Authors: Carrie Harris
I finished surveying the room and turned toward the girls. All three of them were staring at me.
“What?” I asked.
Cal snorted. “And here I thought you’d have some brilliant plan for escape.”
“Escape …?” I frowned thoughtfully. “Funny you should mention that. I do have a plan.”
“Which is …?” Amethyst asked, wrinkling her nose.
“No time to explain. He’ll be back in a minute. Europa, see if you can find a phone to call nine-one-one. Calamity and Amethyst, we need a rear exit point that’ll get us out of here pronto without him seeing. Go. Now.”
The girls scattered. I had just a second to appreciate how cool it was that they had
actually listened to me before it was time to get to work. I started shuffling through the papers at warp speed, trying to figure out who the heck this guy was and what he was doing out here with a bunch of apparently nonmythical creatures. The bills were all addressed to a Tobias Bachmeier and had been sent to a post office box in town. The electric bills were really high; my dad would have had a fit. (Dad was pretty big into energy conservation.) I snorted; something told me that the whole pointing-a-firearm-at-his-son thing would probably outweigh the flagrant use of electricity in Dad’s mind. Something also told me that maybe I should quit pretending this was another LARP and take matters seriously. The predicament I found myself in still didn’t feel real to me, but I had to remember that I was going to lose more than my special items if I pushed this guy too far.
It seemed wise to hurry if I didn’t want to risk a repeat performance of the whole gun episode, and I was getting nowhere with the papers. I moved on to another pile at the end of the rickety wood dinette table. Pay dirt! There was a whole sheaf of performance reviews from Cryomed Engineering, and none of them was remotely positive. The last couple of reviews recommended that Mr. Bachmeier undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which didn’t bode well for us at all. We were stuck in the lair of a mad scientist with a God complex.
I shook my head and reminded myself that we’d get out of here, and it would be a good idea if we fled with a nice batch of evidence for the authorities. So I skimmed through a bunch of scientific papers full of gobbledygook about gene splicing and recessive traits and some other stuff that would make Kate throw a fit when I showed her. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out where to put all the paper. I couldn’t exactly stuff it down my leggings, and I didn’t have any pockets. I was standing there undecided when the door opened and in walked the crazy dude with the gun.
“Hey, Tobias,” I said, nice and loud. I was hoping the girls would hear me and get out while they still could. “What’s shakin’?”
“Get your hands off my correspondence!” he yelled, like I wasn’t standing just two feet from him.
I held my hands up like I had with the yeti and tried to channel Sir Tal.
wouldn’t let anyone push him around no matter
the situation. He was always cool, even when facing down a lich king one-on-one. “Chill, dude. I was just looking for some reading material.”
“Where are the rest of your friends?” he demanded.
“Bathroom,” I answered automatically.
His forehead wrinkled. “All together?”
“Hey, you know girls. They can’t pee without a committee.”
The dude grabbed me by the collar. “We’ll see about that,” he muttered, dragging me toward the hall. My feet scrabbled for purchase, but once again, I couldn’t manage to get my legs under me. Man, I couldn’t wait to hit a growth spurt. I was tired of being dragged around by giants.
Actually, that would have been pretty cool, now that I thought about it.
“You don’t have any giants here, do you?” I asked.
“Giants. You have yeti and ligers and whatever else is in those pens. Do you have any giants?”
“Why? Do your employers want you to steal a giant recipe? Because they can’t have it. They can’t have any of my work.” He scowled at me so hard that I decided maybe I’d pushed my luck enough for the moment. I shifted my arm, trying to make his pincher grip just a little more comfortable. It was a futile effort, but at least I tried.
We stopped at a closed door at the end of the stumpy hallway. I was more than a little surprised when Tobias cleared his throat, knocked politely on the door, and said, “Ladies? Are you in there?”
There was, unsurprisingly, no answer. Because my girls aren’t stupid. I mean, not that they’re
, because that implies ownership, and … oh, you know what I mean.
I couldn’t keep from grinning as I pictured the three of them shimmying out of one of the dinky windows and running down the road, followed by a herd of yeti, ligers, and other creatures
of awesomeness. I could just imagine the faces of the Apples as the little band of adventurers ran through their camp. So epic.
“I know,” Tobias muttered, releasing the doorknob. “Shut up.”
I blinked. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
Now, that worried me. The combination of hearing voices and carrying a firearm didn’t make me feel secure at all. Sure, I was all for mad scientists, but only in theory. I needed to keep him talking, ground him in the real world. Hopefully, Europa had already found a phone and the cops were on their way. All I had to do was stall.
“I thought you were going to call our parents,” I said. “I’m honestly not working for anyone. I’m only fifteen. I’m not old enough to work without a permit. I mean, just look at me. Do I look old enough to hold a job?”
“Actually, you look twelve.” His gaze sharpened and he stroked his chin thoughtfully. I wanted to defend myself, but for once I had to concede that delayed puberty had its advantages. “All right. After my creatures are delivered, I’ll have no reason to stay here, so you can call anyone you like.”
“Delivered? To whom? Santa Claus?” I gestured wildly, just babbling now. “Do you plan to deliver them via dragon? Because that would be so cool.”
He scowled. “Don’t joke about dragons, boy. You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I have no idea what
talking about, dude.”
He started muttering about genetic this and recessive that. I couldn’t follow any of it, and I couldn’t think of any other ways to delay him. So when he grabbed for the doorknob, all I could do was pray.
There must be some kind of deity out there, because the bathroom was empty except for the usual—toilet, dinky shower stall, sink. And it smelled even worse than the rest of the place, which I hadn’t thought was even possible.
Tobias was getting more and more agitated, and it sounded to me like he was holding an entire conversation under his breath. I couldn’t make out any of the words, but I didn’t need to in order to realize that this was not good. Things got even worse when he turned and flung the bedroom door open. I felt like my heart was going to gallop out of my chest and run for safety. But that room too was empty except for a pair of fluttering curtains in front of an open window and a set of purple feathered wings on the floor.
Tobias’s bedroom windows were tiny. Frankly, I found it tough to believe that the girls had climbed out of one of them. I wasn’t sure that
could have fit through the narrow rectangular space without taking off all my clothes and shaving a few inches off the sides of my skull. The mad scientist looked pretty impressed too, but then he seemed to realize that their escape was a bad thing.
“I know!” he snarled.
Apparently, he didn’t like what his imaginary friend had to say, because he shoved past me and stormed toward the bedroom door with his teeth bared. I had to stop him before he got outside, or at least slow him down so the girls could make it into some ground cover. I was afraid he’d shoot them. Logical me said that if he hadn’t shot us by now, he was probably just trying to intimidate us with the whole gun thing. But I also reminded myself that he was certifiable and could throw logic out the window at any time. Which meant I’d have to err on the side of caution.
So I let out my best battle cry and threw myself at his legs. Kate’s boyfriend, Aaron, had actually spent a week trying to teach me how to play football until we’d both conceded that it was a lost cause. I’m just not physically adept at anything that doesn’t involve pretend bladed weaponry—and I’m okay with that. But I did remember the general theory behind a good tackle: it’s much easier to attack the legs than the body. If you grab the body, your target can break your grip. But if you entangle your target’s legs, he’s going down.
I knew all these things, but I was still surprised when Tobias actually
down. I wrapped my arms around his thighs and locked my hands together, and he toppled forward. I was doubly surprised when my hands slipped and his heel slammed into the bridge of my nose.
As a martial arts enthusiast, I’ve taken my fair share of blows to the nose. It even got broken once when Calamity and I were sparring and I let my guard down. But it’s not something
you can exactly prepare for. Bright lights flashed before my eyes and my vision swam with tears as Tobias’s foot made contact with my face; it felt like my sinuses and my brainstem were occupying the same space. These things combined made it very difficult to restrain the lunatic with the firearm. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck like he was a sanity-impaired mama cat and I was the naughtiest kitten in the litter and dragged me toward the front door. The tips of my toes trailed across the threadbare carpet, but at least I wasn’t choking. My sleeves dug uncomfortably into my armpits as he pulled me down the trailer steps.
Fighting back would have been a good idea, but I couldn’t get my eyes to focus. I knew from experience that the crying bit would last for about a minute or so and then I’d be okay. I closed my eyes and waited it out. Tears ran down my face, but I wasn’t one of those never-cry-in-public guys, so I didn’t care too much. Tobias hadn’t started shooting or shouting, so it seemed like the girls must have found a hiding spot. I certainly couldn’t see them. The clearing was just one big green blur that we were crossing at a high rate of speed.
I’d just managed to blink my eyesight back into focus when Tobias shoved me forward. The sudden motion caught me completely off guard, and I threw my hands up instinctively to protect my face. They got there just in time; I slammed into a chain link fence and fell to the hard-packed dirt underneath.
I didn’t need to hear the clang to tell me what I already knew: Tobias had locked me in one of the cages.
“Hey!” I yelled, scrambling to my feet and ignoring the link-induced pain in my hands. “You can’t do this!”
Tobias walked away with the rifle slung over his shoulder, still carrying on that one-sided conversation. I caught a glimpse of his face and wished I hadn’t. He looked ready to shoot something, and I could only hope that it wasn’t going to be me or one of the girls.
What kind of thought was that? I felt like biffing myself over the head with one of my swords. Sir Talatien wouldn’t just give up, and neither would I. He’d evaluate his resources, make a plan to save the day, and retire with a cold mug of mead afterward. I’d do the same,
except with Mountain Dew. (I’d tried mead once, and it tasted like fermented shoe leather.)
First, I’d have to evaluate
resources. My sword had fallen out of my bandolier during the scuffle, and I had to admit that most of the other stuff I was carrying was useless. I had a compass, a Sharpie, a bit of twine, a couple of Band-Aids, a granola bar, and a bunch of props. Captivity isn’t exactly the best appetite stimulant, but I knew I had to keep my energy up if I wanted to get out of this mess. So I munched on the granola and tried to come up with an escape plan that involved tea-dyed scrolls and plastic gems. No luck. No surprise either.
I looked around at my surroundings. I was being held captive in a tall cage; I reached toward the ceiling and estimated it to be about six feet or so. As in, no way was I ever going to be able to touch the top. The corners were sturdy, and all the bolts were secure and free of rust. Nothing inside except me and a dirt floor, which was smooth except for the edge of a root that stuck up in one corner. I spent a few minutes trying to come up with an ingenious plan to use the root to free myself, but no soup. Then I tried digging around it, but the Sharpie wasn’t so good as a makeshift shovel, and the dirt was packed tight.
All right, so my physical assets were pretty much crap. I looked around the outside of my prison. In the cage next to me was my yeti, curled up in the fetal position on the ground. I could see the silver glint of the handcuffs in his fur. I was so mad I could have Hulked out. I tested the links just in case the anger really did give me a surge of energy, but no luck.
“Hey, big guy,” I said. Yeah, he was cuffed, but he’d gotten free once before, right? I’d just spent an extended period of time getting dragged around a forest by the thing; I knew how strong he was. All I had to do was inspire him to break us out and we’d find a way to best this villain together. By the time we were done, bards would sing our praises. (Literally—one of our LARPers played the guitar.)
But the creature didn’t move. “Yeti?” I called a little louder. “Can you hear me?”
No matter how loudly I shouted, I couldn’t get the beast to react. I started to worry that maybe he was injured or unconscious, but I could see his torso move as he breathed, so at least he was alive. At this point, I was starting to feel a little discouraged, and I could use all the good
news I could get.
But my shouting did get the attention of the other yeti, who was farther down the line on my yeti’s other side. The other yeti lurched to its feet, stooping to avoid knocking its head on the top of the cage. It wasn’t as tall as my yeti, and it had the unmistakable shape of breasts on its torso. I carefully averted my eyes and reminded myself of my manners.
“Is he okay?” I called to the she-yeti. The creature huffed and tossed her head. I mentally translated the motion as “of course he’s not okay, you idiot.” And I had to admit she had a point.