I’m really looking for feedback. I have hit a wall of writing lately. I know that it is mostly due to lack of planning than lack of content. This is Chapter Fifteen. Tell me hate it. Tell me you love it. Tell me I have typos. Tell me that I should keep my day job. Seriously. Rip it apart. (More can be found at ChapterBuzz… No I’m not a masochist, I just need a reality check)
Valerie held Scotts arm tight and rested her head on his shoulder in the back of the package truck while he gently stroked her hair with his free hand. She was almost complete. Having her husband by her side made the entire journey seem very trivial. She was minutes from reuniting with her son and would have time to truly rest. With Scott she could figure out how to take on the CDC and free the rest of her family.
Twenty minutes passed since they left her home for the resort. With no windows in the back compartment they only saw strips of light at the seams of the door but she could hear Griffin snoring. There was no doubt Hyka was napping as well. Aaron and Austin were in the cab in their new blue uniforms, navigating to the resort.
“I’m so sorry,” Scott whispered in the dark and kissed her head. “I had no idea you were in danger. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you. I’m sorry I wasn’t with our son. I had to wait an entire day to get word that you were alright. They had me take a train to get the affected in Kansas and said I could pick up Caleb and meet you. I can’t believe I helped them.”
“They were probably hoping you would lead them to Caleb. I am so thankful for Gia. I am glad it was her. Did you know my dad actually hired her? Remember how I wanted the other nanny, but she declined at the last minute? I guess that was all Dad’s handy work.” Valerie smiled and found her husband’s hand. “How lucky are we? I love you more than anything.”
“I love you so much.” Scott kissed her hand.
She held him tighter has the truck turned into the resort parking lot. When it had stopped, Austin and Aaron got out of the cab and walked around to open the back to release its occupants. The afternoon sky was thick with clouds that threatened rain. Like most of their journey, there was no one around. The parking lot was quiet and only a few cars were left in the lot. No one came in or out of the building and the power seemed to have been turned off. The sliding doors stayed open and warm humid air blew from the inside like the building was breathing. There were only a few people in the lobby that quickly disappeared when they saw the uniforms.
“It’s this way.” Valerie led the way in a jog to the farthest corner of the hotel. She knew this was where she would find him. The clue was so clever, but no doubt this was exactly what Gia intended to convey with the French birthday card. Valerie ran down a hallway that opened to a giant atrium. A stream that ran through the hotel was stagnant and smelled lightly of algae. She followed it around to a bridge. The artificial island hosted a cluster of restaurants and “Little Venice” where she had taken Gia for her birthday. It was completely empty, and with a quick once over she decided there were no more clues.
“The room is on the third floor. 356. She quickly found the stairs, heart pounding, and ran up as fast as she could. 395 was the first room. She sprinted down the balcony of rooms that overlooked the restaurants and the stream. Each room she passed she ran faster until she came to the room. Her heart in her stomach, the door was open. Without bothering to knock she pushed the door open to see Gia face down on the bed.
“Gia? Oh, Gia!” At the sound of Valerie’s voice Gia lifted her head and looked at her. She had fresh blood coming from a cut on her lip and a significant bump on the side of her forehead. Tears poured down her face, she shook her head to Valerie. Caleb was not there.
Valerie collapsed on the floor as Griffin walked in and lifted the girl from the bed and held her tight. He brushed the hair off her head wound to examine it and kissed her mouth.
“They took him, just left. I didn’t know they were watching the house. They must have planted microphones. They knew exactly where we were. I’m so sorry. I tried to stop them.” Gia cried to Griffin. He cradled her head and reassured her. Valerie watched like it was a movie, like it was not happening. She was numb to even her own grief. Scott stood next to her in the door way equally devastated. Something caught his eye and he move across the room to a sitting chair. He picked up Caleb’s blanky, held it to his chest and looked back at Valerie.
Lights in the room sprang to life, music could be heard down toward the island and the pumps began moving the water in the stream. Valerie stood up, confused. Loud rumbling came from overhead.
“Planes.” Austin said entering the room. Then he stopped and looked at the two on the bed. The sprinkler heads popped down from the ceiling and began spraying everywhere.
“No,” Austin whispered. He looked over at Scott when the electricity exploded into the room.
“Valerie stop!” Aaron yelled over the volume of the surge.
“It’s not me,” as the words left her mouth, Scott was hit by the electricity, then Griffin, then Gia who was still in his embrace.
Valerie screamed as she watched the Scott fight the pain. She reached out to him to pull the energy but it simply transferred through her continuing its path to the couple on the bed. She wanted it to stop. She tried to control it, but could not. She wrapped her arms around Scott and held him as tight as she could. What felt like an eternity was about fifteen seconds, then the current, sprinklers, and all power stopped at once. Still screaming, she lowered Scott’s weight to the ground. Austin fell to his knees at the site of his dear friend still embracing the young woman on the bed. Screams could be heard from outside the open door behind him. Aaron held Hyka out on the balcony as she stared blankly at the destruction.
“Phase two,” she said to no one in particular. Valerie knew she was referring to the CDC’s next phase. Austin had seen it in his dream. He had known they were going to lose Griffin, Gia and Scott. Valerie thought they could stop it from happening. Her pain quickly turned into anger. She kissed her deceased husband on his forehead and stood. She did not dare look toward the bed at her friends that had also been taken. She moved past Austin who was still sitting on his knees and out the door to the balcony.
“There are survivors. Like us. We need to bring everyone together, as many as we can find. They have taken everything from us. I’m going to take it back.” She clenched her teeth so hard fighting the tears, but could not stop them. Just as her knees buckled Aaron swooped her up like a child can carried her to the next room. He kicked it in easily. The room was covered in water but vacant. He stood her on her feet, opened the closet and handed her a dry robe.
“Change your clothes.” He did not ask her and she did not argue. She could not think, but went through the motions mindlessly. She turned the light on without touching the switch and closed the bathroom door. As she took her clothes off, she realized that they had been burned and left very little covered. Her boots had even melted from the incident. She removed her garments and covered herself with the soft hotel robe similar to the one that hung outside of her own shower at home. Scott had bought it for her. Everything reminded her that, though his body was in the next room, his soul was gone. She pulled open the door to receive her set of directions. Aaron had flipped the mattress of the bed offering a dry place to lay down. He had also pulled out the sofa bed and had already taken his own boots off, laid down, and closed his eyes. She knew he was not sleeping. How could any of them sleep?
Valerie opened the mini refrigerator and without glancing at the labels, grabbed three small plastic bottles. One by one she drank. Grief dulling her senses, she was unable to taste the alcohol. She tossed the empty bottles in the trash can and crawled on the mattress. She laid down facing the wall and just stared waiting for the liquid to take effect. The hole in her heart suddenly felt like it would swallow her. She felt so empty. She did not want to talk or even breathe. It shook her soul and with her tears came a scream so loud that the roar of the planes continuously flying low outside were no match. She pulled a wet pillow into her and squeezed it so close to her body. She buried her face into it so hard it hurt, trying to stifle the emotional pain that wrecked her being. Every time she would open her eyes something would trigger a memory. A small desk lamp reminded her of Caleb’s bedroom and how Scott would turn it on and hold Caleb during thunderstorms to keep him from being scared. Scott was everywhere. There was not one thing in this world that would not bring his memory back to her mind, ripping her apart over and over again. For hours she sat like this, rocking back and forth, cycling through various intensities of sobs. Finally her exhaustion caught up with her, and she fell asleep.
In the middle of the night Valerie was awoken by the phone ringing and a small red little blinking in the pitch. She looked to the lamp next to it and it popped but did not light. The bulb had broken. She groped in the dark for the receiver.
“Hello?” she was still groggy and unsure of where she was.
“Ms. Russel, I am so sorry for your loss,” a man’s voice said on the other end. The death of her husband the day before seemed like a horrible dream, but the slimy voice that had an audible smile brought back the reality of the situation far to quickly.
“Thank you, Dr. Jarrett,” Valerie answered politely. He knew where she was and that her husband was gone. He could be watching her with the security cameras in the hotel. She knew she had to be careful of what she said and did to not give herself away.
“It is my pleasure to inform you that young Caleb is safe and having a great time with Grandpa Burton. Would you like to talk to him?” The mere suggestion choked her.
“Say hi to Mommy, Caleb.”
“Hi Mommy!” Caleb’s sweet voice was completely oblivious to the situation and fate of his father.
“Hi, Sweetie-Petey.” Valerie could not help but cry from heartbreak and relief. She had to play Lucas Jarrett’s game now. That had been his plan from the beginning. He needed her and she would do anything for Caleb. “I love you so very much, Baby. You be good for Grandpa and Uncle Johnny.”
“I love you, too, Mommy.”
“Now, Ms. Russell, I would send a vehicle for you, but now that I no longer have drivers, this would require me to make a personal appearance. As it is, since you have yet to cooperate, this has put us significantly behind schedule and I must tend to matters here. I also understand that you are capable of operating your own vehicle. So, neighbor, why don’t you take a trip down the street and come see your family. They miss you.” Dr. Jarrett maintained his audible amusement while Valerie fought to keep her frustration and tears silent. She had to pull herself together and buy some time to develop a plan.
“Please let me bury my husband. You can expect us this evening.” She did not wait for a response before ending the call. Hearing her son’s voice left no question in her mind of where she was going next. She had to look forward or she would lose herself in the trauma of the previous day. It was so unfair that the world continued without recognizing Scott’s death. Why did Lucas Jarrett get to go on and he did not? Valerie laid back down on the bed and closed her eyes. She cried until she fell back to sleep.
Hyka pushed the door open and it slammed against the wall, causing Aaron to jump to his feet from the sofa bed, but Valerie did not move. She knew she was no longer being hunted. They could not take anything else from her.
“You up?” Hyka asked Aaron who was caught off guard and could not articulate his anger at being woken up. He huffed trying to find the words.
“Everyone is waiting at that France place downstairs.” Valerie got up from the bed and walked past Hyka out the door to the balcony. There were about fifty college aged kids assembled at the restaurant with a few smaller children. One girl held a tiny baby.
“We gathered everyone in the hotel. The power surge took their age, or whatever, so they all look like that. There is about seven others, not including ours. We collected the casualties in one area to say some nice words.” Hyka tried to be as sensitive with the facts as her vocabulary would allow.
“Where is Scott?”
“They are still in the room. We laid him on the other bed. We knew you would not want us to move him without you knowing.” Valerie nodded and was satisfied with the answer. She remembered how Hyka used to scare her, but now she found her to be something steady in her life that she could count on.
“Dad wants to give Scott and Griff military honors. It won’t be one hundred percent protocol but it would mean a lot to him. Also, there is a backhoe out in the far south parking lot. If you could help us out with that, it would save us hours of digging.” Hyka was the best person to handle these details, and Valerie was thankful someone had taken the lead. Despite sleeping hard, she still did not feel like herself. She had horrible vertigo and she felt weak. She gave an approving nod to Hyka to proceed with all plans for the deceased. She looked again to the group gathered at the restaurant wondering how she was going to rally these people to action so soon after many of them where hurting from loss. Valerie turned to address her friends who were exchanging whispers of their own. Valerie lost her balance and fell backward hitting her back on the balcony before falling to the floor. Aaron caught her head and guided it to the ground as her eyes rolled back.
When she came to, she was in the room Aaron had taken her to the night before. She had been stripped of her robe, but dry blankets were pulled up to her chin and she had an IV hung next to the bed.
“You feeling alright? You got dehydrated and passed out. I am disappointed that three little shooters would knock a DiaZem on her ass,” Hyka joked trying to keep the mood light.
“I’m so sorry,” Valerie began to cry. Just when she needed to lead them to vengeance and victory, she could hardly keep her eyes open. She was broken.
“You need to rest. There is no hurry.” Aaron spoke up from the other side of the room.
“If you help me outside, I can help with digging. Not physically obviously, but I could probably keep it going. I need some air. This place is so humid.” Valerie needed to occupy her mind. Sitting in a room, unstimulated let her thoughts wander back to Scott and the fact he was gone. She also needed to talk to Aaron outside and away from any surveillance the CDC had access to. There might not be anywhere safe, but being around heavy machinery could offer a better environment for secrecy.
“No,” Aaron said with a paternal authority. “You’ve been out for two hours and frankly you look horrible. There were a few volunteers from the group to help outside. No one needs to see you like this. Just rest.”
Anger welled up in Valerie’s throat. She understood what he meant but denying her human emotion in front of the masses was infuriating. All things considered, she felt her current state to be easily justified.
“I am going outside. Someone will drive that truck thing and we all need to talk. Get my clothes from the truck, and something to eat. I am starving.” Valerie felt a tinge of guilt for being so demanding, but she did not want to divulge too much of her suspicions. She had told Dr. Jarrett they would be there by the evening, but at the rate things were going, they would not make on time.
Outside, the air was notably cooler and refreshing compared to the dank humid air of the resort. The sky was the same overcast as the day before, but evidence of a past rain still covered the ground. Valerie walked independently to the area where the backhoe was and where they would say good bye to their loved ones. Five young men were already working in the area, three digging and two breaking down furniture to fashion wooden crosses to mark each plot. They rotated these jobs before noticing her approach.
The backhoe’s engine turned over with ease, but startled the workers out of their focused tasks. Aaron gave a thumbs up to one of the workers who took up a position in the driver seat of the truck and wasted no time getting started.
“Dr. Jarrett called last night. He has Caleb and is expecting us to arrive this evening. He knew exactly where I was and what had happened to Scott. I imagine he is tapped into the hotel surveillance. I’m going to just air on the side of caution and just assume that he can see and hear everything, regardless of where we are.” Valerie stopped and took a seat on a parking curb close enough to the running machine that her three companions had to strain to hear her. “The only way to face this is to face it head on. We have to go in. But aside from that, I have no idea how to fight this.”
Austin exhaled hard and rubbed his brow. “I’m not going with you. Someone needs to stay back and gather reinforcements. If you can’t fix things from inside someone has to figure out a different angle. Valerie, I do not doubt your ability to see this through, but you might find yourself in need of pocket Aces.”
Aaron nodded in agreement which helped Valerie. She did not have the energy to argue. She understood Austin was looking out for her.
“I’m going in.” Hyka said in case anyone wondered where she stood on the matter. Valerie smiled and nodded.
“I’m coming,” Aaron said next. “I’ll meet up with your old man and brother, try to pull others into our cause. Once they know the fate of everyone they left behind, it should be easy to host a revolt from the inside. Then all you have to do, Val, is play the game.”
“How long do you think all this will take?” Valerie asked motioning to the men making progress on the make-shift cemetery.
“As long as you’re up to it, a couple of hours. Once we get two or three done on this side, we can move down the way and dig more. Give people room to pay their respects while they’re still working. We’ll do Scott, Griff and Gia’s last before we leave, but it’s going to be late. We should wait until morning to move,” Aaron suggested. His expression was that of concern.
Valerie shrugged, “Dr. Jarrett knows where to find me if I’m late. What else could they do?”
It started to rain.