“Are you sure you’re ready to do this?” Mr. Rafferty asked.
“No,” she said, looking even smaller than her actual stature. “I’m scared,” she said.
“I know you are, but you’re brave. You’ve proven that many times, already,” he said.
“I’m not brave. I’ve just done what I had to do when I had to do it,” she replied.
“More often than not, that’s all bravery is. You do what has to be done, rather than curling into a frightened little ball,” he said.
“That’s not a bad idea,” she said, with a shaky smile.
“You’ll be fine,” he replied, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder, and squeezing slightly. “And we’ll be nearby, I promise,” he said.
She looked at him, knowing he was just patronizing her. He’d already told her this plan might not work. Part of the plan involved her having the CIA goons come to get her, once the TV people were there. If it didn’t work, they’d have her. There was nothing Mr. Rafferty and Stu could do to help her, once this started.
The day before, they’d sent thumb drives, with her name on every envelope, to almost every TV and radio station, along with the few papers in the area. What the Rafferty’s didn’t know was that she’d also sent a copy of the files to the British embassy, along with a letter telling them about this little get together. All of the packages had been sent by courier, costing a small fortune, not that money really mattered to her anymore, or ever had, really.
When they got to the mall, she got out and walked into the nearby woods. This was supposed to be a dramatic entrance, one the TVs would play over and over. At least, that was the idea.
Sitting in the trees, watching as eventually the TV vans started rolling in, was hard for her. She wanted to be doing something. For too long, she’d been on the run, and had grown accustomed to almost constant activity, of some kind. Of course, this entire ordeal had only been going on for a few weeks. It just seemed like forever, to her.
Once there were a decent number of TV vans in place, she had no idea what the right number was, she removed her bird cloak. At that point, she wanted the goons to come for her.
The first van to arrive, though, was the technicians. Before it came to a complete stop a woman jumped out, heading straight for Lilly, tracking device in hand.
“Don’t come any closer,” Lilly called out, several water moccasins sitting as sentinels around her.
“Priscilla, I know what you can do. I know you’re ability is with animals,” the woman said.
“So?” Lilly replied.
Elyse was surprised, and actually impressed with that reply. That revealed that the girl wasn’t too surprised by the fact that they’d figured out her secret. Or maybe, she actually expected them to at some point, but was just taking advantage of the fact that they hadn’t for as long as it lasted. That last actually seemed more likely to Elyse.
“Listen,” Elyse started, but was cut off.
“No, you listen,” Lilly said, talking over Elyse. “I’m tired of being chased. I’m tired of being bullied, and I’m tired of everyone thinking they can control me. I’m not yours to control,” Lilly yelled. Elyse knew she was not going to make any progress with her, but she also didn’t like the alternative. She knew what the goons were going to do, given free reign, which they would be.
“Priscilla, if you come with me, I’ll make sure you’re taken care of. If the CIA..goons get you...I can’t make any promises,” Elyse said.
“You can’t make any promises if you take me,” Lilly replied, and the intensity in her stare was something Elyse had only ever read about. It was the kind of gaze that invoked fear in enemies, or incredible respect and adulation in followers. In that moment, Elyse knew, this girl would not be persuaded.
“Why are you waiting in the trees? Why not leave while you can?” Elyse asked, and Lilly smiled. As with the penetrating stare she’d just seen, the smile was the thing of nightmares. Elyse had no idea what Priscilla was up to, but she knew the girl had something planned.
“Priscilla, please,” Elyse begged, one last time.
“You seem like a nice person,” Lilly began, her gaze softening ever so slightly, showing something in the girl Elyse hadn’t really seen before, “you should leave, before there’s trouble.”
“If you care about anything, please,” Elyse begged.
“You know, it’s kind of hard to show you care, when you don’t,” Lilly said, her gaze hardening again. At that moment, the wind picked up just a little, lifting Lilly’s hair behind her head enough to make Elyse shiver.
“I’ll try and give you a chance to escape,” Elyse said.
“I’m not going to escape,” Lilly said, again making Elyse freeze, as she had been turning around. That’s when Elyse thought about the other vans that had been in the parking lot, and it was a Saturday. Why hadn’t she noticed them?
“You’re going to put on a show,” Elyse realized. Lilly’s malicious smile confirmed Elyse’s theory.
“You don’t understand,” Elyse began.
“No, you don’t understand,” Lilly began, her anger rising.
“They don’t care about the media. They’ll destroy every recording before it ever hits the air, or the paper, or anything else,” Elyse said, not letting Lilly overtalk her this time.
“I’ll take my chances,” Lilly replied. “I’m tired of running,” Lilly said, and Elyse finally saw the vulnerability in the girl, who seemed to be made of steel. Elyse knew in that moment, she was scared, but she was also worn down, physically as well as emotionally. This was her last stand, her hail Mary.
“For what it’s worth, good luck,” Elyse said, then turned and walked out of the trees.
“She won’t come out until she’s ready,” she told them, as she got in.
“Why do you look like someone just dumped you?” Steve asked.
“I feel that way. I was hoping to talk her out, and maybe give her a better situation at the lab, but she’s...I don’t know. She won’t come out,” she said.
“She’s smart,” Steve said.
“What do you mean?” Elyse asked.
“Didn’t you read the study plan, or whatever that stupid document is called?” he asked, and she shook her head.
“They have a battery of tests and experiments laid out for an eventual subject, which will be her. Some aren’t that bad, but a lot of them will be pure hell,” he told her.
“She’s been right, all along, then?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s all in that document, which is in the…,” he said, his voice trailing off, as he realized his laptop was missing.
“My laptop’s gone,” he said.
Elyse started laughing, unable to restrain herself. Maybe the girl did have some tiny little hint of a chance, or at least, she might not go down meekly. Only time would tell.
In that moment, Lilly was summoning every bird she could touch, especially crows. She’d read that crows could sometimes talk, and that was something she hoped to take advantage of, if true. Otherwise, a massive amount of crows would just be cool.
Along with the birds, she had a large number of venomous snakes around her, those already tasked with guarding her and protecting her. Making that happen, although she’d done it several times in the past, was still difficult. Snakes didn’t really have anything inside them to urge them into a protection kind of mindset. Dogs, yes. Snakes, not so much.
On a whim, she summoned four deer to act as an honor guard, escorting her into the open. She was probably being a little too dramatic, but she figured, what the hell?
Looking through the eyes of a hawk, she saw the TV cameras were set up, although the news people didn’t seem to know what they were there for. Her letter to them had said there’d be a CIA operation at Northlake Mall at, or around, 10:00 in the morning. It was now 9:45, so she was running a little ahead of schedule.
At that moment, the parade of vans arrived, signalling the start of her show. She started slowly moving out of the trees. To the side, she saw the woman looking at her, very worried. She didn’t care.
The soldiers, or agents, or whatever they were called, started pouring out of the vans, all decked out in their military outfits, carrying fancy assault rifles. Unfortunately, the British people hadn’t come, and that could blow up her plan. They were her trump card, since their presence, along with the fact that she was a British citizen, would make it an international incident.
Oh well. She had things to do, and time was no longer on her side.
As she stepped out of the trees, one of the soldiers levelled his rifle at her, and fired. A bird got in the way of the dart, exploding in a shower of feathers, as the probably dead bird dropped to the ground.
That same event happened six more times, before Lilly was ready for her next move. Bringing the crows out of the trees, what looked like a cone of black formed in front of her. Not exactly sure how to do what she had in mind, she sent a thought to them all, ‘say I’.
“I,” an echoed cacophony emanated out from the black cone. The birds seemed to be in three different groups, each speaking at a slightly different moment. Although not exactly what she’d had in mind, she actually liked the effect.
“Am,” she continued.
“Tired,” another echoed word.
“Of - you - chasing - me - You - will - not - hurt - me - any - longer,” she said through the birds. The larger words were a little garbled, but mostly understandable.
“Leave - me - alone,” she said, and changed the birds into a black wall in front of her.
“I - am - from - Scot - Land - I - am - not - from - here - You - have - no - right - to - take - me - for - your - science,” she said. As she finished that sentence, crows started dropping like flies, being sprayed by a giant can of bug spray. She sent a new command out, not caring what animals it went out to, ‘protect me’.
The birds started doing their own thing, then, milling in the air, not giving the soldiers easy targets, but it did open a hole to her. As with Elyse in the trees, the wind kicked up. Lilly’s hair was lifted behind her, only enough to have it flayed out as if being blown dry.
That was the precise moment four darts stuck in her in various places, all at the same time. Recovering from the initial shock, and pain from the impacts, she pulled one out, looking at it. She knew it was too late. She was pretty sure she couldn’t survive that many of them. She’d die like her mother had, overdosed on drugs. She even chose to allow it, ironically. She knew, she was as bad as her mother.
Right there, she dropped down, tears boiling out. As much as her mother had abandoned her, she knew her mother had tried and had loved her.
“I’m sorry, Momma,” she cried. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, barely whispering it. The crows said it for her, though she hadn’t meant for them to.
“Elyse, are you seeing this?” Steve asked.
“Yeah, I’m seeing it,” she replied.
“No, look at the monitor,” he told her. Looking at the monitor, she was astounded. Aside from the blur that was normally there, in the location she was certain Priscilla was, there was a bright red dot. The energy that was coming from her was immense, yet again way beyond what the device was capable of sensing.
As she looked up, Priscilla pulled one of four darts out of her body. Elyse knew that was too much. The girl dropped down and even from the distance they were, she knew the girl was crying. She’d given up, except that the animals were still there, a massive number of them and more were still arriving.
The crows sounded then, “I’m - sorry - momma - I’m - sorry,” and she toppled the rest of the way over.
If it wasn’t for the snakes that were all around her, Elyse would almost have called it a petting zoo. Those snakes worried her, though. She knew very little about snakes, since she despised them, but she was pretty sure there were poisonous ones in that mix.
“Sir, I’m not sure, but I think the agents killed her. I saw at least four darts hit her, and she’s on the ground, not moving,” Elyse told Dr. Pascoe.
“Is anyone going to get her?” he asked.
“No one can get near her, sir,” Elyse replied.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “If she’s just lying on the ground, get her,” he commanded.
“Sir, I’m pretty sure she can’t read our minds,” she began, but was cut off.
“Have you seen the readings on her? She’s a telepath, and there’s no doubt of it,” he said.
“I agree, sir, but she can’t read our minds. She controls animals, or talks to them, and there’s throngs of them surrounding her, including what looks like thousands of snakes,” Elyse said. There was dead silence, as Dr. Pascoe let that sink in. Without saying another word, the connection was cut.
“I think he might be coming,” she said.
“Great!” Steve exclaimed.
“Oh my God!” Elyse suddenly screamed. As they all looked out, Priscilla Pimlott’s lifeless form was moving toward the trees. No one moved, they were so captivated by what they were seeing, including the CIA operatives. The copse of trees her body was taken into was roiling with wildlife, unlike anything any of them had ever seen.
“Where is she?” Dr. Pascoe screeched, as he came to the van. All three of them wordlessly pointed at the small patch of woods.
“Why do the trees look like they’re moving?” he asked.
“Birds,” Steve said, and that was all he said.
“And the ground?” the doctor asked.
“Snakes,” was Jake’s response.
“Someone had better go get that body,” Dr. Pascoe ordered.
“Sir, no one is going to touch her. If she’s dead, it’s over, if not, well, it’s still over,” Elyse told him. “Those animals are protecting her, and there’s way too many for any of us to challenge them,” she explained.
“We need her. Her brain is the key to everything,” he yelled. “We can make a battalion of telepaths,” he continued to rave.
“Pardon me, are you Dr. Pascoe?” a woman asked.
“Yes,” he replied, seeming to get ahold of himself.
“I’m with WSB TV Atlanta, and I’d like to ask you some questions, if I could,” she said.
“I’m sorry, but I have no comment. My research is top secret,” he said.
“But involuntary human testing is against international law, as well as a number of U.S. laws. Would you care to comment?” she asked, sticking a microphone in his face.
“I told you, no comment,” she said.
“It appears that soldiers under your command shot and possibly killed a child. Would you care to comment on that, doctor, or maybe the fact that you managed to gain custody of a child that isn’t a citizen of the United States, for the sole purpose of human testing?” she asked. Although she was the one asking the questions, there were a couple dozen microphones and recording devices held out. She looked more like the point person of a lynch mob than a reporter, she was so angry.
“Under threat of interdiction, all documents and recordings on this subject are under confiscation by the Central Intelligence Agency,” he said.
“Doctor, this is a live broadcast,” she informed him. Rather than reply, he turned on his heel and walked away.
“This is Pamela Dawes, reporting live from Northlake Mall,” she said, and signalled the cameraman to end the recording and then made quick progress back to their van.
As everyone had become focused on the drama playing out with Dr. Pascoe, almost no one noticed Stuart Rafferty walk into the trees, the animals making a path for him as he went. When he got to her, he gently lifted her up, still marvelling at how light she was. Carefully, he made his way out of the trees, not sure how to get away, or even where to go.
“Get in, kid,” a woman called to him. She was in a van, with painted designs all over it, but at that moment, his eyes were too clouded from his tears to see what they were.
“She’s dying. She needs to go to the hospital,” he told her.
“Step on it, Jose,” she told her cameraman, come driver.
“Besides what we just saw, we’re going to make sure her story goes public, kid,” she told Stuart, as they were speeding to the hospital. Stuart didn’t even know she had spoken to him, so concerned for Lilly as he was.
As soon as they pulled into the emergency room canopy, Pamela slid the door open and Stuart jumped out, still holding Lilly.
“Hey kid, take this. It’s what they shot her with. Might help,” the woman said, tossing one of the darts to him.
Stuart stayed in the hospital for the next week, waiting for some news. Lilly had been put in the pediatric ICU, but for Stuart, that was good. It meant she wasn’t dead. Unfortunately, she wasn’t waking up, either. The doctors had told him that they’d put her on machines to keep her alive until the effects of the drug wore off, but they didn’t know why she still wasn’t waking up.
Finally, on the eighth day, he asked, “Can I see her?”
“Sure,” the doctor said, the same one that had been updating him every day.
Following the doctor almost seemed like how he’d imagine it’d be walking to the electric chair. He was afraid of what he’d see.
Lying on the bed, in the small glass enclosed room was the girl of his dreams. Since the moment he’d first seen her, and did that crazy approach he’d never have dreamed of doing before that, she’d encompassed every waking thought. He knew he was probably bordering on obsession, but he couldn’t get her out of his mind.
He pulled a chair up, and clasped her hand. It was clammy, and cold, but there was heat in it. The machines attached to her were all beeping to a steady rhythm, and there were even things stuck to her head, in various places.
“We’re constantly monitoring her brain waves,” the doctor said, seeing where Stuart was looking.
“Why?” he asked.
“Because, her brain waves are concerning us. They aren’t normal, and seem a little weak. We’re worried that she’s given up,” the doctor explained.