My phone gave the customary twinkling ring that told me someone new had watched, and reacted to, my tunnel-travel video. My friend Cole and I had found a network of caves on our trip to the coast, and filmed the underground routes. We’d posted it to YouTube, and it had absolutely blown up. Apparently people were all over that sort of thing.
I grinned, enjoying the reality that was internet fame.
“Um, Dan?” My fiancée, Shana, called me to the kitchen. She’d stopped by to drop off groceries—I swear she’s the best fiancée in existence. “Can you come here?” There was urgency in her voice—something rather unusual for someone so perky and upbeat.
Quickly sliding my accounting documents back into their briefcase, I swept the table clean and booked it for the kitchen. “Ya?”
She was glued to something on her phone, eyes widening.
“This was yours?” She turned the phone screen to face me. On it was a scenic mountain path, interrupted only by a rail protruding from the left-hand side. I grinned, nodding excitedly.
“Yeah—Cole and I took it on our trip to the East Coast. Crazy place—that’s actually a whole underground network and-”
“Macy said Cole hasn’t come back from his trip to New York.” Shana cut me off abruptly. I gave her a look, more than a little puzzled.
“Well, I mean, sure. We are in lockdown.” I shrugged, glancing at the phone again. “Dannnng. That camera work though. And 2.75 million views! It’s viral!”
“Daniel.” Shana pressed, pulling the phone back and glaring at me. “Macy’s been going crazy trying to contact Cole. He hasn’t answered texts, emails, or phone calls. His family hasn’t heard from him.”
“We should call the police, then.” I was utterly confused; her rambling was making no sense. I pulled my cell from my pocket.
“No!” She grabbed my hand before I could place the call, pulling my phone away from my ear. “You’re not listening.”
“You’re talking in circles.” I tried to tug my wrist free, but Shana held fast.
“No,” she repeated, wrenching the phone away and tossing it to the table.
“Hey!” I protested.
“LOOK.” She stuffed her phone in my face again, pointing furiously at one of the many comments.
I wonder if they know about Area 7.81?
“What’s Area 7.81?” I stared at the perplexing note.
“It’s said to be a top-secret government research facility they used in the Cold War, and rumours have it that they’re still using it today for unsanctioned weapons experiments.”
“So it’s a conspiracy theory.” I scoffed, turning and reaching for a jar of peanuts.
“What if it’s not?” Shana whispered. I paused, my hand on the jar’s lid, and turned my head so that I was looking at her wild, frantic eyes.
“You actually believe that crap?”
“It would explain why Cole disappeared.” She swallowed hard, placing the phone on the table with a trembling hand.
“Or he got into legal trouble-”
“And if they’re right, you could be in danger, too.”
“Or he ran away. It wouldn’t be the first time.” I tried again.
“Cole told you last time.” She gave me a long, hard look. “He said nothing this time.”
“Cole does his own thing.” I crossed my arms, abandoning my jar of peanuts. “I don’t know what you want me to do about-”
A rap at the door caused us both to jump, and I accidentally jostled the table, causing the jar of peanuts to fall and shatter. I chuckled awkwardly. “Ah, you’ve got me all sketched out now.” I joked weakly, stepping over the fallen jar and making my way to the door. I opened it to a burly-looking officer, whose cold steel eyes bolted me to the floor.
“You Daniel Sherin?” The officer grunted.
Licking my lips, I gave a curt nod. “Yeah, that’s me.” Instantly I internally kicked myself. How the heck did my voice pitch so high?!
“We’re here investigating a break-in down the road. Did you see anything suspicious?” He all but spat the words at me. Risking a glance down the street, I shook my head, the anxiety rising.
“Uh, no, sir.” And if there had been a break in, I would have heard about it. My grandmother’s the street gossip!
“Alright. No worries. You’ll want to stay in town, so we can follow up on questioning as the case unfolds.” The officer snapped his notepad shut and flung it into a pocket.
“Is he a suspect?” Shana inquired from behind me; I hadn’t even noticed her approach. At the officer’s fiery glare, she quickly added: “With all due respect.”
“We’re just having all residents stick close in the following days. To follow up on questioning. So we can close this case.” He spun and marched back to his cruiser with steps as clipped as his sentences. I risked a second cursory glance at the street, then swung the door shut, and locked it tight.
“That was weird.” Shana said, staring intently at me.
“No, it was a routine check up.” Man, I was really trying hard.
“For an imaginary burglary?” I could hear her mocking laugh in the innocent-sounding question.
“Shana, could you stop talking?” I asked as politely as I could, peeking at the road from behind the curtain at our window. Three large black vans eased around the corner and perched themselves along the curb about fifty feet from our house.
“I wonder who’s hosting a party during lockdown.” Shana quipped, totally ignoring my request.
“Get me my phone.”
“Don’t you know they track those?”
The home phone rang before I could respond, and I bolted to answer it. Only when the phone was pressed to my ear did I realize how brutally rash I had been. Cringing, I bit my lip. “Hello?” I ventured warily, convinced it would be the CIA or the FBI or the CRA or some such acronym waiting to pounce.
“Oh, Dan, so glad you answered!” My grandma practically yelled in my ear. I had never been so relieved to have an eardrum burst in my life.
“Hi, nana.” I shot a reassuring smile at Shana, who was glancing between me and the street. Her face was turning whiter by the second.
“The cops came to you, too, huh, boy?”
“Yes. And I think the correct word is ‘officers’.”
“Hum. Well there wasn’t a burglary, I can tell you that. Margery hears everything, she doesn’t sleep and Billy calls everyone every day, that’s what he does as the chapelain, you know.”
“I do, nana.” Shana was gesturing frantically, lips moving in a silent message I couldn’t decipher.
“They asked if I knew anything ‘bout that video you posted. Apparently it’s viral. What’s that mean? Is that bad? Is it like a virus?”
“No, nana—viral means popular. A lot of people are watching it.” Shana was miming finger guns and handcuffs. Oh crap.
“Well then, I think they’re lying, anyway, about that robbery. Don’t know what they want-”
“Nana,” I cut her off, feeling absolutely horrible for it. “I’ve really got to go. I’ll call you back later, though, k? Love you!” I’d hung up before she could answer, and raced for the door. “What is it?”
“They’re surrounding the house.” Shana hissed, pointing. But she didn’t need to; I could see the black vehicles lining the street around my home, rippling outwards like a grotesque target.
“Get in the car.” I ordered, slamming the curtain down and half-running for the garage door.
“What? Are you crazy? We can’t just leave!”
“Cole’s missing, Macy might be right, and there’s a bunch of so-called police gearing up to break down our door but when’s the last time you saw police cruisers that looked like tactical warfare trucks?!” I hurtled down the garage steps and swung into my corvette. “You coming?”
I didn’t need to ask. Shana was already buckling herself into the passenger seat.
“You know, leaving the house while under inspection is an offence.” She laughed nervously, hunkering in her seat as though trying to hide from view. The windows were tinted.
“I may already be accidentally guilty of some offence.” I pointed out grimly, looking at her one more time. “Dang it, I was just on my way to stardom, too!”
“Now you’re on route to infamy.” She joked, then sobered up at my expression. “Sorry. Not funny.”
I focused hard on the garage door, the only thing between us and something totally unknown and unprecedented.
“Are we going to wait for them to blow it in?” Shana’s voice was no longer sarcastic.
“Dang it. This is messed up.”
I jammed the car into gear, pounded the remote garage door control on my dashboard, waited a half-second for the door to open about four feet, and gunned it as hard as I could. Several uniformed officers dove out of our way as we rocketed past.
We shot onto the street, hammered a tight left turn, and barrelled towards the country highway that would take us to the border between States and Canada. Sirens sang behind us, but I knew these streets better than anyone. I spiralled into a narrow alcove behind an old, abandoned warehouse, and waited for the sounds of pursuit to fade. Then, I edged forward, checked clearance, and carved a new trail—this one would take us from Illinois to Michigan, and from there, into Ontario. Hopefully, it would be round-about enough that they wouldn’t find us en-route.
Hopefully, it would be short enough to get us to the border undetected.
I couldn’t really bank on either of those options, though; I knew we were buying time and in big trouble.
Colour was returning to Shana’s face, and a fierce determination was setting in. “The borders will be closed.” She ground out.
“Probably.” I admitted.
“We don’t have a plan.”
“Not a single one.”
“So... this should be fun.”
I glanced in my rear view mirror. No pursuit. We’d have to make a stop, get disguises, the usual Hollywood-style escapist thing. On a budget, of course. This car wasn’t cheap. “Welcome to stardom, my dear.” I snorted derisively.
My phone pinged again. More views.
“Chuck it.” I suggested. She flung my phone through the window. It landed ten feet in front of us.
It was still pinging my newfound fame and infamy when we drove over it at 125 miles/hour.