Hi everyone! So, if you’re new here from Instagram or elsewhere, welcome to my more fun and relaxed short story series called The Adventures of Elizabeth Shelley! If you want to start the series from the beginning, click the tab up top and scroll down to The Beginning. This is Part 3 of the most recent installment, Maelstrom, where things are starting to kick into gear!
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Deep, sharp, loud. Somewhere off in the near distance. The scream of someone in pain.
Rhett’s eyes meet mine in an instant. And with an unspoken word, we’re off. Speeding down the dirt path in the direction of the sound, rows of corn flashing by. The scream rings out again, deep and guttural and longer and slower, trailing off into the distance. But it’s closer.
Finally, we emerge off the cornfield as the path leads into the woods, hilly, deciduous-tree terrain rising up around us. And just inside the woods, a thick, brown, wooden fence stretches across our path. It’s tall, twenty feet high with long thick boards built horizontally on top of one another. No way over, no way under.
“Civilization.” I breathe, bending over to catch my breath. Rhett pulls on my arm, quickly, shutting me up and dragging me to the right.
We dive in between trees up a hill, separating following along the fence that’s about twenty paces ahead of us and trampling over the undergrowth. Rhett and I both instinctively bend down, full-on stealth mode as the yells ring out again. We share a glance, one that knows that the sound is coming from whatever is inside the fence in front of us.
Stopping for a moment at my right, Rhett takes a moment, surveying the area around us. I take the chance to look at him, and his body is completely on edge, but his face is relaxed, focused. Good, this is what I wanted.
Almost within a second, Rhett hits my shoulder twice, pointing toward another hill a little ways back from the fence, one that might just be high enough to see over the fence.
We dart to it, still keeping low. I feel a little ridiculous, dashing through the woods like a ninja in a place that seems so normal. But the scream calls out again, in agony, in terror, in pain, and suddenly I feel less weird. This place is far from normal.
Leaves and branches and tiny plants softly crunching under our feet, we make our way up the hill and turn back around to see behind the fence.
“Shit.” I whisper.
Just barely above the fence, we peek behind some bright green bushes to see a town. Just as normal as everything else, there’s a main dirt road with brick houses on each side, with wagons filled with hay parked outside and thin black light posts along the road that aren’t lit. Each house looks roughly the same, some with candles flickering in the windows and others with lightbulbs, fireplaces puffing up smoke.
A few people roam here and there, women picking up vegetables in small gardens outside of houses, kids running through yards with toy cars, teenagers racing each other on bicycles. It’s like a perfect rural town, a civilization on the cusp of invention, but with a weird mix of electricity wires running from house to house and laundry hanging up to dry and telephone booths here and there and outhouses.
But what’s most interesting is right in the center.
A small crowd of men in plaids and jeans and women in simple patterned dresses and teenagers in leather jackets and long skirts gather around a platform. Two men stand up on the light brown, wooden stage, one holding a thin leather whip and the other some sort of metal contraption.
In front of them, a younger man speaks to the crowd fervently. Curly, sandy-blonde hair seems to move with his body as he talks, emphatically and energetically to the crowd. They nod along to what he’s saying, impressed and enraptured.
But the most shocking thing is behind him. Dark metal chains around his wrists, pinning him to the stage by his arms in an uncomfortable, hunched-over position. Scruffy black hair tangled on his head, dark skin slick with sweat, scratches and welts all over his body. But I recognize those blue eyes anywhere.
Calahan. The Searu who stole my watch, lying there on that stage and very obviously tortured half to death.
“We have to help him.” Rhett whispers at my right, oblivious to my sudden realization. He never met the man who stole the watch, who was hired not to kill us but to distract us from helping whoever or whatever killed Beata, his old mentor.
“Uh…” I whisper back, scooting back a little on my knees and avoiding his gaze. “Do we have to?”
Rhett looks at me wildly, and I squirm under his look. “You can’t be serious.”
“Well,” I whisper furiously, “maybe this is a bad idea. We should go get Finn before we do anything rash. I mean, we don’t know what we’re up against, or where we are, or who they are. They could be…”
I trail off as I finally hit Rhett’s eyes. He looks…confused. Almost disgusted.
“Elizabeth.” Rhett throws my name like a brick on the ground. It sinks in the air, heavy and full. “We can’t just….not help him.”
Looking into his eyes, I realize I will never be able to drag him away from this. And as he turns back to face the town, I remember that this was why we came. To help Rhett return to real life.
Swallowing, I turn back to look down to the scene below, just as the blonde man in the front turns back to Calahan and, pulling his head back by yanking his hair, lands a solid blow right on the bridge of his nose, blood spurting over the floor of the stage. Calahan’s body is like a ragdoll, flopping over after the punch.
Suddenly, Rhett is gone from my side, and I watch him dash down the hill to the fence.
Rolling my eyes, I whisper to myself, “Is this what Finn feels like all the time?” Then, I follow, skirting down to where Rhett is gliding under the shade of the fence.
After a few seconds with the cool wood on our left, trailing my fingers lightly on the smooth surface, Rhett halts, and, seeing that one of the small houses’ roof is on the other side, he pulls out two thick but small daggers. I open my mouth in protest, but it’s too late. He’s already shoving one into the thick wood, pulling himself up the fence like the daggers were pickaxes.
“Dammit, Rhett.” I whisper, looking around quickly as I follow suit, pulling out two knives I keep in my ankle straps. Reaching the top of the wall, we peek over to see nothing beyond the back of the brick home, with just enough space between that we are able to drop in, just as we hear a loud cheer erupt from the crowd.
Peering around the corner, we can see the stage as the two men with the whip and the other weapon lean down to pick up Calahan, gathering up his chains and dragging him by the arms off on the far side of the stage. The blonde man hops down the front, walking through the crowd, shaking hands and sharing words with various people as the crowd disperses.
Just as he shakes a tall man’s hand, his eyes glide over where we hide, and it feels as though our eyes make contact. His deep, deep blue eyes seem to freeze time in that moment, as I stare across the road and the courtyard to where he is. My stomach drops, but for some reason I can’t seem to move.
Rhett yanks me back behind the house by the arm, and time restarts yet again. Breathing heavy, I wait for the shout and the alarm and the rushing of feet. But it doesn’t come.
Taking the risk, I peer back around the corner to see that nothing has changed as the people continue to chat and discuss, but the blonde man has disappeared within the crowd.
Giving Rhett a thumbs-up, we start to dart our way behind houses, as each along this road are right up against the fence. Making our way around toward the courtyard and the direction they took Calahan, we live in shadows and among the silence, somehow avoiding any slight glances or passing looks.
Halting at the last house in the lane, with the rough brick against our backs, we watch the men drag the dazed and bloody Calahan up the stairs and in the house directly across from the one we hide behind, one just slightly bigger than the others.
“Okay, Mr. Let’s Save Him Guy,” I hiss, “what exactly do we do now?”
Rhett doesn’t answer, just searches furiously around the area at the edge of the town that we can see. Then, he steps out of the shade behind the house, into the courtyard.
“Wh-” I don’t even have time to speak as he slides through the dispersing crowd, nodding slightly at people as he passes. This kid is going to get us killed.
I can’t do anything but follow, heart louder than ever before against my chest, as I follow Rhett through the townspeople across the lane. I don’t even think I breathe as we go, but somehow, some way, they don’t even see us, retreating back to their homes or their lives. We make it safely to the back of the next house, and I have to pull my muscles in order to stop myself from making a break for it.
In between this house and the fence, I let my body relax, and I fight the urge to punch Rhett in the face.
“What the hell?” I can’t even find the air in my lungs to make it sound angry.
Rhett lets out the slightest laugh. “What, it worked! They were all too focused on what just happened; they weren’t going to notice us.”
I glare at him with wide eyes. “That’s a big risk to take, Rhett.”
Now I definitely feel how Finn does.
Our crazy, ridiculous, remarkable luck continues as there’s a wooden side door house, which only takes a quick bobby-pin-job to open. And then, we’re in.
And we come face to face with the two men who dragged Calahan in here.
“Huh-Who are you?”
The man who had the whip, tall and built, scrambled to his feet from the relaxed position he’d been in in the wooden chair. The other man, shorter but still as stocky, pauses as well, dropping whatever meat he was about to eat to the ground.
Then, they jump into action. And so do we.
Check back on Monday for Part 4 of Maelstrom! Also be sure to follow my new Instagram page @kpwritingsblog! And if you liked it, leave a like or a comment below!