The Blackout

The Blackout

A Story by A.L.

Young teen, Tyler, is an orphan. His parents were killed when power mysteriously shut off in his city, plunging everyone into darkness. Except there's a building that has lights that still work.


Two months ago. That was when it happened. That was the night when all the lights shut off around the entire city, and the city next to us, and the city next to them. A lot has happened in those two months. 

In two months, more than �" of us are dust. Not because the sun vaporized us, like what happens in half the books I read. No, they die a different, less convenient way. 

The mayor of our city shut down every single business. All the lights went out spontaneously, all the electric gone. At first, people thought it was a joke. Oh, they said, Are we starting that once a week no electric hour? Did someone forget to pay the bills again? Then they slowly realized that the mayor was serious. We were actually going to live without lights. 

That’s when all chaos broke loose. Scavengers took to finding all the food. All the criminals escaped from jail. Strict rules were put into place. The very next day we gathered in front of the town hall. The mayor announced our new laws. I already knew no one, including myself, would obey them. The mayor said we should resort to old methods of trade. Trade our food for water. Trade our clothes for chickens. We resorted to stealing. 

That day became known as the Blackout. The day when our city changed for better or worse. Probably worse. The criminals killed for food and water. Innocent people became vicious monsters bent on survival. It’s crazy what some people will do to save their lives. 

My brother was one of the first to die. Mitchel went out to find us food. My parents and I were starving, and my little sister was sick as it was. Mitchel was caught by the police. He didn’t manage to steal us any food, only to be killed immediately. And I had the guts to watch from the window. 

Mazie, my sister, used to whisper my name as she slept. Her face grew paler and my heart broke every time she whispered, “ Tyler, Tyler, Tyler. `` we couldn’t find enough food, and Mazie was frail as it was. She died about a week after Mitchel. 

My mom then decided to take her own life. Her son and daughter were dead, and the only child left was a coward who watched his own brother die. She jumped from the window, her body broken on the cracked sidewalk below. But my father never gave up. He praised me, taught me how to steal and make away with as much loot as possible. 

“ C’mon, Tyler. `` he would say. “ You can get more food with those arms. “ And I would. He drove me to do better. Until his untimely death. We were attacked by two of the murderers who escaped prison. My father fought back as I hid. They beat him, took his loot, and then searched for me. They didn’t find me. 

I was alone, and I still am. But I’ve learned how to live in this twisted world. That’s why today I’m living in a run down building on the top floor, celebrating the fact I’ve lived for the past two months. People down on the street below open a bottle of alcohol, probably stolen from the factory three blocks away. I pull away from the window as glasses shatter on the sidewalk. They can’t see me here, no one knows I’m still alive. Not even Caroline or Matt, my two best friends. They probably think I’m dead, just as I do for them. It might be for the best, actually. I’ve been quite the third wheel lately. 

I crawl into my nest on the floor. Over the past month and a half, I’ve gathered several blankets and pillows, enough to make a bed. I have no mattress - the only one in the apartment I call home is covered in puke. Mazie’s puke. Tonight I’ll go find more food, enough for four days. 

I’ve always had trouble falling asleep. I need noise, not eerie silence. I used to be able to just listen to the sound of Mitchel or Mazie breathing, but now that they’re gone, it’s hard. So I pull out a book. I can barely read, but this is the book I’ve had since the day I turned six. It’s survived eight years of craziness, and some of the pages are torn and the cover is missing. I don’t know what the book is called, or really what it’s about, but words calm me. Just seeing how they sit organized on paper, never moving or changing like the rest of the world. It’s like some people’s bubble wrap, or other’s pillows.  

I wake up about an hour later, not sure when exactly I fell asleep. But the sky is dark and the outline of the moon is vague among the clouds. But it’s the perfect time for me. Sometimes I like to think of myself as a nocturnal creature instead of a normal person.  

I open the window, looking at the ground several stories below me. If I fall it will mean certain death. I haven’t fallen, not yet. The air is slightly cooler than the last time I felt it. It must be almost winter by now, however you never know with the amount of pollution. I dangle my bare feet outside, making sure that no one sees me. The police still operate, and any child seen outside after dark is illegal. I may be fourteen, but I’m small enough to pass as a kid, even when I don’t want to. 

As soon as I’m sure there’s nobody out and about, I lower myself out of the window. I always leave barefoot because it helps me to be stealthier. There’s a ledge not far below me, so I drop down, almost silently. The ground is still too far to jump, even if I roll. My thin clothes don’t protect me from the bitter wind, but they are lightweight and easy to move around in. I reach my hands up and feel for the windowsill slightly above the ledge. As soon as I feel the rough bricks, I grab on and begin to pull myself sideways. My feet get scraped on the hard wall, but they will heal quickly. When I get to the edge of the windowsill I hoist myself up onto a fire ladder. Most of the rungs are broken, but I’m light enough that I don’t break it. There’s a rope tied around the top rung and I unwrap it so that it dangles five feet off the ground. Then I make my way down the side of the building, hooking the rope on a stray brick at the bottom and jumping my way to safety. 

The factory I normally steal from is about six blocks away, except I’m pretty sure they’ve increased security,  Next to it is a small, bargain outlet I usually stop at on my way out. However, tonight I’m going straight for the gold. 

For the past month, I’ve been watching a large building in the center of town. Lots of people go in, and they come out with so much junk that I know there must be enough inside no one will notice if I take some. Security is weak, as the police patrol around it at night. No one will expect me, or notice me. 

I begin my trek across the city. It’s not hard to stay hidden in the shadows. The police don’t notice me at all. There’s a few close calls, but I make it out alive. 

Finally, I arrive at the large building. It’s even bigger than I thought, massive doors. I won’t use the doors. I’ve done enough research to know that the windows on the bottom floor are made of unbreakable material, but directly above them is a balcony and glass door. I climb up the windows using a rope I found on the ground. It’s easy to make it to the balcony, and the glass door slides open perfectly. I slip inside. 

The layout of the room is messy, but my eyes know the dark well enough that there is no need for a light. It’s a tight office space, not much actual work stuff unless you count a ton of pictures and a dead computer. Cameras are all over the building, but since the Blackout, none of them work. Hopefully it stays that way. 

I make my way towards the door, hoping to get out of here quickly. I don’t know exactly what this building is supposed to sell. That’s why it’s good to find the staff rooms and then the storage cells. 

I fumble with the watch on my wrist. My dad bought it only a few years ago, and it’s solar powered. He also tweaked it and gave it a few … improvements. The watch can be powered by the heat of my body, and it doesn’t just tell time. New innovations have allowed me to build my own 3D version of the building and project it in the air. I can also scan an area and it’ll build me a map. I don’t normally use any of these features, but today is the first day I’ll need to try them out. 

My 3D map of the building isn’t complete, but I pull it up anyways. The projection flickers on and I map the office. From my estimation, the faculty room should be just down the hallway, while the storage cells are downstairs. I silently move through the halls, slipping in and out of shadows, my watch glowing dimly. I’ll be out of here soon. 

At the bottom of the hallway is a door with bold, red writing. The chosen font of text and my own logic and experience leads me to believe that this is the room for Staff Only. That’s probably what the door actually says, but how am I supposed to know. 

I slip a bobby pin out of my carefully hidden pocket and stick it in the lock on the door. After two months of picking locks, I’m a master, not to mention that I’ve been able to steal from both people and places since I was five. The door opens with a creak, and inside are two sofas and a fridge. All the power is out, but the town hall still offers ice to keep food cold. The people working here bring ice every day and leave with a bag of water. They must exchange the ice every day. 

Inside the fridge is a bag of ice - confirming my suspicions - a bottle of soda, two sandwiches, a salad, and some yogurt. If I plan it out, this could last me a week. I have running water in the apartment, and I have some chocolate bars and a slice of pizza leftover from last week. I stick the food in my bookbag. 

Careful to leave no trace, I leave the room quickly to find my way to the steps, mapping the layout on my watch as I go. After a week of stealing, I learned the best way to walk is by placing your heel before your toe, and pretending you weigh almost nothing. The bottom level is just as dark as the second, but a guard is posted in front of a metal door that looks like a bank vault. That is probably the entrance to the storage cells. He’s a large man with a flashlight, but I’m quick. All I need is a distraction. 

Mitchel once taught me how to create a really good distraction. At the time, it was so that if I was being attacked by criminals ( at the time I don’t know what he was thinking ) I could get away. 

Basically, all I have to do is throw a little ball he made me. As soon as it touches the floor it will release two chemicals that create smoke and a loud bang. I have four more of these ‘chemical bombs’, and today I need to use one. I pull a palm sized ball out of my backpack, throwing it far enough away that the smoke won’t impair my vision. It’s a simple diversion, but it works. The guard goes to investigate and I sneak over to the vault door. A small screen at the corner of the door flashes red when my face appears in the camera. 

I unfold a piece of paper I hid in the pocket of my bag, revealing the face of a woman. I’ve studied her for the past week and determined she’s high enough that I can use her face for the facial recognition code. I took a picture of her and printed it out from my watch, another feature it offers. 

I hold it in front of my face, and the screen flashes green. The vault door slips open quietly, and the guard doesn’t notice when I sneak in and shut the door. 

Unsure of how the vault door got power, I stare at the darkness surrounding me. Suddenly, two dim lights flicker on, followed by two more. And then two more, and soon the entire cell is illuminated. Shelves form a maze in the large room. I have no idea how I’ll find what I’m looking for, because I’m not sure there’s a specific thing I’m looking for. 

There’s signs above the shelves, but since I can’t really read, it’s no help. Luckily there’s pictures to help me. 

Under the sign with a picture of a tent I find a box of matches, a sleeping bag, a canteen, a thermal blanket, a first aid kit, a lighter, some more rope, and a fancy, new dagger engraved with the letters J.B. Toilet paper and a box of tissues are found under the picture of a mirror, as well as a shiny, golden necklace I can sell and get some money for. 

When I’m satisfied with my stash, I head towards the vault door. Maybe tomorrow I can find out why the lights still work here. The lights help me map the room, though, so I don’t complain. 

This is the tricky part, getting out of the vault. The door is sealed, and I can turn the wheel and escape. But the guard is probably still there. I brought two darts with me, and a blowgun that Mitchel made. These are my last two darts, filled with sleeping toxins. On a man the size of the guard, it might only paralyze him. But I need to take the risk. 

Twisting the wheel, I open the vault door. As suspected, the guard is right outside. He turns but I jab a dart into his calf. It takes only a moment for him to crash to the floor. 

Then I feel arms around my back. I wriggle around until my arms are free and stab the dart into the arm of my captor. He drops me in surprise, and I can barely make out a skinny figure with circular glasses and perfectly gelled hair. I leap away and sprint out the door, which has been conveniently left open. 

Blood drips down my neck, and I realize the skinny man must have had a knife. I’ll fix it later with my first aid kid, but I have pressing matters at the moment. I hear the police behind me and duck into an alley. So the big building did have security. The police don’t notice me, and I scurry around the corner and climb the rope to my apartment. 

Five minutes later, breathing heavily, I lay on the floor. Tonight was successful. I’m drenched with sweat, but I’m alive. I sigh in relief. Somehow, I made it alive. 

I unpack my loot, knowing tomorrow I can sell the necklace. I bandage my wound, even though it’s not that bad, and  I lay down in my nest, grateful for the comfort it provides. I fall into a troubled sleep, and before I know it it’s morning. 

Bright sunlight streams through the window and I stretch. A strong smell fills the air and I turn around, searching for the source. A light mist filters through the door, and it heads straight for me. Quickly. I grab my sweatshirt, holding it over my mouth and nose to act like a mask. The mist stings my eyes as I work to gather as much stuff as possible. 

Someone’s trying to gas me out, like something an exterminator would do. But who? I’ve been careful so that no one sees me or my light in the window. I’ve made sure that no one has seen me coming or going. After all of my heists, nobody has followed me. No one’s even seen me! Except the skinny guy last night, but he was knocked unconscious, wasn’t he? Unless… unless he was the owner of the building. He would be rich enough to track me and my family down, not that he would need my family since they’re all dead anyways. That brings up another question, why

Why would a man go after one boy who broke into his building. I didn’t steal anything much of importance. So why

There’s not enough time to pack all my stuff, so I give up and run towards the window. There is a quicker way to get out than the one I took last night. It’s just much more dangerous. 

I jump, landing in the dumpster across the street. Nothing’s broken or hurt, I’m just shaken. I climb out of the dumpster, heart pounding. And I hear breathing behind. 

Quick as a snake, I whip around to find three full grown men, one of them the guard from last night. They all glare at me. 

“ Oh, didn’t see you there. “ I smile weakly. “ I’ll just be on my way. “ And I turn tail to run. One of them grabs me while another punches me hard in the face. 

Just as I’m about to lose consciousness, I hear a nasally laugh and feel two meaty hands wrap around my backpack. Then I collapse on the sidewalk. 

My head feels like it’s filled with lead by the time I open my eyes. I groan in pain. My entire head hurts. I pause, not moving. There’s a gentle rocking motion like I ‘m in a car, and some coughing beside me. 

My eyes finally adjust to the darkness and I can tell I’m in the back of a van. My bag sits across from me, and a small figure lays beside me. My arms and legs are bound tightly with a white rope, which feels like it’s super strong. My mouth is gagged with duct tape, but other than that I’m not tied down in any way. 

The person coughs again and it rolls closer to me so I can get a better look. It’s a boy, not much older than seven, with ruffled, dark hair and wide silver blue eyes. He looks terrified, and I do my best to calm him down. It doesn’t work. 

There’s a window in the front area of the van, and I can see two guards laughing. That doesn’t help me, so I resort to my other methods. 

I begin to salivate, and I’m soon able to peel the duct tape off my tape with my knees. I slide to the ground, landing beside the boy but making it sound like an accident. The guards don’t notice. I lay my head right next to the boy’s, and begin to whisper. 

“ I can help you make it out of here alive, but you need to work with me. “ I say. He nods, and I quietly rip off his gag. He winces in pain, but he’s otherwise okay. “ What’s your name, kid? “ 

He takes a little to think, probably coming up with a fake name. “ Owen. “ He says, his voice soft. “ My name is Owen. “ 

“ Hi, Owen, I’m Tyler. “ I try to keep my voice soft and kind with him, he’s so frail. Like Mazie. I stop thinking. Now is not the time for that. “ Can you please untie my arms for me? “ 

He nods again and roll so my arms face him. I feel his soft hands on my wrists as he begins to work through the knot. Finally, I feel the rope loosen and pull my arms out. I roll back to him and he rolls so I can untie him. 

Owen turns to face me once I’m done, and we both work on our legs. I have to say, I’m impressed with the way the boy has handled all of this. “ Are we really going to escape? “ He whispers, and I can’t help but picture Mazie in his spot. Poor, poor Mazie. I turn away so he can’t see me crying, but I nod nonetheless. I think we might escape. 

I crawl towards my bag as Owen sits up and coughs some more. He must be sick, or the guards could’ve drugged him. “ You know, “ He says, his tiny voice quivering from fear. “ There was another girl in here. But when they went to get you, she managed to get out the door and run. She didn’t help me, Tyler, not like you did. “ And I realize that this boy has faced so much in the past day. If I was seven and being kidnapped, I’d have given up hope. He was scared when whoever the other girl was left him. He thought he wouldn’t escape. I smile, and reach into my bag, pulling out spare bobby pin, a pocket knife, and a canteen. Owen climbs over and grabs my pack of fruit snacks. 

“ We’re gonna escape, little buddy, we’re going to make it. “ I say, and his face lights up. 

“ Or are you? “ A voice, the same one that belonged to the laugh, asks. I turn to find the same skinny man from last night standing in the doorway. “ I see you’ve been bonding, boys, that’s wonderful. Don’t worry about the girl who got away, she’ll be caught again. It’s you two you should be worried about. 

I whip the pocket knife at the man, whose shape is still blurry in the bright light. He grabs my wrist and I feel a small stabbing pain, like a paper cut. The man laughs again. “ Here’s a taste of your own medicine, kid. “ I can almost feel the liquid in my bloodstream, and I fall to the floor like a puppet whose strings have been cut. Owen’s screech is the last thing I hear before the world goes dark once again. 

This time, I can almost feel my mind swimming in darkness. The man must be extremely smart and rich to be able to create a drug this strong. Most drugs are strong, but with this one I’m almost still awake, as though my eyes are just closed. So I can still feel pain, it’s just less and I can’t move away from it. 

When the sedative finally wears off, I find myself in a mirrored room. Every single wall is made of mirror, but I have a feeling that someone else can still see me. There’s a chair that I’m sitting on, but it’s attached to the ground so I can’t pick it up and throw it. 

Whoever this kidnapper is, they certainly know what they’re doing. I locate a speaker in the corner of the room, but it remains silent. I sigh, looking at my reflection in the multiple mirrors. My hair is longer than it was, and it’s beginning to curl into wisps around my ears. It’s chocolate gold color is what most girls would have nowadays, however I don’t care. My eyes are hazel, which I thought they were gray before. One of my eyes is surrounded by a large, blue bruise, and I have a cut on my cheek. Definitely attractive. I almost laugh at the situation. I’m sitting here, admiring myself in the mirror, when I should be escaping. Although it might be worth it to escape a little longer. 

“ How are you, kid? “ I hear a voice, the high, nasally one, over the speaker. 

“ Great. “ I reply, trying to sound confident and not bothered by this man. “ I’m actually quite handsome, if I do say so myself. “ I hear a laugh, and I’m glad. If this dude feels emotion, that’s a good sign he could let me go. 

“ That’s fantastic to hear. In a couple of minutes, I’m going to have a guard escort you to my office. Please don’t try to escape. I fear that every time I use that sedative I used on you earlier, the reaction gets worse. I really would prefer you to be alive for this. Thanks, kid. I appreciate it. “ And the loudspeaker clicks off. So his sedative gets worse every time, which means I don’t think he’s behind the chemical formula. 

One of the mirrors rises like a garage door, and the same guard from the vault steps into the room with a rope in his hands. “ This rope is especially made for thieves like you. “ He grunts. “ Try to escape and it’ll dig into your wrists and leave scars. “ 

“ Duly noted. “ I try again with the sarcasm, but this guard dude, his name tag reads Timothy, isn’t amused. I sigh, turning around and letting him tie my wrists. Quick note for anyone out there, if you clench your fists (if anyone actually does try to kidnap you) it makes it easier to escape. Luckily, Timothy doesn’t know this trick and ties my hands behind my back. Then he wraps a meaty hand around my arm and pulls me out of my cell. 

He drags me down the hallway and I try to look for Owen. I seem to have grown attached to the little boy, though I normally work alone. But there’s no sign of my new friend. There’s so many twists and turns I swear we’re in a maze. Left , right, right, straight, left, straight, left, right. And then I give up because there’s too many for my brain to handle. 

Finally, after walking up six flights of stairs - just FYI, there was an elevator - we arrive at a large room that I’m assuming is the man’s office. Timothy knocks. 

The man opens the door after only a few seconds and I finally get a good look at him. The man has immaculate blonde hair and ice blue eyes. When I was little, my mom used to take me to see movies and I would always hate when actors would have unnaturally blue eyes. That’s what this man’s eyes look like, but colder than ice. His smile is 100% false and screams “I’m a businessman, please buy my useless junk!” 

“ Is this the kid? “ He asks, his eyes not leaving my face. 

“ Excuse me, but could you please refrain from calling me a kid? “ I ask politely. Also sarcastically, like pretty much every single sentence that comes out of my mouth. 

“ It’s him, sir. “ Timothy answers. The man breaks into an even bigger smile, which gets even scarier. 

“ Good, good. Bring him in, Tim. Sit the ki... sorry, boy in this chair over here. “ He beckons to a chair looking kind of like a dentist chair, but the back isn’t slumped and it glows. Timothy forces me to sit. The man sits at his office desk, which is piled with papers. And I thought Mount Everest was tall. 

He begins to type on his computer, but looks up quickly at Timothy. “ Untie him, please. Lean back, boy. “ I do, unsure what exactly I’m doing here. I don’t know if I’m the villain or he is. I mean, I am a thief. Four straps jump out from the seat edges, harnessing me to it. I struggle and squirm, but they don’t loosen. At least I can sit up a little and see what the man is doing. He types a few more things on his fancy computer before looking at me. 

“ So, boy, I believe we haven’t properly been introduced. My name is Jonathan Bradford, CEO of Bradford Tech. What’s your name, and you might want to answer if you like to live. “ The man - Jonathan - says. I continue to struggle until I feel an electric pulse travel through my body. It brings tears to my eyes. 

“ Not going to answer? “ Jonathan asks again, and sends another volt through my body, This isn’t the simple static shock, it’s full out stick-your-finger-in-a-power-outlet shock. “ C’mon, it’s not hard. If you don’t care about yourself, I know you like that little boy. I can bring him in here and you can watch him suffer instead. “ 

More electricity. I shake and flail, but the pain keeps coming. Clenching my fists, I yell out. “ Tyler!” 

“ What? “ Jonathan barely glances at me. “ I can’t hear you. “ 

“ My name … is Tyler. “ I pant. The volts slow down and then stop and I grit my teeth as the pain continues. 

Jonathan smiles. “ Wonderful, Tyler. See, if you just tell me these things, it won’t hurt as much. That’s all I need for now. We’ll look at your records, make sure everything is all good and well. Then we’ll go from there, you see. It’s easy. Just give me what I want and no harm will come. “ 

Jonathan turns to Timothy. “ Take him back to his cell, I’ll send you the other information later. Can you bring up the small boy as soon as you’re done then? “ Timothy nods and the straps loosen. I try to stand, but my knees buckle and red rims my vision. Timothy goes to pick me up, but I push away his arm. 

“ I can walk. “ I insist. This is more of a pride issue than anything, but Timothy doesn’t argue. I end up walking back to my cell using the wall as a support. Timothy stops briefly in a room I’m not allowed to enter and grabs a blanket. I’m guessing Jonathan wants me to have at least some luxury. I’m exhausted by the time I get to my cell and I don’t wait for Timothy to leave. He hands me the blanket, and I gladly take it. I notice there’s a small cot in the corner of my cell that wasn’t there before. I drop onto it, falling asleep almost immediately. 

I’m startled awake by Jonathan’s voice. “ Rise and shine, sunny boy. We have a big day planned today! “ 

“ Hey, dude! “ I yell back at the speaker. “ I have a request. “ 

I hear a dramatic sigh - since Jonathan can’t eye roll on a speaker. “ Yes, Tyler? “ 

I stand up, limbs still weary. “ I want to go back to my apartment tonight. Supervise me all you want. “ 

He doesn’t respond at first. “ Why do you want to go back? “ 

“ Because I left my book. “ The speaker clicks off, so I’m not sure if that’s a yes or no. It was a serious request, though. I really do need my book. I notice a pile of clothes on the floor. A black t-shirt and sweatpants. I change ( it’s a little weird in a room full of mirrors ) and leave my old clothes on the floor. They’re pretty much destroyed from my nightly adventures. 

There’s not much I can do in the cell, so I sit on the bed and try to make faces in the mirrors. Then I comb back my hair with my fingers. Maybe Jonathan will cut it for me. 

What feels like an eternity later, Timothy enters the room through the weird flippy door thing and leaves me some food, while taking my dirty clothes. There’s still a ton of questions on my mind and it’s driving me insane, but I still need to eat. My stomach growls and I try to figure out how long it’s been since I last ate. At least two days. I devour the meal, which tastes like sand. 

Timothy returns soon after and he leads me back to Jonathan’s office. Well, almost Jonathan’s office. Instead, it’s next to his office and has multiple chairs in front of a throne. No joke. A throne with red cushions and silver rims. Who does this guy think he is? There’s plenty of windows in this room, and I look around. We’re really high up. The sun is rising now, leaving gold streaks across the sky. Timothy stands alongside me. 

“ Isn’t it beautiful? “ He asks, and I gape at him. He suddenly looks self conscious. “ What? “ 

“ Well, I never expected that a guy like you would admire something the way I do. You’re so big and tough, not to mention you work as a guard. “ I answer. 

He stares out the window. “ Kid, listen. I may be big and tough, but I’ve got a heart. When you threw that smoke bomb, I knew you were going to break in, but I let you. I figured you could get in, steal some food, and leave. Jonathan just showed up for a surprise inspection. I think he honestly knew about you. When you came back out of the storage room, I could’ve strangled you, but I let you sedate me. I want you to live, kid. I don’t want to be here any more than you do, I just need money and to survive. “ 

I look at him in awe. I must be more oblivious than I thought. A knock at the door startles me and I see another guard and Owen. Owen smiles and runs over to me, giving me a big hug. In the actual light, he looks a little older than seven, maybe ten at the oldest. Not old enough to be here. If anything else, I just need Owen to escape. 

“ How’s it going, Owen? “ I let him look at the sky outside. His face is pure excitement. I notice a couple of bruises on his arms and neck. I have no doubt where they came from. 

“ Okay, I guess. “ Owen answers, his voice is still high pitched, meaning he’s still a kid. “ Not too bad, how about you? “ 

“ Pretty good. “ I lie. This kid has already been through enough. By the time I was his age, the most damage I’d done to myself was a scraped knee and concussion. Owen has already been kidnapped, maybe drugged and tortured too. If anyone needs proof that Jonathan is heartless, well here you go. 

The door opens again and there’s another guard, followed by a girl, If I had to guess, it’d be the girl who got away the day we were captured. She has medium length blonde hair, pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes are vivid green and narrowed. She has a long scratch across her cheek and a bruise on her forehead. She might be worse than me, and she looks familiar, though I don’t know why.

Her eyes flit back and forth as she casually strolls over to Owen and I. Owen hides behind me and I try to smile. This girl would be a good ally to have. “ I’m Tyler and this is Owen. “ I say. 

“ I’m Piper. “ She doesn’t smile back, but instead shakes my hand. Then she tousles Owen’s hair. He hugs her leg. 

One more person enters the room. The King of Tortue, Jonathan. “ Oh, wonderful. You’ve all met. “ 

I roll my eyes. His happy attitude doesn’t match his words. “ What do you need, Jonathan? “ 

“ I need a lot of things, actually. For one, I need to be addressed as ‘sir’ or ‘mister’. ‘Master’ will work too. “ 

Owen peeks out from behind me. “ But I was taught that the only things you need are oxygen, food, water, and shelter. You won’t die if we don’t call you names. “ 

“ Fine. “ Jonathans sighs. “ Last night I found some information on all of you, so we’re taking a group trip around town so you can grab what you need and me what I want, per Tyler’s request. “ 

Both Piper and Owen look as shocked as I feel. He’s really going to listen to us? Jonathan assigns us Timothy, who guarantees he can supervise all three of us. I know Piper would be willing to harm Timothy, so I pull her back before we’re about to leave. 

“ Timothy said he’s on our side. “ I whisper quickly. “ We can trust him. “ She nods, only slightly so that no one else notices. I’m pretty sure Timothy’s not a spy. He sounded genuine back at the window. 

“ You two better not be scheming. “ Jonathan warns. 

“ Tyler was just telling me where to kick you so it really hurts. He said he has experience with those kind of things. “ Piper lies smoothly. I see Jonathan cover his lower body protectively with his hands as she smirks. 

“ What’s the plan? “ Owen whispers to me as we enter the elevator. “ I want to help. “ 

“ There is no plan. Do what the man says. “ I answer. We need to wait. 

Jonathan puts us in the back of a van, while he and Timothy sit in the front. He tells us he will monitor our conversations, but I don’t see any cameras or microphones in the back of the van. I let Piper and Owen know it’s safe to talk. 

“ Did he … did he hurt you too? “ Owen asks quietly. 

“ Yes.” That’s all I can say. I don’t think Jonathan used the same methods on all of us. Owen’s bruises are on his arms and neck, so I think they probably just beat him and cut off his airways for brief periods of time. Still traumatic, but he’s alive. 

‘ He wanted my name. “ Piper looks at the ground. “ That’s it. And he got it. Acid burns, you know. “ I notice how Piper’s wearing long sleeves. She rolls them up to show several welts, most of them scabbed over and a couple still bleeding. 

“ Electrocution. “ Again, with the one word answers. I think Jonathan scares me more than I’d like to admit. 

Owen whimpers. “ They punched and kicked, guys. And then one of the big dudes got a rope and I was scared. He tried to choke me, and I think right now I’d rather be dead. I’d rather they killed me. I’m scared. “ 

Piper and I share a look. Maybe we both got off easy. Owen went through less, but he’s so young. They terrified him into the point of willing death. He doesn’t want to live in pain and horror. He doesn’t deserve it either. We need Owen if we want to escape, but I need him as a friend. I would’ve given up last night too, if it hadn’t been for Owen. 

“ Hey, it’s okay. Why don’t you tell us what you’re house is like. Do have any family? “ Piper rubs his shoulders until his crying turns to sniffles. 

“ I lived in an apartment. Maybe I can find you a cool gadget or something you like. My dad made me a watch, and it’s pretty cool. It’s starting to be too small, so I can give it to you, as long as Jonathan doesn’t take it. “ I offer. 

“ Really?” His whole face lights up. I suppress a laugh. This kid appreciates every single thing. I really don’t want to give up my watch, but I’d rather Owen have it than Jonathan. The van lurches to a stop and Jonathan opens the back door, letting us out, but not before attaching a small cuff to each of our wrists. 

“ If you try anything, I will not hesitate to use these. “ He informs us. Not that we would. I think we’re at Piper’s house first. It’s  a small treehouse, on probably the only tree in the city. Jonathan has her go inside first, followed by Owen and I, Timothy staying at the bottom. 

Piper’s house is extremely squished. Jonathan looks around for a minute before making a request. “ I want anything in here with value to me. You can grab something for sentimental value, but that’s it. “  Piper gives him a death glare before turning to her stuff. Jonathan begins to search as well, pulling out a small satchel and inspecting anything that catches his eye. 

I see Piper grabbing a couple pictures off of a cardboard box nightstand. Then she pulls a box out from under her mattress, putting the pictures in. Jonathan begins to play with a grappling hook and pockets it. I see Piper’s fists clench. 

Piper stops searching, I’m pretty sure all she wanted was the pictures. There’s a mattress on the far side of the room, next to the cardboard box posing as a nightstand. She has a small electric light on the box, as well as a pen and journal. One of her walls is stacked with dusty books, most of them falling apart. The other wall has a window and a cat bed laying on the floor. Whatever cat lived there earlier, it’s gone now. It’s bowl is filled with water, which Piper dumps out the window and refills with a plastic water bottle in the corner. Then she grabs another bowl from in her nightstand and fills it with food scraps from a bag. 

Jonathan watches her carefully. She looks up at him with eyes burning. “ I’m feeding my cat. Is that not okay with you? “ 

“ No, no. It’s fine. Anything else that I would like? I’ll have my guards search it thoroughly tomorrow, and you won’t like how I punish you. “ Jonathan smiles sweetly. Piper gives him another glare before digging through her book pile and handing him two security cards,  as well as other various items including a pack of sleeping darts, three smoke bombs, and a box full of stolen merchandise. Some of it is from Jonathan. For every item she stole from his building, she receives some sort of blow through the bracelet. 

Jonathan smiles cruelly after all of the blows are delivered. Piper lays in a ball on the floor, her eyes watering. I help her up and she wipes her eyes. “ Let’s leave kids. Next stop, Tyler’s house. “ 

The ride is short in the back of the van, but Piper ignores both of us. Owen snuggles up against her side. Please, I pray, Let Owen not have stolen anything from Jonathan. Or make it disappear from where he lives . But I know it won’t happen. All I can hope for is that Owen can handle it. 

Just to bother Jonathan, I don’t tell him that there are back stairs in the apartment building. Piper and Owen have no problem scaling the building, but Jonathan does and it gives me pleasure to see him struggle. His face is drenched in sweat by the time he catches up to us, and looks around in fury. 

“ You know what to do. “ He says, not waiting for a response. I find my watch tangled among the blankets of my nest, handing it to Owen quickly so Jonathan doesn’t see. Owen slips it into his pocket. 

All I really want is my pictures, my book, Mitchel’s t-shirt, my parent’s wedding rings, and Mazie’s teddy bear. Jonathan doesn’t judge. I hand them to Piper so I can find the loot Jonathan wants. He confiscates my remaining smoke bombs and my blowgun, as well as another box of supplies I use for stealing. Then he finds the backpack. 

I forgot to take the food out, and all of the loot is still there too. Jonathan’s face glows with excitement. I wince as he pulls out the necklace first. “ What is this? Do you have a crush or something? I mean, c’mon, really. “ Then he delivers the first set of pain. The bracelet somehow releases a wave of pain on my body, mostly in my stomach. He digs through the backpack, sending a fresh wave of pain for everything. The matches, the sleeping bag, the canteen, the thermal blanket, and everything else. He pulls out the dagger last. 

His face glows with pure fury at the sight of the dagger. The bracelet stops releasing whatever pain it’s supposed to. Jonathan looks at me, all curled up protectively on the floor. He places his foot on the center of my chest. “ This is my personal knife. How did you find this? “ 

“ It was in the storage rooms. “ I cover my head. 

“ No, it wasn’t. Answer me! How did you find it!? “ 

“ I swear. I swear it was already in the storage room. Please. “ I cry out. He slaps me. The blow is much harder than the normal man should be able to hit. He must be enhanced somehow. The slap leaves a stinging feeling on my cheek as he releases his foot. Piper grabs me and helps me up, handing me my belongings. 

“ There are stairs, by the way. Around back. “ I tell Jonathan. He glowers at me and leaves the room. We follow him, Owen trotting along like a dog. His house is next. I wonder if Jonathan saved it for last for a reason. Owen’s house takes the longest to get to. Piper and I are silent for awhile, until Owen asks what to expect. 

“ What happened to you guys? “ Owen looks back and forth between us. “ I want to be prepared. “ 

Piper smiles softly. “ Based on my knowledge, I think the bracelet releases a chemical compound in the bloodstream that causes pain. But there’s no reason to worry. “ 

“ I think he enhanced his strength too. “ I add. Owen nods, taking this all in. He wants to be prepared, which is better than what I can say. I have a feeling Owen’s house will be the worst. “ I just want to know how he does it, since the power is out and all. “

We arrive a few minutes later, and it’s a small, mobile home on the edge of town. Jonathan knocks this time, and Owen hides behind Piper. A woman with frizzy red hair and silver eyes opens the door. This must be Owen’s mother. She seems really nervous, but we do look a little suspicious. I’m still dressed in the same black clothes from this morning. Owen wears a similar outfit, just a size smaller. Piper wears a black t-shirt as well, but she also has black leggings and a black mini-skirt. Jonathan has a fancy blue suit, still rumpled from our earlier climb. 

“ Hello, Mrs. Bailey. I’m here just to gather some things from your son’s room. You see, I’ve received notices from other sources that he has been stealing, and I’m here to take him to my camp for special cases, and I would like to give him some time to gather his belongings. If that’s okay with you, we’ll just sneak in here. “ Jonathan lies. I almost laugh. I could just tell her right now that he kidnapped us and is torturing us. 

Mrs. Bailey smiles warmly. “ Thank you, sir. I know about Owen’s nightly gallivants through the city, but I didn’t know you were starting a camp. Is it free? “ 

“ All services are complimentary. “ Jonathan confirms. Ms. Bailey opens the door and welcomes him in, then beckoning us in as well. 

“ Would you like some banana bread, dear sir? I just made it for the twins. “ She grabs a plate of delicious looking banana bread and hands a slice to each of the two twins in the corner. Each one is a girl, about four years old. They have the same red hair as their mother. In front of them are several candles, keeping the house light. The oven looks like a normal fireplace.

“ No thank you, my good lady. We are just here for a visit. Nothing more, nothing less. Come, now, children. “ Owen slinks away as his mother happily feeds the twins. 

Owen’s room is in the very back of the home, about the size of a closet. Actually, I think it is a closet. The only things inside are a bag, a worn yellow blanket, and a faded picture. He grabs the picture, stuffing it into his pocket. Then he hands the bag to Jonathan and braces himself. 

Jonathan rummages through the bag, pulling out nothing. “ Where did you put the stuff you took? “ He snarls, grabbing Owen’s arm. 

“ Hey, let go of him. “ I say, trying to pry Jonathan off of Owen. Jonathan growls at me like a rabid beast and I take a step back, tripping into Piper, knocking us both over. 

“ I sold it. For money. Ask my mother if you don’t believe me. “ Owen replies. Jonathan lets go of him and I notice a remote sticking out of his pants pocket. Quickly, I snatch it. There are three red buttons and a dial. 

“ Let go of that, Tyler, or you’ll regret it. “ Jonathan lunges at me and I know what the remote is for. The bracelets. I smash the remote against the wall, and the bracelets snap in half. 

“ Run!” I yell, Piper and Owen following me. Suddenly, a man with dark hair appears in the hallway. We crash into him and fall to the ground while Jonathan grabs an arm from each of us. He holds Piper and Owen together since their arms are skinnier. 

“ What is going on here!?” The man asks loudly. He looks like an older, meaner version of Owen. 

“ Honey, “ Mrs. Bailey enters the hallway. “ This is a man who’s taking that boy away. He’s going to take that boy to a camp built for kids like him. All these children are delinquents. “ 

Mr. Bailey looks back at his wife and Owen. “ Do you even know this guys name, Martha? How do you know we can trust him? “ 

“ I’m sure he’s fine, honey. You worry to much. I probably just missed his name when he came in. “ Mrs. Bailey assures him. 

“ I’m pretty sure the twins were making noises. I’m Jonathan. “ He says. Mr. Bailey gives Owen a look while Jonathan is distracted, and then winks and turns away. Owen nods slightly back. 

“ Well, then. “ Jonathan smiles sickly. “ We’ll just be going then. Thank you, Mrs. Bailey. You are a lovely hostess. “ Mrs. Bailey almost faints with the praise and Jonathan opens the door, letting us out first. 

As soon as he’s out the door, his facade crumbles. He pushes me against the wall of the van, holding my neck and cutting off the air. “ You destroyed my stuff! You stole some, you destroyed some! You could have killed me with the electric bolts coming off of that remote! Listen, Tyler, I don’t care that you stole some toilet paper or a necklace. I care that you stole my prized dagger and destroyed my remote prototype. Then you had the nerve to run! So now, I’ll destroy you. “ 

“ No! “ I hear Piper cry out. My vision has already turned red, and Jonathan doesn’t let go at first. He turns his head and then drops me to the ground. Owen runs to me and tries to help me up, supporting me the best he can. Piper holds a silver knife to Jonathan’s chest as he turns to face her. 

“ Where did you get that? `` He hisses. 

“ Obviously I’m not going to tell you. So promise me that when we run you won’t chase us, follow us, or capture us ever again. “ She smirks. “ Because if you really wanted to work with us thieves, you should have done a little more research. “ 

He smiles too, wiping the grin off Piper’s face. “ Oh, I know this is the standard villain line. But I’m not the villain in this story. You are. And I was just like you once, but I changed for the better. “ 

“ Or the worse. “ Piper mumbles. 

“ Definitely the better. “ Quicker than my eyes can register, Jonathan bends down, grabs a pocket knife out of his shoe, and flips backward, extending the blade as he goes. Then it’s a full on spar. Piper stabs low, but Jonathan deflects her blade. There’s the clink of metal as the two knives meet, but there’s lots of movement too. Piper is fast in her strikes, and she keeps on offense, forcing Jonathan to be stuck on defense. 

But soon Jonathan has Piper cornered, and her knife in his hand, pointed at her throat. She doesn’t movie, barely breathing. “ Isn’t it amazing how fast the tables turn? Do anything and I will not hesitate to hurt her. You are all expendable. “

“ Fine. “ I say. “ I’ll make you a deal. We’ll go back with you, and we won’t try to escape. Just don’t hurt us and give us some answers. “ 

Jonathan snorts. “ What kind of answers are you looking for? “ 

“ Maybe why you still have power even though everyone else doesn’t, And why you chose us three. Or what you’re planning to do with us. “ 

“ Definitely not agreeing to that. How about you all get back in the van and we all go back to my lab. Then I can work on my … special project. “ The knife moves closer to Piper’s throat. “ Or we can do it the hard way. It’s your choice. “ 

“ Just give us some answers, please. “ I beg. “ What are you going to do with us? “ 

Jonathan stares at me, his ice blue eyes acting as though they’re searching my soul. “ You seriously think I’ll reveal my plans to you. I already gave you my standard villian line, but I’m not going to tell you my plans. What were you expecting? A song and dance, complete with a movie and kids book about it. “ 

“ Well, no. “ I admit. 

“ Exactly, now get in the van or I’ll have no choice but to carve out this girl’s windpipe. “ Jonathan threatens. Piper looks straight at me, her eyes saying to fight or run, but Owen tugs my hand and I look down at him. Jonathan will find us no matter what. 

“ You owe us some answers. “ I say, ignoring Jonathan’s victorious smile. He releases Piper and shoves her at me, causing us both to fall to the ground. Owen helps us up and we climb into the back of the van. 

“ Tonight, at six, we will have dinner. Discussion of deals will occur then. “ Jonathan replies before slamming the doors of the van. 

We all sit on one bench together, huddled for support. Piper leans her head on my shoulder, Owen lays his head on my lap. We were brought together in a time of trouble. Here we are now. If someone would’ve told me a year ago that I’d eventually be in the back of a van, kidnapped with two others by an insane man, I would’ve thought they were crazy. 

I try to relax, but my mind keeps bringing up what Jonathan said about us being the villains. I’ve never thought of it that way before. In Jonathan’s mind, he’s just a simple man attempting to make money in a time where there’s no electricity. We were the ones who stole from him. Sure, we did it to survive. But Jonathan didn’t know that when he first captured us. Maybe we truly are the antagonists. On the other hand, Jonathan was the one who tortured us, and then stole from us. 

This story is just so confusing. Why did Jonathan just capture us? Three kids who stole from his building probably once. And what does he need us for? He could’ve killed us by now, but we’re still alive. Besides, how does his building have power when the rest of the city is stuck in complete darkness? 

I rest my head on top of Piper’s, listening to both Owen and Piper’s soft breathing. I’ll make sure we get out alive, no matter what. 

I must drift off to sleep, because when I open my eyes again, I’m back in the mirrored room. My stuff I took from the apartment is on the floor. I quickly take inventory, and when I’m totally sure everything is there, I organize. I lay the pictures out on the floor, there are five. 

The first one is of Mitchel and I, when we were six and nine. We’re eating ice cream on the curb, this was before Mazie was born. The second one shows me and Mitchel holding baby Mazie, I’m ten, and he’s thirteen. Mitchel was starting to look really handsome at that time. His wavy, dark hair and vivid sky blue eyes were why he started bringing girls back from parties. The third one is the one we took the day before the Blackout, of Mazie, Mitchel, and I. Mitchel would’ve been seventeen, he was seven months away from graduating highschool. Mazie would’ve been four. Her hair was lighter than Mitchel’s and mine. She got it from our mom, but Mazie and I had the same eyes as our dad. We’re all cuddled up after watching a movie. The final picture is my entire family. It was our family photo, a month before the Blackout when Mazie first got sick. My mom had beautiful blonde hair and sky blue eyes, and she was extremely pretty. My dad wasn’t much on looks. He was your average, dark haired, hazel eyed guy. But he was smart. 

I pick up the wedding rings next, putting them on my pointer fingers. My mom’s has a pink diamond, but they both have the same silver band. I slip them under my pillow. I also tuck Mazie’s stuffed bear under there too, because I know Jonathan will make fun of it if he sees it. I stick Mitchel’s stinky gym shirt under my blanket. It smells like him, that’s the only reason I still have it. Then I lay on my stomach, pulling the blanket over my head and lay my book on my pillow. Then I begin to read. 

Timothy brings me another outfit about an hour later, informing me to be ready in fifteen minutes. I change into the outfit, realising it’s a suit. It’s dark colored and not extremely fancy, but it’s definitely more formal. There’s a dark purple blue bow tie too. Wonderful. 

Timothy brings me to the top floor of Jonathan’s building, but this time we use the elevator. Apparently, there’s an entire floor dedicated to a banquet hall. I think there’s fifteen floors overall, but his elevator was super fancy and I didn’t understand any of it. There’s a very large table in the hall, along with several other tables lining the outer edges of the room. It’s filled with delicious aromas and lots of silver platters. Each place is set at the large table, and there’s a podium in the front of the room with a microphone. 

Timothy shows me where to sit and explains that he will be sitting at the opposite end of the table. Jonathan, Owen, Piper, and their guards arrive a few minutes later. Owen is wearing a suit similar to mine, but his bow tie is green. I guess Jonathan doesn’t want us to be confused. 

Piper wears a royal blue dress, and someone braided her hair. She looks really uncomfortable and cold. Owen and Piper take their seats, Owen next to me and Piper across. Jonathan joins us soon after, wearing an even fancier suit with a light blue tie. His hair is perfectly gelled, and I wonder why he dresses so well when he does so much dirty work. 

“ Ah, “ He says, sitting in his chair at the end of the table. I notice his chair is much nicer than all the others, with fluffy red cushions and gold engravings. “ Now that we’re all here, I can quickly go over some things. Behave, first of all. You won’t like the way I punish you. The other members of my team have been invited to this banquet to meet you. If you behave, I’ll give you some answers. I can blame any bad etiquette on you being thieves, but other than that I cannot help you. “ He waits until we all nod before clapping his hands in a precise pattern. 

The doors at the end of the room open and tons of people filter through, each one wearing beautiful clothing. I recognize the woman whose face I used to open the vault, as well as a couple of guards and other people I’ve seen before. They all take their seats, and I’m pretty sure they have seating arrangements. Jonathan waits for everyone to sit down before strutting to the podium. 

He clears his throat and all conversations cease. He smiles again, and I swear one of these times I’m going to puke when he does that. “ Welcome, everyone, to my annual Fall Feast event. I know that what we are working towards is progressing quite fast, and I would like to announce a couple of things about that in a minute. However, first, I would like to acknowledge our most recent “project”.  Thanks to our staff working all around the city, we have successfully created the “ Blackout” in a total of nine cities in our area.” Everyone claps as a group of twenty near the middle of the table stand up. “ Anyways, the second part of our project can now begin, as I have gathered three children who will voluntarily be helping us to achieve our goal. “ I snort and Piper kicks me under the table. I silently curse. “ Everyone, meet Tyler, Piper, and Owen. “ We stand, and Piper does her best to smile, as do Owen and I. 

We sit back down after a polite round of clapping. I hear some whispers, but I can’t make out any words. Jonathan continues. “ Before we get started with our full speech and announcements that will occur later this evening, we must eat! You are dismissed to get food. “ 

Piper beckons for Owen and I to follow her. “ You have experience with these sorts of things? “ I whisper, while leaning over to grab a fork. 

She pretends to grab a second napkin, leaning towards me as she mumbles back. “ I said, I read a lot of books. If anyone comes over, let me do the talking. “ Piper steps forward in the line, and I copy her movements, Owen following me. I pile as much food as I can on my plate before Piper smacks me and I give some to Owen instead. 

There’s polite, elegant conversation at the dinner table. Jonathan doesn’t sit to eat, instead strolling casually around and making small talk with certain people. 

The woman whose face I used comes over to us, her arm wrapped through a man’s, who I’m guessing in her husband. She smiles brightly, and shakes our hands. “ Hi, I’m Cora Albert, and this is my husband Jack. “ She has curly red hair and a thick, british accent. Her lips might be as thick as her accent too. And her violet eyes are gorgeous.

Piper coughs, reminding me of our deal. “ Hi, Mrs. Albert. I’m Piper, and you probably already know Owen and Tyler. “ 

“ Well, I don’t believe we’ve met before, dear. “ She pats her husband’s arm and he lets her go, wandering away to talk to some other fancy snob. 

“ No, I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. “ Piper agrees. “ By the way, ma’m, your dress is gorgeous. “ And it truly is. The shade of gold blends perfectly with Mrs. Albert’s skin, making the beautiful bodice and sweeping train even more graceful looking. Piper kicks me again, pleading me with her eyes not to stare. 

“ You look marvelous too, dear. You boys haven’t talked much. I figure you shouldn’t be shy, figuring you volunteered for such a big job. You should be brave and fierce. “ Mrs. Albert says, shaking her arms to emphasize as she talks. It kind of bothers me, she has so many bracelets on when I got in trouble for stealing one necklace.

“ Oh, we’re not doing this willingly. “ I retort, earning a face-palm from Piper. 

“ Really? “ Mrs. Albert asks. 

“ That mean Mr. Jonathan guy tortured us. He kidnapped us and tortured us. “ Owen steps in. 

Mrs. Albert doesn’t seem to believe us. I didn’t really think she would, since she works for Jonathan. I mean, who would believe three kids? 

“ You kids are great tale tellers, now I’ll just be going … “ Mrs. Albert goes to leave, but Owen grabs her arm. 

“ We’re not lying, ma’m. He did, you can ask my dad. Just go to the Bailey Residence. Please. “ He whimpers. She bends down close to him, prying his fingers off her arm. 

“ Listen, “ She says in a low voice, but loud enough for Piper to hear. “ I know Jonathan isn’t above torturing and kidnapping innocent children. I’ll try to help you as soon as I can. I’ll go see Mr. Bailey tomorrow and talk to him. “ 

“ Thank you, Mrs. Albert “ Owen smiles, the first real smile I’ve seen from him. 

“ Call me Cora. “ She adds. “ And one more thing, see if you can convince Jonathan to let you explore his building. Tell him you want to play a game of hide and seek or something. Find my office and I’ll talk to you there. “ Then Cora straightens her posture, and declares loudly. “ That was a wonderful joke, Tyler, I appreciate it very much. But you see, my stomach still feels a little woozy. Perhaps I might have had a little too much wine. I’ll be going now, come along, Jack, dear. “ 

She steps away, letting her husband pull her towards the door. I turn back to Piper and Owen, ignoring Piper’s death glare. 

Piper softens her expression a little bit before mumbling, “ I guess we need a game to play, huh. “ 

I nod, giving her a smile. “ Ever heard of capture the flag? “ 

Jonathan interrupts us about an hour later by making an announcement. “ Before our final shout out, I’d like to host our actual ball part of the ball. May the dances begin. “ Piper, Owen, and I share a look. Is he really going to make us dance? He finds us at the table, and sits next to Piper. 

“ You all need to dance. I’ve arranged for Tyler and Piper to go together. I found one of my worker’s daughters is about Owen’s age, so that will work perfectly. You need to dance most of the songs. You have to look brave and act like you belong. Don’t mess it up. “ Jonathan says, then he stands and invites one of the nearby ladies to a slow waltz. A small girl about Owen’s size waddles over to us. Her whole look screams rotten brat. 

The girl has hair that is definitely either fake or extremely dressed up. It’s not a natural color, the blonde nearly white, and her eyes are pink. She must be wearing contact lenses. Her dress is fluffy and red, fancier than Cora’s. But when she speaks, it’s the voice of a child. 

“ You must be Owen. “ She says, sauntering up to him. He blushes and moves away, except she follows him, placing her gloved hand on his shoulder. “ My name is Victoria, because my parents said I was their victory. So, do you want to dance? “ She tightens her hold on him. 

“ I guess so. “ Owen mumbles, staring at his shoes. Victoria pulls him away, giggling loudly. 

“ You guess? Of course you do. You can call me Tori, handsome. “ She sighs dramatically and Owen shoots us a glance. Piper shrugs and grabs my hands. 

“ You ready, Ty? “ She asks, holding up our joined hands. I feel my heart speed up. Piper’s so pretty, and so perfect. She doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty, but she also looks nice. And the way she said Ty as though we’d been friends since we were young. 

“ If you are, Pipes. “ I say, testing out the nickname. It sounds right. The words roll off my tongue and we step into the crowd. Piper and I watch for a minute, memorizing the moves of others before beginning our own slow dance. There’s stepping on each other’s feet for sure, and I feel so clumsy. Piper wraps her arms gently around my waist, and I embrace her. The world drops away, and we dance. Eventually, the music slows even more and Piper leans her head against my chest, our feet still moving. 

“ I want to tell you something. “ She whispers, her voice barely audible above the music. “ And you have to promise you won’t hate me. “ 

“ I won’t hate you. “ I promise. We move closer to the edges of the room, still in position. 

“ I’ve noticed how you looked at me, like you recognized me. I finally figured out why. “ She takes a deep breath. “ I’m Caroline’s cousin. “ 

I nod, listening to her slow breaths for a minute. It explains a lot. “ Why would I hate you? “ 

“ I thought that if you knew Caroline was my cousin, you’d like me only because you liked her. “ Piper admits. 

I laugh, but the gentle kind. “ Caroline and I weren’t friends like that. Matt and her were dating. Do you know what happened to her? “ 

“ She died. “ Piper sways back and forth. “ But can I tell you something else. “ 

“ Anything.” 

“ I think I love you. And I know it’s only been one day we’ve known each other, but…. I’ve always liked you. I saw in the hallways at school, and I saw you talk to Caroline. She loved you too, as a friend at least. She wrote it in her diary, that you were the best friend - besides Matt - that she’d ever had. “ 

“ You know what. I think I love you too, Pipes. And for who you are, not for who Caroline was. “ And she hugs me tight. I hug her back. It feels right, like I’ve finally found someone to confide in. 

Victoria ends up getting mad at Owen halfway through the ball and ends up leaving with her parents. Owen steals some more food off the table, shoving it in his pockets for later. Piper and I decide to take a break from dancing, and I claim I need a restroom break. No one offers to watch me for Jonathan, so I go alone. 

I think I need a refreshing break from people for a minute, just to think. I meant what I said to Piper, I truly did. Caroline and I were friends, sure, but her and Matt got together. Caroline ditched me for my best friend, and if the Blackout hadn’t happened I’d be the third wheel. I honestly think Piper is much better, and much more like me. It’s just … complicated. Piper and I literally just met today. Obviously, she’s known me for a while now. But until yesterday, I didn’t even know she existed. 

I find a bench near a window and sit on it, grateful for a break from standing. I will find a way to escape, even if it means I die trying. It’s time to stop pretending we’re going to be rescued. Tomorrow, we’ll go see Cora and then we’ll leave. 

“ I thought I’d find you here. “ An old voice says, and I turn around. A boy with dark hair and pale skin, along with feminine caramel eyes. 

“ Matt? “ I ask, as he joins me on the bench. 

“ Yup. `` He answers. “ My dad works here and I saw you earlier. I was going to talk to you during the dance, but I saw you dancing with that other girl, and I wasn’t going to interrupt. I missed you, Tyler. “ 

“ That was Piper, Caroline’s cousin. “ I say, keeping my eyes glued to the floor. 

He punches my arm playfully. “ So what, I take the girl and you steal her cousin. “ He laughs, the sound bouncing through the halls. “ I haven’t seen Caroline since the Blackout, have you? “ 

I look my friend in the eyes. I really don’t want it to be me to tell him the truth. I’m honestly surprised he hadn’t guessed what happened, but then again, he wasn’t very smart in the first place. “ She … didn’t make it. Piper told me. “ 

His features twist in a way I’ve never seen before. But he doesn’t cry, nor does he shout, He just tries to change the subject. “ So, you and Piper official or anything yet?” 

“ You don’t have to joke about this. “ 

“ No, I’m serious. “ 

“ We only met today. “ 

“ That’s not what I asked. “ 

“ Fine, we’re … thinking about it. “ There’s an awkward pause as Matt leans back against the window. 

Then he sits back up. “ I could never do what you did “ 

“ What? “ I ask, confused. 

He looks me straight in the eyes, and I see they’re filled with tears. “ You volunteered to help Jonathan, that’s crazy. I just wish Caroline could see you, and see me again. I miss her. But still, dude, that was extremely courageous of you. “ 

I lower my voice. “ Can you keep a secret and will you believe me? “ 

“ Sure, I guess. “ 

“ What if I told you that we weren’t doing this voluntarily. That we were forced and tortured into working for Jonathan. “ I say. I’m not sure Matt will be able to help us, but I need as many people as I can get to know about it. 

“ I’m not sure I believe you. My dad and Jonathan are really good friends, and by the way my dad talks about him, I don’t think he’s a bad guy. “ Matt admits. 

I turn away, standing. “ Okay, believe what you want. I leaving. “ And I do, I hide in the shrinking crowds of people at the party. Matt enters after me, and he looks for me, but I find Owen hiding under the table and join him. We must’ve missed Jonathan’s special announcement.

He’s fast asleep, and I gently move him, resting his head on my lap. We will get out of this alive. 

It’s midnight by the time Jonathan makes us come out from under the table. He looks exhausted, and so does Piper. She’s somehow ruined the bottom of her dress. I’m pretty sure she cut it, probably with one of her spare knives. Jonathan makes us walk to the room we were in this morning, the one with the throne. He’s added three mats to the floor. How generous. 

He collapses into the throne, his facade disappearing and his smile fading. “ I’ve promised you answers. What do you want? “ 

I give Piper a look, and she nods, telling me I can ask away. “ Why do you want us three? I mean, I get that we stole from you, but I’m sure many other people did as well. So why us? “ 

Jonathan sighs. “ A couple of reasons, actually. First, you were all the only successful ones in breaching my security. I caught and punished everyone else. You also had either no family, or at least a bad reputation from them. You also are young, strong, and healthy enough for me to work my plan. There, happy? “ 

“ No. “ Owen answers for me. 

“ I think you owe us two more answers and two more requests. “ I agree. “ It’s more than reasonable. “ 

“ Fine. “ Jonathan mumbles. Piper nods again, and I go ahead. 

“ Why does your building have power and nothing else does? “ 

“ I manufactured the Blackout, you idiot. I needed everyone off my case for a little so I could complete some research. Then I would supply the consumers with my new products right when the needed them most. Honestly, Tyler, did you not listen to my speech? “ 

I ignore him. “ Final question: What are you going to do with us? “ This is my most wanted answer. 

“ You really think I’ll tell you that? “ He smirks. “ You really are stupid. “ Suddenly, Piper leaps to her feet, launching herself towards his chair and pressing a knife to his throat. She pushes a tiny bit, and it draws blood. 

“ You really though it would be smart to have knives at a feast with us crooks? “ She smiles playfully as Jonathan feels for the blood dripping down his neck. 

“ I guess I didn’t think it through. But I’ll give you the answer anyways. “ He takes a breath. “ It goes back to the Blackout question. I manufactured the Blackout for a couple of reasons. One was to kill off a bunch of people, since the world is already overpopulated as it is. But I also needed a way to make money and conquer a general area of land. So I had some of my workers shut off power in nine cities. They’ve all gone to a small war, but none of them really understand that outside my limits there is still electricity. Now that everyone thinks there is no hope, I’ll release a special product to the police so they can eliminate all threats before I miraculously add more products and eventually switch the power back on. Everyone left will be glad to have it back and should welcome me as their new leader. “ 

“ And if they resist? “ Piper presses the knife closer to his throat. I notice his knuckles clench the armrests harder as another trickle of blood leaks from his neck. 

“ No one will. The police will be on a special mission looking for certain individuals who don’t adapt to change well. “ Jonathans sighs lovingly, and I’m sure this plan is his true love. “ But that’s besides the point. You want two requests. Very well, but they must be reasonable. “ 

“ Okay. “ I say. “ Number one, I want us all to share a cell. “ Piper shakes her head and Owen looks at me in shock. We didn’t discuss this, but I feel better if we aren’t separated. 

Jonathan snorts. “ What, so you guys can plan an elaborate escape scheme? I don’t think so. “ 

“ We haven’t escaped so far, and the security probably increases from this point on. I just… miss my family and Piper and Owen are the closest thing I’ve had to family. Please, you can add as many guards as you want. “ I sniffle, letting tears spill out of my eyes. 

Jonathan rolls his eyes, but he clearly falls for my act. “ You’re so emotionally weak, let me tell you. But I’m feeling generous today, so fine. And the next request. “ 

I give Piper a look, and she nods her approval as I launch into my explanation. “ I want us to have a game of Capture the Flag. Timothy, Piper, Owen, and I already agreed on teams and everything. Just give us two hours tomorrow to play Capture the Flag around the building. It’s only a game for us to play as our goodbye to the world. “ 

Jonathan strokes his chin and smiles. “ You say you have teams and everything. I actually have a product that I’d like to see in action. It would be perfect for your game. So, go get some rest in your new shared cell. I’ll explain tomorrow. “ 

Timothy leads us to a cell on the bottom floor, this one with plain white walls and a door to a seperate bathroom. He lets us retrieve our belongings from our original cells,and we set up in different corners of the room. We take turns changing into the clothes provided, which are the same black outfits we used before. 

It doesn’t take long for me to fall asleep since I can hear the breathing of my friends. But until I fall asleep, I can’t help but wonder if this escape will be the end of me. 

Owen shakes me awake the next morning, his silver eyes wide and rested. I yawn and sit up as Owen goes to wake Piper. 

“ Why did you wake us up, Owen? “ Piper asks, yawning and stretching. Her hair is a mess, and mine might be too. Owen sits on his mattress in the corner, and I notice the only thing he has is my watch, no other stuff. 

“ We need to figure out teams for Capture the Flag. “ He states, his posture stiffening. “ Tyler said we had teams ready, and we don’t. “ 

“ Seriously? “ Piper glares at him. The old Owen would’ve shrunk back against the wall, but this new Owen just sits us straighter. 

“ C’mon guys. If we don’t get our act together we’re never going to escape anyways. We need teams. “ 

Piper yawns again. “ Fine. Who do you want on your team? “ 

“ I should go with Timothy. “ I say, even though I really need to talk about last night with Piper. “ I’m the only one who really knows him. Plus, then the both of you can map the building without being caught. “ 

Piper nods as Owen asks, “ How? “ 

I smile. “ Ready for a lesson on how to use my watch? “  I am able to teach Owen the basics quickly before Timothy comes in to take us to Jonathans office. 

No one gives us a second look as we make our ways through the hallways and into the elevator. I notice Piper accidentally bumping into a woman, and then I see that she now has a ponytail. I slow my pace leaning close to Piper. “ See if you can grab a couple things during the game. “ She nods. 

We’ve agreed that we’ll meet in Cora’s office all together, and the office is perfectly placed on the eighth floor. Fifteen minutes after our game starts, we’ll meet with her and hopefully it’ll take about half an hour. Timothy will still be roaming the halls, and since we’re all good at hiding, Jonathan shouldn’t notice a thing. Then we can finish the game ( I am winning for sure ) and go from there. 

Jonathan is waiting in his office, a pleased smile on his face as he asks Timothy to shut the door. “ I’m glad you’re all here. I have invented some new tech that needs tested, and you are going to use it during your game. “ 

He waits until we’ve gathered around his desk to pull two glowing cloths from a drawer. “ These are eventually going to be used for signals, or multipurpose tools. Today, they will serve as your flags. Each team, choose one now. “ 

One is orange, the other is pink. Owen and Piper steal the pink one, so I grab the orange one. Jonathan nods to himself. “ Hold on to those for a minute. “ He pushes a large box out from under his desk. The first thing he pulls out is a lump of black fabric. Then another, and eventually four pieces of fabric. “ These will be your vests. They are bulletproof, fireproof, and waterproof. There are many pockets. But you needn’t worry about filling them today. Unless, of course, you put your flag in there for now. “ 

We each put one on, even Timothy. I’m impressed, actually. The vests are very light weight, and the aren’t loose either, but not extremely tight. The vests aren’t bulky, they’re quite thing. And the fabric is flexible and stretchy. Perfect. 

Jonathan pulls four more things that surprise me the most out of the box before putting it back under his desk. They’re guns. “ These are guns, but they can’t harm you. “ He pulls out a dart from another drawer. “ This is a simulator dart. Once embedded in your skin, it will release a mix of chemicals that can cause different levels of pain depending on the floof color. “ He pulls some more darts from his desk. A green, blue, red, and yellow floof. “ Green will simulate the pain of a gunshot. Red simulate a intense burning sensation I have yet to name. Blue will simulate temporary paralysis. Yellow will simulate a mixture of a knife wound and temporary blindness. The darts will not work through the vest, so aim well. “ 

He hands us each a gun as well as a handful of darts from each color. “ One more thing. “ He adds. “ When the dart embeds itself into your skin, the floor will expand into an adhesive patch, holding the dart in. If you can manage to yank the patch off through your pain, the symptoms will lessen immediately and disappear in one minute. If you don’t pull that patch off, count on about fifteen to twenty minutes of excruciating pain. “ 

I share a look with Piper. This is worse than I thought. Now we have to deal with a high stakes game of Capture the Flag. Owen just looks excited. We all strap our new guns to our backs, Jonathan looking pleased. 

“ Piper and Owen will be upstairs, Timothy and Tyler on the bottom levels. The game will last two hours and two hours only. If someone finds the opponent’s flag, they must return to the top or bottom floor, whichever they started on to win. If you’re shot after finding a flag, it must be rehidden. You also can’t wait near the flag, or at a certain level. Don’t mess with my work either. Got it? “ Jonathan explains. We nod and he smiles, a real genuine smile. “ Three, two one, go. “ 

Timothy and I sprint for the elevator, beating Piper and Owen. We immediately ride it to the seventh floor ( Timothy’s choice ). He takes the flag from me and promises to hide it well. I look at a clock. It’s been seven minutes. Eight more until I reach Cora’s office. 

I take some time to organize my bullets under someone’s desk. I get a lot of weird looks, but no one stops me. Jonathan must of told them. I wonder what he would do if I shot one of his workers. 

I make my way up to Cora’s office using the elevator. Timothy doesn’t know the plan, but we were able to briefly explain some of it on the way to Jonathan’s office. No one gives me a second glance as I make my way down the hallway. This seems to be the office floor. The seventh one of was more of a reception area. 

I find Piper and Owen waiting outside an office, and they beckon me closer. The door opens and Cora drags us inside, her hair extra frizzy and bags beneath her eyes. 

“ We have to make this quick, Jonathan scheduled a meeting in twenty minutes with me. “ She says, rubbing her face with her hands. “ So I’m just going to tell his story and maybe have time to explain a few more things. “ Her office is cramped, barely enough room for the four of us and the desk. Owen sits on the floor, Piper and I joining him as Cora takes a breath. 

“ About twenty years ago, when Jonathan was about your age, he was a thief like you. His parents had died in a house fire and none of his other family would accept the son that somehow survived. So he stole to live. At the age of sixteen, he created a smoke bomb, and from then on he became obsessed with inventing these creations. He would sell them secretly to others, earning money and trust. He wanted to somehow rule the world and convince them to help him. All Jonathan really wanted was for the people who turned him away to pay. So he devised an extremely intricate plan. As he earned money, he would create more products and then blackmail others into creating some for him. When he became rich enough, he started his own company, establishing trust with the mayor. 

“ That’s where the Blackout comes in. He needed to be able to produce products right when the were needed most. He formed the Blackout, enforcing it with several of his own workers. Then he used inventions of a teen boy he found on the street, and he started expanding them, making them better. He was planning to sell them to people on the streets and the police at separate times, earning as much money and trust as he could. Then he was going to find anyone who didn’t trust him and murder them, or at least have the dirty work done for him. He then planned to add the electricity back in, saving all the towns from devastating loss. He hoped they would all accept him as their new leader, but all it’s going to do is spark flames of rebellion. He’s started a war. “ 

I sit in stunned silence. That is pretty much what Jonathan told us. I quickly process the information, stopping when I remember the teenage boy mentioned. “ Who was the boy? “ 

Cora sighs, giving me a sad glance. “ It was a boy named Mitchel, who I believe was your brother. When Jonathan was done getting his supplies from Mitchel, he disposed of him so no one would know what he was planning. “ I take in a sharp breath. Betrayal stings my brain. My brother helped Jonathan, the same person who is using me as a test subject so he can start a war. I don’t cry. Not here when I need to be strong. Not ever. I had noticed that Mitchel had made himself scarce the last week or so before the Blackout. He always came back with money, claiming he earned it from an old woman. He was a liar. 

Piper rubs my back in slow, gentle circles. Cora looks down at me with sympathy. I don’t want people to pity me though. I stand up, Piper’s hand dropping away. “ How are we going to escape? “ I ask. 

Cora’s frown turns into a sad smile. “ That’s why I really needed you here. Tonight, me and a couple other rebels are breaking you out and killing Jonathan in the process. “ 

“ So there’s a plan? “ Piper asks. 

“ Yes. And I need you all to listen very closely. “ Cora begins to explain the plan. 

Ten minutes later, Piper, Owen, and I sneak out of Cora’s office. The plan is fresh on the top of my mind. Piper snaps in front of my face, reminding me we have current issues to deal with. 

She pulls me close to her before whispering. “ At least have fun for the next hour and a half. Do it for Owen. For me. “ She pleads, her green eyes sparkling. 

“ Fine. “ I agree. “ I’ll give you three minutes to run. “ And I do. After three minutes, I go chasing. Piper and Owen both went to the elevator, but I can barely work it so I take the stairs up. Timothy hopefully hid the flag well, so I go searching instead. 

Floor number nine. This floor must be Jonathan’s lounge. Exhausted workers sleep on the couches. I begin to search, looking for a bit of glowing fabric. None on the entire floor. I head up the stairs. 

Floor number ten. This floor seems to be the kitchen. There must be some rhyme or reason to this madness, not just random floors random places. Chefs busily hustle back and forth. I scurry between them, checking the cabinets and the hiding spots. One of the older chefs smiles warmly at me as I frantically search for the flag. 

His accent is thick as he warns me. “ Zey did not hide ze flag ‘ere. But I did see ze girl a couple minutes ago. She ran up ze stairs, and ‘er gun was loaded. “ I quickly thank him before quietly working my way up the steps. If Piper just went up here, she might be watching and waiting. 

I pull my gun off my back, looking undecided at the darts.  Green is gunshot, red is burning, blue is paralysis, and yellow is the knife wound and blindness. Green and yellow sound super painful, and red seems risky. I go with blue, stuffing a dart in my gun. 

Suddenly, I hear a dart whiz by my head embedding itself in the wall. The floor is blue. Piper must have had the same idea as me. I turn to face up and see Piper hurrying to reload her gun. I wait until she leans down to attempt a shot again before pulling the trigger. We both shoot at the same time. 

My dart embeds itself in her arm and five seconds pass before her face registers shock and her body falls limp. I grimace. Her dart is stuck in my vest, but I’m not injured. 

I stumble up the steps, adrenaline pulsing through my veins. I give a sorry glance at Piper’s body, walking by her. Then I hear a rustle of noise and feel a pinch in my back. I fall to the ground, a hollow sensation filling my gut before the stinging. I gasp in pain as I hear a slight laugh. 

Then a voice. Jonathan’s voice. “ I couldn’t resist joining the game. Don’t worry, I’m not on anyone’s team. I just want to see if ripping the patch off works. But it seems your too weak. “ 

I grit my teeth, eyes watering in pain as I fumble for an adhesive patch on my back. I find it and rip it off, the pain ceasing almost immediately. I struggle to stand, reminding myself that when I loaded my gun I stuck two darts in. I shift my weight so that my gun is pointed at Jonathan, making sure it looks like I’m still in pain. Quickly, I pull the trigger. Jonathan’s laughter stops, the echoes ringing through the stair case. 

I stand up, reloading my gun again, this time with the green so I can shoot Jonathan again. My last shot hit his ankle, the new one hits his chest. 

I leave Jonathan and Piper’s bodies, feeling slightly guilty. I have maybe twenty minutes at the most to search before Piper wakes up, and only a couple more after that before Jonathan joins the hunt again.

I search floor eleven, finding nothing. Same with floor twelve. Halfway through the steps to floor thirteen, I hear footsteps below me. I look down. It’s Owen. He doesn’t see me yet, so I run and hide inside a closet. I shut the doors, pressing myself into the fabric loosely dangling from the top. It seems like a supply cabinet. Then I notice, tucked away in the folds of a lab coat pocket, is a glowing piece of pink cloth. The flag

I hear the footsteps coming closer. I reload my gun again, making sure it’s a blue dart so that there isn’t a ton of pain. Owen opens the closet door, checking for the flag. The darts launches itself into his leg. His face has a startled expression as I bolt. I stuff the pink fabric in my vest pocket, keeping my gun out and loaded. 

I sprint to the elevator, shutting myself in and hitting the ground button. Right before the doors close, a dart flies in between them and embeds itself in my abdomen. I look down in time to see a yellow floof before the world turns dark. I’m still awake, but a sharp sting slices through my body. I cry out in pain. I only have to get to the bottom floor to win. I feel for the patch on stomach, but with the vest, it’s hard. I swear Jonathan said the darts couldn’t penetrate the vests. I guess he was wrong. 

The elevator doors slide open and I stumble into the lobby, holding the flag out in victory as a force collides with my gut. I clutch my stomach, falling backward. The pain intensifies, and I whimper again and continue fumbling for the patch. Finally, my hands make contact and my sight returns. 

I gasp in relief, until I notice Jonathan glaring at me. I take a subconscious step back away from the threatening man. He pulls out his knife, the one engraved with J.B.. He holds it to my throat, pressing me against the wall. “ I thought I said not to shoot me. “ He snarls. 

“ Technically, you said we just couldn’t shoot your employees. “ I remind him. “ Besides, you weren’t even supposed to join us. “ 

“ Technicalities, whatever. Still, the darts were untested. You could have killed me!” He pushes the knife closer to my throat. Why is this his only reaction. 

The elevator doors burst open and Timothy, Piper, and Owen all stand in front of Jonathan. Timothy does a good job of playing guard, removing me from the wall and pressing a taser to my back. “ Don’t move. “ He says, pretending to be tough. 

Piper points to the pink flag on the floor. “ So you guys won? “ She asks, trying to distract Jonathan. 

“ He didn’t win because he SHOT ME! “ Jonathan yells. A couple of heads turn at the reception desk and the guards of the vault. 

“ He shot all of us. Well, except Timothy. “ Owen says innocently. Piper nods. I guess my aim is pretty good. 

“ I really don’t care. “ Jonathan informs us. “ I want him to pay. “ So pay he will. The question is the price. “ He drops the knife, and for a second I think there won’t be a price. Then he quickly pulls out a gun, shooting a leftover dart right into my neck. I didn’t recognize the floof color, so it’s obviously an extra dangerous one. 

A cold feeling floods through me and then tingles. Finally, my body falls limp, right into Jonathan’s waiting arms. “ What I gave him is a poison. It has short term effects on his body, including unconsciousness and pain. It can also be fatal if left untreated. The only cure awaits if you decide to work with me. “ 

Piper shrieks, an unearthly sound escaping her lips. It only makes Jonathan smile more. “ So you do care about this one. I was beginning to wonder. But like I said, I need your word. “ 

Owen turns pale and nods. Piper glaring daggers at Jonathan. I try to shake my head, but it doesn’t work, and I manage a weak flop. I want to her to keep her freedom, but I know she won’t. “ Fine. I’ll play by your rules. “ 

Jonathan looks at me. “ I guess Tyler can’t answer, but I’m sure he would do the same thing. If he wants to live, that is. It doesn’t matter, he’ll be asleep soon. “ True to his word. My eyes shut and my mind goes blank. 

I wake up on my cot in our cell.  Piper and Owen huddle in the opposite corner, whispering in hushed voices. 

“ Look at his skin. It looks almost green. “ 

“ Do you think it would be better if we just left him here? Jonathan has a cure. “ 

“ But Tyler definitely won’t like it. I think he’d rather die than work with Jonathan. “ 

“ If we take him with us then it’ll kill him. Literally. “ 

“ Staying here would also kill him. “ 

“ Shh, he’s waking up. “ I hear footsteps, and pretend to yawn and become awake. Piper’s soft face looks worried and Owen looks more scared. “ How are you doing sleepy head? “ 

I stretch my legs, surprised at how much effort it takes. “ What time is it? “ 

Owen watches me intently as Piper gently rubs her hand over my forehead. “ It’s almost six. But you still have a fever. “ 

I sit up, my back aching and entire body hurting. “ I don’t care. If I’m leaving tonight with you guys I need to be ready. “ 

Piper and Owen share a look. Piper frowns at me and I realize how sweaty I am. I peel off the blanket, suddenly feeling smothered. I reach to take off my vest too, but Piper grabs my hand. “ I … don’t know if you can come with us. You’ll die without the cure and you’re way better alive than dead. “ 

“ I’m going. “ I insist. “ Staying here is going to be the end of me. Jonathan won’t give me the cure either way. I’d rather die free than stuck here. Don’t you want me to be happy? “ 

“ Yes, but … “ 

“ Then let me leave with you. “ 

“ That’s the problem. Cora snuck down earlier to drop off the supplies for our escape. She said that she didn’t bring any for you because she didn’t think you were up to it. “ Piper says, her eyes dropping to the floor. “ Oh, Tyler, I would bring you if I could, but you’re way too weak. “ 

I growl at her, not meaning it. She stumbles back from me, her face struck with fear. “ I don’t care if I don’t have supplies. I don’t care if I get out of this alive or not. I just can’t live like this. “ 

Piper nods, tears streaming down her cheeks as she figures out that no matter what, I’m probably not going to make it. Owen wraps me in a hug. “ C’mon, Tyler. We have to leave now. Cora said as soon as you woke up she would know and we could escape. “ 

He helps me to my feet and Piper supports me. They both tuck dart guns away. “ There might be a way to save me. “ I say, hating myself for saying it. It’ll waste time and it’s off course, and there’s no guarantee that the cure is even there. I tell them this, but their eyes are set in stone. They want to save me. 

The door to the cell opens and Cora strides in, dressed in grays and blacks. “ Wait, why is Tyler up? “ 

“ He’s coming with us. And we have a slight change of plans. “ Piper explains my theory about the cure, and Cora doesn’t look happy. 

“ There’s only one problem. “ She sighs, and I feel like Cora’s going to say something big. “ Someone knows we are planning this, and it’s only a matter of time before Jonathan finds out. “ 

Piper holds her head high. “ We’re getting the cure, now let’s go. “ I lead the way to a door that I happened to see while playing Capture the Flag. It’s true that I can’t read, but suppose I’ve picked up a few words over the years. The door is labeled Do Not Enter. Authorized Personnel Only

“ Hmm. Jonathan never told me about this room. “ Cora notes. There’s a sudden bang in the hallway behind us and Cora scrambles into action. “ Go in there and do what you have to do. “ She pushes us through the door and a fight breaks out almost immediately. 

Owen locks the door, and it’s made of strong material so it should hold. Inside the room is a large pull filled with murky purple liquid. A large vault door not unlike the one downstairs stands closed on the wall. There is a small keyhole, no code input screen. Something glints in the water at the very bottom. I walk towards it, Owen and Piper following close behind me. It’s a key

“ Is that the key? “ Piper asks. I nod. 

“ Someone will have to go in and get it. “ Owen says. 

“ I will. “ I volunteer, unsure why. But something tells me that the liquid isn’t normal. 

Piper shakes her head. “ No, Ty. You’re already injured enough. “ She dips her fingers in, causing small ripples. She frowns at her fingers. “ They already went numb. “ 

“ Please. Trust me. “ I plead. “ I have a good feeling about this. “ I don’t leave room for argument and jump into the pool. 

Cold water swirls around me. It’s without a doubt water, just laced with some sort of chemical. I swim towards the key, numbness soaking towards my brain. I feel it creeping through my body, up my neck. I grab the key right as the feeling reaches my brain. 

Dad, Mom, Mitchel, and Mazie all stand in front of me. None of them see me. I try to call out, to tell them I’ve missed them. They don’t respond, instead walking away. Then they morph into Piper and Owen and Matt and Caroline. All of them frown in my direction, but their eyes flit right pass me. They begin to walk closer and I reach out to touch them. My hand passes right through Matt’s. And Caroline’s and Owen’s. And Piper’s. I choke back a sob as they all join hands, leaving me in the depths of the pool. 

My lungs scream for air and I paddle furiously towards the surface. Piper and Owen grab my shaking arms and pull me to safety. Miraculously, all traces of the poison are gone, just as I suspected. 

“ You’re … you’re healed. “ Piper stutters. 

“ I knew I would be. “ I manage to say as they both wrap their arms around my dripping clothes. 

“ How? “ Owen takes a step back, studying me as if I’ve changed. Though perhaps I have. 

“ I wondered why Jonathan didn’t just kill me then. I wouldn’t be of much use to him for long. So then I remembered seeing this room while playing Capture the Flag. It was right before he shot me, so I then realized he must’ve just been in there. “ I smile. “ That’s the thing. To get the key you have to inject the ‘poison’ into yourself. It’s not actually a poison, but a carefully engineered sedative. My pain was from an allergic reaction to one of the other darts, the one he shot me with in the elevator. The pool reverses the effects so you can then get the key. “ 

“ Two things. “ Piper says when I’m done. “ One; what does the key lead to then? And two; why did Jonathan then inject you with the sedative if it wasn’t really supposed to harm you. “ 

“ The key leads to the vault, which contains the switch for the power and the records of all the inventions he’s made. I don’t know why he wanted us in here though. “ 

Another voice, high and nasally, and way too familiar. “ But I do. “ 

Jonathan stands near the door, a real gun in one hand and a dart one in the other. “ I wouldn’t move, any of you. “ I feel hands grab my shoulders and three guards hold us down, binding our legs and arms to a conveniently placed pole. 

“ Where should I even begin? “ Jonathan has a pleased smile painted on his face. “ I’ll answer your question first. It’s a long story. After Tyler and his friend, Matt, had their little talk, Matt was quite concerned. He was worried his dear friend Tyler was losing his mind. I expected an escape the next night, and actually hoped you would try. The only reason I let you get play Capture the Flag was so Tyler would see this room and then I could inject him with the sedative. I knew it was only a matter of time before you attempted to save him by coming in here.  

“ Now, I, Jonathan, have saved the city. There were these three savage thieves who switched off the power as part of their clever scheme for stealing. My guards and I found out they had intruded upon my building, switched off the power, and tested my beloved inventions. I captured them and kill all the others involved. “ 

“ That’s not what happened! “ Owen shouts. 

“ Ah, but will the police believe me or you? “ Jonathan smirks. He plucks the key up off the floor from where I dropped it earlier. “ Besides, I’m the one who foiled your plan. Timothy is dead, I wasn’t shocked by his betrayal. Cora will be soon, if she isn’t already. I’ll admit that I was surprised that she turned against me. So here we are. Enjoy your last few minutes of life. “ 

“ No. “ I say. My hands are untied ( seriously, there guards are amateurs ). I reach for Piper’s gun, pulling the trigger and aiming at Jonathan. 

The dart embeds itself in his vest. He laughs. “ Good attempt, but I though your aim was impeccable. “ 

“ Maybe I wasn’t trying to get you. “ I retort, turning my gun towards the vault and firing a dart. It pushes itself into the keyhole before sparking and then a moment later, the vault door explodes. Jonathan’s jaw drops. “ What … how? “ 

“ Simple science. “ I shrug. “ I knew the dart contained chemicals, and the key lock was probably electronic since everything around here is so advanced. I thought you were smart. “ 

Jonathan’s face turns red. Behind the door is a room covered in wire all leading to a giant switch. I nearly laugh. A giant light switch. “ You realize you can’t go in there. “ 

“ Why? Because I’m soaked and you know it will destroy your precious system. “ 

“ It will literally destroy the entire building. I didn’t design it in preparation for explosions. The vault door has already shaken the structure. It’s only a matter of time before the glass shatters and the building falls. “ 

“ How are you going to stop me? “ 

“ Like this. “ He shoots me. With the real gun. Pain flares and I see blood. Lots of blood. And I hear screaming, but it’s like I’ve been submerged in water. 

I grit my teeth and stand, limping with the little strength I have left towards the switch. It’s not far, and Jonathan is too busy fighting a blur of some sort. I flick the switch, my arms dripping blood and water on the floor and wires. One of them sparks. I try to run, and adrenaline fulls me as I leap in front of Piper and Owen, who are fighting Jonathan. 

The world flashes in an explosion of heat and color and pain. 

Then I see my family again. This time, they’re looking straight at me. “ We’ve been waiting. “ My mom says, flashing her brilliant smile. Mazie wraps her pale arms around my waist. 

“ I’m so proud of you. “ My dad says. Mitchel pats me on the back and smiles. 

I turn to him. “ I found out what you did. With Jonathan, I mean. I want to know why. “

Mitchel smiles sadly. “ I needed to protect you. He wanted to know things about my family. About things they liked and disliked. He told me with information and inventions, he would spare my family in the ‘final battle’.  So I went along with him. He found out that I was feeding him lies, so he hired the police to kill me. “ 

“ Oh. “ I all I can say. “ But how am I here. I’m not … dead, am I? “ 

My dad and mom shake their heads. “ Not quite yet. Almost. You’re very close. You just need to accept it and your body will stop fighting. “ 

“ You mean I can go back? “ 

My dad frowns. “ Why would you want to? You have us now, what else do you need? “ 

“ I have … something to finish. I have friends I need to help. And friends I need to bury. “ 

“ Of course. “ My mom says, placing a hand on my shoulder. “ But we’ll be ready when you do decide to come. I think next time you won’t have a choice. Not many people can survive three times at the barrier. “ 

“ Wait, what? “ 

“ You have to go now. There are people that need you. Go. “ Mazie replies softly. 

We all hug before they begin to walk away. My eyes flicker open to a white ceiling and a man … Owen’s father? 

I try to sit up, but something holds me down. I begin to shake, remembering the last few times I was confined. “ Stop, you’ll hurt yourself more. “ Owen’s father says. 

“ What happened? “ I ask, my voice scratchy. “ Where am I? “ 

“ The building exploded and collapsed, although the vault doors were able to protect quite a few people, including you and your friends. We were able to take the survivors, so now you’re all in separate ambulances heading to the nearest doctor. “ He explains. 

“ Shouldn’t you be with your son? “ 

“ He was already awake when we rescued you from the building, so he already talked to me. You were passed out from burns, blood loss, and poison residue. I figured you needed to wake up to answers more than anyone else. “ He chuckles softly, and I finally notice how much of my body is covered and how much it hurts. 

“ Who all made it out alive? “ I shudder, wondering if Piper is among the living. 

“ You, Piper and Owen. Cora did too, though she’ll probably be paralyzed from the waist down. A kid named Matt and his father. Several guards were able to as well as some of the workers. Your guard friend Timothy didn’t make it, but we salvaged as many bodies as we could to give them a proper burial. “ I almost vomit. 

“ Wait, you keep saying we. Who is we? “ 

Owen’s dad laughs again. “ I forgot to mention, I’m the head of National Security and Defense. Everyone who worked with me helped out. But please, you can still call me Mr. Bailey. “ 

I nod, my eyes really heavy. I hear Mr. Bailey make one last comment before I fall asleep one more time. “ It’s going to be okay Tyler, it really is. “ And I believe him. 

Within two months, Tyler, Piper, Owen, Cora, Matt, and Mr. Bailey were able to spread knowledge to everyone about what had really occurred over the past few months. Cora was paralyzed from the waist down while Tyler suffered from a permanent limp in his left leg.  Everyone was able to recover from major burns and various other injuries. Timothy’s ashes were spread from the tallest building in the five cities so he could see the sunrise every day. Mr. Bailey allowed Piper and Owen to remain living in their original residences, but they often visited Owen’s home.  Everything was going to be perfect. 

© 2020 A.L.

Author's Note

This is my first actual story, so I wrote it about seven months ago. I apologize in advance for any of the terrible grammar and/or plot.

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Added on February 1, 2020
Last Updated on February 1, 2020
Tags: short stories, young adult, teen, future, dystopian



I'm a teen, I'm just looking for advice on how to improve my stories. Any advice is appreciated. I hope to publish one of my stories for real in the near future. more..


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