Chapter 6

I’d never been in a car chase with my mom before, so I wasn’t really sure of what to do. Car chase passengers on TV always had a machine gun or rocket launcher or something exciting.

Unfortunately for me, a quick search of the glove box yielded Kleenexes, a Honda Odyssey instruction manual, and our insurance and registration. All useless in a fight.

“Teal, what are you doing? Sit back and don’t move!”

Mom swerved hard around a slow-moving car, slamming me down into my seat.

At the risk of distracting her further, I quickly leaned over the edge of my chair and scoured the back rows for anything that might be useful. Nothing stood out, and a glance out the back window revealed the black sedan steadily closing the distance between us. This wasn’t too surprising considering we were in a minivan. Somehow I imagined my first car chase would be in something a little cooler than an Odyssey.

“Mom, they’re gaining on–”

Bright white light suddenly interrupted me, engulfing our surroundings as a low-pitched boom rattled through the car. I swiveled backwards and watched as a mighty cloud of smoke and debris billowed outward from behind the black sedan, consuming everything in its path.

Mom accelerated hard, pushing the poor van over 90 as the leading edge of the cloud rocketed after us. Its black-gray mass swept over the black sedan, blocking my view, and seconds later it climbed up and over us.

Gas pedal still floored, the van hit 95 as we pushed back through the leading edge of the cloud. The dust ahead of us cleared and mom let out a heavy sigh of relief as she let slightly off the gas.

The dust behind us began to dissipate, and I again glanced back to find…

…Whoa. To find nothing. The white Explorer and two sedans that hit it were gone. Extinct. The only thing left in the intersection was a foot-deep crater and scattered shards of metal, plastic, and glass.

I realized then what the bad guys had placed on the wreckage. That shiny object must have been a bomb. A really, really powerful bomb. If the two men watching over us had somehow survived the initial crash, they were certainly dead now.

Fury welled up inside me. This last black sedan – the one chasing us – was them. The bad guys. Or at least some of them. For all I knew, these could be the same men that had tried to kill me at the hospital.

And from the way things were going, they were probably going to try and kill me now.

Not if I had anything to say about it.

Mom cranked hard right at the next light, nearly mowing over some guy on a bike waiting at the corner.

The black car swerved into place behind us. They were less than fifty feet away and rapidly closing.

I unhooked my seatbelt and started climbing into the back seat.

“Teal, NO!” mom screamed. “Get up here and put your seatbelt on NOW!”

“Quit worrying about me,” I yelled back, “and work on getting us outta here!”

Mom started to say something foul when another slow-moving car forced her to swerve dangerously, sending me toppling into the middle seat.

The van straightened out, allowing me to right myself and drop into the deep back. It was a tight squeeze so I slammed down the back seats to give me a little more room.

“Teal, get back here! I don’t want you hurt!”

“I’m fine! Just drive!”

Either she was too pissed or too focused to respond, because the car went completely quiet except for the pitchy whine of its poor V6 being pushed way beyond what it was designed for. If dad were there, he would’ve said, “it’s good for the car – it builds character.”

I wished he could have been there.

But this was not the time for wishing. I popped open the tire jack compartment and pulled out the lug wrench, the scissors jack and a set of jumper cables. I had no idea how these could fend off the black sedan, but since they were the only things in the car that might be useful I figured now was as good a time as any to grab ’em.

The black sedan moved to within twenty feet.

“Mom, they’re gonna try and pass you! Go left!”

She obeyed, swerving left into oncoming traffic. Luckily it was early and the road was empty…

…for now, anyway. The sedan countered right, and mom swerved to match.

They pulled to within ten feet. Their driver pushed left, then right, then right again, trying to move alongside our minivan.

And that’s when the idea hit me.

“Mom, brake! Now!!”

She hit the brakes, sending the van lurching against its suddenly cinched tires. I flew forward, smashing into the next row of seats as a sickening crunch burst from the back of the van. An inrush of air and the acrid smell of burning rubber drowned out the rest of my senses, followed immediately by mom revving the engine and sending the van staggering back down the road.

I opened my eyes to find the back of our Odyssey looking like a junkyard. The rear window had shattered and now hung onto its frame by a thread; the floor had crumpled upward and the sides bowed slightly outward. The latch on the bottom of the rear door had somehow held, but it wouldn’t last for long.

Fortunately, the damage didn’t seem to affect our rear axle since mom wasn’t having any trouble accelerating away from the black sedan. It was difficult to see through the shattered rear window, but from the looks of it our pursuer’s hood had been smashed upward, blocking their view of the road. They had been forced to stop, and at least two of the men were now trying to rip the hood off completely.

I smiled and began climbing back toward the front seat.

“Nice driving, mom! That was a sweet–”

Green balls of light suddenly exploded ahead and to our right, blasting away at the base of a traffic light support post.

I was really starting to hate green balls of light.

Another volley of blasts smashed into the concrete and the heavy pole began to topple, first swaying dangerously right, then reversing course and swinging outward and down.

Given our current speed and direction, it looked like it was going land directly on top of us.

Mom punched the brakes, again sending me flying forward. My head crunched against the second row of seats, followed by the loud clang of something gigantic and metal crashing onto the street.

Then she swung the van around, tires squealing, and this time I was thrown momentarily sideways. My mind spun from all this flying around, but I finally managed to grab a headrest and pull myself upright.

We had stopped in time to miss the pole, but the capsized tube of steel had effectively blocked our escape route. Mom had been forced to spin around, retreat 20 feet, spin back around, and now she was plowing through the corner of a park, aiming to go completely around the pole and back onto the street.

And judging by the thunderous engine roar dopplering in from behind us, the black sedan was back on our trail.

Mom cranked hard through a row of bushes as I worked on a plan for permanently disabling our pursuers. I had reached the obvious conclusion that these guys weren’t interested in killing us; after all, if they were they could have easily pointed those green blasty guns at our Odyssey instead of at a traffic light post.

No, I was pretty certain they wanted us alive, which was a lot more frightening than trying to kill us. If they captured mom and I alive…

…well, who knew what that would lead to. It couldn’t be anything good.

A sudden bam rang out and the van lurched awkwardly forward.

The sedan had caught up to us.

Mom swore and swerved right; another smash jerked us ahead, and the damaged rear door latch finally gave.

The hatch swung open, giving me an unobstructed view of our pursuers. There were still four of them and all were dressed nicely – two in suits, the other two in button-up shirts and ties. Three of the four wore sunglasses, while the fourth guy wore regular glasses. For a batch of murderers, they looked strangely ordinary.

All of them smiled upon seeing me, and the front passenger – the one in normal glasses – motioned for the driver to ram us again.

He nodded and accelerated.

What happened next is still somewhat of a blur. As the bad guys sped toward me, I remember recognizing that the hood to their car was indeed gone; the entire mechanics of their vehicle lay open and exposed, just tempting me to try something stupid. My unconscious mind recognized this and leapt at the chance, formulating a plan entirely without my permission.

I grabbed the jumper cable’s black clamp in my left hand and darted toward the open back. Mom screamed at me to stop, but I really didn’t have time to explain things.

I’d only get one shot at this and I couldn’t afford any distractions.

My right hand reached out and grabbed the hydraulic mechanism keeping our crumpled rear hatch open. Then I straightened out and leaned out toward the approaching sedan.

The enemy driver raised an eyebrow and hesitated, slowing slightly as he neared us.

As the remains of their front fender gently nudged the van’s bumper, I lunged toward the black sedan’s battery. The crocodile clamp in my left hand found their negative terminal, and I smashed it on before swinging recklessly back into the van.

In less than a second I found the other end of the jumper cable, grabbed it, and launched it at ’em.

Then I smiled and waved good-bye.

In retrospect, I think I know what prompted this bizarre maneuver. Three weeks earlier dad had killed the van battery by accidentally leaving the lights on overnight. Never one to pass up an object lesson, he got me up early the next morning and coerced me into helping him jump start it. When it came time to attach the jumper cables, he had very carefully explained that the positive terminals were always the first ones connected. If a negative terminal were connected first and the other end of the jumper cable accidentally touched the chassis somewhere, a massive short circuit would form, resulting in any number of terrible things. Dad hadn’t said exactly what would happen…

…but I guess I was about to find out.

The unclamped end of the jumper cable bounced off the sedan’s windshield before being sucked into a spinning belt to the left of the engine. That belt snapped and flew off, sending the jumper cable reeling into the guts of the engine compartment.

I didn’t see it happen, but the metal edge of the clamp must’ve connected because a sudden pop and flash of light burst from deep within the workings of the car. The battery exploded, the engine seized, and a series of horrible booms, cracks, and shrieks screamed out as the rest of the car’s mechanics ripped themselves apart.

Then, unbelievably, the driver panicked and made the mistake of cranking the wheel sideways while slamming on his brakes.

The black sedan was officially screwed.

Their front end collided with the pavement as the back end rocketed into the air, dragging the rest of the car upwards with it. Two flips and a half-spiral later, the car landed upside-down and sideways, skidded 50 feet into a lamp post, then burst into flames.

At which I smiled.

It’s the little things in life.

“That should teach those creeps not to mess with me,” I quipped as I climbed back into the front seat.

But mom didn’t smile. In fact, she didn’t look even remotely amused.

“Teal – what on EARTH were you thinking?”

“Brilliant, wasn’t it?”

“Brilliant? You could have died! This is exactly why I told your father…”

“…What? Told him what?”

“Never mind.”

Never mind?! No way – she was about to shed light on what her and dad had talked about at the hospital. I had to know.

“What, mom? What did you tell dad?”

“Forget about it.”

“No! Don’t you think you’ve hidden enough from me? You can’t keep all these secrets! I have a right to know!”

Her eyes narrowed and she cranked the steering wheel right, plowing up and over a curve and onto some random driveway. I yelled and braced myself against the dash, to which mom responded by slamming on the brakes just seconds before we crashed into the home’s garage.

Of course, I had yet to put on my seatbelt. So I went flying – again – and nearly cracked my head on the windshield. Good thing I’d braced myself or my forehead would’ve looked like a sloppy joe.

I took a moment to glance out the window and I realized this wasn’t just any home. It was my home. Somehow mom had driven us back to the house. I’d been so involved in the car chase that I’d totally forgotten we were on our way home.

As the adrenaline started to scatter, the pain from all my flying around and smacking into car parts settled in. I groaned and slid back into my seat, swearing to never forget my seatbelt again.

That’s when mom grabbed me. She swung me around and buried her pointer finger firmly into my chest.

“You have no rights when it comes to this,” she whispered. Her eyes were bloodshot and angry, her expression equally grim. “If you had any idea what was going on you, wouldn’t speak to me like that. I am still your mother, Teal, and you will not speak back to me, especially about this.”

She let me go, then glanced at the clock and sighed heavily. It was just after 8:00am. It felt like 8:00pm.

“Listen up,” she said, turning to face me. “In case you haven’t noticed, there are quite a few people very interested in capturing and/or killing us. They will stop at nothing. Since they’ve now resorted to attacking us in broad daylight, and since our,” she paused, sucking down a sob before it surfaced. “…Since our friends in the Explorer are gone, our home isn’t going to be safe either. We have to leave.”

Seriously, this was getting ridiculous. This was my life – not a silly Lifetime movie.

“Mom, no. Where would we go? Would we leave right away? What if I don’t want to? Do I have a say in any of this?”

“I don’t know, Teal. I just… I just don’t know.”

A tear trickled down her cheek as she turned away.

This had become so much worse than I originally thought. So much worse.

At first, everything had seemed like a video game – some crazy explosions at school, a strange man posing as a detective, a mysterious history behind our school building. Even the gunfight at the hospital (if I could even call it that) had seemed somewhat surreal, like if we were shot or hurt we would wake up and find ourselves back in bed, safe and sound, realizing then that it had just been a dream. Sure, there were moments of terror – like chasing mom through the hospital before I knew dad was okay – but even then, it had all passed so quickly that none of it really registered.

But it was certainly registering now. Mom was talking about leaving our home. My home. Depending on where she wanted to take us, that could mean leaving school, leaving Franklin, leaving Eddie.

Leaving Cierra.

Oh crap.

In the feverish rush to make sense of all these strange events, I had completely forgotten about the dance.

Arrrrgggh. By now it would almost certainly be too late to ask her. Girls like Cierra don’t last through the weekend before Homecoming. The fact that she’d still been unasked as of Friday had been a bona fide miracle, and last night would almost certainly have found her being asked out by some stupid jock, some creep totally undeserving of her perfection.

Given the rest of my terrible weekend, this all seemed strangely fitting.

If possible, this realization turned my mood even darker, which was immediately followed by a sudden influx of guilt. What was I doing thinking about Homecoming dance now? My dad was poisoned, I’d almost died just moments before, and here I was thinking about a dance. What was wrong with me?

I felt my self-control slipping, my already fragile grip on things eroding.

But what could I say or do? Things had been happening so quickly, so rapid-fire and unpredictable and discombobulating that I hadn’t had any chance to quietly think things through since the start of this entire debacle.

I needed time. I needed to be alone.

I turned and placed a hand on mom’s arm.

“Look, mom – I’m sorry for doubting you, and I’m sorry for talking back. I didn’t mean to disrespect you. It’s just, all this is happening so fast. It feels like my life is spinning out of control and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I think I just need some time to sort things out – some time to wrap my head around everything that’s happened so I can prepare myself for whatever changes we need to make. I know you and dad love me – really, I do – and I’ll try to not question you again.”

I took a deep breath. I knew I needed to say more, but I really didn’t want to.

Oh well. Sometimes you just gotta do what you just gotta do.

“And mom, I understand that you can’t tell me more. I hate it, but I understand. I don’t fault you for trying to protect us, especially after the last twelve hours.”

She nodded and placed her hand over mine.

“Thank you, Teal. I love you.”

“I love you too. Do you mind if I take the rest of the morning to lock myself in my room and think? Right now I need that more than anything.”

She nodded and gave me a quick hug. I let myself out of the van and thought of one last thing before shutting the door.

“And oh yeah – thanks for breakfast.”

She smiled.

“You’re welcome. Thanks for taking out the black car that followed us, even if your crazy maneuver scared me half to death.”

I grinned and nodded once, then gently closed the van door and hurried inside. Mrs. Barnhurst was inside, half-asleep, while Jack and Emmary sat quietly watching cartoons. Everything looked miraculously peaceful.

Finally, a brief respite from horrible surprises. Thank God.

The mechanical cranking of a shutting garage door echoed from outside, followed by mom quietly entering behind me. She woke Mrs. Barnhurst and showed her to the door as I walked quietly up the stairs, down the hallway, and into my bedroom.

Once inside, I closed the door and locked it. Then I walked to my bed, sat down, and sighed heavily.

It was time to do some hard thinking. Some real hard thinking.

The hardest thinking of my life.

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