NOTE Sept. 17: Due to a flaw in internal logic pointed out by a commenter, this chapter needs to be rewritten somewhat. I plan to do that when I have some free time in the future, but with an impending move and a new job starting, I can’t promise when that will be.
The two escapees climbed into an old green sedan that had been awaiting them on the side of the highway. The gruff-voiced man was grumbling to himself and slammed his door shut, but caught his dangling handcuffs in the door on the first attempt and swore loudly. He got the door closed on the second try. Then they revved the engine, pulled a U-turn, and drove off, heading away from Victoria down the empty highway.
Griff lowered his head and breathed a deep sigh of relief. He’d survived—thanks to Francis.
She was still bent over him, shaking like a leaf in the wind.
“It’s okay,” said Griff. “They’ve left. You can stop.”
She didn’t seem to hear him. Sweat was wicking off her forehead, through her eyebrows, and down her nose in a steady stream. Every muscle in her face was tightly clenched.
“Francis, stop. Francis…” Griff gave her shoulder a light shake.
She let out a pitiful whimper and collapsed face-down in a heap on top of him, chest heaving, mouth slowly opening and closing like a fish out of water.
Griff weaseled his way out from under her, ignoring the pain in his own neck and back. He sat up and shook his head clear, then patted Francis’s back awkwardly. “Hey, we’re okay… You did it. You saved us.”
She didn’t respond, except that her breathing quickened. Then she coughed twice, and something began to gurgle its way up her throat.
Some long-forgotten element of first-aid training bubbled its way to the surface of Griff’s memory: if she was going to throw up, shouldn’t he roll her onto her side or something? He placed one hand on her hip and the other on her left shoulder and tried to raise her up.
Francis cried out, and her eyes flared open. Her right hand swatted Griff away and she jerked herself onto her back. Her choking devolved into a dry retch. “Ooooohh,” she moaned.
“Um,” said Griff. “Where does it hurt?”
Francis fixed him with a sardonic glare.
“I’ll take that as an ‘everywhere’. Do you think you can get up?”
Francis groaned and used her right arm to try to prop herself into a seated position. She made it halfway, then collapsed again, cradling her ribs. “Oof,” she puffed. “Just need… to catch… my breath…”
“Yeah, absolutely, take it easy,” said Griff. “Have you ever channeled your ability anywhere close to that long before?”
Francis feebly shook her head. “Give me… a minute…”
“Sure.” Griff sat for a moment, withdrawing into himself. Almost absentmindedly, he tracked the movement of the two escapees in their car, driving west. He wondered where they were going. What would they do now that they were free? He’d never found out what they were capable of, or what they’d done to land in that secret basement in the first place.
Well, no point just sitting here and tracking them, really. It probably wouldn’t take them long to leave his detection range.
“I’m going to take a look around.” Griff fought his way onto his feet—he thought he could feel most of his joints creaking—and turned to survey his surroundings. In the tension of their narrow escape from the two special criminals, he hadn’t really taken in the details of the wreckage, but now what he saw nearly took his breath away.
One ERT van was flipped upside-down about 20 feet away from him and Francis, its roof caved in and its front end wrapped around the trunk of a sturdy fir tree. A thick scar had been cut into the ground behind it, and various debris had broken free and was scattered across the grass and dirt. The second van lay on its side, a bit nearer. It wasn’t in quite as rough shape.
The truly shocking thing, however, was the birds.
There were hundreds of them, crows and seagulls mainly, their corpses carpeting the vans and strewn for a long ways behind them. Dozens of birds were embedded in the remnants of each vehicle’s windshield, and sprays of their blood and feathers coated the vans’ sides and roofs.
Francis had definitely been wrong. These birds hadn’t been a decoy for an ambush; they themselves had been the ambush all along. Who could make all these birds do something like this? It had taken a very powerful special to pull this plan off…
The nearer van’s rear doors were hanging open, and an officer was sprawled out there. His lifeless face seemed to stare right at Griff, who shuddered. Had the man died in the crash, or had the prisoners and their accomplices killed him after the fact? And what about all the others? He and Francis couldn’t be the only survivors, could they?
Griff willed his legs to carry him towards the nearer van. He briefly checked for a pulse on the officer hanging out of the back doors, but found nothing. He closed the man’s unseeing eyes, then peered into the van’s shadowed interior. Three more bodies were lying inside, one in ERT body armour and two in simpler uniforms—the guards from the basement of the safe house. Griff checked both guards, but they, too, had passed on. One of them was draped across the edge of a bench, his neck lolling back at an odd angle; it had likely broken on impact. The other, though, had met a more gruesome end: his face had been mashed into an unrecognizable pulp. He was no expert, but Griff was fairly certain that damage had come post-accident.
He turned to check the ERT officer—his name tag identified him as CALLAHAN—but he was already resigned to making a similar discovery. Pressing his fingers against the man’s neck, Griff sighed haggardly. How could anyone willingly bring about such horrible destruction and violence? Who would—
Wait, was that a heartbeat?