I slammed up and down, over and around, freefalling in a vacuum of cold air. Someone screamed. Gabby? Her foot kicked my arm, grazing me then gone.
Another shout. Tony?
No time to think.
For the third time in less than a day, I crashed into a hard, unyielding surface. This time a knee jammed my spine. An elbow gouged my stomach.
“Get your effin’ foot off my ribs,” Tony growled from somewhere nearby.
Everything was black. I couldn’t see.
I squeezed my eyes tight then cracked them open. I sucked air. My eyes adjusted slowly. Feeble light and barely visible shapes came into focus.
Another room. This one metal. Round walls. Blinking red-orange light.
Where was I now?
Not any more familiar to me than the desert or school had been. I pulled into a sitting position. No bones broken but bruises on top of bruises. How much could a body take? When my vision adjusted further, I realized I could make out details. An eerie red glow washed across everything. I licked my lips, mouth dry as a dust bowl.
“You two okay?” My words echoed in the cramped space.
I could see enough to notice Gabby cocked her head one way then the other, sending ribbons and hair flying. “I’ll live.”
Twisting, I found Tony, head in his hands. He drew his knees to his chest then lifted his head and grasped the metal disk hanging from a chain around his neck. A talisman?
I nudged him with my elbow. “You alive?”
His head popped up. “Yeah, I’m alive.” In a quiet voice, he added, “What the freak just happened?”
“Don’t know.” My standard answer for the day and doing nothing to ease my sense of dread. I rolled to my feet, biting back a groan. Complaining wouldn’t help anything.
I fisted my hands to stop the trembling. Were these things really happening or was this some bizarre dream? Nightmare more like it. Tony and Gabby were real though, so this must be. At least I wasn’t the only one confused this time.
But that didn’t offer any comfort.
This space reminded me of a large, round version of the elevator but three times the size. Wouldn’t this thing have a door or hatch? Maybe a reverse button to take us back? One I’d jab in a heartbeat.
I stumbled toward an arch of smooth metal with purple light seeping around the edges. Possible entry and exit point? With my hands splayed open, I connected with the cool surface and felt for a button, control, anything, but stopped when the wall hummed under my fingers.
Buzzing metal, a vibration. I wish that was a good sign, but the noise and vibration climbed up my spine like claws.
Gabby asked, “Smell that?”
I hadn’t until now and caught a whiff of a scent that immediately put me on alert for the sentient beast.
But this was a different smell. Sulfuric.
Even so, some deep, primitive sense of survival warned me that we had to get out of here. Now.
“Rayen?” Gabby’s earlier happy voice was gone, replaced by a low guarded tone that transmitted equal concern. “I can’t explain it, but I feel this is a bad place to be.”
“Agreed. But how do we get out of this thing?” I ran my hands over the arched door again, searching for a release mechanism.
Tony called over, “Wait a minute. Why try to get out of here when we might need to be here to go back?”
I glanced over my shoulder, keeping an eye on both of them while I kept touching the metal, hoping to find some release mechanism. Tony pulled himself quickly to his feet then braced his hands on his knees. “Think I’m gonna puke.”
Gabby shuddered. “Eew. Just kill me now if you do.”
Tony put his hand on the wall and groaned.
I might have chuckled at seeing the loudmouth brought low if I weren’t so concerned about where we were and how in the world we’d ended up here. The last thing I remembered was Gabby sticking my hand on that laptop monitor...no, in the monitor.
Gabby unfolded her arms and shifted from the floor to her knees to a standing position, her face pale in the pulsing red haze. But she shook herself, as if preparing for whatever she had to face, and straightened her spine. She stepped up next to me. “Got any idea where we are?”
“No.” There had to be a lever or button somewhere to open a door or hatch.
“Either of you ever see anything like this before?” Gabby asked louder but calmly, even though I caught the way she clenched her fingers.
Tony grumbled, “No.”
I admitted, “I don’t know.”
“What kinda answer is that?” Tony’s bravado returned in full force. “Either you’ve seen somethin’ like this before or not. It’s a yes or no question.”
“I said I didn’t know.” I turned back to patting the wall, urgency driving me. Not sure why. The smell? The buzz?
“Look, Sacagawea, now’s not the time to be cryptic.” Tony stood and stepped toward me, his chin up, his whole attitude set for a fight.
“Now’s a good time to give it a rest,” Gabby interceded in an even tone, but sounding much more serious than she had before. She angled her head, staring at me as if she tried to reach inside me to get an answer her own way.
If she could dig something out of my mind that’d help, I was all for it. But she just shrugged.
Tony argued, “No, I won’t give it a rest. We’re here because of her.”
“Not really,” Gabby corrected. “I put her hand on the monitor and I saw you grab her arm, so that would seem to implicate all of us equally, don’t you think?”
Tony wouldn’t relent, studying me as if he couldn’t decide what to think. “Whatcha mean when you say you can’t remember, Sacagawea?”
Why play with words or avoid the obvious at this point? Besides, Nicholas had probably already told the Browns about my head injury so how could it matter if these two knew?
“I’m saying my mind’s a black hole.” My voice burned dark with frustration crowding my throat. I slammed one hand against the metal. For all the good that did. But we couldn’t just keep on standing here. Waiting for whatever had caused that smell to return.
My skin chilled at the idea of being trapped in here. I knew on some primal level that we had to escape. Now.
“Like amnesia?” Gabby asked, her tone too bright in the face of Tony’s incredulity. “How fabulous. That means you get to start over, clean slate. Make your life whatever you want.”
Just when I thought I had an ally I could depend upon...
I faced her. “Yeah. Just like amnesia, but I’d rather have my original life back than a new one.”
“Oh, in that case I’ll help you hunt for it,” she offered as if we were looking for a lost shoe. The red flashing light looked different in her green eye than it did in her brown eye.
“You can’t have amnesia,” Tony scoffed, getting his teeth behind his words. “We just got here. No way could you–”
“I’m saying I had amnesia back at the other place. The school. Nothing’s changed here.” Except for my sense that staying trapped in this space could be dangerous. “Look, we’ll talk about that more when we have time. For now we’ve got to get moving.”
“Why?” Tony asked, oblivious to the red pulsing light that kept increasing in intensity. He held up his hand and huffed out a hard breath as if trying to be reasonable. “Let’s use logic. If this thing we’re in brought us here, wherever here is, then it should take us back, right?”
He had a point, but the metallic hum chose that moment to grow into a low whine that picked up in volume. What was happening?
Tony covered his ears. “That’s frickin’ awful.”
“Still want to stay in here, Jersey?” Gabby called to him.
I had to yell even louder over the screech. “Help me find a way out. Gabby, you search this side of the room and I’ll search the other.”
“What’re we looking for?” she called back, surprising me when she jumped into action.
“A handle. A button. I don’t know–something. There’s got to be a lever to open a hatch on this thing.”
Tony dropped his hands and shouted, “Oh, come on, you two. Maybe whatever sent us here is sending us back. Ever think of that?”
Gabby yelled back, “If you’re not going to help us, I’d say it’s been nice knowing you, but I’d hate to die with a lie like that on my conscience.” She swiped her hands back and forth frantically over the metal faster and faster. “That smell’s getting worse and it feels...hostile.”
The hairs were already standing up on my arms from the same thought.
“What smell?” Tony demanded, but his voice sounded shaky. “Hostile? You tryin’ to pull more woo-woo crap? Tryin’ to scare me? Won’t work.”
I don’t know who he was trying to convince, but I heard the truth beneath his words. Jersey Jerk was scared.
Deep down scared.
Gabby coughed, but she’d started pounding the metal wall on her side of the container, working her way back closer to me.
I whirled around to Tony. “That.” I pointed to the pulsing blood-red light, now beating like a heart on overdrive. “Is going to kill us if we don’t get out of here. Now.”
“A light’s gonna kill us? You on crack? Tell ya what. You two do the woo-woo thing and I’ll use the computer in my phone.”
Giving up, I turned back to the wall. Missing something. But what? Think.
I came up blank. Too many holes in my memory. All I could do was pound palm then fist against the wall. A flat, smooth wall that was heating up. Not good. Not good at all.
“I got it,” Gabby said, excited, stopping to push flyaway hairs from her face. “Maybe we have to do what we did with the computer.”
“The two of us,” she nodded at Tony, who was busy punching his smart phone and cursing when nothing happened. “We need to touch you. Maybe that will make the door open?”
Tony paused. “Forget about that. I hold hands with girls I date, not two loonies tryin’ to get me killed.” He jammed the phone back in his pocket.
This wasn’t getting us anywhere.
The whine of machinery reached crescendo pitch. Nothing to lose.
“Let’s try it,” I shouted over the screeching metal.
Gabby moved past Tony where he stood close to the arched panel and stopped next to me. I latched my hand onto Gabby’s wrist, feeling static vibration beneath her skin even through her sleeve.
I picked up terror, but determination, too.
She actually growled a sound of frustration and lurched for Tony’s arm. The look on his face said he couldn’t decide whether to pull away or not, but he didn’t.
“Great,” Tony snapped in my direction. “What now?”
I was fresh out of ideas. And time.
A whirring scream split the room, tearing my brain apart, making all of us double over.
“Don’t let go!” I shouted, even as I wanted to jam both hands over my ears. “Think!”
Tony shouted, “Think? That’s all you’ve got? Think.”
If we did get out of this room, I was going to shut him up even if it meant using my foot to plug that yapping hole.
But right now I had nothing more than what Gabby suggested. I yelled, “Think getting out. Open. Something!”
The room started rocking, gyrating with the three of us.
Gabby tightened her grip. “Open up. Open sesame,” she shouted. “Time to go. Beam me up, Scotty.”
Tony grumbled something unintelligible.
I lowered my head, blocking out as much as I could of Gabby’s terror and Tony’s lack of faith, the stench, the vibrations. Out. Gotta get out.
I leaned my entire body against the closed doorway, tugging Gabby and Tony toward it at the same time. Lights flashed wildly and the noise hit ear-bleeding level.
We were going to die.
All at once, energy burst inside my chest.
The walls shimmered around us.
Then an opening appeared as all three of us tumbled face forward into the purple light.