I’ve always wanted to see Chicago. Sears Tower, Buckingham Fountain, Cloud Gate—the whole nine yards. Under normal circumstances, being in Chicago would be exciting, fun even. Not today. I don’t experience normal circumstances anymore.
My heart pounded, breaths uneven, as I sprinted down the sidewalk. At any moment everything could be over. My life and all that I had worked for in the past few years could be shattered. Of course, could was the vital word I was depending on. Even if my pursuers managed to catch me, there was a chance that they wouldn’t discover my secret. I had been able to protect my secret thus far but I still had to treat every chase as life or death—as if they even saw me they could unravel the mystery that followed me.
The pier was crowded with people enjoying the small carnival that had come into town. Brightly colored candy wrappers littered the ground and the air smelled of saltwater and popcorn. Teenagers wearing dark red shirts called from the game booths, half-heartedly asking for players. Children were screaming as their parents shouted after them. For me, it was a giant pinball machine, a maze that I was forced to try and get through while eluding those who wanted me dead. In short, it was a nightmare.
It seemed that half of Chicago had decided to show up today. The masses of people were both good and bad: good because it’s easier to hide, bad because it’s harder to run. I had to weave in and out of bodies, often crashing into them. I didn’t stop for apologies, and several people spat insults after me.
If they only knew, I thought, they would be singing a different tune.
In fact, if they really knew, they would get out of here as fast as they could. My pursuers aren’t exactly friendly. They are more of the ‘I’ll-kill-anyone-who-gets-in-my-way’ type. It always made me feel guilty, opening up other people to this kind of danger. But, then again, I guess my existence put them in danger. The fact that I’m alive was a threat—another thing to add to my conscience.
Pushing through the crowds, I looked over myself. I still had on the stolen waitress uniform from earlier. The shirt had helped me to blend in inside the restaurant, but out here the brightly colored stripes were like a flashing neon sign. I needed to get rid of it.
I slowed to a brisk walk, taking in my surroundings. It was a nice day considering it was late November in Chicago, but there was a definite chill to the air. Tonight was going to be cold. I shook my head, trying to focus. This was no time to get distracted; this was the time to escape. However, all I could see was people. No exit, no entrance, no fence to jump over. Despair started to creep into my mind and I tried to push it away.
Don’t give up, I told myself. Stay focused.
The ground was covered in trash, hiding a thick black cord from my vision. My foot caught on it and I fell into a guy holding a huge bucket of popcorn. Hot kernels soaked in butter rained down on both of us as he started swearing in my face. I wanted to yell back at him, even though it was my fault, but I stopped dead. Up ahead, there was a small break in the crowd and I saw them.
Thankfully, they didn’t see me. Not yet anyway. To my right, a lady was selling jackets and I grabbed a black one off of the rack. Quickly stuffing my arms through the sleeves and pulling the hood over my head, I started to walk away when the popcorn guy grabbed my arm. He was still yelling colorful insults and it was starting to draw attention. I twisted my shoulder and yanked, hearing a small crunch. The guy howled louder and I walked swiftly away. A broken finger won’t kill him.
My brief moment of freedom ended though, when I heard my name being called. I didn’t have to turn to know who it was. My heart leapt in my throat as I dashed around another group of people, slamming into another guy. More popcorn flew and my skin burned as the butter stuck to my face. More shouting as I raced away, heading deeper in the center of the carnival.
This was getting ridiculous. I needed to get out this place now, preferably before I was taken against my will. That’s when I heard an employee calling for another rider on the Ferris wheel. I was grateful for my stroke of luck, and bolted onto the ride. The worker gave me an odd look but I was far from caring. Dimly aware of the person sitting next to me, I secured the restraint over my legs without waiting for the worker to and the ride began to carry us upward. Breathing heavily, I spotted my opponents again among the crowd.
There were three of them, but I knew that there could be plenty more around the pier. I recognized the one on the right, but I couldn’t put a name to the face. The one on the left I called Felix, after a grumpy old cat that used to live on my street, partly because it annoyed him and partly because I thought it was funny. It made his beefy arms and malicious expression seem less menacing.
The guy in the middle I would know anywhere. He was my personal demon: Sark. I know it sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. For almost a year he had been my definition of evil. Always so arrogant, he walks around like he owns the world. The confidence complimented his immaculate light brown hair and blue-green eyes, making him undeniably attractive though he was several years older than me. However, I could see through his pretty face. I knew the psychotic killer he was.
The guy sitting next to me cleared his throat, reminding me of his presence. I turned to see who I was up against. He looked about nineteen, short and stocky, with dark buzzed hair and chocolate brown skin. He was scanning the crowd questioningly, trying to find whatever I had been watching. He peered up at me, probably wondering if I was crazy.
“Running from someone?” he asked, his eyes glancing back in Sark’s general direction.
I didn’t answer, not sure what he was thinking. He held out his hand in greeting, but I just stared at it until he dropped it.
Ouch, that hit a mark. I always tried to bury my past life and focus on getting away. But no amount of burial could make me forget my Charlie.
“I’m Erin,” I said, using the first name I could think of. He assessed me with a raised eyebrow and I could only imagine what was going through his head. I took in my stolen hoodie, worn out jeans, and wide-eyed expression—like a deer being hunted.
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” he asked. He seemed sincerely concerned, which just made everything worse. Sometimes nice people needed to mind their own business.
I considered just ignoring him, it wouldn’t be that hard, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right move. I always tried to blend in as much as possible, especially when only one or two people were around. I don’t want to be remembered. Of course, that was harder to keep up when I was dashing through a public place like a frightened animal for seemingly no reason, but I tried my best. Would this Charlie guy think it was more abnormal if I talked or if I didn’t?
Finally I settled on: “I guess it depends on who you ask.”
“One of those, huh?”
I was too busy watching Felix walk towards the edge of the pier, away from me, to respond.
Keep going. Don’t come back.
As much as I didn’t want to be stuck up here for another five minutes with a stranger, it was better than the alternative. Although sometimes, I think I’d prefer the torture to the social situations.
“My brother got busted in a drug deal last month,” Charlie continued, either oblivious to my fixation or choosing to ignore it. “Only made it three days before the police caught up to him. Looks like you could’ve given him some tips.”
My head snapped up and I saw his teasing expression. Who did this guy think he was?
“I’m not a druggie,” I retorted sharply.
“What then?” he asked. “Robbery?”
“International art thief?”
“Creative, but no.”
“Hmm. Oh I got it,” he said, animation lighting up his face. “You’re like one of those mobster’s girlfriends.”
“Wow you’re hilarious.”
“Okay, how about this one for a spin?” He tried to keep his tone light but he couldn’t erase the hard edginess. “Crazy dad?”
My stomach plummeted and my hands clenched into tight fists.
“Crazy dad,” he repeated. “Is that your story?”
Had I given something away? No, we’ve only been talking for a few minutes. I didn’t say anything that condemning.
“Is it that obvious?”
It wasn’t the secret but it was definitely personal information. Either Charlie wasn’t as innocent as he seemed or he was really good at guessing games.
“No, but those who know what something is like has a sense about when it happens to someone else.”
“And you know what that’s like?”
He shrugged. “My brother didn’t get into drugs for no reason.”
That sounded pretty bad, but I doubted we had the same picture in our minds when it came to crazy dads.
Have you ever wondered if your dad was insane? I imagined asking Charlie. Did he ever start this obsession, one that grew so big that it ruined your life? Was he so cruel that he forced you into an experiment, one that worked, one that required you to run and never look back? One that marked you with a huge target for so many others? Could you ever think that he would do something this horrible to you?
“How did you stay clean if your brother couldn’t?” I asked out loud. I knew it was more of a personal question but if he could give me any advice on staying sane then I would gladly take it.
He just shrugged again, but wouldn’t meet my gaze anymore.
“Somebody has to.”
The ride was almost over; the people two rows in front of us were just getting off. I started looking around for where I was going to rush off to next. Or rather, what the opposite direction of my pursuers was.
“Here,” Charlie said. I turned to see that he was holding a twenty out to me. “For a cab ride out of here.”
I stared at the money uncertainly, wondering if it was some kind of joke. He pushed it toward me and I decided to take it. Money is money, right?
“Don’t mention it. We screw-ups got to stick together.”
I wondered again what his dad was like. It must have been pretty bad for him to help me out like this. Did he inject his daughter with a disgusting poison that burned through her body for weeks? Did he treat her like a lab rat, until she couldn’t take it anymore and ran away? Was she chased day after day by people who wanted her new powers for themselves? Did she wait in fear for the day her father would find her or her hunters would finally figure out her secret? Was she tormented by the knowledge that one mistake on her part could cost the world?
The ride came to a stop, bringing me out of my mini pondering session. The worker unlocked the bar over our laps and I didn’t waste a moment.
“Good luck,” I heard Charlie call after me as I disappeared into the crowd.
There wasn’t any sign of Sark or his thugs when I reached the entrance to the pier. I knew that didn’t mean much and it wouldn’t be long before they caught up to me.
I was almost to the main street when I saw them. Unfortunately, this time they also saw me. Fear ripped through me as I pushed my way to the sidewalk. I scanned the street and saw a small cab parked a few feet down. I ran to it and jerked open the door. The driver was short and bald with a thin black mustache, wearing a nametag that read ‘Sal’. I grabbed him by his jacket and yanked him out of the car. He was surprised by my strength and I couldn’t help being a little startled too. You don’t ever really get used to the fact that your thin teenage girl arms are as strong as a full-grown man’s.
Sal looked like he was going to fight me for his cab, but I threw Charlie’s money at him and got into the car. I wasn’t the best driver in the world, thanks to the fact I never got my license, but I don’t trust cab drivers. Too many thugs have pretended to be a ‘Sal’. I put the car in drive and the pier began to grow smaller in the distance.
“What are you doing?” someone shrieked from behind me. I glanced in the mirror and saw a young woman sitting in the back of the cab. She was strikingly beautiful in a natural way: her long curly black hair was pulled into a ponytail, her alabaster skin was white as a sheet and her bright green eyes were wide with terror.
Someone honked at me and I focused on the road again, but not soon enough. I was about to run a red light. The woman screamed behind me and I swerved the wheel to the left, putting us right in the path of oncoming traffic. Miraculously, I was able to pull the car back in our lane and slow down. I looked in the mirror at the girl again. She was frozen, her mouth hung open like she was still screaming. She met my gaze and straightened up.
“Can you let me out now please?” Her face was full of caution, like she was trying to reason with a lunatic. I started to form an apology when something caught my eye. Speeding down the road toward us was a black SUV, and Felix was behind the wheel.
“Crap!” I yelled as my foot slammed on the gas. I heard the girl scream again behind me, and I realized that this was really bad. Not only was I probably going to be caught any moment, but I had dragged this innocent girl into the mix as well.
“What’s your name?” I asked her as the buildings blurred past us. Maybe I could find someway to get her out of this…
“Erika,” she answered, her voice trembling. “What’s yours?”
“Arie,” I said without thinking, and I kicked myself. Why did I tell her my real name? That just adds to the danger that I had already put her in.
“Arie,” she said slowly, “where are we going?”
Where are we going?
I had only been in Chicago for a week, and I had no idea where we were. I risked a glance in the rearview mirror. Felix was gaining on us. If only I could get Erika out before he saw her.
“Arie,” she said again, even slower. “Are you running from someone?”
I grimaced. That was the second time I’d been asked that question today. I was involving way too many people.
“Yes,” I finally answered, “but don’t worry, I’ll make sure—”
The next scream wasn’t Erika’s; it was mine. Another black SUV came from my right with the man I couldn’t name earlier at the helm. I jerked the wheel to the left and cut across an intersection, ignoring the honks I received and focused on not hitting anything. Now there were two black cars behind me, and they were right on my tail.
I made two quick turns, right then left, in an effort to shake them. They seemed to read my mind, though, and one disappeared for a moment just to cut me off at the next block. I swerved again, but the car behind me barreled into the side of the cab. Everything exploded into chaos as the cab rolled several times and landed upside down.
Something was pinning me to my seat, and I struggled against it when I heard voices getting closer. A can was thrown into the car, making a clanking sound before it released the gas it contained. The smell of chloroform filled the air and I slipped into unconsciousness.
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