False Dawn #7: “Lights Out”
Part One of Three: Up in Flames
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
I’m not one to hate. Really, I’m not. I have it out for the Skadoian Warriors for obvious reasons. I’m not really keen on the former president. I don’t even dislike Darth Vader. He was just misunderstood.
But I hate Reger.
And Lance doesn’t.
And that annoys the hell out of me.
Maybe I should start from the beginning.
I guess it begins back in D.C. After we left those commando jerks who wanted the Fountain of Youth, we headed toward Richmond, making an unscheduled stop for necessary reasons.
At the Scrub and Suds Laundromat, I throw in all my clothes from my duffle into a washer, while Lance throws his own into the machine next to mine.
“So, Donnellie said the water evaporated in southern Virginia, right?” Lance says.
Casia shakes her head and begins to sort the clothes by whites and colors in our washers. “Well, at least we know the water Donnellie spoke about was from the Fountain of Youth.”
“Great, so my underwear gets to mesh with his?” I thumb toward Lance who makes a face.
“It gets worse.”
He’s right. Casia unloads her unmentionables into the whites—including her … um… y’know-whats.
She’s not even fazed. “So that means Addy and Connor were taken somewhere else after Baltimore.” Closing the lid and allowing the water to fill, Casia rolls her eyes at our expressions. “Lance, girls wear bras and panties. Get over it.”
“Why do I have to get over it?”
She points a finger directly at my nose. “Because he’s fourteen. Only fourteen. You’re ancient and should know cooties do not exist.”
“Sure, discriminate against the elderly.”
I push up onto the washer and dangle my legs over the side. “Okay, so where do we go from here?”
TEN MINUTES LATER
The booth at the end of the diner barely fits Casia and me across, but we make do. Even Lance is squished in the corner, but I still find some room for my feet on his bench.
“I meant that as more of a plan-type scenario, not literally,” I grumble and flip through the songs on the small jukebox.
“Well, we’ll have to keep a low profile.” Lance plays with his straw. “With the Feds on our heels, we can’t afford to be seen in public.”
“Except in diners,” I point out.
He spreads his arms wide. “Oh, come on. We’re in the middle of suburban central. Who could possibly find us—”
The lights click off.
Casia scowls, her sea-blue eyes glowing in the darkness. “You just had to say that, didn’t you?”
The curved glass roof shatters, and I use my jacket as a cover. Before I can recover, a hard, cold, mechanical voice calls, “Joshua Sterling and Casia LaCroux, you are under arrest for the murder of Adeline and Connor Dawson and the kidnapping of Raleigh Dawson.”
Joshua Sterling? Who’s—
I’m going to regret doing this, I know, but I lift my head to see the man. Did I say man? I meant man-hyped-in-robotic-suit-with-taser-gun-as-a-left-arm—or at least I hope it’s a taser gun. His helmet conceals his face while a jetpack lets him fly.
“Don’t move,” he orders.
Casia raises a hand, shooting flares at the man faster than a gun expels bullets. As the man tumbles backwards, Casia tugs my jacket.
I race down the diner’s counter behind her. Lance brings up the rear, and by now, the diner patrons are either hiding or gone.
“How’d they find us?” I huff, jumping down the stairs by the entrance.
A sudden gust of wind from nowhere knocks us to the ground two steps from the Blazer, and I hear Lance groan, “Yeah, like that matters now.”
“I believe my mate told you to halt,” a sultry female voice proclaims. A hint of an Australian accent rolls her t’s into r’s.
Glaring over my shoulder, I see a woman on top of the diner, her long golden hair wavering in the wind. Her eyes glow a venomous silver, matching the body armor that encases her torso and legs. I can’t make out otherfeatures, though silver sparkles tickle her hands.
“You betta do what he says.”
Lance reacts first, his sword forming in his hand and his feet coming underneath him. He takes a step in front of Casia and me.
“Like hell, sweetheart. We didn’t kill anyone.”
Casia sucks in a sharp breath. “Well…”
“We didn’t kill Addy and Connor,” he corrects before glancing at Casia. “Happy now?”
“Surrender the boy,” the woman commanded, “and then we’ll discuss what you did and didn’t do.”
I look at Casia. “You know he’s gonna say it.”
“Or what?” Lance challenges.
The woman smirks, or at least I think she does. Then, she raises her hands above her head, and underneath us, the asphalt begins to shake like we’re in an earthquake. Casia somehow manages to get to her feet and slams down her specter, her eyes glowing almost as brightly as the woman before us.
“GO!” she commands as the ground steadies, and Lance obeys.
He snatches me by the arm and hoists me to my feet. Sure enough as we turn, there’s the robot man again, hovering before the Blazer, ready to blast Lance. A fearsome growl tears Lance’s throat, and he pounces, his sword swiping once, twice, three times. The man falls back on the Blazer, wires sparking.
“It’s gonna blow!” he shouts.
Lance curses and whirls toward me. “CASIA!” he shouts, and she, too, is already moving. With a wave of her specter, a line of fire cuts us off from the Blazer just as I feel an invisible force slam into my back.
WAYNE, NEW JERSEY
Great Plains grass grows in the front year of the suburban New Jersey house. It’s a cape cod, nothing extravagant, Durant mused. Nothing like Addy had lived prior to her banishment. Plants sprout from the gutters while pieces of cracked aluminum sliding sway in the gentle breeze. The windows remain intact, which leads Durant to believe the place was abandoned rather than neglected.
Standing on the sidewalk, the forty-something man looks upon the house with a mixture of remorse and bitterness and shoves his hands in his jacket pockets.
“Hey, are you with the police?”
Durant glances the way of the voice, and on another side of a fence, a woman with a messy bun and a pink robe waves him over.
“Are you the police? Do you know what happened to Addy and Connor?”
Durant blinks, not unnerved by the grass that rose to his waist. “You knew Adeline?”
“Wonderful woman. Always waved and made the best tea in the book club,” the woman swoons and shakes her head sadly. “It’s terrible what happened to her and her brother and Ral.”
Durant’s head whips toward her. “Ral?”
“Yes, Addy’s son.”
Durant’s trembling hands drop from his pockets, and he forges the grass toward the house.
“Hey!” the woman yells. “How do you know Addy and Connor? Hey!”
Pain scrapes along my arms and cheeks, and when I blink, blurred fire burns in the darkness greeting me. Whispered pleas echo on the edge of my hearing, and before me is a mass of red and black with familiar hands touching my neck and face.
I think that’s what I said. I can’t really hear my own voice.
A hard hand snatches my wrist, and Lance yanks me to my feet, which reminds once more how this happens and how little I remember. The Blazer must have exploded, right? Why don’t I remember that?
My feet somehow find the pavement, and I follow Lance in tow toward a store on the main drag and then down a back alley. We fight across a four-lane highway, where cars and trucks screeches just before stopping at our feet. A drugstore sits in the middle of a strip mall, already closed for the night. Lance leans me against the wall to pick open the electronic lock, and I finally find my breath as he eases me down next to the counter. He disappears down one of the aisles.
I focus on breathing, though it seems more labored and painful than I remember. Heat radiates from my left side, and as my vision comes into focus, the flames burn off Casia. Soot blackens her cheeks, and her hair tumbles undone down her back. Still, she’s as beautiful as ever.
“You okay, Raleigh?”
Though the words come out like whispers, I still know what she said. I grab her wrist. “Don’t. Call. Me. That.”
“He’s okay,” Lance laughs as he settles on my right hand side, handing me a water bottle. “Drink this. It should help you feel better.”
“They think we killed Addy and Connor,” Casia sits cross-legged and accepts a cigarette lighter. Flicking it on, she draws the fire toward her fingertips and absorbs the flames. “How do they even—”
“We were there the night the Skadoian Warriors attacked,” Lance interjects after a big gulp. “Fingerprints, eyewitnesses, any number of people could have seen us take Raleigh.”
I put down my bottle. “Stop that.”
“He really is okay.” Casia ruffles my hair, and I somehow hold in the wince. It’s tender there.
“Hey, you should be happy,” Lance chuckles. “We could start calling you ‘Rally.’”
I swallow and ignore my legs when they protest what I’m about to say, “Shouldn’t we keep moving?”
Lance shakes his head. “That’s what they think we’re going to do. The best thing is to wait until morning. Let them think we’re running and then slip out of town in a stolen car.”
Cocking my head to the side, I blink past the blurriness. “Is there anything legal you know how to do?”
“Hey, how do you think I got the Blazer?”
“Are you serious—hmph!”
Lance smacks a hand over my mouth and beseeches to Casia, “…Do you hear that?”
I expect her to say, “Hear what?” but instead, she smacks her hand into her forehead. “Did you have to say that?”
This time, I remember the explosion as it rips through the front of the drug store—or should I say explosions? The very foundations of the building shake under our feet, and as pieces of the dropdown ceiling flake in our hair, spotlights shine in from all directions.
“STERLING! Drop it!” a mechanical voice demands.
Through the spots flittering in front of my eyes, I see the shadows of the men and women surrounding us. What I don’t see is Lance’s reaction until and my body’s jerked backwards by the collar.
I hate to admit it, but the cold blade hovering under my chin is nothing new. Lance holding it—well, yeah, that is.
For the most part.
“Stay back!” Lance shouts like a mental ward escapee. “Stay back or the kid gets it.”
“Seriously?” I hiss. “You can’t come up with anything original?”
Casia’s soft voice sounds close to my ear, “Have you completely lost your—”
Please don’t have Lance have lost it—whatever IT is.
“Shh!” Lance chastised, and despite my blindness from the lights, Lance navigates well. Like I’ve done hundreds of times, I close my eyes and trust Lance. Slowly, he pushes me out of the store, where by the sound of cocking and grunts, more soldiers await us.
Lance shakes my collar and points to the woman with golden hair who attacked us earlier. “Hey! Hey, you! I’m not kidding. Kid could die of a paper cut.”
With narrowed eyes, the woman raises a hand to halt her forces. “Hurting that boy will accomplish nothing, Sterling.”
“I guess that all depends upon you, doesn’t it…”
“Sierra,” she offers.
A blast reverberates, and Casia shoves me to the ground as one of the lights explodes in a fury of blue fire. As it slams to the pavement in a fiery heap, a blue flame zooms across the sky; a second light combusts.
“Alpha group—take the perpetrators!” Sierra screams. “Beta group—take out the boogie!”
I barely make out what she says as the blue flare comes to hover just in front of us, and I see the blue wings. They protrude from the being’s back—the man’s back. He’s young, the same age as Lance or maybe a little older. His jet black hair mixes into the night sky, and his eyes burn with the same intensity as the fire about his body.
“Kabobs or BBQ?” He shrugs, and from his hands, flames form a barrier between the soldiers and us. “To be honest, I like rotisserie myself.”
His skin twinkles every color imaginable with an emphasis on gold and silver.
She looks up at him with tears in her eyes, and a muted scream scrapes her throat.
To Be Continued…