The Shift: Book 1- The Anomaly Ch 6
Chapter 6: Leo
Peering in through the open door, I call again for my mother. "Hello!?"
"Hold on!" Her voice echoes through the empty house. I can hear her foot steps as she emerges from her bedroom. Karma pushes his way into the house, and runs up to my mom wiggling his entire body. " Oh!" She looks at Karma, and then to me, "Ari-Belle! It's you!" She squeals with delight. She rushes to me and embraces me in a hug so tight that she may never let go.
"Hi, mom." I manage to muster out while she continues to squeeze the life out of me.
"What brings you to visit me?" Her questioning soft blue eyes reveal her concern.
I decide to get right to the point. "Where is dad? I need to speak with him."
"I'm so sorry, honey. He's not here." Her concerned face turns to disappointment.
"Argh... of course he's not....where is he?" Throwing my hands in the air out of aggrivation, I speak in a stern voice, "Mom, this is urgent. I have to talk to him now....I have to find him."
"Ariella, what is going on? Why do you need to speak with your father so badly?" The concern on her beautiful face is now swarming with worry. My heart bleeds. I have to tell her.
"Grace has been abducted. They are targeting me. I think it's because of my shape-shifting ability. I need to talk to dad, he's the only one who can help me." I say in a rushed voice. "Mom, I have no time. If I don't follow the kidnappers' instructions...which they could contact me at any moment....then they're going to hurt Grace. I can't let that happen." I reach in my pocket to pull out and glance at my phone, searching for a sign that the office may signal any word from the abductors.
"Oh, Ari...." She looks at me with tear-filled eyes. "I knew this would eventually happen. From the moment of your first change, I knew you'd be a target. I just hoped I was wrong. I hoped we could hide your ability your entire life. Your father too."
We move into the living room and I take a seat. She kneels down in front of me, looks directly in my eyes, takes my hand and says, "Honey, things will be fine. Trust your instincts." She smiles weakly, then sings, "I'm going to make us some tea." She stands up and walks into the kitchen to put the kettle on.
Looking around, nothing has changed. The love-seat is in the same place it was when I left and the coffee table has not been moved from it's spot in the center of the living room. Across the living room from the love-seat remains the entertainment center. Hanging over the mantlepeice is still the family portrait that was taken when we first moved into this house.
Studying her, I notice that my mother has not aged a moment. She looks the exact same way she did when I left. Her brown hair is still as soft as I remember and her heart-shaped face is still as sweet and pretty as it was eight years ago. Flawless and perfect, her skin looks as if time stood still. Her small figure is ageless, and her clear baby blue eyes sparkle and shine like stars in the dead of night. Mom walks back into the living room and sits next to me.
"Would you like to join me for dinner?" My hopeful mother asks.
"Uhm...mom, I'm sorry, but I should really be going. I have to find dad as soon as possible. Time is not on my side. I need his help to find Grace." I try to sound regretful. "Maybe another time."
"Ari, honey, we hardly ever get the chance to see you. Please stay. I'm sure your dad will be home soon." She pleads.
"Gah! Fine. I'll stay and have dinner with you."I say with frustration from the guilt trip that she set in motion. "What are you making?"
She smiles with satisfaction, "I'm considering ordering pizza! Your favorite!"p
"Yummy..." I mutter under my breath, not like I already live off of pizza. If I'm to be honest with myself, I can't deny the fact that I was hoping for a home cooked meal from my mom.
"Come, have a seat." She stands up and walks to the tiny kitchen table. Scooting out and patting the green chair that hides under the dining table big enough for only two, she moves the newspaper serving as a placemat for (I could only assume) my father.
Following her instructions, I sit with my hands folded in my lap. The kettle starts to whistle. She takes two teacups out of the cupboard and places one in front of me and the other across the table. She turns on her heels and takes two teabags from the canister that sets atop the green countertop against the green splash guard. She sidesteps and takes the kettle off of the stove. She turns again and places one teabag in each cup. She pours steaming water in each cup, and asks, "Do you want some honey or lemon, sweetheart?"
"No, thank you."
After dinner consisting of Pizza Hut's canadian bacon and pineapple pizza and a legthy discussion about my life, I leave my mom's house and head back to the office. The moonlight glows bright in the dark blue sky while I drive my small Sentry on the highway with my windows open while enjoying the cool night air whipping my face and combing through my hair. Feeling frustrated because I have no way of finding my father, I decide to stop at a gas station. Worrying that the abductors have yet to contact the office and abdicate instructions for me, I hit the steering wheel hard and take a deep breath to gather my thoughts. I leave Karma in the car and enter the gas station. Working my way to the cooler, I grab a Diet Coke and meander across the convenience store to pick out a pint of ice cream. "Mmmmm.... Death by Chocolate...." I mumble as I grab the delicious looking carton, then head to the cashier. I pay for my merchandise and start walking back to my car, when out of nowhere an arm reaches around my waist and a hand holding a chloroform smothered cloth covers my nose and mouth.
Struggling and kicking, I find myself knocked to the ground and the figure that grabbed me is thrown across the parking lot with a loud roar. I begin feeling dizzy and sick from the affects of the chloroform. Helpless, I watch as a big muscular animal-like figure pummels the dark silhouette of a person. I can hear Karma barking and growling from the car. The animal-like figure stands, starts to shrink and becomes human looking. It turns in my direction and starts walking closer....my heart beat pounds in my ears.....everything turns black.
Growls and snarls emerge from deep within me as rage radiates from my body. All I know is that I am surrounded by black silhouettes, and I am feeling threatened because I am trapped. No matter how hard I fight, the wires that are attached to me emit painful electric impulses every time I try to move. I have no choice but to give up....I feel hopeless.
My eyelids feel heavy as I attempt to open them.
"Don't worry, kitten, I got'cha...I got'cha. Everything is going to be okay...you're going to be okay"
I recognize that voice. Feeling nauseated and suffering from a throbbing headache, opening my eyes prove difficult. Bright colorful lights flash by, and slobber covers my face with sandpaper rubbing my cheek, I try a few more times to hold my eyelids open. I struggle to push Karma away, "Okay boy," I laugh weakly, "I'm awake." Sitting up is laborious, but I manage to straighten my body out. I turn to my rescuer and to my surprise...a man is sitting in the driver's seat of my small silver Sentry. I know this man, with his pale skin, familiar chiseled face, black wavy hair, sapphire blue eyes, every bit of his six foot 9 inch height and bulging muscles.....he is Leo...my father.
"Dad!" I exclaim.
"Hey, kitten. How are you?"
"I feel like a semi just ran me over."
"Yeah, that's what happens when you huff chloroform." He laughs.
"Dad!" I shriek.
"So, I heard that you are looking for me."
"Dad, what happened....how did you find me?" I ask, turning around so I can get my bearings.
"Don't worry, I took care of everything. I'm not going to let anything happen to my little kitten." He slows the car down, and turns his blinker on.
"I'm not a little kitten anymore....where are we? Where are you taking me?" I don't recognize our surroundings.
"I'm taking you to a safe house."
"Dad, I can't....I don't have time. I have to get back to the office, and I need you to come with me." I demand.
"No, that's not safe."
"Grace has been taken hostage."
"I know, but it's not safe for you. My priority is to protect you. Did you forget...I just rescued you from a potential abduction?" Concern shows through his dark blue eyes.
"Dad, I can protect myself."I object.
"Really? Was that what I just witnessed? You protecting yourself? Because it looked to me like you were drugged and captured." His remark leaves me gritting my teeth and rolling my eyes.
"Dad, they're going to kill her if I don't follow their instructions." I cry.
"Ariella, they'll kill you if you let yourself to fall into their trap." He is starting to sound frustrated. "I refuse to allow you to kill yourself over her." He turns the steering wheel. "I am not going to let them have you." He says under his breath. "You need to be more careful."
"What do you mean?" I inquire.
"What? Oh, I just mean....that they cannot have you...do you remember the stories I used to tell you when you were little? The story I told you about how your mom and I met?"
"Yeah...she was a nurse and you were her patient and you fell in love immediately. It was love at first sight." I recall.
"And the stories I told you when you were a little squirt?"
My head still aching from the affects of the chloroform, I strain to recall the bedtime stories he used to tell me. A vague memory surfaces...
My room is a small hole in the back of a cave. Inside my little hole is a bed comprised of 5 or so blankets that had been stolen during the course of our journey. A candle burns next to the bed emitting a glow just bright enough for me to see the gentleness of my father's handsome face. He sits on the edge of the blankets holding me while I clutch my stuffed bunny close to my heart and my soft baby blanket- the only two things that I was able to snatch up before we left our previous residence in a hurry. My patient mother stands waiting at the entrance of my little hole with a loving smile on her face as she watches over her husband telling her small daughter a story.
"There were two little foxes. They were the best of friends. One fox was small and dainty and loved everybody, and the other fox was big and strong and was not afraid of anything..." He starts his story off with distance in his eyes. It seems as though he was daydreaming as he recalls this same story he tells me every night.
"Like you and Mommy! Right?" My innocent smile brings dad back to the present.
He laughs and says, "Yes, kitten. Your mommy, small as she may be is the bravest woman I know, But she loves everyone."
"And daddy, you are not afraid of anything!"
"Well, actually, my sweet kitten. I am terrified. I am so scared that one day you'll be taken away, and I won't be able to save you. I'm afraid if that happens, I'll never get to see you or your mommy again. That is why we are hiding in this cave, until the bad people go away...."
"About the two foxes and the hunter chasing them?" Puzzled, I look at him wondering where this is going.
"Yeah.....what do you remember about them?"
"That the foxes were trapped but the they managed to escape. The hunter and his dogs never found them, but will never stop looking for them."
"Exactly...don't forget that." Is his only reply as he turns onto a dirt road. Up ahead in the shadows I can see the silhouette of a run-down old building. There are trees hovering around the building that create a canopy over it. Somehow, we have driven such a lengthy distance that we have put a number of miles between us and Albuquerque, and have ended up deep in the mountains. Anxiety builds up enough in me that I seem to be unable to keep myself from fidgeting. It is quite apparent that Dad notices, "Ari, calm down. There is no need to be so anxious. Everything will play out as it is supposed to. Trust me."
"I can't calm down when my best friend is being held hostage, and I can't be there to do anything about it. Where is my phone? I have to call the office to find out if there have been any new developments in the case....or if the people responsible have issued any instructions for me." Now that I think of it, earlier when I told him that Grace had been taken, Dad said that he knows. I turn to him... "Dad...how did you know about Grace?"
"What do you mean?" He tries to hide his guilt by playing ignorant.
"Earlier, when I told you that Grace has been abducted." I stare him with interrogating eyes, "Your response was 'I know.' My question to you is, 'How do you know?'"
He sighs, "Ariella, I know because....well....that's not important. What is important is that we need to get you to the safe house. You cannot be out in the open, like you were....exposed, if you will."
"Dad....answer my question."
"Never mind that, like I said...it's not important." He tries to deflect. "We're here."
"Dad!" I stress with my arms crossed and glaring at him. "Just answer my question." I press.
"Ugh....fine. I'll answer your question. But first, let's get you inside." He pulls into the driveway of an aged, ailing farm house. "Are you hungry?"
"No. I ate dinner with mom." I state with some resentment in my voice. "We had pizza." My voice trails off as another memory surfaces.
Dad walks into the house and closes the door behind him. Blood stains on his white t-shirt tell me that he found my mess in the park. He had been gone for about an hour, which insures me that this wasn't the first time he had encountered a monstrosity like the one my friends and I ran away from.
"You shifted, didn't you?" Dad has calmed down by now and mom hands him a cup of hot tea then moves past him and sits with such grace next to me, handing me the second cup of hot tea. I didn't want to know what he did with the chaos I left. "My first shift was when I was about your age. But, you see, this isn't the first time you shifted. Tell me, what was it you shifted into?" He asks, as he sits down across from me and leans in to look me in the eyes.
"A big black cat, I think." I quiver with my reply.
"Ah, now that makes sense." Dad takes a sip of tea and places the cup on the coffee table, turns to my mom and says, "Kayla, my sweet love, this is going to be an all-nighter. Why don't you go ahead and go to bed, dear. Let me talk to our girl here." He smiles at my mom, and reaches across the coffee table and tenderly strokes her hand.
Mom's smile at my father reveals pure love, and with agreement she says, "Alright, I'll leave you to it." She turns to me and tucks a stray strand of hair behind my ear, then leans over and plants a gentle kiss on my temple. Then she stands up, walks around the coffee table then presses an affectionate kiss against my father's lips and then disappears into the dark hallway.
"We were created..." Dad begins, I can tell he's going to take great care in telling me everything. When he has some major explaining to do, he usually closes his eyes and takes a deep breath as if he's trying to map everything out in his head to be sure he's not going to leave any important details behind. My dad apparently has a lot of explaining to do, because he closes his eyes, lowers his head and takes a deep breath before continuing. "...in a lab. Well, not you, you were a gift from heaven. I was created in a lab. You, Ariella, are the first naturally born shapeshifter. I am a genetically enhanced human who was created in a lab to be a supersoldier. My gift was given to me by a scientist in hopes to create the most powerful being on the planet. The only problem is, they cannot control me. I escaped, a long time ago, and we-that is you, your mother and I- have been running ever since.
"You see, since you are the first ever naturally conceived and born shapeshifter, you are extremely valuable to the lab, and they will stop at nothing to find you and bring you in to experiment on you. It is my job, my duty to protect you and your mother, to keep you from them, that's why I am gone so much. I hate being away from your mother and you, but I do it to protect you. That is also why we move around so much." As dad explains all of this, so many questions flood my mind. "You must have a lot of questions..."
"Well, how is it that I am the first naturally born shapeshifter? Are there anyone else out there like us? Tell me about my first shift...please, I have to know!" This was all I am able to blurt out, before I notice the admiration in my father's eyes as he watches me. "Does the lab know about me?"
"Ari, yes the lab knows about you. And I'll tell you about your first shift..."
"Why don't I remember it? And is mom a shapeshifter, too?"
"No, kitten, your mom is not a shapeshifter, she is a carrier of the gene though"
We step out of the car, I notice how beautiful the run down, old, dilapidated farm house is with it's marquee of trees dangling over the roof. The air surrounding me is cold while the breeze flows through the trees causing their leaves to rustle. As my foot falls to the gravel driveway, Karma slips past me and bounds off chasing after a fallen leaf fumbling in the breeze. Fuming because I have come to the realization that time continues to move on while I am stuck here with my father and my best friend Grace is being held against her will awaiting instructions for me. I dig around through the interior and on the floorboard of my car looking for my phone so I can check it for missed calls or any type of notification. I find the phone stuck under the passenger side seat. After digging it out, I notice that there is one new message.
"Look Dad, I missed a call!" I scowl at him and hold up the phone shaking it in front of his face, then storm off toward the farm house past him.
Fingers trembling, I flip the phone open. Terror fills me to the core, I may have missed a crucial phone call, and now I am angry that my father is to blame. What if I can't fulfill the wishes of the abductors? My shaking fingers dial my voicemail.
"You have one new message. To listen to your messages please press one." The robot voice speaks.
My cold shivering finger presses the number one button...."Ariella, It's Greyson...where are you? You left without warning, and now I'm worried. You were supposed to stay in the office and let Cody and I handle the field work. Call me, we have work to do."
"Kitten, is everything okay?" Dad approaches me with apprehension.
"What do you think, Dad? No! Nothing is okay! My friend is being held against her will, and the only one who can save her is stuck here....with you! So...NO...Nothing is OKAY!"I lash out to him throwing my hands up in the air.
"I know hun, but right now, I have to keep you safe or you're no good to Grace...or anyone else for that matter." As we step up to the door of the farm house he pulls out a rusty-looking key from his pocket and inserts it into the hole of the doorknob. He turns the key and the door creaks open inviting us to enter the black, empty space. My father strides across the wooden floor to the outline of a stone mantel where he finds a candle. He pulls out a little Zippo lighter flicks open the lid and lights the candle. Taking the candle from the mantle, he sets it in the middle of the floor where it illuminates the entire room. Looking around the small room, the space feels like it had been abandoned for years, dust settled everywhere. Dad's footsteps lead from the door to the mantle and back to the center of the room. Across the room from where I stands looks like a workbench. Turning to the right is a small square area rug where a sofa sits up against the wall and a table that's placed low to the ground. Across from the sofa sits another small sofa. I decide to sweep off the smaller of the two sofas with my hand which sends dust flying everywhere. I reluctantly place myself on the bumpy cushions and flop down. "Get some rest...." Dad says before exhaustion pulls at my eyelids.
Giving in to the electrical impulses coursing through my body, I force myself to submit. The fear of the torture returning prevents me from shifting back to my human form. A familiar face, the face of betrayal approaches me from behind the shadows. A sharp pain stabs through my heart, not from the wires that are attached to me, but from the fact that I trusted this person....I thought this person truely cared for me. Why? Is all I ask....Why?
The bright morning light shining through the dusty window illuminates the room and the dust floating in the air. Karma nudges my hand encouraging me to wake from the horrible dream I was experiencing. My eyelids open to reveal my dad sleeping across from me on the sofa. His feet are propped up on the armrest because the little sofa is way too small for his large frame. One arm is draped over his forehead covering his eyes and he's snoring. Amused, a small chuckle escapes my lips. I stand up, walk across the squeaky floor to open the door and let Karma out. He trots through the door and starts sniffing the ground ready to explore.
I sit up and look around my surroundings. The dusty old farmhouse seems much bigger than it did last night when we arrived. Although the air is stuffy and humid, the area is bright and homey. The mantelpiece looks made of stone and holds pictures and figurines. The wooden walls are sturdy and hold portraits of a beautiful lady and tall handsome man. Leading to a room upstairs is a strong staircase. I start up the staircase to investigate, but something vibrating on the floor gets my attention. Dad sits up, rubs his face and mumbles something to the affect of, "Your phone's ringing..."