Just got Abby 2 back from the editor. She must have worked double-time. Anyway, in honor of that, here is the first chapter. Enjoy!
Stephen kissed me like it was the last time he’d ever get to do it. He mashed his lips against mine, pressing my body against the passenger door of our beat up Ford as his hand slid around my waist, unbuckling my seatbelt and pulling me against him. His touch was like fire on my skin as his fingers trailed upward along my spine.
“Come on, Abby,” he whispered against my lips, his voice sending little tingles rippling across my flesh. “Let’s just go…”
“We need supplies,” I whispered back. Pushing him away was very nearly the hardest thing I’d ever done. My other hand slid to the door handle. “I’ll be quick…” I opened the door and shuffled out into the convenience store parking lot, my knees still shaking.
I threw one last glance at him. He was staring at me, and I had to tear my eyes away before his sapphire gaze pulled me back into the vehicle like a tractor beam. That wouldn’t do either of us any good because we were out of food. I steeled myself and turned back toward the store’s glass doors.
The lights flickered as I entered, and a chill scampered down my back. One quick look around the Ye Olde Kwik E Mart was enough to tell me there was no one else in here but the clerk. Still, the lights had given me the creeps. Stephen and I had been running for the better part of a week, and this was the first time I’d ventured into a place inhabited by, you know, people. Not that the clerk really counted as a person since he was way more interested in his cellphone than me. Which was good, I didn’t need him taking any special interest in me.
The lights flickered again, and I pulled my baseball cap down so it covered more of my face. I scanned the aisles one last time and had to force myself to calm down. Man, my nerves were really on edge.
“Get a grip, Abby,” I whispered, turning toward the glass refrigerators in the back and nearly leaping out of my skin. The reflection of Donovan’s leering face stared back at me through the glass. He was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans, and like usual, he was covered in blood that leaked perpetually from the hole in his head.
“Hello, Abby,” he said. His words were like white fog on the glass, cold and unforgiving. “Miss me?”
I swallowed, shut my eyes, and counted to five in my head. Yeah, ever since I’d shot him, no… murdered him in cold blood, he’d been haunting me. At first, it made me hate him more, but since I had killed him, I was pretty sure this was my penance. Besides, did I really want to be the kind of girl who could kill without it bothering her?
When I opened my eyes, Donovan was gone. His ghostly specter had vanished like it’d never been there at all. Which, of course, it hadn’t been because I was a crazy person…
The glass door loomed in front of me like a frosty gate. I grabbed it by the black plastic handle and pulled it open. A blast of chilly air licked my skin as I reached in and seized a jug of orange juice that said ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ on it. For some reason, it sounded a lot better than the one proudly displaying it was “made from real juice.”
Why was I getting juice? Stephen still wasn’t feeling well after getting shot, which I guess was understandable. Orange juice was supposed to help with infections, right? Or was that just colds? Either way, he was drinking the damn juice. Besides, who knew when we’d be able to get some again?
I let out a slow breath and nearly leapt out of my skin when the clerk’s cellphone rang to the tune of Mandy by Barry Manilow. My heart hammered in my chest as I stared at the freckled, red-haired teenager as he tapped frantically at the device. Well, that was certainly an odd tune for someone my age…
I took another breath and made my way down the aisle, piling all sorts of junk food into my cloth bag. I didn’t want to risk using one of their baskets. It could have nano-machines embedded in the plastic that could track my location. Yeah, that was a thing. It was lame.
See, I was on the run from a powerful government agency. Apparently, when you steal helicopters from the government, they track you down. No. Matter. What.
So because I was paranoid about being found, I was using a lime green knapsack I’d purchased from a pot-smoking hippy a few days ago in a different state. He had been prattling on about aliens and government conspiracies so I figured his bag would be government tech free. Then again, I’d been wrong a lot since I found out my entire life was one big lie.
I turned back to the clerk as he put his phone down, green eyes strangely glassy. He wasn’t very tall, maybe five-foot-eight and built like a beanpole. I reached out to grab a candy bar still not taking my eyes off of him.
“Run!” Donovan’s voice mouse-whispered in my ear. “Run away! Now, Abby!”
The clerk reached down below the counter, his movements jerky and forced. I’m not sure what he was going to grab because I dropped my bag and sprinted back down the aisle. Which was dumb because the exit was in the opposite direction.
Should I have run for the exit doors? I guess so, but my first instinct was to create as much distance as possible between us. The lights flickered again. Only this time when they came back on, every fluorescent bulb in the ceiling shattered. Glass rained down around me as I dropped to the floor, covering my head and neck with my hands so that, hopefully, I wouldn’t be cut to ribbons.
The refrigerators behind me exploded in a blue fireball of flame and arcing electricity that pelted me with beer and soda. I threw myself down the nearest aisle, landing hard on my shoulders and rolling to my feet facing the busted freezers as acrid black smoke filled the air and pooled against the ceiling. The smell, like burning ozone filled my nostrils as Donovan’s ghostly form pointed behind me.
I spun just in time for the clerk’s shotgun fill my vision. I dropped as the gun went off, the sound exploded in my brain, blasting my hearing into a tiny pinprick of sound. Buckshot pinged off the back wall as my left elbow shot out, smashing into the twerp’s crotch. Only he didn’t budge, didn’t even act like it hurt. Instead, he cocked the gun and moved to point it at me. I popped to my feet, using the forced to drive my shoulder into his wrists.
The gun fired again, tearing a hole in the ceiling above our head as I slammed my forehead down into the clerk’s nose. His head whipped back in a spray of blood, but he didn’t lose his hold on the weapon. Hell, he didn’t even wobble, at least not like everything inside me told me he should have. He swung the gun at my head. It came so fast, I barely had time to dodge it. The super-heated metal skimmed by me so closely I could feel the warmth of it on my skin.
“Abigail de la Mancha,” the clerk said in a voice that seemed too robotic to be human. “You must turn yourself over to me.”
“Not happening, Beanpole,” I said, taking the opportunity to drive my foot into his chest. The blow caught him off guard. It was sort of like he didn’t expect me to fight back. That was crazy, right?
He fell backward, smashing a Chester the Cheetah display and spilling cheesy goodness all over the cheap tile. I leapt over him, hitting the floor hard just a few inches past his head, scooped up my treat-filled bag and high-tailed it toward the exit. Okay, yeah it was stealing, but he had just tried to kill me. Some stolen candy was the least of his problems.
I spun at the end of the aisle, my feet skidding on the linoleum as I crashed into the glass doors. They didn’t open. Why didn’t they open? I barely had the time to contemplate it when the ominous sound of a shotgun cocking another shell into place filled my ears.
Brake lights filled my vision. Everything seemed to slow down, distilling down to a single moment. I threw myself to the side as the backend of a 1980s Ford pickup that was mostly made from primer and rust burst through the double doors. I scrunched myself into a ball as glass rained down inside the tiny space for the second time in as many minutes. The truck fishtailed, cleaving through the register and throwing cigarettes and alcohol bottles to the floor.
I glanced over my shoulder to see the clerk lying sprawled and broken on the floor. But somehow, he was still trying to shoot me. Even though his leg was bent the wrong way and a shard of glass the size of a tennis racket was lodged in his chest. Blood gushed out of him, spreading out around his purposefully moving body as he tried to bring the shotgun up to bear. Shouldn’t he have been screaming or futzing with the wound? What kind of person could still try to kill me as his life spilled away onto the floor?
Stephen threw the Ford’s door open just as the shotgun went off, and the sound of buckshot pinging off the metal filled my ears and made my heart leap into my throat. That had been close.
“Abby! Get in!” he cried, gesturing for me to move it. He threw the truck into reverse and stomped on the gas pedal as I scrambled to my feet. The wheels spun, spitting potato chips and magazine covers into the air as the tailgate destroyed a cardboard model who, despite the bag in her hand, had never eaten a potato chip in her life. The Ford lurched forward with a jerk that practically shook the frame from the vehicle.
I sprinted toward it, throwing myself into the bed as another shotgun blast obliterated the truck’s back window. Bits of safety glass rained down on me as we hit the broken glass doors and skidded across the pavement in a turn that threw me against the inner wall of the truck.
My breath whooshed out. My shoulder screamed in pain. The tires squealed so loud it was hard to hear over them. The smell of burning rubber filled my nose. I ignored it and tried to claw my way forward. I grabbed hold of the side wall, clinging to it as the truck burst forward in a cloud of black smoke, weaving into traffic amidst a chorus of horn blasts.
I brushed away the glass clinging to the back window frame with the arm of my sweat shirt and threw myself through the broken window. I landed on the glass covered seat and scurried into a sitting position, ignoring the safety glass beneath my jeans.
“Did you get the juice?” Stephen asked, throwing me a smile that would have been cute if his face wasn’t sunken and pale. He was bleeding from a wound on his side, fluid seeping through his blue Hawaiian shirt, staining it.
“Yes, but it’s in the back,” I replied, buckling my seat belt so I wouldn’t get thrown through the windshield if something else happened. I wasn’t sure how long we were going to be in the truck because it was too hot to keep now.
“You had one job, Abby.” He shook his head, and the motion made him wince. “Get juice.”
“It’s in the back,” I muttered, glancing over my shoulder toward the Kwik E Mart, but it was too far in the distance for me to see much of anything. “What the hell was that, Stephen? I find it hard to believe your agency has pimple-faced agents in far flung rest stops just to track me.”
“You’d be surprised,” he replied, his face settling into a grim line as he stared out the windshield. “We’ll need a new car.”
“I know that. Stop avoiding the question,” I snapped. “I was almost shot full of holes by a clerk who didn’t even care he was dying.” I took a deep breath. “And you’re bleeding. You probably tore out all your stitches… again. Just tell me what it was.” I resisted the urge to add “unlike last time” because the truth was Stephen had so many secrets, I wasn’t sure I wanted him to tell me everything. At least not right now, not all at once. “Besides, is a bit of 411 on our attacker too much to ask for?”
“I really hope that wasn’t what I think it was.” Stephen looked at me even though he should have been watching the road. His lips trembled as he tried, and failed, to smile at me. Great. My super-secret agent was scared. That… that wasn’t good. Stephen wasn’t supposed to get scared. Even half-dead, he’d been more than a match for most of the guys the Agency had sent after us. What had changed?
“What do you think it was?” I asked, already dreading the answer. Whatever had him this scared was probably bad.
“I think that was the flit, Abby, and if it’s after us, I’m not sure how to escape it.” He swallowed, and his jaw tightened. Then he slammed his palm against the steering wheel so hard that the truck veered to the left. “Dammit!”
“What’s the flit?” I asked, reaching out and resting my hand on his knee. He was shaking.
“The flit is a computer designed to take over a person’s brain and make him or her do its bidding. Think of it like a program that turns your average Joe into the Terminator, and you’ve got the idea.” He shook his head. “It was still in development when I left…”
“You mean to tell me that guy had no idea what was going on? Some machine just downloaded itself into his brain and made him try to kill me?” I asked. “That sounds ridiculous.”
“More ridiculous than a sleeper cell guy hiding out in the middle of nowhere?” Stephen shrugged. “How many times has that happened in the last week?”
The gravity of it hit me like a wrecking ball. I had beat up an innocent guy. Hell, he was definitely, most assuredly dead, and why? Because he’d been around me when the flit decided to take him over. That made me responsible…
I was about to say something to that effect when a grey soccer van slammed into the driver’s side of our truck. Our vehicle pitched sideways, skidding across the asphalt and into the path of a tiny green Nissan. Brakes squealed, but it didn’t matter. The bed of our truck crumpled as the Nissan’s front end pretty much disintegrated. I was thrown into my seatbelt with so much force, the rebound smashed my head into the side window.
Everything went hazy as the red SUV in front of us slammed on its brakes. I watched it through the side window, everything going in slow motion. Its tires spun, spitting up gravel and smoke. It came rocketing back toward us.
I don’t know how I managed to get my seatbelt off, but the next thing I knew, I had thrown myself out of the truck. I hit the street hard on my shoulder as I rolled to my feet. My skin burned, and I knew I’d been scraped raw. I tried to force that out of my mind as the SUV drove through the pickup. Had Stephen managed to get out in time?
“Stephen!” I yelled, taking a step toward the obliterated Ford as the SUVs door swung open. An eight year-old girl with blonde pigtails and a red-riding hood cape stepped out of the vehicle. She stared at me with glassy, dead eyes that reminded me of the clerk. Blood trailed down her face from a cut above her left eyebrow.
“Abigail, do not resist!” she squeaked in a little mouseketeer voice. “You cannot escape.”
“Please…” I said, backing up, my hands out in front of me. “Don’t make me…”
She sprinted at me, tiny hands clutched into fists. I side-stepped her charge, but she lashed out with machine-like precision, catching me in the side of the ribs. Pain flashed through me as she followed it up with a kick to the back of my knee. I fell forward, pitching to the ground. I flung my hands out to stop myself, but she leapt on my back, using her weight to drive me face-first into the pavement.
I hit hard on my forearms and tucked my body into a roll. There was a horrible crunching noise as the girl smacked into the pavement, but amazingly, she didn’t let go. I came to my feet, and without thinking, used our momentum to send her flying.
Her nails tore at my sweatshirt as she careened through the air before slamming to the ground a moment later. The girl’s head smacked into the concrete, and for a moment, she tried to sit up, but fell brokenly backward to the street. My heart sank as I watched. I’d just beaten up a little kid. Oh. My. God.
I took an absent step toward her, my hands reaching out to pull the broken girl into a hug, even though I’d been the one to maim her.
“What are you doing?” called a deep voice behind me. I spun to see a huge guy on a purple Harley staring at me in shock. He reminded me of one of those old Hell’s Angels guys, only with way more tattoos.
Behind me, a girl’s screaming filled my ears, and I hesitated, shooting a glance over my shoulder. The girl was laying there crying and looking around in disbelief, one arm twisted at an obscene angle as she tried to get up and fell backward brokenly to the ground.
I ducked just as a crowbar cleaved through the space where my head had been. My leg shot out, catching the big biker in the side of the knee. A horrible crack filled the air. He fell, still swinging the crowbar at me. His face still set in cold, inhuman determination. I leapt backward, and the crowbar smashed into the asphalt a second before he crashed to the ground. His face changed in an instant. The dazed expression was gone in a moment, replaced by pain and confusion.
“My knee!” he howled, dropping the weapon and gripping his leg. I grabbed the crowbar and whirled around, looking for the next attacker when a gunshot went off. I spun toward it, my heart racing in my chest like an out of control train. Stephen stood there, bloody and broken with a smoking revolver in his hand.
I glanced in the direction of his weapon to see a police car spinning off the side of the road, one tire completely obliterated. A police officer was leaning out of the driver’s window, still trying to take aim and blast me.
My adrenaline shifted into overdrive as I sprinted toward Stephen. His lips were set in a hard line as he jumped on the biker’s Harley. I slid onto the seat behind him as he surged forward, barely giving me a chance to wrap my arm around him. Blood seeped into my sweatshirt as I pressed my body against his back. He was cold. Way too cold for it to be good.
We left the road in a cloud of dust. Behind us, people were either screaming, or looking around trying to figure out what the hell happened.
Either way, it didn’t seem like it mattered. How the hell were we supposed to outrun a soulless robot that could take over whoever it wanted? As the adrenaline left me, a horrible thought reared its ugly head.
Donovan leaned close to me, frigid breath kissing my flesh. “You just beat up an eight-year-old girl with pigtails. I’m pretty sure that makes you a monster.”