I’m excited to feature the RONE Award-nominated Displaced by J.F. Jenkins.
Chevelle Donahue thought going into work would be just like any other boring day at the mall. Sure, there was her annoying co-worker Wicken Sanders, and a promotional visit from teen heartthrob Timber Hudson, to watch and keep her entertained. But who was she kidding? Working retail was lame no matter what happened.
A terrorist attack changes everything – an attack from aliens of all things. The patrons are given two options: comply or else. Complying means giving in to a new set of rules and changing her entire life. “Or else” means she has no chance of going home again.
She must figure out the truth behind why the aliens are holding everyone hostage. In doing so, she risks her chance at freedom – but by the time she learns what’s really happening, she might not want it.
I looked between the two guys standing between me and the doorway, wishing I could read their minds. They were both so quiet and I hated it. Earlier they each had rather strong opinions of what to think. Now there was nothing? Did I have to make the decision for all of us? I wasn’t sure if I could handle that kind of pressure, let alone live with the consequences.
But I wasn’t left with much of a choice.
“I guess we turn ourselves over,” I said quietly, my face half-buried into the large hippo’s synthetic gray fur.
Timber nodded, his shoulders hunched up around him, and he rubbed his arms slowly. His gaze hardly ever left his phone. The light bouncing off his eyes revealed a glistening of tears. If that wasn’t the look of defeat, I don’t know what was. Wicken was the exact opposite image. He remained confident and poised, his gaze strong and determined. The only hint that he might have been afraid was the slight shaking of his hands.
He looked down at me. “You don’t know what they’re going to do to us.”
“I know what will happen if we don’t agree to their terms, though,” I said softly. “Escaping is futile, not following instructions sounds dangerous. I personally do not want to die.”
“And you’re assuming they won’t mass execute everyone or pick us off one by one until their demands are met,” he snapped. “I think I like my chances better with escaping.”
Timber held his phone over his watch. “We have twenty-five more minutes to decide. Ten if you want to include time to walk down to the main entrance. I’m personally going to go along with them. I’m with her.” He pointed at me. “I’m not ready to die yet.”
“Then I guess this is where we go our separate ways,” Wicken said. Again, he looked as if I had betrayed him or something. There was a sadness in his tone laced with anger. His gaze met mine and for a moment his strong composure faltered. “Last chance, Chevelle.”
I shook my head, tears pooling in my eyes. “I’ll never make it. I’ll slow you down. I’ll be the reason you can’t get away.”
His hazel eyes closed and he reached over to hug me. Then he whispered in my ear with a shaky voice, “I love you.”
My gaze met his and I didn’t know what to say in return. Part of me was wondering if I even heard him right or if I imagined him talking in the first place because the words had barely been audible. When the sadness in his frown increased, I knew he had actually said it. He pushed his way past us and toward the back door.
“Wicken,” I whimpered. “I…” Felt the same way? Loved him too? None of that seemed right, though my heart did have a special fondness for him that I didn’t understand. We’d gotten close enough through all of our time together.
He waited in the doorway, waiting for me to finish my thought.
“I…s-same. Please be careful so we can talk about this again.”
He flashed me a small smirk. “Of course.”
And then he was gone.
Timber gave my shoulder a squeeze. “Come on. If we’re going to do this, we should go now before we waste any more time.”
I nodded and stood, never letting go of the hippo. That thing was coming with me, I didn’t care how stupid I looked. The girl brought along her teddy bear, and the three of us made our way out of the door using the light of our phones to make sure we didn’t trip over anything. Timber dropped down to pick up his bag of purchases from earlier on our way to the gate – the gate which was now open. Outside were bright blue lights which reminded me a lot of tiki torches. They were tall and illuminated with electric light instead of fire.
We followed the lights to the escalators which were now nothing more than an ordinary staircase leading us to our potential doom. Timber took the lead and with his free hand he held onto the little girl who had been forced into our care. Every so often he’d look back at me and give me a small smile, as if that were his way of silently telling me he’d take care of me too.
At the bottom of the stairs was the main entrance. There were not as many people there as I originally thought there would be. Somewhere between fifty and seventy individuals of mixed ages sat on the floor under the glow of the blue lights. What disturbed me was how many of them were parentless children or teenagers. The next-well represented age group was twenty-something-year-old women, then a few middle-aged couples, and an even less number of elderly. How many men tried to get away? What had happened to the mass of teenage girls who had been here earlier? There wasn’t any blood, and the only signs of struggle were a few tipped-over plants. Did they escape, or at least try to?
The three of us found an open spot on the floor and sat down near a group of crying children who couldn’t have been any older than nine or ten.
“Do you think my mommy will be here?” The little girl asked.
I shrugged. “Maybe!” I wanted to be hopeful for her. Maybe that’s why all of the kids had decided to congregate at the entrance too. They were looking for their parents as well.
Timber reached into his bag and pulled out a bag of gummy bears. The guy was like a walking candy shop. I wondered what else he bought. He opened up the bag and waved a few of the other kids over.
When our gazes met, he shrugged. “It’ll keep them from panicking or going into shock.” He looked me over. “So you know who I am, but I don’t think I’ve caught your name.”
“Chevelle,” I said softly.
“Like the band.” He smiled.
“I doubt that’s what my parents were thinking, but yes, like the band.”
He nudged the girl. “And what’s your name?”
“Lara,” she said in between bites of gummies.
“Nice to meet you Lara, I’m Timber.” He kept his voice low.
It was hard to tell if she recognized him or not. She was a little young to be a part of his fan base. I pegged her at about six years old. Still, kids were smart and observant. If she knew who he was, she didn’t care. She did, however, lean in closer to him to snuggle in a little.
“Will you stay with me until my mommy comes back?” She asked.
“Of course.” He smiled and showed off his perfect teeth again. They glowed in the blue light, and it was more than a little amusing to see. Lara giggled, and the sound was music to my ears and contagious. Soon I was laughing as well, if not quietly. Sure, we both got a couple of strange looks from some of the people sitting around us, but I didn’t care too much. A small lift in the tension was nice.
Not like it lasted long, because eventually our half-hour deadline was up. I’d been praying silently that Wicken would change his mind and come with us after all. He never showed.