Alice did not look well. Kat kept glancing back at the girl in her carseat. Sergio drove today, so Kat could check in regularly with the little girl. She didn’t like what she was seeing. Alice kept coughing and she had a runny nose. She definitely had some kind of cold.
Kat did all she could to keep the girl warm and well-fed, though Alice seemed to have lost her appetite as well. It was a little more than two months since they had left the police station with Simon, who had come to rescue them at Sergio’s request. He even had the guts to impersonate an officer to help them get free. Apparently, Simon had once been a “secret agent” after his time in Vietnam, so playing the part came easily to him.
Once they had left the station, Simon advised them to find a new vehicle. His truck would now be easily recognizable, especially if Invergence found out about their brief incarceration, which they almost certainly would. So at the first opportunity, they found a used car dealership and bought a small compact unit for a low price, though not as low as they would have liked. With Invergence on their tale, any large expenses paid all at once would attract attention. But once they had their new vehicle they immediately drove out of the city.
Since then, they zigzagged across the American West, going first into Colorado, then New Mexico and Arizona. They passed briefly in California but stayed away from any large cities to avoid exposure. Then they turned back around and came into Nevada. And that was where they drove now, headed for Las Vegas. They had no intention of going anywhere near the Strip. Too many security cameras. But they needed to pass through into Utah, where Sergio hoped they could keep a lower profile and maybe stay a month or so in some fancier hotels.
Kat’s thoughts turned back to her baby as the five-month-old began coughing again. Her cough turned to a cry, an exhausted cry.
“Sergio, I think we should find somewhere to stay for tonight while Alice gets some rest.”
Sergio nodded and began searching the interstate for signs of a hotel. “You know,” he said jovially, “It would really put my mind at ease if we could…you know.”
Kat rolled her eyes. Not this again. “We don’t need to baptize her, Sergio.”
“I’m just saying, it would really help me, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” Kat shot back, “I don’t want her associated with any one faith from this age. I want her to make her own decisions when she’s older.”
“It’s not about which religion she joins, it’s about ensuring her safety after death. With all that’s going on, I want to make sure she’s okay in case…” he didn’t say the words. In case Invergence kills her.
“I just don’t see how pouring water on someone will save their soul. You’d think a God would have a more efficient system that wouldn’t require so much pomp and circumstance. You’d think he could save people just by willing it.”
Sergio let the matter drop, again. Of all the disagreements they had, this was one of the most pervasive. Sergio had grown up Catholic, and their teachings were ingrained in him. All children who died before baptism were damned. Kat, on the other hand, was atheist, or at least agnostic. She felt that, if there was a God, that he was far beyond their understanding. Besides, why would he let so much evil happen in the world. Evil that they experienced first hand, the reason that they ran.
They soon found an out-of-the-way motel and Sergio checked them in. Kat brought Alice inside, and the baby was still crying with discomfort from her cold. Kat did her best to comfort the girl, feeding and changing her. She still wasn’t eating much.
Sergio watched over Alice while Kat took a moment to shower and relax. She let the warm water wash over her, attempting but failing to control her anxiety levels. When she finished, she resumed tending to Alice while Sergio also cleaned himself up. After that, they were both quite tired, so they did their best to sleep. Throughout the night, both of them rose periodically to comfort Alice, who wasn’t sleeping well.
But eventually, Kat was finally able to let her exhaustion take her.
The next morning, Kat awoke to silence. Blessed silence. She looked over at Alice, who was sleeping in a small crib next to them, to see how the little girl was doing. She sat up straighter. Was that a hint of blue on the girl’s lips?
“Sergio,” she rocked him awake, “Sergio!”
Sergio woke, looking disoriented, “Wha–what is it?”
“It’s Alice, look at her!”
Sergio looked and sat bolt upright in bed. Then they both quickly threw off the covers. Kat picked up the little girl and rocked her, giving her a bottle to drink. But the girl wasn’t drinking. She was alive, but she seemed extremely tired. Too tired to even cry.
As worry threatened to overpower her, she began dressing. “Sergio, we have to get her to a hospital.”
Sergio nodded in agreement. They both new the risks of checking the girl into a high-profile place like an emergency room. The added surveillance was a concern, but they couldn’t dwell on that now. Alice needed medical attention.
Within moments, they were packed and ready to go. Sergio asked the manager of the motel for directions to the nearest hospital, and moments later they were off.
It took about twenty minutes before they found the place. It was a large rectangular building on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Sergio dropped Kat and Alice off at the entrance to the ER. Kat quickly explained the situation to the nurses there, who instantly took Alice and began working on her. Kat was relieved. She had heard of people waiting hours at the ER, but apparently infants took priority. A few moments later, Sergio joined Kat in the waiting room. It was the first moment of silence they had that morning, and Kat didn’t like it. She wanted to be up, doing something for her girl, but Alice was out of her hands at the moment. She could do nothing but wait, and she hated that.
Sergio, sensing her uneasiness, put his arm around Kat as they sat. It took an hour or so, but a nurse eventually came to update them.
“Your daughter has respiratory syncytial virus or RSV,” she said.
“How bad is that?” asked Sergio.
“Normally it’s not a major problem, but your daughter is showing some fairly advanced symptoms. But thankfully, it’s completely treatable” she added when seeing the concern on Kat and Sergio’s faces. “We’d like to keep her here for a day or two, but after that, she should be fine.”
Kat breathed a sigh of relief. Her baby was going to be okay. They thanked the nurse, who retreated from the room.
However, Kat’s relief was soon replaced with another fear. Invergence. If they stayed in this hospital overnight or longer, how likely was it that Invergence would find them? She didn’t want to think about it.
Sergio seemed to have the same worries. “Do you think one of us should go outside and watch for them?” He didn’t need to explain who them was.
Kat nodded. She doubted it would make a difference if Invergence actually showed up. But it would feel good to be doing something.
“Kat,” Sergio spoke carefully, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but this whole ordeal really had me worried for Alice’s future. Could we please arrange to baptize her later. She doesn’t have to grow up with any religion. I just want her soul to be safer than her body.”
Kat’s blood started to boil. Really? He was bringing this up, now! “I will not have her inducted into any crack-pot religious mumbo-jumbo!”
Sergio looked hurt, “What gives you the right to make that decision?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I’m only her mother.”
“And I’m her father! But I guess that doesn’t count for anything because I didn’t give birth to her.”
“I don’t want this for her, Sergio.”
“Why should it matter to you? If you don’t believe in religion, then what difference does it make whether she’s baptized or not? You think you’ve got it all figured out, when the truth is, you don’t, we don’t. Everything that has happened proves that. We need a little faith right now.”
Kat had had enough. Without another word she stormed out of the room. Her breath came in savage heaves. She had never been this angry with Sergio. She took a moment to steady herself in the hallway.
When her pulse calmed down, she decided to walk outside. It looks like she would be the first to watch for Invergence. Besides, a little fresh air might help her clear her head.
She walked outside and felt the warm, dry air wash over her. She welcomed it, and felt it dry her tears. She found a small bench with a good view of the parking lot and the road leading to the hospital. She settled herself in for a long wait.
A few hours later, Kat was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, Invergence hadn’t caught wind of their stay here. Sergio hadn’t joined her since their fight, and she was glad. She couldn’t deal with any of that right now. She just needed to hold out until Alice was healthy. Then maybe, they could resume their argument in a more civil fashion, when she wasn’t dealing with so much stress.
Tired of waiting, Kat stood to stretch her muscles. She decided to grab a bite to eat from the small cafe at the hospital. She could use the energy.
Walking back inside the building, she did her best to look casual. Though she felt anything but.
She picked up a small sandwich and a diet coke and stood in the corner while she ate, glancing occasionally at the door, still worried that Invergence might show up. She listened idly to the news coming from a television mounted in the corner.
“Reports of missing persons have increased dramatically, especially in remote areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Officials remain uncertain of what is causing the disappearances, but security footage captured recently at a small motel in San Jose, might give us a clue.”
Kat looked up. Missing persons? And from areas where she and Sergio had travelled. She stared intently at the screen as the news anchor warned viewers of potentially disturbing images. Then came some low-resolution footage from a security camera. Kat thought she recognized the place as a motel they had stayed in just three nights before. The footage showed a man exiting one of the motel rooms at night. Suddenly a dark shape lunged out of the darkness, grabbed the man, and disappeared almost before Kat could blink! The footage was dark and grainy, but it chilled Kat to her bones. The news anchor reappeared.
“Officials say they do not, as of yet, know what to make of the footage, but tell everyone to keep their children indoors in case of rabid animal attacks.
Kat scoffed. Rabid animals? A rabid animal couldn’t drag a fully-grown man that far in a matter of seconds. She knew what it was. It was the beast that had come looking for them that first night, when the blonde girl from Argo Force had saved them.
And it was hunting them.
Kat felt a chill and decided to step back outside to watch for Invergence. Or, she thought, to watch for a monster I probably won’t see coming.
Outside, she waited again for several hours. The sun was starting to set now, and she still hadn’t seen any sign of Sergio. He must have stayed inside in the waiting room this whole time.
A series of headlights caught her attention.
There were several cars approaching, most of them small, with perhaps one large truck in the back. Kat couldn’t quite tell in the waning light. Kat stood up to get a closer look. As the cars drew near, her fears were confirmed. They looked like a series of smart cars, with a large truck taking up the rear. Kat ducked behind a nearby bush as they pulled in and exited their vehicles. There was no doubt about it now. Invergence was here!
Kat’s mind raced. How on Earth was she going to keep them from discovering Alice? All they had to do was go inside and inquire about any young children there. Kat could only hope that there were enough children in the hospital that Invergence wouldn’t know which was which.
Men in suits began approaching the doors to the hospital. Kat watched them from her hidden vantage point, all but ready to dash inside to save her baby. Suddenly a loud noise escaped the large truck Invergence had brought with them. Something seemed to be banging on the walls inside. Kat turned to look, and so did the men in suits. The noise came again, and this time Kat could actually see something rocking the storage compartment. What had that kind of strength?
The men walked away from the hospital and back towards the truck. They stood there, discussing something Kat couldn’t overhear. Then, they seemed to reach some kind of agreement. Two of the men helped raise the truck’s backdoor. They stepped inside. Moments later a howl chilled the warm night air. A dark figure emerged from the back of the truck. The monster!
It turned and Kat could see the glint of its eyes. It was staring directly at her.
She swallowed, knowing she had no choice. She ran.
Shouts and snarls echoed behind her, but she didn’t look back. She ran for all she was worth, circling around the building. She heard screams from other people in the area, but she still did not look back. On the other side of the building was a ornate garden, meant to increase the hospital’s aesthetics. In it, was a fountain and a small makeshift stream. Kat ran to the water to test the only idea she had on how to lose this creature. She emerged herself in the flowing stream. She almost gasped as the chill water washed over her. It wasn’t enough to submerge her completely, but if she pressed herself down, the force of the running water pushed over her until every inch was soaked. She could only hope that would throw the creature off the scent, or at least confuse it long enough for her to think of another solution.
The problem was, she had none.
She couldn’t fight a thing that like, especially not when it had backup. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t warn Sergio. What had she been expecting when she went outside to keep watch? It’s not like she could do any better outside than inside.
She waited, holding her breath as long as she dared before lifting her head out of the water. She breathed in quietly and listened. Something was sniffing in the dark. It was close, very close. But perhaps her ruse was working. It didn’t seem to know exactly where she was anymore. But it knew she was there.
Kat submerged her head back under the water and waited some more. When she came back up for air, she heard nothing. She waited as long as she could before carefully lifting herself from the water and looking around. She saw no sign of the beast.
Slowly, she extracted herself from the stream and began walking carefully towards a back entrance to the hospital. Perhaps she could get there in time to warn Sergio and they could hide somewhere in the large building. Somewhere where no one would suspect them to hide. She tiptoed as fast as she dared, gaining speed as she approached the building.
A force slammed into her!
She flew through the air, landing hard on the concrete. Pain coursed through her, but she ignored it. Towering above her was the monster from the night Alice was born. Its eyes glinted with a strange intelligence, and its teeth gleamed. This was it. Kat was going to die.
The monster turned, its face to the wind. Kat looked up at it, puzzled. Why wasn’t it attacking her? Its nose twitched and Kat could make out sharp intakes of breath. It was sniffing the air.
A loud noise sounded from far away. It sounded like a large horn bellowing a low note.
The creature snarled and it leapt off of Kat, bounding in the direction of the noise.
Kat lay there for a moment, then gingerly got to her feet. What had just happened?
She looked down at herself. Her arms and legs were scuffed up pretty bad, and a large goose egg was forming on the left side of her forehead, but otherwise she seemed alright. No broken bones. She stared in the direction the monster had gone, but could see nothing in the dark.
Rounding the building, she peaked again at where Invergence had parked their cars. She was shocked to see them leaving, and in a hurry. She had no idea what they were doing, but they quickly sped off in the same direction the monster had left, the direction that bellowing sound came from.
Kat hobbled inside, pain still slowing her movements. Inside, several people stared at her and offered help. She ignored them and walked to where Sergio still sat. His face still looked angry from the fight they had had earlier, but his expression melted when he saw her appearance: soaking wet and bloody.
“Oh my, Kat! What happened?”
“Invergence,” Kat responded, “They were here, but then they left.”
She proceeded to tell him everything that had happened outside. He listened intently, their earlier argument completely forgotten.
“Why would they just leave like that?” he asked when she finished.
“I have no idea. Whatever that sound was, it had some significance to them. They took off like we didn’t matter to them anymore.”
“Do you think they will be back?”
“Probably, but I think we have a little time.”
“Well, in the meantime let’s get you cleaned up.”
He set about finding a nurse to help out. Upon seeing Kat’s condition, the nurse immediately brought some towels, bandages, and spare clothes. Kat went to the ladies’ room to change and dry off. Blood came away on the white towels. Once she cleaned up, the damage didn’t look quiet so bad. She had a nasty scrape along her left arm where she had hit the cement, and the lump on her forehead wasn’t looking too good. But all in all, there was no serious damage. She put on the dry clothes and stepped back outside.
Sergio was waiting for her. She sat next to him and leaned in. She didn’t care about their earlier argument. Right now she just needed him. He put his arm around her. Kat wrapped her arms around his waist and breathed in his scent. Then she closed her eyes and they sat in silence for a long time.
She must have fallen asleep like that because she was startled awake when a nurse approached.
“We just wanted to let you know that your daughter will be just fine.”
“Can we leave then?” Sergio asked. Kat was still getting her bearings.
“Yes, that should be fine. I have a few things to instruct you on first.”
The nurse proceeded with an explanation of what happened and handed them some prescriptions. They accepted them gratefully.
“Thank you,” Kat said to the nurse. It seemed like she was saying that to a lot of people recently.
“You’re welcome,” the nurse replied.
About an hour later, Alice was back, and they were leaving the hospital. Kat had so many emotions flying about that she didn’t know what to do or say. She simply held her daughter silently and let tears stream down her face.
She had seriously thought she would lose Alice tonight, either from the RSV, or from Invergence, or from dying at the hands of that monster. Invergence had not returned in the few hours since they left mysteriously. They had no idea what had drawn them off, and what would be more important than Alice, but they were grateful because of it.
Sergio helped Kat and Alice into the car, then he took the driver seat again. It was Kat’s turn to drive, but Sergio immediately understood that she needed a break. Kat blessed his sensitivity. He really did care for the two women in his life. Perhaps Kat had been a bit hard on him earlier.
Kat continued to hold Alice as they drove, instead of putting her in the carseat. They stopped by a pharmacy to pick up Alice’s prescriptions, then they continued on. Sergio suggested they drive further north, then circle back around to Las Vegas as a way to throw Invergence off the scent. Kat agreed. There was no end destination in sight, so they often drove in large circles to pass the time. But Kat continued to worry about the monster that had nearly killed her twice. It had some way of tracking them across the country, and she had a feeling that it was going to catch up to them sometime. She didn’t know what they would do then.
Eventually, young Alice fell asleep and they stopped so Kat could place her in the carseat. It didn’t take long, for Kat to follow her daughter into that restless, dreamless oblivion.