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Trapped by Shadows
By Bill Myers
ZondervanCopyright © 2009 Bill Myers
All right reserved.
Thirteen minutes before midnight, three vehicles from three different directions sped toward a single destination, their occupants all focused on a single goal.
* * *
From the north, a mud-splattered Jeep Cherokee raced through the night. Dad concentrated harder as he tightened his grip on the wheel. His headlights caught a sign: Speed Limit 55. It whipped from sight as the Jeep slid around another curve.
"Mike!" his wife warned, her knuckles white as she clutched the dashboard.
"If we get pulled over, I'll explain our kids are in danger," said Dad, his mouth in a hard line as he stared ahead.
* * *
From the south, a sleek black Hummer roared down the highway. Its dashboard was lit up with indicators like the cockpit of a fighter jet: digital readouts, GPS map, radar screen, infrared monitor, and a flashing red light from the tracking device that had been attached to the underside of the mud-splattered Jeep, now only a few short miles away.
The glow from the dash lit the driver's face. He glanced into his rearview mirror, caring not so much what was on the road behind him so much as what was in the seat behind him-a dark presence that soakedup all the light around it.
* * *
And from the west, lumbering along as fast as it could, was an old beat-up RV camper. Its worn engine coughed and choked, puffing blue smoke out of its tailpipe.
Inside, sixteen-year-old Zach held the steering wheel with one hand while stuffing his mouth with the other-a Super Extreme Nuclear Burrito, featuring Flaming Fire Fajita Chicken. And forget the wimpy hot or extra hot sauce. Not for Zach. He'd gone for Taco Wonderland's newest sauce, the kind they advertised as Danger: Explosive!
Behind him, in the back of the RV, sat his thirteen-year-old sister, Piper. As the ultra-responsible one of the group (someone had to be), she was taking care of their six-year-old brother, Elijah.
"All right," she said, carefully tapping out some raisins into the little boy's hand, "you can have eight now and eight more when we get there."
Elijah, who hardly ever spoke, looked up at her with his big brown eyes and smiled-his way of saying thank you.
She smiled back. "Don't worry, it won't be long before we see Mom and Dad again. I promise."
Elijah nodded and laid his head on her arm. Piper tenderly stroked his hair, hoping she was right. Without her mom there, the job of caring for the little guy fell into her hands. Which was okay. She loved Elijah. He could be so sweet and caring ... when he wasn't being so weird. Honestly, she'd never met anybody like him. Sometimes it was like he knew what was going to happen before it happened. Sometimes when he visited sick people, they were suddenly well. And sometimes when the family really, absolutely needed something to happen, she'd see his little lips moving in prayer, and, just like that, it happened. Not all the time. But just enough to make things a little freaky.
And speaking of freaky, there was her older brother, Zach-it wasn't just his eating habits that were adventurous. It was everything he did. From seeing how fast a skateboard could go if you attached rocket motors to it (answer: ninety-three miles an hour before he crashed into a tree, flew through the air, and landed in someone's kiddie pool), to seeing how many bottles of ketchup you could drink before your hurl (answer: 1 1/2), to talking his littler sister (as in Piper) into sticking her tongue on the frozen monkey bars in the middle of winter to see what would happen (answer: a visit by the paramedics who had to pour hot water on her tongue to unfreeze it from the bars).
Good ol' Zach. That's why she had to keep an eye on him all the time. Like now, when she looked up front and spotted him biting into his burrito. Like now, when his eyeballs bulged and his dark hair-which usually looked like it was styled by a fourteen-speed blender stuck on Super Chop-seemed to stand on end.
She could tell he wanted to say something. She could also tell that his mouth was on fire. Which explains why the only word that came out was:
"What's wrong?" Piper shouted. Then she saw the wrapper on the floor and understood. "Nuclear burrito?"
Zach nodded, waving air into his mouth, which caused the RV to swerve from side to side.
Piper sprang for the RV's sink. She turned the water on full blast and yanked up the sprayer, pulling the long hose to the driver's seat.
The RV bounced onto the road's shoulder as Zach slammed on the brakes, finally bringing the vehicle to a skidding stop.
"Open your mouth!" she yelled.
She aimed for the screaming hole in Zach's face and pressed the sprayer.
The water hit its mark, and Zach's mouth sizzled like a frying pan dumped in cold water.
* * *
Meanwhile, in the Jeep, all Dad could think of was getting to his children before the other side did. He'd seen the evil their leader could do and he didn't like it. Not one bit. He wasn't sure if those dark powers came from this world or from somewhere else. Either way, the children had to be protected.
* * *
In the Hummer, the driver focused on the tracker beam and the GPS map. This time there would be no mistakes.
* * *
And in the RV, Zach's mouth continued to smolder.
Chapter TwoThe Plot Sickens
There was a fourth vehicle: a dark green van sitting on the shoulder of the highway.
Inside, Monica Specter's red, shaggy hair shone in the mirror light. She was busy applying another layer of bright red lipstick and shimmering, electric-green eye shadow. Granted, sometimes in the bright sunlight all that makeup made her look a little bit like a clown. But in this dimmer light she looked more like a ... well, all right, she still looked like a clown.
And don't even ask about her clothes. More often than not, it looked like somebody had just stitched a bunch of bright beach towels and bedspreads together and thrown them on her. It's not that she didn't have any fashion sense. It's just that ... well, all right, she didn't have fashion sense either.
Bottom line: The same charm school that taught her all those delicate, lady-like manners (and she didn't have any) taught her the same delicate, lady-like ways of choosing her clothing and wearing her make up.
Bottom, bottom line: Monica was a real piece of work. Unfortunately, her partners weren't much better:
First, there was Bruno, a very large man with a very small brain.
Right on cue, she heard a cry of joy from the backseat. Bruno had breathed on the glass beside him and fogged it up. He drew a smiley face with his finger ... to join an entire family of smiley faces he'd drawn across the window. "Wanna see me do it again?"
Then there was Silas, a pointy-nosed, pointy-chinned, pointy-everything guy with bloodshot eyes and big, droopy bags under them the size of hammocks.
"Not again ..." Silas sighed. "I don't ever want to see another smiley face in my life. Do you understand?"
Bruno paused in deep thought. "So ... you want me to draw little frowny faces, instead?"
Silas turned away and moaned.
"Will you two grow up?" Monica snarled from the front seat. (Snarling was one of her specialties.)
"I'm not the one who needs to grow up," Silas argued. "He is." He thrust a pointy thumb in the direction of his partner.
"No sir," Bruno said. "You are!"
"No, you are!"
"Liar, liar, pants on -"
"Knock it off !" Monica shouted. "You're acting like big, fat, stupid morons!"
Bruno sucked in his gut. "I'm not fat."
Monica could only stare. They had been sitting here on the side of the road for hours, waiting for the kids' RV to rumble past. And they were definitely going stir-crazy.
But Monica was as determined as she was nasty. This time she would not fail. Shadow Man wanted the little boy. He never said why, but there was something very, very valuable about him. And she would deliver him. She had to. This was her chance to finally prove her worthiness.
She glanced at her two partners sulking in the backseat. They'd been assigned to her since the beginning-a skinny little weasel and a brainless baboon. They had bungled every assignment she'd been given.
But this time, it would be different.
Headlights suddenly appeared in the mirror.
"Duck!" she called back to them. "Duck!"
Bruno's face brightened. "You want me to draw a duck?"
"Duck! Duck!" she cried.
"Goose!" Bruno shouted back in glee.
"No, you moron," Silas scooted down in the seat. "She means get down!"
Silas yanked him down in the seat just as the RV swooshed by, rocking the van in its wake. Once it had passed, Monica rose and turned on the ignition. The van's engine roared to life. This time, the kid would be hers.
* * *
To anyone else, the run-down garage was packed with yesterday's junk. The sagging shelves bulged with old televisions, radios, and out-of-date computers. But to the inventor's eye, these old gadgets and circuit boards were the building blocks of imagination.
Willard, a pudgy genius with curly hair, punched in numbers on his laptop. His reluctant assistant, Cody, watched with concern.
It was getting late, and they had to hurry.
"One more calculation ..." Willard punched a key on the laptop keyboard with the fl air of a concert pianist hitting the last note of a great concerto, "... and the program has now reached terminal status!"
Cody, who was definitely smart but not "Willard smart," turned to him and in his most intelligent voice asked, "Huh?"
"Why didn't you just say 'we're done'?"
"I am a man of science," replied Willard, closing the laptop with a flourish.
"No, you're a guy who uses big words."
"Oh," Willard nodded knowingly. "You mean a logophile. Or a logogogue. Or possibly a logomachist. Or -"
Willard grinned as the laptop's lights flickered greenly. "I will gladly desist, my friend."
Cody started to answer, then stopped. Willard had always been smart. But lately he'd been testing his vocabulary ... and Cody's patience. A lot of people get their exercise by working out with weights. Willard worked out with words. Not that Cody blamed him. At school everyone made fun of him. Maybe this was his new way of fighting back.
Cody continued watching. "You still haven't told me how these are going to help Piper and her family."
"It will momentarily become clear," Willard said. "And you shall have nothing further to worry about."
Cody sighed, running his fingers through his hair. He'd heard that before. "That's what worries me."
"Here." Willard handed him two leg harnesses. "Put these on. They will assist in the stabilization process."
As Cody grabbed the leg harnesses, he thought back to some other not-so-successful-inventions Willard had recently created. Little things, like ...
The Solar-Powered Toaster that exploded into a fireball. Not bad, if you liked your toast well done.
The Computer-Guided Eyebrow Plucker. Unfortunately, it didn't stop with the eyebrows-as the first hundred angry, bald customers proved.
The Turbo-Charged Pickle Jar Lid Opener. A great success, except for the twenty-seven kosher dills still embedded in Cody's kitchen ceiling.
"Hurry!" Willard called over his shoulder. "We must dispatch ourselves with expedience!"
"Do what with who?" Cody asked, looking up at his friend.
"We gotta go!"
* * *
The map light illuminated Mom's finger as she traced the winding road on the atlas. "Just one more mile," she murmured. Her voice was both hopeful and anxious.
"All right, sweetheart," Dad said as they shot through the thick woods. He tried to sound reassuring, but inside his fear continued to grow. What if we don't get to the kids before they do?
He glanced to his wife and thought back to the beginning.
* * *
Mom had been pregnant with their third child, Elijah. She had just left the florist's with a giant bouquet of daisies for her sister's birthday. As she walked-more like waddled-toward the car, a bearded old man with a tattered jacket stepped in front of her, bringing her to an abrupt stop.
He spoke quietly, almost in reverence. "Your son will work miracles."
She blinked, more than a little surprised. How had he known she was going to have a boy?
He continued. "The Scriptures speak of him."
"Who?" she asked, hoping to slip inside the car and get away from the crazy man-not an easy feat when one is holding a bouquet of flowers.
She stared at him a moment, then nodded slowly, uneasily, as she opened the car door and got inside. She locked the car and put the key in the ignition. She glanced back at the man, but when she turned he had vanished. The old man was nowhere to be seen.
Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the strangeness. It soon got stranger.
Just after Elijah was born, Mom and Dad began to notice little things. Like how their baby laughed and cooed as if he saw something above his crib ... when there was nothing there at all.
Or the time he was in preschool and his teacher ran out of snacks ... or thought she did. No one could explain how, when she kept reaching into the graham cracker box, she never ran out of graham crackers-not until the last child was served. Amazing. Well, to everyone but Mom and Dad.
That was the good weird. But there was also the bad ...
More and more, they got the sense that people were watching them. Sometimes it was a dark blue car that followed them at a distance when they pushed the baby stroller down the street. Other times it was a tall, skinny man in overalls who always seemed to be trimming hedges or sweeping a sidewalk when they went outside.
Then came the fateful Saturday morning when the strange old man appeared once again-but this time on their doorstep.
Spotting him through the window, Mom called upstairs to Dad. "Mike! That man from the florist-it's him! He's here!"
Dad bounded down the stairs and threw open the door to confront him. But the old man said only three words:
"You must leave."
"Guess again," Dad said. "I don't know who you are or what's going on, but you're the one who has to leave."
The man shook his head. "No. You must go. For the boy's safety-and your own."
Dad snorted in disgust and started to shut the door when the old man raised his voice. "Please ... there is an organization."
The old man continued. "They are watching your son to see if he is the one of whom the Scriptures speak. Once they are sure, they will move in."
Dad frowned. "Organization?"
"They are empowered by a dark and sinister force, and they will show no mercy when they come for him."
Dad bristled. "That's enough. If you don't leave right now, I'm calling the police. Do you understand?"
The old man remained. "You've seen his gifts."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"You've seen his powers. You've seen-"
Without a word Dad slammed the door.
"I'm not sure if you should have done that," Mom said.
"The guy's a loony!" Dad replied angrily. He turned, checking through the door's peephole.
Nobody was there.
That was when they decided to pack up the kids and move ... the first time.
But no matter how they tried to hide Elijah's special gifts, the little guy would do something that caused people to start talking ... and asking questions.
Then, just a few days ago, a red-headed woman and two men with guns showed up at the house. Mom and Dad tried to act as decoys to draw them away, giving their children a chance to escape to safety, but the plan backfired. Instead, the parents were kidnapped and taken to a mysterious compound where they first encountered ... Shadow Man.
They had escaped. It was a miracle from God-there was no doubt about that.
But Shadow Man wasn't about to give up-there was no doubt about that either.
Excerpted from Trapped by Shadows by Bill Myers Copyright © 2009 by Bill Myers. Excerpted by permission.
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