It was the same situation they had been in months earlier, only this time it was worse. Kat stood outside of their car while Sergio lay unconscious in the driver’s seat. Her wrist was either broken or severely sprained, and she felt a growing chill from the bite wound on her shoulder, where the Invergence monster had bitten her.
She persisted trying to flag down a car, desperate for someone, anyone to help them. They were stranded in the middle of southern Utah, and there wasn’t much traffic. Only large trucks moving goods back and forth, and they didn’t stop for anything.
Meanwhile, Sergio was looking paler and paler, and Kat’s anxiety rose. She couldn’t lose him.
At long last, a pair of headlights drifted to the side of the road behind him. Kat let out a breath in relief. She didn’t even care if it was Invergence at this point. They would probably clean Sergio up anyway before they were both tortured or whatever it was that Invergence would do to them. And if they died…well…Sergio was going to die if they stayed here much longer.
A man stepped out of the car and closed the door. In the dim light, Kat couldn’t quite make him out.
“Need a hand with anything?” A voice cried out.
“Ah…ah yes. My husband and I were in a…ah…hunting accident. We need a place where we can get patched.”
The man drew closer. He was a middle-aged man, but with a youthful look about him. Probably in his late thirties. He wore a button-up shirt and khakis, and looked like he was on his way to work. As he approached, his eyes widened when he saw Kat’s condition, and wider still when he got a look at Sergio.
“My word!” he said. “I’ve got to call an ambulance.” He reached into his pocket for a phone.
“No!” Kat said hastily. The man looked at her, puzzled. “You can’t call an ambulance, or the police. I can explain later. Just…do you have somewhere where we could stay and get cleaned up for a day or so.” She hated asking the man for his charity, but she didn’t see any other alternative, short of going to the hospital. And after their last brush with Invergence in Las Vegas, she was almost certain that they would find them soon. Invergence was likely already combing the local hospitals looking for them. They probably found Kat and Sergio’s blood at the scene of the dead monster.
The man paused to consider her a moment. Then he continued fetching his phone. Kat’s heart sank. He was going to call an ambulance anyway. She tried to stop him, but he held up a finger as if telling her to be patient.
“Hey Bill,” he said after a moment. “Tell Carol I won’t be in today. Family emergency…yeah, you know how it is…okay.”
He put his phone away. “Why don’t I help you with your husband,” he said. Kat sighed with relief.
“Thank you, oh thank you!”
Together they managed to drag Sergio out of the driver seat and carry him over to the man’s car. The newcomer did most of the lifting since Kat couldn’t do much with her bad hand. Sergio started mumbling and nearly woke up, but remained, overall, unconscious. Once he was safely stowed, Kat went to retrieve Alice, who was sleeping comfortably in her baby car seat. Doing her best not to wake the little girl, Kat moved her to the stranger’s car as well.
Ordinarily, she would have been very hesitant about getting in a car with a stranger, but under the circumstances, it seemed like the only choice. And just like she felt with Simon several months ago, she felt she could trust this man.
“I’m Peter, by the way,” said the man as they started driving. “Peter Evans.”
“My name is Sarah Rodriguez,” she said, using one of their alias. “My husband is Domingo.”
“And who’s the little one?” he asked with a smile.
Kat paused, they had never come up with an alias for the baby. “Alice” she finally said, thinking it best to tell the truth about something.
“Well Sarah, since you don’t want to go to a hospital, and you’re going to have to explain that one to me soon enough, I’m taking you to my home. My wife and I have a friend in our ward who is a doctor. Would it be okay if we asked him to come take a look?”
Kat didn’t know what the man meant by “ward” but she nodded. She didn’t want to make too big of a scene, but she realized that they would need a doctor at some point. Especially given her bite marks and Sergio’s leg.
About twenty minutes later, and they pulled up into the driveway of a modest home. By now, the sun had risen and shone on the house. For Kat, it might as well have been a light from heaven, like the cartoons always portray, shining through the clouds to highlight some miraculous occasion.
Peter ran inside to open the door, then back out to help bring Sergio in. Sergio was starting to regain consciousness, but he said nothing as Peter and Kat helped him into the house.
“Jessica!” Peter yelled. “Could you come downstairs a minute?”
Kat heard someone move upstairs. A moment later, and a woman appeared. She stared at them. “Oh,” was all she managed to say.
“Jessica, I found these three stranded on the side of the road. They had a hunting accident apparently.”
“Why haven’t you taken them to the hospital.”
Kat interjected, “I’m sorry if we’re inconveniencing you, but we can’t go to the hospital right now. It’s important.”
The woman smiled, which was the last thing Kat expected her to do. “Can’t afford the insurance huh? I feel you.” Then turning to Peter she asked, “shall I call the bishop?”
Peter nodded and Jessica retreated into the next room to make the call. Peter and Kat helped a limping Sergio enter the house.
Peter grunted with the effort of moving Sergio, “I don’t think we should put him on the couch just yet, with all the blood. Let’s set him down on the floor here, and you keep his legs elevated while I go blow up an air mattress we’ve got out in the garage.”
He helped Kat set Sergio down, then left to get the mattress. Kat sat with Sergio for about a minute before Jessica returned to the room.
“Bishop Cooper says he’ll be by as soon as he can. He’s a doctor, and thankfully he’s not on call today. Little blessings, right?” Kat nodded but didn’t say a word, so Jessica continued. “In the meantime, he’s asked if I could help clean your wounds, but I can’t touch his leg just yet.” She pointed at Sergio. “There might be damage to the artery so we just want to stop the bleeding for now. Oh and here’s the mattress.”
Peter came back into the room carrying a fully inflated air-mattress. He set it down, and the three of them helped lift Sergio enough to slide the mattress underneath. Sergio cried out as one of them lifted his bad leg. The towel that Kat had wrapped around the leg was already soaked through with blood. Peter then carefully raised Sergio’s legs and propped them up onto a chair.
“Okay, that will have to do until Ken gets here.” Ken must be this Bishop, Kat thought. Peter turned to her. “Now let’s take a look at you.”
“I’m fine,” said Kat, instinctively.
Jessica chuckled. “I’ve got some rubbing alcohol in the bathroom,” she said, and left to retrieve it.
Peter asked, “Can you move your wrist at all?”
“What about your fingers.”
Kat gritted through the pain as she tried to move the tips of her fingers. They obeyed, just slightly.
“There you go!” said Peter. “Some good news after all, that probably means its just a bad sprain instead of a broken bone. I’ll let Ken make the call, but I’d guess you will get by with a good brace.”
Kat was happy for the good news, but she didn’t smile. She didn’t feel like they were out of the mud yet. She still didn’t trust these people, especially because of their unusual generosity.
Footsteps announced Jessica’s return. “Well now, let’s take a look at that shoulder.”
She peered down at the bite marks and torn clothing on Kat’s left shoulder. Then she turned to her husband. “Could you give us a bit of privacy, dear?”
“Oh, right.” Peter said, and left the room.
“Okay,” Jessica turned back to Kat, “Let’s get these pajamas off of you.”
She helped Kat take off her top, and Kat winced as the fabric tried to stick to her bite wound.
“Oh dear, that doesn’t look very good at all,” Jessica said. “What was it, a mountain lion? They don’t usually attack people, but it’s not unheard of.”
Kat looked down at her shoulder. Red blood oozed out of teeth-shaped welts and the whole area for bruised and dark. “Um…yeah, a mountain lion,” she said eventually. It seemed as good an excuse as any.
They took a moment to clean the bite with some water and alcohol, after which Jessica went to retrieve a fresh top for Kat to wear. Kat put it on, gratefully, though they took care to leave the shoulder exposed. Jessica continued dabbing it with a cotton cloth drenched in alcohol. It hurt, but Kat didn’t really feel it. She was still wondering what they would do next.
A knock came at the door. “Oh, that must be the Bishop!” said Jessica.
She went to the door, and greeted a man there. Peter’s voice could also be heard at the door. A moment later, and a tall balding man entered the room, carrying a large bag of what Kat assumed were medical supplies.
“Okay,” he said as Peter and Jessica entered the room behind him. “Let’s take a look at that leg.”
The doctor worked for nearly an hour. First, he did his best to cut off the bleeding, then gently cleaned and stitched up the leg. Kat didn’t even realize how large the cut was until that moment. It was a large gash down the leg, maybe eight or nine inches long. A second, smaller gash lay beside it. Obviously made by the claws of a predator. Hopefully the doctor would buy the mountain lion story as well.
Once he was finished, he covered a bandage in some alcohol and wrapped it around Sergio’s leg. Sergio held his head back, and looked like he was in pain, but it was not the same as before. He obviously felt a little better, now that the area had been numbed and stitched.
“Now then,” said the doctor, “Let’s take a look at you,” he said to Kat.
Kat let him examine her wrist and the bite mark on her arm. The doctor confirmed that her wrist was not broken, but cautioned her to get a shot for rabies.
“Mountain lions don’t usually attack adults, especially where there are a lot of adults like at a camp ground. You need to make sure the animal wasn’t rabid.”
Kat knew that the beast that attacked her was not rabid, but she pretended to comply, saying that she’d think about it. The doctor continued patching them both up and gave them a prescription for some antibiotics and a wrist-brace for Kat. Then he packed up and left, without even charging them for the visit. Though he did say he’d be back in a few days to check on them.
That was the first time that Kat realized they would be staying here for a while. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. First of all, she didn’t quite trust these people. What kind of doctor made a house-call without charging for it? And neither Peter nor Jessica seemed at all perturbed about the intrusion on their home.
Soon after the doctor left, Peter and Jessica, who had gone outside to see him off, reentered the room.
“We’re thinking the two of us should run and bring back your car. I’m sure you’ll want your stuff back,” said Peter.
Kat considered them for a moment, then finally decided to ask, “Why are you doing this for us? You don’t know us? You don’t know our story.”
“It’s the right thing to do, honey,” said Jessica. “I mean, sure, it’s a step out of our comfort zone helping someone we don’t know. Are you familiar with the story of the good Samaritan?”
“Something about a guy who helped out someone else on the road when he was beaten by bandits?”
Jessica nodded, “And who was also a Jew. In those days, Samaritans and Jews rather hated each other. If a Samaritan could see past those differences, then we can help someone we don’t know.”
Kat still didn’t trust them, and she restrained from pointing out that the story of the Good Samaritan was just that, a story. Nevertheless she was grateful for their care. She gave them the keys to their rental car and the two of them left the house to retrieve it.
To her eventual shame, Kat took the opportunity to snoop around the house, looking for anything that might be a bit suspicious. She found nothing, though the family did seem to have a lot of Bibles and other holy books of some kind. They were obviously deeply religious people. That didn’t really bother Kat as much as it would have several months earlier. She’d learned a lot about religious people, and found that many of them were just ordinary people, equally capable of good and bad. Still, it seemed odd that their paths continually crossed with the religious type.
Simon had been a lower-ranking member of Argo Force. Was there a chance that these two were also from that organization? Kat doubted it. They seemed to have no idea who they were and simply helped out the goodness of their hearts. Perhaps, though, they were members of Argo Force who were simply ignorant of Alice’s importance.
The thought of Alice prompted Kat to check up on the girl. Amazingly, she was still sleeping in her convertible carseat. Kat sat still for a while, simply watching her daughter breathe. Sergio, in the next room, had also fallen asleep on the air mattress. Good, she thought. That would help him recover.
An hour or so later and Peter and Jessica reappeared. They had recovered Kat and Sergio’s car and brought it back with them. When Kat asked, they admitted that they saw no one surrounding the car. It had remained empty on the road. This caused Kat to breathe a sigh of relief. At least Invergence hadn’t tracked them yet.
Kat felt a sudden wave of exhaustion for everything that had happened since the previous night. Upon request, Peter and Jessica helped set her up on one of their couches, and Kat allowed herself a few hours of sleep.
She awoke to see a pair of young eyes staring at her from an uncomfortably close distance. She started awake, before realizing that the eyes belonged to a little girl, probably aged four or five.
“Hi!” said the girl, “I’m Mallory, what’s your name?”
“My name is…Sarah.”
“My best friend is Sarah!” the girl yelled emphatically.
“Mallory!” A voice came from the entrance to the room. “Don’t bother our visitors.”
Kat quickly assured her that it was okay. She had been sleeping long enough anyway. Sergio was also starting to wake.
“Well dinner’s almost ready,” said Jessica. “You can do what you want of course, but you’re welcome to join us.”
At the mention of food, Sergio perked up. Kat was glad to see some color had returned to his face. But he was still weak, so Kat did her best to help him to the table. The little girl, Mallory, was there, as well as a young boy, maybe twelve years old, who introduced himself as Jeremy.
Kat and Sergio sat at the table, feeling a bit awkward as Jessica and Peter helped set out some fruit and the largest casserole Kat had ever seen. It was a good thing too, because Sergio ended up eating a lion’s share.
“So what was it like to fight a mountain lion?” asked the young boy, Jeremy.
The boy’s mother made a face at him for asking such a question, but Kat and Sergio didn’t mind.
“Oh it was absolutely terrifying but exciting at the same time,” said Sergio, who seemed in much higher spirits now that he had some food in his belly. “One moment and you think you’re dead, but then adrenaline kicks in and you’re hacking at the thing with a machete.”
Now Kat gave him a look. The young boy was hanging on every word, however.
“So did you kill it?”
“Um…yeah. Yeah we killed it.”
Peter piped in, “and you still haven’t reported any of this?”
Sergio opened his mouth, then closed it again. Getting too much into the details of why they were being secretive could make their lives a bit more complicated. Besides, Kat didn’t think these people would believe them, considering the quiet life they lived. She shook her head subtly at Sergio. The others didn’t seem to notice.
“We’ll be sure to do that as soon as we can,” said Sergio, finally. “It’s just been a rather stressful twenty-four hours.”
“Oh, of course. Well be sure to let us know if we can help in any way. Do you have a place to stay?”
Kat shook her head. “We’ve been on a sort of extended vacation while we’re…in-between homes.”
Peter glanced at his wife, who nodded, before he turned back to address Kat and Sergio. “Well, you’re welcome to stay here for a few days, or even a few weeks until you both recover.”
“That’s very generous of you.”
“Oh, think nothing of it. Besides, I think Mallory has already taken a liking to your little one there.”
Kat glanced at Alice, now awake in her carseat. The girl, Mallory, had pretty much forgotten her food and was trying her best to play with Alice. The baby wasn’t enjoying it too much, having been strapped into the carseat for too long. She was stretching and starting to cry.
Kat unstrapped Alice and held her for a while, bouncing her up and down. This seemed to calm Alice, especially when she noticed all of the new faces around the table. Her discomfort turned to curiosity, and she took to staring at each of the newcomers for long periods of time. This prompted several chuckles from the family.
They finished their dinner in relative silence, save for Alice’s occasional babbles, followed by Mallory’s frequent exclamations of “She’s so cute!” Kat, on the other hand, was thoughtful. She felt more like trusting this couple, despite their unusual willingness to help. Perhaps they could spend some time here.
Two weeks later, and they were still at the Evans’ house. In that time, they had grown rather close. Kat and Jessica were fast becoming friends, and she found they had a lot in common. While Kat had been a professor of English, Jessica was a self-published writer who mostly stayed at home with the kids, but spent much of her time working on new books. They would talk for long hours about literary technique and their favorite authors. Kat hadn’t talked to anyone on these subjects since she had left the university for maternity leave.
Sergio and Peter got along rather well. Upon learning that the Evans had a broken heater, Sergio offered to fix it for them. With a little support for his leg, it didn’t take him long to find the problem and fix it. It was their best way of giving back for the help that Peter and Jessica had offered them.
Everyone in the family quickly fell in love with Alice, who delighted in the newfound attention. Alice had started crawling, and she seemed to love this freedom. Kat was grateful that the girl had an actual home to explore, rather than the confined spaces of motel after motel. Still, she knew it wouldn’t last forever.
The “bishop” doctor who had helped them earlier, came by once or twice more to check up on Sergio’s leg and Kat’s shoulder. After a while, he admitted that the bite was probably not rabid, and Kat was safe as long as she kept taking the antibiotics.
It was near the start of week three in the Evans’ home, that Kat and Sergio decided they needed to leave. They hadn’t stayed in one place this long since living with Simon, and both were worried about Invergence and their uncanny ability to track them. Thankfully, they had killed the demon that probably tracked them so far, but that didn’t mean that Invergence was out of options.
So both Kat and Sergio began making preparations to go. They began taking quick trips to nearby stores to stock up on a few supplies.
One day, while Sergio was out purchasing a thank-you gift for the Evans, Kat found herself alone with the family. It was the weekend, and everyone was home. Alice was gone with Sergio, leaving Kat chatting alone with the family. She was going to drop the news that they needed to leave. She wasn’t looking forward to the conversation, considering the kindness that these people had shown, and the genuine interest in their wellfare.
That was when a knock sounded at the door. A very loud and steady knock.
Kat froze. She had heard that knock once before, more of a steady banging on the door, as though it came from a beast playing the human.
Jessica, who had been chatting with Kat at the kitchen table, stood up to answer the door. Kat was so flustered by the familiar knock, that she didn’t even notice until Jessica was half-way to the door.
Upon hearing Kat’s voice, the beast outside of the door kicked it inward. The door flew off its hinges and straight into Jessica, who collapsed underneath it.
A massive form stepped into the room. One foot rested on the broken door, with Jessica underneath. She cried out in fear upon seeing the beast. Neither Kat nor Sergio had told them the truth about the monster they had fought in Zion’s National Park. Apparently, there were more than one.
The beast heard Jessica’s cry. It looked down at the woman, then promptly stomped a foot down on Jessica’s face. Her cries cut off instantly, and her body hung limp.
“Jessica!” Peter was there. He rushed towards his wife. The demon backhanded him almost casually, knocking him to the side, leaving an indentation in the wall. Peter fell, unconscious before the demon slashed at him fiercely. He was dead within seconds.
Kat stood frozen in horror. She had known the danger of Invergence. But this, she had never expected this.
Another demon followed the first through the doorway. Screams echoed through the house from Mallory and Jeremy, who were still alive and had come running to see what the commotion was about. Both demons turned to face the noise. They pounced, and Kat closed her eyes, not bearing to witness what she knew was coming.
A snap of fingers, and the demons ground to a halt. Kat looked back at the doorway. A figure stood there in a long trench coat and greasy black hair. A man whose face bore a resemblance to her husband, Sergio, but whose character was anything but. He strode into the room, glancing briefly at the two demons who stood motionless, awaiting his next signal.
“Well met, Katariina Rios. I was beginning to think we’d never meet again.”
He sounded cordial, almost reverent. Kat tried to say something, but her mouth kept opening and closing. Nothing came out. All she could do was stare at the limp, bloody forms of Peter and Jessica.
Finally, sound came out of her mouth, something between a wail and a word.
“You!” she screamed at Anti-Sergio. More of his men were filing into the house now. “YOU!” she said again, and without thinking, she rushed the man. Hands caught her before she could make it three steps in his direction. Those hands held her fast and sat her down on a kitchen chair.
The Evans children were still screaming, and a motion from Anti-Sergio prompted his men to round them up. They were placed in chairs next to Kat, their screaming turning into sobs. Another order from Anti-Sergio and the men were searching the house. The demons remained still, but their eyes followed the sounds of the men upstairs. Their noses sniffed the air.
“You know, all of this could have been avoided if you had just come quietly. My superiors always wanted Alice alive, and if you had cooperated, there would have been a place for you on our world. Perhaps there still could be.” Anti-Sergio looked at her, and she saw something in his eyes that unnerved her. Hope. A primal, hungering hope.
“You think, after all this, after…them” she indicated the dead parents on the floor, “that we would ever want anything to do with you.”
“Unfortunate casualties that could have been safely avoided had you come the first time we met. The latest in a long line of casualties, in fact.”
“I thought you people respected the timeline or something, so you wouldn’t change the future too much.”
“For me and my division, we are part of this present. We don’t know what the future holds enough to change it. All we know is that your daughter will be part of something much larger. And we will not let that happen. Besides, contrary to some of your deplorable entertainment options here, time is a difficult thing to change. It doesn’t want to be changed. Killing someone is like planting a rock in a river. The water continues to flow around it. Only when you have a great many rocks can you redirect the flow. We’re not nearly there yet.”
Kat only partially heard him. She was distracted with thoughts of her husband and Alice. Where were they? She had expected Sergio to come home any time now. She kept her fingers crossed that Sergio would see the vehicles surrounding the house and know to turn around and get out of there.
One of Anti-Sergio’s soldiers returned and whispered something into his leader’s ear. Anti-Sergio turned back to regard Kat. “Your husband and child are not here. Where are they?”
Kat said nothing.
“You know we can get it out of you eventually. It only takes time. Why go through all the trouble.”
Still Kat said nothing.
“Very well then.” Anti-Sergio waved a hand and one of his men who had been standing behind Jeremy suddenly had a knife poised at the boy’s throat.
“No!” Kat called out. Jeremy was whimpering, but his eyes met Kat’s, and she could see the barest flicker of bravery there. He was a strong kid. Mallory was crying again.
“I will spare their lives if you tell me where your daughter is.” Anti-Sergio’s voice was steady.
Kat began to panic, “I don’t know where they are!” It was the truth. She knew Sergio had left to get some supplies, but she didn’t know the specifics.
“That answer won’t get you very far,” said Anti-Sergio. “The childrens’ life is in your hands. Sure, they don’t have parents anymore, but this area is littered with what you would call ‘good people.’ They will be fine. Just tell us where your daughter is.”
Kat decided her best chance was to lie, “We split up. He took Alice and I stayed here. We figured that it would be safer if we took two separate routes.”
“But you have a way of contacting him, yes.” Anti-Sergio’s face had turned to stone.
Kat shook her head. This really was true. Neither of them had used cell-phones in the last nine months. Too easy to track.
“Well, this is just convenient for you. My beasts can track your scent, but since my blood tastes the same as your husband’s, they get confused. And now you’re telling me that your daughter is GONE!”
“Yes, please, that’s all I know. Please let them go.”
“YOU IDIOT!” shouted Anti-Sergio. With a snap of his fingers, the demons launched themselves at the two children. They barely had time to scream before they too lay dead and bloody on the floor next to their parents.
Kat vomited. Her bile coated the floor beside her, mixing with blood. She couldn’t look.
Anti-Sergio growled at her. “Let that be a lesson to you. Choose to cooperate, and it will work out better for you and for those around you.”
“I told you what I know.” Kat whimpered, still staring blankly into space.
Anti-Sergio didn’t seem to hear. A moment later and hands began dragging her outside the house. Someone thrust her into the back of a truck. Before they closed the door, she could see masked Invergence agents covering the place with gasoline. They were going to burn the place down.
The door to the truck closed, and Kat was left in darkness. She curled up in a fetal position on the cold metal floor of the truck. Tears started to flow, and large sobs escaped her throat. She stared at the ceiling, at what she imagined could live beyond.
“Why?” she cried to the heavens, “Why did they have to die? Why can’t you stop this!”
There was no answer. Of course there wasn’t.
She lay there as the truck began to move and pick up speed. She had one last, lingering hope. Maybe Sergio and Alice had escaped. She clung to that small light in her thoughts. All else was blackness.