
"At least I don't listen to Pearl Jam all the time."
Once again, Nico and Nessa argue with each other. Hailey opens her mouth when an unsettling vision slashes her thoughts. Her dark brown eyes widen at the grim streets of San Francisco.
The stench of rotting meat tumbles inside the car and into the children's noses. Neon lights glow—like embers from a roasting flame. Then, in an instant, an ominous force shoves the Mustang to the side of the road. Cracks scatter across the cold glass. The vision traumatizes Hailey until Casper snaps her out of it.
Nessa yells at Nico to stop the car.
"Hailey!" she screeched. "Are you okay?"
The seventeen-year-old girl lifts herself from Casper's arms. Nico's warm smile appears on his cracked lips until Hailey blurts out seven angry words.
"Everyone, get out of the fucking car!" she cries.
Her friends didn't question her orders. Instead, they gather their backpacks first, then vacate the stolen vehicle. Though the kids made it out alive, the red Ford Mustang didn't.
They witness a towering dog, standing on top of the car. Its tremendous paws transform the Mustang into a pile of debris; an angry breeze shook its smoldering black fur. Its ears twitch.
Bold red eyes examine the children's faces until the dog takes off into the city.