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Chapter 19

“Steve, we’ve got a single point coming out of the cloud. Track it,” she shouted. She was unable to contain her excitement.

“Elyse, this report is moving way too fast to be the girl,” the one named Steve replied. “It stopped,” he then said.

“In the bushes over there,” he said, pointing.

Lilly released the bird, not knowing if they would lose the pointer or not. Switching to another one, the three people in the van looked really confused.

“Elyse, that’s not possible,” the third person stated.

“What?” she asked, but she was looking at the screen, as well.

“The point just jumped over there,” he said, pointing directly at the bird Lilly was watching them through. Again, she released the bird. This time, she didn’t go into another one, worried that they might actually figure out what was really happening.

Then she got another idea, but wasn’t sure if she could pull this off. She reached out to two different birds at once. Her head suddenly exploded in pain, and she screamed as she blacked out. When she came to, the three people from the van were all standing over her.

“Are you alright?” the one named Elyse asked.

Her head was throbbing, but she thought she was okay. Although her mind was barely able to work, she did notice that the one she still didn’t have a name for was holding one of their tracking devices.

“I think so,” she said, somewhat shaky. She started trying to rise, but the woman gently held her down.

“Sit still a little longer,” the woman urged her.

“I need to go home,” Lilly said.

“Where’s home?” Elyse asked.

“I don’t know,” Lilly replied, fully aware that they wouldn’t let her go, being a confused child, after an apparent seizure, or something.

“Steve, call 9-1-1,” she said, confirming Lilly’s thought.

“No! It’s just a migraine. It’ll go away in a little while,” she lied. Of course, she had no idea how migraines worked, but that was all she could come up with.

The woman’s brow creased at that, but she didn’t say anything. The still unnamed man leaned toward Elyse, nudged her slightly, and held the tracker for her to look at. After staring at it a moment, she then moved his hand a little, waving it back and forth. She then looked back at Lilly. The concern was still there, but there was now curiosity, as well.

“What’s your name?” Elyse asked.

“Stacy,” Lilly replied.

“Do you have migraines often?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” Lilly replied. She was getting worried. Moving too much wasn’t an option, and she was pretty sure this woman was now suspicious, thanks to their stupid tracking device.

“Do you live near here?” Elyse asked.

“Not far,” Lilly said.

“What grade are you in?” Elyse then asked.

“Ninth,” Lilly replied, automatically.

“Do you like school, Priscilla?” she asked.

“Yes,” she said, then realized what the woman had said. “Who’s Priscilla?” she asked, hoping she was able to cover herself.

“You are,” Elyse stated. “The monitor is finally pinging solidly on you, not to mention we brought up your picture for confirmation. What I’d really like to know is how you managed to obscure your signal the way you have,” she said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lilly said.

“Don’t you?” Elyse replied. “Listen, we’re not bad guys, like in TV shows, or movies. We only want to see how you do what you do. There won’t be any surgeries while you’re awake, or anything like that, and no experiments on you,” Elyse said.

“I don’t believe you,” Lilly replied, definitely scared, now that they were certain who she was.

“Why would we do things like that? Even if we were evil scientists, you have an ability we want to understand. If we did something that harmed you, we’d lose the ability to figure out how you’re able to do what you do. Since you’re probably reading my mind, you know that I’m telling the truth,” Elyse told her.

“You’re all crazy,” Lilly said, then screamed, “I can’t read minds!” Her scream was a bad idea, her head making sure she understood that.

“This device says otherwise,” Elyse said, when Lilly lifter her head out of her hands.

“Your device doesn’t know shit!” Lilly exclaimed, but a little more quietly. All three of them were a little stunned by her reply, probably the language, but she didn’t care. After a long pause, she mumbled, “I can’t read minds,” tears leaking from her eyes. Besides being in a great deal of pain, she was frustrated, and now, worried. She was tired, physically and emotionally. Through her own stupidity, she’d been captured by a group of nerds. At least it could’ve been the goon squad, rather than a bunch of scientists. Of course, scientists were smarter. Maybe they were the better people to be caught by, after all. Still, she couldn’t read minds.

“Priscilla, why don’t you trust us? Put what you’ve seen in movies aside, and think about it,” Elyse said, hoping to make the girl see there was no real reason for her fear.

“Let’s see,” Lilly began, the sass in her tone, almost overwhelming, “Your goons tried to kidnap me from the hospital, they’ve shot me twice with tranquilizer darts, they’ve chased me all over the place, and convinced everyone that knows me that I’m some kind of dangerous criminal that needs to be locked away,” she said, and looked at Elyse with anger blossoming in her gaze. Then, “I have no idea why I don’t trust you,” she said.

“Priscilla, we’re going to help you up, and you’re going to come with us, alright?” Elyse said.

“Whatever,” Lilly replied, knowing she’d do no such thing, at least not willingly.

The guy that wasn’t Steve helped Lilly up, but clearly wasn’t used to dealing with prisoners, and didn’t hold her. As soon as she was on her feet, she bolted.

“We’re not going to hurt you!” Elyse yelled after her.

“Elyse, whatever she does to hide herself, she’s not doing it yet. I think whatever happened to cause that seizure, or whatever it was, still has her messed up, if she’s even in control of the mask,” Steve said.

“Let’s go after her,” Elyse commanded.

“That’s not our job,” Steve replied.

“We’re part of the team, and that girl is everybody’s job,” she rebutted. He looked at her a moment, then nodded his head slightly, in agreement.

They traipsed into the woods, a group of technicians doing something they were ill equipped for. The park they entered was rather large, and was mostly wooded, though there were a number of walking paths through it. However, they were following a very clear, and easy to trace signal.

“I have a group of weaker signals coming up on us,” Steve said, watching the monitor, and letting the others be his guide.

“What?” Elyse asked.

“There are four weaker signals. We should be on top of them shortly,” he said.

A moment later, they found themselves standing absolutely still, staring at four rattlesnakes, all coiled with their tails giving that infamous warning signal. Slowly, the three technicians backed up. Making their way around the snakes wasn’t very hard, but it did delay them.

“Damn!” Steve exclaimed a short while later.

“What?” Elyse asked.

“Her masking is back,” he said.

Elyse stood beside him and looked at the monitor. After a moment, she took it from him and began turning around slowly with it, watching it very closely as she did.

“I’ll be damned!” she exclaimed.

“What?” the one that wasn’t Steve asked.

“It’s the birds,” she replied, confusing the two men.

Seeing their confusion, she said, “The birds are somehow masking her signal. Every once in awhile, a weak contact will appear then go away. As I was turning, I saw that whenever one of the birds in the trees would take off, it’d generate a weak point,” she explained.

“How’s that possible?” Steve asked.

“I’m not sure, but those snakes did, as well,” she said, looking at the trees with a mixture of curiosity, confusion and a good deal of wonder, or maybe awe. She didn’t know for sure, but there was an odd thought, and some bit of doubt, forming in the back of her mind. She needed more information before she could begin making any semblance of confirmation, though.

When they returned to the lab, she reported to her supervisor.

“Jeff,” she said, getting his attention.

“What’d you find?” he asked, looking up from one of the dissected monitors.

“The monitors are working perfectly,” she began.

“Then what’s the explanation for the blob?” he asked.

“Well, it’s the damnedest thing. I believe it’s a large number of birds that are perching in the trees and constantly flying around,” she told him. He looked at her, but didn’t say anything.

“I’m going to do some more research on the monitors, and see why they’re picking up the birds like they are, but I’m almost certain the birds are the source of the mask,” she said.

“Alright, let me know what you find, or if you need any help,” he said.

“Can I get unrestricted access to a van? I think this needs more field research, and getting live data is usually the best choice, more often than not,” she said.

“That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll assign one to you,” he replied, and after staring at the puzzle on his table, looked back at her, with a small amount of longing. “Will you need assistants?” he asked.

“Maybe, maybe not,” she replied.

“I’ll leave Steve and Jake at your disposal, should you need them,” he told her, but it was obvious he wished he could join her effort.

“Thanks,” she replied, with a small smile.

“I’m not sure where you’re headed, but I’ve got a hunch you might crack this,” he said, returning the smile.

As she had done so many times in the past week, she found herself waking up in the woods again. Time was becoming somewhat vague to her. She wasn’t absolutely sure where to go, but this time, she at least had a task on her mind. They’d recognized her way too easy, and that wasn’t acceptable for her.

Eventually getting into the Northlake Mall area, she made her way into one of the many shopping centers that surrounded the mall. Although she was heading to a hair salon, her attention was captured by something that intrigued her. After pausing and staring for a bit, she pulled out her iPod and took a couple quick pictures of a girl that had an interesting look, something that appealed to her. Satisfied, she walked into the salon, ignoring the looks the group of kids shot at her.

“How can I help you?” a woman asked, when she walked in. The woman was appraising her, and it wasn’t in a positive manner.

“I want to make myself look different with something I can manage myself. I was thinking of going to a different color, too,” she said.

“What do you have in mind?” the woman asked.

“This,” Lilly said, showing her the pictures.

“Pastel goth. It’s so cool. Not me, but cool,” the woman said. She was likely in her early twenties, although Lilly wasn’t sure. She’d never been very good at judging age. She was definitely very stylish, though, which would make sense for a hair stylist.

“Do you have the money for this? It’s not cheap, and I’m one of the more expensive stylists here,” the woman said. Lilly showed her the bank card, and the woman smiled. This time, the appraisal she made was more professional.

“Your eyes are beautiful. Where’d you get those contacts?” she asked, and Lilly shook her head.

“They’re my real eyes,” Lilly told her.

“Wow, that’s gotta be rare,” she said, and looked like she was in deep thought, as she circled Lilly. “With the color of your eyes, I think I know what to do,” the woman said, with an almost childish smile.

“Before I tell you what I’ve got, though, are you wanting to cut it short, stay long, somewhere in the middle, or do you have a preference?” she asked.

“I’d like to keep it long, if I can, but I don’t really know. I want to look like a different person, like the pictures, or something. I don’t want anyone to be able to recognize me,” Lilly said, smiling like she thought the rich girls did. “When we’re done with my hair, I’ll go to the mall and get new makeup and new clothes,” Lilly said.

“Alright, here’s what I’ve got in mind for you, and it’ll be super easy for you to manage,” she began, and started telling Lilly what she had in mind.

“Okay,” Lilly agreed, as soon as the plan was laid out.

“Let’s get it on, then,” the woman said, with a bounce to her step. Lilly was with the woman for almost three hours, while she worked on her hair. She seemed to put extra effort into what she was doing, as if Lilly’s hair was a work of art in progress.

When she was finally done, the woman looked at her for a while, appraising her work. “One detail left, and I just happen to have the right thing for it. A girl left it a week ago and hasn’t come back for it, so now it’s got a new owner,” she said, and pulled a black headband with ears on it, out of a drawer. Sticking that in Lilly’s hair, playing with it only a moment, then smoothing the hair, she smiled.

She then took Lilly to a large stand up mirror, giving her a hand mirror. Lilly looked at herself, then held the mirror up and looked at the back. Her bangs were a bit shorter, but the rest was still the same length, if a little more wavy, almost messy looking, but rather than the uneven length, it was now nicely shaped. Her hair was a purplish grey color, very silky and lustrous. It was tied into two very low ponytails, and there were two black cat ears sticking up out of her hair. With the faint hint of purple in her hair, her eyes seemed to pop, and the black of the ears complimented her still black eyebrows. The effect was incredible.

“It’s beautiful,” Lilly said, on the verge of tears. The woman hugged her, “Of course it is. You’re beautiful. This only highlights what’s already in you.”

“You can tie it up in a bun, if you want, but if you do, tie a nice ribbon in it. That’s the style you’re shooting for, or maybe some kind of purple flower. The kids are doing that now, and you can do that whether in a bun, ponytail, braids, or just loose. The key is to be original, but make it cool and cute,” she said.

“What about my eyebrows? Shouldn’t they be dyed too?” Lilly asked. Although she thought the ears worked well with them still being black, she wasn’t sure.

“God no! The style is for them to stick out more, not blend in. Make your accessories match them, which means a lot of black, such as the ears I gave you,” the woman told her.

“Okay,” Lilly said, already thinking that, but glad to have confirmation.

“I see you’re not already wearing any makeup, and goth chicks definitely wear makeup. Are you good with makeup?” she asked, after appraising Lilly again. Lilly shook her head.

“I’ve got a friend over at Belk’ the mall,” she said, handing Lilly a card, “Tell her Alexandria sent you, and she’ll take care of you. She’s into goth, and will know exactly what to do. I’ll call her, too, just to make sure. Wish I could go with you. You really are one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever gotten to work with, and you let me work my art on you without restriction,” she exclaimed.

“I need to pay, I guess,” Lilly said, still in a bit of a daze at how pretty she was.

“That’ll be $350,” the woman said. Lilly was stunned, and handed her the bank card almost shaking.

“Could I get a picture, so I can add you to my portfolio?” the woman asked, once that was done.

“I guess,” Lilly replied, a little unsure about allowing a picture of herself. However, the woman really had done a great job, so she guessed she deserved the picture, and probably couldn’t connect her to it.

“God, you’re beautiful,” the woman said, one last time, in a wistful tone.

By the time Lilly made her way into Belk’s, she was feeling very confident, recovered from the shock over the cost of her hair transformation. She really liked what the stylist had done, and it was affecting her morale.

“Come with me,” a woman said, as soon as she walked through the door. The sudden and personal attention was unusual, and unnerving, for Lilly. Most people avoided her.

Lilly spent another two hours with this woman, learning how to properly do her makeup, and also getting the right clothes and accessories. The woman seemed to take Lilly under her wing, kind of like the hairstylist had, and was enthusiastic in teaching her how to be a goth chick.

Once Lilly was done paying for everything, again struggling with how much money she was spending, she transferred all of her worldly belongings into her new backpack, having the woman throw the old one in a trash can. It was almost worn out, anyway.

The gun almost caused her trouble, but she convinced the woman it was only a toy, even showing her the magazine. Thankfully, the woman believed they were just toys when she saw the feathers at the back of the darts.

Her new backpack was a Hello Batty pack, the colors matching everything else, perfectly. It was a little smaller than her previous pack, but managed to hold all of her stuff.

Lilly walked into the mall wearing a plaid skirt, having the same colors as the backpack, along with a top to match and accessories. It worked so well, Lilly struggled to hold back her tears of joy, knowing that for once in her life, she looked good, really good. Finding her way to the food court, she sat down for dinner, her Chick-Fil-A sandwich and sweet tea a welcomed treat, adding on to her elation.

Now that she was done with the first part of her idea, she had to figure out the next step. This was where things got more difficult, and possibly more dangerous. Definitely not as much fun, not that much of the entire ordeal had really been a lot of fun.

She let her mind drift out, and was happy to find the mass of birds still there. Although she needed them, they weren’t what she wanted. It didn’t take long for her to find the perfect bird. She entered the small bird’s mind, and senses, gently exerting her control. Using the bird’s much sharper vision, it didn’t take long to find one of the goon mobiles, as she was beginning to think of them.

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