Updated: Nov 17, 2021
The humming of the engine filled the silence inside the car. Quail had ended her story. Sadie looked through the window and watched the trees shift as their head lights revealed them in the night. She should’ve been tired, but Quail’s story dredged up her own nasty memories.
So the others went through crazy stuff too… Big deal, I went through worse. I wish I had someone talk to in the basement. She faced Quail and said, “Sadie Novak.”
“Hmm?” said Quail.
“That’s my name.”
“Sadie. It’s weird to say this, but I’m glad you’re here.” Quail was being kind, and Sadie didn’t want to think about it. Sadie knew, if she had lingered in the basement any longer, they would’ve chained her to a table and fed her with a tube.
“Wait, why didn’t Maddy contact me?” said Sadie.
“Because,” said Maddy, “I didn’t know about you until the night before.”
Sadie turned and saw Maddy was wide awake. Maddy was asleep earlier, yet her face didn’t show any signs of sleepiness. It was deceptive and creepy.
“Sorry, did we wake you up?” said Quail.
“I wasn’t sleeping,” said Maddy. “If you have any questions, I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.”
Maddy’s behavior was suspicious, and Quail was too polite.
“Ok…” said Sadie, “how come you couldn’t find me?”
“I couldn’t find your file. We didn’t know you existed until I found your room in the basement schematics.” Maddy explained how she hadn’t been able to bypass the security system for Sadie’s room.
“If it was so dangerous,” said Sadie, “then why did you bother at all?”
“How much farther do we have to go?” said Quail as she yawned. Maddy stated that it would take another fifteen minutes if they continue at their current speed.
The phone died in Maddy’s hands when Sadie tried to look at the GPS. Their only line of communication was gone, which meant they had to buy or steal another phone.
Figures as much. Sadie said, “So, Maddy, are you a robot or what?”
They were all jostled when Quail jerked the wheel. She regained control and said, “Don’t say that!”
“What?” said Sadie, “We’re all thinking the same thing. She acts like a machine.”
“Does it matter if I am?” said Maddy. “I am a cyborg, a human augmented with machine parts. We started as humans, and we’re all beyond that now.”
Can’t you talk like a normal person! Don’t be such a bit—Sadie heard a crack. She had crushed the plastic door handle with her grip. Embarrassed, she let the pieces fall to the floor, and she leaned her forehead on the window.
The rest of the ride was quiet. It was past midnight when they drove into a town called Castle Rock. They drove through the town until they arrived at the Red Stone Hotel. While Quail and Maddy went inside to get a room for them, Sadie watched over Jumei as she slept in the car.
Sadie stepped out of the car when Quail left the office. Then she asked Quail if they had a room. However, she didn’t give a clear answer. Although it was dark, the building lights showed Quail’s red face.
“What happened?” said Sadie.
“We have the room for two nights,” said Maddy. She carried Jumei out of the car as if she were a big baby. “The manager gave us a special deal.”
Their room had two beds, a bathroom, a desk, and a single chair. Maddy tucked Jumei into bed and laid next to her. She fell asleep in an instant.
Quail took an extra pillow and blanket before giving Sadie the bed. When everyone was ready, Quail shut off the lights. By the end of the day, they were homeless drifters.
A distant voice called for Sadie. She refused to listen because her dreamless sleep was a pleasant escape. The annoying words plagued her thoughts as they became clearer.
“Morning. It’s time for—”
Tests! Sadie punched whoever was closest to her and jumped out of bed. She stood ready to fight with tooth and nail.
“I’m trying to be nice, and you hit me!” Jumei walked away, rubbing her forearm. Her face was flushed and highlighted with freckles.
Sadie dropped her fists and regained awareness of what they did yesterday. Although she appreciated how they freed her from the basement, her saviors had become obstacles. She hadn’t been home for at least four months. Lars would be worried sick and she needed to be with him.
“I have to leave,” said Sadie. She looked at their faces, and stared at the floor. “Please, give me—”
“Screw you,” said Jumei. “You think you’re the only one who wants to see their mom again?”
A loud grumbling came from Sadie. Her stomach had a stronger argument than she did, and its appetite couldn’t be convinced with words. She hadn’t eaten since the day before yesterday.
“Let’s get some breakfast before we decide on what do next. I’m sure we’re all starving,” said Quail. They left the hotel and roamed through the town. The hotel had no competitors within five miles, and it was taller than the town’s city hall.
The town seemed smaller during the day. There were as many people as there were cars outside. Citizens waved or talked to each other while they went about their jobs. It was a close-knit community with plenty of history. Trees were everywhere, and orange leaves filled the empty space on the ground.
Quail asked what Jumei, Maddy, and Sadie wanted to eat. No one voiced their preferences, so they walked to the local diner. It had cushioned seats and old pictures of the town. When they took a booth, a waitress brought them their menus.
“All of it looks delicious.” Quail flipped through the menu multiple times and said, “Fifty-dollars per person should be good, right?”
“I’m ready to order!” said Jumei. “I’ll have the pancake combo, steak-and-eggs deluxe, and a large chocolate milkshake.”
Maddy requested the same. Quail ordered the same and asked for a strawberry milkshake. Sadie followed their example and told the waitress to have her eggs cooked sunny-side up.
“This place smells amazing. It’s been forever since I’ve had pancakes,” said Quail. “What are your favorite foods?”
Jumei shrugged and slid lower into her seat. Sadie rested her head on the table, using her arms as a pillow. Maddy shook her head and glanced at everyone in the restaurant. None of them tried to speak, and they stayed still until the waitress poured each of them a glass of water.
When the food arrived, the women were animated. They ate their pancakes with vigor and whip cream. The food warmed their stomachs, and the sweet tastes were delightful.
While they ate their second course, Sadie came to realize there was a hole in Quail and Maddy’s stories. She said, “I only got one meal per day in the basement. Where did you get the strength to fight all of those guards?”
Maddy swallowed a chunk of beef and said, “The process—”
“Is gross,” said Jumei. “We’re eating. Don’t spoil it.”
The steaks were savory and juicy. Although the beef cuts were small, the eggs added the extra protein they craved. Thick and creamy milkshakes acted as a pleasant filler at the end of their feast.
Jumei burped and said, “I love the food, but I’m still hungry. Can we get something to go?”
“We have to buy supplies first,” said Maddy.
“If you get my ticket,” said Sadie, “you won’t have to worry about me.”
“Excuse me.” Jumei called to the waitress. “Could you tell us where the bus station is? The princess is homesick.”
After they got the directions, Sadie left the diner and ran until she saw the station. Even though her legs and lungs didn’t want to carry on, she kept moving to her destination.
She tackled the door as she entered the building and saw a single guy at the ticket counter. “Hey,” said Sadie, “I need a bus for San Diego.”
He checked his computer and explained why there were no express rides to San Diego. She reassured him that transferring between buses was fine. The guy searched his computer and reviewed other paper sources he had.
“I’m sorry, miss. The bus won’t be here for two days, and it will take another three to four days to reach San Diego.”
Sadie walked out of the station and sat on the bike in front of the building. The man at the counter had given her a printout of her travel plan. She gawked at the details with frustration.
“Find anything?” Jumei walked over and looked at the travel plan. Sadie moved the paper and held it behind her back. Quail and Maddy waited on the side lines.
“Yeah, I’m going to need more money,” said Sadie. She folded her paper, and Jumei snatched it.
Jumei read the paper while avoiding Sadie’s attempts to grab it. She gave the schedule back and said, “Your plan is stupid. You’ll either starve or get caught.”
“Fuck you,” said Sadie. “A stupid kid wouldn’t understand.”
“I’m twenty-one. You’re the one who’s throwing a shitty tantrum.”
“This debate doesn’t help,” said Maddy as she walked over and stood by Jumei. “Sadie, what would you do for food and shelter?”
“I survived the basement,” said Sadie. “I can live with no food and sleep on the streets if it means I can go home and forget all of this crazy shit.”
“I wouldn’t bet on you, princess,” said Jumei. “You’re too needy.”
Bitch! Sadie swung her fist, and Jumei blocked it with her silver arm. When Sadie raised her other arm, a wave of pain made her shout and withdraw. Jumei had beaten her to the punch. Her silver fist had struck Sadie’s stomach. Sadie tried to grab Jumei’s hair, and Quail stopped her by pushing herself between them.
“Stop it. You two are better than this.” Quail kept Jumei and Sadie away from one another. She wasn’t taller than Sadie or stronger than Jumei, but her tenacity made it impossible for either of them to touch each other.
Maddy grabbed Jumei from behind, lifted her into the air, and said, “Change your arms back to normal. You’re making a scene.” Jumei resisted and surrendered when she couldn’t fight back.
A father and his son cleared their throats. Sadie, Jumei, Maddy, and Quail were blocking the sidewalk. People across the street were also watching and whispering to one another.
They apologized to the bystanders, and the four escapees left the street. To avoid further trouble, they returned to the motel, closed the curtains, and locked the door. The feeling of being watched was awful. It lingered and followed them with a chilly breeze.
Tempers flared, and their previous arguments continued. All of them had something to say, and Quail was able to moderate it with her concern for their survival. Shelter and money had become as valuable as their lives.
“You’re making this a bigger deal than it is! I want to go home. Why should you care?” said Sadie.
“Don’t you think the bad guys know that? It’s a waste of money!” said Jumei.
“Stop fighting, please.” Quail stood and walked into the center of their crossfire until everyone quieted down. “How about we try to relax and shop for supplies?”
“We have today and tomorrow,” said Maddy. “I wouldn’t suggest staying longer than that.”
“Fair enough,” said Quail. “We’ll split into two groups and purchase what we need. Sadie, you can hang out with us until we leave. Agreed?”
Everyone gave some form of approval, except for Jumei. She fumed and shut herself in the bathroom. It reduced her volatile rant to a dull murmur.
Maddy grabbed paper and pen from the desk and wrote two shopping lists. “Quail, which one do you want to supervise?”