Clocks Without Hands

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Chapter 11

As soon as I walked into my room, I checked to be sure the gun and letter were still hidden behind the nightstand. The car keys jangled loudly in my hand. Jacob had parked the car for me right by the side door. I felt the cold steel touch my flesh and shuddered. The gun was there alright. The remote sat atop the nightstand, and I used it to flip to the news. For once, the story didn’t immediately detail the recent killings. I breathed a heavy sigh and settled underneath my covers. The news anchor discussed a recent beauty pageant. I scoffed at the pretty girls in long dresses. If only my biggest worry was winning a beauty pageant. The girls were replaced by the news anchor’s grim face.

“Another girl has gone missing this afternoon. Hope Rivers goes to Joseph P. Liles Preparatory Academy.” A lump formed in my throat. Hope, the sweet girl who had tried to befriend me on my one day at the prestigious school, was about to fall victim to this horrid man. “She went missing straight after school. None of her friends or family have seen her. If you have any information regarding her disappearance, please alert the authorities.” I felt as if I had heard that spiel a million times. Her picture flashed up on the screen. My vision was suddenly pitch black. I knew better than to struggle, because I wouldn’t be escaping this vision until I came face to face with Mr. Green. I stared hard at the clock in front of me. The hole on the middle seemed to be a little smaller, but there were still no hands on it to indicate the time. His piercing green eyes met mine, and I tried my best to appear as menacing as possible. His figure still read of no emotion. He was completely unaffected by my demeanor. We stared hard at each other, and then just like that he was gone.

Despite my state of pure exhaustion, I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night. I had drifted in and out of consciousness, as evident by the dark circles under my eyes. The light shone through the thin curtains, pestering my slumped form to get out of bed. The digital clock next to me read 2:29. A jolt went through my entire body. How had I not realized what time it was? Mr. Green was expected to be at the coffee shop in less than two hours, and it was necessary for me to be there to follow him. I jumped out of bed, already dressed in the same athletic shorts and large t-shirt I had worn the day before. A voice sounded outside my window. It wasn’t Mr. Green’s, but I certainly recognized it. My feet padded quietly across the carpet. I moved the curtain slightly, and caught sight of Detective Robert’s bald head. My heart must have stopped beating in that instant. How did they find me? It didn’t matter. All that mattered now was getting out of here before they caught me. Detective Roberts was walking from car to car, stopping at all of the red ones to check the license plate with what was written on his notepad. He was looking for Jacob’s car, or rather his moms. Detective Roberts couldn’t have been working alone. As if on cue, Detective Howell jogged out of the hotel and towards Detective Roberts. The two were standing just outside my window. I quickly shut the curtain and dropped to the floor, praying they hadn’t sensed the motion behind them. Their voices were barely audible to my ears.

“She’s in room 117. Should we wait for backup?” There was a long pause.

“No. Tyler has been evading us for far too long, and the car isn’t around this side of the hotel. We need to act fast.” His tone hinted that he was just a little bit angry. “Let’s go now.” Their shadows disappeared from the window. I jumped up from my hiding spot. They would be breaking down my door in less than two minutes. I made a dash for the door, then stopped. The gun and the letter were still nestled behind the nightstand. I thought quickly. There was no way I was going to let the detectives find a murder weapon stashed in my hotel room. I grabbed the plastic bag and bolted to the hallway. It was completely clear. Any second the two men could come around the corner. My heart pounding, I sprinted down the hallway towards the closest exit. The plastic bag crinkled loudly with every step. The door flew open when I collided with it harshly, and the fresh air provided me with a small amount of comfort. The car sat in front of me. My fingers fumbled with the keys. It clicked loudly, and I threw myself into the driver’s seat. Luckily, the car was out of sight of anyone who came down the hallway. I shifted gears and punched it in reverse, squealing out of the parking lot. It was best to drive on side roads, since backup was certainly on the way. This made for slow driving, but it kept me out from underneath the watchful eye of the police force. My car still rolled into the parking lot across from the coffee shop with plenty of time. There were no cop cars in sight.

“They’re probably all too busy searching my hotel room,” I chuckled to myself. There was nothing of any value for them to find, but now I was left with no place to stay. “One step at a time,” I told myself. Mr. Green’s car suddenly pulled up across the street. He parked and stepped out of his vehicle, yawning and stretching his arms casually. I sat up in the seat, suddenly on high alert. He walked right into the coffee shop as if it was just a normal day, and as if he was a completely normal person. His calm demeanor angered me. How could he go about his day knowing that his actions were the root of so much heartbreak? The few minutes that it took for him to order his coffee felt like an eternity. The black phone Jacob had given me burned a hole in my pocket. I couldn’t risk calling him now. Even though most of the force was probably busy searching my hotel room, a few officers were most likely still with Jacob, and together they might conclude that the strange number calling him was me. If they somehow traced the number, they could be at my location in minutes and potentially jeopardize the whole operation. That was a risk that I wasn’t willing to take. I placed the keys in the ignition. The hum of the motor sounded quietly in the parking lot. My fingers tapped on the dashboard impatiently. A caramel macchiato in hand, Mr. Green stepped out of the coffee shop. I shifted gears into reverse, ready to spring into action. Mr. Green opened his car door and carefully placed his drink in the cup holder in the door. He folded himself inside the vehicle and closed the door. He immediately jumped up in his seat, hitting his head on the roof of the car. I snickered quietly.

“Serves him right,” I laughed. He threw his hands in the air in frustration. Through his back window, I could see that the liquid had spilled all over his lap. Shaking his head, he put one hand on the wheel and one on the back of the seat. He turned around to back up. I ducked, praying that he hasn’t seen me. After a few seconds, I poked the edge of my head above the dashboard. Mr. Green was too focused on the traffic to be looking in my direction. He started to reverse, but a blew camaro cut him off. He slammed on his horn. His eyes were full of fury in his rear view mirror. I realized that there was a possibility that he would catch a glimpse of me through one of his mirrors, and I started to panic. Had he already seen me? My palms went clammy, and tears formed at the corners of my eyes, but Mr. Green seemed to be too caught up in his own frustration to be paying attention to those around him. Besides, there was no reason that the car I was in would draw his attention, unless he had watched the news that day. I could only assume that the license plate of this car was plastered across every news channel, courtesy of the Scottsdale Police Department. Luckily, none of the pedestrians seemed to be giving a second glance my way. Mr. Green finally pulled out of the parking lot and into the road. I punched the gas, edging myself into the traffic and directly behind his car. We drove right off of the square and merged on to the highway. I slowed down to let a minivan switch lanes in front of me, allowing for some distance between my car and Mr. Greens. The kids bounced up and down in their car seats, and I could see the light of a movie playing in their car. Even from the back of them, they seemed completely carefree, and I felt a bit of envy inside of me. How easy would it have been for me to never have gotten involved in this mess? Then I looked ahead to Mr. Green, and knew that I would never forgive myself if I didn’t do anything to stop his limitless murders. He got off at the next exit, but the minivan drove on. I had no choice but to drive right behind him once again. He didn’t look back at me. We drove on backroad after backroad. Eventually, I was forced to leave some distance between the two of us. Otherwise, he would certainly notice that I was following him. His car neared a corner, but I resisted the urge to speed up. Pine trees lined the edge of the road, making it difficult for me to see around the bend. The pine needles swirled on the ground as he flew by, and then he was gone. I stared straight at the road ahead, my hands shaking on the wheel. My car rounded the bend, and I could just make out the edge of his bumper ahead of me. The sun was going down, and the night was settling in. This made it harder to follow Mr. Green, but also helped to hide the fact that I was following him. His brake lights went on ahead of me. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing around us but trees for miles. I slowed as he turned down a gravel driveway. Following him down that road would be way too obvious. The crunch of the tires alone would give me away. I was going to have to walk. When his car had fully disappeared down the gravel road, I drove farther down the road. There was another bend up ahead that would hopefully hide my car from his line of vision. I pulled into the grass. The pine needles crackled under my tires quietly. I parked as close to the line of trees as I could and shut off my headlights. I was consumed in total darkness. I climbed out of the car, then stared hard at the plastic bag on the seat. The gun sat in the bag where I preferred that it remain, but I was smarter than that. I picked it up, tucked it into the waistband of my shorts, and quietly shut the door. The only source of light was the light of the moon. Pine needles stuck to the edge of my ratty shoes. A gap in outline of the trees marked where the gravel road sat. I strode over to the gravel and started walking along the grass next to the rocks to hide my footsteps. The walk was long, and I walked in total silence. Crickets chirped and an owl hooted occasionally, piercing the night air. Goosebumps covered my arms, and I shivered in the cool air. Stars scattered the sky, and they provided me with a small amount of comfort. They reminded me of peace and serenity, which was anything but what I was about to walk into. A light was visible in the distance. I squinted, realizing that the light was coming from a house. Mr. Green’s car sat parked by the front porch, but he had already gone inside. His property consisted of a large amount of land, with a creek running along the back edge, and trees lining the rest of it. I pulled the flip phone out of my pocket. It read 10:22, much too early to give Jacob a call. I wanted to wait until around two or three in the morning, although I was still uncertain of how he was going to find me out here. Behind the house, I noticed a small red barn. There was no fence around it with animals which I thought was peculiar. I looked toward the house. It was completely still besides the few lights that were on. As quietly as possible, I crept toward the red building. White X’s were plastered across the barn doors. A hole for a lockbox was on the door handles. I moved forward to open the doors, and my toe kicked something heavy.

“Ow,” I uttered. I looked down to see the lockbox laying in the short grass. I leaned down to pick it up, placing the inside of my palm against the doors. I felt my body shift to the side. The doors swung open, and I fell onto cold hard concrete. The lockbox remained in the grass outside the barn. The palms of my hands stung as I got up and dusted myself off. I looked out toward the house. No one was coming in my direction. The lights in the barn were completely shut off, but the lights from the house shone dimly into the interior of the rustic building. A few stalls sat in the corner, but they were completely vacant of any animals. The only item that marked the property as a farm was the hay stacked against the wall. My eyes shifted upward, and I caught sight of a small hayloft. A gray ladder laid against the wall, and a large rug was placed in the middle of the room. It took up a good section of the barn, and had a kind of Persian look to it. It didn’t quite fit the rustic theme of the barn. I glanced back at the house uneasily before quietly closing the door behind me. The barn was consumed in complete darkness. I pulled out my small flip phone and used the dim light to guide myself over to the letter, carefully stepping around the massive rug. The ladder was heavier than I had imagined, and the steel was cold against my fingertips. With a heavy sigh, I heaved the ladder a couple feet to the left where I could use it to climb into the hayloft. Placing one foot on the bottom rung, I tested my weight on the ladder. It shook slightly, but seemed as if it would hold me. I placed my hands on either side of the ladder to steady myself, and began to climb. My feet felt as if they could slip off of the rungs at any given moment. My hands shook violently, and I gulped hard. There was no way I had made it all this way to hurt myself by falling off of a stupid ladder. The crash alone would give me away for sure. My foot moved to the final rung. The ladder teetered back and forth, and the flip phone in my hand slipped between my clammy fingers. It fell the fifteen feet to the concrete floor. It shattered immediately upon impact, and I felt my heart sink. While I had committed Jacob’s number to memory, this still created a severe hitch in my ability to contact him. For now at least, I was in this all alone. I crept back down the ladder, my knees shaking. The pieces were easy to scoop up into my plastic bag. I made my way back up the ladder slowly, the plastic bag slapping against my thighs as I took on each rung. My hands grasped the floor of the hayloft. My legs dangled over the edge as I detached myself from the ladder and pulled my body onto the floor. A small window illuminated the stars and the moon, providing me with a bit of solace. Hay was stacked in the corner. I figured that it would make a nice bed. The ladder still sat below me. I gripped the cold steel and thought about how to move the ladder over. It wavered with just a simple touch. I decided that it was too risky to shove the ladder over. The bulky structure could easily come crashing down, and the impact would be earth shattering. Mr. Green would certainly come running, and there was only one place to hide. Then again, having the ladder right underneath the hayloft was a dead giveaway that someone was up here, but I had no choice but to leave it there. It was the only way to get back down to ground level. Besides, maybe he wouldn’t notice that the steel steps had shifted over just a few feet. If he did happen to wander up here, I always had the gun to protect me, although I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of using it as my own murder weapon. I stashed the bag in the hay and laid down beside it. The straw poked into my back, and I shifted uncomfortably. Small scratching noises reverberated across the room. I figured that there were mice or rats running around the barn. It was going to be a long night. The moon shone brightly down on the me, and the stars were splashed across the sky. I looked up at them admiringly. Although separated by distance, Jacob could look up and see the exact same stars. The light gave me a feeling of serenity, as if it was radiating Jacob’s empowering words. I remembered how he had pushed me to never give up, and had stuck with me through this entire mess. Sometime tomorrow, I needed to get to a phone. Jacob and I were going to finish what we started.

I shifted slightly, and the straw left a big scratch down my backside, awakening me from my peaceful slumber. My exhaustion had taken over during the night, and despite the circumstances surrounding me, I had slept soundly. The plastic bag crinkled quietly as I moved. The outline of the gun was evident through the exterior of the bag. I turned my back to the menacing weapon and stretched my stiff muscles. Straw clung to my clothing. I yawned loudly, unable to help myself. My hand flew to my mouth. Had I just given myself up? If Mr. Green was anywhere near the barn, then I could have just made a dire mistake. I peered out the small window, but it faced the back of the property. Water gushed through the creek and birds milled about around the trees. A few pecked at the ground, looking for worms. I crawled over to the edge of the hayloft. The ground floor was completely empty. I breathed a sigh of relief and peered back out the window. Judging by the position of the sun, I guessed that it was around 10:30. Mr. Green would be off portraying himself as Mr. Gray to his students by this time. I swung my legs over the side and felt them touch the rung of the ladder. It wobbled slightly, and I extended my hands along the floor to stabilize it. Once I had gotten my bearings, I slowly descended the ladder. My feet tapped the cement quietly. I glanced around the small barn. Everything looked the same as it had before. The stalls were still empty and the Persian rug still sat in the center of the room. It was tattered around the edges, and gave me an eerie feeling. I crept over to the old barn doors and peeled outside. The sun shone brightly on the green land, and the sky was a clear blue. A few pine trees lay in the middle of the property, but must were clumped along the tree line. Mr. Green’s car was absent from the driveway. I tiptoed out into the sun. It’s pleasant warmth greatly contrasted the musty air that surrounded the hayloft. The property was completely still, which gave me confidence that Mr. Green was busy at work in his classroom, teaching innocent students that could one day be his victim. Then a thought occurred to me. None of the student’s pictures had caused me to have a vision, meaning that none of them were going to be murdered. So why hadn’t Hope’s picture caused me to have a vision in the yearbook, but it had when I saw it on the news? This concept greatly confused me, but I tried to shake these thoughts from my mind. My only focus was getting to Hope and proving that Mr. Green wasn’t the fabulous man everyone in the district had made him out to be. I had no idea how far the school was from his house. The drive here had felt like eternity, so I prayed that it would take him a while to return once school got out. The next problem that lay before me was how to get into the house. I strode up to the back door, jiggling the doorknob. It was completely locked. Then I rounded the house, staying close to the bushes lining the edge of the building on the next side. I crawled over the foliage to try the windows, but they wouldn’t budge. The front porch was rotting at the edges, and I was wary to step up to the front door, afraid of falling through the old planks. It creaked loudly with my every step. The porch was mostly empty except for a few potted plants by the door. I tried the doorknob and it was locked, as I had expected. The dirt was in clumps in the pots, so I thought that a key could be hiding under the dirt. With a sigh, I reached both of my hands into the pot. The dirt felt grimy between my fingernails, and the wet soil clung to the palms of my hands. The clumps crumbled between my fingers. Much to my dismay, nothing out of the ordinary was embedded in the dirt. How was I ever going to get in? I pressed my head against the window. The hall was covered in dark wood floors with an armoire against the wall. A picture of Mr. Green and his deceased wife sat on the edge. I avoided her face, but my vision began to go black. I looked away, but I couldn’t shake the fuzzy feeling that had overcome my head. I was forced to sit myself on the steps in fear of passing out. My head pounded as I massaged my temples with one finger. After a few minutes, I mustered up the courage to stand up, but I didn’t go back up onto the patio. I walked back around to the other side of the house, but still found only a few windows and bushes. The windows were tightly shut. The branches from the bushes left long red marks on my legs. Disappointed, I made my way back around to the rear of the house. A small flap caught my eye, small enough that I almost missed it. It was a dog door. I imagined that it was for a small dog like a chihuahua. Upon sticking my head through the flap, I found that I was correct. I was greeted by a high pitched bark that brushed past my ears. A brown chihuahua sat in a kennel across the room. The latch hindered the dog from coming after me. I glanced back at my calf, healed but still bandages up. There was no way that I wanted my flesh to meet another dog’s teeth. I glanced around the room, and found that there was a window a couple inches to my left. My arm was difficult to squeeze through the flap alongside my head, but after much maneuvering in the small opening, my hand fit through. From that position, I stretched my arm upward. I could feel my shoulder straining, but I couldn’t yet reach the latch. Taking a deep breath, I strained my arm back even farther, and my fingertips grazed the window ledge. From there, I just barely was able to move the latch. It unlocked with a small click. The slight noise sent the chihuahua into a rage. It threw itself against the bars of the crate, growling and barking with all of it’s might. Fear crept through my body, but I knew that no matter how hard it tried, the dog was unable to escape from it’s own mini prison. It snarled at me with it’s teeth bared, and I quickly slid back out the dog door. I pulled up on the window and it slid open with ease. The chihuahua became even more enraged at the sight of my entire body intruding on it’s domain, but I resolved to ignore the little dog. My figure fit through the window easily, and I shut it closed behind me. I was standing in Mr. Green’s kitchen. Small white tile laid underneath my feet, and the counters were a light granite. Plants lined the edge of a windowsill above the sink that looked out into the backyard. The old barn was centered in the view. The kitchen was mostly empty, as the items were all placed in a drawer or the pantry. The only thing on the counter was a large utensil holder, brandishing only sharp knives. This gave me an uneasy feeling, and I quickly exited the room. I needed to find Hope immediately. The next room was the living room. A large bookcase was pushed against the wall. I thought back to the many movies I had seen in which there was a secret passageway behind the bookcase. My fingers ran along the edges of the shelves. I took each book out and replaced it, foolishly waiting to see if the case would swing open. Nothing happened. I moved on to the rest of the room. The drawers under the television held nothing but instruction manuals and remotes. A doorway next to the couch led straight to the hallway, and I was greeted by the same armoire that I had seen earlier. I turned the picture frame around before I could get a good look at Mr. Green and his late wife, then got to work on exploring the many drawers. The second I opened the first one I knew I had struck gold. Justice’s face stared right at me. I immediately felt my sight go black, and went through the motions of my visions. I saw the clock without hands held in Mr. Green’s palms. The drawer contained picture after picture, and each time I picked up a new one, I was thrown back into my same vision. My head pounded intensely and my stomach was doing flip flops. I choked back my nausea to inspect the pictures. In one, Justice and Tabitha sat together at a table at the coffee shop on the square. A light bulb went off in my head. That had to of been taken the day that Justice went missing.

“He was stalking them,” I said aloud, realizing that with each picture my words rang even more true. Each victim had at least ten pictures in the drawer. It took me a long while to go through them because of how I was constantly thrown into my visions. There were several of Justice and Tabitha together. I figured that he had been drawn to Tabitha after seeing her hanging out with Justice so much, but what was it that connected all these girls? How did he chose his victims? Physical wise, there was nothing that all of them had in common, and they were spread out over the town’s three schools. I realized that Mr. Green was probably just as smart as his colleagues and students thought we was, just not in the way they thought. He had probably chosen victims from the different schools so that the police would focus just on the Preparatory Academy. It would be too easy for them to make a connection to him and the victims once they thoroughly investigated the staff at the prestigious school. I shut the door, feeling completely sick, but I knew that it was necessary to keep searching. I opened the next drawer. It held a few pictures of Hope. This time, my visions came on slower, and the hole in the clock looked smaller than ever before. Mr. Green’s face looked just as menacing. That did it for me. The light darkened, but I didn’t wake up to the regular light of day. I fell to the ground, my brain unable to cope with this many visions in such a short period of time. My body lay on the floor motionless, and my consciousness faded as I passed out.

I had no idea how long I had been passed out on the ground. My head was still pounding, and I massaged my temples with my hand. The dim light finally brightened to normal, and I pulled myself up with the edge of the armoire. The drawer was open where I had left it, and I immediately shut it, refusing to look at any more of the pictures. This seemed like more than enough proof to show the cops, but I needed to find where he was keeping Hope first. I combed through the entire rest of the house. His bedroom held nothing out of the ordinary, nor did his study, bathroom, or dining room. In fact, he was a very tidy person, and had barely more stuff than what he needed. I even walked around the entire house, knocking on the walls to listen for any sounds out of the ordinary. Nothing stuck out to me, and I sighed loudly, barely audible over the Chihuahua’s constant barking.

“Shut it!” I yelled. “That’s enough!” The dog paid no mind to my words. His teeth remained bared, and he looked as if he would try to tear me to pieces if he got the chance. Despite his small size, I was still greatly intimidated. Next to the crate, the home phone sat on the receiver. I scratched my chin in thought, then went back to the study where Mr. Green had his mail open on his desk. Although the random letters were of no use to me, I paid close attention to the envelopes.

“1816 Red Rock Drive,” I read aloud. “Perfect.” I went back to the kitchen and picked up the phone, comically waving to the unhappy dog.

“Hush.” I ordered. “I’m trying to make a call.” He continued with his antics, so I was forced to walk into the hallway. My fingers dialed Jacob’s number by memory. He answered on the third ring.

“Jacob. It’s Tyler.” I didn’t give him a chance to say anything. “I’m at Mr. Green’s house. Well, in his house actually. I broke in. His address is 1816 Red Rock Drive. I can’t find Hope, and I need help. The only way to get the police to listen to me is to find her. I found proof that he was stalking his victims. Once we find Hope, we can alert the authorities.” There was no pause on the other end.

“I’m on my way.” I glanced at the clock on the microwave in the kitchen. It read 1:32. Jacob would be leaving school again, and I just hoped that he wouldn’t get caught. I called him again.

“You can’t park by his house. Keep going around the corner when you get here and you’ll see my car by the trees. And don’t get caught ditching school.” I paused. “I really need you here.”

“I won’t. I promise.” It took him well over an hour to reach me. I waited in the barn for him, much too creeped out by the pictures to stay in the house any longer. I finally spotted him walking along the tree line. He looked back several times while he walked, paranoid that Mr. Green was going to come out of nowhere.

“The window is still unlocked,” I said as he approached. There was relief in his eyes when he saw me. “What?” I asked.

“I’m just glad you’re okay.” He took my hands. “This whole thing is really dangerous.” I nodded.

“I know. Let’s just find Hope and get out of here.” I led him to the house and through the window. He jumped at the sound of the chihuahua’s barks.

“Woah.”

“Don’t worry,” I assured him. “It can’t get out.” He followed me into each room, and together we searched every nook and cranny of the house, but there was nowhere for Hope to hide. I walked into the bathroom, the last place to us to check. Dark circles were plastered underneath my eyes, and my exhaustion dawned on me. All of this stress and anxiety couldn’t be good for my health. Jacob came up behind me and saw me studying myself in the mirror.

“Look at this,” I laughed uneasily, touching the dark circles. “I look so tired.” Jacob gave me a small hug from behind.

“You look absolutely gorgeous to me.” I blushed, feeling my cheeks go bright red. He smiled sweetly at me, but the moment was ruined by the crunch of tires on gravel. Both of our eyes went wide.

“What time is it?” I asked, turning off the light and sprinting toward the window. Mr. Green was already out of his car and stepping into the front porch.

“Go!” Jacob screamed in a hushed whisper. I scrambled through the tights opening. Jacob wasn’t as lucky. His bulky build wouldn’t quite fit, and his torso became lodged in the frame.

“I’m stuck.” he whimpered. I scolded myself for not leading us out the back door. In such a high stress situation. I hadn’t properly thought through this escape plan, and now we were going to pay for it. I heard the click of the front door. It sent shock waves to my heart.

“Hold on,” I whispered. I grabbed both of his arms and pulled with all of the strength I could muster. His body moved, but not fast enough for my liking. I strained my muscles, and he kicked wildly in the air, trying anything to get himself through the hole.

“What is all that barking for Marcy?” Mr. Green yelled angrily from the hallway. His voice lent me strength that I didn’t know that I had. Jacob fell through the window, and I caught him before his landing made a loud thud. His body’s contact with the wood was covered by Marcy’s barking. We both clambered to our feet and sprinted toward the barn. Jacob was a much faster runner than me, but he stayed right by my side. I tried my best to match his stride, but suddenly he was tumbling, and I felt my foot catch on his leg. My body tumbled over, and I tasted a mouthful of dirt. Jacob grabbed me and pulled me to my feet. We ran the remaining fifteen feet to the barn and slammed the doors shut. Neither one of us realized that Jacob’s phone had fell out of his pocket in the chaos.

“Do you think he saw us?” Jacob panted. I gasped for air.

“I don’t know. There’s a gun up in the hayloft. Should I grab it?” Alarm spread over Jacob’s face, but he nodded. The ladder towered over me, and I placed my foot on the first rung.

“What do we have here?” Mr. Green’s voice cut through the air, and the barn doors flew open. I jumped back, and the ladder teetered back and forth. I moved out of the way just before it crashed to the floor. Jacob moved to stand next to my shaking figure, and placed a protective arm around me. Mr. Green pointed at me. “You little rat. You brought the police right to my classroom with your little shenanigans.” I gulped. The gun was still up in the loft, and I had no quick way to get to it. “And you!” He turned to Jacob. “Who even are you, and what are you doing here? Helping her, I imagine?” Jacob just stared at him. “Well guess what? You caught me! A fat lot of good that’ll do you from in here.” He picked up the lockbox from in the grass. Anger consumed me, and I opened my mouth to speak, but the words died on my lips. “You can stay in here until I figure out what to do with you!” With that, he slammed the doors shut, and the click of the lockbox indicated that we were trapped inside the barn. Jacob felt around his empty pockets, and we both realized that his phone wasn’t there to save us. I stepped forward to check the door, but Jacob put his arm out to push me back.

“Wait until we’re sure he’s gone.” He walked up to the doors and pressed his ears against them. He listened carefully for a few minutes, then motioned me forward. We pulled on the doors, but they wouldn’t budge. Exasperated, I leaned against the wall in defeat, but the gears in Jacob’s brain wouldn’t stop turning. “Here, help me with the ladder. You need to grab that gun.” Together, we pulled the heavy structure up off of the floor and positioned it below the hayloft. Jacob steadied the ladder while I climbed. “Leave the letter,” he told me. “The police can find that later. Mr. Gray might not find it up there.” I didn’t even bother to correct him. I felt the cold metal between my fingers, and shuddered. “Point it away from you,” Jacob called up to me. I descended the ladder slowly, afraid that one sudden movement would cause me to accidentally pull the trigger.

“Shouldn’t we just hide in the hayloft?” I asked, as Jacob helped me to the ground.

“No. We need to stay down here. If we stay in the hayloft, we’ll be trapped up there the second he comes in here. Staying on the ground gives us a little freedom to move around. Besides, maybe we can find a way out down here.” It felt good to turn the reins over to someone besides myself for the moment. I nodded, and we rounded the sides of the barn, kicking at the wood and trying to pry the pieces apart. All of them remained firmly in place, no matter how hard we tried. Sweat dripped down our faces. Jacob wiped the side of my cheek with the back of his hand. I realized that what was on my face wasn’t sweat, but tears. “Hey, everything is going to be fine,” he told me, steering me onto the rug. “We are going to get out of here.” We sat down together on the fabric, but something didn’t quite feel right. Jacob and I exchanged puzzled looks. The floor underneath us didn’t feel like solid concrete. We stood and got off of the rug. I helped Jacob pull it aside, my heart racing. A door sat before us, locked from the outside. It was made of strong wood, but the gold lock was easy to pull open. We peered inside and saw a small set of stairs.

“After you,” I gulped. Jacob looked back uneasily at the barn doors then stepped onto the stairs. I followed him, and he reached up to shut the door behind us. I pulled his hand back.

“No. If you shut it, it will lock behind us. Leave it open.” He frowned.

“Then he will know that we went down here.” I waved the gun in my hand.

“Let him. He’s got a storm waiting for him.” My sudden confidence even surprised me, because the prospect of actually shooting a person absolutely terrified me. I peered through the dim air. There was a large amount of light at the bottom of the stairs, almost like there was an entire room underground. We neared the bottom step, and the room stood before us. There was a pile of board games sitting on a small coffee table. A door in the corner stood ajar to reveal a small bathroom. A couch was parked against the wall, and Jacob and I both jumped when we noticed a figure laying on the cushions.

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