Just One Touch(2)

By: Maya Banks


She slapped her hands down on the ground, curling her fingers into the dirt and gravel. Droplets of blood soaked into the dirt, and she hastily wiped her mouth and nose with the arm of her tattered hoody.

Elation swirled. She’d made it!

Then she quickly got back to her feet, castigating herself. She hadn’t made anything yet. She was merely free of the woods, and now she was more of an open target than before. But at least she would know where she was going.

She hoped.

She began sprinting down the road, quickly moving to the ditch when the rocks tore into her tender feet. The grassy area wasn’t much better, but at least she wouldn’t leave such an obvious blood trail on the roadway.

To her shock, just a hundred yards ahead was what looked to be a small filling station and fruit stand. She put on speed, her gaze darting back and forth as she neared it. She even glanced over her shoulder, terrified that she’d see the dogs behind her. And worse . . . the elders.

Seeing nothing and no one yet, she continued to run toward the gas station, not having the first clue what to do when she got there. She knew little of the modern world outside of the books she’d snuck, the magazines and newspapers. It seemed strange and scary, enormous beyond her wildest imagination. But she’d armed herself with as much knowledge as possible in preparation for this day.

Her freedom.

As she reached the station, she observed an old truck parked out front with a tarp completely covering the bed. She glanced side to side and toward the station, thinking quickly of her options. Then she heard voices.

She immediately squatted behind the truck, her heart thundering in her chest and her breath coming out in painful wheezes.

“Gonna run this produce to our Houston stand. Expect I’ll be back ’round two this afternoon. You need anything from the city, Roy?”

“Not this time, Carl. But be careful. I heard traffic is a real bitch this morning. Something about a pileup on the 610 loop.”

“Will do. You take care too. I’ll see you later.”

Making a quick decision, she eased the tarp upward to expose the open tailgate and to her delight, saw just enough room for her to huddle between the freight boxes containing fruit and vegetables. As quietly and as quickly as she could, she slithered over the tailgate, her body screaming its protest. She slipped the tarp back down, hoping she’d left it arranged as she’d found it, and then pushed her body forward as much as possible so she wouldn’t fall out.

The older man was driving into the city. The thought terrified her. The very idea of being swallowed whole by a city as large as Houston was paralyzing. But it would also play to her advantage. Surely the elders would have much more trouble tracking her in a city teeming with life. Not to mention they couldn’t very well abduct her in broad daylight. Both things they could readily do as long as she remained where she was in the rural, isolated area well north of Houston.

She held her breath as she felt the truck shake with the slam of the driver’s door, and then the engine cranked and the vehicle began backing up. She put a fist to her swollen mouth and bit into her knuckle when the truck halted its backward motion, but a mere second later it began moving again and she could tell they’d pulled onto the gravel road.

Thank you, God. Thank you for not forgetting me. For letting me know I am not what they named me and that you aren’t the vengeful God they named you.





TWO

ISAAC Washington collected the to-go cup of coffee and two bagels and headed out of the small shopping center a few blocks from the DSS offices. Due to the popularity of the locally owned coffee shop and bakery and the fact that it was the morning rush hour in Houston, he’d had to park all the way on the other side of the highway in the extended parking lot by the strip mall.

Good thing it was winter—or as close as Houston weather ever got to winter—so he didn’t sweat his ass off by the time he’d made the long trek. As it was, there was a slight chill to the air—courtesy of last night’s cold front—that was a nice change from the oppressive heat of summer and fall.

He was almost to his SUV when he noticed that his driver’s side door was open. Son of a bitch! He was forever forgetting to lock his damn door and, well, he left his keys in the ignition more times than not when he was doing a quick in-and-out someplace.