Suspense Urban Fantasy R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Sixteen-year-old    Caitlin,    privileged    member    (spoiled    brat)    of    a secret    society    she    has    no    interest    in,    shares    her    overly-honest opinion    in    her    junior    essay    (she    doesn't    know    how    to    keep    her mouth   shut),   which   places   her   under   her   queen's   scrutiny.   Instead   of spending   her   summer   on   the   beach,   she   ends   up   working   nights wearing   an   armored   vest,   crisscrossing   the   nation   chasing   vampire hunters    and    miscreant    kithmen,    noshing    Nerd    candies    with    her tweener   sidekick.   Hanging   out   with   macho   guys   draping   cannons from   their   shoulders   is   less   irksome   than   she   expects.   She   survives   a number   of   deadly   scrapes,   creating   a   reputation   for   herself   as   she searches for her abducted roommate.
CHAPTER ONE ~ V isitors   with   assault   rifles   are   far   from   rare   in   my   house,   especially   at   midnight.   Those they   escort   don't   keep   respectable   hours.   But   Mom   and   Dad   stood   at   the   bottom   of   the stairs in their robes, so this meeting wasn't on the calendar. Molly   lay   shaking   on   my   bed,   giving   me   a   heads   up   who,   or   what,   came   to   the   door.   I wouldn't   be   playing   double-oh-five-and-a-half   spy   most   nights,   but   the   timing   made   me curious.   A   lot   had   been   going   on   in   the   kith   lately.   Why   the   whispered   conversation   at the door? Mom's home-office was five steps away. From   the   landing,   I   could   see   the   eyes   of   the   man   in   the   suit.   A   revenir.   An   ancient. Scary   bastard,   even   though   the   smile   never   left   his   lips.   I'd   been   introduced   to   him recently.   I   searched   for   his   name.   It   wouldn't   come   to   me.   Ah.   I   remembered   Mom called him The Ottoman. That's a name anyone could forget. Utterly common. I   sat   and   hugged   the   banister.   The   woman   standing   behind   The   Ottoman   looked   up at   me.   Even   though   she   wore   the   ever-present   kith   armored   vest,   a   gun   on   her   hip, another    in    a    cross-draw    holster    across    her    chest,    her    eyes    glimmered    in    the    harsh hallway light like The Ottoman's. I   checked   out   the   cute   guy   standing   against   the   front   door.   Human.   Or   he   could   be wearing   dark   contacts.   I   hoped   he   was   human,   'cause   he   was   hot,   despite   the   I-can-kill- you-with-my-bare-hands   countenance.   Black   fatigues   under   the   black   vest,   where   the chick   wore   jeans   and   a   wrinkled   tee   under   hers.   A   cannon   slung   from   his   shoulder—two automatics, the standard nine-millimeter and forty-five clearly wasn't enough for him. The   chick   still   looked   up   at   me,   eyes   frozen.   Mom   turned.   Her   eyes   were   red,   but   her face   bore   an   unexpected   smile.   She   opened   her   eyes   wide,   as   though   to   keep   a   tear   from running down her cheek. "Excuse   me,"   the   chick   said.   She   maneuvered   around   The   Ottoman   and   Mom,   and walked   toward   me,   her   face   hard.   Granite.   All   freaking   business.   Scary.   The   silver   eyes had nothing to do with it, but they helped. My   flesh   tingled   from   my   wrists   to   the   back   of   my   neck.   Freaky   Chick,   who   was maybe   five   feet,   thirteen   inches   tall,   took   the   stairs   two   at   a   time   to   reach   me.   She   swung something she held in her left hand toward me—a black blob. " Ayeee! " I   didn't   expect   the   weight,   and   teetered   forward.   I   visualized   my   face   sliding   down the   stairs,   bouncing   like   a   soccer   ball   on   the   tile   floor   at   Mom's   feet.   But   the   chick   caught me. "Glad you're dressed," she said. "Grab your bag. Let's go." "Go? Where? I have a final to study for." "Lucky you. One less thing in life you have to worry about." She   held   out   her   hand.   I   took   it   without   thinking.   That   hand   felt   as   though   she'd walked   out   of   the   frozen   food   aisle.   My   gooseflesh   erupted   all   over   again   as   she   pulled me to my feet.    "What's   this   for?"   I   spread   open   the   black   blob   to   discover   a   vest   like   she   and   her friend wore, without the gun protruding from the front. "Just a precaution." "Precaution?"   My   voice   screeched   like   Molly's   nails   on   the   sliding   door   to   the   pool.   I looked   down   at   Dad.   His   eyes   were   huge   too,   red,   face   pale,   mouth   open,   struggling   to catch his breath. "Mommm?" "Get ready, sweetie. For security sake, they have to hurry." "Hurry? Explanation—maybe!" "Your   essay,"   The   Ottoman   said.   "You've   been   selected.   Congratulations.   Grab   your bag." "My bag?" "Instructions   explained   all   the   selected   finalists   must   prepare   a   travel   bag."   His   voice was harsh, but the smile remained, though tighter. I   hadn't   put   together   a   travel   bag.   I   had   no   intention   of   going   anywhere.   My   essay was   a   joke.   Only   submitted   it   because   it   was   mandatory.   My   teacher   had   grinned   and said   limbs   would   be   lopped   off   for   failure   to   comply.   She   would   have   made   an   excellent Borg. "What   the   hell?"   I   screeched.   But   it   was   falling   into   place.   A   lead   weight   landed   in my gut. Couldn't   be   happening.   I   wrote   the   freaking   thing   because   all   juniors   in   the   kith, Renee's   clan,   had   to   participate.   I   didn't   want   to   intern   for   a   freaking   vampire   for   the summer.    I    had    plans.    AP    classes.    Malling.    Water    skiing.    Reading    under    a    beach umbrella with friends who didn't turn to ash in the sun. "Shit." "Watch your mouth!" Mom's voice boomed in the confines of the foyer. Dad's   face   turn   redder,   before   Freaky   Chick   propelled   me   up   the   stairs,   jammed against her. She lifted me off my feet, hand gripping my arm. "Owww. That hurts." "Every   second   this   takes,"   Freaky   Chick   hissed,   "places   you   and   your   parents   at   more risk." She relaxed her hold at the top of the stairs. "Where's your room?" "I— I don't need to go to my room. I'm not going anywhere." "Yes, you are." She   turned   me   to   the   right   as   though   she   knew   exactly   where   my   room   was.   I stammered   a   litany   of   vowels   unable   to   form   words   and   found   myself   thrust   through   my door.   Molly   looked   at   me   from   my   bed   with   body   language   to   accompany   a   raging hurricane   with   its   Florida-style   lightning—ears   pasted   back,   eyes   scrunched   together. The   poor   hound   shivered   and   bared   her   belly   for   mercy.   Revenirs   are   the   only   thing   she fears more than thunder. "Hurry. I'm deadly serious," Freaky Chick said. "I'm   deadly   serious.   I   don't   want   to   go   anywhere."   I   backed   up   to   the   bed   and reached out to scratch Molly's head. "You don't have a choice," she said. I met her silver eyes and my guts froze. No choice? How could I not have a choice? She   unplugged   my   computer   and   wound   up   the   power   cord.   "I   assume   you   want   to take this? Your bag?" "I don't have a bag packed. I never dreamed the queen would pick me." I   felt   her   expletive   in   my   bones   more   than   I   heard   it.   "Your   mom   can   ship   you   what you want later. We'll supply you essentials there. Shoes?" "Ohhh—" A sob stole the air for my complaints. Tears blinded me. "Put the vest on. Strap it together," she ordered. "Can't you let someone else go?" "Don't you realize the privilege this is?" she asked. "You'd understand if you'd read my essay." Bam. It hit me. "Oh, crap." "What?" I   sat   on   the   bed,   and   Molly   scooted   forward   and   laid   her   chin   on   my   leg.   The   topic was    a    farce.    The    queen    didn't    want    to    find    who    was    gung-ho     about    the    kith.    She searched for the unenlightened. "I can't go. You don't understand. You people scare me to death." Freaky Chick froze. The face shifted from impatience to anger. Molly whined. I worried she might tinkle on the bed. "It's all right, girl," I told her, scratching under her ear. "Let's go!" echoed from the stairs. It had to be the cute one. It certainly wasn't Dad. She    saw    my    running    shoes    next    to    the    bed,    walked    to    my    bureau,    and    opened drawers   until   she   found   socks.   She   tossed   a   pair   into   my   lap.   I   pulled   them   on,   a hundred   thoughts   flashing   through   my   mind,   the   plans   I   had,   a   fuzzy   imagined-likeness of the queen—since as far as I knew, no pictures existed of her. The   revenir   held   my   shoes   in   front   of   my   face.   Molly   was   definitely   going   to   wet   the bed the way she shook. "You're scaring her." "I can't help they don't care for our kind." I took the shoes from Freaky Chick and she backed away. Molly's shudders lessened. "This decade, ladies," came from the hall. "Vest. Let's go." She waved her hand to rush me. I   slid   my   feet   into   the   still-tied   Nikes.   Fit   the   vest   over   my   head.   She   Velcro'ed   the thing for me and grabbed my arm. Molly   yelped   as   though   she'd   been   struck.   The   pathetic   sound   closed   my   throat,   and tears   flowed   down   my   cheeks.   My   chest   constricted,   feet   managed   to   shuffle   forward   to keep   my   face   from   plowing   into   the   carpet.   Freaky   Chick   launched   me   through   the   door. I was in her grasp again, half carried down the stairs. The Ottoman looked at me and his face constricted. "I don't understand." "She'll be all right," Mom said. Dad   cleared   his   throat.   He   reached   out   to   hug   me,   but   the   cute   one   grabbed   my   other arm, rushed me past him. "Sir, sitting still is dangerous," he said. The Tampa humidity hit me in the face. "Call when you get there," Mom said. "The war makes such uncivilized haste necessary," The Ottoman said. Molly's howl followed me down the walk. "Love you." Dad sounded as though he was about to cry. There   must   have   been   a   dozen   phantoms   dressed   in   more   black   fatigues   and   vests   to the    left    and    right    of    three    enormous,    black    SUVs    at    the    curb.    My    escort    lifted    me through an open door, which slammed shut behind me. "She's   in!"   echoed,   from   the   open   front   door,   and   the   tinny   sound   of   headsets   out   in the dark. Doors slammed. Inertia pressed me against the seat back. "On the move," the driver said. The faint sound of, "ETA?" came from his headset. "Four minutes." I   looked   out   the   window   to   watch   home,   Mom   and   Dad,   fade   behind   me,   but   the severe   tint   of   the   windows   made   that   impossible.   Everything   was   black.   The   sound   of Molly's   cry   remained   with   me.   I   hurt,   for   being   ripped   out   of   my   home   in   the   middle   of the night, and longed to have that silly Labrador cuddled next to me. The sweet wuss. "Where   we   supposed   to   be   in   four   minutes?"   I   asked,   I   don't   know   why.   Maybe   it was   to   keep   my   mind   off   the   sensation   of   my   stomach   cramping,   thoughts   that   I   was being rounded up for a stalag. No one answered. I   leaned   forward   to   listen   to   the   tinny   sound   of   a   radio   from   the   driver's   ear   bud.   His hand went to his chest, and the volume noticeably lowered. Crap . Everything   felt   wrong.   Why   the   rush?   Why   the   cloak   and   dagger?   Was   I   being   carted away to become some vampire's slave? Turned? I   had   never   had   a   sleep-over   without   the   topic   being   raised   at   least   once.   Sure,   our parents   and   teachers   swore   we   would   never   be   turned.   It   wasn't   our   queen's   way.   Some girls    claimed    they    wouldn't    mind.    Had    its    benefits,    they    said.    Insanity    can't    be explained. Freaking out of their minds. Being   a   citizen   of   the   good   ole   USA   satisfied   me.   I   didn't   need   to   be   a   member   of   the kith. I guess I was too stinking honest about that. Should have kept it to myself. Stupid essay! So   I   found   myself   on   the   way   to   the   kith's   capital,   which   sat   in   the   middle   of   freaking nowhere. Baggs, Wyoming. Probably to be turned. A slave for eternity. That's   right.   Immortality   didn't   come   with   turning.   They   just   lived   a   helluva   long time. The   SUV   swerved   hard   for   the   third   time.   Didn't   they   know   what   the   heck   stop   signs meant?   They   aren't   suggestions,   guys!   Couldn't   they   at   least   slow   down   a   little?   We   were on   Kennedy   Boulevard.   The   engine   of   the   SUV   roared.   I   looked   between   the   seats   and saw the red line of the speedometer pass eighty. Geez. Morons. There are  traffic laws! Even kithmen had to obey them. Two   minutes   later   I   was   thrown   forward   as   we   braked.   The   SUV   turned   sharp   to   the left, and I slid across the seat, slamming into the car door. "Try the seatbelt next time," Freaky Chick said. The   driver   hit   the   brakes   hard   again.   Bam !   My   butt   ended   up   on   the   floorboard,   and we slid to a stop. "You'll never get a job as a limo driver," I shouted. The door behind me opened and I fell backward. "Whoahhh." A hand kept me from tumbling out of the truck. "Gocha." It was the cute guy. His grin was a little less endearing upside down. He   grabbed   me   under   the   arms   and   pulled   me   up   and   out   of   the   SUV.   My   tee   pulled up,   jeans   lunged   for   my   knees.   I   wore   my   comfy,   studying   clothes—baggy   everything,   no bra.   I   cringed   and   let   out   a   pathetic   yelp   as   I   jerked   to   pull   my   shirt   down   and   pants   up at the same time. Chapter Two ~ A    roar   insulted   what   should   have   been   a   quiet,   early   morning.   Flying   dust   caught   in headlights.   The   rotors   of   the   helicopter   made   me   feel   like   I   swirled   inside   a   Cuisinart. Freaky   Chick   and   Cutie   rushed   with   me   clasp   between   them,   following   The   Ottoman.   I got   smooshed   in   a   seat   between   the   two   revenirs.   Cutie   climbed   into   the   front,   and   the helicopter rose. Who   got   to   land   helicopters   in   the   middle   of   a   major   city,   in   empty   lots?   Wasn't   that illegal   or   something?   I   couldn't   see   out   the   side   glass   on   either   side.   Black,   like   the windows of the SUV. Freaky Chick pulled a blue blanket out of a compartment in front of us. "Ms. Caitlin, would you mind switching places?" The Ottoman asked. He   leaned   out   of   his   chair,   and   I   shifted   to   the   far   seat.   He   sat   next   to   the   chick,   and she   whipped   the   blanket   out,   and   the   two   crawled   underneath   it,   completely,   pulling   it around    their    heads,    cocooning    them.    It    was    pretty    warm,    though    the    hiss    of    air conditioning fought Tampa's muggy, June air. I heard a voice from the front. Cutie was turned around in his seat, looking back. "What?" I shouted over the roar. "EM," he said. "Blanket blocks the radiation." "Radiation!" "Lights. Electricity." He pointed about the cabin. "Not good to them." I nodded. Duh. Like I wouldn't figure that out. I was born to the kith, after all. "You excited?" A shiver flowed through my body. "Not exactly." "I   remember   the   effort   I   put   into   my   essay.   Missed   that   opportunity.   Can't   believe   I got the honor to serve Renee during all this." Freaking war. Thankfully most of the carnage was in the northeast. "Glad   most   of   the   dead   are   from   the   other   ten   kiths,"   he   said,   as   though   reading   my mind. "Should be peace by Christmas." I nodded as though I cared. "An   exciting   time   to   intern   with   our   queen.   Wouldn't   it   be   cool   to   be   there   when   the other kith leaders bow before Renee?" Boy   did   this   guy   drink   the   Kool-Aid.   I   nodded   again,   and   looked   out   the   window, hoping   he'd   go   away.   The   windows   weren't   opaque,   just   really   dark.   An   array   of   blurry dots   led   off   into   the   horizon.   Where   were   we   going?   I   concentrated   on   slow   breaths. Fifteen   minutes,   no   more,   and   it   seemed   the   horizon   line   rose   again.   We   were   landing already?   Guess   we   weren't   heading   for   the   wilderness   after   all.   Didn't   one   of   them   say something about Baggs? I   felt   the   inertia   of   the   helicopter   arcing,   tilting.   My   stomach   rose.   We   were   going down   freaking   fast.   Outside   mostly   blackness,   except   for   two   horizontal   lines   of   light.   An airport. A little regional one. Not Tampa International. Cutie   leaned   back   and   slowly   pulled   the   blanket   off   the   two   revenirs.   Their   heads were    tilted    forward.    They    looked    dead.    Slowly,    their    eyes    opened,    but    their    jaws remained   slack   for   several   moments,   before   they   moved   in   slow   motion   to   re-arrange themselves. Weird. Two   minutes   and   my   kidneys   jammed   into   my   chin   as   the   helicopter   landed   hard. Cutie   was   out   his   door   before   we   settled   and   opened   the   right   door.   Someone   else, dressed   in   the   all-black   uniform,   machinegun   draping,   opened   my   door,   and   I   was running   under   those   swirling   Cuisinart   blades   again,   a   new   hand   gripping   my   elbow. Cutie   met   us   on   the   other   side   of   the   food   processor   and   felt   it   necessary   to   hold   my other   elbow.   We   all   ran   to   catch   up   with   The   Ottoman   and   Freaky   Chick,   who   already climbed   the   three   steps   leading   into   a   sleek   jet   that   looked   about   the   size   of   a   long Hummer. Okay.   Maybe   it   was   a   bit   larger,   'cause   there   were   nine   luxurious   seats.   Two   humans already   sat   inside—it   looked    as   though   they   had   normal   eyes.   Besides,   they   were   both working   on   laptops,   and   I'd   never   seen   a   revenir   touch   a   computer.   They   both   glanced up,   their   expressions   not   friendly,   as   though   they'd   been   waiting   a   while.   Their   eyes flitted back to their work. Freaky   and   The   Ottoman   snuggled   into   their   own   seats   and   pulled   blankets   over themselves again. Weird. Cutie   ushered   me   toward   four   seats   that   faced   each   other.   I   chose   the   far   one,   facing forward.   He   sat   in   the   one   directly   in   front   of   me.   I   jerked   when   the   cabin   door   closed, watched   the   man   who   locked   it   down   cross   to   the   front   of   the   plane   and   pull   a   little curtain   closed   behind   him.   It   reminded   me   of   The   Wizard,   hiding.   The   loud   hum   turned into   a   deafening   roar   as   the   jet   moved.   A   few   moments   later   my   body   pressed   into   my leather seat. Felt as though the craft rose at a ninety degree angle. I closed my eyes. Please don't blow up. Molly would think I left her, didn't love her any more. The plane leveled and I managed to unclench my grip on the armrest. "Haven't flown much?" Cutie asked. "Sure. Just not at gun point, in the middle of the night." He    grinned—sort    of.    "You're    hardly    at    gun    point.    I'm    here    to    protect    you,    not imprison you. Get used to the middle of the night business." He   didn't   have   to   explain   the   last   remark.   If   I   was   a   vam—revenir's   intern   for   the summer, I wouldn't be working on my tan. "My name's Adam." "Call me Cait. Only my mom calls me Caitlin." "Glad   to   meet   you."   He   pointed   at   one   of   my   entombed   escorts.   "You'll   enjoy   Genna, when she isn't on alert. She's a lot of fun. Just don't cross her." "You shouldn't cross any revenir, should you?" I asked. His    face    jerked,    as    though    I    just    cursed.    He    lowered    his    voice.    "Not    a    revenir. Turned. Only two of her kind in the kith. Refer to them as endowed." "Turned? A turned human?" Adam   nodded.   His   eyes   flicked   uncomfortably   to   the   floor.   "Part   of   what   started   the war." I   hardly   heard   him   over   the   constant   mmmm.   But   his   explanation   wasn't   important, because it was already clicking. Like everyone in the kith didn't know of the two. "You'll   meet   the   other   in   a   few   hours.   Nathan   could   put   a   moose   to   sleep,   but   he's   as kind as they come. Computer brain. He'll freak you out." Like they all didn't freak me out. "Is that the one they call The Ottoman?" I asked. Adam nodded. "He have another name?" He   smiled.   "Not   one   I've   heard.   Rumor   is,   he   was   once   an   Eastern   Roman   emperor. Got   so   used   to   a   price   on   his   head,   changing   his   name   to   hide,   he   got   stereotyped.   Never could get away from being called The Ottoman." Probably from the Bronx. Not ancient at all. "I heard you mention AP classes. What do you want to study in college?" It   was   a   good   thing   he   was   cute,   because   I   was   tiring   of   making   nice   with   one   of   the people   who   kidnapped   me.   I   tried   to   give   him   a   glare.   But   I   heard   my   mom   shout   in   my ear to be polite. "Got plenty of time to decide. Just finishing junior year." "But," he pressed. "Dad's    encouraging    me    to    stay    technical    as    long    as    I    can.    Give    me    more opportunities to do other things later." "Engineering?" he asked. "Maybe. Or Physics." "That's cool." "Oh, pleazzzzzz." He   grinned.   "I   majored   in   sports.   By   the   fifth   year,   I   was   running   out   of   classes   I could   sleep   through.   My   caucus   leader   gave   me   the   option   to   turn   pro,   or   select   a   branch in the military." "Pro? What sport? Look a little small for either football or basketball." He   pressed   his   hand   to   his   chest,   threw   his   head   back,   eyes   closed,   lips   in   a   pout.   "I was   a   kicker,   special   teams,   actually.   The   kith   could   get   me   a   tryout,   but   I   knew   I'd   never make the cut." Loser. So he opted for the army. Geesh. "Special   Forces   turned   my   life   around.   Got   to   see   a   lot   of   the   world,   play   with   neat toys,   jump   out   of   planes,   prepared   me   to   serve   Renee.   The   only   way   my   life   could   have turned out better is if I'd planned it. Life is good." Keep   drinking   your   Kool-Aid.   He   washed   out.   Kithmen   in   the   service   helped   the   kith only   if   they   led   armies.   A   grunt   couldn't   protect   Renee.   So   now   he's   a   private   gate   guard. Being cute made him bearable. "How   long   to   Wyoming?"   I   asked,   hoping   that   would   draw   our   conversation   to   a close. The   woman   sitting   in   the   rear   of   the   cabin   turned   off   her   bank   of   lights,   leaving   the cabin   dark   except   for   the   lights   over   the   dude   still   pecking   at   his   laptop.   Adam   looked spooky in the shadows, his black clothing disappearing. "You want some light?" he asked. I   shook   my   head.   I   would   have   been   studying   for   my   chem   final   if   I   was   home,   but   I felt   sleepy.   Sleep   would   feel   good.   How   many   hours   did   it   take   to   fly   from   Florida   to Wyoming?    Being    kidnapped    is    exhausting.    He    repeated    his    question.    I    realized    he probably couldn't see me in the shadows, since he was looking into the remaining light. "No. I may try to sleep," I told him. "We're     not     flying     directly     west,"     he     said.     "Picking     up     another     intern     in Pennsylvania." Chapter Three ~ T he   cabin   swiveled,   the   engines   roared,   and   the   front   of   the   plane   rose.   I   allowed   the drowse   I   had   been   falling   in   and   out   of   to   fade.   The   voices   coming   from   the   front   of   the plane were excited. I heard the word "repeat" shouted several times. It   was   dark.   Only   the   string   lighting   on   the   floor   illuminated   the   cabin.   Cold.   I shivered and wrapped my arms together. "Advise. Should we redirect?" Several   moments   later   the   plane   leveled   off   and   banked   the   opposite   direction,   as though   we   formed   a   giant   donut   in   the   sky.   The   two   voices   were   softer.   The   words sounded   other   than   English.   English   but   jargonish,   heavy   in   Greek   letters   and   numbers. For thirty minutes the plane rose and fell, and continued the figure eights. "Happens sometimes," Adam said. I jerked. "Nothing to worry about though." I asked, "What's going on?" "Expect   there   was   an   incident   on   the   ground.   If   it   was   bad,   we   would've   already diverted." "Diverted?" I asked. "Headed for another airport." I found myself leaning forward. "Ah," Adam said. "We must have been given clearance to land." My   stomach   floated.   The   tone   of   the   engines   alternated   every   few   moments.   The man   who   had   worked   late   rose   and   headed   for   the   bathroom.   Cabin   lights   went   on.   He was   returning   to   his   seat   when   the   thunder   of   lowering   landing   gear   vibrated   across   my skin. Two   minutes   later   I   felt   tires   touch.   Engines   roared,   and   I   slid   forward   hard   against my   seatbelt.   Hellova   lot   more   dramatic   than   a   737.   I   shuddered   as   my   seat   shook.   My head   jerked   as   the   plane   slowed   dramatically,   before   releasing   and   rolling,   taxiing.   The engines   turned   to   a   mmm    and   a   last   final   tug,   as   the   plane   came   to   a   stop.   The   co-pilot, or   whatever,   was   already   at   the   door,   unlatching   it.   I   worked   my   jaws   against   the   change in   air   pressure.   The   cold   inside   the   cabin   lessened,   as   humid,   but   not   Floridian   air, replaced it. The smell of night, grass, and burnt jet fuel mingled. Headlights   drew   my   eyes   away   from   the   door.   A   clunking   sound.   The   two   quiet passengers   were   collecting   their   things.   I   tried   not   to   stare   at   them,   but   I   couldn't   help but   wonder   who   they   were,   in   their   pinstripes   and   fancy   briefcases.   What   did   they   do   for a vampire? I had to stop thinking that  word. It would get me in serious trouble. I   had   heard   Renee   killed   people   for   using   the   word   vampire.   Revenir.   Didn't   sound any   more   noble   to   me.   "They   aren't   the   creatures   Hollywood   portrays."   Every   teacher   I'd ever   had   said   that   at   least   once   a   semester,   as   far   back   as   I   could   remember.   Could   die for the number of times Mom and Dad repeated it. The two strode by, each offering me and Adam a smug smile and nod. Adam said, "Arrive home safe." He stood like a question mark in front of his seat. "You too," the woman said. They   disappeared   through   the   door.   Adam   wore   his   headset   again,   and   fiddled   with the radio sticking out of his vest. "This is Adam," he said. "Can I have a status?" The   noise   coming   from   the   open   hatch   hid   any   proof   he   received   a   response,   but   he walked   aft,   his   head   tilted,   hands   covering   his   ears.   I   heard   him   follow-up   with   a   couple questions, which I couldn't decipher. A   clack   clack    on   the   steps   announced   a   new   traveling   partner.   A   young   woman leaned   under   the   low   door,   long,   full,   brown   hair   scooping   low   in   front   of   her.   A   hand, tapering from black fatigues, released her arm and retracted. "Have a safe trip," barely penetrated through the noise of the engines. Adam   strode   forward   and   reached   for   the   woman's   bag.   He   waved   toward   the   seat next   to   me.   She   sat,   while   he   stowed   the   duffle.   Though   she   was   dressed   in   a   navy   suit and   white   blouse,   she   had   obviously   been   as   rudely   yanked   from   her   home   as   I   had.   No makeup.   Hair   wasn't   brushed.   Dots   in   her   lobes   showed   she   hadn't   had   time   to   get earrings   in.   She   let   out   a   sob.   Her   hands   wiped   away   tears.   She   leaned   forward,   her   body racked by more sobs. I   thought   I   was   traumatized.   I   averted   my   eyes,   only   to   latch   onto   her   feet.   The   skirt required    heels.    She    wore    running    shoes.    Addidas.    I'm    prejudiced.    They    made    okay spikes, but for road shoes, it was nothing but Nikes for me. We   ran   to   the   truck,   to   the   helicopter,   to   the   plane.   They   would   have   hurried   her   too, wouldn't   have   wanted   her   in   heels.   Still   looked   silly.   Hope   she   got   her   pumps   in   her carryon. Adam   pulled   his   assault   rifle   from   a   storage   bin,   inserted   a   magazine,   and   stepped out   of   the   plane.   Fear   for   I   have   no   idea   what   jammed   me   in   the   chest.   Where   was   he going?   Roar   outside.   Nothing   but   her   sobs   continuing.   I   caught   a   sob   sneaking   into   my own chest. Crap. I wiped my eye. Sounded   as   though   someone   pounded   on   the   fuselage   with   a   pipe   wrench,   and   a truck engine revved. But it didn't move away. Refueling? We   sat   there   ten   minutes.   My   new   traveling   partner   stopped   sobbing,   but   she   didn't move   her   hands   from   her   face.   Not   a   word.   The   pipe   wrench   again.   A   minute   later   the big    truck    drove    away.    Other    vehicles    followed    thirty    seconds    later.    Adam    stomped aboard.   The   co-pilot   trailed,   closing   the   door.   Déjà   vu   all   over   again,   as   the   plane   hurled into the night at a ninety-degree angle. New   Chick   finally   looked   across   at   me.   Her   eyes   were   huge,   and   red.   I   offered   her   a smile,   but   her   face   twitched   again,   threatening   to   return   to   sobs.   I   wanted   to   shout   at her to man up. Geesh. So we were kidnapped at gunpoint. Get over it. "We lost four good men tonight," Adam said. "What!" "Despite all our secrecy, somehow they—" "They what?" "Why we were in a hurry in Tampa," he said. I   imagined   a   scene   out   of   a   Tom   Cruise   movie,   and   my   stomach   tightened.   "I'm sorry," I said. "Frustrating,"   he   mumbled.   "They   can't   win.   They   just   try   to   make   it   cost   too   much for us to continue." It   had   been   going   on   almost   a   year,   but   until   this   evening,   I'd   been   isolated   from   it. The    national    news    announced    the    clashes    as    a    war    against    Central    American    drug syndicates. At least it got the wall completed across Arizona and New Mexico. "You okay," I asked New Chick. She nodded. "I'm sorry. It was just—" She paused so long I didn't think she was going to continue. But she finally did. "The   SUV   in   front   of   us   flashed,   raised   into   the   air   in   a   ball   of   flame.   The   concussion pushed   in   the   windshield   of   the   truck   I   was   in.   My   ears   are   still   ringing.   We   crashed   into the    ball    of    fire.    My    driver    couldn't    pull    away.    Tires    squealed.    The    truck    behind    us slammed into us and we spun, knocked us clear." "Geez," I muttered, realizing I had it easy. "There was so much shooting," she said. The plane leveled. "Two   men   carried   me   to   the   third   truck,   holding   me   between   them,   protecting   me from the bullets with their own bodies." Long pause, as she tried to keep a new sob from taking her back into her sad place. "Never been so scared in my life." "Geez." What else could I say? Glad I hadn't told her to man up. Chapter Four ~ W e   lay   under   our   vampire—scratch   that—revenir   blankets.   My   nose   was   frozen.   I'd camp   it   in   my   fist   for   a   few   minutes   now   and   then   to   make   sure   it   didn't   drop   off   my face.   Probably   come   down   with   a   cold.   Pneumonia.   At   least   bronchitis.   I   hated   coughing. Tampa's   spring   pollen   was   bad   enough.   Imagined   they   kept   it   so   cold   in   the   cabin   for our reposing pals behind us. I   was   also   starving.   What   time   was   it?   I   counted   in   my   head,   estimating   how   long   it took    to    reach—I    guessed    Philadelphia,    considering    all    the    lights.    Adam    only    said, "Pennsylvania."    We    came    in    over    the    Atlantic.    I    couldn't    think    of    another    major seaboard-ish   city.   So   one-ish   when   we   left   Tampa.   Probably   four-ish   before   we   got airborne   out   of   Philly.   I   guessed   four   hours   flight   time   to   Wyoming—eight   minus   two time   zones.   We   should   arrive   near   six-ish.   Just   in   time   to   get   Genna   and   The   Ottoman underground before the sun rose. If they didn't have far to go. Cutting it close. Adam wiggled. "You awake?" I asked. "No." Did that mean leave him alone, or was he just being cute? I didn't care. "When do we get there?" I asked. He   pulled   his   hands   out   from   under   his   blanket,   flipped   open   the   cover   of   his   watch face, before retreating back inside his warm cocoon. "Soon." Man of many freaking words. "What am I supposed to be doing this summer?" He didn't answer for a long time. "Everything." "What's that supposed to mean?" "Means, you'll do whatever Renee tells you to do." "Duh. Don't be a jerk. Answer my question." The   tiniest   hint   of   a   smile   twitched   at   the   right   corner   of   his   mouth.   "You're   a   bright girl, or she wouldn't have chosen you. What do you think you'll be doing?" "How   should   I   know?   I   didn't   even   want   this   gig.   What's   there   to   do   in   the   middle   of Wyoming, anyway?" He grinned. "What do you do in Tampa?" "Why are you being so cryptic?" "Answer my question." I   made   a   noise   that   came   out   funnier   than   intended,   but   figured   he   caught   my frustration. "Read. Study. Watch videos. Blog. Visit with my friends." He   puckered   his   lips   as   though   he   contemplated   that   hard.   "Well,   guess   you   won't   be doing the same thing in Wyoming." "Why do you say that?" The   smirk   again.   "You'll   be   in   the   dark   a   lot.   No   electricity   at   the   ranch.   Except   for Renee's teletypes, her elevator—" "No electricity!" "At   the   ranch.   The   upper   compound   is   far   from   rustic.   Come   to   think   of   it,   since   the days   are   long   in   the   summer,   you   should   have   time   on   your   own.   Imagine   Nathan   will assign you an apartment there—" A change in the sound of the engines interrupted him. The cabin noticeably tilted. "We'll probably descend really quickly, so—" The   words   weren't   out   of   his   mouth   before   the   jet   plummeted   at   a   ninety-degree angle.   A   screech   barreled   out   of   my   mouth.   New   Chick   jerked,   pulling   down   her   blanket. Her eyes were saucers. She was belching out an "Ahhhhhh" too. "Everything's—" The   two   of   us   screamed   over   Adam's   words.   We   fell   for   a   ten   count—a   technical knockout.   My   ears   hurt   like   hell.   My   stomach   got   left   behind   as   the   plane   made   another ninety-degree   turn.   I   felt   wheels   touch,   and   the   engines   roared—not   as   loud   as   New Chick and me screamed. I   wiggled   to   ensure   I   didn't   wet   myself.   New   Chick   said   a   triple   expletive,   one   I'd never   heard   before.   It   was   a   good   one.   I'd   have   to   remember   it.   Made   me   smile.   She wasn't.   I   leaned   back   to   catch   my   breath.   For   a   second   I   thought   my   brain   had   forgotten how to breathe. Finally air made it down my throat. The    engines    quieted    as    we    bounced    along    the    runway.    Obviously    a    very    short runway, because we jammed to a stop a helluva lot faster than I expected. "What were the acrobatics for?" New Chick asked. "We're at war, remember," Adam said. "Easy descents make great targets." I   thought   of   the   few   war   movies   I'd   ever   watched.   The   concept   wouldn't   click.   Kill yourself.   Save   your   enemy   the   effort.   Made   no   sense.   I   chose   not   to   voice   that   opinion. Probably   safe   to   say   Adam   knew   what   he   was   talking   about.   Though   adults   always   like to sound as though they knew what they were talking about. Something I wasn't sold on. The   runway   lights   flashed   off.   The   engines   roared,   again.   The   plane   swiveled,   and   we moved   forward   for   a   few   seconds   before   the   engines   shut   down.   It   was   too   dark   outside to see anything. The jet's exterior lights were off too. A   banging,   clinking   noise   echoed   from   forward   and   a   moment   later   the   plane   started to    move    again,    but    not    from    its    own    power.    It    lurched    and    bumped    forward.    Ten seconds   later   the   stars   disappeared.   My   skin   shivered   with   gooseflesh.   We'd   "crossed into    another    dimension,"    the    weird    guy    from    that    black-and-white    series    from    my grandparent's   day   would   say,   and   take   a   puff   from   his   cigarette.   Actually,   I   was   pretty certain we'd been rolled into a hangar. The cabin lights blinded me. A last lurch, and the co-pilot was at the hatch. Adam   hurried   to   the   back   of   the   cabin   and   respectfully   un-shrouded   The   Ottoman, then   Genna.   I   watched   their   faces   closely   as   they   did   that   coming-to-life   trick.   I   once watched   an   opossum   come   out   of   its   catatonic   state.   Dispiriting—I   think   that's   what   they called   a   vampire   waking—No.   That   was   when   they   transitioned   from   vamp—revenir—to human.   I'd   have   to   ask   what   they   called   waking   up.   Anyway,   they   looked   a   lot   like   that opossum, down to the twitch, glazed eyes. New   Chick   stood   and   glared   at   them.   I   don't   think   she   ever   realized   the   three   of   us weren't   alone   in   the   cabin.   Her   mouth   hung   open   a   bit.   She   walked   aft   and   stood   in   front of The Ottoman. "It's   you,"   she   mumbled,   her   eyes   unblinking.   She   performed   some   stupid   curtsy-like move,   as   though   she'd   just   nailed   her   final   axel   on   the   ice.   "I'm   so   pleased   to   meet   you, my Lord." "Sweetie.   We   don't   talk   that   way   anymore.   Haven't   you   noticed?   The   Ottoman   waved at her to backup, as though he was shooing away a gnat. Adam   took   her   by   the   elbow   and   led   her   away.   I   struggled   to   keep   from   laughing. She   was   really   hooked   on   the   Kool-Aid.   She   probably   owned   a   shoebox   full   of   revenir trading cards she kept under her bed. Genna   stood,   as   erect   as   the   low   ceiling   allowed,   hand   on   her   armrest   for   a   five- count,   until   her   knees   stopped   wobbling.   She   offered   her   arm   to   The   Ottoman,   but   he waved   her   away   too.   He   rose   without   the   wobble,   and   strode   for   the   hatch.   Adam   and New   Chick—I   really   should   have   introduced   myself—stepped   aside   and   let   The   Ottoman and Genna precede them. "You coming?" Adam asked me. "If I stay aboard, you think I can bum a ride home?" He   closed   one   eye   and   lowered   his   chin   as   he   pulled   his   cannon   out   of   the   bin.   He slipped   a   magazine   out   of   his   vest   and   into   the   thing   without   looking   down,   in   one smooth   motion.   He   was   definitely   cool.   Went   along   well   with   being   cute.   For   a   gate guard. "Come on. Let's see what Nathan has on your agenda." Standing,   I   plucked   at   the   huge   vest   that   draped   around   me.   "Can   I   take   this   thing off?" "Inside the ranch house, or the upper compound. Otherwise keep it on." "Ahh, Geez." He   grabbed   me   around   the   back   of   my   neck,   a   little   like   my   dad   did   sometimes   in jest,   and   propelled   me   toward   the   hatch.   New   Chick   had   already   made   her   way   down   the steps, without her bag. Adam collected it for her. What a gentleman. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Fantasy Dystopian
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
Revenir Intern CHAPTER ONE ~ V isitors   with   assault   rifles   are   far   from rare   in   my   house,   especially   at   midnight. Those   they   escort   don't   keep   respectable hours.    But    Mom    and    Dad    stood    at    the bottom   of   the   stairs   in   their   robes,   so   this meeting wasn't on the calendar. Molly   lay   shaking   on   my   bed,   giving me   a   heads   up   who,   or   what,   came   to   the door.    I    wouldn't    be    playing    double-oh- five-and-a-half   spy   most   nights,   but   the timing   made   me   curious.   A   lot   had   been going    on    in    the    kith    lately.    Why    the whispered     conversation     at     the     door? Mom's home-office was five steps away. From   the   landing,   I   could   see   the   eyes of    the    man    in    the    suit.    A    revenir.    An ancient.   Scary   bastard,   even   though   the smile     never     left     his     lips.     I'd     been introduced   to   him   recently.   I   searched   for his   name.   It   wouldn't   come   to   me.   Ah.   I remembered      Mom      called      him      The Ottoman. That's    a    name    anyone    could    forget. Utterly common. I    sat    and    hugged    the    banister.    The woman    standing    behind    The    Ottoman looked   up   at   me.   Even   though   she   wore the   ever-present   kith   armored   vest,   a   gun on     her     hip,     another     in     a     cross-draw holster      across      her      chest,      her      eyes glimmered   in   the   harsh   hallway   light   like The Ottoman's. I    checked    out    the    cute    guy    standing against    the    front    door.    Human.    Or    he could   be   wearing   dark   contacts.   I   hoped he   was   human,   'cause   he   was   hot,   despite the        I-can-kill-you-with-my-bare-hands countenance.    Black    fatigues    under    the black    vest,    where    the    chick    wore    jeans and   a   wrinkled   tee   under   hers.   A   cannon slung   from   his   shoulder—two   automatics, the   standard   nine-millimeter   and   forty- five clearly wasn't enough for him. The   chick   still   looked   up   at   me,   eyes frozen.   Mom   turned.   Her   eyes   were   red, but   her   face   bore   an   unexpected   smile. She   opened   her   eyes   wide,   as   though   to keep     a     tear     from     running     down     her cheek. "Excuse     me,"     the     chick     said.     She maneuvered    around    The    Ottoman    and Mom,    and    walked    toward    me,    her    face hard.     Granite.     All     freaking     business. Scary.   The   silver   eyes   had   nothing   to   do with it, but they helped. My   flesh   tingled   from   my   wrists   to   the back   of   my   neck.   Freaky   Chick,   who   was maybe   five   feet,   thirteen   inches   tall,   took the   stairs   two   at   a   time   to   reach   me.   She swung    something    she    held    in    her    left hand toward me—a black blob. " Ayeee! " I      didn't      expect      the      weight,      and teetered    forward.    I    visualized    my    face sliding   down   the   stairs,   bouncing   like   a soccer   ball   on   the   tile   floor   at   Mom's   feet. But the chick caught me. "Glad   you're   dressed,"   she   said.   "Grab your bag. Let's go." "Go?   Where?   I   have   a   final   to   study for." "Lucky   you.   One   less   thing   in   life   you have to worry about." She     held     out     her     hand.     I     took     it without     thinking.     That     hand     felt     as though    she'd    walked    out    of    the    frozen food   aisle.   My   gooseflesh   erupted   all   over again as she pulled me to my feet.    "What's   this   for?"   I   spread   open   the black   blob   to   discover   a   vest   like   she   and her      friend      wore,      without      the      gun protruding from the front. "Just a precaution." "Precaution?"   My   voice   screeched   like Molly's   nails   on   the   sliding   door   to   the pool.    I    looked    down    at    Dad.    His    eyes were    huge    too,    red,    face    pale,    mouth open, struggling to catch his breath. "Mommm?" "Get   ready,   sweetie.   For   security   sake, they have to hurry." "Hurry? Explanation—maybe!" "Your     essay,"     The     Ottoman     said. "You've    been    selected.    Congratulations. Grab your bag." "My bag?" "Instructions   explained   all   the   selected finalists   must   prepare   a   travel   bag."   His voice   was   harsh,   but   the   smile   remained, though tighter. I    hadn't    put    together    a    travel    bag.    I had   no   intention   of   going   anywhere.   My essay     was     a     joke.     Only     submitted     it because    it    was    mandatory.    My    teacher had    grinned    and    said    limbs    would    be lopped    off    for    failure    to    comply.    She would have made an excellent Borg. "What    the    hell?"    I    screeched.    But    it was    falling    into    place.    A    lead    weight landed in my gut. Couldn't    be    happening.    I    wrote    the freaking   thing   because   all   juniors   in   the kith,    Renee's    clan,    had    to    participate.    I didn't     want     to     intern     for     a     freaking vampire   for   the   summer.   I   had   plans.   AP classes.    Malling.    Water    skiing.    Reading under   a   beach   umbrella   with   friends   who didn't turn to ash in the sun. "Shit." "Watch    your    mouth!"    Mom's    voice boomed in the confines of the foyer. Dad's   face   turn   redder,   before   Freaky Chick   propelled   me   up   the   stairs,   jammed against    her.    She    lifted    me    off    my    feet, hand gripping my arm. "Owww. That hurts." "Every     second     this     takes,"     Freaky Chick     hissed,     "places     you     and     your parents at more risk." She   relaxed   her   hold   at   the   top   of   the stairs. "Where's your room?" "I—   I   don't   need   to   go   to   my   room.   I'm not going anywhere." "Yes, you are." She   turned   me   to   the   right   as   though she   knew   exactly   where   my   room   was.   I stammered   a   litany   of   vowels   unable   to form     words     and     found     myself     thrust through    my    door.    Molly    looked    at    me from    my    bed    with    body    language    to accompany    a    raging    hurricane    with    its Florida-style   lightning—ears   pasted   back, eyes   scrunched   together.   The   poor   hound shivered   and   bared   her   belly   for   mercy. Revenirs    are    the    only    thing    she    fears more than thunder. "Hurry.    I'm    deadly    serious,"    Freaky Chick said. "I'm   deadly   serious.   I   don't   want   to   go anywhere."   I   backed   up   to   the   bed   and reached out to scratch Molly's head. "You don't have a choice," she said. I    met    her    silver    eyes    and    my    guts froze.   No   choice?   How   could   I   not   have   a choice? She     unplugged     my     computer     and wound   up   the   power   cord.   "I   assume   you want to take this? Your bag?" "I    don't    have    a    bag    packed.    I    never dreamed the queen would pick me." I   felt   her   expletive   in   my   bones   more than   I   heard   it.   "Your   mom   can   ship   you what    you    want    later.    We'll    supply    you essentials there. Shoes?" "Ohhh—"   A   sob   stole   the   air   for   my complaints. Tears blinded me. "Put    the    vest    on.    Strap    it    together," she ordered. "Can't you let someone else go?" "Don't    you    realize    the    privilege    this is?" she asked. "You'd    understand    if    you'd    read    my essay." Bam. It hit me. "Oh, crap." "What?" I    sat    on    the    bed,    and    Molly    scooted forward   and   laid   her   chin   on   my   leg.   The topic   was   a   farce.   The   queen   didn't   want to   find   who   was   gung-ho    about   the   kith. She searched for the unenlightened. "I   can't   go.   You   don't   understand.   You people scare me to death." Freaky    Chick    froze.    The    face    shifted from impatience to anger. Molly    whined.    I    worried    she    might tinkle on the bed. "It's     all     right,     girl,"     I     told     her, scratching under her ear. "Let's   go!"   echoed   from   the   stairs.   It had   to   be   the   cute   one.   It   certainly   wasn't Dad. She   saw   my   running   shoes   next   to   the bed,   walked   to   my   bureau,   and   opened drawers   until   she   found   socks.   She   tossed a   pair   into   my   lap.   I   pulled   them   on,   a hundred    thoughts    flashing    through    my mind,   the   plans   I   had,   a   fuzzy   imagined- likeness   of   the   queen—since   as   far   as   I knew, no pictures existed of her. The   revenir   held   my   shoes   in   front   of my   face.   Molly   was   definitely   going   to   wet the     bed     the     way     she     shook.     "You're scaring her." "I    can't    help    they    don't    care    for    our kind." I    took    the    shoes    from    Freaky    Chick and   she   backed   away.   Molly's   shudders lessened. "This   decade,   ladies,"   came   from   the hall. "Vest.   Let's   go."   She   waved   her   hand to rush me. I   slid   my   feet   into   the   still-tied   Nikes. Fit   the   vest   over   my   head.   She   Velcro'ed the thing for me and grabbed my arm. Molly    yelped    as    though    she'd    been struck.    The    pathetic    sound    closed    my throat,   and   tears   flowed   down   my   cheeks. My    chest    constricted,    feet    managed    to shuffle    forward    to    keep    my    face    from plowing    into    the    carpet.    Freaky    Chick launched   me   through   the   door.   I   was   in her    grasp    again,    half    carried    down    the stairs. The    Ottoman    looked    at    me    and    his face constricted. "I don't understand." "She'll be all right," Mom said. Dad   cleared   his   throat.   He   reached   out to   hug   me,   but   the   cute   one   grabbed   my other    arm,    rushed    me    past    him.    "Sir, sitting still is dangerous," he said. The    Tampa    humidity    hit    me    in    the face. "Call when you get there," Mom said. "The   war   makes   such   uncivilized   haste necessary," The Ottoman said. Molly's    howl    followed    me    down    the walk. "Love   you."   Dad   sounded   as   though   he was about to cry. There      must      have      been      a      dozen phantoms   dressed   in   more   black   fatigues and   vests   to   the   left   and   right   of   three enormous,    black    SUVs    at    the    curb.    My escort    lifted    me    through    an    open    door, which slammed shut behind me. "She's     in!"     echoed,     from     the     open front     door,     and     the     tinny     sound     of headsets out in the dark. Doors    slammed.    Inertia    pressed    me against the seat back. "On the move," the driver said. The   faint   sound   of,   "ETA?"   came   from his headset. "Four minutes." I    looked    out    the    window    to    watch home,    Mom    and    Dad,    fade    behind    me, but   the   severe   tint   of   the   windows   made that    impossible.    Everything    was    black. The   sound   of   Molly's   cry   remained   with me.    I    hurt,    for    being    ripped    out    of    my home    in    the    middle    of    the    night,    and longed     to     have     that     silly     Labrador cuddled next to me. The sweet wuss. "Where    we    supposed    to    be    in    four minutes?"    I    asked,    I    don't    know    why. Maybe   it   was   to   keep   my   mind   off   the sensation     of     my     stomach     cramping, thoughts   that   I   was   being   rounded   up   for a stalag. No one answered. I   leaned   forward   to   listen   to   the   tinny sound    of    a    radio    from    the    driver's    ear bud.   His   hand   went   to   his   chest,   and   the volume noticeably lowered. Crap . Everything   felt   wrong.   Why   the   rush? Why   the   cloak   and   dagger?   Was   I   being carted    away    to    become    some    vampire's slave? Turned? I   had   never   had   a   sleep-over   without the   topic   being   raised   at   least   once.   Sure, our   parents   and   teachers   swore   we   would never    be    turned.    It    wasn't    our    queen's way.    Some    girls    claimed    they    wouldn't mind.      Had      its      benefits,      they      said. Insanity   can't   be   explained.   Freaking   out of their minds. Being    a    citizen    of    the    good    ole    USA satisfied     me.     I     didn't     need     to     be     a member    of    the    kith.    I    guess    I    was    too stinking   honest   about   that.   Should   have kept it to myself. Stupid essay! So   I   found   myself   on   the   way   to   the kith's   capital,   which   sat   in   the   middle   of freaking      nowhere.      Baggs,      Wyoming. Probably     to     be     turned.     A     slave     for eternity. That's   right.   Immortality   didn't   come with    turning.    They    just    lived    a    helluva long time. The   SUV   swerved   hard   for   the   third time.    Didn't    they    know    what    the    heck stop        signs        meant?        They        aren't suggestions,   guys!   Couldn't   they   at   least slow   down   a   little?   We   were   on   Kennedy Boulevard.   The   engine   of   the   SUV   roared. I   looked   between   the   seats   and   saw   the red line of the speedometer pass eighty. Geez.   Morons.   There   are    traffic   laws! Even kithmen had to obey them. Two     minutes     later     I     was     thrown forward   as   we   braked.   The   SUV   turned sharp    to    the    left,    and    I    slid    across    the seat, slamming into the car door. "Try    the    seatbelt    next    time,"    Freaky Chick said. The   driver   hit   the   brakes   hard   again. Bam !      My      butt      ended      up      on      the floorboard, and we slid to a stop. "You'll    never    get    a    job    as    a    limo driver," I shouted. The   door   behind   me   opened   and   I   fell backward. "Whoahhh." A   hand   kept   me   from   tumbling   out   of the truck. "Gocha."   It   was   the   cute   guy.   His   grin was a little less endearing upside down. He   grabbed   me   under   the   arms   and pulled   me   up   and   out   of   the   SUV.   My   tee pulled   up,   jeans   lunged   for   my   knees.   I wore   my   comfy,   studying   clothes—baggy everything,   no   bra.   I   cringed   and   let   out   a pathetic   yelp   as   I   jerked   to   pull   my   shirt down and pants up at the same time. © R. Mac Wheeler 2017