By Nicholas Bright
“Sean. Monique. Melissa. Tory,” clutching the necklace, Kelsey always remembered the others. Especially Sean. Her brother.
The others that didn’t make it.
The others she left behind.
It was her reminder before each mission of who was not there with her. Of who didn’t escape the traffickers. To remember that she got away and they didn’t. She had to remember for the sake of the children she was trying to save now. Operation Underground, it was the entire purpose of her mission. To rescue trafficked children.
She laid just in the tree line covered in by the darkness of the night. The smell of dirt and leather were like home. This is where she thrived. She was a survivor, but she was also a champion for those that didn’t have a voice.
She would free every child she could.
Loomis and Bryant, her two closest friends and teammates crawled up to her side.
“You ready to do this?” Bryant was her left, and spoke with a soft Nigerian accent.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” Kelsey leaned in and put her forehead against his, his dark lips then drinking in her kiss. “You’ve got my six?”
“And your heart!” a brilliant smile flashed back.
“And I’ve got your gun,” a whisper that was no softer than his normal voice, Loomis held out her 9mm Glock.
“You’re too sweet,” she mocked as the slide budged slightly back so she could see if a round was chambered.
“I’ll secure the door. Just watch that side entrance. Loomis, can you make your way and hit the road? I don’t want get hit with headlights.”
Dance 364 lit up in neon glory basking her in pink light as the sign hummed.
“Shit,” Kelsey said over her radio.
“I’m on it,” Bryant’s voice came first.
The sign went out again.
“You’re clear,” Loomis said. “Security is down too. You should be able to just walk through the front door now.”
“Copy that,” Kelsey started to fold the fence out so she could squeeze herself threw.
She moved swiftly across the empty parking lot keeping her eyes locked onto the main door. Bryant and Loomis were both covering the two other entrances. Her job was to get through the front and into the first dance room. A door swung open from her left.
The man in a black suit turned towards her, a hand in his jacket. His head jerked to the side, body collapsing to the ground.
She moved again.
“Tango down.” Loomis called in on their radio. “Intel was right.”
“Let’s just hope the auction isn’t going on tonight,” Bryant chimed in.
Kelsey was just outside main entrance door now “This place smells like a strip club. Does the local PD still have eyes on us?”
“Yeah,” Loomis said breathing heavily into the mic. “They’re ready to roll with lights and sirens on your signal.”
“Door is secured. Move up.” She was ready.
Loomis and Bryant moved silently, stopping just behind her.
She breathed in. And then waved two fingers.
Loomis moved up from the rear and pulled the door open as silently as he could allowing Bryant and then Kelsey to move in.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.
“I’m up, sweetie.”
“Green for me.”
They moved the sitting area, kicking away the weapons of combatants. She always tried her best not to see their faces. Not to remind her self of her own past. They weren’t men to her. They were demons. The doors to the first dance room was already open, lights lit low.
Just like the dance studio was when she was a little girl.
Bryant and Loomis fanned out against the walls trying to find any false doors or compartments, just like they always had.
But Kelsey walked to the middle of the room. Her flash light revealing some of her most treasured and horrific childhood memories. The same colors of her dance rehearsals. The same vinyl ballerinas. The same screams of her first attack.
“Sean,” her voice trembled.
“All clear,” Bryant gave a thumbs up.
The world was silent, but Kelsey felt a nudge in her soul. To move. To get out, but she felt a stronger push to the corner of the room. Her corner. The one she used to hide.
“Hey, Kelsey.” Loomis called to her in a hushed tone. “What are you doing?” He turned to watch the door they came from.
Kelsey waved him off. She knelt in the corner and knocked on the second floor board from the wall. The way she remembered.
Knock. Knock. Knock, knock.
“Kelsey, what are you doing?” Impatience wasn’t normal for Bryant.
“What the fuck?” Bryant shined a light on the door. “Babe, how did you know?”
She stood up panic stricken. “Look for a shawl. Blues and red pattern.”
Bryant recognized the fear and moved to the closest.
She grabbed the shawl with shaking hands from Bryant.
“Pull the hook,” her voice was small, like a child.
“What?” Bryant turned his head to try and hear her better, even though he only a foot away.
“Pull the hook!” her voice echoed off the walls, but he did as she asked.
Bryant went back to her corner, pull up the hinged trap door.
“Babe. Here,” the words made her cry as she watched her husband pull four children out of the ground. All girls, no more than fifteen.
“It’s Sean,” Kelsey felt the air leave her.
“What? Where?” Bryant tried looking down in the hole again.
“No,” she muttered. “This place. It’s his.
She would always remember that look Bryant gave. The one of confusion, sickness, and hatred. “No,” he said to her. “You can’t know.”
“Honey,” she grabbed his cheeks as Loomis came over to give the girls water. This is the same room we were taken.”
The sound of emergency sirens could be heard. It was a relief.
She needed to leave.
By Marshall Carr JR.
For the fifth time in the last thirty minutes, a klaxon warning rattled around in Martin’s skull. The warning displayed via his ciPhone HUD remained the same. Hovering in the air next to the books he had just placed on the shelf, the message flashed in time with the wail of the sirens only he could hear.
**THIS IS NOT A TEST. EVACUATE THIS LOCATION. GREN MOUND BREECH PROBABILITY 65%. PROCEED TO DESIGNATED RELIEF STATION. REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A TEST.**
Martin scoffed and dismissed the message with a thought. Stupid phone. Times like this he missed the physicality of holding a smartphone in his hand. It could be put down. It could be ignored. Unfortunately, his incredibly busy activism days decades earlier made instant communication essential to the cause. He scratched his arm. Martin swore he could feel the ciPhone nanobots in his bloodstream.
The bookstore was nearly in order and then he would consider evacuation. The gren had never attacked another Central Valley town since Modesto fell forty years prior. If the gren did invade his little town of Newman, California, he wasn’t going to leave his bookstore in shambles. Folks who actually wanted to read needed this shop.
Martin picked up the last book on his cart. Beowulf. Forty years and it was still a bestseller. The gren invasion proved at least some of the epic poem was based in reality.
The alarm sounded again. So soon?
**THIS IS NOT A TEST. GREN BREECH EMINENT. BRUTES FORCES DEPLOYED TO THIS AREA. EVACUATE NOW.**
So much for 65%.
Martin let the message linger. The word “eminent” hovered over the antique cash register.
If the Brutes had been deployed…
The irony was not lost on him of course. Martin lead the movement that attempted to disband the all-black military force. Regardless of the intent, Marin and his activist group saw the formation of a “segregated” military force as a step backward for racial equality. Although he still believed it, the Brutes were the only reason the world wasn’t overrun with gren.
Martin shuffled toward the front door, grabbed the padlock from its hook, and secured the front door.
He turned to head out the back when the entire back wall buckled. It seemed to fold in on itself as it was replaced by freshly disturbed earth. It was like looking into the face of a massive gopher mound.
Martin stumbled back towards the front door. He turned and pulled at the door only to have the padlock stay firmly in place. He jammed his hand into his pocket fishing for his keys. He heard snapping wood as the mound increased in size consuming his shop inch by inch.
**THIS IS NOT A TEST…**
“Shit,” Martin cursed. He dismissed the warning at the same time he dropped the keys. The floorboards below him bulged and the earth below swallowed the keys like a rock thrown into a river.
The ever-evolving mound forced Martin away from the door and into the corner of the now destroyed shop.
With one last groan of the remaining foot or two of wood between the mound and the door, the shop went completely silent.
At some point during the destruction of his shop, the sun had set. Martin’s eyes fought to adjust to the increasing darkness.
Nothing moved. The only sound was his heartbeat in his ears.
The dirt started to move. Martin wasn’t sure if it was a trick of the light, but it looked as if something was pulling the mound inward. As the dirt shifted and folded in, an ink-black hole settled in its place.
The creatures that emerged from the hole Martin had seen on the feeds. Everyone had. They were hunched over on long arms and short powerful hind legs. The grens’ eyes were fogged and blind looking. Their skin was so white and stretched over taut muscles, it looked translucent.
Two emerged first, sniffing the air. Listening.
Martin clasped both hands over his mouth, not trusting himself to be silent enough.
Martin’s eyes went wide as the gren closest to him took a few steps in his direction. The creature made no sound as it moved. It snapped its long teeth together as it searched, but nothing this creature did was heard by Martin’s ears.
More emerged silently from the hole and he knew then that this was the end. They would find him.
The gren was only a few feet away now.
Something hit the gren in the side of its head and landed near Martin’s foot.
Every gren in the room whirled toward the now shattered door and silently screamed. Where the door used to be, stood a well-built black man in Brute fatigues. In one hand, he easily held a war-hammer nearly as tall as Martin with an over-sized black-blue head half the size of a gren.
With an audible grunt, the Brute brought the hammer over his head with both hands meeting the charge of the nearest gren. The force of the weapon drove the gren into the dirt with a wet thud.
Another leapt at the same time closing its rows of yellow teeth onto the Brute’s arm.
It was that moment Martin knew he was wrong. His years of protest came down to this.
The Brute accepted the bite on his bare arm, yet no blood flowed.
As hard as it was to believe, the black man’s skin would not allow the gren to get through. At least at first. A moment later blood appeared around the gren’s maw. By then, the creature was shrugged off like a pesky mosquito.
The Brute retreated and the gren flowed like water from the mound into the street.
The gren made no sound, but Martin could hear the Brutes fighting outside. Protecting him. Protecting humanity.
“Mr. Griggs?” The Brute from earlier stood over him, hand outstretched to help Martin up.