Gone Before Dawn

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Day Six

Moira was napping on the other double bed. Korah turned on the TV. Brian and Sam went to get pizza from town.

“What makes this really strange is that Delta Risotto’s parents and another parent were seen leaving with a woman. The FBI is not saying anything but we can only guess. That this mystery woman may know the location of the missing high schoolers from Glenwild High School. We are still trying to figure out who the mystery woman is and why three of the parents are with her,” the Asian American correspondent said with pale pink lipstick. Brian and Sam came back with the pizza.

“Brian, we have a problem,” Korah said.

“Everyone thinks we are with the woman who took the kids,” Korah said.

“Did you talk with Agent whatever his name is?” Brian asked.

“Not since we dropped Jeff at the portal. We’ve been busy and all. I know he hasn’t called me,” Korah said.

“So what’s the plan?” What does Moira think?” Sam asked.

“She’s still sleeping or maybe she is talking to Delta. I don’t want to disturb her,” Korah said.

Brian sat on the other bed, “Is she still alive? She looks she is barely breathing.”

Korah went over and saw her frail chest move up and down. She shook her awake. Moira’s eyes opened but were red and bloodshot, “is it time to go out on the boat?”

“We have a problem,” Korah said.

“I need a drink, and I will be right with you,” Moira said and closed her eyes. Brian woke up Moira and gave her a large cup of coffee.

“Moira, there are those in media who think you are the one took the kids.”

Korah’s cell phone rang.

“This is Agent McGowan, Why is it that you, Brian and Sam left with a woman who knows where the kids are?”

“It’s not like that, you have it all wrong,” Korah said. She looked at Brian and he sat next to her. She put the agent on speaker phone.

“Who is this woman and why did you leave with her?” The agent demanded.

Korah mouthed the words what should I say to Brian and he shook his head. Moira sipped her coffee but still looked dazed.

“Agent, can we meet? This is a conversation not for the phone,” Korah said.

“If you want your kids to be returned then you let me the guy with the badge do the work. This is stupid and reckless,” he snarled into the phone.

“Cape Charles Virginia, there is a small diner at the Bayside Motel. We will meet you there. When will be here?” Korah asked evenly and sternly.

“In a couple of hours.”

She hung up the phone.

“What are we going to do, Bri?” Korah asked. Sam opened the pizza and passed out plates with slices on it. Then he sat in the cheap motel chair and started crying.

“Sam, what’s wrong?” Korah asked but she knew. It was Amy. It was the time the four of them went to Virginia Beach for the weekend. They were in a room like this and Brian and Sam got pizza and beer.

“I miss her too, Sam,” Korah said.

He wiped his eyes, “this place just reminds so much of the dump in Virginia Beach.”

Brian smiled, “I did have a coupon for that place. It was in one those brochures I got from the rest stop.”

“Well they should have paid us money to stay there,” Korah said.

“It was cheap,” Brian protested.

Moira stood at them just watching.

“Can I ask you guys something personal?” Moira said. “It seems like you all you were friends at one point, what happened?”

“I would like to say it’s complicated,” Brian started, “but it’s not. I was married to the best woman, and then I cheated on her with the company. She wanted to be either married to me or she was done. Well she left. Once the company took off, I really lost any friends I ever had including Sam and Amy. Story as old as time.”

“But here you are together almost all together once again, maybe there is something more to all of this,” Moira said.

“No Moira, you had a hard time convincing me about this whole other world thing. I think I put enough faith in things I can’t understand for a millennium,” Brian said.

“You still love her, I can see it in your eyes, when you look at her,” Moira said.

“Moira, focus here. What are we going to do about Agent McGowan?” Brian said evading her question.

“We tell him the truth because there is nothing else to say. I know from Belinda these agents and police types will follow that Achem’s razor, you know the simplest explanation makes sense even if it is ridiculous,” Moira said and nibbled at her pizza picking off the meat.

“Are you sure this what you want to do?”

“Yes, I am sure. It what has to be done. You know the only reason they are spending so much time with this is because they are a bunch of kids, Vince killed his parents and one of the missing kids is Delta Risotto, daughter of Brian Risotto.”

“I know, but it’s not like the FBI can help us anyway,” Brian said.

“No, they can’t physically get Delta and the others back, but you never sometimes these badge fellows may try to help in some way. It’s time to put your faith in Jeff, Brian because he needs to bring them all back.”

They went to down the diner attached to the motel and waited for Agent McGowan. As promised he arrived alone. He sat with them at the table.

“My name is Moira Ponds, and I do know the kids and right now. We have a rescue mission already in progress,” Moira said.

“Well la dee da so you want to fill me in since I am the lead agent on this case?”

“You may have heard my aunt; her name was Belinda Starsbau. She was a psychic that helped find many missing people.” Moira waited and he didn’t answer her. “Anyway, I am connected to Delta. The morning she left she was wearing jeans and a Jolly Rodger’s tee shirt. I know that was not in the news because no one knew except for Amy and Sherry Thompkins.”

“Keep going, you could have made a lucky guess after all, she was going to the amusement park. A lot of people where a tee-shirt that says the name of the place they are going to.”

“Do you remember the press conference when one of the reporters asked about all the other missing people on that stretch of road?” Moira said.

“Look lady, you have two minutes to tell me what is going on or I will arrest you for obstruction of justice without blinking,” the agent said.

“Delta and the others went through a portal. They are in another dimension, if you will. We found this guy; his name is Jeff Bishop. He wrote a book. He was from over there and he found a way back that’s he got here in the first place. We sent him through the same portal they went through and he is going to lead them back to us. They should be coming through on a small island in the bay.” Moira said quickly. Then she sipped her water.

“You all believe this garbage?” The agent asked. The others shook their heads in agreement.

Brain pulled out his cell phone and showed him the video. The agent looked over it and sat there and stared. He didn’t know what to say.

“Do you believe us now?”

“Why don’t we just go in there with military reinforcements and lead them to the portal,” the agent said after some time.

“I don’t know, could you do that?” Brian asked.

“From what Jeff said these people are dangerous. They call themselves the Puritans and if they get a hold of the kids they will die,” Moira said.

“Even more reason why you should have said something to me and not just try doing everything yourself,” the agent said.

“So is that what you are going to do, send some special ops in there and go exploring?” Sam asked.

“I guess I can try. My brother is not special ops but he is high up in the military. I can make some calls,” the agent said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Is he serious or is just messing with us and then he’s going to arrest Moira?” Korah said.

“If he arrests me, that’s okay by me just make sure you are there when the kids come through,” Moira said. “My aunt was arrested a bunch times mostly by those cops looking to a make name for themselves but when the person is found just where my aunt said they would be then she would be released and the cop will be embarrassed,” Moira said.

“I guess we will wait and see,” Sam said.

“One of you needs to be the dumb one,” Moira said suddenly. “Just in case the agent is a dick. Someone has to say he was coerced then he won’t get arrested.”

“I’ll do it. It is my van we are driving in,” Sam said. “I don’t like lying but I guess we got to do what we got to do.”

“Yeah that works out, I have the boat rented for the whole week. So it will be there,” Brian said.

The agent came back, “let’s say I believe you and my brother said he could get a team and a humvee, can you get us back to the right spot of this portal?”

“Yes, we can but it won’t be open until 6:30 a.m. tomorrow morning,” Brian said.

“Okay, well I need one of you to come with me. I guess we are going to do this, but it has to be quiet all the way. I mean my brother said this will be top secret. The president knows about the situation,” the agent said.

“Why?” Brian asked. And Moira knew why, he was going to lose his chance of studying the portal.

“Because it’s national security, Mr. Risotto, who is coming with me to Maryland?” The agent asked.

“Wait before you go, tell me where you will meet them. Then tell your brother the same place I can tell Delta and they can be there,” Moira said. “Over there is like over here. They were staying at Lulu’s they just left and heading to Cape Charles.”

The agent looked at a map on his phone, “there is a town called St George, they should meet there. I will tell my brother. If over there is like over here than there is a church, a big white one. I will tell the team to meet there.”

Sam volunteered to go with the agent, leaving Moira, Brian and Korah behind.

“What now?” Korah asked.

“I’m going to go back to our room and try to get a hold of Delta. She needs to know they are coming so Jeff can take them to St George,” Moira said.

***

Delta didn’t sleep. If she did, it was off and on. She liked being in the woods and often slept on the beach on those no technology vacations with her dad but that was different. The ocean was calming and peaceful. Here it was every rustle in the trees and it would be some animal that quickly would dart off. It was dark now, Trisch had a fire going and Talia was smoking a cigarette. Delta wondered what it would be like to smoke. Mercy, the new girl, slept peacefully in the fetal position. The others were stirring. Shane still slept. She spied Jeff with his flashlight at the stream. She went over to him and filled her bottle.

“You sleep okay?” Jeff asked.

“No, how can anyone sleep here?” she asked.

“Well you get used to it. This was my life for many years then when I went to Richmond, I was up every night because of the traffic. Now my new home is much more comforting; I love the sounds of the road.”

“You will get back there,” Delta said.

“So will you, so let me ask you, will you kill somebody to get back there?”

“No question, I would. Why did the other Delta Risotto kill someone?”

“Not from what I know which isn’t a lot. We were always taught that she was evil. Their words not mine,” Jeff said.

“I don’t want to be like her,” Delta said “I don’t want to solve problems with technology.”

“Why not?” Jeff said.

“I don’t know because this is what will happen some hick wasteland where progress is washed down the toilet,” Delta said.

“I don’t know you, Delta but it seems like this is all in your blood. Maybe it is something that cannot bet helped. Even if you try to change what you know of this world does not mean this it what will happen in our world.” Jeff said.

“That is not very promising, you know that right?”

“The future is not written for anyone. I have tried to learn about the history of your world and the history of mine and find the butterfly wings but I can’t,” Jeff said.

“Butterfly wings?” Delta asked.

“You know that theory the flapping of the butterfly wings affects cattle in Nepal or something like that? It’s called the butterfly effect.”

“I suppose it is not far fetched as portals and alternate time lines. It could be something so obscure like a woman not having an abortion,” Delta said.

“That is very true and how am I supposed to pin point the exact event when moments are different. It could have been set in motion thousands of years ago. No one knows,” Jeff said.

Just then Delta reeled in pain. She held her head.

“Hi Delta, it’s me Moira.”

“Hello Moira,”

“Can you talk?”

“We are not leaving yet, we will be soon,” Delta said.

“I have some good news for you. There is a rescue team, military, coming to you. They are leaving when the portal opens again. You are supposed to meet them at a white church in St George’s, Virginia. They are supposed to be bringing some kind vehicle. They are going to help you come back.”

“Will it be safe?”

“I hope so but there are no guarantees right? I will tell you when they cross over. Is everything okay?” Moira said.

“Yes, as well as it can be. We have not run into Vince or Jude. We are from the road in some woods next to a stream.”

“Delta, be” Moira started and then she was gone.

“Delta are you okay?” Jeff asked and poured water on her face. She spit it out some and opened her eyes.

“I’m fine,” she said and sat up. “It was Moira.”

“Well it looked like you were having a seizure,” Jeff said and helped her up. “What did she say?”

“There is military group coming, a small one. They are coming for our assistance to get us to the other portal. We are supposed to meet them at some church in St George’s. They are coming when the portal opens again. Do you know where that is?”

“Why didn’t they get that damn military escort before hand then I could be at home,” Jeff said.

“Well you are still the only one who knows where to go,” Delta said.

“And you Delta Risotto must be some kind of special, if a military escort is coming for you.”

Jeff and Delta came back to the fire. Everyone including Mercy was awake and sitting by the fire.

“Okay guys, we have a slight change of plans, Delta said that there is a military escort coming to meet with us and escort us to the portal. We are supposed to meet them at the white church at Saint George’s which is about another day’s walk.” He pulled out a map and looked it over. “Okay so we will leave soon and we will walk through the woods. The town is pretty small.”

“There is someone there that can help,” Mercy said. “It is a woman, a widow. Her name is Samantha. Unless she is dead, she is part of the resistance. She will help us.”

Jeff pulled a battered leather journal out of his pack and flipped through the pages, “she is in my book. Christmas and I were heading to Samantha’s after the baby then onto to North Carolina. So we go to Samantha’s first and then we will come up with a plan to meet the escort. We just got to do it one step at a time. Any questions?”

“How do you know we will make it this other portal?” Talia asked.

“I don’t. I just know where it is and if this military unit really does come then we should be okay. We just keep walking and surviving, Talia because that is all we can do. So everyone fill your waters and we will move in about an hour.”

Shane wrapped his arms around Delta’s waist and kissed her on the cheek, “thank god your dad is powerful.” And for that moment she never appreciated the extent of her dad’s influence in the world of politics.

They put out the fire and turned a couple of flashlights and started through the dark woods.

***

When Carter and Jude got back to Cassandra’s house, she asked where her husband was.

He grabbed her neck and squeezed, “your husband was a traitor, part of the resistance. I know how you rabblerousers. You travel in packs. You marry only other rabblerousers so that must mean you are one as well.”

“No Carter, I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said between gasps for air.

“Sure you don’t, because Cassandra wouldn’t lie. She is a god-fearing woman, is she not?” Carter asked.

“You know I am Carter. You know I love the Puritan way.”

“You see I have a hard time believing it because of what Liam said when we found her bike at Lulu’s.”

“You found her bike at Lulu’s so they took her?” Cassandra asked.

“Liam said he hoped Mercy would make it out. Now I am wondering if Mercy ran away where would she get those outlandish ideas of a better world? Oh right, from her parents. Not one parent, but both parents.”

She tried to fight against him but he didn’t relent.

“Mr. Olsten, I might be overstepping my boundaries but let’s assume she is part of the resistance, we can use her to get information. Didn’t you say that their leader was also part of the resistance?” Jude interjected.

“What is your point, young man?” Carter said.

“We get information out of her and we can use to find that demon Delta Risotto and then you can burn all the others who part of the resistance. They must have some kind of system worked out, sort of like the underground railroad.”

He loosened his grip, “and women are so much easier to persuade for their lives because they care too much about the lives of the ones they love.”

Carter barked some orders to round up all Cassandra’s relatives. He tossed Cassandra to the floor. She hit her head and closed her eyes.

“You want to be part of us?” Carter said.

Jude nodded.

“You will prove it by removing her clothes and put on the handcuffs. You will examine her body for any strange markings,” Carter said.

Jude didn’t just take off her clothes he ripped them off and forced her arms behind her back. She came to consciousness and yelped. He slid the cuffs on her slender wrists and made them tight.

“Good women do not lie,” Jude said. He looked over her backside and then flipped her over when he saw a small sun burnt into the underside of her arm. “Mr. Olsten, she has a brand of a sun on her arm.”

Carter looked at it, “excellent work, Jude. I think you will fit in with us.”

Vince and the others returned.

“What happened, Jude?”

“Welcome home Vince. Carter will let us live among them if we do what he asks.”

“Jude, we will take her town square. You will take her and if she gets away, you will die. You keep in her line, you will do fine here.” Then he barked some more orders to search every person’s house and check their arms. If they had a branding of a sun then they were to die on the spot, no questions asked. Just point, shoot and kill. And if they didn’t have a gun, burning or cutting were permissible. Any children were to be brought to the jail.

Jude and Vince grabbed Cassandra. She fought against them but Vince took control and punched her hard in the stomach. She lost her breath and started wailing.

“Keep it up and I will break your jaw,” Vince said.

“You can’t. We need information out of her.”

“Rip this house apart,” Carter said as he led the boys back into the darkness.

They led her to the town square. She cried and wailed. People came out of their homes and watched as they led her away. When Carter saw them, he said, “this woman is a traitor. Her whole family is traitors. They want to ruin our way of life.”

When they got to the center of town, Carter grabbed her and with the help of Jude and Vince secured her arms above her head and hung her arms above her head.

“I will come back in a little bit sweet Cassandra. Me and the boys here are going to have our supper.”

“I want round the clock guards on this woman, if she gets away, I will have your heads.”

Jude and Vince followed Carter to the large house just beyond the town square which was lit up with lights.

“Electricity is for those in power or who can afford it,” Carter said and laughed.

Jude wanted to stay here. Here women were supposed to treat him with respect. Something Delta never bothered doing. Perhaps he could convince Carter that he and Jude should work for the government as scientists. He could do a lot of good here. He would be revered and honored for his intelligence and not because of a video game. He could change the world. And this world would appreciate him. Not like the world he is from where there are too many people who have brains and can change the world. He would help Carter get rid of the bitch Delta and he would be happy here. And Vince wouldn’t have to worry about going to jail. Maybe he could get married to a woman who respects him and honor hi just like he deserved. Here was a much better place than where they were from.

***

Sam and Agent McGowan met the small band of men with the humvee.

“So this interesting job you got me assigned to,” the army man in charge said.

“John, I knew you were the right man for the job,” the agent said.

“How is it you know the president so well he okays this mission?” John asked.

“I worked on an NSA case a couple of years ago. I was the lead agent. This is Sam, he is going to direct us to where the portal is. We have about an hour to get into place.”

John and the agent walked over to the humvee. There were three other men inside the vehicle. “We got ammo, and grenades. I was told to use any force that seemed fit. These people, the Puritans are dangerous?”

“So we have been told,” the agent said.

“Okay we are well armed and we have medical supplies and other supplies. Enough for all us. We also have a bunch of camera equipment hooked up that will record all our actions. How many are we picking up?” John asked.

“There are nine teens and one adult as far as we know. There are two teens from the group that are missing. Here are their pictures,” the agent said and gave them the pictures. “They separated from the group.”

“So what are we supposed to look for them?” John asked.

“If you see them pick them up. One of them is Vince Olsten. He is wanted for killing his parents. And the other is Jude Myrnachick. If you don’t the most important is to bring the others back through the portal. Jeff Bishop is leading the kids right now to a town called St George. You will rendezvous with them at the white church.”

“Anything else?” John asked.

“Make sure not to drive to fast in there,” Sam said. “When they crossed over, they hit a tree and smashed the bus.”

“Well let’s get going,” John said and tossed his brother a radio.

“Hey John, see you in Cape Charles,”

“You better, little brother. You better be there,” John said.

They started down 301 driving rather slowly.

Sam radioed the humvee, “we are stopping here. Just keep going, you will go through a white light and then you are on the other side. Remember it will be dark and in a forest when you get there. Good luck.”

Sam and the agent pulled off the side of the road and watched the humvee crawl into the night. Sam pulled out his cell phone and recorded it. The tail lights were in view. Then the light ripped apart the blackness and they were gone.

“This is the second time I saw this and I still can’t believe it,” Sam said.

“I can’t believe any of this but somehow I do.”

Sam called Moira and said the humvee crossed over. Somehow he knew, he was going to see Sherry again.

***

John McGowan and two of his men were selected for this mission directly from the president on his brother’s recommendation. He didn’t believe it when he was assigned and even though he went through a portal and here he was standing outside of the humvee in another time line, he didn’t want to believe all this to be true. He was surprised that his brother believed. They had video evidence.

“Major, so what is the plan?” ‘Cowman’ Cowher said from the driver’s side.

John swung his flashlight and saw the smoke from a recent fire. He figured it was the bus.

“How are we recording, Cowman?” John said.

“Everything is good.”

“Any satellite feed?”

“Yup, it’s ours, Major.” replied ‘Fuzzy’ Ken Fuzzola.

“What are you getting?”

“Nothing, just images right now,” Fuzzy answered.

“Cowman, drive slow and stay close to me. I don’t know how long these woods go on but there is a road. It should be a couple of miles from here.”

The lights on the humvee were low and barely illuminated the thick dark forest John crept through the woods directing the humvee as they maneuvered. Something rustled in the woods. John held up his hand and the humvee stopped. Cowman cut the motor and John heard the faint hum of the electronics. The rustling came closer. John did not speak but raised his gun. A creature large as a bear came from the woods. It was black like oil and stood larger than any black bear he ever saw. It had large claws that curled at the tips. It stood on its hind legs and sniffed the air. The bear slowly moved his head and looked at the small group of men. John looked through the scope and aimed. The bear decided to run toward John, not away. John pulled the trigger but the bear didn’t come down. John pulled again and the second shot to the head took him down.

“Holy fuck major, was that a fucking bear” Fuzzy said as he got out of the humvee.

“Some fucking bear. Let’s get the fuck out of these woods and onto that road.”

John moved forward and the humvee crept forward.

Several miles away, they found the road. John jumped back inside.

“Any force necessary. Keep an eye out for those missing boys. Vince and Jude. They were supposed to run away from the main group,” John said.

“Are we supposed to find them?”

“No, but if we see them on the road, we are supposed to grab them. The one kid is the one who killed his parents before the trip. I would be more then happy to leave him here. Anything coming from the satellite?” the Major said.

“So far we are in the clear. There are no alerts to military or otherwise of our presence,” Fuzzy said.

“Well let’s get going, We should be at the church before they get there but let’s take our time. Fuzzy, look for a route that doesn’t go through town.”

“Trying. Not much to go on. There is some broken down roads but nothing that will be easy to navigate many of the roads are overgrown just like where we came through.”

Cowman started the humvee and put on his night goggles and drove slowly and quietly on the black road.

***

The group made their way through the blackness. Even the flashlights couldn’t cut through the blackness. Every once in awhile, Jeff stopped and looked at the map.

“Are you afraid, Mercy?” Trisch asked.

“Of course, but your world has to better than this one,” she answered.

“Jeff, tell us about the girl you brought back with you, what was her name?” Delta asked.

“Her name was Sarah Marie and she was probably twelve or thirteen,” Jeff started.

***

The faint daylight came over the woods and Jeff ran for most of the way, away from Evertsville. His heart wanted to explode and his legs ached. He found a large hollowed tree and crawled inside. The last few hours became more real. As much as his eyes wanted to close, the only thing he would see was Christmas and his little baby burning at the pyre. He thought of Abe Salazar who helped him, and then he killed him. He killed him. He’s been alive on this earth for twenty years and for five of those years he wondered through the woods and he never killed someone. He didn’t want to kill anyone. He was more of a hider. He got used to being still for hours at a time. Jeff’s tears flooded his face. Maybe, he should just turn himself in or just do it himself. Christmas was gone. His baby was gone. Orville was probably killed. His parents were dead. His brother was dead. He was alone. The resistance was not worth this. Freedom was not worth this.

Somehow he slept and he awoke to a girl’s voice.

“Poppa, where are we going? I miss mommy,” she said.

“I know baby girl. I heard of a place in Cape Charles. It is safe. We can be free,” he said.

Jeff heard him strike a flint and soon smelled burning wood. He crawled out his tree. The girl ran to her father and he held her tight. Jeff raised his arms.

“I am Jeff Bishop, I would show you the mark but it is dark,” he said. “I mean you no harm.”

“You are one of us?” the man asked.

“Yes. What is in Cape Charles?” Jeff asked.

“You know how there are portals and the demons come there to here?”

“Yes.”

“Well there are portals out as well.”

“Is it safe?” Jeff asked.

“Does it matter? We are not safe here,” the man said. “I’m Gordon and this is my daughter Sarah Marie. We were living in North Carolina, in the safe haven but the Puritans raided us all. Some snakey bastard tipped them off. We ran, but my wife was killed.”

“How did you find about this portal?”

“We were traveling north and we were in Richmond, when I overheard some professors at the college talking about the portal on Cape Charles. They sent someone over and he never returned. I looked on a map and decided, anywhere has to be better than here.”

Jeff nodded, “may I come with?”

“More the merrier, I grew up on the islands. This is all new for me,” Gordon said.

“I grew up in Oklahoma but I have been calling here home for about a year. It is freedom in the woods.”

“Well than I think we should be grateful for you to join us. Please join us.”

Sarah Marie didn’t move from her father’s tight grasp but watched Jeff carefully in the dim firelight.

“So you grew up on the islands, what was that like?”

“It was amazing. We were free. My dad helped those come over but it was never easy. They had to come at night. My dad spent a lot of time hiding away from the Puritans. We had a community. It was good. I don’t understand the whole Puritan thing. We had a good thing on the islands. We took care of each other. It was like America, before the Puritans before the technology like in the 1960's or something.”

“I was bringing my wife Christmas there. She was pregnant.”

“I am sorry about your wife,” Gordon said.

“She was from the portal. There is one not far from here. I loved her so much but we were caught and the Puritans took her away and I watched her die,” Jeff said and felt the tears race down his cheeks again. He couldn’t stop thinking about Christmas and her smile, her pregnant belly. The way she crinkled her nose or how she sighed softly when she was in his arms.

They rested and when night came again. They started east toward the bay and freedom. Jeff couldn’t believe there was a way out. Everyone should know about it. Everyone who wanted to leave this place.

It took them one day to make it to the bay. Jeff never been this far east and the massive water surprised him. He saw lakes and even crossed this Mississippi but this was nothing like he ever seen before. There were smells of salt and dead fish and the gentle waves slid across the sand and then receded. It was night and the moon was out, something he was not used to seeing so much time in the woods among the dark trees.

“It is beautiful isn’t it?” Gordon whispered. They stopped at a storm cellar that was marked with a sun. It was safe.

“We’ll stay here and rest. Once we start across the bridge, there is no turning back,” Gordon said.

“The bridge?”

“We have to cross the bay bridge tunnel and once we are on the other side there is a portal somewhere around there. I supposed we just run around until we find it. According to those scientists, it was about three hundred feet from the entrance of the bridge,” Gordon said.

“I wonder if others crossed,” Jeff said, “the sun is engraved on the cellar doors.”

“No this was another way to our islands. There used to be a larger ferry that would run from the tip of Virginia down to the islands. If you could make across the bridge and to port, there was a rather larger boat that would dock at midnight. The captain lived at sea and traded passage to the islands for goods and such. I think the captain was killed a couple of years ago or he just died at sea,” Gordon said.

“I can’t believe they let him live that long,”

“Deep pockets, very deep. He paid off certain people who knows who got us ambushed. It could have been anyone,” Gordon said and retreated into the storm cellar.

“I’ll be down soon.”

“Take your time woodsy because this is an amazing thing. The sea, it can make one whole. If you wait long enough, you might actually see a star or two and if you wait until morning, you will see glimmers of sunshine.”

Jeff took off his shoes and put his toes in the grey, bay water. The salt air surrounded him. He looked toward the bay and saw a bridge jut into the bay. All his life, he never saw anything like this. The sun set as much as it ever did but he did watch it fade more than set. The faint moon was full and he could almost see a star or two. He went back in and there was a plate sitting at the wood table.

“Eat up, woodsy. We have a long walk on the bridge tomorrow,” Gordon said. Sarah Marie slept on the only bed.

“How long?”

“I looked at an old map I found and it’s about sixteen miles. I figure if we leave in a couple of hours we should make it by daylight.”

“Sixteen miles is a long way.”

“Nothing is too long for true freedom,”

Jeff ate and took a nap on the floor. Sarah Marie woke him up, “hey Mr. Jeff, dad wants to get going. He told me to wake you.” He rubbed his eyes and grabbed his pack.

“I couldn’t sleep, I guess I was too excited or anxious. Anyway I went looking for a boat or something but I couldn’t find any. I am guessing the Puritans locked them up tight. Anyway the tide is in, it might be dangerous to cross by boat since I don’t know the water. You ready to go?”

Gordon led the way with a solitary candle with Sarah Marie in the middle. Jeff was used to the dark and even though the moon was faded and the stars were almost invisible there was still more light than he saw in the thick of the woods. They started on the bridge. The water hit the cement piles hard. The earth began to shake. The trio lay on the bridge and waited for it to pass. Once it did, they started again. It was quiet. He was more tired then he ever felt in his life but for some reason, he was full of energy. He wanted to run across the bridge and just get to that portal regardless of wherever it went to.

After a couple of hours, they entered the first tunnel. Jeff heard the water overhead. The air was stale sea air. He put his hand on the tiled wall and it was cool and moist but he didn’t see any water in the tunnel.

“I think we should stop here for a bit. There is another tunnel and then we are almost there,” Gordon said. He turned on his lantern and they saw a crude sun spray painted on the tunnel wall.

“So it should be safe because we are sitting ducks right about now,” Jeff said.

“I agree, but we have to have faith.”

“I have no faith. I figure if there is a God, and he allows this shit to happen then he is no God I want to believe in.”

There was something calming about sitting under the water. Jeff wished people like him built a new Atlantis where people can free and live under the water. They didn’t rest long, and soon they started walking again. It wasn’t long before they were back into the blackness filled with sea water.

His mind was his own and he couldn’t stop thinking about Christmas at the pyre burning and screaming like a doll made of wax. He shivered and heard fish jump around. Even Sarah Marie moved deftly through the night. Once they entered the second tunnel.

“So far so good. There should be a small office in this tunnel. We will stay until darkness again,” Gordon said.

Sarah Marie found the door and pulled it open. Jeff had this horrible thought of a million gallons of water rushing in but it was a dark room. Inside were two small cots and a small table. Jeff took the cans of tuna out of his pack and opened them for each them.

“Tell me, Gordon, how did you all survive for so long on the islands?” Jeff asked.

“One part money, one part blowing up bridges and one part hurricanes,” Gordon said.

“I don’t understand.”

“Some of the people that have mega bucks had summer homes on the islands with the locals. When stuff started to get bad, they came to the island. They came together and decided the Puritans weren’t going to take away their livelihood. To make a long story short, a hurricane barreled up the coast so they blew up the bridges and once the hurricane passed. Andy McCabe was found at sea by the Puritans. He wove a tale of death and destruction on the island and how we was the only survivor. And if there were others they would be dead. They believed him and let him live, but the whole time we rebuilt our new world and we had it good until the Puritans raided us.”

“Where you were going when before you found about the portal?”

“Newfoundland. There is a passage to the arctic circle. Where the others building the true life.”

“The arctic circle? That’s big difference from North Carolina.”

“Sarah and I are used to being free. Used to being a true American. We couldn’t be Puritans. We were born free and we are going to stay that way,” Gordon said.

“And this portal? Why did you decide to go there?”

“It was closer and it had to be safer. Going all the way to Newfoundland when we never been off the islands? Come on you and I both know she and I have a slim chance of making it. Why do you want to come with us?”

“To be free. I left home at fifteen and I roamed the country looking to be free. I am free in the woods, I hide from them and follow the suns,” Jeff said.

“Can I ask something of you and it’s pretty big. Make sure Sarah Marie gets in the portal. I don’t know what will happen because it could be guarded. Please make sure she gets there. She is smart and she can take care of herself.”

“I will try,” Jeff said.

When darkness came again, Gordon opened the door and heard nothing and decided it was safe to leave again. They started on the last part of their journey to freedom. It was raining when they left the tunnel. Neon blue lightening splashed over the sky. In the weird light, Jeff looked around and almost could see the land ahead of him. They moved as the rain made the bridge slippery but the lightening stopped. Their clothes clung to their frail bodies and Jeff felt coldness reach into every cell.

Land came closer and it seemed like the rain didn’t matter anymore.

Gordon stopped, “do you see that scrap of land right by the entrance of the bridge?”

“Yes,” Jeff whispered.

“The portal is somewhere on there. We don’t have much longer.”

They all started to walk almost run in the hard rain. Jeff heard gun shots. A bullet whizzed by his ear. It was dark and he couldn’t see where there were coming from. They were so close to the edge of the bridge. Gordon scooped of Sarah Marie and ran off the bridge then he went down.

Jeff followed him. He felt the familiar stickiness of blood.

“Take her Jeff. Get her to the portal. Find it.”

Jeff grabbed Sarah Marie and she tried to hold onto her dad but he yanked harder and pulled her away. Jeff ran and ran as gun shots rang all around him. Then there was so much light. His eyes ached and he fell into warm sunshine on sand. He opened his eyes. Sarah Marie cried next to him. The smell was the same but everything was different. The sky was so blue and the sun was so bright.

***

The group stopped walking. Talia asked, “what happened to Sarah Marie?”

“The tide was in and I took and swam to the tip of Virginia. There was a visitor’s center. I didn’t know what to do with her. So while there I called 9-1-1 and told them there was an abandoned child. She didn’t seem upset to go with them. I don’t know what happened to her after that.”

“That was a dick move,” Delta said. “Her dad wanted you to take care of her.”

“I got to her to the other side. That’s all he asked.”

“Well he implied much more. He died to save you and her, you could have at least tried to take care of her,” Delta replied.

“How was I supposed to do that, Delta? In the woods? I wandered through Virginia mostly on the ocean and the police were called on me for vagrancy. I had no identity, no nothing not even a high school diploma. Once I was released, I got myself a ride with these elderly women who were traveling to Richmond. I went to one of the shelters and they helped me get my GED and into college and then I made something of myself. I was teaching at the shelter and then my book took off. Now I am back to the pit of hell to rescue a bunch of kids,” Jeff said.

“No one said you had to come,” Delta said.

“Yeah well your dad pretty much did, either I die over there or I am a hero plus I am supposed to be compensated very nicely for this trip as long as I live that is.”

“Jeff, you’ll live because it seems like you are one lucky son of a bitch.” Shane said.

“Well stop here and we’ll do one last push for St. George’s,” Jeff said and threw his pack to the ground and changing the subject. The others followed suit. Talia and Trisch, the dynamic woods homemakers gathered wood and started a small fire. Anson and Eric went in another direction to find leaves that Jeff said would be edible and almost tasty. Jeff and Mercy sat on a log.

Shane came up Delta and kissed her neck, “so you want to sneak away somewhere?”

“I want to but this is not the right time,” she whispered.

“I know where you can have some alone time,” Sherry whispered. “We walked by a patch of overgrown bushes, you guys can crawl in there and get a quickie.”

“Sherry, really?” Delta said.

Shane grabbed her hand but screams shattered the silence of the black woods. The screams were mixed with a hollow and deep roar. Trisch and Talia stopped and stared. Delta broke from Shane’s grip and went toward the sounds. Jeff and Shane followed her. Delta’s flashlight bounced as she dashed toward the screams.

“Anson, Eric!” She yelled but only heard more screams. She tripped over a tree root. The sounds were so close. Her flashlight rolled on the ground. And stopped and she saw a something in the light. Jeff and Shane came up behind her and Jeff flashed the light.

There were two large black bears. They stood almost seven feet tall. Their yellow eyes glowed in the flash light. One bear had Anson and the other had Eric. There is a smaller bear which may have been a cub, high up in a tree watching the elder bears. The boys writhed in the bears’ large paws. Jeff grabbed Delta and yanked her backward.

“We have to go now.”

“We can’t leave them,” Delta whimpered.

Anson shrieked and the bear ripped off his head and tossed it over toward Delta. She let out a gasp and scurried backward. The other bear took Eric and slammed him against the tree.

“We must go, it won’t take long for them to eat and they will be after us,” Jeff said and pulled her to her feet. They ran back to camp.

“Come on go now!” Jeff yelled.

“The fire?” Talia said.

“Run.”

They scattered into the woods continuing in the direction they were going. Flashlight beams barely cut through the dark woods. Delta’s legs and heart found new strength as she tried to catch up with the others. She was never really athletic, even Sherry could run faster. Talia and Trisch were in front but Delta was fading fast. The water was to her left. The bears roared into the night. Twigs and branches snapped behind her. What if they could swim? Bears could swim, but it was dark and maybe they wouldn’t see her.

Shane yelled for her, “Delta where are you?”

Jeff yelled, “keep running or you will die.”

Delta wanted to scream but decided to keep quiet. The bears were coming closer. She flashed her light onto the river and stepped in. It was cold especially for this time of year. The water hit her like tiny needles. The current was swift. It was nothing she couldn’t handle. She stepped further in trying not to make too much noise but lost her footing on the mossy rocks. The river was deeper than she imagined. She went in, her flashlight died. She struggled in the darkness and started to swim. She was a better swimmer than runner. Ahead the flashlights bounced off the trees but their light was fading fast. Delta kicked harder and heart was going to explode. Her long black dress weighed her down but she fought against the weight and continued to swim. The flashlights stopped bouncing and they were still, Delta’s hand felt a tree. It was a large tree and she held onto one of the branches toward the center of the river.

The woods grew quiet. She was so cold but alive. Her parents took her to Cape Cod once and the ocean was just as cold as the river. She spent all day in the water and her legs were red and cold. She loved how the water made her feel alive. She looked up and the sky changed and it was a fuzzy blue then daylight had come. She moved around the tree toward the bank and didn’t see the bears.

“Delta! Where are you?” She heard her group call for her.

“I’m in the water,” she said hoarsely. She coughed and yelled louder but her voice was lost. They were coming closer. Every joint ached and screamed as she heaved herself onto the bank and lay on the cold soil.

Talia was the first to come, “She’s over here. She’s okay.”

“You okay, Delta?” She asked. “We have to get you out of these clothes.”

Talia took off her wet clothes as the others came by. She pulled another dress out of the pack. Trisch helped Delta sit up and put the other dress. Sherry rushed over and hugged her.

“I thought I lost you Delta. But you are okay. I couldn’t do this without you. I already lost my mom. I couldn’t lose you too. I can’t lose you Delta. You are my sister. I love you so much. I know I never tell you and I should have told my mom and a hundred times more.” Sherry cried into Delta’s shoulder.

“That was risky swimming in the water,” Jeff said.

“She had to do what she had to do,” Shane said.

“Better than being eaten by demented bears,” Shane said.

“So Anson and Eric are gone?” Michael asked.

“The bears got them,” Jeff said.

“Why do they do that?”

“No one knows. They wanted a better world but to me this seems like a perversion of a better world. They messed up but you know it was too late to change the past. We should get Delta warm and rest for a bit. I want to get to St. George’s as fast as we can.”

Shane wrapped a blanket around Delta and she laid down with her head on his lap. Her body started to warm up but when she closed her eyes, she saw the bears attacking her friends. But once they weren’t her friends. They belonged to the same club. She talked with both of them and they were nice. And maybe back home, if they died, she probably wouldn’t feel sad. Things are different over here; they were her friends. All she wanted to do was cry but she didn’t know how. So she stared at the small fire while the others ate. Jeff and Mercy talked on the opposite of her. Mercy caught her glance and smiled with sad eyes. You are so lucky to come back with us Delta thought as she tried to close her eyes.

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