by Kirby Ray
Jay Scott and her friends race back home as the Grin Reaper spreads chaos all over town...
CHAPTER 6: CRIMSON DAY
As the gang left the chamber, Davide tugged the door shut behind them, which was much easier than opening the slab. Rosa glanced over the entrance and remarked, "Probably needs some oil after being shut for who know how long. I'll see if I can borrow some from my dad's shop and see if that helps at all."
"Let's bring some for the main entrance too," Jay suggested as she made a list of everything she would need to refurbish the Primogenitor sanctuary.
The first thing she wanted to do was clean the cavern of all the graffiti and junk that had accumulated throughout the years; a historical site should never be littered with beer cans and cigarette butts. After that, they could work on cleaning the chamber itself, which included greasing up the doors for easier access. There was likely more to the site than just the one room, but she would cross that bridge when she reached it. Archaeological digs were not completed in a single day, after all.
Meanwhile, her companions were eagerly discussing what else might be hidden beneath the earth. Rosa giddily clapped her hands together as she asked, "You think we'll find anything like those Saturnights? We could have our own army!"
"Yeah, and probably get lumped in with those Martians," Davide countered with a shrug of his broad shoulders. "If we find anything like that, we ought to turn it over to the military; that way, they might give us a reward, and we don't have to do anything about anything."
"Maybe we could donate stuff to a museum," Warren suggested before snapping his fingers. "Better yet, we could open our own museum! My parents have opened three, and they fund at least a dozen more; they would know exactly what to do!"
Jay's ears perked up when she overheard her friend and classmates planning, and she turned to them with a scowl on her face. She chided the trio, "No one is bringing this to the military, and we're not going to turn this into a tourist trap. We're going to find out what exactly is down there, and we're going to keep it on the downlow until we do. Got it?"
Meek Warren quickly nodded in affirmation, while Rosa and Davide rolled their eyes but nodded all the same. Satisfied, Jay spun on her heel and continued the trek back through the tunnel, though not before adding, "Besides, the first place we're taking anything is Taylor University so I can get my grandfather's reputation cleared and rub their noses in it."
As the leader of the ragtag bunch marched through the warm, humid tunnel, Rosa whispered to the boys, "Just so we're clear, she didn't say we couldn't keep our own army."
When they reached the entrance, Davide helped to force the door back into place, but there was still the issue of getting the key back. Jay crouched down in front of the keyhole and studied it for a moment; it fit the wall perfectly, to the point that it blended in with the rest of the cavern. The studious girl put her finger to it and pushed, finding that it went in a touch further before springing out enough for her to pull it free.
"Wonders never cease," she mused to herself as she pocketed the key.
The gang made their way back to the surface, where they crawled through the hole in the fence and began their walk back down the trail. While they walked, their phones all buzzed one after the other as messages and notifications poured in now that they had proper reception again. Jay glanced down at her screen and saw she had three missed voicemails from her mother and a dozen text messages; judging by the embarrassed and abashed faces of her companions, she was not alone.
Jay, where are you?
Jay, please call me.
WHERE ARE YOU?
It went on and on like that, with no clear idea why. Sweat beaded on her dark brow as all manner of thoughts filled her head, none of them good. Maybe there was an accident while her mom was trying to get home, or maybe something had happened at the house. There was no telling what, so the girl gathered her courage and called her mother back.
"Where have you been?" was the first thing her mother asked. Her tone was dripping with panic, and Jay could hear the woman drumming her fingers at machine gun pace. "I have been trying to reach you for the last twenty minutes! Do you have any idea how worried I was?"
"I'm in the park, Mom," Jay sighed as she leaned against a tree. "I'm sorry I snuck out; I just wanted to hang out with my friends."
"Wait, Bian and Rosa are with you? Are they okay?"
That question gave her pause. Jay adjusted her glasses and glanced over at her friends, who were busy talking to their parents--at least, Rosa was. Bian was doing a lot more listening, with the occasional chime in. Likewise, even though he had distanced himself from the group, Jay could hear Davide's mother screaming over the other end of the phone.
"Yeah, we're fine, Mom--what's wrong?"
The older woman breathed a deep sigh of relief before answering, "Just get home as quick as you can, and stay as far away from downtown as possible. Can you do that?"
"Yeah, but why?" Jay asked, her nerves bubbling up in her chest and her stomach tying into knots.
"Those...things that were on the news--the Black Stars--one of them came rolling down Tyvola and is...Jay, just come home as quick as you can and be careful, please."
Jay nearly dropped her phone at that revelation. The thing people had been afraid of since the declaration that morning had come to pass: the Black Star Army had come to Arboleda. Off in the distance, she could hear sirens ringing through the air and explosions dulled to the point of sounding like construction equipment. Goosebumps ran up her arm, and the studious girl had to hold her wrist as nervous shivers wracked her body.
"O-Okay, Mom...I'll be home as quick as I can," she softly answered before hanging up and pocketing her phone.
One by one, the others ended their calls and looked back to the leader of their ragtag gang. Jay felt a lump in her throat as she asked, "So, you all know what's going on?"
Everyone nodded while Rosa spoke up, "Sounds pretty bad out there. My dad actually saw them speed by his garage: he says that there was a bunch of them in a pick-up truck, with this one dude sticking out the side with a scythe."
"It's like the riot from a couple years ago," Warren added as he held up his phone for all to see.
The kids crowded around and watched aerial footage of the destruction in downtown Arboleda, a mere stone's throw away from the park. It was much like the scene in Yerevan: overturned cars, fire everywhere, and a squadron of dark, shadowy soldiers creating havoc up and down the street. At the head of this charge was the scythe-wielding fiend Rosa had described, and with every step he took, he swung his scythe from side to side. A thick cloud of gas sprayed from the deathly weapon, and everyone caught in the mist crumpled like paper. It was hard enough to watch when it was on the other side of the world; to know it was happening just around the corner made everyone's heart sink.
"What are these things doing here?" asked a gobsmacked Davide, thick fingers fidgeting with the collar of his shirt. "I thought that they were halfway around the world!"
"Guess they got here faster than we thought," Jay grimly replied while readjusting her glasses. "But the more important thing is that we all need to get home safely. Rosa and Bian can bike home with me; we all live pretty close to each other. What about you guys?"
Davide shuddered as he answered, "I'm right down the street--in their direction."
Returning the favor from earlier, Warren put his hand on the jock's shoulder and told him, "You can ride with me and Star--we'll give you a ride home. It's the least I can do for a friend."
Hearing that helped the large boy to relax, and he wrapped an arm around his classmate's shoulder as if they were lifelong pals and not perfect strangers until an hour earlier. "If you're willing to help me get through a warzone, you're the best friend, Bi--Warren."
Warren's cheeks turned a faint pink before turning to the girls and extending the same offer. "We've got plenty of room in the car, if you all want," he told the three. "The more, the merrier, right?"
"You're a literal lifesaver, Warbucks," Rosa chuckled before giving the young billionaire a playful punch on the arm.
Bian nodded and tried to imitate the gesture, but could not bring herself to punch him for fear of accidentally hitting someone she had just met. She settled for poking him in the shoulder, and she quickly hid her hand behind her back as if she was playing ding-dong ditch.
"Then it's settled," Jay confirmed, everyone nodding in the affirmative. "Let's get back to the park as quick as we can, and Warren's driver takes us home. Come on!"
The five raced back to the center of the park, their ears perked for any sounds of destruction and their eyes peeled for any sign of the invading horde. Off in the distance, they heard the occasional boom, and Rosa mumbled about what sort of car would make that noise if it exploded. Finally, out of breath and legs aching, the gang sprinted out of the nature trail and raced towards the parking lot.
"Over there!" Warren shouted as he pointed towards a limousine waiting in the shade.
As they approached the limo, they found the windows rolled down and music blaring with enough bass to shake the car. In the front seat was Star Hayward, a junior driver for the Harvey family, avid lover of dubstep, and blissfully ignorant of her surroundings. She was impressively tall, which made her uniform look like kid's clothes, and had inky black hair contained by a cap she always wore backwards, unless in the presence of her employers. When Warren threw open the front door and slid in, the redhead yelped and banged her head on the ceiling of the car.
"Dang, Warren, don't sneak up on me like that," Star groaned as she turned down the music.
"Star, this is an emergency," the scrawny boy explained while fiddling with his seatbelt. "I need you to take me and my friends home as fast as you can."
Star's question was answered when she glanced behind her and saw four other high schoolers scrambling into the backseat. Davide was so large that he took up two seats, while Bian huddled as close to Jay as she could. The driver pulled her sunglasses down to make sure she was not seeing anything, and then glanced back to her charge and asked, "I left you alone for a few minutes and you come back with friends?"
"It's a long story," Warren mumbled. "Look, we need to get around the attack downtown--can you do it?"
"Back up--what attack?"
Rosa stuck her head through the partition dividing the backseat and holds up her phone, showing the clueless driver the destruction a mere few blocks away. "THE attack--from those Black Star things out in Armenia."
Star studied the images on screen with a furrowed brow before her eyes went wide with realization. She exclaimed, "Dude, I thought that was a clip from a movie! You're telling me those things are downtown?"
"Yes!" all five passengers shouted.
"All right, well, buckle up," Star instructed as she started up the limo. "I'm going to get you back home safe and sound, or my name isn't Cassiopeia Hayward!"
Jay cocked an eyebrow and asked, "Cassiopeia--like the constellation?"
"Exactly, dude," the driver answered. She turned in her seat to face Jay and explained, "See, my folks are, like, super into astronomy, and they said that Cassiopeia was totally over the hospital the night I was born, but I always thought that 'Cassiopeia' was, like, super long for a name, so--"
"Star!" Warren interrupted.
"Right, driving home!" the chauffer exclaimed as she focused on the task at hand. "Hold on, little dudes!"
Mario Andretti could not have peeled out of the parking lot any faster. Star had the gas to the floor as she swerved in and out of traffic and around abandoned cars, which were becoming more and more prevalent the closer the gang got to the heart of the attack. Despite more than a few close calls, she never once hit another car, even when she took a wrong turn onto a one-way street. Jay was clinging to her seat for dear life, letting go only to read a text from Bian.
If the Black Stars don't kill us, I think she will.
The Grin Reaper whistled a jaunty tune as he pranced down a chaotic city street, his scythe swinging wide as though it was a cane and not a deadly weapon. His Saturnight horde ran amok: they trashed storefronts, crushed cars, and pummeled pedestrians unfortunate enough to cross their paths. Their manic leader had no idea where he was going, but that did not matter; to him, it was all about the journey and the smiles he could spread along the way.
"Oh, would you listen to this music?" the Grin Reaper hummed as screams rang out around him. "I've missed this so very, very much! What's say we take our sweet time finding the stronghold and have a little fun?"
One of the Saturnights flanking him stoically answered, "Our mission is to secure the facility until the king arrives, sir."
"Yes, yes, but it's going to be so awfully dull just waiting for him. I was cooped up in that box for millennia; I want to have a good time before I play the waiting game," the cackling fiend retorted before a bullet whizzed through his flowing cloak. He turned to the source and growled as a police squad fired from behind their cars.
"Shall we return fire, sir?" asked the Saturnight to his left.
The Grin Reaper shook his head and gripped his scythe tight. He answered, "No, no, I'll handle this. Let's see if they have a sense of humor."
Chuckling under his breath, the cloaked menace glanced over to the police and held his scythe high in the air. "Officers! Officers, I must ask--why did the pirate captain decide to become a chef? Because he was the master of the seven sea-sonings!"
When his gag elicited nothing but more bullets, the Grin Reaper snarled and wound his body around. He immediately spun around, hurling his scythe into the crowd of police officers and spreading a cloud of laughing gas among them. Those that managed to dodge the scythe ducked for cover and tried to escape the gas, but they were instantly crippled by howling laughter. They fell about themselves, clutching their sides as their faces turned red in a most grotesque fashion.
"Gets them every time," the malevolent merrymaker sneered as he caught his scythe with ease. "Onto the next conquest, my chums! The day is young, and there is so much laughter and joy to spread!"
The Grin Reaper strode through the laughing gas and peered down the street for another unwilling audience. Unfortunately, he and his soldiers were emptying out the streets in a hurry; people were escaping as fast as they could, even abandoning their cars to get away. It looked like there was no one else to tell his jokes to, but then he spotted it careening down the street--a long, black car that was dodging around everyone fleeing in a panic.
"Perfect," he chortled. "All right, boys, how about some target practice? First one to nail that car gets a commendation to Lord Cosmic himself!"
Though the Saturnights had no concept of glory, they would never refuse an order from their commander. A trio of the iron soldiers withdrew grenades, reared their arms back, and let the explosive batons fly towards the limousine. One went wide and blew up a trash can, another destroyed a pick-up truck, but the last landed right in front of the long vehicle. It let loose a terrific explosion, causing the car to lose control and careen into a nearby storefront with a gnarly crash.
"Splendid! Most splendid!" the Grin Reaper applauded the efforts. "I couldn't have done any better myself! That gives me a great idea for a joke--let's go find someone to tell it to!"
And so, the fiendish funnyman sauntered off, oblivious to the totaled limousine, its unconscious driver, and the five passengers watching from inside...