by Adam Casalino
“Just shut up and stay in the corner. Don’t move until I tell you to.”
Lena felt the rough hands move over her body. They seemed to be probing rather than groping. In her drug-induced grogginess she wondered if he was actually searching for injuries. She felt the hands attack the ropes at her wrists. They slackened, enough for her to move them freely. The man’s hands held hers for a moment, a clear sign that she was not to lift them. The blindfold he did not remove.
The wall was cold and slick with some kind of moisture. Judging from the smells it was not water. Lena’s back was sore, as was her legs that were folded up under her. By the pain she guessed she had been down there for some time. Reaching back into the recesses of her mind, she pulled at a memory. There was a lot of light and sound, but nothing coherent. Before that the party, the large house abnormally dark and full of strangers. Darkness clouded everything else until now.
There was movement on the other side of the room. The man had opened a door and disappeared. From the sound of it slamming shut she guessed the room wasn’t large. But it did feel empty. She held her breath for a moment, listening for anything else. No, there was nothing else in the room, unless you counted the drips. She heard a dull boom somewhere above. It could have been a heavy door closing, or a large object hitting the ground. Deep down she knew it was gunfire.
There were more booms. Voices reached her, coming from above as they fought through concrete walls and floors. Had the room been less dense, she would have heard an unnumbered amount of footsteps, running to and fro. Someone shouted. It sounded right outside the room. Lena strained to make sense of the words, but she didn’t understand them. Her brain struggled to attribute some label to the sounds, but they totally unfamiliar. It was an alien language to her.
The door opened. Something had hit it hard, sending it slamming against the far wall. Lena felt the disturbance of air as something was thrown towards her side of the cellar. Someone large, probably man-sized, hit the hard cement wall a few feet away. She cringed at the sick, crunching sound. It was like large branches snapping in the wind. She wondered if that was the sound of bones breaking. Must have been a lot of them. The person was groaning as he hit but was suddenly quiet. Lena slumped down further into the corner. A hand touched her shoulder, slipped under her arm, and helped her up. She reached for the blindfold.
“No, no,” came the same hoarse, but friendly voice. “Not yet. Not ’til we’re out of here.”
The hand held her arm and guided her from the room. She wanted to protest as her head spun. The dizziness from the drugs was made worse by the lack of sight to orient herself. Her head lulled to the side and she felt like she was going to throw up. The blindfold twisted on her face and she could see a little. She saw the blue-gray walls and the sewage-colored slime. She saw the body crumpled up against the wall. Lena paused only for a moment, trying to reconcile the odd shapes the body had made. She didn’t understand it. Before she could ask the man, he pulled her through the door and readjusted her blindfold.
They climbed stairs, so many she thought she would collapse. Her legs burned, but the man did not slow his pace. She was breathing hard and she reached out to steady herself against a banister. The man pulled her arm back. There had been nothing there anyway. They reached level ground and he started to run a bit faster. Lena listened to their footsteps echo down a hall. The floor was hard. Felt like tile. The smells had changed. There was something acerbic, like rubbing alcohol and tobacco. The wind that touched her face tingled.
The man pulled her to the left and she assumed they were turning a corner. He stopped. A rough hand slammed into her belly and she fell against the floor. The man cursed. He shouted. She heard him pull something from his clothes and the blasts began. Loud, maddening blasts that pressed against her ears. The flashes of light were so strong she saw them through her blindfold. Lena realized she had never witnessed a real gun being fired before. It was worse than she thought. There were cries of pain from somewhere to her right, down the hall. Bodies dropped to the ground and she assumed he had killed again.
“What’s going on?” she finally said.
She felt the man grab her arm again and force her to her feet.
“No time,” he said and continued running. They crossed the hallway and he paused. “Careful, step over them.”
Lena felt with her foot, inadvertently kicking something. It didn’t feel like a body should, even a dead body. Her shoe glanced off it as if it was smooth and hard. The man pulled at her and she climbed over. Instinctively she looked back, despite the blindfold, towards the obstacle. A rough hand pulled her face back and they kept running.
Their steps echoed across a warehouse-sized spaced. She sensed the presence of objects scattered around her, as the sound bounced around, giving shape to what she could not see. There was movement besides their own, slow and uncertain, like things crawling across the ground. The image of bleeding men, gasping their lasts breaths, appeared in her mind. What had she gotten into? The sound of their steps flattened and she realized they were reaching an exit. Fresh air came in through a large doorway. Perhaps it was a hanger. The man stopped and she stopped with them. He cursed again. Through the blindfold she could see the floodlights.
He held her by both arms and pulled her to the right. She was pressed against something metal, the hanger door. Lena slunk down into a crouch. A mouth was by her ear. The man told her once again to not move. She heard him edge away to the right, where she figured the opening was. There was the sound of engines. They thrummed like a chorus of drone bees as they drew close to the opening. Something was missing from the familiar sound, however. Something she expected to hear, but grew confused when she didn’t. She pondered this puzzle as someone shouted at them.
It was foreign again, but she didn’t have to imagine what they were saying. The voice was rough and deep. It conjured images of bullfrogs to Lena’s mind. To her surprise, the man beside her shouted back. He spoke the same language. She tried to make sense of it, at least compare it to languages she heard before. But no success. The man moved back towards her as the other voice continued to shout. It sounded like a command. There was the shifting of machinery and the guns opened fire.
The walls of the hanger shook. Metal whined and shattered. Lena huddled for fear of debris. She heard the man shout a little and fire back, but she had the feeling he could not defeat whatever was outside. The ground was vibrating. Lena had the urge to move. She grabbed the blindfold and pulled it up to her forehead.
Blurry clouds of light danced in front of her eyes. She saw shadows, indistinct and alien, nothing more. Lena squinted tightly, trying to focus on something in the room. A long, flat shape was not ten feet away. Lena stared at what she thought was the head, trying to make out the dead eyes and ears and nose. The same confusion swept over her as when she saw the body in the room below. She knew it was a body, a person, but it wasn’t human. Couldn’t have been. The man was in front of her. She could see the panic in his eyes. His voice was swallowed up by the explosions, but she got the gist of it. He grabbed her hand and they ran back up the warehouse, away from the opening.
The man had something heavy in his hands. He used his momentum to hurl it at a high window. Glass shattered, leaving an opening they might be able to climb through. As he and Lena reached the wall the explosions stopped. Whatever massive guns were shelling the building had powered down. The man paused at the wall, placing a hand on it, and looked back. Lena followed his gaze. Figures were marching through the hanger doors at the other end. Tall, irregularly shaped figures dressed in black clothes that shimmered as they walked. In their hands were long rifles tipped with hooks.
Lena wanted to scream. The man placed a hand on her shoulder. He whispered in her ear.
“I sorry you had to find out this way,” he said. “But we must keep moving.”
She turned to look at him. He put his hands together, forming a net in which she could place her foot. The man quickly boosted Lena up to the window. She gripped the sill and slid out like a fish through a pipe. As she hit the ground outside she realized the man was trapped on the other side. She looked around from something to throw to him, to help him up to the window. All she saw was a sea of black, punctuated by floating lights in the distance. There was a scraping noise and she looked up. The man had scaled the wall and was climbing through the window.
He landed on his feet and grabbed her hand. Without another word he pulled her into the black. It was a different kind of blindness, one with her eyes open. She felt the darkness cling to her face like a veil. The ground was rough, it reminded her of gravel. The man seemed to be able to navigate without sight. After running twenty yards it changed. The noise coming from the warehouse grew muffled by soft, bending stalks around them. It reminded Lena of running through a cornfield. They neared one of the floating lights and she saw for a moment. Tall red stalks swayed in a unfelt breeze. Their heads were perfectly round bulbs, nothing like corn.
“What did you mean,” she said between breaths, “that you were sorry I found out this way?”
“If it had been my way,” he said. “You wouldn’t have found out at all.”
“Found out what?”
To her surprise the man stopped. She heard him turn and face her. “You’re not on Earth anymore, Lena.”
She felt the blood drain from her face. Everything felt suddenly cold and distance. “I don’t understand.”
He stepped closer. “They took you away. They meant you harm. But I came to save you.”
Lena wanted to ask him the obvious question. But he turned and continued to run, pulling her by the hand.
“They don’t know it’s here,” she heard him say. “I hide them long ago.”
They reached another orb of light. It floated above a circular clearing. Red stalks swayed in unison at the brittle shale dirt. Sitting in the middle of the circle were two oblong silver shapes. The fronts came to a cone point. There was what looked like glass windows exposing single seats. At the back there was a giant exhaust. The man walked over to one of the crafts and placed his hand on it. The glass slid back, forming a way inside. He looked over at Lena and gestured.
“Climb in. I’ve programmed the computer for a direct course home.”
“What about you?” she asked.
He nodded at the other ship. “I’ll go in this one. It’s programmed the same way. But hurry. They may be on us at any moment.”
He gave her a hand and she climbed inside the ship. The seat molded to her shape as she reclined back. In front of her was a console of dazzling lights. She refused to touch them. The man looked in and pointed to a switch.
“This will activate a sleep-inducing hormone,” he said. “It’ll be enough for the entire voyage, if you want it.”
He reached over at pushed a button. A display appeared, spouting out long strings of numbers and a countdown. Lena looked at him as he stepped away from the craft.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” she said uncertainly.
“You don’t need to.”
She felt the ship begin to vibrate. There was a release of air as the engine powered up. Things were beeping on the console. It would take off soon.
“I don’t even know your name.”
The man looked back at her. For the first time there was a hint of a smile on his face. He opened his mouth and said something. The windows rolled up, cutting off the sound of his voice. Lena felt the craft begin to lift. Then something went wrong. The ground shook. She saw the man stumble back. A light bloomed in the tall red grass. It was one of the vehicles that attacked the hanger, the ones with no wheels. A cannon was pointed at the clearing. There was a spark of light and the man’s silver ship exploded. He was thrown to the ground. Lena sat up in her seat. She tried to turn off her ship, to open the windows, to find a way to pull him inside. But it would not obey. The craft rose into the air. The last thing she saw of the planet were the figures marching into the clearing, rifles raised.
Lena’s voice grew sore from screaming. Her eyes were bleary and red. She was not interested in the kaleidoscope of light as the ship passed from system to system, blurring nebulas and stars into colorful arrays. A circle of light, like a hole in the universe, appeared directly in front of the craft. The silver ship slipped through and she knew she was on a direct course home. She laid back in her seat and stared at the display. An image of the Earth was rotating slowly, a long number was rapidly decreasing beside it. Her eyes drifted to the switch the man had shown her, the one that would let her sleep. Her head was sore and she didn’t want to remember. She hit it.
There was a soft release of air, the scent of something astringent but flowery. Lena’s eyes grew heavy. She rested her head against the reshaping seat, looking at the glass roof over her. Slowly her eyes closed. Everything was dark. She was blind. She slept.