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The Year of Second Chances, Page 8

Jessica Sorensen

  "That was so not fair!" I shout through a laugh as I stumble and sway toward the entrance of my course.

  It takes about thirty seconds for the vertigo to dwindle, and then I take off, ready to win this. I wind and zigzag down the path, wishing I could see over the wall of hay bales and spot Kai. Every time I reach a corner, I slow down to a jog, fearing a zombie is going to be waiting for me. But after two very uneventful minutes tick by, I grow concerned that maybe I'm not doing something correctly. Perhaps I started in the wrong place or something.

  I turn around to backtrack my footsteps yet freeze when a zombie appears around the corner in front of me. His arms are painted to look like rotting flesh, his plaid shirt and clothes are torn, and he's wearing a paintball mask to protect the upper section of his face. His mouth is slack, and he groans hungrily as he comes at me, doing a fantastic impersonation of an emotionless, hungry zombie.

  I panic and fumble to raise my gun and fire. The first shot is a miss, but the next one hits him square in the center of his mask. His body drops to the ground like a sack of spoiled potatoes.

  "Score!" I fist pump the air then hop over the zombie and sprint down the maze, ready to kick some more butt.

  As I round the next corner, I don't slow down, trying to shave off some minutes on my time. The more zombies I shoot, the more my confidence soars, and I start to wonder if maybe I'll be able to win. All my worries gradually diminish as I become focused on the task at hand.

  Kai did an amazing thing by bringing me here. It almost makes me feel bad about winning the competition, but not enough to stop trying my hardest.

  When I spot what looks like the finish line, I give another fist pump and add a little twirl before taking off in a mad sprint. As I near the giant finish banner, a zombie wearing a torn baby blue prom dress and a broken tiara materializes out of nowhere and blocks my view.

  "All right, zombie beotch, move out of the way," I say, raising my paintball gun.

  My finger hovers on the trigger as I line up my shot, and suddenly, the zombie woman's red-stained lips curl into a smirk. I blink, taken aback. Every other zombie I've crossed paths with has been stone cold, playing the part of a zombie stuck in a famished-for-brains frenzy.

  Her smile grows as my puzzlement deepens. I shuffle back, startled. Then the lights shut off. My heart leaps in my chest as a hand comes down over my mouth. The paintball gun falls from my hands. I try to let out a scream, but the hand clamps down harder on my mouth, suffocating me.

  A heart faltering moment later, an arm snakes around my waist and drags me back into the darkness.

  Chapter 10


  I take my sweet time getting through the maze, shooting zombies whenever they appear and casting glances at the timer on the wall. I have no plans of actually winning the race. The whole twirling, dizzy stunt I pulled at the starting line was so Isa thinks I'm playing fair. I'm going to let her win because it'll make her happy, and that's what today's about: no worrying about murder cases, no worrying about unknown texts, no worrying period.

  As the finish line comes into view, I slow my pace down to a lazy walk, taking my sweet-ass time, wanting to be certain she wins. If only I could catch a glimpse over the wall and spot her, I could make sure I don't come in too hot.

  Hmmm ...

  An idea hits me, and I stop near a corner, debating whether to climb up the wall and peek over. I'll probably get in trouble. No climbing on the hay is one of the rules on the paper we had to sign before we could play.

  But you know what? Fuck it. I'm totally doing it. I've never been one for following the rules, anyway.

  Setting the paintball gun down on the dirt ground, I prop my foot on a hay bale and start to hoist myself up. But my phone buzzes, and I jump back to the ground to fish it out of my pocket, figuring I'll check the text and kill some time. Then I pause, realizing I have Isa's phone. She gave it to me when we got here because she was worried it would fall out of the pocket of those tight, very flattering skinny jeans she's wearing.

  I'm starting to put the phone away when the unknown number pops up as an incoming text. Worried, I tap the screen and read the messages.

  Unknown: Beware of the zombies.

  Unknown: Not all of them are here to play.

  The lights shut off, and darkness smothers the course. My head snaps up, my gaze skimming the pitch black that has taken over the warehouse.

  "Isa!" I call out, attempting not to panic, but that message ... It sounded like a threat. "Isa, can you hear me?"

  My only answer is maddening silence.

  I flip on the flashlight app and make my way through the darkness, painfully aware that Isa's phone is in my hand, which means she has no way of getting any light.

  "Isa, just say something!" I shout, my boots scuffing the dirt as I turn in circles, looking everywhere. "And I'll find you--"

  A scream cuts me off and sends a chill down my spine. I can't tell if it's her scream, but ... Shit! What if it is?

  Chucking the phone onto the nearest hay bale, I grab the top of the wall and hoist myself up. Then I scoop up the phone and jog on top the bales, using the phone as a spotlight on Isa's side of the maze. People dressed as zombies are moving around blindly, and some blink up to ask me what's going on.

  "I have no idea," I snap at a taller zombie whose face is painted to give the illusion of rotting flesh. "Have you seen the girl who was on this course?"

  The zombie dude shakes his head, and I curse before continuing down the wall, the text replaying in my mind as I frantically search for her.

  Beware of the zombies. Not all of them are here to play.

  Does that mean the person who's harassing Isa is hiding in the midst of the zombies below me? Is it my dumbass brother like I suspect?

  "Kyler, I'm so going to kick your ass if this is you." I slam to a halt and scan the light on each of their faces. Most of them appear stunned and lost, while some are wandering back toward the starting line, chatting to each other. None of them seem threatening.

  "Fuuuuck." I grind my teeth as I hike down the wall again. "Come on, Isa. Please, please, just say something--"

  The lights illuminate across the course again, and l blink fiercely against the brightness.

  "Sorry about that, everyone." A static voice flows from the intercom. "We had a temporary power shortage, but the power is back on now."

  No shit, genius.

  I shake my head and jog along the top of the hay wall, running the entire length of the maze. By the time I reach the end, there's still no sign of Isa anywhere.

  My panic skyrockets as I hop down from the hay bales. As I reach the exit of the maze, I spot a purple metal object in the middle of the doorway. My heart sinks when I realize what it is.

  Isa's paintball gun.

  Worry lashes through me as I snatch up her paintball gun then push my way through the mob crowding the entrance.

  "Get out of my way." I not-so-nicely nudge people out of my way to get up to the front counter.

  The guy who checked us in --Jay, as his nametag declares--is messing with the computer while a middle-aged woman with jet-black hair reams him for the power shortage.

  "I don't want a voucher." She pounds her fist against the counter. "I want my money back. Do you know how dangerous it is to have the power go out like that and not have any backup lights? In fact, I'm pretty sure it breaks a lot of codes."

  Usually, my motto is all about being chill, but with Isa missing, any calm vanishes in the snap of a finger.

  "She's right." I drop the paintball gun down on the counter. "It breaks a shit ton of codes."

  "Look, I just work here," Jay replies, tapping keys on the keyboard, seeming frazzled. "And this place just opened. The boss is still working out some kinks."

  "Your boss has a way bigger problem than that," I tell him, "because, right now, my friend's missing, and the last place I saw her was on the course."

  He glances up at me with his brows knit. "What are
you talking about?"

  "I'm talking about how the last time I saw my friend was when we started the course," I snap. "Now I can't find her anywhere, but I did find her gun lying in the doorway."

  "Did you try to call her?" he asks, casting a nervous glance at the growing crowd.

  "She doesn't have her phone on her," I say.

  He stares at me like I'm a moron. "Well, maybe she bailed on you, you know. Girl's do that sometimes."

  I'm about to go all Fight Club on him when someone bumps into the back of me. I turn around and shove the closest person to me, a guy around my age and height with brownish-red hair. "Back the hell off."

  He rolls his eyes then gives me another shove. "You back off, asshole. You're holding up the line."

  He looks vaguely familiar, and I wonder if maybe I go to school with him. Normally, I'd put him in his place, but I have bigger problems to worry about right now, like finding Isa.

  Reality crashes down on me hard, sharp, and painful. Isa might really be missing. Someone might have done something to her.

  I reel back toward the cashier. "Look, I don't give a shit what you think. My friend's missing, and you need to find a way to search the building to look for her. Or maybe check the security cameras."

  He blinks at me like a clueless dumbass. "Security cameras? I don't think we have security cameras."

  "So, let me get this straight. You don't have a backup power system, and you don't have security cameras." I shake my head. "You know what? Never mind. Let me talk to your manager."

  "Sure." He backs for a doorway at the far back corner, taking his leisurely time.

  I clench my hands into fists, resisting the urge to shout at him to hurry his ass up. Then I prop my elbows on the corner and lower my head into my hands.

  "I'm so sorry, Isa," I mumble. "I never should've let you wander off alone."

  I didn't think the harasser would take things this far, especially if it is Kyler. I mean, it's one thing to spread a bunch of flyers around the school, but it's another thing to actually kidnap a person.

  Did they take her, though? Maybe she's just wandering around, looking for me. I'm having a hard time seeing my brother as a kidnapper. Perhaps Isa's right behind me, and we just can't see each other. She could be, although I have a sickening feeling in my stomach, a feeling connected to the scream I heard during the power shortage, that Isa's in trouble.

  I'm starting to turn to scan the throng of people behind me when someone lightly taps on my shoulder. Twisting around, I find the guy with reddish-brown hair standing in front of me with an annoyed expression on his face.

  "I was told to give this to you," he mutters, extending his hand toward me.

  Clasped in his fingers is a square piece of paper about the size of a business card.

  I warily eye the card. "Who's it from?"

  "Will you just take it?" He flicks the card at my chest and moves back. "I was told to give it to you, not tell you who sent it."

  My jaw ticks as I bend down to scoop the card off the floor. By the time I stand up straight, the guy has vanished into the crowd.

  "Goddammit," I mumble, flipping the card over. Scorching hot anger chokes me as I read the printed note on the back.

  You want to see Isabella again? Bring the flash drive to Cherry Lane Road and Sunnyvale Forest Drive by 6:00. And make sure to come alone. If you don't, you won't see your little girlfriend again.

  I ball my hand into a fist, crumpling the card. I don't know if Kyler is in on this or if he's helping someone, but I'm so going to kick his ass if I find out he is.

  Chapter 11


  I fight like my life depends on it as the person holding me drags me into the unknown. They're freakishly strong, easily keeping me secured by the waist and arms, even as I jerk my body and thrash my head around. I don't know who they are or where they plan on taking me, if they're the person behind the unknown texts, if this is part of the game, or something entirely unrelated. But the feeling of not knowing what's going to happen to me sends an ice-cold chill through my body.

  "Where are you taking me!" I shout, fighting with all my strength to get away.

  They don't answer, but as sunlight trickles through the fabric bag over my head, I realize we are outside.

  "Let me go!" I pick up my feet and throw my head back to head bang them, but they shove me forward before I make contact, their nails biting into my skin as their fingers tighten around my arm.

  "Stay still." The low, deep, male voice carries a hint of familiarity, but I can't place a face to it.

  "Then let me go!" I scream, hoping someone is nearby and will help me.

  Silence and the wind are my only answer.

  I open my mouth and try again. "Somebody help--"

  The scream dies as a door creaks open. He gently guides me down onto my face, my cheek pressing against rough carpet.

  Flipping over onto my back, I get my legs underneath me. But a set of hands lands on my shoulders and softly pushes me back down. The movement is odd, too gentle for the situation.

  "Stay down," he pleads. "Please."

  "Why? What're you going to do to me?" I ask, a few tears escaping my eyes.

  He doesn't answer as he pats my pockets and steals my car keys. Then he grabs my arms, yanks them together, and winds a piece of wire around my wrists. Not very tightly, though.

  When the guy's fingers leave my arm, I hear a door roll shut, like the door of a van. I lie on the floor, panicking, my chest heaving with each terrified breath I take. Silence engulfs me, and my mind races with questions. Am I in here alone? Should I try to get up? Will they hurt me if I try? Is this person Jamison's killer?

  The last thought strikes me hard and knocks the air out of my chest.

  I need to get out of here. Now!

  Just as I move to get my legs underneath me, a door creaks open.

  "Just get in." The pissed off voice sounds like it belongs to a woman. "We need to go. Now. Or we won't get this done in time."

  "I am getting in," the guy replies. Then a door slams shut. "Now drive."

  They grow quiet after that as an engine roars to life, and the car begins to move. No one utters a word for most of the drive, and the soft sound of the classic rock radio station fills up the quietness.

  We drive for miles and miles before the car finally comes to a stop, and the engine shuts off. Doors open. A light breeze blows in.

  "Get Isabella out," the woman hisses, her voice sounding a bit familiar, "while I unlock the door."

  Doors slam. Silence. My heart thunders in my chest.

  Where am I? What are they going to do to me? Will anyone find me? Who are they?

  I tremble as the door near me glides open again. Strong hands snag me by the waist and guide me across the carpet then out of the vehicle. I stumble forward as my feet plant against the ground. I struggle to regain my balance and then take off in a mad sprint, blindly running forward where I can make out the outlines of lofty trees.

  "Oh, no, you don't." The guy snags me by the back of the shirt and draws me back against him. "You're not going anywhere."

  I grunt as my back collides with his chest, and a whimper escapes my lips.

  "This'll all be easier if you quit fighting," he says quietly as he steers me by the shoulders. "No one's going to hurt you."

  "Easy for you to say," I seethe. "You're not the person tied up with a bag over your head."

  He grows quiet as he leads me up a short flight of stairs and into a sheltered area where the cool breeze no longer nips my skin.

  "Sit her down in the chair," the woman instructs. "Then let's go."

  Go? Wait a second. They're leaving me here?

  Should I panic or not? On one hand, they're obviously bad people. On the other hand, what if they take off and leave me here to starve to death and rot?

  Before I can work up too much of a fuss, hands land on my shoulders and force me down into a chair.

  "Please, just let me go,"
I whisper. "I promise I won't tell anyone what happened."

  No one says a damn thing, which both scares me and kind of pisses me off.

  "Let me go!" I shout as I writhe to get free.

  "Never." One single word, but the ominous impact hits me square in the gut.

  Moments later, he ties my legs to the chair, then walks away. A door shuts. Quietness fills the air, laced with my heavy, erratic breathing. The wind howling outside makes threatening promises of being the last noise I'll ever hear.

  "Hello?" I utter. "Is anyone there?"


  I should be scared out of my damn mind, and in a way, I am, but I think I've reached a sedated state of shock.

  Numb. I literally feel numb from the inside out. Part of me is relieved I can't feel much of anything, while the other part of me is worried I'm broken. But broken how?

  The longer I remain in the chair, overanalyzing my thoughts, the more my mind goes down a darkly twisted road.

  What if I can't feel anything because my mom really is a killer, and I'm just as messed up as her? What if there is actually something broken inside my head?

  I hastily dropkick the thought from my mind. No, don't go there. You're not that kind of person!

  "Hello?" I call out again. "Is anyone there?"

  Drip, drip, drip.

  The sound makes my thoughts veer down to an urban legend I once heard about dripping and blood and ...

  I shake my head to clear the fearful thoughts consuming my mind. Never lose your head, even when things seem super bad--horror movie 101.

  I wiggle my arms, trying to get free. With every jerk, the wire loosens easily enough that I question if the guy failed to tie it tightly on purpose. Did they want me to escape for some reason? Why go through all of this trouble just to let me escape?

  "Come on, come on, come on ..." My hands slip free, and sweet relief washes over me. "Oh, my God. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

  I tear the cloth bag off my head and blink a few times until my eyes adjust to the dim lighting.

  Four log walls create a narrow space around me. And there's a single window along with the door.

  "Where the hell am I?" I notice the thick forest outside the window. "Am I even in Sunnyvale anymore?"