As she read the words of the text message, Danielle felt her blood run cold. Her hands shook as she turned the phone off and stuffed it deep in her backpack.
She looked up to see Kevin walking towards her. She watched his eyes scanning the crowded hallway. She glanced around, but the man with the barcode tattoo was nowhere to be seen.
“What’s wrong?” Kevin seemed suddenly so in tune with her feelings that it threw Danielle off.
She shook her head slowly and threw her backpack over her shoulders, “I’ll tell you in a bit. I don’t feel safe.”
She’d meant to say that it didn’t feel safe. Kevin raised an eyebrow and she stared at the ground.
Kevin took her hand, led her out of the hallways and into an empty classroom.
“What’s going on Dani?”
She dug the phone out of her backpack, turned it on so the last text message showed up on the screen, and handed to Kevin silently. She glanced around the classroom as he read the message.
“When did you get this?”
“It came in while I was in last period, but I didn’t read it until after the bell rang.”
Kevin looked at the screen again and shook his head, “I guess all we can do is wait for this ‘Q’ to contact you again. Unless…” He started typing a reply to the text message.
“What are you doing?”
“It’s from a private number, Kevin. The phone can’t reply to a private number.”
Kevin sighed, “I know. I just wanted to try.” He seemed resigned. Danielle took the phone from him and threw it back in her backpack. She sat on top of a desk near Kevin and put her hand on his shoulder.
“I’m frustrated too. But I’m not worried right now.”
“Why not? First the guy you said was watching you. The one with the tattoo. Now, a text message. What if this is what happened before the others were taken?”
“Kevin. I’m not worried, because I have you. I feel safe with you. Like, whatever is going on, you can help protect me.” She looked at him and smiled, “Besides, I have a feeling that the tattoo guy is connected with ‘Q’. Maybe it even is him.”
“What makes you think that?”
She smiled again, “Because that’s how it would happen in the movies.”
Kevin laughed and took Danielle’s hand. She stood up and they exited the classroom.
Outside, the hallways were empty. They could hear the far off chants of the cheerleading team at practice in the fields behind the school. They walked past the computer lab, where members of the newspaper club were busy writing stories and organizing next week’s edition. They passed the administration offices, the parking lot, the empty security booth where a lone guard typically snoozed as students snuck off campus.
A block from the school, Danielle felt Kevin’s hand tighten around hers. She looked up from watching leaves dancing on the street and saw a silhouetted figure standing on the corner of the next block. They continued walking, but Danielle noticed Kevin start to walk a little taller, his chest puffed out. She held her head up, hoping she could make her face as blank as Kevin was making his.
As they got closer, Danielle noticed that the figure was the man she’d seen earlier. She looked at Kevin and whispered, “That’s him. The man with the tattoo.”
Kevin nodded imperceptibly as they stepped closer to the man and then stopped. He seemed to size Kevin up, locked eyes on their interlocked hands, and then focused his attention on Danielle.
“Danielle Forrester?” His voice was a low whisper; his eyes darted around nervously.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Austin. We need to talk. About what you are. What you can do.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I’m talking about. I don’t know if it’s safe to talk here. Is there somewhere nearby we can go?”
Kevin stepped forward, “She’s not going anywhere with you.”
Austin took a step back, “I mean her no harm. I’m here to help.”
Danielle touched Kevin’s arm gently with her free hand and looked at Austin, “Are you Q?”
Austin’s eyes became alarmed and he glanced behind him, shaking his head. “No. But you’ve received a message already? Has she contacted you?”
“I just received a text message after school. I haven’t heard anything else.”
Austin leaned towards Danielle, glancing at Kevin first, “You are in danger. They all got a message first. Then, she comes to you. But she does not provide safety. She will take you. She works for them.”
“Who? Who are they?”
Austin glanced over his shoulder again. Kevin and Danielle followed his eyes, but there was still nobody near them.
“They don’t have a name. At least, not one I know. But Q works for them. She’s a collector. She collects those with…abilities…and takes them to a warehouse. After that, they are transported to…somewhere. I’m still not sure where. I didn’t escape until they had already done their experiments and were taking me to have my mind erased.”
“Then, whoever they are, they took you?”
Austin nodded and stared into Danielle’s eyes, “I was one of the first. Q came for me after football practice. She promised me safety. Before I knew it, I was being transported and processed and poked and prodded. They gave me this.” He turned slightly, pointing to the barcode tattoo. “They are marking us. They want to keep track of us. I don’t know the end game, but I do know you are in trouble. And I think I can help you.”
“Wait,” Kevin stepped forward again, “how do you know about Danielle?”
“They have a list. I hacked into one of their computers and found it, as I was planning my escape. I followed Q, and based on where she goes, I can figure out who she is going after. Once I figure out the name, the Internet helps me with anything else I need to know. I ran a search for your name and city, and your school’s website came up. You were on the Honor Roll last year, and a list is posted on the website. I just assumed you’d still go to the same school.”
Danielle’s heart was pounding. She realized she was squeezing Kevin’s hand. She let hers relax, but he did not let go.
“Look, I know how this all sounds. I believe I can help you, but you have no reason to trust me. Go home and run a search for Austin Parry in Atlanta, Georgia. You’ll find me. I’m a freshman at Georgia State. Went missing four months ago. There was a whole website set up to look for me. Send an email to the webmaster with your phone number. My sister, Audrey, will call you.”
Austin turned, ran across the street, and he disappeared down an alley.
For more of Danielle’s story, visit my Fiction page.