Saturday, April 1, 2017
BYOB: PART TWO
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
By Daniel Skye
PART TWO: INFERNO
Draven stormed across the living room, pushing his way through the crowd. Milton saw him first. But it didn’t take long for Tucker to notice him too.
“Hey, Draven,” Tucker called out. “You didn’t bring any beer? Didn’t anyone tell you this party is BYOB?”
“You know why I’m here, asshole,” Draven shouted, his face turning beet red. “I’m here because you ripped me off.”
“Prove it,” Tucker shrugged.
Draven removed his jacket and threw it to the ground. Tucker recognized this primal act of machismo. Draven was indicating that he was ready for a fight, that he meant business. He even pulled off his black stocking cap and tossed it aside to show Tucker how serious he was.
“I always wondered, where do you guys get those stockings for your head? Do you raid your mom’s underwear drawers or what?”
Milton could hear what Draven was thinking. Contrary to his demeanor, Draven was actually intimidated by Tucker’s nonchalant attitude.
“That’s it,” Draven said, trying not to let his threatening façade crumble. “Let’s do this.” On the outside, Draven was steaming. On the inside, he was trembling.
Tucker stood up and Draven went to throw the first punch. But his arm froze in mid-air.
Sasha was using her powers to control him. Draven felt his arm moving on its own as it swung back around. He struck himself in the nose with his fist, drawing blood. He stumbled back, knocking over several partygoers.
“What the fuck just happened?” Draven asked, looking around bewildered.
“Why are you hitting yourself?” Tucker taunted. “Why are you hitting yourself?”
Draven, confused and embarrassed, scrambled to his feet and ran out the front door.
Riley had fixed herself another rum and coke. She was watching the whole time from a distance and wanted to intervene. But she could never use her powers in front of her fellow students. If she were discovered, it would be a fate worse than death.
Sasha could get away with using her powers in public. Nobody knew it was her pulling the strings. Riley couldn’t use her powers without exposing herself.
Everything had happened so fast, Sasha never had a chance to tell her friends about the text Noah sent her. As Draven ran out, Noah came running in, coated in sweat, struggling to catch his breath.
“Where have you been?” Riley asked.
“I need your help,” Noah said, still catching his breath. “My brother is missing. They found the school bus on the side of Oxford Avenue. The kids were missing. Fred, the bus driver, is dead. Burned to a crisp. His flesh was practically melted into the seat.”
“Holy shit,” Milton exclaimed, sobering up from the grisly details.
“My brother, Jordan, was on that bus. Sasha’s sister was on that bus.”
“Tina?” Riley said. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
“Not so fast,” Milton said. “We don’t even know what we’re up against. Let’s go out back and talk strategy. And I’ll see if I can use my powers and pinpoint their location. Maybe if I concentrate hard enough, I’ll be able to hear their thoughts.”
* * *
Draven was utterly humiliated. And he wasn’t going to let this slide. He went out to his lime green Ford Pinto and got a .32 from the glove compartment. He checked to make sure it was loaded and tucked the gun into his waistband.
“That son of a bitch is going to pay,” Draven said. He slammed the passenger door shut, turned around, and saw a ten year old girl in a pink princess costume with glittery pink wings strapped to her back.
“What are you supposed to be, a princess or a fairy? Get lost, Tinker Bell. I’ve got business to take care of.”
Draven could see there was something not quite right about the child. Her skin was pallid, devoid of any natural color. Which made her yellowed fingernails stand out even more. She shuffled towards him, moving like a George A. Romero zombie.
She grabbed him, hugging him by the waist. Draven fell to his knees immediately, the pain too intense to withstand. He could feel his insides being set ablaze.
* * *
Milton could not use his powers to locate the children. But they agreed not to split up. They had to stick together if they were going to find the kids alive and well.
Noah had already been to the bus. He’d searched Oxford Avenue up and down. So they would start with the surrounding area.
They walked out front and stumbled across the charred, maimed body of Draven.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Sasha said, covering her mouth.
“It looks like someone crammed him into a microwave,” Milton said, poking at the body with a stick.
“He never looked better,” Tucker muttered under his breath.
“These burns look internal,” Milton pointed out. “It’s like somebody roasted him from the inside out. I’ve never seen anything like that. And these burns look fresh. Whoever or whatever did this, can’t be too far from here.”
“That’s what Fred, the bus driver looked like. We have to find whatever did this. It’s the key to finding those children.”
* * *
“Shit,” Tucker said as they walked down King Street.
“What?” Riley asked.
“I left all my beer back at the party.”
“Would you quit joking around?” Sasha chided. “This is serious shit. I may never see my sister again.”
“Is she the little girl in the princess costume with the fairy wings on her back? Because if so, she’s standing right over there.”
Tucker pointed at the five children standing across the road, looming in the shadows of the trees. Ryan Urig, Greg Rawden, Ava Bloom, Jordan Segal, and Tina Corelli.
“Tina!” Sasha cried with joy. “Oh, thank God you’re alright!”
But Tina did not return or share her sister’s joy and relief. Tina was incapable of feeling, incapable of responding. All she was capable of doing was destroying everyone and everything in her path.
Sasha was about to run across the street when Noah grabbed her by the wrist, stopping her dead in her tracks. With his superhuman strength, he nearly pulled her arm out of the socket.
“Let me go,” she said.
“Hold up a second,” he told her. “They don’t look right. They look…sick. Look at their skin, their fingernails.”
“Tina, can you hear me, sweetie?” Sasha called. Tina glared at her. Her eyes were barren, no pupils or irises. All the children’s eyes had turned the color of marbles.
Sasha broke free from Noah’s vice-like grip and ran across the street. She dropped to one knee and hugged her little sister like she hadn’t seen her in years. As Tina wrapped her short arms around her, Sasha felt pain like she had never experienced before. She screamed; a dull, weak, muted scream that could not even begin to convey the pain she was enduring.
It took all her strength to break free from her sister’s grip. She jetted back across the road, wincing in pain as she lifted up the back of her blouse.
“Is it bad?” she asked.
Riley observed the red burn marks on her back. “First degree burns. You’ll live.”
“Did…did Tina do that?” Milton asked.
“Yes, I don’t know how. It happened as soon as she touched me. I felt it.”
“Something happened to them on that bus…” Noah said, trailing off.
“Milton, use your powers to read their thoughts,” Tucker suggested.
“I can’t,” Milton groaned. “My powers won’t work with them. It’s like they’re blocking me from reading their minds.”
“Sasha, can you control them?”
“No,” Sasha sighed. “I’m trying, but my powers aren’t working, either. They’re resisting me.”
The children ran off, scurrying through the bushes and trees like scared deer caught in the headlights.
“I picked a hell of a night to try smoking weed for the first time,” Milton shook his head, wondering if he was trapped in a dream.
“The bus was found by the chemical plant,” Noah said. “We need to find out what’s going on down there.”
“And let the kids run around town, burning everyone to a crisp?”
“She’s right,” Tucker said. “I’ll go. I can get there faster than any of you. You guys should go back to the party and make sure everyone is alright.”
“I’ll go back to the party and check there,” Milton said.
“I’ll go with you,” Riley said.
“Noah and I will look for the children,” Sasha told them. “They couldn’t have gone far.”
* * *
Teleportation can be tricky. You can end up on the wrong side of town, or the wrong side of the world. It took Tucker years of practice to master this strange power.
With his powers, it took less than a minute for him to reach the outskirts of the Redfield Chemical Plant.
The sight penetrated Tucker’s cool, casual façade. The sight absolutely terrified him. The ground was swarming with G-men and workers in hazmat suits.
The G-men were speaking directly to a man they referred to as Albright. Albright was the chief safety technician at the plant, and the men had requested to speak to him personally. Tucker moved in closer to eavesdrop on the conversation.
He heard the suits mumbling about a chemical leak. He heard Albright defending himself, saying it wasn’t his fault. The suits didn’t seem too concerned whose fault it was. All they wanted to know was what they were dealing with.
And that’s when Alright dropped a bombshell.
“As you gentlemen are aware, Redfield Chemical Plant has a contract with the US military. The plant specializes in biological warfare and viral weaponry. The leak released a cloud of smoke that is toxic, but it’s harmless for adults as long as you don’t breathe it in too long. Children on the other hand, have an adverse effect to the toxin. You gentleman are aware of the incident at the Ravensback Chemical Plant a few years ago? It should ring a bell. Your people swept it under the rug.”
“We’re aware,” one of the suits nodded. “Five children were exposed to the toxin. It turned them into mindless zombies who torched everything they touched. It turned them into monsters.”
“No, it turned them into weapons,” Albright corrected them. “And isn’t that what the military wanted? Isn’t it ironic that the same weapons we invent to protect ourselves are the ones that end up killing us?”
“Five more children are missing here in Redfield,” the suit informed him. “Say these children are sick or infected or however you would phrase it, how do we stop it?”
“Stop it? There’s no solution. No cure. Those children will never be the same again. The only way to stop it is to stop them.”
Tucker knew what this meant. And he knew it wouldn’t take long for the government to spring into action and sweep this mess under the rug.
Tucker backed away quietly, and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
* * *
Noah and Sasha didn’t find the children. But they found all the maimed, burned, charred, mutilated bodies left in their wake.
“Do you think we’ll be able to help them?” Sasha asked. “Do you think they’ll ever be normal again?”
“Define ‘normal’ at this point,” Noah said. “You can move objects and control people with your mind. Milton can read minds. Tucker could teleport to Egypt if he wanted to. Riley can light her cigarettes with her fingers. I can lift an SUV over my head. And your sister and my brother are burning people alive from the inside. I think normal went out the window a long time ago.”
“What’s up?” Tucker asked.
“Holy crap,” Sasha jumped. “Where did you come…oh, duh.”
“Shit is FUBAR down at the plant. Some sort of chemical leak. The kids were exposed to a toxin. The plant is crawling with suits. They’re looking to find the kids and sweep this under the rug.”
“We can’t let them find the kids,” Sasha said. “They’ll be deemed government property. They’ll lock them up and experiment on them just like they’d do with us.”
“Well, our options are limited. I overheard them talking. There’s no backup plan for this. No cure. The kids are stuck like this. There’s no saving them. And they’re going to kill everyone that they touch until the government tracks them down.”
“What can we do?” Noah asked.
“You’re asking me?” Tucker shrugged. “I’m not the brain. That’s Milton’s department.”
“Milton is not a part of this,” Sasha said. “It’s my little sister and Noah’s younger brother. We have to be the ones to decide.”
“Decide what?” Noah asked.
“How to deal with the situation. You heard what Tucker said. There’s no cure. No saving them. And we can’t let them fall into the hands of the government. And we can’t let them kill the entire town. We have to stop them. It…it has to be us. There’s no other way.”
“Are you suggesting we–”
“I don’t like it any more than you do,” Sasha cut Noah off. “But we don’t have any other choice. And we’re running out of time.”
“We can’t,” Noah shook his head defiantly.
Tears were streaming down Sasha’s face. “We have to,” she cried. “I don’t like it any more than you do. I’d rather burn than harm a single hair on Tina’s head. But she’s not Tina anymore. And she never will be again.”
“You’re sure about this?” Noah asked Tucker. “You’re sure there’s no cure?”
“If there was a cure, they would have implemented it. They wouldn’t be sending government officials to Redfield to clean up the mess. I know how painful this is for you guys. But I’m with Sasha on this one. As terrible as it sounds, it’s the humane thing to do.”
“Let’s get back to the party and find Milton and Riley,” Noah said. “We’ll need their help.”
* * *
A large crowd had gathered outside. Draven’s microwaved body had been discovered and people were calling 911, taking pictures with their cell phones, gasping or screaming or passing out at the sight. A girl was puking in the bushes. Tucker spotted Riley and Milton among the shocked spectators.
Up the block, Sasha could make out a small silhouette with wings that seemed to sparkle under the bright street lamps. The children had circled around the neighborhood and were shuffling towards the house.
“There was a leak at the chemical plant,” Tucker informed Riley and Milton. “The kids were exposed to some kind of toxin. There’s no cure. It’s irreversible. Government officials are on the scene. They’ve been given strict instructions to capture the children and sweep this mess under the rug.”
“I have a plan,” Milton said. “You’re not going to like it. But it will work.”
“Lay it on us,” Sasha said. “I’ll do anything for Tina. I’d rather free her from this curse than have her live another day like this.”
As Milton whispered his plan, the children spread across the lawn, burning everyone they came into contact with. Agonizing screams echoed throughout the block. People were running, knocking each other down, trampling each other in an attempt to save themselves.
The party was officially over. And once the crowd dispersed, only the five of them remained.
Sasha, Riley, Milton, and Noah cleared a path for Tucker. The children seemed drawn to him. He walked backwards towards the house, never taking his eyes off of them. The front door swung open in the wind. He stepped inside, the children following his path.
He led them through the foyer, into the living room, kicking aside empty beer cans and stepping over puddles of vomit that had seeped into the shag carpet.
Tucker let them get closer, close enough to reach out and almost touch him. But before they could lay a hand on him, Tucker was back outside on the lawn, standing amongst his friends.
The front door slammed and the lock snapped shut. Sasha used her powers to close and lock every door and window in the house.
“I did my part,” Tucker said. “Now it’s your turn, Riley.
She turned to Noah and Sasha. “Are you sure you want me to do this?” Riley asked. “Sure you’re not going to hate me later on?”
“Do it,” Sasha said emphatically. She knew Riley’s weakness was her temper. She gave her a hard slip across the face and Riley’s temper flared up. Her rage was palpable. She held up her right hand, which was a candelabra of flames.
They back away as Riley raised her right hand. Fire spewed out from her palm in thick orange jets. The front porch burst into flames, the fire traveling up the stairs and spreading up the front door.
The fire engulfed the property in seconds. They could feel the intense heat from where they were standing in the road. Riley had not stepped away from the house. And she had not extinguished her arm, because she couldn’t stop it. It spread up her hand, turning her arm into a sword of flames. The fire was spreading, threatening to consume her entire body.
“Give me your jacket,” Milton shouted.
He ripped Tucker’s leather jacket from his body and wrapped Riley up in it, extinguishing the flames. She winced in pain at the third degree burns on her arm. Milton took one look and knew she’d require medical attention.
“That’s never happened before,” Riley said slowly, spacing out the words. “I’ve always been able to control my powers.”
“Sssh, don’t say anything,” Milton said, cradling Riley in his arms. “We have to get you to the hospital. We’ll tell them you were burned in the fire.”
“Good thinking,” Riley whispered, then lost consciousness.
* * *
The house fire was all over the news. The chemical leak, not a word about it. Nowhere in the papers or on the news. Nothing about Hank Albright or Fred Masterson. Only a brief article about the five schoolchildren that “went missing”, according to the report.
Riley spent a few days in a burn unit, recuperating. Milton was the first to visit her.
“My hero,” Riley said without a shred of irony.
“It was nothing,” Milton said, blushing.
“How are Noah and Sasha holding up?”
“They’re doing about as good as you can imagine. Noah seems to be doing better than Sasha, but I can tell he’s putting on a front. Jordan meant the world to him.”
“I feel awful,” she said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. You did the right thing, the only thing. It had to be done.”
He sat in the empty chair at her bedside and she rested her good hand on his shoulder. Milton, unaccustomed to physical contact from the opposite sex, flinched momentarily. Then he smiled. And Riley, who rarely even cracked a smile, grinned back at him. Her eyes were glowing with affection.
“Riley, I hope you don’t think I saved your life because I expected you to pay me back. I saved you because you’re my friend and I care about you. You don’t owe me anything.”
“You’re reading my thoughts, aren’t you?”
“I can’t help it sometimes. This power controls me more than I control it. But really, you don’t owe me anything. I’m not looking for–”
“Just shut the fuck up and kiss me,” Riley said. And she didn’t have to ask twice.
* * *
“We did the right thing,” Noah assured Sasha.
They were sitting on Tina’s bed, Sasha staring at her sister’s stuffed animal collection. She remembered tucking Tina into bed almost every night, watching her cradle those stuffed animals in her arms until she drifted off to sleep. Some nights, Sasha would read to her or tell her a bedtime story. Tina felt she was getting too mature for her older sister to be tucking her in or reading her stories every night. But Sasha wouldn’t have traded those moments for anything.
“I know,” she said. “It doesn’t make it any easier.”
He put his arm around her to comfort her. She buried her face in his shoulder and tears started to flow. Noah wanted to breakdown, to cry along with her. But he had to be strong for Sasha, for his mother, his family. He promised himself he wouldn’t fall apart.
They embraced, holding each other tight in their arms. In that moment, the world around them ceased to exist. It shrunk until the world was no larger than Tina’s bedroom.
* * *
Tucker never read the newspaper. Not the New York Times or the Daily News. In fact, he barely read at all, minus the occasional Stephen King novel. But he just had to pick up a copy of the local paper that week.
He flipped through the pages until he found the article he was looking for. The headline read “Beer Vanishes from Beverage Distributor”, and vanished was the best word to describe it. In the article, there was a statement from the store clerk, Muhammed. He said he locked the place up after closing time and when he returned the next morning, every case of beer had vanished from the store.
There were no signs of forced entry. The locks had not been tampered with. And the video surveillance confirmed that it was not an inside job. Tucker had teleported in and out of the Liquor Barn so fast, the cameras hadn’t even picked him up. He cleaned the place out in minutes.
He laughed, tossed the paper aside, and cracked open an ice cold beer. There was plenty to spare. He had enough beer stashed away in his basement to last him the rest of the year.
* * *
The house had been reduced to a pile of rubble and smoldering ash. Firefighters sifted through the debris, trying to determine the cause of the blaze. Their investigation was short-lived, as a man in a white lab coat showed up on the scene, flanked by three men in suits with government IDs, who relieved the firemen of their duties.
“What happened to the children?” Dr. Glass asked.
“Their bodies were pulled from the rubble. They survived without a scratch.”
“Excellent. Take them to the Lodge. I went them in Project Blackbird. We have a lot to learn from these children.”
“Tell me, is Sasha Corelli aware of Project Blackbird? Or her friends, for that matter?”
“No, sir. Her memory was wiped clean. None of them remember their involvement.”
“Splendid. They think their secret is safe. We’ll let them think that for now. And when the time is right, we’ll come back to claim what is rightfully ours. And if they try to fight us, it will be their undoing. I created them, and I can destroy them.”