Chapter 1I was running. I was running so fast that I felt my hair was cutting into my face as it whipped from side to side. The forest was dark and lifeless, dead branches hung like fingers waiting to claw you. I heard the hard footsteps behind me crunching twigs and scrambling over rocks. The clicks of their guns, the shouts of their loud voices and the howls of their hound dogs created an eerie echo throughout the forest. I pressed myself harder, I felt my body begging me to stop, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t let them take me. I was a renegade not a brainless bobble head.
I ignored their shouts as they proceeded to move closer. I had to stop, my lungs were burning and I couldn’t get enough air. I came to a halt and looked around. No time. No time. I started running again but my legs felt like Jell-O. They were closing in, my feet ached, my legs screamed. I continued running, I felt a burning sensation in my calf and I went down hard with a scream. My hands grabbed at the cold earth, my nails dug in as I tried to pull my leg from the mouth of a black dog. The dog’s long canines dug into my delicate flesh, into the muscle.
Tears streamed down my sweat slicked face, my long light purple hair clung to my face and my arms. My black tank top was ripped from the finger branches. I mustered up the strength and used my right foot to slam it into the beast’s nose. A loud yelp echoed as the footsteps neared us. I scrambled to my feet and began running again. Pain shot up my left calf; I didn’t have time to check the damage.
I took off the pressure on my calf as I limped. I heard that low whistle, the whistle that gave me relief. I spared a glance behind me; I saw dark shapes that blended into one blob. I couldn’t see much the forest seemed to darken even more. I shivered as the world melted away and I was underground. I heard the stomping of the feet of the Elites and the hound dogs above me. I limped down the dimly limited tunnel. This was the renegade hideout, this was the home to the only hope our world had left and there were only ten of us.
“Viola!” I heard a voice call out to me when I emerged from the tunnel into a large corridor. The dim lights hung low; there was a run along the dirt floor. Kasey tried to keep it clean but it was a rug on a dirt floor? What did that neat freak expect? I wanted to laugh to myself, but I was in so much pain. I hobbled to the long wooden table in the center, twelve chairs surrounded it. I sometimes felt like our group were the knights of the round table but we didn’t have swords. All we had were brains, guns and feet.
I pulled my chair out and collapsed in it, I pushed the left over ammo toward the far end of the table.
“Marcus!” I heard Kasey yell as she walked over to me. She looked at me and shook her head. She was the leader of us; she was the eldest and the one that actually finished high school. Kasey looked on the makeshift shelves that Reed had dug into the thick dirt walls. She grabbed a ton of gauze and some peroxide. We needed more medical supplies. I glanced over at the right tunnel to see Marcus emerge. His large broad linebacker frame made the underground space more confined. He had dirt dusting his golden locks, his muscles bulged around the black cotton t-shirt.
“Viola, I thought you were going to wait for Frank?” he questioned and watched Kasey with wary eyes as she knelt down and cut away my black cargo pants. I sucked in a breath as she drowned the bite wound in peroxide. Kasey and Marcus were a couple, they were the parents of the group. I, however, was like the little baby who always got into trouble. Hey, I didn’t mind it as long as no one got hurt and we benefitted.
I shook my head, “No. We had a closing window of opportunity and I was the only one prepared,” I explained and jerked when Kasey numbed my calf with something. The bite mark was deep enough to need stitches. I wanted to curse myself for my stupidity for stopping briefly. I reached out, avoiding Kasey’s fingers moving with the needle as she tied my skin together. I dug my fingers into my sneaker and my fingers grasped a small micro-chip.
“I got it though,” I straightened up and handed the chip to Marcus. His big hand grasped the small blue chip. His eyes flickered with an odd emotion and then as quick as it came, it disappeared. I grimaced as I glanced down at Kasey. I felt a dull pull on my skin, it wasn’t painful but it wasn’t a comfortable feeling.
“You are staying here for a few days. Your calf needs time to heel and don’t roll your eyes at me,” she stated firmly as she finished up and stood. Taking the blood gauze, bloody needle and thread she went to go clean up. I watched her walk down the tunnel to the left which was the wash room; we found an underground cave as we dug deeper underground. I looked at Marcus and tilted my head slightly.
“Why did you want me, Frank and Greg to get this chip?” I questioned and adjusted myself in the wooden chair. I studied his face closely, a muscle ticked in his cheek, his brow was tensing slightly and his eyes were just blank of emotion. I frowned, what the hell was on this chip?
“Kasey and I will discuss it with you all later once we have what we need on this,” he said simply, ignoring my question. I huffed and crossed my arms across my chest as Vivian stormed into the room. Her face was red with anger and her twin followed behind her except she was crying. I rolled my eyes; they were always at each other’s throat. To be honest, I have no idea how they escaped the Elites. Marcus pocketed the blue chip and turned around to deal with double trouble.
“Mariah almost got caught,” Vivian said slowly and took a breath. I frowned, maybe I was wrong.
“How, they can’t get us anywhere in these tunnels? I made sure of it,” Marcus stated with genuine concern in his tone. Vivian shot a look at Mariah and Mariah looked down at her dirty sneakers. I finally took notice of Mariah’s appearance, there were leaves in her hair, and mud caked her clothes.
“I-I…I just…I thought…” she stuttered and didn’t look up from her sneakers. Marcus knelt down and grabbed her chin gently. The girls were only ten and their whole world was upside down and their only parents were Kasey and Marcus, no biologically of course but their parents were gone.
“Tell me what you thought Mariah,” Marcus said gently, looking at her with kind eyes. Vivian sighed and rolled her eyes. When she looked at me, I just shrugged. I let my eyes drift around as I dimly focused on the conversation between Mariah and Marcus. The dirt walls were so confining, so primitive looking. I hated it. I was sickened with what our world has come to. Ridden with breaking spirits and iron fists, it was our safe haven but I didn’t feel safe. I had never felt safe and I don’t think I ever will.
“We could have used more rations and so I used the south tunnel. I went outside and looked around. I saw their white eyes,” she said so softly, I almost didn’t catch it. I turned to look at her; Mariah went up, by herself? Marcus looked so calm but I could almost fill the room fill up with his anger. Tj was supposed to be guarding the south tunnel exit.
“Where was Tj?” Marcus asked as he stood and ran a hand through his hair. Dust started to collect on his shoulders in a small pile. Mariah swallowed and glanced at Vivian who had remained silent for the entire time.
“Gone,” Mariah whispered and I stood up. I wobbled; the numbness had yet to wear off. Marcus shot me a look.
“Sit down, now,” he snapped at me and turned back to Mariah and Vivian. Vivian had her arm wrapped around Mariah’s small frame. Though they were twins they looked nothing alike. Vivian was taller, leaner and more outspoken whereas Mariah was small, petite and very shy. The played off each other even when they went at each other, they still had each other’s back.
“Vivian go take Mariah to the wash room. Kasey is there,” Marcus commanded and turned away from them and stalked over to me. I looked up at him as he towered over me. I sneezed when dirt fell from his shoulders.
“You are staying here while I take Tanner and Greg to look for Tj. Abby and Beckem are patrolling the rest of the tunnels. If I get back and you aren’t here, so help me I will beat your ass, am I clear?” He said leaning in close. I could smell the soap and earth on him.
“Clear,” I grumbled begrudgingly. Marcus stared me down for a few moments before taking the south tunnel down to the exit. I sighed and used my fingers to comb out the blackened leaves from my purple hair. Why would Tj just leave without telling anyone? Do the Elites know about our underground tunnels? Could the Elites have taken him? What if he just went to get more supplies?
What if’s played over and over in my head, I sat for a while until I felt the numbness begin to fade in my calf. Using the table to brace myself, I stood up and started limping down the west tunnel, toward where we each had our own little ‘room’. I don’t think you could even call it a room. It was just a cave that was dug out of the thick walls of the tunnels. I felt like it took hours to just get to my room. It had a deep purple sheet covering the opening. My fingers grasped the thick sheet as I pulled it back. I shuffled in and blindly reached out for my lantern.
I stumbled, my fingers brushed over guns, ammo, batteries but I couldn’t find the stupid lantern. My shins bumped into the cot, giving up on the blind search for the lantern, I carefully lowered myself down onto the cot. I relaxed slightly feeling some of the tension leave my body as my head hit my pillow. Staring up at the ceiling, my mind wandered. It wandered to uncharted territory and my eyes began to slide closed. It felt like the world was suffocating me, this room seemed even smaller, the guns felt so far away and freedom felt lost. Can was break the Elites before they break us? Was that even possible? Maybe that’s what the microchip was for?
Eventually, my actions from today’s events had gotten to me and I drifted into a nightmare plagued sleep. It was always the same dream, always the same time, place and ending.
It was the first family to disappear, it was the first time everyone truly began to panic. The first family was our neighbors, the Reddingtons. The Reddingtons had two kids, a girl about nine and a boy about sixteen. They were my best friends and I didn’t have many. I remembered watching from the top window of our house. A black van drove up to their house and men, maybe a dozen, got out of those vans and stormed their property. They were the Elites. I wanted to scream, I wanted to get my parents to help them, I wanted these men to go away but I was frozen, with a bone chilling fear that made my tears feel like they seared my skin.
My face was pressed against the cool glass as the Elites stormed into their house. I banged on the glass as I heard their screams. I only saw Mrs.Reddington and Mr.Reddington get pulled out. Where were Jeremy and Laina? Then I did start screaming.
“Jeremy! Lania!” I screamed as I banged on the window. Their little white cottage house looked dark and empty. Where were they? They Elites dragged their parents into the van as soon as the van sped away; the house went up in flames. A scream rang out once more before it burned to the ground.
I slide to the ground, I felt helpless, and I felt alone. My parents ran out to the burnt ambers of the house. I ran to my room and stuffed whatever I could into the huge duffle and I ran.
I jerked awake and sat up, I wiped the sweat from my brow. I run my fingers along my wrist feeling the elastic hair band. I pulled it off my wrist and braided my hair back. I rubbed my face, I missed my parents. I reached under the cot and blindly searched for the picture frame. My fingers grasped the wooden frame. I still hadn’t found the lantern but I just wanted to see them. I laid back on the cot and run my fingers over the picture closing my eyes.
I could picture my mother’s face, she had a beautiful heart shaped face and curves that I wished I had. Her hair was dirty blond and wavy; she never had a bad hair day. She was small about my height now which was about 5’3’’. My dad and she were high school sweethearts. I held back the tears as I continued to run my fingers over the picture of the three of us, I was about four. I kept my eyes closed as I remembered what my dad looked like, he always wore cotton t-shirts like Marcus. He was taller than my mother by a lot he was almost six feet tall and he was fit. He had high cheek bones and gave me my athletic figure along with his green eyes.
I heard footsteps in the tunnel and quickly returned the picture. I lay still as I tried to catch the conversation.
“We need to keep Mariah on lock down. If they saw her then they will have the exact picture of what she looks like in their head,” one of the voices said. I focused on it, it wasn’t Marcus. It wasn’t Greg, Greg had a slight lisp. It had to be Beckem since he patrolled the tunnels with Abby.
“Marcus what are we going to do about Tj?” that one was Greg. I could hear the slight lisp when he said Tj’s name.
“Frank and I will take a look around but we have another problem,” Marcus explained and I could almost hear his muscle tick in his cheek.
“Viola. She’s been taking to many risks lately. She could have led those bastards right to us today with the little stunt she pulled,” Marcus said lowly but I could the anger in his voice. I swallowed and sat up. I stared at the sheet as if I was trying to burn holes into it.
“In her defense you did tell her and Frank to get that chip. What’s it for anyway?” Greg said and I smiled to myself in the darkness of my room. Thanks Greg.
“That’s not the point, if she had been more careful she wouldn’t have been bitten. Beckem you need to have Abby watch Mariah and make sure she stays in the tunnels. As for Viola, Beckem you will be watching her at all times. Teach her how to patrol the tunnels,” Marcus ordered and I stood up. I let out a squeak of pain, I almost forgot about the dog bite. I was not going to be babysat by Beckem of all people. It was like Beckem had a stick up his ass all damn day.
“No. I won’t babysit a brat,” Beckem remarked as I pulled back the sheet and glared at all three of them.
“I won’t be babysat by a prick,” I snapped as I shot daggers at Beckem. He glared right back, Beckem was only about two years older than me and I was seventeen. I won’t lie but I won’t admit to every thinking this but he was really good looking.
“I don’t care what either of you want. You will be watching her Beckem, end of discussion. Greg come with me to find Abby,” Marcus said shortly and shot me a look before walking down the tunnel with Greg. I put my hands on my hips to glare at Beckem more. He had dark brown hair that covered half his face and was always perfectly straight. His skin was flawless; he was fit and always wore tank tops with cargo pants and combat boots. I liked his eyes though they were an odd color, like a light grey but they looked sometimes almost white.
“You can leave, I don’t need a babysitter,” I said as I looked up at him. I didn’t like how he towered over me, it made me feel somewhat weak but by no means was I weak. I was far from it.
“I don’t want to be babysitter but it’s clear you can’t handle yourself out there,” He stated with a glare. We disliked each other. I never liked him since the day Marcus brought him down here and Beckem never liked me from the minute he saw me.
“Leave Beckem,” I wanted to scream it in his face but I couldn’t it would piss off Marcus and I did not want to piss of Marcus any more than I already had. Beckem stood rooted to his spot with his arms crossed over his chest.
Beckem moved and leaned against the wall, dirt dusted his black tank top. He wasn’t leaving and didn’t say anything back. He just stared at me, I squirmed slightly feeling uncomfortable.
“I’m going to wash up,” I said and went back into my room. My foot hit my duffle and I reached down searching for the strap after finding it I straightened. I headed to the washroom, ignoring Beckem as I heard his combat boots follow me. I was pissed off as it was and I turned with a wince as pain shot up my leg.
“You are not following me into the washroom, you pervert,” I snapped angrily at him and he just shrugged.
“I’m babysitting you. None of this would have ever happened if you hadn’t gone off without Frank to get a damn chip off of an Elite. No doubt they have your purple hair embedded into their brains,” he retorted and I wanted to punch him in the face. I clenched my hand into a tight fist. The urge to just make his nose bleed was so over whelming.
I turned and walked down to the tunnel to the wash room. I was going to need to deal with it; he was going to be the thorn in my side for who knows how long.